Last week, someone in my VIP membership community asked about how to succeed in business. She bravely shared that she’d made zero Black Friday sales and was generally feeling completely defeated.
“This is getting too exhausting. I haven’t made money in months and it’s killing me.”
She said she’s now second guessing every decision she makes, and she’s even beginning to think that maybe people just don’t like her.
The post broke my heart … and it made me mad.
I’m mad at the online “gurus” who contributed to her feelings. They clog our newsfeeds with “easy secrets” for five-figure launches and six-figure businesses and growing a massive following. They tell us they know how to succeed in business and make it seem oh-so-simple.
Enough is enough.
Here’s the truth. It may not be what anyone wants to hear, but I think it’s what everyone (especially this amazing woman in my community) needs to hear:
Starting and running a successful, sustainable business is HARD WORK. Period.
Are there unicorns who lucked their way to the top overnight? Sure. But for most of us, it takes time to craft clear messaging and create a solid offer. It takes time to build a following or a network of ideal clients. It takes time to nurture them and to get them to buy. It takes time to develop loyal clients who become repeat buyers. Want to know how to succeed in business? The answer is it takes time.
I’m sick of people trying to sell the bill of goods that you can somehow skip ahead in line if you just learn their handy, dandy secrets.
I’m even more sick that I’ve seen behind some of those curtains and now realize that many of these same people fail to tell you that their “7-figure business” is based on gross numbers and they actually clear something far less. Or that the “5-figure launch” they’re hyping cost $5,000 or more in Facebook ads. Or that their “overnight success” came because of a total fluke viral post or because they were an early adopter of a now-overrun social media channel.
Very often, with a little digging, you discover the truth isn’t as simple as the promise.
If you’ve ever done home repairs, you’ve probably heard “you can have it good, fast, or cheap — pick two.” The same is true with business.
👉 You can build a financially successful business fast and cheap, but it will probably be a really crappy business (as in, one built on tricks or lies).
👉 You can build a GOOD and financially successful business fast, but it won’t be cheap (as in, you’ll need to spend a lot of money on ads, lists, or professional help).
👉 You can build a GOOD and financially successful business cheap, but it will take time (as in you, you’ll need to float that business while you DIY your way into clients).
I’ve chosen Option 3 (good and cheap, not fast) both times I’ve built a business.
The first time, I spent 6 months planting seeds for and saving money to float a freelance writing business while I was still working full-time. Then I spent another 6 or more months relying on my savings as I actually grew the business after leaving my 9 to 5.
The second time, I spent 6 months laying the foundation for a coaching business while making 100% of my income from my writing business. This year, I began to make money from coaching but I’m still doing writing work to sustain myself financially.
As I shared with my membership group, less than half of my income this year came from the work I really want to be doing (coaching, community, and courses). By the end of next year, I hope to be making almost all of my income from this new venture.
That’s not glamorous, and it certainly isn’t the stuff of flashy Facebook ads. But it’s my truth, and the truth of so many other successful business owners I know.
Why am I sharing this today?
I want you to know you’re not alone. You’re not alone if, like the woman in my membership community, your business has you feeling exhausted and frustrated. You’re not alone if, like her, it’s taking more time and energy than expected to be successful.
If you feel that way, take a deep breath and know it’s normal. Then, silence the voices that are adding to those feelings. They aren’t helping you and, more than likely, their “secrets” about how to succeed in business won’t either. Finally, find yourself a business community that is built on truth and support.
Surround yourself with others who “get it” and who are willing to share the good, bad, and ugly of owning a business (not just the Instagram-worthy highlights).
You can build the business of your dreams. You can get rich from your special gifts and talents. But if it takes you more than a few weeks or if the “3 secrets” don’t work for you, that doesn’t mean you’re a failure. It means you’re normal, and that’s okay.
Good, fast, or cheap—which 2 are you choosing? Comment below and let me know!
Before I give you the rundown of the business tools I use and how much I spend, let me offer a little food for thought. If you’re still bootstrapping #AllTheThings in your business, consider this:
Not spending money may be costing you more than you realize. Let’s say your hourly rate is $50. If it takes you 5 hours to manually post to Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter, that’s $250. If a social scheduling tool costs you $20 a month, and a VA would take 2 hours to load it up for $60 a month, that’s $80. So … $250 vs. $80 … the decision now seems like a no-brainer, right?
It’s hard to part with money, especially for something you could do yourself. But if you actually think through the time you spend vs. the low costs for automation tools, it quickly becomes clear these programs are worth their weight in gold.
Here are the 7 tools that I’m willing to hand over money for every month (that’s saying a lot because I love my money!).
Also, I’m totally transparent. There are affiliate links for each of these business tools. You’ll pay what you would anyway, but if you sign up using my link, I get a small reward (typically in the form of a free month or discount on my fees).
The 7 Business Tools I Use & Recommend
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.
It took me years to finally admit I needed a customer resource management (CRM) tool. The truth is, though, I was so sick of manually sending my coaching clients applications, welcome emails, invoices, contracts, homework assignments, and more. Honeybook now automates all of it. I have a custom workflow that handles everything from the point of a client inquiry to their end-of-engagement survey. I can’t even tell you how much time this saves me each month, so it’s absolutely ridiculous that I waited so long to spend a measly $40 to do it (and it’s less if you pre-pay for the entire year. If you need a CRM, use my link to get 50% off for your first year. No more excuses!
Investment: $40/month (or just $20 with my promo code)
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.
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 coaching 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 coaching 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 $227.98/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 three hours a month to make it worth the DIY route. Impossible.
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.
This is third year in a row that I’ve run this list of the best planners made for creative women business owners by creative women business owners. These lists are—far and away—the most popular posts on my blog. If you’re finding me because of this post, I’m so happy you’re here!
I’m a coach for women business owners. When I start working with my clients, almost all of them feel overwhelmed and scattered. They have so many ideas, but lack a clear plan of attack. Sound familiar?
I love a pretty planner (I mean, I’m like a giddy school kid when I work on these best planner lists!), but it’s unlikely to help you much if you don’t first get clear about your goals. That’s why I highly recommend you download my free checklist to help you create strategic goals (instead of a random to-do list) before you dive into your shiny new 2019 planner. It will help you get clear about what matters most, and finally develop a system for prioritizing your ideas.
Okay, now let’s get to it! I hope you have as much fun reading about these 2019 planners as I had pulling this list together. This year’s list includes some of my favorites from previous years, along with a few new ones.
Among these 12 planners, I’m hopeful you’ll find just the right one for your organizational and inspirational needs!
(This post contains affiliate links. If you purchase via a link here, I may receive a commission. The price is the same for you whether you use my link or buy directly from the vendor.)
Whitney English faced an overflowing email inbox, a hand-scribbled to-do list, a pile of meeting notes, and felt overwhelmed and disorganized back in November 2011. She needed a solution—quickly. That’s when she came up with the Day Designer™. It was my first “real” (non-drugstore) planner, and I remain totally smitten with it.
The Day Designer ($59) is the original daily planner. It’s a simple and easy system created to help women find balance and productivity. There are yearly and monthly glances, but this one is all about the daily pages. There is a focus on the top three things you need to do each day (my favorite part!). There’s also a ton of space for events, to-dos, notes, meal planning, gratitude, and more. I really love the inspirational quotes. If you’re a daily planner user, I doesn’t get better than this!
Learn more/order: DayDesigner.com
Jenna Murillo has felt a sense of magic with paper since childhood. She’s energized by turning a blank canvas into something beautiful. That’s what led her to planner design. “Designing a product that’s a stunning and functional tool for others was always a dream,” she says. “In 2015, fueled by the encouragement of friends and family and a fire inside of me to create, I fulfilled that dream.”
The Refresh Weekly Planner ($39.95) is back for 2019 slimmer than ever before, and featuring three cover design options (I don’t know how to choose among them!). The Refresh Planner includes an updated pocket design, goal-planning pages, monthly and weekly spreads, and a notes section. It’s all beautifully bound with hard covers in a new, lightweight design. Plan for progress and take some serious action on your goals with the 2019 Refresh Weekly Planner. This one always makes my list because it’s so pretty and practical!
Learn more/order: WorkSpacery.com
Kathy Pine started her first company at age 25. After navigating the challenges of balancing entrepreneurship and early motherhood, Kathy realized she had a passion for helping women pursue their dreams and she began making inspirational and practical paper products. She created her first planner with a successful Kickstarter campaign in 2017. Now the Inspired Year planner is the flagship product of her One Love Paper Co.
The 2019 Inspired Year Planner ($49) is the ultimate goal-setting calendar for busy creatives who are juggling it all. Its no-nonsense approach, functional design, and roomy pages provide everything you need to stay organized and inspired. It’s designed with goal-setting and work-life balance in mind. It’s uniquely suited to manage your busy days while making space for your dreams. My favorite part of this planner is all the incredibly helpful and inspiring annual, quarterly, and monthly goal-setting exercises. The “wheel” activity really opened my eyes!
Learn more/order: 1LovePaper.com
Erin Condren left 12-hour days in the apparel industry to become a stay-at-home mom of two. She developed a case of cabin fever, and searched online for career opportunities she could do from home. She began making cards for friends, as birthday gifts, new baby announcements and hostess gifts. Her friend encouraged her to sell her designs at a “shopping party” at her home in June 2004. The rest is history.
The LifePlanner™ ($50+) is the ultimate planning system to get organized, achieve your goals, and preserve memories in one stylish space. This feature-packed planner boasts two-page spreads per month, three layouts (vertical, horizontal, or hourly), stylish design elements and inspirational quotes, coiled-in stickers, and a two-page goal setting spread. It’s ideal for anyone who loves scrapbooking or is otherwise artistic. There are so many accessories you can use to personalize your planner and make it a true reflection of you!
Learn more/order: ErinCondren.com
Eve Tokens says she created a planner to keep her life on track. “I was using a bullet journal for managing my personal life, Trello for my online business, and my phone calendar to keep track of both and random other appointments,” she says. “It was too much, and I found I was getting less done than ever before.”
The Perfect Project Planner (£27 or $34.91) is designed for bloggers, small business owners, and entrepreneurs who need a planner that does all the things. Download and bind this planner and use it to track everything you need for your blog/business. Key features include a 2018 review, goal planning for 2019, important dates, book list, 2018 and 2018 Google Analytics overview, weekly stats tracking, quarterly financial goals, project idea areas, 90-day sprint planning, and more. I love this one for bloggers (or any business with a blog) and for anyone who hates lugging around a heavy planner.
Learn more/order: Gumroad download
Yvonne “Yvi” Heimann set out on a mission to integrate her work and life passions fully, simply, and in a way that would do what “planners” are actually meant to do—magnify our greatness! After years of trying to find the perfect planner, app, or productivity tool, Yvi decided to revolutionize the planner industry. The Bulletproof Business Planner (formerly known as ProtoPreneur Planner) empowers us to cultivate our life’s passions and bring our deepest desires to life.
The Bulletproof Business Planner ($59) empowers you to design (not just dream about) your destiny. It helps you become the most clear-minded, productive, motivated, inspired, and kick a$$ version of yourself. It’s like a best friend who remembers and reminds you of your most important projects and dreams, encourages you to track and be proud of your personal accomplishments, workouts, and everything in between. I love this one because it’s undated so you customize it to fit your schedule. Plus, the leather-look cover is GORGEOUS and durable. This is a beast of a planner!
Learn more/order: AskYvi.com
Mo Seetubtim always dreamed of having an inspirational brand that people love. Her dream finally came true in March of 2015 with the launch of The Happiness Planner. It’s a beautiful journal designed to help people become happier and more fulfilled by embracing positive thinking, mindfulness, gratitude, and self-development.
The Happiness Planner® ($46-$59) will help you not only manage your to-do list, but also live a truly happy and fulfilled life in alignment with your core values, personality traits, and strengths. There are four main elements: the Happiness Roadmap (become more self-aware and set fulfilling goals), the Planning Pages (stay focused and motivated on monthly goals), the Daily Pages (fill your days with inspiration), and the Reflection Pages (learn from the highs and lows of each week/month). As a mindset coach, I absolutely adore this comprehensive approach to a planner!
Learn more/order: TheHappinessPlanner.com
Tired of checking things off your to-do list,
yet feeling totally stalled?
Use this free checklist to craft meaningful goals
that actually move your business forward.
Ashley Staum‘s dream started late one evening while in grad school. In order to avoid studying for a few hours, she decided to design her own planner to stay on top of everything on her plate. She fell in love with the process of designing that first planner, and continued to make her own planners each semester and later for co-workers. In early 2013, she began selling digital versions and now physical planners.
The She Plans Planner ($20-$46) had some big changes for 2019. There are now daily, weekly, and monthly versions so you can choose the one that fits the way you plan. There are full 7×9-inch sewn notebooks in monthly ($20), weekly/quarterly ($38), and daily/quarterly ($46) offering the size of a traditionally bound planner with the ease and simplicity of a sewn notebook. This year’s layouts include extras like a unique 4-page weekly spread in the weekly planner, and both week-at-a-glance and full Sat/Sun pages in the daily planner. New this year is a loose daily planner with tabs for those who love a binder system.
Learn more/order: ShePlans.com
Ilana Griffo decided to make a planner when she couldn’t find one that fit her needs. “As a design student, I wanted a place I could doodle, take notes, and stay on track of my classwork,” she says. In the last five years, Griffo’s planner has evolved to reflect her creative journey and her customers’ needs.
The Rule The World Planner ($36) is full of goal-setting tools bound to help you crush your goals. From budget-planning worksheets to inspirational quotes, this planner is bound to make this year your best yet.
Learn more/order: IlanaGriffo.com
Ashley Shelly started designing planners soon after creating The Budget Notebook, her first official product, because customers asked for it and she felt the time was right. “I’ve been a planner user for years, but I always wanted to improve on the designs I saw,” she says.
The Ashley Shelly Planner ($44.95) helps women create their best days by planning on paper. It features the perfect combination of organization and inspiration. This functional planner includes special features that guide you through organizing and staying inspired throughout the year. It includes a weekly layout with schedule and to-do list sections, and a spot for due today and dinner, equal space for all days of the week, and a hard, glossy cover (7.25×9.25 inches including binding).
Learn more/order: AshleyShelly.com
Deana Uhrig created a planner to help women keep organized and help them find daily time with God. Her biggest prayer is that her planner keeps people focused on God as they plan their days.
The Anchored Press Devotional Planner ($49) is a Christian planner full of Bible verses and devotional content. Each weekday includes a devotion written by a different (godly, gifted, and inspiring) contributor that focuses on a specific theme. Following each, you’ll be guided through a full week of reflecting and growing in that area of your life. Also included are meal planning, goal setting, notes pages, prayer request pages, pockets, and other organizational tools.
Learn more/order: AnchoredPress.com
Anung Villay is the mastermind behind Courageous Creativity, a place for introverts and homebodies to go on with their life and live with some adventure.
The Fulfill Your Dreams Planner ($9.99 – $14.99) will help you plan and prioritize your dreams. You get pages to mind map life goals. Each step is spelled out for you so you can take your time. There’s plenty of space to add new ideas (and even add you own little designs). Everything gets broken down from your big ideas, all the way down to what you need to do this week to get there.
Learn more/order: CourageousCreativity.co
There you have it! My list of the best planners for creatives and entrepreneurs. I hope you loved this list of planners for 2019, but if you know of one that you think should be included, just let me know in the comments below. I love finding new planners to include in the future. Also, if you found this post useful, please share it with your friends and on social media. Help me spread the love for these amazing women creatives who are making beautiful tools for us all!