As a SME business owner myself, I’m so thankful that I live in the best era than it’s ever been to run a business. With the advancement of technology, there have been so many tools developed that help us to work and collaborate more efficiently. Running an online business and serving worldwide clients demand me to be tech-savvier than ever. I’ve tried and utilized some tools—most of them are free—for running my service-based business. Some tools recommended by other people didn’t always work for me even though the function is the same (e.g: project management apps). So after trying some online apps and services, I’ve narrowed down my list and these are the apps that I LOVE and that I’m currently using:
Communication & collaboration
G-Suite is one of the most vital tools in my business. I use it for all the stages of my work from client onboarding, design process to offboarding process because there are many apps included in G-Suite, from email, cloud storage, calendar, etc, and I use it as an alternative for Microsoft Office apps because I use MacOs. Most of these functions come with the free Gmail account if you have one which already gives you 15 GB storage. I pay a monthly subscription so that I can get 50 GB storage and a branded email account (e.g: firstname.lastname@example.org). Actually, you can also have a branded email when you have a domain (note: depends on the platform), but I’m so used to G-Suite environment and all the facilities. By paying USD 7 per month, I don’t need to pay for another cloud storage subscription like DropBox because 50 GB is enough for me so far. Because I use Gsuite a lot, I’ll mention it repeatedly in other sections of this post.
Trello is another big saver non-design app for my business! It’s important to streamline the project management, client management and client communication in just one tool, and I found Trello is the perfect fit for my needs that don’t involve many people in the team. I always try to move the email conversation to Trello as it’s more organized. I use Trello for my personal life organization too. With the free plan, we can have up to 10 open boards.
Loom is a screen video recording app when I need to ask or explain something that’s easier compared to scheduling a video call. Just send the link after you finish recording and the receiver can play, repeat and download the video.
Miro functions as the digital post-it/ whiteboard session. It’s really helpful during the discovery session.
With an appointment scheduling app like Calendly, it cuts short the back-and-forth emailing to match each other’s schedules. I just need to send my Calendly link or connect it to my website and people can see my availability that’s automatically converted into their timezone. I also integrate it with my Google calendar so it’s automatically updated without me having to create and email the zoom link to them. I also use Calendy as the inquiry form for first-time clients.
- Google calendar
Calendar and scheduling are very important for me, thankfully Google calendar can be integrated with many apps and I can color code the event based on its type.
I’ve been using Zoom years before it got to fame due to the pandemic. I integrate Zoom with my Google Calendar and Calendly, so anytime someone books a call with me, it automatically sends and creates a meeting schedule and invites. For discovery and presentation sessions, I use the record feature.
Time management & tracking
Time tracking is important not only to invoice accordingly but also to see where my time is spent and how long it takes me to do a specific task. I use Toggl’s free plan to time-track my commission work, my business, and also personal life. It also can generate reports based on clients, categories, and tags.
- Google Sheet
Google sheet is still the winner for most my tracking and recording activities. I have color-coded daily, monthly and yearly logs of how I spend my time.
Finance & invoicing
Wise is my most preferred payment method that made international bank transfer so easy. Basically it acts as my bank account and I can create many bank accounts for different currencies and clients just need to do a normal bank account. Its conversion rate is also higher compared to PayPal.
Not really my fave but it’s an alternative option if the client for any reasons prefers PayPal. PayPal is also more widely used. I use PayPal when I need to purchase something in USD because it’s still not possible with Wise.
- Bank Transfer
Classic bank transfer is still useful in some cases.
I use WaveApps for invoicing and bookkeeping. I still don’t really need more advanced bookkeeping apps like Freshbooks or Quickbooks. With invoicing apps, I don’t need to send reminder emails to clients for payment because the app does it for me.
- Wallet by Budget Bakers
I always track my financial expenses and income. Wallet by Budget Bakers generates the reports in diagram, pie charts, and lists. It helps me to make financial decisions and we can make different accounts like saving, cash, investment, etc. as we want. I use the free version of it.
Social media & email marketing
I plan my business’ social media content ahead so I use a social media scheduling app called Later. I usually create spend a few hours in a week to create content for 14 days ahead and schedule it on the app so that I don’t need to worry everyday about keeping my online presence.
Hubspot is the email marketing service that I use to collect leads through forms and mailing lists. The free plan allows me to send up to 2,000 emails per month.
Contract signing & forms
- Hello Sign
Same like WaveApps, I need an app that automatically reminds the involved parties to sign the contract so that I don’t need to do the nagging directly under my name. Hello Sign also eases my clients to sign the contract, they dont need to download anything nor Adobe Acrobat subscription. The free plan allows me to send out up to 3 contracts in a month.
- Google Forms
I used to use Typeform to collect forms because Typeform can be more customizable design wise than Google forms. But I prefer to collect my process and data using less tools as possible and I also with Google Forms, I can put more questions than with Typeform’s free plan.
- Adobe Creative suites
Well, as a designer, it’s almost impossible to not use Adobe programs. They’re still the best apps and the industry standards. I pay an annual membership fee for its complete package because I use quiet a lot of their apps.
Figma and Adobe XD are what I use to make the website designs and prototype before moving to the development stage. I use Figma and Adobe XD alternatively depending on the people I need to communicate with in the project.
For quick and small projects, I use Canva—especially when it’s specially requested by the clients. Not all clients have Adobe subscription nor have the ability to use the apps, so Canva can be easier if they want to edit the products. I have the yearly subscription that allows me to organize and add more folders, integrate brandings, add teams, as well as upload custom fonts.
Procreate is the most intuitive digital illustration app that can be used only on mobile iOs devices. It’s a one-time pay app. I use it for quick, small and personal projects. The files can be opened in Photoshop too.
- Mila Note
Mila Note is inspiration gathering app that eases designers to collect all the inspiration idea in one place. I can upload not only photos to the boards but also writings.
Pinterest is a visual search engine app that I use to get inspiration as well as collect style references with clients during design projects. I also use Pinterest to market my services.
Skillshare is a subscription-based online learning platform with thousands of interesting and quality classes. I pay USD 99 for their yearly subscription because the quality of the classes are better and more structured compared to free sources like Youtube videos.
Unlike Skillshare, with Udemy, I don’t need to pay a subscription fee because it sells per course. I pay for courses that I can’t find on Skillshare.
If I need to deepen my knowledge on something and look for textbooks, I go to Scribd first. I pay for a monthly subscription although you can actually use the service for free in exchange of documents when before you can download something. With the paid plan, I dont need to do that and I have access to unlimited books and audiobooks.
Mixmax is a Gmail extension that I use to track if my leads have opened my emails or not and how many times my emails get opened and clicked. You can also create email templates, calendar scheduling and appointment bookings but I don’t think that for other functionalities its as good as other specialized app, so I only use it for tracking emails.
- Time Buddy
Working remotely and with worldwide clients, I need to be able to understand the timezone the clients in for our communication.
- XE currency
I have XE Currency App in my phone to give me an estimation of a number in other currencies.