Please be aware that this post may contain affiliate links. This means I may receive a commission if you choose to make a purchase via these links, at no extra cost to you. Please refer to my full disclosure policy for more information.
Ok, as an Online Business Manager that has a deep love of all things tech, I’m sure it won’t shock you to know that I have a LOT of views on the best systems and tools to increase the organisation, productivity and revenue of your business!
One of my favourite tasks, after I have my first kick-off call with a new client, is evaluating the structure of their current systems and recommending changes to optimise and streamline their operations.
Choosing the right business systems is the starting point for creating a business operation that works like clockwork with minimal intervention from the CEO or management, that consistently delivers a high quality and professional customer experience and creates a happy, productive and engaged team environment.
My Most Recommended & Useful Business Tools & Systems
Every business is different and therefore the combination of systems I recommend differs dependent on the business owners preferences, goals and budget. This list is not exhaustive, but the tools I think are the most versatile and the ones I most often recommend.
No Time to Read Now? Pin For Later!
1. Google Workspace
This should be the first system you establish in your business. It ticks the most boxes for all the basics you need (including a generous cloud-based storage and a domain email address) and for $6 a month is an unbelievably reasonable investment for what you get in return. The only direct competitor is Microsoft Teams, which I used in my corporate jobs before becoming an OBM.
I prefer Google Workspace (formally GSuite) because I personally find the interface more intuitive. It also appears to be much more heavily favoured in the online space I operate in and with most of my clients using it already, collaboration is easier when you’re using the same file storage system. I will say that Microsoft Teams does have a more generous storage allowance on the basic plan though.
Google Workspace starts from $6 a month and Microsoft Teams from $5 a month (although you are required to commit to a year upfront).
Encrypted password management that works across multiple browsers is an essential for any business owner and I find LastPass delivers the most value. Not only does it generate unique and high difficulty passwords, but it also stores them along with the username and website so you can log onto any system stored within it quickly.
It is also great for collaboration; my clients can share their passwords with me securely and easily, choosing whether to reveal their password or keep it hidden (while still allowing me to use it with the click of a button).
In a world where we always have to be protecting ourselves online, it is essential that you have robust systems in place to protect yourself (and your clients) and LastPass is an important part of my business security policy.
LastPass is free for the basic programme (which is the one I use) and $3 a month for the premium licence which comes with more storage and additional security features.
3. Calendly, Dubsado or Acuity
You would be AMAZED at how much time a good scheduler saves. You sync them with your business calendar and it allows your clients to book in the required amount of time around your existing availability, without revealing what your other appointments are.
If you are looking for a free one, go with Calendly, although you can only have one type/length of appointment bookable.
Dubsado is the one I use and I love it as it actually requires zero intervention from me; it is completely integrated with my client onboarding and management workflows and it automatically generates and populates Zoom meeting details into the appointment itself. It also sends handy reminders to the client with links for them to cancel or rebook and automatically adjusts to the appropriate time zone.
Acuity is another (more advanced) option with the capability to schedule with multiple team members across multiple calendars. It starts at $15 a month (they do have a free plan, but I found Calendly to a be a better option for that) and this would be the one I would use if I wasn’t using Dubsado as my CRM.
So, I will start by saying that I think Project Management (PM) systems are THE hardest thing to choose and is probably the choice of system that most needs to revolve around the primary user’s preference. It is the system you are most likely to change and the easiest to get wrong!
Just to make it as clear as mud, it will take you a couple of months to work out whether it actually is the right systems for you or if you want to switch again.
I have jumped around PM systems a lot and really struggled to put my finger on what wasn’t quite right about each one. Now I am on ClickUp and I “think” this MAYBE THE ONE. It’s like picking a partner, your PM system is the hub of your internal operations and just has to “get you”.
Out of everything on this list, this is the one I am most hesitant about recommending without knowing you or your business as it is such a personal choice!
What I will say is that I find ClickUp really intuitive and reflective of how my brain organises and processes information, but with great flexibility comes a an even greater learning curve!
If you’re looking for a scalable and collaborative tool, ClickUp definitely ticks these boxes, but I also have had clients that can’t get on with it and swear by Asana, Monday.com, Teamwork or Trello.
I recommend taking a deep breath and going with your gut on this one, it is the route that is most likely to pay off!
All of the PM tools offer a free basic plan and have various paid upgrade options.
When I first opened Dubsado, I quickly closed it again. There is A LOT going on here. As with ClickUp above, if your PM system is the heart of your internal operations, your CRM system is the heart of your external one. Therefore, you need to remove your own personal preference from it to a certain extent and put yourself in the shoes of your customer, as the CRM system you choose will quite literally be the face of your business.
Dubsado is one of the more complex options on the market, but with complexity comes flexibility and this is a tool that I see effortlessly scaling with my business as well as providing an on-point customer experience with the perfect blend of automation and personalisation.
Dubsado is free for the first 3 clients (great when your business is just getting started!) and then $35 a month. I am telling you now, worth every penny and saves me/my Virtual Assistant HOURS every week.
I find it really hard to put into words why Slack is so great. At first, I thought it was just another messaging app so was reluctant to get on board, as let’s face it, the world isn’t short of those, but Slack is so much more!
It’s an amazing way of organising all your conversations (so you have different channels for different topics) making it SO EASY to refer back to something when you need it.
I use it as the primary method of internal communication and it is one of 3 day-to-day communication options I give my clients, along with email and Voxer.
There is a generous free option, but you may have to upgrade to the paid plan for larger teams or to adhere to your company data retention policy.
7. Zoom & Google Meet
Let’s face it, video conferencing has never been more essential than it is now! The world and his dog is familiar with Zoom and luckily that means it also has allll the integration options, including my favourite one with Dubsado where it automatically generates Zoom meeting links and adds them to the appointment my client has booked with me.
Wave is a fabulous option if you are looking for a completely free accountancy software. The dashboard is fantastic and gives you a great visual overview of your company’s finances and you can also easily add and switch between multiple businesses.
Throw in the customised, branded invoice templates you can create, automated send and follow up email features and the integration with your payment processor, it’s a whole lot of value!
The only issue I have is that it can’t bill in multiple currencies which I need to be able to do to accommodate my clients in different countries, so I’m currently on the hunt for a new accountancy software that does this and integrates with my CRM platform, Dubsado!
So, when I started out working online I spent A LOT of time learning about SEO (search engine optimisation, the practice of optimising website content to rank highly on Google) and I strongly believe that if you have a blog as part of your content marketing strategy (which I do), this can easily be your biggest website traffic driver.
It isn’t the simplest or the easiest strategy and I spent a whole year learning, implementing and tweaking on my own website (the test one I started prior to this as a place to practice all my new online skills) before I started ranking highly on Google.
Keysearch is the tool I credit for allowing me to implement my strategy; it is a keyword research tool that I use to identify keywords that have the target search volume I am looking for that my site is also capable of ranking for.
If you are looking to give your website more visibility, mastering SEO and having pages or posts that rank on the first page of Google will consistently bring you traffic every day. While it is quite a bit of initial work, it is way more effective than social media for getting eyes on your website and is often an underused strategy by online service providers.
At $169 for the year, Keysearch is the perfect blend of cost and value and without it, my SEO strategy would be dead in the water!
After Google traffic (brought in by SEO optimised content as per the above), Pinterest is the second biggest traffic source to my website.
Tailwind is on a basic level a Pinterest scheduler (and one of the only platforms authorised by Pinterest), but in reality, it is so much more. Implementing an effective content strategy on Pinterest manually is time-consuming work (way more so than Instagram even) and while some people swear by manual pinning, no way do I have time for that.
Tailwind pins your pins at the optimum times, gives great analytics and crucially, gives you access to Tribes, which allows other users to share your content in an organic way.
I spend an hour a week scheduling my content for the week in Tailwind and then pop in a couple of times a week to do a bit of manual pinning (it’s good for your Pinterest account SEO if they can see you are an active user on the Pinterest platform itself).
Tailwind plans start at $120 a year and I promise, is worth every penny if you use it alongside a solid Pinterest content strategy.
11. Planoly, Buffer & Hootsuite
It can be VERY time consuming trying to stay on top of social media and schedulers will help a lot to manage this.
I use Planoly for posting to Instagram; I like that you can plan out your feed and check that the images are consistent. For everything else, I have used a few different schedulers including Buffer and Hootsuite and if I’m being honest, I don’t think one stood out above the other!
They all do the job reliably and are easy to use but there are no extra features that blow me away (not that that is a bad thing). Having said that, while I love my systems and tech, social media has never particularly lit a fire under me, so maybe that accounts for some of my ambivalence!
If you are just starting out and want an easy to use email marketing platform, you can’t go wrong with Mailerlite. They offer a free service (with limited functionality) for up to 1,000 subscribers and is such a great platform for learning the ins and outs of email marketing and creating beautiful, customisable emails.
I currently use Mailerlite and really love it, but my email marketing game is stepping up and I am starting to want to use more sophisticated email marketing techniques, so I am looking at switching to a paid platform with more functionality in the next couple of months, most likely to ConvertKit or ActiveCampaign.
Airtable is a kind of database/spreadsheet hybrid and can be a really powerful tool for analysing and presenting data in a meaningful way.
I might say something slightly unpopular here, but in my plans to reduce the number of platforms I’m using to run my business, Airtable looks like it may be a casualty. There are actually very few reports or data crunching exercises I need to do that can’t be done through a combination of Google Sheets and ClickUp, so I don’t actually use it as much anymore.
If you are doing any kind of metrics management or analysis and aren’t using a PM system that supports this, then Airtable is an excellent tool. I can also say, as someone who used to have to take a very deep breath before opening any database in my previous corporate role, it is a pleasure to work with and very user friendly.
Airtable offers a free plan, but I would say (almost) all of the functionality you get with that can be done in a combination of Google Sheets and ClickUp. If you are using these two platforms and don’t need the paid Airtable plan, (starting from $10 a month), I would question whether you need to use it at all.
I may have said the word integration a fair few times in this post and with good reason…..integration is AMAZING for productivity, automation and communication. Not all platforms offer integration functionality though and this is where Zapier comes in; it allows you to create powerful workflow across multiple applications.
You need to know exactly what you want to do to set a “zap” up (hint, map out your workflows in advance), it’s the kind of platform that will send you a bit insane if you don’t have a clear idea of what you want to happen (you’ll see what I mean when you use it!).
You can set-up 5 “zaps” with a 15-minute update (up to 100 tasks a month) on the free plan, with more features added as you move into the paid options, which start at $20 a month.
That’s a Wrap! Most Useful Business Systems & Tools
I hope this gives you some ideas about where to start with your system selection, whether you are just starting out in your business or you are giving your business operations an overhaul!
Looking for someone to set-up and optimise the back-end systems and automation in your business? Click here to apply!