Choosing the right tools for your business is an important decision. In web design, our tools are the foundation of our business and will be where we “live” for years to come.

Popular categories for tools for web designers include WordPress themes, website plugins and extensions, project management and task manager tools, invoicing and billing software, internal messaging and communities, fancy apps (like email apps, etc), desktop apps like video software, etc, CRM’s like Mailchimp or Convert Kit, Hosting, etc.

So you can see, there are a lot of important decisions to be made and it can be very overwhelming. In this episode, I’m dishing out 10 tips for helping you decide which tools will be best for YOU and worth investing in and adding to your toolbox.

In this episode:

01:16 – Featured podcast review
04:29 – Know needs first
06:07 – Company research
08:16 – Community values
10:10 – Real world examples
12:03 – Talk to someone
14:18 – Fit the budget
16:46 – Shiny tool syndrome
19:58 – Replacing other tools
22:07 – “Like” being inside it
25:48 – Trust your gut
26:56 – Recap

You can also view the full transcription of this episode below.


Featured links mentioned:

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Josh 0:16
Hey, everybody, welcome into Episode 64. And this one, we’re gonna be diving into how to choose the right tools for your business. I feel that this is a really important topic, because when you particularly for those of you who are starting your business, you have to choose tools that are going to last a long time and you’re making really important decisions by committing to a tool. These are things that are likely going to be with you for a very long time. In fact, some of the tools that I use that I’ll cover in this episode here, some I’ve been using since 2013, 2014. So I’ve been using them for years on end. So it’s really important that you choose good tools and the right tools for you in your business. And in this episode, I want to give you 10 tips as far as how you can make sure you’re choosing and selecting the right tools for your business. Now before we dive into these 10 tips, I do want to do another featured podcast review and this one is going out to Bill Hibler Bill Heidler Bill, let me know I’m pretty sure it’s Hibler. So we’re gonna roll with that. But correct me if I’m wrong. But bill says this. He says “This is my go to podcast for web design and the business of web design. I’ve been building websites for 20 years yet I’ve learned so much from Josh about organizing my design and business systems from Josh as well as followed his lead and adopted Divi as my system for building site”. So that segues nicely to talking about choosing a good tool. And then he says there’s so much value here for both experienced designers, as well as newbies. Bill, thank you so much for taking the time to leave this review. I just love hearing this. Because really what you articulated there is what I had hoped that everyone would be getting from this not only the the tech and design help, also the business and the systems help. And as Bill just said, I really do try to cater my content to experience folks, but also newbies, because I remember, when I got started how daunting it felt being brand new, I felt like there was just so much to learn. I felt like most people in the web design industry were douches, and they just weren’t very giving. So once I found the Divi community, and once I realized that, you know, I had a lot to share, I wanted to do that for newbies, but also to talk about the advanced stuff for people who are there as well. So Bill, thank you so much for leaving that review, I really appreciate it. And then just as a quick reminder, before we dive in, if you are listening to the show, and you’re getting a lot of value from it, please consider leaving a review, whether it’s on iTunes or Spotify, wherever you listen, it really means a lot to me. And I have a platform that I have invested in, which actually shows me every review from every country that comes in. So I do see them all now and you might just hear yourself featured on the show. Alright guys. So without further ado, let’s get into it.

Josh 03:04
These are the 10 tips that I have for you in regards to how you can choose the right tools for your business. Now, these are going to cover a variety of different areas and categories. But the tools that you as web designers will most commonly choose from are WordPress themes, website plugins and extensions, which could be small plugins, but could also be very big plugins and extensions like WooCommerce, or course tools like LearnDash, which is what I use. Very commonly the right tools for you are going to include something in the realm of project management or task managers, as well as invoicing and billing software. That’s another big one. And then some other categories of tools I want you to kind of think about here are any sort of messaging or internal team communication. This could also apply to communities if you’re part of a membership or a forum or anything like that got to have the right tool for that. And then a couple other final areas that I want you to kind of have your thinking cap around are fancy apps, like email apps or extensions on your browsers, and then any other additional tools like video software, graphics, stuff like that. So these are a lot of different categories, where the 10 tips that I talked about, are going to help you decipher which ones are best for you in these particular categories.

1) Know your needs first

Josh 04:29  
So let’s dive in number one, you’ve got to know your needs first, and I highly recommend that you think about what it is that you really need, like think about your need before looking at the features of these tools. And the reason I say that is because a lot of times you can get to looking at features. And it can be good because you can discover the possibilities or things that you haven’t even thought of, but it can also completely derail you and get you away from what you actually need. So for example, if you have have certain needs for a task manager, and you’re looking at a bunch of project management systems, sometimes you can see all these fancy dancy features. And maybe you already have a project management system and you don’t need to go that route yet, or maybe not at all. And you’re getting away from the task manager side of things. So you want to make sure you have your need in place first, as your foundation before you start looking at a bunch of features. Again, no matter what the category is here, so know what you need first, and all these categories, and then check out the features. Again, the features will often show you what’s possible with the tool that you’re looking at. But don’t let that derail you from the actual need. Because you can actually find yourself in a little bit of trouble. If you get to looking at features. And again, I do this I’m, I should say to everything I’m telling you here, I have to kind of preach to myself over and over again, because I have the same struggle with looking at things getting excited. And then sometimes before I know it, I’m in a rabbit hole looking at all these different features. When I’m like what the heck was I even looking at this in the first place. So number one is to know your needs first, before you look at the features for any tool you’re interested in.

2) Research product company

Josh 06:07 
Number two, one of the most important by far in this topic is to look at the company look at the product company itself. This is something that I really didn’t think about until discovering Divi. Because Elegant Themes, the company that creates Divi, is I’ve just seen this company grow and innovate. And I know some of the people behind the scenes now, which has been really cool. And they’re so community oriented. And I really just love the company itself. Therefore, I love their product I because a product is a reflection of the company. And this is true for service work. And it’s true for anything else in the world. Whatever is being offered is usually a reflection of the leadership and the company values and what they’re up to. So when it comes to picking a tool, whether it’s a WordPress theme, whether it’s a plugin, whether it’s a project management system, check out the company. You can look at their history, look at the longevity, I mean, I’m all about giving startups a chance, you don’t want to not commit to something just because it’s fairly new, or it’s recently out of beta. But you do have to factor that in with the fact that if you are going to invest in something, and it’s going to be a foundation in your business, you want it to be there for a long time. So you need to, you know, bet your cards on something that is going to be there for a long time. So longevity is good. Look at a lot of times companies will offer like a roadmap, or they’ll talk about recent product updates. Most all software companies have something like that on their website. So I’d highly recommend you check that out. Look at how long they’ve been around. We’ll talk about this in a little bit. But you know, look at reviews, look what people are saying, and then get a feel for the company itself to see that not only and just remember, you’re not just investing in a product, but you are investing in the company itself. So it’s something that I think is not widely talked about. But particularly as a Divi user, I just love Elegant Themes as a company, and was a big aspect with Divi and how it’s helped my business in a ton of different ways. So look at the company, everything that we just talked about.

3) Research company community

Josh 08:17 
Number three is to look at the community around the product or the company itself. So just like I talked about Elegant Themes is very community driven and I know that in the theme world, a lot of it like Elementor, Beaver Builder, a lot of these software companies are very community driven. But I will say if you’re brand new to web design, maybe you’re dipping your toe in Divi, it is just there’s just nothing like it. It is world class. It is unrivaled, the community aspect, because WordPress itself is a great community. But then I mean WordPress is huge. There’s millions of people using WordPress. So a kind of segment of WordPress is the Divi community. This is what I really got plugged into this is where I became an authority. And this is where I have met all of my colleagues and subcontractors. And a lot of my best friends now came from this community and I’ve only seen it get better. A lot of times you see communities start off really nicely, but then they falter. The community around Divi has been an exception, it just continues to expand and continues to be really good. And I think that’s in part because of Elegant Themes. The company itself going back to what we just talked about. And it’s just they have empowered folks like myself to share what we know. And they’ve really given us a tool and a platform to to build off of effectively. So look at the community around it that would include Facebook groups, meetups, and then any sort of like podcasts or video series or anything like that that’s around the product or the company. And if you’re new to web design, and you’re interested in Divi, I did want to let you know if you go to JoshHall.co/Divi you’ll actually get my exclusive 20% off link. So if you haven’t invested in Divi yet and you want to give it a go, just be sure to go to JoshHall.co/Divi, that is my affiliate link where you’ll get 20% off. So the community is a big part.

4) Review real world examples 

Josh 10:10  
Now the next one, I talked briefly about looking at testimonials and case studies of people who use the product also really want to encourage you to look at real world like real world examples. Now, this is different for a project management system opposed to like a plugin or a theme, because it’s kind of hard to look at real world examples from a project management system unless you know somebody who uses that for like invoicing or proposals, which we’re going to talk about next. But particularly in the case of like any sort of themes, plugins or software tool, you can look at real world examples, with their documentation or with tutorials that either they provide, or a lot of other people provide. So like folks like myself, who do Divi tutorials, and a lot of WordPress related tutorials, you can actually see how I’m using these tools. And I would really encourage you to do that with no matter what tool that you’re looking at. Because a lot of the official documentation is great, but let’s be honest, it’s going to be a little biased, because they work for the company, or it’s provided by the company. So sometimes if you get third party tutorial folks like myself, or people like Darrell Wilson, or Adam praiser, some of these guys who are doing like more WordPress general type of tutorials with a bunch of different themes. And in plugins, you’ll get kind of an unbiased view. And a lot of times we’ll talk about the pros and cons because you know, we don’t work for the company, we can share our thoughts freely. So look at real world examples as much as you can. And again, it’s easier to do with certain tools and themes and plugins, it’s a little harder to do with Project Management stuff. However, leading us into number five, I would recommend that if you’re looking at project management, or any sort of task managers or invoicing or stuff like that, see if you know somebody who actually uses it.

5) Talk to someone who uses the tool

Josh 12:03 
So that’s number five, talk to somebody who uses these programs. This is one reason I’m big on doing my courses, because in all of my courses, particularly in this case, in my business course, I show you how I use in my case 17Hats and Basecamp. Those are my two big tools for project management, task management and an invoicing. But even like in my maintenance plan course, and that one, I actually show you how I use ManageWP and Stripe which is ManageWP is what I use to update all websites with a maintenance plan. And then stripe is the tool that I use to collect recurring income or recurring credit card payments for recurring income. And I actually show you how I use that, again, I’m not I’m not affiliated with either one of those, I just show you what works for me. So I would really encourage you to do the same when you’re looking for tools that are going to be really big foundations to your business. Because choosing a project management tool, it’s a big deal. I mean, you can always change you can always pivot. But there’s a lot of work that can go into that if you are with let’s say Asana, or a different project management system, and you decide, you know what, I’m going to Basecamp you’re going to have to migrate everything, all your templates, all of your processes, you’re gonna have to create new SLP standing up standard operating procedures got to tell your clients who you’re working with that, hey, we’re moving to a new platform, they’re gonna have to learn some new stuff. So it is a big decision. And it’s why you want to take your time with it. And also, again, ideally, talk to somebody if you can who actually uses it. And they’ll be able to give you the real deal, whether it’s worth it, and they’ll talk a lot of times, like if you ask me pros and cons about stuff, I’ll always be transparent with you about what I like about it and where I think it could improve. Which in that case, if there’s some areas of improvement, you can always send something in there support. So if you can, in any case, talk to people are trying to find out what people are using, and then ask them how they like it. And if you’re in the Divi community, I see this all the time in Facebook groups, where people will say, Hey, does anyone use Dubsado over 17 hats or something, and you’ll likely get a lot of really good answers. And you can decide for yourself what’s going to be the best fit for you. So number five, talk to somebody who uses the tool, ideally, who’s not affiliated with the company.

6) Does it fit your budget?

Josh 14:18 
Number six is kind of a question. And actually, I’ve got a few questions that we’re going to dive into here. But the next few points, and this is does it fit in your budget? Now, I want to talk about this carefully because I don’t want you to be limited by your budget. Many of you know, Basecamp. I’m on Basecamp2 my agency’s on Basecamp3. And I think three is $99 a month I forget what two is now maybe it’s still $50 don’t quote me on that. But if you feel like 50 bucks a month, 600 bucks a year. I do the math, right. Yeah, that’s not my strong suit, strong suit. But if you feel like that’s a lot, then you know, maybe you could find a more affordable solution until you want to get At that point, however, maybe you also need to look at that and say, okay, is 600 bucks a year going to, you know, am I going to be limited by a different platform? Or is this going to be a worthwhile investment. So I really want you to think about that, because that’s what I chose when I went with Basecamp. It is a top tier project management type of system. A lot of people like cheaper options like Dubsado. Or, actually Dubsado is more of a billing software and a client manager apart from project management. But some people stick with Trello, or Asana or some of these different project managers, and that’s fine. I just liked Basecamp. I like the way the interface worked. I like the simplicity of it, I felt that clients just were able to really easily get the hang of it. So it was really important to me, and I felt like you know, 50 bucks back then was a lot of money. But as soon as I went with it, I really found that it reduced time from the business side of things for me, and in a lot of different ways. So it was worth it. So I say that to say, you know, don’t do something too far out of your budget, but also don’t let your budget limit you when it comes to choosing the right tool. And the good news is, as we just got done talking about Divi, if you’re looking at like a theme or a plugin, generally those are not as cost. Those those aren’t generally as expensive as project managers or some of these other invoicing or software’s that can be a little a little higher with with annual or monthly charges. Divi itself is just a crazy steal. I can’t believe how cheap dizzy Divi is that just doesn’t make sense, Elegant Themes. What are you thinking? Why is it so cheap? It’s crazy. I’ll pay thousands for it. So just you know, again, look at the budget, make sure it fits, but don’t let it limit you.

7) Is it necessary?

Josh 16:46 
Now, number seven is another question for you. And it’s this is this tool, absolutely necessary. And this is a big one. Because I’ve found that not only will this help you get away from the shiny new tool syndrome, because a lot of times, software and new platforms are coming out left and right, it can be very, very easy to look for the next new thing and to get wrapped up a new software or a new app or a new tool. But that can I just talked about this a couple episodes ago, I talked about the top 10 traps that I recommend avoiding. And one of those is the shiny new tool syndrome, because you can actually spend a lot of time and waste a lot of time looking with new tools and experimenting with stuff only for it to you know, derail you, or you have to get a new tool eventually. So got to be careful about that. But it kind of goes back to the question is this tool necessary. So let me think of a good example here. Let’s let’s stick with the project management and Task Manager thing. So let’s say if you like for me, I was using Basecamp and I looked into Trello, I looked into Trello for more of the task management kind of stuff to keep me and my team on task. But I realized as I was looking at it, I was like, you know what I think I can get by with using Basecamp as a task manager itself, it’s a little bit different. As far as like how you know Trello has cards, you can move in different locations and stuff like that. But I asked myself do I absolutely need Trello because it’s if I do a pro version, it’s going to be another expense, which not a huge deal. But you know, if I don’t have to do another expense, I don’t want to. But more importantly, it’s going to be the time to learn, it’s going to be the time to create new systems around and to train my team. Whereas my team already knows base camp. My clients are to know base camp, can I use whatever I wanted to do in Trello as a task manager in base camp, and that’s exactly what I did. I figured out how to do it in there. So I would definitely recommend you do the same as far as just asking yourself, is this absolutely necessary. Now there’s no problem with having different segments of tools working together. But again, if you can do it with less, I’m all about that. Less is more in my mind, particularly from just a sanity perspective. So you want to try to keep your tools down to a minimum. Ideally, you want to keep your tools to around five to six, maybe less than 10 main tools. Some people have like 40 different tools. And it can Yeah, that’s stressful just thinking about it. So just ask yourself, Is it necessary. This will also help with the again, the shiny new tool syndrome like an email app. I know a lot of people who get hung up on like these new email apps that they just seem to come and go. I’ve had colleagues who have set up their email on like a new platform for their email app, and then the company goes under and then they have to, like, reconfigure and recreate all their email. What a waste of time what a mess, and What a bummer to get really pumped up about something and then it’d be gone. So just ask yourself, Is it necessary, if you really feel like you can work with what you have roll with that until you realize I’ve got to do something else. That’s my recommendation on that.

8) Can it replace other tools?

Josh 19:58 
Now number eight, similar To this is can it replace other tools? So let’s go back to the whole theme related thing with WordPress before getting into Divi, which was 2014. For me, I did what most web designers at the time did, I got into WordPress and I would go to a site like Themeforest. And I would look for a theme that was based around the the client or type of project I was doing. So I was working with a medical office, I would look for medical themes. I was working with an auto mechanic, I look for auto themes, you get the picture. And we even though I had Elegant Themes back then I had licensed them before Divi, they were creating all these different themes. And I was still using a bunch of different themes for different types of websites. Well, when Divi came out, it suddenly dawned on me that this truly was the one theme to rule them all. And I realized, you know what? I could instead of having to learn a new theme every time I could just create different layouts and get used to Divi and pretty much create anything I wanted. And that’s exactly what I’ve been doing since 2014. So Divi became the tool for me that could replace everything. And I really want to encourage you to have that same mindset, can you find something in the case of like Basecamp, for me, it was project management and task management together, I kind of combined two in one, have that same mindset wherever you can, you can also do it on a macro level with big platforms. But you can do it on a micro level with certain plugins and add ons and extensions inside your WordPress site. So anytime you can combine something and cut something out, I’m all about it, it’ll save you some sanity, it’ll be less to worry about less to update, there’ll be less subscriptions you have to worry about. So there’s a lot of pros with kind of condensing and combining stuff wherever you can. And anytime you can find something that would eventually replace a bunch of different little apps. If it works. I’m all about it, go for it. So something I highly recommend. So that’s number eight, is just to ask yourself the question, can this replace other themes or other plugins or other tools?

9) Do you enjoy using it?

Josh 22:07 
Now number nine, his is, this is a really big one, I actually think this is perhaps the most important one when it comes to choosing a good tool for you and your business. And that is do you like being inside it? So in the case of like WordPress themes, if you’re looking at Divi or Elementor, or another builder, how do you feel now don’t judge it right away, because you’re gonna have to get used to it. I did not care for Divi at first. So that took a little bit for me to get used to it. And then I’ve said this on the podcast before multiple times. But I eventually realized I was working on another site and I was like, Oh my gosh, I could just do this so easily with Divi. Now I got used to it, now I miss it, and then it just that’s where I want it to be, I enjoy being inside of it. But if you really like Elementor, and you just like the interface better than Divi, then that’s fine, go with Elementor. But stick with that. People will run into a lot of problems when they’re using multiple WordPress themes, particularly from an agency perspective, because not only are you updating different themes, and different plugins have to play nicely. But when you’re hiring, and when you’re getting subcontract help, they’re going to have to know multiple tools. So again, I’ve used Divi exclusively since 2014. I don’t use Elementor. Sure, it’s nice, I have a lot of colleagues that love it, but I’m a Divi guy. So whatever works for you, by golly, go for it. But more importantly, think about whether you actually like being inside of it. And I’m going to give you two more practical examples here. Some of you know this, but I am in the in the works of a membership site. And to bring my all my tribe together. And I one of the biggest steps was to pick a tool. So by the time this episode comes out, I may have already chosen but I’ve got a couple of tools I’ve been experimenting with. And if you’re interested, by the way and learning more about that and you want to just you know, stay on the up and up with my membership go to Josh hall.co/member-interest/, and you can sign up to potentially become a founding member and you’ll just be in the know with what’s going on with that because I’m really close to choosing the tools but for me, I just went through this myself, I had to ask myself do which one do I like being in like, what tool do I enjoy myself getting into? And do I like the interface do I do I like the field? Do I you know, Does it suit my personality? And what are the goals of what this membership is going to be about? So have that same idea because I I work with one tool and I’ll explain this to everyone who’s on my membership list. Member interest list, but and I will put that link in the show notes by the way if you forget it if you just want to refer back, but I there was one tool that I liked. I liked a lot of functionality, but I just didn’t love being inside of the tool. I just I felt like the UI was a little confusing to me. I just didn’t i didn’t love it whereas the other one had some other areas I needed to work out but I just enjoyed it. I just wanted to, like I was excited to get back in there to play around with it. And that’s the one I’m like 99% sure, I’m gonna roll with. So have that same idea with anything you choose. Another practical example real quick is a video software. I use ScreenFlow for Mac, primarily, but I am experimenting with Adobe rush as well. Those are the two video apps that I typically use, although I use ScreenFlow for Mac more. But with this idea of liking being inside the tool, I did experiment with Adobe Premiere awhile back, and I just didn’t like it very much. I felt like it was just too much. And even though I do video work more than about anything these days, I didn’t just I just didn’t want to take the time to learn it. And I felt like I could get by with ScreenFlow and or it’s been working out fine. So there’s another practical example of just if you like it, go with that.

We live in the platforms that we use so you want ideally, to “live” somewhere that you like.

10) Trust your gut

Josh 25:48 
And that kind of leads us to the final one here, number 10, which is to trust your gut. So to kind of wrap up all these points together? Well, your gut is going to tell you what you should do. And this is true in every area of life. But particularly when it comes to choosing a tool. Again, I don’t want to overwhelm you or scare you. But it is an important decision. And it can have consequences in the long run, it can make things very easy or very difficult. If again, if you’re switching back and forth between a bunch of different tools and platforms, so trust your gut, I like I said, I just did that with the membership stuff that I’m working out. Like I could just tell this other the second platform that I was really into, I just even though I had some more work I would have to do, I just liked it, I just felt like I was going to be happier there. So have that same mindset, whether it’s a WordPress theme, whether it’s a plugin, particularly when it comes to project management, invoicing, and all that good stuff. Because you’re gonna be there a lot, you’re gonna live there you I mean, web designers, we live in the platforms that we use. So you want ideally, to live somewhere that you like. So just trust your gut on that, it’s always going to be right. And it’s going to help you with choosing the right tools for your business.

Josh 26:55 
So let’s just recap real quick. Number one, before you go looking at the features of something, identify your need first, because that’s going to help ground you and it’s going to help you from you know, wandering too much. Number two is to look at the company that actually creates the product, what are they like, if you like the company, chances are you’re gonna like the product. Number three, look at the community, it’s around the product, is it something that’s going to support you and you’re going to enjoy being a part of number four, look at real world examples, whether it’s portfolio examples, or case studies, ideally, somebody outside of the company can who can give you the real deal. And that kind of leads to number five, which is talk to somebody who use it, even if you don’t know this person, you can reach out and just say, Hey, I’m Jimbo, I’m interested in this, I noticed that you use this company or this product, I’m really looking for some, you know, just some, somebody who uses it who’s not affiliated with the company could just tell me what you think most people are going to be receptive to that. Number six is think about your budget does it fit but again, don’t let that budget limit you, it’s going to be worthwhile. Number seven, is to ask yourself, Is this necessary? Is this absolutely necessary that I buy? Or that I commit to on a monthly or annual subscription? And then number eight, can this replace a bunch of other tools because that can have all sorts of benefits? Number nine, ask yourself, do you like being in this tool, because again, you’re going to spend a lot of time there. And finally, trust your gut, it’s gonna gonna help in the long run. So there you go, guys, I don’t know how long this was. I felt like this is gonna be a pretty quick episode. But you know me we like to get detailed with this. So who I’m talking to the third person that’s getting weird. Anywho I hope you enjoyed this episode. This is all about again, saving yourself in the long run when it comes to picking the right tool.

Josh 28:36
If you have any other ideas on this or if you have experienced this or any thoughts you want to share, go to the show notes for this episode, JoshHall.co/064 to drop me a comment below. And I would love to hear your thoughts and I will respond to you if you leave a comment. And then in case you didn’t know, all episodes now are outlined and have full transcriptions. So if you’re new to the podcast, check it out the description the transcription will be on every podcast, me and my VA Kam are going back through previous episodes and adding transcriptions as well. So if you go back to I think it’s Episode 49 and below we’re currently backtracking and adding transcriptions. So you’ll start to see those as well if you start going back through episodes. In any case, hope you enjoyed this looking forward to hearing how this helps you. And I’ll see you guys on the next episode.