Tools always come up in any discussion about online business. They’re unavoidable, but there’s also serious paranoia about choosing the wrong ones.
Before I get to the list itself, here’s a few truths I’ve learned, not just form my own business but in working with clients who are up in dizzy heights of 8 and 9 figure sales.
I’m absolutely a fan of cheap and free tools like Gumroad to get you started and to test the market, and yes, they have examples of people doing big numbers there, but they’re nothing like the numbers on the more expensive paid products where you get better support, and ability to customise to how you want to market.
People who get stuck on these tools suffer because they never really see how the businesses doing tens of millions operate. That’s not to say that everyone needs the more complex tools, but you should know when they’re holding you back.
Typically when you start to run pay for customers either though ads or by recruiting affiliates in any sort of numbers, you’ve outgrown Gumroad.
I used to run an ecommerce agency. I can build websites from scratch if I needed to and over the years I’ve found some reliable freelancers to do the bits that I can’t do, or don’t want to do. I know how to brief them so I get what I want first time.
If you can’t do that, don’t try to string together a set of best-of breed tools like I have.
Go for an all-in-one platform like Kajabi instead. Yes it will be a bit more limited, yes it costs a bit more, but you’ll make way more money spending your time on creating content than you will trying to knit together a bunch of specialist tools, and you’ll spend way less on the software than you will on developers trying to do the same things.
If my agency is building a platform for a client and they’re not going to be supporting them in the long term, tools like Kajabi are the ones we recommend so that they can survive without us.
Tech-minded people seem to leap in the idea that you have to own all your software and host it yourself.
That’s an outdated idea and unless you have some good tech skills it’s going to be a time-suck and a limiting factor in how you grow.
Own your platform is about audiences, not tools.
You’ll absolutely need audiences on platforms like Twitter, but your aim is to get them onto your email list, mailing list, and customer list in as big a volume as you can manage.
Ok, now we’ve got those bases covered let’s take a look at the list of toys!
[Some of these are affiliate links, I get a small payment if you sign up and buy.
Having an affiliate program doesn’t influence my choice of products, but if they have one, I’m going to use it, and I suggest you do the same.
If you don’t like that, Google is happy to help you]
These are what I use to make content and manage it across social platforms:
Tweethunter – create and schedule tweets
Canva – create graphics for blog posts that get shared on Twitter & Linkedin, infographics for Pinterest and thumbnails for Youtube
Screenflow – Screen recording and simple editing for Youtube videos – also for any tutorials inside my courses
ActiveCampaign is my absolute favourite email tool. As well as my weekly emails it can fire off emails in response to just about anything that happens in the business from someone buying a course, finishing a course, booking a consult call or even dropping out of a webinar too early.
Mailerlite is my next in line and it’s what I recommend to first timers. Some basic automated emails will get you a long way and the deliverability is excellent for a low cost tool. It also has a nice landing page builder to grow your email list and a basic site builder to get you started with new project ideas.
WordPress – I use a lot of blog posts to start to move people from social platforms to my email list, and I get a nice trickle of SEO traffic as well. There’s nothing fancy here. Just a basic but fast theme and some landing pages built with Thrive Architect
If I’m trying a completely new project I’ll do a single page on Carrd to either build a list or a very simple sales page. It doesn’t have a lot of essentials you’d need for paid traffic, but it’s fast and looks professional. It’s also dirt cheap. I thought the annual cost was a monthly cost when I first saw it, but no, it’s really $19 a year.
I use Google Docs (within Google Workspace) to create most of my lead magnets. Sometimes I use Canva for graphics and a cover image too.
For your first sale, get a Paypal account set up and use Gumroad.
That sticks in my throat a bit because they’ve made such a mess of their recent redesign but it’s still the fastest way to make your first $1 online.
A while ago I got a lifetime deal on ThriveCart (no relation to Thrive Themes in case you’re wondering) because I needed a way to take recurring payments in my agency business. They’ve done an incredible job of this and the cart, the upsell system, and the affiliate management parts of this are on a par with Clickfunnels but at a fraction of the price.
I use it for just about anything I sell below about $1,000 now.
I messed about with this for far too long trying to find better alternatives to Gumroad, but they all seemed pretty expensive for just this one part of the equation. (Most teaching platforms have too much marketing stuff built on that’s not very good and blows the price up). Then in late 2021, added their own course platform – Learn – to their cart system and I was hooked.
The only drawback is that, being on a single lifetime payment they can’t afford to be hosting videos, so a Vimeo Pro account is a necessity, but it still adds up to way less than the alternatives and it’s all nicely tied into the landing pages and payment cart system.
On top of my own products I do some consulting and I still build out full funnels for a few private clients.
I’m still a big fan of Hubspot’s free tools for this. You get a basic meeting scheduler and a great CRM tool for free and the CRM is excellent. I only use this when I get to a 1:1 conversation. The rest of Hubspot is way too expensive for most solopreneur projects.
I’ve moved onto Calendly for a bit more flexibility with scheduling.
Lastly I use Asana to manage all my internal projects, freelancers working for me and any client projects.
Lastly I use Google Workspace for email, calendars, meetings, files storage on Drive and all the other messy bits of managing a business.
Don’t think for a moment that you need that lot to get started!
Gumroad, a paypal account, an email address and some energy in the Twitter DM’s are all you need to get started, then grow as you need it and you can see cash coming in.
You could be a year in and with 6 figures in your bank before you need more than that.
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