We’re now three years on from those blogs and my business has grown a lot since then.
At the point of writing those I wasn’t making a huge amount of money from coaching, I was still doing contract music work to pay the bills and I was really just getting off the ground. So I didn’t want (or need) to spend huge amounts of software and subscriptions that would make my business expensive to run and reduce my (already tiny) profit margin.
I’m a massive fan of bootstrapping and making do with the amazing free software and options out there when you are getting started. There is no point paying over the odds for things you are not using or do not benefit you, your customers or your business as a whole.
But I wanted to do an update now so you can see what has changed from those incredibly lean days, to enable me to run the business in its current incarnation. Because in order to earn more you do have to invest more, albeit it strategically in the right things.
Prices correct as at March 2022.
Let’s kick off with the ones that I get asked about a lot. Software subscriptions. There are a lot of things you’re sold as the ‘answer to all your prayers’ and yet you might often find you aren’t using at all a few months in.
The ones that I now use and pay for are:
The way I host my courses and digital products as evolved over the last few years.
I started with just a section of my website behind a password.
Then I moved to using MemberSpace to facilitate subscriptions and make multiple pages on my website a members area.
Then in the last year I’ve moved everything over to Podia – an all-in-one learning platform that I have been able to move all my digital offers onto, from freebies to my whole Just Start Now course and resources. This has given me lots of flexibility to bundle resources together, handle all payment plans and even sell one-off mentoring sessions from, meaning I could downgrade on my website costs as I didn’t need the ‘Commerce’ plan any more.
You don’t need a platform like Podia if you are just starting out running online courses and group programmes. But if you’re more established and have a lot of content, it’s worth considering (and cheaper than the biggest main competitor Kajabi).
One of the downsides of Podia is its limited community functionality, it’s really just a learning platform. Which means if you want to have a space where your customers and members can communicate, you need an alternative platform.
I hate Facebook groups (I talk more about it in this blog post and why I closed down my free group), so I’ve been looking for a different option to host my communities.
I’ve landed on Circle* which has a fantastic app, facilitates different threads and group conversations and offers the ability to go live on video through the platform, no Zoom needed.
Facebook groups are fine and free of course, they’re what we’re all familiar with. But I’ve got to the point where I feel frustrated by their lack of visibility to my members and that they’re out of alignment with my ethos with using social media less, instead of more.
I’ve therefore decided to invest in something else. I’d only really recommend that for you if you have a strong customer base and product offering where your community are engaged and active and willing to log-on to a dedicated platform for your content, to justify the cost.
Being able to track your finances as your business grows is vital. Manually tracking income and expenditure and updating a spreadsheet was absolutely fine for me when I got started – I didn’t have many lines to enter on either!
However now things are more numerous on both sides, so having a dedicated piece of software the allows me to do my bookkeeping and see profit and loss at a glance, is vital. It’s also a non-negotiable for working with an accountant who supports me throughout the year understanding my numbers and not just once every 12 months for my tax return (if your accountant only does that, consider finding one in the medium term who shows more interest in your business and can support you with getting familiar with your figures!).
A no brainer for me. I’m familiar with it from over a decade working in offices and much prefer the functionality of things like Word, Excel and Outlook to anything Apple offers. It’s not a huge amount per year but makes things easy for me.
As my group sizes have grown I’ve needed to pay for Zoom. When I started out I only paid for the months where I ran masterclasses so that I could run meetings longer than 40 minutes. After the sessions I would unsubscribe straight away and just go back to the free account to run 1:1 client calls.
Now I regularly host meetings of an hour or more with 15+ people so I need to invest.
I resisted this for so long and used the free version for years. But eventually being able to have my brand colours and fonts in one place, the ability to resize designs and use graphics that are only available on the Pro version became essential. I use Canva pretty much every day, it’s money well spent.
I’ve always invested in website hosting but have increased my costs slightly over the years now my mailing list has grown:
I adore Squarespace and recommend it to everyone. Having an efficient, easy to use website is I believe vital for businesses that want to operate primarily online and so even when I was blogging as a hobby I spent money on this.
The plan I’m on has changed – I started on Personal, then went up to Commerce, but have since downgraded and currently I only pay for Business level, having been able to sell my coaching and digital products through Podia or directly invoice customers instead of using my website platform. Being aware of the functionality I’m actually using is crucial here to saving pennies.
As far as I’m concerned these are also non-negotiables if you want to look professional. Having your own domain (like www.vickyshilling.com) and an email address that goes with it is vital to a slick looking operation – and to make your mailing list work effectively and not get caught in Spam.
Google provide your email and it comes with a corresponding ‘Workspace’ where you can also use Google Drive for storage which I find really helpful for organising files and sharing recordings of sessions with clients.
I’ve always invested in these, even when I ‘just’ blogged for a hobby.
Domains start from €18 p/m (I buy mine directly through Squarespace).
I’m a massive MailerLite* fan and am one of their listed experts. It’s an incredible mailing list platform with all the functionality you want in the early years of your business, totally free when you have under 1k subscribers.
That was me until the last year when I tipped over this number. Now I pay to use the software but I haven’t been resentful of it for an instant. It’s a powerful tool that enables me to automate communication and their support is second to none if I ever encounter problems.
This is an area a lot of people get sucked into spending a lot of money when they really don’t need to. I feel very strongly that if you’re finding it impossible to post to social media consistently by yourself with free tools or just the platforms themselves, investing in a flashy scheduling tool will not fix this problem.
For years I used a free calendar and free scheduling software to post to social media, but things have changed as I’ve grown and so now there are areas I invest.
The ones that I now use and pay for are:
I talked in this blog post about the loss of free scheduling software MeetingBird and provided some alternatives. Personally I took the closing of MeetingBird as a sign from the universe I needed to up-level my calendar game and invested in Acuity, now part of Squarespace.
It enables me to manage my diary so effectively, creates Zoom links and sends reminders and allows clients to reschedule sessions if required. Because it’s also integrated with my Squarespace website it makes it easy to manage both from the same place.
In the last couple of years I’ve reached a point where I have a lot of ‘evergreen’ content, by which I mean content that can be shared any time of the year that’s always relevant and helpful to my audience.
Instead of just sharing it once and then it disappearing, I now use SmarterQueue to create posts that can be automatically re-shared every few weeks, at intervals of my choosing. This means my social channels are always filled with useful content, even if in real time I’m busy working on something else behind the scenes.
There is absolutely no point investing in a tool like SmarterQueue if you don’t have a lot of content – I’m talking blog posts, podcast episodes, or a lot of graphics and posts that can be continually circulated and reshared to reach new people.
Pinterest was always an incredibly powerful tool for me as a blogger in building traffic to my website and as such I invested – even back then as a just-for-fun blogger – in Tailwind. Tailwind is a scheduling tool for Pinterest and made it super easy to pin to boards and grow my audience on this amazing ‘visual search engine’ in a way that drove eyeballs back to my website for years (and continues to do so!).
I experimented with having someone run my Pinterest account for me but it didn’t work out as a good investment. Instead I’ve retained the Tailwind account and have a social media manager do a small amount of pinning to keep my account fresh.
The other benefit to me of having a Tailwind account is I can also schedule to Instagram from it. I never used to do this before – for years I wrote captions the night before posting on whatever topic felt pressing to me. But now I try to write Instagram content for 2-4 weeks ahead which has been game changing and freed up so much brain space.
Pinterest isn’t a tool that will work for you until you have a decent amount of content to direct the pins to e.g. blogs, podcast episodes, resources, downloads, videos etc. Until then, Tailwind wouldn’t be a great investment unless you’re going to use it for Instagram scheduling alone.
As I’ve grown my business I’ve up-levelled in lots of areas and one is contracts. As my prices have increased I’ve wanted to make sure my contracts cover my services, terms and procedures transparently and are water-tight if for some reason things go wrong with a client and we decide to part ways.
I invested in Lucy Legal’s help in writing me great solid contracts for my offers and now pay for SignRequest to facilitate getting a digital signature from my clients to confirm their agreement with the terms of our work together. This feels infinitely more professional than a PDF document attached to an email and means we both get a copy for our records, all automated.
You can get Lucy Legal’s Get Legit Essentials bundle* of contracts and templates all created by a proper lawyer if you’re worried about your legal cover.
This isn’t a huge category but one worth mentioning.
I do invest in storage with Apple – to back up my Mac and get access to all files and documents from anywhere, and also extra Google Storage to allow for back-up of videos and resources and to house all my client recordings.
Nothing beats the peace of mind knowing everything you’re creating is safe in the cloud.
One of the things I said I didn’t pay for back in 2019 was any networks. I’d been burned and disappointed by ones before that turned into pitch-fests (just being sold stuff rather than making genuine connections with others) and so was a bit jaded about investing again.
As of today, I’m in four paid-for networks that feel like great value and introduce me to new people:
Skylark Collective – for female podcast hosts (which also gives me access to the International Women’s Podcast Awards)
Image Business Club – finally a chance to network in person again after two years without, I can’t wait to be in a room with other people being inspired
Enterprising Women Network – I’ve only ever known this network online but finally in-person is making a return too with this group who I presented to in the last couple of years
Write Now – I would never have got my book written without the accountability of a regular writing space held by Erin Chamberlain. This is a valuable investment for me to get stuff done!
This doesn’t include the communities I have access to via the courses and mentors I’ve invested in. I’ll talk about that in a separate blog (here’s a post I did previously about how much money I invested in myself in 2019).
The one last place I pay a subscription to is my podcast hosting platform Libsyn.
Libsyn allows me to upload my podcast episodes in one place and then have them automatically pushed out onto all the key podcast players – Apple, Spotify, Deezer, Google etc.
It also keeps track of my stats – I could pay for more detailed break-downs and information about things like how long people listen to each episode, but I keep my subscription to the bare minimum needed to just keep the podcast alive and kicking where it needs to be.
That sounds like a lot (even to me now writing this!). However – I use them all.
I’ve been careful about what I invest in and I make sure I get good use out of everything I’ve paid for. Combined they enable me to work smarter, more efficiently, in a more informed way and give me peace of mind and connection opportunities.
Investing in your business is an exercise in trust. I hear people penny-pinching and asking for free alternatives and options all the time. I understand, I’ve been there. There are definitely areas you can save and don’t need to be splashing cash.
But sometimes we need to step into feeling abundant, and trust that what we invest in will really help us and improve our ability to make money, not detract from it.
I’d love to know what you think. Are there any spendings here you’re surprised by? Anything you thought I’d be investing in but I’m not? What do you find are the best subscriptions you pay for?
* Links marked with an asterisk are affiliate links. These are products I use myself so I’m not recommending anything I don’t love and get use from myself.