We’ve spent years trying out different solutions to help run our business.
Our philosophy is that in order to be the best, we need to be using the best tools. Every time we analyze a tool for our business we ask you the same question – “Is this the best option that’s currently available?”
If the answer is no, we keep searching.
We’ve spent thousands of dollars and countless hours discovering the best tools to help us run a successful company. Now, we are sharing this knowledge with you.
These are the exact tools that we currently use every day to run our business. We really wish we had a resource like this when we started, and as a result, we never recommend something that we haven’t personally used and loved. Explore this list and learn how each of these tools can help you grow your company in 2018 and beyond.
WEB HOSTING & OPTIMIZATION
WordPress powers our entire site, both our blog and our e-commerce store. We’re huge fans of WordPress because it’s so customizable and scalable. There’s a reason why 27 percent of all sites on the internet use WordPress.
In order to run your site on WordPress, you need an installation of it and a hosting service. If you want your own custom domain name, you’ll need that as well. The installation of WordPress is actually free, which is pretty incredible.
All you need to pay for is the hosting and the domain name. Once your WordPress site is installed via the hosting service, you can customize it with themes and plugins to make it your own. Some themes and plugins cost money, but most are free.
I recommend WordPress for almost any type of website. The only exception would be a large-scale, strictly e-commerce site. For that, Shopify is your best option.
Once you’ve decided on using WordPress to power your website, the first thing you need to do is figure out a hosting solution. This may sound daunting and technical at first, but given the simple tools WP Engine provides, it’s really easy.
A managed hosting solution will host your website’s files and data on their servers so that others can access them from the internet. Managed hosting solutions are low-input and cost-effective, but not all are created equal. There are many different hosting solutions, but only WP Engine is truly WordPress optimized.
I’ve used a few different hosting solutions for WordPress, but WP Engine is by far the best in terms of pricing, resources, availability, and optimization. Many of the internet’s top sites use WP Engine, such as National Geographic, Yelp, Reader’s Digest, and SoundCloud. If you want to have the best site, you need to start by having the best host.
The research and testing have been done. We’ve tested the top hosts so you don’t have to.
Create an account and WP Engine’s support team will guide you through the setup and installation process of WordPress. I cannot stress enough how versatile, powerful, and easy WordPress is to use in conjunction with WP Engine.
We use Cloudflare to manage the DNS records for our domain.
This isn’t as scary and technical as it sounds. What it basically means is that the technical, behind-the-scenes settings for our site, which occasionally need updating, are accessible via Cloudflare.
Normally, all of these settings would be managed by the company that you bought your domain from (Cloudflare doesn’t sell domains). Our preferred WordPress host, WP Engine, recommends using Cloudflare for DNS record management because of their additional site optimization and security features.
We have also found it easier to edit DNS records within Cloudflare, as opposed to GoDaddy, for example. Cloudflare is free for this basic service, but there are paid options if you want to use some of their more advanced site optimization and security tools.
WordPress Themes (Elegant Themes)
I am not a web designer or a coder. I’m not even technically gifted, for that matter. Publishing content straight to WordPress doesn’t mean our site is magically up and running. We use premium themes and plugins to manage the small changes that we make to our site.
A paid WordPress theme, like those offered by Elegant Themes, offers far more design customization than any free theme. With Elegant Themes, you can customize your site right in the WordPress dashboard without the need for custom coding. You can build your pages and posts using a visual drag-and-drop builder, similar to template sites such as Squarespace and Wix (this is accomplished through their Divi plugin which is mentioned below).
If you have any issues or want specific customization in your theme that isn’t available on the WordPress Dashboard, you can contact the Elegant Themes support team. They respond promptly and will give you the code to make the proper changes to your site. Depending on the request, they may even directly access your site and make the changes themselves.
Elegant Themes offers two themes: Extra and Divi. When you purchase a membership, you get immediate access to both. Both themes are beautifully designed and easily customizable. That, on top all the premium plugins you get access to when signing up, makes getting a subscription a no-brainer.
You can purchase a yearly subscription for $89, or get lifetime access for $249. Obviously, I’d recommend just getting lifetime access. If you plan on having your site for three years or more, the lifetime access option pays for itself. Here is a great video that explains more.
I recommend that immediately after you get your WordPress site installed, purchase a membership to Elegant Themes and get set up with one of their themes and their plugins.
Divi Builder (Elegant Themes)
The Divi Builder plugin is part of the suite you gain access to when you purchase a membership to Elegant Themes.
As mentioned above, you will gain access to both of their premium themes, which includes Divi Builder, plus all of their plugins. Regardless of the theme you choose, Divi Builder will allow you to design your pages and posts using a visual builder or a wireframe—adding columns, rows, and modules to your pages.
We’ve used other WordPress page builder plugins before, but nothing comes close to Divi Builder.
It literally turns your WordPress site into a site builder on par with those used by Squarespace and Wix. You build your pages using 40+ modules and there is absolutely no coding required. This resolves one of the main hesitations people have with using WordPress: page design.
Here is a demo of Divi Builder where you can see it in action.
Yoast (WordPress Plugin)
Yoast is the premier SEO plugin for WordPress websites. It’s one of the main advantages of using WordPress for your website instead of a template building site such as Squarespace or Wix.
Yoast gives you the tools and resources to optimize each one of your pages, posts, and products for appearing in Google’s search engine results. This goes beyond editing your HTML title tag and metadata. Yoast conducts several tests on your pages’ content to determine how optimized you are for the specific keyword or keywords you’re targeting.
It’s pretty much a required plugin if you want your site to rank on Google. The plugin is free, but purchasing the premium license for a one-time fee of $89 grants you access to a ton of extra features that will optimize your website for organic search traffic. Premium features include automatic 301 redirects, optimization for more than one keyword, and page, post, and product ratings.
If you’re serious about optimizing your WordPress site for Google search results, you need Yoast.
Though we don’t currently use Shopify to run our site, I wanted to mention it here because we know that many of our entrepreneurial readers are creating e-commerce stores. There are plugins that allow you to run an e-commerce store via WordPress (such as my favorite, WooCommerce), but Shopify offers some unique services when it comes to larger-scale e-commerce enterprises.
Shopify also includes more e-commerce features out of the box, such as a POS setup, so you can easily sell offline. You could accomplish this with WooCommerce as well, but it would require some additional plugins and configurations. If you are creating strictly an e-commerce store, then I recommend checking out Shopify.
LEAD GENERATION & SALES FUNNELS
I’m a huge fan of Russell Brunson’s software, ClickFunnels, as are their other 50,000+ active subscribers. ClickFunnels is software that allows you to build beautifully designed pages, create sales funnels, conduct email marketing, and run lucrative affiliate programs. There are three main tools within ClickFunnels:
- The Funnel Builder
The Funnel Builder
This is the flagship ClickFunnels offering. It can be used to create stand-alone pages for whatever business function you can think of. For example, ClickFunnels handles the creation of landing pages, squeeze pages, registration pages, upsell pages, etc. You can then host these pages on your site using their WordPress plugin.
Actionetics provides all of the tools that big-name email marketing service providers offer: automated email delivery, campaign creation, list segmentation, etc. Actionetics is the ClickFunnels tool that lets you really connect with your customers.
Backpack provides you with the tools you need for managing affiliate relationships that promote your products or services.
Implementing sales and communication funnels using ClickFunnels in our business was HUGE.
To date, the tactics we learned from Russell Brunson and implemented with ClickFunnels have had the biggest impact on the success of our business than anything else. I believe that every business, both online and off, should be utilizing sales and marketing funnels to grow. The only tool that allows you to do this without any coding or specialized knowledge is ClickFunnels.
OptinMonster powers all of the email opt-ins we use on our site. You can create any type of opt-in you can think of: pop-up, exit-based, full-page, sidebar, inline, mobile, floating top bar, and slide-in.
Email marketing should be the center of your entire online strategy. In order to successfully execute this strategy, you need to capture the email addresses of your site visitors and customers. OptinMonster provides the most customizable opt-in creation that I’ve seen, all the way down to targeting visitors to your site based on their geographic location.
My favorite feature, which I have yet to see elsewhere in competing products, is the ability to limit the display of pop-up opt-ins based on your visitor’s cookies. For example, if they see a pop-up with your offer once and don’t opt-in, they won’t see it again for 45 days. If they see the offer and do opt-in, that pop-up won’t display for another 365 days. Those numbers are customizable within OptinMonster.
Another way we collect our visitors’ contact information is by using quizzes.
Quizzes engage our audience, and the results ultimately provide them with value. These quizzes give us another tool for collecting the email addresses of our site’s visitors. As I have said before, the focus of your online efforts should be collecting the contact information of your visitors and customers.
The more ways you can do this, the better. Quizzes are a tool every business should use in their lead generation efforts, and Lead Quizzes is hands down the best program to use.
We use Trello to manage all of our projects, big or small.
It creates a visual representation of the progress of each of your projects and what phase they are in. Ever since incorporating Trello, we have been far more efficient with regard to project management and communication. I highly recommend using Trello regardless of your type of business.
Kanban Flow is very similar to Trello. It is a visual project management tool. We use Kanban Flow to manage the tasks of our employees in much the same way Trello is used to manage projects.
There are a ton of great features, but the one we lean on most is the individual time tracking. It allows our team to log how long they work on a specific task, and it lets us easily generate reports with time-related data. Kanban Flow makes it easy to see how long certain tasks took and who worked on them. You can utilize most of Kanban Flow’s functionality in the free version, but if you want to be able to export more detailed reports and take advantage of some of the more advanced features, you’ll have to upgrade to the paid version.
Just as communication is the bedrock of any relationship, it is also the foundation of successful business operations.
These days, instant communication between staff and team members is a must, and email isn’t the most efficient way to communicate within an office. Slack is a game-changer for us. We have a distributed team, and constant contact is a must.
Slack removes the friction and barriers associated with email and leaves behind a team messaging app that is intuitive and easy to use.
ACCOUNTING & PAYROLL
Xero is a cloud-based accounting solution that can handle all your accounting and bookkeeping needs, regardless of your company’s size. Every business should have a cloud-based accounting solution. You should NOT be managing your accounts in a spreadsheet—it’s simply not efficient anymore. Some of the features that make Xero our favorite accounting software:
Xero has an excellent user interface that is extremely intuitive and easy to learn quickly.
Repetitive tasks can be automated.
Categorizing expenses by hand is a real drain. While conditional rules are a fairly standard feature of accounting services, Xero’s automation features are particularly robust. Transactions are automatically categorized per rules you create to get a clear (and accurate) picture of expenses at a glance.
Reports can be infinitely customized.
Reports can be published at any time and contain live, up-to-date data. In addition to standard reporting functionality, custom reports can be generated from scratch and published at a moment’s notice as needed.
Xero can be used to send invoices.
Xero partners with Stripe to allow users to create and send branded invoices. Invoices are completely customizable; instructions, follow-up emails, payment reminders, et cetera are managed right from the Xero dashboard.
Xero integrates with payroll software.
We use Gusto to manage 100% of our payroll and HR needs, and Xero integrates cleanly with Gusto. More integration means fewer headaches—all transactions are automatically coded and categorized as they come into the software. Before I knew better, I used QuickBooks. Without a doubt, Xero is much easier to use.
Before we started to hire employees, I was deathly afraid of the HR and payroll process. It was a complete black box and I was certain I was going to have to hire someone to manage it for us.
Then I discovered Gusto—the all-in-one HR, payroll, and benefits company.
Gusto is incredibly easy to set up and use. It takes care of pretty much everything you need to run a company with regard to HR, payroll, and benefits. At such an affordable price, there isn’t another service out there that has as robust an offering as Gusto. If you’re looking for an HR, payroll, or benefits provider, definitely check out Gusto.
Guideline manages our company’s 401K plan. I used to think that only really big companies could administer 401K plans, but Guideline showed me that clearly is not the case.
Guideline was super easy to set up, is extremely affordable, and integrates directly into our payroll provided by Gusto. After setup, there is virtually no ongoing maintenance needed other than changing your contribution level, should you so choose.
American Express Business Gold Rewards Card
Every company should have at least one credit card.
Credit card companies realized a long time ago that businesses were an untapped customer pool. Now the competition is fierce between card providers, and that means many credit cards designed for businesses come with rewards programs, benefits, and perks.
The Amex Express Business Gold Rewards card earns points that are redeemable for gifts, travel credit, and account credit. We use our Amex business card for all our recurring charges—such as software subscriptions—as well as for our advertising expenses.
When you sign up for the American Express business card, you can get 50,000 bonus points for spending at least $5,000 in the first three months. You can apply online and get a decision in as little as 60 seconds.
Chase Ink Preferred Card
Sometimes it feels as though credit cards are the potato chip of the financial world—you can never have just one. For entrepreneurs who are always on the road, the Chase Ink Preferred card is a great fit.
Why We Like It
The Chase Ink Preferred card gives me confidence when my business takes me out on the road. They offer:
- Travel and Emergency Assistance Services
- Roadside Dispatch Benefits
- Auto Rental Collision Damage Wavier
- Extended Warranty Protection on Qualifying Purchases
And of course, no business card would be complete without a juicy signing bonus. Right now Chase is offering each new business owner 80,000 business points after they’ve spent $5,000 or more within the first three months. That’s the equivalent of $1,000 in travel credit.
HIRING & TRAINING
Fiverr has been called ‘a freelance marketplace for the lean entrepreneur.’ It is a massive marketplace of on-demand freelancers who are fast, affordable, and professional. Just about anything you can imagine needing (and probably a few things you have never thought of) can be found on Fiverr.
Leverage the skills of others, inject a little wiggle room into your workflow, or simply get it done with Fiverr.
Whenever we need to hire a new freelancer, the first place we look is UpWork. UpWork is the premier freelancer marketplace, with tens of thousands of freelancers covering every single skill set imaginable. From graphic design to administrative assistant work, UpWork provides a wide range of talent and prices to fit any budget.
Udemy’s mission is to improve lives through learning, and this tech-savvy course marketplace delivers on that promise. Udemy is the number one self-paced learning marketplace right now with individualized courses, expert instructors, and even a plan for businesses to use as outsourced professional training.
Camtasia is the premier screen recording and editing program on the market. If you have seen a high-quality screen recording video, it’s most likely been created using Camtasia.
The software allows for the capture of multiple video inputs, so you can record yourself via webcam while also recording your screen. The editing software is really robust and allows for features like zooming in on a section of your screen, blurring out sections of your screen, and freezing screen sections.
You can also add standard video editing elements such as transitions, fade, and text overlays. Once you’ve finished editing your video, you can export it directly to YouTube or save it locally on your computer. Camtasia is perfect for training videos, video courses, and similar projects. Here is a Camtasia video demo.
FILE HOSTING & BACKUP
We learned the hard way that you need to have all of your files backed up on at least one extra system.
There’s a saying in the world of file storage: if it’s not saved in three places, it’s not saved at all.
We back up each and every one of our files via Carbonite’s cloud backup service. This way, if anything ever happens to our external hard drives or our Google Drive account, we can retrieve what we need from the last Carbonite backup. I love Carbonite because it’s constantly backing up the files on your selected drives as you change them. Everything is automatic and it’s extremely easy to set up.
You need to back up your files, and Carbonite is easily the best solution.
So much of our business uses Google Drive. It’s essentially our own network directory where we store all of our documents, videos, images, and other files. Since we store all our files in Google Drive and all our team members have access, we don’t need to constantly message each other to request files.
Storage is cheap, and your files are accessible on any device right from the Google Drive app or by logging in to your Drive account on your browser.
Google Analytics provides all of the data you could ever want about your website. It shows you how many visitors your site has had, what pages they were on, where they are located in the world, what devices they used, when they were accessing your site, and how long they spent on each page. In order to test and successfully improve your site and online marketing efforts, you need data. Without this information, it’ll be impossible for you to measure the effects of anything you’re doing online.
Having the Google Analytics code on your site also enhances it with regard to SEO. For that reason alone, you should set up Google Analytics.
Google Search Console
Google Search Console shows you all of the organic search data for your site. It reports your site’s average position in the search results for specific keywords. It also reports how many impressions and clicks you received from that keyword. This is the best way to measure the effectiveness of your SEO efforts. You can see how you’re ranking for your focus keywords and also discover new keywords you might not have realized you were ranking for. Google Analytics also shows this data, but I have found it much easier to view in Google Search Console.
Grasshopper is a virtual business phone system. It allows you to create a phone number for your business so you don’t have to use your personal number as your business number, which is totally unprofessional.
With Grasshopper you can create your own unique 800 or 888 number, or create a local number with the area code corresponding to your business location. Besides receiving calls, you can also conduct outgoing calls from the number you set up. You can have incoming calls forwarded to your own personal cell phone; there is no need to go out and buy a separate business phone.
Additionally, you can create a custom menu that forwards all incoming calls to certain numbers based on the caller’s needs. For example, you can have them press 1 for customer service and they will be forwarded to the number you designate as your support team.
Hootsuite allows you to manage multiple social media accounts in a single dashboard. You can add all your business accounts and monitor your mentions, schedule future posts, and interact with your fans and customers. It simplifies social media for your business, so you don’t need to have six tabs all open at once, copying and pasting links and content from one platform to the next.
A particularly useful feature for Chrome users is the Hootlet Chrome browser extension. It allows users to post right from the content without leaving the content page. Curating content can be done professionally and with a few clicks of the mouse. Every business should be using social media to grow, and Hootsuite is a required tool if you want to do this efficiently and successfully.
I’ll admit it—I’m terrible at spelling. If I was left to my own devices without any support, I wouldn’t be able to make it through a single sentence without misspelling at least three words.
Grammarly is a free tool that automatically checks your spelling and grammar as you write. You add it directly to your browser via a Chrome extension. The extension will also give you an explanation for why the recommended grammar is correct so you can actually improve your writing skills for the future. Everyone should be using Grammarly to become better writers and better communicators.
Adobe Creative Cloud
It’s safe to say that without Adobe CC we wouldn’t have a business. The suite of apps that are included with an Adobe CC subscription is the backbone of everything we do. Our design team uses the included programs such as Illustrator, InDesign, Photoshop, and AfterEffects every single day.
They are the standard for creating professional designs and graphics across the world. Every professional designer swears by the Adobe suite and for good reason. These Adobe programs used to be really expensive which prevented many individuals and small businesses from using them. Adobe recently created the Adobe CC subscription that allows you to pay a small monthly fee and have access to ALL of their apps– including those I’ve mentioned above.
In order for your business to be successful, it has to look the part. At an extremely affordable price, Adobe CC gives you the tools to do just that. You can trial many of the apps in the suite for free.
There are hundreds of thousands of fonts out there. Our design team uses MyFonts to make our products, creatives, and site stand out from the crowd. There are thousands of different fonts available and more are being added all the time. Fonts can be used on the web or they can be directly integrated into the Adobe CC so you can use them directly on your computer. There are a variety of different monthly and yearly subscription plans that will give you unlimited access to a ton of different fonts.
Moo is our go-to shop for all branded paper products for our business. You can upload your own designs or choose from a wide range of beautifully designed templates. The paper quality is a step above the rest and the customization abilities allow you to create something truly unique.
I always get compliments on our business cards because they really stand out compared to the standard material and quality most people use. Make a great first impression with some business cards from Moo. I was able to hook you guys up with a discount code as well. Click below to get 20% off your first order from Moo.
Our design team uses stock photos and videos regularly. They always start their search at Shutterstock. Shutterstock has over 170 million high-quality, royalty-free images, video clips, and music tracks. With such an enormous library, you’ll always find what you’re looking for at Shutterstock. Royalty-free means that once you purchase the license to the photo or video, you can use it however you’d like, including in commercial projects. There aren’t many comparable catalogs of stock images and videos on the web.
HP InstantInk is your own personal digital ink assistant. Your printer lets HP know when it’s time to reorder and replacement cartridges are sent straight to you before you run out. Reorders are only triggered when ink levels are low, so you never have to keep too many cartridges on hand (or pay for supplies you don’t need!)
The InstantInk program is a lifesaver, headache-reducer, and simply genius system all rolled into one.
Stamps.com is a convenient, affordable way to create a shipping department out of thin air. We use their service to manage orders, generate shipping-ready labels, and receive instant tracking numbers to share with your customers.
BUSINESS PLAN WRITING RESOURCES
Are you a fledgling entrepreneur? A first-time novice who has the passion and ambition but lacks the detailed blueprint for small business success?
These business plan resources will help you not only get your head in the right place but also get you started on the right track. A business plan is not just your personal checklist. It is a roadmap for your investors, the people who will be providing your business with the necessary cash infusion that will allow your dreams to take flight.
FREE BUSINESS BOOKS
What’s better than free? Free things that you’ll actually use.
Even better than that? Free things that really should be worth a heck of a lot more. Russell Brunson is the sales and marketing genius behind ClickFunnels. ClickFunnels is currently the fastest-growing non-VC-backed SaaS product. As mentioned above, we use ClickFunnels and we love it. Brunson has written two books on the topic of business development, Dotcom Secrets and Expert Secrets, and they are some of the best out there to date. They are hyper-consumable, highly actionable, and extremely valuable.
For a limited time, Brunson is once again offering them for FREE (just pay shipping). There is no way this promotion is going to last forever. We’ll maintain the links here for as long as the books are free, but they go away once the promotion ends. Grab yours before they’re gone. Also, check out my reviews for both titles below, and get my comprehensive companion notes. I can’t say enough good things about Brunson or the Secrets titles.
OUR BUSINESS BOOKS
Our list of small business resources wouldn’t be complete without a selection of our Small Business QuickStart Guides. These handy tools cut straight through the confusion and the mess of starting your own business with simplified information that is clear, concise, and highly actionable.
INFORMATION ABOUT AFFILIATE SALES
Some of the links in this post are 'affiliate links.'
This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, ClydeBank Media will receive an affiliate commission. We only review and recommend products and services we personally have used and have found valuable. We would never recommend a product or service to you that we don't think will improve your business, or that we haven't vetted.
Affiliate sales help us maintain our blog and produce new content on a regular basis. Our affiliate relationships do not impact our editorial decision-making process.
Any and all opinions expressed in this, or any of our posts, are those of the person expressing them and do not reflect the opinions, policies, or positions of ClydeBank Media.