No self-respecting gunslinger would mosey on down to the O.K. Corral without their trusty six-shooter and ten-gallon hat.
No keen survivalist would venture miles into the forest without their compass, flask, lighter, and waterproof poncho.
So, what about the budding entrepreneur or agency founder charting a course through the digital landscape? Without the right accompaniment it’s a tough task.
First things first, you need a reliable computer — that much is a given. Pick up a trusty laptop you can take wherever you go (plus a smartphone with a good data connection), and you’ll be ready to get online and get things done at a moment’s notice.
But the hardware is just the beginning.
Progress and eventual success mainly comes down to the software tools you use.
Choose wisely, and you’ll assemble a versatile range of cost-effective utilities — choose poorly, and you’ll sink under the weight of the subscription fees while getting nothing done.
Never fear! You just need a handful of nudges to get you going in the right direction, and you’re reading the right piece for that. Let’s take a look at some software that neatly fits into an Agency Operating System for the digital entrepreneur or creative freelancer (after that, it’s up to you!):
1. Google Drive
Working in the digital realm, your files form the core of your operation — and since they can disappear in an instant if stored incorrectly, it’s mission-critical that you keep them secured, backed up, and shareable when necessary. There are plenty of file storage services out there, but Google Drive is the smart default: it’s free, simple, solid, and known to almost everyone.
The importance of graphic design for the average entrepreneur is often overlooked. Whether you’re working on your website’s aesthetic or setting up promo for social media, you need to be able to cobble together some halfway-decent images. It’s a branding essential. And while you may want to use something like Photoshop, if you just have basic needs and don’t want to spend too much, a SaaS tool like Stencil will get the job done efficiently and at minimal cost.
Whether you’re building up a newsletter or marketing to customers, email marketing is an effective and efficient way to achieve your goals. AWeber is an email marketing platform (starting at $19 per month, which isn’t exactly exorbitant) that provides excellent support and straightforward automation — and has all the integrations you’d ever need.
Small business accounting can make the difference between success and failure, because any breakdown in your cash flow will leave you struggling to keep going. Freshbooks is a simple cloud-based solution that a solo operator can use for $15 per month (with up to 5 billable clients), plus any merchant with a compatible CMS can pay for OneSaaS to share data (most modern systems support it, particularly if they’re cloud-based like Shopify or BigCommerce).
Task tracking isn’t just something for teams to consider. In truth, it’s almost more important for an entrepreneur to have a specific place for listing and prioritizing the demands on their time — after all, if they forget to do something, no one is going to remind them. Trello is a task management tool with a great free plan: unlimited boards, with each board getting access to 1 power-up (Trello power-ups are essentially add-ons that drive integrations and automations). Also, if you use it, you can get some great pointers from this Trello guide.
When you’re working with multiple clients, you need to be able to communicate with them effectively and quickly. There are plenty of suitable tools out there, but it’s generally best to go with whatever is most widely-used, because it’s a pain having to convince someone to set up a new account solely to talk to you — and Slack is the industry standard these days.
7. WP Engine
WordPress is a free, flexible and intuitive all-purpose CMS, so it makes total sense for an entrepreneur to use it. Why spend more money on a platform that doesn’t add anything major? You do need good hosting, though, which is where WP Engine comes in. Get your site up and running smoothly, quickly, and reliably. Here’s a little 20% off link to help your decision 😉
Time is money, and when you’re running a solo operation, you don’t have much to go around. Overdelivery is a classic problem: without realising it, you spend hours and hours working on something that doesn’t really matter, throwing away time that could have been used for something else. Toggl is a tool that helps you track and tag your work, and the basic plan is free, so you don’t have anything to lose by trying it.
Let’s say that everything’s going your way, and you’ve started hiring people to work for you. The good news is that you no longer need to do everything yourself, but the bad news is that you have to handle HR and payroll and other such matters. Thankfully, Gusto does much of it for you, and starts at just $45 per month (making it significantly cheaper than hiring an HR person).
The tools don’t stop there — the tools never stop, because there’s always more you can do to expand your operation or make it more efficient — but this lineup should cover the basics and give you the foundation you need to make progress.
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About the Author:
A writer and small business owner, Kayleigh is an expert in all things content, freelance, marketing, and commercial strategy.
Favourite charity? All things microfinance appeal to me.