When running a global company we need some structure in place for the tools we use for multiple tasks.
There are thousands of tools on the market and you can waste hours finding and testing out new tools or services.
We have collated a list of essential tools for small business owners and entrepreneurs.
These tools can quickly become indispensable and they pay for themselves many times over. We’ve tested hundreds of different services and will continue to test more, but at this time you will find our most used listed below.
Trying to find one central tool for everything would undoubtedly improve productivity, but that “one tool” doesn’t yet exist and I doubt it ever will!
Evernote has become that “one tool” for storing ideas, memorable occasions, images and taking notes when researching content.
But when it comes to running a business with web orders, licensing software, software downloads, membership areas and thousands of customers then you soon start to reply on a number of different programs or services.
Maybe Evernote might branch out one day and take over online marketing tools!
The tools below offer free trials, low-cost entry-level plans and for the expensive ones we have provided some alternatives.
We hope you find this article useful and discover some new tools you may not have heard of and also get to know how we use them.
Customer Support Desk – Zendesk
This is the primary support channel for all of our applications. Never a day goes by when someone on our team is not inside Zendesk. James could be checking on service level times or creating new processes. Kevin and Cris will be answering the advanced technical questions or creating new articles with their teams.
Zendesk is a great platform for startup companies offering a low-end price for a single user account. It’s quite a large monthly cost for us with multiple user accounts, but support for customers is something we constantly work hard to improve.
Zendesk allows us to implement systems to filter questions to the correct departments and it integrates into our CRM. Other excellent small business customer service desks are Help Scout and Groove, both offer great features and startup plans.
Inbox Killer & Team Communications – Slack
Communication for a global team is imperative and especially when we work across so many time zones. Slack allows for us to have a central place to discuss everything and there’s no need to use email.
The advantage of Slack means you don’t have a hundred emails flying around each day with an entire team being Cc’d!
Ditch team emails and your communications will improve.
The power of Slack means we can build custom and private channels for different departments. We have open general channels so any team member can ask questions. Channels for announcements or urgent issues which each team member checks daily and we can instantly private message anyone on the team.
Our developers, designers, customer support department are also in there so we can quickly ping questions out to everyone or use private direct messaging without annoying everyone else.
Having this central place for discussion helps us become a closer team. We encourage everyone to post what they do outside of work whether it’s family photos, random snaps from the weekend or new toys…
…or links to useful content and food.
We can’t forget food can we?
One thing I’ve been trying recently is to keep all our team communications inside Slack. We do occasional chat on Skype, but there’ll be times when someone shares something and I’ll want to find it later.
Keeping all chats here makes it easier to find shared resources later.
Slack also have a mobile app so team members can always be available if they wanted.
It makes a great environment for staff learning and internal support. The fact that we can post a question any time of the day knowing it’s not going to get lost.
If I posted a question at midnight in the UK, Kevin in the USA may answer it or Cris and his team a little later on. By the time my day starts someone would have answered it. You can often open up Slack and see all the discussions from overnight.
Email Marketing & CRM – InfusionSoft
We have nearly used every feature inside Infusionsoft, but now it’s primarily used for customer management, email, and our affiliate program. We have built many complex systems and campaigns inside Infusionsoft from tagging customers to onboarding new customers with automated emails sequences and more.
We have configured Infusionsoft to pass data back and forth between iMember, Zendesk, WooCommerce, Amazon S3 and other programs.
We control access to our ClubHouse through iMember from inside Infusionsoft. Zendesk checks Infusionsoft customer accounts are valid, WooCommerce passes order data to Infusionsoft, the MarketPlace integrates and also the licensing system can pick data when needed.
It certainly is a beast that must be handled with care. We use it with complex setups that run automatically.
If you’re looking for an application that has similar features to Infusionsoft then try Ontraport. If you don’t need the shopping cart or order forms, the next best email marketing, tagging system and customer management solution is ActiveCampaign.
The low entry prices give every entrepreneur the power to build automated marketing systems, lead scoring into their business and it integrates with OptimizePress.
Membership Management – iMember 360
iMember 360 is our chosen tool for managing access to the ClubHouse and the members area where you download OptimizePress. It talks to Infusionsoft to check customer accounts and then grants access to content for that level of membership.
iMember was built specifically for InfusionSoft. We tag leads inside InfusionSoft and iMember controls what content is shown when the user logs in. It has many other neat features like auto login, custom login/logout pages, drip content and the list goes on.
If you don’t use InfusionSoft you wouldn’t need iMember360. If you want a membership plugin that works closely with OptimizePress then OptimizeMember has a wealth of features for restricting content, custom membership pages, drip content, unlimited membership levels and many, many more. OptimizeMember is included with your purchase of OptimizePress.
Shopping Carts – WooCommerce
We have tested many different shopping carts in the past and will always look at new services that launch, but WooCommerce has proven stable for what we need. It has lots of features like multi-currency, software integrations, responsive checkout, PayPal recurring and credit card processing and many more.
The WooCommerce features we use are:
- Paypal and Credit Card orders
- Account upgrades
- VAT calculations
- Multiple payment gateways
…and it connects to our mothership Infusionsoft where our automated systems take over.
WooCommerce offers a bunch of different paid add-ons to enhance your shopping cart.
Payment Gateway – Authorize.Net
Our payment gateway is managed by Authorize.Net and connects to our shopping cart. They offer comparative rates, easy to use and offer great support when needed.
Until you are processing a high volume of orders, you probably don’t need an internet merchant account like Authorize.Net.
OptimizeMember (our membership platform) allows you to integrate with multiple payment processors like Paypal, Clickbank, JVZoo and the most popular one of all – Stripe.
Stripe really does make it easy for entrepreneurs and small businesses to process credit cards with OptmizePress and OptimizeMember. If you’re just starting out then, this is a perfect merchant for taking card payments.
Project & Task Management – Asana
If you want a tool for creating and tracking tasks then we recommend Asana. This allows us to brain dump ideas, schedule new ClubHouse templates, track bug lists that have been reported and more.
Asana is fairly new to us and we are starting to use more of the features like calendars and chat. We can comment on tasks, share ideas related to each task, look back over completed tasks, upload docs and other files via Google Drive.
The advantage is being able to keep each task separate and manageable in one location. An example would be working on this blog post; once complete I could share the draft URL with the team and ask for feedback. Other members can jump in share their thoughts of headline ideas, or upload other related images. We can assign tasks back and forth to each other and set deadlines.
Asana also has a mobile app that functions pretty much the same. I use the mobile version to check on my weekly task on a Sunday night to plan my week ahead.
Internal Calls & Customer Interviews – Skype
We use Skype for our internal phone calls and meetings. We schedule a call each week to discuss and plan new content. We record any interviews with customers or have group calls that don’t require more than 5 people.
It really is a useful phone service for any small business, startup companies or freelancers. A small business can buy a phone number through Skype for £41, this gives you a local number for a year and even better it gives the impression to your customer that you have a physical location.
You can subscribe to the monthly international calls, perfect if you have clients overseas who don’t use Skype.
Social Sharing – Buffer
We have recently started using the paid version of Buffer and this certainly has increased our social engagement allowing us to share a lot more content.
Buffer enables us to schedule snippets of text, images and video from our blog post to be shared on social networks. Here are some of the features inside buffer that we use:
- Features click share image
- Highlight text and share
- Add video
- Customise different content for each network
- Bulk schedule the same piece of content
It’s simply the best tool for sharing content online.
Web Hosting (CDN) – Amazon S3
When you run a high-end traffic site it pays to have a dedicated server like Kirk Mentioned here in his OptimizePress Customer Success interview. We use Amazon S3 and Cloudfront, it’s not a simple hosting service and requires a good understanding of Amazon’s cloud network to setup.
When your own site reaches a certain level of traffic it pays to have a good host with CDN like Amazon’s cloud. While it’s a big cost to us, it’s still the most competitive price for the volume of traffic we receive. There are many little tweaks you can make to speed up WordPress and OptimizePress before you have to spend a fortune on hosting.
We have multiple servers used for different customers facing areas so we can maintain 99% uptime across the different areas of our business.
Video Hosting – Vimeo Pro
Vimeo is where we host all our videos. We have used it for years and never experienced any issues and it’s great value for money. If you plan to use it for commercial use, you need the Pro account.
Yes, that means if you plan to use it for videos on your membership site or blog. The Pro version allows 20GB uploads a week and unlimited HD plays for under $200 (£160) a year.
If you’re looking for a video hosting solution that offers other marketing tools and more advanced user tracking, then check out Wistia. It’s one of the best video hosting services currently on the market.
The only reason we don’t use it yet is because of the 200GB bandwidth limit that we would max out fairly quickly, maybe the Wistia team will read this and crack us a sweet deal…. hint hint.
Team Video Conferencing – Google Hangouts
Google Hangouts is something we tried out recently. As we build our team, it allows us to see each other when we chat, adding a little more personality into our team meetings.
Here’s a quick snap of Ian in deep thought…
We can save the recordings and send those on to other staff members. We can share screens, share files directly from Google Drive and start a hangout from pretty much any location that has adequate internet speed.
Quick Voice Communications – Voxer
I love how simple Voxer is! You know those times when you can’t be bothered to write text (SMS) messages or you’re in a hurry and don’t have time to make a phone call…?
You know those times right?
Well, this little app helps at those times. It makes sending a quick message very easy. It was introduced to me by Ian and I’ve since invited all my family and friends.
We use it for sending quick messages, schedule calls, send products ideas, reminders to check Asana if something is overdue and also to simply check in with each other.
Basically, all you do is hit the mic and talk.
I know iMessage has this feature, but you need the user’s phone number for it to work. Yes, and there’s Whatsapp and other tools that do the same.
Voxer makes it quick and easy to send a message or get someone’s attention at urgent times.
It takes seconds to ping each other a quick question regarding a project.
And we can never miss those cat moments that some of us experience.
There are literally hundred of tools, mobile apps and web apps that we use.
Here are just some of the additional tools we use for sharing docs, creating PDFs, recording interviews, editing images, editing videos, site tracking – the list goes on and on.
File Storage – Google Drive
Google Drive along with the other Google products suite is awesome. I backup everything into Google Drive. The 100GB of storage for $1.99 is well worth the piece of mind knowing that content is backed up and available ay anytime in any location.
The free version offers 15GB of space. Dropbox is another popular storage service that some of the team also use.
Online Documents – Google Docs
Along with Drive, we use Google Docs to share and collaborate on different files or projects. If we’re planning a webinar, we can create a new document to brainstorm ideas, before we bring everything into Keynote and build presentations.
We can create PDFs export files, make spreadsheets and more.
Image Capture and Annotations – Skitch
Skitch is a program from Evernote for grabbing screenshots and making annotations to images. When you see arrows on images, highlighting and blurring out of private content within screenshots – Skitch is the tool that’s done the work.
It also syncs with Evernote so your screenshots are available for sharing. It’s nearly identical to the Evernote web clipper but with more features. If you use a PC you might use something like Snagit.
There are so many tools we love, the list can go on and on. Here are some additional ones we use:
A/B Split Testing – Visual Website Optimizer
Visual Website Optimizer is the tool we use for split testing various landing pages and elements within a page. It can help us produce data for split-tested pages during launches and affiliate promotions.
Blog Comments – Disqus
To spice up our blog comments, we use Disqus comments. It has built in features like social login, good spam control, and threaded discussions. It’s easy to install on any blog and works smoothly on blog posts and pages.
Video Editing & Screen Recording for Mac – ScreenFlow
ScreenFlow is a must have tool for any online business. You can record your screen, connect a camera, record the front facing camera and record your phone screen.
You can import video for editing and produce lovely animations, export directly to video hosting services and export to many different video sizes. It’s simple to use and affordable which makes it a winner. The PC equivalent is Camtasia Studio with prices slightly higher than ScreenFlow but has many of the same features.
Email – Google Apps
We use Google Apps for our email service. It’s basically all the Gmail features for your business email. We get lots of storage, contact sharing, and all the other tools that Google roll out.
Quick Video & Image Capture – Jing
I know I mentioned Skitch above, but Jing is another great program for sharing quick videos or screenshots. The free version limits videos to 5 mins. This is a great tool for sending in quick videos of your technical questions to our support team
Web Clipping – Evernote Web Clipper
The perfect browser extension for grabbing, screenshots, articles, PDFs, bookmarks and more is Evernote Web Clipper. Everything you clip syncs to your Evernote account or you can simply share content directly from Clipper.
The tools above are the primary ones we picked out. We hope you get a little insight into how OptimizePress runs behind the scenes and have found a new tool that can help you store content, take web clips or send cat pictures to your family!
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Got A Tool You Love? – Share It In The Comments Below!
What are the top five tools you use in your business?