(Please note that this article contains affiliate links. I have indicated in writing where affiliate links are being used. If there is not a mention of the affiliate relationship in the anchor text, that link is not an affiliate link.)
Back in 2019, I wrote a blog post called “9 Business Tools I Cannot Live Without.” It was all about the tools I used to run my design and development business at the time. I wrote it with other small business owners and freelancers in mind.
I’ll start by pulling the following directly out of that post, because it still holds true:
There is no singular answer to tell you what the “best” tool is for any given task. In reality, there are millions of tools out there specifically for web designers, graphic designers, and freelancers of all types. Some do stand out above the rest.
I recently revisited that list with Michelle on the Underrepresented in Tech podcast and I shared the ones I still love. But I realized that I use different tools now that my work as changed and evolved. So, four years later, here is my updated list of tools that I use on a daily basis as a LLC owner, contractor, project manager, podcast producer… person.
I focus primarily on tools that are approachable for beginners and compatible with both Mac and Windows systems. Last time I tried to focus on free or extremely low cost tools. This time, I’m looking at free ones first, then tools worth the financial investment, followed by websites (rather than tools) I use frequently, and finally some WordPress specific tools!
There are some affiliate links in this post, but I will indicate where they are so you can be informed!
Wave for Invoicing
There is nothing wrong with using a basic invoicing tool like PayPal to get funds from clients and customers. I prefer to use a tool like WaveApps in order to send my invoices. It’s just a more robust tool and offers more features. Wave has a really strong free plan. (Keep in mind that you will always end up paying processing fees, no matter what tool you use.)
Loom for Sharing Video
Sometimes you really need to show, not tell. Loom is amazing for that. Anyone can use QuickTime or a similar software to screen record. What I love about Loom is a) how easy it is to just begin with whatever screen and audio configuration you need, b) how you can immediately send a link to another person to your video, rather than needing to upload it somewhere, and c) that all your videos are stored on Loom’s website, rather than your computer or storage software.
Trello for Tracking Tasks
When I was working directly and exclusively with clients, I used Trello for project and task management. I preferred it over Asana, Basecamp, and other similar tools.
Now, the clients I work through primarily just work through email. But I still use and rely on Trello on a regular basis. I use it to organize my thoughts and process, track my own tasks over long-term projects, and even organize social media posts for the Underrepresented in Tech twitter.
Google Suite for Nearly Everything
This one may feel like a no-brainer. But I rely on Google probably too much. While I don’t use gmail for my professional emails, I do use the Google Suite of products in Drive – Google Docs, Sheets, Forms, and Presentations. They just work. These tools do everything I need them to do, I don’t have to worry about saving or protecting them, I can easily share them with others as needed, and get collaborative feedback.
Canva for Graphic Design
In the past, I used Photoshop for basically all of my photo or graphic editing needs. Not only was this an expensive decision, but it was total overkill. The more I got accustomed to Canva, the less frequently I opened Photoshop. It’s perfect for collaboration, since many others use Canva as well. There is a huge library of presets, templates, and graphics to choose from. And the $10/mo Pro plan is incredibly worth it if you want to consistently create high-quality and unique designs. Fun fact – all my blog post graphics were made with Canva!
ZenBusiness Inc. for LLC management
When I first started Beedia Productions, I needed to set up an LLC for it. I was completely lost on how to accomplish that until I found ZenBusiness. It’s an enormous suite full of support and resources for small business owners. To be honest, I haven’t even scratched the surface of what ZenBusiness can do but I’m glad to have them as a resource whenever I need them.
Screenflow for Video Production
I looked at so many different editing tools when I first started working more with video/audio production than website design. Screenflow is by far my favorite. I use it on a regular basis to edit podcasts and create tutorial videos. It’s a simple and streamlined tool with features that allow for things like animations, screen-captures, audio editing, and more. It’s not as complex as something like Adobe Premiere, which is overkill if all you need to do is the basics.
I’ll also provide an honorable mention here of QuickTime, which comes pre-installed on all Mac products. If I just need to record a bit of audio – like for a sponsorship ad – I simply open up QuickTime, record, and then drop that file into Screenflow. Comes out pretty perfect every single time.
Castos for Podcast Hosting
I’ve never used another podcast hosting service, and so long as Castos continues to be amazing, I won’t ever switch. There are so many things I love about Castos. You can have as many shows as you like. It’s easy to either publish an episode through the Castos website, or publish from WordPress and have it automatically zap into Castos. Their analytics tools are awesome (although I wish they were a bit more detailed sometimes.) It really gives you everything you need in an easy-to-use package to make sure your show looks amazing.
Rev for Podcast Transcripts
Transcripts are non-negotiable for podcasts. Rev has been my favorite service to use for quick and high-quality transcripts. They provide other services as well, like captioning, but I primarily use them to transcribe my podcast episodes. They almost always have it ready in less than 24 hours and I can tell a real person, not a machine, has at least reviewed my transcript. I can download the transcript in a wide variety of file types, and I can actually search all my transcripts at once if I’m trying to find a particular line or mention across dozens of episodes.
Websites, as Opposed to Tools
Image Color Picker to Find Exact Hex Values
I discovered this website ages ago. There are probably dozens of others just like it, but this is the one I’ve had bookmarked for years. Sometimes you just need to get the exact color from an image. Maybe you want to design something inspired by a reference image. Or you need to pull HEX values from a logo. This free website makes it easy for you to upload an image and move a cursor to the exact area you want in order to pull that color.
WebAIM Contrast Checker for Accessible Color Combinations
I have learned over time that not all color contrast checkers are built equal. Some are more or less strict than others. So far, I’ve found luck using the free WebAIM Contrast Checker website. You input a foreground color and background color, then get a contrast ratio as well as various scores for various tests. For example, if you wanted to see if a certain color text would work on a certain color background, add the color value for the text as the foreground and the background as the background. What I love about this tool is that I can use a lightness slider to change each color until the combination passes all the tests.
BuiltWith for Snooping on Other Sites
I’m sure some folks can use the Inspect Element tool in their browser in lieu of this tool if they want certain information. But I love to snoop on a site using BuiltWith to learn information about how that website is built. I can input a URL and learn what CMS it uses, what email service, what hosting, and so much more. If it’s built with WordPress I can even learn what plugins that site uses.
WordPress Specific Tools
Pressable for Managed WordPress Hosting (affiliate)
I recently switched the majority of my websites (including this one!) to Pressable. The process has been incredibly smooth. As someone who learned how to install WordPress by uploading the files via a File Manager, I balk a bit at managed WordPress. I like being able to stick my hands in and do whatever I want. But the team at Pressable made it easy for me to still feel like I had control, while doing a lot of the work for me.
Their Control Panel is massively accessible and easy to use – I love that they have an actual Mail client (Titan) rather than sticking me with generic webmail. I can highly recommend Pressable as a hosting solution for your managed WordPress sites. I enjoyed the process so much, I signed up to be an affiliate! So if you’re interested in getting started with Pressable, feel free to use my affiliate link!
Yoast for All Things SEO
This plugin is really the only one that I can confidently say I install on every single WordPress site I build or work on. It’s just important. It makes adding SEO details – like meta descriptions and titles – way easier. I can manage my sitemaps and knock any SEO problems off the board before I even launch my site. I literally don’t know how to do so many SEO tasks without Yoast. I love how many features this plugin has and how many are available for free, like the new Inclusive Language feature. I’ve worked with Yoast various times in various partnerships, because I love their plugin so much.
Mailpoet for Sending my Newsletter
I’ve played with a handful of email marketing tools. I think that if I had a much larger list and needed to segment and use tags and so on, I’d honestly switch to a MailChimp + Newsletter Glue combo. That pair is just a stronger option if you’re going full steam ahead on your email marketing. But given that I send out a dinky little newsletter every few weeks, I want to keep it simple. Mailpoet is really perfect for that. I like their builder and customization tools. I like that I can manage my list of subscribers and forms right from my WordPress dashboard. Everything feels very tight and concise which is perfect for a small setup like mine.
Divi for Building Sites in WordPress (affiliate)
I still haven’t completely fallen in love with Gutenberg. I’ve tried countless times to build with it, and I always end up installing Divi instead. I’ve used Divi since around 2016 and have a lifetime license with them. Which is insane, because I paid one price and can now use Divi for as many sites as I want for free. Which is SO awesome when I just want to spin something up quick; the page builder isn’t a factor in that budget.
If you’re interested in getting started with Divi, feel free to use my affiliate link!
Local by Flywheel for Quick WordPress Installs
If you build with WordPress, there is no reason why you should not be using this tool. You can locally (on your computer, without the need for a host) spin up a brand new empty WordPress website. Then build in it, troubleshoot, break things… really whatever you want. It’s an amazing tool if you provide support and want to replicate errors. I primarily use it to build sites for courses or tutorials. It’s free, which is great because if I had to add a site to my host every time I needed a new one to play with, I’d be using literally all of Pressables resources.
Did I forget anything? Comment below and let me know what tools you cannot work without!