Starting an online business is highly attractive because it is readily accessible to almost anyone and technology is also changing the way people build wealth. Brick and mortar days are tough. I won’t say they are over for there is always a demand for retail but won’t you say online e-commerce is taking over aggressively? When was the last time you bought something online versus retail.
To start your online business, you need tools. We are going to examine these tools and I will share which are the essential ones and which are the good-to-haves.
Online businesses come in all shapes and sizes. Amazon is an online business and that’s on one end of the spectrum. On the other side, if you have a blog or a YouTube channel that is getting traffic and making sales, that too is an online business.
I am into affiliate marketing which is in my opinion, the best way to start an online business with a very low cost that makes it affordable for many people.
So what are the tools you need to start an affiliate marketing niche site.
Let’s dive in.
Tools of the Trade
To build a niche site for affiliate marketing, these are tools I find very useful. I will provide links to them and if it is an affiliate link, I will clarify as well.
#1 BLUEHOST (Premium)
To build a website, you need a web hosting service. Bluehost is one of my recommendations. Whether it is Bluehost or other service provider, web hosting is one essential you can’t skip if you are serious about building a brand. Wix and WordPress do provide free web hosting but you can’t choose your domain.
For example, if your niche is parenting, you can create a free website using https://365parenting.wordpress.com/. You can still populate it with content but you lose the uniqueness of your site brand.
Now, what if you can choose https://365parenting.com, wouldn’t this be better branding?
By using Bluehost, you can host your website at your preferred domain. One of the great features of Bluehost is that it comes with 1 free domain for the first year and the yearly renewal is $15.99 which is highly affordable.
This is not a full review of Bluehost but I think it is very important to know that Bluehost promotional pricing is for the first term and renewal is subjected to the regular rates. So if you take up the prime plan for $5.45 a month, the total cost is $65.40 but upon renewal, this would go back to $14.99 a month and your total annual cost would be $179.88 + the domain renewal fee of $15.99.
So there you go. The cost balloons up 3 times after the first year. Even so, it boils down to just $0.54 a day to keep your site and domain running. As your affiliate sales come in, you probably can cover this cost adequately and turn in a profit.
To help you along, if you can also sign up to be a Bluehost affiliate and start promoting Bluehost as you use it for your site. When someone signs up Bluehost through your link, you can get a commission anywhere from $65 to $120.
Click HERE to visit Bluehost to explore the plans and features.
* I am an affiliate of Bluehost and if you take up any plans from them, I will get the above mentioned commission at no extra cost to you.
#2 PIXABAY (Free)
As you write your blog, you probably need images from time to time. Despite the vast quantity of ‘free’ images online, using them for commercial reasons can lead to legal copyright issues.
Thankfully, there are sites that provide free images that are available for commercial use. One such resource is Pixabay, which offers you access to over 1.5 million royalty free images. Pixabay is free and requires no registration so you don’t even have to provide a name or email. The flipside is that many are using these images and thus you may end up being not so original.
#3 STORYBLOCKS (Premium)
Want to insert more originality into your blog posts? Try Storyblocks! This is a premium stock image site and yes, you do have to pay for it but at $19 a month or $8.25 a month if you pay annually, this is by far the best stock image repository I can find on the internet.
$19 a month gives you unlimited downloads of millions of high-res photos. In other words, you can start downloading from sign-up and keep those images for the future even if you don’t need them now.
Of course, paying for images is painful but sometimes being too common with your images is even more costly.
Tip If you don’t like to use stock photography that everyone is using or invest money to pay for a membership site, the best thing is to take photos with your mobile phone. First, it is your own works and you can be as creative with it as you desire. In fact, these are the best images to use for your blog because they convey authenticity. In an era of hyped marketing and idealistic visions, authentic content including images is a rare gem.
This is a free image optimisation tool. Do not be confused by its name. TinyPNG is nowhere tiny, it is a massive help if you are building a site with considerable number of images.
Images tend to slow down site loading speed and visitors may just click away if it is taking too long for them to access your blogs. By optmising your images (retaining quality with smaller filesize), you can get your site to load up significantly faster.
TinyPNG works for PNG and JPG files. It is a no-frills image optimiser, so it only performs the task of compressing image filesize. You can’t do any edits on your image.
#5 IMAGERESIZE (Free)
This is another favourite tool of mine. ImageResize allows you to crop and resize your image before compressing them further. You can’t do your fancy Photoshop edits here but for a quick crop and image optimisation, no one can beat this guy.
#6 PIXLR EDITOR (Free)
This is akin to the free version of Photoshop. Well, maybe not as powerful as Photoshop but then it’s free to use and in my experience, I doubt you really need to do a lot of edits on your images unless you are creating infographics, posters for art-related sites.
#7 CANVA (Free/Premium)
If you are active on social media and want to create shareable images, Canva is a great tool. It has preset templates for all kinds of banners be it for LinkedIN, Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest and more. I use Canva to create Pinterest-ready images and I insert those images at the end of every blog post and encourage my readers to pin it for their network.
Canva comes as a free tool but you can also opt for their premium version which gives you access to their archive of 400,000+ images. There is a free 30 day trial, so go ahead and try it for yourself.
LetterCount is a quick way to count…yes the number of characters you have written. This is a helpful way to make sure you don’t exceed the 60 character recommendation for blog post title. Anything beyond the 60th character can/may be truncated by Google and that won’t look very nice.
There is also a WordCount which counts the number of words.
For example, “hello how are you” is 17 characters including the spaces and is 4 words. However, LetterCount is a more useful tool to me because I use WordPress editor and it shows me as I type the total number of words I have written.
#9 SCREENCAST-O-MATIC (Free/Premium)
For those who are into screencasting, Screencast-O-Matic is my recommendation as the first go to tool you should try out. It’s free and the only ‘catch’ is a small watermark at the bottom of your video displaying Screencast-O-Matic. I think that’s a small thing in comparison to the wonderful free tool you are getting.
The other thing worth mentioning is the video duration limit of 15 minutes per video. In other words, you can record a video up to a length of 15 minutes. The premium version has no duration constraint and is only limited by the amount of storage space on your computer.
I have a fuller version review of Screencast-O-Matic and you can read it here, if you are interested to find out more.
#10 & 11 STUDIOPRESS AND WP ENGINE
I actually have to lump these two into one because just not too long ago, WP Engine merged with StudioPress. StudioPress is well known for their premium themes, among which is the famed Genesis Framework.
Do not worry if these terms are unfamiliar. I will explain it in a simple manner. First, if you choose to build your website using WordPress platform, you will need a WordPress theme. There are a lot of free WordPress themes on the internet and you can start right away at zero cost.
However, the problem catches up later when WordPress decides to release updates to their platform. This update happens quite consistently, once every few months and it is actually a good thing because it is kind of a security update to make the platform more robust, and user-friendly. The problem is that when the platform is updated, your site may be affected in terms of its appearance IF you have made any customisations to the backend coding.
As you develop your site building skills, it is not uncommon to tweak a code here and there to achieve the effect you want…which is all cool and fine EXCEPT that when WordPress updates its platform, your customisations will be overwritten and lost.
One way is to keep track of your customisations and add those snippets of code back each time after every WordPress update. Possible but not the best use of time and what if you forget or copy the coding incorrectly. It is just too much hassle and before long, you either give up the idea of customising your site or get an alternative solution such as paying for a premium theme.
StudioPress is where you can find excellent choices for your preferred premium theme. It’s not cheap and the one I bought (Genesis Framework) costs me around $60. What’s good about StudioPress however is that their themes come with unlimited support, updates and quoted prices are all one-time payments and you can use the purchased theme for unlimited domains if you so want to.
This is quite a steal in my opinion because there are other premium theme sites (Themeforest) charging similar or higher prices but it only entitles the usage to one domain. If you build a second site and want to use the same theme, you have to purchase it again. Unless you really like the theme from Themeforest, my suggestion is to go with StudioPress and save yourself some money especially if your site is not breaking even yet.
Check out the StudioPress themes and if you are a fan of Pat Flynn (who isn’t!), here is a link to his Smart Passive Income Pro Theme. I am an affiliate of StudioPress, so if you end up purchasing a theme from theme, I get a commission.
Now, moving on to WP Engine. WP Engine is a premium web hosting service provider. Its strength lies in its capacity to deliver strong web hosting to sites that are getting a lot of traffic such as 30,000 or more pageviews per month.
At this traffic flow and above, you may find that Bluehost still works but your visitor experience may be that of a more sluggish site as your blogs try to load up. WP Engine takes care of that by providing your high volume traffic with blazing fast web loading speed which is important if you do not want to lose your visitors.
The catch is that this is a costly option and for its most basic (startup) plan, the monthly cost is $35 and this applies to only one domain. If you have multiple websites up to 5, you have to opt for their GROWTH plan which costs $115 a month. Ouch!
Yes, it is all dollars and cents but when your sites are getting that kind of traffic, you won’t be feeling the pinch. In fact, WP Engine becomes a very worthy investment.
Verdict: Go for Bluehost when your sites are new and when they get to that critical traffic mark, consider switching to WP Engine.
When StudioPress merges with WP Engine, I also got accepted into WP Engine affiliate program and you can check out their plans HERE to better understand their current pricing schedule.
#12 WEALTHY AFFILIATE (Free/Premium)
Wealthy Affiliate is a membership site for aspiring affiliate marketers at all levels and is the perfect resource if you are completely new to affiliate marketing and want to learn how to do it RIGHT from the get-go.
I couldn’t emphasize this enough. No matter you learn from Wealthy Affiliate or another course, building an online business is really not easy and the biggest disappointment for most including myself is losing lots of time and misplaced efforts at the beginning because we didn’t know what work and thus it was like going through the school of hard knocks, trying to piece things together.
If you like to avoid losing time and effort, check out Wealthy Affiliate to see if this works for you. I won’t go into details (I have a review) but the best way forward is to sign up as a free starter member and make full use of the first 7 days. I suggest you do so when you are ready to invest time because once you register for a free account, the clock starts ticking.
The first 7 days is a special window period where Wealthy Affiliate premium video training resources will be made available to you. You can watch those videos and decide whether to go premium or stay on indefinitely as a free starter membership (no expiry date).
And if you do sign up within 7 days for premium membership, Wealthy Affiliate is going to give you a 60% discount for the first month’s membership fee. You pay $19 only and subsequent months go for $49 a month.
Wealthy Affiliate comes with its affiliate program and so you can also promote Wealthy Affiliate to start earning recurring commissions. In time to come, you can recoup your investment and even turn in a profit. You can become financially free by helping others learn and start their online business which is a noble clause.
The top 12 resources mentioned above are what I personally use. There are many resources that deal with social media, email marketing but since I am not focused in those areas, I can’t really share much. If that changes in the future, I will be updating this blog post and my resources page.
Questions are welcome. Let me know in the comments which resource you are using, your experience or if you need clarification on any of the above. Cheers and happy affiliate marketing!