4 of my favorite things - digital tools that keep my business running everyday and can help yours, too...

If you’re a one-person shop like me, you need all of the help that you can get with running your business. Even if you have a virtual assistant, a part-time employee or intern or have the support of family and friends, it’s a no brainer that you need certain systems in place in order to overall stay organized, track expenses, send invoices, answer emails, manage clients/projects/social media and so much more. As entrepreneurs, our to-do lists are endless and calendars are always filled with the next call, meeting, coffee date or deadline.   

One of the things that I tell other business owners or friends who are thinking of making the leap to entrepreneurship is that multitasking is not always smart (I know, I still struggle with it on a daily basis!) and it’s more than easy to feel overwhelmed with everything that you need to do, every single day. In order to help me prioritize and manage the most important of my tasks each day, client and business development-related, I absolutely have to use several digital tools – each one serving a unique purpose. Below, I’ve given a brief description of just four of my favorites (there are others, like Asana for project management + productivity and Buffer for social media management that I’ve been falling in love with lately) and without them my business would simply not run that efficiently!

1. FreshBooks
I honestly don’t know how I operated my business without this awesome cloud-based accounting platform in my life, a year ago. When I took my business to official full-time status, although I had a real/human accountant, I knew that I also needed a daily tool that I could keep track of expenses and send invoices with, quickly and efficiently. Other designers might be able to relate… I was literally designing invoices in Adobe InDesign, exporting PDFs and emailing them to people. Even that took too much time out of my day that I could be spending doing other things. Now, I just open FreshBooks (via their website, freshbooks.com) start a new invoice, the template is pulled up, I quickly plug in a couple of numbers and a description of the job – and with an instant click, the client is emailed the invoice directly from there. Although it’s clean and nice enough, complete with my logo at the top, it’s not a super creative invoice BUT it’s a normal and standard one. The kind that you get from any other business, every day. There is something about a plain and simple invoice that honestly makes you look more professional in a different way – and gets people to pay you quicker. I don’t know what it is; I think that they just take it more seriously. And, maybe a third party sending it plays a role in that. Whatever the case, anyone can use it, but it’s especially easy and intuitive for creative professionals. I pay the $20/month subscription (there are others, including a free version to help you get started) and it’s definitely worth that to me.

2. Dropbox
Dropbox is a file sharing and storage application that you can download to your computer, phone or tablet for free, to start. You can access files from your mobile device (this has come in handy for me while I’m traveling.) You can collaborate with others and share files within folders. With the Dropbox Basic account, you pay nothing and it includes 2 GB of space. Dropbox Pro is the next level up and you do have to pay — but you can have 1 TB of space. You can subscribe monthly or annually. Finally, Dropbox Business is meant for just that – businesses, organizations and other groups. Discounts are available for non-profits and educational institutes. I love this platform because it’s easy to upload and store files to (for myself and clients,) share them with others (again, my clients) and access from anywhere, on any device. Designers will find it handy (especially the Pro version) because of the large amount of file storage. With various design files, especially Photoshop documents, we need all of the space that we can get – not only for ourselves, but also for sending many of those same files to others.

3. Adobe Creative Cloud
The software that I use the most and that I absolutely, for a fact, cannot operate my business without is the Adobe Creative Cloud. The Cloud gives me access to creative software that I use day in and day out. When I was in college from 2004-2008, I used to have to buy the new versions of the Adobe Creative Suite via CDs every couple of years. Then, in 2012, Adobe made a transition and started housing their programs and access to downloading each one respectively within a cloud-based platform, where you could pay a monthly or annual subscription and have constant access to their entire collection of apps (InDesign, Photoshop, Illustrator, Lightroom, Dreamweaver and more) – and their updated versions, every single time there is one. For now, as a creative professional, Adobe Creative Cloud is the absolute standard for design software and a platform that I will be using for as long as it’s around.  

4. MailChimp
This is the application that I am definitely the newest to, but one that I am really loving so far in helping me to run my business. It’s an email marketing service that a lot of small business owners should take advantage of, as it’s totally free UNTIL you have 2,000 subscribers on your list. When that time comes, you can pay a subscription to the next higher level. I’m using it primarily to send out weekly emails to my list. You don’t have to have the biggest list in the world and I think it’s certainly about quality over quantity, but regardless, growing your email list is a KEY thing to do, in order to grow your business and be visible online. It allows potential customers to get to know you. Even if they can’t afford your services or products right now, they might convert down the road when they do have the money, because they’ll have followed you for a certain amount of time, gotten to know and trust you and appreciated all of the free content that you’ve given away. I think that MailChimp is easy to navigate, fairly intuitive (I’ve simply taught myself how to use it for now) and a great service for those starting out, to help them grow their first list and in turn, a nice and consistent online following.

Aside from investing in some of the above software platforms (and taking advantage of free ones!) to help grow your business, are you missing one of the biggest pieces to the puzzle? Have you thought about a new logo or website to help you look more legit to your customers? Branding is one of the biggest secrets to a business attracting followers and paying clients — and achieving overall success. Sign-up below to receive the link to download my new and free PDF tool “Branding 101: What it is, what it isn’t and why you need it” — right now! This quick and simple guide will walk you through why it’s important to establish consistent and memorable branding within your biz — and ultimately help you to decide if you can DIY it all or if you need to hire a professional (like me!) If you have any questions after going through it, let’s connect and chat some more!