In the past few years, I have tried a lot of tools. Some worked, some didn’t, some just aren’t for me, and others I threw out as my business shifted. The tools below are the 8 tools I use to run my business today.
Before we dive in, I would like to highlight that I use most of these tools to manage the incredibly difficult balancing act between my day job, my business, and my personal life. For those of you who are still working fulltime jobs, you will know how difficult it is to keep the balance between everything. Especially since all the deadlines and important events in every aspect of your life tend to fall in the same periods of time… Or is that just me?
Anyways, without further ado, these are the 8 tools that kept me (mostly) sane in the past four years.
While this one seems pretty straightforward, I didn’t realise the power of my calendar app until I started using it better. Before, I would buy a paper planner to hold all my appointments but I would forget to write some things down or someone would ask me about a meeting and I wouldn’t have my planner with me. Sometimes, I used both my phone and my paper planner, causing me to be even more frazzled.
About two years ago, I finally realised something had to change and I started putting all of my appointments into my phone.
Ever since I made this tiny change, you cannot believe the pressure that was lifted simply because I no longer needed to remember all of the appointments I still need to write down. And, when someone asks me when I can meet, there is only one place I need to look now.
As a result though, I stopped using paper planners — at all — until I found the Refresh Planner…
Whenever I had a planner before, I would dive in super enthusiastically. I would start colour coding my appointments, set up some sort of system, tweak it a bit to how I wanted to use it and… I would stop updating it after a few weeks.
When my friend Jenna from Workspacery* invited me to try her Refresh Planner, I knew that this time I should just start with the basics and actually get started with using it on a daily basis.
I now have one single colour for everything. While it’s visually harder to see which tasks belong where, at least I am getting used to writing them down now. Next to the more high-level planning in my phone, I use my planner to write down my day job meetings in more detail and I list all the to do’s that I need to take care of every day.
I also love that there is a “Goal for the week” and a “Gratitude” area on each week because I also use those in my Mastermind Group’s weekly updates. When I fill in my goals on Monday, I am reminded to update them in my Mastermind Group as well, and the same goes for my gratitude on Friday.
As soon as I have mastered this, I want to see if I can add my content schedule to the monthly view. But let’s focus on actually using it first!
Up until a few weeks ago, I used to manage my work email in Outlook and my personal email in the default Apple Mail app. This caused me to miss meetings that overlapped lunch because I wasn’t getting any reminders on my phone, I couldn’t check my work calendar from my phone to see if I needed to be somewhere, I couldn’t even check my emails to see if I was missing something, and I would have to open my laptop whenever I was looking for a meeting room. Not really practical, especially when you’re already running late!
I had already tried adding my day job Outlook to my phone but that wasn’t working at all. So, a few weeks ago, when I was experiencing problems with Outlook due to a migration issue, I used it as an excuse to look for email apps.
While I never really liked the whole “smart inbox” feature from Outlook or Gmail, I did like the minimalistic look of Spark and the overall ease of use seemed pretty on-point.
So, I started using Spark on my laptop and added all my email accounts so I could start testing the tool using the regular inbox features.
Pretty soon, I felt quite overwhelmed though with all these emails and I decided to test the Smart Inbox feature.
I immediately fell in love!
I’m not sure how they help you do it but I went through all of my accounts and cut down my unread emails to max. 20 in each mailbox. I think I deleted about 300 emails in less than an hour! With the personal emails on top, you can easily see the most important messages first, without being distracted by notifications or newsletters.
Ever since I started using it, trimming my inbox takes me minutes instead of hours. And, I now have my phone mail set up in Spark as well so I can finally see the calendar of my day job without having it appear in my iCal.
If I could suggest two improvements, it would be to allow smart inboxes per account on mobile like you have on desktop (you only have one smart inbox on mobile for all your accounts) and the ability to “correct” the default sorting so you can teach the algorithm which emails are notifications, which are newsletters, and so on.
But overall, this app has finally helped me feel in control of my inbox again. The sense of overwhelm I have been able to release thanks to this tool is incredible!
As with most of the other tools I already covered, and some I will still cover, I tried a lot of similar apps before I stuck with Bear.
Whenever I need to explain it, I mention that it’s the beautiful and minimalist version of Evernote. With Evernote, I always felt too distracted by all the options and the folders and all that. In Bear, I’m sure that you will have less features than in Evernote, but you have less distractions too.
As such, I use Bear to write everything. Including my blog posts!
With the dark theme of iOS, Bear also launched a dark theme that distracts even less than their original grey version.
But, back to Bear, it’s incredibly easy to use and I personally love it for writing. I tried using it for to do’s, content planning, and so much more but in the end, it works best for distraction-free writing in my case.
Oh, and did I tell you that they show you your writing stats too? According to the stats, I am now at 1245 words and 6m13s reading time. Thanks for sticking with me for so long, by the way!
Every business has customers, of course. And, to manage your customers, it’s quite important to have some sort of system so you can keep track of new leads and existing projects.
Dubsado* is my absolute favourite CRM tool. While others may offer more features, I actually saw Dubsado being released all those years ago and their continuing dedication to making this tool what it is today is what has made me a life-long customer.
Inside Dubsado, you can add a sign-up form for new leads that you can add to your website, you can attach an automated workflow that takes them through your on-boarding process all the way to signing your contract and paying your retainer fee so they can be transformed to a job, you can send them a scheduling link from inside the tool, keep expense notes per project, and so much more.
I personally use it to keep track of my leads and my Mastermind Group members, keeping all contracts and payments in one place, and I have a workflow set up for my coaching clients so they get automated reminders every step of the way.
Added bonus points, Dubsado’s customer service is stellar!
Dubsado has only recently released the scheduling tool so I haven’t been able to dive in and test it yet. For scheduling purposes, I started using Acuity Scheduling pretty early on in my business and I still use it today.
I tried Calendly first but I somehow deleted my account and I couldn’t re-activate it anymore so I had to look for another tool.
Acuity* allows you to link your own calendar to the tool so your customers only see suggested meeting times that actually work, you can indicate between which hours and on which days your customers can book meetings, you can set all meetings to private so only people with a direct link can see them and — my personal favourite — you can limit the amount of appointments customers can make in a day or a week.
Say, you only want to have one new customer schedule a kick-off meeting per week because you want to offer them your undivided attention, you just set a limit of 1 appointment per week for that appointment type.
Oh, and if you use Squarespace for your website, you get the paid version of Acuity for free!
I have to say, I was doubting whether or not to include it here because I am not sure if I really nailed this app category yet. But… I tried both Trello and Asana for a while. And neither really work for me. I like Asana’s looks over Trello’s but, after going through Trello for Business (an e-course on how to use Trello from two of my favourite business owners), I saw what Trello can be like if you use it well. For a while, Trello started to work for me. But I never felt like the interface matched my thought process.
That’s where Milanote comes in.
In my previous wedding planning business, I had been looking for a tool that could show a bride and groom through the wedding planning process one stage at a time. Trello was just too limiting, Asana too overwhelming, and the existing wedding planning apps show you every single to do in one huge list so it’s not really clear how you can use it that well.
Thirty minutes after discovering Milanote, I had my entire wedding planning structure set up inside the tool.
Talk about love at first sight :-)
Ever since, I use it to document processes and workflows for every area of my life. I map my customer journeys in there, my marketing strategy, my big dreams and goals, and I manage multiple business plans in the tool.
Last, but certainly not least, every business needs a good website.
I went from Blogger to Wix to Wordpress, but I never really liked (or trusted) any of these. My Wix website was not always running for everyone and Wordpress plugins seemed really wonky, so I was incredibly relieved when Squarespace finally entered the market.
I helped three of my wedding planning competitors set up their websites in Squarespace, on top of three websites I built for myself. And, for four years, Squarespace was my number one go-to website tool.
Earlier this year, after launching my new coaching business, I started to feel a little bit too limited in Squarespace though. Seeing one of my big coaching examples, Jenna Kutcher, promote Showit 5, I decided to check it out.
I built the website I had in mind for weeks in a single day, but quickly ran into problems with the mobile version. Having heard all about their stellar customer service, I emailed their support team.
When I have a vision in mind though, it’s hard for me to stop working on it and so, when their response didn’t come quickly enough, I decided to start looking for other platforms.
One of the first really promising tools I found was Webflow*.
No coding skills required although it does put code pretty central to the tool, the design flexibility is very similar to Showit 5 and, and this was the selling point for me, it had a standalone back-end whereas Showit 5 meant that I had to go back to Wordpress. The very tool I ran from four years back.
I really love the design flexibility of Webflow! And, if you understand code, you can actually tell how the website updates based on the styling options you change. Since I actually got to know code a little bit better in the past few years, that is an added bonus to me because I can see how code changes what you see on the page.
If I can give you one tip though: try out the designer on a test project first!
I dove in right away with the Bliss & Gold website and I didn’t use half the options I could have to make it more manageable on the long-term. Using classes, you can update the website more easily later on. When I worked on my second website, a secret project I can’t really show you yet, I did use the classes better and I can now update my whole website in seconds using only small tweaks here and there.
At least, this gave me a pretty good excuse to redesign my Bliss & Gold :-)
* All links with an asterisk at the end are affiliate links and can give you and/or me special rewards if you sign up using this link. I only mention tools I actually love and use so I will never promote a tool just to get something in return but if you want to avoid affiliate links then please look up the tool in Google.