The Ultimate Guide to Productivity Tools for Small Business

By Maria Peagler

Dec 02

Your Ultimate Guide to Productivity Tools

Ever wish you could clone yourself to get more done?

We’re all striving to accomplish more with less resources in the 21st century, and that’s especially true if you’re a solopreneur or small brand. I’ve made it my mission to keep my business (and my training) as simple and elegant as possible. That makes it easier for me to develop and advance a thriving business while also being a wife to an entrepreneur and involved mom to two teenage sons.

My secret?

Awesome tools. And a hack I’ll show you in a moment (saving me HOURS of time each week and thousands of dollars I don’t have to spend on labor that I can invest in my business).

Don’t get me wrong: I’m not a tool junkie (you know — those people who are ALWAYS touting the latest app they’ve downloaded and can’t wait to tell you about it). I don’t have time for that.

Instead, I invest in the best tools that make it possible to run an agile business I love and allow me to enjoy a full life outside of work.

So today I’m sharing with you my favorite tools I use on a DAILY basis and WHY I think they’re the best at what they offer.

Google Apps for Business

The paid version of Gmail, Google Drive, Docs and more. This is a huge switch for me, as I made a lucrative career from being a technical writer of books on Microsoft and other Windows’ products. Five years ago I purchased a Mac (because it just works, period) and didn’t want to pay for the Office Suite, so I started using Google Docs instead.

Google’s suite of products is nowhere near as robust as the Office suite, so if you need deep features like long documents and tables of contents in your word processor, stick with Word. But for what I do, which is mostly tables, presentations, and simple PDFs, Google Docs works great.

I’ve become an enormous fan of using Google Sheets for applications far beyond financials — planning, dashboards, and libraries of data I keep in a spreadsheet. It’s so simple to create a worksheet with multiple sheets and keep track of goals, reports, and content libraries within one file.

But why the paid version?

In May of this year, my email address was blacklisted as a spammer due to my hosting company sharing my virtual private server (VPS) with another company that was identified as sending SPAM email. The only way to fix the situation was to enroll in Google Apps for Business and use the paid version of their Gmail. That way, I would never again have to worry about my email being listed as SPAM.

The best part of using Google Apps for Business? Google support. Yes, really! Once you are a paying client, Google provides the BEST support I’ve ever encountered.

Related resources: How to Combine Social Media and Email Marketing to Capture Leads You’re Missing

Not surprising, since I teach a class on how to create your website using WordPress, but my love of this platform goes far beyond just being able to create a simple website with it.

When I started, I researched the most popular learning management systems (LMS) at the time, which were Moodle and Blackboard. I found them to be bloated, cumbersome, and better suited for enterprise organizations and institutions.

I also tried BuddyPress, which has a social network feature built into it, but found it to be unstable and not as well-supported as WordPress.

So why do I love WordPress so much? It allows me to:

  • create a simple website I can modify without being a developer
  • add a blog to my website that has the same look and feel as my website
  • create an online training site by adapting WordPress posts, pages, categories and shortcodes into an agile learning system I can change as my needs evolve
  • find answers to common WordPress problems because it has a global network of users who have encountered the same issues
  • easily hire developers and designers who have worked on WordPress and have deep experience with it
  • easily train interns and new hires on how we use WordPress because they likely already have experience with it
WordPress 101 Learn how to build your own blog/website — no coding required
Members-Only Content
Login to access this learning track


Wishlist Member WordPress Plugin

Wishlist Member (WLM) is a WordPress plugin allowing me to make my paid classes private. It’s categorized as a membership site plugin, but you can do much more with it than that.

WLM was not the first solution I tried (BuddyPress, S2Member, WPDev Member), but it’s the ONLY one that worked consistently, was stable, and well-supported.

They also have a companion membership program called Wishlist Insider I belonged to for a year to learn how others used it, network with WLM users, and get up-to-speed quickly to get the type of online training site I wanted.

Newer membership site plugins are available now, but I plan to stick with WLM. They offer a one-time price (vs. monthly for the newer plugins) and I don’t want to have to learn a new system and transition my members to it. I’ve found a solution that works for me and allows me to stay agile and robust in my offering.

Trello Project Management

Trello is an online project management system I absolutely love (and its cute dog mascot Taco).

I’ve tried BaseCamp, Asana, and even developed a class on Harvard Project Manager years ago. Most project management tools are needlessly complex and dull to use. The beauty of Trello is in its simplicity: it has a Pinterest-like interface, using cards, and you can organize your projects in any way that suits your business and working style.

It has few restrictions on how you setup your projects: that freedom allows you to make your Trello system truly your own.  You use Organizations, Boards, Lists, and Cards to create your projects and invite team members. You can add links, images, video, and text formatting to your projects to make them multimedia-rich.

We use Trello for our in-house training and orientation, our editorial calendar, ongoing projects, social media services clients, and website development projects. I can assign dates to projects, communicate with and tag team members about projects and see a calendar view of our editorial calendar to see what’s coming up next.

Aweber Email Marketing

The first thing I did in my business, before I ever had a website, was invest in email marketing software. I started out using iContact, but have since transitioned to Aweber for the segmentation features (I can send automatic emails to my audience depending upon what their interests are).

I had used ConstantContact for clients and didn’t like its user interface, and wasn’t interested in free so never tried MailChimp. I wanted a tool I could use immediately and start seeing ROI.  I loved iContact’s simplicity and great support, and appreciate Aweber’s terrific support as well.

Aweber has a steeper learning curve than other email marketing applications, but that’s the trade-off for more features, and I’m happy to pay it.

I use Aweber for sending out our weekly newsletter and sending automatic follow-up emails to people taking our free social media strategy class. I love the reporting I get: I can immediately identify what topics are most popular, what people are clicking on and what they open.

Snagit and Voila Screen Capture Tools

I use screen capture tools daily in developing and updating our training classes, building our Swipe File to show members examples of brands doing social media well, providing customer support, communicating with my team members, when we have technical challenges and are communicating with support teams, and far more.

When it comes to training, a picture really is worth a thousand words, and members love seeing an informative image rather than have to sit through a video.

I used TechSmith’s Snagit for years and found it to be the best screen capture tool available. However, when I upgraded to Mavericks operating system and to the latest version of Snagit, it slowed my computer to a crawl. So I transitioned to Voila, a Mac-based screen capture tool. It doesn’t have as many annotation and editing features as Snagit, but it takes advantage of the Mac operating system, allowing me to drag and drop images into almost any application.

Visual Social Media Webinar Use your smartphone to create compelling images and video
Members-Only Content
Login to access this lesson


Swipe File "Steal" these tactics from successful brands for your own business
Members-Only Content
Login to access this learning track



For a long time I just didn’t get why so many people were fanatical about Evernote. Sure, it was a great note-taking app and you could do a lot more with it, but I hadn’t really investigated all of its features.

I became hooked for personal reasons: I was researching a family trip we were taking to Washington D.C., and saved our hotel, tour reservations, itineraries and more to Evernote, and it was available on my smartphone while we were traveling. I could research a museum and capture a screen listing its hours/directions, and that screen capture would be available on my phone.

I now use Evernote for my business: writing my daily To-Do list, saving articles I want to refer to later, outlining large projects, and so much more.

The Productivity Hack That Saves Me Hours Each Week

The best part of using these applications? They can work together in automating much of my business. I can set up tasks to be automated, saving me time, and my virtual assistant can work on far more productive projects.

This hack allows me to practically clone myself for far greater productivity.

Some of the tasks I automate:

  • Dictating the foundation for a blog post into my smartphone and saving it to Evernote
  • Creating a content library by building a list of our blog posts and their URLs in a Google spreadsheet
  • Automatically uploading a video to YouTube, which in turn creates a blog post draft in WordPress
  • Creating a spreadsheet of my latest Twitter followers, their bios and follower counts
  • and much, much more

I set up these tasks just once, and they run automatically as necessary. My virtual assistant doesn’t have to spend her time on these items, so I can have her generating important reports and focusing on customer service (tasks that require the human touch to really do well).

How do I automate these tasks? Stay tuned: tomorrow’s post will give you the details!

YouTube 101 Class How to create your own branded YouTube videos & channel
Members-Only Content
Login to access this lesson


About the Author

Founder of, Benjamin Franklin award-winner for independent publishing, award winning author of eight books, wife, mom, quilter and watercolor artist.

Leave a Comment:

(4) comments

nathan December 6, 2014

Super great article as usual. New Years resolution to take one of your classes!

    Maria Peagler December 6, 2014

    Glad you found it helpful Nathan. Look forward to having you in class! Have a great holiday.

Taren December 8, 2014

I’m just seeing this post so I haven’t looked ahead to see what tool you are using.. but if you haven’t tried IFTTT yet… it’s AMAZING. And now to read the next post and see the answer… 🙂

    Maria Peagler December 8, 2014

    Taren – yes, IFTTT is awesome! It’s one of the apps I use on a daily basis. Thanks for your comment!

Add Your Reply

Leave a Comment: