Starting a business solo? Respect. It’s harder than it looks (though you probably know that by now).
Simple time tracking that syncs with payroll.
The problem is you end up spending just as much time getting things organized as you do actually… doing the work.
I can relate. I’m an entrepreneur myself, and it took years before I finally amassed the suite of tools that would’ve made my life much easier as I was getting started.
As a professional writer and content creator, you might think… can’t you just use Google Docs? Sure. But think about all the other stuff: I need tools to manage my project workflow, create content, stay legally compliant, make sure my own website is up to scratch, and generate leads.
I am my own producer, accountant, product manager, and website developer. So I need tools to help me do all those things and more.
My slow mistakes are your gain. Here are 10 of the best tools I—and others—have used to start up, manage time, and get more done.
1. To outsource stuff I didn’t want to spend time on: Upwork
You’re an expert in something. Why force yourself to do the other stuff you’re not good at?
Hiring freelancers through Upwork helped me get my business off the ground with some visual assets, but you can hire them for anything including:
- A logo
- Business cards
- Maybe some illustrations for your website
- A brochure, maybe
- Some SEO or SEM research
- Some content to get you started
Chris Thomas is a digital marketing expert and Amazon seller consultant in Australia and Hong Kong—a regular user of Upwork.
“I use it for talent to do my books, for discrete projects… It’s great for hiring what’s essentially a small, distributed team.”
Plus, hiring more people for small tasks gets you used to the idea that you can outsource anything you aren’t good at: a must for growth.
Pricewise, it varies. You can hire people for anywhere from single digits to $50 or $100 per hour—plus a small percentage fee. Just be prepared to vet the person you hire for quality and references, which you can do on the site by reading testimonials from previous clients.
2. To build my website: Squarespace
I suck at coding. My business needed a site that wouldn’t just look good but actually have some power and ways to plug into other services—without the need for tweaking CSS all the time.
Squarespace helps with that because it’s super easy to use. Squarespace uses simple templates made up of “blocks” of content. Want some text? Throw a text block in there. Need a video, or a gallery? No problem—just drag and drop.
It also has a bunch of useful plug-ins. You can use blocks to connect with your social accounts, sync with email lists from tools like Mailchimp, or integrate with Google Analytics. (They have a tool now that lets you create email newsletters, with the added benefit of syncing analytics for the website and emails in one platform.)
Plus, you can buy a domain name and sign up for Google Apps at the same time—so you can have an email address straight away. That’s a must if you want to look professional.
Squarespace isn’t as customizable as tools like WordPress, but I chose it because it’s set up for e-commerce, data capture, hosting, and SEO right out of the box. Not many website providers have that in a starter package.
The service costs $18 a month, so you won’t break the bank—and you get $100 in Google Ads credit, too.
3. To create a marketing funnel: Autopilot
One of the hardest things when you’re setting up a business is figuring out all your touch points and funnels. Autopilot lets you automate everything from Facebook ads to task cards in a Trello-like project management tool that reminds you to follow up with new leads.
I’ve used Autopilot to create Trello cards reminding me to check up on clients… which have literally resulted in deals.
The best part (aside from the fact that their basic plan is free): Like Squarespace, it’s visual-based, with drag-and-drop tools. No fancy coding required.
(Oh, and if you’re setting up a marketing flow—you better learn how to write some awesome emails.)
4. To figure out how to optimize your site: Hotjar
Without an expert on your team, it’s often hard to improve your website and the customer experience. Hotjar records what users do, then highlights common areas of activity. This lets you see where you’re doing things right… and where you might need to up your game. It also eliminates doing guess-work when you have a tight budget for site improvements.
I haven’t personally used Hotjar in my own business, but I’ve used it working in others. It’s been critical for incremental improvements that drive value.
Hotjar charges based on pageviews: 20,000 page views a day will cost you $89 per month.
5. To avoid getting arrested: LegalZoom
Just joking… but only kinda. When you’re starting a business, it can feel like there are more laws and regulations than you could possibly keep up with. LegalZoom is an online service that lets you submit paperwork or schedule meetings with an attorney, whenever you need one. You can pay for a plan too, if you need ongoing help.
If you’re starting up, I’d recommend LegalZoom over a competitor like Rocket Lawyer: They have cheaper forms ($14.95 for most versus up to $100) and membership ($375 instead of $400 to $500 per year).
6. My favorite SEO consultant: SEMrush
SEO is easier than it used to be, but in the content game, you need a little extra information now and then to give you that edge over the competition. That’s what SEMrush is good for.
Sign up and get a bunch of insight into how your site ranks, what keywords you should optimize for, and the searches that are leading visitors to your site.
Check it out with a free week-long trial; after that the cheapest plan is $99.95 per month.
7. To create pro-level video content: Camtasia
When you start a business of any kind, creating content can be a huge part of getting the word out and building a customer base for your products and services. Speaking from experience, content creation is also something you tend to leave until later, which is why you need tools to help.
Camtasia is an all-in-one video studio that lets you:
- Record your screen
- Add webcam video
- Edit your video
- Add media sources
- Include animations and transitions
- Add green-screen
- Edit multi-track video
Pretty nifty. You can get it for $249 a year.
8. To save time on resetting passwords: RoboForm
Forget your passwords a lot? Happens to us all. RoboForm lets you sync passwords across multiple browsers and smartphones.
Amazon reseller and consultant Chris Thomas says, “It’s probably saved me thousands of hours.”
It’s cheap, too. Only $33.95 a year, per user.
9. To track my progress: Trello
It’s super easy to get lost in everything you need to do as a solo business owner. Trello solves that problem by visualizing all your to-dos across various projects and parts of your business.
Troy Hunt is a security expert and consultant (he created the uber-popular website HaveIBeenPwned.com that lets you check if your passwords have been leaked in a breach). He swears by Trello: “It’s just the easiest way to track progress.”
Bonus: Its basic model is “free, forever.”
10. To get things done: Getting Things Done
Speaking of getting stuff done, this last one isn’t so much of a tool as it is a way of thinking. Productivity expert David Allen created it in the early 2000s.
The idea is pretty simple: You know all the stuff you know you have to do that’s just floating around in your head? GTD says get those things out of your head and into a trusted, external source that you check regularly, like a notebook or a to-do app. Then attach an action. That way your mind is only focused on tangible, real plans.
By putting everything in your system and checking it regularly, like every day, you never worry about having anything in the back of your mind. You just have to be diligent about following the plan: as soon as you’re presented with a task, you need to write it down.
It’s changed my life. I’m more productive, sure, but the best benefit is that I don’t stress about forgetting things.
Sound simple? It is—but effective. GTD has a podcast where they explain more, so get into it. GTD is technology neutral, so you can even use paper or notebooks if that’s more your style.
Tools aren’t a replacement for work. But with this bunch, you’ll feel like you hired an assistant—and you’ll be able to focus on the real work: growing your business.