The platforms, apps and tools I pay for (and the ones I don’t)

Confused about all the different platforms, apps and tools that Virtual Assistants talk about online? Worried that if you don’t know what they are and how to use them then you can’t be a VA? Uncertain whether a platform should be used by you or one of your clients instead? Not sure if you should upgrade or stick with the free version?

Well, I don’t blame you.

There are so many platforms, apps and tools out there it’s enough to make a Virtual Assistant’s head spin.

You’re definitely not alone if you’re left wondering what all of these platforms do, how they work and whether you even need to know about them at all.

While I have a free guide on the tools you need (and don’t need) to set up a Virtual Assistant business and a page with some other digital resources to help you run your VA business, I thought you might like to know what tools I use myself.

Some are tools I use to run the VA Handbook and others are for the work I do as a Virtual Assistant. Some I pay for and others are free. Some may be useful for your own business and others would be more suitable for your clients.

While a couple of things I’ve listed aren’t actually ‘tools’, they’re business items I regularly pay for so I felt it was important to list them among my other expenses.

Don’t. Freak. Out. At. The. List.

I’ll elaborate at the end of the post (using a fun chef analogy), but just because I or another VA uses a specific tool or platform, it doesn’t necessarily follow that you will need to use it too!

There is no such thing as an “average” Virtual Assistant. 

I’ll start by mentioning that there are many different types of Virtual Assistant.

Some provide traditional PA/secretarial services, many offer admin support plus a few techie services which may include social media (this is probably the largest category) and others are what I would call “techie VAs”.

Even then, there are many levels within the techie VA category because not all tech VAs offer the same services. One may specialise in video and photo editing, one may be heavily into website development, and another might be a whizz at creating landing pages or membership sites.

Virtual Assistants simply use the platforms and tools they need to deliver the services they offer and, as I fall under the techie VA category, I use a number of things you may never need to use.

Platforms, apps and tools I pay for

In addition to my website domain names (GoDaddy), hosting (Nimbus), and website security (WordFence and Cloudflare), these are the tools I currently pay for and use regularly.

Some of these I pay a monthly subscription for and others are paid annually in one go.

While an annual payment usually works out cheaper, unless a platform is really low-cost or you have given it a whirl via a free trial, I recommend paying monthly until you have made a decision to stick with it.

POLICYBEE

Virtual Assistants need insurance because of the potential damage they could inflict on their client’s reputation and business.

A VA may have access to their client’s CRM, social media accounts, contact list, intellectual property, website, cloud storage, bank accounts and, in the case of lifestyle VAs, even their home.

So it definitely pays to be covered. Insurance isn’t expensive and having it indicates that you are a serious, conscientious and professional business owner.

If you’re looking for cover, PolicyBee’s Professional Indemnity Insurance for VAs comes highly recommended by my Facebook group and they are the company I use myself.

UK VAs can use this link to receive up to 10% off.

PolicyBee’s US sister company is InsuranceBee but unfortunately, I was unable to arrange a reduction for my American readers as referral discounts are regarded as ‘kickbacks’ and are not allowed under US law.

LEADPAGES

LeadPages is the platform I use to create my sales and signup pages and, along with SendOwl and ConvertKit, is one of the very last platforms I would give up if I was ever short of funds.

Seriously, I would rather live in a dumpster than give up LeadPages!

They have a cornucopia of beautiful templates spanning multiple industries that you can use as starting points for your own designs. These include webinar signups, About pages, contests, e-book downloads, countdown offers, squeeze pages and many more.

Their incredible template gallery means I can create stylish, feature-packed pages for a variety of different purposes quickly and easily without the help of a designer.

While some VAs may use LeadPages for their own business, it’s more likely something your clients would need. I design landing and signup pages for the VA Handbook, but it is also one of my most popular, well-paid and favourite VA services.

I highly recommend knowing how to build a Lead Page and familiarising yourself with the platform because not only is it really fun to use, you can earn a great project rate by offering landing page setup as a service.

SENDOWL

You know when you download a free or paid PDF from the Downloads and Training page of my website? Well, that document is delivered by a snazzy little platform called SendOwl.

I’ve been using SendOwl for years because I can literally create a PDF, upload it to SendOwl, put the link into a sales page or share it online and start making money in under an hour.

It has many great features such as filtered reporting, upsells, bundles, and cart abandonment reminders, but one of the things I like best is that whenever I update a document, I can simply upload a new version and resend it to previous buyers.

While you may not need this platform yourself, if you have a client looking to sell digital products then suggest SendOwl, help them set it all up and bask in the glow of their everlasting gratitude.

CONVERTKIT

ConvertKit is my preferred email marketing platform. I started out using MailChimp, quickly moved to AWeber and when I needed something a bit more advanced, I tried a few out and settled on ConvertKit.

As ConvertKit integrates with LifterLMS, LeadPages and SendOwl, tags are automatically added to a subscriber’s account based on specific actions they take – such as downloading a document, clicking a link or enrolling in a course.

This allows me (or your client) to send targeted follow-up emails to someone who may have clicked a link but not gone on to buy the product, or send further information to a subscriber who has expressed an interest in a specific topic. I don’t use them all, but ConvertKit has some fantastic additional features and their customer service is impeccable.

While a lot of small business owners use MailChimp, if you’re interested in offering email marketing as a service, I regularly see clients and VAs looking for people that know how to use ConvertKit, Mailerlite and ActiveCampaign.

MEETEDGAR

Most Virtual Assistants use a free social media scheduler such as Buffer or Hootsuite. The problem with these is that, once your carefully worded posts have been published, that’s it. They’re gone.

And then you have to create more… continuously and forever.

But with an evergreen scheduler, you just create posts, add them to a category and then schedule them to go out at a time of your choosing. Once all of the posts in the category have been published, the scheduler simply goes back to the beginning of the queue.

The famous ‘Marketing Rule of Seven’ states that it takes an average of seven interactions with your brand before a purchase will take place, so it’s important that your content is actually seen by the people you want to see it.

And the best way to achieve this – and still have a life – is to use an evergreen social media scheduler. I tried them all out and settled on MeetEdgar. Edgar currently publishes to Facebook pages and groups, Twitter, LinkedIn profiles and company pages, Pinterest and Instagram.

My advice is to decide on your marketing messages then create 3 to 5 of the same type of post changing the wording and image for each one. Add the posts to categories, schedule to your platforms of choice, and then review and edit your content every few months to keep it fresh.

Manually scheduling social media not only takes time but, more importantly, depletes your mental energy and focus.

An evergreen social media scheduler will save you shed-loads of time and hassle (and, therefore, money) and is one of the very first things you should invest in.

Although I personally prefer MeetEdgar, Smarterqueue and RecurPost do the same thing and are cheaper. They’re around £15 a month which is less than one billable hour of your time.

XERO

My Accountant always recommends FreeAgent or Xero to his clients and I went with Xero. It’s fairly easy to use and my Accountant can submit my tax returns to HMRC directly through the platform.

123RF

There are many free stock image websites out there but I save time by paying for images from 123RF. They always have exactly what I’m looking for and the credits are a reasonable price.

GOOGLE DRIVE

As I work solely in The Cloud, I store all of my data in Google Drive. It’s cheaper than Dropbox and is my go-to method for storing and sharing files.

Google give you 15GB of free storage but I pay annually for 100GB, which is more than enough to back up my entire laptop including videos and thousands of photos.

Quick note: as a backup, I export data from Google Drive to Microsoft OneDrive every month using Google Takeout.

CANVA PRO

Although I think it’s overly expensive for what it is, I use Canva a lot so decided to sign up for the Pro version.

The reason I upgraded was so I could upload my brand colours, logos and fonts, use the “free” stock images and background remover (I use this quite a bit), add more team members, resize images, and have access to three times as many templates as the free version.

Canva Pro offers many other features including the ability to schedule to 8 different social media platforms but I prefer to use MeetEdgar instead.

1PASSWORD

After a truly horrendous experience with LastPass (who I shall never use again due to their underhand annual fee implementation and abysmal customer service which resulted in me losing years worth of passwords), I now use 1Password.

I use this for personal use and to share passwords with my VA.

LIFTERLMS

This is an LMS (Learning Management System) WordPress plugin that I use to create courses on my Munro Courses website. It integrates with Stripe and ConvertKit and, while it isn’t perfect and I recently had a security issue that I needed to fix with CloudFlare, it does what I need it to.

I really like that I pay an annual fee for the plugin instead of the company taking a cut of each sale – which is often the case for other courses platforms.

VIMEO

Any video that I record for one of my courses is hosted privately on Vimeo. I simply upload a video, grab the HTML code and whack it in a website page using the text editor.

I pay for the Vimeo Plus tier which allows me to upload 5GB each week. It’s not much but I’m not a heavy user so it’s perfectly adequate for my needs.

ICO FEE

UK Virtual Assistants need to pay an annual data protection fee to the Information Commissioner’s Office.

Or they will fine you.

All VAs should have a good working understanding of GDPR and data protection regulations whichever country they are based in. You can find more information on data protection here. 

MALWAREBYTES

This is what I use to scan and protect my Windows laptop.  It runs in the background and covers web, malware, ransomware and exploit protection. I’m not sure what exploit protection actually is but I’m very happy they’re protecting me against it!

LOOM

Each week in my trainee-only Facebook group, I publish a ‘Friday Coffee’ post and ask them to tell me how their business is progressing. Then, on Monday morning, I respond to their comments and provide updates, feedback, advice and motivation via a Loom video.

These weekly posts are a great way for my trainees to record their progress, receive support from myself and the other members, and reflect on their week.

They’re also valuable for me because I can see how everyone is doing, contact anyone I think might be overthinking an issue, and discuss any recurring themes in my monthly live Q&A session.

I also use Loom to record my screen when recording walkthrough demos for my free and paid Virtual Assistant training courses.

Platforms, tools and apps that I don’t pay for

These are the free versions of platforms, apps or tools that I use regularly. All of these have paid versions, but I’ve continued to use the free one.

TOGGL

I’ve been a fan of Toggl for years. It’s easy to use and it is consistently cited as the most frequently-used time-tracker by the VAs in my Facebook group.

WHEREBY

Introduced to me by a lawyer who used it because of its enhanced security protocols, Whereby is my go-to platform for one-to-one video calls.

It’s simple, unfussy, end-to-end encrypted and you don’t need to download anything. You just share your personal link and the other person simply clicks and ‘knocks’ to enter a secure room.

Even my Mum – who doesn’t even have a smartphone – can use this!

TRELLO

Many VAs use Asana but I prefer Trello. I have a personal board and a business board I share with my VA. We store annual goals, brand guidelines, company SOPs, roles and responsibilities, content ideas and other bits and bobs.

My VA also has a number of different work updates and progress cards so I can check the status of my tasks any time of the day or night without having to contact her.

LINKEDIN

I’ve been on LinkedIn since I set my business up in 2008 and I’ve never permanently upgraded to the Premium version. I’ve taken advantage of free trials here and there so I can try out different features, but I’ve always remembered to cancel before I was charged.

I know that some VAs do use LinkedIn Premium though, and this is usually so they can access LinkedIn Learning, send more InMail messages, take advantage of unlimited searches and see who has viewed their profile.

* When implementing the method I outline in my Guide on How to Get New Clients, I contact prospects directly instead of using LinkedIn InMail.  

FEEDLY

Feedly is a darling little RSS Reader that you can use to aggregate content from different websites and online sources. It’s a great way to keep on top of topics that may interest you personally and stay abreast of developments within your client’s industries.

You can use this content as social media fodder and/or share it with your clients. 

Feedly Pro has more features such as the ability to hide ads, save articles to Evernote, Pocket and OneNote, and share to LinkedIn, Buffer, IFTTT and Zapier. While it isn’t expensive, I just use Feedly to collate content that I or my clients will find interesting, so I stick with the free version.

Tools I occasionally use

These are the platforms, apps and tools that I use semi-regularly or very occasionally. Some of these are free and some have paid tiers.

WISE – previously known as TransferWise, Wise is the fastest and cheapest way to send and receive international payments and is how most business owners receive payments from overseas clients.

YOUCANBOOKME – many VAs like Calendly but I tried it, didn’t like it and went with YCBM instead. I just pay for a month as and when I need it.

ZOOM – I sign up and pay for a month when I want to hold and record a live discussion with my trainee group.

To be honest, I hate Zoom with a passion.

It’s clunky, unintuitive, has layers of sneakily hidden privacy settings and they only attempted to improve things after a number of public outcries and high-level breaches.

Zoom is still very underhand about security and how they use your data. In July 2021 they settled a federal class-action lawsuit that alleged the company skimped on security, misled users and shared personal data with third parties without notification or consent.

Oh, and they only fixed a hacking flaw in August 2021.

Although I neither like nor trust Zoom, I occasionally use it for my trainee group discussion sessions because they are familiar with it and Whereby charges higher fees to record group calls.

PDFZORRO – I use this marvellous free platform every month to edit documents. I forgive its ugliness because it’s just so easy and quick!

WETRANSFER – when I need to send a video and the file exceeds the maximum Gmail attachment size, I mosey on over to WeTransfer and send it for free that way instead.

ONLINE VIDEO CUTTER – I use this simple site to trim the monthly live Q&A session I hold with my trainee group. It’s free for the length of video I usually upload.

IMAGE COLOUR PICKER – I use this free site to find a hex colour in an image. I do this when I’m trying to match colours in a Canva design or when I’m creating something in LeadPages and want to find a colour within an image so I can use it in other elements of my design.

What’s missing?

You may have noticed that I don’t use an “all in one” business management platform such as Hubspot, Dubsado or Clickup. This is a deliberate choice as I prefer to keep my platforms separate for two reasons:

1. I prefer to use specialists

For example, when ConvertKit introduced the ability to create landing pages, I continued to use LeadPages because whenever I saw people asking for help in the ConvertKit Facebook group it was always landing pages that were causing the problem.

ConvertKit does email marketing incredibly well but LeadPages’s landing pages are 100% times better than Convertkit’s – because it’s the sole purpose of their platform… it’s what they do.

I’ve noticed that whenever platforms (or VAs for that matter) attempt to offer things they are not very good at, they usually dilute their value.

2. I don’t want to put all of my eggs in one basket

What would happen if I had everything on one platform and that site was hacked, went offline, went out of business or started charging more for the service?

I’d enter a world of pain, is what.

As part of my business contingency/disaster recovery plan, I focus on simplicity and not being reliant on any one platform to run my business. This way, no one platform will ever hold me hostage or stop me from doing my job.

I guess what I’m saying is that, while a Swiss Army Knife is great, no tool on it is as good as the actual stand-alone tool and if it breaks, then you’re in deep trouble!

Do VAs need all of these platforms and tools?

Something I see a lot is new or wannabe VAs hearing other VAs discuss platforms they have never heard of and freaking out.

They worry that if they don’t understand what these platforms or tools are then they can’t be a VA. Or they think that they need to learn how to use all of them in order to be a Virtual Assistant.

But nothing could be further from the truth.

I’ve been a VA for 12 years and I often see platforms and tools being discussed in the Facebook group that I have no experience of whatsoever. I either don’t need to use them or I/my clients use something else.

It’s kinda like cooking.

Most chefs just need basic items such as pots, pans, scales and mixing bowls. A pastry chef would also need piping bags, cooling racks and a sugar thermometer. But a specialist chef might also use a wok, a pasta roller, a blow torch or a sushi mat.

The tools they use would vary depending on what type of chef they were, who they were cooking for and what they were trying to make.

Just as there are many types of frying pans to choose from depending on what you’re cooking and how much money you want to spend, the same is true of many online business tools such as CRMs or email marketing platforms.

Most of them do the same thing but just offer different features.

There are many CRMs out there and they all pretty much do the same thing. Clients decide which one to use based on a number of factors such as their budget, customer demographic, the features they need and what they’re trying to achieve.

I don’t even use a CRM system.

I checked them out early in my career, realised I could use labels and notes in my Google Contact list to do the same thing and then got on with my day.

So, what you’re actually seeing in the Facebook group is often just a specialist chef talking about the specialist equipment (or a brand of equipment) that they use or are considering using.

When should you upgrade and start paying for tools?

When you first start out you are understandably trying to keep costs as low as possible. This is what I did and I continue to use many of these free tools today.

But free isn’t always the best option.

We want clients to outsource tasks to Virtual Assistants because we know we can save them time, money and a whole lotta work – and it’s the same with these platforms.

If we can save (or make) money by using a tool to do the heavy lifting for us then it would be insane not to do so, and paid options can be worth every penny.

Yes, sometimes the free version does the job perfectly well but the paid version usually has better features and comes with customer support. You don’t realise how important customer support actually is until you really need it!

There are definitely things I regret not paying for sooner.

In particular, I wish I had invested in an evergreen social media scheduler way before I did. I think I was reluctant to upgrade to paid tools because I still had the mindset of a newbie who wanted to save every penny.

I hadn’t yet realised that the time and mental energy I saved by not spending hours coming up with marketing content and then manually scheduling it meant I could focus on more important things such as:

– Developing a solid marketing plan
– Creating focused marketing content
– Assessing and reviewing my marketing plan and content
– Having conversations with prospects
– Providing a better service to my clients
– Working on my business

This applies to many paid platforms btw, not just evergreen social media schedulers.

I’ve also seen trainees spend hours – days even – trying to find the perfect free solution for themselves or their client, whereas a years subscription to a paid platform would have cost far less than the invoice equivalent of the time they have already spent looking.

DOH!

Also, another negative of free options is that the platform often decides to remove features or to start charging later on. When this happens you’re left with no choice but to start paying or spend time sourcing another free platform that does the same thing.

Takeaway tips

When it comes to choosing tools, my advice is to ascertain what it is you (or your client) want to achieve first and THEN find the right tool for the job.

If the perfect tool isn’t free then evaluate the cost, sign up for a free trial and then make a decision.

Be aware that many platforms and tools do the same thing, free isn’t always the best option, prioritise your time and mental energy, and try to keep everything as simple as possible.

 

* Affiliate disclosure – many of these links on this page are affiliate links which means I may receive a small commission if you decide to buy from them. My reputation is extremely important to me and I only recommend products and services that I either use myself and/or know will help you.


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3 Comments

Heather

Hey!

Just starting out my VA business and your information is so knowledge. I will continue to look at all your content.

It’s great.

Reply

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