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Top Ten Tools I Use for Business Every Day

10 tools I use to run my online business - from website hosting to marketing management and more - I couldn't live without these tools!

I’m always curious about what tools other entrepreneurs use to get shit done. Sometimes it can seem borderline magical how bloggers/ small-biz owners can wear so many hats, but it’s safe to say without some tech tools in place there would be a lot more crying (and a lot more wine)! Personally, these are 10 business tools I can’t live without:

Siteground – I run my website on WordPress and originally started with a different hosting company (and had a ton of issues) until I switched to Siteground a couple of years ago. I’ve had no complaints since switching to Siteground and their customer service is always super helpful when I have questions!

Acuity – This tool makes it SUPER easy for my consulting clients to schedule appointments, complete questionnaires, and pay for their sessions all at the same time. I use Acuity’s “Emerging Entrepreneur” (basic) plan which is just $10/month (there’s a 14 day free trial if you want to give it a try)!

Google Apps – For professional looking email and other Google services like Google drive / calendar, I can’t live without Google Apps! (P.S. you can get 20% off Google Apps with code 6GWWCDPAWYJAME or 3RL9DQJKNGH7DE when you sign up here!

ConvertKit – For email marketing, I’m obsessed with ConvertKit. I switched from MailChimp earlier this year and IMMEADIATELY saw an increase in open rates. Beyond that, ConvertKit’s automation and segmentation capabilities are so much better. ConvertKit also has a number of different forms (example at the end of this post) and landing page templates (example here) that are really easy to set up if you aren’t using a separate program / plugin to collect emails and deliver lead magnets.

Adobe Photoshop: I use Photoshop CC to create all of my blog graphics, to create content upgrades, to create email graphics, and to edit photos. It’s only $10/month and I literally use it every single day!

Dropbox: I store all my files (SO MANY PHOTOS) via Dropbox so they don’t take up space on my computers. This way they’re easy to access, easy to share, and I never have to worry about my computer slowing down! Dropbox also makes it easy to share files between people, so it’s great if you regularly work with a team or subcontractors. The basic version is free, but I upgraded to the pro plan (1 TB of storage) for $99/year or $9.99/month.

Asana  I switched to Asana (from Trello) for project management a couple of months ago and LOVE it. It’s perfect for keeping projects organized and on track – plus the version I use is free! You can plan projects, assign tasks, set due dates and manage collaborations with ease!

Tailwind – For Pinterest scheduling / analytics, Tailwind is amazing. I love that you can schedule pins to multiple boards at the same time and the analytics are so helpful in determining which pins / boards are performing well (or not). I’ve seen a HUGE increase in referral traffic (and email subscribers!) from Pinterest since I started using Tailwind. Highly recommend – you can schedule up to 100 pins for free, plus get a free month when you sign up here!

BoardBooster – I actually use 2 tools for Pinterest – Tailwind is great for new pins / pinning to group boards, but I love BoardBooster‘s looping feature for recycling old content. I loop around 20 pins per day which saves a lot of time for just $10/month! Get 100 free pins when you sign up here!

SmarterQueue is great for scheduling Twitter + Facebook because it saves so much time. Instead of publishing your social media updates just once or having to reschedule them when you want to share again, SmarterQueue saves them in a library that you can build over time and automatically re-share. Read why I think SmarterQueue is the best social media scheduler for evergreen content in this blog post and get a 30 day free trial via this link!

I seriously use all 10 of these tools every. single. day. I’d recommend them all, but I’d love to know – what tools are essential to running your blog or business?

*These are the business and blogging tools that I actually use and recommend – so yes, some of them are affiliate links :)

How To Find Bloggers To Collaborate With Your Small Business

How to find bloggers to collaborate with your small business - for new brands who can't afford to hire a PR agency for blogger outreach, this blog post has tips for finding the right bloggers to partner with and other important things your should know when pitching bloggers!

I’ve answered this question for a few people in my network recently, but after getting wayyy too many “bad” email pitches lately, I figured it was definitely worth writing a whole post (actually a couple) on the topic! As a blogger, I’ve collaborated with dozens of brands, and as a brand / marketing strategist, I’ve pitched tons of bloggers / influencers, so I’ve been on both sides of successful (and not so successful) collaborations. If you’re a brand / business owner and want to collaborate with bloggers, you need to know there is a “right” way to do this and there are a lot of wrong ways. The wrong ways are annoying so just don’t go there. Here’s what you need to know…

PART 1: How to Find Bloggers / Influencers to Collaborate With (this post)

PART 2: How to Pitch Bloggers / Influencers For Collaborations (coming soon!)

First of all, know your purpose (and your budget)

Why do you want to collaborate with bloggers anyway? “To gain exposure” is vague and not a good answer. Do you want more traffic to your site? More social media followers? More email subscribers? More sales during a specific promotion? For a collaboration to be successful, you need to know what you want out of it. 

You should also know what your willing (or not willing) to pay for the collaboration. Bloggers or influencers with larger followings may require compensation in addition to gifted product to guarantee they will feature your product on their blog or social channels. For some reason this is really surprising to some business owners, but no one likes to work for free. A lot of work goes into building a blog following and styling / reviewing products, so a blogger requesting payment in exchange for advertising your product to their audience is not unreasonable!

Most bloggers have media kits that list the ways in which they are open to working with brands along with their fees for various types of collaborations. If their rates are significantly out of your price range, DO NOT try to negotiate. How would you feel if someone emailed you and said “hey I’d love to buy your product but I only want to pay 50% of the price for it, is that ok with you?” Um, no. 

Know if it’s a good fit

Please do not reach out to bloggers whose brand and content is not a good fit for your product or service. It’s a waste of time for everyone involved. A style blogger who primarily wears high end clothing is not interested in featuring your $10 t-shirts. A beauty blogger who reviews skincare products is not a good fit for your shoe line. A dog who doesn’t have Facebook is not going to promote your jewelry on Facebook. (no joke, a brand actually pitched my dog to promote their jewelry on Facebook…)

Personally, I’ve only collaborated with brands that sell products or provide services that I would otherwise buy myself, but the truth is there are a lot of bloggers who will sell out compromise for free product or paid promotions. While bloggers will ultimately make the decision whether or not they want to collaborate with you, you should know if your product is a good fit for their brand/aesthetic as well. If a blogger’s audience isn’t your target audience, why would you want them to advertise your product anyway?

So Where Do You Find Them?

If you have a larger budget, you can work with a PR agency or a more blogger-specific agency like Clever Girls or Collectively who will help connect you with bloggers that fit with your brand.  There are also tech platforms like GroupHigh that can help you find bloggers in a particular niche and also streamline the pitch process, but they also have fees associated with them. Most new / small businesses don’t have the budget for agency help, so I’m going to assume that you are trying to find / pitch bloggers on your own!

I suggest starting your search on Instagram because it’s a visual platform that will quickly give you a sense of a blogger’s brand and aesthetic, and you have a number of search options to find the types of bloggers that are a good fit for your business. I’m not saying you should decide to collaborate with a blogger based solely on their Instagram presence (definitely not!), but it’s a good place to start. Obviously the type of product you sell affects the type of bloggers you are looking for, but here are a few types of searches you can run:

Groups: Many bloggers are part of groups (along with similar bloggers) so these are a great place to look! Groups could be based on location (for example, Midwest Bloggers or The Blog Societies) or by type of blogger (like Independent Fashion Bloggers or New Craft Society). Often, active members will be featured on the groups’ Instagram accounts, but many of them also have websites where you can find other bloggers in the group or organization.

Networks: Networks are similar to groups, but slightly more specific in that you KNOW the bloggers that belong to these networks are currently monetizing their blogs. These bloggers usually have larger audiences and are the types of bloggers who may require compensation in addition to gifted product. A couple examples are LiketoKnow.it (rewardStyle‘s instagram monetization platform) and Style Coalition.

Hashtags by industry/niche: You can also search by hashtag for bloggers in your industry or niche – this will cast a wider net, which may or may not be a good thing depending on the types of bloggers you are looking for. This strategy requires doing a bit more due diligence, but is a great way to find bloggers who may not be part of specific groups/networks and are still a good fit for your brand! Try to narrow down the type of blogger you are looking for to get more targeted results – for example, instead of #beautyblogger you could search #greenbeautyblogger or #organicbeautyblogger. You can also try variations of hashtags like blog / blogs/ blogger/ bloggers – these may yield different results as not all bloggers use the same hashtags.

Hashtags by geographic location: Another way to search for bloggers is by searching for location-specific bloggers (for example, #nycblogger or #brooklynblogger). This is especially helpful if your business has a physical presence or if you are looking for local bloggers to collaborate with.

Similar / complimentary businesses: Last but not least, you can use instagram to see which bloggers your competitors or related businesses are working with. If you scroll through their feeds, you’ll most likely see that they’ve re-posted photos of bloggers wearing / using their products. The drawback to this strategy is that bloggers who collaborate with your direct competitors may not want to work with you if they are brand loyal, but most bloggers are open to working with a variety of brands so it can’t hurt to reach out to them if they’re a good fit!

These 5 types of searches will definitely get you a solid list of bloggers to reach out to, but once you start working with bloggers (or if you already are), you can also search for “similar” bloggers by observing who they “hang out with” on social. Most bloggers have blogger friends who regularly interact by commenting / sharing or even hanging out in real life, so if you find a few bloggers who are a good fit for your brand, chances are they have blogger friends who will be a good fit as well!

You should also know

It’s a good idea to start a spreadsheet to keep track of the bloggers your are reaching out to. This will help to keep you organized – you want to make sure that you don’t reach out to the same person twice by mistake (this happens more than you think!) and also that you are following up with bloggers if you haven’t heard back from them in a week or so. You can also use the spreadsheet to keep track of the status or results of a collaboration.

When you are determining which bloggers you want to reach out do, remember to look beyond traffic or follower numbers and pay attention to engagement. A blogger could have 20,000 instagram followers but only get a couple of hundred likes per photo – this is bad and probably means many of her followers are fake or just not that interested. It would be better to collaborate with a blogger with 10,000 followers who has a 5%+ engagement because her followers are more engaged (and more likely to buy your product)!

Also, depending on your niche, its worth reaching out to other social media “influencers” who are not necessarily bloggers. There are plenty of people (and pups) who have build up engaged audiences without having a blog and may be a good fit for your brand!

Hootsuite vs. Buffer

Hootsuite vs. Buffer - which is better for scheduling social media? Click through to learn...

For years I’ve used Hootsuite to schedule social media. I’ve went through the free trial period of pretty much every social media schedule management tool, but kept coming back to Hootsuite again and again. Over the past few months, I felt like more and more people were raving about Buffer and I felt a little #FOMO so I tried it out again. I used it on it’s own for a month, went back to Hootsuite, and now I’m using them both at the same time…

My main “issue” with Buffer is that it is really a scheduling tool and not a social media management platform. But after taking some time to review my social media strategy, I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s not really a question of Hootsuite vs. Buffer, because I need to use them both for different things. Buffer makes it so much easier to just schedule content, but I need Hootsuite for features like viewing multiple feeds, monitoring mentions / messages, and keeping track of hashtags (for client work or during twitter chats).

Hootsuite vs. Buffer

For those of you who aren’t familiar with one or the other, here’s a break down the pros / cons of each as they relate to my social media management needs. I probably haven’t used all aspects of either platform, but the average person probably doesn’t need to! I’ve used the free and lowest paid versions for both services (Hootsuite Pro + Buffer Awesome for $10/month each) but there are also more robust (and expensive) versions for both.

Hootsuite

PROS: 

  • You can see all your activity in one place –  keep track of your feeds as well as create “streams” to keep track of things like scheduled posts, mentions, hashtags, and other interactions.
  • You can schedule up to 350 posts with the Pro plan and the calendar view makes it easy to see your schedule for the day / week / month ahead.
  • There are options to view scheduled posts in list-view or in a calendar style view by day, week, or month. It’s also easy to drag and drop posts if you want to change up the schedule!

CONS:

  • You have to type or paste links into a specific box and click to shorten it. It’s an annoying step and the default link shortener is ow.ly which is fine, but I’d prefer the option to use bit.ly so that all my tracked links are in one place.
  • The reporting system is robust but overly complicated. There isn’t a quick and easy way to see your account history sorted by specific analytics like retweets or clicks.
  • The auto scheduler is a nice feature but I found that often the “optimal” times were very close together and I often had to turn it off and manually adjust the scheduled post times.
  • The RSS feed feature allows you to connect RSS feeds to share content, but it auto-sends all posts from the RSS feed based on your scheduled settings. I wish you had more control over which posts you share.
  • If you want to share video, you have to link to the video on YouTube or wherever the video is hosted. There isn’t an option to upload a video directly to share via Hootsuite.

Buffer

PROS: 

  • The dashboard is very easy to navigate, and scheduling is intuitive.
  • Buffer auto-shortens any links you pop in, and you can connect your bit.ly account (or use other shortening options).
  • The optimal timing tool allows you to set a schedule based on when you get the highest engagement. You can re-optimize the schedule at any time and it will automatically adjust the times of your already scheduled posts. Also, you can set different schedules for different days (like the weekend) on the Awesome plan.
  • Analytics are basic but you can easily sort your previous posts by likes/ shares/ clicks/ etc. and “re-buffer” any popular posts.
  • On the Awesome Plan, you can connect up to 15 RSS feeds and buffer directly from a curated selection of feeds. I love this feature as it makes it easy to share content from certain sites that I reference often without actually having to go to the site.
  • It’s easy to upload a video to share directly from Buffer – you can drag and drop into the scheduler just like you do to share photos!

CONS: 

  • Buffer does not have social media management capabilities beyond scheduling so you have to use a separate site / program to view your feeds and keep track of interactions.
  • The recent addition of the calendar view was a really big improvement in my opinion since I like to visually see my schedule and move things around – sometimes I want to change up the order of the content I’m sharing so there aren’t too many promotional posts or posts about the same topic in a row.
  • You can only schedule up to 100 posts at a time on the Awesome plan which can be limiting if you are managing multiple accounts and posting multiple times a day.
  • Although you can schedule pins, I find that the system is not user friendly. (I prefer Tailwind for Pinterest scheduling and analytics)

It’s worth mentioning that there is a Power Scheduler tool available through the Buffer extension that allows you to schedule a post now and then at specific times in the future. So for example, you could schedule a post now on Twitter, in a few days on Facebook and in 3 weeks again on Twitter. It’s a nice option to have, but the actual tool is not so user-friendly in my opinion. It’s also not currently available on the main dashboard so you have to be using the browser extension to use it.

Final thoughts

In short, Buffer wins for making scheduling SO easy, but I still use Hootsuite to view my feeds and manage interaction. If I had to pick just 1 to use, it would be Hootsuite because it offers everything I need to schedule AND manage social media, but truth is I find that using them both in combination is the best workflow for me.

Are you currently using either of these to schedule social media? I’d love to know your thoughts!

**Update 6/2016 – since this post was written, I’ve switched to a different tool for scheduling Twitter / Facebook. I still recommend Buffer / Hootsuite for the reasons mentioned in this post, but you can learn more about how using SmarterQueue saves me a ton of time!**

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