I have spent several years and thousands of dollars building a number of small businesses. I've also spent countless hours searching out and experimenting with different software applications to run these businesses. Here are the current items that I use and how/why I use them to run my adventure photography business. Hopefully it helps you get your business established.
NOTE: I also use many of these items in my personal life. To keep business and personal items separate, I create a new user for my business on all my computers. This allows me to sign up for an additional free account and keep business with business. Just a suggestion.
SQUARESPACE | $10/month
With the basic plan you gain access to a rich group of user-friendly templates that are mobile-friendly and easily customized. The plan also includes hosting on your domain, along with regular security updates and interface changes. If you want to pay a little extra, you gain access to a developer template that allows for additional customization. They recently released template options for landing pages (called Cover Pages) that I use to increase conversion (people who contact me) and decrease bounce rates (people who leave my site) when directing search ads (more on this later).
I've tried one other photography website company (intothedarkroom) that worked well enough. However, I didn't like being stuck with one template, especially when that template became outdated.
Finally, Squarespace upped the ante for me with their free applications (free with paid service). I use their portfolio app to maintain offline access to my website images, and I use their metrics app for monitoring daily activity on my website and social networks.
GOOGLE APPS | $5/month
If you opt for a personalized email at your domain (firstname.lastname@example.org) then Squarespace will direct you to Google Apps. It's an additional fee, but you gain access to the suite of Google Applications for business including Calendar, Drive, and others. I'm not saying that a Gmail address is bad (actually, I am), but a personalized email pays for itself in professionalism.
EVERNOTE | Free
I have most of my life in Evernote. For my business, I use it for brainstorming, rough-drafting blog posts (this one included), template emails, project ideas, creative thoughts, notes on education, things I'm learning, goals, along with a host of other items. Everything is searchable and the software gets extra points from me because it's a downloadable app as well as a cloud based service. Information can be accessed from anywhere and is made accessible through every device via auto sync. In case of emergency, I use it to maintain a master equipment list with prices and serial numbers. Additionally, I keep copies of my Passport, Driver's License and other personal information that I may need while traveling. In the past, I used Gmail to store this information, but it wasn't available offline.
HARVEST | Free
I've already written about my love for Harvest in a previous blog post. The basics are these: I use Harvest for logging customers, creating estimates, tracking time, entering expenses, billing and receiving payments, and business reporting.
ASANA | Free
This is where I track my list of To Do items. I use separate work spaces for personal and business use. As an added bonus, it plays nicely with Harvest so you can track time per item from within the Asana interface.
EASY RELEASE | $9.99
This application allows you to create, sign and track model releases for your work.
LENSTAG | Free
I know I've already mentioned using Evernote for maintaining a list of equipment, but I use Lenstag for tracking that equipment. This app can report an item stolen to Google and allow you to coordinate with your insurance company. It requires validation/proof of ownership which helps with insurance claims. The added search feature can help you find images taken with your equipment. I use this track images being used without my permission.
TCP | $48 /month
I heard about Tom C. Pickard & Co. insurance through Corey Rich and quickly contacted Cathi Tygret in the TCP office. My current policy covers all of my purchased equipment, any equipment I'm renting, has a reshoot budget in case of emergency, and other great features. Being that they specialize in photography and videography insurance, it saves headaches in underwriting and claims.
DROPBOX | Free
In my office, Dropbox gets used for a variety of things. I use it to share photos with clients or friends and family. I use it to store important company information such as my Federal EIN, Articles of Incorporation, insurance policies, signed documents, etc. I also maintain a copy of my portfolio here for easy sharing with prospective clients. Each week I seek out an image critique from other photographers. These photographers don't always post their emails on their website, so I will use a Dropbox link to share images when submitting a website contact form.
FOTOQUOTE | one time $149.99
Pricing is always the big unknown for photographers. fotoQuote generates specific usage fees based on art buying industry standards. Every estimate in my shop is generated through Harvest with a usage/licensing fee calculated in fotoQuote. Stop all of the guessing and charge what your photographs are worth.
CARBON COPY CLONER | $39.99
If you saw my workflow post you know that I use Carbon Copy Cloner for duplicating content between drives and ensuring a backup has been made. A nice tool to have in your arsenal for maintaining professionalism and added peace of mind (you can create bootable backups).
GOOGLE ANALYTICS | Free
Squarespace Metrics are pretty good, but Google Analytics adds an extra level of depth to the data that can really help you hone down your content and customize your website offering. However, it does take some additional learning.
GOOGLE ADWORDS EXPRESS | User-Defined Budget
If you're not ready to dive into Google Ads, then this is where you should start. AdWords Express has an easy interface and a basic setup for running ads. It provides search data and industry metrics and allows you to specify your ad placement within your market. You decide the monthly budget. It lets you set a cap on spending and even shows what others in your industry are spending per month.
GOOGLE WEBMASTER TOOLS | Free
Webmaster Tools is where things can get complicated. I use it to submit a sitemap and ensure Google is crawling and indexing all of my content. I also use it to demote internal links from my site that are ranking above my main webpage.
MAPTIA/TRIPTEASE/YOUR SHOT | Free
These are "Social Networks" of sorts for the travel and adventure industry. I am a regular contributor to some of them for marketing purposes and try to contribute original content, comments, and likes for each. Add this to Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Tumblr and it can make for a busy week. I have a schedule that I stick to rigorously so as not to get sidetracked within the social spheres.
PAYPAL/AUTHORIZE | Percentage
If you're going to accept online payments, more than likely you will use one or both of these services. Either one integrates seamlessly with Harvest and allows for easy receiving of payments. Square is another common one, but their fees are higher than most so I tend to avoid them. Don't forget to factor in these merchant fees with your monthly expenses so you know if you're business is really making money.
Well, I hope that helps! Add a comment if there's something that you would recommend or that you can't live without. I'd be curious to know.