25 Tools You Should Be Using To Automate Your Business
Over the past three years, I've been working behind the scenes, testing hundreds of tools you can use to build an online business. Some tools are free, and some require a monthly subscription, and others still simply take a cut of whatever you're selling.
Long before I even thought about teaching a course to show how I do what I do, I was searching for the best tools and resources available. Taking a note from Pat Flynn, I filtered everything tool through a single (passive) measurement:
Will this tool take up my time or free it?
When I began my blog in 2012, I wanted to make life simpler. Yes, I know blogs and businesses are a lot of work. I also know we can make life, and blogs and businesses, easier, if we'll automate everything we can, wherever we can.
I've researched, and in most cases tested, dozens if not hundreds of plugins, third-party resources, and online tools to help me serve clients, sell products, and coach friends 24/7. What I've compiled here is a “best of” list of those tools.
I've divided the tools into 6 automation categories:
- Social Sharing
- Product Distribution
- Getting Paid
- General Automation / Productivity
In each category, I've listed the top options as well as the tool I recommend above the others. These tools are also fairly universal, meaning they can be used for both on-and-offline businesses and they also help you serve a global audience.
If you have alternatives to what I have listed, I would love to hear about the tool and why you like it!
The top players: Calendly, ScheduleOnce
One of the biggest time wasters is the back and forth when trying to schedule someone for your podcast, a lunch meeting, or a conference call.
The best way to solve this problem is to automate your calendar scheduling and make it easy for people to see parts of your calendar. You don't have to share the details of your calendar, like who you're meeting or where, but blocking off time when you're busy or showing an opening when you're available is really handy.
I found it's not only easier, but also more convenient, to automate the scheduling process with tools like Calendly, ScheduleOnce, Appointy and others. Each of these can sync with your Google or iCal accounts.
Once you've linked your tool to your calendar, you can use Pretty Link to as a link shortener plugin for WordPress and send someone a link such as ElloryWells.com/BeaGuest and they can schedule a time for you to interview them. Another example would be, DentistOffice.com/Checkup.
The possibilities with scheduling automation are endless.
If you are a doctor, you can have your clients scheduling their own appointments online and save the time of a receptionist. If you were an auto mechanic, you can have your booking calendar online so customers can pick the time that is most convenient for them during hours you are open.
Automate your business with Calendly – It's free, easy to use, integrates with HTML code.
The top players: Buffer, Hootsuite
My mastermind and I had a discussion about social sharing automation a few weeks ago and I'm a big fan of it.
Of course, there's a right way and a wrong way to do it. But if you do it right you can automate your social sharing in the morning, and share what you want to share whenever your audience wants to receive it.
Using tools like Buffer, and Hootsuite, you can share when it's convenient for you and have your audience see it when it's convenient for them.
Hootsuite has an “autoschedule” feature that schedules your sharing for times in the future whenever their algorithm thinks your audience is most active.
Buffer requires you to schedule your own sharing, but has easy integration with other tools such as Followerwonk and Tweriod which tell you when your followers are most active. I recommend checking out Followerwonk to see all kind of stuff about your Twitter followers!
While you have to be careful when using those, they are a good way to get eyeballs to some of your older content. All you have to do is make sure it is “evergreen” and is something people will want to read for years to come. I specifically use both tools to tweet about certain categories.
Automate your business with Buffer – They have a free plan that is excellent, a mobile app on every device, and a creative support team that's pretty cool. They also have a company blog that's top-notch.
The top players: Evernote, Scrivener, WordPress, MS Word, Notepad (and similar)
I know what you might be thinking. You're thinking you can't automate writing, and you're right. While you can't automate writing, you can make things simpler.
I've tested several writing tools over the past few years. I tried writing in Microsoft Word. I tried Scrivener and a few other tools I can't even remember.
Here's what it comes down to – If you spend more time learning the tool than you do using the tool, it's not a good tool.
That said, my recommended tool, Evernote, does have a short learning curve. Here's how I use it.
Every blog you read on my site was first given life inside Evernote. I type outlines, ideas, topics and memory-joggers into Evernote on my phone, and it syncs automatically to my computer and tablet.
I don't use fancy formatting. I may bold certain headings and put bullets for ideas, but I remove all of those when I paste as text into WordPress. Evernote is, as Michael Hyatt refers to it, my digital brain.
I added Writing as an automation category for this post mainly because of the convenience of Evernote provides.
Evernote allows you to work or write from anywhere and allows you to store a great deal of information that you can easily search and access on almost any device. I call this automation because I don't have to try to remember to carry around a Moleskine notebook everywhere or remember where I put my notes. Evernote keeps it all.
If you're a blogger, here's something to try.
Try using voice to text that's built into Evernote or the one voice to text built into your phone. I find it much easier to think about a topic and talk about it for 3 to 4 minutes than to sit down and write about it for 20 minutes.
By using the voice to text, you may find more of your personality comes out in your writing. Whether you use voice to text or you type out your content, you still have to go back and edit it, but you can speak 800 words in a fraction of the time it would take to type them.
Automate your business with Evernote – Their free plan will suit most of your needs, they have an app for every device, all content is indexed for searching, it's easy to use.
The top players: ClickBank, E-junkie, Amazon, Easy Digital Downloads
Whenever I setup my online business, I knew I didn't want to be up all hours of the night either approving purchases or going to the post office. Several online companies will help you distribute your digital products while you sleep.
Two big names in this area are ClickBank and E-junkie. They're popular because they've been around a while, they do a good job, and they have a good support system.
ClickBank has a full online business with a blog, support pages and market place where you can browse for products to be an affiliate for (which also lets people find and be an affiliate for your product). To make their money, ClickBank takes 7.5% + $1 for every sale.
E-junkie looks like it hasn't been updated since it began in 2003. They do offer a free testing period if you want to check them out. E-junkie's key selling point is they offer a flat-fee structure, but they do limit how many files you can store with them. To make their money, they take a fee every month, starting at $5/mo.
The third big name is Amazon. When I added my podcasting ebook to the Amazon library, I gasped when I saw they were going to take 30% or more of each sale. That's the price of doing business with one of the largest companies in the world. Having your product on Amazon will give you some credibility and some peace of mind to your purchasers.
The big names aside, one of the best tools I found for distributing my digital products is a plugin called Easy Digital Downloads (EDD).
With EDD there is no monthly fee and they don't take a percentage of your sales. EDD doesn't require you to upload your products to a 3rd party website (which streamlines updates) and allows you to easily change prices and add coupons for promotions.
The only thing you pay for with EDD is the ability to use PayPal which is 2.9% + $.30 per transaction, and PayPal also handles all payments securely for you.
I go into more detail about this plugin, how I use it, and the best ways to distribute your products in my course, which you should take.
Also, you can click here to see EDD in action.
Note: Make sure you're following FTC guidelines regarding affiliates. You'll see my disclosure at the bottom of this post and every other one I write. I use this site to generate my disclosures.
Automate your business with Easy Digital Downloads – It's a free plugin for WordPress, there's no monthly fee, no percentage or “cut”, easy to use, integrates with PayPal, low-cost affiliate setup.
The top players: PayPal, Square, Gumroad, Your Bank
I've had long, time-wasting debates about PayPal vs Square. What came out of these discussions is this: Pick one and start selling!
These tools fall under automation because they allow you and me to accept payment 24/7/365. No more trips to the bank, no more bounced checks. Additionally, you can send your customers invoices via PayPal and they can pay them from the comfort of their own home.
PayPal charges 2.9% + $.30 per transaction and they're a well-known name whose been around a long time. Square charges 2.75% and that's it. That means on a $1000 sale, PayPal's cut would be $29.30 versus Square's cut of $27.50.
Square has changed their fee structure since I started my business, and both companies are trying to constantly improve.
Gumroad, on the other hand, charges 5% + $.25 per transaction. While that's pretty dang high, almost twice as much as the others, they offer simplicity in their sales pages. Gumroad offers a very simple checkout process, requiring only name, email and credit card info instead of the customers' address.
Simplicity is where Gumroad made its mark but PayPal is getting better. The idea behind simplicity is fewer clicks in the buying process equals more purchases.
Lastly, if you have a business bank account, many banks offer merchant services. My bank charges around $29/mo for the privilege. I declined and used PayPal.
Automate your business with PayPal – established in the industry, mostly easy to use, integrates perfectly with Easy Digital Downloads, allows me to sell worldwide and accept multiple forms of payment
General Automation / Productivity
The top players: IFTTT, Google Alerts, Survey Monkey
There are other tools I use that don't quite fit into the other categories. I didn't want to leave them off because they could useful to you.
IFTTT – An acronym that stands for “If This, Then That” IFTTT is free software that connects two other pieces of software on a conditional basis. For example, IF I update my Facebook profile picture (THIS), THEN also update my Twitter profile picture (the THAT part). You can also set IFTTT to trigger and automate social sharing, happy birthday texting, and a nearly limitless number of other things like muting your cell phone at night.
Google Alerts – You can set up a Google Alert to notify you via text or email whenever a trigger word or phrase is used on the internet (outside of social media). For example, I get an email any time someone uses “Ellory Wells” in a blog post or on a page. Using Google Alerts is a great way to automate the monitoring of your brand online as well as keep up with current events, news or topics of interest.
SurveyMonkey – Whether you want customer demographics, client satisfaction, presentation feedback or reader information, SurveyMonkey is a great tool. I use SurveyMonkey to learn about my readers. Combine your survey URL with Pretty Link and you've got an easy-to-remember URL to grab feedback about almost any event, webinar or speaking gig you could do.
My recommendation: automate your business but be careful how you do it.
In general, whenever you automate parts of your business, you're not getting rid of the work – you're only reducing it. With automation tools like I've listed here, you can reach more customers, schedule more meetings, and get more done with less time.
If you've found this list helpful, would you share it with someone?
I go into more detail about how to get the most out of these tools, how to best use them, and how to grow your business with them in my online training course. Claim your spot before it fills up!
Question: What tools do you use to automate parts of your business?