TWhether you are a maker, designer, or blogger, or any combination, it is important to have the right tools to grow and maintain your small online business. During my last four years as a jewelry designer / blogger / author, I have tried out many programs to stay organized, productive and grow my business. I have put together a list of over 15 of my favorite tools that are perfect for any small online creative business.
For your convenience many of the following are affiliate links. You can read my full disclosurehere.
Tools to keep your creative business organized
Evernote – Evernote is basically a virtual notebook. I have multiple notebooks for various aspects of my business (and personal life), including one for blogging, jewelry designs, and The Busy Mom’s Guide to Creativity. I also have one that is a running to-do list. I use the Evernote Chrome extension to send e-mails and articles to my Evernote. While I love pen and paper, having a search function instead of having to manually look through a notebook is unbelievably handy.
Pomodroido App — This is a free app to help implement the Pomodoro technique, a straight-forward time management system. When I sit down to work, I set the app, which dings after 25 minutes. You then get a five-minute break (or you can opt to skip the break and continue working), with a longer break after four Pomodoro cycles. This app helps me to stay focused on work for a solid chunk of time.
Trello — If Evernote and Pinterest had a baby, you’d have Trello. It’s like a virtual bulletin board that allows you to visually organize and visualize your projects.
Tools for Your Website
WordPress — I switched from Blogger to self-hosted WordPress in 2014 and I haven’t looked back since. It was a bit of an adjustment, but it’s quick to learn and I love that I can customize my website for my small online business in a way that I couldn’t with Blogger. You don’t have to be particularly tech-savvy to use it, especially since there are so many incredible plugins that really allow you to customize it. As of fall 2016 I started using the WooCommerce plugin to begin selling my jewelry and jewelry-making kits directly on my website.
Restored316 Themes (updated) — If you are looking to create a gorgeous, professional website, Restored316 has a library of out-of-the-box themes that you can easily customize. I made the switch in fall 2016 and could not be any happier with how my website looks (I used the Darling theme). Many of them are set up if you plan on useing eCommerce on your WordPress site.
Mommy Host (updated): When you have your own website, it is imperative to have a reliable hosting service. I moved to Mommy Host from Blue Host in February 2016. While I had always had good customer service experiences with Blue Host, I was beginning to find that my website was often down randomly for up to a few hours a day. Mommy Host is a small, woman-owned hosting company with outstanding customer service. They did all of the leg work making the switch for me, responded to all of my inquiries quickly, and reached out to me throughout the process to keep me updated. They even contacted me on the weekend to make sure the process had gone smoothly. So far, it’s been smooth sailing since I switched hosting providers.
Etsy — I opened my Etsy shop in 2011, and it’s overall a great platform for selling handmade goods and a site that people trust. I can’t tell you how frequently people’s eyes light up when I tell them I have an Etsy shop! The one downside is it is a separate platform, so people have to switch between your website and your Etsy site if they want to buy something.
Tools for creating and editing images
PicMonkey — I do some photo editing on Picassa, but I use PicMonkey to take it to the next level to add in text, overlays, and filters. Many of their features are free, but they have even more if you upgrade to the paid plan (which is only $33 a year if you do the annual plan), and you don’t need to know much about photo editing to use it. I use it to create graphics for my website, edit photos, and I even used it to make my new logo!
Depositphotos — Looking for stock photos for your small online business? Depositphotos is an immense bank of high-quality photos (as well as videos and vectors) at as little as $1.00 an image, and a limited number of ones for free. You can either buy individual photos, or they have monthly and yearly plans. I bought a special deal for them through AppSumo (which I’ll talk about below) that they do a couple times a year where I purchased credits for 100 photos for just $39. I use a lot of those photos for creating images for blog posts.
Pixabay — If you’re looking for free stock photos, Pixabay has a fairly substantial library. The only downside is after awhile you start to see some of the same images over and over, but you can’t beat free (though you can always make a donation if you feel so inclined).
Canva — Canva is both a photo editing tool as well as stock photos. It’s fantastic for pre-made social media posts optimized for each platform, and they make it easy to change the text and/or photos. It’s free to have an account, you just pay for any photos and certain images when you download your image. What I particularly like is any images you make are saved in your account and you can go back and edit them later.
Tools for Keeping On Top of Social Media
Pinning Perfect — If you are a blogger and want to up to your Pinterest game, I HIGHLY recommend the Pinning Perfect Course by Anna Luther. I took it last year and it was a game-changer for me. This two-week class runs from January 25-February 5, and it’s the last time it will be instructor led. (After that it will become a self-paced class.)
Buffer — Buffer is awesome for scheduling social media. Right now I use it for Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn. See something you want to share on social media? Use the Buffer Chrome extension to write up your post, and it will schedule it out for ya! They have both free and paid versions, and I find the free version is perfect for my neds.
Tailwind — Tailwind is like Buffer, but exclusively for Pinterest. Just schedule out pins, from your own website and others, and you’re good to go! You can use it to schedule both original pins and repins, and they have a handy Chrome extension that makes it easy to schedule it right from individual pins. Plus you can check insights to see how your pins are doing.
ConvertKit (updated) — While this isn’t exactly social media, it is for staying social, so I’ll just include it here. Your small business MUST have a newsletter so that you can remind people that your business exists. What I like most about ConvertKit is how simple it is to set up sales funnels and customizable sign-up forms. Plus, with their WordPress plugin, it’s incredibly easy to add in the forms with a line of code (and absolutely no coding experience needed). Unlike the previous newsletter program I used it isn’t free, but I find it to be affordable (plans starting at $29.99/month) and well worth the price.
Other tools for your business
Squareup — In this day and age, you need to be able to accept credit cards. Squareup links up with your bank account and deposits the money and charges as little as 2.75% on any sales you make through it. You can accept any credit card — including AmEx — with it.
CreativeLive — CreativeLive has a fabulous list of online courses for small online business owners. In 2015 I took Create Digital Products that Sell While You Sleep with the amazing April Bowles-Olin. If you are considering at all selling digital products but aren’t sure where to start, April walks you through the process start to finish, including coming up with an idea. This course is was what inspired me to write The Busy Mom’s Guide to Creativity. In 2016 I took Megan Auman’s course Sell Your Products to Retailers, which helped pave the wave for me to participate in my first trade show.
AppSumo — I cannot sum it better than they do “AppSumo is a medley burrito of the greatest, geekiest products for entrepreneurs. We work tirelessly to find the most innovative, creative, and practical stuff out there and aim to bring them to you, directly and affordably.” Basically, they send you some incredible apps and products for your small online business at heavily discounted prices — and sometimes even free — for a limited amount of time. (It’s how I got my amazing deal on Deposit Photos!)
Creative Market — This platform is fantastic for all types of creative content, from original fonts to graphics to website themes, all made by independent creatives. I have used it to purchase overlays and fonts (including one of the fonts for The Busy Mom’s Guide to Creativity).
Shareasale — If you are considering doing affiliate marketing as a way to add to your revenue streams for your small online business, I highly recommend you check out Shareasale. They have thousands of affiliate programs to a lot of big-name companies, and it’s really easy to search sign up for their programs.
What are some of your favorite tools for your small online business?
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