Are you working on those New Year’s goals? Recently I read a statistic that 92% fail at keeping their New Year’s resolutions. Which is why I believe in setting goals. In order to help you reach those goals and rock your business I wanted to share some great tools that will help you reach your ideal clients, relieve some marketing stress and help you to make great strides without spending a lot of dough. With that said, here are my 10 mostly free business tools that will help you rock your business this year. There are a few affiliate links noted (this means they pay me if you sign up with them at no cost to you). With that being said, I would use their product whether they paid me or not, because these tools rock. I have kicked out a lot of lemons from my repertoire over the years and truly stand behind all of my recommendations below. I hope that you will find the list helpful and can save yourself some time by not having to try out a bunch of different options.
1 – WordPress
The quickest to create a website that is mobile friendly and that will grow with you and your business. There are multiple themes available that you can use that will coordinate with your brand and with little coding you can create a website that looks professional, is visible from all mobile devices and be added onto and modified as your business grows. A quick tip – don’t use a free theme as they are more often hacked into. Spend a little extra to get an upgraded theme (see Elegant Themes below)
2 – Elegant Themes
(Specifically Divi) – So the investment for Divi is a little higher than what you might pay for an individual theme, however, you get access to all the themes in the Elegant Themes package and all of their plugins. I have a bit of a bias when it comes to Divi because I love how easy it is to create a website you love and change any and all elements by dragging and dropping. It is packed with customization options including colors, fonts, sizing and you can easily make modifications for different size screens. The pricing is $69-$89/year or lifetime access $249. If you want to help a gal out, you can use my affiliate link here to sign up for Elegant Themes.
3 – Theme Forest
Has some great premium themes available as well. The initial investment is typically a one time payment. Sometimes you have to pay extra for updates, just be aware of this. You are able to search by category and find a plug and play theme to use. This option gives you less customization unless you want to pick up some coding, but will still work to meet your needs. A word of caution, make sure you pick a theme from a reputable designer and that updates are included. You can check this by looking at reviews for the designer. This is also a great place to find brand and site inspiration.
4 – Insightly CRM
You know all those business cards stacked up on your desk from the networking events you go to? The friend of a friend who needs something? Wouldn’t it be nice to have a better system than the sort and shuffle method? How about a CRM (Customer Relationship Manager). Insightly is my favorite starter CRM as it gives you the flexibility and function of a larger CRM to track your customer interactions, without a heavy price tag. I’m all for using Infusionsoft, Salesforce or one of the larger CRMs when your business grows, but most of us need a tool that isn’t a fortune, is easy to implement and will get the job done. This is that tool (and they are not paying me to say that.) The initial account (which comes with a ton of options) is free. You can manage contacts, tasks and projects from mobile devices and desktop. The next upgrade level is $12 a month per user. Not too shabby eh? They have an award for the best CRM of 2016 – what more can I say? Go check them out.
5 – Similar Web
This is my favorite new find. I’m sure it’s not new, just new to me! Wow does this tool do some awesome sauce stuff for competitive research. You can type in the domain of a competitor and it will tell you all kinds of relevant information about their business. For example, their overall ranking nationally as well as, worldwide. It will also tell you how many site views they get and on which pages. Where their visitors are coming from, how often they visit and the interests of their audience. It will tell you who is referring traffic to them (think ads here). I seriously LOVE this site but I’m a geek when it comes to research. Go play with it and see what you can find out, because it’s always a good idea to keep an eye on the competition.
Ok, so I’m going to go on a bit of Google craze here – but seriously…Google is da bomb when it comes to providing free resources for your business. Did I mention FREE, yes all of these Google tools are free….so…why not get a little crazy?
6 – Google Drive
If you haven’t heard of Google Drive and realized that it is the coolest free option to Microsoft Excel, Word and Powerpoint than I am hear to fix that. It is. The. Coolest. First awesome feature, it auto saves everything you do, automatically. Which if you are anything like me, is a God send. I can’t tell you how many times I have been working on a project and forgot to save and the computer will “malfunction”. That all goes away. No more frantic “oh crud” it’s still there. You can also access, share all of your documents across devices. You can also share with your – team and collaborators to keep things out of email. I might mention I am creating this document in Google Docs and the coolest new tip – it will autofill your hyperlink based on what you type as text to link (like I did with the tool titles of this document). Saves you the time of going to find the link, copying it and pasting it in as a hyperlink.
Looking for some inspiration on what to blog about or what is being talked about by your ideal audience? Check out Google trends, they have trends on everything including things you probably have no interest in. However, stocked full of relevant searchable information with the ability to limit from the last hour all the way to the last 5 years. Search your relevant topic and see how it has trended or is trending. Why is this important? Because you don’t want to spend your time creating a blog post if no one is interested in your topic. This is also a great resource for industry research.
8 – Dropbox
Dropbox is a cloud based storage platform that allows you to backup, save and share files with designated parties. This has been a lifesaver in the web design area of my business. I can share photo ideas between clients, the photographer and myself. I can collaborate with my team, and the client. Best of all I can access files from any computer any time, making it super easy to meet at a client’s office and sign in from their server. The initial Dropbox signup is free with the option to upgrade. I of course blew through the free in about a nanosecond, but, totally worth the $99 a year for the upgrade. You can also backup your WordPress website and iPhone automatically to dropbox.
9 – MileIQ
Up until this year I have always used a paper mileage tracker for my business mileage. I got one free from an accountant and it was easy, a no brainer and already there. Since then, I’ve discovered another fancy pants way that is WAY better, like why didn’t I do this sooner, better way to track your mileage. The MileIQ app tracks all your drives (up to 40 free per month) and you swipe left if they are personal and right if they are business. It tracks the miles and then you can download the report to go right into your accounting software. Goodbye paper tracker, hello MileIQ. Paid plan starts at $60 per year for unlimited drives. TOTALLY worth it instead of figuring out all that mileage at the end of the year for us procrastinators.
10 – Lastpass
My favorite app for keeping track of all my passwords securely. With all of the passwords we have to keep track of, this works infinitely better than those scrap pieces of paper you have laying around to remember your passwords. Yes, I’m looking at you. 😀 This will not only keep track of your passwords, the sites they belong to and keep you secure with automatic password change suggestions, you can install it on your mobile devices and it will remember your passwords there as well. You only need to remember one password, your LastPass password. One last tidbit, they are leading edge in security and encrypt your passwords through layers of encryption and then chopping them up so there is no way a hacker could ever get through that code. Wahoo..get security and some piece of mind, get yourself LastPass. Also free with some premium upgrades starting at $48 per user per year.
So I thought I could narrow it to 10, but I couldn’t. I had to add these last two tools because they are also so amazing and I really think they will help you when creating content and marketing your business. If you are a visual person, as most creatives are, you will almost certainly love both of these as well. These two tools I use in my business every single day.
11 – Trello
My favorite organization, brainstorming and project management app. Trello allows you to create boards and lists to organize all of your projects, ideas and plans. You can search shared public boards for inspiration, upload images to create your social marketing calendar, share boards and lists with your team so you can work on projects together, and a whole bunch of other awesomeness. Also free with paid upgrade starting at $45 per year.
12 – Canva
My all time favorite tool to create beautiful visuals for blog posts, social media, presentations, you name it. The app includes pre-designed templates for all the main social media apps as well as presentations. You can buy graphics for $1 for a 24-hour use fee (meaning you can make edits for up to 24 hours) and tons of fonts, colors, filters, lots and lots of design benefits without being a designer. They also have an online course that will walk you through the key features. This tool is also free with the option to upgrade to $12.95 per month per user.
I hope you find these tools helpful. If you have tools you love and would like to add to the list, leave them below. I’m always up for more tools to add to the toolbox.
Wishing you the best of everything in 2017 and as always, Happy cooking!