8 Tools I Use to Run My Business with Intention
I spent my first year in business working from my living room couch. I would sit cross-legged on my ugly gray newlywed sofa (don't all young newlyweds have questionable furniture?), and I would work my butt off to cover all the bases in my business.
I used an online calculator to figure out my estimated taxes, I kept a spreadsheet to track my accounting, I spent half my day on Twitter to make sure I had a consistent social media presence, and I would squeeze client work into whatever time was left---which worked just fine, because there weren't many clients to speak of at that point.
My early business model involved a lot of work for not much money. That was fine and dandy when I had an open schedule, few clients, and no kids, but life looks different these days. With two little ones and a full client load, I need smart systems and tools to help me run my business with intention instead of letting my business run me.
These are the eight tools I use every day to keep my business running smoothly while I focus on client work.
This post contains affiliate and referral links, which are indicated with an asterisk. If you sign up for one of the tools below through one of these links, I may receive a commission at no additional cost to you.
Asana is the project management app from which all good things come. It's where I plan my content calendar, coordinate tasks with my virtual assistant, and collaborate with my co-host to keep our podcast running smoothly.
One of the biggest perks of Asana is that it's easy to work in either a traditional list format or a visual board that's similar to Trello. Some projects work better with one setup or the other, and Asana has you covered either way. Add in features like a calendar view, tagging, and easy-to-access file uploads, and it's no wonder that this free project management tool tops my list.
Some of my favorite ways to use Asana:
- Saving templates for recurring processes within your business
- Collaborating with your team on projects
- Editorial calendars and content creation brainstorming
- Client workspaces that let you chat, share files, and keep track of their project
- Integration with Instagantt lets you visually manage your workload (This was a game-changer for me---check out the screenshot below!)
Dubsado takes the cake for streamlining my business and saving me time. Dubsado is an up-and-coming customer and project management tool that's all about keeping your important work in one central location. It can do just about everything in your business---and it can do it all automatically.
I've only been using this tool for a few months, but I've already used it to do things like
- Send client proposals---and then automatically send a contract and invoice when the client selected which options she wanted
- Send deliverables to clients via their secure client portal
- Send forms and questionnaires so I have all my client information in one place
- Create automatic to-do list reminders at key points in a project
- Set up workflows that keep my projects moving along automatically
- Send all onboarding and offboarding information to clients with automatic canned emails
I was hesitant to try a new tool like Dubsado.* Because it's so robust, I was afraid it would take too long to set up or wouldn't be worth the cost ($20/month). I was totally wrong. Thanks to tracking my time, I know that it's taken me about 6 hours to set up Dubsado, but it's saved me more than 10 hours of administration work---and that's with only four clients so far!
I'm all about making smart moves so that my business doesn't take over my life. Dubsado has come through for me more than any other tool when it comes to being intentional with my business. The automation keeps everything moving so smoothly so you're free to give your personal attention to your clients rather than wasting it on admin tasks.
You can check it out on a free trial for your first three clients. And if you use this link* and the referral code "brooks," you'll get 20% off your first month or year with Dubsado.
Dubsado does have a built-in bookkeeping feature, but I'm loyal to Wave when it comes to keeping my business finances on track.
This accounting software has an easy-to-read dashboard that lets you see at a glance where your numbers are at for the year. You can also send professional-looking estimates and invoices, set up recurring invoices, automatically remind your clients when payments are overdue, and upload receipts from a photo or a forwarded email so you've got all your documentation ready to go if you need it.
Not only is Wave a lifesaver with helping me stick to my business budget throughout the year, it's easy to pull Profit and Loss and Expense reports for my CPA at tax time. The best part: it's entirely free unless you need an upgraded service, like running payroll.
I'm a little bit in love with the gentlemanly octopus app known as Edgar. This guy saves me SO MUCH time on social media marketing and content curation. He's not the cheapest social media scheduler on the market ($49/month), but he plays a huge part in helping me run my business with intention.
These are the features that really make Edgar stand out so that I can spend more time with my kids and less time trying to keep my Twitter feed full:
- Scheduling across multiple social media channels (because who actually wants to login to LinkedIn to share their latest blog post?)
- Automatically looping content so that your past blog content is never going to waste in the archives. This is key to a solid content strategy!
- A feed reader that pulls the latest posts from your favorite blogs. You can either approve curated content from your feed with the click of a button, or let Edgar automatically share new posts from your favorite bloggers with no work on your part.
- Expiring content that makes it simple to share a limited time deal or do a little extra promo on your latest blog post.
- Built-in link shortening for at-a-glance analytics so I know what's working and what needs to change.
- An easy-to-read schedule and customizable content categories. Just because your social media is being posted automatically doesn't mean it should sound like it came from a robot!
If you use Edgar the right way, you can even recoup the monthly cost. For example, having a "promotions" category to promote your latest products or services could lead to more sales, or an "affiliate" category that uses your referral links can bring in some extra commission income.
Tailwind is the Pinterest version of Edgar. It may not have a cute little octopus as a mascot, but it packs a lot of punch in keeping my Pinterest strategy effective . . . which is a big deal since Pinterest is my #1 traffic referrer.
My favorite thing about Tailwind is that it doesn't just let you schedule pins, it helps you schedule them strategically. Tailwind analyzes your Pinterest account and chooses optimized time slots that are most likely to result in the most repins or engagement from your followers. It also lets you schedule the same pin to multiple boards with a single click---and space out the timing of those pins so you aren't spamming everyone with 10 of the same pin in a row.
Tailwind* also makes it easy to find quality content to share on Pinterest. Tribes lets you connect with other bloggers in a similar industry so you can all share each other's content, and it's robust analytics makes it easy to reschedule pins that have performed well in the past.
6. Google Docs
Sometimes the best tools are the simplest. I love Google Docs for collaborating on client materials and working on projects across multiple computers. I access something from my Google Drive every single day!
Dropbox is another option for this type of work, but it's a little clunkier to work with and it costs $9.99/month now that I've surpassed my storage limit. That's a tiny pricetag compared to other tools above, but part of running an intentional business is knowing where to spend my money to get the best return on investment. In my situation, Google Docs is the way to go.
Here are some of the ways I use Google Docs:
- I keep my headshot handy in Drive so I can quickly send the link to people who request it without needing to upload it and send an email.
- I have a running list of bios I've used across various publications so all I have to do is make small tweaks, then copy and paste when I'm creating content for someone new.
- Collaborating with clients on content revisions.
- Easy access for myself and my VA to the spreadsheets I use to track my business metrics and plan my email newsletter content.
7. The Desire Map*
The Desire Map by Danielle LaPorte has been praised by creative entrepreneurs for years. I finally decided to give it a try earlier this year. It makes the list of my favorite intentional business tools, but with huge caveats.
I had no idea just how woo-woo this book would be. As soon as I started reading the introduction, I knew that this book would fundamentally disagree with my Christian theology. After all, the entire premise of the book is about doing whatever makes you feel the way you want to feel---there are huge issues there for Christians!
BUT I didn't throw the baby out with the bathwater. Instead, I skipped the entire first half of the book, which explains the thought process behind finding your "Core Desired Feelings" and went straight to the workbook at the back.
The workbook exercises were actually really helpful in figuring out how to align my values across several different areas of my life, including business.
As an intentional business owner, I don't want to build a large company just to say I did, or chase after six figures just because it's more money. I want to set business goals that align with things I care about in my life, and this book helped me do that.
You may have seen Lara Casey's PowerSheets all over your Instagram feed at the beginning of the year, or on your favorite blogger's monthly Goals with Grace posts. I've had my eye on PowerSheets for years, but I've resisted buying them because of the pricetag. Could using a fancy notebook really help me track my goals any better than a regular old list?
Yes, yes it could.
It's easy to get caught up in the day-to-day work of running your business while forgetting the big picture of what you're working toward. With prompts to help you think through your goals at the beginning of each month, plus simple tracking for monthly, weekly, and daily goals, PowerSheets are a beautiful way to keep track of your goals for business and life.
Powersheets are only available certain times of year because they sell out fast. I'd recommend following Cultivate What Matters so you know when a new edition is available if you're interested!
Tools are only intentional if you use them that way
Tools are only as good as the person who's using them. It's up to you to use your business tools in a way that helps you reclaim your time instead of drawing you farther into the noise and chaos of the Internet.
What are your favorite business tools, and how are you using them?