Tools + Resources

20 Tools for Creative Business Owners

February 24, 2017

I’m Michelle.
A modern maker with a classic approach to design. Ever in search
of beautiful typography and
baked goods.
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In this post, I reveal my master list of 20 tools for creative business owners, who blog, sell products, and share services online. These helpful resources will help increase productivity + profits, while freeing up time so you can focus on the big picture. Be sure to grab the 3-page business expense and financial success planner at the bottom of the post so you can start making actionable changes right away!

20 tools for creative business owners, running an online business. This list of helpful resources will help increase productivity + profits, while freeing up time so you can focus on the big picture. Includes a 3-page business expense and financial success planner so you can start making actionable changes right away.

They say if you want to make money, you have to be willing to spend money, and I have to agree. As a solopreneur, it’s up to me to wear all of the hats in my business, from intern to CEO. If the boss takes on the responsibilities of an intern, the business will never thrive.

So how do I manage to do it all? I don’t. For years, I tried, but one person can only do so much. Now, I assign those entry-level tasks to the best companies and tools out there. It’s like having an army of high-powered interns, each with a unique specialty.

The tools I use in my business not only make my life easier but actually make me money. The time I save as a result of using automated systems has been reallocated and put to much better use, making my workflow more efficient. They allow me to spend less time doing tedious tasks simple enough for anyone (including your computer) and more time for me to think big.

Here’s a breakdown of all the services I use to keep my creative business running smoothly, so I can keep my CEO hat on, and focus on growth prosperity.

{ Website + Email Services }

20 tools for creative business owners, running an online business. This list of helpful resources will help increase productivity + profits, while freeing up time so you can focus on the big picture. Includes a 3-page business expense and financial success planner so you can start making actionable changes right away.

1. Bluehost
This service keeps my two sites, MichelleHickey.Design and Elegance and Enchantment up and running. It stores all of my artwork, data, and plugins, with enough room for traffic growth. After a cyber attack I experienced last year, I decided to separate the sites into two accounts.

While sharing a server might seem simpler and less expensive, I now I have the peace of mind that if an attack occurs on one site, it won’t multiply my issues by bringing down both. I also used this opportunity to upgrade to dedicated servers, which means when outages happen, I’m not affected. In the year since I switched, I have yet to experience either of my websites going down. Crazy, right?

20 tools for creative business owners, running an online business. This list of helpful resources will help increase productivity + profits, while freeing up time so you can focus on the big picture. Includes a 3-page business expense and financial success planner so you can start making actionable changes right away.

2. ConvertKit
Making the switch from MailChimp to ConvertKit was a game-changer for my business. This email management service, coupled with Leadpages (#3), propelled me from 2,000 email subscribers to the 45,000+ I have today. With an intuitive system for tagging based on interest and their easy-to-use email automation system, I’ve been able to stay uber organized, while selling far more products since I made the switch. My single complaint about ConvertKit is that it’s not easy to make your emails look pretty. They claim that in their research, people are more responsive to emails that look like they were sent from a friend, without extensive formatting, but the designer in me disagrees.

PS, unlike my Bluehost accounts, I keep both of my businesses under one for ConvertKit. I have some overlap between subscribers who get emails from both MichelleHickey.Design and Elegance and Enchantment, so it’s easier to keep them all in one place. Unlike MailChimp, ConvertKit only charges based on the total number of email addresses housed in your account. If I have one email address assigned to two or three different lists, Convert Kit only counts it as one person, rather than two or three.

20 tools for creative business owners, running an online business. This list of helpful resources will help increase productivity + profits, while freeing up time so you can focus on the big picture. Includes a 3-page business expense and financial success planner so you can start making actionable changes right away.

3. Leadpages
If you’re a ConvertKit user, you may wonder why I bother using Leadpages, since it’s capable of fulfilling its primary job: creating opt-in email forms. Leadpages offers some advanced features for people who already have a sizeable list, like A/B split testing and sales pages, that I have found to be worth the value up to this point.

To be honest, I was considering dropping the service until I discovered their new Drag + Drop Sales Page Creator. I used it to create several landing pages for promotions and I’m officially hooked.

If you are just starting out in your business, this service is not a necessity. If you’ve got multiple websites and sell digital products like subscriptions, courses, or ebooks, I highly recommend it!

20 tools for creative business owners, running an online business. This list of helpful resources will help increase productivity + profits, while freeing up time so you can focus on the big picture. Includes a 3-page business expense and financial success planner so you can start making actionable changes right away.

4. Akismet
This $5 a month WordPress service weeds out spam commenters so I don’t have to!

20 tools for creative business owners, running an online business. This list of helpful resources will help increase productivity + profits, while freeing up time so you can focus on the big picture. Includes a 3-page business expense and financial success planner so you can start making actionable changes right away.

5. Sucuri
After the aforementioned cyber attack I experienced last year, I knew I had to get serious about my site security. After all, these websites are my livelihood! Sucuri monitors any unusual activity and alerts you if anything goes wrong. I use the basic account but sprung for the additional website backup service, just in case!

{ Social Media }

20 tools for creative business owners, running an online business. This list of helpful resources will help increase productivity + profits, while freeing up time so you can focus on the big picture. Includes a 3-page business expense and financial success planner so you can start making actionable changes right away.

6. CoSchedule
The social media scheduler of all schedulers. This platform is a powerful resource that allows you to schedule campaigns right from your WordPress dashboard— or their drag and drop website (which is designed beautifully, I might add).

Hands down, the feature that makes CoSchedule worth the money is called “ReQueue” which allows you to load up a whole bunch of social posts that will automatically repost according to the parameters you set. ReQueue ensures a maximum reach of your posts, without any effort on your part.

7. Pic Tap Go
As a designer, visuals are obviously important to me, and I’ve become a stickler for editing my photos to look their best— even for personal use. Pic Tap Go is my favorite app to easily brighten my photos (check out their “Lights On” filter) and resizing them for Instagram Stories (IG doesn’t care about composition the way I do).

This app is free to download and use which only makes me heart them more.

8. LinkTree
I love this tool because Instagram is my favorite social platform and I’m often referencing posts or findings that I know will benefit my followers. LinkTree gives you a custom link that you can put in your Instagram profile that will display a menu of options for anyone who visits it. I keep evergreen links in mine, with links to my blog, podcast, etc, but will also use it for special promotions.

I currently use the free version, but if you want to spring for their paid plan, it’ll provide you with helpful analytics about your visitors.

20 tools for creative business owners, running an online business. This list of helpful resources will help increase productivity + profits, while freeing up time so you can focus on the big picture. Includes a 3-page business expense and financial success planner so you can start making actionable changes right away.

9. BoardBooster
Pinterest is the number one source of traffic for both of my websites, so making an investment in a tool that helps boost this platform was a no brainer for me. While it involves a little investment in time to get set up, once you are finished, your work is done, and you will be left with a powerful promotional system that runs on autopilot.

I’m about to make a confession here. I rarely go on Pinterest. If I do, it’s for something personal, like a recipe, or a decor idea— but even those occasions are few and far between. Boardbooster does all the work for me by circulating old pins and re-circulating my highest performing pins, making them even more relevant. The only work I do is adding new pins to my already-set-up secret boards, whenever I publish something new, which takes about two seconds.

If I were to start getting rid of services, this tool would probably be one of the last to go.

20 tools for creative business owners, running an online business. This list of helpful resources will help increase productivity + profits, while freeing up time so you can focus on the big picture. Includes a 3-page business expense and financial success planner so you can start making actionable changes right away.

10. Tailwind
Another Pinning tool that I used to use exclusively before I started using Boardbooster. I kept it alive for a feature that Boardbooster does not have, called “Tribes.” I am only part of one Tribe, with some fellow graphic design + creative bloggers, but it’s been very lucrative.

Whenever I publish something new or want to promote a piece of old, but relevant content (like a Christmas pin around the holidays), I add it to my Tribe, and other members will pin and promote for me, while I do the same for them.

If you’re looking for a Tribe, join a Facebook Group and ask some members to start one up with you, or simply invite existing friends from Pinterest in your niche!

{ Content Tools }

20 tools for creative business owners, running an online business. This list of helpful resources will help increase productivity + profits, while freeing up time so you can focus on the big picture. Includes a 3-page business expense and financial success planner so you can start making actionable changes right away.

11. Grammarly
I love writing, but I used to get tripped up by grammar rules, and feeling inadequate about my skills in general. Enter Grammarly— an editor and confidence booster, all wrapped up in an easy-to-use tool.

This web extension/service does much more than just catch spelling mistakes. It helps with sentence structure, points out grammatical errors and makes suggestions to help your flow.

They do offer a free version, but if you do any writing, either for a blog, or social media posts, I highly recommend springing for the premium plan.

20 tools for creative business owners, running an online business. This list of helpful resources will help increase productivity + profits, while freeing up time so you can focus on the big picture. Includes a 3-page business expense and financial success planner so you can start making actionable changes right away.

12. Adobe Creative Cloud
For years, this creative gal got super creative about finding ways to use Adobe programs without paying the astronomical cost of their software. From splitting a license with a few friends to using my sister’s college ID to get student pricing, to using old, outdated versions, I tried just about everything to save money.

Thankfully, just as I was running out of ideas, Adobe created a practical and affordable way to purchase their software. For the past few years, I’ve subscribed to Adobe Creative Cloud— which gives me access to all of their essential programs (including InDesign, Photoshop, Illustrator, and Acrobat), for one low, monthly payment. Best of all, as long as you keep up with your subscription, they provide you with the most up-to-date versions of their software.

Considering I’m a graphic designer, I literally could not do my job without these programs. Thank you Adobe, for making life easier!

{ Selling Digital Products }

20 tools for creative business owners, running an online business. This list of helpful resources will help increase productivity + profits, while freeing up time so you can focus on the big picture. Includes a 3-page business expense and financial success planner so you can start making actionable changes right away.

13. Weebly
When I decided to launch the Enchanting Mondays Library, I needed a quick and easy way to get a membership site up, without all the frills that an open source platform like WordPress could offer.

If you want simple, it’s a great solution for your shop, site, or even a blog. It’s drag and drop interface makes it incredibly easy to use and would be perfect for a beginner who doesn’t have time to/or doesn’t want to build their own site from scratch.

However, I’ve reached the point where I want to add the frills, and I’m finding limitations. For now, the site will stay hosted on Weebly, but in full transparency, I’m currently seeking other options that can totally fulfill my vision.

20 tools for creative business owners, running an online business. This list of helpful resources will help increase productivity + profits, while freeing up time so you can focus on the big picture. Includes a 3-page business expense and financial success planner so you can start making actionable changes right away.

14. Gumroad
If you’re a creative who sells stuff, you’ve probably heard of Gumroad— a platform that helps you manage customers and products. I have a few online friends who use it to sell their ebooks, but for me, it’s the home of my Inspirational Planner Subscription product.

Gumroad’s straightforward platform makes it easy for me to send updates to subscribers every month, and manage their memberships. In addition to handling all the payment processing, they do all the work in reminding customers to renew their subscriptions, and even take the initiative to work with a buyer if they dispute a charge. It honestly feels like I have a partner who does all the annoying maintenance work for me, so I can focus on creating superior products.

15. Shopify
Last year I made the leap and opened up shop on Shopify. I still have my Etsy shop in place, but I got sick of waiting around for Etsy to add the features that would make it easier for a printable shop to sell digital items.

Shopify has provided me with everything I had been missing: customization options, streamlined downloading for my customers, cart recovery, and the ability to see all kinds of cool stats. I still recommend that newbies start off on Etsy, because it’s free, but if you’re looking to take things to the next level, Shopify is for you.

20 tools for creative business owners, running an online business. This list of helpful resources will help increase productivity + profits, while freeing up time so you can focus on the big picture. Includes a 3-page business expense and financial success planner so you can start making actionable changes right away.

16. Etsy
The OG selling platform for my business is none other than Etsy. The interesting thing about this online marketplace is that it has an audience of its own. Even though my blog has grown considerably over the past three years, my number one source of traffic and sales is Etsy itself.

While I have an extensive list of suggestions on how this site can make improvements for digital sellers, I can’t argue with the customers it brings in. My favorite part about Etsy is the ability to set it and forget it. A majority of my products are instant downloads, which means once a customer makes a purchase, the file is sent directly to them, via Etsy. Other than fielding an occasional customer service issue, those instant downloads have become the ultimate passive income.

17. Haute Stock Styled Stock Library
One of the most frequent questions I get from readers and customers alike are about the frames and props I use for my product shots. The answer is, I don’t own any of them because I didn’t even take the photos.

While I do shoot my own photography for the MHD Instagram feed and sponsored posts on Elegance & Enchantment, I rely on the Haute Stock Library, for product shots in the Enchanted Prints shop, along with styled stock photography for MHD blog posts.

I love photography, but I’m not professional, and the Haute Stock Library saves me from needing to set up an elaborate shoot for every single holiday and occasion (not to mention the photo editing). Best of all, new images are added to the library monthly, so there’s always fresh content at my fingertips. I’m so grateful for the talents of Rachel Rouhana and can’t thank her enough for creating this invaluable resource.

{ Money + Accounting }

20 tools for creative business owners, running an online business. This list of helpful resources will help increase productivity + profits, while freeing up time so you can focus on the big picture. Includes a 3-page business expense and financial success planner so you can start making actionable changes right away.

18. Quickbooks Online
This program may not be the most glamorous tool in the box, but it pays the bills (enter financial joke here). I have my business credit card, bank account, and PayPal account all connected in one spot, which makes bookkeeping so much less of a headache.

I log onto my account monthly, to add income and expenses to my register and generate a report of profits and losses. This routine keeps me in check with where I’m spending, and if it’s adding to the bottom line. When it comes time to do taxes, my accountant uses my data from Quickbooks to prepare our filing. Easy!

20 tools for creative business owners, running an online business. This list of helpful resources will help increase productivity + profits, while freeing up time so you can focus on the big picture. Includes a 3-page business expense and financial success planner so you can start making actionable changes right away.

19. Accountant
I would be remiss if I didn’t mention my awesome accountant, Josh in this post. I decided to hire him for year-round support, rather than just at tax time, because business expenses can get messy, and you don’t want to wait until the end of the year to realize there’s a problem.

Josh didn’t just guide me in making decisions that would benefit my company (such as switching from an LLC to an S-Corp) but has given me complete peace of mind in knowing that if anything comes up, he’s got my back!

Have you been wrestling with the decision of whether or not to hire an accountant? Just like I would never hire Josh to design a logo for me, you shouldn’t hire yourself to do a job that you’re not qualified to take on.

20 tools for creative business owners, running an online business. This list of helpful resources will help increase productivity + profits, while freeing up time so you can focus on the big picture. Includes a 3-page business expense and financial success planner so you can start making actionable changes right away.

20. Gusto
As I mentioned above, my accountant advised me to switch my business classification from an LLC to an S-Corp. As part of that change, I stopped paying quarterly taxes and instead began running a payroll, even though the only person getting paid is me.

Every month, a service called Gusto takes money out of my business account— enough to cover taxes and the amount I’ve decided to pay myself. After a few days, it deposits my paycheck into my personal account, and gives the tax money to the government, just as an employer would if you were working a full-time job.

The process may sound odd, considering that I’m an organization of one, but after experiencing years of tax woes (trying to pay them all at the end of the year, paying quarterly and not estimating correctly, and owing money), this system has proven to be the one that works.

Which tools do you actually need?

There are enough business tools and services out there to make your head spin. As a productivity junkie, I want to use all of them, but obviously, that would be ridiculous. If you are considering these or any others, give some serious thought about how they will help your business thrive.

Use the worksheets below to help you figure out where you can save and where you should spend. This quick exercise will not only help you save money, but time, and will likely earn you some extra income in the process!

This post contains affiliate links. If you purchase through these links, you’ll help support MichelleHickey.Design, and you’ll receive some amazing stuff, too. Whohoo!

Want to hear more talk about resources for creatives? Check out Episode 11 of A Podcast for Creatives. We share some confessions as well!

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  1. Love this post! So helpful. I didn’t know a lot of these existed. How wonderful, thanks for sharing!

  2. Kim says:

    Thanks for sharing this helpful list! As a beginner, I wasn’t even aware of Grammarly, which will make me feel so much more confident about my posts. I look forward to your posts because I know that I’ll get something worthwhile every time.

    • Michelle says:

      Thanks so much for your kind comment, Kim! You said it best! Grammarly is a confidence booster. Hope it has been helping you. 🙂

  3. Karen says:

    So much great information here, Michelle. Thank you! I’m wondering how Dropbox fits into your business. I see you use it for your Enchanting Mondays printables. Do you store all the printables there for your website and for Etsy? Just trying to get my head around the best way to offer printables and love your products and how easy it all works (at least from my end – I’m sure there’s much behind the scenes I don’t see).

    Thanks again for all the great info. Love your work!
    Karen

  4. Katherine says:

    Love love love this post! So helpful. I’ve used some of the tools you mentioned in the past, but there were many I’d never heard (looking at you Planoly) of along with some good tips. Thank you! Your site is one of my favorites 🙂

    • Michelle says:

      Thanks so much for your kind words, Katherine. I’m glad to hear that you’re already using some of these tools, and are looking into some new ones. 🙂

  5. Carmia says:

    What an awesome list, Michelle! You’ve inspired me to automate more of my tasks.

    I’ve still been using spreadsheets to record my income and expenses (haha) but 1 March is the start of a new tax season in South Africa so I wanted to start things off on a clean slate. I’m using Wave Accounting now, yay! I’m also going to upgrade my hosting from shared to managed WP hosting. And after using Mailchimp and then MadMimi I’m now migrating to Mailerlite. So happy with it.

    I’ve been using a website called Hotjar to see how my visitors are clicking on my site. Love it and might upgrade to the paid version.

    I’m loving your posts lately!

  6. Belinda says:

    Great post! This is a great reference I’ll go back to.

    • Michelle says:

      So glad you found it helpful, Belinda! Let me know if you have any questions. 🙂

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