My Top 10 Must Have Online Business Tools
Trying to find the best online marketing tools for your business?
In today’s world, the internet is flooded with hundreds of online marketing tools. Whenever you’re looking for a new service to use to advertise yourself, promote your business, and sell more, it can often-times be difficult to find the needle in the haystack… that one good tool in the pile of difficult to use, unintuitive ones.
To help you find the best tools and services to help you grow your business, I’ve compiled this list of the online marketing tools that I use on a day-to-day basis to grow my personal businesses and my client’s businesses. Here we go!
1 – Website Hosting
In the game of website hosting (yes, it is a game unfortunately), there isn’t much variation in the basics of the service they provide. All web hosts provide a server that works 99.99% of the time, all web hosts have 24-hour support, all web hosts have a package for “unlimited websites”… it’s not until you actually start using the hosting service that you realize the true quality of their service and support.
From my experience, InMotion is by far the best website host out there, especially for WordPress websites. They are a relatively small web-host company (compared to the monsters like Bluehost, Hostgator, etc.) but they provide a lot of features standard on their hosting packages that those guys charge more for or don’t even offer such as solid-state drives (SSD) to make your website load times FAST.
They’re based in Los Angeles, CA and their support is provided from US support reps so you’ll never get foreign tech support giving you instructions on how to install WordPress instead of just doing it for you… And the best thing about their 24/7 support? I’ve never waited longer than 3 minutes to get a support rep on live chat. Other hosts (like Bluehost) have 24/7 support but what good is it if I have to wait 30 minutes for a tech support issue?
Check out InMotion’s website here: http://www.inmotionhosting.com/
I am a current InMotion customer on their Business Hosting – Pro plan.
2 – Best WordPress Theme
A website theme is a little bit of an unconventional “tool” to recommend but I literally work in WordPress everyday creating new blog content, editing current pages, improving SEO, setting up new marketing funnels… (you name it!) a good WordPress theme either makes these tasks easy or extremely difficult. That’s why I use ThriveThemes (pretty much) exclusively!
ThriveThemes is a collection of the most flexible drag-and-drop WordPress themes that make it easy to build just about any type of website, landing page, membership site, etc. without any customization using code. What makes it different than many of the themes out there that claim that they’re “drag-and-drop” is that ThriveThemes gives you a lot of advanced options in their settings that you usually have to customize using CSS or HTML code.
On top of that, the landing page, sales page, and other templates that come included with the themes package are great starting points so I can crank out a marketing funnel in about an hour instead of taking a whole day! The ThriveThemes packages are broken up so you can buy all of the plugins and themes separately but the best deal is to buy the entire package of all plugins and, trust me, it’s worth it!
Check out ThriveThemes’ website here: https://www.thrivethemes.com/
I am a current ThriveThemes customer on their Individuals & Entrepreneurs plan.
3 – Social Media Promotion
Social media promotion is certainly a good example of why I made this list… there are probably 20+ social medial scheduling and promotion tools out there and they all do what they advertise to do but sometimes there’s one key player in the game that’s offering something the other players couldn’t even fathom… that one key player is CoSchedule.
CoSchedule approaches social media in an entirely different way by integrating it with the content you’re already creating. Instead of managing your blogging on your website and your social media posts on your scheduler and your emails in your marketing system, CoSchedule your blog and your social media channels allowing you to see all of your outgoing marketing content on one primary “content calendar”. At the same time, you’re able to intelligently schedule social media posts before you publish your blog posts (or podcast, etc.)… this changes the game because it’s fool-proof!
Check out CoSchedule’s website here: http://www.coschedule.com/ (They have a 14-day free trial that I would definitely check out!)
I am a current CoSchedule customer on their Solo Marketing plan.
4 – Marketing Automation (Email Marketing)
In the email marketing software industry, there are many different competitors each with their different sets of features and huge variations in price point. Because of this, it can be very difficult to compare one software against another for those who aren’t familiar with the field. I personally have been working in the email marketing field for the past 8 years, implementing systems for entrepreneurs with small business and throughout that experience, I have found ActiveCampaign to be the best “all-in-one” marketing platform out there from both a feature and a price stand-point.
ActiveCampaign combines some of the core basics of the email marketing industry with some very advanced technology that makes it easy for you to automate a lot of the marketing tasks that you do (or should be doing) every day. They are one of the few systems out there that have “automations” that handle follow-up for you not just based on the days of a calendar but based on what’s called “behavioral marketing” — changing the follow-up based on the specific actions a lead or customer takes.
On top of being an advanced system, it has a beautiful and easy-to-use interface that makes set up very simple and their price points enable beginning entrepreneurs to start small and upgrade later so it can grow with you.
Check out ActiveCampaign’s website here: http://www.activecampaign.com/
I am a current ActiveCampaign customer on their Basic plan.
MortarMarketing is also a reseller of ActiveCampaign and we can offer the same 14-day free trial that is seen on the website and an additional 10% off the regular monthly pricing. Please contact us to discuss this deal if you are interested.
5 – Appointment Scheduling
Calendly is by far the easiest appointment scheduling software on the market for both the owner and the customer to find a time that works and schedule it with everyone getting the right notifications automatically. And the best part? They have a free plan that can handle scheduling for one type of service which, if you’re like me, you can just call this service “30 Minute Meeting” and call it a day.
I love Calendly. Why? Because it just works… enough said.
Check out Calendly’s website here: https://www.calendly.com/
I am a current Calendly customer on their free plan.
6 – Payment Processing
I was a beta member of Stripe back in 2011 and was immediately sold on their concept. They make it so quick and easy to accept credit cards without the usual lengthy underwriting process where they dig into your bank statements, and ask for your passport, and the name of your dog, and your last 22 addresses… With Stripe you can truly get your account setup and start accepting credit card payments within 10 minutes, max.
Another great difference between Stripe and the traditional merchant accounts is that instead of paying a monthly fee, and a gateway fee, and an interchange fee, and whatever other fees, you only pay a fee when you actually process money using the Stripe platform. And their fees are very competitive at 2.9% + $0.30 (which has become the industry usual as well).
The really nice part about Stripe is that it has quickly become the industry standard payment processor across the web for all other types of software that collect money for your business including (but certainly not limited to) FreshBooks (for invoicing) and Shopify (for eCommerce stores).
One of the biggest questions I get when talking about Stripe is “That’s all great but why wouldn’t I just use my PayPal account?”… PayPal has had their hook in the online payments game since the internet began so it’s a reasonable question but there are multiple things that set Stripe above PayPal:
1) When a customer buys with Stripe, they don’t need a Stripe account to pay. Most levels of PayPal require (or at least push customers to use) an account.
2) PayPal’s payment deposit process is very lenghty, sometimes resulting in waiting up to 5 days for deposits to reach your bank account. Stripe is a flat 2-day deposit period meaning if you charge someone’s card on a Monday, you’ll have those funds Wednesday morning.
3) If, God forbid, a customer is unsatisfied for any reason and files a dispute against you, PayPal sides with the customer 99% of the time and refunds their money. This is especially concerning for company’s shipping physical products where the customer could dishonestly claim they never received a product and you’re out the money.
Check out Stripe’s website here: https://www.stripe.com/
7 – Video Hosting
Hosting videos can be a very dirty business. Storing the file, displaying the video on your site, loading and buffering, getting decent reporting… if you don’t know what you’re doing, it’s easy to get overwhelmed or mess it up. Wistia takes all of that guess work out of that for you by giving a simple and easy interface to upload your videos, grab links or embed codes, and pull some cutting-edge reporting on your viewer’s activity.
Wistia’s core offering has always been focused around making innovative, never-before-seen features to the video hosting field. Some of these features that Wistia has pioneered include their video analytics (you can actually see how long an individual user watched your video for), their “turnstile” functionality (force people to give you their email before continuing to view the video), and responsive videos (intelligently resizing videos based on the size of the screen they’re being viewed on).
Check out Wistia’s website here: http://www.wistia.com/
I am a current Wistia customer on a grandfathered unlimited plan.
8 – File Storage & Sharing
In today’s global internet-based workplace, it is imperative to have a system in place that backs-up your files and makes it easy to share large amounts of files swiftly and securely. There are many systems out there that offer this type of service, but Dropbox is the cleanest, fastest, and most light-weight file sharing platform out there. They have a plug-in for your computer that basically turns a portion of your drive into constantly backed-up “cloud storage”.
I have been a user of Dropbox since before I could afford it… they used to charge $10/month for the 100GB plan which was never enough space. Now they’ve increased that limit and you can get 1TB (10 times the storage) for the same price. It has always been the industry leader for entrepreneurs and small businesses because of it’s completely cloud-based storage and extremely fast upload and download speeds.
More recently, along with the increase in the storage size limits, they have been launching an online based word processor called “Paper” where you can collaborate on files with team members (similar to Google Drive‘s offering). As with everything Dropbox does, Paper is very clean and easy-to-use and can be a great tool for small teams working together online.
Check out Dropbox’s website here: https://www.dropbox.com/
I am currently a Dropbox customer on their Pro plan.
9 – Project Management
In the field of project management softwares, there are many different styles of dealing with tasks, deadlines, and assignments. In all of the tools that I’ve tested, Asana is by-far the best project and task management platform available. It is all based in the cloud which makes it easy to add team members and collaborate and with it’s communication threads, it can easily replace email for questions regarding tasks and projects.
What originally attracted me to try Asana is it’s generous free plan. You’re able to have up to 15 team members (clients don’t count) on the system before paying a dime. It’s definitely a great way to get started with task management and project tracking in your business to keep you and your team focused on what needs to get done!
Check out Asana’s website here: https://www.asana.com/
I am currently an Asana customer on their free plan.
10 – Communication & Collaboration
In a field where GoToMeeting has long been the heavy-weight champion with their bloated software offerings and insanely high prices, Zoom has come out of their corner swinging. Originally, Zoom was a company focused on Enterprise-level conference room video communications but they’ve been rapidly changing into a small business focused communications business focused on face-to-face communication with a lot of powerful collaboration tools.
Zoom is a platform that is fo used on connecting in web conferences with your clients, team members, and collaborators to allow for more efficient work-times. Meetings are very easy to create, invite people to, and join and on a meeting you can show your screen and the webcam feeds of up to 25 participants.
Compared to GoToMeeting and most other video conferencing tools, Zoom is a steal at only $14.99 per month and their features and video & audio quality are near unmatched in the industry. I’m really excited to see what improvements they roll-out next!
Check out Zoom’s website here: http://www.zoom.us/
I am currently a Zoom customer on their Pro plan.