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Succeed Online: Essential tools for online success

General, Tips & Tricks

Essential tools for online success
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What are the tools you need to succeed online

To reach a certain objective, whatever is on your mind, you’ll need certain essential tools available. You cannot expect to build roofs without a hammer, for instance. Similarly, you cannot expect an online business to run at its own, just based on your expressed wishes.

So whatever you’re planning – or wanting – to do online, you have to gear up with some basic hardware and software tools you need to succeed.

Hardware needs

I don’t think we need to really discuss this that much. It’s a clear thing that you’ll need a computer, connected to Internet. Whether it’s a plain machine that has seen better days or a state-of-the-art gaming monster bought yesterday, it will do.

Essential tools for online success - Hardware

Of course, there are limits to what you can expect from an old hardware; but none really matter that much as the connection to the world. If this is your weak point, it’s almost mandatory nowadays to have a high-speed connection. Not that low-speed connections would not work. You just might find yourself using too much time waiting for things to happen.

Sooner or later this will start to eat your patience and nerves, resulting in much lower motivation to do what needs to be done. It’s even possible that some online services will break, leaving you without something you’ve just spent some time working on.

It can all bring you back to where you’ve started, of course, instead of pulling you towards success online.

So no matter how you hate your old monitor, I suggest you take care of your internet connection first. Only then think about upgrades to your hardware, with regards to your budget.

Free tools VS Premium (paid) tools

The tools you’ll need and find online can basically be divided into two main groups: free and premium.

While many free tools are available for almost any purpose, there are usually a few major differences comparing to their Premium counterparts.

First, there’s a question of documentation.

Many free tools have great documentation, while many, unfortunately, do not. This is because they’re usually created by enthusiasts that needed the tool, for similar enthusiasts that just aren’t developers. But, they know the subject, so the need for documentation is already a little lower on the list. In such cases the attached documentation can be limited to a few important points.

While this may be enough for some, it’s definitely a problem for less informed users. I’ve found myself in troubles many times because of this.

Then, there’s a question of support.

Free tools usually base their support through some sort of groups, whether on social networks (like Facebook groups) or forums. This usually works relatively well, because people that gather in such groups are directly involved either in development or user processes.

But you’re definitely on the mercy of people wanting to help you, and there is just no way to demand anything. As the main consequence, it can take quite some time before someone who knows your problem will have time to help you. It can be problematic because your workflow can suffer because of such delays.

Third, there’s a question of UX design (User Experience and flow).

Understandably, creating a software solution for yourself and people who know the subject well will have lower demands on the overall design of the application. On the other hand, when you’re completely new and just learning, an unintuitive design might just break your will to really engage with the app.

One problem for sure can be a steeper learning curve, which really should not take you too much time. Plus, not finding functionalities in the software results in a number of support questions which will have its own set of troubles getting answered.

What about Premium solutions?

On the paid side, there is usually no problem with documentation. If you pay something, you’re more than entitled to demand certain information available. And because these solutions bring money to the developers, they’re equally interested to keep you happy and they usually add the missing pieces fast.

Same goes for support. Not that all paid solutions have outstanding support – far from it, unfortunately. But like I said, they’re interested in your business so you can expect them to do their best.

The design of most paid solutions and Premium applications is usually much more coherent and easier to follow, simply because companies and their developers with proper budgets can take things into consideration that volunteers might not have time or budget to consider. It’s an important difference, especially when starting to use the software.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m a huge fan of free tools. But during the years, I’ve lost lots and lots of time on problems that were basically very easy to solve, but no one was available at the time of need. So I found myself switching to many paid solutions and while my budget went up quite substantially, I have now a relatively easy way of doing what I need to do.

The objective you’re following

Your choice of tools you might need depends greatly on your targets online. If you only want to run a simple blog, you’ll need different stuff than for a full-blown online shop or a SAAS website (Software As A Service). Each target has a specific set of essential tools.

Similarly, running an online membership site will again need a few specific essential tools you’ll need to succeed online, and so on.

So before connecting and buying everything Google serves you, think about this issue. Make yourself a little list of where you need to be active, and then search for tools for that particular need. You’ll find a few really quickly, after that do a little comparison and you’ll soon be able to make an informed decision. This will take you some time, for sure, but will save you much more time, money and nerves later on.

Fields of engagement to succeed online

Before going on a tool-hunt, you’ll need to ask (and answer) yourself a few questions about your wanted business in order to succeed online. Let’s limit this to a few main questions.

Do I need a website to succeed online?

Whatever you’ll do online, it’s very likely that you’ll need some kind of a website. Not mandatory, because nowadays you can actually run a profitable business online using just social networks like Facebook, Instagram and Pinterest.

A website however much more successfully brings together the needed resources and functionalities, and before all, lets you be really creative. You cannot do whatever you want on Facebook, while your website is completely in your hands.

But for most of the businesses, be it a blog or an online shop, you’ll need a website to succeed online. So here are some of the questions related to that.

Essential tools - Succeed Online with a website

Do I need to be able to blog?

This means publishing posts about your business and related issues. It can be personal or business oriented. Not every available website builder supports this, so it’s important to know.

For instance, you may want to build a simple online store for your beauty products. An accompanying blog that you can use to explain some products and give additional information to the interested visitors can dramatically increase your chances to succeed online.

In my opinion, use the ones that support it. You don’t have to use it if you don’t want to, but if so happens that you need it and can’t do it, it can be more complicated to switch.

Do I need a domain of my own?

A domain is your name online and your brand, like wordpress.org or google.com. It depends on several factors, all based on your pland and needs, but for the sake of online business it is very much welcome to have one. By building a brand online, you can expect much better results in a long run, because this is how people remember you and your business.

To really succeed online, making sure your brand is recognizable is essential.

It will most likely cost you up to $20 or so per year, so it’s not really heavy on your budget.

One place where you can look for both domain registration and hosting solutions is Namecheap.com, a provider that I also use for many of my needs. They have lots to offer, and sometimes there are additional discounts available that are just ridiculous.

Look for the domain name connected to your primary business as much as possible. Don’t be cheap on that, if you find a domain that is a bit more expensive but suits your business perfectly, go for it before someone else does. Remember, a good domain name is definitely what you need to succeed.

Do I need a specialized hosting with my domain?

There are a few types of hosting available today, and you can read some more about it HERE. The main decision factor here is – again – your target business. For simple blogging, you can take almost any shared hosting you can get, and it can cost you as low as $50 per year. For more specialized solutions like online shops or even SAAS web apps, it’s a whole other world. With these, almost nothing is too much, and you’ll have to spend substantially more.

Website security

Website security is not something you can ignore, unfortunately. There are all sorts of problems that can happen, from simple hardware or software problems of your ISP (Internet Service Provider) to real attacks from malicious bots and people. In any case, you’ll need to take care of your website properly before you lose it because of some random reason.

Most hosting providers offer some sort of security with their packages. One that I would like to mention specifically is a regular backup functionality. While you may use what your provider gives you, for more control I would suggest you get a professional backup plugin.

Essential tools - Website security

Again, there are many available. One of the best I’ve tested is UpdraftPlus. It’s relatively cheap and supports all kinds of backups – full, partial and incremental, scheduled and on-demand, saving your data locally (web server) or remotely in a cloud environment like Google Drive, OneDrive and Amazon. It is also an excellent tool to transfer your website to another domain.

Website Creation – Blogging

The obvious tool to count on for a blogging website is WordPress. It powers over 40% of the world web, so it is a proven tool for the job.

It is free, all you have to do is install it onto your domain and you have a running website at your disposal.

There are two main options you have on that: self-hosted (wordpress.org) or hosted (wordpress.com). With wordpress.com, you’ll be more limited at what you can do, but it’s much easier to set up and maintain. If you plan more functionalities or a more complex website structure, the self-hosted alternative is what you need to succeed.

WordPress theme and plugins

Making your website look and function the way you need and want it, is another question. What you need to succeed here is a good theme and a set of quality plugins to fulfill your needs. There are lots of free themes available on the WordPress repository, but they’re usually limited in certain ways.

Wordpress logo

If you’re looking for a theme that will satisfy most of your need out of the box, you’ll have to spend some time looking for a Premium theme that does that.

Or, you can choose a general theme that includes a builder, like Divi, or you can choose a free theme and add a builder like Elementor. In both of these cases, you’ll spend a little bit of time learning to use it, but it opens a whole new opportunity for you at the same time. Creating websites is a very sought for service and a great way to help you succeed online.

In any case, you’ll need to spend a little time creating your website to suit your needs, or get a developer to do it for you. This can cost you anywhere from a few hundred to a few thousand dollars, so you better be sure what you want.

There are some more tips on creating a website and choosing plugins HERE.

Email marketing

Email marketing is a thing that has developed a long time ago, when email services became widely available to the public. It’s been said many times since social networks appeared that email marketing is dead, but it still can’t be further from the truth. It’s very much alive and still a very powerful marketing tool you definitely need to consider using in you business to quickly succeed online.

The main idea of email marketing is to build a list of people interested in your product or service and use emails to contact them for service and selling.

It is widely accepted and confirmed that with email marketing for each dollar spent for building a list, you can expect up to $45 in return during the time a subscriber is active.

In general, with a good email marketing policy you can count on around $1/subscriber/month on an average list. Doing it correctly of course, and not wildly throwing anything into your subscriber’s inbox. It’s definitely something you need to do.

The tools you’ll need definitely include an autoresponder of some kind. This is a general name that identifies a software that is able to gather contacts information, email address in the first place, and then send your email messages to those contacts. These can be anything from simple info messages about your services, to direct offers of your or affiliate products and services.

There’s a long list of autoresponders available online. Personally, I’m using two – Aweber and Sendiio.

Aweber

Aweber is an autoersponder that is available for quite some time and it has a great reputation online. They have a solid base of functionalities available even on their free plan, but also a relatively strict policy about messaging. Not adhering to this can get you banned realy quickly, but on the other hand I mostly welcome their limitations.

The main reason is that we are all on some lists somewhere (some days I receive a 100 and more emails…. I know…), and some marketers really don’t take no as an answer and use barely legal ways to get you on board. I hate when that happens, and these are the first I unsubscribe from.

The functionalities in Aweber service include lists, optin page building, email automation and segmentation, and more. In short, everything a business could need. They are someways limited with regards to the plan chosen, but for the start, I believe their free plan should suffice. It offers up to 500 subscribers gathered in one list and one basic email automation.

The costs rise with the size of your list. For instance, a premium account including 500 subscribers (unlimited lists and all automations and other gizmos) costs $20 monthly (with yearly payment). Once you build a list of over 500 subscribers, you’ll be advanced into another plan that will allow up to 2.500 subscribers and cost $30 monthly, then up to 5.000 subscribers ($50 monthly) and so on.

If you need up to 150k subscribers, the cost will rise to $1,200 per month.

If you need a solid email autoresponder, sign up for your FREE account here.

Sendiio

Sendiio is also a seasoned and well tested software, but it operates a little different than Aweber. It supports 3 ways of getting in touch with your subscribers – via email, via SMS messaging and via Facebook Messenger. These additional options can make a huge difference in your struggles to succeed online, provided you use them the right way.

The costs of software are considerably lower, because Sendiio is available for a one-time payment of $97 (at the time of writing this), with all functionalities included, no limits whatsoever.  Check it out, because frequent special discounts make it even cheaper occasionally.

The real limit however is that Sendiio does not have an included SMTP server for the price mentioned. This means that you’ll have to add a third party SMTP relay, like Sendgrid, to successfully send emails.

Here, some more costs come into play, for 50,000 email sent, for instance, the cost is $19. For up to 100k emails monthly, the cost is $35. Depending on your strategy, it is advised to make some calculations and see what’s best for you.

A definite pro for Sendiio compared to Aweber is that it has no limits whatsoever. This means unlimited everything, plus no limitations when importing lists. Plus, of course, a possibility to use also SMS messaging and Facebook Messenger in your campaigns.

A definite con for Sendiio when using a third party SMTP server like Sendgrid, on the other hand, is email deliverability. With their Essentials plans (the prices mentioned above), your email server will be based on a shared IP address, which is not really good. If only a few people using it make stupid things, the IP might find itself on a spam list somewhere and there goes your good name.

Aweber on the other hand takes care of what people are sending (their policies mentioned above), and their sending servers are always well accepted.

The solution is relatively easy, but not free: by using Sendgrid Pro plans you’ll get a dedicated IP address that only you will be using, so you can take proper care of it. It costs $89 per month though for 200k emails, which is not so cheap anymore. But…

A simple calculation before deciding

Think of it in the light of ROI mentioned above – if you spend $3 for every subscriber you get using ads and you manage to gather 5.000 of them, the math for a one year period says something like this:

  • Cost of building a list: $15,000
  • Autoresponder costs: $360 (2nd Aweber plan)
  • Income at $1/sub/m: $1 x 5,000 x 12 = $60,000
  • Pure Profit: $44,640

It’s a pretty crazy number, I’ll admit, and it’s far from easy to achieve. But it’s achievable, and if you set yourself up the proper way, there’s a good chance you can do it at least partially. Be aware that many marketers are doing way better than this, so there’s no reason why you should not succeed online also.

This is not imprinted in stone. There will be unsubscribes from your list on a daily basis, and you must keep on getting new subscribers in order to keep and grow the numbers.

Online shop

For an online shop, you’ll need a few specific essential tools in your toolbox. You can see it in more detail HERE, let’s just mention a few here.

Ecommerce plugins

The most widely used ecommerce plugin for WordPress is WooCommerce. It supports practically every sales model you can think of, either by itself or with some additional ecommerce plugins installed.

It is free and I don’t think we need to say any more of this. Again, there are many more details on building a successful shop online available HERE.

Marketing plugins

To help your online shop succeed online, you’ll also need some additional plugins for specialized functionalities. These include list building (opt-in forms), abandoned cart control, social network sharing, and so on.

Child themes

One special functionality of WordPress-based websites is an ability to make use of child themes. These are specifically developed themes that rely on a specific theme (like Divi) to add specific design and functionality not directly supported by the main theme.

This is one of the main reasons why WordPress is so popular today. With child themes and custom plugins, there is almost literally nothing you can’t do with WordPress. Nothing short of amazing.

There is a huge market for these, many marketplaces are available, my personal favorite is ThemeForest.net (Envato). You can find everything you might need there, and I suggest you take a look while planning your site. It might just save you some time later in the process if you start with the right theme.

Succeed online: 7 Steps To Start A Successful Online Store

Marketing services

With marketing services, I mainly refer to the services you might be selling to interested people. These include advertising, social networks management and similar services online.

If you’re selling any of these, you’ll find a few specific requests you want to have at hand. These include form creation (optin forms, order forms, etc), email marketing system in place (look above), and an optional booking service for your contacts.

While none of these are mandatory, of course, they will help you develop your business tremendously.

Remember, every automation you can include in the selling process will save you time with every new order. The more orders you get, the more time and repeating work you can save. Having a good booking service included in a website is such a thing – people can book their meetings with you without you having to answer the call and find a free term each and every time.

Instead, you only call them when you know they’re available, because they’ve told you that themselves.

Offline services

If you’re selling offline services, like gardening or whatever you might think of, a good contact booking platform will save you lots of organizing time. If people can book your service at a fixed day and time, you’ll have your weekly and daily plans practically done when you switch your computer on in the morning.

Of course, a proper set up of such a booking system is mandatory, but there are many plugins available that will do the job easily. Remember to define your working hours and days, as well as possible absence. A proper booking plugin will make use of the already booked times and exclude them from the calendar.

Additionally, look at the online store creation, because whatever you’re selling can be sold through an online store.

Planning for success

In the end, when you decide on the type of business you want to run, on the website and everything in between, it’s time to create business plans for your business.

Quarterly Planning for Q1 Success

The best way is to use quarterly planning, because a quarter (3 months) is just enough time for the results to show properly, and quite short enough for you to be able to adapt quickly. If you find something not working, you have to adapt it as fast as possible, because it can effectively stop your business from growing. In short, taking time to plan things ahead is essential to succeed online in the shortest time possible.

See more about quarterly planning in our business series.

Business Automation

These days, it’s all about automation of business processes. And for a good reason, because business process automation gives us what we generally lack the most – some additional time.

No matter what your main business is, using automation where possible will let you do other things that matter more.

Just imagine running an online store, built on WordPress. After you do all the work of installing, inputting the products and running some sort of ads that bring you traffic, what do you do when a purchase is finally done? Here’s a simple overview of a typical workflow.

  1. Send all the needed transactional emails from the shop (order acknowledgement, thank you email, etc).
  2. Include the customer’s email and other details in your email list database
  3. Include these details in your CRM software (Customer Relations Manager), whatever you’re using
  4. Prepare the order for shipping, if the goods are on stock, or prepare the order for your designated supplier
  5. Ship the order, or give customer access to a download page, if it’s a digital product
  6. Create an invoice and send it to the customer
  7. Follow up with the customer and possibly make more sales

While step 1 is (and should be) taken care of within your sales system itself (like Woocommerce), the others will demand some work. Step 2 may also be possible to automate if you’re using an additional plugin for your shop, but it’s rarely included by itself.

So, you’ll have to do the manual work of adding your customer to your autoresponder (like Aweber or Sendiio we’ve already mentioned), then add it to your CRM software of choice or maybe just a Google Doc document you’re keeping. Then, if it’s a physical product, you’ll need to create an order for your supplier and send it by email. Once you get a response and/or the product itself you’ll need to prepare it for shipping, call the forwarder and create an invoice in your store and send it to your customer. If it’s about a digital product, you’ll need to provide your customer with download links and details, and so on.

In short, the moment you receive an order, the work begins. And believe it or not, most of these steps can be automated easily, by using some sort of automation system. This does not necessarily mean you have to buy a powerful package that does everything, you can automate WordPress itself also and connect it to all the needed tools you’re using – your autoresponder, your CRM software, your order processing and everything else.

Automation of WordPress using webhooks

One way of doing this is by using webhooks – programming interfaces that are available in your WordPress by design and listen to the events that happen in your shop system. By using them you can define what happens after something happens – like, what happens when the order is submitted by the customer as we described above. The app that does these things for you and you’ve probably heard about is Zapier, a system that lets you define the events and actions for almost anything you can imagine inside your shopping system.

What you must know is that this will cost some money. Zapier does not come cheap, but there are also cheaper solutions with the same functionality. Pabbly is one of them, and it comes roughly at half the price of Zapier.

Business automation with Pabbly

Pabbly is actually a platform that includes many functionalities through dedicated applications, which are

  • Pabbly Connect: a powerful alternative to Zapier, an automation tool for every app that uses webhooks. With more than 1,000 integrations it’s almost impossible to miss an app you can connect to and automate its tasks.
  • Pabbly Subscription Billing: a powerful and effective One-Time & Recurring Billing Solution with included Affiliate Management Feature.
  • Pabbly Form Builder: the world’s only Form Builder with no feature restrictions.
  • Pabbly Email Marketing: an all-in-one email solution (autoresponder) that takes care of everything about email marketing for you.
  • Pabbly Email Verification: having a verified email list is worth gold, because usually costs are connected to the number of contacts. Email Verification guarantees accurate results and makes sure you’re communicating with real people.

An interesting thing about Pabbly is that they offer a free acount which gives you (for instance) a 100 automation tasks per month. It’s not enough for a reasonable business, but more than enough to test the solution and easily step up once you’re sure.

They also offer a lifetime subscription for a one-time payment for some modules (Pabbly Connect, Pabbly Subscription Billing), as well as a credit-based Email Verification service that will cost $25 for 10,000 emails. Other modules are subscription based, as they are connected to running costs of the system.

There is also a package available, called Pabbly Plus, that gives you the complete system. The costs for the smallest package (which gives more then enough power for any start) can be as low as $25 monthly for a 3-year subscription. I believe this is what everyone must consider.

All these apps are practically connected together and operate as one eco-system that gives your business a high degree of automation. I will describe each of them in separate posts, but you’re welcome to see demos of any of them at Pabbly’s homepage.

One important thing if you’re thinking about Pabbly: they are building their system around a large (and growing) community of users. This means you’re even more likely to find the solution for your problem, because there’s always someone who’s already done that and is willing to share. A very important point for them.

Disclaimer

I know what you’re thinking now – he’s talking about Pabbly here with one single thing on his mind: to sell it to me.

Well, you’re not all wrong. Whatever you might buy from the links incorporated in this post, it’s likely I might get a small commission on that. But, not at all at your expense, be sure of that. And it’s not the only reason I’m talking about it.

I sincerely fell in love with Pabbly during the last few months. While it’s relatively new, compared to seasoned systems like Aweber or Zapier, it actually does what I need in my business, and it does it well. Plus, for what it’s worth, it does it for much lower price. There you have it.

Summary

No matter what kind of business you want to run, be aware that it’s not as easy as many like to point out. After all, it’s a business like any other, and building a successful online business is not that much easier than opening and running a local store.

They have much of the philosophy the same, the main difference is the medium used to make sales and market the business. All in all, you’ll have to consider almost everything you would in a brick-and-mortar business, except stock and high initial investment, which actually makes it much easier to start and succeed online.

Before starting, I suggest you take a good look at your wishes and requests, as well as your ability to do things digitally – like creating software, for instance. After that, create a short list of functionalities requested and choose the proper tools that will give you everything you need for the system to run (website, themes, plugins, etc).

Include all the costs you gather into your quarterly plans and see what you need to do or sell to make a profit. This way, you’ll know what needs to be done and having a clear way ahead is much easier to follow.

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We are in affiliate business with many of the vendors who's products we mention here and write reviews about, which means we could get a certain commission from them should you buy their product via our links. We are however not connected to them in any other way, nor we receive any special commissions for making good reviews. We try to hold our opinion fair and honest, giving you both the ups and downs where we see them. Everything written here is our own opinion and assessment of the possibilities that software provides.
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