Growing a service-based business comes with an endless list of possible technology solutions to help answer your every need. I often get asked by clients and event attendees what digital tools I use, to help them decide what to invest in. In this article, I reveal my favourite software for running an online coaching business in 2021.
Wherever you are at in your business growth right now, there will be a solution that is right for you. I am hesitant to declare people must use certain software over others, as we are all wired differently (read more about choosing the right software for you) but these are the tools I couldn’t run my online coaching business without..
There are a lot of very budget friendly options available. These often give you a lot of functionality on their basic package, allowing you to grow your business and start earning before you need to upgrade in many cases.
Some of the solutions I use are subscription based from the start, and they have proven their worth to me year on year.
1. Digital Tools to Set Up Your Online Home
Create an easy to use web presence that you drive traffic to, convert leads, and serve your clients on.
Your website is your online home and it’s imperative that you have complete control and flexibility over this. It’s your online shop front. You need to be able to make upgrades, customise and update your website on a regular basis.
I recommend all business owners learn how to update and post blogs to their website as a minimum skill. Your voice is key to connecting with your customers. Being able to make instant changes, especially when testing new offers for the first time, can be the difference between getting sales or not.
To be able to update your website, you need an easy to use digital tool that can be upgraded as your needs change. This is why I went with a WordPress-based website, hosted by Stablepoint. WordPress gives you endless options to customise to your business needs.
As your website’s key task is to drive traffic to your business, installing a good SEO tool will make a huge difference to this capability, for this the RankMath plugin is my preferred tool.
The other plugin of note that makes my life easier is PrettyLinks. This allows you to create custom URLs for ugly links provided through other digital tools, such as Zoom meeting links. Additionally Pretty Links will track how many times the links have been clicked.
Data is everything to know where you are at in business and there is free software available to help you see how people are using your website. I use Google Analytics to do this. You will need to put a tracking code on your website to make use of it. Don't worry, it's simple to do and you can find step-by-step instructions on Google, or a walkthrough video on Youtube.
As an established course creator, I use the MemberVault platform to host all of my membership content and courses. This is a small, privately owned course platform that is growing year on year. Their ethos and customer service is second to none, plus they still have an amazing free plan that doesn’t restrict any of the elements, and caps your users at 100 people in 3 active products; giving you more time than you need to prove you have an amazing offer that sells. Paid plans start at $19/month, which makes this a very budget friendly platform that grows with you… and MemberVault gives you user number boosts the more active you are using it too! Win-Win.
2. Digital Connection Tools
Automate, nurture and grow your business as you build relationships across the world.
Once you have your website set up with your offers that are clear and appealing to your audience, it’s time to start communicating your expertise with the world!
Tools for building your email list
The most important connection tool will be your email list. These are the people who have connected purposely with your content, bought your offers, and allowed you into their inbox on a regular basis.
Your email list is the beating heart of your business. This is where you nurture and grow relationships and support your clients on their journey to your solution.
How do people get on your email list? They will sign up to some juicy piece of content, a workshop, or other training that you request an email as part of the sign up process, to deliver the promised content. This is your Touchpoint Offer, as it is that first touch point of connection, and when you create your first silent sale. Read more about how Touchpoint Offers fit into your business here.
The software that supports you here is an email client. These are important as they will provide the simple unsubscribe links that are required by GDPR rules at the base of every email.
Not all email clients are created equal, with some being far more robust than others and in fact turn into full client management systems, and not just a newsletter deliverability tool. Active Campaign is my tool of choice here as it integrates extremely well with my course platform, website and online scheduler to name just a few… The more you can link up your tools easily, the easier your life as an online business owner will be!
My pick of social media
The next piece to this connection equation is social media, the place where all the traffic and your ideal clients are in the modern digital world. I have been an active business social media user for 5 years, and have built a free, but private Facebook Community (The Introvert Entrepreneurs Powerhouse), as well as a strong presence on Instagram and LinkedIn.
Areas I am still developing are my YouTube channel that hosts my quick tip ten minute videos and also my audio content, with private course feeds as well as an open public podcast which is possible through the HelloAudio that also integrates inside my course platform, giving lots of learning possibilities to students.
Side-note: My Recommended email tool when still testing your business idea
MailerLite has a great free plan if you are not needing to do complex email integrations and personalised customer journeys. I used this tool for my first years in business until my needs changed. Migrating across to Active Campaign was a smooth process that took about 3 weeks, and included transitioning 700 contacts and 12 automations.
3. Digital Creation Tools
Create stunning content that makes you stand out from the crowd.
If you wish to become a trusted expert in your field, have a lot of doors open up to you, and stand out from the competition, then creating original visual content is a key piece to success.
Many people online share others' content, or use the shortcut creation tools, use stock photos, these are not experts.
- DO create and share their own original content.
- DO share original thoughts
- DO post their own branded posts
How to create eye-catching visuals
Today there are many tools that allow you to bring in your brand colours, fonts and images in simple and fast ways. Canva is a super popular tool used by many business owners, as they have many templates and stock photos there to use in an instant to create your content.
As a professionally trained designer, without the need for pre-made templates, I use a combination of Affinity Photo (an Adobe Photoshop equivalent) for creating logos, then the majority of my online graphics are created in Keynote - the free software that comes with every iOS device. It’s a very powerful piece of kit, and the infographic in this article was created 100% in Keynote.
I am a very visual educator and really believe in the power of creating great and simple visuals (like the infographic I created for this article) that help your clients understand how you can help them.
When I’m sitting on the sofa in the evening, the WordSwag app is a favourite to put together social posts that captivate and engage.
Keynote’s sister software Pages is for design layout and creates beautiful PDF downloads, information sheets and checklists in my hands. If I am wanting to create a document that clients can type directly in, share and ask for my feedback, I set up documents in the Google Drive suite. Google Drive offers a generous free plan and is accessible to you and all your clients, no matter the operating system they use.
How to create videos
Lastly, video creation is a cornerstone to my content library, videos engage your clients and bring learning to life. Your branding is important here as elsewhere, adding in captions that use your brand colours, intros and outros that add in the finishing touches.
Small details can make a huge impact here. My favoured software for recording and streaming live is ECAMM live (iOS only), this allows you to add overlays and watermarks, have your talking face overlaid on presentations, introduce sound effects and a whole lot more.
Once the video is recorded, I pass it through HappyScribe to get the closed captions, subtitles or transcription made and if needed, burnt into the video as well in my brand colours. This is particularly good for video testimonials. Screenflow is a great value video editor for the off occasion where I do need to edit content. On the whole all my course training videos are done in one take, as video editing eats up endless hours if you are a perfectionist without a degree in video editing!
4. Digital Tools for Collaboration
Meet clients, share documents with clients and team members.
We have our offers, we are connecting with clients and engaging them visually… this next step of tools brings in the collaboration element.
Zoom has been my go to video conferencing software since 2015. It is simple to use, records at high quality and since the Covid-19 Pandemic has become a household name from toddlers through to grannies. The value of Zoom pricing plans and flexibility to upgrade and downgrade plans as needed month on month has been a real boon to online entrepreneurs.
Document sharing is another key piece in collaboration, and this I do the majority through MemberVault, then use Google Drive software for others, and WeTransfer to move large video files for free.
- Meetings: Calendly, Zoom
- Share documents: MemberVault, Google Drive, WeTransfer
5. Back Office Digital Tools
Take payments, sort taxes, store data, capture ideas and planning tools all make the cogs turn smoothly.
Not quite so sexy, but super important are the back office tools that make sure I stay on top of my business.
Tools for taking payments
Processing money securely online for my clients is handled through the shopping cart software, Thrivecart integrates with popular and trusted payment processes worldwide. Currently I accept payment using Stripe, Paypal and if people are paying on their mobile, then the Google Wallet and Apple Pay are also accepted.
The last thing you want to do is lose a sale as you have barriers in place letting people send you money! The money then gets sent through to my online business bank account that automatically links with my bookkeeping software, Quickbooks. This means I can access instantly exactly where I am at with my income and tax requirements. Sharing access with my accountant is smooth and easy, and avoids mountains of loose receipts.
Keeping track of your ideas on the go
The last piece to my technology stack of digital tools are those that I use to plan and take notes. My brain rarely stops and I generally have several projects on the go in the background! This is the essence of the entrepreneurial brain.. But even the best of us need to record all these ideas rather than keep them in our heads!
Evernote has been a staple in my digital business planning for a long time, as it’s easy to save ideas off the internet, create tables, checklists, sort into notebooks and bring in multimedia content when needed.
GoodNotes is great for live active presentations, where I share the iPad screen and draw out concepts with viewers as I talk.
MilaNote brings in the feel of a digital pinboard and lets you be far more flexible and fluid with your layouts than more structured tools such as Trello.
Digital Tools by Plan Type
On the second page of the PDF, and in the image below, I have sorted all the digital tools that I use by the plan types they offer, many you can get started with their free plans, then will need to upgrade into paid plans as your business grows and you have the income to support it.
App Sumo is a great source for lifetime deals on new and upcoming software, but it can be hit and miss as to whether the investment is worthwhile! With my AppSumo affiliate link, you are gifted $10 to get you started.
Other links I have shared are affiliate links, and several will give you special offers, when you click through, and I will receive a small commission, so I thank you in advance if you click and purchase through them. These small commissions help me provide more free value to my readers.
Re-evaluate your digital tools on a regular basis
As your business grows, your digital tool needs will change. You are going to need to re-evaluate the stack you use, making sure that each element is earning its place as it helps you run your business more efficiently, and in style!
As with anything, it’s all about finding the tools that suit your skill set and personality. These are the ones I am using as a service based business, with multiple online courses in 2021.
Every August when I take the month away from serving clients directly, I take time to go through my digital tool stack and eliminate any software that I have tried but not connected with, or those that I have outgrown.
As an entrepreneur I will always be curious about the “next big thing”, but I have learnt over the years that it’s all about balance. First use what you have! ~ Susanna Reay
If you would like more in-depth advice on online software options, tech tools and apps to use in your online business, the “Online Business Toolkit” is just the ticket for you. This instant access, powerful resource is constantly updated by myself, so you have an ongoing one-stop reference that you can trust, leaving you more time in the day to get on with what you love doing best - coaching!
*Some of the links for digital tools on this article are affiliate links. You should be aware that if you purchase through them, I might earn a commission, or be compensated in some way. However, please note that these are resources, tools, etc., that I use regularly; that’s why I’m listing them here for you! If you click on any of them, thank you!