A Guide to the Best Tools & Apps for Your Small Business in 2019
We’re keeping this guide current! Last Update: March 2019.
Setting up the right systems and finding the perfect tools and apps can create a big productivity boost for your business. But with so many options available, it’s hard to know what is worth your time (and what will send you down a never-ending path of YouTube tutorials and frustration).
This guide contains a write-up on every tool I’ve personally used and vetted for my own business to help you find resources that are high-quality and impactful.
Google part 1: Drive + Docs
I’ve used Google Drive to organize and store all of my documents and files for years, and I’m still as thrilled about it today as I was when I started.
First of all, having a cloud-based file storing system makes my life easier because I know I can access my files from any device. For example, if I need to access something during travel and didn’t take my laptop, everything is accessible on my phone.
I still backup files regularly on an external hard drive, but using Google Drive also ensures that my files aren’t lost just because one computer dies. I’ve never lost a file in Drive and consider it an important step in my file backup process.
Besides easy access and reliable safekeeping, I also love how easy it is to share any file or folder from within Google Drive. You can easily send an invite to anyone using their email address or generate a shareable link.
While Google Drive can be entirely web-based, I opted to download their filestream feature to put on my desktop, so I can add and access files even if I’m not connected to the internet (+ it makes it just as easy to save things to Drive as it would be to save it to your computer).
As a natural extension of using Google Drive for storage, I also use Google Docs (and spreadsheets) instead of native word processing programs (Like PC’s Microsoft Word or Apple’s Pages).
Not only are Google Docs easy to open and use from any brand of computer (no more converting files if one person is a Mac and the other a PC), I also find the interface and user experience cleaner than other programs. It’s easy, uncluttered, and includes all the tools I need to get the job done.
And since it’s cloud-based and automatically saved in your Drive as you create, you never have to worry about losing work because your computer malfunctions or your run out of battery power.
And finally, my favorite feature (though it’s really hard to pick one): it is incredibly easy to leave well-organized comments and editing notes throughout a document, and you can respond/collaborate within the comments feature with anyone you’ve shared the document with.
Google part 2: Gmail for business
Gmail for business has been my go-to inbox app for years. I came to Gmail for Business from a clunky, outdated interface that was bundled with my website hosting package. I was thrilled with the switch and I’m still happy with the performance I get.
I find Gmail to be clean and easy to navigate. I use labels (just like folders) to organize all of my emails, which keeps everything tidy and easy to find.
A few other noteworthy features are the ability to save canned responses (perfect for creating swipeable email copy for those messages you find yourself sending over and over), the search feature that makes it quick to find any message in your inbox (even if it’s been buried for weeks), and the simple out-of-office autoresponse feature.
Google part 3: Calendar
Everyone has their favorite calendar, and mine is Google Calendar. I use it for the regular stuff like scheduling my appointments, and also for time blocking my days when I’m in the office working on projects.
Google Calendar syncs well across all of my devices and provides handy alerts on my phone when I have an appointment or reminder coming up. It also syncs up with my Gmail inbox and I can easily share calendars and events with others.
Possibly my favorite feature of Google Calendar though is the ability to create a bunch of different calendars to organize different parts of my life, all under one account. I use a color-coded calendar for things like personal, marketing, client deadlines, and appointments.
As an added plus, Google Calendar syncs with most other apps and tools, making it easy to keep everything in line with your schedule.
Google part 4: Analytics
To round out my G Suite experience, I rely on Google Analytics to track all of my website activity and get insight into my audience.
Google Analytics is a complex tool and even if you don’t have time to learn and understand it fully now, I highly recommend you still install it on your website so you can begin tracking the data in the background (you can figure out what to do with it later).
Use Google analytics to track how much traffic is coming to your website, what those visitors are doing while they are there, how much time people spend on pages, what content is getting the most organic search traffic, conversion rates, and much (much) more.
If you take appointments even semi-regularly (and especially if you’re scheduling appointments on the regular), getting yourself set up with an online scheduling app will be a game changer.
I use Acuity because they have all the features I need, an easy user interface, and a good price.
I primarily use Acuity to schedule new client consultations. I set my availability for consultations through my Acuity Scheduling dashboard, and then embed the calendar right on my website (you can also just send a direct link). I’m able to create a customized form that people fill out when scheduling their consultation as well as customized reminder emails.
I also use Acuity to schedule existing client meetings, personal meetings, and networking stuff.
If you’ve ever played email or phone tag with someone hashing out availability, an online scheduler like Acuity will save you so much time.
Dubsado is a business management tool that handles a lot of different tasks. I primarily use it for sending contracts and invoices and storing client records. But, it does a lot more than that, so here’s a list:
- Lead management
- Lead capture forms
- Automated lead responses
- Send invoices (that allow your clients to pay instantly)
- Set up recurring invoices, subscriptions, and payment plans
- Send project contracts & collect e-signatures
- Send proposals & quotes
- Create & send questionnaires
- Create client portals
- Task boards for project management
- Automated workflows
- Track your time
- Appointment scheduler
My favorite thing about Dubsado is their constant innovation. They’re always improving on features and launching new ones based on requests from the community. They also put out a lot of helpful training material and recently added a service to help you get set up in Dubsado quickly. Even if I only use it for contracts, invoices, and basic project management, I’d say the service is worth it.
The most common question I get about Dubsado: is it better than 17Hats and Honeybook? I’ve used 17Hats in the past and I do like Dubsado better. I’ve never used Honeybook, so can’t really say, but I do feel that Dubsado is truly committed to building the best platform possible, so I have no doubt they’ll continue to be a strong competitor to all the other options out there.
We use Stripe as our payment processor. It integrates with Dubsado invoices (see above), it’s easy to set up and use, and it’s been a reliable, straightforward option.
I don’t have a long write up on this service (let’s face it – it’s not the most exciting thing), but we’ve relied on it for years without any issues. If you’d like to details, head over here: stripe.com
Asana is a free tool that is awesome for project management (there’s a paid Pro version as well, but the free version is still very powerful).
We currently use it in two ways (though there are lots of other ways to make use of the platform).
First, it’s our core tool for managing client projects. We have a template set up for each of our project types, and that gets copied over to each new client (it includes all the steps/tasks that will need to be completed during their project). From there, I can assign different tasks to different team members, give each task a due date, and my team & I can communicate right within the platform. It also ensures we never miss a little detail in a client project, because it’s all mapped out.
We also use Asana for some internal projects, like our ongoing editorial calendar. It’s great for planning out our content, setting publishing due dates, assigning tasks to other team members, and being able to see our content plan at a glance. You can read more about how we use Asana for editorial planning right here.
WordPress + Divi
Our agency website is built using Divi on WordPress, and the majority of our client’s websites are built that way, too.
While I don’t believe your platform is the most important ingredient in a profitable website (there are plenty of reliable options to choose from), I do love Divi for its perfect combination of ease-of-use and customization.
We aren’t limited by the design choices we can make using the Divi framework, but we can also hand off the finished websites to our clients knowing they will be able to use & update the site themselves if they want.
You can read a full review on why we love Divi for small business websites right here.
A popular question: what website host should I use?
We love recommending Flywheel for hosting WordPress websites for many reasons, but the top reason is for their customer service. There’s never been an issue that I didn’t get an answer to quickly (often within hours for the email support – and even quicker if you chat with their live support staff). I like knowing I have a dedicated team available to help me if something goes wrong with one of my sites – and that’s a peace of mind you don’t get with most cheap hosts.
Plus, Flywheel is a good value, so it won’t break the bank even if you’re a newer business owner.
Here are some other favorite Flywheel features:
- They specialize in WordPress
- Super fast website loading speeds
- Nightly backups of your website
- Clean & easy-to-use dashboard
As designers, we use Adobe Illustrator (and the rest of the Adobe creative suite) constantly – but this tool can be great for every business owner that wants more control over creating and updating design elements for their business.
While there is a definite learning curve for this program, knowing how to use Illustrator at even a basic level can allow you to do all sorts of cool stuff for your brand. Here’s a great guide on how to use Illustrator in your business.
Zoom is my go-to tool for client video meetings. Since we regularly work with clients from all over the country, having a reliable meeting solution is a must. Zoom is easy to use – even for clients who don’t have it pre-installed on their device. You can also log into meetings from a computer, phone, or tablet. They offer a great free option as well as a paid upgrade with a few extra features (like saving meeting recordings, larger groups for meetings, etc.)
I personally use ToDoist every day to keep my tasks organized. It’s a simple app that does exactly what I need it to: create to-do lists, check items off, move items around, and get a quick view of what’s on my plate for the day.
In addition to my regular daily to-do list, I also create lists for specific projects or for long-term goals. I can access it on my computer or phone, so I can always get to it when I need it.
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