People frequently ask about the tools we used to build Business. What would you suggest doing to create a small, independent, bootstrapped online business?
It’s a great question. There are thousands of tools out there. It’s way too easy to let choosing your tools get in the way of making real progress in your business.
But we’ve found several that are indispensable for our business, the kind that pay for themselves many times over. These are the tools we can’t live without, or that we would be very sad to lose.
I’m going to share with you the 10 most important tools and online services we use to run our entire business.
This list is 5 years in the making. Through our years of lean bootstrapping, product development and team building, we’ve tried more tools than we can remember. In most categories, we’ve tried several alternatives, and the solution listed below is the best we’ve found.
We hope this guide and these tools will save you a bunch of time. We’ve also included other tools below, so be sure to check those out.
Keep in mind that most of these services offer free or very cheap plans to start on, and the service should start paying for itself by the time you start paying for it.
And we’d love to hear from you below. If there’s a tool you can’t live without, tell us what it is and why you can’t live without it in the comments below.
Customer Service and Communications: Intercom
Intercom has absolutely been our favorite and most useful new tool we’ve found over the past year. We started using it in 2017 and can’t believe we ever got along without it.
Intercom handles customer support, announcements and automated lifecycle marketing. With Intercom, all of our customer support conversations happen in one place, and we can automate messages based on complex behavior aimed at making sure our customers are happy and that our service is as effective for each person as possible.
Instead of sending the same one-size-fits-all set of auto responders to every customer, we send messages based on each member’s experience.
This is a far more effective way to activate customers and make sure they get the more. Intercom directly lowers customer churn and makes our product more effective for our members.
Team Communication and Inbox Killer: Slack
My happiest days are days when I spend almost no time in my inbox. Slack has made those days a frequent reality.
Our team no longer communicates with each other via email AT ALL. Seriously, we do not send email between team members. Everything happens inside of Slack.
And not only does Slack take us out of the inbox, it also makes everything happen faster because messages are real-time. Team members keep Slack open during the day without the risk of being sucked back into the email black hole.
And finally, Slack lets you integrate notifications from dozens of services, so you don’t have to check email for those either. Blog comments, customer events, social media mentions, forum notifications… those can all be sent to Slack.
There are other tools like Slack out there , but Slack’s interface and simple but powerful model stood out when we evaluated real-time group messaging environments.
Monitoring and Metrics – Geckoboard
Geckoboard lets us track all of our important metrics: signups, churn, revenue, traffic, uptime and more, all in one great looking dashboard that’s flexible and easy to set up.
Geckoboard integrates with tons of popular services out of the box, so all you need to do is click a few boxes and enter a few details. If you’re adventurous, you can completely customize Geckoboard use any data you want. We’ve customized Geckoboard to give us a complete picture of business health, from growth to revenue to churn to customer usage and activity.
Project + Task Management – Asana
Asana has become not only a favorite team tool, but also a favorite joke on The business Show (it’s so hot in the asana!). Two birds with one stone tool I guess.
Simply put: Asana is a team-based task tool that helps us keep track of what we’re each working on, and what everyone else is working on.
We use Asana to organize meetings, set weekly task lists, keep track of upcoming features, and plan our editorial calendars. It’s incredibly simple and flexible, and it’s free for up to 30 team members.
Email List Management – MailChimp
MailChimp, has become both the most powerful and easiest to use email service over the past several years. It just keeps getting better and better. We’ve used other mailing list providers before, but now everything we do with email is built on MailChimp.
MailChimp has a free plan, for up to 500 subscribers. We’ve said it before, this is the Ferrari of email services, and you can use it for free until your list is big enough that it should pay for itself.
Payment Processing – Stripe
Remember when all payment processing services sucked? They were all expensive, unreliable, they froze funds without warning, and had user interfaces from the 90s. Really, they were from the 90s, and not the good interfaces from the 90s either. The awful ones that made your eyes bleed.
It was just a matter of time until some smart, ambitious, forward-thinking and design/developer-focused new company swept in and crushed the established players.
Stripe is that company, and it has turned payment processing into a delight. We love Stripe and our business is better because of it.
Password Management + Sharing – 1Password
1Password manages all of our passwords and lets us share them between team members without worrying about sending them over some unsecure channel. It makes everything we do more secure, because we can use strong and unique passwords across all of our services.
Video Hosting – Wistia
Wistia is the ultimate in video hosting. Wistia combines buttery smooth video playback with complete device support, total customization and rich stats you can’t get from any other service.
We’ve been able to use Wistia’s API to tightly integrate the player into our business platform, so we can track which videos each member has watched, and so we can generate reports (on our Geckoboard) about how much members are using our training library overall.
Content Management – WordPress
WordPress continues to be the backbone of our business, for over five years now. Our entire site, including the membership and content management and client management, is built on top of WordPress.
You’ll need somewhere to host your WordPress site. We started on BlueHost and everything ran smoothly there for years.
Once we grew to hundreds of thousands of monthly visits and needed something beefier and faster, we upgraded to a dedicated server.
There are lots of other hosting options out there, but this hosting service never let us down after years of faithful service.
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