Practical tools I use in my creative business
I’m often a little hesitant to offer up recommendations for practical and organisational tools, because we all think and work in different ways, and I believe need to find our own solutions to our particular needs. How I run my business and how much I can afford to spend on software to help me do that is almost certainly going to different from you, so please please don’t feel like you must be using any of the tools I mention below. Work out your priorities, needs and budget, and work from there.
You might ask then why I’m writing this at all! On the other hand, I appreciate that recommendations and suggestions help provide a starting point, and perhaps increase confidence in a decision. Also, I regularly get asked what I use by peers and clients, and you might be surprised by one or two of my answers. Rather than write a list of what I think you should be checking out, I’m instead writing a list of what I personally use on a regular basis, why, and how it works for me.
I switched my own (WordPress) hosting to Siteground a year ago, and I highly recommend it for small businesses. I find them to be fast, reliable, the support is good, SSL, caching and Cloudflare are included and easy to set up, and you can set up email with them. I have only had good experiences so far. They are a little pricier than some other large hosting providers, but by no means on the expensive end of what hosting can cost.
Honest disclaimer: this Siteground link is an affiliate link. It’s the only one in this article, and I include it because I professionally use & trust Siteground myself. If you don’t like using affiliate links, just search for the product yourself online – I would rather you find something that works for you than use my link!
I’ve been using 123-reg for years, and experienced no problems so far. Decent, reasonably priced domain names. I prefer to purchase domain names separately from my hosting provider nowadays, as it can make life much easier if you decide to switch hosting companies.
I think Mailchimp are a bit Marmite – people seem to love it or hate it. Their interface can take a bit of learning, but I have been using them for about 10 years now and it would take a lot of convincing to get me to switch. I love that producing clean, well-designed emails is very easy, and my wallet loves their pricing plans.
This is where your budget might object. As a designer by trade, I would struggle without Adobe software, but even I get a sour taste in my mouth when I look at the cost of their monthly plans. For photograph editing I use Photoshop, for graphics and logos I use Illustrator, for ebooks, flyers and anything page-based, I use InDesign, and for web work I sometimes use Dreamweaver. If you were going to invest in one alone, I would suggest Illustrator as your best bet, as you can also design ebooks and flyers in Illustrator, and other (free) photo editing software exists.
An alternative, cheaper, solution is Canva. I have played with Canva on occassion and have been impressed, but the Adobe software I have is far more powerful so I haven’t found a need to use it. For creating more simple graphics to use in your business – for example, on social media – this is well worth checking out.
Fonts & Graphics
This is my Creator digital heaven. I don’t design fonts, and as much as I would love to hand-design every graphic in my business, it’s not always practical. Their font bundles can be good value for money, and buying some beautiful graphics a Creative has put out there is a great way to get your flyers/ebooks/websites sparkling with character.
Your own photographs – always the best place to start. They are innately going to be ‘you’ and there’s no licensing issues to worry about. I currently use an iPhone 6s, and it suits me just fine.
Adobe Stock & Shutterstock (paid)
I prefer Adobe Stock for their range of images, but it seems to be pricier on the whole (surprise, surprise, thanks again Adobe). I tend to use paid images for main content where having the right feeling image is especially important – e.g. on my Homepage.
My two go-to sites for free images at the moment. I’m most likely to use free images on blog posts and perhaps in ebooks if I can’t find one of my own images that suits the content.
Paper diaries all the way. This one seems to surprise people the most. I suppose because as I’m a techy person, people expect me to advocate digital all the time. Not so. I’ve tried to go digital with this, and it just doesn’t cut it for me. I currently have a small paper personal diary, and a separate paper planner for business (I’m using The Awesome Marketing Planner this year – I’ll let you know how it goes). In the past I’ve tried all sorts, including bullet journalling which I didn’t get on with, and the Passion Planner which I did, but my diary needs are always changing.
Although I’m a paper advocate, I do use Asana for project/task reminders, which I’ll talk about next. Moral of the story? Find your own path, and don’t go digital because you feel you ‘should’; do it because it’s best for you.
It’s taken me a while to get into Asana, but I find it incredibly helpful. I use it to track tasks I need to do, on both my own and client projects. The ability to share team boards is excellent for me, as I can share boards with clients so we can both see what tasks the other needs to complete. I also have a list of tasks that need completing at regular intervals (e.g. I have to make a small website edit for a client at the end of every month), and I use Asana to send me email reminders when these need doing. I haven’t tapped the full potential of Asana, but it works well.
I trialled Monday for a while, and I loved it, but the price tag stopped me using it regularly. The whole set-up and design of Monday seemed far more user-friendly though, so it’s worth looking at.
As a freelancer, time tracking is my friend. Not only so I know I’m correctly charging clients for my time, but also so I get a better understanding of how long different tasks take and how long I’ve been working in one stretch. I find Toggl reliable and not too invasive, and that’s what I need!
If I’m honest, I used to really dislike Evernote. It’s not aesthetically pleasing, and I used to find the layout awkward. I started trying it out purely for work a year ago though, and it’s now my best friend. I have a notebook per client/project, and use it to store key information – such as hex codes and snippets of custom code which I need to copy and paste regularly. I also have notebooks for most other aspects of my business, where I can dump ideas, type out blog posts, create new copy for my website and write up ebooks. If I could only use one bit of productivity software, it would be this.
I’ve been using Dropbox for years, and it still scores highly in my world. I love being able to share nicely organised files with clients (I’m a secret lover of organising), and so many people I work with use Dropbox that it just makes sense to.
Thanks for reading! What tools do you use in your business that you couldn’t live without? I’d love to hear in the comments below…