Today I’m sharing with you the exact online business tools and resources I use every day and couldn’t live without. Everything I’ve listed here is something that has helped me grow my business and make money. Oh, and I believe in keeping overheads low to maximize profit so everything here is super affordable (and some of it FREE) to help you find that sweet spot where you start making money from your business as early as possible.
Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links. This means I might earn a commission if you click through and purchase a product or service I recommend. Find out more here.
WordPress is where all the big boys (and girls) blog. It has a lot of cool functions, clean, attractive themes (even the free ones) easy to install plug-ins, widgets, and more functionality than most other platforms. It also integrates easily with almost any other program you might want to use and finding advice and tutorials is always easy, because it’s so popular.
The Savvy Solopreneur is a WordPress blog. I’d never recommend you run a blog that you hope to make money from anywhere else. So why have I even mentioned Weebly?
Weebly is a basic WYSIWYG (What You See Is What You Get) platform that makes building a professional looking website even easier than WordPress. It doesn’t have the plug-ins, widgets, SEO capabilities and integration features of WordPress, and I don’t recommend it for building a blog that you hope to make a lot of money from.
I, however, set up my ‘big business card’ style freelance writing site KarenBanes.com on Weebly years ago and I love how low maintenance and intuitive it is. Everything is drag and drop and I never have to spend time updating plug-ins (because there aren’t any). If you’re looking for a ridiculously easy website to showcase your portfolio, for example, and you’re really not a tech wizard, you may find a use for Weebly in your bag of tricks.
Hosting and Domain Names
I’ve used all the big hosting sites (some for myself and some while working with clients) and I recommend Bluehost for hosting your WordPress site. It’s recommended by WordPress too, and it can take less than ten minutes to set up. It’s super affordable, reliable and simple to use. You can get your Bluehost account up and running in no time and then install WordPress with the click of a button.
Bluehost are currently offering a free domain with their hosting, which you can register while you’re setting up your blog. But if you already have one, it’s easy to use that as well. I bought TheSavvySolopreneur.net from GoDaddy a while ago (when I started writing The Savvy Solopreneur ebook series and knew I’d want a domain to promote them some day). When I set up this blog it was super simple to log in and redirect the domain to point to my brand new WordPress site.
You’ll need an email program to build your list of potential clients and communicate with your audience. I use both Mailchimp and Aweber for my own lists and when working with clients. They both work just fine. Aweber probably has a little more in the way of functions BUT Mailchimp is free for your first 2000 subscribers, which can be really tempting if you’re on a budget. The free version doesn’t allow for an autoresponder sequence though, so if you want that from the start, go with Aweber.
Social media marketing is vital to grow a thriving online business, and it’s (mostly) free. Yes, you may end up paying for ads to increase your social media reach, but you can start building an audience on any social media site for free. You’ll find me on Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, LinkedIn, Google+ and, most recently, Instagram.
I advise you to at least have a presence on all the big sites. If you don’t use a particular one often make sure your profile says what you do and who you serve, and includes a link to where potential clients can find out more about you and get in touch.
I store all my work in progress in Dropbox (online cloud storage) allowing me to access it from any location and any device. This is the one tool that helps me be truly flexible, highly productive, and effectively location independent in the way I run my business. It’s also really useful for sharing files with my team and my clients. And the basic version is FREE. (You can upgrade to a paid version if you have a ton of files to store and need more space). Find out more here.
Many freelance writers and professional content creators use all kinds of fancy writing software. Not me. I stick with Microsoft Word. Word documents are easy to work with, universally accepted by editors, and easy to convert to other formats (such as PDF) using a free online conversion tool (I use this one).
I even write my books in Word these days. It’s easy to convert a Word document to a Kindle book or to an EPub format which is what you need to sell on iBooks, Kobo and other ebook retailers.
With Office you also get Excel which is what I use to track freelance submissions, income and expenses.
I use this free online tool on every headline I write, whether it’s for my own blog, my content creation clients or my freelance writing pitches. I’ve started using it to test out future book titles too.
Your personal online proofreader, Grammarly can proofread everything from a blog post to a book. I’m not saying you should always skip paying a human editor/proofreader (it depends on the project) but for your day-to-day content, Grammarly is great. If you’re launching a book, course or information product, you might want to perfect it by employing a professional copy editor and proofreader, but you can still save money by using Grammarly to improve your content before handing it over to an editor.
This free WordPress plug-in optimizes every post I write, both for myself and my content creation clients. If you’re still not sure how to use Search Engine Optimization, this book does a great job of explaining it, but if you use Yoast, you’ll need less of an in-depth knowledge, and more of a basic understanding.
PLR (Private Label Rights) content is content you buy in to adapt, personalize, monetize and use on your site. PLR articles are usually written by a ghostwriter and sold to several website owners. This means that you (and a limited number of other bloggers) can edit the articles and publish them without being required to link back to anyone or give anyone credit for writing them.
Using PLR is a little complicated, but once you get the hang of using it, it can save you a ton of time. Grab this free report How to Use PLR Content.
The PLR companies I personally use are:
Bonus tip: I rarely buy PLR at full price. Sign up for the newsletter at the above sites and they’ll let you know when they have discounted PLR packages or site-wide sales. That’s when I stock up. Sometimes they’ll even send you free content you can re-brand and use in your business. (You may need to scroll to the bottom of the page to find the sign-up box).
My best resource for ‘Done-For-You’ content. Coachglue sell ready-made templates, planners and coaching kits you can adapt and rebrand to use in your business. They mainly serve business coaches, providing kits they can use to coach their clients and organize their business, but some of their resources work in various niches. I use their planners (such as the Book Brainstorming Planner and Amazon Author Page planner) to coach other writers.
At the time of writing, Coachglue are offering a FREE new client kit to help you onboard new clients easily and efficiently. Grab yours while they’re available and test out their resources for free.
Images are really important in my online business, but I don’t spend a lot on them. I mainly use these free stock photography sites to source images, combined with the resource below.
Simple to use image editing software that has a basic free version. I only occasionally use the paid elements and you can do so on a pay-as-you-go basis, spending as little as $1 at a time if you want to use a premium image or graphic.
Social Media Marketing
Just ReTweet has long been my favorite free way to drive traffic to my blog posts and online articles. It enables you to get a lot of genuine ReTweets, Google shares and Facebook likes very quickly, and helps you attract new followers on Twitter at the same time.
As an extra bonus, this site is also a great place to go to find fresh content to curate and share with your readers.
If you have a Twitter account, you can simply go to JustRetweet.com and sign up. I wrote a whole post about JustRetweet here.
I also use CoPromote to boost my Twitter posts and get more traffic and social shares. I’m not sure it’s as effective as Just ReTweet, but I use the free version so I’ve got nothing to lose.
SumoMe is actually a suite of web traffic tools that help with everything from social media marketing to list building. There’s a free and paid version. If you blog on WordPress, at the very least get the free version of SumoMe. Then you can do simple but important things like add those floating social share buttons to your posts. They make it a no-brainer for visitors to share any content that’s useful to their audience.
I use Fiverr.com to outsource easy one-off jobs like designing a simple cover for an ebook or info product, keyword research or techie stuff (like moving a blog from one platform to another or making a new domain point at an old site). These are things I could do myself but as I don’t do it on a daily basis it would take me a while to work out (or remember) how to do it. I can outsource it for as little as $5 so… Why not?
Bigger, more important jobs I outsource to trusted professionals who have been recommended by people I know and respect. Not familiar with outsourcing? This Outsource Monthly course will teach you EVERYTHING you need to know about it.
I use Kindle Direct Publishing to publish my ebooks on Amazon, and Smashwords to push them out to other retailers like iBooks and Barnes & Noble. I also log onto those platforms daily to monitor sales and promote my books.
Lastly, everyone needs a daily planner. You can get one from the dollar store, but I think planning is by far the most important daily task for my business, so I treat myself to a proper business planner. Currently I’m loving The Biz Plan Book, created by Natalie Collins.
My online business planner is the last tool on my list, and the least technical, but probably the most important. Planning daily is a huge part of how I get clarity around my long-term business goals. Need more clarity? Consider grabbing our free workbook below.