My Business Toolkit

My Business Toolkit What Tools Apps and Programs I'm Using in 2018

Okay guys this post is actually kinda funny to me because I really thought I only used the bare essentials to run my business. After creating a list of 20+ tools, apps and programs I guess you can't really say that about yourself though, huh?? πŸ˜‚

With saying that, every tool I use adds tons of value to the MBD studio in some way. I've tried a lot of things out and have found that most of the big online tools you hear about (Asana, Trello, Acuity, Calendy, etc) haven't felt right for my business.

I've realized that I value simple systems and tend to keep an old school mindset when it comes to interacting with my customers (think high touch vs high tech), which heavily influences what apps and tools I use (and don't use) in my business.

Here's how I've organized this post:

  • All the programs are grouped into sections (Admin, Marketing, Design, Video, etc) so you can pick through what's important to you right now, or just browse it all :)
  • I've specified what I spend on each tool and have tried to include as many discount codes as I can (!!). There are a few affiliate links from tools/programs that I use frequently + love, which I'll note as they come up.
  • At the end of the post I've also got everything broken down by frequency so you can see what I lean on heavily for daily use, weekly use, etc and what's working for me in the background.

Alrighty, here are the essential tools I'm using for my biz as I head into 2018!

M A R K E T I N G //

Squarespace - $312/year
It's probably no surprise that I'm a big fan of Squarespace (I mean...I love it so much I created a whole line of products around it) but I truly couldn't do anything that makes money for my business without my website.

It's the ultimate workhorse:

  • It's where potential clients learn how my studio can help them with their design needs.
  • It's where I showcase the studio's portfolio of work.
  • It's where I collect applications from anyone who wants to work with us.
  • It's where customers go to purchase website kits.
  • It's where they come back to access their downloads, instructions and video guides to customize + build out their kits.
  • It's where I send people to sign up for my opt-ins (like my brand personality quiz, the Squarespace website challenge + my free resource library) so I can grow my email list.
  • It's where I share free guides, tutorials + articles that are (hopefully!) helpful to anyone trying to navigate their business's design, website or operating/marketing systems.
  • And it's where I create landing pages for flash sales or special promos.

As you can see I really center everything I do for my business around my Squarespace website, so I definitely consider this investment money well spent.

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ConvertKit - $261/year
As I mentioned above, I offer fun resources on my website that I send out in exchange for a person's email address. I use ConvertKit* to collect all of these emails, but storing them is only the tip of the iceberg.

I also use ConvertKit to:

  • Organize my list so I can better understand and cater to my subscribers' interests.
  • Send out automated drip email sequences for more in-depth content (in the case of my free website challenge).
  • And send out broadcasts to my subscribers so I can keep in touch with them about the things they're most interested in.

I've only just now been able to create the space I've needed (mentally) to really hone in on how I want email marketing to fit into my business, but that doesn't mean I didn't recognized the importance of building a healthy email list from the start! 

ConvertKit* was one of the first investments I made in my business as I started pursuing full-time self employment, and it's one that I'm still happy to make today! 

(PS - $261/year is my costs for <1000 subscribers. Go here for current pricing on all plans)

*Affiliate link - This means I may earn a commission (at no additional cost to you) if you click through this link and make a purchase.

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Planoly* - free

Instagram is my main jam for social media marketing, so you know I'm using some sorta app to help me manage my content there.

With Planoly*:

  • I can map out content in advance (including captions + hashtags) and preview how each post will look in my main grid.
  • I can schedule posts from either my phone or computer (!!!). I love having this flexibility because most of my marketing tasks are done from my computer, which makes for more seamless workflows. Most of the time I use the desktop version to add new content in batches, then I'll either schedule them at that time or do it later from my phone. 
  • I always use the Planoly* app on my phone to preview how each post will look from my audience's point of view (since most will be looking at it from their phones) before posting.
  • With the free plan you can upload up to 30 photos in one month, but it's limited to only photos so no videos or gifs. If you decide to swap out a photo that will count as another upload and if you delete a photo after uploading, it still counts as one of your monthly uploads.
  • I find myself using their placeholder squares all the time to help me map out my grid (they give you a lot of color options which I love because color is how I decide what order to post in).

I recommend the free version if you don't post more than once a day, manage only one account and only need one log-in/user for your account.

But if you need more than that, all of their paid subscriptions offer unlimited downloads, the ability to upload videos/gifs and offer more analytics (those start at $7/month).

You can also use Planoly* if you want to make your Instagram "shoppable". This feature is a monthly add-on that includes a bunch of cool features like tagging products, embedding a shoppable gallery onto your site + extra product analytics.

*Affiliate link - This means I may earn a commission (at no additional cost to you) if you click through this link and make a purchase.

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RecurPost - free

If you've heard of MeetEdgar but don't love the price tag you're gonna LOVE this tool. RecurPost* is a social media scheduling tool that posts content on your behalf, then queues it back up so it's always looping and posting content for you. I use it to manage my Facebook and Twitter posts, but you can also use it for LinkedIn, too (just like MeetEdgar)!

I love RecurPost* because they give you different plan options, starting with a free plan. I think this is perfect because it means your plan can grow with your business.

With the free plan you can post up to 10x a day (per social account) and have up to 100 recurring posts each month. On the next tier ($25/month) you can post up to 20x a day (per social account) and have 1000 recurring posts each month (including video posts). On the highest tier plan ($50/month) you can post up to 40x a day on each social account and enjoy unlimited recurring posts. 

*Affiliate link - This means I may earn a commission (at no additional cost to you) if you click through this link and make a purchase.

BoardBooster* - $10/month

BoardBooster* is something I use to help me stay more active on Pinterest, which in turn helps my content show up more often and drive more traffic to my website.

I primarily use BoardBooster* to:

  • Loop pins on my design and business related boards.
  • Pin content to a few group boards I'm a part of.
  • Schedule out new pins at optimal times (according to when my followers are active on Pinterest). 
  • And view analytics and reports, such as:
    • How my boards are performing
    • What my follower growth rate is (and how it compares to others with a similar audience size)
    • My  pinning history

You can go here* to check out full features and current pricing.

*Affiliate link - This means I may earn a commission (at no additional cost to you) if you click through this link and make a purchase.

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Linktree - free

Linktree is a tool I've started using for Instagram as a hub for all the different things I might be promoting at any one time. You simply set up your links, toggle the switch to on then use the link they give you as your bio link on Instagram.

There are limited analytics you can track and different color schemes you can use with the free version, but with the pro you can totally customize your colors, have access to more in-depth analytics, can schedule links to go live at a certain time and can retarget visitors who have visited your Linktree on Facebook and Instagram (go here for current pricing).

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Interact* - free

Interact* is an online quiz builder that I use for my brand personality quiz opt-in. I love having this as an opt-in because it's a great resource for anyone looking to refine their brand foundation, plus I'm able to integrate the quiz with ConvertKit* to offer follow up emails that help quiz takers flesh out their results and apply them to their business.

You can go here if you wanna see my tutorial on how to create a personality quiz for your opt-in, and be sure to use this link* + my code melanie25 to get 25% off of your Interact* subscription πŸŽ‰

*Affiliate link - This means I may earn a commission (at no additional cost to you) if you click through this link and make a purchase.

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C O N T R A C T S  +  F I N A N C E S //

Dubsado* - $140/year

I primarily use Dubsado* to send out contracts (for both clients + subcontractors), create invoices + take payments for the studio's design services. However there are a TON of features I'm not taking advantage of (yet!) so be sure to go here to check out current features and here to see what features are on the horizon.

I think the thing I'm most thankful for with Dubsado* are the payment reminders you can set up for your invoices. You can create canned email reminderss then schedule them to go out on specific days that remind your client about their upcoming payment.

Tracking down payments definitely used to be my biggest business stressor, but Dubsado has allowed me to set up a great system that runs on auto-pilot and does the dirty work for me.

If you're interested in trying Dubsado, use this link + get 20% off of your first monthly or annual purchase  :)

*Affiliate link - This means I may earn a commission (at no additional cost to you) if you click through this link and make a purchase.

Quickbooks Self-Employed (Tax Bundle)* - $17/month

I'm sure you've heard of Quickbooks, but if you don't know about Quickbooks Self-Employed* then pump the breaks cuz this will save you a ton of time when it comes to doing your taxes.

I use the Self-Employed Tax Bundle* because it helps you maximize your deductions, estimates your quarterly taxes for you, lets you pay them online, exports your Schedule C deductions when you get ready to file your annual taxes and comes with one federal and state tax return filing.

Macworld has a great overview of Quickbooks Self-Employed here, and if you want 50% off your first 6 months (!!!) be sure to use my special link* :)

*Affiliate link - This means I may earn a commission (at no additional cost to you) if you click through this link and make a purchase.

Stripe - 2.9% of any payment processed + $.30 for each transaction

I love Stripe because I'm able to use it for payments made on both my website and Dubsado. So even though I'm collecting money on different platforms, it's all going to one place to be processed. This saves me a ton of time when it comes to bookkeeping and tax prep.

D E S I G N //

Adobe CC - $54/month

Okay so I really did not want to get the Adobe CC subscription, but earlier this year my computer's hard drive was within an inch of its life and I wasn't able to reinstall the CS6 (student) version I had previously been working on before.

So here we are! Adobe CC!

I'll admit that I miss (and prefer) the CS6 version, but I couldn't do my job without Adobe so it's a new expense I'm willing to make (plus all it took was a little digging into my budget to find where I could cut back in other areas, so my monthly costs are still the same at the end of the day - WIN)!

I also have access to way more Adobe products if I ever need them down the road (I'm looking at you, After Effects + Premiere), so all in all this is money well spent for me.

Envato Elements - $29/month

Man. Subscribing to Envato Elements has been a game changer for MBD in a lot of ways:

  • I use their mock ups to display work on social media, in my portfolio and in client presentations.
  • They have a ton of fonts that have helped me flesh out beautiful brand identities for my clients.
  • They have killer patterns and textures that I've used for myself, my website design kits + various client jobs (I've found that on-brand patterns can totally up-level a business's visual identity).
  • I use their stock photos for the design kits.
  • They also offer icons, illustrations, Photoshop + Lightroom actions, brushes for Photoshop + Illustrator, design templates for marketing materials (which could be useful if you aren't a designer and need to find a quick template for a thank you card or brochure) and tutorials and courses to help you step up your design game.
  • And....if you go with annual pricing instead of monthly you'll also get free access to WordPress themes and plug-ins.

It's honestly kinda crazy that you can get all of that for $29/month. Since late February I've downloaded almost 250 items...which averages 25 items each month...and each item would have cost me $5-25 (in some cases there have been crazy huge mock up bundles that probably would've cost me upwards of $80).

But say each item was only $5. Individually the total would equal $1,250, meaning I've saved at least $1,000 through this tool. Definitely money well spent.

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Old school notebooks ($4.99/3 notebooks) + mechanical pencils ($6.49/26 pencils)

It's pretty important for me (mentally and creatively) to step away from my computer to plan and sketch.

There's just something about the tactile nature of writing that helps my ideas flow better and I always sketch loose ideas and thumbnails before designing anything on my computer.

I tend to grab whatever's closest to me to jot down idea or thoughts when they surface, so keeping Ikea's simple Eklog notebooks on hand has been a life saver for keeping everything in one place.

The paper inside is blank so it gives me flexibility to sketch, journal or write lists. The notebooks are thin so they easily slip into my work bag with my laptop, and the size is large enough that the notebooks never get lost in the shuffle of office paper and bills I always seem to have around me πŸ˜†.

I also always seem to be looking for a sharp pencil, so I also love the big packs of mechanical pencils from Target (← plus those ones are ✨sparkly✨). I have nice pens and way more artist pencils than I know what to do with, but for me it's hard to beat a pencil that always has sharp lead + a convenient, built-in eraser!

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A D M I N //

Dropbox Plus - $99/year

Dropbox* is what I use to store any and all files for my business. Most of my clients use Dropbox too, which is super convenient because when they share a folder with me I can easily access it online or locally on my computer (once it syncs up).

Dropbox is also available on mobile so you can access your files anywhere, and they also offer a free plan that gives you up to 2GB of space.

*If you sign up through this link* you'll get 500 MB of extra space in your account (even if you sign up for the free version) and I'll get 1 GB of extra space. After that you should have access to your own sign up link that will give you 1 GB of space for each person who signs up through it. 

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Evernote - free

Y'all. Evernote is MY JAM.

This is definitely the tool I'm most active in each and every day. I use it to organize my entire life (grocery lists, to-do's, my budget, deep thoughts I have when I should be sleeping) - so using it to organize my business just made the most sense.

I'm incredibly visual and my brain works best with high level organization, so being able to color code and organize every aspect of my life all in one place really gives me feelings.

There are a million things I could talk about here but I'm gonna try to contain this list to only the most important features I use:

  • Lists with checkboxes - If you enjoy crossing things off of a list you'll understand why this is #1.
  • Notebooks - You can create dedicated notebooks to organize the myriad segments of running a business (like canned emails, marketing, content creation, social media, workflows, daily tasks, etc). Within each notebook you're able to add individual notes, which you can further organize with tags.
  • Text formatting - Call me obsessive if you want, but I love formatting any text I can to Raleway (I do this in Google Docs, Google Spreadsheets + Evernote), plus I've been able to create a color coded system over time that's really helped me figure out how much of my time I'm giving to different parts of my business (see the screenshot below for an example). So text formatting is a big deal for me and at the end of the day, if I'm gonna be staring at something day in and day out I definitely want it to be pretty.
  • Evernote mobile/device sync - Ahhh, just one more way to make real life and business more seamless. I primarily work from two places (my office at my boyfriend's house and my house) but I also take client calls while I'm on the go, have impromptu meetings where I might not have access to my computer and, honestly, sometimes I just have important work-related ideas while I'm sitting on the couch watching TV or laying in my bed trying to go to sleep. Being able to quickly grab my phone and write notes is something I do on almost a daily basis, so it's awesome that I can start a note on one device then pick back up on it from another.
  • Search bar - I consider myself highly organized, but after using this app for 6+ years there's bound to be something I regularly need to unearth from the archives. The search function is a true life saver for me on a weekly basis.
  • Miscellaneous - You can also add tables, images, voice notes, attachments and record video or take photos directly in the app (for both desktop + mobile).

PS - I've got a full post on Evernote planned so I can show you exactly how I use it to organize my business!! 

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G Suite (Basic) - $5/month*

**Cues angelic voices and a burst of light shining through the ominous dark clouds of online organization**

Guys I'm not exaggerating. Google's G Suite is where it's at.

Google Docs, Sheets, Calendar, Forms, Gmail and Hangouts are all on HEAVY rotation throughout my work week, and sometimes I even make use of Google Drive when handing off or accessing client files.

  • I use Google Docs to draft all of my blog posts and for document sharing.
  • I use Google Sheets to organize leads, projects, analytics, store passwords, and more.
  • I use Google Forms for surveys and to collect design feedback from clients.
  • I use Gmail for obvious reasons πŸ™ƒ
  • And Hangouts for online meetings. 

*You can actually use all of these features (and more) for free, but I pay $5/month so I can access my business email through Gmail.

(click images for larger view)

Chrome Plug-ins //

Boomerang for Gmail - free

You probably already know about Boomerang, but if not: Boomerang is a nifty little Gmail plug-in that allows you to write and schedule emails to be sent at a later date or time.

This has been essential for me with establishing client boundaries, especially since I definitely work and check my email outside of my posted studio hours. Being able to write and schedule emails to be sent later allows me to "set it and forget it" which frees up lots of brain space that I can use to have fun or relax during my nights and weekends.

Here's a quick run down of Boomerang's free features*:

  • Write and schedule emails to send later.
  • "Boomerang" important emails to disappear from your inbox but arrive again at a later time (for when you have emails that are important but not urgent).
  • Request a read receipt (with notifications if an email hasn't been opened) and track link clicks.
  • Set up reminders to follow up on emails that haven't gotten a response.
  • Check your "respondability" - Boomerang checks things like your subject length, word count, question count + reading level and gives you a strength meter to show you how respondable your email is (check out the images below for examples).
  • "Pause" your inbox by setting up hours where your incoming emails are routed to a special folder during that time frame, then are re-routed back to your inbox when those hours are over (like weekends, during vacation or simply when you need a solid mental health day). 
  • Boomerang also works on your phone (available for iOS and Android)!

*Check current pricing + features list here.

(click images for larger view)

Grammarly - free

Grammarly is a newer plug-in I've started using to check my spelling + grammar.

I don't know if it's just me, but after my first year of full time entrepreneurship my brain completely turned to mush (I lovingly call it "entrepreneur brain*").

I used to pride myself on my super human spelling and grammar abilities, but now I make dumb mistakes all the time (like typing "grammer" instead of "grammar" or CONSTANTLY using "you're" instead of "your" lol πŸ™„).

To the makers of Grammarly, thank you a million for making me look a lot smarter than I feel most days.

*Other things affected by the mush include my complete inability to remember anything important, like dates with my boyfriend even though he's my favorite person ever or responding to late night client texts the next business day (when are they gonna make Boomerang for iMessage??) πŸ˜‚

Screen Capture - free

I use the Screen Capture plug-in to quickly create long screenshots of websites.

For some reason this plug-in doesn't work for me 100% of the time but I haven't been able to figure out what's causing the fluke when it doesn't work properly. However, it's something I always try to use before manually stacking screenshots together in one of my Adobe programs.

(I'll also note that it won't ever work for pages with parallax features, but then again just regular screenshots wouldn't capture the page accurately anyway.)

Evernote Web Clipper- free

My love for Evernote continues with the Evernote Web Clipper plug-in! I primarily use this plug-in when I see something around the web that gets my inspiration going for new kit features.

To use it I simply hit the Evernote icon in my Chrome browser, select screenshot from the list of options (you can also clip articles, full pages* or save pages as bookmarks) then select which notebook I want it to go in. You can also add notes in the "remarks" section.

To view your clip just head into Evernote and go into the notebook you saved your clip to. BAM.

*Clipping full pages is kinda like doing a full page screenshot (which is another great option if want to screenshot a long page) but instead of it being a flat image it clips images and text, which could be useful if you want to copy and paste text from your full page clip πŸ™ŒπŸ½

Word Counter Plus - free

I use the Word Counter Plus plug-in to figure out how long my blog posts are, primarily for the super in-depth ones like The Ultimate Guide To Setting Up Your Shop In Squarespace and 40+ Squarespace Tips & Tricks, mostly cuz I'm a nerd like that.

This tool could also be helpful if you're trying to be mindful about the length of your blog posts for SEO purposes (which I sort of am), but remember what's most important is how relevant and helpful your content is.

V I D E O //

QuickTime- free

I primarily use QuickTime to record the videos that show my Squarespace design kit customers how to recreate the demo sites, and also for helpful demos and technical tutorials that I feature on the MBD blog.

I love this tool because:

  • It's free (!!!)
  • You can record audio with your screen recording
  • You can set it up so that the screen recordings show your mouse clicks, which can help your viewers follow along with what you're doing

QuickTime is an app native to Mac computers but you can download it for free here if you're running a PC.

Quicktime is a free tool that I use often in my business to record screen recordings for tutorials and demonstrations

iMovie- free (for Apple devices)

After I record any video I bring it into iMovie to build out the final version.

From there I usually trim out as much as I can (like bloopers, mistakes or unnecessary idleness) then I go through and edit the speed if needed. I often add in transitions and custom slides, too.

One of my favorite things about iMovie is the option to export a movie straight to YouTube or Vimeo. Each of the Squarespace kits come with 10+ video tutorials, so this direct export feature saves me a TON of time while I'm building out the dashboard for each kit (that's where my customers go to access their graphic templates and kit instructions).

iMovie is a free app that comes already set up on Apple computers, and is also available in the app store for iPhones and iPads. For you Windows users, I did a bit of research and found Filmora as an alternative - though I haven't personally tested it out. 

iMovie is a free tool I use in my business to edit my screen recordings and regular video. I love this program because it's intuitive, easy to use, lets me control speed of my clips, add transitions, add custom slides, rearrange video and more!

Photoshop - $54/month (part of Adobe CC subscription*)

I know Photoshop might seem like a weird program to use for video, but it's kinda my workaround for creating website mock ups with video scroll throughs (until I get my butt around to figuring out a more legit way). 

Check out the video below (or here and here) for an example! And if you wanna see a step-by-step of how I create these video mock ups in Photoshop, check out my tutorial here.

*You can download a free trial of Photoshop here or purchase Photoshop as a stand-alone product here (versus the whole creative suite)

Web Recorder app for iPhone - free

Web Recorder is a nifty little app I use on my iPhone to record demos of websites or show off new blog posts on my Instagram stories.

Some things to note:

  • You can record audio at the same time
  • The free version has a 30 second limit
  • The interface is really intuitive and pretty! (Most apps I've found are ugly, womp womp)
  • It shows screen touches so that your movement is a little easier for viewers to follow

I absolutely love this tool, but.....

It actually isn't available in the app store anymore :( I've found a similar tool for $0.99 here (or here for the free "lite" version) and here for $1.99.

I haven't tested any of the alternatives out so let me know how they go or if you currently use a different app I'd love to hear it and share it with the MBD readers (with a shout out to you, of course πŸ˜‰).

Facetime/Google Hangouts - free

I love both of these options for online meetings because they're what I already use for video calls in my personal life - meaning my clients are much more likely to be using them already, too. Plus they're free so they get a big ol' HELL YEAH from me.

I love that both of these options offer a desktop and mobile version, and I especially love that Google Hangouts lets you share your computer screen (desktop) and add more than 2 people to a call (desktop + mobile).

Me and my 2 sisters have used the Hangouts app to do a 3 way video call before, which is a little grainy and slow but BOY did I love seeing both of their beautiful faces at the same time (I live over 1,000 miles away so I take anything I can get haha).

Google Hangout downloads: Android, Apple store, Chrome plug-in

Yurbuds - $19.99

Yurbuds* are my favorite type of earbud because the special silicone covering gently hugs the opening of the ear canal, meaning those babies don't slip out or hurt like a lot of earbuds I've tried tend to do (I originally bought mine because I was tired of my Apple buds always hurting my ears and falling out while listening to music during my runs).

Since headphones can drastically improve the quality and consistency of your audio, I simply plug these into my computer whenever I get ready to record audio then I get to #werk (I also have a fancy Yeti mic but my Yurbuds are my go-to).

*The link above takes you to an Amazon listing but you can also buy them from Target like I did :)

Here's a run down of how often I use each of the tools on this list:


  • Adobe CC
  • Dropbox
  • Evernote
  • G Suite
  • Notebook + pencil



  • Squarespace
  • ConvertKit
  • RecurPost
  • BoardBooster
  • LinkTree
  • Dubsado
  • Quickbooks Self Employed
  • Stripe
  • Grammarly


  • Squarespace
  • Planoly
  • RecurPost
  • BoardBooster 
  • Dubsado


  • ConvertKit
  • Quickbooks
  • Envato Elements
  • Boomerang
  • Evernote Clipper
  • Word Counter
  • Pinterest Save Button
  • Quicktime
  • iMovie
  • Yurbuds



  • Screen Capture
  • Web Recorder
  • FaceTime/Google Hangouts

There are some big changes happening to the MBD studio in 2018 that will require me to get hyper organized and start using new tools as I continue to expand my offerings and team. I'll be sure to create a supplement to this post if there are new tools that become essential in helping with this next phase of business.

What tools are essential for you in your business? Let me know in the comments!