The most common business requests I see pop up in soapmaker forums and groups are requests for recommendations on biz tools, software, or resources. There is an amazing number of cool dealios out there to try out and learn, but who wants that crazy hassle?
Here’s my hit list of favorite business management tools, software, and resources – maybe you’ll find what you are looking for!
WordPress – Modern Soapmaking, and every website I’ve built for the last decade has been on WordPress. There are two versions: hosted and self-hosted. If you want ultimate control, you want to be self-hosted – which means you need a domain name and a hosting account.
WP Engine – Modern Soapmaking is proudly hosted on WP Engine, because… well, they’re rockstars. WP Engine exclusively hosts WordPress websites, and they have it nailed to the wall in spectacular fashion. On-fire super support with real-live people (say what?!), optimized specialized hosting for WP, and the most reliable host I’ve ever had.
If you don’t need dedicated WordPress hosting or the level of service of WP Engine, Bluehost is a solid alternative that is much more affordable!
Namecheap – A lot of peeps lean on GoDaddy for domain registration, but I can’t, in good conscience, give them a dime of my cashola. (You can hit up the fancy Google machine to find out what ethical concerns I have with GoDaddy – you’re a smart cookie!) Namecheap pops in as a great alternative, which is slim on the wallet (as per their namesake) and easy peasy to use.
Genesis Framework – If WordPress is the skeleton of your website, then Genesis Framework can add some beefy muscles. Genesis adds a lot of magic to the way Modern Soapmaking can deliver content, seamlessly displayed on a multitude of devices, and adds a few nifty features. Plus, it jumps on board the optimization engine and helps Modern Soapmaking stay on top of search engine rankings with faster loading times and smarter SEO.
WooCommerce – If you build your website on WordPress, WooCommerce is the number one eCommerce platform for WordPress. WooCommerce gives you the power to sell your products, set up shipping, and create an easy and familiar shopping experience for your customers. It’s flexible, robust, and easy to use.
Shopify – Not interested in building your own website from scratch? Think WordPress is a little too much? For a lot of folks, it is! That’s where Shopify comes in. I’ve built Shopify websites that look on point and function beautifully in less than three hours. Plus, you don’t have to deal with any code or technical junk. Manage your website with ease, using a premade template that you can customize, and apps to make your life easier.
Sumo – Having trouble getting people to sign up for your mailing list? Want to see where your website problem spots are? Sumo has you all covered. You can use their Heat Maps and Content Analytics to see how people are using your website. Or use their List Builder for pretty opt-in forms and exit intent pop-ups. There’s even a live chat feature you can turn on (when you want to!)
Peek User Testing – Get a Peek into what visitors to your website are thinking. You’ll snag videos of a real people browsing your website, which can help you make little tweaks and changes to improve your conversion rates of customers buying instead of browsing. They no longer offer a free service, but it’s well worth it if you are in the optimization phase of your website development.
Inspectlet – Like Peek, you can get a little window of insight into how your customers are browsing and using your website. The free version of Inspectlet gives you up to 100 recorded sessions a month (4 a day) and gives you the ability to fine-tune your website for optimal conversions and performance.
Lucky Orange – Like Inspectlet, you can see how people browse your website to fix up any issues and the plus side is that you can also add in a chat box, so you can provide onsite support live.
Sanebox – If you spend more than an hour on email every week, Sanebox will cut that in half. It helps you prioritize email properly by filtering your email, learning from your actions, and only showing you important emails in your inbox to reduce interruptions. Everything else gets immediately placed in a folder for later (or for unsubscriptions, newsletters, and more.) I reduced my personal inbox from over 61,000 emails to just under 200, and my biz inbox from 15,000+ to just over 100. And it’s saved me hours every week since!
You can read more about how I manage my busy email inbox using Sanebox and other apps in this article.
Google Mail for Work – If you are running on a host without email support (like I do) or if you want better email handling for your website, I highly recommend Gmail for Work. With the reliability of Google and the familiarity of Gmail, it’s everything I love all wrapped up with a bow, right in my email inbox.
Streak – If you are having a hard time keeping your email and contacts straight, Streak is the way to go. You can create time-saving snippets to use templates in your emails. (For example, I have snippets for follow-ups, common questions, and more.) Or use Streak to set up a Pipeline to track contacts through a process, like your wholesale onboarding process and servicing. (We use one for our consulting clients!) Set reminders, add notes, and so much more right in your email inbox.
Mailchimp – An email newsletter is my #1 recommended marketing resource for small biz owners, followed up by blogging and then social media. Mailchimp offers free email newsletters to anyone with a list smaller than 2,000 subscribers, with tons of easy to use templates and a great blog to learn from.
ActiveCampaign – If you’ve outgrown your free limit on MailChimp, you may be looking around for an email marketing service provider that offers more robust features. I’ve used a number of them, but currently have a head-over-heels relationship with ActiveCampaign. It offers a lot of the smart and intuitive marketing capabilities of the big dogs without the super huge price tag, including a ton of flexible automation rules, subscriber tagging, and the ability to set up complex email marketing funnels. It has built-in eCommerce marketing features like automated abandoned cart emails and Facebook Custom Audience support, thanks to integrations with Shopify, WordPress, and more.
Printing On Demand
Moo – Makers fawn over Moo cards for a reason: they’re totally gorgeous, and you can use a variety of product images or process shots to craft up some super unique business cards that scream your brand. They also print stickers and flyers, too! Be aware: those super cute cards come at a premium cost, upwards of double and triple the cost of going elsewhere.
GotPrint – This on-demand printer is my Go-To for marketing materials, including business cards, postcards, flyers and more. I love that they offer a recycled stock option that isn’t flimsy or icky feeling, and I’ve always had stellar printing results.
PsPrint – I also rock out some branded swag from PsPrint on occasion. Have you gotten your hands on the sweet Modern Soapmaking stickers I hand out? Those are printed up by the folks over at PsPrint, and they do a fab job if you ask me. They also printed out the cheat sheet cards for The Money Shot, if you happened to snag one of those.
Your Box Solution – YBS is my favorite printer for soap and product boxes, they’ve been awesome to work with over the years, and the boxes I’ve had printed always turned out stellar. Once upon a time, Your Box Solution printed up Gratitude Soapery’s boxes and they are still the first ones I turn to when I have a special project. And if you don’t need printed boxes, but are looking for stock blank boxes? They’ve got hundreds to choose from.
Working With Numbers
Xero – A Quickbooks alternative, Xero makes it easy to keep track of your accounting online. You can give your bookkeeper access, and integrate the software into hundreds of third-party apps, like your Square, Paypal, and Stripe. Xero comes with a monthly pricing structure, which I generally avoid whenever I can, but in this case, I find it’s well worth it. (Yes, that means I use Xero in conjunction with a reliable CPA to help me keep a handle on bookkeeping.)
Wave Apps – Like Xero, Wave is an online bookkeeping solution that integrates into a lot of popular third party apps (like your Etsy store), but the big difference is that it’s free for the basics. There are some missing features in Wave, so it’s not on the top of my hitlist, but I think it works fab for most soapmakers getting started with their businesses.
(Why isn’t Outright mentioned? Once upon a time, I recommended Outright but it’s now in the hands of GoDaddy, which is why I no longer recommend it. We already talked about my dislike for GoDaddy, though!)
Square – Want to take credit card payments anywhere on your smartphone? Square is your answer. They were the first ones to offer a free swiper that attaches to your smartphone to take credit card payments at farmer’s markets and craft shows. Nowadays, lots of other credit card processors offer this option, but Square remains a solid choice. It’s totally free to set up your account and get your hands on a Square Reader (the thing that swipes cards!), and you only pay transaction fees.
Paypal – I probably don’t have to tell you that Paypal has become the number one most common method of taking payments online, and has become synonymous with running an e-commerce shop. I also think their Working Capital program is pretty fab. Don’t forget, there are options here though: try checking out Stripe and Amazon Payments.
Soapmaker 3 – A common question I get is “Is Soapmaker 3 worth it?” and my answer is typically a resounding yes, but not for the reasons folks think. While SM3 is capable of using as an accounting type system, with invoice and sales tracking of batches of soaps, it’s super clumsy. I solely use SM3 as a formulator’s tool where I store my recipes and run my quarterly inventory counts on supplies. (Get Soapmaker 3 from us at a discount.)
Craftybase – If you use a MAC or are not a fan of Soapmaker 3, you might be looking for an alternative. Craftybase is it! You can read a full review from Stephanie to see if Craftybase might be the answer to your inventory woes. (Get 10% off for life when you use our link to sign up!)
It’s All In The Workflow
ToDoist – I’m not so quiet about my obsession with productivity hacking, and I’m no stranger to the myriad of apps and tools out there. ToDoist has topped my list for over a year now. I do not use ToDoist to manage my daily To Do list (I instead use the Three Things mantra), but use ToDoist to keep running tabs on projects and To Do’s for my assistant and guest contributors, as well as keeping up with deadlines and the like. I would be totally lost without it!
Focus Booster – I’m a huge fan of the Pomodoro technique, and use Focus Booster to keep on track while I work on the computer (which is 90% of the time!) Focus Booster is a tiny little app that runs a Pomodoro timer on your desktop and tells you when to take breaks. You set the amount of time to work and break for, so you get complete control. Plus, it’s pretty – I like pretty.
Buffer App – Social media management can seem overwhelming for a micro biz, but it isn’t if you keep on it properly by working out a content schedule and scheduling your posts. You can use it to schedule and manage other social media platforms all from one place. (p.s. Their blog is phenomenal, too.)
Tagboard – Want to keep track of hashtags on social media? Use Tagboard to look up hashtags on all the major social media platforms. It’s how we were able to rock out the #CentralSoapers hashtag at the last Central Soapers Workshop in 2015 and award an extra special swag bag to the most active attendee. How can you use a hashtag to rock your brand on social media?
Typeform – Want to survey your customers for feedback or provide an easy way to collect data? I love Typeform for its ease of use in comparison to other options out there, plus it’s so much prettier. I’m a sucker for good design.
Dropbox – I use Dropbox to a ridiculous amount to store files and images in the cloud (meaning they aren’t taking up space on my hard drive and I can access them anywhere!). Dropbox is also super handy for sharing files with others, like your press kit. Another hot tip for Dropbox? Take pro photos with your digital SLR camera, edit them up, and then pop them in Dropbox to share them on Instagram with your smartphone – voila, no more crappy pixelated cell phone shots on Instagram.
Gusto – I use Gusto to manage our payroll, benefits, and HR seamlessly every month. It integrates into our accounting software (Xero) for simple bookkeeping. Everything is set up to make the onboarding process of a new employee super simple, including auto tax-related filings, employee handbooks, and more. (Use our link to snag a $100 Amazon gift card if you sign up.)
PicMonkey – Can’t get a hold of Photoshop or wrap your head around it? All hope is not lost, as there are plenty of free and low-cost options out there for you to hit up. PicMonkey makes photo editing easy with the free version, they also offer a low-cost upgrade option to really rock out the graphic design features. Pop over through this link and you’ll snag a free trial to Royale, their upgraded plan.
Canva – Like PicMonkey, Canva makes it easy to edit photos and create graphics for social media and newsletters. The cool thing about Canva is loads of premade templates and pay-as-you-go resources for a dollar or two apiece.