Essential Digital Tools – to get your business online and help you save time
In this post, I’ve put together the best apps, websites and tools to help you with productivity and getting your business going online. Most of these I use a fair bit. Most are free!
There are a lot of online business tools out there. I’ve tried to keep it to essentials – as this tool thing can get a bit overwhelming. No doubt there’s a few here you already know but maybe there are others you didn’t know about that might give you that extra lift.
If there are any tools I haven’t included that you couldn’t live without please let me know.
You’ll see in this section quite a few tools from Google. That’s cos Google is good at productivity tools. (They’re often easy to use, useful and work well – including syncing across your devices.)
Store your files in the Cloud. They’re always there for you no matter what device you use. Plus you don’t have to worry about your computer going down and losing the lot.
You can store files on Drive too and it is good for that. Mostly though I use Drive to collect and order all the documents I’m writing. (See Google Docs.) The big thing for me is being able to search Drive and find documents later. I know Microsoft and Apple do that too but Drive is better. (Search is something Google is good at.)
Docs is a much better place to write documents than Word or Pages. So much easier to find them later (through Drive), share them with other people, and sync them to your phone.
Helps you plan your day, week, month, year (and get your life in order.) I used to use the Apple iCalendar. Google’s Calendar is better.
Checks and straightens out your writing – spelling, grammar, commas etc. You definitely have to get this tool.
If you’re anything like me you have your favourite bloggers and magazines you like to read. Subscribing to their emails can lead to overwhelm. A different, less distracting way to do it is to subscribe on Feedly. All new posts go there instead of clogging up your email. Plus you can find useful articles to post on your social media platforms.
I know it’s old fashioned but I do like to read hard copies of longer articles. This Chrome browser extension prints web pages without the gunk. (So I can enjoy an old fashioned read with my morning coffee.)
There are quite a few other productivity apps around. I didn’t want to overwhelm you with them, however, if you’re keen the best of them include: Todoist, Evernote, Microsoft ToDo, Apple Reminders, Apple Notes, Google Keep, and Google Tasks. (These largely help you keep lists and make notes.)
Video conferencing software. If you’re new to it, it’s much easier to use than think. I use it for online training. Lots of businesses are using it now due to covid lockdowns. But it’s even good for catching up with family and friends. It’s free if you’re just using it for 40 minutes.
Note that Google has a Zoom type offering called Meet but it’s still not as good.
Organise projects and tasks in a visual way. Teams can work together on ‘boards’.
This app saves all those back and forth emails to help set up and schedule meetings with other people.
WordPress (content management system)
WordPress started life as blogging software but now a lot of people are building websites with it. In fact, WordPress currently powers about 25% of all self-hosted websites. A key reason is that it’s relatively simple to use. You don’t need to know coding or be a geek.
Google Analytics (stats)
See where traffic to your site is coming from, what they’re looking at and for how long.
You need to host your website on a server somewhere. SiteGround makes this techie stuff easy for normal human beings. That includes understanding how to set up a website from scratch.
Search Engine Optimisation
I’ve added WordPress again because this content management system helps make some essential SEO things easy. For example, the ‘title’ of a webpage is important for SEO. You can change and tweak the title yourself with WordPress.
This is an essential ‘plug-in’ for your WordPress site. It knows the key things Google is looking for and gives you useful tips to help you optimise your site.
Getting your business on Page 1 of Google is hard. Sometimes though Google will serve up a map on Page 1. Your business could be on that map. To get your business on Google Maps you need to list it via Google My Business. (Once you have your listing up encourage customers to write you a review there. That also helps.)
“Keywords” are the words people put into searches. Trends is a simple tool you can use to track the popularity of keywords over time and compare different keyword phrases.
This tool goes a step further. Punch in your guess of a keyword phrase your target audience would be using. It tells you how many searches there for it and more importantly, it gives you related searches along with numbers for them too.
Gmail works well on across devices. It does a good job of weeding out spam. It’s simple to set up different types of emails – to help you stay focused. (Primary, Social, Promotions, Updates.) And you can set up a Gmail in your business’s name using G Suite. If you’re on Yahoo or dare I say, Hotmail, I’d encourage you to swap over.
One of the most important things you need to do as a business is to build your email list. And then consistently send your target audience good useful, targetted emails. MailChimp is one of the best email programs for sending out and tracking emails. It’s free up to 2000 subscribers.
When you want to upgrade to a more sophisticated, paid email marketing program this is one of the better ones around.
You are going to need visuals for things you’re doing online – particularly any kind of digital marketing. Here are some handy places to source visuals.
Unsplash is a photo stock library. The shots are high quality and it’s free.
Similar to Unsplash. A good place to go for high-quality stock photos. Also has stock videos.
Canva is a graphic design platform that helps you create all sorts of visual content. It’s good for social media graphics, presentations, posters, documents. It comes with a library of images, fonts, templates and illustrations.
ScreenFlow is software for Apple Macs that allows you to capture video of your screen and to edit that video.
This one sounds basic, but if you have a smartphone (like an iPhone), you can use it to take your own photos and videos. The quality of the camera in the latest versions is pretty high. Then it’s just a matter of knowing how to shoot well. OK, maybe that’s not so straightforward, but there are courses around. Or you could follow tips on shooting from your phone manufacturer.
Sometimes you just need to know how to do something. Here’s a quick tip.
It’s a big fat obvious one, but important to identify I reckon. YouTube can be terrific to learn how to do just about anything. E.g. setting up your website, working WordPress, figuring out something on social media that has you stumped, unblocking your drain at home. It’s all there. You might need to wade through a few junk videos but a lot of times you’ll find one or two that give you what you need.
Social Media Management
We’ll get into the key social media platforms in a minute. But it’s important when discussing this area to know some tools to help manage it. Social media can suck up time like a black hole, so you really need to come at it in a strategic, smart way.
Buffer allows you to post across multiple platforms, with a number of team members, and it allows you to schedule ahead of time. This helps you be more efficient and more effective.
There are other management tools like Buffer around. The best of them are Hootsuite and MeetEdgar. MeetEdgar is interesting in that it can be set up to recycle and repost old posts that have done well.
Social Media Platforms
Finally, I’m adding this section as social media can work as tools to help grow your business.
There are a heap of social media platforms out there. Sooner or later you’re going to need to work out which to use. To help you I’ve done a quick synopsis.
Here are the largest and most popular social media platforms: Facebook, Instagram, Linkedin, Twitter, and YouTube. Pinterest is another interesting one. And if your market is young, e.g. teenagers, it may be worth having a look at TikTok and SnapChat.
If you try to use all of them you’re probably going to go spare. Best to pick a few and go hard (on learning how to use them and doing them well.)
Which should you choose? It depends on the nature of your business, your goals and your target audience.
Here’s an outline of the differences between key platforms to help you understand what’s what.
Facebook is big. It’s the place where most people are at. So in terms of reaching your audience definitely worth a look. The trouble is there’s so much noise and competition on Facebook it’s hard to cut through. You can, however, use Facebook Ads to reach your target – if you have some budget.
If the nature of your work is inherently visual, e.g. you’re some kind of designer, Instagram is the ideal platform – because it is so visual. (The same applies for Pinterest.)
Linkedin is useful if you’re in the B2B (business to business) game. It’s also good for thought leadership and building your online professional reputation.
Twitter is a platform for “information junkies”. Journalists love it because it’s newsy. It also works well for events. And it can be a useful tool to stay up to date with what’s happening in your field.
YouTube is often overlooked as a social media platform. But it does have a massive number of eyeballs. As many as Facebook. The difference is that it’s skewed younger and it’s obviously about videos. Videos give you impact and can keep ticking over for many years.
If you’re still trying to make sense of the whole social media thing I run a social media course once a month (online via Zoom) where I demystify it and help you come up with content and a planned approach.
Do you have your own favourite digital tools? (Ones you couldn’t live without?) Let me know in the Comments.