Updated Feb 2020
Yes, it’s a productivity roundup!
But guess what — I’m doing it because these tools are all so useful. Every time I see a tools roundup, I always read it because I learn about something that I haven’t been using before, something that can help streamline my workflow or make my life better in some way.
This is my little list of things that I use regularly to inspire and motivate me and keep my business running. Maybe you’ll find something useful here, too, especially if you’re a solopreneur, artist, or creative service provider!
So here are my top tools, in no particular order:
** This post contains affiliate links, which means I might make a commission if you choose to purchase from these sites. This helps you run your business better, and helps support me making great content! TIA
I’ve tried my fair share of website builders. And though I originally steered away from Squarespace because it’s too easy to look like a template, I love its simple integrations and constant improvements. It makes it easy for me to change up my website, sell online, and connect with others. I’ve used Wix, Shopify, and WordPress, and while they all have their upsides, right now it’s Squarespace for me.
2 | My iPad Pro
This is the #1 best tool that I’ve bought for myself in… maybe ever? I was coveting one for along time before I made the investment, and it’s transformed the way that I work. Now, when an idea comes to my head, I can just grab it and sketch it out quickly with the right colors! I love my colored pencils and paper, but I have hundreds of sketches lying around waiting to be turned into drawings. At least the hundreds more on my iPad Pro are already digital, so it will hopefully be easier to finish them.
Instead of watching Netflix, I would much rather imbibe good design (is that possible?). I have over 300 Skillshare courses in my “to watch list” to date, and I hope to find time this coming year to really watch some of them! Skillshare has classes on everything from surface pattern design to social media marketing, so if you like to geek out on learning new skills, you’ll get unlimited enjoyment from a monthly or yearly subscription. Get 2 months of Skillshare free here >
I’ve been on Pinterest since it was invite-only, and even considered becoming a Pinterest account manager because I love spending time there. I use Pinterest almost daily to search for design inspiration, see recent trends, and grow my email list by promoting my own content. Unlike Instagram (see below), which compels you to create, with Pinterest, it’s OK to have an account just to curate beautiful things and ideas. In fact, most people use it that way. If you’re a business, though, you should definitely be there, and also using Tailwind to schedule your pins. (more on that in a minute.)
Is that even a good reason to use a platform? It seems to be, as Instagram is the place to engage with other artists and admirers who like your work. Especially if you’re a visual artist or a shop owner. I just started using Instagram and haven’t invested much into it yet, but it’s easy to quickly gain followers if you create beautiful content and engage with them. Added plus: create a shoppable Instagram so people can buy your products from looking at your beautiful feed!
Totally needed for scheduling posts in advance. As I mentioned above, i don’t spend time on social media, just because I don’t have time to spend. While I love browsing through Pinterest and Instagram for Inspiration, I find it challenging to keep on top of my own feeds.
Tailwind makes it easier to stay social
with its Smart Loop features that repins content for you (like BoardBooster used to do), and I can schedule to both Pinterest and Instagram from it. It’s an official partner for both, so you don’t have to worry too much about getting marked as spam or shadowbanned in you use it wisely.
I recently switched from a popular CRM competitor to Honeybook, and it has helped to infinitely simplify my client process. Most importantly, Honeybook provides a beautiful and streamlined experience for my clients so that they can view brochures, fill out questionnaires, and make payments with ease. Their UI is exquisite. Honeybook also lets you set up automatic workflows, create templates, and more. You can click here for a 50% discount to try it out yourself.
GDrive is a Google account for work. It’s linked to a Google email address (linked to your website domain) and comes with lots of storage, and the ability to work with teammates. My GDrive account came with my Squarespace website. I upgraded it for more storage so I can keep large design files online.
I’ve gone back and forth between email clients and the two that I love most are Mailerlite and Flodesk. I’m currently using Flodesk because they make the most gorgeous email templates… and who doesn’t love pretty emails? They’re still in beta so they’re not full-featured yet, but I’m just starting with list-building, so this works for me. Read this post to learn more about Flodesk or try them out and get 50% with this link while they’re still in Beta.
If you need a full-featured email marketing platform that doesn’t cost too much, I’d suggest trying Mailerlite. They let you run quizzes, have landing pages A/B test campaigns, and hyper-target subscribers on your list. They also offer templates with a paid plan.
We all need to find trustworthy and reliable people to help us out from time to time. This is the first year that I’ve outsourced some of my tasks. I wish I could have done it sooner because wow, it makes life SO much easier to have *free space* in my mind to think of other things. Creativity times time and energy! While you will have to sift through some proposals, you can also find people and invite them to your jobs. I found a great designer to help with production work and a VA for the future. Fiverr is another option, but it’s purely gig-based, whereas I feel you can have more long term relationships with those you hire on Upwork.
Zoom is my online meeting tool for video conferencing. I used to use Skype, but Zoom has many more features and seems more intuitive. In Skype, I’m always swiping around or closing windows looking for my meeting, but Zoom has all the buttons in obvious places, and it’s easy to share my screen or make a video recording if I need to. They also have a paid plan, but I haven’t needed it yet.
Loom’s a nifty name with a nice little icon. They’re a great free screen recording software, and I use Loom to record client walkthroughs and explainer videos. Until now, Loom’s been only in-browser, but they’re just coming out with a desktop app. You can trim your screenshots and share via links, invite people, and see who’s viewed your videos. A great tool for remote work.
“Transfer is not a bank”. That’s what it says. I can’t quite figure out what it is, but Transferwise is an FDIC-insured way to get paid in different currencies and deposit them in your bank account(s), wherever you may be. Using Transferwise costs much less than Paypal or normal bank transfers, and you can even get a debit card (available now in UK, rolling out everywhere soon). So if you’re a digital nomad or like to travel or work with clients from different countries, you really should try TransferWise to save a lot.
14 | Quickbooks for accounting and bookkeeping
I use Quickbooks Self-Employed for accounting. Through Quickbook’s partnership with Etsy, I got a helpful little discount code for the first 6 months… and in the first few weeks, I decided to switch from my free accounting program to this one. It’s SO easy to itemize expenses (something you must-do if you’re a small business owner), and I’ve been able to easily keep up with accounting for next year’s taxes. This also integrates with Intuit’s Turbo Tax if you want to use that to file.
I’ve hosted my website all over, but now I’m sticking with Siteground… What I like about it is this: First of all, there’s easy one-click WordPress install, so it’s useful when building on WordPress. Second, they have regular backup, updates, and security checks, so you can make sure your site stays secure. Even though I’m on Squarespace now, I still stick with them because they have servers in different locations, including Asia, so my site will run faster.
It’s always surprising when we find out how long things have really been around. Like Creative Market. I’ve probably been shopping there from Day 1 and now I sell there, also. If you need website graphics, social media banners, or a new font for your DIY branding, there’s no better place to go. Seriously. They also curate beautiful goods and give you 6 design freebies every week, so even if you’re just there for free stuff, it’s really worth it. Get creative.
Design Cuts is another marketplace where you can buy individual products (often discounted), but they also offer amazing hand-picked bundles every 2 weeks that come with an extended license. After Creative Market, this is where I buy most of my digital assets. The only problem is that I have such a stockpile of beautiful design resources, I haven’t found time to use them all… Is that a bad thing?
18 | Crella for their monthly subscription
Crella is a new marketplace for digital design goods, but they offer unlimited downloads for a monthly subscription. They started small but they’re growing big, with some of my favorite artists and designers selling there. You can get access to most of their templates, fonts, and graphics for under $29/month. That’s pretty great if you’re a designer who always needs fresh assets.for your projects.
Last but not least on the list for creative assets come Pixel Surplus. They frequently offer new font bundles, and I’ve purchased some exquisite typefaces from them. Check out their website for the latest deals.
I couldn’t design without Adobe. No matter how much they charge, I’m tied to their CC subscription because it’s so useful to seamlessly switch between Photoshop, InDesign, and Illustrator. I love the constant updates and integrations they introduce. Though I’m also interested in the new Affinity suite of products, I will keep Adobe because it’s industry standard.
Ah, Canva. I never liked you until now, thanks to your “magic resize” button in Canva for work. For most design tasks, I will stick with Adobe, but Canva is great for social media and DIY design templates. Because it’s becoming so popular, I’ve started making Canva templates to help creative business owners look great without investing in professional design.
Issuu is an online publishing platform that’s used by a lot of independent magazines, artists, and other digital publishers — even boutiques. It’s a great platform to publish catalogs and lookbooks, and with a paid subscription, you can include links to your products in-app. Just upload a simple PDF that includes product links and it automatically detects these links and makes them shoppable. With a readership of over 20 million, it’s a great place to gain more exposure. You can still publish with a free plan, and upgrade later if you want to remove ads and unlock more features. Save on their pro plan here.
Designers are always looking for reputable printers to send their clients to. If you’re not working with someone local, you can try the go-to digital printer for most designers, Moo. Keep in mind, though, that Moo is mainly about making your business look good, so they don’t have a lot of the POD items like Printful, or quite the selection that VistaPrint has. But they pride themselves on quality. Order a sample pack to try them out.
And that’s a wrap! There are a million more helpful things I’ve come across, but these services are the staples of my business.
What do you use to run yours? I’d love to hear in the comments below!