Essential Tools & Apps for a Creative Business
Essential Tools & Apps for a Small Creative Business
When you’re running a business, however big or small, there are so many things to keep track of, organise & automate if you want to stay on top of your work and remain sane. I love good organisational systems as they take a lot of pressure off and help to stay on course towards your dreams. I’ve tried and tested many different options and decided to compile a list of the platforms, apps & other tools I use to stay organised, run my social media, plan photoshoots, host my website, map out my content and so much more. I hope you find it useful! None of the links are affiliated, they are simply my personal recommendations, apps I’ve found useful and tools that help me in my day-to-day. I wanted to share them with you as I know how long it can take till you figure out that some of these things are even out there & find the ones that actually work for you. So have a look at this list, and in the end - do & use whatever works best for you. Personally, no planning app has yet been able to beat the magic of a pen to paper daily to-do list. So I’ve included that in the list of tools, too! I should also note that most of these apps and tools are completely free or low budget friendly, so you don’t need big investment to get your business organised. And that also makes this list a great starting point, if you are just at the start of your enterpreneurial journey!
When it comes to social media, if you’re just starting out, I highly recommend picking one or two platforms that work for you & your audience and getting consistent and good at using them. It may seem like you need to be anywhere and everywhere, but I do believe it’s about starting small and building up when your systems and habits allow you to expand into other platforms. Otherwise, it is really easy to get overwhelmed by the amount of time and work each platform requires. Personally, as a photographer, I chose the most visual platforms and the ones people use to seek out beautiful imagery: Instagram & Pinterest. Coincidentally, my ideal audience tends to prefer these platforms too. Now Pinterest isn’t technically social media which makes it all the more sensible to use alongside a social platform like Instagram. Pinterest is very easy to use & very effective at drawing traffic to your website. All it takes is just a little bit of regular engagement with the platform. What you want to do is repin other people’s content along with your own pictures and blog posts from your website. If you do that just for 5-10 min a day you will notice significant growth within weeks.
Instagram, unlike Pinterest, is a much more time consuming & demanding platform. Your visuals, your voice and your presence has to be consistent and engaging. No wonder so many of us feel huge pressure and worry about posting just one image sometimes. It can feel so permanent. I use to easily spend an hour just picking which image to post every day. That is not good use of my time if I want to get anything done and still have any time left in my day to actually engage with people, not just post pretty photographs. To simplify & stay consistent in my branding and message, I use UNUM app. It helps me plan out my grid out layout ahead. I usually do a rough idea for 1-2 weeks in advance and make minor changes as I see fit when I choose to as it is easy to drag and swap images in order to find the best layout. I usually plan my caption ideas in Google Drive and write them out on the day. There are other alternative apps like Planoly or Mosaic. They are all mostly the same in the features they offer. But after trying a few, I personally settled with UNUM.
To compliment my social media planning & create pleasing aesthetics for both my grid and the stories, I also regularly use Unfold and Whitagram. Whitagram allows you to give your photos a plain background and add various overlays, textures and text. You can get quite creative with it, but I use it to simply add a little bit of white space into my grid layout when I so wish. I like the app as it’s so simple to use and it takes just a couple of clicks to create a lovely looking graphic. Unfold is perfect for creating beautiful looking layouts for Instagram stories. It’s perfect if you want to tell the story of your day, share a collection of images or add text to a visual narrative. You can get as creative as you wish and it offers you a bunch of different layouts to make use of.
Seeing as I am a photographer it is only natural that quite a lot of tools I use on daily basis are for managing images. I use Lightroom, and sometimes Photoshop, for editing all my images. And I use Pixieset to deliver my client galleries. I rarely share iPhone images, so I won’t be the best person to recommend editing apps for that, but there are tons of good ones like VSCO and such. If I do share an iPhone snapshot on my stories I either don’t edit or just use the iPhone edit function within the image gallery as it allows you to work with basic edit settings like contrast, exposure, temperature, etc. But instead of editing apps, I wanted to share the tools I use to plan my sessions, as if you’re an enthusiast photo-taker or you want to take better photos for your business instagram, these are tools that will help you plan the best times to get out and take photos.
Golden Hour is an app that shows you the morning & evening golden hour times every day. It also tells you the weather prognoses for those times. It saves you having to look up each of these things separately! When I plan photoshoots I have to look up those times and likely weather ahead of time. But I find this app really useful if I just fancy getting out with the camera and want to check when that would be best to do. It’s ideal if you’re out and about exploring a place and want to know exactly when the light will be best or how long you’ve got until it’s too dark. It also has a little map of your location showing you the directions in which the sun rises and sets. Pretty handy if you don’t know the area.
Talking about directions, you can use a Compass app on your phone if it’s cloudy and you’re not certain which way the sun is and where it’s going to set. And if you want to get clued up before you get to a location, you can use Sunseeker app to find out the movements of the sun in any specific spot on the map. You can also use it in a location to find out the exact trajectory of the sun, how high or low it will be at certain times and precisely where it will set. It’s absolutely brilliant.
If you don’t have a budget to source out all your graphic design needs to a designer or simply need to mock up quick blog graphics & marketing materials to use as and when you need them, I highly recommend Canva. I prefer using it on the laptop, but you can also download an app and use it on your phone, too. I use Canva for all my blog graphics, PDFs, and various other creative elements. It’s simple, it stores all your drafts for you, gives you tons of layouts to choose from or tools to make your own, and you can adjust and reuse your own templates every time you need something new. It’s never going to replace a real designer, but it’s super helpful if you just need very simple designs and are not super comfortable with using Adobe Illustrator and such. I use Adobe for things like my logo and other brand design elements, but I go to Canva for pretty much everything else as it just saves so much of my time.
I use Squarespace to host my website. I tried a few different platforms for websites before and when I first gave Squarespace a go I was sold on it immediately. It’s incredibly user-friendly as you can just drag and drop anything you need to add to a page. And it has beautiful, simple & elegant layouts that are a great starting point if you want to create a professional looking website yourself. It also allows you to run a shop directly on your website and has recently released a newsletter platform too. I am still using Mailchimp for hosting my email list, but I am considering giving this new Squarespace feature a go. I’ll report on it when I do!
I love to stay organised and when it comes to all my admin needs - Google Suite is my answer. It has everything I need and I never have to worry about losing important files in case of laptop failure. I keep and backup everything on Google Drive. Which also means I can access everything on my phone too. Which is very helpful as I use Google Drive for everything. I plan my blogs, write my draft articles, my instagram captions in Google Documents. I plan my content in a Google spreadsheet. I also use Google spreadsheets organise and keep track of my accounts. I use Google Drive to back up and sometimes deliver photos to people I collaborate with. I use gmail for both my personal and business emails and I make use of the Google Calendar to keep track of certain project deadlines and map out my content for the coming months. I do still prefer a paper calendar, but having an online one where you can move things around without making a mess is pretty handy. Basically, Google it the one online tool I wouldn’t want to be without. It keeps me sane.
Daily priorities & to-do’s
As far as I’m concerned, nothing beats a paper diary and a simple paper to-do list. I like not having to switch on a laptop or look to my phone when I want to sit down and plan my week or my day. And the pleasure of crossing something off a list with a real pen is just irreplaceable. This year I went for The Dear Diary 2019 planner. It has pages for reflections, setting goals and priorities for each week and it’s just absolutely beautiful, which just really doesn’t hurt.
I like to use Asana to keep track of all my bigger short-term or ongoing projects. It’s brilliant as you can create different projects, break them down into small steps and then arrange those little tasks in a calendar. Then once you complete a task you can click to tick it off. That sometimes makes a little unicorn fly across the screen, so it’s pretty satisfying. If you have a team or you’re collaborating with someone, you can also share these projects and tasks with other people, which is a great way for everyone involved to stay on track.
Soulful Business PlanNing
Daily tasks and priorities are important, but as the CEO of your business you also have to make sure you take time regularly to plan ahead, reflect on past seasons, months, weeks and make sure you are staying aligned to your business values & vision. I am currently using Tara Swiger’s Map Your Business planner as my business plan template. It has a good balance between encouraging you to set big picture goals as well as break them down into clear & practical steps to take in order to get you to each goal. It includes some great questions that help you think about everything that you currently have available to you and how best to make use of these resources, networks, etc.
To make sure that I am always staying aligned to my big vision, that I pivot and readjust when things are not working or I do not feel like I am going in the right direction, I take time at the start of each week, each month, each season & year to journal. I reflect on the time that has passed, on what I have achieved, what has or hasn’t worked, on how I felt and I set goals for how I want to feel going forward, what I want to focus on and prioritise in the new chapter. I set goals & priorities for each week in my daily planner. I also use it to keep track of my statistics (such as web traffic, instagram growth, etc) as it allows me to reflect and notice patterns later on. I use my journal to set intentions and write daily thoughts, and reflections. And I use my seasonal planner to reflect on each season and every month and to set clear big picture goals and priorities. You can get your own adjustable copy when you sign up to my Moon Letters. Just scroll further down for the subscription box.