Software for small business: a list that works for me
UPDATED May 2018
When I got started doing this thing online, my software tools were basic and my small business requirements were simple.
Things have changed since then, quite lot.
Below is a list of most of the tools I use to run this one-and-a-half man business. It’s pretty complete, but if I’m missing anything, drop me a line and ask.
Let’s start with email
Mondays are email and admin days.
I log into HelpScout where my beautiful assistant du jour has assigned me emails that came in the previous week that they prefer I deal with.
Top priority is responding to the Single Malt Mastermind emails that arrived over the weekend.
I like HelpScout because it integrates beautifully with Infusionsoft and Pipedrive (more on those below) and the app works great on the phone (with the bizarre exception of still not being able to forward emails from the mobile app).
Using Google Apps for Work, I set up filters in my email that mean that everything that doesn’t come from my wife doesn’t hit my inbox.
It takes a little bit of willpower to not check my “All Email” folder, but not too much: the benefits of not getting regular email far outweigh the quick fix of seeing what’s come in.
One of the great reasons for using HelpScout (and Pipedrive and Contactually) for outgoing email is that they all have inbuilt open tracking. Way to stalk your clients and suppliers.
I use Contactually for about ten minutes every day for my Five Things and occasionally for its ScaleMail mail-merge function. HOWEVER, Pipedrive has recently introduced an awesome contact timeline that allows you to see who’s due a follow up, and I’m test-driving that for now.
I prefer to do personal follow up with Facebook Messenger or WhatsApp or iMessage. Much higher open rates …
First drafts of anything normally get bashed out in Bear. Minimalist and distraction-free. Writing without an internet connection is one of my favorite productivity tips.
Depending on where the writing ends up, it then gets copied – without formatting – into Google Drive (for copywriting clients) – or WordPress (rarely) or, more frequently, straight into Infusionsoft.
I don’t like copying formatting over because stuff gets messed up, and re-reading, re-writing and formatting from scratch means another set of eyes goes over the finished piece before it gets redirected or sent on.
I have included my mail-to-Evernote email address as a contact in Infusionsoft. Every commercial email I send out gets sent to – and archived in – Evernote.
I’m really proud of the way that the finances get handled. Over the years I’ve gone from doing everything myself, to having my assistant do everything, to NEVER TOUCHING anything to do with money and letting it happen 90% automatically with a dedicated book-keeper to keep an eye on things.
I CAN’T TELL YOU HOW MUCH I LOVE THRIVECART. You’ll love it too, guaranteed.
Before I used ThriveCart I used to have messy Infusionsoft order forms, made pretty with other pieces of software and still not doing half the job that ThriveCart does right out of the box.
Hubdoc pulls all my bank statements and receipts and incoming invoices into Xero. I use the mobile app on my iPhone to scan paper receipts.
I have a bookkeeper from Bean Ninjas who I can’t recommend highly enough. AWESOME service. Tell them I sent you.
For cashflow and forecasting, I’m in LOVE with You Need A Budget both at home and business. I update it manually about once every ten days, which keeps me sharp on where the money is going, and I do my best to combine it with Mike Michalowicz’s Profit First principles.
Productivity and not letting things drop.
Todoist takes care of all project and task management.
(If you feel you’re not getting the most out of Evernote, I strongly recommend Evernote Essentials by Bretty Kelly.)
A recent addition to my note-taking practice, which I fell in love with in about three minutes flat, is to use Paper by 53 on an iPad Pro. I just used it for three days solid at an event in Santa Monica and – for the first time ever – all my notes are in the same place, digitally saved, and easy to find.
Notability is fast biting at its heels, too.
RescueTime runs in the background and keeps an eye on how I’m spending my time and I use a Zap to send a daily summary to my Google calendar so I can quickly glance at how many productive hours I’ve had in the previous days. Toggl runs all the time as well for manual time-tracking. I don’t bill anybody on an hourly basis, but I’m really keen to see how and where my time goes and make sure I’m not doing anything I shouldn’t be doing.
I use Fantastical2 as my default calendar on every device. It’s fantastical.
1Password syncs passwords across devices and the shared vault feature lets me share specific passwords with specific people.
Marketing and Delivery
Infusionsoft runs automated marketing and mailing. It’s also the main hub for recording payments (processed through Thrivecart order forms).
Pipedrive is where I track all of the deals that need closing manually. Infusionsoft has this capability, but Pipedrive is MUCH easier and more intuitive.
I’ve been using Infusionsoft for almost a decadef and can’t bring myself to change. I’m also a big fan, which helps.
I supercharge it with MyFusionHelper which makes it infinitely more slick and useful, and allows it to talk seamlessly to things like GoToWebinar, which I’ve recently returned to for webinars. I use Zoom for client meetings and instead of Skype.
I really only use Skype for a US-based virtual telephone number, although I’m testing Google voice for the same.
At the end of a lesson or webinar for my Advisory Board clients, I stick the video recording in a Dropbox file, and a multi-step Zap runs that puts the video on Vimeo, rips an mp3 from the audio using CloudConvert, hosts that audio on Amazon S3, write a blog post draft inside my members site and creates a task in Todoist that lets me know it’s done and ready for finishing touches. Zapier rocks.
I use Leadpages for very quick and dirty landing pages. Couldn’t live without it at this stage, and it’s getting better with each iteration.
(Update: I very rarely do ANYTHING with design anymore unless it’s a two minute social media image. Instead, I ask my friendly designers.)
Google Tag Manager has been hugely appreciated for wrapping up code and sticking it on websites, especially since the amount of different things that I want to track has increased.
(Currently wrapping Infusionsoft, Google Analytics, Facebook pixels, Facebook Connect and iTracker360 code on most properties).
Currently in love with AdEspresso for managing Facebook ads. It makes split-testing and creating multiple variations of ads a breeze, its reporting is stellar and it automatically optimizes your ads in the background so you’re getting the best return for your buck.
I monitor effectiveness of ads and campaign consistency by amalgamating all reports in Airtable and keeping a consistent UTM structure from drop-down menus. That’s a blog post for another day.
Airtable is awesome. It’s like Google Sheets on steroids. I’m finding new uses for it each day.
I create slideshows in Keynote and – when creating screenshare videos – either record natively within Keynote or else screen capture with ScreenFlow and tweak. I used Screenflow for editing on the rare occasion I do to-camera video (although rarely do video and very rarely do my own editing now.)
For stock photos I go to one of these (paid) places:
Or one of these (free) places:
Unsplash – Stocksnap – Gratisography – Negative Space – Splitshire – Little Visuals – Life of Pix – Superfamous – Death To The Stock Photo – Pic Jumbo – IM Creator – Lock and Stock Photos – Snap Wire Snaps – Jay Mantri – TookAPic
Another tool is MissingLettr which I picked up on an Appsumo deal. It’s nice and easy to set and forget.
For planning out general email marketing campaigns I prefer to use Google Calendar.
Transmit for FTP. Bluehost and Synthesis and Cloudways for hosting. Namecheap, primarily, for domain names. Bitly for link-shortening and tracking. Akturatech for site-monitoring and speeding up and so that I have somebody to call when I’ve got a problem. I use their on-demand web guy service …
And probably other stuff that I’ve forgotten right now.
It’s been a process of continuous tweaking and improvement. Although the list of tools might seem long, each component, once slotted into the system, makes for a reduction in hours worked and headaches had.
But remember: the tools don’t matter. It’s what you do with them.
And what you SHOULD do with them is my Five Things.