Today’s article is the “some things in life are free” Software tools version 🙂 I’m going to share with you some free software tools that I use that help me greatly while working from home. There are some programs I use on a regular basis to help run my business that I find invaluable.
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Anyone who knows me intimately knows that I’m a geek. (Not a nerd. I agree with this site’s definition of the differences.) I love technology and using it to my full advantage. This topic is dear to my heart … but I’ll try not to ramble on too long 🙂
My primary way of communicating with clients is through email. I use my own domain as my email address – carmen @calledtodesign.com because it looks professional. I also use Gmail for personal emails to keep them separate.
I’m able to use Gmail on my phone to access a domain email address, but you can’t do the same on a laptop. For now, I use Thunderbird. It’s not a perfect system, but it works for now.
One feature I really like about Thunderbird is the Unified Folders – meaning that I can view all of the messages in all of the inboxes for all email addresses at one time. It’s helpful because I have multiple email addresses I need to track.
Instant Messaging software tool
Another great way of communicating with clients is through Slack for instant communications. I find it a wonderful software tool to send quick messages and alerts to team members. However, you have to be careful that those instant messages don’t suddenly take over and eat up more time than it’s worth!
My favorite free tool for editing photos or creating social media pictures is Canva. I did sign up for the Pro version last year, but I’m not sure I’ll renew it. I don’t use the tools in Canva enough to warrant the annual fee, even if it is only around $10/month. The free version has plenty of templates and tools to create beautiful images and PDFs. My personal favorite use of Canva is to create collages of images.
Task management software tool
My all-time favorite task management software has to be Clickup. I have literally tried dozens of task management tools in the past – including an earlier version of Clickup, but I came back to this one. This is another software tool that I paid for the upgrade last year and will stay there, mainly because I use it to share tasks with clients and need to fine-tune the permissions. I love how flexible this tool is – you can create Workspaces, lists, tasks and subtasks and checklists to build a hierarchy of tasks. Clickup also lets you create Docs to store non-task related information (think of Google Docs for a similar comparison), and they’re searchable just like tasks. This software tool allows you to switch between a list view, boards view (like Trello), calendar view, plus much more!
Clickup is so powerful and flexible that it can easily become intimidating. For that reason, I plan to offer a mini-course on this soon!
If you are sending out regular newsletters to your customers, you need to have software that handles the emails sending for you. Nobody wants to have to manually send emails to hundreds of people. Or worse yet, have your email address flagged for spam. I’ve tried several email / contact management systems and the one I love for smaller businesses is Mailerlite. Mailerlite has a free plan and their beginner plans are cheaper than some of the other well-known platforms. They have a simple drag-and-drop newsletter builder that makes creation of beautiful newsletters a breeze!
I have been using toggl track since the beginning of starting my VA business to manage how much time I am dedicating to clients. While you might not have clients, it can still be helpful to track time you are dedicating to certain aspects of your business. It’s for this reason that I track anything related to my business – not just client time.
For example, I discovered I was spending way too much time handling my finances last year. So one week I sat down and figured out a way to streamline those.
I track my other businesses too – for example when I’m writing articles for A Simple Homestead (it’s running right now while I’m writing this article!). Or when I’m working a new knit or crochet design for ASH Fiber Arts. It helps me learn which parts of my business are taking up the most time. After that I can review whether or not it’s worth it!