Here is a list of 30 essential productivity apps, business management tools and other apps or websites that help to run an online business and a local music teaching business.
The list here is what suits me and keeps me going as an individual business. There are other things I use but these are the main ones. These may not be suitable for everyone but they are all things that I happily recommend to others. Some are obvious, like the google products, but you might find a few that you haven’t heard of in the list.
Below the list is more information about how I use the things in the list to operate my businesses.
1. Google Calendar & synced to phone calendar (scheduling and also useful for setting reminders at specific times)
2. Google Docs / Spreadsheets (for creating invoices, records of who has paid, income spreadsheets). For offline and advanced database use, Libre Office Sheets and Calc are free and are just as good as Word and Excel imo.
3. Google Drive (access everything on the move; lesson plans, ebooks, records of who has paid invoices)
4. Google Keep (for saving photos or notes on the move)
5. Gmail (email)
6. Google Maps & Belkin Phone Holder (replaced sat nav)
7. Google Contacts (can group contacts into categories such as school names)
8. Remember The Milk (to do list, web and mobile app)
9. Mailchimp (mailing lists)
10. Payhip (for selling ebooks)
11. Paypal (payment processing)
12. Bandcamp (for audio downloads)
13. Ditto Music (digital distribution for music)
14. Sentric Music / Hit Licence (pitching music to tv / film etc)
15. BBC Weather Web / App (Try to dress for the weather)
16. WhatsApp (Reluctantly stay in close contact for certain projects)
17. Adsense (advertisement revenue)
18. Phone’s native clock, countdown timer and calculator
19. Heart Internet Web Hosting and Domains (to power the websites)
20. Drupal & WordPress (CMS for websites)
21. Spotify (always have access to songs that I need to teach)
22. DaTuna app (tune guitars using phone – android)
23. Justin Guitar metronome app
24. Abelton Live 9 (Suite) – Education Price (DAW for making music)
25. Dropbox or Wetransfer.com (sending / sharing large files)
26. Landr (Cheap and Easy Mastering Service)
27. Adobe Photoshop & Adobe Illustrator (for all artwork needs such as posters, music artwork, ebook covers, web banners etc.)
28. Adobe Acrobat Pro (for creating ebooks from single pdf files)
29. Guitar Pro (for creating lesson plans and sheet music for ebooks)
30. Quickbooks Self Employed (Used for Invoicing students’ parents every half term and for forwarding email receipts to record them in Quickbooks. It is basic, but it suits my needs.)
I do most of my work from a desktop computer. It’s pretty old school I know but actually I like sitting down at the desk and getting immersed and then being able to walk away and leave it, rather than have the temptation of trying to work on the sofa (I know some people that prefer the sofa though!). I keep my mobile contract slim and use a cheap to mid range phone, which is a smart phone, but it doesn’t cost loads.
My bookkeeping, teaching schedules, invoices, paid lists, have all been done using my own system of documents and spreadsheets that are quite refined and easy to use for my business now. I have recently moved onto Quickbooks Self Employed for invoices, which has made writing and sending them easier. My process to record payments for school lessons used to be to input it into a spreadsheet, then copy and paste into a ‘paid’ documents file for each given half term and school, and delete the pupil’s name that has been paid for. I would then check who still needs to pay. My invoices use a template I made and I had a copy of that in the same folder as the paid file for each half term and school name. The invoices always include payment info and at the top of that list is bank transfer details because that form of payment has the least admin for me. I then export that as a pdf file and email the parents at the start of a half term. Mostly I have to make different ones for each half term and ammend for different pupils if they have missed lessons or have not paid for a half term.
I also have a spreadsheet of all of my pupils in each school and their instrument and time details, and rows of checkboxes so I can print them off and use them as a rota for the half term. In high schools the rotas need to have time slots added to the rota. For primary schools, they are too hectic and unpredictable to make rigid timetables for, so I don’t bother. At the start of a new half term, I will copy over all the files from the previous half term and begin editing them for the next one. Usually the amount of weeks per half term changes so there is always something to change. I leave an extra list of pupils per school in the paid files so that I can copy them into a fresh ‘unpaid’ area below, and then I can delete them off as they pay.
I keep an up to date copy of parents’ email addresses in Google contacts and group them into different schools and also give them instrument tags incase I need to email all of the guitarists for something at once. I always try to email the parents using the bcc send field, and this is easy on a computer with a mouse because you can select all the contacts from google contacts, and click to send email, then drag all the addresses into the bcc field. I also have a mailchimp list but it’s not easy to keep that updated as well so I tend not to use it. I do for my website subscribers though.
For my websites www.learndrumsforfree.com and www.learnguitarforfree.com most of the files are hosted on the websites. I learned how to make websites before starting to teach, which has really given me the tools to build an online business too. I learned html and css using an O’Reilly book and the rest followed from there. Actually it all started from the coding features on myspace when bands could change the styles on their pages and adding in banners etc. My sister does web design and artwork in the music industry and she said that probably started her off too, or gave her the coding bug. I use dreamweaver to edit code because the colours are useful, but other free ones are available, and filezilla for ftp file transferring.
I use payhip for all of my pdf ebooks, which is the best I have found. It links to paypal for payments and it has just added a feature to automatically add customers to mailchimp lists. People that download free ebooks are added to my regular subscriber list for upadtes of free blog posts, and paying customers are added to a special list, which I send info of new ebook products to when they are released. Bandcamp is used in a similar way for audio and music, although their mailing list integration is not as good so I can’t really use that effectively at the moment unless I set up more accounts and then export email addresses to the appropriate subscriber lists.
I have found that social media is pretty much a waste of time for my online business at the moment but the mailing list is great, and actually pinterest generates the most hits, so I do chose to get rid of all but the pinterest. It’s all about finding what works for your business and choosing the right platforms to get the most out of your time and effort.
I get many hits per day on both sites quite often and almost all the traffic is organic from search engines. It’s taken years to build up so it really is a lot of hard work but adding to it “little and often” really helps build up a huge site over time. Most of my ebook sales follow searching for free stuff from organic google searches and then discovering the ebooks. I believe this is called a “fremium” business model. When I launch a new ebook and send it to my paying customers mailing list, I usually get quite a few sales from them, so that is really useful for me and them.
Hopefully this gives gives you ideas for your own online business. I tried in the past setting up my own ubercart shopping cart and hosting everything myself, but I had to switch to payhip due to new EU tax rules on digital products. It was too hard to manage myself but payhip and bandcamp both sort sll this out for you. For every ebook sale, payhip takes off the tax, which is different depending on each country, from the money I receive, so they literally take care of everything without me needing to register to pay tax in every country. It completely took the hassle away from thiose new laws.
I also make music and play in a band so I have an unlimited ditto music subscription to release to spotify and itunes etc. whilst bandcamp is the best, not all customers are used to that so you kind of have to make things available where the customers are.
Guitar Pro is the best in my opinion! I’ve tried Sibelius but that’s probably only better for orchestral stuff. Guitar Pro is amazing for most instrumentsl sheet music writing, including guitar, drums, ukulele, bass and even instruments such as flute and piano. I always use it for all of my sheet music. I even use it to export midi to Abelton sometimes, rather than using the piano roll to input midi.
Abelton has been great for making music from midi, recording my own music, making backing tracks, and for teaching other music production. The education price helped me to buy it. Landr is a quick, easy and cheap way to finish off tracks so they are ready to release. The mastering is pretty good. I subscribe for a month and then cancel it when I am done.
All of the chaos that is my schedule is fairly organised with Remember The Milk and Google Calendar. Both can set tasks and appointments to repeat weekly or as often as needed, which is really useful. I use both services on the desktop and synced to my phone. My email is also really important for my business. I sometimes send emails to myself with important TO DO list items for that day, so I can’t possibly miss them.