I’m always looking for ways to work smarter and more efficiently, and to that end I took a recent inventory of my online business “toolkit.”
Of course many of these will be obvious to you but hopefully you discover some helpful new resources as well.
The good news? Most are free or at least have a free version!
And if you’re looking for the definitive guide to online resources named by top entrepreneurs, check out the full collection in my book, Work Smarter.
One inbox to rule them all.
All my email, for all my websites, filters into my main Gmail inbox. I’ve been using Gmail exclusively since 2005 and it says I’m still only at 65% of my storage capacity.
This is command central for my biz.
Streak is a free Gmail extension that has a number of cool features including the ability to schedule emails to be sent later, track when messages have been opened, and create pre-written templates.
I used the “schedule for later” feature for my mass email outreach campaign for my book launch.
It also has a full CRM system of customer pipelines but I’ve never really used that or the tracking feature.
Rapportive is another free Gmail extension that will show a person’s LinkedIn profile information in your sidebar. It used to be better before LinkedIn bought the company, but I still use it daily and connect with a lot of new people on LinkedIn through the app.
4. Auto Text Expander
Auto Text Expander is a free Chrome browser extension that allows you to create custom keyboard shortcuts for commonly used phrases. For instance, if I type “mc*” (for My Calendar), it will populate:
“My calendar is here:
Grab a couple times that work for you and we’ll make it happen.”
If I type “sig*” (for Signature), it will populate:
I have dozens of these little shortcuts set-up and they save a ton of time and on top of that, you feel like a real productivity ninja when you use them.
I’m also trialing the PhraseExpress software, which has similar functionality but is system-wide, not just inside Chrome.
Nudgemail is a free email reminder system, where you can bcc email@example.com (or any commonly-expressed timeframe), and you’ll get a follow-up message in your inbox at that time.
Lately I’ve been using it when people tell me their 3-month goals in my welcome survey, I can set a reminder to check in 3 months and see how they’re progressing.
I also use Nudgemail to send me my daily Gratitude Journal and “I Done This” prompt.
I’ve been using AWeber for my email list management and have been happy so far. I think there are some shortcomings when it comes to design and interface usability, but the deliverability of the messages has been strong and that’s what’s most important.
This is one of the very few paid resources on this page, and is actually one of my largest monthly business expenses, but I find it a worthwhile investment.
I was hesitant to buy LeadPages because I didn’t want to commit to another monthly subscription fee, but the results have been outstanding. In fact, even when I tested a bunch of LeadPages alternatives, I was surprised to find that none of them really held water compared to the market leader.
The feature I use most is their LeadBoxes 2-step opt-in forms. (Whack the “I’m a Hustler” button in the sidebar to see what I’m talking about.)
Powerful stuff, easy to customize and integrate with your email service provider, and you can’t beat the price tag!
9. Google Calendar
My Google Calendar runs my day, and I’ve even started the habit of blocking off larger chunks of time for myself. After all, if you don’t prioritize your day, someone else will do it for you.
I use the $5 per month version of ScheduleOnce to handle all my podcast interviews, coaching appointments, and other clients meetings. It syncs easily with my Google Calendar and I can pre-set times I don’t want made available.
Skype is my default meeting venue. The call quality is generally just fine and it works anywhere in the world.
I also record the vast majority of my podcast episodes through Skype.
12. Google Voice
Lately I’ve been using my Google Voice number as an alternative to Skype for people who want to dial in with a real phone number — and I don’t have to share my cell number.
13. Google Hangouts
Although there was a little bit of a learning curve with Hangouts, I think I’m getting the “hang” of it. I use hangouts to record video interviews and to host all my mastermind sessions.
Bonus: SHN readers can get a $25 credit toward their first month of service or a new or used phone.
Maybe I’m a little bit of a fanboy, but it’s pretty awesome that you can get such a robust website-building framework for FREE, and then add one of thousands of great-looking themes on top of it, also for free. (Or a relatively low cost.)
I’m in my WordPress dashboards all day long moderating comments, writing new posts, adding pages, etc.
If it helps, here’s a step-by-step process on how I built a great-looking site in just a few hours using WordPress.
Related: Check out my free video course on how to start a blog.
17. WPX Hosting
When Side Hustle Nation outgrew my cheap shared hosting plan, I moved it over to WordPress optimized hosting at WPX Hosting. Well, actually I moved it to WP Engine first, but didn’t have a great experience.
18. Pretty Link
Pretty Link — actually Pretty Link Lite — is a free WordPress plugin that helps create easy-to-remember redirect links and affiliate links.
For instance, that Bluehost link above is a Pretty Link. I’m not entirely sure what the paid version gets you because I’ve created hundreds of links in the free version and it seems to be just fine.
It also is handy to create “speakable” links to use on the podcast. Every time I say something like, “Visit the show notes at SideHustleNation.com/95,” that’s a Pretty Link.
Graphics and Video
I even used one for a recent Amazon book cover.
20. Flickr Creative Commons
My other go-to source for images is the Flickr Creative Commons. They have tons of pictures that are free to use as long as you give credit to the photographer. Search by keyword and see if anything suitable pops up.
I found several of the images in my TEDx presentation there, and it’s where I found the toolkit image above.
It’s also where I begin design for most of my book covers as well.
PhotoScape is free photo-editing software. I know I’m only scratching the surface of its functionality, but I primarily use it to crop and re-size images.
Screencast-o-Matic is a really cool free screen recording tool. Previously I’d used Jing, but it was limited to 5 minutes. Screencast-o-Matic will let you go up to 15 minutes for free with unlimited recordings and just include a little branded watermark in the corner.
For $15 a year you can remove those restrictions. I use this all the time to record video site reviews for people and to record step-by-step tutorials either for YouTube or for virtual assistants.
24. Awesome Screenshot
Awesome Screenshot is a cool free Chrome browser extension that helps you capture still screenshots, crop them, and mark them up with text, circles, and arrows. You can even capture complete scrolling websites in one screenshot.
I use Feedly to keep tabs on all my favorite blogs.
I use the free version of Buffer to fill up my Twitter stream with relevant and interesting links. I like to add links from my Feedly feed, the Buffer suggested posts, and from my own site.
I have an If This Then That recipe that automatically adds each new blog post on Side Hustle Nation to my Buffer stream.
The buffer crew even sent me a free t-shirt!
27. Facebook Groups
In early 2015 I finally started a Side Hustle Nation Facebook group, which is something I should have done a long time ago. It’s totally free and the discussions and connections have been great so far. Feel free to jump on in!
I use the free Zencastr browser-based recording tool to record my podcast interviews. It delivers great sound quality and haven’t had any dealbreaker issues with it.
After I finish the recording, I dump the mp3 file into Audacity, which is a free audio-editing tool. As with any new software, there was a bit of a learning curve to overcome, but I think it works great!
30. ATR-2100 Microphone
I call the Audio Technica ATR-2100 the 80/20 of podcast microphones. It delivers probably 80% of the sound quality of a super fancy mic at 20% of the cost. And it plugs directly into my USB port so I don’t have to worry about how to work a mixer.
Libsyn is my podcasting “media host.” For $15 a month they host all my podcast files, which is an incredible value for the reach a podcast can have.
File Sharing and Storage
32. Google Drive
I was a latecomer to Google Drive but now use it every day to build out podcast show outlines, collect survey responses, and share files between team members.
I recently upgraded to Dropbox Pro and use it to backup and share larger files (like podcast recordings). This is my default cloud storage, and there are some fun automations you can set up with IFTTT, like automatically uploading all of your phone pictures to the cloud or emailing your virtual assistant each time you add a new file.
Also what I’ll do is every time I download someone’s ebook or an advance release copy of a book, I’ll dump it into Dropbox and then read it later on my iPad.
New users can get 2 GB of free online storage.
Now technically I don’t use Backblaze every day because it is 100% automated. It’s an online backup service that automatically backs up my hard drive to the cloud for $50 a year.
I had a computer crash and lose my data once, and that was enough to learn my lesson.
I am in LOVE with LastPass, a free password management tool. We all have so many passwords to remember on a daily basis and this free tool helps me “outsource” all that mental clutter.
Plus, you can use this to securely share passwords with your virtual assistant(s).
Maybe I’m paying more in fees than I have to, but PayPal is my default invoicing system and payment processor.
37. Lending Robot
I use Lending Robot to automate my peer-to-peer investing with Prosper.com. You can set your desired filters and investment amounts and the software will go out and buy matching loans on your behalf. So far so good!
38. Dell XPS 13
Yes, I’m still a PC guy. I had some issues early on with this machine, and the hard drive storage is a little small, but I love how small and light it is for traveling. This is the newer version of the XPS 13 laptop.
Since I work from home, I probably don’t use my phone as much as most people, and when I do it’s primarily a social media device. I use it to keep tabs on Twitter and Facebook.
My phone is a used iPhone 4S I got from Swappa. Sometimes I get a little jealous of the new models with the bigger screens but I try and remind myself it’s still perfectly functional and all in all a pretty amazing device to be able to carry around.
40. Treadmill Desk
I start every morning with a few miles on my makeshift treadmill desk. I absolutely love it! With the help of my engineering bride and a handier-than-I friend, we pieced it together from components on Craigslist for around $250.
I think it’s a great productivity hack because it gets the blood flowing and gives you some literal forward momentum to your day. I even wrote a book about treadmill desks if you want to learn more.
41. Pen and Paper
No, that’s not an app, but it’s how I keep track of my daily and weekly priorities.
Anything I missed? What side hustle tools would you add?
Which of these are your favorites?
(toolbox image credit)