by Ryan Robinson
When I was scaling my first online business, I was moving full steam ahead with an insane work ethic and drive, so that I’d never have to work for someone else again.
Among the many reasons why that business eventually devolved into a fiery inferno, one thing I seriously lacked was an in-depth knowledge of all the incredibly useful tools, services, and platforms at my disposal that could’ve helped me more effectively grow my business without wasting precious time on the minutiae of the day-to-day.
By choosing to start a business in a very competitive industry and grow it while still keeping all of my freelance clients on the side, I had extremely limited time and financial resources.
It was a constant struggle to bring on help. It takes money to hire talented contract developers, designers, writers, and marketers. Then, after they're on board, you spend a lot of your time (which you don't really have) managing their progress.
I knew that all the top entrepreneurs I followed like Ramit Sethi, Tim Ferriss, and Lewis Howes had big enough businesses that they could afford to hire help to amplify their efforts. But I was then left wondering, how did they get there in the first place? So, I set out to dig deeper into all of the possible ways I could automate, streamline, and outsource the process of growing my business.
In no time, I came across intricate email marketing platforms, tools like Infusionsoft for setting up automated sales funnels, social media scheduling services, and website plugins that could accomplish exactly what I was looking for in minutes as opposed to hours. My mind was blown.
Whether your business is centered around a physical product, a service-based offering, SaaS tool, or the next iPhone app that everyone must have, you need to have an arsenal of useful tools that'll propel you forward as quickly as possible.
Here are the 76 essential online tools, apps, resources, browser extensions, plugins, and platforms that every business owner should be using.
OptimizePress is the premier WordPress theme for creating conversion-optimized websites, and it's what I use to power my website. The amazingly simple visual live editor and template library enables you to very quickly build high converting landing pages, set up your blog, construct member portals, offer gated content, and so much more at an affordable price point. As an added bonus, all of the pages you'll create with OptimizePress are automatically fully responsive, so they'll display perfectly on mobile and tablets. The theme is regularly updated with new features, functionalities, and has an amazing support team to answer any questions you have once you get started.
2. Infusionsoft: A huge part of gaining traction with any business is building your email list and nurturing those subscriber relationships in a way that’s mutually beneficial. Your subscribers are one small step away from becoming customers, and Infusionsoft is specifically designed to help you grow each of those subscribers into paying customers over time. It comes with every feature you’ll need to build lists, set up automated emails, sales funnels, track leads and customers with a lightweight CRM, and easy-to-build online storefronts. It also integrates directly with hundreds of other apps and online services that make it easy to start automating the most time-consuming aspects of your business.
3. Rapportive Extension (Gmail): This Chrome extension for Gmail pulls in all of the LinkedIn information about whomever you’re corresponding with via email. When you hover over their email address, a sidebar will appear with their LinkedIn profile picture, job title, social links, and other relevant information. This extension gets bonus points, because it'll help you test and confirm whether or not you have the right email address for a person you're trying to reach out to.
4. Boomerang Extension (Gmail): Use the Boomerang Chrome extension to trigger automated follow up emails, schedule emails to be delivered at a later time, and resurface emails you want to follow up with in your inbox on a pre-determined date. The goal is that you’ll never forget to follow up or lose track of your important prospects again.
5. Inbox by Gmail (iPhone and Mac): Similar to Boomerang in some ways, Inbox by Gmail will help you become significantly more effective with your email follow up (and email organization). Snooze emails to a later date if you can't deal with them immediately. Send emails to potential clients and trigger them to resurface in your inbox if you haven't heard back within a week. To make things even better, there's now a Mac desktop client called Boxy that allows you to get Inbox out of your browser and onto your desktop.
I've used many social media management tools over the years. I choose to use Edgar, a relatively new player in the industry, because it allows me to automate social media updates based on which category of content each message falls into (think: inspirational updates, funny memes, promotional messages, or guest posts), to make sure I'm sharing a strategic variety of different types of content. Another great feature is that you can allow your posts to be re-shared in the future, which cuts down on the amount of time you need to invest in regularly scheduling updates.
7. OptinMonster: As you know, growing your email subscriber base is essential to increasing your revenue. This useful email capture tool can be set up on any page of your website (they have an incredibly easy-to-use WordPress plugin) and gives you the ability to A/B test different messages to find your most effective email capture mechanisms, all without having to hire expensive development help.
8. Upwork: Hiring talented freelance help will allow you to focus more on your strengths, and give you the benefit of offloading business tasks that may not be your strong suits. Copywriting, logo design, development, SEO, and even sales and marketing will be crucial to your early success in growing your side business. A platform like Upwork can help with sourcing and easy payments, plus provide valuable resources to get your business off the ground.
9. CloudPeeps: This is my favorite community to source content marketers and community/social managers that know exactly what they're doing. They vet every freelancer in their community very carefully, and ensure there's nothing but the best.
10. GrowthGeeks: Want to grow your twitter following? Increase your Instagram engagement? Get some professional copywriting done? How about outsource the creation of an infographic? GrowthGeeks has been my go-to for getting help with stepping up my social media activity and producing high quality infographics. If you're in need of top growth hacking talent, this is your place to go.
11. Guru.com: With over 1.5 million freelancers on their platform, Guru's concentration on bringing together experienced technical and design-oriented freelancers makes them a great alternative to Upwork, where I've historically had more quality issues.
12. Skillbridge.co: A notch above the rest in terms of talent pool, Skillbridge brands themselves as the access point to the hidden world of elite business consultants, experts, and professionals in a format that focuses more on industry-experts as opposed to skills-based experts. Here, you'll certainly be spending more for help, but you're much more likely to find an pro with broad expertise across an entire industry—a valuable asset if you have more money than you do time.
13. Digiserved: This freelance community focuses on bringing in creative talent and offering pre-packaged services like logo design, image editing, newsletter design, blog post writing, and press releases. What makes them different is their quick and simple checkout process that eliminates the need to search for freelancers, negotiate on price, and worry about deliverable timelines.
14. Toptal: Toptal is a great place to look for talented software developers if you have the budget for quality help. The platform bills itself as an exclusive marketplace that weeds out all but the best and most decorated developers working on everything from Java to Python. Best of all, Toptal does the head-hunting work for you, so you'll spend less time searching for the perfect developer and more time building your business.
Research, SEO, and marketing
If you're new to the world of SEO and link building, then signing up for a free Ahrefs account and keeping track of your website's ranking metrics is the best place to start. Ahrefs tracks a large number of website metrics including how many backlinks are pointing to your website (and where they link to) which builds your site's authority and ability to rank well on Google, your traffic rankings, best performing content, and much more.
16. Moz: Some of the many benefits to using Moz's intricately built-out suite of SEO tools is quickly establishing a website's relevancy, authority, and credibility when you're evaluating potential partners, distribution, and publishing opportunities. Their analysis tools will also guide you to perfecting your own website's SEO-optimization, increasing your domain authority, and avoiding any of the pitfalls that would harm your site's ranking ability. I also use their free Chrome Extension to get easy one-click access to their tools.
17. Keyword Planner (Google): This free tool from Google is essential in validating new product ideas, deciding which topics to blog about, which keywords you should be targeting for your key pages, and so much more. Use the keyword planner to check average monthly search volume for different sets of keyword groupings, and that'll give you a very quick sense to whether or not there's demand for the product, service, or content you're wanting to offer.
18. Keyword Density Analyzer Tool: With this simple tool, you can paste in links to your webpages and analyze them for getting to the right meta tags, page titles, post titles, and you'll learn about the optimal balance of keywords to use when creating new content.
19. Click-to-Tweet by CoSchedule: This tool is as minimalist and straight forward as it gets when it comes to embedding quick and easy tweetable bits anywhere on your website with an easy-to-install WordPress plugin.
20. Headline Analyzer Tool by CoSchedule: The CoSchedule team is doing something right. They have a ton of great tools, including this one that gives you a quick SEO analysis of how your potential headline ranks on a scale of zero to 100. It goes a step further and also helps you boost the effectiveness of your blog post titles with powerful word and phrase recommendations.
21. Buzzsumo: I use this diverse researching tool to concept potential blog post topics, find key influencers to help distribute my content, and identify opportunities to build relationships with potential partner sites. You can use it to see how many social shares a competitor's blog post has, which will give you insights as to which social channels that topic may perform best on. It’s a great place to see which topics related to your business get the most attention, so that you don’t go flying blind the next time you write a new blog post.
Yoast is legendary in the SEO industry, and their optimization plugin for WordPress posts and pages lives up to their reputation. All you do is fill in the sections for meta title, meta description, target keyword, then Yoast scans your content and gives you precise recommendations for how to further optimize your content for ranking well.
23. AddThis: This social media-driven sharing tool, has a suite of offerings including the social sharing widgets you see on this site. Their targeting tools allow you to zoom in on your website visitors to create dynamic portrait based on geography, mobile usage, social media connections, and more.
24. Narrow.io: Created by content marketer, Sujan Patel, this tool can help you build a targeted Twitter following that regularly engages with the content you create and share. It automates and streamlines the process of engaging with your target market, based on keywords and hashtags you identify with.
25. Google AdWords: Affordable, targeted paid marketing to as wide or as narrow a client base as you'd like within Google's sponsored search results or across their vast display network of partner sites. Cheaply test the viability of your product by driving paid traffic at a quick landing page to see if they'll sign up for more information. Attract your first customers who are ready to buy, conduct aggressive A/B testing campaigns, and grow your user base with relatively cheap pay-per-click advertising.
26. Pingdom Website Speed Analyzer: Pingdom has a nice free tool to troubleshoot slow load times on your website. Aside from just checking how fast a page loads on your website, Pingdom will send you email alerts if your servers are down, and will also show you the exact web elements, based on content type like specific image files, CSS, and HTML that are causing your site to load slowly.
27. Alexa Chrome Extension: This Chrome extension for Alexa.com's traffic rank tool is a great way to keep an eye on your competition’s macro search engine statistics. It allows you to instantly see their international and domestic traffic rankings, the number of sites linking to them, and how much time an average user spends browsing their site. It’s also useful for seeing how your website stacks up, and I use it as a factor in deciding whether or not to forge partnerships with other websites.
28. Ghostery Chrome Extension: See which tools and extensions your competitor websites are using. I've used Ghostery to learn about interesting new services I could be using to help amplify my results online, in addition to controlling what information I share about myself to the websites I'm browsing.
29. Google Trends: Like Google's Keyword Planner, I frequently use Google Trends as a litmus test for measuring the potential success of a blog post, new online course offering, and for getting a glimpse of what major topics are trending within my industry on the internet.
Communication and collaboration
30. Google Drive: If I were to be stuck on a desert island and could only choose to have access to one tool that I run my business with, Drive would be it. You can share and collaborate with others on documents, spreadsheets, slide presentations, video files, and so much more.
31. Slack: Funny enough, it's hard for me to even imagine collaborative work without Slack, despite it being such a relatively new tool. It has very become the go-to messaging app for distributed teams and startups around the world. It’s perfect for group work and collaboration, and removes the tired hassle of checking long email threads for attachments and missing important information.
32. Google Hangouts: When you have to video chat with your collaborators and no one is in the same place, Google Hangouts is my favorite tool. It also comes with built-in messaging to share documents on the fly, or chat with others via text in case everyone in the coffee shop is giving you dirty looks for speaking too loudly.
33. Skype: Skype is the original messaging and video conferencing app. It’s especially useful if you clients, partners, or contractors are based internationally, because calling abroad is exceptionally cheap. Another alternative is Google Voice for making affordable non-domestic calls.
Images and graphics
I use Infogram to create beautiful graphic representations of data. It puts Excel graphing and plotting to shame with its flexible, easy-to-use interface and vast template library of graphs, charts, tables, and infographic elements.
35. Canva: Canva offers all sorts of great, easy-to-use visual design tools for free. You can filter out photos, add graphics and icons to them (this is especially useful for creating social media-friendly images), design awesome infographics with drag-and-drop elements, create visually appealing e-books, and more.
36. Adobe Photoshop: If you want to go for truly unlimited image editing and customization, Adobe Photoshop is the one tool you can rely on to make your images do exactly what you want. It is a must-have for those who are ultra design-conscious. Depending on what you’re doing, having Lightroom to touch up hi-res photos could be a useful, too.
37. Adobe Illustrator: The visual creation complement to Photoshop, is the industry standard for creating custom vector graphics, illustrations, icons, and anything else you can think up. If you want to become a master at creating high quality infographics, this will be the tool of your trade.
38. Designfeed: Designfeed is my favorite new platform for quickly generating high-quality social images. With their easy-to-use automated tool, you can create awesome visual content, text-overlay social images, and more. What's even cooler, is that they give you images sized to fit every relevant social platform, and connect with various social media management tools for quick scheduling. You can sign up for free, right here.
39. GIF Brewery: Turn short video clips of anything into GIFs with this Mac application. Whether it's product demos, quick tutorials, or visualizations, there are a ton of great uses for GIFs, including making your email follow up stand out from the crowd.
40. Keynote and Powerpoint: Sometimes you just can't beat the features of the original presentation software makers. I use these tools to create professional e-books, white papers, and design presentations for client meetings and webinars.
You can’t say no to free stock photos, right? This site is my go-to for high quality, genuine stock images that don't fall into the cheesy classification.
42. Unsplash: Similar to StockSnap, this site publishes a slightly more limited catalog of beautiful, free, hi-res images that you can also use without worrying about copyright infringement.
43. Awesome Screenshot Chrome Extension: As the name suggests, this screen capture tool is an awesome way to capture all (or parts) of any webpage you’re on. You can also annotate those screenshots, blur sensitive information, and easily download and share them with collaborators.
44. Mockingbird: This wireframe tool makes designing anything from a simple landing page to a detailed project proposal easy as pie. You can also collaborate with designers, copywriters, and whoever else you’re working with, directly within the tool to create high quality content for your business.
45. Explainify: This highly creative video production studio creates quality, custom-made animations and videos for your business, in case you have neither the skill nor the time to do it yourself. This is definitely something I'd recommend outsourcing in the beginning stages of your business.
46. Placeit: Easily make beautiful app mockups and demo videos with Placeit, which gives you hundreds of different mockup templates and scenarios to show off what someone using your app would look like in real life. This is a great tool for adding a human element to your landing pages, long before you've actually got the budget for a product shoot of your own.
Content creation and delivery
A priceless app for scheduling editorial content and maintaining a collaborative editorial calendar for your blog posts, Coschedule integrates across a variety of platforms including WordPress, Buffer, and Evernote to bring your content marketing assets into one central hub. You’ll be able to look ahead and strategically share your content more efficiently across your social media channels as a result.
48. ZippyCourses: I use this great WordPress plugin created by Derek Halpern, to power the backend of all my online courses. ZippyCourses allows you to fine tune your course delivery, down to timed releases of different course modules, set up quizzes, facilitate downloads, accept one-time or subscription payments, and more.
49. LeadPages: This great tool is designed to let you whip up high-converting responsive landing pages in a matter of minutes. Their easy-to-use landing page tool includes great integrations with all the major email marketing platforms to help you capture email addresses, phone numbers, and registrations for your upcoming product launches.
50. Amazon Web Services: For data-heavy projects, or affordably hosting video files and images on servers that won't bog down your own site load time, S3 by AWS is the place to go. You can even get a whole year’s worth of cloud services for free.
Payments, invoicing, and accounting
51. Stripe: I've been using Stripe for several years now. It has totally revolutionized how businesses accept online payments by making credit card acceptance safer, cheaper, and simpler than ever. They have a flat rate of 2.9 percent plus $0.30 per transaction, a competitive rate in an industry that is largely unregulated and notorious for charging all sorts of hidden fees to businesses. Beyond that, it's one of the most well documented and widely used payment processors in use by digital entrepreneurs.
52. Bonsai: Bonsai is designed to help freelancers get paid on time with a workflow of contracts, e-signing, invoices, and payments. It's super simple. In just minutes, you can create and send a bulletproof freelance contract for free. You can also send automated invoices and set up reminders that ensure get you paid on time. They've helped over 10,000-plus freelancers get paid an average of 14 days faster.
This is the ultimate cloud accounting, invoicing, expense tracking, payment acceptance, and time tracking all-in-one tool. Especially if you're running a service-based or freelancing business, Freshbooks makes getting paid and keeping track of what you're owed as stress-free as possible. Which is great, because I personally hate keeping tabs on every outstanding invoice from my freelance clients. They have a great 30-day free trial, and once you get everything set up you'll realize how useful it is for helping you manage the money side of your business.
54. Shake: If you need to make your contracts extra official, I definitely recommend using Shake to quickly draft up legally binding contracts in seconds (from their awesome template library) and save yourself from the pain of unnecessary legal fees.
55. Hurdlr: Hurdlr is awesome for a few different types of people. Authors, speakers, digital entrepreneurs, and even Uber and Lyft drivers can benefit big time from this tool. It let's you manage your finances by automatically tracking earnings, expenses, and calculating your taxes. As you're going, the platform actively finds suggestions on how to lower your taxes, so you can maximize your income.
Productivity and organization
Trello is a collaboration-friendly task manager that’s great for team projects. A customizable project board that lets everyone post what they’re working on, allowing for you to easily tick off items that are done, and contribute to different projects that aren’t. Trello is crucial for my workflow in setting due dates and prioritizing which projects and posts are most important in my business.
57. ToDo for iPhone: This simple yet powerful app turns your iPhone into a personal to-do list and task manager. It helps me keep track of everything from my weekly groceries to a detailed checklist of everything I need to accomplish in preparation for a conference call with a freelance client. It's the backbone of my time management system.
58. Close.io: This is a sales-focused CRM that does the heavy data entry for you and frees you up to make more sales, if that’s what your business focus is. Your entire sales workflow is consolidated into one easy-to-read interface, and all the time consuming tasks like logging phone calls and emails is done seamlessly behind the scenes.
59. Brevity: If you love reading and staying in the loop on what's new in your industry, Brevity is a must-have. You get summarized insights from new content in an array of relevant fields based upon your preferences, delivered directly to your inbox. Their minimalist landing page should give you an idea of what to expect.
60. Lighthouse: This customer support-friendly tool allows you to track your progress on multiple collaborative projects. With Lighthouse, you won’t bang your head against the wall because of missed or late support tickets, thanks to features like automatically organized tasks, reminders, and document attachments directly into your support emails.
61. Curator: Curator is an awesome iOS app that’s perfect for collecting inspiration from around the web and brainstorming ideas until you can put them together into simple presentations.
62. ContentMarketer.io: This tool is designed to help marketers be more effective at building relationships, promoting content, and growing traffic in a big way. You can build outreach lists, automate the process of sending personalized emails and follow ups, and track the effectiveness of your campaigns.
63. Pop: Personally, I love drafting out my ideas and business concepts by hand first. There's something magical about the creative process of physically drawing and writing for me, and that's not something I want to give up. Pop is great for creating prototypes on paper, and moving those designs from paper into digital versions that'll get you to the next stage of your business.
Mixpanel tracks conversion rates for the key events (think: email sign up, account registration, purchase) on your web and mobile landing pages. Above is a screenshot of my Mixpanel account, showing the conversion rate from visit to email signup on a recent blog post of mine. Among many other things, it also gives you an immense amount of useful raw data on the sort of activities your site visitors are doing (which is the first step in testing how to improve your conversion rates), all without having to write complicated SQl code.
65. GoogleAnalytics: The original must-have website analytics platform that every website owner relies upon for data like page view statistics, goal tracking, audience demographics, site behavior, traffic acquisition, and thousands of more granular data points. Use GA to analyze every facet of your website, app, and optimize how you drive traffic into your business.
66. Bit.ly: Bit.ly is useful for coding links and tracking the activity on custom short links for your business. For example, I use ryrb.co, which adds my personal brand to all of the links I share across my social media channels and I'm able to take a look at the data behind which links get the most clicks and why.
User testing and surveys
67. Typeform: Use this tool to make simple, user-friendly sign-up forms and surveys, instead of complicated, difficult to navigate ones. Typeform also gives you super useful templates for specific types of forms, such as market research, customer feedback, embeddable website contact forms, job applications, and more.
68. Proved: This awesome questionnaire app gives you instant access to large focus group quantities of people, allowing you to validate your business ideas, feature concepts, and product designs by getting your objective survey data in front of a potential audience of millions.
Communities and blogs
69. GrowthHackers: This is a community of growth and marketing-oriented startup enthusiasts and entrepreneurs doing a lot of awesome things and openly sharing their experiences and knowledge on how to double conversion rates, increase marketing leads, more effectively onboard new users, and everything else worth knowing in the world of effective business growth.
70. HackerNews: This is one of the longest standing, most genuine, and reputable forums in the tech community. The content skews more toward a highly technical community of developers and growth marketers, but contributors share an incredible amount of cool, insightful news and learnings from the world of startups. If your product or service is technical by nature, HackerNews is your place to go for very honest (and guaranteed to be brutal) feedback.
71. ProductHunt: ProductHunt very quickly became one of my favorite websites when it launched just a couple of years ago. It’s now a hub for checking out new products, tools, and apps before they take off. If your business caters to helping other startups, entrepreneurs, or early adopters, having a strategically crafted, explosive launch on ProductHunt can truly mean the difference between success and failure. Dozens of detailed articles have sprung up over the past year, chronicling how to have a successful ProductHunt launch. Here's my favorite.
72. Quora: An invaluable community-sourced tool where you can learn about literally anything, from some of the best minds in the world. Quora allows you to dive deeply into the heads of people who’ve been there, done that, as well as giving you a chance to ask for feedback on the solutions you're building. If you frequently answer questions and help others within the community, you can quickly build a loyal following of potential customers within your niche.
73. SCORE.org: For many years, SCORE has been a great resource for me to pick up advice, insights, and even direct mentorship on topics related to validating my online business ideas, finding scalable manufacturing, and tracking down strategic distribution opportunities. Check out their blog, updated daily, for new tips and actionable steps to creating a business that's relevant in today's world.
74. Startup Stash: Startup Stash is a carefully curated list of tools and resources for startups and entrepreneurs. It features nearly every possible resource in every category you can think of related to growing a business, and the best part is they’ve really pared it down to the most useful solutions. There’s a ton of great apps, websites, plugins, and more to be discovered here.
75. Reddit: Learn about and share promising new ideas, particularly on discussion threads like /r/apps and /r/startups. Be warned though, if you're clearly self-promoting or perceived as spamming the Reddit community, you'll very quickly have your posts removed and are likely to get banned from the forums you posted your overly promotional message in. The key to success on Reddit is building a reputation, being genuinely helpful, and humbly asking for feedback directly within the community, rather than linking off to your landing page.
76. User Interviews: Quickly get feedback and in-depth reviews on your early products or services from people within your target market with this new service. User Interviews pairs you with high-quality, real survey participants at $10/person with the goal of helping you more easily test new ideas, concepts, and products with your target market.
Want more? Check out this post for even more tools and resources to help grow your online business.