The tech you actually need to run your online business

8 minute read
Taking a minimalist approach to business tech to keep it simple, easy to implement and cost effective.
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I’ve been running this business (previously Freckled Design Studio) for just on 6 years now, and it’s been an experience that’s pulled, stretched and challenged me in ways I hadn’t realised possible before.

It’s also so easy to get sucked into the multitude of things you’re being told you should be doing, creating, investing in, purchasing, learning. And somewhere in that noise it’s also all too easy to lose track of making decisions aligned to your purpose and dreams in business.

That said, I’ve learnt and invested in so many products, apps and saas that I didn’t actually need or have a true purpose for. Or perhaps I had a purpose but I could just as easily have reached my goals using something cheaper or simpler. But I didn’t, because I heard people talking about this new thing and how it ‘revolutionised’ their business (double yuck).

And I realise the irony when I’m about to say I want to share what I use in my business to keep all the moving parts, well, moving. But know I’m coming at this from a bare-bones, minimalist mindset, and definitely don’t want you to feel you need this thing just because I use it in my business. And even if you are a maximalist, I think keeping your business toolbox minimal and tidy is always easier.

With that out of the way, here are the tools, services and apps I use in my business based on meeting my needs and keeping the running costs as low as is feasible.

Business Admin

All things needed for bookkeeping, project and task management. It’s your list making, scheduling, planning, storage and sorting category.

Email, file storage, video calls, file backup

Google Workspace

USD12 / month

Bonus points that it’s priced in ZAR for me so my monthly fee doesn’t fluctuate with the exchange rate.

Email address

A business email address linked to my purchased domain.

Digital storage

2TB of digital storage in Google Drive which is where I store all business and project files.

Drive for Desktop

I’ve had my fair share of external harddrives pack up on me and it’s terrifying. Now I use Drive for Desktop and work locally on my computer with files in my Drive. They’re updated in real time and I can access them from anywhere, even if I don’t have my computer.

Video and voice calls

Google Meet is included in the monthly fee and negated my need to pay for Zoom, so that’s a huge win. I can host up to 150 participants on calls and it saves the recorded call to my Drive. Only downside is that you can’t record a call on a tablet or phone.  

Email client

Spark

Free

I super hate using email in my browser so I use Spark to manage my inbox on my computer and phone.

Invoicing and bookkeeping

Zoho Books

ZAR 199 / month (free for the first year when transferring from Wave)

I used Wave before they rolled back international functionality. Zoho was offered as an alternative and it’s so user friendly and affordable (I do not feel the same about the rest of their suite).

Client and project management

WillowSpace

USD 30 / month

My friend Danielle launched this incredible new CRM earlier this year (2021) and it’s gorgeous (she’s a designer, obviously!) and highly functional (her design business is Function ;) ). I’ve switched from Dubsado to Willowspace where I can invoice (with Stripe limitations which means I can’t accept payments as a South African based business), create and send proposals, contracts and forms and send clients to their own portal.

New kid on the block totally worth investing in if you sell services and need a client-management platform. They also have big plans and you get to grow with the software too.

You can get USD 20 off your subscription when you use this link: https://willowspace.app/register/WS2435212 (and I’ll get USD 20 to go toward mine)

Task management

ClickUp

Free

A few years ago I moved my task management from Asana to ClickUp and have been very grateful I did. It’s more visual (which I personally enjoy) and is such a flexible task and collaboration solution. You can upgrade for USD 5 / month if you need more storage and integrations, which is still pretty accessible.

This is where I keep track of most of the important tidbits and tasks in my business, like design/website/strategy project templates, executive to-dos, content ideas and schedules. If you’re using scraps of paper and need more structure with tasks and projects that recur, or to list out concepts and segment them, I can recommend.

Call scheduling

Calendly

Free - USD 15 / month

I’ve tried a few online schedulers, and I do feel that having a link you can send to someone that automatically updates in their timezone and reduces the need for back-and-forthing in email is a very worthwhile investment — if you’ve got the call volume to back it up.

I’ve tried Acuity (which came free with my Squarespace website before I moved to Webflow) and, for the longest period, the native scheduling functionality on Dubsado..

Now I have the paid version of Calendly which allows me to have multiple call types active at the same time, with different specs, forms and availability for each.

Automation

Zapier

Free - USD 19.99 +

I’m including this because sometimes you have to integrate a third party app to automate something. I use the free account to automate certain forms on my website (created natively in Webflow) to add a person to my audience on Flodesk. This is because I didn’t want to sacrifice my brand experience by integrating their available forms, which will of course automatically add a submission to your audience.

To keep it simple, I have less than 5 zaps set up (which means I don’t have to pay) and don’t have to touch them often.

Marketing

Apps and software to create, edit and share content with the purpose of marketing your business.

Email Marketing

Flodesk

USD 38 / month

I love writing emails (want my weekly letters? You can get them here.) so moving from MailChimp to Flodesk was a no-brainer when it arrived on the email marketing scene. I was never too taken with Convertkit and enjoy the overall ease with which you can create nice-looking emails inside their designer.

I still feel like their segmenting could be a lot better, but I believe it’s in the works. And their forms and workflows are great. I got in at the super lucky USD 19 a month flat rate, which you can still get until Nov 2, 2021. A bargain since their monthly fee is USD 38.

If you’re looking to build an audience that sits beyond the bounds of Instagram and Pinterest (and their fickle ways), then investing in email marketing is a must. But you can do it on the cheap too with a free MailChimp plan.

Creating content

Canva

Free - USD 12.99 / month

I know I’m not supposed to tell you, as a designer, that Canva is a great option if you want to create content but don’t have the skills or access to design from-scratch graphics. But it just is. It’s quite low on the learning curve, and you can really easily edit templates (either native or purchased from a marketplace like Creative Market) with your own colours, fonts and images.

Just keep in mind, less is more and consistency in your layouts, colours, fonts and sizing is key to your content sitting together prettily.

So, obviously, I don’t use this, but I’m not about to suggest you spend USD 60 + a month on Adobe Creative Cloud just to have no idea how to use the apps.

However, if you’re feeling confident (or sassy?) you can download and use Adobe XD for free to create your own social media content. It’s actually a web prototyping tool but I use this to create templates for my clients that they can easily edit and export.

If you do have a Creative Cloud subscription, though, I just want to tell you to maximise your monthly fee and use their apps instead of others you might be paying for. Like video editing for your reels/IGTV? Adobe Rush is frkn easy to use and you can create videos in 19:6 for IG. Creating podcasts and editing the audio through a paid for app? Try Audition. It’s takes a few minutes and a YouTube video or two to wrap your head around, but once you’ve done that you can create templates for audio files you make often (I use this to record and edit the audio training for the collective).

Instagram Scheduling

Planoly

Free - USD 10

When I was actively creating and sharing content on Instagram I used Plann, which was okay. I later moved to Planoly when I had a need for scheduling IG content again and have had both the paid and free subscriptions. If you’re looking for auto-posting, or scheduling videos, or auto-posting the first comment, or analytics, then paid is probably what you’d be after. I’m currently using the free version.

Pinterest Scheduling

Tailwind

Free - USD 19.99 +

I haven’t invested any serious amount of time in Pinterest scheduling or strategy since I used BoardBooster (now defunct). I saw some incredible results with that software and it was a very affordable USD 10 a month. When they closed shop I didn’t fancy the learning curve or price increase that came with moving to Tailwind, which I’m probably paying for in my low monthly views.

Because I love creating content for email and my website so much more than my IG account, it makes sense I should pour more time into Pinterest so I’ve signed up for the free account with Tailwind. I’ll see how I get on and update on whether I choose to commit to it for the long-term.

And that’s it.

That’s what I use to run my business (or if it isn’t, they’re recommendations to keep your business tools on the minimal side without adding tools you don’t need).

I hope that gives you a good starting point for adding tools to your business toolbox but also inspires you to keep it simple and cost effective. Less expenses means more profit in your business so where and while you can, and where it doesn’t cost you time, invest wisely and commit fully so that you spend time learning and implementing a system once.

I’d love to know which of these you choose to implement in your business and what your toolbox looks like. You can always tag me on an IG story so I can cheer you on.

Handy reference PDF

Grab a copy of the list of tech I use in my business
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The tech you actually need to run your online business

Hi! Hello. I'm the author, Lorin.

Red wine appreciator, amateur gardener and the voice and heart behind everything here.

I work with small business owners who want more rad clients, growth, and clarity and less rules, formulas and lost-in-the-crowd brand stories by supporting them in building a business they love and brand they believe in.

Partnering with me goes well beyond branding and I’m never in it for the short term. This is also not your typical design studio: I’m equally invested in working with businesses that aren’t ready for or don’t want to invest in design.

So that either way, we wrap up our project with what you need to communicate what you do, who you do it for and why it matters in the most compelling way, without sacrificing your vision or values in the process.

Got more meh clients than fab ones?

(Or maybe just not enough clients at all?)

Don't start with your logo. Start with your brand messaging!

Grab my free Brand Messaging Checklist and a cup of coffee (or glass of wine ;) ) and find out what small and impactful changes you can make this week to start getting more (fab) clients. Or find out more about it here.

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