Small Business Tools That Work for Us

Designing My Website

Because I update content regularly, I knew I needed to be on WordPress. I needed a theme that reflected the Copy Hackers personality – and I didn’t want to pay anyone to create a custom theme. (Lean startup mindset!) Plus, this had to be an ecommerce site that allowed the delivery of digital products, which not every ecommerce site does.

Lance found my current theme HUB, which is by WooThemes, makers of WooCommerce. And it’s been great ‘cos:

  • It looks professional and is very customizable, with simple shortcodes
  • Because it’s on WordPress, it’s great for SEO – with plugin options galore
  • I can easily add coupons and sale prices
  • Content in the cart is customizable
  • The page layout options can be adjusted on a page-by-page basis, so not every blog post needs a right sidebar

Luvin’ tons right now: Dropbox! I even use it to share my video courses

Hosting My Website

In May 2012, Lance switched us from BlueHost to WP Engine. We’d been having trouble with the site being down quite randomly – and with no warning – and slow load times… So when Lance heard about WP Engine on a TechZing podcast (which you should be listening to), he convinced me that it was time to make the switch.

We pay more for WP Engine than we did for BlueHost, but it’s 100% worth it. Here are a few highlights:

  • Smart, fast support
    You’ll pretty much always get a response from a real live person – who actually has the authority to do something on your account – within 24 hours
  • Way faster page loads
    You don’t really realize how slow your site is until you move it over to WP Engine and see how freakin’ fast it should’ve been going all that time you were with a different hosting co…
  • When we faced struggles while moving the site, WP Engine was there to help
    Things don’t always go wicked-smoothly, but when we had trouble, WP Engine hooked us up with someone who could make our transition super-easy… and we didn’t have to pay extra for it!

The owner of WP Engine is Jason Cohen, of A Smart Bear fame. He’s really smart and totally focused on a great customer experience. Yep, I use and recommend WP Engine.

Hosting My Videos

Wistia. It’s amazing. Here’s what I love most about it:

  • I can easily make a video private or public
  • The “foam” mode lets a video resize to the object it’s in, which is great on our responsively designed site
  • Viewers can pause the videos and return to that point in the future
  • I can easily change the thumbnail or upload a custom one
  • I can autoplay videos – love that for A/B testing
  • I can insert a “turnstile” at any point in the video that prompts the viewer to enter their email addy to keep watching (love!!)

And the people there are sooo nice. I reached out to “support” about the possibility of adding a paywall to videos (e.g., for previewing courses), and the same person continually helped me: Kristen. She even follows up with me to see how I’m doing, and it feels authentic. She knew I was going to speak at Business of Software in Boston, where Wistia is based, and she invited me out for coffee and told me that I could work in the Wistia offices if I’d like. Like, what? Amazing people there.

Building My Email List

I use 3 different solutions to generate interest in and signups for my email list:

  1. Foobar – A nice, clean bar at the top of the page, which can contain either sales messaging or email signup fields
  2. Magic Action Box – Fantastic little WP plugin that lets me add all sorts of nice-looking, engaging opt-in forms within posts, within pages and in my sidebar and footer
  3. Bounce Exchange – We hated it as an idea… but the team at BX convinced us to give a less-aggressive approach a shot, and… well, we’ll write about the results later, but we haven’t taken it down, if that means anything to you

All 3 integrate with MailChimp, which I use for my emails…

Creating and Sending Emails / Enewsletters

If you’re on my list, you know I send lots of content and almost no sales pitches, direct or indirect. So I need a newsletter template that is easy to read and easy to make visually interesting – not to mention one that simplifies unsubscribes, simplifies HTML versions and offers full email analytics. MailChimp does all of that, plus:

  • Groups! Lists! Easy segmenting, down to the product a subscriber bought, when they bought it, when they last opened an email – amazing
  • It lets me choose from dozens of designs, though I only use the basic one
  • It uses a very simple WYSIWYG editor
  • Its pop-up previews, test emails and subject-line testing are awesome
  • It makes it easy to segment lists, which is important as your list grows
  • Autoresponders and scheduled emails are super-easy to create, schedule and track
  • Account upgrades – and downgrades (which I hope never to need) – are automatic
  • Increasingly, more plugins – like SocialPro – are becoming available

Then there’s the whole “a chimp is showing me YouTube videos of cats” side of MailChimp, which is icing on the cake. The only thing I’d love to see MailChimp do is autoresponder / drip campaign A/B testing, which they currently don’t offer…

I know a lot of people recommend Aweber, and maybe it’s a great tool… But I’m all about MailChimp.

Creating Squeeze / Opt-In Pages

Unbounce all the way! In 2013, Unbounce made a few insanely awesome tweaks to their platform that turned me from a convert to a fan:

  • Over 20 gorgeous landing page templates
  • Beautiful design elements, including a fantastic graphics library
  • The world’s easiest drag-and-drop interface
  • A boatload of awesome fonts
  • Insanely easy-to-customize backgrounds, page sections, etc
  • Integration with tons of email platforms (including MailChimp)… or delivery of leads straight to your inbox

I don’t use Unbounce for my sales pages – because my long-form needs are crazy-specific (see next section) – but Unbounce is unbeatable for every other landing page on earth

UPDATE: The new Unbounce templates on ThemeForest are blowing my mind. I’m now using Unbounce for longer landing pages, like for courses and new product ideas. Diggity.

Creating Sales Pages

We use Premise for our long-form sales pages. We looked at a LOT of sales page options out there, but none of them included all of these key elements except Premise:

  • Based on WordPress – so if you know WordPress, you’re already good to go
  • Page looks like a page, with borders and adjustable width
  • Customizable background, page color, border color, etc
  • No global nav
  • Embeddable videos that don’t have to play automatically
  • Catalog of images made for sales pages
  • No styling added to images – so if you want to upload your own button, it won’t be given some funky frame that makes it look less like a button
  • Side-by-side pricing tables
  • Shading for testimonials

Preparing Proposals for Clients

First things first: I no longer prepare proposals in the traditional sense. Why not? ‘Cos I put hours and hours and hours into several proposals… only to find out that the dudes were Lookie Lous. Browsers. Window shoppers.

That ain’t good when you’re a small biz with limited time. So now I treat a proposal – which is really a professional assessment with recommendations – as the high-value deliverable that it is… and charge for it.

That said, when it comes time to prepare those proposals, I use Bidsketch. Here’s why:

  • Bidsketch works with RightSignature, which I depend on
  • It’s run by Ruben Gamez, whom I’ve had the pleasure of working with – he’s an awesome guy
  • It makes it easy to repurpose content… so I don’t have to create proposals from scratch
  • It lets you see whether your prospects have viewed your proposal or not as well as how often they’ve viewed it

Getting Documents, Like Contracts, Signed

I use RightSignature! It’s so fantastic, I can’t help but rave about it. You get 5 documents in your free trial, and this is all you have to do to use it:

  1. Create a document, like a contract
  2. Upload the doc
  3. Drag-and-drop signature and initial boxes to where you’d like them
  4. Send to the client to sign off
  5. Sign it online, using your mouse to draw (or on your iPad)

I actually look forward to having documents that need to be signed. And, since we’re paperless at Copy Hackers, this fits us perfectly…

I haven’t even scratched the surface of what RightSignature can do. (Hello online forms!) But I plan to.

Invoicing Clients

Because I take on fewer clients now than ever before, I’ve switched from Freshbooks – which was good but did more than I needed it to – to Ballpark by MetaLab.

I really dig Ballpark because:

  • It’s inexpensive, which is fab if you’re not 100% focused on client work
  • The look and feel of the Ballpark design is nice – cool and slightly playful but still profesh
  • It lets you preview an invoice in “Client View”, which I haven’t seen done elsewhere but which is genius
  • You can accept payments by PayPal and/or Stripe, both of which we use at Copy Hackers
  • You can attach a PDF of your invoice to your email to the client
  • When you’re entering a new invoice for a new client, it doesn’t force you to first go set up a new client; you can set up a lite version of the client right in your invoice, so you can stay on task
  • If you accept payments by PayPal or Stripe, you can tick a box to charge the service fee to the client (nice!)

Some of the above are affiliate links, but most are not. Every single tool we recommend is one we use now – or used actively in the recent past – and think you should seriously consider.