We’re Letting You Into Our Secret Vault Of Tools That Helped Us Start Off In Business
One thing you can be sure of, as a solopreneur in Knowledge Commerce. There are tons of free and paid tools to help you along your route to success. We’re focusing here on starter tools.
Like all solopreneurs, we too, at Solohacks Academy, started with tools that cost us nothing. But as we grew to a size where we started earning a bit, we graduated to a few paid tools that gave us a lot more than before, compared to our expenditure on these.
We thought the best way to reassure you that great tools exist for your assistance, is to show you exactly what we use for our own site (and we also tell you what tools we started out with for free).
Essentially, in our existence as Knowledge Commerce solopreneurs, we have found all the tools to start off in these three groups – tools for setting up our platform and starting to handle customer prospects; tools that helped us polish our blogging, content marketing and products; and tools that generated a lot of traffic to our site whom we could convert to buyers. Beyond this, we didn’t need other starting tools that much, really.
1. Tools That Helped Us Set Up Business And Start Handling Customer Prospects
First things first. What are you in business for? To get and handle customers, right? So you need a place online where you can “set up shop ” and display your name board. You then need a way to handle all the clients you hope will arrive in droves. You need a way to keep in touch with them and to revisit you many times so you can sell them your wares.
So that’s the first set of tools you need to be in business online. That’s how we started our own journey as Knowledge Commerce solopreneurs.
a. Tools For Domain Names And Email Boxes
Long before we started Solohacks Academy, we had already built up a relationship with Network Solutions the world’s first domain provider, while I was at my previous company. We liked their service and promptness, and we still do. They are rather expensive, though, at about $34.99 per domain per year. Still, we get preferential treatment from our old days as a VIP customer, so we hung on with NetSol.
GoDaddy then set up shop in India, where we are situated, and it seemed wise to have a local vendor for domains, especially for buying our clients’ domains names for them. GoDaddy is far, far more reasonably priced that Netsol, and allows payments in Indian Rupees – and as for the service, they are awake when we are awake, which helps.
So that sums up our domain registrar vendors who also handle our email IDs. Our site has at least 10 different email boxes such as info@, support@, community@, sales@, affliates@ and so on. We like to keep our site hosted elsewhere and our email boxes elsewhere, so one works even when the other doesn’t. In all this, did you notice that tool prices are not the only consideration for solopreneurs?
b. Tools For Website Hosting and Website Design & Development
One of the earliest decisions we made was to have our own hosted website and work on the free WordPress platform. When we looked around for web hosts we came across the combination package of WP Engine for Webhosting and Genesis Studiopress Themes for the look of our site. Totally it’s just $25 per month. (P.S.: Genesis is a framework, and Studiopress Themes are the skins that clothe the framework.)
Our site uses the Agency Pro Theme from Genesis and we customized it without any outside help. We invested in WP Engine/Genesis/Studiopress because the themes are spectacular, easy to customize, well supported, and mobile-responsive to heart’s content.
Today you have Medium where you can blog for free, but still, our own hosted site with its look and feel, is unique – and we’re mightly proud of it. We decided upfront not to crib the costs of a great looking and performing site, robust in its underbelly, and it was one of the best decisions we made.
c. Tools For Email Marketing And Auto Responders
Mailchimp (whose logo is a most lovable monkey) is among the oldest and most well-known auto-responder services company, ideal for keeping your subscriber mailing lists, and sending out newsletters and emails. They are free for beginners, and even their paid plans are a steal, beginning at just $9.99 per month.
You can do anything you like with Mailchimp – send emails once in a while, send automated sequences to target segments of your mailing list, or send regular newsletters. Most importantly, all our forms and ecommerce plugins, and almost everything on our site, integrates free with Mailchimp, so every prospect on our site is captured into our Mailchimp mailing list.
For a while we dithered. We went from Mailchimp to other vendors and flirted with them. But they were cumbersome after we’d learned to deal with funny old Mailchimp and its wisecracks. So we said, “No more monkey business with changing vendors!” and we went back to our favorite monkey.
2. Tools That Helped Us Add Polish And Panache To Our Writing And Products
Knowledge Products (and their marketing) require very strong writing and communication skills. This makes most newbies a bit recalcitrant, but the fear is unwarranted. There are excellent tools that are all free (or almost free) that still helps us with all our writing.
When you get to photo sourcing, editing and making videos though, there is some cost involved. We also have explained the tools we use for setting up our store, and creating ebooks, courses and memberships.
a. Tools For Writing And Blogging Assistance
Two of the really helpful tools for writers are the Hemingway App and Grammarly (a Chrome browser extension). Both are free and can work together. The Grammarly plugin, once installed, shows up every spelling and grammar error as you write. So you can just correct words and sentences and punctuation as you go along.
The Hemingway App is a bit different. It aims to help you simplify and smarten your language by cutting out verbosity. The author Ernest Hemingway was a great votary of simple sentences. The app is based on his principles. On the Internet, you need to be as simple as possible to be meaningful to all kinds of audiences, who don’t want blog posts to sound like textbooks.
One other free tool I’d like to mention is a free online Text-To-Speech reader. This is a great tool for proof-reading your work after you’ve written it. When a voice reads out the text you have written it’s a lot easier to spot spelling errors or evaluate the flow of sentences. If there are errors the voice reader obviously will stammer a bit, and you’ll know there’s something there to rectify.
b. Tools For Image Sourcing and Editing, and Video Production
Different solopreneurs may have their own preferred image sourcing sites, but our favorite is 123RF.com. We love the massive variety of images they have in diverse genres of photography and illustrations, and we love their service too. We opt for buying credits as we use images, so we spend just as much as we need to. A decent image for web use would be 2 credits (i.e. $2 or less if you buy credits in bulk).
Our software of choice for photo editing, bought much later, is Photoshop Elements (a bit costly at $99.99). It’s a lite version of the original Photoshop and is just right for people like us – who do some mild tinkering to achieve image effects. Best of all Photoshop Elements has a “Save For Web” feature that drastically cuts down image file sizes and speeds up our websites – all without compromising image quality.
For video production we’re now using Camtasia Studio (again, a bit expensive at $249). We took just half a day to learn how to use it, though, and we now create our own videos that look pretty slick and professional. You can also do screen captures if you are demonstrating some techniques. Further, you can easily convert Powerpoint presentations to videos with voiceover if you prefer.
c. Tools For Creating And Selling Ebooks, Courses And Memberships
There is an excellent suite of WordPress plugins from the company Tips And Tricks HQ for any solopreneur eager to produce products for Knowledge Commerce. They have a great ecommerce plugin called WP E-Store for selling digital products. If you’re creating ebooks you can try their WP PDF Stamper Plugin. It stamps your PDF ebooks with the buyers email and address, thus discouraging file sharing.
They also have the WP eMember Plugin to create membership sites. And a plugin to set up your own affiliate program called WP Affiliate Platform. All these plugins integrate with each other like a breeze – and they are reasonably priced at a one-time fee of around $49.95 apiece.
For our courses we like to use WP Courseware ($129) which is not from the same company, but also integrates with the plugins from Tips And Tricks HQ. By now you may have guessed that for solopreneurs, like us, it’s easy to handle a suite of plugins that work with each other.
3. Tools That Helped Us Drive Traffic To Our Website To Convert Into Buyers
Third in our priority list of resources were all the tools for generating site traffic and converting visitors to buyers. We also aimed to track our site performance.
You have to be really careful in this area because advice abounds – and tools abound. The more you ask around, the more tools people will name as THE best. We decided to give everything a free trial, and then settled for the simplest tools that just did the specific job we wanted.
a. Tools For Finding The Best Traffic-Generating Topics To Blog About
If you want to write tons of blog posts to attract traffic from Google, what could be the best tool to use? Why Google itself – and it’s free!
Type the topic you broadly want to write about into Google. It will immediately give you a list of “Google Suggestions” – a drop-down list of related topics. These days Google also shows you some typical questions people may ask around the topic. These appear under the section called “People Also Ask”. All this should give you an idea of how you should address the topic in your blog post.
Do even more research by going into each of the top ten search results Google lists for the topic, and you’ll get an idea of what your competition for the topic is like. At Solohacks Academy, we don’t spend on expensive search engine tools. Neither do we rigidly follow SEO rules. Google is smart these days. It knows what people are searching for and what people are writing about – and how to match them. Just spend some time on analysis of the topic and the matching search results on Google, before you start writing.
b. Tools For Social Media Posting And Engagement
We started out our social media activity with the excellent free tool Buffer, at the time when we had just Twitter and Facebook accounts. Buffer taught us how to post, when to post and what kind of posts worked. But when we grew up as a site we needed something that could be more automated. So we went to MeetEdgar ($47 per month).
MeetEdgar allows you to create libraries of posts, and you can set up many variations of every post. The beauty is that MeetEdgar recycles all the posts in the library over and over on schedules we set – to give all our posts fresh exposure on all social channels (except Twitter that allows each variation of each post to be published just once). Edgar’s automation, and churning of all our old and new posts, is what we love. It’s on auto-pilot.
To keep track of social chatter and to help us engage with others on social media we use Hootsuite &($29 per month.) We join conversations that are related to our niche.
c. Tools To Keep Track Of Our Site Performance Overall
As the experts say, there are no tools that do as thorough a job of monitoring site performance qualitatively and quantitatively like Google Analytics and the Google Search Console. But we find it hard to navigate the labyrinths of these tools. They are a tad unwieldy for the novice.
Instead we’ve installed two plugins on our WordPress site that tell us all that we want in data terms. One plugin is called Monster Insights ($99 per year) that shows us all the traffic stats, and the way our individual posts and pages are performing, who our visitors are and where they came from, and so on. It’s an easier-on-the-eye version of Google Analytics.
We also have a great plugin called Hitsteps (available free or paid version starts from $4.99 per month). It shows us the path that every visitor takes in our site, page heat maps, and a lot of detail that is very useful to understand people’s buying journeys.
In Summary …
- Start with free tools wherever you can, learn the game, and then graduate to paid tools and resources.
- Tools for setting up your site, and emailing systems for customer management, should be first priority.
- Tools for producing your knowledge content, and marketing content, should be second priority.
- Tools for increasing site traffic, increasing social media engagement, and tracking performance, should be third priority.
- Look for tools that can be set up and then be semi-automated – to reduce your work burden and time usage.
- Look for tools that integrate with each other well to give your customers a seamless flow through your site.
So What Are Your Thoughts? Do Share!
This post is incomplete without your input. The community of Knowledge Commerce solopreneurs would feel galvanized to hear from you … so do share your thoughts on this topic with us, in the comments field below this post.
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