Essential Free Tools For Running An Online Business

Google Analytics v2.0
Image by vrypan via Flickr

To be successful in any business basic decisions need to be made up-front. Internet marketing carries some additional decisions specific to this type of marketing. You need to pick your basic tools that will be used daily in the operation of your business.

Once your business is going, you’ll be facing some pretty strong competition. Having these tools in place ensures that back-end process are established freeing you to focus on growing your business.

These are the things you can set up in advance to automatically handle business for you. These tools will allow you to make your life easier when working online and developing your business. The best part is that none of these have to cost you anything when getting started.

Tool #1: Payment Processor

It’s really plain and simple. If you can’t take payments, you can’t sell products. No sales, no business. That makes getting the payment processor part of your business settled on right off the bat of primary importance.

There are many different payment processors out there, but it’s important not to confuse payment processors with shopping carts. Just think of your last trip to the grocery store. Just getting your groceries into the cart wasn’t enough. You had to stop by and pay for them before you got to take them out of the store.

A payment processor is just like that: the clerk that takes the money. Most of the time, an online payment processor would be a service such as PayPal.

A shopping cart in the virtual world, on the other hand, is purely a script (a piece of software) that allows customers to place their orders and have their information passed through to the “clerk” or credit card processor, such as PayPal. (You don’t have to use PayPal. It just makes a good example.)

Ideally, you need both a shopping cart and a payment processor. But if you are selling single products, one at a time, you can get by with a service like PayPal for now. Just do the research, make the decision and set it up. Then, that tool is set up and out of the way. It will serve you like a well-oiled machine collecting money for you with no or minimal effort on your part.

Tool #2: Autoresponder

Unless you are receiving direct mail from your local grocery, here’s where we step outside of the grocery store analogy. If you do receive such mail it is the result of some type of automated system. Trust me, your local grocer didn’t just happen to think of you when he saw what great pork chops came in this week. Instead, he has your name and address in a database somewhere so that you automatically get a notice of those great pork chops.

That is what an autoresponder does for you. It’s essential that you build a database of leads and customers that you can e-mail follow-up promotions and offers to, and also to just stay in touch. You need to know what your market wants. Desires change. Using an autoresponder can help you keep your finger on the pulse with your market.

Autoresponders are great tool for this. These create those forms you fill out on websites where it asks you for your name and email address. An autoresponder allows you to pre-install a series of e-mails that can be automatically sent out to your new subscribers and buyers without you physically having to send them. This gives people a feel for what you have to offer without having to take the time to tell each one individually.

It saves a whole lot of time, freeing you up to do other important things in your business. It also provides a better customer service experience. For example, you can set up a message to automatically go out when someone purchases a produce. Maybe you’ll include a couple of tips for using the product. Any little piece of information that you can provide that will help your customer get better use from the product he or she bought from you, and with an autoresponder, you get to do it automatically.

Tool #3: Analytics Tools

Your business can probably survive without analytics tools, but if  you want it to thrive, you need these tools. They are an extremely important part of business growth online. These are the tools that help you find out what works and what doesn’t. They help you fine tune your business, separate you from the competition, and allow you to stop wasting money in the wrong places.

Some of these tools are free. For example, Google Analytics is a free service that generates detailed statistics about visitors to your website. It tells you how many people visit your site and when. It tracks your website visitors showing you where they come from. You’ll know such things as whether they came to your side from a search engine, display advertising, pay-per-click networks, email marketing, or even digital collateral such as links within a PDF document they downloaded from your site. Knowing where your customers come from helps you determine where to spend your advertising dollars so that you get the best return.

Analytics tools will built with this in mind, and allow you to test new ideas and generally get a better insight into how your customers act, how they engage in your web content, and what kind of actions they take.

Tool #4: Publishing Tools

Getting your content online is relatively easy these days, providing you have some kind of tool to publish with. In the past, web pages had to be uploaded to servers manually, and managing your web pages on all of your content was very much a technical and administration nightmare.

These days, you can use services like WordPress to instantly publish content on your website, without any external software or upload download requirements. With simple tools like this, everything is done remotely so that all you need to do is simply login to a dedicated area of your website to manage your content.

The other benefit of using a publishing platform such as WordPress is that you don’t have to rely on web design software to actually create the layout and design of your site. Instead, you can pick and choose prebuilt templates to change the look of your site literally at the click of a mouse.

The best part about WordPress is that it is free to try it out. Just go over to www.WordPress.com and open an account. Just remember that whatever name you choose to begin with becomes part of the URL for your free site. If you decide you want to use the free site for awhile, you’ll want to make sure to register with a name that you want to keep.

Well, that’s four types of basic tools to get you started with the foundations for your online business. Make decisions such as these as soon as possible and get settled in. The great part is that none of the suggestions above have to cost you anything to get started. There is no cost involved in setting up a PayPal account. You can set up a free account with GetResponse.com and not have to pay until you get 200 people on your autoresponser. Start off with the free analytics like Google Analytics and get started on your website with a test site at WordPress.com.

These are things you can decide on for now and graduate to advanced tools as you go forward. You’ll always want to tweak what you are doing. You just need a starting point.