7 Apps to Boost Your Business Productivity

 
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If you’re new to the entrepreneurial world, then you might be kiiiiinda sorta flyin’ by the seat of your pants. Yeah?

You never went to business or marketing or even design school, so you’re probably a little overwhelmed with your business.

I totally get it. When I first started, I had about 10 years of print design experience and some light freelancing experience under my belt, plus my college design education, which in no way prepared me to run a business of any magnitude. Back then freelancing just meant we agreed (verbally or written in an email) on a price, I did the work and they sent me a check. No written invoice, no contract. YIKES.

Don’t be that person! Let’s get you started with a few apps I wish I’d been using right out of the gate.

 

 

Disclaimer: I only recommend apps I love, trust AND use myself. Any affiliate links are marked with an asterisk.* If you click an affiliate link I’ll get a small commission at no extra cost to you. 🤩

 

Website

Squarespace

If you have a business, at some point you’re probably going to need a website. I think Squarespace is a great option for most small businesses for 3 main reasons:

  1. it’s affordable

  2. you can get setup fast & edit it yourself

  3. it can be easily customized later by an expert when you’re ready

All of their templates are setup from the get go with SEO, security and mobile optimization in mind. No need for coding, plugins or extra security measures; they do all of the very basics for you AND they have excellent customer service.

They have a 2 week free trial so you can set it up and launch it in 2 weeks!

READ MORE: Why Squarespace?

If you don’t want to or don’t have time to DIY your site, I’d absolutely love to work with you to build a Squarespace website design. You provide the content/info & I set everything up for you. #timesaver!

 

CRM Tool

Dubsado*

If you have a business, you’ll also need a Client Management Tool to handle invoicing, contracts, proposals, emails, forms, address book info, automations and so much more.

A lot of larger businesses use Quickbooks for their accounting, but it doesn’t do ALL the things Dubsado does. It wouldn’t hurt to have both; in fact, you’ll likely end up wanting both, depending on what your business is. But in the mean time, Wave is free for accounting and totally perfect for business newbies.

What does Dubsado do, specifically?

  • lead generation - you can embed lead capture forms directly onto your website by just copying the generated-for-you code & pasting it into a code block anywhere on your Squarespace site.

  • automations (workflows) - you can set specific triggers for tasks or lists of tasks that it will do FOR you. Like send a (pre-written) welcome email to anyone who submits a lead capture form, or automatically sends the invoice & contract after a proposal is submitted, or a slew of other things keeping YOU from doing #allthepaperwork.

  • a scheduler, like Acuity - it was just released & is not yet quite as robust as Acuity, but it can allow your clients to book online without involving you in the process.

  • drag-and-drop form builders - want more control over how your proposals, questionnaires, testimonial requests and contracts are set up? This is a GOLDEN feature!

  • client portal - each project or client has access to a private member area where they can see their own contact information & edit it as needed, see if any invoices are outstanding, or if any forms need to be filled out; they can also see links you’ve added to websites they may need access to, etc.

  • send contracts, invoices & proposals - you can do this manually or use an automation, and you can send all 3 at once or send them individually.

    • READ MORE: How to get a legal, affordable & reliable contract for your business

    • Don’t have a contract yet? YIKES! I really encourage you to get one. The Contract Shop* has loads of them & they’re all easily editable. Christina (owner of TCS) highlights all the fields (in the downloadable Word docs) you’re supposed to change to fit your business, making the editing process super easy & not scary at all. I’ve purchased from her myself, which is why I’m comfortable recommending her to you! Make sure you visit her shop to see what’s available;* she’s got checklists, non-disclosure agreements, GDPR + Privacy Policy + Terms & Conditions legal documents, collaboration contracts, and so. much. more.

  • Dubsado is so much more than this short little list, with new features & updates being added all the time!

READ MORE:
How I use Dubsado in my Client Onboarding
Why I’m so excited to share my Favorite Freelancer App!

They have a Free Trial with no time limit (limited to 3 clients per account), so you can test it out & see if it’s a good fit for you. You’ll even have access to all the features!

Right now you can get 20% off your first payment to Dubsado by using the code S1862*

 

A Design app

Canva

Canva is a simple design app for people who aren’t designers or don’t have the design software. It has tons of templates you can use with free stock photos, & the ability to change fonts, colors, placement, upload your own logo and all kinds of cool stuff.

They have a free web app (use it in your browser) or mobile app (on your phone or tablet), or you can upgrade for even more features.

It’s a great tool for creating custom images for business cards, Instagram, Facebook, Pinterest, flyers, postcards, and a whole lot more.

Of course I’d recommend hiring a designer at some point to do these things in stead, but until then this will definitely help get you started!

Pro Level Design Software

ADOBE
Of course being an educated graphic designer myself, I’d recommend Adobe because it’s industry standard and is the best in the industry with #allthetools in their master collection. Their new Creative Cloud subscription setup means you don’t have to fork out a lot at once to get to use it, and you can pick and choose which apps will work best for your business purposes.

  • Illustrator is for building vector graphics (like logos & graphic illustrations)

  • Photoshop is for building & editing raster images (not as scale-able as vector graphics)

  • InDesign is used for page layout for things like books, newspapers & magazines mostly, and

  • Adobe Acrobat lets you edit PDF’s for clickable/linked text, forms, signatures, etc.

There’s a lot more to choose from, but those are the main 3 or 4 you’ll most likely need to get started with.

AFFINITY
If you can’t afford Adobe products, I totally get it. On the surface a small monthly payment of between $20 and $75-ish, depending on how many apps you want access to, seems doable. When you calculate that over time though, it starts to add up & become more expensive than their old style of buying the software outright. Yes it was like $1400 or something, up front, but now it’s between something like $240/yr and $900/yr for every year you need access, into perpetuity basically.

Many designers used to only buy the updated software every other year, or every 2-5 years depending on their financial situation. So I’ve been there and I totally get it!

The upside here is the Affinity design software line! From my research they seem to provide nearly the same quality in their apps for FAR less. I’m talking $50/ea per desktop app (as of early 2019) and even less per app for tablets. That’s not a monthly payment; you buy it outright at that price!

They offer 3 apps:

  • Design (like Adobe Illustrator)

  • Photo (like Adobe Photoshop)

  • Publisher (like Adobe InDesign)

That means you can get started for about $150 with a full suite of design software! It’s available on Mac & PC now too.

 

A Project Management Tool

I’ve tried so many of these trying to find the perfect combination of features I need! I can’t tell you which one will work best for you, but these are some I’ve actually tried & like using myself.

This is by no means a complete breakdown of each of these apps, but here’s a super quick rundown of each one:

Zenkit

It’s got the best layout/viewing options & adjustability of your content IMHO. You can see all your content in kanban (like Trello), a global calendar (shows all due dates in one place), a list (like Asana), or a spreadsheet (like Airtable) or even in a Mindmap!

It has custom fields, and everything acts like Trello (drag & drop) so if you’re coming from Trello you’ll be at home. It also allows you to import data from Trello, Wunderlist, Asana, a CSV spreadsheet file or a calendar.

$ - It has free & paid features, but much of it is free to use.
Apps - web app, desktop & mobile (Apple/Google Play)

Trello*

Trello is my first love. I’ve been comparing everything else to it! It seems the easiest to learn right out of the gate & it’s VERY visual so creatives tend to really love it.

There are limitations with the free version though, including no global calendar (can’t see all due dates from your account in one place without extra stuff connecting the boards together or copying due-dated cards onto one central calendar board) which is a pretty big one for me.

They also have what’s called Power Ups for each board you create (which have super neat features), but only one Power Up is allowed per board on the free version. So if you want a calendar, you can’t also have the recurring tasks or custom fields Power Up at the same time unless you upgrade your plan.

It does allow labeling & dates for each card (task) added, and backgrounds are super easy to change with photos from Unsplash so there are a LOT to choose from.

There are also 2-3 or so super handy Chrome Extension that hookup to Trello to help you minimize lists & de-clutter your board without archiving anything to clear it out, and to use it for adding new cards without opening the board, and adding checklist items onto the card’s face. Once of those extensions even allows you quick access to your boards by typing “t (space) (name of board)” in the search bar and it takes ya right to it.

READ MORE: 17 of my favorite Chrome extensions

$ - It has free & paid features, but much of it is free to use.
Apps - web app, desktop & mobile (Apple/Google Play)

ClickUp

ClickUp is my wanna-be love. Their user interface is sooooooo clean, crisp & pretty!

But ClickUp is also very robust & has a steeper learning curve. You can customize your content/info a lot more, but because of that it’s not as easy to pick up right away. They offer different views/layouts to see your data (kanban, spreadsheet, box, calendar, or list) but it doesn’t rearrange the data the way I expect it to and so some of the views aren’t useful for me.

Once you get used to their system though, it is FANTASTIC for detailed teamwork. It has task dependencies (for when you can’t get Task B done without Suzie completing Task A), a resolved checkbox on task comments, statuses, goals, calendar syncing, due dates, assignees, native time tracking, and tons of integrations with other apps and devices (including Amazon Alexa & Google Assistant!)

While it may take a minute to wrap your head around this platform, and a long time to figure out everything you can do with it, it definitely seems the most robust & adjustable where it counts.

It also has a handy Chrome extension which includes the ability to time track with it, if I remember correctly.

$ - It has free & paid features, but much of it is free to use.
Apps - web app, desktop & mobile (Apple/Google Play)

AirTable

AirTable has introduced some new features so it also has pretty much the same set of views as everything else. It’s powerful & is apparently used by Buzzfeed, which is cool to know.

I contacted them once about their security levels (wondering if I could use it to store important info) and they said they use bank-level encryption, which means your stuff is pretty damn secure.

They have a pretty interface and if you’re a spreadsheet-lover, you’ll likely find a happy home here.

$ - It has free & paid features, but a fair amount of it is free to use.
Apps - web app, desktop & mobile (Apple/Google Play)

Asana

Asana has adopted some new features that mimic the views in Trello with it’s task delegation feature. They’ve also cleaned up the interface a lot. If you’re a list person, you’ll likely really enjoy using Asana.

They have a fair amount of features available on the free version, but to get the most out of it you’ll need to upgrade.

$ - It has free & paid features, but some of it is free to use.
Apps - web app & mobile (Apple/Google Play)


Of all of these I use Trello the most & really enjoy it, but it lacks some features I need. Since deciding to expand my PM tool horizons, I’ve been going back & forth between Trello & ClickUp. Zenkit is probably my 3rd favorite, with Airtable in 4th place and Asana being last.

READ MORE:
7 ways to use Trello
How to organize your life with Trello
How to use Trello to save your bookmarks

 

Online Scheduler

Tired of the back-and-forth of figuring out when to schedule a call or a video chat with your clients? STAHP doing that!

Online Schedulers let you set it up before-hand, pre-setting your availability for all or certain kinds of appointments, adding forms that must be filled out upon booking and an even accept payments during booking so all you have to do is show up for the appointment. Everything is already done & you have all the info you need. IF you set it up right.

Acuity

Even though Dubsado has an online scheduler now, I’m still going to recommend Acuity for this.

Dubsado’s scheduler is still new & not as robust, PLUS you can get Acuity’s paid plan (Emerging Entrepreneur) for FREE when you hook it up to your Squarespace website! Which means you get a lot more free features than their free plan offers, and more than Dubsado currently offers at time of posting.

To see how to hook that up, do yourself a favor & read the linked blog post below! #thankmelater

READ MORE: How to get an Acuity paid plan for FREE (legally)

 

Email Marketing

Everybody’s saying it: you don’t own your social media audience. If Facebook or Instagram shut down, how would you reach those people? Your old followers.

You couldn’t! This is why email marketing is so important. The more people you have on your list the better your chances of hanging onto, & developing some kind of business relationship with, your biggest fans. The easier it will also be to sell your products when you’re ready.

MailerLite

I actually started with ConvertKit and while it is a VERY robust system it was 1) a bit over my head and 2) a bit pricey for a newb. So I switched over to MailerLite because they had a free plan that met my needs exactly and did all the things I was actually using ConvertKit for.

Now they’ve changed their prices a bit, so I had to upgrade in order to keep using the features I was use to, but it’s still cheaper than ConvertKit and I’m still happy with MailerLite.

If you want to be able to send out newsletters, email blasts, marketing emails, and have email funnels, then MailerLite is a great place to start. They also offer buttons, forms, and lead pages, as well as a drag-and-drop email template builder and email templates.

You can make your emails look gorgeous and practical in a cinch.

The catch? You do have to have a website in order to use it, basically. They use your domain to send your emails so it comes from @yourbusinessnamehere.com instead of @gmail or @icloud, etc.

They do have a free plan for super newbies, but you’ll get the most out of their lowest paid plan if you can afford the extra expense.

 

Social Media schedulers

Who has time to post to multiple accounts everyday? I sure don’t. That’s why I use schedulers!

For Pinterest, because it’s such a robust image search engine, I use Tailwind. Facebook likes native scheduling, so I use their own platform for that. For Instagram, because posting can be time consuming, I use Later.

Tailwind

Tailwind is a dream for Pinterest scheduling! I’ve grown my followers from mostly using Tailwind (started with Board Booster) from 0 to over 1,000 in just a couple years of lightly focused use & constant pinning. I now reach about 279,000 people from my efforts as well.

Their Chrome extension makes finding new pins or pinning from my site super easy, and that gets my blog posts out to you!

They also have Instagram scheduling now (automatically posting) with all kinds of extra features. I tried it but decided it wasn’t worth the extra payment, so I switched my Instagram scheduling to the Later app.

READ MORE:
How to use Pinterest for Business
How to schedule automatic Instagram posts

Later

Later is a social media scheduler for Instagram, Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest. Their free plan limits you to a certain number of posts per month, but I love their Instagram feed preview feature!

Once I get a few posts scheduled, I can preview how the gallery will look and rearrange the posts if needed so that it looks right when they are posted (automatically).

Later has both free & paid plans, but since I’m not too active on social media (Pinterest aside) I get everything I need on the free plan.

READ MORE: How to create a social media landing page on your Squarespace site

 

Is there a must-have business app that you like that isn’t on this list? Do tell! Leave it in the comments!


Are you dreaming about a website, but scared to DIY it?

I don’t blame ya! It’s a BIG task to tackle, but I’d be happy to help you cross it off your to-do list!