Updated: Jul 13, 2021
If you've been looking around for online business apps you've probably come across an overwhelming list that's tricky to navigate. Believe me, I've been there.
To get to the next level in your business, putting as much as possible on automate will give you time & energy back to focus on the things in your business only you can do. Getting there can feel a bit stressful as there can be a learning curve - not to mention the time to set things up.
So, to help streamline some of the options out there for you, I've made a list of the software that I find the most helpful for automating my business and what they cost. Most of these options are great whether you have a service, product or dual-based business.
Of course, use your discretion as to what is necessary vs. what would be nice especially if you're in the beginning stages of automating. Most of the options below come with a free trial so you have a chance to try them out before committing. I would recommend spreading out the trials though so you actually have time to get into each one. Signing up for 3 free week trials at the same time might be too much to get started with!
I recommend picking the solution you think would help you the most right now and work from there. Start with a timer on for 30 mins to do a trial design/workflow for something you've already been wanting to create. Don't get caught up in adding all of your branding and tweaking - just use some of your main images/colours you already have to see how they interact, add in some demo text (if applicable) and get a general feel of how it works.
It's easy to get excited and really get into each one but it can lead to a time consuming process that doesn't actually help move you forward - especially when multiplying the process by each app.
I have included an overview of each + some referral links for you. If you sign up using the link you'll get a deal and so will I (likely the same as yours - thanks so much in advance!) or feel free to go to the website directly if you don't want to use the referral links.
Let me know if you have any questions in the comments at the bottom!
Overall Business Suite: Google
Annual Business E-mail Plan: Starting at $7.80 CAD/month
While I am a Mac user and actually use Mail on my phone and laptop to view my e-mail, I use Gmail for my domain e-mail provider* as I find it's the easiest for syncing compatibility across all of the apps that I use. Google Calendar is a main compatibility feature in the other apps below that allow you to schedule (like HoneyBook).
I also much prefer the layout & compatibility of Google Drive to Outlook's OneDrive even though Hotmail has been my personal e-mail of choice since the early 2000's - yes, it even existed then.
Lots of hosting providers provide a free custom e-mail for a year when you sign up. If you're buying your domain from your web design provider then it may change the setup a bit and pricing may be different in the future.
*You'll need to own the domain name you want to use in order to set this up. Most often your domain provider will provide instructions on how to do this.
Monthly Plan: Starting at $20 CAD/month
Save 50% on any plan for 6 months - Starting at $10/month with referral link
I put this at the top because financials can be a major block for many people - not just business owners - so keeping them up to date and as stress-free as possible will help you in the short term as well as in the long run.
If you spend an hour or so a week keeping this up to date, your reporting and tax times will be an absolute breeze - I promise.
There are many different accounting software options out there but I personally prefer QuickBooks. I recommend asking your accountant what their team uses and opt for whatever software that is. If you don't have an accountant yet, reach out to a few who you may want to work with in the future and see what they use. I use QB as I have bookkeeping experience and that's what every company I worked for used, so I figured I might as well use it for myself!
Some super helpful features:
•Auto updates from your bank account
Get all of your transactions listed exactly as they appear on your bank statement. Hit refresh to get the most up to date transactions and categorize away.
•You can set rules for new incoming transactions so they're automatically categorized
Have lots of reoccurring business expenses? Whenever they come in through your auto-updates you can have them set to auto-categorize and have the tax automatically added. I personally still like to review them before adding to make sure everything is good but you can even have them auto-add so you never even see them, they magically go where they're supposed to be!
•Drag & drop receipt photos to your transactions
Save yourself the hassle of lost receipts by using the QB app to take photos of receipts as soon as you get them. You can also take a photo with your phone to upload later if you're in a rush.
•New feature: Import & categorize receipts directly from your e-mail
Get reoccurring invoices that are sent to your e-mail automatically sent to your QB account. It finds the attachment and includes it in your transactions.
I will say that QB can definitely be a learning curve. QuickBooks does have lots of tutorials but if you're not financially savvy at all I would recommend hiring someone to set it up for you so you can continue with the maintenance. Ask your accountant if they have anyone they'd recommend - I promise your accountant will thank you!
E-Mail Marketing: MailChimp
Monthly Plan: Starting at $9.99 USD/month
Honestly I didn't start my e-mail list right away (I know, bad!) so I had already accumulated quite the roster of reoccurring software charges (plus the exchange rate was pretty steep for all of them) and was trying to find a way to streamline.
MailChimp happened to work better with the other apps I was using which is why I stuck with it. I also preferred the templates that were available with the free version vs. other trials.
I have tried both MailChimp and ConvertKit and I will say that CK is great but the free version I found quite limiting and the only plan is $29 USD/month (which includes lots of features, but not many that I really need). MailChimp starts at $9.99 USD/month and also includes lots of features that I personally need.
I may upgrade to ConvertKit soon once I get in a better flow but for now I'll be sticking with what I know works well enough for now.
Customer Relation Management (CRM): HoneyBook
Monthly Plan: Starting at $40 USD/month
Contracts, proposals, brochures, invoicing, templates, client scheduling - what's not to like?
If you're looking for a CRM that does a ton for you, definitely check this out. There are so many features on this that would take lots to go over so I will just refer you to their site here.
I did try Dubasdo, which has a free plan that works pretty well if you want to compare & see what CRM life is all about. I just found the layout and some of the features not the most intuitive for me personally.
Branding/Socials Design: Canva
Monthly Plan: Free or Upgrade for $16.99 CAD/month
Creating templates that work for you upfront is really helpful to be able to create your content as quickly and efficiently as possible. There's no need to re-invent the wheel every time you want to post something. Just change the text and drop in your newest photos and you're good to go. You can even auto-publish to Pinterest.
Bonus: If you're not on our list already, you can sign up here and get access to our Winter Cabin edition of 10 Free Canva Templates for Instagram, Facebook & Pinterest.
Photo Editing: Lightroom (Mobile)
While I use the full Adobe Suite for client editing, using the free version of Lightroom Mobile is great for most people who want to make some tweaks to enhance their photos. You can also download or create your own presets to keep a consistent look while saving lots of time in your edits.
If you're looking for desktop editing The Creative Cloud Photography Plan includes Lightroom , Photoshop and 20GB of cloud storage for $12.99 CAD/month.
Social Media Scheduler: Later
Monthly Plan: Free or Upgrade starting at $15 USD/month
I love that this includes Instagram, Facebook, Pinterest, Twitter (and soon TikTok!) in one. It also gives you a preview grid for your Instagram so you can make sure you get your look exactly as you want it.
•The free plan includes one social profile (one each of Instagram, Facebook, Pinterest and Twitter), 30 posts per social profile, Instagram grid preview and auto-publishing image posts.
•For auto-publishing video, auto-posted first comment (hashtags), auto-posted location & analytics (including best time to post, demographics, post analytics) you'll need to upgrade. Lite analytics are included with the $15 USD/month plan, for full you'll be starting at $25 USD/month.
You can also check your analytics under Insights in your Instagram profile to figure out your own best times to post when your audience has historically been the most active.
Music Playlists: Apple Music & Spotify
Okay so this music isn't exactly automated, but it is curated. Of course everyone's musical preferences are different but these two playlists have been my go-to's for the last 6 months or so. I'm sure you'll find some inspiration to create your own playlists.
Workday includes my upbeat songs that you can listen to while doing less concentrated work. I find this one best for when I know exactly what I'm doing and just need to execute - with energy. Throw it on when updating your bookkeeping for the week for a (far more / even more) enjoyable QuickBooks experience.
.Focus includes songs that are almost exclusively instrumental. I initially found these artists by searching "contemporary piano/instrumental" and I was so glad to find them. These are best for when I need to concentrate. I find lyrics distracting when I'm working out something new, writing or need an extra level of concentration that singing along with catchy songs doesn't work with. I tried more classical options initially but had a hard time finding more upbeat songs. I would recommend classical if you're looking for instrumental music during journaling, reflecting or winding down from the day.
Available on Apple Music + Spotify! Click to play or add to your library.
If you'd like some help in getting your visual content together for 2021, feel free to book a Complimentary Visual Strategy Call with me. We'll go over what your goals are for the year and how photography can help elevate your experience in getting there.