With SOOOOO many different tools and options available for running your business, it can be SUPER confusing trying to work out what to use.
Lucky for you, I’ve done all the hard work for you!
I have spent countless hours researching and testing literally hundreds of tools, apps and websites over the last few years, to find ways to make life easier, better and importantly - saves you time! You want to spend your time growing your business and making money, not bogged down in time consuming crap.
So I'm happy to share the tools and websites I have found most useful for mine and my client’s businesses, so you have a great starting point of tools and sites you can trust. Even better many of them are FREE to use!
Heads up - some of these links are affiliate links. Which just means I may get a couple of bucks for recommending something to you - at zero cost to you and puts a few bucks in the family holiday piggy bank, so win win!
I ONLY recommend products I have personally used and LOVE - you can read all about my no bullshit affiliate promise here ;)
A few years ago I spent months trialing many many different to-do list programs to try find the best way to keeping track of everything and Todoist was the best I found. I’ve been using it exclusively since late 2015 and I love it. I’m even at the enlightened Karma level - top 0.01% of Todoist users apparently.
Todoist is my daily to do list, where I put every task I need to do. I have it set up to automatically import my voiceover jobs via IFTTT (which I’ll talk about below) and recurring daily tasks can be set up in the app or come at set times daily via Zapier. It is super easy to enter tasks, with quick keys and intuitive language. When it was just me, with occassional help, this was the only planning tool I used. Has a great app too. There is a free and paid option.
This is a brilliant project management software, ideal for teams. As much as I love todoist, I am finding myself using Asana more and more now as my team has grown and I’m working with multiple clients. Todoist is more of a straight to do list (and an awesome one at that!) but Asana has more flexibility in how you view the projects and tasks. You can view projects as cards (for doing Kanban style project management), lists or on a calendar - which is how I view and plan out social media each month for myself and my clients.
The one thing I don’t love about Asana, is I really like having a daily to-do list. It is possible in Asana, but I find it super clunky and the sorting within projects is a pain in the butt (can’t easily sort by due dates) todoist is much better for that - hence why I use both Todoist and Asana at the moment.
Asana has a fantastic free version, the paid version is great, but a little pricey.
One of the toughest things about working for yourself, is generally you are working on your own and there is no one to keep you accountable except yourself. Which, if you are someone who - like me - can ocassionally procrastinate, you need a bit of extra help!
If I could have just one tool, it would be RescueTime. Not only can I track exactly where I spend all my time (down to how many minutes on each website!), if I need to really focus, I can block distracting websites for a defined amount of time, which is super helpful. There is a free and paid option.
Another great option for blocking out distractions is freedom. It has a really nice clean interface and is easy to set up focus time blocks. This actually helped me stop my bad habit of checking twitter and reddit in the morning, as I have a permanent block for those sites on my phone in the mornings! I can block sites on my phone, from my PC at any time, so I don’t get tempted to get distracted if I pick up my phone to make a call etc.
It doesn’t have the great reports on where you spend your time like RescueTime, its just a pure blocker, so it is great value if you just want to block distractions, not track where you spend your time and there is a free version. I like that you can set it up just to block specific distractions/programs/websites easily or just block everything.
I have used Canva for a few years now and this FREE online tool is insanely helpful! I use it to create website banners, social media post images, youtube thumbnails, cover images for my fiverr gigs and products, informational PDF’s and more.
There is a huge library of free templates and lots of options for inexpensive paid templates as well. I’m currently using the paid version, as I am working with a number of different clients and find the ability to save multiple colour palettes and store images in folders really handy. The auto resize on the paid plan sounded like it would be a cool feature, but it really doesn’t work that well in my experience and it can take ages to adjust the resized image elements. Adobe Spark’s image resize works MUCH better.
This is another great tool for creating graphics for your website and social media AND you can also create videos with it which is cool. I have a creative cloud subscription as I use adobe audition for my voiceover work, so I get the paid version of spark included with that. The free version is OK to try it out, but there is an adobe spark watermark, so you really need the paid version to use it effectively.
If you want to find amazing templates for canva for social media graphics, pins, plus beautiful fonts, mock ups, themes, presentation templates and other design elements, creative market will be paradise to you! The range is stunning, quality is awesome and I love that they don’t just have templates for Illustrator and other programs which are tricky for beginners. No subscription or anything, this is like a store and you buy what you need.
I originally signed up with Envato Elements when they introduced stock music, as I use music a lot with my voiceover work. Then I discovered the veritable treasure chest of offerings! Stock photos and videos, vectors, design elements, website themes, presentation templates, icons, social media templates AND MORE! Plus a subscription to Envato Elements also gives you access to Envato Tuts, which is a great educational resource. Such amazing value.
This is a super popular resource for stock photos, with a huge variety, but even so, due to the popularity you can sometimes find the best ones are used a lot. I have a very cool trick to find great images that aren’t overused, so do read the blog post!
I love that you can donate to the photographer via paypal - my son created a pexels account when he was 14 and was super into photography. He got his first $1 donation recently and was soooooo happy, as he has over 100 images on pexels and was previously just happy that they’ve been downloaded thousands of times. It really made his day to get the donation, so remember that next time you’re downloading your free images.
Pinterest is my social media platform of choice this year and tailwind is helping me crush it! I’ve already got over 80,000 monthly views on The Unicorn Assistant account - which is currently less than two months old, and I’m pretty damn impressed with that. I did think Tailwind was a little overhyped when I first started researching Pinterest, but it is for good reason. The tailwind tribes are amazing for extending your reach and Smart Loop is brilliant! You can your first 100 scheduled pins for free and have access to join five tailwind tribes here. There is a free account you can use ongoing, but you’ll likely get the best benefit out of the paid accounts if you’re focusing on driving traffic to your site through pinterest. I use the powerups for unlimited posts on tribes because I find it that worthwhile.
There is an instagram tool as well, but I prefer Later for instagram
For Instagram and Facebook, Later is what I’m using to schedule posts both for myself and my social media clients. I love the visual feed view for instagram, to make sure everything is going to look good once it is published. You can manage the comments from within the app which is really handy. Later also has amazing resources on their blog to help you learn how to make the most out of instagram.
I don’t use buffer as much these days as tailwind + later have mostly replaced it for the moment with my focus being on Pinterest right now. But, when I just wanted one platform to manage everything, this was it. It was also great for recycling twitter content sya once a month, but twitter has stopped that, so I moved away from it. The free plan lets you manage 3 accounts, but you can only schedule 10 posts in advance. I do really like the pablo feature, which is included with paid plans and allows you to really easily create images on the fly, that was something I used a lot - especially for facebook images.
For ecommerce, you can’t go past Shopify. There is a reason over a million ecommerce stores are built using this platform. You can purchase themes and add a multitude of apps to make the site do pretty much anything you want. I don’t find it quite as easy to use as squarespace - but it is still pretty straight forward. Integrate with a powerful email marketing tool like Klaviyo and your site will be a lean, mean, marketing machine!
I am totally biased, as this is a squarespace website and I design squarespace websites for my clients sometimes. Squarespace is the shiz if you want an awesome looking site that you can easily change yourself! I tried (and failed) creating sites on wordpress, even with fancy expensive templates. I could just never get them to look slick and it seemed to take FOREVER to build pages and make them look good. Not to mention keeping the plug ins updated - big fat blah! Far too many hours of tearing hair out doing updates on wordpress. Once I moved to squarespace in 2016, I’ll never use anything else again. Using index pages was a total game changer. The only situation I don’t recommend squarespace for is ecommerce, unless you just have a handful of products - shopify is MUCH better for ecommerce..
If you need a domain name - you can’t go past NameCheap. Not only are they usually the cheapest domains you can get, they come with free privacy protection. The backend of the site where you manage the domains is really easy to navigate and I found the help articles easy to use and they have great customer service if you do have any questions. I use NameCheap to register all my domains now.
I use stripe to accept credit card payments. I used to only use paypal to accept credit cards, as you could use credit cards to pay with paypal, but for some reason, when I added stripe to my payment options (which at the time was the only option for squarespace ecommerce) I noticed a reasonable percentage of my clients used that as a payment method on their invoices. Some even specifically ask for a credit payment method which is where stripe is perfect. Fees are around 1-2% and payment generally hits the bank account 1-2 business days after payment.
If you’re going to run an online business, it is pretty much a requirement to use paypal. Most businesses I know, including my own, get around 30-40% of their payments via paypal and some customers will only use paypal as it’s easy to use just with an email address. Fees are around 2-3% and payouts are getting quicker. It used to be a few days, but often now if I transfer funds early enough in the day (like before 3pm) they will be in the bank account late that evening on business days. In some countries, you can get a paypal credit/debit card, which uses your paypal funds, but that is not available in Australia.
If you have an ecommerce store and don’t use afterpay, you’re missing out on a LOT of sales! Some stores in report 50% or more of their total sales being paid by afterpay. There is a fee to use it, so you’ll have to make sure your margins are appropriate. Adding your store to the afterpay directory can drive a little traffic and joining the afterpay groups on facbook (like WeLoveAfterpay or Afterpay Obsession) can be helpful if you’re running a promotion and want to announce it to those who love using afterpay. Not currently available for service based businesses, just for goods which are physically shipped to the customer. Available in Australia, NZ and the USA.
If you are taking payments in person, a square reader is BRILLIANT! No more expensive eftpos terminals from the banks, Get a $59 square reader from officeworks or online and you can take credit card payments in person for a really low fee 1.9% fee. Great if you do markets or expos and only occassionally take credit card payments.
IFTTT is such a handy service to save time and it’s completely FREE! You can either create your own applet to link two platforms together in developer mode, or you can pick ones that are already created. One I use and love is when you post a photo in instagram, that photo with your caption, will then autopost in twitter. That means your actual photo will show in twitter, rather than just a link to instagram..
I also use IFTTT to link fiverr to todoist, which is where I do a lot of my freelance work. I get 20-30 orders a week and probably 40 messages a week, so when I get an order for a gig, or a message I need to respond to, it automatically creates a task for that. Saves a lot of time with my workflow. There are thousands of options for what you can do.
Only downside is that you can only link one account per service - for example 1 instagram account or one gmail etc, so if you manage multiple accounts, Zapier - which is similar, but not free - will suit better.
Zapier also allows apps and online software to link up. I find Zapier has far more integrations and the capability to do more complex integrations. The free plan on zapier has limits to the number of integrations and complexity, so you may find yourself going for the paid plans if you use it a lot.
Basically if something happens in one place - for example someone purchases a digital product on your squarespace website, you can create a zap for other things to happen as a result of that. You can create a zap which then create an invoice in xero and adds the customer to a certain email autoresponder series in convert kit or klaviyo, so they get a link to their product emailed straight out, along with a series of follow up emails. The options are endless and if you get creative can save you a LOT of time.
I love dropbox for when I want to send large files (or a lot of files) to someone. I've never once had a client tell me they couldn't access the files I sent them, its always a fairly seamless process. For some reason the permissions on google drive don't always work as intended and often have people contacting me saying they can't access files on google drive. I prefer google drive when I'm actively working on a document however, or sharing a document with someone that is being worked on. There is a free version, but I use the paid version for more storage, as my files are often large and I let my clients access them for up to six months after I share the link. I’ve been toying with the idea of using dropbox as my every day file storage or back up - particularly after a recent harddrive failure resulted in a heap of lost files, but I feel nervous about doing that - I’m a bit old school and like having my files backed up on a physical drive.
I find google drive fantastic when you want one place to store files, when more than one person is working on them, as it updates changes live, so no more version control issues.
You can also create google docs, sheets and slides - amazingly easy if you use Chrome! Just type doc.new into a new browser window, and a new google doc will open up! Same with sheet.new and slide.new. Very handy.
If you’re running a service based business, you really can’t go past the email marketing software made for creators. Convert Kit is what I use and it is really powerful. The segmenting tools and automations are brilliant and will allow you to keep your email marketing super relevant for your audience. You can also use their in built landing pages. The thing I don’t love about Convert Kit is the focus on text only based email and how hard it is to customise. I had to take a crash course in HTML to make my emails look better and add the basics - like links to my socials etc as I know nothing about coding! Thankfully you can buy templates with instructions to change colours etc from Megan Minns or a mini course which includes Convert Kit templates and customisation instructions from Spruce Rd.
If you’re selling products, you can’t go past Klaviyo. Super easy set up - especially if you’re linking it to Shopify. It involves adding some code, but they provide really clear video instructions on how to do it. It is on the expensive side once your list grows, but you’ll be blown away by what it can do. Comes with lots of great templates and suggested flows that you can customise to suit your needs. Using software like this will allow you to really make the most of your email marketing and drive sales.
GROWING YOUR LIST
If you want to grow your email list, there are several ways to do this. Create lead magnets like free downloads, cheat sheets, templates etc, offer free courses to give a taste of what you can offer in a paid course, or this little gem - a buzzfeed style quiz that you can imbed straight on your website. You can also use the Interact quiz as part of social ads to capture leads when people do the quiz. There is a free plan so you can try it out and get started and the paid plans can be really powerful if you want to use the quiz to then retarget leads on FB etc.
You know those annoying pop up boxes that ask for your email when you visit a website or those giant banners that come down from the top of the site with a sign up form? They may be annoying, but are proven to increase your email signups, which is exactly what you want when you’re growing a list. I use sumo, then link it through to convert kit to add the names to my email list.
With recently introducing online courses into my business, I went through the process of checking out all the main options. I don’t use wordpress, so that knocked a few contenders out straight away, so I was really just looking at hosted sites - so Kajabi, Podia, Thinkific and Teachable. It can be tricky to choose, as they are similar, but I went with teachable in the end and I’m really glad I did. Kajabi was my second choice as I love the all in one aspect, but as I already had a beautiful squarespace website, I didn’t need a site and I have my emails running through Convert Kit. If you were starting from complete scratch with your online business, that would be a good option as you get the course site, a website and emails/funnels/landing pages etc through the one platform.
Teachable allows me to build a pretty decent looking sales page for the courses. Not quite as nice as I could build through Squarespace, but convenient to do it in Teachable. There is a free plan on teachable - great if you want to set up a free course or you’re just testing the waters with courses. Once you move to paid plans, you can access TeachableU, which is a comprehensive education centre to help you really make the most of your online course business.
I adore acuity scheduling and use it so people can set their own appointment times for business coaching. I can also link it up to my google calendar, so anything I have booked on my google calendar is automatically blocked in acuity, so no double bookings - handy! Plus acuity lets you set up appointments that can take payments at the time of booking via paypal or stripe, so no need to chase down invoices or send payment reminders. Plus you pay no additional payment fees - yay! With squarespace it integrates right into the pages, so clients can make appointments straight from my site which is fabulous as well. Oh and the emerging plan (that allows payments) is free for squarespace users and there is a free plan for other users - you just can’t take payments with that.
I've tried a few different calendars, but I always keep coming back to google calendar. It syncs up nicely to my phone, reminders work well and I like the look of it. I can easily add to the calendar from email events (such as client booking notifications). I also schedule my actual day - as in my work blocks, the night before or in the morning each day, so I can focus on my priorities for that day. Totally free to use if you have a google account.
This is the software I use with my clients when I create a business & marketing plan for them. It takes you through each section step by step and gives examples of what you should write - there are over 500 business plan example templates you can use for inspiration as well if you get stuck. Live plan also allows you to sync up to Xero or Quickbooks online, so you can easily check your actual figures against your estimates. It does cost $20 a month to use Live Plan, but I think it is worth it if you want a comprehensive detailed plan you can easily check your progress against. If you’re trying to get funding or a bank loan, using Live Plan will be super beneficial.
If you’re just at the stage where you’re starting your online business, download this free resource from yours truely. It is a 14 page guide that goes through 101 things to cover - from set up, to business planning, to branding, to marketing, social media, running your business and more. Get the free checklist now.
This is the perfect starting point for any online business. I take you through the steps you need to create a simple and easy to use business plan and all the things you need to consider. This course features over 1 hour of video content over 11 modules, plus guides and templates for a business plan, SWOT analysis, breakeven spreadsheets and more. Best of all, the course is completely FREE!
Loom is a really awesome and FREE software that works as a Chrome extension. You can record your screen and put a little bubble of yourself in the corner while doing a software demo or explaining to someone how to do things. You can download the video or just quickly email it which is super handy and makes it quick to produce.
If you want to create cool animated videos or promo videos for social media, Powtoon is awesome! After looking at all the different video options I found Powtoon to be the one that was easy to use with the most flexibility as you can create cartoon style typographic, or footage style videos. I use it to create animated videos for my clients, with music and voiceover which is quick and easy to add. There is a huge database of templates and great range of characters to use, or you can use their video and photo backgrounds. I love the tutorials and webinars they run to show you how to really make the most of the program. I use the agency plan, since I sell videos and this enables me to transfer the licensing rights to my clients, but you can get started with the free plan which has powtoon branding on your video.
If you want the best, comprehensive guide for how to start and run an online business, you need to enrol in Business 101… literally, This awesome course, brought to you by The Unicorn Assistant is 101 modules covering everything from setting up your business, business planning, finding your target market, niching your business, branding, websites, marketing, social media, email marketing, running the day to day and MORE! I could be biased ;) but I think this is a fantastic foundation if you are wanting to run an online business, or if you’ve recently started and are feeling a little overwhelmed and not sure how to progress.
If you’ve found yourself in business and realised you have some big gaps in your skillset you need to address, then you need the Netflix of online learning - skillshare. You can sign up for the first three months for just $0.99 then it is something crazy cheap like $15 a month after that. You can access literally THOUSANDS of online courses covering everything from how to use Adobe After Effects to cake decorating to killing it on instagram. From hobby courses, to in depth business learning, you’ll be able to find what you need at skillshare.
The biggest (and possibly the best) investment in my business to date has been joining Copy School from Copy Hackers. (Once a year you can get ALL their courses for one price) Not only is it helping me really hone my copywriting skills and arming me with the confidence to tackle my own sales pages and email sequences, my knowledge around website conversion has increased ten fold. This has been really beneficial in all aspects of my work. I’d always been a bit reluctant to offer copy writing in the past, as I could sometimes write really good copy, but not consistently and when I couldn’t it stressed me out. Now I have frameworks and deep knowledge how to start and I’m already seeing huge improvements in my copy. So glad I did this.
I may be exactly in the target market bullseye for the middle finger project, with my potty mouth and immature sense of humor - combined with a love of marketing and business, as the moment I discovered Ash and The Middle Finger Project, I was sucked into hours of reading blog post after blog post - in addition to signing up for an awesome email course.
If you’re a freelancer or service based business, want to learn how to write better in your own voice or get your money mindset issues sorted so you can charge your worth, this straight shooting site is a spectacular resource. I find her emails particularly entertaining.
Despite being a marketer for over 20 years, until recently I’d never set up a blog that went beyond 10 posts. I decided content marketing was going to be a major strategy for The Unicorn Assistant, so I did the 31 Days To Build A Better Blog course from Pro Blogger and it was really helpful to make sure I covered off all the important steps. Super good value at just $99 and Darren is a great teacher.
I’ve been following Denise since I discovered her Lucky Bitch book in 2015 - not just because she lives a few suburbs away me - which is pretty damn cool! (yah - go Newy)
I love Denise’s laid back vibe, the way she is unapologetic about wanting to live a luxurious life and how her work has helped me work on some of my own money mindset issues. Getting those money blocks sorted is an ongoing process, but it absolutely helped me have more confidence in my pricing and charging my worth.
I’m a little biased towards fiverr, as I work on the platform as a freelancer myself. In the past, it had a bit of a reputation for poor quality, but the site has been making HUGE improvements over the last few years to encourage sellers to up their game which I applaude.
There are some absolutele gems on fiverr - freelancers like myself who treat it like a business - but you generally won’t get them for $5 - the $5 work is usually a case of you get what you pay for. Fiverr Pro, allows you to find expert level freelancers with verified skills - generally these are more expensive options - but you’ll have the confidence you’re getting top work.
Scroll through the list of gigs to find the service you need and order the job straight away, or contact the seller first if you have any questions or your work is outside the scope of their gig.
This is the biggest global freelancing platform, where you can find a freelancer for pretty much anything you can outsource. The quality ranges from entry level, through to executive. Some companies outsource their entire team using UpWork. You place an ad on the site and freelancers will apply to your job.
This Australian freelance site is more like fiverr, in that freelancers create gigs for their offerings and you scroll through them to find suitable services. Generally speaking the quality is very high - it is a pretty stringent process to get accepted on the site as a freelancer - which ensures you’ll get professional and high calibre work from the curated talent