Starting your own online business? 6 essential tools you’ll need

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    Over 2 billion people purchased something online in 2021; in other words, 1 in 4 of us can be classed as ‘digital consumers’. Considering those statistics, it’s no wonder so many budding entrepreneurs have taken to the web to launch a new business.

    Of course, if you’re thinking of setting up your own online business (or if you’re already in the early stages of building your online enterprise) there are a multitude of factors you’ll need to consider before you can make a success of it. To that end, there are also a number of tools that are an essential part of any successful online business’s arsenal.

    Here, we’ve broken down 6 essential tools you’ll need at your disposal to build, maintain and grow your online store.

    An SEO tool

    Now you’ve built an attractive, user-friendly website, you need to ensure you’re actually getting visitors there. Since your site will be new and therefore it won’t have any domain history, the most effective way to ensure search engines like Google are indexing your site for key search terms is by sending clear signals about your content through the use of on- page as well as technical SEO. On-page SEO is all about creating rich, relevant content and offering a seamless user experience, which technical SEO is focused on how well search engines can crawl and understand the pages on your site.

    From a technical perspective, it’s essential to ensure your site loads fast (you can use a tool like PageSpeed Insights to analyze your URLs and diagnose performance issues) while making your pages easy for search engines to interpret (using structured data is the best way to achieve this). On the on-page side, content is king: not only should you be writing great quality content, but you should ensure it’s formatted to make it readable for search engines as well as human visitors. SEMrush has a varied suite of SEO tools, but it’s especially great at discovering the best-performing keywords within your niche.

    An email marketing tool

    The next step in the growth of your online business is generating leads and building your potential customer base, and one of the most effective ways to do that is through email marketing campaigns; email might seem a little outdated in the age of social media, video marketing and such, but it’s still a relevant and highly effective communication channel for businesses. It’s also a great way to increase engagement and offer an ‘omnichannel’ experience (where customers can switch seamlessly between channels because the experience is consistent).

    Of course, first you’ll need to entice first-time visitors to sign up to your marketing emails, and that usually means offering a sweetener like a one-off discount or a free gift. That’s all part of the email marketing journey, and many marketing tools offer easy pop-up builders to cajole visitors into subscribing (like Klaviyo, for example). Once you’ve got them signed up, you can map out automated email campaigns and send bespoke, personalized emails to your subscriber list to keep them engaged with your brand (these could be product launches, special offers, personalized recommendations or more).

    A customer service solution

    Your customers are at the heart of your online business, so it goes without saying that you’ll need to enable your customers to seamlessly connect with you if they need assistance, advice or they have an issue to resolve. Particularly in the early stages of your online store, every customer interaction is going to be vital; satisfied customers are likely to become returning customers (and as little as a 5% rise in retention can lead to 25% more profits), while disgruntled ones will rarely come back (and their negative feedback could even deter others).

    A great way to serve your customers is by making it easier to serve themselves. By implementing a knowledge base on your site with helpful self-service tools and how-to guides (the free solution offered by Crisp can make this easier), you can cut down on wait times and make more efficient use of your customer service staff. This is particularly advantageous if you’re a startup or a small online business, as it’s likely you won’t have an extensive team of customer care agents. Empowering your customers to find their own solutions will ease the pressure on your teams, and mean that your customers aren’t kept waiting for answers while you try to field a queue of calls or respond to a backlog of emails.

    An analytics platform

    In ecommerce, almost every decision you make should be based on actionable insights: clear conclusions gleaned from your data that can be turned into tangible actions focused on growing or improving your store. For example, your data might be telling you that your checkout pages have a higher-than-average drop-off rate — that’s an actionable insight (a finding that can very quickly be converted into an action) and the action here would be to review and simplify the checkout process to keep more customers within the funnel. Without an analytics tool, factors like this may go unnoticed (and you’ll be left wondering why your store isn’t growing at the pace you’d like it to).

    Google Analytics is the most comprehensive and widely-used analytics tool, but there are plenty of others that offer a wide range of actionable insights. Crazy Egg is one such example, and it offers possibly the simplest way to measure customer interaction and engagement with your site. With a clever heat mapping tool, you can see which areas of your site are generating the most engagement and which are being overlooked — helping to optimize the site layout and prioritize the most important content. With built-in A/B testing capabilities, too, you can always be sure you’re implementing the most effective solution.

    A digital payment provider

    Your online business is not going to grow very quickly if you don’t offer your customers a means to pay you. Payment for goods or services through your website should be seamless and hassle-free, but it should also feel secure; your customers need to know their money is in safe hands, for a start. Flexibility is also key, as different customers will expect different kinds of payment methods; many will simply pay via a debit card, for example, while others might value the ability to pay in monthly installments. The more safe and flexible your payment options, the more confident your customers will feel transacting with you.

    There are a number of options you have when choosing a payment provider for your website. PayPal is a popular and obvious choice, as it offers the ability to check out quickly, securely (all purchases are protected) and there’s the option of splitting payment into monthly installments. But have you thought about gift cards, too? These not only offer an alternative payment method, but they’re great for converting otherwise indecisive shoppers and boosting revenue. A tool like GiftUp offers a simple way to sell and accept gift cards online.

    A shipping partner

    Of course, this depends on whether you’re an online store selling physical goods, but assuming you are, you’re going to need a reliable shipping carrier to ensure your customers receive their orders in a timely fashion (and that care is taken with their packages). But it’s not just about having their orders delivered swiftly; it’s about managing the entire end-to-end process from order placement to fulfillment so that customer expectations are managed and they feel informed throughout the process.

    In fact, free shipping and convenience are key motivating factors for 70% of consumers, so it’s essential to invest in a tool (like Shippo, for instance) that can help make the process as smooth as possible for your customers. Shippo is great for small ecommerce businesses; you can partner with multiple carriers and sync orders from multiple ecommerce platforms, including WooCommerce (a popular WordPress add-on), Shopify, Magento and even Etsy (a global marketplace for small businesses), while your customers will received tracking notifications throughout the delivery process.

    This is not an exhaustive list, of course (there’s a number of additional tools and processes you’ll need to have in place), but these 6 tools are essential for the successful launch of an online business. As your store grows and customer demand increases, you can add new functions and features to your store.

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