Indispensable Tools for Writers, Trainers, & Small Business

Something different today: a small business post! I run two small businesses, so I’m all about finding useful tools and tricks for keeping my schedule and my sanity. Over the years, I’ve settled on a shortlist of things I’m not going to do without. And because these will probably be useful to other authors, trainers, and whatever, I am going to share them now with you.

Note: all of these are tools I actually use on a daily or weekly basis. A few have affiliate links, but they’re here only because I find real value in them. Your use of these affiliate links is very much appreciated!

MileIQ for small businessMileIQ

I drive to clients’ homes for appointments, or I drive to museums to research a book, or I drive to a conference, or — I drive a lot. And much of that mileage is deductible, but I am frankly bad at remembering to copy down odometer numbers or to calculate driving distance, blah blah blah.

Enter MileIQ, a phone app which not only tracks all my drives for me automatically, but allows me to sort them into personal and business categories in literal seconds. No, seriously, I mean 5 seconds or so.

Seriously, that fast. I saved up several days of trips for that demo, which showed me logging business, personal, and medical trips.

I am such an enthusiast for this app that they gave me a feature, but that was a side effect, not an incentive. I love MileIQ, and it’s not just because I am lazy (although that is true), it is also because I am mercenary, and this app is saving me serious cash.

Let me show you a screencap.

$8394.40 deduction so far in 2016

That’s about 10 months of driving in 2016 and my potential deductions. Totally worth taking those few seconds to sort the automatically captured drives.

MileIQ has a free version for a few drives a month, or premium for unlimited. For both the time and money to be saved, the premium is absolutely worth it. You can sign up for MileIQ here. (That’s an affiliate link, which gives me a future discount and you 20% off the premium version, as of the time of writing.)

Expensify for small businessExpensify

Next in the list of deduction-tracking apps is Expensify. Their slogan is “expense reports that don’t suck,” which at least shows they understand their market. I like their quick smartphone app which lets me quickly log my conference or travel expenses right at the table, no carrying receipts to forget or decode later — or if you have a dedicated business credit card, link it and let everything be logged automagically. Best of all, it’s free for a single user, which makes it perfect for writers and trainers.

(So, writers, between MileIQ and Expensify, you can drive to the airport and buy a snack in the terminal and log it all for easy deduction as you take your deductible trip to Ireland to study writing craft and industry tips…. Just sayin’.)

EyeLeo for small businessEyeLeo

This next app doesn’t save you money, but it might save you pain. EyeLeo interrupts your fixed screen-staring with a big-eyed leopard who reminds you to do a few seconds of eye exercises. If you’re like the majority of computer users who blink less often when using a monitor and experience eye strain, EyeLeo can help. And it’s free.

Todoist for small businessTodoist

Everyone’s needs and preferences for a to-do list app are a bit different, but we all know we benefit from having one. Todoist is my favorite so far, with a satisfying swipe to complete and a number of ways to organize projects, deadlines, and task views, plus a little gamification points system. I use the free version, but there’s an upgrade if you find it helpful.

Evernote logoEvernote

I’ve been an Evernote junkie since 2010. It’s my electronic brain, sorting and storing everything from my car insurance to software registration serial numbers to the name of that amazing restaurant I visited in Missouri that I should look up whenever I find myself in the state again. And its features are amazing — for example, any text in an uploaded photograph becomes searchable, so when I visit museums or other sites for research, I simply snap a photo on my phone to take my notes. Done.

I hear the free version has been considerably nerfed and is less useful, but the premium version is quite affordable for its utilities so I’m more than willing to hand over money for it, and my affiliate link will get you a free month of premium.

MailChimp for small businessMailChimp

MailChimp is a favorite mailing list service, because you don’t want to do it yourself for so many reasons, both practical and legal. MailChimp is very easy to use and is free for the first 2,000 subscribers. I love their data, so I can see engagement rates and evaluate what’s working to please my subscribers. I can’t speak for what their customer service is like because I’ve never needed it — everything just works and the tutorials are clear. Straight up win.

You can sign up for MailChimp here (affiliate link).

Author Media My Book Progress for small businessAuthor Media plug-ins

I really like Author Media’s WordPress plug-ins, and I use them on several sites, including this one.

My Book Table provides a clean, organized listing of books (or other products) with sales links. Buy the premium version so you can use your own affiliate codes and you’ll pay for the plug-in and extra features. My Book Progress shows visitors what I’m working on and how quickly, with options for reader both to sign up for updates and to send me an encouraging message. (At least, I hope it’s encouraging.) My Speaking Events and My Speaking Page work together as an event calendar, speaker media kit, and speaker demo page.

The free versions use Author Media’s affiliate codes for any sales, but the premium versions let you use your own, as well as a few other special features. I used to do all this by hand before purchasing the plug-ins; they’re worth it.

InstaFreebie for small businessInstaFreebie

One of the hardest things for authors is finding new readers who are actually interested. One of the hardest things for readers is finding new authors who are actually good. InstaFreebie is where those come together.

InstaFreebie lets readers download material — stories, books, sample chapters, all sorts of things — for free. Then, if they like the freebie, they can follow up with the author and buy more.

I’ve been using InstaFreebie only a couple of months, but so far I like it. A premium account allows an author to require a newsletter subscription to access the freebie (and yes, it syncs nicely with MailChimp, one time setup and done). Does it work? I added over 400 subscribers just over last weekend. (Want to get what they got?)

Sign up for InstaFreebie here (affiliate link).

What else for small business?

What are your favorite tools or apps for small business owners? Anything I should know about?

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  1. Hi Laura,
    Thanks for sharing. This is great information!

  2. For training or anything with an appointment-based business model, Acuity has been worth every single penny and I will shout it from the rooftops. It allows my clients to easily schedule their training appointments online (with variables like availability, appointment length, travel time, maximum appointments per day/week etc set by me and very customizable). I can embed that scheduler into my website and boom, done. I never have to ask anyone “well what time works for you” or “could you do Thursday?” again. They see when I’m available, they sign up for an available slot and I don’t need to think about it — it just tells me when to show up. It can even handle packages, group classes and recurring appointments. Admin-type tasks are my weakness, so anything that drastically (*drastically*) reduces the number of phone calls and emails I have to juggle is amazing as far as I’m concerned. And their customer service is probably the best out of any company of any type I’ve ever worked with.

    I use Quickbooks Self Employed for expense tracking and like it. It’s quick to sort expenses and doesn’t take much thinking.

    Currently testing out Evernote. I know it’s been around forever and I’ve poked at it a few times, but I think maybe I’m ready to make the switch from Scrivener to Evernote for real this time. Love Scrivener for my writing projects but I am getting to the point where it doesn’t make sense to use it for everything.

    • Thanks for the suggestions! Admin-tasks are critical but time-eaters, so anything that helps is fantastic!

      I recently switched from QuickBooks Desktop to Xero, but I haven’t been using it long enough to give a full report yet.
      Laura recently posted…Contest for Hall of HeroesMy Profile

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