Figuring out which tools to use to grow your business can be a daunting, time-intensive prospect. We know this because we’ve been doing it for the last decade, and when we dive into research mode, we go deep. It generally takes us at least 20 hours of research and a few months of actual use before we’ll recommend something as not all that glitters is gold, especially when you look under the first layer. Instead of spending your valuable time and money doing the research and experimentation we’ve already done, take a peek at the list below.
Some of the links below are referral links, and at no additional cost to you, we will earn a commission if you decide to use them or make a purchase. The commission does not bias my recommendation but does compensate me for the time and effort to research on your behalf and share my thoughts. If I wouldn’t recommend a solution to someone I care about without a commission, it doesn’t show up here, either.
I start with our Featured Solutions, which are my list of Must Haves in my business at this time and then guide you through different solution categories that are organized in the order in which you’re likely to need them as your business grows.
Quip calls itself a document collaboration service, but we’re using it as a knowledgebase and portal to reign in the sprawl of documents we have all over the place. The thing we love the most about it is that it allows us to place for for-real spreadsheets, timelines, and kanban boards (for tracking projects) all in the same document alongside text. It also has a Zapier integration, which means it cuts out hours a week of moving text around. Quip allows us to be faster at finding information, making decisions, and collaboration. It has a free trial, so you can try it and see if it makes your sprawl more manageable, too.
Asana is my #1 recommendation for task and project management systems, both for collaborative teams and for individuals. With features like multiple nested to-do lists, an action item being able to live in multiple projects, and the ability to set up default tasks and projects, it’s a flexible and powerful tool for ensuring that the right stuff gets done. It’s been great for our team to know exactly who is responsible for what step in a project and allows our work to keep flowing because when it’s time for someone to step in for their part of the project they get notified. No more waiting and wondering or lag time between phases of a project! Best of all, it’s free for fewer than 15 users.
Gusto is the payroll service we recommend and use, whether you are just hiring your first employee or have an ever-expanding team. It’s significantly cheaper and better than ADP, their customer service is fantastic, and it’s so easy to use. They take care of so many things: automatically paying employees, getting everything filed with federal, state, and local taxes, quarterly and year end reports, administering medical and other benefits, and so much more. You can manage independent contractor payments pretty easily from there, too. ICs really appreciate not having to eat fees and it’s nice not to have 8 different ways to keep up with your contractors’ invoices and payments.
Zapier allows you to create integrations between your various cloud-based solutions. For instance, you can have an action in one service trigger an action in another; i.e,. a form submission on your website can create a new contact and case in your CRM and add that information to a list in your email marketing system. This is great because you don’t have to choose all-in-one business solutions that are usually mediocre at all the things they do – instead, you can choose best-in-class focused solutions and automagically tie them to other best-in-class focused solutions. Zapier does its magic in the background, saving our team hours of time a month. For those of you who aren’t “tech savvy” it’s OK, as Zaps only require a few simple clicks to set up. Our business is built on Zaps and once you check out this service you’ll understand why. It’s hard to imagine running our business without Zapier.
Sumo has been a game-changer for us when it comes to growing our list and readership; for comparison, we went from about 181 signups per month in April 2016 to having a trendline of 700 signups per month now (with a fantastic 1.9k signups in January). Sumo is a suite of apps that you can install, play with, and uninstall on the fly. The consolidated dashboard helps you see what’s working and the split-testing tools are the best I’ve come across as far as ease of use goes. For us, the core of Sumo is its four list-building and attention-directing apps (List Builder, Scroll Bar, Smart Bar, and Welcome Mat) that each allow you to experiment with different ways of inviting people to join your community or get your best stuff.