This is a hand-picked list of the best tools, services, and products to help you start and grow your online business. I’ve personally used and recommend everything on this page.
The resources on this page are a mix of free and paid tools and services. For paid resources, I only recommend things that I truly believe are cost-effective and well worth what you pay for them. As with most things in life, you often get what you pay for when it comes to tools and services, so sometimes spending money is the best way to make money!
Full disclosure: Some of the links on this page are affiliate links, which means that if you end up buying them, I get a small commission. There’s no extra charge to you, ever, and in some cases the cost will be lower if you buy through this page (I note these next to the resource). I only recommend products and services I genuinely believe can help you. If you have any questions about the resources on this page, or any I don’t have listed here, feel free to contact me and ask about them!
My Favorite Tools
LiquidWeb – To run an online business, you’re going to need your own website. There are lots of web hosting companies out there, and I used to think they were all basically the same. How wrong I was. For example, for years I used HostGator, but sadly over the past few years their customer support has tanked and is now horrible.
I’d heard good things about LiquidWeb from friends, and finally decided to try them. I’m so glad I did—their customer support is absolutely incredible. They are always available to answer any questions you have, and their techs and knowledgeable, proactive, and able to take care of issues right away. I don’t know how many hours I’ve spent asking them questions and getting their help on tech issues I couldn’t figure out. I love these guys and recommend them without hesitation.
LeadPages – Pretty much every online entrepreneur I know struggles with creating great-looking, effective landing pages that let them gather email addresses (essential for building your mailing list) or sell products. Building these pages is really time-consuming and requires a lot of technical skill. Or at least it did, before LeadPages came on the scene. They make it incredibly easy to build sales pages and squeeze pages, no matter how technical you are or what platform you use for your website.
WordPress – You may have heard WordPress referred to as a blogging platform, but these days it’s so much more than that. You can use it to build e-commerce stores, membership sites, sales pages, and much more. And best of all, it’s free! If you’re not a techie or a designer, you’ll find thousands of beautiful website themes that make it easy to make your site look great, and “plugins” that let your site do just about anything you can think of. WordPress can be easily installed in seconds from just about any good web host.
Mailchimp – Email is still the most effective way to get in front of your customers and prospects. There are a bunch of options for email service providers, but I use and love Mailchimp because it’s easy to use and very reasonably priced. They actually have an option that’s totally free, although you’ll want to upgrade eventually to be able to use autoresponders, which is key for effective marketing. The only reason not to use MailChimp is if you plan to do a lot of affiliate promotions directly in your emails. If you sign up for a paid account through my link, you’ll get a $30 credit in your account, which could make your account free for up to 3 months!
Evernote – Simply put, Evernote is the most insanely useful app I’ve ever come across. I use it for note taking, idea generation, blogging, saving articles, stats, and quotes for later, and much more. It can help you organize every aspect of your online business, and is a great way to make sure you don’t lose track of anything. One of the things I love most about it is the ability to work on multiple devices like your laptop, iPad, or phone, and keep everything “synced” across all of your devices. For most people the free version is everything they need!
ElegantThemes – To build a thriving online business, you’re going to need a great website. And while there are a lot of free WordPress themes, out there, I really recommend getting a premium (paid) WordPress theme so your site is more unique and you have someone to go to if you need technical support. That’s a big reason why I love ElegantThemes (and built this site using their awesome Divi theme); for a single price not only do you get one great theme – you get access to all of their themes! It’s an amazing deal, and gives you lots of options for building beautiful, functional sites.
MyThemeShop – I discovered MyThemeShop a little while back and have really enjoyed using their themes to build great-looking niche websites. They’re easy to set up, look very professional, and are reasonably priced. Click here and use the coupon code beausentme to save 20% off any theme!
OptinSkin – It can be really hard to make “opt-in” boxes you use to collect email addresses that actually look good and are effective. Most of the templates that email companies like Mailchimp or Aweber give you to use look really amateurish or don’t fit your site, and getting one custom-designed can be very expensive. That’s why I love OptinSkin! It’s built specifically for bloggers who want to gather email addresses, and makes it easy to customize the designs however you want, even if you don’t know anything about coding or designing. You’ll end up with great-looking opt-in forms that you can place anywhere on your site.
LiquidWeb – I already covered LiquidWeb in my favorites above, but basically it comes down to this: LiquidWeb is a great value for the price, and has the best tech support available for online business owners.
Libsyn – Although I’m not currently using Libsyn, I’ve used them in the past for hosting my podcasts and loved how easy the platform is to use and the analytics they give you around your show. It’s a great platform and they make it easy to get your show up and running.
Blubrry Plugin – To actually deliver your podcast, you need a way to publish episodes and easily get them up on your site and in the iTunes feed. The free Blubrry WordPress plugin is the best way I’ve found so far to do this. There’s a little bit of initial setup you need to do to get your show live and optimized, but once you do it’s really easy to publish new episodes in conjunction with a hosting provider like Amazon S3 or Libsyn.
Audacity – I use the fantastic (and free!) program Audacity for editing and producing my podcast episodes. It makes it surprisingly easy to edit, add intros/outros, and otherwise get your show ready for listeners. You can also use it to record entire solo episodes of your show. It works on both PCs and Macs, which is very handy, and you can’t beat the cost!
Ecamm Recorder for Skype (Mac Only) – This is a plugin for Skype that lets you easily record Skype calls, both for audio and video. It’s really easy to set up and use, and is a really good value for the money (currently $29). It takes so many of the headaches out of call recording.
Payment Processing & Shopping Carts
ClickBank – Full disclosure: I worked for ClickBank for several years as their Director of Education. ClickBank is the original payment processor and affiliate network for digital information products like ebooks, membership sites, video courses, and more. Their fees are higher than other processors like PayPal or Gumroad, but they have a huge network of affiliates that may end up promoting your products in exchange for a commission, and they make it much easier than anyone else to pay out affiliates, collect taxes, and handle other administrative parts of your business. If you want affiliates to be a significant part of your promotional efforts, it’s well worth looking at ClickBank.
Gumroad – Gumroad is a relatively new player in the digital product space, but it’s already become a great platform for people who are looking to sell simple digital products like ebooks or videos, or deliver basic subscription products like newsletters. They make it really fast and easy to get up and selling and accepting payment. The downside to Gumroad is that they don’t have any support for affiliates and don’t allow you to accept PayPal payments, which may turn away some customers.
PayPal – Pretty much everybody knows PayPal because it’s the most common online payment processor. They’ve built up a lot of trust over the years, so it’s a good idea to include PayPal as a payment option on your site if possible. Their fees are also pretty low compared to other platforms. You can only do pretty basic sales with PayPal buttons, so you’ll probably need to rely on integrations other people have built with membership platforms, adding customers to your email list, and more.
Membership Sites & Product Delivery
MemberMouse – Setting up a membership site to deliver your products to customers or manage ongoing memberships can be a scary and painful process. I’ve tried lots of different membership platforms over the years, but one of my favorites is MemberMouse. I use it myself for my Let’s Make Kids’ Books training program, and it was shockingly easy and intuitive to set up. If you’re looking for a simple but powerful membership platform, I recommend MemberMouse.
Mailchimp – I already covered Mailchimp in my Favorites section above, but basically I love their service and think it’s great for most websites that don’t have extremely complex email needs.
OptinSkin – I talked about OptinSkin in the blogging section above, and recommend it for gathering email addresses because it lets you make beautiful, effective opt-in boxes that look good on your site and are easy to customize even if you’re not a coder.
Google Analytics – Google Analytics is the grandaddy of web analytics programs, and best of all it’s totally free! It shows you call all kinds of useful information about your visitors and web traffic so you can figure out what’s working on your site and where you can make improvements. For most people, Google Analytics is all they need. The only downside is that you’re sharing your information with Google, which can have a bit of a scary “Big Brother” feel to it.
Clicky – Clicky is a great alternative to Google Analytics, and one I use on some of my sites. Their interface is a little easier to use and more obvious than Google’s, and your information stays private. It also has some cool features like real-time reports and being able to see what individual visitors do, which can make it more useful than Google Analytics depending on how stat-crazy you are 🙂 There’s a free plan that will work for a lot of people, though you can always upgrade if you’re getting a ton of traffic.
As entrepreneurs, we’re inclined to try to do everything ourselves. For me, part of the fun of business is learning, but over time I’ve had to come to recognize that there are lots of things in my businesses that I shouldn’t be doing, and that it’s better to leave to the pros 🙂 There are also a lot of things that can be done more cost-effectively by someone else. That’s why outsourcing can be a total lifesaver, and let you grow your business much faster than if you’re doing it all yourself. Here are my recommended places for finding great outsourcers:
Odesk – On Odesk, you can find people around the world who can do just about anything for you: graphic design, writing, web design, app or software design, editing… the possibilities are seriously endless. You just post a job saying what you need done and approximately what you’re willing to pay, and you’ll get lots of people around the world bidding for your business. I’ve hired some amazing designers, coders, and admin people from Odesk, and the prices will blow your mind.
Elance – Elance is nearly identical to Odesk, so it’s worth checking out too.
Fiverr – Fiverr is a little bit different than the sites above, but is no less awesome in its own way. Instead of posting a job, you can browse people who say what they’re willing to do for $5 (plus “extras” you can add on if you want more than the basic job). Sounds crazy, but you’d be amazed at the variety of “gigs” out there. I’ve used Fiverr for logo design, podcast voiceover intros, research, translation, and all kinds of other things. Just be careful- it’s easy to get sucked into browsing the crazy gigs on there and waste your whole day!