15 Tools We Love: How to Save Time and Automate Your Business

Time is a precious resource for us business owners. It’s often the victim of never-ending to-do lists, which start with the best intentions in place, but become flooded with tasks to field incoming emails, engage with social media followers, and keep serving clients and customers.

Enter tools, apps, programs—platforms that streamline processes and unleash more of your time, letting you focus on big-picture goals and operate more efficiently.

As 2017 comes to a close, we are busy identifying opportunities within our work to simplify, automate, and scale in 2018.

Taking time to vet tools and set up the selected ones can take up your valuable time, so today we’re sharing the systems and services we turn to regularly to work smarter and ease workloads.

These 15 tools make our lives as business owners easier each and every day.

Social media


Buffer

Our social media manager tool of choice, Buffer lets us set custom social media schedules across channels, craft posts, fill up queues of ready-to-go posts, and track social media performance.

We favor the user-friendly interface Buffer offers and frequently make use of the ability to leverage one piece of content across multiple channels, then changing up copy and creative per channel according to best practices. Buffer also lets you re-Buffer (or repost) content, which we leverage to promote blog posts and standard calls to action routinely over time.

Hands down, our favorite feature about Buffer is its chrome extension, letting you quickly schedule a post from whatever webpage you are on, such as a helpful industry article or a page on your website.

Later

We rely on Later to plan and publish Instagram posts. Since Instagram does not allow automatic posting, like we use Buffer for on other social media channels, we use Later to load upcoming images to create a saved image bank, set a posting schedule, select images and write captions, and preview how our Instagram feed will look with upcoming posts.

Later’s drag-and-drop interface makes it quick and simple to decide on images and get the writing and scheduling work wrapped up. Then, we get mobile notifications whenever a post is set to publish, and we can copy over the post contents to Instagram in seconds.

iPhone Photos editor

The native app available on all iPhones makes it easy to snap photos and adjust settings to brighten, refine colors, and adjust to meet brand guidelines.

The editor offers enough options for customization without requiring advanced photography and photo editing skills. It can take a little trial and error, but the interface is simple to navigate and test with.

ColorStory

ColorStory is our go-to recommendation if you’re looking to step up your editing skills while keeping your process friendly for on-the-go posts. The app offers free filters, effects, and adjustments to get just the visual you’re looking for. As an added bonus, you can save your custom editing steps for use on future photos.

Side tip: If you use the app, include #acolorstory for the chance to be featured on the brand’s Instagram account.

Organization


Google Drive

File storage doesn’t sound exciting, but Google Drive can set your business up to access critical documents, spreadsheets, and files anytime, anywhere.

Organize materials by client, products, business planning, marketing efforts, and more. We find that forming templates for common folders and documents makes it easy to set up new clients and offerings in moments.

Asana

We’ve tested several project management systems, and Asana is the one we return to each time. Asana allows you to sync your team among projects, with multiple layout options based on your preference.

Set deadlines, assign team members, list notes, sync with Google Drive documents, and hold comment threads to keep projects moving forward. The calendar view shows a day-by-day breakdown of tasks.

LastPass

Keeping track of passwords quickly becomes overwhelming as a business owner. Especially when best practices tell to not use the same password across logins and or save them in an insecure manner. That’s why we rely on LastPass to securely generate, hold, and enter our passwords.

Plus, you can give team members access to logins without sharing actual usernames and passwords.

Calendly

Do you get stuck in your inbox sending emails back and forth to schedule meetings and appointments? Take back your time by utilizing Calendly, a free scheduling automation tool that shares your availability based on your digital calendar and preset, meeting-specific parameters.

Once a client or peer schedules time on your calendar via Calendly, an event automatically fills in your calendar for the specified time. You can also set emails to confirm scheduling and remind about upcoming meetings.

Simplified Planner

If paper planners are your jam, then I will always, always, always suggest looking into the Simplified Planner. Designed for busy women managing bursting schedules, the Simplified Planner offers a clutter-free design: just hourly schedule, to-do list, dinner, and notes make up the daily calendar layout.

I combine my Simplified Planner with Google Calendar to create a powerful print-digital combo that lets her plan in advance digitally while managing day-to-day between paper pages and Asana.

Tracking


DocuSign

If you operate with clients or vendors regularly signing contracts, but all-in=one client management systems aren’t a fit for your business, DocuSign is a valuable tool to sign and request signature on documents.

DocuSign offers both free and paid service levels and lets you set up signature sequences for documents that require review and signature by multiple parties.

Bananatag

Email becomes a more strategic part of your schedule with Bananatag. We primarily use the Gmail add-on to schedule emails, when we’re catching up during after-work hours, and track sent emails.

As a business owner, it can be helpful to know when emails are opened. You can use open notifications to your advantage in sales strategies and determining when to check in with others.

MileIQ

Logging mileage can easily go forgotten or get delayed, and no one wants to sift through emails and calendar events to remember what trips were made and miles driven.

MileIQ, offering free and paid premium plans, automatically tracks your location and mileage once set up. As a result, real-time mileage reports are at your fingertips at any moment.

Toggl

Speaking of time as a valuable resource, how powerful would it be to realize where it all goes? Mainly, if you’re spending it wisely.

Toggl lets you track your activity for free, with customization features for clients, projects, and sub-tasks. Use the click-and-go timer or enter time manually to soon have reports that show you exactly how your time is spent.

This tool is particularly useful for service-based business owners tracking hourly projects or checking up on flat-rate time estimates based on completed work.

Writing


CoSchedule headline analyzer

This free tool does just what the name says. It inspects blog post titles, email subject lines, and social media messages based on word balance (mix of common, uncommon, and impactful language), length, and behavioral science.

Each section receives a score color coded by green (ideal), yellow (ok), or red (needs improvement), to give you an idea of how sound your proposed headline is and what adjustments to look at making to create a more attention-grabbing, SEO-friendly headline.

ConvertKit

We recently switched to ConvertKit’s email marketing platform to take advantage of their subscriber-centric approach that’s a differentiator from other available options.

ConvertKit was developed for creators, bringing simplicity and automation to the forefront of sending newsletters and marketing messages to subscribers. Opportunities to segment your audience are nearly limitless, with opportunities to tag subscribers, craft email sequences, send one-time emails, and set up optimized sign-up forms.

There you have it—our 15 favorite business simplifiers that make our lives easier and more efficient, many for without costing us a penny.

What time-saving strategies have worked well for you? Are there any tools or apps you’d add to this list?