The Ultimate Online Business Toolkit for Smart Entrepreneurs

Mind Map Your Online Business Toolkit:

One of the questions that I get asked almost immediately after I answer “what on earth were you thinking leaving a 6-figure cushy corporate job?”, is the how-to part to starting my own online business after being an employee all my life!

Click on the image to enlarge:


Survival-Kit-Entrepreneur-MindMap

In particular, the questions are:
What do you use to run your online business?
What are the best tools and applications?

I used to spend hours, weeks and even months researching every tool and technique for running an online business. I used to experiment with every app, system, plugin or program that I could get my hands on. After two years, I found the few that work seamlessly together for my business. If you want to skip that search process, this blog post is for you, babe!

Oh and I did not have a fancy MBA to draw upon, only an engineering mind with an undeterred heart to make entrepreneurship into a beautiful reality. If you are an entrepreneur and not know it, you will have a better idea after this post. Persistence and high spirits are some of your best friends on this road, but today, we are talking more techie and practical stuff in this ultimate survival kit for the new entrepreneur in you.

10 Tools for Your Online Business Toolkit

If you are starting your business today, you want to build one with a strong online presence and a solid unique brand as well as a great reputation in the online world, which is actually a real world with real people and companies behind it! These are my top recommendations for you as a basic survival kit as you foray into the fabulous world of entrepreneurship and self-employment:

1. A Professional Website and Blog:

You Need a Website, if you want to do business beyond the local market. I will admit I had a very successful interior designer who attracts top clientele and does 100% of her business from referrals. She doesn’t believe in “websites”. If that’s you, you might want to stop reading my opinion now!

Referrals are fabulous and if you only want to make money, which is equally fabulous, it might not behoove you to bother with a website. If, however, you want to build a brand, share knowledge on a platform, position yourself as an authority in your field, and deliver value to all your potential customers – the ones who can and will pay top dollar as well as the ones who just want free information – then you need a website. A great one.

Since this is no longer the 1990s, a website is your platform. It is not a static page to spit out information that used to be on some stale brochure. Your website is ALIVE and it’s your center for connecting with people whom you can serve. These are your readers, followers, fans, potential customers or clients, or even passers-by browsing the internet. Make your website a good one.

Tools of the trade:

Publishing Platform: WordPress, which is the single best publishing platform online.
Blog Theme: First, I used and loved Thesis, a theme which served me well from 2009 until late 2013. Now we proudly run and LOVE Genesis by Studio Press.
Hosting: Used to use Bluehost and recommend them for the starting entrepreneur.
Website design: Bruce Rodgers of Studio 139 Software is your go-to man for the most caring service and top website design at affordable cost.
Scrivener: Writing your first book or e-book? Use Scrivener, the ultimate writing & organizing tool for serious writers and authors.

2. Email Marketing Strategy:

I love email, but I’m not the only one! Email is one of the oldest tools for electronic communication (back when we had such a term!) and it remains one of the most intimate forms of communication online. It is one of the most powerful ways to communicate with your readers and fans IF you know how to use it and if you look at it as a way to build a relationship first, then and only if appropriate, move to transaction.

Email marketing is a great opportunity to explore your story-telling and writing skills. It gives you great practice with learning these necessary skills:

How do you create an email that readers yearn to read?
How do you connect with your readers as you express your passion for your business and give them something that makes a positive difference in their lives, all with an email?
And most of all, how do you build trust?

Tools of the trade:

I have been using Aweber now since November 2010, and even though I’ve had a few complaints with them, they are by far one of the best services out in the market for what you pay. The first month of your service is free, and you can export existing list from Feedburner over to Aweber. Or just start your new list. Over the last 2 years, they have added new features, and improved their interface. Get started with your email list on Day 1 of your business.

3. Communication Powerhouse Tools:

While email combined with blogging is a great foundation and way to communicate, you will want to have tools to go beyond that. At its simplest, you want to use one of the most commonly used communication platforms for business owners, Skype. (Stay far away from Oovoo!) Skype is free and brilliant and with Call Recorder, which was a $20 plugin for Skype, you can record all your video and audio calls.

If you want to have a more professional conferencing tool, my absolute favorite is GoToMeeting. I’ve been using it now well over a year. I use GoToMeeting to do all my client calls where we can interact, share screen – Skype can get unreliable with screen sharing – and record the entire exchange. In addition, GoToWebinar is a service also offered by the same company for larger webinars and programs you may want to offer as a training or information sharing medium.

My word of warning against the free conferencing tools: every time I have been on one as a participant, the quality and reliability has been beyond disappointing. As a professional entrepreneur, your reputation is important so don’t be cheap when it comes to your communication services.

4. A Real or Virtual Assistant:

I wish I had started getting help sooner. Today, my husband is my full-time business partner and he does everything that I specifically did not wish to do in my business, including scheduling all my appointments, handling all the tech support, doing all the financials for the business, being the videographer for the business, and doing all the video and audio post-processing, among other things.

Who is helping you? And what makes you think you must do it alone? Remember, this is not about proving a point. Get an assistant. You can go to a real company to hire virtual assistants or check out oDesk or eLance for their services.

Also, be honest with yourself. If your VA doesn’t work out, then part ways before you invest too much time in a relationship that does not seem likely to work.

5. Robust System for Content Creation and Backup:

If you want to create a brand, leave a mark and have an online business, you need to create content. Great content. Regularly. The medium – text, audio, video – is up to you but content you must create, my dear!

Tools of the trade:

My indispensable tools for content creation are Evernote as well as Dropbox, for storing and saving your data in the cloud, baby!

I also use a mind mapping software to brainstorm for my own projects – see the image above as an example – as well as to work with my clients on solving problems and exploring options through the power of mind maps. I use Mind Manager by Mindjet and it’s worth every penny, but there is also FreeMind which is a free tool and seems to do the job.

6. An Audio Podcast or Video Blog:

I started podcasting The Daily Interaction show in 2011 and the more time passes, the more I realize the power of podcasting. In 2013, podcasting was one of the biggest topics at the New Media Expo conference, and all the hot players in the online business now have a podcast.

I also have a video blog that focuses on helping aspiring corporate employees to rise up the corporate ladder the right way.

I generally don’t care to do something just to “follow the crowd” – if you do, that’s reason enough to podcast! – but I do believe that you reach a massive audience with your podcast that you would not otherwise be able to reach with your blog or website. The audio medium also builds an intimate relationship with your listeners more so than blogging and today, I absolutely recommend podcasting as a survival kit for the new entrepreneur.

And don’t just create an audio podcast. Also listen to inspiring podcasts.

Tools of the trade:

I record into my Edirol with my Heil microphone. You don’t need a fancy Heil microphone but you need a good one because audio quality matters more than you think. I post-process using Audacity, which is a free software, and I load my podcast onto both iTunes and Stitcher.

7. A List of Your Services and Packages with Pricing:

You need to decide if your business will offer products or services or both. The quickest way to cash is the transaction of your services in exchange for money.

If you decide to do this, just create a page with all of your services in detail as well as your pricing. Create packages rather than charging per hour. And communicate your prices openly and proudly without ever apologizing for them. Just make sure you are clear in what you deliver and how you collect payment.

8. Your Own Product Suite:

I believe that if you want to build wealth, rather than just make money, you need to create your own product suite. This is an amazing road to explore and you will learn so much about yourself and your creativity and skills you did not even think you had. You will also create a means to passive or less active income streams and this can build your business alongside whatever else you offer. Plus, it will position you as a voice of authority in the marketplace and set you apart from others.

Tools of the trade:

I use the tools above to create the content in addition to using Screenflow to create presentations and one of my most favorite tools at the moment, Scrivner, to write books. You can also use Microsoft Office Suite just fine. These are just my favorite tools. The idea is to create those products.

9. Reliable Invoicing and Expensing Tool:

You have got to stay organized from the very beginning when it comes to doing the money side of the business. The best way to start is by using a reliable system for invoicing and project tracking (as applicable). The more time you spend setting up a smart system up front, the less time you waste later. You take your pick!

Tools of the trade:

I have been in love with Freshbooks for years now. I have the highest level of service with them and keep track of all my clients and expenses. I also use PayPal, and while I can’t say that I love PayPal, I am grateful that this service exists. You can certainly get a merchant account but at a minimum, use Paypal and Freshbooks and set up a nice workflow for collecting payment from your customers.

10. A Strong Social Media Presence:

This dynamic medium changes daily if not more often but at a 30,000 foot level, you need to have a social media presence. You can decide the extent of it, and you need to feel your way through this one but go into it with a determination that whatever platform you choose to use, use it well and give it a fair shake. I am in all the major social media places because each has shown me its power and its benefits, and no two are the same. I suggest you start with just two and then expand beyond that.

Tools of the trade:
LinkedIn: Your profile on LinkedIn is no longer a resume. It is a way for potential business partners, clients, customers, and sponsors to find your business. Spend time on building this out because LinkedIn is a professional powerhouse!
Twitter: Use Twitter if only to follow role models and key influencers and be in the loop. I love Tweetbot but this one is a personal choice.
Facebook: Yes, yes I know. I hate Facebook too. I hate the schemes and the dictatorship they run but I also love that my friends and fans use it. I go where they are.
Instagram: Love the power of Instagram communities, tagging and following challenges, especially around yoga in my case.
Google+: With the addition of communities on Google+ and the way you can connect without worrying about “friending” or boundaries of that nature, I love using G+ (follow me) to connect with like-minded people.
Pinterest: I’ve started to see the subtle powers of Pinterest and apply it selectively to where it fits my business. The best application: My Greenterest board where I curate the best juicing photos on the inter-webs in one place.

So there you have it! These are the bare minimum of tools and systems in your ultimate survival guide as a new entrepreneur. You will come across thousands of other tools, widgets, plugins, programs and applications and new ones are coming out every day. Choose wisely and stick to the ones that work well and then focus on running your business!

And if you are a new entrepreneur reading this, take heart, it’s a great journey and with beautiful ups and downs. Once you are in it, you can never go back to being an employee. So use your smarts, your relentless heart to make it work and your persistence to keep going and to stop only after you have tasted the sweet success of work and play on your own terms.

What tools and applications would you recommend to a new entrepreneur today? Share your thoughts in the comments. Remember, the recommendations here may apply to you in its entirety or you make take away bits and pieces that fit your business model.

Disclaimer: I use affiliate links in this post for products that I absolutely love and heartily recommend.

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  • http://hernextstep.com Darlene Cary

    Roboform.com has been a useful application I use with my browser to automatically fill in Logins online. A real timesaver, and the free version is all I need. Thanks for a valuable post!

    • http://www.ProlificLiving.com Farnoosh

      Darlene, how wonderful to see you here. Hope your business is going fabulously. I have heard of roboform. Thanks for the idea! And for dropping by.

  • http://habitbuild.com David

    I’ve been starting to use Trello (http://trello.com) for keeping track of my to-do / doing / done work. I like it because each item is its own discrete card, with its own discussion thread (great for notes or team collaboration), that I can move drag & drop around the board. And it’s a visual list, which I really like. And it’s FREE! Can’t beat that!

    A startup that I’m working with right now is using BaseCamp (http://basecamp.com) — not free (although it does have a free trial), but a GREAT tool for collaboration with a team. To-Do lists, discussion topics, central repository for files, and you quickly & easily see what everyone’s been up to. I think this will probably be my go-to project management tool in the future.

    • http://www.ProlificLiving.com Farnoosh

      Hi David, thanks for sharing! I Have not heard of Trello but I have used Basecamp and it was alright. You like it a lot? I am in love with Asana which is FREE and excellent for collaboration. Great to know about Trello though I’ll check it out. Thanks for stopping by!

      • http://www.ansleyRDgroup.com Jason Ansley

        In my “corporate” career one of the responsibilities I held and Director of Business Technology was to review software solutions and ensure the company had the most functional tools in place.

        Basecamp is a good entry level system, but it lacks the power of Asana.
        Similarly, Trello does not provide basic tracking and integration functionality. It is almost like Pinterest from the “board” concept (yet drastically different). In Trello you have “cards” that function much like Mind Maps, yet is it liner (vertical or horizontal) there is no connecting of ideas.

        Instead of Trello, I recommend MindMeister and Evernote.

        But getting back to the POWERHOUSE…Asana is a God-send and extremely affordable for the beginning (free up to 30 team members) and scalable into the medium to large (corporate) entities.

        Jason Ansley
        ansleyRDgroup

        • http://www.ProlificLiving.com Farnoosh

          Hi Jason, thanks for your tips. I’ve used basecamp too and I much much prefer Asana. Thanks for sharing all of your ideas and please do come back to share your insights…..

  • http://alwayswellwithin.com Sandra Pawula

    What a great roadmap! I’m sure it will safe tons of time for many new entrepreneurs. I’m far from this sophisticated, but I do love Scrivener in particular.

    • http://www.ProlificLiving.com Farnoosh

      Sandra, thank you so much …. I LOVE Scrivener too. And I don’t think I am using even close to half of all its features. Are you writing your books on there or just blog posts?

  • http://experiencelifefully.com Adrienne

    Hi Farnoosh,

    This was very timely, as I’ve been sorting through a lot of these aspects of becoming an online entrepreneur! I have more questions here than suggestions…I hope that’s ok. ;)

    I’ve only recently started getting into Evernote, but I feel like I’m still falling short of it’s true potential. How exactly do you use it? Do you have any good go-to references for learning more about its potential uses?

    Also, I’ve been using Aweber as my email service for quite some time, but I’m just not realizing the real benefits behind an actual “email campaign,” rather than just blog broadcasts. Do you by any chance have any additional thoughts or references for creating really effective email campaigns?

    You and several other people have mentioned Dropbox lately. I just haven’t quite figured out what types of things people use it for and if I really need it. How do you go about using that one?

    And by the way, luck you with the assistant husband! ;-) I’m hoping that once I get my yoga business truly running and making a profit that I can bring my mom on board for that position. She’s not tech-savvy at all, but I’m really hoping I can somehow get her trained.

    And since you asked, I suppose my all-time favorite when it comes to everything I’ve learned and use for my website are:

    1. MacJournal. This is where I write all of my posts, keep all of my ideas organized, and where I take all of my notes for various trainings that I do. I think I would seriously be lost without it.

    2. Catalyst Theme (for WordPress). I know you recommend Thesis–I’ve never used it so I can’t compare–but I can’t even begin to explain how much I love Catalyst. It’s enabled me entirely create my own website without the use of a web developer. Yes, it definitely takes some time, research on the forums, etc. but for me it’s been a lot of fun and totally worth it.

    Thanks–I look forward to any additional insights you can offer!

    • http://www.ProlificLiving.com Farnoosh

      Hi Adrienne,
      So many questions. :) OK I won’t be able to go into as much detail as I’d love but here are some thoughts:
      - Evernote and Dropbox store your data in the cloud so you don’t have to use computer hard drive space. That’s the biggest benefit. Second benefit is that you access your data remotely on other devices. You can practically have everything in Evernote + Dropbox and never use your computer hard drive space IF you wanted to so if you have a hard drive crash or something, your data is safe and your data is your gold of course…..
      Evernote expert, like I said, Daniel Hayes at simplelifetogether.com he did some great podcast episodes on it.
      Aweber: That answer is really long. I don’t even just broadcast my blog posts. I write emails with stories, content that is not on my blog and information that I don’t share here on the blog and then pick and choose blog posts that I send. I use my email to build relationships and at the right time to market what I have to offer… you want a more long term strategy with plans in place for your email marketing. Best to subscribe to some of your role models and see how they use email, maybe even in the yoga space??
      Hope this helps!! Good luck wtih your yoga business :)

      • http://experiencelifefully.com Adrienne

        Haha, I know, lots of questions. ;)

        Makes sense what you pointed out about Dropbox. I can see that being especially important for travel bloggers and such. I’ll see what I can dig up on Evernote from Daniel Hayes.
        As for Aweber, as you suggested, I’ve been checking out what others have been doing–so far you and Pat Flynn have been my best role models there. ;)

        Thanks!

        • http://www.yogainspires.co.uk Ntathu Allen

          Hi Adrienne….yay a fellow yogi entrepreneur. We are in the right space and Farnoosh ts is a greaTt list.q

  • http://www.lifeasadesign.com Miisa Mink

    Thank you for collecting all the ‘to-do’s’ and tools into one good list!

    Do you, or anyone, have experience about HubSpot? I’m considering building my website on it as it promises to integrate all internet marketing tools and analytics into one spot, including email marketing, SEO and so on.

    • http://www.ProlificLiving.com Farnoosh

      Hi Miisa, most welcome.
      The expert on HubSpot is my friend Marcus Sheridan of SalesLion.com, check him out. And he has always talked very highly about them. I’ve never used them. Good luck and stay on top of all that stuff!

  • http://www.primejuicers.com Rich Donahue

    Hi Farnoosh,
    Wow, you have a lot of good tools listed there. I’ve heard of most, but there are a couple of new one’s you mentioned. I haven’t heard of Freshbooks, but will check them out. Paypal has been okay for me, but it doesn’t hurt to look around.

    I’ve used MS Office products for years. I really like One Note and started using it when I was taking online classes. It syncs up with my phone too. Also, Outlook has been great for me and I’ve used it for years.

    Thanks for the wonderful article.

    • http://www.ProlificLiving.com Farnoosh

      Rich, how nice to see you back! Are you also doing the “entrepreneurship thing” ? :)))
      Are you serious about Outlook? I could not wait to get out of corporate and stop using it but you know what, it’s all about what we are used to using … And I’ll need to check out One Note. Not crazy about PayPal but you will love Freshbooks, that I promise! :) Thanks for stopping by!!!!

  • http://www.primejuicers.com Rich Donahue

    Yes and Yes :-) On Outlook, Ive tried others, but always seem to migrate back to it. Office 2010 is what I’ve been using for a long time. I’m always open to new things though. Thanks again!

    • http://www.ProlificLiving.com Farnoosh

      Force of habit, I hear you I really do – in fact, that’s what kept me at corporate for too long. If you don’t have a reason to move, why move? But I am now in a place where I am, like you, open to new things and also questioning the status quo of my technical tools and apps to make sure they are giving me everything I need in an efficient way. Thanks for the thoughts, Rich, and happy weekend to you!

  • Shawn Ryan

    I am new to the online business scene and I am starting out with affiliate marketing. I am trying to branch out into creating my own product. This article was very helpful and I will be coming back to this roadmap often. Thanks!

    • http://www.ProlificLiving.com Farnoosh

      Starting with affiliates is fine. By the way, your link was going to a blank page so I removed it. Is that the right site? Glad this was helpful to you, Shawn. I am very happy to hear it and best of luck to you!

  • http://bizhax.com Keith

    Your own product suite:

    This is what so many miss out on, it takes some powerful authority to be a affiliate blogger, but if you have a product that real people need… plus the ability to market it = winning combination!

    • http://www.ProlificLiving.com Farnoosh

      Keith,
      EXACTLY! It’s the route I have focused on since day 1 and it’s been tough, full of disappointments and hardship but there is nothing like having your own product suite and in the end, it’s really the way to push yourself outside that comfort zone to create something that wasn’t there before. Thanks for chiming in!

  • http://meronbareket.com Meron Bareket

    Great post dear Farnoosh! You should make this kit a course on Udemy!

    • http://www.ProlificLiving.com Farnoosh

      A whole course from this? Hmmm. Not sure! That’s a huge undertaking :)! But intriguing idea…

  • Melly Deen

    Love LOVE the mind-map. Maybe it’s just the colors. Maybe more. I don’t know but I get really excited with colorful visuals. Now to go and implement all of that – takes a lot of time and planning…..

    You are an inspiration, Farnoosh. Keep them coming!

    • http://www.ProlificLiving.com Farnoosh

      Melly, I might need to do a few more mind maps! I’ve started uploading them to biggerplate.com and it’s been getting some views and downloads. Which is nice. If you have fave topics, let me know.

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  • http://myimagepoetry.blogspot.in Pooja

    Hey Farnoosh,

    I have seen your interview on Radical tribe. Thanks for sharing useful information .

    • http://www.ProlificLiving.com Farnoosh

      Glad to have you here, thanks Pooja.

  • Sudhir Suvarna

    Hi Farnoosh, Hope you are doing great ?

    getting addicted to your blog….so many useful information you have put together.

    As I mentioned earlier, I intend to launch a stock photo website catering to various verticals like retail, fashion, telecoms, banking and global economy.

    I am thinking of the most effective marketing strategy….

    Do you know of any groups where I can find publishers. I was thinking of Pinterest, stumble Upon and Facebook to show case my product and linked / twitter in to connect to publishers around the world …

    Do you know of any forums for all publishers/bloggers of the world in one and where I can communicate to them when I launch my website.

    Any other inputs, glad to hear from you.

    Take Care and have a funtastic week ahead.

    Regards,
    Sudhir

    • http://www.ProlificLiving.com Farnoosh

      Sudhir, sorry for late reply here, and I hope you are doing great!
      I don’t know of any one single forum but there are dozens and dozens online. I would get on Goodreads if I were you and establish myself there. And I would work with someone to put together a marketing strategy. It’s the best investment of your time. Trust me, looking back I know and I’ve hired expert coaches to help me figure it out. I hope this helps.

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  • Marvin P. Ferguson

    Your comments about an online business are excellent. However, my problem is marketing baseball stories. I am a self publisher of three books, now available on Amazon. I have a blog and did have a website at one time. I tweet and use a facebook. However, my books aren’t selling. What am I doing wrong?

    • http://www.ProlificLiving.com Farnoosh

      Marvin, see my response above also to Sudhir – you’re not doing enough. That’s the short answer. You need to have an effective marketing strategy with a lot of thought and process behind it not a random way of going about it. I highly recommend working with a coach to put it together or spending time truly understanding book marketing. I hope this helps.

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  • vinodh

    Hi,
    a great toolkit for aspiring consultant like me.
    I have more than 15 years of full time software development experience.
    want to become independent consultant.
    Above list is the optimal road map for professionals who doesn’t know how to market themselves online.
    regards
    vinodh