Every business influencer says you need ______ to succeed.
They fill in the blank with hundreds of resources and suggestions. Some say you need advanced marketing tools, while others say the secret to success is investing in high-paid masterminds or conferences.
With so many possibilities, it’s hard to know what’s worth investing in when it comes to your business.
It’s even harder as a new entrepreneur who’s building a business from the ground up.
If you’re not sure where you should put your money and when to upgrade, you’ve come to the right place.
Our aim is to help you answer this question: If you had a limited business budget each month, how would you spend your money?
With this Creator Tech Stack series, we wanted to stretch beyond the basics and supply you with the best resource recommendations for every crucial stage of business.
When you are in DIY mode and using scrappy methods to successfully launch and run your business, it’s important to invest in the right tools from the start.
We’re here to help you build your first Creator Tech Stack today with just $100/month.
To start making wiser investments, let’s talk more about why tools matter and how they can help you achieve your growth goals early on.
Why use tools as a new entrepreneur?
As you watch YouTube tutorials or scroll through your Instagram feed, you may discover just how many tools creators use. While every entrepreneur seems to recommend a different set of tools, they all rely on software to run their online businesses.
Think about trying to sell an e-commerce product without a website, or communicating with your client without email, phone calls, or video conferencing. It just doesn’t work!
Even if you don’t consider yourself tech-savvy, there are real benefits to learning how to incorporate tools into your work or routine.
You can automate tasks to save time
When starting a business, you’ll likely be working as a solopreneur or with a smaller team. Since you wear a lot of hats, marketing automation tools can save you hours each week.
You can save time by automating:
- Client email communication with canned email templates
- Lead generation with an online quiz or other lead magnets
- Online sales processes with automated funnels
If you feel like there aren’t enough hours in the day to accomplish all you need to do, automation tools can help. There’s still a way to add a personal touch to everything you do while making the best use of your time and energy.
It prioritizes relationship building
With less time spent on tasks that can be automated, you’ll have more time to nurture relationships with your audience. This is crucial to your success as a new entrepreneur because your first followers will often turn into your first customers.
Building a community is one of the best things you can do when you’re starting a business. If no one knows who you are and how you can help them, it will be difficult for you to increase conversions. We recommend setting aside at least an hour every day to personally interact with your audience.
Building strong relationships with your audience doesn’t happen overnight but, rather, through the conscious effort of making conversation. You can do this by posting on social media, sending emails to your list, or participating in other communities that already exist.
You can limit outsourcing costs
When you are just beginning to build a business, it might be tempting to spend nearly all of your budget on a virtual assistant or consultant who can help you with work. These service providers can be incredibly valuable, but you may not be ready to hire someone quite yet.
Until you get a steady stream of clients and are reaching your revenue goals, you may want to use tools to accomplish similar tasks.
Here are a few free tools that can help you in a pinch:
- Grammarly for proofreading articles and emails
- Canva for creating stunning graphic designs
- Google Analytics for reporting and research
These tools will still require some DIY effort, but they will make certain parts of your job easier as a new entrepreneur. With a few tools and a little bit of elbow grease, you’ll be able to work smarter rather than harder.
Budget-friendly tools for your first year in business
With a budget of only $100/month, it’s important to spend it wisely. In your first year of business, you’ll need to separate the must-have tools from the nice-to-have options. Otherwise, you may not have enough budget to put toward the software you really need.
When your budget needs to cover all of the essentials without the extras, this is a good place to start.
Website builder and hosting
Think of your website as the main hub of your online business. It’s where visitors will go to learn more about your brand and what you offer. No matter if you have an e-commerce shop or simply use your website to book new clients, you’ll need an easy-to-use website platform that allows you to create, edit, and launch your website.
Best value: Squarespace for $16/month
Many entrepreneurs use Squarespace to build their first website because of its affordable costs and user-friendly interface. When you invest in Squarespace, it also covers your hosting costs forever and the domain name registration fees for your first year.
With customizable design templates, businesses can seamlessly input their images, text, and links into their website with a few clicks. The templates are designed to look great on any screen, which is important since traffic coming from mobile and desktop is almost an even split.
With so many entrepreneurs using Squarespace, you’ll need to put some extra time into making your website template stand out from others who may be using the same one. However, you will rarely have to custom code your website to get the look you desire.
If you are selling services, Squarespace is the easiest website platform to get started with. If you want to sell physical or digital products, there are additional fees required to set up your shop on Squarespace. However, this can still be less expensive than e-commerce competitors like Shopify.
Squarespace’s best features:
- Award-winning templates for portfolios, blogs, and business websites
- A mix of templates that emphasize bold typography, imagery, or both
- Drag-and-drop features that make customizing templates simple
- More customer support offered than WordPress, which I cover next
Runner-up: WordPress with varied pricing
Nearly 40% of websites are powered by WordPress, easily making it the most popular website platform. With WordPress, you have endless possibilities when it comes to creating a custom website. However, you’ll probably need extensive coding knowledge to accomplish your vision.
While WordPress is technically free, you’ll need to invest in website hosting and a domain name to get started. Some creators recommend Bluehost or HostGator for hosting on WordPress, and GoDaddy or Google Domains for registering a domain name (usually around $4 to $19/month for your first year). I’ll let you do your own research to see which is the best fit for you.
If you aren’t sure how to code, you may also need to invest in a professionally designed WordPress template. Frequently sold by independent designers on sites like Etsy and Creative Market, you can find templates that are priced from $100 to $1,000 or more. If you aren’t working with a website developer, you may need to customize these templates yourself.
WordPress’s best features:
- Open source software with a large worldwide community of developers
- Freedom to create anything you can imagine (but you’ll need to know code!)
- You can choose your own domain name and hosting providers
- Easy-to-use content management system for publishing SEO-driven blog content
|Key Takeaway: WordPress is a fantastic platform when it comes to boosting your SEO performance and creating a truly unique website. However, if you need a user-friendly platform that has drag-and-drop features and stunning templates that are free, Squarespace could be your answer.
While CRM stands for client relationship management software, it’s really an all-in-one platform for managing (almost) everything within a client project. It’s a must-have for any service provider, coach, freelancer, or consultant.
With a CRM, you can send invoices, contracts, emails, forms, and more. It eliminates the need to invest in individual tools that accomplish only one of these many client management tasks. There are many CRM options for small business owners on the market, but here are some of our community’s favorites.
Best value: Honeybook for $9/month
HoneyBook is known for being a top-choice CRM and has updated its platform to target all creative industries, but we appreciate their roots in serving the wedding and event industry.
HoneyBook has a $9/month plan designed to keep your initial costs down, but it comes with some drawbacks. With this starter plan, your transactions will be limited to $10,000.
Once you go beyond $10,000 in transactions, you’ll need to upgrade to their Unlimited Monthly plan of $39/month. In addition, HoneyBook also requires you to pay a 3% transaction fee on all transactions, so keep this in mind as you grow and scale your business.
HoneyBook’s best features:
- Built-in scheduler that makes it easy to book client calls and discovery calls
- Automatic payment reminders so you get paid faster
- Has its own payment processor so you don’t need to use Stripe or PayPal
- Contracts have a smart bar feature that tells clients where to sign
Runner-up: Dubsado for $35/month
For no transaction limits and a reduced unlimited fee, Dubsado is a solid CRM option for all creatives and service providers. Known for their advanced automation and design customization options, many teams use Dubsado to create a streamlined client experience.
With friendly customer service, this personable team may offer the kind of support you need if it’s your first time managing client projects online. While the Workflow capabilities can make the tool feel overwhelming or confusing at times, you can ease your way into some of these features.
Dubsado’s best features:
- More customization options than other CRMs when it comes to design and branding
- Workflows can be used to automate your entire onboarding and offboarding process
- High level of customer support with many video tutorials and demos you can learn from
- Built-in bookkeeping and basic reporting capabilities
|Key Takeaway: At $35/month, Dubsado is the better bang for your buck in the long term as compared to HoneyBook. However, if you need a good place to start while keeping costs low, HoneyBook may be the best option to begin with.
Email marketing software
Now that we’ve covered the business essentials, you’ll want to think about how you’re going to generate leads for your business. Since email marketing generates up to $42 for every dollar spent, it’s worth your investment.
We’re huge believers in email marketing since it’s one of the only platforms you own as an entrepreneur. Unlike social media and its ever-changing algorithms, you can reach your audience whenever you want without limitation when sending emails.
Best value: Flodesk at $38/month
With stunning email design templates, it’s easier to create on-brand emails with Flodesk. This platform is a new kid on the block, but it has already become a real competitor in the email marketing space. If visual branding and ethics are really important to you, Flodesk is your best option.
One unique thing about Flodesk’s pricing is that you pay the same flat fee no matter how many subscribers are on your list. It doesn’t matter if you email 500 people or 50,000 people; the pricing stays the same so users aren’t penalized for growing their lists.
What Flodesk is lacking in advanced automation features, it makes up for in beautiful templates. Your emails will look like they were created by a high-end email designer when, really, you’re able to design with easy drag-and-drop features.
Flodesk’s best features:
- Professionally designed email templates you can create, send, and reuse
- Sample workflow templates that are customizable based on your email goals
- Unlimited forever pricing that makes budgeting easier in the long term
- In-depth video tutorials on Flodesk University to learn more about email marketing
Runner-up: ConvertKit with varied pricing
Made by creators, for creators, ConvertKit has taken the email marketing world by storm. With more landing page templates, advanced segmentation, and a variety of e-commerce options, it’s become a favorite among many entrepreneurs who don’t mind sending plain-text emails. ConvertKit also integrates with Interact, so it’s easier to build your list!
While ConvertKit has a relatively new free option on their platform, it doesn’t come with any automation features. It’s better to upgrade to a paid subscription so you can do more than send one-time newsletters to your subscribers.
When you do this in ConvertKit, you’ll have to pay more depending on how many subscribers are on your list. With 1,000 subscribers, you’ll need to pay at least $29/month. When your list jumps to 5,000 subscribers, your monthly fee will be around $79/month. The numbers continue to grow exponentially from there.
If you choose to use ConvertKit, you must use email marketing as a key way to sell your services and products to make the increased costs worth it. While it may be a great option when you are just getting started, it will likely require more of your budget as you increase subscribers through lead magnets like quizzes.
ConvertKit’s best features:
- E-commerce options like creating a paid newsletter, selling digital products, and more
- More landing page and form templates than other email marketing competitors
- Subject line A/B testing so you can raise your open rates
- In-depth Tradecraft blog guides and inspiring Creator Stories to read for free
|Key Takeaway: Both of these email marketing platforms were made for creatives, so it’s important for you to define what’s most important to you. If it’s more automation and e-commerce capabilities, ConvertKit is a clear winner. If it’s creating design-centric emails and keeping costs low for the long term, Flodesk is your answer.
Free tools you’ll love as a small business owner
Luckily, there are many tools that offer free plans you can take advantage of as a budget-conscious entrepreneur. While some of these tools have upgrade options, you can use their freely available features until you have more room in your budget.
Here are some of the best free tools for small businesses:
- Interact for online quiz building (hey, that’s us!)
- Zoom or Google Hangouts for video conferencing
- Trello or Asana for project management
- Calendly as a meeting scheduler
- YouTube for video tutorials and free business advice
- Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and LinkedIn for social media marketing
Final thoughts in growing your small business
We can’t wait to see how you grow and scale your creative business over time!
Once you’ve invested in these essential tools, you’ll want to keep an eye on tools that can help you reach peak sustainability. That’s what we’ll talk about in our next Creator Tech Stack article, so stay tuned!