Probably the question I get the most emails on is some variant of “what’s the best X?”.
And, of course, there’s no one right answer for everyone. What suits a full-time online marketer with a team behind them isn’t the same as what suits a small solo business with limited time to do their marketing in. And personal preferences play a role too.
But what I can tell you about are the tools I personally use. These are the ones that I’ve tested and I feel are the best to help me run my online business. They might well be a good fit for you too.
Tools I Use To Run My Website
I run this (and my other sites) on WordPress. Of course, there are other free tools to build websites. Some, like Wix or Squarespace, are actually much easier to use than WordPress.
But WordPress scores on two critical dimensions.
Firstly, there’s a huge range of marketing tools built to integrate easily with WordPress. Whether it’s tools to get email optins or share things on social media; the best tools that get the best results work on WordPress.
Secondly, there are a ton of freelancers, VAs, agencies and other professionals who can help build a site in WordPress for you if you need help. The choices are much more restricted when it comes to other systems.
For my main site here, I use the Astro Theme from Themeforest for the blog side of the site. It’s a beautiful, clean single column layout where all the emphasis is on the content rather than flashy widgets and sidebars. I then built my homepage and other landing pages on my site using Thrive Architects.
In fact, if you get my Client Winning Websites course you not only get tutorials teaching you how to build a website like mine, you get all the key page templates you can just load up into Thrive Architect and tweak to make them your own.
A free alternative to Astro (though not quite as pretty) is the Independent Publisher theme. I used that before I found Astro.
For all the optin forms, popups, scroll-mats and the like on my site I use Thrive Leads. To my mind it’s the most advanced optin system (for example, it lets you show different calls to action depending on whether someone is already a subscriber or not) yet it’s also one of the cheapest. Like Thrive Landing Pages it’s just a one-off fee of $67. (I actually pay an annual fee for membership of Thrive as it gives me access to all their plugins and themes).
For my membership site I use Memberium for Active Campaign. It’s the Active Campaign version of Memberium for Infusionsoft which is used by some of the world’s biggest membership sites. It’s still in the later stages of beta testing so it’s actually free to use right now and integrates tightly with my email marketing system Active Campaign (see below).
For domain registration I personally use godaddy.com as my primary registrar. Some people don’t like them, but they’re easy to use with good customer support. And because they’re big, no matter what you’re trying to do (for example configure google apps) there’ll be instructions on how to do it on godaddy.
You can boost the performance of any site using a content delivery network. Cloudflare is a free one I use. It’s a bit technical to set up but worth it.
Tools I Use For Email Marketing
Email Marketing is probably the most important component in an online business. I don’t know of any really successful online businesses that don’t focus heavily on email marketing- which may be why I wrote a book about it 🙂
Making a recommendation is pretty simple: I use Active Campaign. It provides advanced email marketing with excellent integration with CRM systems, accounting systems and a whole host of others. And unlike Infusionsoft or Ontraport, their Lite plan starts off at pretty much the same pricing level as simple systems like Aweber or Mailchimp.
You can read my review of Active Campaign here: Active Campaign Review.
A good alternative to Active Campaign that many people like is Drip. It’s got all the great automations, tagging etc. and it’s a bit easier to use than Active Campaign. It hasn’t got quite so many features or integrations as Active Campaign (for example you can’t get a tightly integrated membership system like Memberium), but if you don’t need them and you want a system that’s perhaps a bit easier to use, Drip would be a good solution for you.
Tools I use For Online Purchases
Of course, the other key tool you need to run an online business is some type of shopping cart so that people can actually pay you money (I find getting paid is a pretty essential component of any business 😉 ).
Many people start off with just a Paypal button to buy from them and that’s a great and simple way to get started. But if you want something that will get you more buyers, is considerably quicker to set up, allows proper invoicing and record keeping, handling of taxes and running an affiliate program then you’ll need a proper shopping cart platform.
The tool I’ve been using for the last 6 months is Thrivecart.
Weirdly enough, Thrivecart isn’t related to Thrive Landing Pages or Thrive Leads except for the fact that I use them all and recommend them highly 🙂
Thrivecart is one of the few shopping cart platforms to properly handle EU Digital VAT – which is one of the reasons I switched to using it. In the last few months for my business and my wife Kathy’s we’ve run literally thousands of transactions through it and it’s worked flawlessly. It has brilliant integration with email marketing systems (you can automatically add buyers to Active Campaign tags, automations and lists depending on what they buy, the upsells and other offers they take, etc. And you can trigger automations for failed subscription payments or when the cart gets abandoned).
Right now, Thrivecart is still in pilot mode and isn’t available to the general public. When it goes public it’ll be priced at something like $97 a month. But a few experienced and enthusiastic users like me are allowed to promote it before it goes public at a very special one-off price of $595 (+VAT if applicable).
You can check out the special offer on Thrivecart here – but if you’re interested be sure to take it up before it goes public and switches to monthly pricing very soon.
You can also read my in-depth Thrivecart review here.
And that’s it. Those are the core tools I use to run my online business. If you’re a solo business like me then they could well be a good fit for you too.
*Some of the links in this article are affiliate links and I’ll get a commission if you buy through those links, so make sure you do your due diligence rather than just relying on my recommendation. Though obviously all of them are tools I use and ou can see them in action on my site and in my marketing.