Best & Worst Tools For Running Your Online Business

Best & Worst Tools For Running Your Online Business

Each year I am approached by companies wanting me to try their products & services and ultimately share them with all of you. Some have been great additions to my business others have left me disappointed and flummoxed. I thought I would share with you the best & the worst from the past year!

To begin with, I’m going to break it down into 4 categories.

  1. Blogging tools
  2. Social Media
  3. Email Marketing
  4. Running your business

Blogging Tools

As you know (if you have a blog) there is always so much that needs to be done in a short amount of time so anything that I can find that will:

  • Save Time
  • Save Money
  • Improve My Skills

is a Godsend to me. Now, I want to share them with you!

Web Hosting  

I have my own hosting that I provide through Flywheel (owned by WPEngine) which runs $20 a month. We provide fast, secure hosting, free SSL’s, and amazing support. I only have three spots available.

For someone just starting out or on a tight budget I use **Bluehost. I have to say that I have set up hundreds of sites on Bluehost and not once have I ever had a problem. Once upon a time, Bluehost was considered the bottom of the barrel in terms of hosting, but a few years ago they turned it around and I have to say that I’ve been very impressed with how hard they have worked to improve every aspect of their service.

Themes

I have always been a Genesis girl and **Studio Press is the place to get the best themes. A few months ago I had the opportunity to work with **Divi by Elegant themes and I have to say that I absolutely love it! It’s so versatile and easy to use and saves me tons of time. There are so many things included that you hardly need any plugins at all!

Plugins

Listen I know that those sneaky plugins get you where it hurts. I’m sure you have seen the notices in your dashboard ‘get this pro version’, ‘buy this’, ‘do that’.  Nine times out of 10 you don’t need it. There are free plugins for just about anything. My go-to plugins are:

  • Updraft Plus for backing up.
  • Wordfence for security.
  • Jetpack lots of things.
  • Akismet for spam.

If you’re using Genesis then I add:

  • Genesis Enews (optins)
  • Simple Social Icons
  • Simple Social Share

If you’re using Divi

  • Bloom (optins)

All of those are free & if there’s something you want just search the plugin repository.

Free Courses

From WordPress

WP Beginners
Neliossoftware

Hubspot created a blog post with 60 free online courses that you can take to improve your skills. If you don’t follow Hubspot’s blog you really should. There is always so much valuable information.

Would you like to learn more about Facebook ads? Here’s a great post by Insane Growth that explains it all.

Social Media

Social media is the bane of my existence, but it’s also a necessary evil. I build websites and create content with business tips for bloggers, entrepreneurs & small businesses. I get asked to try a lot of different social media scheduling tool and here is my honest opinion.

**#1 For me is Sendible.com. I run three different websites and manage several clients’ social media accounts. Scheduling blog posts and monitoring keywords that I set up, even monitoring my competitor’s social media accounts. If you run multiple blogs or social media accounts

Sendible is the best.

Most places make you pay per account so for three sites I would have to have three different accounts. I would only be able to pick up one RSS feed unless I had three different accounts.

I could not run my business without Sendible!

Sendible is different. I have a set number of services I can set up and it doesn’t matter how many RSS feeds you pick up and auto-posts new pieces. You can schedule them to repeat however many times it’s all completely up to you. I post to five different FB pages for various people and with Sendible I can do it automatically saving myself lots of time.

Then there is **Tailwind

I love using it for Pinterest.

I know I’m not taking full advantage of the features but what I am using I love. BUT  I don’t like them for Instagram. I tried it I really did, but it was just too confusing and I wasting to much time trying to figure it out.

A few years ago I bought a lifetime membership for Grum.co for only $39 and I love it for scheduling Instagram posts. That’s all it does Instagram, but it’s so easy to use. Unfortunately, they are no longer taking on new customers. If I didn’t have this I would make the time for Tailwind, but this one is just to easy and it’s a lifetime purchase.

CoSchedule

I love Co-schedule I really do, but because of the limitations of only having one site on one account, I just can’t justify that expense when I have other options. It offers a boatload of features and it’s easy to use.

There is really no “free” service for scheduling your content. You can use “Publicize” inside your WordPress site and it will automatically post to FB, Twitter, & LinkedIn.

I know that Buffer offers a free version but I’m not sure of its limitations. I’ve always found it too confusing to use.

If you’re going to spend money this is one of the places where I say if you can pay for it then get it. A good social media scheduler can save you loads of time while helping you build your tribe.

Email Marketing

In today’s 24/7, 100mph world if you’re not marketing through email then you’re leaving a lot of money on the table. You should absolutely be sending a welcome email sequence & sending out an RSS to your subscribers.

A few months ago, I was singing the praises of **Engagebay and I learned a very valuable lesson. Sometimes quick decisions can be the wrong decisions. It can send beautiful emails, there are tools for marketing, sales or service. I feel as if it is an excellent platform, but it just didn’t fit my needs. The main problem was the RSS emails. There just wasn’t enough flexibility and I actually sent out a few crazy emails before I gave up.

If you’re running a small business then I cannot recommend Engagebay enough. It’s beautiful, easy to use and handles so many tasks. It’s also affordable. Here is a link to their Youtube channel which has a lot of info about its features. It’s a great platform I just tend to have a problem with change I guess.

So, I’m back at MailChimp and that’s where I’m staying! I know my way around, it’s easy to use (most of the time) and it’s cheap. They have changed things and unless you have a paid account you are limited in what you can do. Such as only having one audience(list), limitations on automation, etc. I pay for The Blogging 911 account and use the free version for Wanding Web Designer & The Diary of an Alzheimer’s Caregiver my other two sites. The paid version runs me $9.63 a month.

Have you seen my the MAILCHIMP EXPLAINED ebook in the 911 Resource Library? It’s just one of the many free resources inside.

 

 

I’ve worked with ConvertKit before and it is easy to use. I didn’t like the design limitations and figure if I’m going to spend $30 a month it needs to have a lot more.

Running your Business

There are several tools that I use every single day to run my business. Some are free (well most are free) but they are still necessary. Tools such as:

  • 17Hats – is an all-around scheduling tool, lead capture forms, templates such as contracts or estimates. It runs $39 a month for all of its features and there are many. I personally only use the free version because I use the templates & lead capture forms (those project inquiry forms you see around here).
  • Acuity Scheduling – If you need an easy way for people to schedule appointments I highly recommend Acuity. Their free version has always been more than enough for me.
  • Asana – This is my project management tool and it keeps me on track when I’m building out a new site, managing other projects or even just things I need to do. There is both a free and paid version and I’ve always found the free version more than enough for my needs.
  • Canva – There is a free version of Canva that works very well. I use Canva almost every single day and I love it for it’s easy to use dashboard, to the free and paid elements like stock photos, icons, frames, colors, and fonts. For this, I splurge and get the paid version so that I can store my own logos, my fonts (up to 25) and my brand colors for $12.95.
  • Google Drive – Also free. I use it to store all of my clients’ assets. I like how easy it is and it works great with Gmail which is another great free tool. I do use the paid version of this and it runs $6 a month and I have tons of storage and it’s easy to use.
  • One Drive – This is part of my Microsoft subscription which is about $7 a month. This is where I keep all of my assets. (Such as stock images, templates, or other graphics).
  • Dropbox – This is where I store all of the backups for my clients & my own personal websites. This costs around $10 but they’ve added a bunch of new features.
  • Screencast-o-matic – This another thing I purchased from Sumo. It was a lifetime subscription for only $39 and I use it whenever I need to make tutorials or other videos where I share my screen. It’s something I purchased on APPSUMO.
  • APPSUMO – is a great place to find great deals on products or services to run your business! They always have freebies or lifetime deals that will save you tons of time and money.

Know some great tools that I might not know about? Let me know in the comments below.

** Means that it is an affiliate link if you purchase a service, with the (**) beside it, means that I will earn a small commission that will in no way affect your cost.

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Women In Biz #10 Barbara Harmon

Women In Biz #10 Barbara Harmon

Welcome to the tenth in our “Women In Biz All Around WordPress” feature that will run the 1st Sunday of every month. It’s a new series where we spotlight amazing women and the ways in which they have used WordPress to spread their message, sell their products, or provide valuable services.

The hope is to inspire other midlife women to build their online businesses and find what we’re all looking for; financial freedom, a lifestyle they love, and excitement they may have been missing! All of these women are current or former clients of mine who have inspired me over the years and I think they will inspire you as well.

Barbara Harmon or Barb as I call her is a lovely woman who never fails to bring a smile to my face. She has faced hardships that many of us couldn’t even imagine but has somehow remained a beautiful, positive woman who looks toward the future with curiosity and excitement.

She recently became an ex-pat when she and her husband decided to have the grandest of adventures by moving to Pézenas, a small village in the south of France.! I am so jealous I have to admit but one day I’m determined to sit under the Eiffel Tower with her having a coffee and some great conversations.

Tell us a little bit about you

I’m a wife, mother, gram, retired cosmetic exec, entrepreneur, blogger, and now a full-time expat in Pézenas, France.

What made you first decide to build a blog or website? How long have you had your site? 

I started my first blog (The French Elements) in 2007 to tie in with an online business. Within months it became more of a journal than a business blog. It was a place to share family life, travel, hopes, dreams, and of course, goals as well as product. When my youngest son passed in 2015, I closed my shop and put the blog to bed. The passion for both was gone. In 2016, Chasing The Next Chapter was birthed.

What is your niche?

I’m a Gemini which pretty much says it all. Niche?… Travel, fashion, food, fun: and now I can add writing about life in a small, medieval village in France.

Of all of your blog posts or pages on your site which is your favorite?

I’m partial, so it’s difficult to choose a favorite, but post wise it has to be the series of posts titled You Know It’s Hot When. These are annual posts that began when I was writing my first blog. The inspiration was summer in Arizona, hell on earth. My favorite page, hands down, is The Journey Begins. If I ever need encouragement, I re-visit this page as it illustrates how far we’ve come. With grit, determination, and a whole lot of prayer, we achieved a life-changing goal in a short period. We became truly serious about moving overseas in October 2018. In June 2019, we realized that dream/goal when we moved to France. It was an incredible amount of work (STRESS) but worth every gray hair.

What is your favorite social media platform and why?

Instagram! It’s so easy (almost too easy) to quickly reach a variety of people with just a picture, a few words, and of course, the famous hashtag. IG has broadened my horizon and provided the opportunity to connect with folks around the globe—people I would never have ‘met.’ I wish there were fewer sponsored ads, though!

Do you find WordPress easy to maneuver or do you avoid the back end like the plague?

I have a love/hate relationship with WordPress, Rena. I’m always excited when I can make a change to the site, but most of the time, I’m sending you an email titled ‘HELP’ because I’ve screwed something up trying to do it myself. All I can say is, “Thank God; you respond quickly and with a smile.”

Is your site a business that makes money or a passion that makes your heart sing?

It’s a passion that does make my heart sing, but I also use it as a ‘work’ tool. Several years ago, I re-visited freelance writing (I found my voice—once more) and added a section titled Articles with a variety of my published work. It’s easy for an editor to quickly get a feel for my style by reading through a few pieces. I’m pleased to say, I’ve built some strong relationships and traveled to some exciting locations via this page!

If you use your site for business what do you sell or what service do you provide?

Well, my site isn’t monetized (those ads/pop-ups drive me crazy), but a freelance writer usually receives some type of compensation for articles written, so I ‘sell’ my voice.

 

What is one thing you’d like people to know about you?

I can spot a fantastic bargain a mile away.

Would you like a little more of Barbara? Find her here:

FACEBOOK | INSTAGRAM | PINTEREST | WEBSITE

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The Seven Deadly Sins Of Web Design

The Seven Deadly Sins Of Web Design

Designing a well-built website is more than just pretty colors & fonts. There are do’s and don’ts that you need to be aware of. If you spot these don’ts on your own website I’m hoping you will recognize and fix immediately. It will benefit you, your readers, your pageviews and your followers.

#1 FONTS

Fonts that are too small or too light are a pain. I wear glasses and there are times that I can’t even read a piece of content because I literally can not see the font. Compose great headlines, write interesting content and use headline fonts that can grab attention. Also, line-height is an important factor. Give your text room! Big sections on content can overwhelm. Keep sentences & paragraphs short,

Think about it as an elevator. What do you do when the elevator door opens and it’s packed

#2 MOVING SLIDERS

A year or two moving sliders were all the rage, but as with everything else we began to see the drawbacks immediately. Slower sites, annoying movement or site bloat. Today moving sliders are so 2018 and if you’re still using them stop it!

#3 TOO MANY ADS

Listen, you’re never going to get rich running ads on your website BUT they can cost you big time. Site speed is so important these days and ads slow your site WAY DOWN! Not only that they’re annoying when there are so many you can hardly find the content. I assure you, your readers won’t. They will click off faster than you can say WAIT What?

#4 CONTENT OVERLOAD

I know it’s hard to create compelling content consistently (that’s a lot of c’s), but when you use long sentences and even longer paragraphs I can guarantee nobody is going to be reading it. People skim, they no longer read.

The best way to get more eyes on your content and lower that bounce rate is to write short complete sentences. Small paragraphs (no more than five sentences but even better three). Use your headlines correctly and space out your content so that it is easy to read quickly.

#5 BAD IMAGERY

As a designer, I think that imagery is so underrated. In my opinion, it’s the most important part of your content. Finding the right images isn’t easy but with loads of free stock photo sites, it’s a lot easier than before.

Think about your piece of content and find images that say what you mean. By that I mean if you write a post about blogging don’t use an image of a national park or if you’re a food blogger don’t use images that are money-related. I wrote the Essential Stock Image Guide that will show you what to use and where to find them.

#6 CONFUSING CONTENT

This is a little harder to explain, but what I mean is stay within your niche. If you’re a food blogger don’t suddenly throw in a travel piece. Or if you’re a travel blogger don’t suddenly start writing about crafting. It confuses your readers and a confused reader won’t be engaged.

I get it writing about the same things day after day gets boring and there are ways to incorporate different aspects. Maybe as a food blogger, you could write about the food in a city you just visited. Recreate the recipes or even build on it. If you’re a travel blogger write about the culture and display items of local color.

#7 COLOR & FONT HOARDING

This one is a constant fight. I get bored easily and changing things up keeps your site fresh and interesting BUT you can overdo it. Believe me, I can be the Queen of overdoing it. Using the wrong fonts in the wrong places or using too many different font types. Never use cursive in your main content. I seldom use serifs either just because it’s harder to read. A good crisp sans-serif is a great idea for your main font.

Limit yourself to no more than two different ones. You can always use different weights to help your content stand out. The more fonts the slower your site and the more confusing it can be to your reader. #thestruggleisreal

The same thing with color. Limits people! I never use more than three colors and seldom use that many. A good accent color and another to stand out against the rest. Any more can be confusing and choosing your color combinations is important.

It should be based on research for your niche and of course something that you AND your readers will relate to. Color psychology is real and it’s a very important step in the design process. For more information check out this post.

 

BONUS TIP

You should treat your website like the piece of prime real estate that it is. What I mean about is this;

When Google reads a website it goes from left to right just as you would read a book. So it stands to reason that the top left part of your website will be the most important space on the whole site. I’ve made a little illustration to show you exactly what I mean.

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Lois Alter Mark Women In Biz #9

Lois Alter Mark Women In Biz #9

Welcome to the ninth in our “Women In Biz All Around WordPress” feature that will run the 1st Sunday of every month. It’s a new series where we spotlight amazing women and the ways in which they have used WordPress to spread their message, sell their products, or provide valuable services.

The hope is to inspire other midlife women to build their online businesses and find what we’re all looking for; financial freedom, a lifestyle they love, and excitement they may have been missing! All of these women are current or former clients of mine who have inspired me over the years and I think they will inspire you as well.

Lois Alter Mark is a travel guru and a fantastic adventurer. Her site Midlife At The Oasis is a buffet of locations and events from around the world. You can also find her on USA Today’s Travel Section. She’s a lovely woman with a great sense of humor and I just know you’re going to love her!

Tell us a little bit about you

I’m a New Yorker who has been living in San Diego for more than 20 years. I’ve been married for 38 years and have two kids — a son who recently got married and a daughter who’s getting married next year. I have a master’s degree in public relations and I worked for Liz Claiborne, MGM and WBZ-TV in Boston but journalism was always my first love and I became a freelance writer when we got our first dog — a chow chow named Sophie — and I wanted to stay home with her. I was a contributing writer for Entertainment Weekly for more than a decade and wrote for many women’s magazines. I started my first blog in 2009 and, because of it, was chosen by Oprah Winfrey as one of her Ultimate Viewers. I accompanied her to Australia on the trip of a lifetime, and that whole experience still feels surreal to me.

What made you first decide to build a blog or website? How long have you had your site? 

I started Midlife at the Oasis in 2013 because I wanted to show women that turning 50 could be a new, exciting chapter in their life. I won 3 BlogHer Voices of the Year People’s Choice Awards and was named Humor Writer of the Month by Erma Bombeck Writers Workshop, all after 50 and of which I am so proud. I didn’t start travel writing until my kids were grown and out of the house, and I wanted women to see that age was not a barrier to fulfilling your dreams.

What is your niche?

Somehow, I’ve become a travel writer although you wouldn’t really know that from my blog — which is another reason I’m gearing up to have Rena help redesign my site. I write 7 travel articles a month for Forbes and a few more for USA Today 10Best, so my blog has become more of a place for me to lead readers to my travel writing and also write my book and movie reviews (I’m a member of San Diego Film Critics Society), some personal essays (I love writing those but don’t really have the time anymore) and sponsored lifestyle posts.

Of all of your blog posts or pages on your site which is your favorite?

IHmmm. I guess https://midlifeattheoasis.com/life-as-i-see-it/self/forget-aging-gracefully-im-planning-to-age-gratefully/ and https://midlifeattheoasis.com/travel/meaning-of-family-travel/. One of my all-time favorites, though, is called “Amster-damn.” It helped me win Blogger Idol but it seems to have mysteriously disappeared from my site so you can read it here instead: https://www.huffpost.com/entry/amsterdamn-family-travel_b_5112088

What is your favorite social media platform and why?
I’ve made so many real-life friends on Facebook who I’m lucky to be able to spend time with because of all my traveling. I do wish I could get off Facebook, though, because I am disgusted by Mark Zuckerberg and what he’s doing to this country and the elections, but I really enjoy the interaction and getting to keep up with my friends around the world. If someone makes a new Facebook-like platform, I will change. I use Twitter for news and I enjoy scrolling through Instagram every now and then but, honestly, social media has become exhausting and my personal Facebook page is the place that feels most authentic and, well, social to me.

Do you find WordPress easy to maneuver or do you avoid the back end like the plague?

AVOID! And, thanks to Rena, I can!

Is your site a business that makes money or a passion that makes your heart sing?

It would be great to make money from my blog but that’s never been my priority for it and I refused to clutter up my site with ads. I really just want to write and share the things I love.

If you use your site for business what do you sell or what service do you provide?

I don’t sell anything!

 

What is one thing you’d like people to know about you?

I have stepped out of my comfort zone so many times since turning 50 (I’m now 60!) and done things I never dreamed of, like snorkeling in the Great Barrier Reef, riding through Joshua Tree National Park on the back of a motorcycle, caring for elephants in Thailand, talking intimately about marriage and divorce with the Samburu women in Kenya, navigating the trains on a solo trip to Germany. I am grateful for these amazing experiences and want other women to know that if I can do these things, they can , too! I would love for readers to join me at http://midlifeattheoasis.com, https://www.forbes.com/sites/loisaltermark/#5bbe639f72f3 and https://www.10best.com/local-experts/lois-alter-mark/

Would you like a little more of Lois? Find her here:

FACEBOOK | INSTAGRAM | PINTEREST | TWITTER | WEBSITE

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Two Google Analytics Filters Everyone Entrepreneur Should Know About

Two Google Analytics Filters Everyone Entrepreneur Should Know About

Every blogger knows just how difficult it is to build a successful blog. There are so many things that you have to learn about that most people don’t even consider. Things like:

  • Creating graphics
  • Understanding email marketing
  • Social media
  • Branding

and that list goes on and on and on. You know the old joke:

How many hats does an entrepreneur where? ANSWER: All of them!

One thing that isn’t often talked about but is definitely a necessity is analytics. If you do affiliate marketing, sponsored posts or make money off of your site in any way you need to know the stats behind it.

Things like pageviews, unique visitors, bounce rates. Terms like this usually invoke either 1. Your eyes glaze over and you skim the rest of the article or 2. Confusion about what it all means.

Today, I’m going to show you two Google Analytic filters that every blogger should be using as well.

Filters are a way of weeding out the events that you don’t want in your final counts. The first of which is the IP filter. What does this mean? You need to be filtering out your own IP address so that you are not counted along with your other stats. Why you ask? Because without this particular filter you won’t get an accurate picture of how your site is doing.

So, together we’re going to set up an IP filter. It’s really simple so don’t panic!

The next filter we’re going to set up is to keep your analytics from being hijacked. In the video below I show you exactly how to set up both filters.

How can someone hijack your analytics? Well, there’s a little known way of finding out anyone’s GA code. It’s very simple.

  1. Go to your website.
  2. Right-click your mouse.
  3. Choose “Page Source”.
  4. Hit CTRL + F for the find command and type in GA.
  5. Scroll down and you’ll see your own GA code.

There isn’t a way to hide them from this view so the only thing you can do is to add a filter that will keep your GA code safe from hijacking.

Go into your GA account, click on ADMIN>>Filters. Add a new filter and then choose “CREATE NEW FILTER” and give it a name that you will remember.

Scroll down and hit “CUSTOM” and then check the “Include” button. In the dropdown choose HOSTNAME and in the box below type in YOURDOMAINNAME.COM & click save! It’s that easy.

Need a little more help? Try this video I made to show you how to quickly filter out your IP address and including only your own hostname.

Have questions? Let me know in the comments below!

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We’re Celebrating The Holidays With A Massive Blogging Giveaway

We’re Celebrating The Holidays With A Massive Blogging Giveaway

That’s right! We’re celebrating the holidays a little early this year by having a massive giveaway! Enter for your chance to win a

  1. 1 Year of Web Hosting provided by A2 Hosting & WP Beginner valued at $40.00.
  2. 1 Basic Annual Maintenance Package valued at $149.99
  3. 1 Blog Post Inspiration Deck w/ Ebook.
Enter The @blogging911 holiday giveaway! Three great prizes awarded Dec 1st, 2019 (1) 1 Yr of web hosting (2) Basic Annual Maintenance Plan (3) The Blog Post Inspiration Deck w/ ebook! Click To Tweet

Prizes will be awarded on Dec 1st, 2019

GOOD LUCK!

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