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The Online Meditation Room

I was curious how others designed an online meditation room, and I was a bit disappointed. 

I looked at the first 20 results from Google. Not all the pages were designed to be a meditation room, but some of them were. But the disappointing part was that the “room” was usually a simple page with a list of audio files you could play. 

Maybe there is a good reason for this. After all, once you choose your meditation and click play, you close your eyes and focus inwardly, and it no longer matters what the page looks like.

But let’s think about a physical meditation room or a temple. In that case, you have a distinct visual experience as well, not only an auditory one. Space and sometimes beauty remind your brain that this room is a sacred place. It invites your mind to relax and slow down. It is an anchor and a reminder that you are about to enter a meditative state. Sometimes you can feel the smell of incense or hear the bells ring, or soft music, or running water. 

Perhaps an experienced meditator does not need all these cues, but for beginners, it may help, and they could make the entry to meditation so much more enjoyable. 

How can we bring this online? 

We can’t generate smell from a webpage (yet), but we control the visuals and the sounds. 

What if, instead of a static page, we generate an experience of entering the meditation room

It could start with a white page, where your choices are softly faded in with smooth transitions, with great care to always have enough space between the elements on the screen to create the feeling of openness. 

It could play some gentle music in the background or nature sounds, or the crackling of a fireplace. And once you choose your audio meditation, everything fades to black, inviting you to close your eyes and enter the meditation. 

We could take this further and make it a group experience where more people join the same room, and the meditation would start at the same time for everyone, helping to keep everyone in sync and enhancing the experience. And we could configure the room experience to be a “Nature Room,” a “Void Room,” a “White Room,” a “Crystal Room.” Each one would have a different set of visual and audio cues that would make it unique.

I wonder if anyone would find such an experience valuable and wonderful.

What do Spiritual People want?

I created a research project to answer the question “What do Spiritual people want?” by looking at the websites of the Spiritual Masters of our time and specifically the section “above the fold” (what do you see when you land on the page.)

To get a more balanced idea, I chose a sample from people I know and resonate with, and from teachers that I don’t know or don’t resonate with. 

I will share my conclusions at the end.

1. Deepak Chopra

https://www.deepakchopra.com/

At the top, his website features a slider with three options:

 – meditations

 – book about meditations

 – book about Metahuman 

What stands out to me is that the design feels fresh and up to date. There is a clear thing for me to do once I land on the page: either look into meditations or get one of Deepak’s books. Otherwise, I can dive into the top menu or scroll down for more. 

The words that jump out are meditation, Metahuman, infinite potential.

2. Eckhart Tolle

https://eckharttolle.com/

As soon as you land on the page, you are greeted with a pop-up inviting you to join the Private Membership Community. I believe the target audience is people who already know Eckhart and would love to connect with a community around his teachings. I say this because except for using the word “FREE,” there is no other incentive to click the “Learn More” button. And it also uses a photo of the teacher. 

Once you close the pop-up, the entire top section is filled with a call to signup for a free audio miniseries. I like that you can’t miss what it is about: “liberation from the pain-body.” Even if you don’t know what the “pain-body” is, you still have a pretty good idea of what it may be like. And as you read more, it is about negative emotions, energetic blockages, and so on.

The website does an excellent job of communicating quickly what it is about and for whom clearly. 

My only concern is with using the pop-up. I believe the page is trying to solve a problem that I also have: how do you respond to new people landing on the site that are maybe looking for a pain-free life but at the same time also offer something for long-time fans that might be looking for a deeper connection? Right now, there is no harmony between the two, and I believe it causes some distractions and visitors bouncing off. 

What jumps off the page: clear messaging, pain-body, free, emotions, presence. It is clear what you have to do. 

3. Gabby Bernstein

https://gabbybernstein.com/

So far, this is the most focused website. It has an obvious purpose for the visitors who land on the page: promote the “Dear Gabby” podcast. A pop-up jumps out, giving rewards for those to subscribe and review the podcast—an effective way to generate engagement. I notice here that both the pop-up and the top section are aligned in purpose; there is no disconnect. Well done. 

What jumps out at me from the page: 

  • the use of bold colors – a departure from the softer palette on Deepack or Tolle’s site
  • Gabby is the clear image of the brand with a full-body shot
  • they use jagged distortions in the pop-up – which is interesting! – it suggests disharmony, but at the same time, it makes it stand out amongst spiritually oriented sites. I wonder if this is used because of user testing or they have another reason behind it.
  • words: “become the happiest person you know” – I like this tag line a lot

What is hidden but still at the very top is: “New? Start Here” – which is an excellent way to solve the problem I mentioned earlier: catering to both new and regular visitors.

4. Dr. Joe Vitale

https://www.mrfire.com/

The design choice for this website feels incredibly dated to me. That being said, I suspect there is a good reason for this design. Maybe the target audience is older people who remember how the web used to look back in the 90s. 

But one thing we can know for sure: if this website did not work for Joe Vitale, he would change it!

What jumps off the page:

  •  the very distinct look of the page
  •  words like: life mastery, zero limits, personal revolution, the wealth within

5. Dr. Joe Dispenza

https://drjoedispenza.com/

What I love about this webpage is the video at the top, with very inspiring images, music, and titles. It helps to create an immediate emotional connection. Unfortunately, all that is wasted because there is no call to action that I can see. As a visitor, I am left wondering what I am supposed to do next? 

What jumps at me:

  • happy and emotional people
  • powerful words – unlimited, magnificent, empowered, whole, supernatural
  • at the top, there is a small call to action that says: “Get Started with the Formula.”

6. Michael Roads

https://www.michaelroads.com/

I have a performance comment to make here: as soon as I try to load this page, I am greeted with white space for a while, then a spinning animation, and I need to wait a bit for the page to load: in my book that is way too long to wait for one picture and a bunch of text. 

Ignoring the performance issues, here is what I observe: this is a personal brand website. It features a large photo of the author (which takes up the whole screen on a mobile device) and then a text block that starts with “Introducing myself…”

Maybe the purpose of this site is to be a greeting card, in which case it does a good job. But if it has have a different purpose, I don’t know what that is from glancing at the top of the page. There are no visible buttons or other calls to action. 

What jumps at me:

  • Michael’s image is just beautiful – full disclosure: I love his books, and based just on that, I think he is an amazing human being. So I am biased. 
  • The logo with the infinite and the heart merged into one symbol: simple, clear message, brilliant design! 
  • Unfortunately, no words are jumping at me from the page. If I cheat and scroll down, I see the following section starting with “What is Life?”. Now, that is a powerful question, and maybe that should have been the top section. 

Digging deeper into the introduction, I find things like: modern mystic, spiritual teacher, the illusion of separation, realms of consciousness. Good stuff, but hidden in the text. 

As with Joe Vitale above, if this site would not work for Michael, I believe he would change it. So I have to conclude that it meets the purpose for which it was created.

7. David Icke

https://davidicke.com/

The feeling of this page is that of an online newspaper. I immediately noticed that even though the site is called “davidike.com”, there is no picture of the man in the top section. This lack of personal photos is different from all the websites I’ve looked at so far. 

What jumps at me: 

  • the use of labels for articles and videos (green and yellow) that overpower the titles of the articles which should get a higher priority. 
  • the image at the top was not click-able – you have to click the text to open the article – which is not obvious
  • it is clear that it is a news website, and unless you already know David Icke, you will not know what kind of news until you read the titles

8. Ickonic

https://ickonic.com/

The first impression is that it looks like Netflix. The top banner clarifies that it is a video site by using the familiar “play” button as the image. This website is a paid service since they offer a free trial. And once you read the small text, you get a better idea of what this is about: videos that will empower you to take control of your life, health, and wellbeing. 

I believe that using “Welcome to Iconic” as the big title is a wasted opportunity to communicate something more meaningful. If I didn’t already know what kind of videos I would find here, I would have a hard time understanding that at a glance from the top banner. 

Under the top banner is a gallery of available videos. That feels a bit crowded and busy, making it harder to focus on the items. But you can see David Icke, words like “magic,” “healthy,” “fasting” so you begin to get an idea. 

9. The Dalai Lama

https://www.dalailama.com/

Again this looks like a personal brand site where visitors already know what to expect, so there is no need to inform them. You do have a big title to clarify what you are looking at, and then a big picture of the Dalai Lama with the call to action to look at the photos. The imagery is beautiful, but I wonder if looking at the pictures is what most people visit the website for.

I believe most people landing on the home page would find the next section with the “Latest News” and “Upcoming Schedule” more valuable. 

What jumps at me is the lack of any explanation. It is assumed that you know about everything on the website already. So maybe this is more of a news hub and less of a teaching site. 

10. Thich Nhat Hanh

https://thichnhathanhfoundation.org/

Once the webpage loads, you are greeted with a pop-up inviting you to subscribe to the newsletter. The imagery is beautiful and cursive, the signup button is evident with high contrast, and the title is very inviting: “Bring Inspiration to Your Inbox!” Who doesn’t want that? You don’t need to know anything about this monk to decide if you want inspiration in your inbox or not. I believe they did an excellent job here. What is missing from the pop-up is a place to type in your email address. That will happen on the next page, adding more friction. I don’t understand the reason behind that.

Closing the pop-up, you will see a slider with beautiful images of community and uplifting messages. 

There is no button to click, so my eyes wander around and land on the “Donate” button at the top and then on the message “planting seeds of compassion” with the beautiful cursive writing.

I believe the design does a good job setting the mood with the warm images and cursive text sparingly, but it then fails to have a clear call to action. However, the images and text are interesting enough that invite you to explore more and eventually find some actions you can take on the site.

What jumps at me:

  • words like: compassion, humanity, generosity, giving, mindfulness
  • beautiful images focused on community
  • text overlay is sometimes hard to read, but the font is big enough, so I will be ok with that
  • the scriptwriting of the tag line is very beautiful and softens the sharpness of screen fonts

11. Celestine Vision – James Redfield

https://www.celestinevision.com/

The top section is an invitation to join the Celestine Community. And even if you don’t know what that is, the sub-text explains it clearly. What is missing is the clear indication that you need to tap/click the image to open the community page. 

And a fun fact: as you hover the mouse over the image, a small box shows up informing us that this is the “SALES PAGE BANNER.” This slipup is why you need to have image titles that make sense for your audience, not your developers. 

What I like here is the clear focus. There is not much you can do, and it is clear from the design what you are expected to do on this page. Using “ALL CAPS” almost everywhere is not something that I would do, but the text is easy to read, so it works in this case. 

What jumps at me:

  • the words: celestine, community, books

12. Don Miguel Ruiz

https://www.miguelruiz.com/

At the top, the part that draws your attention is a beautiful image talking about: “Reflections: a path to authenticity.” Unfortunately, you cannot click on the image, and there is no button that I can find. I find this strange because the subtext says: “an apprenticeship program with…”, so the implication is that you are invited to join this program.

What I like about this page is that it is so elegant and straightforward. However, it is too simple as it lacks a call to action button. 

I don’t know the purpose of the site, so I cannot comment if it is working. It has a store, and one of the products is the program, so it is puzzling that the top banner does not link to it. I am sure that once this becomes a problem, they will update the site. 

What jumps at me: 

  • the beautiful image
  • words like: authenticity, apprenticeship, spiritual teacher

13. Sri Sri Ravi Shankar

https://www.srisriravishankar.org/

This has the feeling of a modern website. The top banner has smooth transitions. Each slide has a clear call to action. And there is a tiny bouncing arrow at the bottom that gently instructs you to scroll down for more. 

The message is also clear: a vision of a stress-free and violence-free world—a voice for peace and human values. 

What jumps at me:

  • all the slides feature a picture of the Guru
  • the call to action is easy to understand, so you immediately know what this site is about what you can do here

14. Rhonda Byrne

https://www.rhondabyrne.com/

She has a very simple and streamlined website. The title of it is “Feel Good” with short teaching under it. I like this a lot! The first thing this website does is to create value for you by teaching something really simple that you can apply immediately. It also sets the tone for what to expect from the rest of the experience. You either are intrigued, or you bounce off. There is no call to action in this top section, and I believe this is by design. 

What jumps at me:

  • the words “feel good” – they immediately draw you it – it’s like a command that feels good 🙂
  • the close-up images for Rhonda Byrne – provide a nice counterbalance for the text section

15. Paulo Coelho

https://paulocoelhoblog.com/

The site for Paule Coelho is a blog site, and I think he makes that very clear from the top banner that has his name, his picture, and the words “Stories and Reflections.” 

What jumps at me: 

  • the very simple design
  • a sideways look – instead of a front-facing image

Conclusions

At the end of this research project, I realized that my premise was flawed. You can’t learn what spiritual people want by visiting the website of the spiritual leaders of the time.

Some websites focus on providing teachings and tools, while others focus more on the personal brand. 

The common thread that I noticed was the writings around human nature and expanding of our consciousness. Things like being free of pain and fear or mindfulness or infinite potential. 

I did not learn what spiritual people want, but I did learn about various ways our spiritual teachers make themselves and their message available to the world.

The people who use mentors and coaches advance 4x faster

As a lone wolf, I take great pride in doing things by myself. But since I became a father, the stupidity of that was obvious. While it can be fun and challenging, it is also very slow and inefficient. We don’t have unlimited time, so the choices we make on spending time matter!

Learning from other people’s mistakes and hiring coaches and mentors makes a lot of sense if you want to progress fasters.

But how do you choose a good coach or mentor?

I used to believe that you need to go for world-class coaching. Because you can advance the fastest if you learn from the best of the best:

  • They’ve tried it all.
  • They know what works and what doesn’t.
  • Since they are world-class, you won’t find this knowledge anywhere else.

But there is a serious flaw in my thinking! And that is: I am asking a word-class coach to teach me how to most effectively swim across the wide canal, without ever once entering a swimming pool. 

Simply put: there is absolutely no way for me to apply the advice they give me, and it is a high chance I may not even understand it.

I realized that you need to start at the beginning, not at the end. Meaning: if you want to beat the world record at swimming across the canal, you will need to start with learning how to swim in the first place!

So my revised definition of a good coach or mentor is someone who is way ahead of you so they can challenge you and point out your mistakes, but not someone who is so ahead of you that what they are saying makes no sense!

Think about this for a moment: even if you can afford a one-hour call with the best swimming coach on the planet, you don’t know what to ask. It is improbable that you will ask the questions that would get you the most value. 

It is the same when building your online presence. Trying to do it alone is slow. But trying to hire the best team to make you a mega-website as your first project is not the best idea either. 

Buying Time

There is always a chance for you to make back the money you lost, but lost time is lost forever.

I often talk about our time as a non-renewable resource, and while you cannot buy more time, you can always save time. 

You do this by buying the time that other people have spent learning to do what you want to do today. 

And it compounds: the sooner your start, the faster you will go. The later you start, the harder it is to catch up. 

There are two parts to our life: the part when you have more time than money and the part when you have more money than time. 

I am talking to those in part two because while you are in part one, you trick yourself into thinking there will always be more time.

Invest in Yourself

Use some of the money you have to buy the information that will put you in the fast lane. Hire a consultant, do a strategy call. 

Our egos will trick us into thinking that we know what we are doing and we don’t need someone else drafting a plan for us or reviewing the one we have created. So we end up making mistakes that we could have easily avoided. 

I believe in learning from mistakes, but it’s best to learn from new mistakes instead of rehashing the same territory. 

Ask yourself: has anyone else done this before? What can I learn from them? How can I take that and go farther? 

Use tools like Udemy or Skillshare. Get to know who is word-class in your field and follow their content. Hire them if you can afford it. 

Most people are willing to spend thousands of dollars building a website, but they would not spend $300 to hire a consultant first. What do you do if you realize it is the wrong audience, the wrong tech, or that you are too late at the end of building your website? At that point, you realize how cheap and effective it would have been to get on that strategy call.

What I do today I could have done ten years ago. Instead, I chose to poke around in the dark instead of asking for directions. Yes, I learned what I learned deeply and profoundly, but is it worth ten years of my life? My older self says “no.” I can only imagine where I would be today if I had a ten-year headstart. 

And it is not only about you. The longer it takes you to get your act together, the longer we miss your contribution. 

Buy a map, get a compass, hire a guide, and then go where no one has gone before. 

The Spiritual Software Engineer’s Guide to building your Online Presence

START HERE – Build an audience

Connect with people around you (online or offline) that share some of your values and interests. You need to build a bridge between “i/me/myself” and how it assists “we/us/ourselves.”

Contribute to what they post and share online. Build a conversation with them. First and foremost, try to understand them. You aim to create a community.

PAY ATTENTION

Pay attention and take notes:

– what do they ask?

– where do they need help?

– what inspires them?

– what is the problem they have?

Create content generously answering these questions: meaning for free and with the best quality you can (don’t try to be “perfect” that is just hiding from posting the work. Just do your best)

Save this content in a library (folder with documents in GDrive, Dropbox, local PC). You will thank yourself later!

GET’EM EMAILS

Once you get a feel of your audience, get them to subscribe to a newsletter. Use a free landing pages feature from AWeber, MailChimp, or some such.

By now, you should have a list of topics of interest that you can write about:

– full newsletters – best

– a weekly or monthly update where you send the best posts from Social Media – OK

– curated content – where you recommend other people’s work that relates to your audience – lazy, but it can save you in an emergency when you don’t have something scheduled.

WAIT FOR THE QUESTIONS

At some point, you should be getting inquiries about private consultations or help with a specific problem. The way to respond is to send them to the appropriate post or article that talks about possible solutions and, at the end, let them know that you are available for a one-on-one session for this price.

People will likely choose the free alternative initially, but eventually, some will pay for the “one-on-one.” Regardless, take important notes of these questions as they are ideas for valuable content or a potential product.

KEEP TALKING – KEEP CREATING

Continue the discussion with your audience.

When you have collected some 4-5 excellent questions to address, announce a free Zoom call where you will talk about those. Invite your audience to participate. At the end of the call, be sure to mention your one-on-one offering for those who need to get specific details. As a reward for giving you their attention so far, you can discount that price just for the live participants.

Be OK with the fact that this first call will not be so great. Things will not work; you will forget to mention something important. All that matters now is to practice. You cannot get to “mastery” by skipping over “beginner.”

LOOK FOR FRIENDS

Continue the conversation with your audience.

Look for collaboration opportunities.

The WRONG way to do this: “Hey, can you feature me on your blog/podcast/FB page?

The RIGHT way to do this: “Hey, your work is awesome! Do you mind if I feature you on my blog/FB page/newsletter?

Continue the conversation with your audience.

CAN YOU CREATE A PRODUCT/SERVICE

Based on your work so far and the community’s interaction, get an idea for a product or a premium service. Before you start working on it, ask your community what do they think? Are they interested? Would they pay for it? Bounce some numbers off of them. If you get a YES, then it’s great! If you get a NO, then also great! Ask what would need to change for the product to be more useful? (and it may not be the price!)

ONLY NOW YOU ARE READY TO BUILD A WEBSITE

– you have a much better idea of the name of the site – in some cases, it makes sense to use your own name, in some cases the name of the solution, in some cases the name of the problem.

– you have a massive content library

– you know what your audience wants, so you know how the home page should look like

– you know if you will sell a physical product, or if you will teach or if you will do coaching

If you will sell a physical product, check out Etsy or Shopify. (there is a difference between the two, but that’s a story for later)

If you sell teaching or coaching, have a look at Teachable.

If you don’t plan on selling anything, but you want to level up your blogging game: get a WordPress website (you can even start with free hosting at WordPress.com). This will build your brand and authority in your field, but you still need to have some offers to sustain the project.

BECOMING KNOWN

Continue the conversation with your audience.

You are much better at this now. Collaborations happen more often. You may be invited to podcasts, or live YouTube shows, or even get speaking engagements, if that’s your thing. Always be prepared to say in one line what do you do and who do you help.

YOU NOW HAVE A BUSINESS

At this point, you have some history with your audience:

– you know what works and how well

– you know how many people become customers

– you have a rough idea of a monthly income

You now have a business, and it is at this point when I would suggest you hire a business coach or participate in some business workshops to help you move forward efficiently.

GET READY FOR LEVEL 2!

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.