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.
Table of Contents:
- Email Tools
- Desktop Productivity
- Marketing Tools
- Calendar Management
- Website Stuff
- Graphics and Video
- Team Collaboration
- Social Media
- File Sharing and Storage
There are also a ton of great suggestions in the comments below!
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 this is command central for my biz.
It took a little getting used to and a little bit of “teaching” it right from wrong, but the system is remarkably accurate, and has saved me from over 15,000 messages so far. That’s nuts!
Even if those took just a second or two to delete, that still adds up to some serious time.
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.
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.
This is a free clipboard management tool I probably use dozens of times a day without even thinking about it. It stores the last 25 things you’ve copied and lets you ctrl+shift+v to pick which one you want to paste.
At first I didn’t know why I needed this in my life but after using it for a few years I can’t go back!
(I think CopyClip is the Mac alternative.)
7. Active Campaign
After shopping a few different email marketing services, including Drip and ConvertKit, I made the switch to Active Campaign.
I was with AWeber for years, and have nothing but love for the service and team there, but was looking for something a little more robust. Active Campaign offers some really powerful filtering, segmentation, and automation tools, and actually costs less each month than what I was paying for AWeber.
One thing that’s been most exciting is being able to send new subscribers down specific welcome paths based on what they opted in for, and I’ve seen a huge lift in the engagement rate on those campaigns as a result.
(Previously everyone got the same one-size-fits-all autoresponder sequence, whether they opted in for info related to freelancing, or blogging, or e-commerce. Not the greatest user experience!)
I was hesitant to buy LeadPages because I didn’t want to commit to another monthly subscription fee, but the results have been outstanding. Within months, I’d added thousands of new subscribers to my list.
The feature I use most is their LeadBoxes 2-step opt-in forms. (Whack the “I’m a Hustler” button below to see what I’m talking about.)
I also use LeadPages to quickly create landing pages and thank you pages for specific offers. It’s not cheap but it’s an essential tool for me.
Sumo is a suite of free email capture tools. I use their site-wide pop-up on Side Hustle Nation (and occasionally their SmartBar) and have collected more than 30,000 email addresses so far.
10. 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.
For example, this year, Tuesdays are the only days that are open for calendar bookings. I stack up all the meetings and recordings that day, and have the rest of the week (usually) free and clear to tackle other projects.
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.
13. WPX Hosting
When Side Hustle Nation outgrew my cheap shared hosting plan, I moved it over to WordPress optimized hosting at WPX Hosting. The performance and support has been great over there, and traffic is almost 10x what it was when I switched (and the price has stayed the same).
I use Bluehost for several smaller sites and to set up “vanity” domain redirects like BuyButtonsBook.com (which redirects to my book on Amazon) or SideHustleWebsite.com (which redirects to my tutorial on how to set up a website).
Related: Check out my free video course on how to start a blog.
15. 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.
Graphics and Video
Pexels.com is where I source a lot of the images you see here at Side Hustle Nation.
They have beautiful images that are free to use with no attribution required.
I was a little bummed when PicMonkey got rid of their free version, but I really like the app so I didn’t hesitate long before paying.
I use this almost exclusively to create graphics for Pinterest.
I know PowerPoint may not be as sexy as some other graphics tools, but it’s where I create most of the blog images for my sites, and even 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.
21. 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.
22. Video Speed Controller
While YouTube, Udemy, and other media players now often let you adjust the playback speed of the videos you’re watching, this free little Chrome extension takes care of that when the option isn’t there.
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).
IFTTT, or If This, Then That, is an awesome free resource that connects the different apps in your life.
I use it to automatically send messages between various members of my team. For instance, if a new podcast episode is uploaded to The Side Hustle Show “Final” folder in Dropbox, IFTTT will trigger an email to my writer letting him know there’s a new episode ready to summarize and create the show notes for.
OkayRelax is an affordable virtual assistant service I find myself using several times a week.
My dedicated assistant:
- helps run reports
- installs lead magnets
- researches companies
- formats blog posts
- sends welcome messages
- cleans up my Active Campaign contacts
- and more
26. Facebook Groups
The Side Hustle Nation Facebook group is where I spend most of my social media time these days.
It’s totally free and the discussions and connections have been great so far. Feel free to jump on in!
27. Social Warfare
Social Warfare is the “social share buttons” plugin you see on Side Hustle Nation. I think it’s a great-looking way to show some social proof on the posts in terms of how many times that content has been shared:
The plugin is lightweight and affordable at just $29 a year.
This year I switched from Board Booster to Tailwind for scheduling Pinterest pins. Apparently it’s what all the cool kids are using these days!
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 get the file back from my editor, I dump the mp3 file into Audacity, a free audio-editing tool, to add my intro and outro and take a final pass through the recording.
As with any new software, there was a bit of a learning curve to overcome, but I think it works great!
31. ATR-2100 Microphone
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
33. 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.
PayPal is the standard of online payments, and I use to set up recurring payments from advertisers and collect affiliate commissions.
Freshbooks is a long-time sponsor of The Side Hustle Show. I first signed up to invoice a freelance writing client of mine, and now use it mostly to invoice other podcast sponsors.
Betterment is my set-it-and-forget-it automated roboadvisor investment manager. I’m horrible at investing because I always think the market is due to crash any minute, so I keep waiting … and the market keeps climbing.
Betterment just helps me rest easy knowing I’m diversified and I’ve got auto-deposits building my account every month. If you join through my referral link you can get your first 90 days managed free.
39. Dell XPS 13
Yes, I’m still a PC guy!
The first 4.5 years of Side Hustle Nation was all built on one Dell XPS 13 laptop, and it was still going strong but I decided to proactively upgrade to the new model on Cyber Monday. (I ordered directly from Dell.com and got some extra cash back through Ebates.)
I love how small and light it is for traveling.
40. External Monitor
For years, my primary workstation was the 13-inch laptop mentioned above, but I was missing the boat big time.
Turns out, having some extra screen real estate is a big boost to productivity and cost way less than for some reason I thought it would.
So I added this 24-inch external monitor to my set up this year and can’t go back to the tiny screen!
Note: You can check out my full home office set-up here.
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?