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If you’re starting an online business or freelancing, these small business tools and software will go a long way to making your life easier and help your business grow.
Trust us, we know: there’s so much to think about when setting up an online business. In fact, it can become overwhelming, very quickly. This is why we’ve categorized our chosen tools below, to help you find the area you need help with.
Business Tools and Software
We’ve grouped these tools into categories such as business-set-up, content creation, email marketing, outsourcing & teams, accounting & payments, remote work, better safe, and education & improvement.
1. Domain Name & Hosting
Whether you’re creating content websites, selling printables, freelancing, or selling products online, your online presence is so important. We use these tools to set up and run our websites.
Namecheap: They have some of the most competitive rates online when it comes to buying domain names. We recommend purchasing and managing your domain names through them.
WPX Hosting: Their hosting is fast and reliable, and their plans come with a range of excellent additional features, including site backups and malware removal.
Cloudflare: Great for two reasons. First, this tool massively helps speed up your site. Secondly, it gives your website greater protection.
GeneratePress: With your infrastructure in place, you’ll finally need a theme for your website. GeneratePress is a fast, lightweight theme, with huge online support. It is the go-to theme for thousands of online businesses, and it is a great choice for a fast website.
2. Email Set-Up
For professionalism and control, you’ll want to set up a custom email address rather than rely on a personal Gmail or outlook address.
Google Workspace (formerly G Suite): Google gives you everything you need to setup and manage multiple email addresses and inboxes. Particularly if you’ve been using GMail for years, you can continue to read and send mail in the same way, but with your custom email address.
3. Selling Online Products
Generally, bespoke e-commerce sites require a huge amount of investment, resources, and management to work efficiently. These services are great to get you up and running selling products relatively easily and will act as your online shop front.
Shopify: If you’re selling multiple digital products or at least one physical product, try Shopify. While Shopify requires more input and management your end than online marketplaces, it gives you a great deal of control and customization.
Gumroad: If you want to get going with online digital products without investing too much time in setup, try Gumroad. According to them, they also take care of charging and remitting VAT in the EU on digital products.
Teachable: If you sell courses, consider this service. They focus solely on courses and online education and take care of lots of pain points, such as checkout and hosting large video files.
4. Social Media Graphics & Scheduling
We find with content you have to strike a balance between quality and consistency. All these tools help enhance your images and graphics, but also let you do it quickly, with a little practice.
Canva: It’s such a great tool to use if you’re not a designer. Everything is drag and drop, and there are lots of stock and presets to choose from. If you do a lot of graphic social content, this will save you lots of time.
PicMonkey: An alternative to Canva, PicMonkey is another great tool for creating simple and beautiful graphics for online platforms. Both are great tools to try.
Adobe Lightroom: If you are working solely with photography, Lightroom gives you incredible control over your image editing. Use this for travel and food photography or product shots.
Adobe Photoshop: If you have an eye for design, and want more control than tools like Canva offer, you can blend photography, effects, and simple graphics together in Photoshop.
Adobe Illustrator: Great for creating original vector artwork for both print and the web. If you need lots of icons, maps, and illustrated content, make your vector artwork through Illustrator.
Pin Templates: Use presets, such as these pin templates, to help you get up and running quickly on Pinterest, with minimal design experience.
Buffer: An easy-to-use tool for scheduling social media posts. Buffer is great for putting out content across multiple platforms very easily.
Tailwind: For Pinterest specifically, this is a good tool for scheduling pins. You can also now create pins with Tailwind, which is a brand new feature they have recently added.
IFTTT: This is an excellent tool for automating repetitive tasks. For example, every time you post a blog post on your website, you could schedule it to auto-post to your Facebook page. It also has many great integrations, including with Buffer.
5. Blog Posts / Topic & Keyword Research
For a while, we were constantly stuck in a loop, thinking and rethinking about what we should write and blog about. Thankfully, these tools helped us make those decisions quickly.
Semrush: We use this online tool for our keyword research. It helps us identify topics to write about, how competitive they are, and what other websites have done. It is so helpful when planning your content strategy.
BuzzSumo: Semrush is great for the long run. But if you can identify trends and viral topics, there are waves of traffic to bring to your website. BuzzSumo is great for this as it shows you topics trending on social media.
TubeBuddy: If you make videos on YouTube, get this tool. It helps with keywords, optimizing your videos, and gives you plenty of optimization checklists to follow for your videos.
6. Writing Posts
While we’re decent writers, we’re no Shakespeare. But these tools help us turn our Word documents into great articles that are engaging and well-written.
Grammarly: Use this tool to check your spelling, grammar, and even things like flow. There’s a plugin for WordPress too, meaning you can use it directly on your posts.
Hemingway App: Great for telling you the tone and readability of your writing. Once you understand your target audience and the writing they want, this app can be a great help.
Copyscape: Allows you to check work for plagiarism if you outsource writing to freelancers or if you allow guest posts. This is so important as copied work is rife on the internet.
7. Stock Photos
We use stock to add color and visuals to our posts. Images really help break up walls of text and give the user a much better experience. Particularly if your writing is technical, consider using images and stock in your articles.
Shutterstock: What we like about Shutterstock is how comprehensive their image base is. As long as it isn’t incredibly niche, generally, you can find it on Shutterstock. If you buy a larger monthly plan or an annual subscription, it works out cheaper per image.
8. Photo Editing
Our raw photos always need treatment. Plus, you need to use tools to optimize and resize your images.
Adobe Lightroom: Use if your site and posts require heavy imagery, in spaces like travel and food where the quality of images is so important. Use it to bring out light and color in duller photos.
Adobe Photoshop: Photoshop allows you to edit while adding graphics and text to your images. Great for creating headers, featured images, and infographics that use photos.
Note: There are some great presets out there, both for Lightroom and Photoshop. These are great for travel, food, and lifestyle photography, if you’re looking to achieve a certain tone and feel.
9. Video Editing
You’ll have noticed your social feeds and Google searches becoming populated more and more by video. Now is a good time to get into video content as a way of giving your business exposure.
Adobe Premiere Pro: Ideal for long, quality videos. Premiere Pro, as with all Adobe software, gives you lots of control. Great for editing very long, extensive videos. However, videos of this nature are time-sensitive to produce.
Final Cut Pro: For online video makers, Premiere Pro and Final Cut Pro are the go-to industry standard. If you can’t quite wrap your head around Premiere Pro, try this instead.
iMovie: Apple’s default video maker is perfect if you want to create longer videos quickly. It has simple features but is very easy to use. Perfect for someone who isn’t precious and wants to do quick video content.
Promo: This is such a great tool for creating quick promotional videos, no longer than a minute in length. The software has lots of drag-and-drop animations and plenty of stock. You can also resize to various dimensions for Pinterest, Facebook, and Instagram. Great for running ad campaigns.
10. Landing Pages
Landing pages are built with sales-based intent, rather than casual browsing. So if you want a user to give you their email or buy your product, build a landing page to send traffic to.
Leadpages – Their page editors, one for beginners and one for more advanced marketers, allow you to start with simple pages, then work up to more advanced. Leadpages also have a bucket load of templates and add-ons for your pages.
Unbounce: What we like about Unbounce is the control their visual editor gives you. You can quickly build a great landing page with blocks, and the tracking is extensive, too. Plus, there’s great online support.
11. Email Marketing & List Building
Once you start selling online, you’ll quickly realise how important email marketing is. We know that the people who gives us their email are interested in our site. It is a totally different type of customer.
Mailchimp: This is a good service for starting out. MailChimp is very easy to use, and has lots of presets. If you just want to start collecting emails, MailChimp lets you build a list of up to 2000 emails for free.
ConvertKit: ConvertKit allows you to automate so much. If you have lots of different customers and want to set up multiple sequences and funnels, this tool is designed to handle complex automations. For this reason, it can be more expensive but, in our opinion, worth it.
OptinMonster: Gives you all the little tools you need to collect emails. This service allows you to try floating bars, pop-ups, and other tools, compared to the standard sign-up box most mailing software offers. Good integration with WordPress, too.
Outsourcing & Teams
12. Team / Project Management
Keeping on top of every little thing that needs to be done can be chaos without a system. Online businesses require so much of your effort in many areas. You have to manage your workload well.
Trello: We use Trello to get very specific. You can create as many tasks and to-dos as you like, and move them through progress boards. Trello is good for teams too as you can assign tasks to people.
Slack: For instant communication, we like Slack. The use of channels allows you to keep talk and comms on topic.
13. Video Calls
We work with several freelancers, so video calling is very important. Most clients will always expect to meet with you, at least once, for a face-to-face chat.
Zoom: Even before the shift to working from home, we always found the quality call on Zoom was one of the best out there. The free option gives you 40 minute calls, which we found actually helps keep your meetings prompt.
The biggest challenge you’ll have online is sending and receiving money in different currencies. This is a huge part of doing business online, and we’ve found some banks are just not set up to deal with multiple currencies and international transfers quickly and cheaply.
Wise (formerly Transferwise): Not only can Wise handle multiple currencies, but you can also seamlessly move money between currencies for very small fees. To get started, it’s a good choice for your online business if you plan to work with clients and freelancers abroad. As always, before signing up, make sure it’s right for you and the type of business you run.
15. Invoicing Clients
It wasn’t that long ago invoicing was a very manual process. Thankfully, there are a few tools out there that offer invoicing as part of a wider service.
PayPal: If you get paid via PayPal, their invoicing system is actually very good. It’s easy to use and creates an invoice that looks professional. The email reminders are a helpful feature.
Xero: If you’re running your accounting through Xero, it’s a great idea to use their invoicing system. It’s easy to use, and it keeps your financial documents in one software.
Quickbooks: Again, the ideal choice if you use Quickbooks for bookkeeping. Their invoice automation, in particular, make sending invoices very quick and hands-off.
We can’t stress enough how important it is to get on top of your finances. This stops reckless spending, helps you set realistic goals, and saves you a great deal of pain when it comes to submitting your company financials and figuring out tax and other deductables.
Quickbooks: A great choice if you’re based in the US or if you use HubSpot as your CRM. Allows you to easily record expenses and income, figure out accounting and tax, and manage payroll and invoicing. It is a little more expensive than Xero.
Xero: Works well with Salesforce and great if you’re a company growing quickly. It has a very minimalist user interface, and like Quickbooks, allows you to manage accounting, invoicing, payroll, and also comes with project management tools.
Quaderno: This tool can save you a lot of stress when it comes to tax. It automates the sales tax process and helps you stay compliant.
We work in many places, from coffee shops to coworking spaces. You never know who is watching you on the network, so we always make sure we work with a VPN switched on when on unknown networks.
ExpressVPN: There are plenty of VPN services out there, but we personally use and prefer ExpressVPN. It has lots of server options, and connection drops are uncommon.
18. Remote Teams and Nomads
Many solo entrepreneurs, freelancers, and small businesses that operate remotely can struggle to find affordable health insurance that covers them worldwide.
Get into this habit early on. Don’t wait for a corrupted hard drive (yes, we’ve been there) or a wiped-out machine to make you understand how important backing up your files and system is.
Google Drive: You can install Drive on your desktop and save all files straight to Drive to be stored in the cloud. Storage is free for a certain amount, and the ability to edit documents and files together, as a team, is invaluable.
Dropbox: This is a great tool if you’re purely after storage. Whereas Google wants you all to sign and be a part of a team within Google, Dropbox links can easily be download to anyone you send them too. It’s very easy to organize files, folders, and set up multi-person Dropboxes.
Backup Drive: Although storing online is great, you should also try to have a physical backup. An SSD drive is robust and quick to load, and we personally use the Samsung T5.
Backblaze: A great tool for running backups automatically, without you needing to think about it. Backblaze will create cloud backups for your computer or from your website.
UpdraftPlus: If you have a WordPress site, you can use UpdraftPlus for website backups. It works solely with WordPress, creates automatic backups, and helps you restore your website if hacks or crashes take your site offline.
20. Password Manager
Between multiple people, password managers can save you hours of frustration and time. The more services and tools you use, the easier life becomes with a password manager.
LastPass: Seamless login via browser and very quick and easy to use. LastPass also won’t just autofill the first login if you have multiple logins for a certain tool or website.
Education & Improvement
When running an online business, you always have to be learning. We are taking courses and trying new tech all the time. If you can understand and use a new tool or site before anyone else is using it, you can discover new opportunities and build large followings quickly.
Don’t get overwhelmed when starting your online business. Yes, there’s a lot to take in. But there are so many great tools and software out there, much of what you need to do can be tracked, automated, and delivered through these tools.
Remember, there’s no right answer here. We love these tools, and use them everyday. But finding what works best for you and your online business is what’s important. This comprehensive list is the perfect place to start.