I can’t believe it’s that time of year again to do a round-up of my favourite tools and it’s been quite a change for me!
I am a big believer in using software tools and apps to help us become more efficient. Simply, by automating as many of those recurring mundane tasks as possible, to allow us to be more organised and productive.
To that and I tell my clients they need to do one of the four Ds:
and I’ve added a fifth element to this:
So in this blog, I want to share with you some of the tools that I have experimented with and spotlight the ones that have made an impact for me. This is all about becoming more efficient and automating tasks rather than getting distracted by shiny new objects. Trust me, for everyone one tool I mention here, I tried at least 5 others! That lead me to want to share my experience and advice with you. I wasted loads of time trying tools that promised a lot and delivered little and I don't want you to make the same mistake!
Listed below are the key categories I think every business needs to look at and then the tools I have personally used.
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All-in-One Integrated Tools
But before I jump into a review of my favourite tools I want to share the big change that I made this year.
I decided to try and consolidate a plethora of tools I use (many of which are listed below) to run my business, with as few tools as possible. That meant consolidating my email automation, my online content delivery, video hosting and many others, into ideally one platform. Let me explain the rationale behind this:
This was my primary driver in that I became frustrated at getting the various tools I used to communicate with each other. I often ended up using Zapier (and yet another cost) to try ‘tape together’ one tool feeding into another. This was frustrating and never quite did what I needed it to do.
Also using a set of disparate tools meant I had less analytical data to act upon. For example, if someone watched 20% video then do ACTION A but if they watched 100% of the video then do ACTION B. With a set of disparate tools, this kind of analysis and behaviour is not easily possible.
A secondary driver was cost. When you add up the cost of all of the annual subscriptions of about 10 different tools I use, it amounted to several thousand pounds a year. So was there a more cost-effective way of getting the functionality I needed in fewer tools?
Based on these 2 drivers, I started exploring the options and it came down to 3 platforms:
In the end, I chose Kartra, it seemed robust, could do most of what I needed it to do and was cost-effective.
Now, I don’t want to do a full review of Kartra in this blog because there are plenty on the Internet already but let me tell you the tools I was able to consolidate and stop paying an annual fee for once I moved to Kartra:
- ConvertKit (email marketing)
- Teachable (online courses)
- Calendly (scheduling)
- Thrive Architect (website design)
- Vimeo (video hosting)
So collectively these add up to more than my monthly fee for Kartra. But, more importantly, because I am using the same tools on one integrated platform, each tool talks with each other in a seamless way. This makes my customer's experience a smoother one, and provides me with more analytical data.
Now before we move on, I need to give an honourable mention to GroovePages. This is a product created by one of the founders of Kartra and is something that I have invested in, in the hope that I may be able to move everything from Kartra to GroovePages in the future (because it adds even more functionality such as live broadcasts and webinars). However, it is still in beta development so I don’t feel it is reliable enough yet to move my whole business on to this platform. If you are interested in exploring it, whilst it’s still in beta, you can get FREE lifetime access to it.
OK so that is my rationale for consolidating a number of tools into one platform. The list below outlines individual tools and they may well be better suited to your specific business needs. I have put them into categories to help with reading.
OK on with the other tools.
As well as recording content for my online courses, I have been running webinars and live broadcasts. So here are the tools that have helped me get more slick, speedy and professional.
This doesn’t need much of an introduction since I’m sure most readers will know about Zoom. I use it for my private coaching clients and also for my group coaching calls as part of The Self-Running Agency Programme (screen from last week's call below):
I still love Loom because it saves me so much time.
On a daily basis, I have clients asking me questions or asking me to review documents (I never want my clients to be stuck so encourage this). Before using Loom I would spend ages crafting an email response.
Now I simply open their email or document, turn on Loom and review their document in real-time on camera and send them the Loom video in response. I estimate this is making me around 50% more efficient when it comes to responding to the client's emails.
Now let me tell you a secret here: often when I get prospects emailing me, rather than sending them an email back I will use Loom to shoot a short video which is personalised to them. This is a great way of impressing them and building empathy that you can't achieve through a one-dimensional email.
FREE for up to 5 attendees or from £9.60/month for larger groups
I talked about LiveWebinar last year and I'm still using this for the time being for marketing webinars that I run. However, I will be moving to GroovePages when they launch their webinar technology.
I also want to give an honourable mention Be.live - a great tool if you do Facebook lives.
As I've mentioned, I have moved my video hosting to Kartra but I'm still currently using Vimeo until my licence runs out. It is still a great platform!
I use Vimeo for short promotional videos that I may not want in the public domain. The advantage Vimeo has (over YouTube) is how you can control what the user sees and embed calls to actions etc. Vimeo also offers higher quality video.
It enables you to remove all their branding and offers more features and customisation opportunities (such as password protection and analytics).
Design and layout tools
We all need to make sure our output is professional yet we don't want to be spending tons of money using designers all the time.
Here are a few of my favourite tools to solve this problem.
FREE for single-use or from £107.88/year for multiple users & additional functionality
This is great for creating social media images, eBook covers and other graphics. It is really simple to use and saves me a ton of time, especially if I start with one of their predesigned templates or image sizes.
This year I switched to a paid version of Canva. It adds additional functionality such as resizing, removing backgrounds and animation.
If you create a lot of PDFs and e-books then this is a really useful tool (although you can also use Canva to perhaps more easily create some of this content).
Another useful function is that you could take a blog post and import the contents and automatically create an e-book from it.
If you have a WordPress website then this is my favourite tool to use to easily create engaging websites using lots of beautifully designed templates (however if you've read this far you will know that I have moved from WordPress from my website to Kartra).
It's a WYSIWYG builder that sits on top of WordPress and makes it super easy to create new landing pages. It's easy to connect to your email marketing system and do other clever things such as A/B headline testing, creating demand and scarcity by using countdown timers, writing quizzes and so much more.
This is one of the more affordable tools in this category. I am a ThriveThemes member and I pay about £175 a year for all the tools and support and all upgrades. This is a fraction of the cost compared with other website building software.
I am still a fan of ConvertKit even though I have now moved my email marketing to Kartra.
I have used a range of email marketing automation tools over the years including MailChimp, MadMimi and ActiveCampaign but in the end, settled upon ConvertKit because its functionality met with my needs. It is also more cost-effective and it’s easy to set up automations, (think sales funnels). It plays well with other systems such as ThriveArchitect, Teachable and so on.
I am all about time-saving. In fact whilst this blog is about my favourite tools, it's all about using timesaving and efficiency tools and none are better than saving you time than LinkedHelper.
LinkedHelper is an app that enables you to automate some aspects of LinkedIn engagement (think of it as a sales funnel for LinkedIn).
So for example, you can send personalised connection requests to a targeted audience or you can send more detailed personalised messages to 1st connections. I typically use it to find new ideal connections and also to let my audience know when I have some interesting things happening such as this blog being published or a new webinar.
Talking of LinkedIn, I also upgraded to Sales Navigator because I can drill down my search in more detail and create lists and 'tag' contacts.
Now a word of caution here: LinkedIn doesn't like these automation tools so use it carefully and don't use it to spam your contacts!
When you find a contact in LinkedIn but there is no email or phone number in that contact's profile then RocketReach is the tool to use.
It is free and will find someone's email address if that is at all possible.
Select from dozens of search criteria to narrow your search, and then lookup personal emails, professional emails and direct-dial phone numbers for your matches.
Here is a tip if you're a Mac user: if you press the function key twice it brings up the microphone and you can dictate voice to text (this is how I'm writing this blog).
This massively speeds up my content creation. But don't worry, if you're not a Mac user you can also click on the dictation microphone in Word or Google Docs etc.
This has two big advantages:
- Firstly, it speeds up the creation of content because it's much faster to dictate than it is to type.
- Secondly, it also ensures that I capture my tone of voice in my written content. This is important because I want my users to have a consistent experience whether they are reading something, listening to my podcast or meeting me in person. Voice to text ensures that I maintain that consistency.
I started using Xero, which is an online finance app, some years ago to streamline my bookkeeping.
The thing I like about Xero is it speaks to you in plain non-accounting terms and it connects to your bank account making reconciliation very simple.
It also connects directly with my accountants, which means they can rescue me when I make a mistake and submitting my end of year accounts is much simpler than it used to be.
Receipt bank is a sister tool that works well with Xero.
I don't know about you, but in the past I have been terrible at submitting all my receipts. ReceiptBank removes this issue by making it very easy to simply take a photograph of a receipt, which it then digitises.
You can then submit these receipts directly to Xero - making the process very straightforward. This one saves me a ton of time and a ton of money!
Planning and organisation tools
I love Google Drive and have slowly moved all my client work from my drive to Google.
This has the huge advantage of easily being able to share docs. You can quickly invite others to view, download, and collaborate on all the files you want–no email attachment needed. It ensures that both you and your clients are collaborating on the same version of the document.
You can keep photos, stories, designs, drawings, recordings, videos, and more. You can access these docs anywhere, so wherever you go, your files follow.
It also protects you against a hard disk drive dying (which happened to me this year) and losing all your data.
I am a big proponent of getting super organised and if you have read any of my previous content, you’ll know that I am a fan of "morning and evening rituals" (thanks to Michael Hyatt’s Free to Focus book).
In the process of trying to be super organised, I've tried several tools to help me manage my to-do lists. Last year I started using another tool (with a stupid name but a good product) called Amazing Marvin.
I had a free trial and now have upgraded to an annual license. Amazing Marvin is a task and to-do list manager. It integrates with my calendar and enables me to create daily and weekly to-do list. I can cross tasks off as I get them completed (and you know the importance of seeing items ticked off and crossed out as you complete them).
I appreciate everyone has their way of managing their time but give this tool a go!
This one was a game-changer for me.
I don't know if you're like me but during the day I open way too many web browser windows and tabs. I then struggle to find what I'm looking for so I end up opening yet another tab!
Well thankfully I have found a solution to this and now I am much more in control and have way fewer tabs opened.
And that's all thanks to this chrome browser extension called Toby (another rather stupid name!).
This enables me to create a frequently used library of tabs and put them into various categories. Now when I open my chrome browser the first thing I see is the library of tabs.
As I said this is a game-changer for me.
My Top 5 Favourite Apps
I spent (wasted!) a lot of time researching and playing with tools and apps and I have shared with you my top 17 best productivity and time-saving tools - so you don't have to waste time searching the web and trialling 100s of tools to find the ones that work for you.
If you have any of your favourites that I did not mention, I would love to hear from you, so please leave a comment and please share this article with your colleagues.