Don’t you just love a new gadget? There is something just so exciting about innovation. I particularly like it when someone invents a tool that can save my most precious resource. No, not money, time.
I love blog posts where authors share the online tools that have most benefited their businesses. These are the blog posts that I most want to read. So, I thought it was high time I shared my top 20 favourite online tools.
Now, this is not an exhaustive list and I am well aware that there are many others out there that might do a similar job.
I have selected these because they are the tools that I use - some of them on a daily basis.
However, I am always on the lookout for new tools - so if you use something not on this list that you love, please let me know by leaving a comment in the section below.
Oh and one further point, this list is not in order of my own preference. I have, instead, ordered it based on my journey from the start where I needed to look at logos, content and branding, to the end of the list where I focus on tools that help me maintain my online presence.
Right, let's start...
We are all aware of the importance of a good logo. However, choosing the right logo image can feel overwhelming. In addition, while you want to look professional from the start, you may not have the funds available to hire a graphic designer to create your logo for you. What to do? Clip art just ain't gonna cut it.
If this story sounds familiar (or if you need to redesign your logo) I would recommend you check out Pixellogo. This site offers you a wide range of logo graphics to choose from. Once you have seen a logo that you like, you can purchase it for a really small fee (around £20-40).
These logos are not exclusively yours, however. Pixellogo do offer exclusive logos - you will be looking at around the £200 mark for those. However, you can take the cheaper logo and customise it with your own colours, fonts and tag lines. For another small fee (around $15), Pixellogo will make these changes for you - and fast. You will receiver your logo files in just a few hours and within 24 hours if you have requested design modifications. Brilliant.
Okay so this one is a bit of a cheat because it is not just one tool but seven! I don’t know where I would be without them though.
I have a Gmail account for business and for my personal emails, I use Drive everyday as a worthy Microsoft Word/Excel substitute and I often use Google Forms to conduct online surveys. Meanwhile, I have set up Google Analytics to monitor what is working well or not so well on my website and I use Google’s Webmaster tools to keep up to speed on all things related to SEO. Finally, I use (and let’s face it who doesn’t) Google’s search engine every day to source information. I call Google my long-term memory as I now no longer have to remember anything. I love Google Alerts too - it is a good safety net to ensure I don’t miss anything! All this value and for free. I think that, because we use them so much, we can take Google's tools for granted. So I'm taking a moment to appreciate how special they are.
If you are looking choose the colours for your business’s brand or if you simply want to create a colour-pleasing blog post or social media image - check out Colour Lovers. You type in the basic colour that you are looking for and a vast selection of palates appear. From here you can choose what colours that you prefer and see what colours look effective alongside other colours. By clicking on a palate that you like, you can note down the colour Hex codes and use them in your own creations. Simple and yet very effective.
I have to admit that I have developed a strange fascination with fonts. I love the way that they can transform our emotional responses to text. As a general rule of thumb, a business should choose two main fonts - one for headlines and one for body text. Choosing the font that best suits your business is often a case of trying fonts on for size and seeing what suits you best.
However, you may have visited a website and thought that the font on display there is just perfect for you. Now you have two options. You can (a) send a rather awquard email to the website owner expressing your admiration of the site’s fonts and asking what they are. Or you can (b) use What Font, a Google Chrome extension.
Once installed, What Font’s icon will appear to the right hand side of your browser. Simply click on that icon and your cursor will now tell you the name of the font that it hovers over.
Eye Dropper is another Google Chrome tool. You click on the extension's pipette icon and hover your pipette cursor over any colour on your screen. By clicking it, Eye Dropper will tell you that colour’s Hex number. This can be so useful whether you are creating your brand, designing your website or creating visuals for your blog posts.
Once you have decided on your business’ logo, brand colours and fonts, you will be ready to create your website. There are lots of ways in which you can do this. Of all those ways, Jimdo is my absolute favourite.
As a Jimdo Expert, I created my own website in Jimdo and have built many websites for clients using this platform. I love the way that you can start off with a template and then add elements, html code and widgets in order to customise your site and make it your own.
Jimdo's websites are easy to maintain and adapt. If I create a website in Jimdo, I can hand it over to my client and know that they will be able to make all the changes they need to in the future.
In addition, I find Jimdo to be safe and reliable and their support team is fast, friendly and efficient. If you would like further information about Jimdo websites, please do feel free to leave me a comment below or pop an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Whether you are designing your website or looking for images to go with your blog, I would recommend you take a look at Pixabay. This site offers a vast selection of images that you can adapt and use without having to include an attribution or pay for a license. Until you’ve had a letter from the lawyers of a major stock photo company you will never really understand how powerful that is!
I still get chills when I remember opening my letter - thankfully it was a misunderstanding on their part and I had all the licenses that I needed but still it was a bad moment. You just can’t use any photo that you see online on your own website. Oh and ignorance is no excuse. Before you can say ‘cut and paste’ you will be down hundreds if not thousands of pounds!
[As an aside, I also use iStock Photo (where you do have to pay for a license) for further images, audio and video clips.]
Okay so I know I have mentioned Canva before but can I just say again how much I LOVE it! Using Canva, you can create amazing and powerful visuals for your business. You can use your own images or pay just $1 for the right to use one from their library. Otherwise, Canva is completely free to use - this blows my mind everyday.
Canva offers a great selection of templates - allowing you to choose the perfect canvas for your graphic design. These include templates for Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and Instagram. You can also create your own template. Once you have created your visual you can download it in two ways - one suitable for the web (.png file) or one suitable for printing (.pdf file).
What I also love about Canva is the fact that you can save all of your designs - enabling you to go back and edit or reuse them. In addition, if you want to make a series of images based on the same layout or background, you can simply click the copy button. For more about using Canva to create stunning visuals for your business, click here.
As always, a word of warning. Canva is totally addictive - if you are anything like me, you can lose hours playing around with different templates and layouts.
Pic Monkey is another amazing tool for creating stunning images online.
I use Pic Monkey both to create a new visual and edit an existing image. You have a small selection of templates and also the option to create a collage of images. You have lots of design edits to choose from including the ability to crop an image or resize it, the ability to add an overlay or frame and the ability to touch up a photo or add a special effect.
There is a paid version of Pic Monkey but I have always managed just fine with the free version. A word of warning, once you have saved and downloaded an image you cannot open it up again in Pic Money to make any edits. When it is done it is done.
I would really recommend you Pic Monkey out - it is easy to use and fun too!
“Who doesn’t want a graphic designer in their pocket?” asks Wordswag. Who indeed! This app (available for a small fee) is so simple and yet so effective it will transform your ability to make graphics for your business.
You can use the layouts and backgrounds offered by WordSwag, or you can upload your own. You can then select from some of the app’s quotes, thoughts and jokes or create your own text, select your font and font colour and add that text to your image.
You can then save that visual to your phone, email it or share it on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram. It is so easy and will give you the freedom to create amazing images on the fly. Say, for example, you are at a conference and one of the speakers makes an amazing point. You can produce a graphic highlighting that point right then and there and share it with your audience in seconds. Pretty powerful stuff.
I use Animoto to make business videos for myself and for my clients. You can select a style and add images, small clips of video, music and text in order to create a truly powerful video. You can also use video to display your products or services (see the video below for an example) and to highlight key customer testimonials. Video is incredibly powerful and will only get increasingly important in the future. Animoto allow your business to harness this power.
There is a free and paid version of Animoto - I use the paid version to be free from the advertising. However, having mentioned that, the ads are not overly oppressive. Have a look and a play and
let me know what you think!
I also use Camtasia to create videos and video intros for my business. This tool gives me that extra bit of freedom and editing functionality that I don’t get with Animoto. I can control what I produce and add more media and effects. Camtasia isn’t free, so have a look to see if this investment is the right one for your business.
To give you a quick example, I produced the video below using a combination of Animoto and Camtasia. I created the intro in Camtasia and then merged it with a video I had made in Animoto.
Camtasia also allows me to record my own computer screen and make training or ‘how to’ videos. I have done this to help my clients manage their websites once I have designed them. If you are
looking for an effective free version of screen recording software, I would recommend Jing.
Newsletters can be extremely powerful tools in any business. I use MailChimp to create mine.
MailChimp’s tag line is simply “send better email” and I could just leave it at that! This tool allows you to create powerful email and email-able newsletters. I particularly like how you can create a really stunning design or simply create a plain newsletter that just looks like a regular email. I also like how I can check who has opened my emails and if they have shared any of my content.
MailChimp also allows you to manage your customer relations by updating your readership profiles. There is both a free and paid version of this software. The free version allows you to send up to 12,000 emails to 2,000 subscribers for free. If you want to send more emails to more people - or if you want access to MailChimp’s advanced analytics - you will need to assess which one of the two paid options is best for your business.
Dropbox is awesome. I use it all the time to save documents and share files or folders with clients and colleagues. Once I have saved a file into Dropbox (and this is so super easy to do) I can access it on all my devices.
Dropbox is also a safety net for me. I have a folder where I save all of my blog posts and website content. It is always a good idea to have a place (or several!) where you can back-up your content in case something goes wrong with your website.
If visitors to your website want to share your content, you want to make sure that they can do this as easily as possible. You don't want them to have to navigate around your site to find your social media sharing buttons. You’ll risk losing them.
If you have a side-bar you can store your buttons there. However, if like me, you have a wide website style, you may not want to host your social sharing functionality in your footer.
This is why I use Shareaholic. A free and easy sign-up generates the code that you need to add a floating bar of social media buttons onto your website. You can decide which social media platforms to feature and which web pages you would like to include. You may, for example, decide to keep your buttons for your blog pages.
Shareaholic has other widgets that may be useful for your blog or business website - for example, its related content function is also really effective.
I use Buffer every day to schedule my social media posts. Again, there is a free and paid version of this tool. Both allow you to choose what time that you want your posts to go out on different networks and you can also add images to your posts.
If you would like to curate content as well as sharing the content that you create, take a look at Buffer’s list of suggested posts. I have discovered some amazing content here to share with my social media audience. Quite simply brilliant.
Hootsuite is another tool that I use to schedule social media posts. However, I mainly use this tool to monitor social media conversations and engagement on various topics. You can create a specific content stream and keep an eye on who is saying what. Hootsuite is a powerful brand engagement tool as you can add your company name to a content stream and monitor what people are saying about your business.
I am a huge fan of lists. Sometimes I create lists with extra small tasks on them so that I can experience the satisfaction of crossing them off once completed. As a result, I love the entire concept of Evernote. It has become a much loved virtual work space for entrepreneurs all over the world. You can collaborate with other team members on Evernote and you can access your information on all of your devices. I could go on but, instead, I’ll urge you to go check it out for yourself. It’s awesome.
One of the things that is so exciting about taking a business online is the point when people start to engage with you. I absolutely love it when this happens. Disqus is a widget that you can add to your blog to enable your readers to comment on your content. You can then take your posts a step further and turn them into conversations. These conversations are so valuable both to your business and also to your audience.
I have been thinking recently just how much value we all get from social media and how amazing it is that we get all of this value for free. Yes, I know that we sometimes pay to give our posts a boost but still - most of the time it costs us not a penny.
This is amazing when you get to thinking about it. So I had to include Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Pinterest, Instagram et al in this list because as marketing and engagement tools you can’t really ask for more.
Content Idea Generator
Have you ever written a blog post and then become stuck when deciding on a headline? Check out our final tool in this list - Portent’s Content Idea Generator. Simply enter the subject of your blog post into the search box and this tool will come up with lots of intriguing headline ideas that your audience will waste no time clicking to read on!
As I have been writing this post, I have been thinking of more and more tools that I love. However, these are the ones that I use the most and feel are the most valuable to my business.
However, I did want to mention just one more tool. That is Edgar - a new social media automation tool from Laura Roeder. Edgar’s functionality looks amazing and I am really enjoying finding out all the potential ways this tool will help me to save time. I do feel that this tool is set to become a firm favourite!
Thanks for reading. Do you have a favourite online tool that I have missed from this list? Tell me all about it in the comments section below!
Take care, Jane x