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When you have an online business, you collect software, tools, and plug-ins that make your business run more smoothly. Over the years, I’ve tried out a LOT of tools. I’m always trying something new and dropping something else.

When you first start out, the options can be overwhelming. In fact, even after you’ve been in business a while, that doesn’t change. It can be a BIG help to get recommendations from others.

In fact, I recommend that you don’t jump for each new “bright, shiny object” that comes out, even under the threat (and sometimes it seems like that)  that the price will go up. I’ve certainly bought products that I didn’t use. It’s better to wait and see what other people think of the software. Let them test for you–especially if it’s expensive!

If you have a question about specific software, ask in the Comments below. If I don’t know the answer, maybe someone else will read your question and be able to answer it!

Here’s my list.

WordPress and Plug-ins

1. WordPress

I recommend WordPress as a tool to create your website because:

  • It’s free
  • It gives you all the options you need, alone or with plug-ins
  • It’s easy to use

While you can download WordPress, you’ll probably find it easier to use the automated installation process that your webhost offers. Just be sure not to use the default admin user name (a security risk) and not to put the installation in the wp folder if you’re prompted to do so. Instead, you want to put it in the “root,” the base area of your website. For detailed instructions, see my video course, 1 Hour Website.

2. Digital Access Pass

online-business-toolsAt some point, you’ll want a membership site. There are several reasons for this, not all obvious:

  • To create a recurring payment product such as a mastermind or group coaching product — that’s the obvious reason
  • To get an affiliate program — one that gives affiliates lifetime commissions for everyone they refer
  • To get a shopping cart in which you can create products, set their price, deliver autoresponders, etc.

Digital Access Pass isn’t all that easy to use but it offers excellent support and both video and text documentation. I’m not sure that any membership software is easy to use because you have to:

  • Connect it with a payment mechanism, such as PayPal
  • Set up products, prices, and autoresponders
  • Create pages where customers can access the products they buy
  • Create Buy buttons

But membership software opens up huge new opportunities for you to grow your business.

Digital Access Pass costs $167 as a one-time price for one website. You pay a lower rate each year for updates and support.

3. Thrive Leads

At some point, you’ll need software to create pop-ups, because the opt-in form on your sidebar really isn’t enough. Thrive Leads is a good option for both price and features. You can create a top banner, a slider, an exit pop-up, and several more kinds. You choose the type, choose a template, set some parameters, and design your pop-up.

4. OptimizePress

Creating good looking sales and product delivery pages is hard if you aren’t a designer. Web design has changed over the years and if you have an older theme, your design probably looks outdated. Even if you have a newer theme, individual pages may not look the way you want.

OptimizePress is a page builder. There are a few page builders out there and I haven’t tried them all, but I’m pretty satisfied with OptimizePress. Pages we create with it look MUCH nicer.

5. Akismet

Akismet is an anti-spam filter for comments on your website. While it misses a lot, it catches more and you’d be overwhelmed with spam comments without it. It’s $5/month per site and you can sign up for it from within the WordPress plug-ins area.

6. Backup Buddy

Backup Buddy is a full-featured backup program. You need to back up your WordPress files as well as your database, which is what contains your actual content. Backup Buddy is best of breed.

7. Broken Link Checker

Over time, links break — outside pages that you link to disappear and so on. Even people including a link to their web page can mistype the URL and create a broken link. Search engines don’t like websites with broken links and can penalize you — your visitors don’t like broken links either. Broken Link Checker finds them and lets you know about them so you can fix them. Broken Link Checker is free — find it by searching WordPress’ plug-ins.

8. Click to Tweet

Click to Tweet is a free plug-in that lets you create pre-written tweets and put them in your posts. You can read more about it here. You can see one below. Why not use it?

[Tweet “34 essentials software, tools, and plug-ins I use for my online business”]

9. Comment Reply Notification

This free plug-in emails commenters if someone else adds a comment to a post. It turns your blog into a simple forum, letting readers create a conversation. This increases engagement.

10. CommentLuv

If your target audience (like mine) is likely to have a website, readers will love this because it creates a link back to the commenter’s last blog post. This is a free plug-in.

11. Contact Form 7

Contact Form 7 is a simple form builder and I use it to create my “Contact Us” form. You can create more complex forms, too, although that gets a little more complicated. But you don’t need to write any code and it’s free.

12. Google Analyticator

You need to know your stats! How many people visit your site every month? How long do they stay? Knowing your stats helps you make improvements. You get those stats from Google Analytics but you need to put some code on your website to give Google permission to track visitors for you. I use Google Analyticator, a free WordPress plug-in to accomplish this.

13. Shareaholic

Shareaholic is a free plug-in that gives you share buttons that readers can use to share your stuff! You MUST have share buttons because you need a way to get readers from outside your immediate circle. Shareaholic’s are good looking.

There’s also a feature that lets you show related posts, but I had problems with it. It showed pages (I only wanted it to show posts) and I didn’t think that the posts it displayed were all that related, so I killed that feature. It’s nice that there are options.

14. Simple Video Management System

WordPress has a video player, but I’m moving to use this one instead. That’s because it protects my videos better from being stolen. And I’ve discovered that occasionally people can’t view videos using WordPress’ player and they can view it on Simple Video Management System. It also has some great special features like displaying content later in the video and more. (I’m waiting for a link for this; I bought it through NAMS and I can’t find the sales page. It’s coming!)

15. W3 Total Cache

Cache plug-ins save pages for viewers so that if they come back to a page, it loads faster. W3 Total Cache is free.

16. Wordfence Security

I love this free plug-in. It tells me when someone logs into my WordPress sites and when it blocks hackers. It also scans your website for malicious code. According to their website, “Wordfence is the most downloaded WordPress security plugin for WordPress websites.” Get it.

17. WordPress File Upload

Do you ever want clients to send you files from your website? I have guest speakers for my Star Power Half Hour webinar series upload their photo and slides on a page just for them. This free plug-in allows this. No more emailing back and forth!

18. WordPress SEO

This is sometimes called WordPress SEO by Yoast because the name is a little vague. You need this plug-in to make sure that each and every post fully uses the keywords that will help people find it. On each blog post’s page, you’ll have a form to specify your keyword phrase and make sure it’s in the title, content, and everywhere else it needs to be.

19. Yet Another Related Posts Plugin

You want to show people related posts at the end of each post so that they’ll click through to other posts. This keeps people on your website longer. If people get to the bottom of a post, they’re probably interested in the topic and will click on related posts. YARRP, as it’s called, does an excellent job of figuring out which posts are related. It does a bad job of displaying the images associated with the post, so I turn that feature off and just stick with the text.

Email & Opt-in forms

You need to send email and build your list. Your email service lets you send bulk email legally, create opt-in forms to grow your list, and create autoresponders. I compare several email services here.

20. MadMimi

I love MadMimi and use it for 2 of my newsletters. It’s easy to use, inexpensive and has great support. However, they don’t allow affiliate links.

21. AWeber

I turned to AWeber when I realized I needed an email service that allows affiliate links. While I find its system more confusing and awkward than MadMimi’s, it has excellent support and great features.such as A/B testing and easy segmenting.

Graphics & Multimedia

All online business owners need to create and edit graphics. Graphics grab people’s attention and keep them reading. Graphics are more memorable and persuasive than plain text. This includes video, of course.

22. Microsoft PowerPoint

Yup, I use PowerPoint as a graphics program. It’s easy to use and you probably have it already. PowerPoint has lots of capabilities that you might not know about, including cropping, removing a background, blurring, recoloring, drawing tools, and more. It’s available for the PC or Mac.

23. Techsmith SnagIt

I do a lot of tutorials, so I need a good screen capture program. Although Windows has a free one, Techsmith SnagIt has lots more features, including it’s own image editing program. You can resize, crop, blur, add callouts and arrows,etc.

24. Techsmith Camtasia

I could not manage my business without Camtasia! Camtasia is a screen recorder and video editor. I do lots of webinars and want to edit them to remove pauses, etc. I use it to edit marketing videos, too.

25. Audacity

Audacity is a free audio file editor and recorder. It has lots of features, but no support. I love it.  If you download it, be sure to also read the instructions for, and download, the LAME MP3 encoder, which lets you save files in MP3 format.

26. ColorPic

ColorPic is a free eyedropper or color picker (same thing). It matches color and is great for branding your images and presentations to match your website.

Webinar service

Almost all online business owners should be doing webinars! It’s how you reach people all over the world. I used to use GoToWebinar, but have since switched to Zoom and I love it! In my post, “Comparing webinar services-Google Hangouts on Air, GoToWebinar, and Zoom-and why I chose Zoom,” I explain why.

27. Zoom

Zoom is meeting and webinar software. Depending on your needs and how much you spend, you can reach from 1 to 3,000 people. Full screen video and desktop sharing make connecting with your audience easier. The recording feature is excellent and easy to use. Their email support is top-notch.

Domain Registration & Hosting

28. A2 Hosting

I’m on my 4th web host, so I’ve seen a lot. I love A2 Hosting. It’s fast and has excellent support.

29. NameCheap

NameCheap is my new favorite domain registrar, although I’ll admit I’ve only used it once. I got tired of GoDaddy’s hard sell and confusing website.

Desktop Productivity

30. Microsoft Office

You know, Word, Excel, and PowerPoint. Maybe Outlook. There are other components if you want to use them — Sway, Lync, Access…

I wouldn’t want to manage without Word, Excel and PowerPoint.

Backup & Storage

31. Amazon S3

You need a place to store files off site and a place to store client files such as videos and PDFs. Amazon S3 (Simple Storage Service) is cheap, reliable and secure.

32. OneDrive

OneDrive is Microsoft’s online storage, equivalent to Google’s Drive. Lots of free space. You can share documents safely. All of my business’ procedures are here, for myself and for my assistants. It’s easy to use, with the ability to create folders and sort them by name or date.

33. LastPass

You need secure passwords–different for every website. Writing them down got to be messy, so I use LastPass. I can even set up a shared folder with passwords for my assistants. For $12/year, you can get the premium version which gives you access on all devices. Whew!

34. Carbonite

Carbonite backs up your files to the cloud, automatically. The basic level doesn’t automatically back up videos, although you can back them up manually. It’s peace of mind.


What tools do you use? Leave a comment to make a suggestion for other readers. And please share this list because it has LOTS of important information in it. Just use the Share buttons below.

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    5 replies to "34 essential software, tools, and plug-ins I use for my online business"

    • Xiaotongguo

      Great recommendations! Thanks for sharing useful information and your precious experience Ellen!

    • Rose-Marie

      Ellen, just wanted to let you know that in Chrome, there are pop-ups blocking the top and right of the screen…probably larger territory than you intended.On the right is a free guide “13 Steps” and across the top is a tomato-colored banner with a free guide + 4 videos + tips (which is actually blocked under the 13 Steps pop-up). I can’t seem to make them go away and they hide the ends of your sentences in your post. Just thought you would want to know about this conflict in Chrome. Love your stuff!

    • Gary Moore

      Try BB Express Flash Back Recorder and player, free and better than Snaggit. ,even more features and records much longer.

    • Ellen Finkelstein

      Rose-Marie, yes, pop-ups are ugly but do help me get subscribers. I’m still working on a configuration that’s not a horrible experience for readers but also works for me.

    • Gayle Larson

      Great information! Thanks so much, Ellen; really valuable content. So many programs to choose from and it can take forever to ferret out the best features and the what works when. This is awesome sauce!

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