The 27 Tools I Use to Run My Online Business

I have been an internet entrepreneur now going on over fourteen years. I feel like the amount of tools available online expands exponentially year over year.

Sometimes it’s hard to pick. I can’t tell you how many trials, starter plans, and recurring fees I’ve incurred over the last decade and half, but it’s a lot.

If it helps you, I’ve decided to compile a list of everything I use right now in my business today. We are fast approaching the million dollar per year rev mark with uGurus and this is what I operate the business on:

Google Apps for Business: email, chat, documents, and calendars
This is the lifeblood of our business. Our nine person team lives and breaths daily communication, scheduling, and doc share via Google’s productivity platform. I’ve been “cloud enabled” for my communication platform since 2007 and I will never go back to desktop software to do this stuff.

Basecamp: project management
I have fallen in love with this project management app only to fall out of love, start dating again, break up, and finally we are back together for the kids. I mean, we are using the platform again. I know many purists out there swear by the OG Basecamp and have not yet switched over to version 2, but I’ve finally come around. Good call for 37Signals to burn the bridges to their other platforms and focus. It’s paid off. Basecamp is our central hub and official channel for communications.

Trello: task, idea, and list management
This is my personal task list hub. I track my weekly todos, ideas, brainstorms, lists upon lists, books, issues, features, and so much more. The more I dump to Trello, the better I feel. I get ideas and thoughts out of my head and into storage. I even got my wife and I to start using a shared “household” board so that we can add shopping lists, weekend chores, and things to tell the pediatrician on our regular newborn checkups.

Recurly: recurring billing management
When it comes to recurring billing management, these folks have it nailed. Several of our web properties are subscription-based so recurring billing is a must. When we first started out, we started to build our own billing system…then we realized that we didn’t want to be a billing company and instead stood on the shoulders of some giants who already figured it out. If you aren’t using an API layer for this type of thing in your startup or business, then you’re doing it wrong. We evaluated about five products before landing with them and they’ve kept our business for almost two years.

Freshdesk: support ticketing
Tickets, tickets, and more tickets. If your business requires any kind of regular email support, get a ticketing system. While I actually prefer Zendesk as a product and company, their pricing is sky high to run multiple online businesses through one portal. We were able to reduce our costs by a factor of five by switching over to Freshdesk. While it’s not quite as sexy as Zen, it has all the features and solid support.

Mindmeister: brainstorms and mindmaps
Much of the work I do requires outlines and brainstorms. From content to product launch plans, I like to get all of my ideas out in front of me and then have the ability to move them around by clicking and dragging. Mindmeister has proven to be my favorite place to start with an idea.

Xero: cloud-based accounting
If you are an online business, you don’t have any excuse for not using a cloud-based accounting solution. If you are a bricks and mortar, you should still think about it. I can access my books from anywhere anytime. My accountant can access them in real-time as well. There is no software to install or upgrades. No files to backup or lose.

Viddler: video hosting
We eat up a couple terabytes of bandwidth of video for our premium video-based products per month. We’ve been on Viddler for almost four years with little issue. They keep our content secure and pumping. There are a lot of choices out there when it comes to video platforms and we’ve evaluated just about all of them. Almost switched a couple of times, but something always holds us back.

Amazon Web Services: web and application hosting
One of the choices we made when investing in uGurus full time was to build our own platform. It’s kind of a content management meets e-commerce meets information marketing and learning management system in one. We had everything hosted on a virtual dedicated server but recently made the migration up to Amazon’s cloud infrastructure. It was a hefty investment, but our dev team loves it and I finally feel “elastic.”

Infusionsoft: marketing automation
We’ve been using Mailchimp for the last year very successfully (oh, Mailchimp how your UX is so pleasant), however, our marketing has outgrown the functionality of the Chimp and we’ve had to move up to something a little more savvy. While I am still relatively knew to Infusionsoft, I think it’s going to be a major asset to our business. I can’t wait to get more automation into our lead gen and conversion funnels.

Hellosign: electronically sign contracts
From contributors to app developers, we process a lot of contracts. I don’t know how I ever lived without an electronic contract application and archive. I seriously still have a box from my web agency where we would archive all of our contracts. I always feared the day that I would ever have to go looking through that box…and it did happen on occasion. If you have contracts in your business, switch to an e-sign platform. Now. Stop reading this. Do it.

InVision: screenflows
If you build multi-page funnels, websites, or applications, this app allows you to upload static images and turn them into clickable workflows. Really helpful when planning out an application either from wireframes or fully designed screens without having to write a bunch of code to make something interactive.

LeanStack: lean product and business canvases
If you aren’t familiar with the Lean movement in entrepreneurship, a good starting point is first with Eric Ries and then Ash Marya. Ash’s company built a fantastic app to allow you to quickly fill out and share Lean Canvases – a cornerstone of how I plan my products.

UserTesting: website or app usability tests
When a bunch of people sit and stare at an application or website for too long on a team, they start to lose their ability to spot obvious errors and issues. UserTesting allows you to create a test and submit it to a crowdsourced army of user testers that will provide you written and video walkthroughs of your application with their feedback. Very useful to complete basic three to five person ”hallway tests“ on apps prior to going live.

BookFresh: online scheduler
Have you ever gone back and forth with someone for like two weeks over email just to book a single meeting? By the time you actually get the mutually convenient times on your calendar, all the romance is dead. Anyway, I love BookFresh. I have a web page that I setup with an embedded calendar. I just email whoever I want to meet with a link and allow them to find a time that I’ve pre-determined works for me that matches with their calendar. Super convenient. I ran a launch earlier this year where I promoted a free 30 minute coaching call to my list. I had eighty people book up an entire week in less than an hour. If you are still scheduling meeting through email and suggesting two to three mutually convenient times…stop. Go get this app.

8×8: VoIP phone system
No one at uGurus actually has a phone. When we sold our agency and moved to be entirely product based, we sold the whole phone system. That being said, I do keep a virtual voicemail box for the business with 8×8. I get voicemails over email as MP3’s and forward them to whoever.

Dropbox: cloud backup and file storage
Super simple and keeps my regular documents at a mouse-click reach from any computer in the world. Helps too that you can easily share and link to documents without too much hassle. I know there is a lot of competition in this space now, but Dropbox continues to be my trusted steed for easy cloud-based file sharing and storage.

Skype: internet phone
Since we got rid of our actual phones, much of the daily communication we run at uGurus happens over Skype. We allow anyone to work from home (or wherever) when they need to. Being able to see video helps us stay a bit more connected at an emotional level with each other by being able to see faces and demeanor (especially helpful in intense conversations). Screenshare and also videos of whiteboards have proved very useful as well.

Evernote: notes
I used to open up random notepads in Windows, jot some things down, forget to copy them over to something more permanent, and shut down my computer. I lost tons of little snippets, ideas, and useful information. I also would use Google Docs for things like book notes, meeting notes, and the like and for some reason could never find the notes I needed again. Evernote solved that. The combination of Evernote, Trello, and Mindmeister has given me incredible mental freedom when it comes to keeping my thoughts, ideas, and knowledge organized. I also use Skitch for screenshots and markup. Highly useful for commenting on comps or screenshots.

Buffer: social media queuing
I am a newly minted Buffer user, but I love it so far. I tried to use Hootsuite for years unsuccessfully. Yes, it did give me the ability to view lots of lists at a single point, but I tend to publish content and ideas more than I dope into the conversation. For me, Buffer was exactly what I needed to increase the pulse of my social media engagement without overwhelming my followers.

FullContact: contact syncing and cleaning
After meeting the FullContact team on a recent uGurus interview, I started to use their app. The syncing and consolidated contacts features are pretty cool, but the MAJOR win for this app is the business card scanner that I know have on my iPhone that gets human transcription. Now when people hand me cards, I take a photo, and throw them away versus adding them to that never-ending-pile on my desk.

Podio: project management, flexible platform
We started to use Podio as a central place to manage projects, but the different views and “apps” became cumbersome to manage basic discussions, tasks, and calendars. While we moved most of our project communication over to Basecamp, we actually still use Podio for a few things: our daily huddle entries, keeping track of our contributor network, keeping track of our app developers, and tracking a few special projects that benefit from Podio’s flexible app structure.

GotoMeeting/GotoWebinar: online web conferences
This has been old faithful to run meeting with multiple people outside of our immediate company. While Skype is solid for regular communication with people you talk to often, GotoMeeting gives quick access to a central dial-in number with a convenient link for screenshare. GotoMeeting’s close cousin, GotoWebinar, is convenient when running an event with a few hundred of your closest fans.

Adobe Connect: online web conferencing w/ video
Recently I’ve been running a lot of group-based programs with ten or so people all dialed-in via a webcam. Adobe Connect provides a great group coaching and teaching environment. I can queue up slide decks, apps, and a bunch of other widgets in a group environment.

Adobe Creative Cloud: content creation
Adobe’s suite of tools is now more useful than ever as a cloud-based subscription. Photoshop, Premier, Lightroom – all are cornerstones to the regular content I publish via our various web properties.

Google Analytics: web traffic stats
We’ve experimented with several analytic platforms over the last couple of years, but we keep going back to Google Analytics for our general traffic, visitor, and search reports. The continue to improve this platform and I know I only tap into a tiny percentage of the possible power.

So that’s it. Maybe next year I’ll run an update to this to see what I have continued to use and what new apps make it into my world.

I know other members of the uGurus staff also use several of their own tools…but perhaps I’ll dig their favorites out for a future post.

If there’s a tool that you swear by that’s not on my list, hit me up on Twitter, @brentweaver.

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