As more creative entrepreneurs take to the interwebz to build an online outpost for their business, the conversation always comes back to technology at some point.
What software do you run your site on? How do you take credit cards or invoice clients? What plug-in did you use to get that countdown timer? How do I build an online fan club/membership site?
These are just a handful of questions that have some form of technology as the answer.
Okay, Chaotics, brace yourselves. We're about to speak geek. I promise, it'll be okay. In fact, if I've done my job right, this will be useful and maybe even a bit FUN for you. These are a handful of my favorite tech tools for Creative Entrepreneurs, recommended by your creative type.
Basic tech tools that make it easy to build your creative business online
Website platform: WordPress
Hands down, this is the most flexible platform... once you get over a slight learning curve. Actually, it can be as easy or hard as you make it. You can go with a hosted site at WordPress.com, or host your own version from WordPress.org for more bells & whistles. From a single page, "brochure" style site to a robust e-commerce shopping solution, you can pretty much make any kind of website you want starting on the back of WordPress, considering that e-commerce has grown so much over the years, with more customers option for online shopping (look at this site for more info), this is great news for those wanting to start an online business. This is great news for Linears who like a single-point solution to keep things simple. Fusions dig the flexibility of options and the bajillion different plug-ins designed to add more functionality to your site. Chaotics can appreciate the simple word processor-style interface for content. A basic WordPress install is point, click, easy. There's also a vast array of free and premium themes that don't require you to be a web designer. Or you can hire a pro (like my designer, Tracy) and get as customized as you like.
Accepting payments: Paypal
Hands down, it's still the easiest interface for buyers and sellers. Their simple "paypal.me" URL has saved me tons of time creating payment links for clients, and while their dispute resolution is for crap, it's accepted more places than almost any other payment option. You have easy access to your cash via the paypal debit card, and you can even get instant transfers to your linked bank account now (for a small fee). Other tools like Stripe or Square require more backflips, and aren't as easy to integrate for most creatives - although Linears will probably prefer Stripe because of their lower rates for accepting payments. If you've got a higher dollar volume business, Stripe or Square make sense for the other options they provide. But if all you need is a simple shopping cart and checkout system for your website, Paypal is easy peasy, lemon squeezy.
Financial Management, Invoicing, Bookkeeping: QuickBooks Self-Employed
While Paypal does offer invoicing, QuickBooks is a more robust option for all things financial management. Mint, also owned by Intuit, is like the baby version of QuickBooks - and focused more on your personal finances. Chaotics will probably freak out at first, which is why I recommend having someone else set it up for you. Then, once all your accounts are linked, QuickBooks pulls it all together, cranks out reports, and lets you get paid like a boss. It also tracks mileage. Linears probably already know that QuickBooks is the industry standard for financial management, and Fusions are probably trying to cobble together their own makeshift plan using free tools like spreadsheets. They say diamonds are a girl's best friend, but I've found that a great bookkeeper is better. You'll be able to buy your own diamonds soon enough, if you keep your finger on the pulse of your cash flow.
Mailing list service provider/Autoresponder: MailChimp or Aweber
These two are not technically the same thing, but most list services include some type of autoresponse feature. There are a LOT of providers out there, and I've used quite a few in my 20+ years on the internet. If you're just starting out, MailChimp is a user-friendly way to get started. Chaotics appreciate the step-by-step hand holding and visual interface, making it drag and drop easy. Linears will appreciate the robust reporting options that come standard - even with the free accounts! Fusions love it all - and the playful nature of the company makes it easy to love the Chimp. One thing that MailChimp DOESN'T offer is single opt-in. For that, I prefer Aweber. With a fairly simple and straightforward interface, Aweber uses plug-ins (for an additional fee) to give you more of the features that you'll find standard on MailChimp. But Aweber also costs less as your list grows, so that's a consideration for someone with a larger mailing list.
Membership /Course Software: Wishlist Member or Teachable
I've been using this tool for years and every update makes it better. With just a few clicks you can set up a private, members-only area on your website, with as many different access levels as you like - including "pay per post" which allows you to charge for access to a single page or post on your site. Every user has their own login and password, which makes it easy to maintain and track, plus, because it's hosted on your own site, there's not a bunch of extra fees like you'll pay on a site like Teachable. The downside? You've got to host and manage your content on your own, which means you'll need a little bit of tech savvy to run it all. The alternative is Teachable. There's no option for students to interact, like they could on your own site, but Teachable accepts payments and tracks student progress without the need for additional plugins like Wishlist. For Chaotics, I recommend Teachable, for Linears, Wishlist. For Fusions, look at the level of personal engagement you need in your program. If you want conversation, Wishlist is your tool, otherwise you'll have to pair Teachable with another tool, like a Facebook group.
Each of these tools is great for someone just starting out and still gives you room to grow. If you've got an established enterprise, you'll probably need to grow into something a bit more robust, which I'll cover in a future post.