Your website should be the home-base of a business online. Before you start, I highly recommend locating some references (finding some comparable sites that are attractive to you), setting some goals and sketching out your idea.
If business growth is a goal, I recommend getting out something to write on and listening to this 90 minute workshop on goal discovery and goal setting from Eventual Millionaire
Then once you have a plan, if you don’t have a domain already, you’ll need to register a web address and hosting for your site. To save you time figuring out who to use and some of the other tools (even though I think techniques are way more important that the tools used), good tools make a big difference… so below are recommendations that are both highly affordable and I know they can work well for small businesses.
Branding and Graphics:
Adobe Creative Cloud is the goto standard pros use to create. Now, the different Apps are available for $50/month (1 year commitment) or $75/month for pay as you go plans, which is great for one off projects.
Freesound.org – Looking for some sound effects for that video? Take care to use ones that are free to use commercially or attribute them in your credits.
Lynda.com helps anyone learn software, creative, and business skills to achieve personal and professional goals. Members receive unlimited access to a large library of high quality, current video tutorials which are taught by teachers who are also working professionals.
PrimoCards is a quality site for business cards printed in the USA. Shipping is a little high, but they do GREAT work, and many times, even with shipping, the printing is a better deal than using a local printer.
Think stock A word of warning about using images: make sure to use ones that are allowed. I have heard of (and seen others get) big fines for copyright infringement. Sometimes the owner will negotiate down, but it’s not worth it. I recommend shooting your own photos or buying a few images for $2-$10. Here are 12 other places you can go, but it’s hard to find every subject in the smaller sites. From time to time, I have some success with Public Domain pics found for FREE on morguefile.com. Most of the time, I just buy the stock image or take my own photos.
Webdesign and Hosting:
Bluehost “basic” hosting is ideal until you have a lot of traffic. Bluest is one of the better ‘traditional’ website hosting providers, with more control and a fair price. They have a user friendly WordPress installer, and everything you need to start your business online. I recommend getting the backup service or the paid WordPress plugin, Backup Buddy.
Theme Forest is my favorite place to get WordPress themes. Keep in mind, no template is perfect and the ‘hidden cost’ to a theme is it always takes time to setup right and look the way you like it.
Google Analytics is a very useful free tool for tracking site statistics, and is more than just a pretty interface with interesting graphs. ‘What gets measured gets controlled.’ Since 2008, Google has been adding enterprise-class features to help you dig deeper into what your audience is using, how they find you and what they look at on your site.
Pingdom Website Speed Test helps by allowing you to enter a URL to test the load time of that page, analyze it and find bottlenecks. A fast loading website has lots of considerations, but there are two good rules of thumb. First, keep improving your homepage until it scores under 9-10 seconds, preferably 2-5 seconds. Second, get each image under 100K (i.e. a jpg setting of 60-80 quality is exponentially smaller than 100%).
SoundCloud is like the YouTube for audio. It lets you upload and embed a player, with your content, on your website.
Slideshare.net offers people the ability to upload and share publicly (or privately) Keynote / PowerPoint presentations, Word documents and Adobe PDF Portfolios. Like a good web 2.0 site, you can embed the player of a presentation onto your website.
RecruiterBox – Recruiterbox provides an easy and simple way to receive and manage job applications to your company. You can include their jobs’ widget on your company’s careers page, and you will never have to worry about it again. This keeps your career site updated and all applications to your website are automatically captured into recruiterbox.
Wystia is a brand-able video player and hosting that gives better insight into how your videos are performing. This site provides a great private option in case you don’t want to have the video hosted via youtube or prefer a different look and feel. Wystia has great tips on their newsletter and in their learning area.
Mail Chimp ‘Don’t be a stranger.’ Keeping people engaged is one of the most important things you can do online. For some businesses, an e-mail newsletter is the best way to do it. Mail Chimp helps you manage an e-mail list, use templates to lay out your content, and even automate delivery. Mail Chimp offers great tools to keep your audience informed. They have a wacky sense of humor and they don’t charge a penny for a solid ‘basic’ version. Other platforms that work just as well include Aweber and Constant Contact. When you have a large list of 500,000 contacts or more, I recommend looking at more sophisticated platforms like Bronto (NC company) or Infusionsoft.
Freshbooks.com Great site for consultants to send invoices and get paid online
etsy.com Popular and easy to use site for listing and selling creative, handmade and personalized items
Shopify.com A powerful eCommerce website solution that allows you to sell online by providing everything you need to create an online store. Other platforms you might consider are BigCommerce, Volusion or wooCommerce.
Don’t forget about listing your inventory on sites like Amazon.com* and Ebay. (Having a Proseller account lets you ship your inventory to amazon warehouses so they are shown as available for ‘Prime’ Shipping.)
Gum road is my favorite digital product distribution system. Gum road can be used to manage offerings, you embed the ‘buy’ button on your site, and they handle collecting the payment (works well on mobile) and sending the digital product to your customers.
E-Junkie is the shopping cart many use to self-publish eBooks. It’s compatible with Paypal Standard, Paypal Pro, Google Checkout, Authorize.net, TrialPay, Clickbank & 2CheckOut. Works well and carries a very low flat price to use. Comes with a decent affiliate program for your products.
Paypal is the original site for selling your own products online. You’ll need an account with them or someone else to configure and accept payments from the above shopping carts. Fun fact, Paypal was co-founded in the 90’s by Elon Musk as a person to person way to send money through email. Paypal was later sold to eBay in 2002 for $1.5B in stock, of which $165M was given to Musk. With $100M he founded Space X for developing space launch vehicles.
Catapultdistribution.com If you are an independent band in the U.S., these guys are how you submit and sell your music on iTunes. They also get most of the major digital music stores like Spotify, Google Play, AmazonMP3. Alternatively, indie bands can also use cdbaby.com. Both sites usually charge on a per album basis, however you can also publish just a single.
CaFÉ – Call for Entry – Use this to help you to find galleries and exhibitions you can enter; and even send in your application to be in them. Our Raleigh Fine Art Society and Durham Art Council both use this web portal.
Fine Art America – If you have a catalog of artwork (or large format photographs), this is a place to setup and sell at your own prices print-on-demand with museum-quality prints or canvas prints.
theabundantartist.com – a good blog for those who are trying to make a living painting or get online with their artwork.
Daisy Disk This is how I clean up my mac and get gigs of space off my machine. This app analyses your disk and graphs out where the space goes.
AdBlock AdBlock is a browser extension (safari, chrome) which blocks advertisements on all web pages, even Facebook and Youtube. It allows you to browse faster, too. Most ads aren’t downloaded at all. If you advertise or are testing ads, you can toggle it on and off without restarting the browser.
Caffeine Caffeine is a program that puts an icon in your menu bar. Click to prevent your Mac from automatically going to sleep, dimming the screen, or starting screen savers.
Dropbox allows you to access your documents and files from your computers, phones, or tablets. Edit docs, share files, and work with your team like you’re using a single computer. You can get a few GB of space for free, earn more space by referring your friends, or get 1TB by signing up for a $10/month ‘pro’ account. I also like their Mailbox (mac and iOS apps) that lets you snooze emails.
F.lux During the day, computer screens look good—they’re designed to look like the sun. But, at 9PM, 10PM, or 3AM, you probably shouldn’t be looking at the sun. F.lux makes your computer screen look like the room you’re in, all the time. When the sun sets, it makes your computer look like your indoor lights. In the morning, it makes things look like sunlight again. Tell f.lux what kind of lighting you have, and where you live. Then forget about it. F.lux will do the rest, automatically.
SelfControl is a a free and open-source application for Mac OS X that lets you block your own access to distracting websites, your mail servers, or anything else on the Internet. Just set a duration for which to block, add sites to your blacklist, and click “Start.” Whenever I get caught up in Facebook, need to focus that day, or catch myself reflexively hitting time waster sites, I use this.
Sublime Text Sophisticated text editor for code, markup and prose. You’ll love the slick user interface.