The Pros + Cons of Freelancers’ “Favorite” Business Tools

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I’m ready to ruffle some feathers with this one! When a creative entrepreneur like me (and probably you, if you’re reading this) finds a great system, tool, or investment, we tend to become very passionate about it. You know the ones I mean: customer relationship managers, business management tools, business organization platforms, email marketing platforms — we all think the apps & sites that we use are the BEST. We promote them on our blogs, talk them up on our Instagram stories, send reviews about them to our email lists… but as a reader, I’m sure some people are wondering “is it really worth the hype?”

I’ve definitely wondered that — and still do — while reading a blog post. Especially if it has affiliate links.

(Which, by the way, this post does, but I promise that I only ever include links to services, products, and resources that I’m *actually* obsessed with and genuinely use.)

So, I’m here to tell you the REAL TEA on which tools are worth it, and which ones are just meh. And what better way to do that than with a PRO & CON LIST?!

Notion

Ah, Notion. My business’s heart and soul as of late. Notion is an all-in-one workspace, used for personal or business organization management. You can use it to share docs, share ideas, share… anything, really. There are so many freaking options for this platform it’s nuts.

PRICE:

Notion is free indefinitely for personal use, with the ability to invite up to 5 guests. Their Personal Pro plan is $4/mo, and the upgrade includes unlimited file uploads, unlimited guests, and unlimited version history. The next level up is Team, and that version is $8/mo, with everything Personal Pro has, in addition to collaborative workspaces, advanced permissions, and admin tools. I use the free version since I only have one team member accessing it at the time, and I’ve never run into any limitations.

PROs:

  • Extremely affordable. Even if you wanted to purchase the Team membership, it’s only $96 for the year.

  • So much room for activities. And by activities, I mean notes on notes on notes. And calendars, and templates, and lists, and timelines, and mood boards, and calendars, and… you know what, this is its own ‘pro.’

  • Tons of different ways to set up each section. With the use of what they can Pages and Sub-Pages, it’s extremely easy to keep all of your lists, documents, and need-to-know info in one place. For example, under my “BTL” page, I have a “client work” subpage, with a subpage of “website copy” with a table of active clients, in which I’ve linked each client’s subpage, in which I’ve linked my notes on each of their website copy pages, notes from kickoff calls, timelines for their project… it goes DEEP.

  • User friendly. Once you get over the initial ‘whoa, there’s a lot of options,’ the interface is actually very easy to navigate. My advice would be to take a day or two to look over all of the possibilities for ways you can organize your systems and files, and familiarize yourself with the commands.

  • Easily embed from other sites or elements of media. You can embed data from (or directly edit/use) Google Drive, Loom, Twitter, Google Maps, Figma, Framer, Miro, Whimsical… need I go on?

  • Syncs across all apps. Whether you’re using the desktop app or site, the iPad app, or the iPhone app, all of your data will be there.

  • Start from templates. Because there’s a lot going on in the customization department, Notion offers templates as a starting point. However, I haven’t figured out how to delete their sample records from these templates.

  • Comment feature. This is something I noticed that a few other systems were lacking (cough, cough, AirTable). I love that you can add notes to each page, because my brain is always on “!!!” mode when I’m organizing things.

  • Earn credit easily. You can easily earn credit towards Notion’s paid plans by doing little things like signing in on Desktop, adding their extension to Chrome, signing in on Mobile, importing from Evernote, etc.

CONs:

  • The customization factor is a little bit overwhelming. Because there are so many ways to set your Notion up (templates up the you know what), you almost reach the point where your brain could possibly explode if you let yourself dive too deep into it. I’ve heard from a few friends that you can watch YouTube tutorials about how to customize yours, but I haven’t reached that level of caring enough yet.

IS IT WORTH IT?

Yes! I use Notion for all of my internal business and task management, as well as personal things like budget, reading list, etc. It’s definitely worth the time to set up, because it really is a one-stop-shop for biz organization.

Side note: Notion does not have an affiliate program, so I do not receive any commission if you choose to sign up for Notion using the provided links.

AirTable

AirTable is a cloud collaboration service used for customizing workflows, creating and sharing relational databases, and an overall good time if you love business organization and bright colors.

PRICE:

Free for their basic plan, $6/user for their Pro plan up to 5 users (or $29/mo, which would technically save you $2 if you had exactly 5 users), $20/user per month for any team bigger than 5. You can find the breakdown of the each plan here, but the only difference I’ve noticed is that the free plan allows less ‘records’ and only offers 2GB of file uploads (whereas the Pro plans offer 50,000 records and 20GB of file uploads).

PROs:

  • Extremely customizable. You can set your AirTable up with lots of different views: grid, calendar, spreadsheet, Kanban, etc. They also have templates you can start from, if customizing it feels too overwhelming.

  • User friendly. AirTable uses ‘workspaces’ (basically like a folder) to house all of your ‘bases’ (sub-folders/pages). I have a “BTL” folder, with spreadsheets for things like expenses, content ideas, blog post schedule, etc. I also have a ‘client work’ folder, with content calendars and blog post schedules for clients.

  • Invite people and get credit. This is the best way to use AirTable in my opinion. I currently have $100 in AirTable credit, simply because I use the site for content calendar and task management organization for clients, which (obviously) requires inviting them via email. This also allows you to skirt your way around paying for the Pro plan, but still having the ability to give access to what they call your ‘workspaces’ and ‘bases.’

  • Easily drop files in. I love using AirTable for content calendars (namely the Gallery view, Calendar view, and regular Grid view) because you can easily drop in photos that you plan to post and visually see your content as opposed to having to name the asset like “text post with motivational quote” or something (like you’d have to do if in Google Sheets).

  • Automations. I don’t use these so I can’t speak to them, but AirTable offers them & apparently does a great job. You get 100 runs per month with the free plan, and 50,000 runs per month with the Pro plans.

CONs:

  • No pretty colors on free plan. This isn’t a real “con” but I’m still including it, in case pretty colors are a determining factor for you.

  • Can’t add notes to bases. I hate that there’s no real note or comment feature. You can tag people by typing @ and then their name, but you still have to put that tag/comment in a ‘record’ — I’d prefer the note to stand out (like how comments are shown in a Google doc).

IS IT WORTH IT?

Yes, but I’ve switched over to Notion for all of my own business’s internal organization. However, for client-facing documents and spreadsheets, I still use and highly recommend AirTable—especially considering I don’t pay for it. In terms of using the paid version, I’m not sure it’d be worth it. You can access everything you need to (IMO) through the free version.

Flodesk

True life: I am addicted to Flodesk. This email marketing tool is an industry fave as of late, likely because it’s affordable, easy to use, and aesthetically pleasing. And let’s be real — we can all agree that aesthetics matter with a tool like this. Flodesk lets you effortlessly send emails to your list, and set up workflows to send emails to certain parts of your lists using segments. You can also create inline forms, full-page forms, and pop-up forms to drive your audience to sign up for your lists, freebies, or other lead magnets.

PRICE:

$38/month (or $418/year), but $19/month for life if you use my code “BTLCOPY” to sign up. You’ll also get the discount if you sign up using this link.

PROs:

  • 30-day free trial. You get to try out the site to its fullest extent for a month, and then decide whether you’d like to sign up or not. You get access to the free trial no matter what, even if you do decide to sign up using my code/link.

  • No credit card required for the free trial. This is a separate PRO because I’m that excited about it.

  • Add branded elements. You can add your logo and brand colors to give your emails an elevated, branded look.

  • User friendly. The interface is very intuitive, and Flodesk gently guides you through the process of customizing and sending an email.

  • Auto-save. There’s nothing worse than typing an entire newsletter and having it mysteriously disappear. Not with Flodesk! This lovely platform auto-saves as you type.

  • Options!!! There are tons of options for email layouts you can send, and ‘start from scratch’ is one of them. So, whether you prefer to work from a template or create your own emails, there’s an option that everyone will like.

  • Analytics and reporting. Round of applause for Flodesk on this one, because they’ve made their analytics extremely easy to decipher. Even their data reporting section is aesthetically pleasing. You can check how many people your email was sent to, who opened it and when, who clicked on what, who unsubscribed… everything you want to know, they’ve got your back.

CONs:

  • No mobile version. You can’t access Flodesk on your phone. However, if you have an iPad, it works perfectly fine on your web browser there.

  • Everyone uses it, which makes their sample emails recognizable. Flodesk is great for people who aren’t familiar with email marketing, because they provide lots of sample emails. However, if you use those sample emails, people will know. You can always tell a Flodesk email when you see it in your inbox, but I’d recommend tweaking the samples to fit your own style a bit.

  • No drag-and-drop file upload. I’d love to drag my photos into Flodesk’s “upload photo/file” section, but you have to manually click upload and select from your computer each time.

IS IT WORTH IT?

100% hell yes. The cons are minimal, and I’m positive that they’ll be improved very soon, because the site is technically still in Beta. I live and breathe Flodesk for both my email marketing and my clients’. Speaking of… visit my resources page to download any of my freebies through Flodesk, and you’ll see what I’m talkin’ about re: the forms and emails! Or, if you want to see my emails from Flodesk weekly, sign up for my newsletter here.

Dubsado

Dubsado is a CRM-turned-business-management tool that allows you to send proposals, contracts, invoices, questionnaires, forms, schedule appointments, manage bookkeeping, track your time, set your financial goals, organize client work… you name it, Dubsado’s got it. And you should prob get it.

Story time real quick: I didn’t start using a customer relationship management tool until I was about 7 months into business ownership. I know, I know. Probably a bad decision on my part. But I was a) feeling fine using my brain as a CRM (after all, I am a former secretary) and b) overwhelmed by the choices: HoneyBook, HelloBonsai, Gusto… yikes. I tried them all, and Dubsado came out on top.

(With the help of Brooke from The Blaire House to customize it for me, but that’s a blog post for another day.)

PRICE:

$300/year. Sounds like a lot—but hear me out. Dubsado does EVERYTHINGGG for you. Using it will eliminate your need for apps like Calendly, Wave, PayPal, etc. They weren’t playing when they said all-in-one tool. Plus, you can use my link to get 20% off your first year of Dubsado!

PROs:

  • Client management. You can organize all of your client projects by status (lead vs. job), referral, project type, timeline… you name it. Dubsado also allows you to keep track of all sorts of information about your clients (name, email, address, anything else you ask on your lead intake form) in one place so you don’t have to go searching for it.

  • Automation through workflows. No matter the level of automation you want to implement in your business, Dubsado’s got your back. Using workflows, you can set up anything to automatically send — from schedulers to contracts to questionnaires. The feature I love most about its automations, though, is that it’s totally up to you to customize it. For example, I don’t like sending prospective clients an auto-generated email, because I want to connect with them personally. So, in my workflow, that’s a manual task. However, I do prefer them to be able to easily navigate from proposal, to contract, to invoice, so they don’t have to get 3 emails from me in a row, so that’s a workflow that I do automate.

  • Scheduling! Adios, Calendly. This is one of my fav features of the site — we love a bonus deal. Dubsado has a scheduler feature that allows people to choose a time that works for them on your calendar. Not having to pay for an additional calendar scheduling tool is great.

  • Invoicing. Adios, Wave! If you choose to, you can invoice (and get paid) directly through Dubsado.

  • Templates for proposals, contracts, and questionnaires. If you’re a new business owner just starting out, you may not have all your forms done. Dubsado provides you with great samples to work from, which can be a huge time-saver, and an even bigger weight off your shoulders.

  • Connection with GMail. Sending emails through Dubsado is so easy, and it creates a seamless experience on the client-facing end as well. Emails sent through Dubsado can be directly integrated with GMail, so it looks like a regular old email – as opposed to an automated one that is clearly being sent from a different service. The sender address is yours, the fonts can be customized, and everything can be adjusted to make it look like it’s coming directly from your GMail inbox (because, technically, it is)!

  • Add branded elements. You can add your logos, colors, and fonts to Dubsado for a completely branded client experience.

  • Client portals. This allows you and your client to stay organized. With Dubsado’s client-facing portals, you’ll be able to give your clients access to their own corner of the Internet dedicated to all of their documents you’ve sent them (proposal, contract, questionnaire, client welcome handbook, etc). This makes everything so much easier for them, because they don’t have to sift through their email threads to find those things anymore.

  • Unlimited free trial, NO credit card required! This is what ultimately got me to try Dubsado. I freaking hate having to enter a credit card on a free trial, because it feels scammy. Like, they clearly know I’m going to forget, and they’re banking on it. Genius on their end, annoying on mine. But not the lovely humans at Dubsado! You can use the site for up to 3 projects without ever typing your credit card info.

  • Multiple profiles. If you run more than one business or brand, you can operate them both under what feels like one ‘mother account.’ When you log in, you simply select the business you’d like to view, and it’s that easy.

CONs:

  • A little hard to figure out at first. Not gonna lie, learning curve is a big one… but once you have all of your forms imported, your workflows set up, your canned email responses in, and your calendar set, you’ll be good to go.

IS IT WORTH IT?

Yes! Once you make it over the learning curve, you’ll be golden — and you’ll be so glad you stuck it out. Using Dubsado to its fullest potential will save you so much time.

Side note: Dubsado is currently having a huuuuge sale ‘til February 26th, so if you’ve been thinking of signing up, now is the time!


So, are they worth it?!

Depends on what you plan to use each tool for, but as a launch copywriter, SEO specialist, content strategist, and marketing mentor, all of these tools are 100% necessary for my day-to-day business operations — and I’d recommend all of them to you if you do what I do!

For all of my affiliate discount links in one place, visit my favorite tools page! And if you want to be notified about more freelance resources like this, sign up for my newsletter here.

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