On January 18, 2012 many sites around the web — from small personal blogs to internet institutions like Mozilla, Wikipedia, reddit, and I Can Has Cheezburger? – will be going dark in protest and to drive their visitors to sites like americancensorship.org to take action and help fight the passage of the Protect IP Act. So will WordPress.org.
If you want to join the protest by blacking out your WordPress site or applying a ribbon, there is now a variety of blackout plugins in the WordPress.org plugins directory. While joining the protest in this manner is laudable, please don’t forget to also make those phone calls to U.S. Senators — they’re the ones with the voting power.
Strategies, strategies, you have to have those to know where you’re going with your work and actually accomplish something meaningful. But you also have to have another element of the puzzle, one that’s completely different…
You see the headline of this post so you know what it is – tools and software for small business … no matter if your online business is actually small or not, there’s nothing like a big, nice set of tools, presumably free, or at least so brilliant that you don’t mind paying.
The following list consists of various tools I use every day (i.e. very often). All of them have been tested by me, so I’m not advising you to use anything uncertain. I hope you’ll enjoy the list.
9 tools and software for small business and online entrepreneurs
1. The Captain Obvious Package
First up is a set of tools that I call the Captain Obvious Package. I didn’t want to include them separately on the list because their presence would probably get you to leave the page.
Anyway, these are tools everyone knows and everyone uses, and I’m only including them to make the whole message complete.
The Captain Obvious Package consists of:
WordPress – the ultimate solution for your website, free, lots of plugins, massive community.
Google Reader – so you can keep up with the world and be up-to-date with what’s going on.
Dropbox – a cloud service for keeping your files in an online space that can be accessed from anywhere.
Of course, there are some alternatives to all of these tools, but for me, this is the most basic package of software for small business.
This is my favorite email delivery service, or email newsletter service like some people like to call it.
All the essential features are included. You can create a number of campaigns, generate reports, send out both HTML and text emails, set up autoresponders, and lots of other stuff.
As a matter of fact check out this quick video to get some basic understanding of what MailChimp looks like:
Now the best part is that at MailChimp they have a free plan as long as you don’t have more than 2,000 subscribers and don’t send more than 12,000 emails per month.
This makes it possible to get off the ground without spending a dime. I’m sure switching to a paid plan won’t be a problem once you grow your list of subscribers and actually make some money.
3. Market Samurai
Market Samurai is a complete, all-purpose platform for an online entrepreneur, and a superb example of software for small business. There are tons of features, and the software is organized around 8 separate modules, each taking care of a different element:
Check out the review (Market Samurai review) I’ve written just lately. It covers all the most important aspects of Market Samurai and explains why it’s so valuable for every online entrepreneur.
Fiverr is a great site to get some serious work done for as little as $5. In fact, every gig you can order there is $5, hence the name.
I have some really good experience with Fiverr, mostly when it comes to link building and writing services. Once I even had my personal signature designed.
The scope of possible gigs is very big, the list of main categories includes things like: graphics, video, social marketing, writing, advertising, business, technology, programming, and more.
Payments are done by PayPal so it’s safe too. Depending on the gig and the person providing it you can expect results within hours or a week.
This is my software of choice when it comes to project and team management.
This might be particularly important to you if you’re hiring other people or work in a team with other coworkers. In such scenarios, good communication can sometimes be a challenge. Especially if you’re working on many different things, each with a different deadline.
Recent activity lists – something similar to a Facebook Wall.
Conversations – something like a simple message board.
Task manager – no explanation needed here.
Pages – if you have a need to share a bigger piece of information with your team, like a tutorial or some kind of instruction on how to perform a certain task, etc.
Files – everything you upload to share it with your team.
User and role management – you can invite new team members and assign them different roles (admin, participant, observer, etc.).
Teambox provides 4 basic plans, and there’s a free one too. In which you get to create up to 3 projects and you also get 50MB of storage space for files and attachments.
In my opinion, this free plan is sufficient enough to get a hang of the software and decide whether you want to use it regularly or not.
Check out this video for more info:
6. Remember The Milk
I simply love this tool and I’m using it every day to keep up with my personal to-do lists of tasks. It’s very easy to use and neatly fits within the GTD methodology.
The tool provides some very cool features like: tasks, due dates, multiple task lists, priorities, easy keyboard shortcuts (hotkeys), and more. Feel free to check out their tour and getting started guide.
One more thing worth noticing is that Remember The Milk also provides apps for major mobile platforms. It runs on the iPhone (it’s integrated with Siri, by the way), iPad, and Android.
Fotolia is one of my favorite sources of images as of late. The fact that they’ve given me a free membership might have something to do with it, but nonetheless, there are some great pics there.
Basically, Fotolia is a stock photography directory – a place where you can buy some royalty free photos and then use them wherever you like.
Why is it important for an online entrepreneur? Well, there’s no better way of making your content more visually appealing than by including some nice pictures. Every new post on your blog would surely be more memorable and recognizable if it had a nice picture included at the beginning, or somewhere else inside it.
As a matter of fact, check out my other post where I explain why and how to use images on your blog. And while I’m at it, if you want to find out more about Fotolia check out another post of mine where I present a list of possible sources of images for your blog.
In essence, Buffer is a scheduling tool for Twitter. Which means you can schedule your tweets to be published later.
Why? Well, this gives you the opportunity to set a scheduling calendar for your promotional tweets or/and other special-purposes postings. Also, you get some basic analytics, so you can see how many retweets and clicks your tweets have received.
Here’s a short presentation:
Buffer integrates with all the major browsers and mobile platforms (here’s more). There’s a handful of different plans, and the free one provides good enough indication of what the software is like, so you can make the decision whether it’s worth to upgrade or not.
9. The Best Spinner
The list concludes with this final position – The Best Spinner. And the name says it all. It’s the best article spinner available. Not only my opinion, but hundreds of other marketers’ as well. You can get a 7 day trial for $7, then it’s $77 a year.
Article spinning is a topic for a separate post and a somewhat controversial concept. The opinions about the practice vary across the internet. However, whatever your opinion is I just want to remind you that here I’m talking about tools, not their possible usages. Therefore, if you’re looking for a good article spinner, this is the best one out there.
It is easy to use, and once you get used to it you can create a quality spin within 15 minutes or less.
… There’s one main problem with different lists of tools like the one you’re reading right now. They can go on and on, and it’s very difficult to choose the few items worth including into a “top 5” or a “top 10” list. So I’m not trying to convince you that you absolutely have to use everything from this list.
Remember that these are just tools, they don’t matter. How you use them is what matters.
Feel free to share your own experiences with various tools and software for small business. Did you notice any issues worth sharing with others? Or maybe any tricks that make using these tools a lot easier?
The fact that I’m using images a lot on this blog is not accidental. It’s also not because I have some particular feelings towards photography and its different forms. Well okay, I do like to take a nice picture every now and then, but that’s not the point here.
The main reason why I’m using images along with my posts is because they add additional impact to them, making the posts more memorable and distinctive.
I’m sorry to use the cliché, but a picture is really worth a thousand words. Especially if it’s presented next to a post of 1000 words or more…
A couple of weeks ago we were discussing various places where you can get images for your blog. Today it’s time to answer the “how” part of the issue. So check out my guest post at ProBlogger to find out what I’m on about:
You are an agent of change. Has anyone ever told you that? Well, I just did, and I meant it.
Normally we stay away from from politics here at the official WordPress project — having users from all over the globe that span the political spectrum is evidence that we are doing our job and democratizing publishing, and we don’t want to alienate any of our users no matter how much some of us may disagree with some of them personally. Today, I’m breaking our no-politics rule, because there’s something going on in U.S. politics right now that we need to make sure you know about and understand, because it affects us all.
Using WordPress to blog, to publish, to communicate things online that once upon a time would have been relegated to an unread private journal (or simply remained unspoken, uncreated, unshared) makes you a part of one of the biggest changes in modern history: the democratization of publishing and the independent web. Every time you click Publish, you are a part of that change, whether you are posting canny political insight or a cat that makes you LOL. How would you feel if the web stopped being so free and independent? I’m concerned freaked right the heck out about the bills that threaten to do this, and as a participant in one of the biggest changes in modern history, you should be, too.
You may have heard people talking/blogging/twittering about SOPA — the Stop Online Piracy Act. The recent SOPA-related boycott of GoDaddy was all over the news, with many people expressing their outrage over the possibilities of SOPA, but when I ask people about SOPA and its sister bill in the Senate, PIPA (Protect IP Act), many don’t really know what the bills propose, or what we stand to lose. If you are not freaked out by SOPA/PIPA, please: for the next four minutes, instead of checking Facebook statuses, seeing who mentioned you on Twitter, or watching the latest episode of Sherlock*, watch this video (by Fight for the Future).
In the U.S. our legal system maintains that the burden of proof is on the accuser, and that people are innocent until proven guilty. This tenet seems to be on the chopping block when it comes to the web if these bills pass, as companies could shut down sites based on accusation alone.
Laws are not like lines of PHP; they are not easily reverted if someone wakes up and realizes there is a better way to do things. We should not be so quick to codify something this far-reaching.
The people writing these laws are not the people writing the independent web, and they are not out to protect it. We have to stand up for it ourselves.
Blogging is a form of activism. You can be an agent of change. Some people will tell you that taking action is useless, that online petitions, phone calls to representatives, and other actions won’t change a single mind, especially one that’s been convinced of something by lobbyist dollars. To those people, I repeat the words of Margaret Mead:
Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.
We are not a small group. More than 60 million people use WordPress — it’s said to power about 15% of the web. We can make an impact, and you can be an agent of change. Go to Stop American Censorship for more information and a bunch of ways you can take action quickly, easily, and painlessly. The Senate votes in two weeks, and we need to help at least 41 more senators see reason before then. Please. Make your voice heard.
*Yes, the latest episode of Sherlock is good. Stephen Moffatt + Russell Tovey = always good
Today it’s time for another edition of this small series of mine. I know that WordPress plugins are a topic widely discussed around the internet, and that there are myriads of posts on “top 10 plugins for this” and “top 10 themes for that.”
However, this series is not about showing you the next fancy thing … it’s about showing you something truly worth installing. The fact is, you can’t install every plugin out there, and hope that your blog will still be working just fine. Unfortunately, plugins slow things down. The more you have the slower your site gets. That’s why I always advise to use ONLY the essential ones.
What does it all have to do with online business? – Asks you. Well, if your site is running on WordPress, like I’ve been advising since forever, then this series is surely something you should keep an eye on. The plugins I’m presenting might come handy to all kinds of blogs, but they are especially handy to online business designers.
To be honest, today we’re going to discuss a very important matter for ANYONE who has a website. Yes, it’s that important.
The topic is backing up your site.
There’s nothing more angering than sitting in front of your computer knowing that you have just lost all of your data due to a hard disk malfunction. Trust me, I know.
Same thing goes for our websites. If, for whatever reason, we lose the data (posts, pages, all information) published on our sites then in some extreme cases it can even mean the end of our business. Think about it like if you were a bakery owner and the building you were renting would burn down…
Of course, we can’t truly protect ourselves against those kinds of things. But we can get some insurance. Such an insurance – in the online world – is a good backup policy.
WordPress users have it easy. They can download a plugin called Online Backup for WordPress free of charge.
This is a plugin I’ve been using for a while, and it works like a charm.
What it’s for
This plugin allows you to create a full backup of your WordPress site, and then have it sent to an email address or made downloadable.
By full backup I mean both the database and the filesystem.
Where you can get it
First of all, feel free to check out the site of the company that has created this plugin – Backup Technology – here you can find some basic facts about the plugin.
However, the easiest way of getting the plugin is to simply go to your WP admin panel (log in as the admin), and navigate to Plugins > Add New. Input “Online Backup for WordPress” into the field and the first result that appears is what you want.
You don’t have to do anything more than simply installing the plugin like you would install every other WordPress plugin, then activate it, and you’re good to go.
How to use it
When you have the plugin installed just go to Tools > Online Backup.
Once you’re there you can simply navigate to the “Backup” tab, and perform an initial backup.
There are 3 backup types available (image below).
The first one sends the backup to the shared storage at Backup Technology which you can sign up for. I didn’t because I’m using the plugin to create a backup, and then download it to my computer.
Choosing the third option might not be the best idea because backups can be rather large. Sending a 60MB file via email takes time. It’s much faster to simply download it.
The “Backup” tab you already know, so let’s start from the first tab on the right – “Online Backup Settings.”
This is where you can input your username and password for the storage space at Backup Technology. Again, you don’t have to register an account if you don’t want to. The plugin is fully functional without an account.
The “General Settings” tab is worth looking into because it enables you to encrypt all your backups. The plugin works with some popular encryption mechanisms. The only thing you have to do is input an encryption key.
Encryption is a safety mechanism. It ensures that only someone who knows the key can access the backups.
There are also other setting in this tab, make sure to read through them, but you don’t need to change anything. The plugin is set up optimally right from the get go.
The “Schedule” tab enables you to create a schedule for your backups (duh!). The backups can be run in the background automatically and then made available for download or sent to an email.
The “Decrypt Backup” tab is where you can decrypt your encrypted backups. All you have to do is select the backup file and input your encryption key.
The “Activity Log” tab shows the summary of your previous activity. It’s where you can access all previous backups if you haven’t deleted them.
What I like about Online Backup for WordPress
The simple fact that it works. It sounds obvious, but hear me out. I’ve been searching for a quality backup plugin in the past, and even though there were many possibilities there was always something not exactly right about them.
Some plugins were creating corrupted archive files, others didn’t include everything, or couldn’t create an exact image of the database. I mean, these are things you don’t even notice until you have to actually use the backups.
That’s why I decided to do all my backups by hand because that way I was sure that I had everything I needed to have. However, this has changed when I stumbled upon Online Backup for WordPress. It. Simply. Works.
What do you think about this plugin? Did you experience any problems with it? Feel free to let me know.
Quite recently, Danny launched his new book “Engagement from Scratch!” It’s basically a collaborative work of many authors. The likes of: C.C. Chapman, Corbett Barr, Brian Clark, Guy Kawasaki, and others.
What is it about? As the subtitle says: “How super-community builders create a loyal audience and how you can do the same!”
I had the privilege to get an early excerpt, and write a short review. This review has ended up in the book itself; nice(!) [image above]. Here’s what I had to say:
What’s interesting about this particular publication is that the individual stories of all the contributing authors tie together and create one actionable and inspirational resource. When you see a book by one single author then there’s only one approach that they give to the reader – the “good approach that has worked for me – the author.”
But here, the situation is different. Different people, with different stories, so in the end you can see that each person has a unique approach to success (and all of them good), and in the end it’s for you to decide what path you want to take yourself, or how to combine different advice from different people into your own plan.
This isn’t just a piece of hype to get you to click through to the post. There really is one truly effective way of improving your writing.
But why would you even bother? Well, writing is one of the most important skills an online business designer can have. No matter what you’re publishing on your website you need quality content. Interesting content is what makes your readers to keep coming back constantly.
Of course, there are many things you can do to grow as a writer. Some of them are free, some require investment, some are boring, and others are fun. This one technique I have for you today is both free and fun.
No joke. Just suspend your disbelief, and hop over to my guest post at hectorjcuevas.com to find out what I’m on about:
WordPress 3.3.1 is now available. This maintenance release fixes 15 issues with WordPress 3.3, as well as a fix for a cross-site scripting vulnerability that affected version 3.3. Thanks to Joshua H., Hoang T., Stefan Zimmerman, Chris K., and the Go Daddy security team for responsibly disclosing the bug to our security team.
Let’s tackle the final two months of 2011 together and publish just one regret post instead of the usual two. I don’t have any good explanation why I’m doing this other than I simply forgot about the series.
In essence, the blogging world or the online business world is mostly focused around WordPress and its various applications. However, WordPress is not the only online platform to choose from.
Tumblr is a blogging platform, just like WordPress, only nothing like it.
Tumblr was originally designed to be a simpler environment than WordPress. The platform is a bit easier to use, but you don’t get as many features, so there are both good and bad sides to it.
In essence, blogs hosted at Tumblr usually propose a more condensed experience with shorter and more entertaining posts. Is it a good alternative for you and your online business? I don’t know, so let’s find out.
Here’s a set of 6 great blog posts from the past months (November and December 2011) which I regret I didn’t come up with myself.
This is a short post by Simon where he describes some advantages and disadvantages of both platforms by using some easy to read bullet points. In the end, deciding whether you want to give Tumblr a try or not is up to you, but it’s always good to get other people’s point of view.
This is an explanation of some of Tumblr’s characteristics (like being down most of the time – a big downside to Tumblr) and a quick video tutorial explaining the basics of Tumblr’s interface. Worth to have a look at if you’ve never been to Tumblr.
So you like Tumblr, but you’re not convinced to the platform itself? No problem, you can still use WordPress, and set it up in a way so it looks just like Tumblr, and operates in a very similar way too. Find out how to do that.
I know that it sounds like a niche, but hear me out. Themes for photographers are usually slick and highly focused around presenting short posts properly (often containing just a single picture). This is what Tumblr is essentially about, so the gallery is a good example of Tumblr’s overall feel.
So far in the series we’ve been talking about services and consulting, and products – two most common business models for online entrepreneurs and bloggers. This edition is all about getting some affiliate monies!
OK, not exactly about the “getting” part. But what I want to do is explain some principles by which the model usually works.
If you don’t know what “affiliate” means it’s just a fancy word for earning money as a result of sending a customer towards someone else’s business. Or in other words, when you promote a product that isn’t yours.
The whole idea might not seem that attractive at first, and what you may be thinking is something along the lines of: “If I am the one getting the sale anyway why not simply offer my own product instead?” – this is a common and valid concern.
Yea, why wouldn’t you? Products are great, I agree, but as I was talking in the previous post, there are some downsides to them. Choosing affiliate marketing as a replacement for the product based business model might be a good choice for you if you don’t have the funds to develop your own products.
But let’s take a moment to discuss some advantages and disadvantages first.
Affiliate marketing – pros and cons
There is one main BIG advantage in going for affiliate business model – you don’t have to take care of the product development process.
Most of the time, you don’t have to take care of anything… product development, customer support, product updates, product delivery, payment processing … none of these things are any of your concern.
Your “only” job, as an affiliate, is to get someone to buy the product through your affiliate link. After that you can call it a day.
Another advantage is that your commission is usually a big part of the overall price of the product.
The standard for all kinds of digital products are commissions upwards of 50% of the total price. Many vendors offer 75% commissions, and some even go as far as 90%. So as you can see, in many cases, the product creator earns less money than you – the affiliate.
For physical products there are no standards in terms of commissions. Some vendors offer as little as 2% and some as high as 30%. But still, it’s a lot smaller percentage than for digital products.
That being said, even though the percentage might be smaller, physical products are usually more expensive, so in the end you might earn more promoting an expensive physical product than a cheap digital one.
Continuing with the advantages. There are thousands of products you can promote as an affiliate. Really, the marketplace is very wide, so you can find affiliate products for almost any niche.
Another thing, good affiliate programs also provide their affiliates with various promotional material, like: banners, images, promotional emails, keywords for AdWords, and much more.
Now what everybody has been waiting for … the disadvantages.
First of all, in most cases you don’t get to keep the customer. What I mean is that when you’re selling your own products, for example, you get the customer’s email address, so you can put them on your mailing list and contact them next time you have something interesting to sell. This enables you to make multiple sales from just a single customer acquisition.
There’s rarely such an opportunity with affiliate marketing, at least not at the time of selling. So by default the customer goes to the product owner, and it is the product owner who gets to keep this customer’s contact data.
Starting with affiliate marketing is rather simple, from a technical standpoint. Every affiliate program provides you with your own unique affiliate links. So all you have to do to earn your money is to get someone to click through your link and buy whatever is on sale.
Of course, the “get someone to buy” part is the most challenging here. In essence, promoting someone else’s product as an affiliate is not much different from promoting your own product.
You still have to convince people to take action and make the purchase, so it won’t necessarily be easier than promoting your own stuff.
You can try implementing all promotional methods you know, there are no rules here. Text links, banners, promotional emails, videos, sales letters, etc.
If you don’t know if affiliate marketing is the right choice for you, consider this one additional idea.
Affiliate marketing is really good at checking the field and making sure that people are interested in a specific type of products. This is the kind of knowledge you can (and should) use when developing your own products.
Here’s what I mean. When you’re planning on creating a product and promoting it in your business you can start by doing a test, and promoting an affiliate product first. Something that is in some way similar to what you have in plan.
After the promotion is done you can look at your results and, to some extent, predict how your own product would perform. If you are satisfied with the results you can go one step forward and start developing that product.
All this testing is to make sure that a situation where you create a product and then find out that no one wants to buy it never happens.
This one thing just might be the biggest value of affiliate marketing. I’m not saying that it is … but it might be.
OK, I hope we have this business model covered. Feel free to comment and share your insights. Is there something else I should have mentioned here?
Next parts of the series are coming soon so don’t forget to come back to get them. Feel free to subscribe to my RSS feed or email updates to get the posts delivered to you the minute they are created.