In the course of running an online business, there are many tools and applications to choose from.
I use a lot of different tools in my own business, and I am frequently asked for recommendations about what the best tools to use might be.
I am going to supply some very specific answers, and share some of the tools that I use most in my own business. Before I do, however, I want to make a couple of things very clear.
First of all, it is rarely the case that the lack of a tool creates the lack of success. In my experience, successful people are successful despite not having the “right tools”.
This may sound counterintuitive. I am not saying that it's wrong to have the best tools available to get the job done. That would be ridiculous. What I am saying is this: if you are using your search for the “perfect tools” as an excuse not to act, you will almost certainly encounter disappointment. Perhaps outright failure.
There is no such thing as a “perfect tool”.
It's better to start with what you have, from where you are, and do the best job possible. That is what being an entrepreneur is all about. Creating value out of the available resources.
The second thing you should be aware of is that I do receive a commission for recommending most of the tools listed here. If that bothers you, feel free to disregard my advice. However, I will say this: I do not recommend any tool that I have not used myself, or that I do not feel will help you.
Here is my list of recommended tools, software, and websites. These have helped me build a successful online business, and I believe they can help you do the same.
AWeber – There are many options to choose from for building your e-mail list, delivering messages to them, and tracking the results of your e-mail marketing. This is my top recommendation for anyone just getting started out. These guys take all the hard stuff and do it for you, in the background. They make sure you stay off the spam lists, and they make sure your e-mail gets delivered. They're also relatively inexpensive. You can get started for about 20 bucks a month.
1 ShoppingCart – This is the shopping cart system that I have used for taking online orders and automating product delivery since about 2004. Not only is it a shopping cart, it also features integrated e-mail marketing functions, handles shipping, taxes, and a lot more. This system is relied on by many online marketers, and the folks who own it have worked hard to keep updating it with the features we need to run our businesses. Highly recommended.
WordPress.org – This is what I recommend almost everyone use to build their website. It's about more than just “blogging”, it is a rocksolid architecture for constructing any website. There is a reason why so many Fortune 500 companies choose to build their website on the WordPress framework. Plus, because of the ability to apply different “themes” to your WordPress site, you can change the look and feel of your website with the touch of a button (or, in this case, the click of a mouse). Just make sure you are running the self hosted version of WordPress, which will be found that WordPress.org. You don't want to build your website on WordPress.com, because you lose a certain amount of control, and also it just looks less professional.
Woothemes.com – WordPress themes that are stunning to look at, attractive to search engines, and completely easy-to-use. I've worked with a lot of websites that are built using themes from this company, and this is my number 1 recommendation for you if you are just starting out. I also highly recommend these themes to you even if you're a seasoned pro.
StudioPress.com – The folks at studio press are producing some of the most elegant and beautiful WordPress themes available today. They all work with the Genesis framework, which means your WordPress site will be running on a solid foundation that is optimized to get you search engine love. This is a great option for shortcutting the design phase of your website-these things look great right out of the box.
iThemes.com – For many years, the only WordPress theme I used was built by the folks at I seems. They're still building very solid, reliable, and beautiful WordPress themes. And they are reasonably priced.
DIYthemes.com – This is the company that sells the thesis WordPress theme. Devotees of thesis are almost fanatical in their enthusiasm for this very solid, lightning fast, SCO optimized WordPress theme. While it is very powerful, and very sophisticated, it also comes with a bit of a steeper learning curve than other WordPress themes. But if you are looking for a rock solid framework for your website, this is the place for you.
PayPal – This is the easiest and best way to start taking payments online. PayPal is an established, trusted payment processor, thanks mostly to their very close association with eBay. It's easy to set up an account, and you have direct access to the money as soon as someone pays you. This is where I recommend you start when you're ready to start taking payments online.
iPowerPay.com -At some point, you're going to need a real, honest to goodness merchant account. This is an account that lets you take credit cards directly as a means of payment for your products and services. The customer pays using their credit card, and the money is automatically deposited in your bank account a couple days later. The problem is, it's not exactly easy to get a true merchant account for online business. Especially if you're just starting out. This company is the company I use for my own merchant account. It's very inexpensive to get started, and they have a 98% approval rate for all applications (sometimes it feels like other companies have a 98% rejection rate!). These folks truly understand the business of Internet marketing, so you'll never have to feel like you're forced to explain your business to someone who just doesn't “get it”. Highly recommended.
MarketSamurai – For doing market research, and finding those profitable keywords for your website to focus on, this is the software you need. It runs on all computers (Mac, PC, and even Linux) and while it is simple to use, it is also very powerful.
BlueHost – This is the place to start when you initially billed your website. You will not outgrow this quickly in all likelihood. Even if you experience huge success with your new website, blue host can accommodate your growth a long way down the road. Their prices are excellent (starting at about 7 bucks a month), and their service is just as good. This is where I recommend all beginners start for their web hosting-and more than a few “seasoned veterans” should be able to do quite well with an account at blue host.
Opt-in Skin -This is a WordPress plug-in that allows you to design beautiful and response enhancing opt in forms for your WordPress powered site. It has many built-in features, including the ability to split test different designs see which will get the most registrations. I've been using it for a while now, and the only criticism I have is that it runs a little slowly when you're trying to design and generate a new form. That, however, is a small price to pay for what this plug-in will do.
Here are a few recommendations for services that I don't currently use in my business, but that I have tested and believed to be very useful. In some cases, I am using these tools and services on behalf of clients. In all cases, I believe these to be of the utmost quality and worth your consideration.
SquareSpace.com -Until very recently the only platform are recommended for building a website was WordPress. That was until I gave square space a try. While there are many website building services available these days, this is the only one that I would recommend as a way to build your platform website. Their hosting is incredibly sophisticated, and you will probably never outgrow it. It's virtually impossible for you to generate enough traffic to bring one of their websites down. Their built-in design templates will make your site look like 1 million bucks. Their drag-and-drop interface makes it easy to design your website yourself. If using WordPress intimidates you, and if you don't need to build sophisticated paid membership site, this is worth considering. Not to mention it is very reasonably priced.
BigCommerce.com – If I were starting my business again from scratch today, it is very likely that this is the shopping cart system that I would use. But this service is much more than merely a shopping cart, as they offer help with all phases of building a profitable website. If you take full advantage of everything they have to offer, you will end up spending more than a few dollars, but they do very good work. Highly recommended.
InfusionSoft.com – a very robust and powerful CRM (or customer relationship management) software system. Infusion allows you to do some very sophisticated marketing, using behavior-based rules, analytics, and automation sequences. If you have a business that is doing $1 million or more in revenue per year, you might well want to consider using this system. It is not cheap, and there is a learning curve to get the most out of it, but it is well worth both of these costs.