As a creative, the money & business side of things may not be the most enjoyable.
If I had to guess, you'd rather avoid it altogether. Nobody starts a business with a burning desire to do bookkeeping or send invoices.
But if you want to make it as a career creative, you need to understand the basics - for two reasons:
1) If you can't afford to outsource, you have to do it yourself
2) When you can afford to outsource, you need to know how things work so you can properly evaluate a hire
Whichever stage you're at, these are five types of financial tools that are essential to running a small business (and they're all free):
The most important part of your financial tech stack.
Your bank needs to be reliable, insured, and easy-to-use.
If you remember the banking collapses earlier this year, everyone was talking about how important "FDIC" insurance is. The standard amount of coverage given by banks is $250,000. This means that if you have more than $250,000 in one bank and anything bad happens to them, you could lose money in excess of the $250k.
If you're like most people—including myself—this barely registers as a concern.
But over the past few years, I've tested several to see which ones were the most well-rounded for freelancers & creatives and so far my favorite is Novo.
A few of my favorite features:
If you haven't picked a business account or you're unhappy with yours, Novo would be my first recommendation.
But recently, I also started using Found Bank.
Having two banks is the opposite of keeping it simple, but I feel like I have a responsibility to test tools to figure out why things work or why you should avoid them. There's no reason to have two banks unless you have more than $250k in one.
It's similar to Novo, but it takes tax management a step further. Rather than just setting aside the money, you can also send the money to the IRS each quarter directly in their app.
A few weeks ago I tested the feature for the first time using a $100 payment to the IRS and so far, everything has worked well:
Keep it very simple here. In my opinion, it's usually not worth using a credit card until you have over $1,000/month in expenses.
Because of the "return on hassle".
Credit cards can be great, but they also add unnecessary complexity.
For example, if you spend $12,000/year on your business card and get 1% cash back, you get $120.
Don't get me wrong, $120 is great - but bookkeeping becomes more difficult with a credit card and if you don't use autopay, you're responsible for remembering to pay off the balance every month.
If you're in a place to add a credit card to your business stack, I recommend American Express. Personally I've used the Blue Business Cash as it offers a $0 annual fee, but there are a lot of other options that can better fit your spending preferences.
A few of the most important things to look at when signing up for a business card:
You want to make it as easy as possible to get paid.
In reality, you'll most likely have to use a few different payment tools throughout your career. Some clients may have certain requirements that force you to sign up for a platform you'll use once..
Nevertheless, I like to use one primary tool: Stripe
There isn't a better payment tool out there. There's a reason they're valued at $63 billion.
It's free to use, you can send custom invoices, connect it to your bank, and have everything automatically deposited and documented after being paid.
It doesn't get much better.
Even if you don't send many invoices within your creative business, you can use Stripe to accept payment for physical products, digital goods, and more.
As a fallback (and more simplified) option, Novo Bank and Found Bank have a invoicing features that feed payments directly to your bank account, and most banks offer a similar feature.
A lot of people recommend Quickbooks as a default, but I'm not a fan.
It's overly complex for what most creative businesses need.
At the end of the day, all you need is something that can track your business expenses and income. That's it.
My favorite so far has been Wave:
It's free to use (which is why I originally picked it), but it's been easy to maintain and has great reporting.
Your accounting tool shouldn't be flashy, it should do its job in a way that doesn't add stress to your life.
Another one that I've seen with high praise is Freshbooks. Personally I haven't used it, but know several CPAs who recommend it for their clients as an accounting & invoicing tool. They don't have a free option and paid plans start at $8.50/month.
Out of all the new investing apps & tools out there, I like to keep it simple with an old player: Fidelity
They offer every type of account you could need and if you plan to manage investments by yourself, they have user-friendly apps & dashboards.
Most of their accounts have no minimums and no fees, but you'll want to do some research prior to opening.
Invoicing: Stripe (or Novo)
Credit: American Express Business Cash
✅ Also read: A Simple *Personal* Finance Setup for Creatives