Updated 3/15/21 to reflect the new pricing model of LastPass
Starting an online business is HARD.
When I first started my business, I had little to no clue what I was doing, and even less of an idea of HOW to do it.
I remember the very first time I landed a client: As soon as I finished my happy dance over the whole $60 they’d be paying me (hollaaaaa!!), I immediately ran to Google and typed “how to send someone a bill online”.
I was terrified my very first client would “find me out” for the fraud I was, because I had noooo clue how the HELL I was supposed to charge them.
Can I use PayPal?
Do I need to pay to make a business account?
How does it work since she’s from another country?
How do I send her a receipt?
Google to the rescue!
So, to spare you the countless hours of research I spent at the beginning of my business, I’ve laid out for you my TOP 5 biz tools that I legitimately cannot live without.
Seriously, I use every single one of these, every. single. day.
Bonus: each and every one of these also has a mobile app, to make running your online business THAT much easier. 🙌
My Top 5 FREE Tools for running an online business:
- Google Drive
These 5 of my favorite business tools are THE type of things I wish I knew about when I first started my business, because they’ve been so instrumental in my business since.
Let’s talk about why each of these is SUCH a lifesaver for my business, and how they can be for yours too!
So, speaking of the early days billing fiasco, let’s start with the online platform I use to send my clients invoices and accept online payments: Wave.
- Accepting online payments*
- Expense and income tracking
- Receipt scanning
How I use Wave:
In my business, I use Wave strictly for invoicing and accepting online payments.
Eventually I may switch over and take advantage of their other free features as a means of keeping all my financials in one place.
But for now, I’ll just talk about invoicing and accepting online payments with Wave.
Invoicing with Wave is a breeeeze!
When you first create your account you’ll want to setup your invoice template and payment settings, but that’s the most work you’ll ever have to do.
Once that’s all setup, all you have to do in order to send an invoice is open up a new invoice, add a customer, add the item you’re providing them, and add the cost. Then press Send! So easy!
While the features I listed above are all available in the free plan, when it comes to accepting online payments, you do still pay a fee each transaction.
For credit card payments you will lose 2.9% + $0.30 per transaction, and for bank payments you will lose 1% per transaction (minimum of $1).
If “frugal” is your middle name like me, you’ll just have to stomach the fact that this is all part of doing business.
Trust me when I say that I searched high and low looking for a 100% free option for accepting payments online, but it does not exist. (Many people try to use personal Venmo or PayPal accounts, but do so at your own risk because each of those platforms has rules against it and reserves the right to shut down your account without notice if they suspect you’re making business transactions on a personal account).
Fortunately, you can categorize transaction fees as a “business expense”, which are then tax write offs come tax season. So, that’s a plus.
2. Google Drive
Google Drive. Google freaking Drive.
Yet another program that I couldn’t live without.
I’m just going to call it like it is and say that Google Drive the real MVP of my business! 🥇
Google Drive is a little different in that it doesn’t necessarily provide features, but rather is used for file storage (and file sharing).
Their free plan gives users 15GB of storage. And if 15GB isn’t enough, you can pay to upgrade your storage for a really reasonable price. (Full disclosure: As my business has grown, I’ve had to upgrade to a paid plan for 100GB of storage, but it’s SO worth it for the amount of files I’m creating and sharing daily).
Google Drive is a cloud-based storage platform so the days of losing your work from a computer crash are over.
I connect my Google Drive to my laptop using Backup and Sync which allows you to access your files directly from your laptop (or phone, via the Google Drive app) and all changes made will be automatically synced across devices.
How I use Google Drive:
For my business, Google Drive is a key part of keeping myself organized.
Every file related to my business is in my Google Drive. This includes all documents, images, and other collateral for Heart and Hustle, as well as all files for my client projects.
The coolest part about Google Drive is that you can share files and folders with other people and/or add them as a contributor.
This is a HUGE part of my business because sharing files via email is not only inefficient, but email also tends to compress files causing a loss in quality.
So being able to provide clients with a link to directly access and download the original, high quality files is not only SO much faster, but it gives me the peace of mind to know that their final files will look EXACTLY the same from my screen to theirs.
The other aspect that I mentioned is adding someone as a contributor to a folder. In other words, “granting them permission” to add, organize, or edit files in a folder that you both share.
This is a lifesaver when I’m working on a website build because clients can simply drop all their images and other files into a folder, rather than having to spend hours emailing large files to me.
It also ensures that we are both always looking at the same thing because any changes that either of us makes will be immediately visible to the other.
Asana is tool that helps you organize and manage your projects and tasks, so you can stay on track, hit your deadlines, and keep your sanity… all without worrying that you forgot something.
It’s like a to-do list on steroids.
- Unlimited tasks, projects, and conversations
- Up to 15 team members
- Basic search
How I use Asana:
Since my business is a one-woman show, the “up to 15 team members” feature really doesn’t get utilized by me. However, the “unlimited tasks and projects” part gets enough use by me FOR 15 people!
I use Asana in 2 ways: For my business and for client work.
Asana for my business
In my business, I have a separate Asana list of all my “to-do’s” that are strictly related to MY business. Anything I need to do to keep my business running, as well as things I WANT to do in the future to move my business forward, goes into my Corine Pettit Asana list.
Time-sensitive items are all given a designated due date and then assigned to myself, which then show up on my Dashboard alongside all my to-do’s for my client work.
Asana for Client Work
Every single client project of mine gets put into Asana.
The way I setup tasks in each project happens in 1 of 2 ways…
If the project only requires work from me:
I will just input my own tasks, assign them to myself, and call it a day.
If the project is one where both myself and my client will have tasks (like building a website):
I setup the tasks and assign each one to the appropriate person with deadlines. I then add my client to the project so they can see who’s responsible for what, and when it’s due. My clients also have the ability to add, remove, and edit tasks within the project.
It’s a perfect way to make sure clients are always aware of what needs to be done and by when, and because I list the tasks in a chronological manner, it helps them to see what’s coming up next and properly prioritize.
The best part of it all, is that any task assigned to me within any project (solo or client project), will then be put onto my Dashboard for me to see all in one place.
Asana essentially pulls your to-do’s from every project, puts them into a list, sorts them by due date, and says “hey, here’s what you need to do, and here’s what you should work on first.”
Talk about peace of mind for never missing a deadline!
Put simply, Evernote is a digital notebook. But if I just left it at that I’d be doing Evernote a huge disservice. I’ll explain why in a second.
- Sort and organize information by date, title, or tag
- Website clipping feature
- Audio note capability
- Ability to annotate, highlight, or comment on images
- Note sharing and collaboration option
- Attach PDFs, receipts, files, and documents
How I use Evernote:
Within Evernote, you can create Notebooks and Notes.
Notebooks are exactly what they sound like – a spot where you can house all your Notes related to one particular subject.
For example, some notebooks I’ve created to organize my business include: Business Tips, Branding, and Website Setup.
In my Business notebook I’ll have notes for things like:
“What to include in a project proposal”
“How to interview a potential client”
“Why you should offer complimentary consultations”
Another notebook I have, which is my all-time-most-used notebook, is my “How-To…” notebook.
Whenever I learn something new that I think “I need to remember how to do this later”, I create a new note in my “How-To…” notebook basically teaching my future self how to do that task all over again.
This might be one of THE smartest things I’ve ever started doing for my business, because gone are the days of RElearning how to do something. I just slide on into my notes, dig up the instructions, and carry on with my day.
Another feature available in Evernote is called Clipping. By installing the Evernote Google Chrome extension, you can now “clip” notes from anywhere on the internet. By simply clicking your Evernote Clipping extension in Google Chrome the entire webpage will be clipped and saved into a notebook of your choosing.
Reading a handy tutorial on designing a logo? Clip it
Discover an epic chart or infographic that will forever make your biz life easier? Clip it
Found a brilliant biz article but don’t have time to read it now? Clip it
Oh, did I mention that Evernote has a search function?
So instead of digging through all your files like your grandma digging out her purse coupons (bless her heart!), you can simply type “mac and cheese” into the search bar …and voila, recipe found!
Truthfully, I barely scrape the surface when it comes to using Evernote to it’s full potential.
But if you don’t want to lug around a notebook (or 10) everywhere you go, check out Evernote for organizing all of your biz thoughts, knowledge, and learnings.
Updated 3/15/21: LastPass has recently incorporated a payment structure where you can only use LastPass on one device on the free plan. If you want to use LastPass on desktop AND the mobile app (which I veryyyy often do), you can upgrade to their paid plan. I have opted to do this for my business, because LastPass is my password lifeline! All opinions and info below have been updated.
LastPass is a website that can be used for sharing passwords with someone, without them ever seeing your password.
By installing the LastPass Google Chrome extension, the recipient can use your password that you shared with them, without ever even seeing the password. How cool is that?!
- Secure password vault
- Access on one type of device (desktop, mobile, or tablet)
- One-to-one sharing
- Save and fill passwords
- Security challenge
How I use LastPass
Let me start by saying that LastPass and I have a love-hate relationship.
The “love” half of my relationship with LastPass is because it’s taken away the awkward song-and-dance of asking people to share passwords with me, reassuring them that I’ll keep them safe and not abuse them, and 20 minute phone calls that go something like this:
“Yeah my password is HdWi8#Vk!tP0K49
…No, P. As in Parrot. No PARROT, not carrot.
…Oh wait, I think that’s a zero, not an O…? Maybe?
…Can you read it back to me just to be sure?”
Guys, I’m not kidding. This is a REAL client phone call I had, and there were 3 other passwords just like it.
SO, having an option where they can copy and paste the password into LastPass, press Share, and now I can use the passwords for everything – is SUCH a lifesaver!
Remember how I mentioned our relationship was love-hate?
That’s because, to be completely honest, LastPass leaves a bit to be desired.
It’s not as intuitive as I’d like it to be, so sometimes clients have issues figuring out how to save and send me their passwords… and anything that complicates my client’s lives, causes me stress because that’s a reflection on me since I’m the one making them use it in the first place.
To make it as easy as possible, I eventually created a 3 minute tutorial video to show clients how to share passwords with me, which seems to work well for what I need.
Plus my clients no longer have to feel weird about sending me passwords like Jacksbbygurl228xo, because, well, I can’t see them! 😂🤷♀️ That’s a win for BOTH of us!
The right tools can make ALL the difference
Wave, Google Drive, Asana, Evernote, and LastPass are the real MVPs of my online business!
It pains me to think of how much time I wasted before these were introduced into my life, but after discovering them (and now using them for YEARS!) I can confidently say that these 5 are here to stay.
Now that you’re armed with the best biz tools out there, it’s time to make sure your design tools arsenal is equally as impressive!
And yep, you betcha they’re free!
Looking for a combo of my fave free and paid tools?
Head on over to my Business Tools page where you’ll find everything from website essentials, templates, education resources, tools for working with clients, marketing, and more!