There are literally hundreds of "must-have" tools that different creative entrepreneurs will recommend you need for success in this online business world. The great news is that there are plenty of key tools and resources out there that are either free (yep, you heard that right!) or less than $10 per month.
The Ultimate List of 10 MUST-HAVES for Biz Success (and Sanity)
1. Mailchimp -
You've heard it before, and you'll hear it again. Growing your email list has got to be one of your top priorities when growing your biz. You might say you have a bazillon likes (ok, small exaggeration) on Facebook, or a highly engaged Twitter following, but you've got to put your heart and soul into gathering emails. That email list is going to be your bread and butter when it comes to putting your first product or service out into the world.
The great thing about Mailchimp is that it is completely free to get started for up to 2,000 subscribers and up to 12,000 emails a month. However, I highly recommend going with their lowest priced paid option which is $10 per month for up to 500 subscribers.
The key is that the paid option gets you access to their automation tools. This will allow you to create automated email sequences that are sent your subscribers. This is uber important for introducing a new subscriber to your brand, as well as letting them know about your paid offerings (in a non-sleazy way).
Full disclosure: I now use and love ConvertKit, however I'm all about using MailChimp if you're just getting started and are looking for a low priced option!
2. Canva or Picmonkey -
It used to be that you needed graphic design skills (and expensive programs) of your own to make all the needed graphics for your website and social media. Now with Canva and Picmonkey, and a little practice, anyone can make quality graphics. This is great news, because I am normally creating graphics on a weekly basis, whether it be for a posting on Facebook or creating a new pin for Pinterest.
I really love Canva, and would probably recommend it as your first stop for graphic design needs. However, I still use PicMonkey because it gives you the option to upload your own fonts for use. If you're a "font snob" (I say that with complete love!) you may want the option to use more than the standard fonts that Canva provides, even though they do have a good selection available.
Tailwind is a must in my book if you plan to seriously leverage Pinterest traffic for your website. And my opinion is that Pinterest is one of the most powerful platforms out there for small businesses in almost any industry.
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But the key is that you've got to get strategic about your pinning, which often means pinning 30+ pins PER DAY, especially when you're in growth mode. For me, sitting down to pin that many per day just isn't going to happen. So a pin scheduler is a necessity. Tailwind is $9.99 per month (when purchased on their annual plan), and is worth every penny to be able to schedule pins in advance. They even automatically determine what times of day your pins are getting the most action (repins, likes, etc) so that you can optimize your pinning schedule.
4. Buffer -
I also suggest having a scheduling program for your Facebook and Twitter accounts. You're still going to need to be active (it is call SOCIAL media right?), but a scheduler is going to keep your account going even on days when you can't contribute the time to be directly in the platform.
There is a free Buffer account that you can get started with, but you can only schedule 10 posts at a time per social network (not that much of a time saver). I'd suggest moving up to the "Awesome" plan which is $10 a month and allows you to store up to 100 updates per profile, which should be plenty!
Now, please promise me that you won't only share your own content on Facebook and Twitter! Please, please promise me now! Social media is meant to get social! This is a time to make connections with others in your industry, as well as to get your name on their radar if you're new to the scene. Contrary to popular belief, you'll actually build you brand by sharing out the content of others. Share the love people!
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5. Feedly -
Feedly is a must have for me to keep track of the blogs and entrepreneurs that I want to keep up to date with. Feedly curates the blog articles of your favorite bloggers into an easy to read digest of their recent postings.
You can then click through if you want to go directly to the blog post and add a comment on the post (something I do several times a week to keep fostering those connections). Or you can actually schedule directly from Feedly to Buffer if you want to add these blog posts to your Buffer queue to be shared out on Facebook or Twitter. Totally free service!
6. Boomerang -
If you're anything like me, I've got a feeling that you may not work traditional work hours. There is no problem with this at all! Until it does become a problem .... not for you, but for client expectations. When you start replying to email at 11pm at night, unfortunately clients start to expect that you'll ALWAYS respond to them no matter what hour of day or night it is.
Boundaries are SO important in business, and they are much easier to set from the beginning, rather than try to change them later on. Boomerang is perfect for solving this problem! You can write your emails whenever you like, even if that's 2am, but then with Boomerang you'll schedule them to be sent out at a "reasonable" working hour. Maybe 9am? With the free plan you can schedule up to 10 emails a month. Or if you need more, you can move up to the next level that is only $5 per month.
7. Google Voice -
If your business EVER involves talking with your clients on the phone, then a business line is a must. This goes along with those boundaries we were talking about. As soon as a client has your cell number, you've got no way to "shut off" business mode.
Google Voice is a super simple way to add a separate business line to your cell phone for free! Download the app to your phone, and you can easily make/take phone calls and text messages through your cell phone, but never give out your personal cell number. Plus you can create a super profesh business voicemail specifically for your business line.
8. Asana -
I love Asana for keeping track of my weekly task list! If you have anyone else that you must coordinate with in your business - a biz partner, a VA, a contributor, etc then Asana is absolutely perfect for keeping all of your conversations around each task separate and organized (and out of your inbox!). However even if it's just you, Asana is still an excellent program for planning out your week and determining where you are in each step of the process. Once again, totally free!
9. Wufoo forms -
I think it's super important to have a form on your website that is more than just your standard Contact Me form. Whatever service you're offering, you need a form that asks the questions that you need answers to right away, to determine if they are going to be the right fit to work with you. No need to go back and forth with emails. The first level of Wufoo signup is completely free to get started. I love Wufoo because the forms are fully customizable, and also integrate with Mailchimp, and a bunch of other services. You can either include the form directly on your own website, or you can use it as a clickable link and have the form hosted by Wufoo instead.
10. Unroll.me -
If you haven't heard of this little gem of a service, get over to www.unroll.me right now! I know you've been signing up for all those free opt-in gifts right and left, but now your email inbox is clogged up with newsletters all day long. With Unroll.me you can easily (I"m talking 1 click!) unsubscribe from any subscription you no longer are interested in. You will be amazed by how many subscriptions you have! Crazy! Then you can take all of the other subscriptions and have them all wrapped up in nice, neat email for you to look over one time each day. Rather than arriving in your inbox throughout the day, all day, every day!
So What About You?
Those are my 10 must have tools for a new creative entrepreneur! What do you think? Do you use these tools, or are there others that you think are more important? I'd love to hear your business must haves in the comments below.
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