Here's a long list of virtual tools that virtual assistants and their clients can use, along with a description and list of pros and cons of the ones that I personally use at Don't Panic Management. It's a bit of a doozy, so if you see one you like, try it! Worst case scenario, it doesn't work for you and you can move on to the next one.
And if you haven't already, please buy my book to get more awesome tips and tricks on how the right virtual assistant can save your sanity and grow your business! http://panicproofbook.com
Note: These tools are not affiliates and I don't get any sort of benefit-monetary or otherwise-for recommending them.
Meetings & Communications
In the world of online meeting software, Zoom is relatively new to the playing field. They're a popular option these days because they offer a free option as well as a paid plan that's more affordable than some of the enterprise options, like GoToMeeting.
Zoom was made to be a video conferencing solution, so that's what they do best, but the tool can also be used for webinars and trainings for up to 500 video participants and 10,000 viewers.
For video conferences, I have found Zoom to be the most reliable option. It's easy for users to access and doesn't seem to drop the connection as frequently as other providers. It also allows a recording function with paid plans, which is especially useful for people who can't join a meeting who want to re-watch an important training, for example.
- Free, stable video conferencing solution
- Many feature options and plans to accommodate different business needs
- Recording capability
- Instant message and file-sharing
- Free plan has limited features, so you really need to pay for this tool to get the full benefit
Cost: Free to host up to 100 participants and unlimited 1:1 meetings. Free version does not include recording feature. Pro plans start at $14.99 per month per host. Business plans start at $19.99 per month per host.
Uberconference is a simple, no frills audio conference solution for teams of all sizes. Its free solution is good enough for most meeting needs. It also allows for call recording and screen sharing so you can use it for things like trainings. Uberconference does not have a video conferencing option and is not always reliable, which is why we moved to a Zoom account and use Uberconference as our secondary conferencing tool.
- Easy access via phone or browser
- Audio and screen sharing controls
- Includes chat functionality
- Customizable hold music (we use Rick Astley's Never Gonna Give You Up)
- Automatic recording
- No video option
- Frequent bugs (at least on free plan) that sometimes prevent users from hearing each other on the browser version
Cost: Free for up to 10 participants. The Business plan is $10 per line so you can set up multiple different lines for different teams or departments. These lines can host up to 100 participants, allow for international access, the option to dial out to add guests to a call, create your own custom hold music, and much more.
Slack's adorable ads with all the zoo animals working together really tugged on my heartstrings when I first saw them. That's because they're a company that truly believes in the power of the virtual workforce. As a result, they've built a tool that allows teams to communicate effectively, wherever and whenever. Many of our clients use Slack as their primary communication channel, even more than email, which at first was surprising to me, but then I understood.
The way you can thread conversations, attach files, and separate different conversations and teams with Channels makes it almost like a project management tool in addition to a communications tool. Their mobile app is very slick and their desktop apps let you know when you're needed in a conversation even if you don't have the app open. Super useful, especially when you need quick answers to a question or need to keep a group looped in on a project.
They store communications as well and those messages are searchable, so if you need to go looking for something you talked about last month, well, voila!
No one needs more emails and Slack is a great option for real-time, organized communication that you can take on the go.
- Easy, intuitive, and streamlined communication for the whole team
- Desktop notifications so you know when you're needed
- Beautiful mobile app to communicate on the go
- Integrates with nearly every productivity and project management tool out there (or you can build your own integration with their open API)
- Includes one-on-one voice and video calls with the free plan and one-on-one or team (up to 15 people) voice and video calls, including screen sharing, with paid plans
- For me, the only con is the user interface. It's simple, but not beautiful. I personally prefer Sococo's chat and availability functions combined with Asana's task manager interface. But that's a personal preference thing! I hear only good things from colleagues who use Slack on a daily, if not hourly, basis.
Cost: Free for small teams with limited features. $8 per user per month for the "standard" plan and $15 per user per month for the "plus" plan.
To me, Skype is the "original" VoIP calling solution. I remember studying abroad in college and using it to call my friends and family back home. When I got a webcam, it was the tool I'd use to share video as well. As a result, Skype is still one of the most common, quick ways to connect with someone online. I don't want to spend too much time on it, though, because it doesn't offer a lot of the business features that many other conferencing and communications platforms do. I just, you know, couldn't make a section of communications tools without including our dear old Skype!
- Easy download and sign-up process
- Free to make video and audio calls
- Includes chat functionality
- Ability to add multiple participants
- Includes screen sharing functionality
- Allows phone calls for a fee
- Not always reliable
- Does not allow recording without a third-party add-on
Cost: Free for Skype-to-Skype calling. Nominal per-minute fees for making calls to cell phones or landlines.
Every time you make a calendar invitation through Google Calendars, a Google Hangout link gets added by default (unless you turn off this setting in the admin panel). Therefore, it's become a go-to resource for many businesses that use Google to manage their email, files, and calendar.
I don't find anything inherently wrong with Google Hangouts. With one click, it's an easy way to get teams together on a video chat. The thing that irks me though is the amount of bandwidth it takes to run the video. I find that when I'm on a Google Hangout, my computer doesn't like to let me do anything else. I don't find this to be the case with Zoom, which also allows for video conferencing. At some point, it's all about preference here. Google Hangouts can be inserted automatically into calendar invitations whereas Zoom details need to be pasted in, for example, and not everyone wants to go through the hassle of pasting details. I get it.
Google Hangouts can also be used as a live broadcasting tool which is appealing from a marketing perspective.You can schedule a Hangout and guests can see it live or view the recorded version after the fact if you wish to make it available. Lots of interesting use cases for this facet of the tool.
- Easy, one-click video web conferencing tool
- Allows for screen sharing, audio, video, and text chat options
- Ability to schedule meetings and broadcast live to YouTube
- Requires a lot of bandwidth
- Can be glitchy with hearing and seeing other participants
- Gets added automatically to Google Calendar invitations unless you remember turn off that feature, which can be confusing to guests
- No local recording option
I don't know what I was doing before I found Loom. Loom provides the simplest, easiest way to shoot a quick video for someone, including your face in the corner and a screencast of whatever you want on your desktop. You get the screencast element that tools like Jive provide while including the personalization of having a video of you there as well.
Plus, when you've completed a video, you don't have to be burdened by downloading it to your computer and then uploading it to send to someone. Those video files can be giant, which is a huge hassle. Loom simply lets you share the video as a link. When someone clicks on it, you get notified so you can tell when someone watches. Creepy, perhaps, but also useful!
Loom makes it easy to record and send videos directly inside Gmail with a click, instead of copying the link, opening your email, and pasting it. Viewers can then view the videos directly in their email. This may not be a huge time saver when you're doing a one-off, but if you're creating these kinds of videos consistently, that copy, paste, open, click time will add up.
I say, take whatever shortcuts you can get as long as you're not, you know, actually shortcutting when it comes to doing great business.
Did I mention all of this is free? At this point, all they want are referrals. Without a referral, you can shoot videos that are only 10 minutes maximum. But after you refer one person (again, to use this FREE service), you get to record videos with unlimited time.
If you couldn't tell, I love this tool. Sometimes I shoot a quick Loom in place of an email. Or I use it to show someone something without scheduling a meeting. It has saved me crazy amounts of time and frustration.
- Chrome browser extension
- Easy to install and use
- Link-sharing capability vs. downloading video files
- Save and categorize your videos inside your account
- Facebook and Twitter share links
- HTML embed for websites
- Comments allowed
- 10-minute limit on videos (prior to successful referral)
- Relatively new tool, so you never know how long it will last
Cost: Free, with an option to upgrade for pro features (which at the time of writing, do not exist).
After I started using Loom, I learned that Vidyard has a similar tool that was originally called ViewedIt, now called GoVideo. It's extremely similar in functionality to Loom, so as far as I'm concerned, you could use either one interchangeably.
One thing that GoVideo features is a more prominent Gmail and social media integration. GoVideo seems to be positioned as more of a business and sales tool than an internal sharing tool, allowing you to track views and follow up with viewers afterwards.
- Chrome browser extension
- Easy to install and use
- Link-sharing capability vs. downloading video files
- Gmail integration
- Save and categorize videos inside your account
- Gmail, YouTube, Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter integration for easier sharing
- Lead/view tracker for easy follow up
- 1-hour recording limit
- Cannot download videos
- Comments not allowed except for on social/email
Other communications tools to try:
- Join Me
Calendar & Scheduling
At Don't Panic Management, we live and die by all things Google, so this was the natural first recommendation for a calendaring platform. If you have Google Apps set up for your business (that means email, Drive, etc.) then Google Calendar is the obvious choice because it's already integrated in what you're doing with your email. Also, it's a very common calendaring tool so most VAs already know how to use it.
Many of the other tools I use have an integration with Google Calendar which increases its value. It's got an intuitive platform and is very reliable, which is why I use it.
- Clean user interface and easy to set up with any Google account
- Easy to add new events and meeting attendees
- Color-coding and customization options make it clear which events are which
- Sharing features allow other team members to view, edit, and change events
- Available/busy times make it clear what your status is
- New "block" feature lets you select times where people can schedule meetings with you and share those out (similar to a Calendly or MixMax functionality)
- Slick mobile app
- None as far as I'm concerned
Cost: Free for Gmail users and included with GSuite business plans.
Calendly allows you to integrate your calendars and then create different "events" that you can share for easy meeting scheduling. You can set preferred meeting times or let guests pick any time that's free on your calendar. The tool will look at the calendars you've integrated to make sure guests can only see times that are not already booked.
Once guests pick a time on your calendar, they receive an automated confirmation email that has the details to join the meeting, which you can set manually. For example, we always like to use our Zoom conference line for new business meetings, so the Zoom details automatically get sent to the guest who will be joining the meeting.
Then, I receive an email confirmation that someone has just scheduled a meeting with me and it automatically shows up on my Google calendar.
If someone needs to cancel or reschedule, they can do so directly from the confirmation email or calendar invitation.
You can customize the automatic responses when you pay for a plan, but with their free plan you are tied to their existing templates.
- Easy to setup and integrate with calendars
- Separate links for separate events (such as new business request, operations consulting session, discovery call, etc.)
- Automatic calendar events and confirmations
- Easy rescheduling/canceling options
- Easy for meeting guests to navigate
- Customization of meeting location and details
- Affordable paid plans for many, many more useful features
- Over 700 app integrations with the paid plans
- No direct Gmail integration
- Not many features included in the free plan
- No mobile app
Cost: Free for limited features, otherwise $8-$12 per user per month depending on the types of features you need.
If you have a group of people that you're trying to schedule something with, whether it be a bachelorette or a marketing brainstorm meeting, Doodle offers a great solution. The creator of the Doodle can select multiple dates and times for people to choose from and then send out a link to the poll. Once attendees fill out the Doodle, it will highlight the times that all (or the majority of) attendees can make so you can easily pick the best one.
This makes wrangling tough schedules much, much easier!
- Easy setup
- No need for attendees to create an account
- Free for basic features
- Simple polling option for scheduling meetings with multiple guests
- Includes calendar integration
- Mobile app
Cost: Free for basic features, then $39-$69 per year for more advanced features, such as custom design, removal of ads, additional guest information, and custom subdomains.
I only recently heard of MixMax and I'm glad I did because it's a nifty solution to picking meeting times that work for your guests in a visually-friendly way. Its built-in Gmail integration allows you to simply click the extension from within an email, drag times across your calendar, and embed those calendar options directly into the email itself. This allows guests to pick a meeting time from your list of options instead of going back and forth about who's available when.
This scheduling tool almost replaces the need for a scheduling assistant! But I'd argue it's best to have your VA do the sending of MixMax meeting times. Even though it only takes a few minutes, those minutes add up when you're scheduling a lot of meetings.
MixMax was built as a sales tool, so it also includes features like scheduling emails, seeing who has read your emails, sales templates, and much more.
- Easy, clean installation and user interface
- Integrates with Gmail and Salesforce
- Includes analytics
- Integrates with calendar for easy scheduling
- Not free, but otherwise I haven't had any issues with this tool
Cost: $9 per user per month for the starter package and up to $49 per user per month for additional features.
Harvest Time Tracking
Harvest is a common, easy-to-use time tracking tool. This is useful if you work in an agency environment and bill hourly like we do. It integrates with several other tools we use, such as Asana, so you can track time against a specific task or project. It's very straightforward and very affordable for small businesses. Many of our clients use Harvest not only for tracking their time, but also for invoicing their clients and tallying expenses. They are able to provide their hourly, tracked reports inside of each invoice, which is extremely useful for everyone.
Harvest integrates with all kinds of other tools and apps, including Asana, Trello, Basecamp, Quickbooks, Paypal, Slack, and many more.
- Easy invoicing, expense-tracking, and time-tracking software
- Affordable solution for businesses of all sizes
- Mobile and desktop apps available
- Chrome and Safari plugin for time tracking directly in your browser
- Monitor team time against project estimates
- Does not include as many features as a tool like Quickbooks, so can't necessarily replace a full-scale accounting tool
Cost: Free for individuals with up to two projects. After that, it's $12 per person per month for unlimited projects.
I haven't found another tool quite like Boomerang. It's an email plugin that allows you to schedule emails, track follow ups, and remind you when someone hasn't responded to your emails in a certain number of days.
I'm the kind of person who likes to set it and forget it, so sometimes when I send an email asking for feedback or some kind of information, I tend to think my job is done. Well, we all know that's not the case when you don't receive a response! Boomerang shoots that email back to the top of my inbox when I haven't heard anything for a day, a week, a month, or however long I set. That way, I am reminded to follow up with that person with another email or a phone call.
It's great for me because I don't have to remember to remember to follow up!
Another great benefit of Boomerang is the scheduling feature. I often work late nights and weekends, but I don't necessarily want my clients or colleagues to know that. I can schedule emails for the following morning or Monday during normal business hours and shazam! I get to protect my schedule but still work on my own time.
- One-click install to Gmail using
- Easy email scheduling
- "Boomerang" emails back to your inbox when people haven't responded
- Move emails to an archive folder until you need them
- Mobile app
- Includes other tools, such as Respondable to help you craft the perfect email and Inbox Pause to help you be more productive
- Only works with Gmail and Outlook
- Does not work if you use a third party email tool to manage your Gmail
Cost: Free for basic features. Personal, Pro, and Premium accounts are between $4.99 and $49.99 per month.
Have you ever heard of the Pomodoro method for getting things done? It works like this:
Work without interruption for 25 minutes and then get a 5-minute break. This is considered one Pomodoro. After four Pomodoros, or approximately two hours, you get a longer break. This break is usually fifteen to thirty minutes, depending on how you're feeling.
By providing hard work time and frequent breaks, I've found this technique to be extremely helpful when I need to get hard work done. I'm always surprised at how much I can do in the 25-minute sprints and then how great the 5-minute breaks are for checking email and social media.
You can use this technique with a regular timer and piece of paper, or you can use a desktop or mobile app to help you track. I use the Tomighty app for my Mac (http://tomighty.org) because it's free, easy to install, and has a toolbar icon that I can find and click when I'm ready to start my Pomodoros.
There are tons of apps and tools out there so I encourage you to try a free one first and then upgrade to a paid tool if you want more features and tracking options.
Other productivity apps to use:
Project & Task Management
After trying and using a tool called Samepage for over a year, we recently switched to Asana for all of our project and task management needs. Asana is a great starter option for anyone looking to try a project management tool because it doesn't have the unnecessary bells and whistles that a lot of the more robust tools have.
For us, we needed a place to store projects and files, invite people to collaborate, and integrate with our favorite tools like Gmail and Loom. Asana fit the bill for us and has been working really well for the last several months.
I personally love the email reminders when tasks are due, the ability to reply to tasks and mark them complete from an email reply, and the daily recap of what's coming up. The only thing I wish Asana had was a desktop app. I love to keep things out of my browser whenever possible because I am a tab-hoarder and things tend get lost that way. Hopefully the Asana team is working on building a desktop app as we speak!
- Easy project and task management system
- Permissions options to keep certain files and projects secure
- Unlimited tasks, projects, and conversations
- Data security and backup features
- Free for small teams
- Filtering options to see tasks and projects as you wish
- No fluff, no frills
- Calendar and Gmail integration
- Harvest integration
- Loom integration
- Mobile app
- No desktop app
Cost: Free for up to 15 team members. Premium account is $9.99 per user per month and allows for more advanced features such as advanced search and reporting, private teams and projects, and start dates for ongoing or long-term projects.
Other project management tools to try:
File Sharing & Collaboration
Dropbox is a common file-sharing tool for businesses both large and small. It is a secure way to host all types of file in the cloud. We have the 1TB plan, which works well because we produce a lot of podcasts that take up a lot of space. With folders for each client and different sharing permissions for each folder, we are able to easily organize and access what we need to get our work done. Dropbox's newer Paper feature allows you to work collaboratively on a document, similar to how Google Drive works, and be notified of comments via email.
- Many businesses and individuals have already adopted this tool, so this one is easy to integrate
- Desktop and mobile apps allow you to read, view, and edit documents directly from your computer or mobile device
- Share entire folders or individuals files with a link
- Comment and work collaboratively on documents
- Basic plan is free
- File recovery system if a folder or file is accidentally deleted
- Can get expensive if you work with a larger team and need a lot of cloud storage space
Cost: Free for Basic individual plan (2 GB) and up from there. The Plus plan for individuals is $9.99 per month for 1TB of storage space. For businesses, the Standard plan is $12.50 per user per month, starting at three users.
If you're a Gmail freak like I am, Google Drive is a natural solution for file storage and sharing. For the most part, we store collaborative spreadsheets and documents in Google Drive folders, but use Dropbox for bigger files like podcasts and videos. If a client prefers one tool over another, we go ahead and use their tool of choice exclusively.
As far as functionality, the commenting, sharing, and collaborative nature of Google Drive is unmatched, especially as a free tool.
- Collaborative document creation and editing tool that can be used with or without a Google account
- Tag people in comments to assign tasks
- Mobile and desktop app
- Offline editing feature
- Integrates with Gmail
- Not everyone likes the Google Drive interface, so the search for the perfect collaboration and storage tool continues
Cost: Free for up to 15GB of space. $1.99 per month for 100GB, $9.99 per month for 1TB, and $99.99 per month for 10TB.
Other file sharing & collaboration tools to try:
You're probably sensing a theme with all these Google recommendations by now. I just can't help myself! Google Flights is another great service from the media giant. It allows you to search across airlines for the best flight time, price, and airline. It's a useful way for anyone, but especially VAs, to find options for busy client travel schedules. Once you've found the flight option you like, you can click through to the purchase page the way you'd buy any other flight.
- Easy comparison of flights across airlines
- Filtering allows you to pick the best times, durations, and costs
- Easy booking through the provider of your choice, including Expedia and Orbitz
- Set up alerts to track prices
- Book directly through Google on some itineraries
- Share itineraries with friends and family before booking
- Does not look at certain airlines, such as Southwest Airlines
Kayak is such a similar tool to Google Flights that I won't go into too much detail with it, but I will say that Kayak also includes the same kind of search for hotels, car rentals, and vacation packages. Kayak will also compare results from other travel sites like Expedia, Priceline, and Orbitz so you can pick the best deal.
- Easy travel comparison search engine for flights, hotels, car rentals, and packages
- Compares with other popular travel search engines
- Book directly through Kayak or through your chosen booking site
- Easy filtering options for price, number of stops, vendors
- Does not look at certain airlines, such as Southwest Airlines
This tool is all about what the name says: Finding a hotel tonight! This is especially useful for last-minute trips and for finding deals in big cities like New York. When hotels have leftover rooms that they want to sell at the last minute, they'll often post discounts to apps like this. You cannot request certain types of rooms or floors, so there's a chance you won't get the room you wanted. This is the tradeoff for booking a cheap, last-minute room.
- Best prices on last-minute hotel bookings
- No hidden fees to the app
- Easy viewing of rooms, locations, and rates
- Cannot select room type (but you can make requests in the comments that may or may not be honored by the hotel)
- Not available everywhere
TripIt is my favorite travel organization tool besides Google Calendar. When you sign up for an account, you can set up an email integration that allows you to simply forward travel plan confirmation emails to [email protected] and they will automatically be set up in TripIt. Your TripIt calendar feed can then be integrated to your Google Calendar, so you can see all of your flight, hotel, car, and restaurant reservation details directly in line with whatever other calendar events you've set up. Like magic!
- Easy way to collect all of your travel plans in one place
- Email integration so you can forward plans and have them be organized automatically
- Calendar integration
- Automatically detects conflicts in plans
- Pro version tracks flight delays, cancellations, and other trip issues
- Teams account for sharing plans and collaborating with different users
- Concur integration for expense tracking and reporting
- Many of the best features are not included in the free version, but if you're a big traveler, the Pro version is worthwhile
Cost: Free for the basic version and $49 per year for the Pro version.
There's nothing scarier than sharing your personal data with someone you don't know. I get that. That's why I always recommend using a secure tool that you control to share passwords, credit card information, and other private data. LastPass is my tool of choice, however, there are a lot of other tools that offer similar functionality so it's important to pick the one you feel most comfortable.
The way it works is that you can set up secure items, such as logins or credit card data, and then share them with your team. When you share, you have the option of allowing the team member to see the password or not. When they create an account and accept your share items, they can install the browser plugin and be able to use your logins so they can get into your accounts, with or without password viewing access. If for any reason you let go of or lose a team member, you can revoke their access to the items and they will no longer be able to access them. They also won't be able to take the logins with them if you prevent them from viewing the passwords. It's a great way to keep your information safe and secure.
- Secure data storage that can be shared across teams
- Store logins, credit card information, or other secure notes
- Choose permissions on each shared item or folder
- Easily remove access and accounts if team status changes
- Cannot use without a LastPass account
- The autofill feature can be finicky and if you have access to a lot of logins, you may find yourself logging into the wrong account if you're not careful
Cost: Personal and family accounts are $2-$4 per month. Business accounts are $2.42-$4 per user per month as well, but provide more features than the personal and family accounts.
Other security tools to try:
- Dead Drop
Zencastr is my tool of choice for recording podcast episodes with remote co-hosts and/or guests. It's a web application that allows you to easily create a link for guests to join without downloading any software or creating any sort of account. As the admin, you have controls for recording, mixing, adding effects, and much more during the recording. Or, you can simply hit record and let your assistant do all the production work after the recording is finished!
The tool gets connected to your Dropbox account and recordings are automatically saved there once you end the recording and everyone's audio has uploaded. If it's a clean recording, you can also click the "automatic postproduction" button and have the tracks mixed together for you. It's easy and affordable, especially for beginner podcasters.
- VoIP web application that works with Chrome and Firefox browsers
- No installation of software required to use the tool
- Admin needs an account to save recordings, but guests do not need an account to join a recording
- Separate tracks for each guest (so if you get a doorbell, a dog barking, or a child screaming at someone's home office, you can edit it out easily without compromising the other audio tracks)
- High-quality MP3 output
- Record up to three hours in one session
- Does not work on mobile (yet)
- Free plan allows up to two guests only
- Relatively new tool, so there are some technical glitches from time to time
Cost: The Hobbyist plan is free, but only allows up to two guests and eight hours of recording per month. The Professional plan is great for most podcasters and allows unlimited guests, unlimited recordings, high quality mp3 and wav files, and ten hours of automatic postproduction per month.
At Don't Panic Management, we've been asked to do transcriptions many times, but we always recommend a tool like Rev instead. Rev is affordable at just $1 per minute and they also provide captioning services for the same fee. Their YouTube integration is great if you've published a video and then want to have timed captions included. They'll transcribe the video, create the caption file, and deliver it directly back to YouTube for you. In my experience, their transcription and caption services usually take a matter of hours, depending on how long the initial file is. If you're using the transcriptions or captions for anything besides your own personal needs, you'll need to poke through and check for typos, but for the most part they're pretty accurate.
- Fast, easy, and affordable transcription service
- Video integration allows you to caption published videos
- Timely and helpful support
- Fast turnaround
- Useful for transcribing interviews, speeches, and podcast episodes
- Occasional typos or misunderstanding of proper nouns and certain phrases
Cost: $1 per minute for transcription and captioning services. Translation services cost a bit more.
Libsyn is the most popular media storage tool for podcasters. Once you've got your show details set up, you're given a feed that you can submit to every popular podcasting platform, including iTunes, Stitcher, Google Play, Overcast, and more. It also integrates with other apps like Spotify and IHeartRadio so you can get your show in front of more audiences. The plans are affordable depending on how much storage you need and whether you're interested in your podcast's statistics or not.
- Easy setup and configuration of podcasts
- Provides a feed to submit to podcast platforms
- Includes an embeddable media player
- Basic or advanced statistics depending on your plan
- No-frills solution to media storage and hosting
- A little clunky to use and can be counterintuitive to figure out at first . . . but you get used to it!
Cost: $5-$75 per month depending on how many megabytes you need and what level of statistics you're interested in. The most common plan that we use is the $15 per month plan, which gets you 250mb of storage and includes basic statistics.
Other podcasting tools to try:
- Final Cut Pro
Pretty much all social media channels come with some form of analytics or insights for business accounts and pages, but they aren't always particularly robust. Buffer offers a scheduling tool that lets you plan and draft content ahead of time (so you can automate some of those workflows, yo!). Their in-depth reporting that tracks a number of KPIs is just the icing on the cake.
- Super easy-to-use interface
- Manage many accounts across multiple brands
- Invite team members to your channels so you can collaborate on content
- You can pause your entire queue (a savvy capability in a crisis)
- Use the Buffer browser extension to make content curation a breeze
- Choose a recurring content schedule or publish posts on the fly
- Not all that awesome stuff comes for free-the best features for a small business or social media manager (like the analytics) exist on the paid plans only
- Some newer social media networks can't be automated through Buffer (What up, SnapChat!)
Cost: Individual accounts range from free to $10 per month. Team and agency accounts range from $99-$399 per month. To get the most useful features, you'll probably at least want to opt for the $99 per month Small Business plan.
Buzzsumo is the Buzz-bomb-o. (It's not a good joke, I know, but this is an appendix. I'm trying to make it a little more interesting for you.) Buzzsumo helps you align your content strategy by making it possible to search a topic or domain and see what content is performing best under that domain or term. It can also help you identify influencers who can help you promote your content.
For example, the top shared pieces of content for "virtual assistant" right now are articles about how Morgan Freeman voiced Mark Zuckerberg's personal home assistant. Sigh. For the last time, people, Siri and Alexa are NOT VAs!
- Filter your results by a variety of time periods so you can see what is trending today, this week, this year, and more
- Results share information about engagements, backlinks, trending topics-the list goes on
- The domain feature makes it possible to see what kinds of content are performing well for your competitors
- The advanced search features rock! Search by type of content, word count, and more.
- There's a "micro" plan for solopreneurs and freelancers
- Set up content alerts for terms or domains of particular interest
- Free access to Buzzsumo gets you very little. You'll have to pay if you really want to make this tool work for you.
Cost: Monthly plans range from $99-$499 monthly, but you can save 20% if you pay your invoices annually instead. The micro plan is more affordable (just $39 per month), but you have to apply for access.
Canva is basically a browser-based graphics designer for dummies. Use the relatively simple tools and templates to put together gorgeous blog graphics, social media images, flyers, and even resumes. This tool is awesome because it allows graphically challenged folks (like me) to create something more professional without buying expensive illustration software.
- The image templates come optimized by type - no guessing what the best size is for a blog post v. Facebook
- Canva can auto-convert designs into different templates, making repurposing images for different social media channels easy
- Sort designs into folders so you can separate projects by brands or type
- There's plenty of storage (at least 1GB on all plans)
- Specially priced plans for teachers and nonprofits
- It can sometimes be a little clunky to use
- Some of the cooler templates and designs are paid only
Cost: A basic version of the tool is free. Most of the features listed above are part of the "Canva for Work" plan: $12.95 per user per month. Save 23% when you sign up for a yearly plan.
Other social media tools to try:
WordPress is the most popular website hosting and content management tool because it's got hundreds of thousands of themes to choose from and is easy for even the most technologically un-savvy user to figure out. I won't go too deep into this one because chances are you've already heard of it and use it yourself!
- Easy, one-click installation that integrates with most popular hosting platforms
- Thousands of free and paid themes so you don't have to hire a developer
- Thousands of free and paid plugins available to increase functionality
- Intuitive backend for publishing content
- Integration with many popular tools
- Mobile app
- Open source software, so contributors are always working to make it better
- Not everyone finds this tool to be as easy to use as I do
- Too many plugins can slow the site way down
- Your options are limited if you're not working with a developer and don't have coding knowledge
Cost: Free to download, but themes, plugins, and hosting usually cost money.
CoSchedule is easily my favorite content management tool on the planet. And they didn't have to pay me to say that, I swear. I love how easy it is to map all kinds of content types on one calendar, color code them, and schedule associated social media shares. The tool integrates with your blog so you can see exactly which content is being published when. It also includes a workflow system where you can assign tasks, tag people in comments, set due dates, and use templates for everyone involved in each content project. This tool has saved my life on more than one occasion and I can't recommend it highly enough for anyone who is looking for a simple solution to content marketing management.
- Manage all of your content in one place, from blog posts to emails, podcasts to social media, and everything in between
- Task management for projects that involve multiple team members
- Workflow templates for any and all content projects
- Great blog content and customer support
- Not free, and many of the best features are available only in the more expensive plans
Cost: Starting at $40 per month for individual accounts and up to $2,200 for corporate accounts. They also have an agency option which is awesome if you manage multiple calendars and clients.
When we were deciding where to go with our new Don't Panic Management website last year, we were drawn to Rainmaker for a number of reasons. First, it's got many of the functionality that plugins provide already built in. For example, a course-making option, a product-selling option, and a membership option. While we weren't sure exactly how the company would grow, we knew that these features may become relevant over time. Rainmaker was created by the folks over at Copyblogger (hi, friends!) and has a great support team on board for every silly question or concern. They also have a list of recommended developers who are well-versed in the platform, so you can choose someone trustworthy to build and maintain your site. Plus, the backend is very similar to WordPress so the learning curve isn't too steep for the average content or website manager. For all of these reasons, we switched to Rainmaker for our 2016 redesign.
- Built-in features, such as courses, memberships, and products
- Similar backend to WordPress
- Great support
- Vetted team of trusted developers
- Fast and secure
- The Rainmaker Platform is no longer available as a standalone service and I'm so sorry to hear this!
Cost: The Rainmaker Platform is now part of Rainmaker Digital, so you must get in touch with the Rainmaker Digital folks to set up a demo.
No one is perfect and typos are bound to happen. You probably found a few in this book, despite the fact that I used robot and human editors alike. But Grammarly is here to rescue you and your typo-ridden fingers. This free browser plugin looks at all of the copy you're creating and highlights issues, whether they're in an email, a Google Doc, or a blog post. It's super useful for pointing out some of those grammar faux pas that you may not readily notice, such as passive sentences, missing (or extra) commas, and word usage issues. Instead of only focusing on the red-underlined spelling mistakes, let Grammarly make you a better writer.
- Browser plugin allows you to see grammar mistakes and issues across web content
- Easy to install and use
- Reject or approve grammar suggestions with a click of a button
- Free to use
- Desktop app available for non-browser documents
- Sometimes suggestions are not relevant
- Doesn't always know proper nouns or certain phrases
Cost: Free for a basic account, which includes basic grammar and spelling highlights. The Premium version costs $29.95 per month and includes advanced features like plagiarism checks and style-specific suggestions.
Other content management tools to try:
ConvertKit, as I write this, is my email marketing tool of choice. In addition to providing easy segmentation and tagging options for subscribers, ConvertKit allows you to create landing pages for email collection that can either stand on their own or be embedded on a website. Most of the small-business-focused email marketing tools do not allow this, so this is a great feature if you don’t want to pay for a separate landing page tool like LeadPages.
ConvertKit has drag-and-drop templates, one-click “send to unopens”, and other easy, intuitive features that has caused me to ditch Mailchimp. Its price point is competitive and they will help you make the switch from other email service providers since they know they’re a relatively new tool so that the friction of making a change is lessened.
- Customizable forms and landing pages
- Visual automations and welcome sequences
- Subscriber tagging
- API support
- Free migration support for lists over 3,000
- Competitive pricing
- Great customer service
- Reporting is somewhat limited right now, but they are working on adding more reports
Cost: Costs for most email service providers are dependent on the number of subscribers you have on your lists. ConvertKit’s pricing is between $29 and $79 per month for up to 5,000 subscribers. For more than 5,000 subscribers, they’ll put you on a custom plan that you can calculate on their pricing page.
Other email marketing tools to try:
General Business Tools
Wondering how your clients are feeling about you? Want to set up a survey of your audience? Or do you just need to know your team members' t-shirt sizes so you can send them something fun in the mail?
GetFeedback is a fun and intuitive tool for setting up feedback forms and surveys. We like it better than Google Forms or SurveyMonkey because it allows for some more advanced features, like email embedding and design customization. I also personally appreciate the design better than the other tools, although Typeform is another appealing option. The main reason we chose GetFeedback over Typeform was that it allows you to collect Net Promoter Score, which is important to us.
- Easy form creation tool
- Embed into emails
- Track net promoter score
- Custom branding and colors
- Advanced logic and reporting for all forms
- Customizable templates
- Salesforce integration for higher paid plans
- Mobile-friendly surveys
- Website widgets and embed codes available for forms
- Mobile app
- More expensive than other survey tools
Cost: 14-day free trial, then $50-$200+ per month for more advanced features.
Oh, Traveling Mailbox. I have a love/hate relationship with this tool. On the one hand, I love its functionality. On the other hand, I hate checking it. But that's why I'll have an assistant who can do that for me soon!
This tool has saved me from having to write my home address on important business and legal documents. And it saves me from receiving and opening mail. I hate receiving and opening mail.
How does it work? You're basically paying for an address in the city of your choice (New York City was my preferred location, which costs slightly more but is worthwhile) and someone to process your mail for you. When a letter comes in, you get an email. You can then request for them to open and scan the letter or forward it to an address of your choosing. I decide this based on what's inside the envelope. I always request the open and scan first, which is free. Then, if it's just a letter I download the PDF and file it in the appropriate place or print it. If it's a check or something where I need the original copy, I request the forward to my house for a small fee.
This way, I have digital copies of everything and only receive physical copies of mail or checks that I actually need.
- Affordable mail receipt service, especially if you are a digital nomad or work from home
- Quick open and scan services so you can see mail quickly
- Forwarding service for a small fee
- Simple to setup and use
- Choose from many different cities and address types
- Free mail shredding when you're done with the physical copies
- Not available in all cities
- There is a lag time between the time the mail arrives and the time it lands in your Traveling Mailbox, so urgent items are better off going to your physical address
- Envelopes only, no packages
- You still have to check it!
Cost: Monthly fees start at $15 and go up to $55 depending on how much mail you receive and how many mailbox recipients you need to manage.
I always thought Quickbooks was too robust for my small business, but I've learned that's not the case. It's the financial tool of choice for most accountants, which was what prompted us to make the switch over from Freshbooks. It offers us the ability to not only send invoices and track expenses, but also to send purchase orders to contractors and track time spent on different clients and projects.
Quickbooks has great reports and is intuitive for the average, not-so-financially-savvy user to navigate. It does require some learning, but their knowledge base and support staff is generally very helpful. The way we've been able to integrate our bank accounts and credit cards, allow online payment from our clients, and share access with our accountants has been extremely helpful from a cash management and productivity perspective.
- Common tool for many accountants to manage your books
- Easy to integrate bank accounts and credit cards for easy expense tracking
- Easy to set up recurring invoices and automatic reminders
- Easy to set up purchase orders for contractors
- Accept online credit card or bank payments
- Track inventory
- Track time
- Payroll services included with certain paid plans
- Integration with tools like Paypal, Square, and Shopify
- Mobile app
- Requires a bit more of a learning curve than smaller tools like Freshbooks
- Can have glitches, such as sending invoices early, losing integration temporarily with credit card companies or banks, and accidentally sending reminders for invoices that have already been paid
Cost: Free trial for thirty days, then $10-$50 per month depending on the level of features you need. They run promotions often so you can usually find a lower price for a limited time if you keep your ear open for it.
I've been using Gusto since the days when it was called ZenPayroll and have been a very happy customer from the beginning. Gusto is an easy, friendly payroll solution that allows you to pay both employees and contractors. They file the necessary paperwork with the government for you and allow each team member to set their own withholdings as they wish. At the end of year, each team member gets the appropriate W2 or 1099 form so you don't have to worry about putting things in the mail or calculating payments. Their customer service is excellent and they're very helpful when dealing with contractors across multiple states.
- Easy, friendly payroll tool
- Pay contractors and employees
- Automatically generate end-of-year forms for team members
- Automatically files necessary paperwork with the federal and state government to keep you compliant
- Offers health insurance and workers comp options in certain markets
- Manages paid-time-off requests and other benefits
- Employees and contractors can easily change and manage their profiles
- Offers connections with certified accountants who can manage the tool for you
- The benefits they offer are not available for all markets and for all team sizes
Cost: Free trial for one month, then $39 per month plus $6-12 per month per person depending the features you need. The highest level plan is $149 per month plus $12 per person per month.
Social Media Management