business tools

How do you pick the right business tools? Does it matter what software or plugins or platforms you use? Are you using too few? Too many?

Check out my online business tools roundup of what worked, what didn’t, and what’s changed going into a new year.

Running a business requires you to make tough decisions every single day.  You decide what to keep, what to scrap, what to revise in every area of your biz…

December marks a nice and tidy way to go through your systems to see what worked and what didn’t…

But before we get into that – let’s address the bigger question about “how” you run your business.

Does it matter what tools you use to operate your online business?

The answer is simple. NO.

[enter soapbox]

No matter what tool you’re talking about – or see other’s using – or keep being told you should use – the tool is not what matters AT ALL.

It’s how you use it – it’s why you’re using it – it’s if it’s useful for your business.

It is never about the social media tool, or the webinar, or the list, or the platform, it’s how you use it – it’s your ability to market yourself and share the right message on each platform.

Same here – behind the scenes.

Asana or Trello or Airtable or just plain ‘ole Google Calendar. Everyone wants to tell you that it matters, but it really…does not matter.

Stripe or Paypal or merchant account or another type of payment process. Does not matter – they all have their pluses and minuses. No one solution has everything you need.

Meet Edgar, Hoostuite or Buffer App. Now…everyone has their preference. Mine is Meet Edgar.

Tools are just your way of organizing your business, so you can do any number of the following tasks with ease:

  • Scheduling clients
  • Keeping track of your to-do list
  • Managing your team
  • Automating or scheduling your social media messages in advance
  • Marketing your business
  • Writing your newsletter
  • Communicating with your mailing list
  • Tracking your business expenses
  • Delivering content

Now that we’ve got a clear view of the usual business tasks we need to handle – let’s talk about what tools we actually need.

Beware of the “Too Many Tools Trap”

Let me ask you – how many of you think you’ve got too many of the following:

Random domain names.
Multiple hosting accounts for various domains.
Several premium WordPress themes.
Too too tooo many ways to schedule your tasks and manage your projects.
Tons of social media scheduling tools.
Options up the wazoo to optimize your optin forms.
Wordpress Plugins that were supposed to streamline something, but you can’t remember.

What happens when you decide to try every tool that crosses your path?

Well, besides going a wee bit INSANE (I can say this – because I’ve been a tool junkie in the past), you’ll also be wasting your time and missing the point of even using the tools.

You’ll get caught up in learning how to use them – be in constant test and experimentation mode – and in the meantime you won’t be doing what you SHOULD be doing if you’re in business – creating offerings, making sales, and building your prospect + customer lists.

Sad truth – I find most people who are struggling to get their businesses off the ground are people who are in a constant state of reviewing tools, finding cool new systems, and in addition – publishing their findings on Facebook.

Waste. Of. Time. People.
(Unless your business is teaching people how to use said tools…and even then you run the risk of confusing your customers if you can’t settle on your own top picks.)

So please – I beg of you – shut down your tools laboratory this year.

Simplify + Consolidate or Drown (It’s Your Choice)

I got caught in this trap of too many tools and it took me more than 2 years to see that I was addicted to learning about things that would streamline my business or help me discover new ways to grow my business.

But – all I ended up with is a TON of trial accounts with services that I wasn’t using. I didn’t even have a clear system for deciding what I did and didn’t need.

I just had tools sitting in a pile inside the interwebs – useless really.

So I had to get real with myself.

I asked myself the non-fancy questions – that you can ask yourself too – about all these fancy or useful tools and systems.

What activities must happen in your business for you to make money?

What tools accomplish these activities without spending a dime?

What tools REQUIRE me to spend a little cash to accomplish those activities?

Am I using the tool and if not, do I need to use it? Is there another tool that does more than one thing – and perhaps I’ve got tools that do duplicate tasks?

Am I using too many different tools for certain activities that could be consolidated under one roof?

Are there any tools I’m using just because someone said I should, but that I secretly hate?

Can I really afford [name that tool] right now? If not, is there a tool I can use UNTIL I can afford it?

See – nothing fancy here.

I just needed to be honest about what I needed and what I didn’t need.

That one step is what led me to shed a ton of the tools I was using in 2011 and 2012.

Buh-bye Dupes

First let’s look at some of the tools that left my lineup…and why.

Systems and tools that got shelved…for the following primary reason – too many separate tools working on the same system or systems.

Another reason for my cuts? Cost. Even small costs add up when you’re running a business, planning your launch, creating an online product.

If you don’t need something – if it’s not increasing the value of what you are offering – if it doesn’t have a part in your reaching your business goals – it’s gotta go.

Anywhere I could – I simply stopped using systems that were dupes of other systems.

And now I make a practice of this every single year.

Paid tools that were downgraded to free or completely removed

Here are the paid tools which I knew I needed to replace – I’ll be honest – mostly because I saw how much Infusionsoft was going to be AND the fact that I truly did not need them.

Jury’s still out on me needing these, but for now – I do not need them.

  • Aweber:  solid email marketing – but I wanted an all-in-one solution
  • Basecamp: project and task management – clients invite me to theirs, I don’t personally need it
  • Dropbox: downgrade to free – keep most everything in Google Drive and now use Evernote too
  • Ejunkie: info product housing + affiliate program – don’t need since I have IS
  • Hootsuite: no additional team members – downgrade to free
  • GoDaddy: move everything to Hostgator STAT > consolidation is the key here.

Final list of paid tools I use to run my Online Business

The following tools require a monthly or regular payment to keep them going. These are not one-off purchases. They incur monthly or yearly charges.

  • Infusionsoft: email marketing, online ordering, affiliate program, payment processing
  • Paypal – fits nicely with IS and is just easy to deal with – I know there’s better
  • Gotowebinar – love it but depending on my webinar schedule – this might be out the door soon too!
  • TimeTrade – to book my launch intensives and launch ready sessions.
  • Hostgator – moved everything into one host – originally had GoDaddy AND Hostgator.  Now – only Hostgator.
  • Dynadot – I buy all my domains here. Period.

Final List of One-Off Tool Purchases

Here are tools in my arsenal that I use regularly AND only required the 1-time purchase price.

  • Screenflow – handles screencapture on Mac
  • Wishlist Member – keeps my membership area neat + tidy + easy to customize
  • Optimize Press – sets up a simple, easily customizable home for my program
  • Thesis – my theme – easy for ME to use and make minor adjustments too when needed
  • Lead Pages – new tool – adds optin form to my videos – we’ll see!
  • Market Samurai – long time friend that helps me track ranking of posts, keywords, and also find resources for posts!

Choosing what you pay for and what you don’t pay for…

Email Marketing

Don’t upgrade to Infusionsoft or Office Autopilot until you have at least 1500 people on your list AND have products and services to sell.  Period.  Even though I have surpassed my own list size criteria – I did feel a lot of crazy panic switching… now, instead of the easy to handle $30 a month – I pay out quite a bit more with my package at Infusionsoft.

Until you are ready to handle $199+ in monthly fees – don’t switch.

Aweber and MailChimp are both ace companies and will do you well even longer than I stayed with them, but there were so many disjointed companies and systems that I used – it made sense for me to switch.

If you need help deciding, let me know and I’ll give you my detailed decision making process.

Schedule/Task Management

If you do not have 2-3 people working with you consistently, you probably do not need the paid version of Basecamp.  I work with maybe 1 or 2 people who help when I need it… They work through Upwork or I know them personally – and we start a google doc when they start to work on something. Simple.

And the great thing is my clients always just add me to their Basecamp, so I kinda don’t need my own EVER.

If you have 1 or NO team members – you can survive and be totally fine using a combo of Google apps – calendar and spreadsheet or even calendar and simple document.

Client Billing + Scheduling

Do you offer coaching or consulting services via Skype?  If so, you need an automated system to let them choose a time, submit any pre-materials, and then a way to bill them AND add them to your list.

Ideally, this process happens without your fingers pushing go on every single step.

What needs to happen: Accept payment > Pick time in schedule > Add person to email list for communication.

My own system: Infusionsoft > Time Trade

Product Creation for Info Products

*This area of your business can start extremely pared down – and then build up as you increase you start making sales-slash-establishing yourself as an expert and teacher.

Instead of housing my program videos in a password protected page on my site, I decided to make a real membership area, use Optimize Press to make the product easier to navigate.

The truth though, is this:

You can always start simple and then scale when you are pulling in $$ for your amazing content.

Amazing content doesn’t require a specific magical piece of technology or fancy pants design.

Get it up on a site – make it easy to read/watch/download.


Bottom Line

Notice something similar about all of the tools I spend money on every month?
They help me grow my business, connect better with my customers, and create better relationships with people I hope to be my customers.

I know there’s more to business than your bottom line – but the money is why you call it a business.  The income. The revenue. The bottom line matters when you’re calling something your business.

Yes – you’ll want to take courses here and there for helping you define your customer, to clarify business and life desires, to get re-inspired about your business, to generate new exciting ideas.

Yes – you’ll want to spend money on things that don’t grow your business…that just make your life better! I say do that if it makes sense for you.

But – If you are ever trying to decide if you need a tool or to keep walking – and all the questions are still leaving you waffling over the decision – ask yourself one final question:

Will this help me bring in the moolah for my business…and can I afford it right now?
(okay fine – that was 2 questions, but I think you get me here…)

Your Turn

Maybe you’re already doing this…

If so, list any tools that you’ve dropped and why…PLUS tell me what tools work for you!

p.s. You’ll notice I DID put links (affiliate or otherwise) to products in this post. But remember… I want YOU to do some research, analyze the tools yourself and make the decision…The tools you decide to stick with must be relevant and necessary for your business (not MINE!).

Photo credit: florianric