Let’s be honest. Running a creative business means that you have to have your hand in a few different pies (mmm, pies) from the start. Sure, you have to provide exceptional service or create an amazing product for your customers, but what about all the rest?
Invoicing, contracts, social media, website stuff… the list goes on. Luckily, we live in the digital age, which means there are a ton of tools out there to help us run our creative businesses. You’re busy, though, and you don’t have time to play around with a dozen different tools to find the one that works for you.
I’m here to share seventeen of the tools and programs I’ve used in my own business, as well as recommended to other creatives. Hopefully, this helps you find tools that help you do important work faster — so you can get back to what you do best!
Manage your business with more ease
If you have multiple projects, clients, customers, or relationships you’re building in your business, you need help keeping everything straight. You can certainly hack some of these features together with multiple programs if that’s more your style, but I’ve really liked having everything in one central place!
17hats is an all-in-one platform that gives you a single place for tracking leads, booking, onboarding, fulfillment, financials, and more. I’ve personally used this service for the last three years and have found it super helpful! If you’ve ever felt overwhelmed by how disjointed everything is when working with multiple clients or vendors, this is definitely a great platform to check out.
Although I’ve never personally used Dubsado, I’ve heard rave reviews from some of my other creative biz friends, so I thought it was worth sharing! With Dubsado, you can email, invoice, approve contracts, schedule calls, and more through your client dashboards. You will want to pick between Dubsado and 17hats (you don’t need both!) but sometimes it’s nice to have some options 🙂
Make sure you’re accounting for your money
In my own experience, accounting and tracking income and expenses has been one of the biggest learning curves of self-employment. Tools like Quickbooks (especially the Self-Employed version) make it easy to sync accounts, categorize income vs. expenses, and get a bird’s eye of view of how you’re doing financially. No spreadsheets required. You can also easily give your bookkeeper access to your account so that they can take care of everything for you (that’s been one of my favorite features).
Get your to-do list organized
Gone are the days of a simple to-do list inside your business. Instead, you probably need a more robust tool that helps you map out projects, include other team members or clients, and pace out tasks so you don’t cry yourself to sleep at night. That’s why I love Asana! There is a free option that lets you do pretty much everything you need, including organize projects, create subtasks, and communicate about individual projects with clients or partners. If you want a more robust option that includes more team members, private projects, and timelines, the paid version is definitely worth it.
Plan your photo shoots (and other stuff)
Spoiler alert: we plan a lot of photoshoots here at LISH Creative. One of my favorite tools to help me keep track of backgrounds, props, concepts, and client feedback and approvals is Airtable. It’s kinda like a regular spreadsheet on steroids, but it’s so easy to customize and visualize in different ways! There’s basically a better solution for everything that I used to hate about spreadsheets (drag and drop cells, photo importing without having to play with the cell dimensions, easy color coding…the list goes on). And it’s free, so that’s ideal. You can use Airtable for so much more than just photoshoots, too. They also have an Airtable Universe, where you can browse for and customize other users’ templates!
Make sure you’re in people’s inboxes
So many marketing experts out there keep reminding us about the importance of email marketing, but it can be such a difficult process to master. From knowing what to send, planning it out, and then actually designing the emails so they don’t look totally off-brand, there’s a lot that goes into it! I use Mailer Lite because it makes templates, automations, and even pop-ups super easy. With one of their higher-level packages, you can even support landing pages for your opt-ins. There’s minimal learning curve and it’s a genuinely intuitive tool for creatives who don’t like looking at the backend of other email automation tools!
Organize those files!
If you’re a graphic designer, photographer, or someone who deals with a lot of files, you have to have a filing process. I could talk all day about file name processes, but I think the first step is to make sure you have a tool that actually supports regular and consistent file organization. I use two tools to make this easy:
This is a bit more expensive of an option, but they have large capacity which is perfect for designers and photographers who deal with large gigabyte files.
For creatives who may deal with written files, PDFs, slide decks, and other things you can create with Google Suite, I love Google Drive. It’s easy to share with others using a simple link — and all you need is a free Gmail account.
You’ll want to streamline social, too
It can feel like social media is a full-time job on top of your full-time job. That’s why I’m a big believer in using the best tools to make sure I spend less time sharing stuff on social and more time actually doing the work that I love. Here are just a few of my favorite social media tools to try out, by platform:
There aren’t many tools out there that help you schedule and post Pins on Pinterest. Tailwind is the app, and their scheduling dashboard is so easy to use, view, edit, and so on. I’ve been using the app for a few years, and I recently hired a Pinterest manager to take over. It’s incredible how much web traffic you can drive via Pinterest!
There are a ton of Instagram tools out there but Plann is by far my favorite! Although, I may be a bit biased because I was an original beta tester for the app! I met the founder, Christy, through Instagram (of course) and I have believed in her mission and values from the beginning. It’s been incredible to see her work her tail off and put everything on the line to grow this app into what it is today.
My favorite features are the drag and drop feed planner, hashtag saver, and the built in strategy help. They’ve built in tools to help you decide what to post, pick the best hashtags, and find your most popular color palettes. I can’t wait to see what they come up with next!
Make your brand look good
Once you’ve got the social tools figured out, it’s time to start posting, right? … Except that is usually where people freeze up. If you’re not a graphic designer or photographer, it might be hard to know what to post. That goes beyond social — from your emails to your website to your communications. You want your graphics and visuals to look good! That’s why I use the next two tools all the time.
I love Canva. Their tool has an awesome free version, but their paid version is so useful, user-friendly, and uhhh-mazing. From stock photos to easy-to-customize templates and designs, this has everything you need to design for your business.
For the things I can’t create in Canva, I head to Creative Market. This is a digital marketplace where you can buy fonts, templates, vector graphics, and more for a totally affordable price — and support individual creators and designers while you do it!
Stop managing your calendar
One of the biggest time sucks as a creative is scheduling. Have you ever gotten an email requesting a call, a consultation, or to book your time and had to play the 47-emails-back-and-forth game? Not fun. That’s why I use Calendly. I can set my schedule, give people the link, and stop spending time scheduling calls myself. Game changer, for sure!
Manage your e-commerce shop
If you run an online shop, whether physical or digital products, you have to have an online shop that supports your unique needs. My favorite e-commerce platform is Shopify — it’s super easy to integrate if you have an existing site and it’s easy to create, update, and maintain. Most importantly, it’s easy to get paid and notified when you need to ship something out!
Make your e-courses shine
I know a lot of you have courses or programs as a major part of your creative business — or want to. Thinkific is a really robust course platform that I think is easy for you, as the course creator, and for your students to use. Plus, it’s really easy to customize and brand so that you can make your courses an experience. This is my first time dipping my toes into online courses, and I’ve been super pleased with it overall.
Last but not least: Sign those contracts!
As every creative professional knows, you need a contract! But let’s be real, paperwork can be a pain! Make it easy for you and your clients to sign digitally with HelloSign. You can upload a document, send it to the parties in question, and have it signed, sealed, delivered in no time!
P.S. Dubsado and 17hats also offer digital contract signatures within their platforms, yay!