Save time, money and stress with these essential tools for your website and business. Here are the products and services I recommend for your domain, email, website, email marketing, scheduling, graphic design and more.

essential business tools

This post contains affiliate links. I’m only an affiliate for products and services that I use myself and wholeheartedly recommend.

Whether you are an entrepreneur, start-up or small business, this ultimate list of tools will make running your business so much easier. I use each of these products and services in my business and wish I had this list when I first started!

Domain

The Best Place to Get a Domain Name

When I started my business, one of the things I did first is purchase a domain name (jototheweb.com). Even if you don’t have a website yet, it’s good to get the domain name you would like and also you will need a domain name for your professional email address.

Many website hosts offer a domain name included in their website host package. I learned and now strongly recommend that you should buy your domain separately from your host. If you ever need to change hosts, you won’t have the hassle of trying to move your domain as well.

That is why I recommend Google Domains for your domain name. Some great features include:

  • Helpful 24/7 support
  • Privacy protection included
  • One low price each year (with no increase in price after one year like many other hosts)
  • Simple, easy-to-navigate user interface
  • Trust and security that comes with everything Google
Google domains

Email & Productivity

Where to Get a Professional Email Address

After you get a domain name, you can get a professional email address (mine is jo@jototheweb.com – feel free to email me anytime!).

I tried a few different providers and then went with Google Workspace (formerly G-Suite) and could not be happier. Here are some of the features I love that are included in the $7.80 CAD/month basic plan:

  • Professional email addresses
  • Google Calendar with the ability to integrate Zoom so that I can schedule Zoom meetings right from my calendar
  • 30 GBs of storage
  • Access to all of Google’s platforms like Google Docs, Sheets, etc
  • 24/7 chat support

Note: one of the only things I don’t like about Google Workspace is emailing through Gmail on my Mac. It’s great on my phone but on a computer, I tried out every desktop email client for Macs out there and finally landed on Airmail, which I absolutely love.

Web Hosting

The #1 Website Host

Web Hosting is a big decision.

Cloudways is the perfect web host for any size website. It’s incredibly fast, secure and user friendly. I’ve written a whole article with 10 reasons why Cloudways is the best website host. Some reasons include:

  • Fastest host out there
  • 24/7 chat support
  • One-click staging
  • Daily back-ups
  • One low monthly rate – no contracts

Use promo code JOTOTHEWEB to get 20% off with Cloudways.

Cloudways review

Please note: that if you are working with a web designer (like me), you normally do not need to sign up or pay for hosting until the site is ready to go live.

SEO/Keyword Research

The Ultimate Keyword Research Tool

Want to know my secret for how I rank on the first page of Google within one week of launching a brand new website?

Using just one tool, I have been able to help my clients rank on the very first page and get immediate traffic from Google using my favourite SEO/keyword research tool – KeySearch.

Keysearch

Both while designing and developing your website and after it’s launched, you’ll want to be optimizing your website for keywords in order to have the best chance of ranking in search engines.

The key is to find keywords that have a healthy search volume and low competition.

How to find all of this information? KeySearch – the ultimate SEO and keyword research tool which includes the ability to:

  • See the search volume and difficulty for any keyword
  • See search trends over the last 12 months and the 10 websites that currently rank for that keyword
  • Perform a competitive analysis including checking backlinks, seeing keywords your website is ranking for organically and analyzing any webpage of your site or your competitors for insights into keywords, links and SEO

It’s amazing what you can accomplish with KeySerach at such a low monthly price. Other keyword research tools can cost hundreds and hundreds of dollars per month. Not KeySearch.

KeySearch is only $17/month. And if you use my promo code KSDISC for 20% off, the price becomes only $13.60/month!

Use Promo Code KSDISC to get 20% Off – Sign Up Here

Keysearch

Website Platform

WordPress vs Everything Else

Choosing a website platform is one of the most important decisions you have to make for your business.

There are a lot of different website platforms out there and some of the DIY website platforms like Wix, Weebly, Shopify and Squarespace do a great of marketing their platform and presenting themselves as so easy to use. However, some of them can actually be detrimental to your business.

Then there’s WordPress, a completely customizable, open-source (meaning free) content management system.

I have used all of the website platforms listed above and want to save you the time, money and stress and provide you with the advice that I wish I had received when I started my first website.

DIY Website Builders vs WordPress

The best way to describe the difference between the DIY website builders (like Wix, Weebly, Shopify and Squarespace) and WordPress is with this analogy:

When you go with a DIY website builders, it’s like renting an apartment. You can paint the walls, hang up artwork and arrange your furniture. But if you want to knock out a wall or add a room, you can’t.

Having a WordPress website is like owning a house that you own and can completely customize.

It’s very important when picking which website platform to use that you think about the future state of your business. Right now you may only want a 5-page brochure website but what about in the future if you want to add certain functionality? That’s why it’s important to build your site with the right platform from the beginning.

If you’re looking for a website that you 100% own and completely customize, I strongly recommend WordPress.

Designing, developing and optimizing websites

Why WordPress is the Best Website Platform

WordPress powers 42% of all the websites around the world. It is free, open-source software and easy to use.

  • You will own all of your content and no one can “turn off” your website because it doesn’t meet their terms of service (of course all legal laws still apply).
  • With WordPress, you have full control. You can add any free, paid or custom plugins to your site and modify everything.
  • You can add ads to your website, make revenue from it and not share that revenue with anyone.
  • You can create a thriving e-commerce store and sell your products and services or create a membership site or offer online bookings – all on WordPress.
  • You can add Google Analytics to your site, which adds powerful tracking ability and create customized reports so you can monitor every aspect of your website’s performance

Want help creating your dream website on WordPress – let’s chat!

Responsive web design for e-commerce websites

How to Get Started with WordPress

To get started with WordPress, you will need a website host. Once you select your website host, you can install WordPress on your server.

While WordPress is 100% free to use, there is a monthly fee for hosting your website. There are tons of different website hosts you can pick but I strongly recommend Cloudways. Here are 10 reasons why Cloudways is the best website host for your WordPress website.

Use promo code JOTOTHEWEB for 20% off Cloudways – Sign Up for Cloudways Here.

WordPress.org vs WordPress.com

It’s very important to note that WordPress is different WordPress.com. WordPress is open source (meaning free) and the website is wordpress.org. WordPress.com is a web hosting provider by Automatic, a company led by the one of the WordPress co-founders, which is why it has the same name.

Unlike WordPress.org, WordPress.com has several limitations and I don’t recommend hosting your site with WordPress.com as you won’t get all the benefits mentioned in this article.

How to Build Your Dream Website with WordPress

Once you’ve installed WordPress on your server, the next decision you’ll need to make is picking a theme. I recommend Hello Theme by Elementor. I also recommend using Elementor, which is a website builder that you can use to design your WordPress website.

In Summary:

  • WordPress is free, customizable and 100% yours
  • To get started with WordPress, sign up for web hosting and install WordPress
  • Build your dream website with WordPress, Hello Theme and Elementor
  • If you need any help, let’s connect!

Website Builder

The Top Website Builder

Elementor is the number one website creation platform in the world and is used by 8M+ professionals from beginners to advanced users.

The best part? You don’t need to be a web designer to use it! Of course I’d love to help you design your website but if you’re going the DIY website route, Elementor is incredibly user-friendly but also packed full of features to help you create absolutely stunning websites without a single other design tool.

  • Drag & Drop Editor
  • 90+ Widgets that can all be fully customized
  • Pixel perfect design
  • User and beginner-friendly

I use Elementor for all my websites and it’s unbelievable how much you can do with this one tool. If you want a beautiful, professional, functional website, Elementor has everything you need.

Elementor

There is a free version but where the magic happens is with Elementor Pro. For only $4.50 USD/month ($49/annually), you can build and customize your entire website without the need for any other plugin.

Elementor Pro features include:

  • Build your own header and footer
  • Slides and carousels
  • Price tables
  • Contact forms
  • Videos
  • Animations
  • Google maps
  • Social media and share icons
  • Reviews and testimonials with star ratings
  • Search box and search results page
  • Ability to add custom fonts
  • Blog post template
  • Support
  • And so much more!

Want to see what’s possible with Elementor? Check out Elementor’s Showcase (I’m featured in the Top Websites for Gifts!). You can also look my portfolio to see what I’ve designed with Elementor.

Website Theme

The Absolute Best Website Theme

What’s the best WordPress theme for…? Is one of the questions I see the most on Facebook Groups and get asked myself (other than the question of “what is the best website host?,” to which my answer is always Cloudways).

With over 30,000 free and paid WordPress themes available, it’s no wonder this is a popular question.

I have a strong opinion on this topic based on years of experience designing websites and seeing the frustration that others face when picking a theme and trying to customize it to fit their content.

The key to having a beautiful, effective website is that you should NEVER try to fit your content into a pre-designed template. Your website should be built around your content and your goals, not building your content around your theme.

That is why I highly recommend Hello Theme from Elementor as the best theme for your website. It’s the fastest, most light-weight theme out there and completely customizable. It’s optimized for speed, SEO and performance.

With Hello, you can build your website around your content, your goals, your customers and your brand – not trying to fit your website into specific boxes that you can’t change.

One caveat to this recommendation is that Hello Theme by Elementor should be used with Elementor so if you aren’t using Elementor, this might not be the best option and then my question to you becomes, why aren’t you using Elementor? 🙂

Elementor is the number one website creation platform in the world and is used by 8M+ professionals from beginners to advanced users. Read more about why I recommend Elementor here.

Elementor Website Builder

Why Hello Is the Best Theme

Hello is the ultimate fast, flexible and free theme.

It’s optimized for speed and performance and is clean, lean, & fast. Hello is ideal for SEO and enhanced user experience.

It’s the most trusted website theme with 700k+ installs!

Unlike other themes that may have compatibility issues, Hello works seamlessly with popular WordPress plugins.

It’s free of styling and ready for your customization.

In summary, Hello is:

  • Incredibly fast and ideal for SEO
  • Super lightweight (only 6kb)
  • Completely responsive and customizable
  • Compatible with popular plugins
  • Free forever

Read more about Hello Theme by Elementor

Hello Theme vs Hello Child Theme

Every well-maintained WordPress theme out there is updated on a regular basis, this includes Hello Theme. These updates can erase changes that you’ve made to your site.

For example, if you added some custom code to your website, an update to your theme may override that custom code and cause it to be deleted.

Because it’s important to always update your themes and you don’t want to risk losing any changes to your site, I recommend using a Child Theme.

A child theme uses everything from the parent theme (Hello Theme is the parent) but any custom code gets written in the child theme so that updates to your parent theme do not effect the code.

Please note that you need to install Hello Theme first and then the Hello Child Theme.

How to Install Hello Theme – Step by Step

  1. Follow this link to download Hello Theme and click Download
  2. In your WordPress dashboard, go to Appearance – Themes
  3. In the top left corner, select Add New
  4. Also in the top left corner, select Upload Theme and then Choose File
  5. Find the file you just downloaded in step 1 and upload it
  6. Select Activate to activate the theme

How to Install Hello Child Theme – Step by Step

Follow the instructions above. After Hello Theme is activated:

  1. Download the Child Theme from the Git Hub directory (click the arrow on the green Code button and select the bottom option on the drop down that says Download ZIP)
  2. In your WordPress dashboard, go to Appearance – Themes
  3. In the top left corner, select Add New
  4. Also in the top left corner, select Upload Theme and then Choose File
  5. Find the file you just downloaded in step 1 and upload it
  6. Select Activate to activate the theme

Now you are successfully using Hello Child Theme!

Website Toolkit

My Go-To Website Toolkit

Crocoblock’s suite of plugins expands Elementor’s functionality so you can create almost anything possible. With 20 plugins and 150+ widgets, Crocoblock is like the swiss army knife for Elementor.

Visit Crocoblock to learn about all the amazing things you can do.

Crocoblock

Some of my favourite features include:

  • Custom post types for anything imaginable such as Events, Locations, Services and Testimonials
  • Appointment and Booking systems
  • Availability calendars
  • Weather widgets
  • Post listings that scroll horizontally
  • Filters that allows your visitors to search for anything
  • Customizing the Cart, Checkout and Thank You Page on WooCommerce
  • Save for Later or Wish Lists where users can save posts or products
  • Front end forms, meaning that users can upload content and make changes without having to login to WordPress
  • Vertical and horizontal timelines
  • And so much more!

Scheduling

The Most Helpful Scheduling System

Coming from a business development background, I truly think I could have gained years of extra time if I had Calendly earlier in my career.

Calendly is an amazing tool for you and your business as it will save you time going back and forth finding a time and then going into your calendar, creating a meeting request and sending it to your client.

Calendly is also amazing for your client as they can immediately see when you are available and compare it with what works for them. They immediately receive a calendar invite and ta-da, meeting booked.

Calendly

Email Marketing

How to Grow Your Email List

In under a year of launching one of my websites, my email list was well over 5,000 email subscribers thanks to the strategies listed below and two essential tools: Elementor Pro and MailerLite.

I am in shock to be able to say 5k+ as I remember the early days when there was absolutely no one signing up. 

As a web designer and helping clients with their sites, I can see firsthand what works and what doesn’t for growing your email list. 

First, by you reading this I can assume that you know the importance of growing your email list. It is by the far the most important and effective marketing and engagement strategy. It’s also one of my 10 recommended strategies to focus on when trying to grow your business online

But how do you get subscribers? Here is exactly what I did to get over 5,000 subscribers in under a year. 

Offer Something Amazing

Offering a freebie or lead magnet is by far the most effective way to grow your list. 

This incentive must be something incredibly valuable. Something that you could potentially even charge for. 

Email marketing tip

The mistake I see so many websites doing is having a subscribe form with the heading saying: Sign Up for Updates. 

I can’t wait for more emails said no one ever. 

Communicate What Else Subscribers are Getting

In addition to your freebie, what can subscribers expect to receive from you? I promised my website visitors that I would be sharing free resources (within this particular website’s niche) and tips delivered to their inbox. Even on the subscribe forms that didn’t highlight the freebie I was offering, the promise of these free and useful resources was enough for people to sign up. 

Well-Timed Popups

By now I was offering a really valuable freebie and communicated what my emails would entail and my subscribers list was now into double digits.

Where the real magic happened is when I started promoting the freebie with a well timed popup. Over 60% of my subscribers came in through this popup. 

I timed the popup to gently appear (tweak your animation so it’s not abrupt and frightening!) 20 seconds after the visitor landed on the page. 

Please don’t ever have a popup immediately when the page loads as that can make for the absolute worst user experience. 

Give the visitor a chance to digest the information on the page. Remember that websites only have 0.05 seconds to make a good first impression and having a popup appear immediately is the exact recipe for an awful impression. Want more tips for a great user experience? Check out my website checklist.

With this delayed popup, is there a chance visitors could leave before the popup appears? Maybe, but they are most likely not interested in your site and you want engaged subscribers on your list.

Designing Your Popup

The popup should be professional and visually appealing. It should show and explain what the user gets. This is the exact popup that skyrocketed my subscribe list:

popup example

Change your button text so instead of subscribe, it says “Get the Free…” Also your content should use appealing copy such as “get instant access.” Bonus tip: state that you won’t spam and that they can opt-out at anytime. 

I recommend only asking for two pieces of information on your subscribe form: first name and email. First name allows you to personalize your emails instead of the generic Hello Friend greeting and can lead to better long term engagement. 

Multiple Places to Subscribe 

On every page on this particular site I’ve been referring to, I had a subscribe form right under the main image before the content and a subscribe form under the content as well as the pop up. These subscribe forms all offered something different so I can appeal to different audiences. 

Here is an example of a sign up form on my site:

cheat sheet sign up

Using these techniques, approximately 20-30 people (about 10% of my website traffic) visitors sign up for my emails every day. 

Custom Automations

After a visitor subscribes, I have it set up that depending on which form they signed up to, they receive an email specific to that form with links to download their specific freebie. 

I do all this with the help of Elementor Pro and MailerLite

My automations are set up so that subscribers receive an instant welcome email with a link to their freebie. Then 24 hours later they will receive another email filled with valuable information that would be helpful to them (no sales pitch – just value and establishing trust). The next automation is an email that goes out 48 hours later properly introducing myself and sharing personal information so that the reader gets to know me. Then 72 hours later, the subscriber goes into my main queue where they will receive my regular updates and I’m sure there is a nicer why to say this but sales pitches. By the time a sales pitch is received, there is already the know, like and trust factor established.

Promote Your List

In addition to trying to convert visitors into subscribers, you can look for other ways to promote your email list. 

Here are 5 ways to get more traffic 

I also had success with blog hops and and special promo days. It’s so important to connect with others in your niche. Remember: “community over competition. You never know what partnership opportunities might be available. 

The Tools I Use 

WordPress – If your site is not on WordPress you may be facing limits on how many forms you can have on your site. 

Hello Theme – using a custom theme such as Hello, you can make as many subscribe forms as you would like. Hello is free, completely customizable, the fastest theme out there, completely responsive and the only theme I ever use.

Elementor Pro – for forms and popups, Elementor Pro is incredibly easy to create subscribe forms and integrate them with your email marketing platform. 

MailerLite 

If you’re looking for the most user-friendly, feature-rich email marketing system out there, I highly recommend MailerLite. It’s free for up to 1,000 subscribers and so easy to use.

They have amazing support via chat and an automation tool where you can set up an incredible email experience for your audience.

Honestly, I’ve used other email marketing systems and they are slow, clunky, complicated and expensive.

MailerLite is fast, intuitive, inexpensive and designed with the both the user who is creating the campaign and the customer in mind.

MailerLite

Some amazing features of MailerLite include:

  • 30 day free trial for premium features
  • Free plan includes 1,000 subscribers and 12,000 emails a month
  • Incredible workflow automations where you can customize the customer’s journey
  • Ability to segment out your audience
  • Fantastic stats and tracking abilities

Keep Your Subscribers Happy

As a final word, it’s one thing to get subscribers but once you have them you want to keep and nuture them. 

I’m thrilled that I have an unsubscribe rate of 0.01 and have met the most wonderful people from my email list. 

quote

Growing your email list can be a slow process but have patience, work on what you can control and remember: a constant drip of water wears away the stone.

Graphic Design

The Most Amazing (and free) Graphic Design Tool

Do you want to make stunning graphics for your business but don’t want to hire a graphic designer? Without any designing knowledge or experience, you can create outstanding designs with one tool – Canva.

Canva is a free graphic design platform that allows you to make beautiful materials for your business including business cards, social media posts, posters, infographics and more.

Using a simple drag and drop user interface and thousands of pre-designed templates, you will be able showcase your business in the most beautiful and professional way without any designing experience.

The best part is that is that Canva is free! And you can use Canva on any device.

You can upload your own photos and logos and use them in Canva’s 250,000 pre-made free templates or design your own creation from scratch.

Canva is truly a tool that I could not live without.

Canva

Get Even More Out of Canva Pro

Canva Pro features include:

  • 100+ million premium stock photos, videos, audio and graphics
  • 610,000+ premium and free templates with new designs daily
  • Easily save and apply your brand or campaign’s colors, logos, and fonts with up to 100 Brand Kits
  • Remove image backgrounds instantly with Background Remover
  • Resize designs infinitely with Magic Resize
  • Save designs as templates for your team to use
  • 100GB of cloud storage
  • Schedule social media content to 8 platforms

Invoices & Receipts

Helpful Templates for Your Business

Do you need a customizable, professional invoice or receipt that you can send to your clients? 

Check out my Etsy Shop where you can find Invoice and Receipt templates for your business!

Invoice template

Invoice Template

This Invoice Template for Mac/Apple Pages includes a digital download of a Pages document that you can completely customize to create the perfect invoice for your business.

  • 100% Customizable – easily change the text, fonts and colors
  • Auto-calculates the subtotal, tax (which can be changed to any percentage or 0) and total
  • Uses fonts that are already on your Mac and used with Pages (Baskerville & Avenir) so you don’t need to download and add any new fonts!
  • Set up as US Paper Size (8.5″ x 11″)
  • Ready for print or save as a PDF and email
  • Your purchase comes with a 5 page instruction manual on how to customize the invoice
  • Also included is a free checklist that you can use to ensure the invoice is good to go before sending it to your client

Receipt Template

This Receipt Template for Mac/Apple Pages includes a digital download of a Pages document that you can completely customize to create the perfect receipt for your business.

Receipt template
  • 100% Customizable – easily change the text, fonts and colors
  • Auto-calculates the subtotal, tax (which can be changed to any percentage or 0) and total
  • Uses fonts that are already on your Mac and used with Pages (Baskerville & Avenir) so you don’t need to download and add any new fonts!
  • Set up as US Paper Size (8.5″ x 11″)
  • Ready for print or save as a PDF and email
  • Your purchase comes with a 5 page instruction manual on how to customize the receipt
  • Also included is a free checklist that you can use to ensure the receipt is good to go before sending it to your client

If you have any questions about any of the products and services on this list or would like any help with anything, please contact me anytime.