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What are the best tools to use that will help you grow, manage and market your online business? Is there a chance over-complicating things?
Over the years, I’ve purchased and tested countless tools, apps, and services. Most of the time the purchase was based upon the recommendations of others. And yes, sometimes I bought based on a knee-jerk reaction to convincing sales copy.
There’s a certain satisfaction that occurs during the buying process. Immediately afterward, there’s a feeling that you now have an advantage (even if it’s incremental one) that you didn’t have before the purchase.
You can now do something you couldn’t do before. Or, you can do it better, faster or more efficiently. You feel like a legend in the making.
The feeling is fleeting.
After the graphics, branding, sales copy, testimonials, and reviews comes the user experience. More importantly – YOUR user experience.
On more occasions than I’d like to admit, the purchase left me feeling more like a chump than a champ.
And no – the job(s) didn’t get done better, faster, or even more efficiently.
The tool, app or service didn’t change the game. It’s become yet another layer of “stuff” on top of the existing layers.
What Do You Really Need?
So, this brings up the question, what tools do you really need for your business? What apps, services, subscriptions, etc., really make life better and add to the bottom line? I guess it depends who you ask, but I think this is where many of us get off course.
Unless you’re crystal clear on exactly what your goals are, it’s easy to get pulled in one direction on Monday, and then another on Wednesday. Everything looks good and yet, nothing has the impact you’d hoped it would.
For example, maybe you’re looking to build a smaller business with a few subcontractors? Many of the people in the web development industry (for an example) would recommend project management software.
In a perfect world, project management software would help you manage a client project from start to finish more efficiently than let’s say, using the blank sides of envelopes.
Here are a few examples of some of the project management options out there.
- Trello https://trello.com/
- Basecamp https://basecamp.com/
- Zoho https://www.zoho.com/
- Asana https://asana.com
- Milanote https://milanote.com/ *New – July 2020
For me, at least on paper, project management software made perfect sense.
In practice, however, the pieces didn’t fit so well together.
Here’s what happened. First, my team was used to email. I’m talking about the tech people right now. They were also used to video conferencing when things really needed to be discussed in debt.
Then, there were the non-tech team members. They were comfortable with email and phone calls (but didn’t care for the video so much). That’s basically the end of the story.
Long story short, besides me, no one was excited about project management tools.
Then someone suggested, “Can’t we use Google Docs, Google Drive and Google Calendar for the big project – to keep them organized?
The answer to that, of course, is YES.
That put all the apps, tools, and software platforms in a different light for me. In this case, the tools were there to help you stay organized. Depending upon your needs, they may or may not be a good fit.
If you’re going to have a lot of employees and be working on complex projects every month, certain tools make a lot more sense. But even then, I learned that some of the larger companies here in the United States use G-Suite for everything. Let that sink in for just a few seconds.
Personally, I like Asana to help me stay on task at times – but just for my own organizational purposes when I have bigger projects. I hate to say this, but, sometimes creating temporary folders on my desktop for the project works just as well. Less clicking and they’re right there in front of me all the time.
Tools are supposed to work for you, not the other way around. That might seem like a strange statement to make, but think about how many times you’ve tried to make things fit that was not a good fit for you?
So really, don’t worry if you feel like you’re not keeping up with the latest advancements in project management tools, apps, and services. It’s your business, both literally and figuratively, so use the organization tools you’re personally comfortable with… even if they’re not considered the most popular.
I just started using Milanote (July 2020) to organize a new business project. So far, I’ve found the interface to be the cleanest and most intuitive of all the options listed in above. They have a free version that you can get started with here – https://milanote.com/
Why I Started Focusing On a “Less Moving Parts” Approach
My Podcast slogan is – Build an Online Business with Less Moving Parts, Less Overhead, Less Headaches.
Most entrepreneurs who fit into the “creative” classification don’t have formal business backgrounds. In other words, they have a skill or talent that leads the train. Their skill is the engine that pulls everything else.
Oftentimes creativity flourishes at the expense of being organized. No, creative people aren’t exactly organized by nature. It’s something they have to learn and practiced over time.
However, being organized goes a long way towards removing stress. For many of us, organization really is an attainable goal if we don’t have a lot of moving pieces to keep organized.
When I look back at the start of my business in the late 90s, I invested an incredible amount of energy building version 1.0 of it. I did all the bookkeeping myself using 3 different programs! Sometimes I even lost track of who paid and who didn’t. It was a mess.
Then, over time, one digital solution after another seemed to appear in the marketplace.
I bought a bunch of accounting solutions because I couldn’t find one that I was comfortable with. I bought one design app after another. Then, the SaaS (software as a service) market was born and that muddied the waters even further.
All my tools and logins designed to make life easier only made it more confusing.
The business grew, but it felt like a was dragging around a ball and chain in the process.
I was carrying a keychain with dozens of keys, trying to match them with the appropriate locks. Something needed to change.
Would You Like More or Fewer Logins to Keep Track of?
Like many habitual buyers, I ended up with various software tools, subscriptions, and apps. If they didn’t fit into my daily routine within a few weeks, they were set to the side and usually forgotten. It was frustrating. Like abandoning a huge jigsaw puzzle because you never seem to have quite enough time to sit down and finish it.
Finally, I accepted the fact that I was buying things I really didn’t need. Yes, it should have been obvious, right? Sometimes, though, you can’t see the forest for the trees. Your emotions tell you, “You’ve made the right decision. Your business is growing!”
When you buy things before you need them, however, one or two things usually happen.
- You buy something in advance before you need it. Then, it turns out, you never need it.
- You buy something before you need it. Then, when you need it, you discover a much better alternative, so you buy that to replace it.
The alternative is, wait until you really need something before buying. Then, do your research before buying. Read reviews, ask questions, then buy.
Let me share a quick story with you. Back in 2010, I decided to move from my condo to a house that was located about 17-miles south. During the packing process, I started realizing how much junk I had.
Books that hadn’t been opened in years.
Boxes of stuff from a previous move that I no longer used.
Old clothes that I didn’t wear anymore taking up space in the closet.
You get the picture.
I got rid of most it and I have to tell you, the feeling that came after unloading all of that “stuff” was truly freeing!
No, I wasn’t converting to a minimalist lifestyle. I was simply looking to get rid of some of the “waste, noise and clutter of life.” That’s about the best way I can put it.
Simply put, all this stuff (even though it was packed away) had a negative effect on me mentally. Storing and taking care of things you don’t need will do that to you. I didn’t realize any of this until I started getting rid of things I didn’t need and would, most likely, never use again. The freeing effect that it had really surprised me.
It was like trimming old, dead branches off of a tree.
The same feeling returned when I began eliminating the tools, tech, and services my business didn’t need.
Keep What You Need, Get Rid of Everything Else
You can do this for yourself. Start by taking an inventory of everything you have. Maybe the easiest way to do that is to open your password manager and scroll through the lists of all your different logins and purchases.
You probably have several tools that all basically do the same thing. In other words, there’s a lot of overlap.
Pick one. Two at the most. You might need one as a backup for one reason or another. That’s it. Get rid of the rest.
Look at your list. Be honest. It’s loaded with junk, isn’t it?
Get rid of the junk. Keep what you need.
You can do the same thing with the courses, templates, audios, videos, and all the other stuff collecting digital dust on your hard drives.
If you’re looking for clarity and focus, this is going to help you.
Only keep what is really important to you.
The Best Tools for Your Business
So, back to the question – what are the best tools for YOUR business? I guess it depends who’s in the driver’s seat on any given day.
First, there’s the negative version of you. That’s the lazy, complaining about life, the universe, and your place in it version. That YOU is okay with coming in 20th in the race to wherever. Or, taking a nap and forgetting about the race completely.
The positive version of YOU knows that what I’m saying is true. That version knows that you have to make some changes to keep moving forward. That version knows it’s not always going to be “fun” but has committed to making something good happen in life.
One of my friends makes around $130,000 a year selling audio training to people who want to learn Internet marketing. He has a simple website. He doesn’t even have his courses password protected. He just hides the pages. His business consists of sales letters that promote his audio (and occasionally – video) courses. That’s it. He using one platform to send out his email and process credit cards. And he uses one platform to host his courses. Two main tools help him bring in $130k a year before taxes.
He spends zero time on social media.
He doesn’t even have a completed LinkedIn profile. I know, cover your children’s eyes!
He works from his living room table, too!
I’m exaggerating, right? No, I’m being on the level with you.
A pared-down business means you’re only using the tools you need to get the job done. All excess goes out the window.
The reason it’s so hard to do in practice is that part of us is addicted to the noise, chaos, and stress. We’re addicted to being in motion, even if it’s just going in circles. Beating the addiction involves going through a withdrawal process.
For example, you can’t keep away from your inbox. You’re constantly checking out what’s happening on Facebook, Twitter or Pinterest.
If you’re used to buying tech, reading reviews, buying the latest “stuff,” your mind won’t find it easy to go cold turkey and just stop.
Here’s the thing, when you stop doing all those things habitually, blocks of time are suddenly there that weren’t there before. You almost don’t know what to do with the time! That’s when you realize the kind of impact your habits and “addictions” have upon your day.
Feel free to share any of your thoughts, insights, or musings below.