When you are running your online business there are some tools that you need in order to provide the best service to clients, make your operation as professional as possible while making it easy for your clients to deal with you – and not bankrupt yourself in the process!
Is it crass to start right off talking about money? Truth be told, the vast majority of us are in business to make money. If your business doesn’t make money, it’s not a business – it’s a hobby.
Paying for things online is something we are all now familiar with but setting up a way for clients to pay you online might be a new venture. Online payment processing requires an account with a secure processor that is linked to your business bank account. Even when you are taking payment through another platform, you will need to connect that with your payment processing, so this is fundamental to your biz, Liz!
In North America right now the top 2 payment processing tools are the ubiqitous Paypal and it’s lesser known but more entrepreneur-friendly alternative, Stripe. Cost wise, they both charge the same rates per transaction. However, Paypal has additional charges for activities you may want to offer your clients that can really add up. Buzz in the online business community is that, in the event of a client demanding a refund, Paypal readily hands it over. This leaves you exposed to clients who just signed up to get something and then get their money back.
Stripe integrates nicely with other apps that take payment, does not have additional fees, and makes it harder for clients to take your products, get a refund and disappear, so you are more protected.
Letting clients and potential clients book an appointment with you that works with YOUR availability, THEIR availability AND do it just by sharing a link? This gives you an incredible professional edge and saves you and them so much time and confusion.
Acuity is my current scheduling tool. It is delightfully simple. It can be customized to your brand, let’s your customer easily schedule appointments conveniently in their own timezone, make payments(!), fill out an intake form if you need that, and they get a confirmation with the conferencing details and a handy email reminder before the call. You get all the info you need on the client and the call, it’s automatically added to your calendar (and you get a reminder email as well, which is nice!)
If you ever need to talk online with your customers (and you DO) the best approach is using conferencing tools. [If you’re thinking “I can just call them!”, stop! Fewer and fewer people these days welcome a phone call. It could be costing them money, and this communication is about their comfort and convenience, not yours] These allow you to either have an audio-only conversation or a video chat, as well as letting both of you share your screens when it’s easy to both be looking at what you’re talking about. That you can record your meetings for sharing and future reference makes this a stellar tool for your business.
Zoom is my personal recommendation and one of the most popular platforms right now. You can get a free account which would serve for the occasional need to video conference with clients. For streaming a live video or interview, Zoom has been joined in my toolkit by StreamYard - more convenient for use in a LIVE broadcast, easy-to-use titles and lower-thirds, and a simpler way to keep track of viewer comments during the LIVE than Zoom.
An online business is wonderfully paper free (don’t toss that printer just yet – one of your parents might ask you to print something) so you don’t need cabinets and shelves to hold all your files. However, you DO need some digital equivalent. Otherwise, it is like you are just throwing all your documents, receipts, invoices, photos, videos, and spreadsheets into a dark closet and slamming the door – good luck finding anything.
You can (and should) apply some file and folder organization on your own computer to help you easily retrieve the files you need but you should also have it elsewhere, like on an external Hard Drive or in cloud storage and Google Drive is the most widely used cloud storage at this time. If you have Gmail, you already have Google drive and may not have known it. It has the added benefits of being able to share files or folders with others, being able to collaborate on a file with others and not leaving a dozen versions to confuse and annoy, letting you easily create some cool content with their templates and interactive questionnaires and survey that gather the data for you. Kind of amazing.
Dropbox is another popular alternative for online storage if you’re not a Google fan and would just like to have storage, syncing and share-ability.
A Customer Relationship Management (CRM) system helps companies nurture leads, stay connected to customers, streamline processes, and improve profitability. Trying to keep track of all this without some kind of system will almost require an employee or Virtual Assistant, so it’s not impossible but why would you resist?
For companies that are B2C – Business to Customer – my current favorite tool is Dubsado. This amazing platform gives me the ability to take payments, invoice clients, create proposals, generate and share contracts with clients that they can E-sign at the click of a button, let your clients schedule appointments with you via integration with your calendar (recent additional feature!), create an automated email series for clients or programs, create automated workflows for you, build and embed opt-in widgets, and nurture the sales process. It is very competitively priced for everything it does. In addition, it has excellent support AND the link above is my personalized link which will give you a 20% discount when you decide to invest in this amazing product.
For the B2B Babes in the crowd with teams and longer sales cycles, Freshworks offers a customizable, robust, and competitively-priced CRM. Zoho (reputed to be the best CRM for social media management) and Hubspot (touted as best no-frills CRM – and it’s free!) are two other market favorites in this area. The caveat on the Hubspot choice is that once you outgrow it’s very basic features, the upgrades start at $50 per month.
YouTube has owned the video hosting space for over half a decade. Having a YouTube channel for your business is a great idea. It helps create your online video presence and affords yet another way in which potential clients can access your valuable content.
However, YouTube might not be the hosting platform you want to use for embedding videos on your website or in landing pages – for so many reasons. YouTube is great but it’s like the Walmart of video hosting; you don’t necessarily want their branding all over your business content – or an unpredictable video about hamsters showing up after your video ends.
Vimeo is a great alternative with free options and tools. For a more turbo-charge option, many businesses are now using Wistia for their online video marketing, As it happens, it was our hosting tool of choice - until we migrated our website to Kajabi (a whole other blog post, in itself) where Wistia is the back-end video host. Wistia offers hosting with amazing business tools that allow you to track analytics of your videos, white list them, embed marketing links and calls to action right within the video, customize the video player, set animated thumbnails, and much more.
Email has been with us for about a quarter century now. It has also been an integral part of small-medium sized business marketing for well over a decade to nurture customer relations and build trust with clients and potential clients. With the average person receiving about 90 emails a day, 1email marketing is not the force it once was. Nonetheless, it is still significant with audiences over the age of 35.
As an entry into email marketing, one of the most established options is Mailchimp. It is free for up to 2000 clients. It has loads of basic feature and functions and integrates with most of the popular business tools (Acuity, Wistia, Eventbrite, Dubsado, Google Analytics). In addition, it is a fairly easy interface to set up and a useful addition to your business tool box.
For a more advanced approach to email marketing, Active Campaign is a mid-range alternative that lets you plan more ambitious email campaigns. It offers branching logic, split testing, lead segmentation, marketing automation based on client activity, and much more.
For companies that have outgrown these two options options and want an all-in-one marketing automation platform, Ontraport and Infusionsoft are two of the big players for small-medium sized businesses,
Ever had a flash of inspiration – a great idea or sound-bite – that you wanted to capture but then it was gone? Evernote. a free, cross-device note-taking app, is like your external brain. It allows you to instantly capture ideas, images, reminders, websites, voice memos and file attachments. All up, it is a great alternative to Microsoft OneNote.
Email aggregating is not often addressed but a big help for the new online business owner. This allows you to funnel all your email accounts into one interface so you can manage all your email communications from one Interface. For most of us, Gmail serves this purpose, serving as a single, unified inbox that collects all our emails in one place.
For the business that has no in-house graphic design talent, Canva is a godsend. A graphic-design tool website, Canva uses a simple drag-and-drop format. It provides access to over a million photographs, graphics, and fonts. With Canva, designing and sharing logos, presentations, reports, social media content, and more is a breeze. The tools can be used for both web and print media design and graphics. Canva will take your company’s graphic content to a whole other level.
1) Radicati, Sara. “Email Statistics Report, 2014-2018” (PDF). The Radicati Group, Inc.