Last Updated: January 2023
Having the right systems in place makes it a lot easier for you to do more of your best work. When you’re a solopreneur, it’s just…you. That makes it hard to stay organized & motivated from day to day.
Over the years, I’ve figured out that there are some key tools that help make entrepreneurship easier. And the best part is that most of them are free!
In this post I’m sharing some of the systems & software tools that can support solopreneurs and their businesses. In every category, I’ve tried to include free options, so that you can build your business without breaking the bank.
There are a couple affiliate links below, but everything I’m sharing is a tool I have used & recommend. Most of them are among my favourite tools for solopreneurs everywhere.
You can also see more of my favourite tools on this page. I hope you enjoy this list, and be sure to let me know if there are any tools I’ve missed in the comments below.
1. Project Management Systems
No matter what kind of business you have, you absolutely need a system for keeping track of your projects, tasks, to-dos and ideas – as a creative entrepreneur, I’m guessing you have a lot of them! Our brains can only store so much information – as soon as I’m trying to remember more than three competing items, I instantly feel harried and overwhelmed. Once I write down my thoughts, I start feeling more calm, clear, and collected.
As with any of these app suggestions, the very best one is the one you’re actually going to use. Choose carefully, and don’t be afraid to experiment! Go with your gut, and choosing based on aesthetics or the company’s values or the tiny adorable rainbow-coloured animals that appear when you complete tasks is both allowed and encouraged. Most of the best project management software systems are absolutely free, so there’s no harm in signing up and doing mini beta tests to see which you find most intuitive or supportive to you.
If you start out with a simpler system, you might eventually need to “upgrade” your software to something more robust. That’s okay too! When I started my business, I used a simple to-do list tracker called Todoist, then eventually upgraded to Asana and then Notion.
Simple To-Do Lists: Todoist | Google Tasks | Any.do
2. Invoicing & Payments Software
I’ve had clients who were using a cobbled-together Excel spreadsheet (that they hated opening) to keep track of payments. I know of one woman who painstakingly creates her invoices by hand in Photoshop at the end of each month. And don’t get me started on the number of entrepreneurs I know who have trouble getting paid or run into technical issues with e-Transfers and accounting on a weekly basis.
There’s a better way! I promise. You have so many options for managing your invoices and payments that will save you time and energy, and that actually make things easier for your clients to pay you. When you’re first starting out and every penny counts, it makes sense to use a free service, or one that only charges based on transaction fees. But as you start to generate more income, you may want to invest in a system that meets all your needs as a small business owner, even if it has a monthly fee.
When I was first starting out, I used Wave‘s free features exclusively, then eventually upgraded to Dubsado last year when I needed a more robust client management system (see below). See what calls your name in this category, but also keep pricing in mind.
Invoicing Systems: Stripe | Wave Apps | FreshBooks
3. Customer Relationship Management
For most service-based businesses, having a client management system is a HUGE boon to productivity. These services can create invoices, accept payments, send questionnaires, set up proposals for new clients, sign contracts, send automatic emails and more. Better yet, most of these tools are now expanding to include scheduling functionality, so you won’t even need a separate tool for managing your calls & meetings.
Instead of using five different systems for all of the above, these programs bring all of the best features together under one “roof”, for which you pay a monthly fee. The fee is not necessarily small, but when you compare it to the number of hours you’ll save, it often proves to be more than worth the cost.
If you’re just starting out, it might be more cost-effective to start with using a few different tools, and upgrade to a CRM when the client demand is there. But it’s great to have these systems on your radar, as your business grows!
4. Graphic Design Programs
With the exception of folks who work as graphic designers, it can be really hard for most solopreneurs to create images and assets to promote their business offerings, sell products, or even just spruce up their website! In the past, if you wanted to create a good-looking online brand, you were limited in terms of your options. You could either hire an expensive freelancer, or try to do it yourself…to varying levels of success.
Luckily the design landscape has changed, and there are some great resources for creating beautiful design elements for your brand, for free. Instead of trying to improve your own graphic design skills, I recommend that you lean on one of these services and let them do the heavy lifting for you.
4. Email Marketing Systems
This one may seem obvious, but that doesn’t make it any less important for the success of most small businesses. Email is probably your #1 best way to sell to customers, no matter what industry you’re in. Social media, on the other hand, has mixed results at best! You can help your customers stay more engaged with your brand when you make sure that your email marketing system is set up properly and stylishly.
But while spending time on your email marketing can be a great ‘investment’ in the long-term health of your business, that doesn’t necessarily mean that you need to invest in it financially, at least not initially. My favourite among these services, Mailerlite, is totally free for your first 1000 subscribers, which makes it the perfect entry point for most people.
Email Marketing Systems: Mailerlite | Mailchimp | ConvertKit
5. Scheduling Systems
So many of the entrepreneurs I work with are still relying on scribbled appointments in notebooks. The problem is, paper planners aren’t very editable without scratching things out and starting over!
If your business provides services, such as coaching, massage therapy, or consulting, it can be helpful to have a system set up to accept client bookings without having to send far too many emails back and forth. These programs sync with your personal and business calendars to show your availability to clients, who can then book appointments in the time slots you choose. This streamlines the process for everyone involves and means that administrative tasks like scheduling can happen almost without any involvement from you. All you need to do is look at your calendar to see what’s coming up for you that day or week!
Bonus: many Client Relationship Management systems (mentioned above) actually include a scheduler, making them an even better deal.
Scheduler Systems: Calendly | Acuity Scheduling | You Can Book Me
Running a successful business isn’t easy, but there are practical ways to make it just a little bit easier. I see the return on investment every time that a client takes the time to set up a new system. Knowing how much time, energy, and calm they gain back is reason enough for me to recommend that you do a bit of research and find systems that can solve some of your most glaring business problems.
I would love to hear from you: What are the systems in your business that you absolutely couldn’t live without? What app has saved you the most time or brought you the most calm in your business life? What system would you recommend to any entrepreneur? I am always on the lookout for interesting and innovative new software that can help business owners! Let me know in the comments below, or on Instagram @stephpellett.
And if you want even more cool systems to run your business, click here to see my favourite tools!