Ten tools I use to run my business (and what they cost)

I run my business on my own. I send invoices, schedule meetings, manage projects, prepare for taxes, and manage my social media accounts. In this post, I’m sharing ten tools I use to stay sane, keep track of everything, automate mundane tasks and keep all my files secured safely. I use these services every day, and they make my life so much easier.

10 Tools I use to run my business (and what they cost!)

1) Adobe Creative Cloud – $50 USD/month

This is the most expensive tool on this list. It’s expensive, but it’s necessary to run my business. In any given day, I could be using Photoshop, Illustrator, Acrobat, Typekit, InDesign, or Lightroom.

Why I love Creative Cloud:

  • They come out with updates all the freakin’ time.
  • I love how their apps sync across platforms. I can create a photo collection in Lightroom, and sort through my images on my iPad. Later on, all my updates are available on my Macbook.
  • Typekit is always coming out with new, gorgeous fonts. The best part? The fonts are licensed for print, and web use.

2) Basecamp – $29 USD/ month

For the first couple years of my business, I managed everything via email and Evernote. I love Evernote, but it’s not meant for managing tasks and messages in a team setting. There are lots of project management tools out there. I picked Basecamp because it’s so easy to use. I’ve never had to explain to to clients or collaborators. People log on, and understand it.

Why I love Basecamp:

  • Their support is top-notch. I contacted support on a Sunday of a holiday weekend. I had a reply in two hours!
  • I don’t check my email on evenings or weekends. With Basecamp, I can control when I get notified.
  • They have an app for every platform.
  • It keeps everyone in the loop, and keeps our discussions in a central spot.
  • You can reply to a Basecamp email thread, and it publishes the reply in Basecamp. It’s as easy as answering an email.

3) Buffer – $10 USD/month

I use Buffer to schedule and review my social media posts across Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Pinterest, and Instagram. The free plan lets you schedule up to ten social media posts per network. I wanted to schedule more than ten posts at a time, so I paid for it.

Why I love Buffer:

  • They have an app for every platform. I do most of my social media on my iPhone. If I find a great article to share, I can set up social media posts right from my phone.
  • I’m in control of everything. I’ll often share a helpful article to Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn. Buffer lets me write a custom message for each platform, and even schedule the posts at different times.
  • It provides analytics on post clicks, views, and general engagement. This tells me what posts resonate with my audience, and helps me plan future posts.

Bonus Tool: Hiplay for Buffer

I learned about Hiplay when Emma Louise Smith tweeted about it. You can connect Hiplay to your Buffer account to mark social media posts as evergreen. Evergreen refers to content that is not time sensitive. It’s content that is still relevant, months or even years after it was posted.

The half-life for a tweet averages at about 24 minutes.

– Meet Edgar Blog: This Is Why Nobody Sees Your Tweets (Explained By Math!)

I share a lot of helpful resources on social media. I use Hiplay to categorize those posts as evergreen. At first I felt bad, thinking that people would get annoyed seeing the same content again. But, social networks move fast! Most people probably missed the tweet the first time.

4) Calendly – $10 USD/month

I love, love, love this scheduling tool. It’s easy to use, and super user-friendly. I use Calendly to schedule in-person website meetings and phone calls with clients. I used to send several emails back and forth before finding a meeting time that works. Now, with Calendly, I just write:

Hey! I’d love to chat with you about potentially working together. Please take a peek at my calendar (link to Calendly), pick a time that works for you, and I’ll call you then.

Once someone picks a time, I get an email with their details, and Calendly adds it to my calendar. So easy! It’s synced to my Google calendar, so it only offers times I’m actually available.

Why I love Calendly:

  • You can customize the questions on the booking form.
  • You can customize the confirmation emails, and even set it to create a joint Google calendar event.
  • It integrates with Zapier for maximum efficiency and endless possibilities.
  • You can set your preferred meeting times.
  • You can create a “secret” event type for a particular client. (I do this for clients in different time zones)

5) Crash Plan – $12.50 USD/month

CrashPlan backs up my entire computer, many times a day, everyday. It works in the background. I used to back up my data to external hard drives. I feel safer knowing my data is on a server somewhere, rather than a single hard drive in my apartment. Also, I don’t have to drag any external hard drives around with me! I have two computers, so I pay for the family plan.

Why I love CrashPlan:

  • My data is always backed up. I don’t have to remember to plug in a damn hard drive. It just does it for me.
  • They’ll mail me a hard drive of my data. Depending on your internet speed, this is likely the fastest way to restore a backup. It would take a while to download all your files from the cloud.

6) Dropbox – $12.99 USD/month

I’ve been using Dropbox for a long time. It’s an amazing tool for file sharing for multiple devices and teams.

Why I love Dropbox:

  • You get 1 Terabyte of space! I only use 18% of that, but it’s nice knowing it’s there if I need it.
  • It’s in the cloud, on my computer, and on my iPhone all at once.
  • It’s great for sharing files on client projects. I create a folder, and whenever one of us adds a file, it syncs to both of our computers.
  • You can edit shared Word documents right in the Dropbox.com viewer.
  • You can password protect folders and even set an expiry limit for viewing.

7) Freshbooks – $19 – 39 USD/month

I use Freshbooks to send invoices, receive payment via credit cards, and track my expenses. With Freshbooks, I can invoice clients anywhere in the world and keep everything organized for taxes.

Why I love Freshbooks:

  • It sends out late payment reminders if an invoice is unpaid.
  • It charges late fees if an invoice is unpaid for too long.
  • I can see when clients view invoices, and get notified right away when they pay.
  • My clients can pay via credit card or Paypal, right on the invoice.
  • I can invoice clients in multiple currencies (eg. CAD or USD).

8) LastPass – $12 USD/year

LastPass keeps all my passwords safe. For a single client project, I could have passwords for their WordPress admin, SQL database, FTP login, hosting login, Google Analytics login, MailChimp login … and more. I could never remember all those passwords! LastPass creates ridiculously complicated passwords for me, and stores them securely.

Why I love LastPass:

  • I only have to remember one password.
  • It’s supports two-factor authentication. Yup, before I access any passwords, I have to enter a code from the Google Authenticator app on my iPhone. The codes reset every sixty seconds. For someone to access my passwords, they’d have to know my password and get this code. Pretty unlikely!
  • The iPhone app supports fingerprint authentication. Instead of typing out long passwords on my phone, I simply touch the home button on my iPhone.
  • It’s collaboration friendly: I can share passwords with clients.

9) WPEngine – $29 USD/month

WPEngine hosts my website and I recommend them to all my clients. They specialize in WordPress hosting. WordPress websites need maintenance, backups, and security monitoring. WPEngine takes care of all that for me, so I can focus on more interesting things.

Why I love WPEngine:

  • They backup my website everyday, and I can choose to create a fresh backup whenever I want to.
  • They include a staging server. With one click, I can duplicate my whole website to a different URL. This is great for testing out a new plugin or working on a new feature.
  • Sucuri is included. Sucuri is a service for cleaning hacked WordPress websites. The $199 fee is worth it. But, if you’re hosted with WPEngine, it’s already included.
  • Their servers are fast. They’re configured just for WordPress with special caching features.

10) Zapier – $20 USD/month

I think Zapier is my favourite tool on this list. A tool that connects to other tools? Yes, please. I wrote a whole blog post about how I use Zapier to automate my business.  Sometimes I find myself just lurking the Zapier app directory, thinking about all the cool shit I could automate.

Why I love Zapier:

  • Their product is amazing, and so is their blog. They are always coming out with the most helpful blog posts.
  • They let me automate mundane tasks. When a client pays via credit card, I need to account for the processing fee for taxes. By hooking up Stripe to Freshbooks, Zapier does this for me. It logs the processing fees as an expense. I don’t wanna do that shit!

Total cost of all the services: $215 USD/month or $2,580/year

Whew! That actually came out to less than I thought it would be. The Canadian dollar isn’t so hot right now. When you convert the USD total to CAD, I’m paying $3,362 CAD per year.

Whenever possible, I opt to pay annually instead of monthly. You often get a bit of a discount by paying annually. Plus, it means less receipts to organize at tax time.  Seriously, that’s one of the main reasons I pay for things annually. I’d much rather have one receipt than twelve!

Did I miss a service you love?

Fill me in in the comments. I’m always interested in learning about new tools and services.

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  1. Shawn Hooper

    Great list Melissa. I use a couple of your Top 10 myself (LastPass, couldn’t live without it now!)

    I’d also recommend adding a VPN service to this list. I use Buffered (https://buffered.com/) to secure the traffic coming and going from my laptop when connected to public Wi-Fi networks. Think of all the work you do from coffee shops, airports and other locations where hackers can sniff your network traffic. ($99 a year)

    Reply
    • Melissa Jean Clark

      Thanks, Shawn! Ooh, I should definitely sign up for Buffered. I actually don’t work much from coffee shops. The wifi is often slow and I have no patience for slow internet. But still very useful! $99/year is nothing for security.

      Reply
  2. Mike Straus

    This is a fantastic list of resources – love it!

    One you missed: MailChimp. Drag-and-drop email creation, simple analytics, and a GORGEOUS user interface. I don’t know how I ever got by without it.

    Reply
    • Melissa Jean Clark

      Thanks, Mike! You’re right! I use MailChimp too and love it.

      I’m on the free plan for MailChimp. Maybe I should do another round-up of all the amazing free tools I use. I probably use more free tools than paid!

      Reply
  3. Cate

    Excellent round up, I am just getting started and I use a few of these but had never heard of Zapier. I’ll look into it! Thanks for an awesome and thorough post!

    Reply
    • Melissa Jean Clark

      Thank you, Cate! Happy to help someone who is just starting out. For most of these services, I started out with the free version. Definitely try the free options while you’re just starting out!

      Reply
  4. Angela J. Ford

    Yep, these are all great services I use as well. Great tip on Hiplay for Buffer – I forgot I had set that up and was wondering why my Tweets continued to post even though my Buffer ran out!

    Reply
    • Melissa Jean Clark

      Thanks for commenting, Angela! And sharing my post on Twitter. 🙂

      Hah! Hiplay is great. Sometimes it seems to favour certain posts. I had to archive a couple posts – don’t want it posting the same stuff too often.

      Reply
  5. Carolyn Witt

    I’m a bit of a systems junkie. I use so many of these too and I’m pretty sure we could rule the WORLD with Zapier, lol. Thanks for another great article. 😉

    Reply
    • Melissa Jean Clark

      Omg I know exactly what you mean, Carolyn! I honestly find myself just reading case studies on the Zapier website. It’s amazing all the things you can do! I’m happy to pay for a service that makes my life so much easier.

      Reply

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