Below are some of the services I personally use for me and my clients. I also highly recommend them to new clients and anybody serious about building an online business. That's why you're here, right?
Make sure you take a look at these neat tools & resources, too.
Domain Name Registrar
This logically is where your digital business begins.
I've used a fair number of domain registrars over the past 20 years. I use only one nowadays — Namecheap. Their prices are good, their dashboard is easy to navigate, and they just work. No muss, no fuss.
Like domain registrars, I've used dozens over the years. I heartily recommend ONE:
A2 Hosting is great for starting out and will grow with your business as it expands.
A2 is the webhost I would start–and finish–with. If you ever need more server horsepower, they have it. Support is top-notch and their plans range from VERY affordable all the way up to traffic monster.
Steer clear of any web host owned by EIG. They quickly devolved into the web host equivalent of Comcast (cable) and AT&T (phone).
They are crappy remnants from Web 1.0.
I wholeheartedly recommend WordPress. It's evolved so much over the years that it's really the only Content Management System (CMS, aka “blog” and “website builder”) you need. The software is free and comes with an easy push-button installation program in A2 Hosting.
You can start with just WordPress. Start writing! Get your ideas out there. The world needs you.
When you need more, rest assured there is a WordPress plugin for it. Read on to learn a bit about the themes and plugins available that–eventually–you'll probably want to invest in.
I use one and only one WordPress theme “framework."
As my business has evolved, I've moved all of my sites to Thrive Themes. I set up all my clients on Thrive as well.
They make a great set of themes that are focused on sales & conversions (as well as blogging).
Essential WordPress Plugins
Thrive Leads is simply the best (and only) form builder you will ever need. You can build popups, exit pops, lightboxes, 2-step forms, form widgets, ribbons, sliders--whatever you want.
Best of all – it's easy.
I may love Thrive Architect even more than Leads. With it, you can build any kind of landing pages you want, regardless of your WordPress theme. You don't even have to use a Thrive Theme (but you get it all when you become a Thrive Suite member).
Just build what you want. There are a ton of templates to use (all very good, and specific — like sales pages, email thank you pages, long-form product pages, etc.).
I implore you to get Thrive Suite. It's the best thing I've ever done for my WordPress sites!
NOTE: You don't NEED premium themes and plugins to get started using WordPress. What you DO NEED is a good backup plugin, and you can start free with…
Updraft Plus is a must-have WordPress plugin if you're serious about your site. Not only does it make backups and restores of your site, it also allows you to easily migrate your site from one webhost to another. PLUS, it allows you to put your backups in Dropbox, Google Drive, and other “cloud” services (like Amazon S3).
They just added incremental backups to their mix. Good stuff!
NOTE: You can start with their free plugin and move to the “all the bells & whistles” premium version later. The transition is seamless.
You may not need an SEO plugin, but it sure helps!
RankMath is the cutting-edge (yet stable) WordPress SEO plugin. You can start free and move up when you need it. It not only does a lot of SEO work behind the scenes (without your intervention) plus it helps your write content. It's pretty awesome.
Security – Wordfence. I don't build a single website without it. Nuff said. I only use the free version.
Email Service Provider
If I were to recommend ONE must-have outside of a website for an online business, it would be a mailing list.
For a mailing list, you need an Email Service Provider, or ESP. Do NOT think you can email all your prospects or customers using Gmail or some other consumer email service like Yahoo or Outlook!
You will get crushed by spam reports. Soon, you won't be able to send any email. Trust me on this.
Spend the bucks and get a good ESP.
Aweber is my go-to choice for email service providers. Odds are, if you have ever received an email from me, it was sent through Aweber. They offer a lot of benefits to marketers, chief among them the best deliverability rates in the business, a bunch of pre-made optin forms (if you don't use Thrive Leads), and great customer support.
Oh, and Aweber integrates perfectly with Thrive Suite!
At some point, hopefully early on, you will be doing some keyword research.
Keywords Everywhere is the bee's knees. It's all I use now. I spent $10 on it a couple years ago and I still have credits
Neil Patel has a pretty good tool called UberSuggest that I've been trying.
I'll ALWAYS stand behind SiteSell's “Solo Build It for WordPress” as one of the best WordPress plugins for keyword research and content marketing efforts. It's a big winner. I've been using their proprietary tech since before the turn of the century!
(Yes, it's that good and that consistent. But it is a recurring fee and it's not cheap.)
Other Useful Tools
I use a ton of tools, paid and free. Below are some of the more useful ones. You don't NEED any of these, but if you do, look for the free ones!
A handy dandy free utility
I love this tool! It's called Remove Background and it does exactly what the name suggests. For FREE!
I used to use some pretty sophisticated screen grab tools, but I don't any more. I chose the free route. Now, I use Microsoft's Snip & Sketch tool, drop the file in Remove Background, and then download. Super simple and pretty danged fast.
You don't need this, at first at least, but Canva is pretty cool. Sign up for the free version and then move up to their annual subscription when you need it.
Speaking of Microsoft, Microsoft Office is hands-down the best office suite there is. It comes at a pretty hefty price, but it's worth it to me. There are alternatives like Libre Office that are okay.
I'm slowly moving all my “documents” to use Google Drive. See the next section…
I use a variety but my go-to cloud storage system is Google Drive. Yes, I pay yearly for 5TB. I do still use Dropbox, but only for client work and the files I need for system use (because Dropbox syncs a LOT faster–like nearly instantaneously–than google drive).
Google's Documents and Sheets are pretty good alternatives to Microsoft Office, and they're free and super easy to share with anybody.
UPDATE: Spartan Multiclip is no longer available…this is honestly the tool I rely on most every single day. It's a sanity saver.
Of course, all OSes have a clipboard utility…and they're free.
Privacy and Security
It's a scary online world, with everybody tracking you, from the NSA to Facebook to your local online grocer. Hide My Ass will — well — hide your ass when you need to hide it. It's especially good for guarding your privacy while you're on a wi-fi connection. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.
Of course, you need good security for your PC. Microsoft's FREE Defender is quite good. Did I mention, it's free?
Logo Nerds – I got my caricature (cartoon) logo from them years ago and keep going back to them when I need quality graphics delivered at a fair price. Simply awesome to work with.
Honestly? Nowadays you can do this yourself using Canva. Not kidding. PLUS, you don't need a non-text-based logo until you're raking in the cash.
Fiverr – I use this service for dozens of things, from logos to podcast shownotes to SEO and light blogging services. It's amazing what you can get for a few bucks nowadays.
NOTE: Many of the links above are what are known as “affiliate links.” What that means is that if you click on an affiliate link above and BUY the product, I will get a commission. Now, this commission in no way affects the price you pay for the product. It's just a vendor's way of thanking me for helping them to sell more of their product.
NOTE ALSO: I use all of the products and services I recommend above. I thought I'd share with you what I use and we will benefit mutually: You get a recommendation from somebody “in the trenches” and I get a commission for making mention of it.