What tools do I need to build my business? That answer, of course, will vary depending on your type of business, the size or your business, and your industry. But for today, let’s start with some of the basics that you’ll need in your business toolkit.
Email Marketing Platform
You’ll commonly hear this referred to as an Email Service Provider or (ESP), but I have re-named this to Email Marketing Platform. People would tend to hear, “email service provider” and think of Gmail or Outlook, or whatever they were using for sending daily emails. Those are actually ISP and the whole thing tends to leave people with question marks on their foreheads.
An Email Marketing Platform is actually the tool you’ll be using for sending bulk email. Think of your weekly newsletters, or sales and promotions emails. The type that you must be sending with the option to unsubscribe in order to be compliant.
I’ve covered my top three favorite Email Marketing Platforms here. (Spoiler Alert: MailerLite is still my favorite and I’ve got a growing list of converts who will tell you how amazing their free plan is.) The one exception is if you’re going to start list building before you have a functioning website. MailerLite does require a working website in order to approve your account. If this is the case for you, check out Mailchimp.
If you need more help getting started with Email Marketing, I’ve got a whole section just for you.
CRM stands for Customer Relationship Management, so whether you were aware of it or not up to this point, you are already using it. You might be relying on your brain to remember the conversations you had with some leads. Maybe you’re taking handwritten notes in your trusty notebook.
A lot of people tell me they use their email marketing platform as their CRM. The email platform often catches at least a person’s first name. You able to add notes and data in there. Yes, you can even segment and target people from there.
If it’s not their email platform, it’s their invoicing system that small business owners use for CRM. While this is both fair and understandable, this usually doesn’t show you the whole picture. You should aim for a system that can work together with your email marketing platform and your invoicing system.
Social Media Scheduler
Posting to Social Media feels like a necessary evil these days, but being able to work ahead and schedule your posts helps ease the pain and allows you to both plan and post more efficiently. There are so many options for social media schedulers these days, and part of it will depend on what platforms you’re posting to.
For small businesses, we want to look for places to save money, but not invest too much time either. If Facebook and Instagram are where your audience hangs out, I’d recommend testing out Facebook Creator Studio and Instagram Creator Studio. This is for desktop posting, but if you’re posting from a phone, be sure to get the Facebook Business Suite app. This will allow you to post to both FB and IG at the same time.
If you’ve been around here for awhile, you may also know that I’m a big fan of Planoly. Planoly works seamlessly from desktop to mobile and back again. Not to mention, it gives you a preview of what your Instagram grid will look like. On the free plan, you can schedule to autopost to Instagram. You can upgrade to post to Facebook as well.
Secret Hack: If you schedule your posts to Planoly, but turn of autoposting, you’ll get a reminder that it’s time to post for today on your phone. Then it allows you to post in realtime to Instagram, which also allows you to post to Facebook and Twitter at the same time.
Now this approach is a little more time consuming, because you do have to remember to post and manually do it, but I use that as a reminder to get on and interact for today. Remember, if you’re not interacting and engaging on social media, you’re not going to be reaching many people. Social Media is not a set it and forget type deal.
Also be aware, that posting the same post to both Facebook and Instagram may not be the ideal approach, but I do find it’s one of the least overwhelming ways to get started.
When Facebook and Instagram Creator Studio was first released, I had a lot of issues with my content not posting and disappearing altogether, but since then, it’s seemed to have come a long way. It may just be the replacement to Planoly, but right now for me, it’s too soon to tell.
Calendar Scheduling Tool
This time I’m not just talking about scheduling and planning your content or social media posts. If you’ve spent any time trying to nail down a meeting with leads or clients, you already know how long you can spend going back and forth before ever deciding on a date.
Whether you’re scheduling to meet virtually (and who isn’t these days) or in-person, you can sync a scheduling tool with your calendar of choice (mine is Google Calendar), and eliminate the unnecessary “when is a good time for you” emails or the wasted time playing phone tag.
You can see that I’ve got an embedded scheduler in the bottom right corner on my website, which you’ll also find on my contact form. Not to mention, I’m able to send a link directly to people or even add it to my signature line, so when they’re ready to book, it doesn’t require any action on my end. That’s really our goal, after all.
Currently, to achieve all of that, I’m using MeetFox. What I love about it MeetFox is that besides handling my scheduling, it has a built-in video calling platform. It’s perfect for 1:1 meetings because it will send the client reminders via email and SMS (if they choose). They get a direct link to our meeting, and it’s browser-based, so they don’t have to download any additional software.
You can also add intake questions and collect payment pre-call using Stripe. It’s also quite simple one the backend, and surprisingly easy to set up. Now, if you have more than one attendee in your typical meetings, you can create special chat rooms for groups meetings, but you’re not able to schedule them the way you are 1:1 calls.
Now if you host your meetings via Zoom, Go to Meeting, Google Meet, or the like, or you meet in-person or have group events, check out Calendly or Acuity Scheduling. Both of these choices are also top-notch.
Graphics and Visual Creation
Graphics and Visual Design (Beginner-friendly)
Almost any piece on content or collateral your small business produces these days is going to need some soft of visual element to accompany it. When starting out, hiring a graphic design to design every little image get add up really quickly. That’s why I shared a list of 3 tools for creating social media graphics. These plans can all get your started for free, and you can upgrade each for a nominal fee.
Video and Screen Recordings
Recording a video of yourself and your screen? How about both at the same time. A tool you likely already have in your arsenal is Zoom, and it’s a great option for this.
Another option for sharing a video of yourself, your screen, or both at the same time is Loom. Loom offers a free plan, and even hosts the video for you. You can share the link with clients, co-workers, or whoever you choose. It’s the perfect way to save some time communicating when it’s easier to show someone rather than tell them (or type out a wordy email that they’ll never read).
Recently, Loom changed their free plan and capped videos to 5 minute recording limit. This is still a generous amount of time, especially when using it as a quick explainer video. It also integrates very easily with Gmail, allowing you to quickly record a new video or pop the last thing you recorded with a click of a button. When you’re ready to upgrade, you can.
Not to be outdone, Vimeo has recently launched Vimeo Record, which is basically what Loom already was. I’ve only tested it out a couple of times, but it seems to perform comparably to Loom. Instead of giving you a time limit on your videos, you’re limited by weekly and overall megabytes or gigabytes. Again, you can upgrade when you need to.
But Wait, There’s More
This is certainly not a complete list of tools, but it is a good place to start. There are so many different software options and platforms out there for small business owners to choose from, and one of my favorite things it testing them for you.
That’s why I’ll be introducing a new monthly series, The Small Business Toolkit Series. Each month I’m going to share a recommendation for tools that will help you get your business exposure and gain momentum. I’ll do the research, so you don’t have to. As always, I strive to provide you with the best free or low-cost options available.
In the comments below, let me know, what sort of tool are you looking to add to your business toolkit next?