When I first entered the online business world, to say all the to-dos and options were overwhelming would be an understatement.
I wasn’t sure what I needed, where to start, what I could use for free and what was worth an investment. I found I relied heavily on what others’ recommendations and what their best practices were.
Although there are millions of tools and resources available to you, these are the actually tools I am using to run my business today. (everything underlined is a link)
A vital piece to my online business success is being part of a few online and facebook mastermind groups. Working from home, by yourself can be a little isolating and I am sure my hubby is happy that I am not always asking him which product logo he likes better or if I should blog on this topic or that. Having a group of like-minded business owners to turn to for support and suggestions has been huge for my business not to mention my mental health.
And like I said above, whenever I need a recommendation for something in my business, from a tool to advice on a new product name, I always turn to my Facebook groups.
If you are looking for a group of your own to join, I’d love to invite you to my new group, The Mama CEO Club. We are talking about everything it takes to grow our empire, rock motherhood and love our lives. This is a supportive, non-judgmental place to ask questions, make suggestions and just hang out on Facebook! You can click here to join!
WordPress is my website platform of choice. Although there are other ways to build your website out there, I find that wordpress is a universal language and widely used. So, if I want to add something to my site, or need a plug-in or an answer…wordpress seems to be a common denominator.
After years of DIYing my website, I am so excited to have a professionally designed site from Suzi Istvan with her newest launch of Splendid Start. This is the perfect step for the new business owner or, like me, the perfect next step if you have been doing it all your self. Suzi and her team make the process delightful and the results are amazing, and budget friendly. (I am a proud affiliate for Splendid Start sites)
Nikole at That Super Girl truly is a super girl. She has quite a few super powers, especially when it comes to saving the day with hacks and web issues, but Nikole also helped me set up a membership site for my Find Your Mama Groove program and made sure everything was running smoothly for my participants.
A plug-ins are a third party program you can add to your website to make it do the things you want it to do, without having to know any code. Most plug ins are free or low cost. (Nikole will want me to tell you that too many plug-ins slow down your site, so be selective!)
Here are a few of my favorites (just search the plugin bar on wordpress to find these):
- Askimet: Prevents spam comments on your blog
- Contact Form 7: Set up a simple form for your contact page or other place you want people to be able to email you.
- Backup Buddy: Protects you from losing all your hard work in a crash
- Magic Action Box: Allows you to add a call to action box (with email capture boxes) to the bottom of blog posts
You need an email marketing system. It is easier to maintain your list of fans and followers, you can more easily reach those who are interested in what you have to offer and you make sure you comply with all laws and regulations around spam-type email. (Don’t send an email to 100 people from your gmail account…that is not allowed!) I started out using Mailchimp because it is free until 2000 subscribers, but the software has grown with my business well (I know have a paid plan). I like the features it offers, the templates are all drag and drop, and it has great video tutorials if I even need to figure out how to do something (like add video to a campaign.)
Finance and Shopping cart
Paypal is easy to set up and is a pretty standard system to accept payments. Paypal does take a percentage of your charges, but it is inline with other systems in the industry. I also like that I can set up “buy” buttons or invoice people directly based on what service or product I am offering.
I recommend setting up a separate business paypal account (linked to a separate business bank account) to keep your business income and purchases separate from your husband’s vintage bicycle purchases on ebay (is that just me?)
Prior to my site redesign, I was using WooCommerce shopping cart on my site. I liked this option because there was a woocommerce/mailchimp plugin that automatically linked the two together saving me a step of having to add new customers to a list and making the start of my auto responder based products seamless. My designer told me WooCommerce doesn’t play nicely with my new theme, so I may be looking for a new idea. For now, paypal links are working just fine without a dedicated shopping cart.
I make the majority of my graphic images in picmonkey (like the Behind the Curtain image above). I can overly text, crop to the right shape and resize it to make sure it loads fast on my site and on social media. I have a pro account, which is incredibly reasonably priced for all it does, but really you can do just about everything you need with their free options. In addition to blog post and social media images, you can make Facebook cover photos, sidebar buttons and pinable images as well. (not to mention edit your favorite family photo to send to the grandparents!)
Pages and Zamzar:
The only limitation to picmonkey is if you want your image to be spot on with your branding (fonts, etc.) When I need this, I simply create my image in Pages (for mac, but you can use word on a PC) save the image as a PDF and then covert the PDF to a JPG using zamzar.com. It is a multi-step process (and I’ll master photoshop one day!) but it is a great DIY option.
I shoot all my videos at home using my iPhone. My current set up consists of a tripod and this adapter to hold my iPhone. (My tripod is a little too short, so I prop it up on my kids IKEA table…what ever works right!)
I think using a mic is a critical step in upleveling your home videos. The videos sound so much more professional when I am mic’d. For a mic, I use an audio extension cord and the headset mic that came with my phone. I just tuck it in my shirt and use a lavaliere clip to attach the speaker part to my collar (or bra strap to keep it hidden).
I use 4 workshop lights from Home depot on garage sale tripods as my lighting system. The big factor was to get “daylight” bulbs, they give off a bright white light that I really like. I set two up on either side of my video tripod and two inline with my body lighting up my living room wall behind me (so you can’t see the scuff marks caused by two kids and two dogs.)
Editing and Sharing
Once I am done shooting my videos, I edit them in iMovie and upload them to youtube (if they are promo videos and I want more people to see them) or vimeo (if they are for a program or for my private clients.)
Quicktime: To make tutorial videos and record power point presentations, QuickTime that came with my computer has been my biggest ah ha discovery. I credit it to Nikole above, whom I asked how to stop wrestling with a screencast software I had purchased, and she said she didn’t know because she always uses QuickTime. WHAT?!?! Since then, I have been using it for all my screencast needs. Its easy, free and uploads right to youtube or vimeo or into iMovie if I need to edit it!
Scheduling and Calendars
Once I started booking appointments with many clients (and in different time zones), going back and forth over email to schedule became a complete nightmare. I was using another scheduling software at first, but because it didn’t link with my personal calendar, it still made scheduling a challenge.
ScheduleOnce gives me a link to send to my clients (and with the paid version I can send different links to different types of clients; ie consulting clients or free consultations) so they can find a time (converted to their time zone) that I am available, that works for them instantaneously.
Even if I have blocked out Tuesdays to work with clients, if I decided to go volunteer at my kids’ school, I just add it to my personal google calendar (see below) and it automatically makes that time unavailable on my ScheduleOnce calendar. You can also set how many clients you see in one day and if you want a break between clients to catch your breath.
I have recently switched my calendaring over to google calendar and it is working great. Not only does it link seamlessly with ScehduleOnce, but it also automatically shows when I have google hangouts scheduled with my mastermind groups, or my project manager. My husband can also “subscribe” to my calendar so he can look and see if I need him to take the kids to school in the am or if he can stay late at work any given evening.
I love having a week view of my calendar and I have fallen in love with the iPhone app, WeekCal. It also links with my google calendar and I just love the layout of the week at a glance calendar.
I am just starting to embrace the idea of outsourcing parts of my business. I realized that part of my Big Why in my business is to be able to spend day-to-day time with my kids. I realized I was outsourcing childcare, so I could do the nitty gritty tasks of running my business. Hiring a Virtual Assistant and a Project Manager has meant that my business is able to run behind the scenes while I am at the zoo with my kids. Finding a good VA is just like finding a good babysitter, it takes some time and some trial and error to find a good match. Word of mouth is probably your best bet (in both babysitter and VA hiring.) My behind the scene business ladies live here:
You can also find people to do one-off gigs (at a really reasonable rate), like transcription, editing, video work, promo videos and even some VA work on sites like:
I schedule most of my social media post directly in Facebook’s scheduling platform, but I also use Hootsuite to schedule twitter (where I am not as active)
I have plans to switch over to CoSchedule this summer based on the recommendation of some business friends, but I can’t recommend it yet!
People I love:
I have been lucky to work with some amazing mentors, coaches, and experts. Here are just a few.
- Amber McCue -Business Coaching and mastermind
- Jenny Shih – Business Coaching
- Suzi Istvan- Branding and Site Design
- Maggie Patterson- Guest Posting and PR strategy
- Shenee Howard- Business Coaching
- Jackie Johnstone- Social Media Strategy
- Jess Ryan- Energy and Intuitive Work
- Victoria Prozan – Naming and Branding
- Christie Halmick- DIY design
Whew! This is a big resource list! And I definitely did not have all of these when I first started. Don’t let this list overwhelm you, take what you need now from this list, try it out and report back on YOUR favorite tools and resources in the comments below!
Also, check back under the Free Resources Link on the menu bar. This post will be there and I’ll keep updating it as I try out new business tools!