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Business apps that keep us afloat

There are countless business apps developed to make the lives of business owners easier—apps for accounting, project management, marketing automation, email and calendar management, website development, and even secure website hosting to name a few. Apps can save business owners countless hours of valuable time, particularly when they enable task automation. If they’re able to pull data from cloud-based sources, they can provide real-time insights into the business and client needs. 

Due to the sheer number of apps out there clamoring for your attention, the process of building your business tech stack can quickly become overwhelming. On top of that, everybody seems to have their favorite, and when you start asking for recommendations you often get conflicting answers. A lot of it comes down to personal preferences. These are the apps we use to keep our business running.  

Project Management App: Asana

Our top pick for project management, Asana is the hub for all projects, tasks, and collaboration. When you’re coordinating multiple team members on simultaneously running projects, bouncing between multiple tools (not to mention discussions via email) can quickly become a headache. Asana allows team members to view projects, quickly access documents and links, collaborate with others, view progress, and most importantly, stay on track. Conversations relating to the project are all happening in one central place, nearly eliminating the need for back and forth email communication. You can also search the history of any project to find forgotten details that suddenly become relevant. 

The app has time-saving features such as automation, forms, and templates for reoccurring tasks. The project manager can get insights into collaborators’ workload and reporting. While the desktop version is the easiest to use and jam-packed with essential features, a complementary mobile app is help you to stay up to date. It can be helpful to get notifications when geographically dispersed team members need quick answers in order to stay on track. And the best feature of all: when you complete a task, you may be surprised by a unicorn or other magical creature streaking across the screen. At least one of us may even be using Asana to manage personal and household tasks. 

Accounting App: Wave 

Invoicing and bookkeeping have never been easier with Wave, our accounting app of choice. Wave offers simple bookkeeping and payment solutions for small business owners. You can view your business finances from one easy-to-use dashboard and pull basic reports. Bank feeds enable up-to-date numbers and help keep the bookkeeping work to a minimum. 

We started using Wave in order to be able to accept online payments from clients, and it’s become essential as our business as grown. It’s not the most sophisticated accounting app out there, which is part of the appeal for our business. We don’t need a lot of complex features and complicated tracking tools, particularly considering most of our clients are invoiced on a monthly basis. We’ll probably outgrow it someday, but we have yet to run into an accounting task that Wave isn’t able to handle.

Scheduling App: Calendly 

The back-and-forth of scheduling meetings is a personal point of frustration. I would often send some time options to people and then forget to block those times on my calendar, so by the time they came back to me I was double booked. I also have multiple calendars that all need to show up in my availability. Calendar management was practically drowning me before I started using Calendly and it rapidly became one of my essential business apps. Now I simply provide my link to allow people to book time with me at their convenience, within my available time slots. I haven’t used the team scheduling features, but they sound awesome. Most importantly, Calendly provides top-notch security with worry-free data protection.

Email and Document Collaboration: Google Workspace

Email is a must for every business owner, and security is a necessity. Google Workspace offers a variety of small business tools, including Gmail, and makes it simple for small business owners to get started without an IT department. Gmail allows business owners to create custom-branded emails using their preferred domain, giving the business a professional, trustworthy appearance from the first impression. Email aliases for specific functions, such as hello@ or webmaster@, are easy to create and manage.

We also use Google Drive for collaborating on documents. With Workspace, it’s simple to share documents with your internal team, and you can also invite outside collaborators (such as clients in our case). We have 30 GB of space on our Workspace drive (a free Gmail account gives you 15 GB on Drive). Some people are reluctant to use Google Docs, Sheets, etc. I’ve come to prefer it for some things (mostly the ease of editing a shared document and seeing updates in real time), but still use Microsoft Office for independent work and tracking changes.

Cloud Storage: Dropbox

Secure cloud storage makes a home for your business files of just about any type. Dropbox provides that home, living in the cloud where you and your team can access the content from anywhere. Organization is key when it comes to managing content, especially when collaborating with clients and team members. Files can be accessed from your computer, phone, or tablet. I find it easier to stay organized on Dropbox, particularly with complex file structures. While its collaboration tools don’t stand up to Google Drive’s, it is better at storing many different types of files and keeping a historical record. We also regularly use the request files feature, which makes it easy for clients to upload media assets. Dropbox is rather pricy compared to Google Drive; we’ve found that the Dropbox Family plan is sufficient for our needs and offers some savings compared to the more business-focused plans.

Website: WordPress

Your website is often the first impression people have of your business; make it count! With 43% of the web built on WordPress, we’re not alone when we say it’s our top pick for running our own site and building sites for clients. The countless plugins offer features for just about every need and budget. Business owners are never limited with design options, but can also use one of the professionally-designed themes provided. It’s also tops at SEO if you know what you’re doing (more on that below).

We started out using Squarespace and still occasionally recommend it to clients who have highly specific and limited needs. Squarespace is great at enabling anybody to build a nice-looking and functional website; you can create a professional online presence in a matter of hours. You almost always need to work with a developer to build a WordPress site, so it’s a different commitment level. We recommend WordPress to clients who want a site that will grow with their business and are hoping to drive lots of organic traffic.  

Organic SEO: Yoast SEO

Speaking of organic traffic, we swear by the WordPress plugin Yoast SEO. Even the free version of Yoast gives you the incredibly user-friendly tools you need to improve your organic rankings. Yoast does an on-the-spot analysis of each page on your website and gives you suggestions to improve search-friendliness based on your chosen target keyword or phrase. It takes the guesswork out of every day optimization—especially blogging.  

Marketing Automation: ActiveCampaign

Marketing automation keeps you in communication with leads and customers without a whole lot of manual work. With ActiveCampaign, business owners can set up welcome series with automation, integrate with other apps (over 870), analyze their contacts with reports, and send email blasts with templates, or custom designs. There are a bunch of marketing automation tools out there. We’ve tested many of them (including everybody’s favorite orange 800 pound gorilla) and come to the conclusion that ActiveCampaign is our favorite. We recommend it to all clients who need a marketing platform and use it ourselves.

Note that the link above is an affiliate link; if you happen to sign up for ActiveCampaign after clicking it, we will receive a small commission. But that’s not why we promote this platform over all of its competitors. We truly believe it’s the best.

Bonus business app recommendation: Answer the Public

If I end up making a mid-life career change, I want a job at Answer the Public. It is just plain cool, and if you’ve never played with it I highly recommend setting aside some time to do so. Answer the Public is a search research tool that provides valuable, raw search insights, directly from the searchers themselves. There are over 3 billion Google searches every day. You can tap into these searches to find out what people are really looking for on a topic-by-topic basis. You can use the insights to develop products or services, target blog posts, view trends, interpret your own organic search data, or just be nosy. 

People are far more honest with search engines than they are on social media, surveys, and maybe even among their own families. Typing a query into Google is a little like entering a private confessional. Analyzing that data in the aggregate offers intensely deep insights into the collective psyche of the developed world. Really, you have to try it just for the stunning data visualizations. Have fun.

Are you looking for assistance building a marketing tech stack that integrates with your business? We offer one-time strategy engagements and ongoing coaching to help you fine-tune your marketing operations. Contact us to learn more.

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