Updated: Nov 5
After being in business for nearly 2 years as a solopreneur, side hustler, I've found quite a few resources that I, now, couldn't run my business without. It took me a while and a bit of trial and error to get here, so I figured I'd share these resources with you to save you some time.
These resources will be most helpful to you if you're just getting started, but even seasoned business professionals might pick up a trick or two.
Wave - bookkeeping software (free)
Pirate Ship - for shipping physical products at business rates (free)
iPostal1 - for maintaining your privacy while running a business
Flodesk - low-cost email marketing
Creative Contracts - for keeping yourself legally protected
Tax help Facebook group - for sifting through the many layers of business taxes (free)
Tailwind - blog graphics and Pinterest marketing (free)
Bookkeeping isn't usually anyone's favorite task, but it's a vital part of running a healthy business. You can manage your business' books with good old spreadsheets, but that becomes unmanageable very quickly. It's much easier with the assistance of some sort of software.
Most people have probably heard of Quickbooks for bookkeeping. What you probably haven't heard, is that it can get quite expensive, quite quickly. After the intro pricing goes away, you're looking at upwards of $30-60 a month and that's assuming you don't need a Paypal or Shopify integration.
Wave is a free alternative for Quickbooks (and many other paid bookkeeping softwares out there) and I LOVE IT! It allows you to do all your usual bookkeeping, automatically import transactions from most major bank accounts and credit cards, upload and organize your receipts; all the basics you need to accomplish business bookkeeping and make tax season a breeze.
Wave also provides the option for professional invoicing with a secure credit card payment portal right within the software. This is super handy for me as a tech editor/ghostwriter and makes it easy to get paid for the work I've done. You, of course, pay a small transaction fee for accepting the payment, but it's on par (or better) than any other payment processing portal out there (like Paypal or Venmo for business).
The downside - because it's free, the integrations aren't as seamless as they might be for other softwares. For instance, you have to set up a Zapier connection in order to get Paypal transactions to import automatically and Etsy transactions have to be manually uploaded (via spreadsheet) monthly. However, if you're just getting started or running a side hustle business that has to stay a super low overhead, the little bit of extra effort is well worth the $360+ per year saved.
If you're shipping any physical products, PLEASE do not pay retail prices at the post office. Pirate Ship allows you to create a free account, as a business owner, that will give you access to commercial-base shipping prices which are much cheaper. There are other similar platforms out there, such as Ship Station and Stamps.com, but why use a paid service when a free one will do.
Pirate Ship also seamlessly integrates with most major platforms, such as Etsy and Shopify, allowing you to import purchase information and autogenerate shipping labels. When you ship an item, it automatically emails your customer tracking information and updates. It can also help you file the required customs forms for international shipping which is a godsend!
The downside - honestly, I haven't found any. Keep in mind, I don't do a huge volume of physical product shipping, but for the amount I do, Pirate Ship works great!
Did you know that when you register a business (sole proprietorship or LLC), start an email list, or create a website, you're required to list a non-PO box address? When you do that, strangers on the internet now have access to that address so it's pretty important that it's not your home address, the logical alternative if you run an online business from your home.
iPostal1 allows you to pay a small monthly fee (~$10/month) to get a mailbox at a local office store (like Staples or an independent print shop). You get a non-PO box business address which can be used on your business registration paperwork, website, and email footer to stay legal while protecting your privacy. While the quilting community is pretty awesome, the internet is a strange place and it's best to make sure you're protected.
The downside - All of your business-related paperwork is going to go to this address, so you'll have to go pick it up at some point. There's also a $1 fee for each piece of mail picked up and most iPostal1 mailboxes will only store mail for up to 30 days. This generally isn't too much of an issue; most business paperwork has the option for digital distribution instead of physical distribution these days. I generally only get 2-3 pieces of mail per year so the inconvenience of picking it up and paying the fee is more than manageable for the enhanced privacy.
If you're trying to grow a business (of any kind), starting and growing an email list is pretty critical to stay in touch with your customers. There's lots of services out there to do this, but many of them expand in price as your email list grows. It's almost like getting penalized for growing.
Flodesk doesn't do that. It's one flat price ($38/month) no matter how big your list grows. While that might seem high when you're first getting started, it will outpace competitor services (like Mail Chimp or Constant Contact) as soon as you get beyond about 500 subscribers.
You might think it will take you a LONG time to get above 500 subscribers, but it will go faster than you think and the last thing you want to do is have to change email subscribers just a year or so in. Not only is that a pain in the butt, but it can also damage your ability to maintain a high open rate since you have to basically retrain your customer's inbox to think that your new sending address is safe. Not fun.
Flodesk also doesn't limit functionality based on what tier you've paid for, so you'll get unlimited email sends, segments, and schedulable emails from day 1.
The downside - While Flodesk has lots of functionality, with more added every month, it still doesn't have all the features of the more pricy email marketing services. Things such as the ability to do testing or super detailed analytics. However, more than likely, you're not going to need any of these tools until you're several years into your business (or possibly not at all) so it's not something I really find myself missing. They are also planning to add these features in the coming months.
If $38/month seems a bit high to you, you can use my affiliate link to get 50% off for your first year. As much as I HATE affiliate marketing, it's the only way for you to get a nice discount so forgive me for using it just this once.
No matter how you set up your business (sole proprietorship or LLC), you still need to be diligent about protecting yourself and your business. Again, the interweb can be a weird place with not-so-friendly people.
Any time money is exchanged, there are certain legal considerations that have to be addressed just to make sure everything is kosher. These will be different depending on if you're running a product, course, or service-based business. You might think it's not that important, but having the right policies and contracts in place not only keeps you legal and protected, but also makes your business appear more established, professional, and trustworthy.
Creative Contracts allows you to buy lawyer-written policies and contract templates for whatever your business needs so you don't have to worry about the legalese. Once you purchase, you download the color-coded documents that walk you through how to drop your business information into the templates and upload it to the required places on your website and elsewhere. Easy peasy!
The other thing I love about Creative Contract's templates is that as privacy policies and digital advertising policies evolve (which they're doing constantly), I get updated versions of the templates I've already purchased for free. These updates usually happen about once a year. I'll get an email telling me that there's a new version of the template ready that I can just drop my information into and upload to my website.
The downside - These templates can get quite expensive. Brittany does usually run a nice sale every year sometime in November (which is by far the best time to buy), but even still, prices can still feel pretty steep. But, when you realize the cost of hiring a lawyer to do it for you, her prices start to look pretty attractive.
You might think that you don't need to worry about these things right now, but that's the thing about legal issues, you never have an issue until you have an issue . . . and then it's too late. It's a high cost as you're getting started, but it's well worth it to get yourself set up legally so you don't have a nightmare on your hands later on.
Taxes are no ones favorite thing to do, but they're a necessary part of owning a business. You could hire out your taxes to a professional every year, but if you're a solopreneur (sole prop), it's not actually that difficult to do yourself and it will give you a much better understanding of how to structure your bookkeeping and maximize your finances so your business works hard for you.
If you're feeling up to tacking it yourself (saving lots of $$), this Facebook group is a secret weapon. It's run by Christina Coyle of Paradyme Financial Solutions, a small firm that focuses almost exclusively on tax services for small, creative entrepreneurs. This group is a wealth of information about all things taxes and can answer just about any question you have about completing both federal and state business taxes.
It's free to ask as many questions as you want within the group (although, if you're asking a bunch, it's recommended that you make a donation), but Christina also offers courses and personalized consultations to give you the tools you need to file your own taxes correctly each year. I think you'll find that filing yourself isn't nearly as hard as you might think.
The downside - This group only provides tax information for US taxes, so if you're international, unfortunately, most of the info isn't going to be relevant to you. Odds are a quick search will probably yield a group that focuses on tax law in your country, just make sure it's run by professionals.
If you've ever wanted to make a quick graphic to advertise a blog post or product, but gotten overwhelmed by all the options and features of other softwares like Canva or Adobe Express, Tailwind is for you. It's meant to help you generate Pinterest and social media graphics and posting schedules, but I use it most to quickly make a cover graphic for a blog post.
Once you make an account, you can preload in your branding fonts and colors. That way, when you go to create a graphic, all you have to do is paste the URL to whatever it is you want to promote and Tailwind will scalp the pictures from the URL and offer you over 100 different on-brand graphic options instantly. Once you choose the one you want and make any minor edits (usually not needed), just download the graphic (or schedule a Pinterest pin) and use it on your blog or email as needed. It takes me 30 seconds to make a beautiful graphic; way faster than even using Canva (which is also great).
Tailwind is also great for getting your content out on Pinterest, if that's something you choose to do. It can also help you write descriptions for your pins and social media posts to help make the boring stuff go faster so you have more time to spend on the fun stuff.
The downside - you're limited to 20 designs per month. That means if you're generating A LOT of content, you might run into a threshold. However, I've never hit this limit and if I ever do, there are several layers of paid options available to unlock more designs.