My top 10 online business tools for Entrepreneurs in 2016

As a modern online entrepreneur, you have access to some amazing resources. In today’s post I’m going to run through my 10 most important online business tools. Let’s go.

1. Virtual Assistant (VA)

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What are they?

A Virtual Assistant (VA) is a remote worker who helps you with your admin tasks. My VA’s are generally based in the Philippines where their rates are affordable and they have a great work ethic when it comes to remote work.

How I use them:

As a modern day online entrepreneur, getting those weekly tasks done consistently well and on time can become challenging if I leave it all up to myself, so I use a VA. Having a VA is an affordable way to free up time to focus on strategizing and growth, while at the same time ensuring that the ‘bread and butter’ weekly content and task lists get actioned consistently.

There are a number of ways of sourcing a VA, such as via industry referrals, or you can go through an agency called Virtual Staff Finder.

My process for hiring a VA, which I did with my current VA Francis from The Phillipines, is to give them a trial involving the type of work they’ll be performing on the job.

My process for working with them involves a weekly task list mapped out in Trello.

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Francis looks after a range of weekly tasks such as managing my Instagram quotes, giving me peace of mind that the day to day will look after itself and leaving me with the scope and energy to focus on the big picture. He marks them as green as he goes and stays in constant contact with me via Slack.

Related: Delegate Your Instagram Marketing Strategy For $30 Per Week

2. Google Docs/Google Drive

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What is it?

Google Docs is an online word processor that lets you create and format text documents and collaborate with other people in real time. Google Drive is a replacement for DropBox that stores all of your Google Docs (and any other files) in the one place and syncs all devices with the cloud.

How I Use It:

Google Docs has taken the place of Microsoft Word for my document creation, sharing and storage needs. It’s a much more collaborative way of sharing and updating information, allowing all with a stake in the document to be across it in real time.

It also allows you to engage in two-way feedback during the content creation process, for example when documenting procedures.

Google Docs is also great for brainstorming and creating first-draft content as I look to streamline my creative thoughts and ideas into final content. All of my weekly blog posts start out as collaborative draft documents in Google Docs prior to the finished post being published.

Google Drive also looks after all of my other document related requirements, from creating and storing presentations, spreadsheets, design specs and planning and procedural documents. It’s similar to Dropbox but gives you more data for a lower price and allows for centralised storage of all documents, rather than keeping some files in Google Docs and others in Dropbox.

3. Trello

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What is it?

Trello is a collaboration tool that organizes your projects into tasks on boards, much like a board with post it notes. Trello tells you what’s being worked on, who’s working on what, and where something is in a process.

How I use it:

Trello is my app of choice for planning and organising. I provides me with the structure to manage my ‘to do’ lists as well as those of my support team, for example assigning action items and inserting automated tasks. I also use it to plan and map out the process of writing my books and running projects like our recent crowdfunding campaign for Black Hops or each 7 Day Startup Challenge.

It also has useful project management applications. I assign colour coding to tasks to keep up to speed on how things are tracking.

It’s also very versatile and allows me to move tasks and items around with a minimum of fuss. And best of all it’s free!

Related: How WPCurve effectively uses Trello for project management

4. Slack and WhatsApp

slack

What are they?

Slack: A cloud-based team collaboration tool .It allows you to share messages, files and images with your team via any device.

WhatsApp: A mobile messaging app which allows you to exchange messages without having to pay for SMS. WhatsApp users can also create groups and send each other images and video and audio messages.

How I use them:

Slack is a vital ‘go to’ tool that I use in the day to day running of my projects and is a great way to share documents, files and messages with your employees and contractors.

It’s another free app, unless you need to access message archives. It is however worth mentioning a few drawbacks with Slack, such as not being able to send audio messages, unlike Snapchat or WhatsApp, which I currently use for this purpose. Also the Slack ‘multiple team’ feature is rather clunky and it’s difficult to manage the message notification settings between different users. For this I’ll use WhatsApp instead.

Voxer is another messaging app I’ve been hearing good things about. If any of you have any feedback or experience with this one, be sure to leave a comment!

Related: 2016 social media trends: winners and losers

5. Adobe Creative Cloud

adobe-creative-cloud

What is it?

Adobe Creative Cloud is a software suite of graphic design, video editing and web development applications.

How I use it:

Adobe Creative Cloud has a range of outstanding products and applications to help you deliver unique and eye-catching graphic content. Today’s online entrepreneur needs to embrace the reality that in-house graphic design and content creation are becoming more than just a value add skill set and have assumed a role at the forefront of online entrepreneurial strategy.

For me Adobe is the number one option as a graphic content creation solution. I’m currently paying $50 per month for each of my team to access it, but for me it’s a worthwhile outlay due to the versatility and ‘one stop shop’ nature of the software. And the Adobe Creative Cloud works seamlessly in delivering fast downloads of new and updated Apps and products as they become available.

I use it for a whole range of applications. For example I’ve set up customized templates on  Photoshop for my graphic content design, which you can see the results of via my Instagram account, where I use quote templates extensively.

Free design Apps such as Canva, Word Swag or Typorama are also quite good, however they use standard templates and don’t let you customize your own designs.

Audio content creation is another vital tool in the arsenal of today’s online entrepreneur, and I use Audition for most of my audio recording requirements such as my podcasts. Again there are a few cheaper audio options out there, such as Audacity, if price is a factor.

6. Zapier

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What is it?

Zapier is an App that allows you to share content quickly and easily across Apps that don’t have inbuilt integrations. In my opinion it’s an absolute must for any serious online entrepreneur in 2016.

How I use it:
Zapier is great for getting automated tasks into Trello. For example when updating the hashtags I use on Instragram on a weekly basis, I’ve set up a Zap using their scheduling tool which will create an automated task for my VA to action in Trello.

After recording an audio file blog post on my phone and saving it into dropbox, Zapier allows me to set up a Zap to deliver the file to the Trello platform so that it can be accessed by my content writer. This Zap then runs seamlessly behind the scenes and delivers it the same way every time a new audio file is created within a particular folder.

I also utilise Zapier to create a record of people who sign up to my 7 Day Startup Pro Membership group, so they can then be targeted accordingly in Drip, which I’ll talk about next. Once you start using it, you will be amazed by how many use cases there are. I have hundreds of zaps running across my 3 businesses.

Related:

A simple process for team task automation with Trello and Zapier

Podcast: Zapier makes you happy with Wade Foster

7. Drip

drip
What is it:

Drip is an email management tool that lets you send out marketing emails to targeted groups automatically on a schedule.

How I use it:

Although somewhat ‘old school’, email is still highly effective in getting people to buy, so the importance of creating and building email lists cannot be underestimated. MailChimp is an adequate starting point, but Drip is where you can take your email list management to the next level. Drip allows you to customise automated email sequences for specific target markets. You can read how I used Drip in my 7 Day Startup business,

I also use Infusionsoft for my WP Curve business, but it’s more of a high end solution and much more complicated to run, so Drip is by far my number one option here.

Related: 5 sequences to get you started with email automation

8. Facebook Groups

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How I use it:

Setting up a Facebook Group, which is quick and easy, is one of the most highly powerful online engagement solutions I can recommend.

I’ve set up Facebook Groups and Ambassador Groups for all of my key projects. My 7 Day Startup Open Facebook group, which has 6.5K members now, is where I generate discussion around and test a lot of my content ideas, as well as running my 7 Day Startup challenges.

It’s also a fantastic gateway for generating traffic to my 7 Day Startup Pro Group. Something as simple as adding a case study to my open group has driven people to take up a 7 Day Startup Pro Group membership.

9. Snapchat/Blab

snapchat

What are they?

Snapchat: a messaging application that has evolved into a media-rich full blown social network.

Blab: A video chat app similar to webinar software but with a social element.

How I use them:

Visual based communication and engagement strategies are vital for establishing trust online. If you want to get people interested, you’re going to need a bit more than a Twitter message to get the job done! Video messaging tools like Blab and Snapchat help you to create that all important rapport and trust, helping you gain a connection with your audience and bring about the desired call to action.

As well as Snapchat, which I use extensively (follow me @thedannorris), there’s also Apps such as Periscope and Facebook Live, which we analyzed in depth recently in the article 2016 Social Media trends: my winners and losers

I mentioned Blab before, which is sort of like a social webinar platform. Unlike the other video messaging apps previously mentioned, Blab is great for conducting interviews, another important tool for networking and building relationships with influencers.

So get out, show your face and engage on a personal level with your audience via video mediums, it can make all the difference.

10. OptimizePress (landing page creation)

optimizepress

What is it?

OptimizePress is a tool that lets you create landing pages, sales pages and membership portals within WordPress.

How I use it:

To build an email list you’ll need a landing page to direct your audience and gain their buy in, once you’ve captured their attention via your social network content and strategies.

As an example, on my Instagram I’ve placed a call to action directing people to a landing page which has a high conversion rate for getting people to opt in to my next 7 Day Startup Challenge.

Building a landing page is a crucial skill for today’s online entrepreneur and is fairly simple these days with tools like LeadPages and OptimizePress. Both of these convert well on mobile devices, which is important.

If you’re looking for simplicity and are happy using generic templates then LeadPages is your best bet. It’s easy and fast but you are charged a monthly access fee. Or if you’re looking for customising your designs and having unlimited control on the look and feel of your landing page for a one off fee then OptimizePress, which I use a lot, could be the one for you.

Bonus: DIY Video Equipment

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OK I know I said 10 but I have one more bonus tool. Because of how much video has taken off recently online, I think it’s worth mentioning the range of DIY video equipment at your fingertips. I use my iPhone, together with a Rode smartLav mic which delivers audio quality of a high enough standard to do a podcast on.

I also use an SLR camera for recording in-house videos and I also recently purchased a Go Pro Hero Session 4 which is another nifty video making tool available at an affordable price.

As per my recent blog post  video content is really blowing up now in the social media realm, Snapchat and Facebook videos are all the rage and Instagram are increasing the length of their videos to 60 seconds. So the savvy entrepreneur is going to need to be onboard with utilizing this medium.

If you’re looking to launch a project like a podcast or an online business, be sure join my 7 Day Startup Challenge, to give you the inside edge in bringing your project to fruition.

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And as always, I’m interested in your feedback. So leave me a comment and let me know what you thought of my choices, which tools particularly resonate with you and if there’s any I haven’t discussed which you rate highly.

Featured image from Startup Stock Photos.

  • Hi Dan, thanks for sharing! Curious, when you started off with a customer support manager, did you hire him or her based on per month flat fee or depending on how much work comes in? Did you use Virtual Staff Finder right from the start? Appreciate your help!

    • I’ve never used a Filipino VA for customer support really, we hire devs and admin guys but not really direct customer support. For my devs and VA’s I pay in USD monthly. I’ve used VSF for years for general VA’s, I think from memory I got my first VA from them, I definitely got my current VA Francis through them too.

  • Thanks for sharing these info, Dan! I saved the article to study it well. There are 4-5 tools which I never used. My business is content writing therefore, I would add to the above list, my favorite – Scrivener. VA is also a must for me, but I was a smart girl and married my VA. Now the tools is free 🙂

  • If somebody came up with a Slack extension that allowed you to send voice messages right in the app would you probably ditch Whatsapp?

    • G’day Vic, it’s more than just sending mate. There are apps that allow you to do audio messages into Slack, I’ve played with them it doesn’t solve the problem. It needs to be back and forth walkie talkie style and the swapping between groups in Slack is slow and clunky on mobile, the way the notifications work is difficult, it’s going to be a tricky one for them or a 3rd party to solve.

  • Michael Harwood

    Oh man what a great post. So much content. New stuff too that i haven’t used befoe and i’m sure will help me. Dan… you are the man. I’ll see you in the challenge.

    • Thanks Michael glad it was useful mate.

  • Bilal Safdar

    All tools should be must have if you have online business. Great post Dan 🙂

  • This is awesome Dan. Thank you. We already use so many of these tools because of you. I am looking to Optimise Press next

  • This is a very comprehensive list, thanks! Just wondering about VSF: are you still using them? what’s your experience been with them? I’ve seen different opinions on them and so I’m a bit hesitant…

  • Alan Fuller

    Here are a few more
    – You mention Google Docs / Drive – treat your self to the whole Google Apps experience – including the excellent innovative ‘Inbox by Gmail’, and for Notes try ‘Google Keep’
    – CRM – PipeDrive (use Zapier to automate won deals into projects in Trello)
    – Accounting system (UK) KashFlow
    – Time Tracking – Toggl (integrates nicely with Trello)
    – Strategic Goal Setting – GoalScape
    – Landing page alternative (if you are not into WordPress, but you proably are into WordPress if you are reading a post by Dan) try Unbounce
    – Support tickets / support knowledge base – Freshdesk

  • Felix

    Interesting line up of tools, Thanks for sharing, Dan! I’d like to suggest another amazing online business tool for entrepreneurs- ProofHub. There are a lot of options out there for project management today. I’m an entrepreneur and working in a small team, so I use ProofHub (www.proofhub.com). It has got all the features that I need to manage my projects like time tracking, to-do’s, calendar, discussions, proofing tool, gantt and many more. It’s 30 days free trial is also available. You should give it a try!

  • Jeremy LeRay

    Dan, I’m curious about your SLR. What are you using now?

  • Nice post D-man, got a few alternatives for you and your peeps.

    I use kanbanflow.com as an alternative to Trello—it has a built-in Pomodoro timer that helps me stay ultra focused. With my VAs I use Confluence by Atlassian, which is a super powerful wiki platform—thanks to Laura at MeetEdgar for that tip. I also found a way to use my leadpages on Shopify, increased my conversion 26%. Surf on!

  • Ben Hoban

    Nice list Dan, in the process of moving all my PM from Trello to Glip, not sure where it is at with the zap integrations but the built in chat and video mean I can ditch Skype and Slack.

    Tasking not quite as pretty as trello, but the free level gets you heaps of functionality.

  • Epic- thanks Dan! We use some of these tools, but after reading this post I’m going to spend some more time checking out Snapchat / Blab and Facebook groups.

  • Jen Anderson

    I love Trello! Often Simple > fancy every day of the week. Also great to hear about OptimizePress- which is new for me. I was looking for something that could be more custom than LeadPages.

  • Google Drive, Slack, and Adobe are critical for me. All about collaboration! A landing page alternative I’d add is Instapage. You can start with templates if you want but completely customizable to fit your business goals. It’s a perfect tool for designers or agencies who need to produce pages at scale and then optimize through A/B testing.

  • Yash Bodane

    From my point of view the greatest potential lays in tool discovery tailored to your needs (as a start-up, as a team member, as a professional). When done right, it saves you time, money and it gives the best options for you as individual. It helps you encounter tools you didn’t even know you’re looking for. Check out a detailed blog I have written on Collaboration Tools for Start-ups: https://www.digifloor.com/collaboration-tools-for-startups-02

  • Caroline

    I agree – Trello is great. I also use Slack, but I think it has a few drawbacks – it tends to be slower than other messaging apps I’ve used, and I get the suspicion that it’s been quite high on data use. But hey, it’s a small price to pay for the other functionality they offer!

    When it comes to more general business management, there are also some great tools out there for helping you keep your various tasks under control. One of them is Kotive (www.kotive.com) – it’s kind of like having a Virtual Assistant, because it reminds you about tasks that you need to complete, it takes over a lot of your correspondence, and it even creates .pdf documents for you if you want to largely automate your quoting and invoicing.

    Kotive also integrates with Slack. 🙂 (And a lot of other online tools, too!)

  • Domnick

    I think customer management tool is not available in above list. Any type of business fields, managing customers is crucial one so this processes easily handle with the help of CRM software. If you are looking for affordable CRM, try Apptivo.
    Check it: http://www.apptivo.com/crm-system/

  • Ava Raynott

    Great list! I think Slack would be a better option than whatsapp as it’s more professional. Also i’d like to add proofhub.com under the list of project management tools. It’s a brilliant tool with much more features/options. I’m glad i started using this tool! Thanks for the list 🙂

  • Matias Koehler

    Another good tool for project management – https://deskun.com/.

  • Deric Taruc

    We just finished a website to help entrepreneurs:

    http://www.businessplantemplate.com/

    The site includes nearly 50 free business plan templates and is growing each month.

  • Scott Lee Gabriel

    Hello there! Great list of tools for sure! I’m curious, what does it take for a new technology to be reviewed and considered for your toolbox list? Have you checked out the Digital Business Cards yet? I would love to see your review of http://www.vcardvip.com/ Thanks in advance! ~Scott

  • Julia Julia

    Great list! A couple of ones I hadn’t heard of before. One I definately recommend those looking for a 24hours supporting their customers to check out http://www.chat4.website The platform is great and packed full of features.