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New Paradigm Tools for Online Businesses

Tools for the New Paradigm Online Presence

Tools for the New Paradigm Online Presence

A curated list by the Spiritual Software Engineer

Updated: May 2021

Analytics Tools

Goolge Analytics – free, but you pay with your data. I still use this one, just because they are really good and what they do.

Mamoto – is free but you need tech skills to install.

Scheduling Platforms

Full disclosure: I am getting out of Facebook and friends. Moving to Telegram, MeWe, and other alternatives. But if you still plan to use Facebook, read on.

I do social media once a week. My motto is to empower those who visit Inelia’s page. I rarely see anything else on social media. I have saved links to go straight to the pages I want to, so I avoid seeing what “the algorithm thinks I should see”.

For this to work and still be active throughout the week I use scheduling tools.

TweekDeck – by Twiter for Twitter

Facebook Creator Studio – by Facebook for Facebook and Instagram

YouTube uploads have a scheduling feature when posting videos

Buffer – you can use one tool to post everywhere – I have some issues with this platform

Hootsuite –  similar to Buffer above, you can post from one place to multiple platforms. Used to have a clunky interface, I have not looked at it in the past 2-3 years.

TailwindApp – I use this for Instagram. The reason I keep using them is because of their analytics capabilities, but most of all they have a feature to suggest “relevant hashtags” that I find very helpful. This is a paid service.

Newsletter Service

MailChimp – as long as you don’t talk about vaccines you’re fine. Otherwise, you will get kicked out. Make sure you export your list once a week so you don’t lose your subscribers. This is a really powerful tool, but they did not choose our paradigm.

SendInBlue – has a nice free plan that can get you started. The interface is a bit slow, but I use it for personal projects where I am not sure if I will make money.

AWeber.com – next best from AWeber. It does the job, but not as easy to integrate with a website like MailChimp is.

There are other alternatives here, but in my mind, they are for medium to large businesses, not really for startups.

Backup Services

I use my own tools here. But here are some guiding principles.

You need to backup:

  • your content – keep copies of what you write/create/record on your computer as well – not just online
  • your email subscribers – export your list once a week and keep a backup on your computer
  • your website – do a full backup 2 – 3 times per year. If you have your content backed up and your list then you can rebuild the site even if you lose it completely. For more active businesses you need to backup more often.

The location of your backup is important. If you backup your site and store the backup on the site server, that will also be lost if your site is hacked or the server crashes. Backups should not be kept next to the original data. Ideally, you store the backup data, encrypted in a cloud storage service. See next.

Cloud services for backup

Cloud services allow you to share files across devices and, important for me, allow me to work on my stuff on any computer that has an internet connection. It is like a portable “hard drive”.

Google Drive – It’s Google, so privacy is an issue

Dropbox – This is the one I use with a good experience so far.

OneDrive – Microsft – well, it’s Microsoft.

NextCloud – I hear good things about it, related to privacy, but I have never used it

FTP Uploaders

This is relevant mostly for WordPress. All other website builders generally feature a drag and drop upload feature.

FileZilla is your friend here. I have been using it on Windows for more than 15 years, and I see they have a Mac version as well

Hosting companies

This is relevant only if you want to have a WordPress site that you would like to host on your server. If not, skip ahead.

SiteGround (affiliate link) – this is the one I use and recommend to everyone. They are not the cheapest, but they have good support and that is a must even for someone technical like me. Also, their email function is working properly. (UPDATE in May 2021: I have had some trouble with their support lately, but their performance and speed are still the best I could find, so I am still using them.)

Stay AWAY from these guys. Despite being voted “The BEST of 2020” by CNET.com, they offer really bad service and support.

  • HostGator – used to be a big fan of them, but they lost their ways
  • BlueHost – really bad
  • GoDaddy – really bad
  • Site5 – we used to be really good, but no longer an option
  • Dreamhost – bad

All these options are very cheap, but that means they had to cut corners. You will pay more in time lost and having to hire a dev since their support is non-responsive (or incompetent).

If you want to build a business and not a hobby, do not buy a “shared hosting plan”. You will share the server with other people you have no control over and that will affect your reputation and the performance of your site. So make sure when you budget your business that you include the costs for good hosting.

Site builders

WordPress.com – you can create a website for free, but with some limitations and not able to use your own domain. See this as an example of this working:

https://laurabruno.wordpress.com/  (UPDATE May 2021: I no longer recommend WordPress for people starting out, because it is too technical, too easy to mess up, too hard to get the site to be fast)

WIX – they say you can create a free site (but I did not find the option yet). This used to be bad, but right now it looks really, really good. They have evolved! – See this example. (I think that on the free plan you need to keep the Wix brand at the top). If top performance is important for your business, then look at Squarespace instead.

SquareSpace – more professional than WIX in my estimation. I know good examples of businesses built on Squarespace. Better overall performance. Integrates with Shopify for an online store.

Kajabi – a great “all in one platform” if you’re selling your knowledge: courses, videos, tutorials. The great thing about it is you just pay them and they handle email, hosting, security, subscriptions, payments. I am a student in Kajabi powered sites and I like the experience. I have not used it myself to build a business and if I were to choose it I would inquire about the possibility to export my data and move elsewhere if I want to. In other words, I need to make sure I own the business I build and I can use the email list I build without restrictions.

Landing pages – These can be a powerful idea when you’re just starting and you need to keep an eye on your budget. Ideal for simple tests, for building an email list, for getting feedback on a service you want to launch. Instead of building a full website, instead, you have just a page that is hyper-focused on one goal. This hyper-focus is a good thing. Look for tools that offer analytics so you know how well your page is doing and that they work on mobile. Both AWeber and MailChimp allow you to build simple landing pages with their paid subscriptions. For more options look into dedicated services.

Teachable, Shopify and Etsy – if you know you are going to teach something, or sell a product. These are built to help you get your business going and take away the problems with setting up payments and configuring a store and so on. If you are really serious about starting a business these are the ones I would recommend.

A note about Etsy:
Unlike Teachable and Shopify where you can build a business, Etsy is a good place to start, but it is not enough just by itself. Mainly because on Etsy you are building their brand and not yours, and you are also in instant competition with the entire Etsy audience. That is both good (there is an audience!) and bad (as it may be hard to get known).

WordPress Themes

I think it helps to learn how to think about choosing a theme before I actually tell you which theme to choose 😁.

Since this tools set is focused on building a business, this means your theme needs to support a store, in this case: WooCommerce. It also needs to be mobile-friendly (it is called: “responsive”). It needs to play well with social media. And it needs to be fast/high performance.

Some readers will notice that I did not say it needs to be “pretty”, and that is on purpose, as we are focusing on the customers and making their experience a good one while using the website.

I almost never choose a theme based on the colors or the images or the layout with one very, very rare exception: the theme matches the criteria above and it’s a perfect fit for what I have in mind!

I much rather prefer a theme that is easy to customize than one that is “ready-made” but almost impossible to change after you install it. This is because as you grow and you get to know your audience better, you want to be able to make incremental changes to how your website looks, or even a complete redesign, without having to purchase another theme.

My Recommendation

UPDATED May 2021: Because of big performance issues with Divi I no longer recommend them. What I now use is the pro theme from GeneratePress. They are blazing fast and play nice with other performance-related plugins.

I am no longer recommending anything else. Why? Because as of May 2021, Google uses our site speed as a factor in their ranking algorithm as well as how nice the pages load and function on mobile devices. So it does not matter how pretty and well designed your site is, if it’s not fast and it’s not mobile-friendly it will not matter.

Unless you can afford to hire a good performance-oriented developer, just get GeneratePress.

WordPress plugins

There are a few WordPress plugins that I install all the time on any new WordPress project:

  • WP Forms for contact forms and other intake forms. (If you care about performance stay away from Contact Form 7)
  • WPS Hide Login – helps with site security by hiding the default login page
  • All In One WP Security – for securing your WordPress install against hacking. Please note that on projects where I need top performance I am no longer using this plugin.
  • Yoast SEO – the free edition – gets your website ready to be indexed by Google in a fairly easy way. When you generate money with the website it is worth geting their PRO version.
  • WP Mail SMTP – a wpforms product – I will install this if the website cannot send email. It allows you to configure in a much more flexible and advanced way how email is sent and also to do tests. (Do not use Easy STMP as it has security problems)
  • WooCommerce – if you plan to make this a business this will be the plugin to use to sell things. This is a powerful tool, but rather hard to configure, and the free version, while it works, it lacks many of the things that make an excellent store. If you lack the tech skills you will be much better off building your store on Shopify.
  • EasyDigitalDownloads – this is an alternative to WooCommerce if you are sure you will sell only digital products. Since there is no shipping required, a plugin optimized for digital delivery can do a much better job than a plugin that needs to be more general.

LIVE Streaming: Events, Webinars, Workshops

Workshop – means you need live interactions from your participants.

Webinar – means you are talking to people, but they cannot talk back, at most they ask questions via text chat

Events – You LIVE stream something that you do – like a webinar, but maybe you don’t stay in front of the computer if you’re streaming a Yoga glass (for example).

Zoom – workshops, webinars, events.

  • PRO: easy to use, most everyone knows how to use it by now, good quality for the streaming
  • CONS: you need to pay for meetings longer than one hour, and if privacy is a concern, they don’t do very well, even if they claim “end-to-end” encryption

Google Meet – workshops, webinars, events

  • PRO: easy to use, good quality, integrates seamlessly with Google Calendar, and it’s free
  • CONS: it’s Google, you need a google account with them, so you get all the related privacy issues.

Facebook Live, YouTube Live, InstaTV – webinars

  • PRO: free (just as Google is free), easy to set up, it’s “trendy”, people in your audience will get notified about you without having to do anything special
  • CONS: comments are very hard to manage, especially in a solo operation, does not look very “professional”

Team Communication

Slack – instead of communicating via email, it is more effective to use a tool like Slack. This way you can organize the communication in channels of interest, and get notified about only the important stuff, and also be able to search your older messages. You need to have been part of a team with more than 3 people to understand the power of this tool. It’s free with some limitations, after a while you can no longer search older messages unless you pay. The paid version is not cheap.

Discord – is like Slack, but it was designed for gamers. The big advantage is that it is free (last time I checked). The biggest drawbacks are the name itself and being game-oriented, which can be a put-off when you want to do “work”.

Circle.so – a new kid on the block, shows promise and it is more intuitive to use than Slack or Discord.

Telegram Groups – it’s like Whatsapp but NOT from Facebook, so for now it has better privacy. It will work for small teams and small projects, but if your team grows you will need to move to Slack or Discord.

Screen Capture

ManyCam – the paid version – is what I use to record my screen, to create “picture-in-picture” images, to color correct my image, to LIVE stream to YouTube and Facebook at the same time. This is a very powerful and versatile app and if your business requires teaching through video, or doing live casts it is worth the time and money invested in learning this tool.

There are free alternatives, but I find that a paid software not only saves you time but also makes you look more professional.

Video Editing Tools

Video Editing is a complex process, but I will focus here on cutting, trimming, adding intro and outro, and logo overlays.

DaVinci Resolve – is the tool I use most often. The free version is powerful enough for what I need it to do. The UI is pretty complex, and I suggest watching a YouTube tutorial before trying to work with it so you don’t feel lost. The good news is that once you learn the process for your workflow, it’s pretty easy and fast.

HitFilm Express – is the tool that I used before Resolve (above). It is somewhat simpler to use, but it lacks some more advanced features that I needed. This also has a complex user interface, but there are tutorials about it.

Note about video: video is a complex system to present media. It has the visual component, but also the audio track and it can have subtitles. Videos can have hundreds of formats, each with its own settings and parameters and that can be utterly confusing. If you plan to work with video it is worth the time and the money to have someone teach you a process for what you need, or else you might get lost in the hundreds of options available. Resist the urge to become a video editor, unless that is actually your business. Hire help or buy focused tools. You will make your money back.

YouTube had some video editing capabilities that most people will find good enough when they start.

Image editors for Social Media

I use Photoshop for my Social Media posts, but it’s unrealistic to expect someone to learn this tool unless they are passionate about it. Seriously, unless you’re into photography, learning Photoshop can be a massive waste of time better spent focusing on your business.

Therefore the tool I recommend now is Canva. They make it super easy to create images for social media, providing templates and the correct sizes that you should be working on. And the fact that you can collaborate on your designs is a big plus!

PRO Tip: If you like someone’s presence on Social Media reach out and ask them what tool/process they use. You will find some gems.

Free High-Quality Images

Unsplash – This is the place I use most often.

Pixabay – This is the place I go to when I can’t find what I need on Unsplash. Be careful with Pixabay, I have had complaints with images from them that were not actually free to use.

Your own photography – if you’re so inclined and have a good enough phone, your own images can go a long way, since they will be unique and feel more authentic. However, taking good pictures is a skill in itself so balance this with your need to look professional.

Once you have a business that is working and the branding becomes important, you will want to invest in paid images, since almost everyone is using Unsplash these days. Look at places like Shutterstock, Dreamstime, iStock.

Hire Help

Fiverr – many vendors, you need to shop around to find someone who is a good fit. A lot of them are really bad. My own experience with Fiverr is: don’t go for the cheapest option, and be ready to hire 2-3 people for the same job, and chose the one that is the best.

UpWork – unlike Fiverr where you search for a vendor, on UpWork you post a job and allow vendors to find and bid for your project. Because the payment method was blocked in Romania I could not use them, but from other sources, I hear the quality of work is better than Fiverr.

99Designs  – this is targeted specifically towards design: be it logos, websites, or brochures.

Hire a consultant for a strategy session. It is worth spending an hour with someone competent to draw a map for you to follow. You will save both time and money.

Image Resizer

Using images that are way too big for your website can slow down the loading time, especially on mobile. While performance optimization is a long and complex discussion, you can get to some low-hanging fruit, by properly resizing your images.

The tool I suggest is here is “Image Resizer” because it’s super easy and a 1, 2, 3 step process. I don’t personally use this tool very often because I have similar options in Photoshop, but the advantage of this tool is that is available everywhere and it works and you don’t need to learn anything.

OptIn Popups

I don’t like OptIn popups but the data suggest that they work in getting people to subscribe to your newsletter.

The providers I have used are:

Mailmunch – they have a free plan (branded), and they integrate easily with WordPress. I just noticed that in their paid plans you have landing pages and email marketing. That could save you some money when you first start testing things online.

OptInMonster – they don’t have a free plan, but they come highly recommended as a mature product. Unless there is a clear indication that this is a better fit for you than MailMunch, I would not use this one.

Podcasting Platforms

There is some tech required to record and edit the audio file for your podcast and that is not what I am addressing here.

I am talking here about the place that will store your audio files, and podcast information and will allow you to link it to podcast syndication platforms like iTunes or Google Podcasts.

Transistor.fm – is the tool that I recommend. It is not free, but it’s well worth the money. I have tried to “do my own thing” and host the podcast files myself, but it takes so much time to do it right, that it’s best to pay someone to do it for you in a professional way.

Payment Processors

PayPal – everyone knows about PayPal. Some customers don’t trust PayPal and in the past, there were issues with accessing your funds. To be fair I’ve seen no problems in the past 2 years with access to funds.

Stripe – is the main PayPal competitor and worth checking out. As far as I know, they allow for a smoother and more customized checkout experience which will influence your cart abandonment rates.

SquareUp – I have not used this one but it comes highly recommended.

Things to keep in mind:

  • Is this tool available in your country?
  • How do they help you with your tax documents?
  • How fast can you access your money?
  • How do they process refunds (is there a fee)?
  • Do they have an easy checkout experience?
  • Do they accept credit cards?

Let me know if you have questions about any of these or you’d like more specific details.

Send email reliably from WordPress

I am getting close to 20 years of putting together websites for myself and other people, and I have seen a shift happen with email, both in what is possible and what the expectations are. 

In the “old days,” you would get a hosting account for your site, and the email would magically work every time you would need to send one. 

This setup worked because the email protocol itself is very open and interoperable, so it is straightforward to send an email to someone, as long as you have their address.

This openness also invited spammers, who abused the system, making it harder for everyone to send and receive genuine and relevant communication. 

Today, most people expect that email will work “like it used to,” but what is more likely to happen is that all the emails you send out of our WordPress site will not reach their destination. You will not notice this problem unless you specifically test for it. Instead, you will see a lack of engagement or customers complaining they did not get their download links. 

There are a couple of solutions to this problem that are free, but I will present the most effective one: buy a paid email delivery service. 

When you pay for your email delivery service, there are some significant advantages over a free solution:

  • you immediately set yourself apart from the spamming crowd that is using the free solution
  • you have dedicated tools and reports to monitor that your email is delivered and reaches its destination
  • you get support with configuring the email sending process correctly, which is not trivial
  • you get analytics – which is essential for a business owner
  • someone (the service provider) is directly responsible for delivering your email and making sure the process works as expected

Unfortunately, I have seen a lot of people shy away from paying for email. Put your business hat on and think of it this way: how much money and (more importantly) how much time are you wasting with lost emails, with dealing with un-happy customers, with the uncertainty that your outbound messages reach their targets? I bet that the numbers you come up with more than make up for the cost of a paid email service. 

What email service should you use? 

In the past, I have worked with SendInBlue, SendGrid, and Mandrill. Today, my favorite one is MailGun. I am not an affiliate; I recommend them because (as I write this) they offer the best value for money. 

To connect WordPress to Mailgun, the plugin to use is WPMailSMTP.

Schedule Meetings and Appointments More effectively.

If you are looking to spend less time booking sessions with your clients or choosing the best time to meet, then you might want to use these tools: Calendly and Doodle.

Use Doodle to select the best time.

With Doodle, you can create a poll with times when you are available, and you can share that with the other participants, so you quickly agree on what is the best time. 

The advantages of using a tool like this are avoiding emailing each other back and forth to figure out your availability and automatic time zone detection, so everyone knows the correct time every time!

Use Calendly for session scheduling. 

With Calendly, things are a bit different. You configure what kinds of sessions you are offering (30 minutes, 1 hour, etc.), the available time slots, and then send that to your customers, who will pick the right time for them. 

Using Calendly also takes care of dealing with timezones correctly, and if you connect it with your calendar, it will automatically avoid double booking. 

Both these tools have a free plan, and they are a great place to start when you need to schedule meetings or sessions with your clients.

 

Although important, nobody likes tests!

I should not have to write this, but testing your web application is very important, especially if you care about your brand being perceived as premium. 

And by testing, I don’t mean “does my homepage load fine?”. I mean the comprehensive end-to-end testing and stress tests to ensure your app still works when that marketing campaign hits. 

Even though good tests are essential in the quality assurance process, I have seen websites and applications that do not fail gracefully, with a friendly error message that explains what happened and offers a way to move forward.

Many software workflows attempt to convince the developer to test first or make sure their code is testable, but most developers do not use them. 

I thought about it, and I believe I found the reasons. 

Nobody likes tests because:

  1.  they are boring to write
  2.  it is not easy to write code that is testable – you need a specific mindset
  3.  they offer zero visual feedback to the paying customer – so in that sense, it is invisible thankless work
  4.  they need to be maintained along with the code base that does something 

Tests are a tough sell to both developers and their clients. Most often than not, we proceed with the attitude: “we will fix it when someone complains!”

On this blog, I care a lot about value. And from that perspective, I will say this: no client will ever come to you and say, “I need a website that will require about 20,000 tests for a code coverage of 90%”. Tests have zero value to them. Instead, they need a solution to a real problem, like: 

  • They need to build a premium brand. 
  • They want to sleep well at night, having confidence that the vast majority of the app functionality works and will continue to work even under stress. 
  • They need actionable data to help them decide where to move next with their web application: what is the bottleneck in performance? What is hurting conversions? 

These are all items the client cares about, and a possible solution is to write tests. But what you are selling is peace of mind, not code coverage. 

And yes, in some cases, especially for MVPs, tests are not essential for the bottom line, and so even if you know they are important in the QA process, that may come later once the product proved to be a hit. 

As a developer, I would get into the practice of doing tests and writing testable code. It is an excellent skill to have when things change faster and faster, and interoperability creates more complex systems. 

And as a client, I would put some monetary value on my peace of mind and knowing the app won’t break and see what solutions I can buy for that budget. 

 

New Paradigm Tools – Slack

What is Slack for?

You may be old enough to remember mIRC. If so, Slack is like that but for business.

If you have no clue what mIRC is, then Slack is a way to text chat with your team over the Internet, grouping the discussion into multiple channels. 

 

What is Slack NOT for?

Slack is not a project management tool. Instead is a remote communication tool. While you could use it to manage simple, short projects, you will miss the ability to create tasks, track progress, and reach your goals for more complex ones. 

 

Why use Slack? 

I have been working remotely for over ten years now. And I would communicate with my clients over email. This approach was generally OK if only two people were involved: the client and me. As soon as someone else wanted to join the conversation, it would get complicated very fast! Here is why:

  •  How could they read the context of the previous discussions – that are now buried in an old email that they don’t have access to?
  •  How could they filter the information if it is not organized into topics? 
  •  There is no guarantee of an email being delivered. When an email gets lost, a lot of awkward “didn’t you get the memo?!” situations ensue.

 

The Power of Slack

Slack does more than getting the information out of your email and into a team-accessible-space. 

It has a robust notification and ignore system. Taking the time to learn about and properly configure the notifications can make or break your Slack using experience. Suppose you choose to get notified about everything. In that case, your phone will constantly buzz at you, driving you crazy, which inevitably leads to shutting down notifications altogether, which means you’re shutting down slack and choose not to communicate. Not good!

The key is to fine-tune what you get notified about and create distraction-free time for you to do productive work. 

It’s tempting to think that everybody on the team is just a text chat away, but unless your purpose is to chat, you won’t be terribly productive. 

Some jobs may require you to monitor and respond to Slack constantly. Some brainstorming or research phase of a project may require that you keep your eye on Slack. But for the rest of the time, turn everything off except private messages from your boss and any emergency or announcement channels. When you’re done for the day, make sure you set slack on “Do Not Disturb” (you can automate this if you have fixed work-hours).

Slack Workspaces are another powerful concept, although super confusing when you first start. 

To clarify this for you, think of it this way: You don’t have a Slack account. What you have instead is an account inside a Slack Workspace. Why is this important and confusing? Because each workspace has its own password, even if you use the same email to access all of them. 

It’s like working for three companies, each has an access key card with the same picture of you but a different code on it, so you cannot use the same key everywhere. Similarly, each Slack Workspace has its own password and email. Why is this important? Because it enables you to use the same tool for multiple teams and projects and still keep everything separate within the same program. Pretty neat! 

Finally, because the conversations are grouped into channels, it is easier to focus only on what you care about and mute (or leave) the other channels. This feature is essential in long projects with large teams. 

 

The downsides of Slack

When I stumbled into Slack one year ago, I thought it was the answer to all of my professional and personal problems! I would use the SlackBot to remind me of important things; I would use channels to organize personal notes; I would use emojis to simulate a project management environment. Oh, the nerdiness!  

It was fun for a month until it because evident that Slack is is to be used for effective communication, and that’s it :).

 

Some misuse of Slack by not understanding its purpose:

  •  project management – use Trello or Asana, or BaseCamp for this
  •  collaborative documents – use Google Drive, Or DropPox Paper (Yes, I know about Slack posts, but they are a far cry from a truly collaborative document platform)
  •  file-sharing – again, use DropBox, Google Drive, or OneDrive – yes, you can share files on Slack, but I think they added this feature just so to make it easier to fill up your free quota :). Sharing images, small spec files, and generally whatever is small enough to be an “email attachment” could be OK. But for anything larger, use a proper file sharing tool.

 

Misuse of Slack by not understanding team communication.

There is a reason Slack adds by default a “random” channel. It is the channel that allows that team member who always has something “fun” to say or share to be safely ignored while they can “express freely.” If you delete that channel or don’t clarify what it is for, expect your “announcement” or “emergency” channels to get spammed. 

Be mindful when sending a text and notifying everyone: will this boost the team’s productivity or just create a barrage of distractions. Nobody wants to wake up to 99+ slack notifications that have nothing to do with them doing their work that day. 

 

Misuse of Slack by not knowing the tool

This problem is probably the biggest and most annoying drawback, and it also prevents a team from adopting Slack. You need to learn the tool and follow the agreed protocols. 

It’s like driving on the streets: we need to trust that you know how to handle your car, and you understand that a red light means stop! Learning the tools and the rules is what makes for a smooth drive (or Slack experience).

Read an article or two about how to use Slack like a pro. It will take you 30 minutes, and you’ll ace it. It will make you feel super confident and become the Slack guru. But most of all, you will be able to create value for your team with clear and smooth communication.

 

Slack Video

I am adding this here because, so far, I have a poor experience with Slack video. The lag is so significant that it was impossible to have any meaningful conversations with my collaborators. I am sure this will improve in the future.

Slack Alternatives

A completely free alternative to Slack that works in the same way, is Discord. The name is unfortunate since discord is not what you want on your communication lines.

Exploring Teachable as a platform for Spiritual Teachers

Are you looking to create an online course or a coaching service? Let’s explore if Teachable is the right platform for you.

The Short Story

Pros

  • You don’t need to worry about technology.
  • You can create landing pages to promote your course. 
  • You can integrate it with other platforms (using Zapier). 
  • It has dedicated features for selling coaching sessions.
  • It is effortless to scale your business.
  • There is a basic blog tool that can help to create awareness around your business.

Cons

  • There is a monthly fee that you need to pay, regardless if you make any sales. (Starts at $39/mo)
  • You can remove the Teachable brand starting only with the Professional plan.
  • It has a 1.8/5 score on Trustpilot reviews because of bad/slow support. (It does much better on Capterra with 4.5/5)

Caution

  •  Their free “Get Started” plan is very limited. It is just a quick test drive.
  • Don’t expect to publish a course on Teachable and then wait for the money to roll in. You still need to bring an audience.
  • Before creating your course, look for other classes like that on the platform. No competition may signify that there is no audience, or the course is not a good fit for Teachable.

The Long Story

Spiritual Teachers can use both courses and coaching services to share their insights with an audience and elevate the Consciousness on our planet. 

Working with a platform like Teachable can help you get started because they do all of the heavy liftings when it comes to technology. You don’t have to worry about hosting, disk space, performance, video embeds, bandwidth limitations… none of that technical jargon will matter to you. 

There is some learning involved because you will need to use their Admin user interface to build your course and the sales page, but it is clear enough, there are video tutorials, and you don’t have to be a developer to understand it. There is also available support, but there are some concerns here with how fast they will respond. 

Take a moment and let this sink in, just how much Teachable takes off your hands. If you are not a tech person, building a website and maintaining it, and connecting with all the various tools you will need, can quickly grow to be your highest cost—both in time and money

Let’s talk money

The price for the basic Teachable plan is $39/mo. That can seem like a lot, but you don’t have any of the upfront costs you would have with building a website from scratch. And if you opt for yearly billing, you get a better price of $29/mo. That adds up to $348/year. But will not pay for hosting, or a template or a developer to help you build a custom site. (As an aside, even paying $99/mo for their professional plan is still a bargain compared to the costs of maintaining your own website).

If you plan to use this platform, you need to be serious about it. You cannot just start an account and forget about it. The monthly fee will continue to fly out of your pocket regardless if you make any sales or not. 

With a course or coaching session priced at $40, you would need to sell at least one copy per month to pay for Teachable. With a conversion rate of %1, this means that you need to bring 100 visitors a month to your course sales page, to get that sale. 

However, you will not buy the tools and spend the time to create a fantastic course to just pay for itself. You will have a monthly revenue goal much higher than $40. 

Let’s assume you are aiming for $1,000/mo. That means 25 sales, at a 1% conversion rate, it works out that you need to bring 2,500 visitors to the course sales page each month. 

This model is simplified because you will also have some refunds. And you will also have referrals that will have a much higher conversion rate. 

But you now have an idea of the size of the audience you need to generate this kind of revenue. 

And this brings me to an important point: whether you choose to develop a website or choose a platform like Teachable, you are responsible for building this audience and sending it to your sales page

The Marketing is on You

If you are starting from scratch, with no audience, I would suggest using Social Media to connect with people you could teach and build that audience. 

And you do that by sharing your expertise for free and being generous with helping other people solve their problems. At the same time, you build up a library of questions and answers, and you are continually asking for feedback from your audience. 

Eventually, you will get to a place where you can say: “Hey, it looks like many of you are looking to make quick progress in this [area]. Would it help if I create a course for it? Would that be valuable for you? And does a price point of $xxx make sense?” and see what kind of a response you get. Alternatively, you could ask if you set up a coaching program may be a better fit.

With this approach, you know immediately if you will have customers or not. And if you do, you will have a bunch of fans cheering you on, motivating you to get it done already! They will also be the ones to send referrals. 

When NOT to use Teachable

If you not yet sure what you want, I would suggest testing your idea with some free options, like building a Wix website or a free WordPress one. The problem here is that these options make it easy for you to set and forget about them since they don’t cost you any money. But this will not work. Testing means interacting with your audience, getting feedback, making changes, not just waiting to see what happens. If your plan is to wait, I can tell you what will happen: NOTHING. So don’t even start; you’re better of using that time elsewhere.

If you are good with web technology or have someone like that on your team, you can get much better flexibility and lower costs if you build a WordPress site. 

If branding, flexibility, optimization, and customization are critical to you, having Teachable as your “main site” will note work.

Finally, if your vision is to build a custom service, then Teachable is not for you. 

Alternatives to Consider

In case you don’t like Teachable, other platforms may work for your style: UdemyThinkificKajabiSkillshare.

How to bring Life to a Large Content Library on Consciousness and Metaphysics

I am studying various membership offerings on websites related to consciousness, metaphysics, and related topics. 

What I have seen so far is what I call the “data dump!”

After you purchase your membership, you are presented with an overwhelming list of items you can study. Sometimes they are organized in various categories. Other times, they are not. 

This kind of library poses a few problems:

1. It just feels overwhelming. Where do you start? What should you look at next?

2. When the library is full of audio and video material, it is not searchable. And I don’t want to look at a two-hour video to realize that it was not the information I wanted. 

3. If this library is behind a paid membership, there is little incentive for users to keep their membership. The exception here is when new content is added, so the member hand around for that. But it still leaves a ton of old content dead in the water. 

We Can Do Better

I have some ideas on tackling these issues, but I confess I have not seen them implemented yet. 

1. Where do you start? 

The library should have a roadmap, with a clear START HERE sign. Everyone new will appreciate this: one button, instead of hundreds of items to choose from. Of course, this works if each item has a “Go here next” button. You are creating a pathway through your library, guiding your reader. 

To take this to the next level, the new members can take a quick quiz at the “START HERE” landmark, based on which they will get a different pathway that will better suit their interest. I think this makes the library much more valuable. 

A notable mention here is the content drip approach. I am not a big fan of this because I like to move at my own speed and jump around if I want to. That being said, even content-drip is better than no deliver strategy.

2. Making the video and audio search-able. 

Each video and audio should have a description with time indexes describing what is going on: topics addressed, questions answered, resources, etc. If you did not do this for each video or audio as you have created it, you are faced with a considerable task 5 years later. 

Soon, artificial intelligence will come to the rescue, but until then, you could hire someone, or more than one, to go through the videos and create these indexes for you. You can find people willing to help on Fiverr, but be ready to spend some money. For a paid membership, you should be able to recoup the expense quickly, and it will significantly increase the library’s value!

3. Reviving old content

A spiritual library never gets truly old. Usually, the information is timeless, and it can help new and old members alike. But new members are not likely to dig around in the past five years, especially when new content is being added each month or each week. 

A pathway through the library will help. Making the content searchable will also expose some gems. But you can take this much further with automatic semi-random content delivery

Here is what I mean: 

Each week send an automated email to your membership suggesting one of the library items and the notes associated with it and invite the members to study it. If you have to pick this by hand, it may be too much work; therefore, you should select one semi-randomly. Semi-randomly means that you will use a quiz or use historical data to determine your members’ interests. And you randomly choose items that they did not see yet but might be interested to see. 

Such a message will be highly relevant. Of course, it requires some creative technical solutions to segment your audience based on interests. Either your newsletter provider can do that, or a piece of code on your software could handle this. 

Imagine how much more valuable the old content suddenly becomes and how much better you serve your audience! 

4. And a bonus: create a community around the library.

It’s much more engaging to comment on something and have a discussion around an item with your peers. You can ask questions if you need more clarity, or you can be generous and help others understand or point them in the right direction. 

A community will take care of this. A basic comment feature under each library item is ok, but a forum is much better as it allows your members to create new topics that maybe you did not think of.

Can you think of more?

If you have other ideas on making a spiritual library more “alive”, I am very interested to know. Reach out!

“I need help! I have a problem!” Syndrome

“I need help! I have a problem!”: I see a lot of emails with those titles almost every day. And in some cases, these emails are sent to public figures who may have large audiences. 

What goes through my head is this: 

“Does this person seriously think that their email will be picked out of the thousands and get a reply?”

And the answer is that probably yes, or they would not have sent the message in the first place.

For me, that is selfish thinking and selfish expectations. Especially for someone who has a broader audience, the email situation is asymmetric. There is way more incoming email than one person could possibly read, let alone send a response. 

And this also applies to social media communications.

I am writing this post here because I have seen a similar trend in the business world where people send messages asking for a job or offering their services to anyone who has a contact form on their website. 

These messages boil down to: “Hey, I am intrigued by what you do, can you hire me?” or “Hey, some nice content here, do you need SEO on the website?”

How would you feel if a stranger came up to you on the street and said that to you? Would they seem trustworthy? Would you think that they genuinely have your best interest at heart? Would you be eager to work with them? 

I understand that sometimes crises happen. I know there are situations where you desperately need to put food on the table and keep the lights on. But the problem is that everyone else also has their own issues to think about; they have their own story running in their head. The fact that you have a big problem, does not give you permission to but in and ask to be hired or offer a service that is not needed. It just creates friction and noise and lowers your chance to be seen as trustworthy

This shotgun approach has a math justification. It is free to interrupt many people in the information age and demand that they focus on my problem. So, the logic says, I just have to interrupt a lot of them, and eventually, I will get a hit! 

If you are doing this, how is it working for you? I bet that it’s not working very well.

The Alternative is to be generous and respectful.

Imagine that you are indeed about to approach a stranger in real life, not online, and you will see how face-to-face interaction changes the dynamic. 

None of the short meaningless pick-up lines would work. You would need to show genuine empathy and generosity. 

Being generous does not have to be about money. You can be generous with your time, attention, and emotional labor. Before you contact a potential lead, do read their about page, their social media activity. Get out of your head and your problems, and do your best to comprehend their story and problems. Once you feel you have seen the world through their eyes, only then you can go to them and say:

“Hey, I’ve been following your activity for a while, and I know a big launch is coming. Do you need any help with that? I am especially effective at creating and distributing flyers!”

If you were honest with your investigation and were paying attention, your lead was thinking or worrying about this issue. By mentioning it directly and specifically, you show that you care and that you’ve spent the time and the effort of getting familiar with their business and their problem. 

Do you see how this would set you miles apart from some just bombing with generic “I don’t care about you, please hire me” messages? 

The key to solving your problems is to help other people solve their problems first. 

Keep that in mind, when you send your next email or post your next message on LinkedIn. Are you selfish? Or generous? 

Where do you start when you design a Website?

“Writing is easy. You only need to stare at a blank piece of paper until drops of blood form on your forehead.” Gene Fowler

I used to feel the same way when it came down to designing a website. 

I would have all these general ideas of what should happen on the site, but then I was faced with this white emptiness and an infinite amount of possibilities. 

The simple task of laying down the first line felt daunting! 

If this is your struggle as well, read on, because you’re in for a treat!

It turns out that the problem is with the “infinite number of choices” when thinking about design. If you only had two colored crayons to choose from, you would not spend to much time picking one.

The key is to limit your choices to just a few!

If going down from “infinite” to “a few choices” makes you cringe, consider the fact that most designs that work were built within pretty restrictive design systems.

But now it seems like we just shifted the problem. Instead of figuring out where to start, you wonder how I choose my design system restrictions?

I will argue that this is a new and different problem. Because you don’t have to choose these restrictions, they are instead imposed on you by the project you want to create. 

What is this project for? Who is it for? 

When you answer these questions, you will build a set of features and an audience for these features. Within these answers, you will find your constraints. 

For example, let’s look at color. Instead of randomly choosing a color or thinking of something that is appealing to your sensibilities, you would serve your audience better by reading on the psychology of color and choosing the one that conveys the message you want to convey to your audience.

The same applies when choosing the fonts for your design. If you know how different people perceive different type-faces, the font choice will be an obvious one.

When it comes to the overall design and layout, you are again constrained by creating a clear hierarchy. You don’t just jam everything in there; you need to consider what is most important and prioritize accordingly. It also helps if you sketch first the features and build up from there, instead of figuring out what the navigation should be like when there is nothing to navigate to. 

The web needs to be accessible, so you need to create proper contrast with your color, provide appropriate text sizes for your labels and enough space around the buttons. 

When you write all these restrictions down, you are left with very few options to choose from. And starting the work on your design will be much easier, especially if you focus on the features or the main call to actions and build from there. 

Build your constraints first (from the requirements of your audience), and the design will flow from there.

Quick SEO Setup for your WordPress website

SEO is a large and complicated subject. And it can feel challenging and overwhelming to get everything right.

However, it is essential to get it right because it affects the “first” impression that your potential customers have when they are about to click a link on Google or Facebook that sends them to you. Not to mention the amount of organic traffic that you will get.

The easiest way I know to add this to your WordPress site in a technically correct way, but a breeze to configure, is to use the YOAST SEO plugin.

I am not associated with them in any way, but I do recommend them as I used them on all my WordPress websites.

After the initial plugin install, it will guide you through a configuration wizard. You will answer simple questions, and in the end, everything is configured for you.

Every time you write a new post, or create a new page, take some time to inspect the Yoast block as it will have recommendations about how to improve your SEO for that particular content.

What I like most is the super-easy way to control the image and description that social media platforms will use with links to my websites. It takes the guesswork out of it, and you can even add different images for different platforms if that is important to you.

Subscribing to their free newsletter is another good way to get free SEO training and reminders to keep your website in shape.