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The 5 must-have business tools to launch an online business (+ 5 you can skip)

Want to know what tools you need to launch a business and what you can leave for later? Discover the 5 must-have tools for digital product creators.

August 19, 2019 by Taylor Barbieri

You shouldn’t need this many tools to run an online business.

But when you look at the lists for must-have business tools, it’s like you need to pay a mortgage payment each month just to run your business.

Fortunately, those lists aren’t quite right. Most small businesses don’t need to pay thousands -- or even hundreds -- each month to launch and run an online business, even after they’ve grown.

You can more than get by with just a handful of tools to launch your online business.

Today, we’ll go over the five core tools a digital product creator should utilize when launching their business, and five they can save for later.

5 business tools you need to start a business

The right tools can often be the difference between success and slow death for a new business.

Five of the most helpful tools for digital product creators include:

  • A landing page builder
  • An email service provider
  • A website and storefront
  • Video recording and editing tools
  • Graphic design tools

First up, we’ll dive into landing page builders and why every small business owner needs one.

Critical tool #1: Landing page builder

You need a landing page builder before you buy anything else for your business.

That’s right -- before a website, storefront, or business cards, you need a landing page.

Why? So you can create “coming soon” pages or signup pages and start building your email list.

Landing pages can even be used to collect product pre-sales, although in that case, they’re usually referred to as “sales pages”.

As an example, creator Michele Stans designed an excellent, information-packed sales page for her “High Vibe Soul Tribe Inner Circle" membership.

Great landing pages don’t rely on copy alone to make their case, though. Look for a landing page builder that lets you use video to explain the features and benefits of your products.

The ability to feature testimonials from happy customers and utilize a live chat button are great features to have in a landing page builder, as well.

Jill Dalton, for instance, included a video at the top of her sales page for “The Whole Food Plant Based Cooking Show Cookbook: Volume 1.”

While all of these things may seem like distractions from getting a visitor to become a customer, they’re all grease for smoothing the path to conversion.

And it’s a path you, alongside every other product creator and promoter in the world, will definitely want to be smoothed.  

After all, the average lead conversion rate is 4.02%, and 61% of marketers say generating traffic and leads is their biggest challenge.

So even just a 0.5% conversion increase can mean thousands (or more) in profits for a brand.

Likewise, the next tool may not skyrocket your engagement rates, but even a marginal increase can pay off in spades.

Critical tool #2: Email service provider

Email is one of the best small business tools to promote and grow your brand.

99% of consumers check their email daily, and 47% of shoppers have said email is their preferred way of communicating with retail brands.

All of which means ESPs are way, way too vital to skip out on.

Mailchimp, AWeber, and ConvertKit are all fine ESPs which integrate with many websites and storefront builders, including Podia.

Most of them have free plans, too, but those plans don't let what ESPs do best -- templates -- shine.

For example, many ESPs have pre-made templates for sending welcome and onboarding emails, two emails you’ll need down-pat from day one.

Aside from templates, many ESPs come with rich analytics features so you can see how well your emails are performing by tracking open rates, click-through rates, and email-generated conversions, among other things.

So, if you’re going to invest in anything after your landing page builder, make it an ESP. It’ll start paying for itself from the first day.

The same goes for investing in your website and storefront, too.

Critical tool #3: Website and storefront

Did you know that 54% of consumers will visit a brand’s website after reading a positive review?

So if you’ve got reviews but a website that looks like a snapshot out of the Geocities archives, you’ve got a problem.

And if you don’t have a website at all, you’ve got an even bigger problem.

Fortunately, there are hundreds of website builders out there, many of which allow you to create a storefront using existing features or paid plugins and add-ons.

Podia, which you can try for free, is among them, and in our totally biased opinion, the best choice for creators. As a bonus, you don’t need a single plugin to make Podia work as a storefront.

Still, regardless of what you use, you’ll want to make your website and storefront as easy-to-use as possible for customers.

A live chat feature wouldn’t be amiss, either.

Remember our statistic about 54% of customers visiting a brand’s website after reading a positive review?

That percentage was down 17% from the previous year.

However, 17% more consumers from the previous year contacted brands after reading a positive review.

One way to make it easier for brands to contact you is by offering a live chat tool, such as what Drift includes on their homepage.

Live chat isn’t strictly a benefit for your customers, though. It’s great for converting cold visitors into warm leads.

That’s according to the 79% of businesses who have said that having live chat has been good for sales, anyway.

In fact, 41% of consumers prefer live chat support, and 52% are likely to repurchase from a company that offers live chat, perhaps because it offers real-time assistance during their shopping experience.

So, if you’re looking for a good place to start adding bells and whistles on your website, live chat is a great opton to start with. Just keep in mind that any feature is only as good as the website it’s featured on.

If users have a hard time using your website and/or storefront, you’ll have a hard time convincing them to be customers over any channel -- live chat, email, or skywriting.

Video can make it a little easier, though, which is why it’s our fourth must-have investment for your business.

Critical tool #4: Video recording equipment

You don’t need fancy equipment to create engaging online courses or memberships.  

You can shoot professional-quality video on your smartphone or record video for online courses with a basic setup at home.

The basic tools you need are recording equipment, editing programs, and hosting.

Video editing software might seem superfluous when you’re just starting out, but it can save you a lot of time and effort.

Instead of trying to have a perfect take all in one go, you can use video editing software to remove pauses and mistakes.

Plus, you can use built-in animations and music to add more pop to your videos.

Not only are videos great as products by themselves (i.e., online courses and membership videos), they’re excellent for all of your promotional channels, such as social media, too.

Especially for explaining products. 94% of marketers have said videos increased users’ understanding of their products.

And, given that 54% of consumers want to see videos from brands they support, sharing videos on social media can help you connect with your existing customers and attract new ones as well.

Videos you share on social media don’t always have to be overtly promotional videos, by the way -- you can also use them to give sneak previews of your content.

Chinese Zero to Hero, for example, uses YouTube to share short video lessons from their longer courses.

Now, what if you sell primarily written content, like ebooks or checklists?

Don’t worry -- you can still use video and audio to your advantage.

You could repurpose some of your existing written content into videos and podcasts to reach new audiences, or add an audio component to enhance the value of your digital downloads. The only limit on possible combinations is your imagination.

Basically:

Whether you’re selling video-heavy products like online courses and memberships or text-heavy digital downloads, investing in video and audio recording equipment makes your marketing work better, period.

Graphic design tools go a long way for that, as well.

Critical tool #5: Graphic design and digital download design tools

Whether you’re giving away free digital downloads as lead magnets or paid products, making your downloads more visually-appealing can help increase their value and the price you can charge for them.

And with 129,601 ebooks self-published in 2017, you’ll definitely want to make sure your ebook -- or whatever digital download you’re selling -- stands out.

Just consider how eye-catching and memorable the Content Marketing Insitute’s Content Marketing Survival Guide is -- isn’t that an ebook you’d at least want to skim through?

So, how should you follow suit?

With tools like Canva, Venngage, or Visme, you can create visually-stunning ebooks, case studies, checklists, and pretty much any other kind of digital download imaginable.

You can use graphic design tools to create complementary graphics for your free content as well, such as for lead magnets or social media posts.

With eight of HubSpot’s top lead magnets from 2017 being digital downloads, they remain among the top-performing promotional assets for brands, and something you’ll want to make sure is as high-quality as your paid products.

So while graphic design isn’t absolutely necessary, it can help to both emphasize your written and video content and make your content stand out.

And since standing out is necessary, they’re worth the investment.

Not all tools are made equally, though. Next up, let’s talk about five tools you can skip in the early aughts of your business.

5 tools you can skip when starting a business

To be clear, all of these tools have their uses -- and if you can support them, we'd always recommend it -- but they're not critical for launching a business, so if you're looking for somewhere to save, look no further than this list.

Unnecessary tool #1: SEO and keyword research tools

91% of web pages do not get organic search traffic from Google.

In other words, these pages do not get website visits from readers conducting Google searches.

Your knee-jerk reaction may be to invest in an SEO and keyword research tool like Ahrefs (which starts at $99 per month for its most basic plan).

However, most SEO tools are not only prohibitively expensive but not necessarily the most immediately impactful tool, either.

Instead, you could use free keyword research tools to find out what your audience is searching for, such as Ubersuggest or Wordstream’s Free Keyword Tool.

Don’t discount the benefit of checking out content on your competitors’ blogs, online communities, and product reviews for content and keyword ideas, either.

You can use that information to build content that has a high-impact with your readers and entices other content creators to link back to you.

Doing so will take care of two of the most prolific reasons so many websites struggle with organic traffic (talking about topics no one cares about and not having backlinks), and best of all, it won’t cost you a dime.

Just make sure you’re adding in some visual pizzazz while you’re at it. Think you have to pay to (visually) spice your content up? Think again.

Unnecessary tool #2: Stock photos

You want to make your brand as unique as possible from the first day. I get that.

However, stock photos are definitely an expense you can pass on until you’ve got your land legs.

Although you may notice the same stock images used by multiple businesses and blogs, your readers probably won’t, so don’t worry about using stock images too much.

Besides, you’ll probably see more benefit from creating your own original graphics with a free tool like Canva, anyway.

40% of marketers said original graphics like infographics performed the best with their audiences and led to the most engagement.

Conversely, only 12% of marketers said the same about stock images.

Just remember as you’re creating visual content that less is definitely more, so it’s better to focus on creating a handful of graphics you can share and repurpose on multiple platforms than having tens or hundreds of mediocre graphics.

Want to know what would pair really nicely with your visual content?

Video content. Lots and lots of video content.

Unnecessary tool #3: Video hosting

If you’re producing online courses, memberships, or plan on using video marketing, you’ll probably need video hosting.

Regrettably, video hosting through platforms like Wistia or Vidyard can get rather expensive for creators.

And if you’re among the 40% of brands who have less than 50 videos, you probably won’t need all of the features that come with a video hosting platform, such as advanced analytics or heat-mapping.

For that reason, most creators will be fine hosting their content for free on YouTube (or similar platforms) until they create more videos and need a higher-quality video hosting platform.

The same logic is why you don’t need a fancy social media management suite, either.

Unnecessary tool #4: Paid social media management tools

Yes, social media management tools like Buffer and SocialPilot can make things much easier as you grow your following for measuring engagement, successful posts, and et cetera.

Still, social media management tools are an unnecessary expense when your following is still developing.

In fact, you’ll probably get more benefit out of commenting and answering your audience’s questions on social media in real-time than by relying on pre-scheduled posts.

55% of consumers have said a brand liking or responding to a consumer on social media helps them to feel more connected to that brand.

44% of consumers felt that same way about brands who joined relevant conversations, and 39% felt that way about companies that build thriving online communities.

If you still feel like you can’t live without a social media management tool in the beginning, try out free plans, such as Buffer’s free plan, until your social media activity requires a more advanced paid tool.

OK. While a social media management tool can help you centralize control over multiple social platforms, the last tool(s) you can skip does just the opposite and adds more to your workload.

Unnecessary tool #5: Separate platforms for selling digital downloads, memberships, and courses

The old way of selling digital products was to have a separate paid platform for each kind of digital product -- such as Thinkific for online courses or Memberful for memberships.

But that way can get pricey very quickly, especially if you’re a creator who wants to experiment with different product offerings.

As a new business, each dollar spent on a storefront platform means money you couldn’t invest in further developing or promoting your products.

Plus, you’d also have the hassle of making sure each of these platforms communicated not only with one another, but also with your email service provider, PayPal or bank account, and a host of other services.

You could save yourself heaps of time, money, and hassle by using Podia.

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But you know, maybe you like doing things the hard and expensive way. I won’t judge (but I might recommend an alternative path).

Create a small but mighty business toolkit

You don’t need to spend thousands -- or even hundreds -- on tools and resources for your business.

There are five tools essential to any digital product creator’s business, including:

  • A landing page builder where you can gather signups for your email list, validate your product idea, and collect product pre-orders
  • An email service provider (ESP) so you can update subscribers about your product’s development and nurture them to become paying customers
  • A business website where customers can learn more about your brand and purchase your products
  • Video creation tools so you can design videos for both your digital products and marketing efforts
  • Graphic design tools to create ebooks, case studies, and other digital downloads to sell, use for lead magnets, and enhance your brand’s promotions

Though you’ll still need to put hours of hard work into your business, each of these five tools can complement and amplify your efforts, and bring you that much closer toward business success.