From time to time, people ask me about the various tools I use to run my business. There aren’t many, honestly, because I’m cheap! I only invest in a tool after a lot of research and when I absolutely need it. In fact, I went years with DIY’ing all sorts of things, like using an Excel spreadsheet for “accounting” and manually adding content across my social media platforms.
It wasn’t until a couple of years ago that I realized my stubbornness about spending money was actually costing my business big time. As an example, at my hourly rate of $100, I easily spent $500 or more per month marketing my business on Pinterest. I could spend of that on Tailwind and automate most of that process. No-brainer, right?
Sadly, I had a-ha moments just like that about each of these tools and regretted waiting so long to invest. I think a lot of us solopreneurs make that mistake. It’s hard to part with money, especially for something you could do yourself. But if you actually think through the time you spend bootstrapping things vs. the low monthly fees for the various programs, it quickly becomes clear that many tools are worth their weight in gold.
So, here are 6 must-have tools in my business. The ones I’m willing to pay to use every month (and I promise, that’s saying a lot because dayum I love money!).
Also, you know me—I like to be totally transparent. I’m including affiliate links for each of these. If you sign up, I get a small reward (typically in the form of a free month or discount on my fees). If you’re going to sign up anyway, why not let us both benefit, right? And again, you know me—I wouldn’t recommend something I don’t use, believe in, and recommend. That’s why there are only 5 things listed here…I’m only telling you about the tools I actually use each month.
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The price is the same for you whether you use my link or buy directly from the vendor.
I finally stopped my Excel spreadsheet madness this year and started using QuickBooks like a grown-up business owner. It integrates with my business bank account/debit card so I don’t have to remember to manually track expenditures anymore. I can categorize income/expenses and it adds repeat items automatically. I also use it for invoicing, which is leaps and bounds better than my old-school method of making them in Word and tracking them in Excel.
Investment: $10/month (you pay only $5/month for the first six months)
I launched my first course in 2017 and thought about bootstrapping it using YouTube and a password-protected page on my website, but then thought better of it after chatting with other more experienced course creators. I started on Thinkific, but in 2018 I upgraded to Podia. You can read here why I made the switch, but in short I’ve become a die-hard Podia fan. It allows me to host my courses, sell digital downloads, and manage my membership community. It does more than the competition and costs less. You can’t beat that.
I really resisted paying for a scheduling system. Why pay when I can just add events into my iCal? The truth is I have a ton of appointments—virtual coffee dates (integral to growing your network), interviews for my podcast and for the masterclasses for my membership community, and discovery calls for my mentoring work. Managing all of that was cumbersome back when I had to go back and forth via email to nail down times with people. Now I can just send a link and they can book themselves into my calendar. The system sets different available times based on the type of appointment, and it integrates with my iCal and my Gmail, so I can easily block off time without having to go to the Acuity site.
When I started my email list in 2016, I used Mailchimp because it was free and easy. As my list grew, I wanted to do things like automatically send my opt-ins, create automated welcome and sales sequences, and segment my list based on purchases. That’s when I switched to ConvertKit. I paid someone about $200 to help me set everything up, but now it’s pretty straightforward to add new opt-ins and sequences, write regular newsletters, and manage my subscriber list. Also, paying for a list based on its size has made me more inclined to prune cold subscribers on a regular basis (something I never did before because I was so caught up on vanity metrics). Now my list is more engaged than ever, with an average open rate of 40%.
Investment: $49/month (I was paying $29/month, but recently moved up to the 1,000-3,000 subscriber plan)
For the longest time, I used Skype (free) for video calls. The problem, though, was figuring out how to record those sessions if needed. Also, they didn’t allow for group calls. I like to provide recordings of my mentoring sessions so my clients can review them as needed. Also, I host virtual co-working and masterminds for my membership community, so I need to be able to host dozens of people. Enter Zoom. This very cool, and super affordable, tool solves all my problems. I’m also using it to record my podcast interviews.
I don’t know if I have the words to describe my love for SmarterQueue. I’ve been using Hootsuite for free for years, and I hated the idea of paying to schedule social media posts. I only switched to this program recently, and it’s already my favorite tool. It replaces everything I managed on Hootsuite (Facebook page, Twitter, and LinkedIn), plus can manage Instagram and Pinterest. What’s so great about it? You can create content categories—tips, blog posts, quotes, as examples—and fill them up with evergreen content. Then you can let those posts recycle as many times as you want. There’s also a cool drag-and-drop calendar where you can plot out which categories will be used at which times on which accounts. Like, seriously, this thing is so incredibly robust for the price. I can’t get over it.
In all, I spend $187.98/month on tools for my business. At a billable rate of $100/hour, I’d have to handle all of those tasks in less than two hours a month to make it worth the DIY route. Impossible. Now I’m here kicking myself that I waited so long to invest in my business. That I spent all those years pulling out my hair trying to do things I hated, found overwhelming, or just plain sucked at (not to mention struggling to find free bootstrapped workarounds) rather than spend basically 2 hours of income each month on them.
So, if you’re reading this thinking, “Oh boy, that sounds familiar. I am totally DIYing things I shouldn’t,” then take my advice and start investing in your business. It’s really true that you have to spend money to make money. Just be sure to spend it wisely!
Oh, and if you’re a paper planner kind of person like me, check out this list of my favorite planners.
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