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4 Must-Have Business Tools & Systems to Invest In As a Creative Business Owner

As a new business owner, it’s easy to experience shiny ball syndrome when it comes to all of the fancy systems, tools and processes that are widely available. And if I’m honest, it’s easy to experience shiny ball syndrome as an experienced business owner, too!

While you do want to be calculated about where you put your money when starting a business (by trying not to overinvest or overspend), it is smart to still invest in a few systems that will help your business grow, and remain healthy. 

Investing early in systems that improve your workflow, simplify the backend, save you time, and deliver a seamless client experience can be done with a limited budget, and with limited business experience! All that is required is a bit of savviness, a great business blog or two (hi!), and the confidence of knowing that you’re not wasting your precious time or energy as you build your business.

4 Things to Spend Money On Early In Your Business

There are so many great apps and systems that can help with practically every single aspect of your business – so how on earth can you choose where to put your money?

If you’re someone who jumps at every shiny new thing (see: shiny ball syndrome), you’re going to want to be aware of that and come up with a plan for what makes the most sense to invest in for your business. Try to ask yourself: where will you see the most impact for your money? 

As unexciting as it is to say, the things where we business owners experience the most impact, tend to be the not-so-glamorous platforms and systems we try not to think about. Because, if we’re honest with ourselves, they aren’t fun to spend money on. 🤷

BUT, those systems and platforms are integral to running a smooth business, delivering an excellent client experience, and keeping your sanity intact! So, I recommend that every business owner invest in 4 things early on in their business: 

A website

A client management system (for service providers)

An accounting program 

A project delivery system (again, for service providers)

And I’ll be breaking down all four of those recommendations below! 

You’ll also see that I’m sharing some discount codes along the way – please know that I’m only doing so because I truly believe in each of these systems and use them every single day in my own business! I wouldn’t promote anything I didn’t believe in. 

I do receive a small financial benefit if you click on and purchase through the links I provide, which helps me to continue to provide great blog content for you! Thanks so much for your support. 

And now, let’s break down the 4 systems and tools that you should invest in as a creative business owner. 

Your Website

And no, Instagram won’t suffice!

Running your business from your own website is absolutely necessary in this day and age. Your website offers you a place to showcase your work or products, free from any pesky algorithms. Your website is a platform where you can speak to your ideal clients and customers, and share more information about yourself – it’s a way for you to appear as your most professional self, while also optimizing your business for search engines.

Trust me, you don’t need to start with the most perfect website in the world, and if budget is a constraint, you don’t need to start with a designer! I use and recommend Showit, and have found that it’s incredibly intuitive, and easy to modify! You don’t need to know anything about HTML or website building. Showit makes it super easy to build your own site, and they even offer plenty of templates to purchase that can be modified and made your own!

For my own site, I started with a template, and modified it as my company and brand became more defined. Now, my current website looks nothing like how I started, and I created it all on my own! (Yup, no website or brand designer here.)

If you’d like to try Showit out for yourself, sign up for a free month through my referral code!

But seriously, the most important and impactful thing you’ll ever invest in as a business owner will be your website. If you’ve been putting it off, take this as your sign to finally build out your own site!

A Client Management System – also known as CRM (Customer Relationship Management)

If you run a service-based business, your business’ client management system should be riiiight up there with your website in terms of importance. Your client management system will allow you to provide a better client experience, which will pay off through referrals and repeat bookings!

My personal favorite client management system is Honeybook. In fact, I’d say that Honeybook is the best thing I’ve invested in as a business owner! 

Honeybook provides a seamless client experience, while keeping my projects organized. Through Honeybook, I can implement workflows, so I never miss a step in the process. I can send proposals with contracts and invoices, and also receive online payments! 

All of my website inquiries automatically create a project in my Honeybook CRM. Then, those projects are filtered through workflows I’ve created for specific project types. I can then use my template emails, customized brochures for different services, questionnaires and template contracts and proposals to go from inquiry to booking within a few minutes! 

Can you tell that I love Honeybook? Truly, it’s saved me so much time (and creative exhaustion). 

Okay, okay, I’ll digress one more time and then I’ll leave Honeybook be. With Honeybook, I can also track where my inquiries are coming from, calculate projected income based on booked projects, follow unpaid invoices and automatically send reminders without even having to think of it! 

Do you see how a good CRM is completely worth it?! Automation is your friend!

Aside from the fact that investing in a CRM will make your own life much better, your clients will appreciate a modern way of doing business when they can sign documents and make payments online. People are much more likely to make purchases if they’re easy and fast. The fewer roadblocks we provide for our clients, the more likely they are to say yes!

If you’d like to try Honeybook out for yourself, use my code to get 20% off!

An Accounting Program 

If you’re a creative business owner who can hear the words, “accounting” and “profit and loss” without experiencing a tiny bit of panic, color me impressed!

From the moment you begin accepting payment for your work, you’ll want a way to track your income, expenses, profit and loss so that you know how your business is doing financially. 

I love and live by Quickbooks Online! After transitioning from a sole proprietorship to a single-member LLC, I found that Quickbooks Self Employed didn’t provide the analytics that my accountant needed for reporting for my new LLC. So, I upgraded to Quickbooks Online, and am so glad I did!

I do outsource the higher-level aspects of my accounting, because I decided early on in my business that accounting is one area of business that I’m not interested in. And it’s my belief that it’s really difficult to master something, if you have no interest in doing so.

I still do all of my own bookkeeping (categorizing my income and expenses), and I find that it’s super easy to do as long as I log into my Quickbooks account once per week through the app I have on my phone. All I do is swipe right for personal transactions, or left for business transactions, and add categories when necessary. It’s really that easy!

Quickbooks also has mileage tracking, so if you’re a photographer or fellow service provider who travels for your business, you can deduct mileage expenses on your taxes! I allow Quickbooks to track my travel, and at the end of the week I swipe and categorize those trips I took as business or personal. I’ll even include a short description so I know where I went (something as easy as “location scouting” or “photoshoot,” for example!). 

If you’d like to test Quickbooks out for yourself, use my referral link for 50% off of your subscription, plus a $50 Visa gift card!

A Gallery or Project Delivery System

The final, and arguably most important, part of your client experience will typically include actually delivering the project you worked so hard on. It goes without saying that it’s important to provide a seamless experience that WOWS your clients, especially if you’re a visual creator! 

Why? Well, you want to leave them with a great feeling about working with you, and a good project delivery system will help to do so.

Because I am a photographer, I use Pixieset to deliver my galleries. I love that I can arrange the photos into different sections, and organize my favorites at the start of the gallery for that initial “wow” experience when they open the gallery! I can also customize the cover and add video if I so choose. I also use Pixieset to share proofs with my clients so that they can make their final selections for editing, by disabling the download function and viewing all of the photos they mark as favorites.

With Pixieset, clients can download different sizes of images (and I can set the different sizes allowed), mark their favorite photos, and create their own galleries with their favorites. Plus, there’s a built-in storefront so that my clients can purchase cards, canvases and framed prints that are printed from a professional lab! As the business owner, I’m able to set rules for pricing, available products, and which lab is used, which creates a totally hands off experience for me. (Passive income, yes please!)

Pixieset also keeps track of analytics and taxes for goods sold, so I can head right to the spreadsheet at the end of the year when I’m distributing sales tax. 

While many photographers will choose to utilize Dropbox for their final gallery deliveries, I personally prefer Pixieset because of the beautiful and integrated experience it provides for my clients. I view Dropbox as a simple file-sharing platform, and Pixieset as a visual presentation platform. (Emphasis: visual!)

Try Pixieset out for yourself with my referral link, and you’ll get an additional 250 MB of storage space for your galleries!

And if you’re not a photographer, I recommend doing a quick search to look up the best project delivery platforms for your specific trade or craft. I promise you there’s a favorite, top-performing platform out there!

Now that you know where to spend your money, let’s discuss what brings you joy!
Stay tuned for the next blog post in this series where I cover how I listen to my gut and do what brings me joy as a business owner! Until then, make sure to read up on The 5 Best Decisions I’ve Made as a Creative Business Owner 🌈 or How to Understand Your Finances and Build a Debt-Free Business

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i'm sarah (she/her) , your new quirky, color-loving friend!

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My goal with every client is to cultivate a fun, creative, and approachable vibe. All types of people, all types of bodies, and all types of love are welcome here.

Color and creativity fuel my soul, and whimsical details make my heart happy! I believe in finding joy in the everyday, that real emotions are better than perfectly posed, and that building real connections with my clients is what allows me to create honest photos and capture genuine moments.

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