Updated: Apr 20
With the introduction of a worldwide pandemic, came the introduction of an increase in apps and software designed to make our work life more productive. But how do you avoid falling into a money pit by spending on software and apps that are marketed to make you feel like you need them?
Well, there are some that are completely free to use within certain boundaries, or that won't cost you the earth if you climb onto the first rung of their package plans. I'm here to take you through the ones I use. I'm not saying they are the best, but they are certainly the best value for money I've found and they make a world of difference in increasing productivity. So, in no particular order...
1. Social media Scheduling Tool - Later
I've tried a few social media scheduling apps but I really like Later because it's simple, pleasing to the eye, and offers a free package without trying to push you into a paid plan. I've tried Hootsuite which is great although a lot fussier than Later, however, it no longer offers a free plan and it is really expensive. Depending on the type of social media posting you're going to do, there might be no avoiding Hootsuite, but let's find out if Later can work for you.
Later's free plan allows you to push out 30 posts per month on up to 6 social media platforms such as Linkedin, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, and Tik Tok. Basically, all the important ones. That gives you roughly one post per day which might be all you need. With the free plan, you won't have access to features like hashtag suggestions or story posting, and there's no analytics either, but if one post a day is enough for you and you aren't bothered about checking insights, just getting the job done, this could be the perfect scheduling tool for your business. You can get top-performing hashtags for free online or via an app like the Hashtag expert.
I pay for the Starter pack at $15 per month and I can pay monthly whereas Hootsuite only accepts annual payments. This package suits me because I post twice daily to Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. If I work for a client who can make do with the free package, I usually set this up for them and create the posts myself, taking content from their websites or latest blog posts, or they might send me over images and ask me to create the text. Whether you employ a VA like me or do this yourself, all it takes is one day a week, perhaps even an hour on the weekend, to schedule your posts for the week ahead and then forget about it. Another option for posting once a day is to use the Content Planner in Canva, but I'll share more about that in my Canva section down below.
2. Organisation and To-Do Lists with Asana
I have tried a few organisational tools which are designed to give you a fancy to-do list without losing post-it notes and scribbling in a book. I tried Trello but didn't like the fact you could only really use it board style, and I've tried ToDoist which is really basic in its appearance compared to Asana.
I use the free version of Asana which provides me with everything I need. My favourite view is the calendar view and I mainly use it to input my tasks or to-dos for the week or months ahead. You can add tags that are colour coded, and this works great for me to visualise who I am working for. Pete is orange, Lisa is green, etc, etc. Marking a task as complete and seeing a unicorn fly across the screen to congratulate you is a little tap on the shoulder that I take a small bit of pleasure from.
You can set your tasks to repeat on certain days of the week, which is really helpful, and you can choose to view tasks by list, board, calendar, and files. Asana is way more than just a to-do list though. You can use it in the free version to create projects, see messages, add teammates, and in the paid version there's even more.
I homeschool my children so I also use Asana to track what I want to teach my children, if I have started a topic and if we have completed it. Honestly, for a free version, there is so much you can do with this tool! So far, I don't need to communicate with my teammates, but if I did, it would be easy enough to add them to a project, set them tasks, and communicate with one another all in one place rather than using lots of different tools.
Paying for Asana is also not overly expensive but I urge you to try their generous trial first. Asana also offers lots of free webinars but it's not complicated to use and chances are, you will easily find your way around all by yourself.
3. Create EVERYTHING with Canva
Canva has got to be my absolute favourite productivity app. The possibilities with it are endless. I use it every single day for all sorts of things, from creating infographics and social media campaigns to finding quotes, making newsletters, and editing photos and videos.
You can use Canva to create your brand kit, which means choosing your brand colours, logos, and fonts so that Canva knows to apply it to each design you make. I use Canva to create logos, thumbnails, magazines, newsletters, and posters for my clients and on a personal level, for my homeschooling schedules too. There are so many amazing templates already designed, you can use them and simply tweak the colours or images, or just add your logo to make them your own.
For businesses, you can use Canva to create presentations, and with their huge library of templates, it cuts the time in half it might usually take someone to create one. You can then present it directly from Canva or invite people to view it. Of course, you can download everything you create too, in picture file formats, MP4 and PDF. My only bugbear with Canva is you can't download creations as a Word document, but this is easy to get around with a converter tool.
Another great feature of Canva is its social media scheduling tool. If you only post once per day, you can use Canva to create all of your content, and then schedule it just like you would with any social media scheduling tool, in the Content Planner. This is great if you intend to use Canva to create your social media posts.
You can use Canva for free, but you will get a watermark on some of the images. I took the plunge and took out a plan which costs me just £10.99 per month. Honestly, it's the best ten pounds I spend.
With Canva, you can download the app too, where all the desktop designs you've created are available to view and download directly onto your phone. You can even create and schedule in the phone app too. There are loads I could talk about with Canva, it really needs a post all on its own. From inviting team members to collaborate with you, to creating website banners and more, the list goes on and on. Click here to take a look at what Canva can do for you.
4. Communicate via Slack
For V.A's like me, Slack is a brilliant multi-tasking communication tool. It is basically an instant messaging service that you can download to your desktop and your phone, but you can add lots of different workspaces if you work with different clients or businesses. This allows you to see messages coming in for everyone in one place. In each workspace, you can then create various channels to communicate with certain departments or individuals or even a whole team.
In all honesty, I use Slack only to communicate but it does a lot more than that. You can even invite your followers to your Slack channel, and open a dedicated channel for them to communicate with you, or for you to share news and updates. This is a great way of allowing followers to feel closer to you, and could even be used within a membership package. The bonus of Slack is, to use it as a basic communication tool costs nothing. It integrates with lots of other productivity apps. Apps like Zapier, where you can send a message to Slack when you set up an action in Zapier. For example, if a new client is added to my CRM system, it fires off a message to Slack, which ensures I don't miss it.
For agile working, Slack is the way forward. You can communicate with other companies via their channels, which completely does away with the need for emails and phone calls. If keeping everything in one place is important to you, you can also use Slack for video calls. What's the point of having dozens of open tabs in your browser, if you can do almost everything with one tool?
The image above gives you more of an insight into what to expect from a paid plan, which in itself isn't that expensive. Click here to visit Slack and start enjoying the benefits of the free plan to give it a try.
5. Good old Google
As productivity apps go, you just can't beat Google. Personally, I find using Google so much easier than Microsoft. From creating emails to chatting, uploading, storing, and sharing files and creating documents and spreadsheets, it just does it all.
Google is also absolutely free but if you want a personalised business email address and extra storage, it's worth upgrading. Google offers way more than I currently use, I probably use less than half of what it could give me. For me, Google is my main form of email communication, and having the app on my phone means that I can see all messages for all of my different Gmail addresses in one place. Aside from email, I use Google for sharing and storing files and folders, creating Word documents and Spreadsheets to organise my calendar, and for Google Meet video calls.
A free plan gives you 15GB of storage but for just £1.59 per month, you can upgrade that to 100GB. Which level of G-Suite will work best for you depends on your business size and needs. I would advise you to read this article by Linchpin to help you decide.
So there you have it. Scheduling, planning, organisation, communication, and design all with just 5 productivity tools that will cost you less than £20 per month. If you found this post useful please let me know.