The 5 Tools my Online Businesses Couldn’t Live Without

If you’ve recently started a business, you’ve likely realized by now that as an entrepreneur, you’re always wearing many hats. This was a big change for me after working in the corporate world for eight years! At large companies usually everyone has their assigned roles, and no one is expected to know everything. When you own a business, not only do you have to try to be the best in the industry but you also have to be your own sales, marketing, accounting, and legal departments! Eventually you can outsource some of these tasks, but it may be some time before a new business is profitable enough to hire help. Until then, using the right tools and resources can save valuable time. I spent a lot of time researching all of the software options for invoicing and email marketing and even more time finding a freelancer contract that was affordable but still made me feel comfortable that I’m covered, legally. Here are the best tools I’ve found. I am not sponsored or endorsed by any of these companies, and would never recommend a product I don’t truly love & use myself! These are affiliate links, meaning I may receive a small commision if you purchase these products at no extra cost to you.

Best software for billing, invoicing and proposals

Freshbooks

You’ve probably heard of Quickbooks, the most widely used accounting software for small business owners. If you have multiple bank accounts, employees and payroll, then Quickbooks may be for you, but I tried it and hated it. It’s way too complicated for most small business owners, especially when you’re just starting out. I wanted a simple accounting system that could track all of my expenses (including recurring expenses), accept credit card payments from clients, and send customized estimates. Freshbooks ticks all of those boxes. It also has a very clean user interface, and is only $25 a month. My favorite feature is getting an email notification when someone accepts an estimate or pays an invoice-it’s nice to be kept up to date with those things! They offer a free trial if you want to test it out for yourself.

Best business credit card

American Express Blue Business Card

For me, paying an annual fee on any credit card just isn’t worth it. I also don’t like complex rewards systems with credit cards – tiers, points, miles – I just want a credit card that’s simple and not going to charge me an arm and a leg for the privilege of using it. I opened an Amex Blue Business last year and have loved it so far! Here are the benefits, as of the time of writing this article:

  • No annual fee
  • 2% cashback on up to $50,000 each year, then 1% after that
  • 0.0% APR on purchases made in the first 12 months (this was super helpful when I had to buy a new computer in the midst of the pandemic)
  • $250 statement credit after you make $5,000 in purchases on your card in your first 6 months

For a long time I thought I didn’t really need a credit card, and my business wasn’t really big enough to have one. But it’s added peace of mind knowing that I have it available for any unexpected expenses, and the cash back can really add up! I compared several business credit cards before choosing one, and the American Express Blue Business card has been perfect for my needs so far. 

Best resource for contracts, terms & other legal stuff

Artful Contracts

Amy Neshiem at Artful Contracts is a lawyer-turned-entrepreneur on a mission to make the legal aspects of online business accessible to everyone. She has contract templates for service providers, coaches, course creators, photographers, and a more general freelancer contract template. It covers all the bases, including:

  • The exact services you will be providing
  • A payment policy, with multiple options to choose from
  • An option for a late fee if the client misses a payment deadline
  • A cancellation policy, including what happens when the client cancels last minute
  • The option to keep or transfer ownership of your intellectual property
  • A confidentiality clause so your clients can’t steal your secrets
  • A release of liability so the client can’t sue you for things beyond your control
  • A limitation of liability, limiting your liability to the amount you would be paid for the project
  • Everything else a contract needs to be legally binding

Artful Contracts also includes mini courses with each purchase so where you’re walked through every step of customizing the contract to your unique business. It’s not something anyone wants to think about, but getting sued is a very real possibility today. Of course I plan to eventually work with a lawyer to draw up a contract that is unique to my business, but it’s nice to have an affordable option in the meantime.

Best professional email host

Google Workspace

Having a branded email address looks so much more professional than a @gmail.com email. There are ways to set up email forwarding to your personal email, but I think Google Business suite is way worth the $6 a month it will cost you. In addition to a custom domain email, you also get a 30GB storage drive and access to Google sheets and Google docs. Maybe you’ve struggled with trying to send large files via email-it’s so much easier to upload them to your Google drive and send someone a link. And using Google docs and spreadsheets can even replace Microsoft Office, depending on your business and what you use the software for. 

The other reason I always recommend Google business for email is that in my experience, it’s the least problematic provider in terms of deliverability. With so many sophisticated email spammers out there nowadays, email servers have added filters to keep spam out of your inbox. But unfortunately, those filters can also trap legitimate emails like contact inquiries from your website. Gmail’s are much more advanced than older email providers like Yahoo, AOL and others. You’re much less likely to have issues with emails inadvertently going to spam if you use Gsuite or at the very least, a @gmail.com email address.

Best email marketing software

Flodesk

It seems like there are a million email platforms out there. Before finding Flodesk, I’d worked with MailChimp, Constant Contact, Active Campaign, and Sendinblue. But if you Google “email marketing platforms comparison” you might find that Flodesk doesn’t show up on many of the lists. Flodesk was founded in 2019, and they are kind of still the cool new kid on the block. But the company has steadily improved and released new features, and I think they will become one of the major players in the email marketing game over the next few years. Here are some reasons I love Flodesk:

  • Beautiful user interface. Email marketing can be a little tricky to wrap your head around in the beginning. Once you’re logged in, Flodesk separates your dashboard into four areas – emails, forms, workflows, and audience. It’s much more intuitive than other platforms to navigate to things like your subscriber list and previously sent emails. 
  • Pre-designed templates. Flodesk also makes it easy to create beautifully branded lead intake forms, automations, and welcome emails because they have templates for all of these and more. You can also upload your logo and brand colors so that each new email has them preselected, saving time and making sure your emails look consistent.
  • You don’t even need a website to use Flodesk! If you’re at the beginning stages of your business and just need a place people can go to input their information to get on your email list or be contacted, there are pre-designed full landing pages that you can customize and start using right away. It’s a quick and easy way to capture leads from your social media before your website is up and running.

Flodesk is $38 a month, but definitely worth it. According to Snov.io, email marketing ROI is 4200% ($42 for every $1 spent), making it one of the most profitable marketing channels out there. You can try Flodesk for free for 30 days, then get half off using my link, making it only $19 a month. If you haven’t received a Flodesk email yet, I’m willing to bet you’re going to be impressed when you do!

I spent a lot of time researching and testing different software and solutions for a business credit card, accounting, email marketing, professional email, and contracts. The resources listed here have saved me a lot of time and headache in these areas, and I know they will for you too!