I’m in charge of the web operations for two product companies that average over 480K in monthly turnover. We hold premier #1 rankings and generate mid-five figure revenues through online-check outs monthly. Still the large majority of our sales are phone sales (put a phone number on your sites!).
Three years ago I had no idea how this stuff worked. It was just me, one product, and a crappy Yahoo store.
Now we’ve got 6 full time people on our team. As I was editing this post this evening over $1500.00 in orders came through our cart. That feeling never gets old. I always take a moment to look at the orders and to be thankful for them. At the end of the day its those orders that keep my lifestyle afloat.
Today I’ll share with you the tools we use to get it done. If I were more public about the niches we make money in, I wouldn’t be sharing this list. In particular, I would never want to share with my competition Market Samurai (more below on that).
We are block and tackle internet marketers mostly promoting hard goods that we drop ship or manufacture ourselves. We manage upwards of 70 domains, but only 10 of those are really important for revenue generation. We’ve used tons of different tools over the years to improve our process and get a leg up on the competition.
I’ve decided to pull together a list of the absolute top-of-the-crop best tools we use to make killer sites that convert.
Many of the links are affiliate links. They don’t bite, don’t increase the price, and help ramp up the amount of free podcasts and blog resources we can create. I don’t cloak that shaz on these sites because we are all adults and marketers :)
Build a site:
WordPress – For every site you can possibly use it for.
Your site should be in WordPress unless you really know what you are doing. Even if your site will eventually require more functionality, I’d get started in WordPress, build an audience or customer base, and then port the site to a more powerful platform once you’ve proven your market.
Drupal – For everything else.
We try to go with WordPress everytime we can, but the bottom line is Drupal has tons more horsepower for sites that demand big time functionality. FACT: You’ll need a full time developer to manage a Drupal site and even then it will be a challenge. Drupal works for larger community sites (like dating sites), ecommerce sites, and sites with TONS of content with many different classications. Only go Drupal if you are certain you need it.
The Thesis Theme for WordPress, Developer License – Get a good theme that is supported, scales, and that has a passionate user and support community. Set it and forget it.
I use Thesis for my three personal blogs, OutsourcetothePhilippines.com, LifestyleBusinessPodcast.com, and this one. We also use it for a broad range of niche blogs we’ve set up to market our products like “OurProductsKeyTerm.com,” which present information about our products. Thesis is super easy to customize and you can count on it being supported as WordPress rapidly updates its platform.
I’ve got a bunch of money making sites I don’t want to be messing around with BS technical issues that are already solved elsewhere. By using Thesis I can leverage the large community of users and developers who are solving problems and building sites on this platform. There are also huge advantages for our developers using 1 theme across a wide range of domains. That doesn’t mean that all the sites look the same. Thesis is highly customizable. A lot of developers are experienced with the hook system it utilizes, and its very easy to learn if you want to do it yourself.
E-Junkie – SELL INFO PRODUCTS ONLINE without hand building your own shopping cart.
For our e-commerce sites, some of which can pull in over 10K a month on one domain, we’ve set up custom shopping carts with Paypal Pro, automated auto-responders, freight calculation software, recommendation engines, and all the bells and whistles. Bottom line: that stuff requires full time development staff.
If you just want to pop up an eBook or a podcast series, e-junkie is cheap (starting at 5 bucks a month), and super easy. Especially when it comes to setting up affiliate links so others can get a commission by selling your products. You don’t want to do this manually. Hook up e-junkie.com, set it, and forget it.
Market Samurai – If you have more than 1 domain for which you are doing competitive keyword and linking research, just go ahead and buy Market Samurai now.
This one is huge for our business. We’ve used market samurai to identify under marketed key term markets that now make us over $6K a month, find killer URLs to locate our businesses on, and predict how long it will take domains to achieve desired rankings. Type in any key term and Samurai will pump out competitive analysis, including banklink counts and quality, alternative suggestions, and detailed information regarding your competition.
Worried about your competition catching up to you? Get a status report with Market Samurai. Not sure what to name your business? No problem. Wondering what are the most profitable key terms in your niche? Doneski. Internet marketers, this is your money maker.
Sure, Google Keyword tool is a great place to get started, but Market Samurai is for serious players. It is easy to use and can easily be put in the hands of a VA or employee. Since my employees now use this software primarily, I’ll commonly make requests to them like “we want to start selling x products, please come up with a list of good URLs and key terms to focus on.” I’ll get a detailed report fast. Market Samurai does all the heavy lifting.
Aweber – Collect Contacts, Send Newsletters, Create Autoresponders, and Sync RSS Blog Posts
Aweber has been around for ages in internet terms (founded in 1998!!!?) and is the absolutle leader for double opt-in mailing lists. For single opt-in, or unsolicited campaigns, we use Constant Contact. DO NOT collect lists using Feedburner email subscriptions, you won’t be able to control delivery times, and you only send blog updates (not newsletters or other mailings). You don’t want to find yourself a few months in to your online business with a list that is difficult to migrate and manage. Double opt-in systems like Aweber make it difficult to bring contacts from other systems. BOTTOM LINE: Your customer and prospect lists are your business. Invest in the best from the outset, and you won’t be disappointed.
Bluehost – Fast, affordable, reliable, and easy to use hosting for basic sites.
We use a variety of hosts for our network of sites, but for 99% of basic blogs and marketing sites, Bluehost is a great place to start. They offer unlimited domains, email addresses, and they are super cheap. If you are SUPER anal about up time I wouldn’t recommend them, but for most purposes they work just fine.
Another thing to keep in mind, sometimes we experiment some “grey” tactics on some of our marketing sites, if you intend to do this and are using a shared IP (i.e., all of your sites are in one Bluehost account) keep in mind that ALL of your sites could be punished. If you do want to mess around, I’d recommend getting a totally separate host for your shady sites. :)
Wired Tree – Hosting for your baller sites.
WiredTree is an excellent host for multiple domains that require dedicated IPs, Virtual Private Server set ups (if you don’t know what this stuff is you probably don’t need it), and SSL certificates. Security has it’s price, and WiredTree gives it to you in the best rate possible.
Build a team:
Virtual Staff Finder – The fastest way to grow your business is to hire people.
As I’ve said many times, when I first started outsourcing in the Philippines I lost at least 5X the cost of this service dealing with flaky VAs and overcoming my own inexperience. Worse than that– I wasted tons of my time and delayed money-making projects. Virtual Staff Finder offers the real opportunity to avoid all that headache.
Once you hire your VA through Virtual Staff Finder they will be officially your employee to be 100% employed and managed by you… this isn’t a “managed” service that you have no control over, this is a real asset that you can add to your company.
Dropbox – Instant file sharing, large media file sharing, computer back-ups.
If you aren’t using dropbox now, you will be in the very near future. It’s just that good. We use it for file sharing and computer backups. Dropbox is so genius because it doesn’t rely solely on the cloud, but actually downloads synced files directly to your hard drive. That means if @AnythingIan shares with me a new video he made, it’ll sync directly to my computer and I won’t need to be on a network to access that file. We use this extensively in our business to share critical shipping documents, large media files, and to back-up our files. Dropbox is also my preferred platform for photo and video sharing among friends.
GMAIL – Manage Multiple Identities from One Email Client
This works well if you’re managing ten different emails, or your a DBA for several websites. GMAIL is better than Outlook (it’s true!), and easily allows you to manage multiple domain extensions from one inbox (@lifestylebusinesspodcast.com, @tropicalmba.com, @outsourcetothephilippines.com, etc).
Even if you’re not running multiple websites, it still gives you the ability to manage both your personal and business emails out of one place. Keeping your email on Gmail also makes it easy to sync with all of Googles online tools, such as Google Calendar, and Google Documents. We also use a single Google document for project management.
Skype / Skype-in – Dirt Cheap Long Distance, inexpensive international call routing.
Without Skype I could not be a digital nomad. It is the single most important tool I use on a daily basis. Not only do I meet with my team in a chat room daily, but I make dirt-cheap long distance phone calls form my computer and handset. I have a “skype-in” phone number (about 30 bucks a year) that is a California based phone number (thus no long distance fees for my colleagues and family) that routes phone calls to either my computer, if turned on, or my local phone in whichever country I’m in. Balla!
Grasshopper – The phone is the most important part of 99% of businesses.
Grasshopper’s Virtual Phone System works just like large company phone systems, but is designed specifically for on-the-go entrepreneurs so that any small business can sound more professional and streamline its communications. Services start at $9.95/month.
You can get your own toll free number with a customized greeting, and an unlimited number of extensions. If you don’t yet have an office with hard lines you can get the numbers routed to your home office, or your cellphone. You can even route the numbers to several people, so that if one employee is not available to take the call, the next person can pick it up. Not only does it make your small business sound bigger, it makes it extremely portable.
Grasshopper is probably the most important service we subscribe to and irreplaceable given the virtual nature of our business.
Paychex – Once you’ve hired people, managing the payroll can be a pain. This makes it easy for us.
The folks at Paychex.com are extremely responsive and provide a high level of support. PAYROLL FOR YOUR DOMESTIC STAFF IS A TOTAL TIME SUMP. Signing up for Paychex’s service eliminates all that hassle of having to understand that financial stuff yourself, and frees you to focus on what’s important: growing your busineses.
Paychex is also very start-up friendly, and will handle accounts for companies that have as little as one employee.
Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity by David Allen – REQUIRED READING FOR INFORMATION WORKERS. This is probably the first business book I’d ask anyone to read if they are interested in doing business.
Read it. Even if you think you don’t need to, you do. You really do.
Some other cool stuff:
ECover Maker – You don’t need photoshop to make cool information product graphics.
Need a cover for your ebook or a cool looking design for your audio series? Sign up for the mailing list at the ECover Maker and you’ll get access to four awesome looking designs for free. I mentioned this on my podcast and many of the listeners have used it and love this product.
Your laptop can be a distracting place. When you sit down to be creative, these two programs will help you to block out distractions plus give you a nice black screen to type on, which is easier on your eyes. This post was composed in Write Room, which is a much more polished piece of software than Darkroom.
Tweet Adder – Twitter Marketing and timed tweets.
If you are selling products through twitter, and are managing a bunch of identities online, Tweet Adder is a killer tool. Smart auto-following features dredge up qualified leads on a daily basis, and timed tweets let’s you sit down at one time and schedule tweets weeks in advance.
Do you hang on the interwebs makin’ some loot?
What tools help you with your online business?
AND thanks for reading.