Last Updated: March 9, 2019
Jen’s Picks are my favorite business growth products, services, and resources to help a business build a foundation with growth in mind.
It is not a replacement for consulting advice or industry research. It is exponentially better to reference this list instead of relying solely on crowdsourcing for answers on social media. Your friends are awesome, but unlike me, they probably don’t have 20 years of marketing and tech experience.
Disclosure: some of the links below (indicated with an *) are affiliate links, meaning, at no additional cost to you, I will earn a commission if you click through and make a purchase.
Table of Contents
- Getting Started with Jen’s Picks
- Business Clarity Check-in
- Where to Buy and Host Domains
- Website Platforms and Hosting
- Basic SEO Tactics, Services and Plugins
- Business Email and Productivity Software
- Social Media Scheduling
- Content Research, Writers and Tools
- Email Marketing
- Financial Strategy and Accounting
- Payment Processors
- Software Deals
If you look at this list and it makes your head swim, or you feel a little light-headed, you might need help putting everything into a plan for when (and how) to address these needs.
Or, you want a deep dive to make sure you’ve picked the best tools to fit your particular business. Maybe you want all of your tools to talk to each other (or integrate with existing processes) so you can save time.
That’s where I come in. I offer a variety of consulting packages to help you plan, prioritize, and implement your overall digital marketing strategy.
You might notice there’s a lot of web-related tools. If you already have a website, I offer a website review. If you’re unhappy with your website and don’t know where to begin, this product will help your website become a marketing hub aligned with your business goals.
Think of this like a project. To get through this list it requires planning, to do lists, a budget, and a reasonable timeline. But you also need to reset your mindset, get curious, and stay authentic. Here are a few blog posts I’ve written to help:
- How to Implement Change: Start with How You Do Things
- How To Choose The Best Project For Your Business
- This is How Successful Projects Get Done
- Up a Creek Without a Paddle? How to Know When to Ask for Help!
- Compromise Your Perfectionism For Breakthrough Growth
- Why Authenticity Attracts More Customers
- How to Make Curiosity a Priority for Innovation
- Stop Blowing Your Budget on Crap You Don’t Need
There is a logical order to when a business needs to implement each of these tools. To do it all at once would be crazy – not only because it’s time-intensive, but because there’s a logical order to a business’ marketing focus. The single most important thing you need before you begin is business clarity.
Sandra Hughes, the owner of Life Reinvented, helps new, emerging, and early-stage entrepreneurs create business plans, goals, and revenue targets. Before considering tech or marketing tools, you need to know who your target market is, the products your business offers, how it will be delivered, and the goals and revenues it will take to get there. Schedule a clarity call at chatsandra.com.
Get to know Sandra: Don’t Burn the Business Plan with Sandra Hughes, podcast
Definitely get business clarity sorted before tackling this list. Trust me. You’ll save yourself a lot of time and money.
Selecting a domain is tricky business. Ideally, the domain, keywords, and social profile availability are considered during the business name decisionmaking process.
The best domains are:
- There’s not a lot of competition when you search on Google; and
- Social profiles are also available.
I love Google Domains for buying and hosting a domain.
Why I love Google Domains:
- Includes domain privacy
- Simple interface
- No upselling
- Screaming fast updates
- Seamless integration with G Suite
Use Google Domains to search for a domain name. Search for social media availability on Namech_k.
- Get one domain and use it as your digital hub – website, email, etc.
- Make sure the domain is something that will grow with your business.
- The longer you have your domain, the more value it acquires.
- Having multiple domains and websites not only spreads resources thin, but it’s hard to maintain, and it spreads your digital equity across all of the domains instead of building momentum in one place.
Not recommended: GoDaddy, 1&1
What Jen uses: Google Domains
There are only three recommended website platforms:
Shopify – if you have inventory tracking, more than 10-15 products, and need to calculate shipping, Shopify is the website platform for you. Shopify also has an interface for taking payments at your brick-and-mortar, which will update your inventory (just like it does for online sales).
Squarespace – Squarespace is the perfect platform for technology-phobic users and nonprofits with a lot of turnover/people updating the site. Squarespace has worked diligently on improving its search engine optimization (SEO) tools, and it integrates with so many business tools, including MailChimp, G Suite, and Xero. In addition to content, you can also use it for podcasting and products.
WordPress.org – this is the most flexible platform in the bunch. You have total control – which can be awesome and amazing and help you find and reach your audience. Or, it can be a disaster if you don’t take time to learn it or pay money for someone to develop and support the site. Shopify and Squarespace have limitations, but they include security, updates, and hosting. With WordPress.org, it’s self-hosted, and you are responsible for security, updates, and hosting.
Not recommended: Wix, Weebly, Duda, GoDaddy Web Builder, Strikingly, Site123, etc. – these platforms aren’t portable (meaning you have to rebuild your website when you outgrow the platform), aren’t built for business, are terrible for search engines, and hold relatively low value beyond being a digital business card, albeit a hard-to-find digital business card. I also don’t recommend a WordPress.com website, for different reasons.
- Get good website hosting: I highly recommend SiteGround*, which is recommended by WordPress.org. Honorable mention: FlyWheel. Budget hosting: Bluehost. Not recommended: GoDaddy, HostGator, HostMonster, Fat Cow.
- Use a high-quality, well-supported theme. My current theme of choice is Generate Press* which can be used with Beaver Builder, Elementor, or Thrive Themes Architect if you want a drag-and-drop web page builder. Not recommended: themes from Theme Forest, custom-coded websites.
- Limit the number of plugins you install
- Turn on automatic updates for WordPress and plugins
- Pay for security. Yes, you can use free security but good security is worth paying for. Sucuri starts at $10/mo. for a firewall, $199/year for firewall and virus protection. WordFence Premium causes some website slowness, but it’s good protection for $100/year.
- Set up backups. Use UpdraftPlus (free if you back up to a DropBox account).
- Use an SSL certificate (free with Siteground)
Related blog posts:
- Most Important Website Update? Plan for Change
- How to Look at Your Website Like Your Ideal Customer
- What No One Tells You About Website Ownership
- 3 Signs You’ve Found a Rockstar Web Developer
SEO = search engine optimization = getting found on Google, Bing
Shopify, Squarespace, and WordPress are great for updating the titles descriptions for search engines. It’s free and will give you a bump in visitors.
Moz Local – for businesses with a location (use with any website platform). Starts at $99/location/year.
What Jen uses: Moz Local, Yoast
Related blog post: 6 Tips to Improve Local SEO
If you’re a small business, nothing beats G Suite (starts at $5/user/month). Always use an email product that connects to your domain (instead of a free Gmail or Yahoo account). Not only is it more professional but 75% of people say having a professional email is a key to trusting a business.
Are you a non-profit? Get G Suite for free! (Along with many other great tools for nonprofits.)
G Suite also includes Google Drive, Sheets, Docs, Forms, and Calendar, meaning you don’t need Office 365.
G Suite email client: Kiwi for G Suite. It’s a great client that gives you access to your G Suite all in one place without needing to have your browser open.
Have you over-subscribed to newsletters? For about $50/year Mailstrom* is a life-saver. I’ve used it for years. It helps me clear the junk and get my inbox to zero.
What Jen uses: G Suite, Kiwi, Mailstrom
Related Blog Posts:
Friends don’t let friends manually post to social media. Yes, it’s slightly more effective if you do it manually, but it also encourages you to waste precious time browsing Facebook or Instagram.
Favorite paid product: Social Bee. This unique program lets you connect your social profiles and put your posts in category buckets that you keep filled. You can schedule it for a specific day or just let Social Bee push things out with its algorithm.
Auto-posting to Pinterest and Instagram: Tailwind
Best free social media scheduler: Buffer
What Jen uses: Social Bee
Related Podcast: How to Plan and Engage Effectively on Social Media, podcast
Answer the Public (free) – enter in a search term and get a visual look at what questions people are asking about your word or phrase. Helpful if you want to write a pillar post or headline that will attract attention.
Google Trends (free) – use Google trends to check the popularity of different keywords or terms.
Headline Analyzer (free) – the key to a good blog post is the headline. Take the guesswork out of your headline writing with this handy analyzer. Trust me, it’s worth filling out their form for access.
Sarah Hadley, Courageous on the Page: Sarah is a fantastic writer. Now, she’s also offering workshops, and all manner of done-for-you writing services to help you storm the stage. If you hate staring at the blank page, don’t like writing sales copy, or feel awkward writing about yourself – check out Sarah. Work with her now, before she becomes even more famous. Oh, and be sure to check out her book, Pod Murphy, a personal favorite. Contact Sarah and be sure to let her know I sent you.
Buzzy Blogs: this amazing team of women writers will help you get your blog off the ground, keep it going, and help you create a content calendar. They have clients and packages large and small. You can get everything from starter posts to long-form, and the posts will come back well-researched, SEO-optimized, and audience-appropriate. Check out Buzzy Blogs and be sure to let them know I sent you.
Storychief (free or paid) – I love writing. I hate publishing and posting everywhere. Storychief connects to your website, Medium, social media accounts, email marketing, and well, just about everything so you can write and publish to it all from one place. It’s a real time-saver.
MissingLettr (paid) – Do you know what’s the worst? Writing a blog post, posting it to social media, and … crickets. That’s because social media is so crowded you need to post articles to social media more than one time. MissingLettr solves that by creating, scheduling, and sending social media campaigns for your blog posts.
What Jen uses: Storychief, MissingLettr, Answer the Public, Google Trends, Headline Analyzer
The best part of email marketing is it’s trackable – you can see who opens your emails, what they click on, etc. You can also segment the emails to send to different customer groups based on interests, products they buy and regions where they live.
It’s fantastic and something all business owners need to use. Why? Because it’s a captive audience and if people subscribe, it means they want to hear from you. It’s a great way to promote your services.
About 80-90% of businesses will be just fine with MailChimp. Unless you have some dynamic/complicated email marketing planned on the 3-5 year horizon, MailChimp fits the bill.
MailChimp (free for up to 2,000 subscribers)
MailChimp Subscribe (tablet app for collecting subscribers at events or brick-and-mortar)
Yellow Dog Consulting: my colleague Elizabeth Case is fantastic at helping clients create engaging MailChimp newsletters. She also helps small businesses create local marketing plans.
Meet Elizabeth! Read her guest blog post: Let Automation Populate Your Pipeline
If you have your sights set on digital marketing being a significant income stream, then go with ActiveCampaign (starts at $9/mo.). ActiveCampaign helps small businesses create crazy awesome marketing automation to leverage customer lists and increase sales.
What Jen uses: ActiveCampaign
Honorable mention: Drip, ConvertKit
Not recommended: ConstantContact, GoDaddy
Services for bigger businesses (and budgets): Infusionsoft, Ontraport, AWeber, Salesforce
Bottom line: make sure whichever service you choose integrates with your website, social media, and other outreach tools. You want subscribers.
If you’ve listened to my podcast, you know that numbers aren’t my bag.
That’s why I recommend Gail Bendert, owner of SBRG, Inc., to help businesses with financial strategy and planning. She’s excellent and assists companies with strategic growth.
Meet Gail! Read her guest blog post: What is a CFO? Why Do I Need One?
I’m putting the accounting software into three categories: free, most tax pros, and up-and-coming.
Wave, not as many integrations with other programs and fewer tax/accounting professionals support it. It handles accounting, invoicing, payroll, and payments. For free. Excellent for budget-conscious business owners.
Software supported by the most accountants and tax pros:
QuickBooks for business or QuickBooks self-employed. Hard to use but millions of tax professionals and accountants can’t be wrong.
Xero: more user-friendly and supported by a growing number of tax professionals. Can get pricey.
What Jen uses: not disclosed for security reasons
Honorable mention: none (sorry guys, FreshBooks isn’t really accounting software)
OK – I’m going to give it to you straight. You have to be able to take payments in person and online. People don’t carry cash or checks anymore. The minute you wait for payment, you’ve just increased the likelihood of losing a sale.
Square is the easiest way to take payments in person and online. Plus, it’s an incredibly versatile program that allows for business growth. Not only does it take payments, but it also is an excellent place for your products (unless you use Shopify), appointments, time tracking, and customer list. When your business begins to grow, you can also use it as your CRM. Square integrates with many other software programs, like MailChimp and Quickbooks.
Other online payment processors: Stripe, PayPal, Authorize.net
Shopping carts: ThriveCart, SamCart, Shopify, Squarespace (different from Square)
Bottom line: let the experts handle payment processing. Don’t take down credit card info on paper or handle payments using WooCommerce – unless you’re willing to take on PCI Compliance responsibilities for safeguarding sensitive customer information (like credit card numbers).
What Jen uses: Square, Stripe, PayPal, ThriveCart
I can afford all of this software because of Appsumo* and shopping for deals.
MissingLettr, Social Bee, and Storychief all came from Appsumo — where I found lifetime deals (as in a one-time $49 payment for lifetime use).
I don’t recommend Appsumo for core services (email, accounting, email marketing, website) because sometimes the companies go out of business, but if you want to save a buck and support the developer community give Appsumo a look.
Jen McFarland is a business systems expert, podcaster, and blogger. She’s helped hundreds of businesses and thousands of podcast listeners make better business decisions. Jen’s passion is helping women-owned businesses get the growth tools they need to meet their 3-5 year business goals.
Are you starting a business? Confused about how to grow? Check out Jen’s Picks, my favorite business growth tools.