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I recently made the case for having and using fewer apps (phone apps, computer apps, web apps—all of the tools, resources, and platforms we are bombarded with as business owners). So today I want to talk about which apps I’ve chosen to invest in and why.
Every business should have a few core apps that are used to run the majority of their systems. The fewer there are, the leaner and simpler your business will run. Fewer overhead costs, fewer passwords to remember, and less brainpower needed for your day-to-day tasks.
So without further ado, let’s dive into the core apps I use:
Without a doubt, this is my absolute core app for my business. If you are any sort of coach, designer, or other service provider, this may be a great fit for you! If you’re a Maker, it might not be. Dubsado houses my forms, questionnaires, proposals, contracts, invoices, client portal, process checklists, and even my bookkeeping. Once upon a time, I had separate tools for most of these tasks, and I don’t miss that one bit.
If you’re in business online, you need an email list—it’s non-negotiable. I won’t wax poetic about the importance of email marketing in this post, but suffice it to say it’s so important that your email marketing platform is automatically a core app. For my business, I chose ConvertKit. It provides a lot of flexibility for the type of business I have, and it’s automation and segmentation features are top-notch. If you are a product-based business, super budget-conscious, or for some other reasons feel the need for “pretty” emails, then I would recommend MailChimp. If you are a blogger or content creator, ConvertKit is absolutely worth the investment.
This is another wonderful multi-tasking tool and if you’re a content creator, add this one to your toolbox. CoSchedule serves as both an editorial calendar (for all types of media, not just WordPress) and a social media scheduler. I love that it does the heavy lifting of deciding when to post to my channels–it’s like having a social media manager, without having to hire a social media manager.
G Suite (formerly Google Apps for Work)
I waffled on including this in my core, but it really does belong here. Your business email is important. If you’re still using firstname.lastname@example.org or your email is part of your hosting account, I urge you to invest in the $5/month for this email solution. The former is simply unprofessional (and yes, your potential clients notice) and the latter puts you at unnecessary risk of being unreachable if your site goes down (and that’s particularly important if you’re on shared hosting). This is an inexpensive fix that will save you a lot of headache down the road. Not to mention, the features of G Suite allow for amazing automation that will make managing your inbox a breeze. P.S. You can use these coupon codes for 20% your first year – MA4WAVA4L9QX9GT (for the G Suite Basic Plan) or W7XPREGEFUAKG7L (for the G Suite Business Plan).
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Okay, so those are my absolute core apps. If I was weathering a financial storm that sent me to bare bones, these are the ones I would absolutely find a way to keep paying for. The next set of apps are my “nice to have”.
Okay, so this one is almost a bridge to my core apps. I would fight to keep it, but ultimately, there is a free option that I could move down to if needed. If you offer appointments of any kind, Acuity Scheduling is like a personal assistant that doesn’t need to take sick days. If you book any sort of session with me, you’ll see it in action. It helps you find a time, collects the information I need to make your session a breeze, and if necessary, takes your payment. And it even sends reminders to both of us (and that’s drastically reduced the number of no-shows I was dealing with).
Again, there’s a free version of this that may work for some people. Zoom integrates beautifully with Acuity Scheduling so each appointment is booked with a meeting link. Audio-only, video, or screen-sharing calls are all supported and you can record the session with a click. It even offers webinars as an add-on so you can hold workshops without setting up yet another tool.
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And now for the free apps that simply make my life easier:
This is included in G Suite, or with your free Gmail account if I didn’t sell you on upgrading. If anything you do involves sharing any sort of file with your clients, this is a simple solution. Not to mention, storing client files in the cloud protects you from inevitable computer crashes and allows you to work on the fly. Of course, there are options like DropBox, OneDrive, and many others—but for simplicity’s sake, you probably already have this, so use it. I consider it part of my G Suite core but thought it deserved it’s own mention, same goes for the next app.
I’ve talked before about the importance of using a digital calendar. Again, it’s free and already included with accounts you surely have. I have mine synced with Dubsado and Acuity and I’d be lost without it. The reminder feature has been a great addition and I use it frequently.
Trello or Asana
Confession, I have both of these still, but there’s really no reason for you to have both. If you are a list person, go with Asana, if you’re more visual, Trello is probably the right tool for you. Or maybe you don’t need either one, and that’s cool, too. Right now, I primarily use Asana with my main retainer client because it was the best for their business model and their team was familiar with it. Personally, Trello eventually grew on me and it seems to be easier for my husband to use since it’s more visual. It’s my catch-all for ideas, login info, and bookmarks. It is one of the few areas that contains both business and personal, but it handles it beautifully and replaced a handful of apps. Note: if you are only using it for business, you’ll find similar features in Dubsado. I’ve been using Trello since before Dubsado added task boards and just haven’t made time to transfer my data over.
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There are a handful of other apps and tools I use, but these are what’s in my basic toolbox and what I would recommend any new business owner invest time, money and energy into. If you’re missing any of these basic functions, I urge you to consider your options and cover these bases. At the very least you need:
- A CRM (customer relationship manager)
- A bookkeeping/invoicing system
- An email marketing platform
- An email service provider
- A calendar and a project manager (but can be analog if you’re a solopreneur)
Anything beyond these is completely dependent on the type of business you’re running. A photographer will need something different than an apparel designer or other product maker. A content creator’s toolbox will look different than a graphic designer’s.
What core apps do you find invaluable in your business? I’d love to hear!
If you’re looking for a customized recommendation for tools that fit your business and personality, I would love to have you book a Business Systems Strategy Session!
If you’re like me, your social media feeds are filled with tutorials and sponsored ads for various apps, tools, and platforms that say they’ll help you streamline your business and double your revenue. Seriously, google “project management” or “Asana” once and those lovely algorithms will have you seeing tools like this everywhere you go. Dive into any entrepreneur community and you’ll see discussions galore about which ones are better, and people shoving affiliate links each other. Don’t get me wrong, they do it with the best of intentions, but for an overwhelmed entrepreneur, this simply isn’t helpful.
And worse, some of us are prone to going to the shiny object syndrome of new tools. We want to try them all and spend so much time setting new ones up, learning their features, and transferring our data—that’s time we really ought to be working in or on our business. “Free Trials” have made this even worse because the only thing we have to give up is time and brain power (and for some reason, we subconsciously value those less than money).
So let me make the case for fewer apps.
Note: In this case, I’m going to use “app” to refer to everything from apps on your mobile phone, to apps on your laptop or desktop, to web apps. It’s a broad paintbrush for all of those tools and platforms we might be using in our business.
The more apps you have, the more time you spend looking at apps. And unless you’re an app developer, that’s probably not the most productive thing for your business.
“There’s an app for that”
Just because there is an app for that, doesn’t mean you should download it. Do you really need an app for that? Do you already have an app that can do that? I found myself looking at task/reminder apps the other day, but I already have Trello, Evernote, and Gmail which can effectively do just that thing. I also at one point had an app for dutch oven cook times. Seriously, a printed version tossed in the camping cookbook worked just as well (and was still available when my phone died).
Also, just because it’s a free app doesn’t mean you need to use it. Just sayin’.
Having too many apps is counterproductive to using them to streamline.
Having more apps than necessary complicates your business systems. More moving pieces means more things likely to break. It also means more for you to remember. I’m sure you’ve been there. Did I write that down in Evernote or make a card in Trello? Maybe it’s in the client notes on Dubsado. Or maybe the pad of sticky notes I spilled coffee on yesterday. Ugh.
It costs money.
Ah, I could go on for ages about why having fewer overhead costs is good for your business, and maybe someday soon I’ll write a post dedicated to running a lean business. Most of the good apps, to get the features we want, cost money. Most of them aren’t that expensive, but those little monthly subscriptions add up fast. And those annual ones are easy to forget about when you’re factoring your costs. Really evaluate an app before you shell out money for it. Is the free version good enough? Is there a cheaper alternative? Is there a direct revenue benefit with this purchase?
Good areas to drop money on a good app are where your money is managed, or you can avoid hiring someone. That means paying for a good CRM to manage your invoices, a good bookkeeping app, and a reliable social media scheduler. These may vary depending on your particular business and skills, but I find these three + an email marketing platform are the core apps that every online business needs.
Take a look at what apps you’re paying for. Be sure to look for those forgotten annual payments. And then look at all of the apps on your phone. How many do you use on a daily basis? How many on weekly basis? Anything not in those two groups could probably be discarded. Freeing up valuable resources in your business starts with reducing the amount of tools you rely on and make sure you’re squeezing every drop out of the ones you keep.