This Article was curated from ActiveGrowth's BLOG
I love technology and gadgets, so tools for creating, running and growing an online business have long been an obsession of mine. Below, you'll find my recommended stacks for various purposes and stages of your business. What is a stack? It's a set of tools that you need, all for the same purpose and all chosen to work well with each other
This is everything you need to even be admitted to the game of online business. Before you've got this set up, don't even think of doing anything else.
WPX Hosting is a great choice for hosting because it's scalable and affordable. It's not the cheapest solution. BUT: it's still very affordable and it's orders of magnitude better than the typical budget hosting solutions. Start with WPX hosting and you'll have a blazing fast website, extremely good customer service, free SSL and solid security features. The value you get here is second to none.
There are other great options if this is not for you. 1and1 we give a B+, SiteGround an A-, Bluehost is in the Running with WPX.
I built my very first website with WordPress, built dozens of WordPress sites since and have never looked back. What makes WordPress so powerful isn't just that it's free and open source, but that it's also the most widely used and supported content management system you can use. With themes and plugins, you can customize your WordPress site to your needs. And most importantly: your own WordPress installation on your hosting account means you have full control and ownership of your content.
Google Analytics can be a pain in the ass. By default, it gives you some useful information, a lot of completely useless information and a simply overwhelming amount of options. It takes a lot of learning, before you really get good use out of this tool. That said, it is by far the most sophisticated analytics tool you can use for free and it's very widely supported and integrated. You won't fall in love with Google Analytics right away, but use it from the start. It will pay off, eventually.
Drip is one of many email marketing + marketing automation services available. The reason I recommend it above all others is that it integrates codelessly with many payment processing services and it's built to provide revenue tracking for your email marketing campaigns. Drip has a longer learning curve than many of its competitors, but the upside is that you can do more with it, once you figure out how.
Once you have a website set up, one of the most important steps is to put some lead generation in place. Here's what you need to start building an audience in the form of a mailing list. Plus, further tools that will help you create a conversion focused website.
Google Optimize is very much in line with other marketing products by Google in that it's free to use, highly advanced and a bit complicated. There's a learning curve here, but if you're not afraid of spending an afternoon or two digging through tutorials, it's absolutely worth using this over other (often very expensive) A/B testing platforms.
Many new webinar platforms have come and gone, but GoToWebinar is still my top recommendation. The reason is simple: reliability. I've tested many other webinar services and I've had connectivity issues, quality issues and other problems with all of them, at a far greater rate than I ever have with GoToWebinar.
Tools that make you and your marketing team better at research and at creating effective marketing material.
FACEBOOK AD MANAGER
AdEspresso is a must-have as soon as you're spending more than $500/month on Facebook ads. This tool will help you create many Facebook ads quickly, test them all against each other and easily narrow your ad set down to the variations that work best. It doesn't do many things that you can't theoretically also do with the Power Editor, but it's much faster and more convenient.Get AdEspresso
BuzzSumo is a great market research tool. Enter any domain and it will show you the most socially shared content on that website. Enter any keyword and it will show you the most shared content (across all websites) on that topic. It also reveals the top influencers who shared specific posts. These features help you gain a good understanding of what's popular in your market and who potential influencers are that you can reach out to.Get BuzzSumo
As you may know, I'm not big on SEO, but the one SEO tool I still use is ahrefs. It gives you a complete diagnostic view of how your site is performing in search. And it gives you the same complete view of any competitor website you care to know about.Get ahrefs
These are the tools you need to get work done online, efficiently and effectively.
To operate with some semblance of productivity and security online, you need a password manager. And the one we recommend is LastPass. If you aren't already using a password manager, you're probably using the same few passwords on many different websites or you've notes or spreadsheets with all your passwords written down. Both of those are terrible for your online security. A password manager will fix this security problem and also make your life a lot easier.Get LastPass
Backblaze automatically backs up all the files on your computer. You don't have to do any setup, it runs in the background and you'll basically never think of it... until you lose your data, your laptop gets stolen or your harddrive crashes. In case you're wondering why I'm listing this as a productivity tool: when the day comes where you lose your data, you'll have a really bad and really unproductive time, if you don't have a backup handy. Backblaze is a useful, convenient and very cheap solution. If you're not using a solid backup service yet, get it right now.Get Backblaze
NOTES & IDEAS
Evernote is a web, mobile and desktop app that you can use to write down your ideas and take notes. It synchronizes across all your devices and supports, text, audio, images and other media formats. The best way to use Evernote is to use it to get thoughts and ideas out of your head, whenever they occur. Periodically, process all of these notes and either discard them or turn them into documents, projects or tasks.Get Evernote
DOCUMENTS & FILES
Specification documents, SOPs (standard operating procedures), strategy and planning documents and any other business related document you can think of belongs on Google Drive. Drive is also where you can store all other files related to a business or project. Use it with the desktop app to sync your Drive folders with local files and you'll always have your business critical files at your fingertips, on any device, anywhere. Even if you are a solopreneur, I recommend using Google Drive, because once you start working with people, it is simply the best environment for keeping files in sync and working on documents collaboratively.Get Google Drive
TASK & PROJECT MANAGEMENT
If you're starting our solo, Trello is just one of many tools you can use to manage your tasks and projects. How useful it is for a single user depends on the kind of work you do and how you use it. But as soon as you start working in a team, no matter how small, Trello really starts to shine. It's free to use, highly customizable and very, very usefulGet Trello
These tools will help you set up a value based business, in which you sell digital products, services or memberships to your customers.
Note: this section is a work in progress. All the tools listed below are competent, but "best in class" recommendations may change in the near future.
You know how you know Stripe is a leading solution for online payment processing? Because every other online payment processor is desperately trying to be like Stripe. Stripe is a great, fairly priced and widely supported solution for accepting credit card payments on your website.Get Stripe
MemberMouse is the membership product we use for Thrive Themes. It integrates with PayPal, Stripe and other payment processors and gives you a lot of flexiblity in creating products, membership levels and protecting posts, pages and more.Get MemberMouse
PAYMENTS & TAX COMPLIANCE
SendOwl does some of the most boring, but also most important stuff for your business. Namely: invoices and EU VAT tax compliance. It also does some cool stuff like letting you accept Apple Pay and Bitcoin payments and adding a one-click upsell feature. Another important aspect to SendOwl is that it has reasonable pricing, whereas most other VAT compliance solutions are priced for the enterprise (i.e. stupidly expensive). Another great advantage: SendOwl automatically creates a simple affiliate program for your products.Get SendOwl
CUSTOMER SUPPORT & COMMUNICATION
Let's start with the bad news: Intercom is expensive. If you're starting out on a shoestring budget, it may not be an option. The reason I recommend it is because it's the most progressive and forward thinking customer support solution available. And apart from customer support, it also does many other customer communication jobs. If you use Intercom, there's a whole bunch of other tools (for example, live chat) that you no longer need.Get Intercom
Here are some indispensably useful tools for when you start working with a small team (whether remote or on location). What stays the same is my recommendation for Trello - it's equally useful for small teams and for solo work.
Whatever you do, don't use email for communication in teams. Trying to keep up with email threads that multiple people are involved in is a surefire way to go crazy. Slack is one of many team messaging services and it has gained a lot of popularity. For our team, it's been the best, most efficient way to keep communication flowing (even with many on the team working remotely).Get Slack
As soon as you start working with people, you start needing contracts. Whether that's contracts for employees or freelancers, non-disclosure agreements or anything else where you need legal documents. HelloSign is an easy solution for legally binding, digital signatures. That means you don't have to send paper mail back and forth with remote team members. Since HelloSign also has a free plan, I recommend using it starting with your very first hire.Get HelloSign
DEVELOPMENT PROJECT MANAGEMENT
If you're managing a team of marketers, writers or anything other than developers, Trello is your tool. But if you're managing a software development team and you need to track versions, branches, bugs and more, I recommend you start using Jira. It's a very customizable project management tool made specifically for software development and it can accommodate even large teams and complex workflows.Get Jira
CoSchedule is a content marketing calendar for teams. If you have 3 or more people writing content for your blog, it's worth trying CoSchedule, to organize who publishes what and when. CoSchedule also has a very useful social media posting feature, which can replace some standalone social media tools.Get CoSchedule
InVision is an app for design teamwork. Your designers upload their work to InVision and anyone else on the team can easily add comments and give feedback. InVision can also be used to string together several designs into simple prototypes. In short, InVision is much, much better than emailing designs back and forth until you arrive at the final version.Get InVision
Books aren't as sexy as the latest new app that promises to run your business for you. In practice, though, I've gotten far more value out of the books I've read than out of all the tools I've ever used, combined. It's insane how much value you can get for a fistful of dollars, from books. Here are what I consider the cream of the crop, when it comes to books that will make you a more effective entrepreneur and leader:
NATHAN FURR, PAUL AHLSTROM
This is a book about how to validate an idea first and then scale it to a successful business. This is an idea featured in many books, but this is the one where I think it's described in the clearest, most actionable way.Get the Book
The classic read on creating a minimum viable product and improving your product in small iterations. Definitely overlaps with "Nail It Then Scale It", but they are both worth reading, to get a full understanding of the lean approach.Get the Book
CLAYTON M. CHRISTENSEN ET AL.
This is a book about how to think about product creation and innovation. It provides a frame for how to think of what role your business plays in your customer's life. Highly strategic and very valuable.Get the Book
This book is a little verbose, but the concept it teaches is extremely valuable. It goes exceedingly well with the "customer first" and rapid implementation ideas we preach here. Follow this system and your chances of success rise significantly.Get the Book
I recommend this book because it will help you make better decisions about how to price your products and because it will train you to look for high leverage ways to grow your business. It's more strategic than practical, but useful nonetheless.Get the Book
This is a book that is only useful once you've gained some traction in your business and you're growing your team. When you reach this point, Good to Great will be inspiring and will change the way you think about scaling.Get the Book
This book will take you from knowing nothing about conversion optimization to having a deep, practical knowledge on the topic. If you only read one book about optimization and testing, this should be the one.Get the Book
Communicating with your customers and prospects is a hugely important business activity. This book gives you a great framework for reaching out to and interviewing people, to learn how to build better products.Get the Book
This books explores an elusively rare kind of CEO and leader: the kind who is so influential, they define an entire industry. Although we may never reach such a level of success, what we can learn from these leaders is immensely valuableGet the Book
The following books aren't directly about entrepreneurship, but they will help you cultivate the mindset, habits and character traits that will make you more effective, more productive and better overall.
ANDERS ERICSSON, ROBERT POOL
Becoming a successful entrepreneur relies in large part on building entrepreneurial skills. On getting good at the right stuff. Peak will give you a clear plan for developing a high level of skill at anything you choose.Get the Book
This book and "Peak" are a one-two punch of personal development and skill building. If you find yourself resisting the notion that you can build the skills needed to succeed, Mindset will provide definitive proof that you can.Get the Book
The more stressed, anxious and unhappy you are, the less effective you will be. And entrepreneurs are especially prone to stress, anxiety and burnout. That's why I recommend this book - the best one on the science of happiness that I know of.Get the Book
The age of distraction that we live in has opened up a great opportunity for people to stand out from the crowd, by working differently. This book makes one important point, elaborately. Adopting a habit of deep work is crucial to success, I believe.Get the Book
CHIP & DAN HEATH
Changing your own habit is hard. Changing habits and patterns of behavior in an organization or team is even harder. This book provides insight into why and what you can do to switch to better behaviors, effectively.Get the Book
I've found that a lot of the work I've done as an entrepreneur and CEO has involved various forms of non-fiction writing. This book is the definitive guide to this kind of writing. And you know you can trust the author, because it's incredibly well written.Get the Book