Every year, I update this post with tools that have indispensable to my business, productivity, and well-being. Here’s my 2020 list. I have not been paid to recommend any of these services or products, although you will find an affiliate link or two (always disclosed next to the link).
Zoom is my go-to online meeting service that I find exceptionally reliable; it’s like Skype, only better. Since 2015, I’ve used it for client meetings, personal chats, online courses, and even to pipe in guest speakers for in-person events. It can record all meetings; once the meeting ends, the resulting file is downloaded locally or stored in the cloud (or both). I’ve found it nearly foolproof since participants can join on any device (including a phone), use video, or stick with audio only. Find out more about Zoom (this is an affiliate link). You’ll find both free and paid plans.
2. Acuity Scheduling
For several years, I’ve used Acuity + Zoom to streamline my client meetings and scheduling. Acuity is a full-featured appointment and scheduling service that allows anyone to book free or paid appointments with you. No more back-and-forth emailing to set up appointment times, and it hooks into availability on your Google calendar (among others). Acuity can be embedded into your site or shared as a link.
Acuity is free to start but you’ll have to pay at least $15/month for the best or most powerful features. Note: This too is an affiliate link, but I wouldn’t recommend them if I weren’t 100% happy with the service.
3. Gravity Forms + Stripe for payments
Since I primarily sell services from my site and not products, I don’t need a shopping cart or fully featured e-commerce solution such as WooCommerce. Instead, I use the premium plugin, Gravity Forms, and Stripe to process credit card payments. This allows people to buy specific service packages by completing a form and filling out their credit card info. (PayPal is also an add-on option for Gravity Forms, among many others.) Learn more about Gravity Forms. This is an affiliate link.
Once upon a time I used Evernote, but since mid-2019, I’ve switched over to Notion to maintain to-do lists and store other important information about day-to-day business. Notion syncs automatically across all my devices (desktop, laptop, phone, tablet). Every day I use it for quick drafting—for blog posts, research notes, interviews, and conference talk outlines. Form letters and other pieces of writing or information that I use frequently (or even infrequently) get stored for easy copy-paste into email. Writers will find it useful for “composting” ideas, quotes, and book excerpts that might come in handy later.
If you’re the kind of person who has a million stickies on your desktop, or multiple documents where you’re dumping notes (then find it hard to locate what you’re looking for), then take a serious look at Notion—or Evernote, which is cheaper.
I couldn’t function on a daily basis without Dropbox, which is cloud-based storage of my work files, especially since I change machines so often. It syncs across my desktop, laptop, mobile devices, and I can also access it through any computer if I have login credentials with me.
6. Google Drive
I use Google Drive in addition to Dropbox as a cloud storage system, but specifically for those documents that I collaborate on where multiple people might need access. I also use Google Drive for storing and sharing PDF handouts or similar public links at conferences and events.
Paprika is an app where I store all my recipes. It helps me meal plan during the week, generate shopping lists that get sent to email, and categorize recipes according to my own criteria.
LastPass is a password manager that helps ensure you never forget a password again—or use bad password hygiene (making you vulnerable to attack). It generates strong passwords and stores your login credentials, securely and locally; whenever you go to a site that requires those credentials, it autofills them for you on a browser. You can get started for free. (This is an affiliate link.)
Wave is a free, in-the-cloud accounting service that tracks income and expenses related to your business. All of my bank accounts (including PayPal) are hooked into my Wave account and allow me to see the entirety of my financial situation at a glance. It also generates invoices that clients can pay online by credit card and has payroll services if you need them. Accountants can be granted access to your profiles in Wave.
VisualHunt is my favorite tool for finding Creative Commons and public domain images to use in my online courses, blog, newsletter, and elsewhere.
What tools are part of your daily creative life or business? Let me know in the comments.
Also: Every two weeks, I send out Electric Speed, a free email newsletter about new digital media tools and resources I’ve discovered. Subscribe.
Jane Friedman (@JaneFriedman) has nearly 25 years of experience in the media & publishing industry. She is the publisher of The Hot Sheet, the essential newsletter on the publishing industry for authors, and was named Publishing Commentator of the Year by Digital Book World in 2019.
In addition to being a professor with The Great Courses (How to Publish Your Book), she is the author of The Business of Being a Writer (University of Chicago Press), which received a starred review from Library Journal.
Jane speaks regularly at conferences and industry events such as Digital Book World and Frankfurt Book Fair, and has served on panels with the National Endowment for the Arts and the Creative Work Fund. Find out more.