This post was first published in 2013. We update it regularly because tools for online businesses change frequently and fast.
Back in 2013, I wrote about my can’t-live-without programs, apps, tools, and software—and the behind-the-scenes post quickly became a reader favorite.
A lot has changed since 2013, but one thing hasn’t: You’re still curious about what to use to start, grow, and streamline your business.
That’s why I’m excited today to share with you the 100% updated, go-to, business resource list that will give you a peek at the cogs and gears that keep my business running so smoothly.
You’ll discover what I used when I was just starting out and what I use now that my business and team have grown. While I still have a few tried-and-true favorites, some of my previous recommendations are ones I no longer suggest (and I would love to hear what you recommend!).
Check out my top recommended programs, apps, tools, and software.
Whether you’re just starting out and want to know what to use or are ready to take things to the next level, I cover it all.
Then and Now: Gmail – Google Apps for Business
I adore Gmail. Not only does it have an easy-to-navigate interface, it’s so easy to organize!
Then: Google Drive
Google Drive (formerly known as Google Docs) is an online software suite that I use for organizing my blog posts, creating surveys and feedback forms, and organizing sales emails for upcoming launches.
I still use Google Drive for everything I mentioned above.
Since most of my program documents are touched by four team members, we use Dropbox to organize, store, and keep everyone’s copies up-to-date. This ensures we’re all working off of the most updated version of a document.
Surveys and Feedback Forms
Wufoo is very customizable and easy to use.
We’ve gone a long way and now use three different applications for a variety of forms. To get feedback, we use Infusionsoft web forms. This makes sense for us because we’re already using Infusionsoft.
For client applications, we use Typeform. We like it because it integrates well with our website, Facebook, and Zapier. It lets us use logic flows to customize our applications. It also gives us useful stats, like how many visitors complete the form and how long it takes them to do so.
Finally, we use Google Forms for surveys. It’s free, easy to use in a pinch, and you can set it up so the responses automatically populate a Google spreadsheet.
I used to rely on iStockphoto for royalty-free images. Back then, they would give away a free photo every Monday, so I could easily add images to my collection to use whenever I needed one.
We’re big fans of Unsplash which offers some good, high-quality free stock photos.
We also still use iStockphoto when we need a specific image that we can’t find for free.
There are tons of email management programs out there, but I love AWeber and can’t recommend them enough.
When I started JennyShih.com, I had experience (from my VA days) with a few different options and found that AWeber gave me everything I needed at a great-for-starting-out price.
I stuck with it for years because it worked well for me and my business. Their customer service is fantastic and I still recommend them to everyone starting out.
We’ve switched to Infusionsoft, albeit reluctantly (I love AWeber that much!).
I reached the point where I wanted to implement more complex funnels and list segmentation—things that are just beyond the capabilities of AWeber. Plus, I needed to switch away from the shopping cart I had been using (their service had sadly gone in the toilet), and I knew I could use Infusionsoft’s integrated shopping cart.
The biggest problem with this switch is that I personally can’t send an email to my list. (I’m not joking.) With this switchover, I deliberately decided not to learn the incredibly complex system and have 100% delegated all things Infusionsoft to my amazing assistant. This is great for a lot of reasons, but also very challenging!
I personally feel like I switched at the right time and would not recommend that you jump to something so complicated until you know for sure that you need that extra level of sophisticated email and list management to grow your business. (And unless you’re making multiple six figures and headed toward $1MM, you don’t.)My Personal Recommendation for YouSteal This! My Proven Plan to Hit 1000 Subscribers
Invoicing and Sales
Then: A service I no longer recommend
I was using a shopping cart service that I no longer recommend, so if you have shopping cart you love I’d love to hear your suggestions. Please leave a comment below with your favorite!
Part of the reason I switched to Infusionsoft was because of the integrated shopping cart system. It integrates the shopping cart and email list seamlessly.
Then and Now: Mac Calendar App
You know I’m a scheduling fiend, so I have to have a reliable tool to keep me organized.
I’m an Apple girl and use the Mac Calendar app on my computer and phone. They sync perfectly between devices using iCloud. I can’t imagine using anything else.
Social Media Scheduling
Note: We’ve been waffling back and forth between Hootsuite and Buffer. This is where we’re at as of 2020.
I have to confess that I didn’t personally use Buffer, and I don’t actually know how to use it! But my team says it’s ridiculously easy to use, and they loved that it allows them to preload social posts or rearrange them with simple dragging and dropping.
Buffer has a free version that covers most of what you’d need to schedule your social media.
For many years, I used the free version of Hootsuite to easily schedule posts to Twitter and Facebook.
Although I was wildly happy with it, when I expanded my team to include social media strategists, they recommended I move to Buffer.
BUT since then, we’ve moved back to using Hootsuite, but only for scheduling Twitter posts.
On Facebook, we use Facebook’s native scheduling feature. This is because Facebook’s algorithm favors posts that are published directly on Facebook rather than through a third-party application.My Personal Recommendation for YouSteal This! A 3-Step Plan for Putting Yourself Out There
Credit Card Processing
PayPal is a simple and easy way to start taking payments as a new online business, and I recommend it to everyone starting out. It works great for most service-based businesses.
When I began selling my Get Your First 1000 Subscribers program back in 2012, I didn’t like the way PayPal integrated with the membership system I was using. It was at this point that I decided to sign up for a “real” merchant account with DirectPay.
For a while I accepted payments through both PayPal and DirectPay, but now I only use PayPal in rare circumstances.
Note: When you move to a “real” merchant account, you will incur additional monthly and processing fees, and you will also need a separate shopping cart (something you don’t need with PayPal). It’s another example of “don’t move until you’re ready for it;” otherwise, you’re just making your setup more complicated than required.
I LOVED using Outright. Although it’s been bought by GoDaddy and is now called GoDaddy Bookkeeping, don’t let the name GoDaddy scare you!
It’s perfect if your business is a Sole Proprietorship or an LLC that files taxes on a Schedule C. (I’m not sure how business bookkeeping and taxes are done outside the U.S., so please speak with a licensed professional who can advise you on what you need for your business.)
It makes it a no-brainer to keep your books up-to-date by downloading all of your transactions from your financial accounts (PayPal, banking, credit cards). It “learns” the more you use it, and it easily creates charts and graphs to keep you on top of your numbers. A quick printout was all I needed to give to my accountant so he could do what he needed to do.
In 2015, I switched from filing taxes on a Schedule C to filing taxes as an S Corporation.
As a result, I need to use double-entry bookkeeping, pay myself via official payroll, pay monthly payroll taxes to the feds and state, and file quarterly payroll reports.
I wanted a system that could handle all of that, and I switched to Wave. Although there’s a lot that’s great about it, it’s run by a small team and the software has its quirks—some which cause me to rip my hair out when balancing my books. (Yes, I do my books myself!)
In retrospect, although it’s more expensive, I wish I went with Quickbooks. As the industry standard, it’s far more reliable and will automatically make the monthly payroll tax payments to both the feds and state; with Wave I have to do those manually.
Secure Password Sharing
When my business was just me, my VA, and a tech support person, it was easy to share passwords via a service like Privnote.
As my business and my team grew, my husband had been telling me I needed to find a better way to share my passwords. I dragged my feet until I listened to the play-by-play of when Chalene Johnson recounted the hacking of her Instagram account—and her entire business.
Now that got me moving immediately!
I quickly added double authentication to all accounts that offer it and updated to much more secure passwords. Then I implemented 1Password for my whole team.
What’s 1Password? It’s software that stores and encrypts all of your passwords and allows you to easily share those encrypted passwords with anyone you choose to give access to.
Although it was time-consuming to set up, now that my entire team uses it, we all agree that it’s a godsend! Plus I know for sure that the passwords are being stored securely, not in Google Drive, email, or a word document on my computer (….don’t even get me started!).
This is the service I used for all my group coaching courses and teleclasses. It’s easy to use and the call quality is reasonable (given it’s free!).
The International version allows callers from all over the world to dial in via a local number. The HD version has a web panel where you can selectively mute and unmute individual callers. Both allow for easy recording and Skype dial-in.
For calls with larger numbers of participants, like my Make It Work Online program, we used to use Instant Teleseminar, which offers both a web-call option and phone numbers to call into the conference. I loved the control panel, and the drop-dead easy way to record and download the calls.
We use Zoom for video conferencing for both small and large calls. We use it for one-on-one coaching calls, small team meetings, and large group calls involving dozens of participants. My coaches enjoy the ability to move call participants into separate break-out rooms.
Business Phone Number
Then: Google Voice
When I started my business, I signed up for a Google Voice number. I liked having a dedicated business line, so people didn’t have access to my home number. As a bonus, it also recorded my coaching calls. The recordings were small files so they could be easily emailed to my clients. Although it was occasionally quirky, it was free!
Now: You tell me!
I still have my Google Voice phone number, and it’s a perfect number to use when I’m afraid I might get a telemarketing call—because it goes straight to voicemail! For all of my other phone calls, I use my cell phone.
I know there are a lot of other services out there but am not sure what to recommend when people ask. What do you use? Tell me in the comments below!
Then: A service I no longer recommend
When I started JennyShih.com, I signed up with a fantastic hosting service and was quick to recommend them. A few years ago, I started having a lot of downtime and switched away.
Now: Media Temple
I moved over to Media Temple’s VPS (virtual private server) option a few years ago. With the hiccups on the old host plus my increased traffic, I needed a service with reliable uptime.
Media Temple also offers lower-priced options like shared hosting which is perfect for small businesses just getting started. You can then increase your service as your business grows.
Back when it was just me and my VA running things, we didn’t have the need for a robust collaboration tool, so we used email. I still do a lot of email for one-off items between me and my assistant, but as a team, we’ve moved to a team collaboration tool.
Our team uses Basecamp every day to track tasks, discuss projects, and keep JennyShih.com running smoothly.
While there are some aspects of Basecamp that feel a little cumbersome, overall it’s a dream to be able to see what everyone’s working on and to track project progress. Anything that gets touched by more than one person is managed in this system.
Note: Having a complex system doesn’t solve the problem of due dates and collaboration, and can be overkill. When it comes to managing a team, you have to test out the various options, find your groove with it, and optimize the system for your own uses. Even our team—as awesome as everyone is—needs to be diligent in how we use the tool so it helps us get everything done.
Then and Now: Acuity Scheduling
This is one of those tools I’ve been recommending for as long as I can remember. There’s so much I love about it!
First of all, you know I’m all about efficiency, and an online scheduler puts an end to all of those back-and-forth, “Does this time work for you?” scheduling emails. Acuity makes it easy for clients to see my available appointment times, schedule a call, and add their appointment to their personal calendar.
Although I don’t work with clients one-on-one much anymore, when random occurrences for appointments are needed, I still rely on Acuity.
My Own To-Do List Manager
Then and Now: Things for Mac by Cultured Code
Things is a super straightforward task manager, which is why I love it. It lets me organize my to-dos across all my devices automatically.
Although tasks for the team are in Basecamp, anything that’s me-specific goes in Things—and not just business stuff! If I’m out and about and remember that I need to make a hair appointment, I open Things on my phone, add the tasks, and it automatically syncs to all of my devices via iCloud. I truly couldn’t function without it!Click to TweetWant to streamline your business? Jenny Shih shares her can’t-live-without business tools.
Now I want to know what you use!
What are the programs that keep your business chugging along?
Do you have any secret weapons the world needs to know about?
What “gaps” do you have in your business operations that want to close using any of the tools listed above?
Please share them in the comments below!
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