The 10 Most Important Tools Our Online Business is Built On

The 10 Most Important Tools Our Online Business is Built On

People ask us all the time: what tools did you guys use to build Fizzle? What do you recommend for building a small, independent, bootstrapped online business?

It’s a great question. There are thousands of tools out there. It’s way too easy to let choosing your tools get in the way of making real progress in your business.

But we’ve found several that are indispensable for our business, the kind that pay for themselves many times over. These are the tools we can’t live without, or that we would be very sad to lose.

I’m going to share with you the 10 most important tools and online services we use to run our entire business at Fizzle.

This list is 5 years in the making. Through our years of lean bootstrapping, product development and team building, we’ve tried more tools than we can remember. In most categories, we’ve tried several alternatives, and the solution listed below is the best we’ve found.

We hope this guide and these tools will save you a bunch of time. We’ve also included several discount offers below, so be sure to check those out if you plan to sign up for any of these services.

Keep in mind that most of these services offer free or very cheap plans to start on, and the service should start paying for itself by the time you start paying for it.

And we’d love to hear from you below. If there’s a tool you can’t live without, tell us what it is and why you can’t live without it in the comments below.

Customer Service and Communications: Intercom

Intercom

Intercom has absolutely been our favorite and most useful new tool we’ve found over the past year. We started using it in 2013 and can’t believe we ever got along without it.

Intercom handles customer support, announcements and automated lifecycle marketing. With Intercom, all of our customer support conversations happen in one place, and we can automate messages based on complex behavior aimed at making sure our customers are happy and that our service is as effective for each person as possible.

Instead of sending the same one-size-fits-all set of auto responders to every customer, we send messages based on each member’s experience and accomplishments within Fizzle.

This is a far more effective way to activate customers and make sure they get the most from Fizzle membership. Intercom directly lowers customer churn and makes our product more effective for our members.

Email us at support@fizzle.co and we’ll send you a 3-month gift card to Intercom. Just put “Intercom” in your subject line.

Team Communication and Inbox Killer: Slack

Slack

My happiest days are days when I spend almost no time in my inbox. Slack has made those days a frequent reality.

Our team no longer communicates with each other via email AT ALL. Seriously, we do not send email between team members. Everything happens inside of Slack.

And not only does Slack take us out of the inbox, it also makes everything happen faster because messages are real-time. Team members keep Slack open during the day without the risk of being sucked back into the email black hole.

And finally, Slack lets you integrate notifications from dozens of services, so you don’t have to check email for those either. Blog comments, customer events, social media mentions, forum notifications… those can all be sent to Slack.

There are other tools like Slack out there (HipChat is the most popular), but Slack’s interface and simple but powerful model stood out when we evaluated real-time group messaging environments.

Signup for Slack through this link and you’ll get a $100 service credit.

Monitoring and Metrics – Geckoboard

Geckoboard

Geckoboard lets us track all of our important metrics: signups, churn, revenue, traffic, uptime and more, all in one great looking dashboard that’s flexible and easy to set up.

Geckoboard integrates with tons of popular services out of the box, so all you need to do is click a few boxes and enter a few details. If you’re adventurous, you can completely customize Geckoboard use any data you want. We’ve customized Geckoboard to give us a complete picture of Fizzle’s health, from growth to revenue to churn to customer usage and activity.

Fizzle members get 50% off Geckoboard for life through our perks program.

Project + Task Management – Asana

Asana

Asana has become not only a favorite team tool, but also a favorite joke on The Fizzle Show (it’s so hot in the asana!). Two birds with one stone tool I guess.

Simply put: Asana is a team-based task tool that helps us keep track of what we’re each working on, and what everyone else is working on.

We use Asana to organize meetings, set weekly task lists, keep track of upcoming features, and plan our editorial calendars. It’s incredibly simple and flexible, and it’s free for up to 30 team members.

Email List Management – MailChimp

Mailchimp

MailChimp, has become both the most powerful and easiest to use email service over the past several years. It just keeps getting better and better. We’ve used other mailing list providers before, but now everything we do with email is built on MailChimp.

MailChimp has a free plan, for up to 2,000 subscribers. We’ve said it before, this is the Ferrari of email services, and you can use it for free until your list is big enough that it should pay for itself.

Payment Processing – Stripe

Stripe

Remember when all payment processing services sucked? They were all expensive, unreliable, they froze funds without warning, and had user interfaces from the 90s. Really, they were from the 90s, and not the good interfaces from the 90s either. The awful ones that made your eyes bleed.

It was just a matter of time until some smart, ambitious, forward-thinking and design/developer-focused new company swept in and crushed the established players.

Stripe is that company, and it has turned payment processing into a delight. We love Stripe and our business is better because of it.

Password Management + Sharing – 1Password

1Password

1Password manages all of our passwords and lets us share them between team members without worrying about sending them over some unsecure channel. It makes everything we do more secure, because we can use strong and unique passwords across all of our services.

Video Hosting – Wistia

Wistia

Wistia is the ultimate in video hosting. Wistia combines buttery smooth video playback with complete device support, total customization and rich stats you can’t get from any other service.

We’ve been able to use Wistia’s API to tightly integrate the player into Fizzle’s platform, so we can track which videos each member has watched, and so we can generate reports (on our Geckoboard) about how much members are using our training library overall.

Content Management – WordPress

WordPress

WordPress continues to be the backbone of our business, for over five years now. Our entire site, including the membership and course delivery side of Fizzle, is built on top of WordPress.

Web Hosting – Storm On Demand

You’ll need somewhere to host your WordPress site. We started on BlueHost and everything ran smoothly there for years.

Once we grew to hundreds of thousands of monthly visits and needed something beefier and faster, we upgraded to a dedicated server from Storm On Demand.

There are lots of other hosting options out there, but these two have never let us down after years of faithful service.

For discounts on web hosting and a handful of other options we recommend, check out the full Fizzle Web Hosting Guide

Bonus Tools! Others We Recommend

The tools above are the most important services our business relies on, but there are plenty of others we love and highly recommend. Here’s a partial list:


Now, over to you. Which online business-building tools do you love, and why? Please share below in the comments!

Photo by Expresso Odara

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  • Sarah Li Cain

    I use Trello instead of Asana, and IT LITERALLY SAVED MY LIFE!!!

    *ahem*, is there an actual difference to the two services that you know of? I’m pretty sure my brain continually needs better way of organizing projects/staff/life/etc.

    • http://www.finchproservices.com/ Nate

      I’m a Trello user too:-)!!!

      On the free side for working with clients, Jing (or Skitch or Snagit) has been invaluable for showing clients how to do things. I LOVE sending them a five minute or less clip on how to take care of something, and they are always appreciative, since I am typically not in the room with them.

    • http://typiary.com Jeremy

      I’ve used Asana and many other similar services; some are good but most are bloated. I continually use Trello for lots of things: lists, planning, workflow, etc. It’s so versatile and easy! It can basically replace Asana and many other services.

    • Chase Reeves

      I wish we were still using Trello :( I love that one. We still do for some quick organization things, but nothing serious.

      The rule of productivity porn: quit fiddling with work about work and get some ACTUAL work done :) i.e., don’t change your software again.

      • Sarah Li Cain

        yes, actual work……

    • alexpcoleman

      I’ve also used Trello to help me organize my thoughts around a larger topic, such as planning the contents of my book. It worked very well for that.

  • http://kexino.com Gee Ranasinha

    Great list – thanks so much.

    I’d like to recommend either wpengine or (even better imo) Linode regarding hosting. Both offer fantastic performance, rock-solid reliability and amazing support.

    I’d go with Adobe Premiere rather than FCP for video editing, even if just for the better integration with other Adobe apps such as Photoshop, Illustrator and After Effects.

    • VeloNomad

      +1 Premiere Pro. FCP is super heavy weight, which is ok if you’re running a biz like Fizzle, where you’re making money off the hizzle.

      I use PPro, and, for audio, have started with Audition (for podcasts too).

  • http://donnielaw.com/ Donnie Law

    Nice! Never heard of Slack but what a great idea!

  • http://learnpostearn.com/ Tahir Taous

    I just wanted to know which tools you guys use at fizzle, thnaks for sharing this information.

    For screen recording Windows Users can use Camtasia studio.

  • http://deysonortiz.com Deyson

    Hello and thank you for taking the time to write this post.

    I am very happy to see that you use Final Cut Pro. I love this tool and I have used it since version 01 more than 11 years and it still rocks.

    Thank you again for your valuable time and have an amazing day! :)

  • http://www.TheSpreadsheetGuru.com/ Chris Macro

    Does Stripe offer any way to manage affiliates? I’m looking for a payment processor that also includes affiliate program integration. I know ejunkie does this, however I would prefer a pricing model based on what is sold as oppose to a monthly fee. Any thoughts?

    • Corbett Barr

      No affiliate management through Stripe at this time. I don’t think they’re planning to add anything either, it’s not their focus.

      • http://www.TheSpreadsheetGuru.com/ Chris Macro

        That’s unfortunate :( Thanks for the response Corbett!

    • http://lifestoked.com Deacon Bradley

      If you do anything with affiliates you have to run it all yourself. Stripe is basically just a really great merchant account.

      • http://www.TheSpreadsheetGuru.com/ Chris Macro

        What do you mean by “run it all yourself”? It is my understanding that ejunkie can create/track links and automatically pay commissions based on affiliate activity. I was curious if there were any other prominent transaction companies that also include affiliate features.

  • http://prochurchtools.com/ Brady Shearer

    Just started using Slack. Brilliant. How did you guys get your blog comments inside of it? There isn’t a Disqus integration or anything like is there?

    • http://prochurchtools.com/ Brady Shearer

      Nevermind. Found it through Zapier. Thanks for the recommendation Corbett!

      • Corbett Barr

        Yep, Zapier, it works great with Slack.

  • http://www.asianefficiency.com/ Thanh Pham

    Great list of tools here. It’s great to see you guys use data within the business.

    For password management, I would recommend LastPass Enterprise over 1Password. As you grow the team (whether it’s freelancers, part-timers or full-timers), 1Password won’t be good enough as you will run into a lot of limitations, e.g. I only want to share X-login with Y-person and not the rest or don’t reveal the password to Y-user but they can login via browser extension (stuff 1Password doesn’t support). We’ve recently made that switch ourselves and couldn’t be happier (still use 1Password for personal though).

    • Corbett Barr

      Awesome, we’ll check it out, thanks for the tip Thanh!

  • http://lifestoked.com Deacon Bradley

    Corbett, Caleb, I’m about to add a favorite for y’all on the top of that pile: Baremetrics.io. You’ll be up and running with just a couple clicks and have an insanely cool dashboard based on your Stripe data.

    https://baremetrics.io/

    • Caleb Wojcik

      Hey Deacon, since we use Stripe Corbett wanted to use this, but how our membership plugin creates separate Stripe “subscriptions” for every buyer apparently this wouldn’t work for us. I do love what he is doing over there though.

      • http://lifestoked.com Deacon Bradley

        Interesting. Now I’m curious, what powers the membership part of the site?

        • Caleb Wojcik

          Paid Memberships Pro. Which was one of the only WP membership plugins that supported Stripe when we first built Fizzle almost 2 years ago.

    • http://joshpigford.com/ Josh Pigford

      What Caleb said is correct. Fizzle uses a third-party plugin to manage subscriptions (instead of Stripe’s Subscription API), so we (Baremetrics) are not able to correctly generate the stats off of it.

  • http://kimanziconstable.com/ kimanzi constable

    Thanks for this guys, very valuable and a few tools I’ll be checking out for my business.

  • Samir

    I recommend monchilla.com for a good cheap accounting/invoicing software

  • http://www.todayicanchange.com/ Robb Gorringe

    Awesome list. Thx for sharing your tools. I’m sharing this post//,

    R

  • NickMinolich

    Just FYI Intercomm+Asana+Slack+Dropbox=Bitrix24 and it’s free for any company with 12 employees or less.

  • Shannon M. Howell

    Any recommendations for somebody considering doing podcasts?

    • Caleb Wojcik

      Hey Shannon,

      We are currently using both Libsyn.com and SoundCloud.com to host our podcasts. As for software, I used to use Garageband to edit mine, but Chase uses Logic Pro X to edit ours. Hope that helps!

  • http://www.kevinbradberry.net/ Kevin Bradberry

    You covered my favorites in the Bonus tools section! Squarespace (wonder if I can use your 10% discount when I renew?), Gumroad, Disqus, and Dropbox.

    I’ll add (webased) Pickmonkey for making logos, headers, graphics in general, image editing, etc. Tons of free options with the best features behind a $33/yr pay wall. I love it.

  • Ann07

    These would be a great recommendation list of helpful tools to build a small, independent and bootstrapped business.

    I found these tools and online services listed above useful and effective in running a business. Fizzle has been using these tools and services given for half a decade, so I think there’s nothing wrong if I’ll give my trust on these tools and services instantly.

    I like the features of each and they seem to be fun and interesting to use.

    Thanks for sharing this! Big help indeed! :)

    Best,
    Ann07

    By the way, I found this post shared on Kingged.com

  • http://wpcurve.com/ Dan Norris

    Nice post guys, interesting to see what others are doing. We use a lot of these tools. Our staff don’t even have email addresses ha. Love slack!

  • alexpcoleman

    I started using Asana right after it was released and have never looked back. I constantly find it amazing how slick and easy to use its UI is. I think it’s the best example of an interface that let’s you do stuff *without* getting in your way that I’ve ever seen.

    This won’t apply to all businesses, but in addition to Asana, I also use Brennan Dunn’s Planscope for PM and estimates. It’s an awesome way to collaborate on estimates *with* your clients and provide them with a nice way to view an itemized list of items for a project. It also allows you to connect estimates/projects to Freshbooks, and you can track your time directly within a Planscope project, which is then synced with Freshbooks. Incredibly convenient for keeping everything in line.

    And that brings me to the last tool I rely on for all of my accounting that I just mentioned — Freshbooks. I use it for all of my invoicing and couldn’t be happier. I’ve never had any issues. Just a straightforward, no frills interface that suits my business well.

    Great list, guys! It’s cool to see what tools everyone uses and how they use them together in the best ways for their respective businesses!

    • Chase Reeves

      Great additions, Alex.

  • http://mygreatonlinebusiness.com/ Jan Koch

    What a great list of tools! I personally use Asana to collaborate with my development team for web design and app development projects – and I love it. Makes task- and project management so much easier.

    Another app that I would probably add is RescueTime(.com). I heard about it from John Lee Dumas, it’s great to track what you’re doing automatically. It tracks active browser tabs and software used and thus let’s you see exactly how you’re spending your time in front of the PC, Mac or Linux machine :-)

    Best!

  • Shannon M. Howell

    I forgot to ask, do you guys use MailChimp for the email subscription form (the one that says, “GET THE SPARKLINE DAILY:” in the sidebar)? Or do you use something else to collect the email info and then feed it to MailChimp?

    On a side-but-possibly-related note, I’d like to get some in-text subscription boxes, but I’m still figuring that out (along with about 2 billion other things, of course). Any idea if I can do that with MailChimp? I’m still learning my way around it.

  • http://www.casual.pm/ Nick Nikolaev

    Two awesome apps you may also like:

    http://www.pickfu.com for A/B testing and instant feedback

    http://casual.pm for project & task management

  • http://21streviews.com/convection-microwave-reviews-2014/ Paul Smith

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