So you want to start an online business and make money from your own website, which gives you the freedom to work from home or from anywhere else.
I achieved this dream for myself back in 2011, so it’s definitely possible to achieve this. That said, it requires time, effort, developing new skills, and of course, the necessary tools to make this happen.
For this article, I’ll focus only on the key, essential business tools you’ll want to consider, especially if you’re just starting out as an online entrepreneur.
How this guide is different from other guides for online business tools
When researching this article, I noticed a lot of other guides for online business software listed a bunch of products and services without any particular rhyme or reason.
Sure, a lot of those products and services were valuable and used by millions of people, but there wasn’t any clear logic in exactly what kinds of tools to get or the priority in getting them. There didn’t tend to be any delineation between “must have” or “important to have” or “nice to have”.
So for this article, I decided to write it from the perspective that you are starting an online business from scratch, and how you’ll want to focus first and foremost on the “must have” tools and then the “important to have” tools and so on.
Must have online tools if you’re serious about making money online
If you’re serious about starting an online business, you’ll want your very own website, instead of being a guest on someone else’s website where you could be kicked off at any time.
By this, I mean you absolutely must not build your online business on a “free” website like Blogger, or WordPress.com, or Tumblr, or whoever else promises you your very “own” website on their platform. Because it isn’t your website, if it’s on their website. Make sense?
Sure, it’ll cost you a little more time, money, and effort to set up your own website on your own domain, but this is absolutely necessary if you’re serious about starting an online business that can make you some real money, without the risk of being kicked off a host platform at any time.
So here are the basic – and necessary – online tools you’ll need to make this happen in the exact order of priority.
1. Domain name registrar: the tool to get your domain name
Choosing and registering a domain name is the most basic, foundational step of starting an online business, because your entire website and business gets built on that domain name.
For example, all of the news articles on CNN are on the cnn.com domain, all of the collected movie reviews on Rotten Tomatoes are on the rottentomatoes.com domain, and so on.
Recommended registrar for domain names: GoDaddy
I use GoDaddy as a registrar. I’ll recommend it, mainly because I don’t have personal experience with other registrars, so I can’t vouch for them one way or the other.
GoDaddy is fine in the sense that it’s well established and not going anywhere.
But I don’t like the company that much. I just feel stuck with them, more than anything.
In any case, if you want to register a domain name, yes, GoDaddy can do this for you.
2. Website hosting: the tool that lets your website exist online
It’s no good having a domain name if that domain name can’t breathe and exist online. That’s where web hosting comes in: it allows you to bring your website domain to life so that people can actually find it online.
Recommended web hosting: WPX Hosting
WPX Hosting is great. If you have a problem, the support team will help you out as quickly as possible. I’ve been very happy with my experience with WPX Hosting, so I can fully recommend it without reservations.
The only catch is that WPX Hosting can be a little more expensive than some of the other options out there.
So if you’re strapped for cash, then maybe you can try more inexpensive web hosting first, like Bluehost, which is often recommended to people starting their first website or blog. And then, once you start making some more money, you can upgrade to better hosting (which I think is a wise investment).
3. Website builder: the tool that creates the actual pages and structure of your website
After you get a domain name and web hosting, you need to actually build your website. Basically, you want to create pages filled with content that people can find online.
This requires a website builder.
Recommended website builder: WordPress
Presumably, over one third of websites online are powered by WordPress. So it really is the go-to website builder.
If you’re just starting out and you have no idea how to build a website, then you definitely want to go with WordPress and learn how to use it, mainly because so many other people also use it, so you can get a lot of help and support along the way. Seriously, just google whatever you want to achieve with WordPress, and someone has probably written an article about it.
4. Online bank account for making payments and getting paid
If you’re starting an online business, then you want to get paid money, and that means having a bank account where you can receive and save payments, as well as pay for things (such as your web hosting and domain name).
From the beginning, be smart about this and treat your online business as a real business with a bank account that is completely separate from your personal bank account. Ok?
Recommended online bank account: PayPal
Pretty much everyone has heard of PayPal. So even if you go down the path of getting other business bank accounts, I strongly recommend that you at least have PayPal in addition to those other accounts.
With PayPal you can get paid, make payments… So you’re already set.
Big takeaway: you only need 4 basic tools to make money online
If you think about it, to make money from an online business, all you really need is the domain name, web hosting, the actual website (built by a website builder), and a way to receive money. That’s it.
Of course, you’ll probably end up using a lot more tools than this, but I just want to make it clear that these are the essential basics.
And all things considered, these tools can be extremely inexpensive. Unlike starting a brick and mortar business, you can start an online business for probably $100 or less if you’re very frugal.
Of course, these tools are only the basic essentials, and you’ll undoubtedly use others, so let’s dive into some other online business tools you’ll probably want to use sooner or later…
Important tools to have for your online business (depending on how you want to drive traffic to your website & make money)
You’ll ultimately make money online via driving traffic to your website in some shape or form, where you can then monetize that traffic.
For example, you can make money by people clicking on your website’s affiliate links, or by selling them a digital product you created, or by displaying advertisements that make you some money for each view they get. But the big question is this: how do you plan on driving that traffic to your website in the first place?
Once you answer this question, you’ll have a better sense of which tools will be the most important and useful for you to use.
For organic search traffic, use SEO Tools
Organic search traffic is some of the most valuable traffic that exists. Basically, organic search traffic means someone types a search query into Google or some other search engine, and then after doing so, they find your website… Where you ideally monetize their visit in some way.
But how do you do it? How do you get this kind of search traffic from search engines?
Here’s where SEO Tools come into play.
SEO means Search Engine Optimization (and there are lots of SEO Tools)
There are tons of different SEO tools on the market that do things like:
- Estimate keyword search volume for various keywords
- Estimate keyword difficulty (how hard or easy it will be for your website page to rank for particular keywords)
- Keyword rank trackers (check how your keywords rank in the search engine results)
- Content analysis (check if your content is optimized for certain keywords)
- Backlink analysis (check what backlinks people have for different keywords / pages)
SEO is a huge, important topic, and if you’re serious about growing your online business with search engine traffic, then you’ll have to learn more about it, including what kinds of tools will best help you achieve your specific SEO goals.
For now, though, I’ll keep it simple and recommend one tool to help you with SEO, especially if you’re a beginner.
Recommended all in one SEO Tool: Ubersuggest by Neil Patel
I recommend Ubersuggest as an all in one SEO Tool, because it’s fairly good and relatively inexpensive compared to other SEO tools. And when you’re just starting an online business, you probably won’t have that much money to spend.
I personally have a lifetime deal with Ubersuggest. And I definitely think it’s worth getting a lifetime deal on it if it’s still available.
As you make more money, learn more about SEO, and become more clear in your mind what kinds of SEO goals you want to achieve, you’ll probably want to invest in some more expensive SEO tools, like Ahrefs, for example, which is excellent for backlink analysis and link building.
For social media traffic, use social media accounts & social media management tools
If you’re interested in driving traffic via social media, then of course you’ll have to create the necessary social media accounts for that, whether it’s Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram, or whatever other social media platform you decide to use.
A quick word of caution: you are basically a guest on these social media platforms, so they can kick you off at any point, if they feel like it.
In any case, there is an art to driving traffic to your website via social media, and you’ll have to learn the skills to do that, including how often to post on social media, how to grow your followers, how to optimize your social media content, and so on.
Also, if you’re serious about driving traffic with social media, you’ll want to use social media management tools to help you automate and scale your social media activity.
Recommended social media management tool: Publer
I’m recommending Publer primarily because I have a lifetime deal with Publer. But there are plenty of good social media management tools out there, so it’s just a matter of finding one that’s best for your budget and that best helps you achieve your social media goals.
For cold email outreach traffic, use cold email outreach tools
Depending on the nature of your online business, you might want to reach out to people with cold emails to get them to buy your product or service.
Cold emailing is a skill in and of itself to learn, and if you’re serious about scaling cold email outreach and getting the best results, then you’ll want to use a cold email tool that will do things like track opens, track replies, and automatically do a follow-up if you didn’t get a response.
Recommended cold outreach tool: GMass
If you’re using Gmail (or a Google workspace email address) I recommend GMass, which is basically a Gmail add on.
You can get a lot of functionality from the free account, if you’re trying to save money. Also, since it works directly with your Gmail address, instead of being a distinct third party add on, you have a greater chance of getting your emails to land in inboxes.
For mass email traffic, use email marketing tools
This is kind of a chicken and egg scenario, because if you want to drive traffic to your website or business products by sending mass emails, then you’ve got to have a large sized email list, and to have a large sized email list, you first need to drive traffic to an email opt-in form.
So you will probably first have to master some other forms of driving traffic before you use this tactic. Just FYI.
In any case, if you’re interested in driving traffic by sending emails that reach thousands of people at a time, you will ultimately have to use a mass email marketing tool to do that.
Recommended email marketing tool: Mailerlite
I recommend Mailerlite because I’ve used it and have found it to be just fine or comparable to other services that are much more expensive. So if you’re new to email marketing and want to save a little money, especially while you learn the skill of email marketing, you might want to give Mailerlite a try.
For paid traffic, use paid advertising tools
Most of the forms of traffic listed above are commonly billed as “free” traffic sources, even though you’ll probably have to pay to use tools to get that “free” traffic.
In any case, if you have money to burn, you can simply pay for your traffic with ads, whether it’s search engine traffic or social media traffic. For that matter, you can even find and pay people to send out an email blast to their email subscribers.
Recommended paid advertising tool: Google Ads
I’ve done a little with Google Ads, but not an overwhelming amount.
The reason I’m recommending it as your first paid advertising tool, if you’re just starting an online business and want paid traffic, is because search engine traffic is some of the most powerful traffic there is. Someone types in what they want, and then you have the ability to literally give them what they want.
I recommend learning about SEO, keywords analysis, and keywords intent before going down the paid Google Ads route. But even if you ignore that advice, if you’re willing to pay for traffic, then Google Ads is as good a place to start experimenting as any.
Online traffic takeaway: the most important tools for you will depend on your traffic strategy
I’ve covered the main kinds of traffic sources you’ll want to experiment with, especially if you’re new to starting an online business. I’m sure there are other ways to drive traffic (like cold calling people, or sending direct messages to their social media accounts), but in general, I’ve covered the main traffic sources and relevant kinds of tools you’ll want to use.
If you ever feel overwhelmed when you learn how there are hundreds or thousands of tools that could grow your business, just remember to consider your traffic strategy goals, and whether a particular tool would help you with that goal or not.
Two key tools for making money online with affiliate marketing
If you want to start a website and make money from it, then you’ll probably want to consider affiliate marketing at some point, since affiliate marketing can always be used as an additional revenue stream, no matter what your business is.
The way affiliate marketing works is simple: someone clicks on your link, buys a product from someone else, and then you get a commission from their purchase.
If you’ve never heard of affiliate marketing before, I highly recommend you learn some more about it, since it could be a potentially powerful source of additional revenue for you.
Recommended tool for managing affiliate programs: Google Sheets
To make money with affiliate marketing, you have to sign up for affiliate marketing programs, and then keep track of the commission rate, your affiliate manager, and on and on…
As you can imagine, the more programs you join, the more complicated it can become, so you want a way to keep your affiliate programs’ information neat, organized, and accessible.
I recommend Google Sheets for this because it’s free, accessible anywhere, and gets the job done.
Recommended tool for managing affiliate links: Pretty Links
For your affiliate links, you’ll want to make them “nofollow”, and you’ll also want the ability to change your links quickly and easily depending on changes to the affiliate program.
Pretty Links is a WordPress plugin that is sometimes considered a link shortener. However, you can also think of it as a tool for managing affiliate links, since it makes it easy to make all your affiliate links nofollow and also change your links very easily in the Pretty Links database.
I’ve used Pretty Links and it works, so I can recommend it, but I’m not exactly married to it. I think there are plenty of other similar tools that can do the job just as well.
Accounting for the money you’ve made (or lost)
When you start an online business, you’ll either make money if your revenue is greater than your expenses, or you’ll lose money if your expenses are greater than your revenue.
Either way, you’ll want to account for the money you made or lost, because either way, the government will be interested in your activities from a tax perspective.
So you’ll want to have some kind of accounting software that helps you track your expenses as well as your revenue, so that you have a strong sense of your business’ financial health.
Recommended tool for small business accounting: Wave
I’ve used Wave for accounting for years. For free. It really is great software.
In addition to accounting, Wave can also help you with invoices, payments, and payroll, so it could be an invaluable tool for you, depending on the nature of your business.
Which business tools do you consider essential for your online business?
The purpose of this article is to help you focus on the most important, essential tools for your online business, so I didn’t cover every type of business tool under the sun.
For example, I didn’t cover collaboration tools (like Zoom or Google Docs), or graphic design tools, or A.I. content creation tools, or LinkedIn marketing tools, or a billion other kinds of marketing tools for that matter. The amount of business tools out there is staggering, so the goal was to narrow the scope a bit and focus on the most essential tools.
A major takeaway from this article is that whether a tool is “essential” or not for you depends on the nature of your online business, as well as how you drive traffic to your website.
Also, you can add all sorts of tools to your tool belt as you go along. You don’t need them all at the beginning, which is why this article was structured to follow the kind of natural progression you might make adding tools to your arsenal as your business grows and becomes more successful.