When it comes to running your business efficiently and smoothly, it’s important to have a set of tools you can rely on and integrate seamlessly into your day-to-day operations. Let me share the five tools I rely on the most in my business.
Asana is a project and task management tool designed to help teams work together to effectively run a business. And it lives up to its sales pitch. First of all, it’s free. There’s a premium option for larger teams, but for my needs as a solopreneur working with clients, the free version is plenty powerful enough. Asana works in a way that lets you create “organizations” that consist of all the team members and clients associated with that organization. Then within that organization, you can create individual projects. You can customize who has access to those projects — it can be everyone in the organization or a project can be kept private for just yourself as the business owner.
One of the biggest limitations I’ve found with other project management tools is that they seem to assume that each client contract will only have one design project associated with it. But that’s now how my business works. One client might have 4 or 5 individual projects — logo design, marketing materials, social media management, website design, etc. With Asana, each one of those design jobs will have their own project within the organization and each project has its own set of tasks and subtasks. Tasks can be assigned to anyone who is part of the organization and be assigned a deadline or dependencies. It easily integrates with Google Drive or Dropbox so you can attach files to specific tasks.
I could go on and on about how great Asana is. But let’s just say it is an essential part of my business structure and I’d be lost without it.
Every business needs some type of accounting system. Maybe yours is an old fashioned ledger and you record income and expenses with paper and pencil. Or maybe it’s an Excel spreadsheet. That’s where I started back when my business was just starting out. But when I got serious about my business and needed something that would connect with my bank account and help me keep track of transactions, invoices, estimates and payments … QuickBooks was the natural choice. There are a lot of other accounting software options available, but I love that Quickbooks is the industry standard when it comes to business accounting and they have a long reputation of being reliable. Plus, my accountant appreciates that when I take my books to him at the end of the year, everything is already beautifully organized and ready for him. I use QuickBooks Online and pay $12.99/mo for the Simple Start plan.
Cloud file storage is the wave of the future. Well actually it’s been around for a long time but it just now seems be catching on as the mainstream way to deal with file sharing, backups and syncing files across multiple devices. I’ve been a Dropbox Pro member since 2012 and would be lost without it. Not only are all my client files stored and synced using Dropbox, but I also use it to backup all my personal photos and files. I love that I’m able to access my files from any computer I happen to be on and share large files with clients when things are too big to email.
I’ve recently begun using Google Drive in some instances when a client is already using this platform. It works especially well when I’m working collaboratively on copywriting pieces. But no matter what is in Google Drive, I also manually add those same files to the master Dropbox folder too.
Everyone needs a secure password vault and there are many good options on the market. I happen to use LastPass and love it but there are others that work just as well – 1Password, Dashlane, RoboForm. But LastPass was a leader in this arena as the first to develop a rock solid and secure way to manage your passwords and keep them safe. LastPass is a cloud-based system so I can use it wherever I am, including my smartphone. Not only does it work at my computer, but the way it integrates with the apps on my phone and the fingerprint scanner is life changing. No really… I mean it when I say life changing.
We’ve heard of the security breaches across the internet, right? Hackers get into some big database and steal all the login information for the company’s customer list and then word goes out across the world that we need to change passwords for that company’s site. I feel safe in knowing that my entire password vault is safe from hackers with LastPass because my data is encrypted, but also my one password login isn’t even kept anywhere. If you lose or forget the password you need to log into your LastPass account, you’re screwed! They don’t keep that information for you and you can’t “recover” your password. So remember it. Write it down somewhere secure in your house and don’t forget it. So hackers can’t get to my password either and all my stuff stays safe. I love that!
Even though I love all the latest tech gadgets and I’m a sucker for great online tools… I’m also a tactile type of person and I need to hold great tools in my hands. My X17 leather notebook system is among my favorite tools. The feel of high-quality leather in my hands is such a luxurious feeling that it makes me want to use this notebook merely because I want to hold it. I think I have a tiny love affair with leather… don’t judge! Let me give you an overview of how this notebook system works.
The leather cover has a binding system along the spine that is made of elastic bands. Each band is designed to hold a single paper notebook. Mine has four bands, so I’m able to hold four notebooks in my leather cover (there are ways to hold more than one notebook per band, but I won’t go into those details here). Each notebook serves its own purpose and the possibilities are endless – no really, endless for real! There are makers on Etsy who sell these notebook inserts with any theme you can think of (or you can make your own like I have). Calendars, budget books, list books, weight loss books, travel planning books…. OK I won’t list them all but you get the idea.
So what’s in my X17? My four notebooks include:
- Weekly calendar — this is where I plan out each day with a time-blocking method (I use the Plannerisms weekly calendar designed for the X17)
- Books of Lists — any list you can imagine is in here
- Stuff I’m Learning — a note taking book that I use when going through an online training or reading a book with lots of lessons
- Business Planning — a general brainstorming notebook for ideas related to my business
The beauty of the system is that when one of the notebooks is filled up, I just remove it and pop in a new one. I also love that each notebook has a specific purpose so notes things are kept separate so when I need to refer to a specific type of note or piece of information, I know exactly where to go to find it.
Plus… did I mention the leather? Oh yeah, I did. Sorry. I’m a bit obsessed with the leather.
What tools do you use?
No matter what tools you use, it’s important to always evaluate them to make sure they are the best option for you. It’s a good idea to conduct an annual review of your productivity tools to make sure they are still the right fit for your business. But also be wary of switching to the latest and greatest tool just because it’s getting a lot of attention at the moment … it’s best to keep your system tight and lean rather than jumping ship every time there’s a new shiny tool to try. It’s a balancing act for sure. What tools do you find most helpful in your business? Come on over to Facebook and join the conversation.