The Stuff I Use In My Biz

I get asked a lot about what tools/software/resources I use, when it comes to building a website, growing an email list, etc.

I’ve tried so many different things over the last 10 years. The list below is based on a whole lot of experience, and a whole lot of mistakes along the way!

Some of these links are affiliate links. But, I recommend them because I use them myself.

First, the software.

Things that are important to me now when deciding to use a piece of software:

  1. it has to make my life easier
  2. it has to be easy for me AND my customer
  3. it MUST have good customer support. I am willing to pay a monthly fee for something with excellent customer support, than pay a cheaper, one-time fee, for something that may or may not even exist a year from now.

So, here’s my tech stack! I also have a Tutorial Library that will show you how to use some of these resources (it’s free).

I hope this is helpful to you.

CRM

Infusionsoft – This is the backbone of everything. Nearly everything else I’ve listed below revolves around Infusion as the core.

Infusionsoft is THE hardest software I’ve ever had to learn. They don’t call it ‘Confusionsoft’ for nothing.

It’s worth it though. It can do anything. You start with this blank application that is unbelievably overwhelming to figure out, but you build exactly what you want from there. This is not an application that you fit your business into. It’s an application that you build out to fit your business. It definitely takes a willingness to figure it all out.

Note: I only recently started needing a CRM like this, but it was VERY hard to switch into it with a business already in full-swing. I wish I had started using Infusionsoft much earlier. Live & Learn!

What does it help me with?

  • manage all sales and products in one place
  • allows me to run a membership that offers both digital AND physical products to members
  • manages my membership, automatically sends their login info when they join, handles the cancelation process when they leave, etc.
  • manage the fulfillment for my membership, which was an absolute nightmare prior
  • keeps records of absolutely everything you could ever need to know about customers – what they’ve bought, what email lists they are on, things they’ve needed help with in the past, reminders, and the list goes on and on.
  • set up task and reminders tied to customer’s contact record (i.e. This customer needs her package held until the 15th this month, then ship). 
  • figure my sales tax
  • and more that I don’t even know about yet. I learn new things every day in there.

p.s. Their customer support is stellar. I have called them like 87 times in the last few months, while crash-coursing my way through moving 2K club members into the system. Even though they are probably thinking “oh no, not this girl again,” they are never anything but supportive and wonderful. I’ve got their number saved on my phone, and I know their hold music by heart.

Customer Support/HelpDesk:

I used HelpScout for a long time and really like it. It’s very, very easy to set up and use.

However, I recently switched to FuseDesk, because it integrates with Infusionsoft (if I am in a contact’s record in Infusionsoft, I can see all of their prior emails to me, right in their record).

I like that part, but I am still not sure how I feel about FuseDesk as a whole. It’s not as simple as HelpScout, I don’t love that they charge extra for a FOLDER (they call it a ‘Department’, but come on – I just want to organize!), and simple things like forwarding an email is totally over-complicated. I have been trying to stick with it because of how much I want these records stored permanently in Infusionsoft, but I have been actively searching for alternatives.

Shipping & Fulfillment

ShippingEasy -it integrates with both my shopping cart (listed below) and Etsy, so all my sales are automatically brought into the shipping app. It really makes life easier.

It does NOT integrate with Infusionsoft out of the box (boo). But, I simply upload my fulfillment list from Infusionsoft (for the membership) to it each month, and it’s pretty painless.

All other (non-membership) product orders are automatically brought in to ShippingEasy.

Storefront/Shopping Cart

I have tried every shopping cart under the sun. Infusionsoft also has a store/shopping cart, but it’s the worst part of Infusionsoft, and I didn’t want to use it.

I am finally delighted with my setup. Here it is:

WooCommerce This is a free plugin for WordPress, and if you know WordPress, it’s a piece of cake to set up. It integrates with ShippingEasy for super simple fulfillment.

InfusedWoo Plugin This integrates Woo with Infusionsoft. It records all orders in Infusionsoft (which makes life so much easier for figuring total sales, sales tax, etc), so it’s almost just as if I was using the Infusionsoft shopping cart and not my own. It even applies tags so I can trigger further automation after the sale through Infusionsoft.

WooCommerce is updated frequently, and InfusedWoo keeps right up with it so it continues to work properly.

The Membership Site

AccessAlly – This is the membership plugin I use now. (I used to use Wishlist Member).

AccessAlly is… awesome. It works on WordPress, and integrates fully and completely with Infusionsoft. Members can self-manage their accounts and orders, right inside the website. I can set access levels for various pages of the site, easily, based on Infusionsoft tags. No hard-coding or crazy techie stuff needed.

And you know what’s REALLY cool? Tags that were applied in my WooCommerce shop through InfusedWoo (see above), allow access (or not) inside the member’s website. Example: Someone buys a digital pattern from my shop, special tag for that pattern is applied, and then the customer can login to their account on our member’s site and view their new pattern. (I set this up 2 years ago and I am STILL geeking out about this. Here’s a video post I made showing how this works.)

They also have awesome customer support. At one point I sent an email on a Saturday night, not expecting a response until Monday at the earliest, and Robin himself (the developer) replied that very night with a solution to my problem. You can’t do any better than that!

Site/Blog Building

(and if you’d like to learn how, HERE is a starter guide I’ve written, just for crafters):

Buying your domain: GoDaddy

Hosting your site: Host Gator still hosts most of my sites, but I moved my membership site to SiteGround, and will probably begin moving everything else eventually, too. (HostGator was good for me for years. But, as the biz grew, I needed a little more.) UPDATE: After a Black Friday site crash… TWICE… paying thousands  to Host Gator both times for upgraded servers and then the issue not being solved… I’ve now moved ALL my sites over to WPEngine. It’s expensive, but so were two Black Friday Sales gone wrong. So far so good, but I’ll update this later if anything changes.

WordPress – the free software that I use as the base for all of my sites.

Backing up the sites: WP Engine does this automatically now.

Designing The Site

Page Builder: Beaver Builder

Blog Theme – SugarBlog

Email List

Infusionsoft.

Note: I used AWeber for years. They are great for starting out (HERE is an article I wrote awhile back about AWeber).

I stopped using AWeber recently because I moved to Infusionsoft. I moved to Infusion for the other benefits I listed above, but they do email marketing too, so there was no reason to continue with AWeber. If you are not ready for Infusionsoft, I still recommend AWeber.

PopupAlly – This is a plugin from the same people who built AccessAlly, and it also integrates with Infusionsoft. It’s an easy to use popup that you can install and design right in WordPress, with tons of options for customizing both the look and the functionality.

You can even create a sequence of popups. I.E. ask a question in the first pop up (Would you like to learn more about xyz?)… and then show the second box based on your user’s answer.

I am actually not a fan of popups in general – but you can create ‘polite popups’ with this plugin – popups that only appear at a certain time, or when the vistor is about to leave.

I used to use LeadPages for this, but I like PopupAlly much, much more.

Taxes/Payroll/Other Not-Fun-At-All Stuff

I use Quickbooks Online. Bleh.  (Side Note: If your business is starting to grow, I can’t recommend enough that you invest in a bookkeeper for even just a couple hours a month. I waited too long to do this, and by the time I did, I’d made a giant mess of my books, and had to pay a pretty good chunk of change to have it cleaned up.)

For employee time tracking (we are up to 12 employees now), I use TSheets, which integrates with Quickbooks. Our team members that work from home can use the mobile app to track their time, and for my shop team, we have an iPad at the door where everyone can clock in and out. It’s all synced with Quickbooks so that on payroll day, there is no figuring/adding times, etc (which used to take me forEVER).

TaxJar – In the last year, new sales tax laws have been passed which require online businesses to pay sales tax in OTHER STATES besides where they’re located, if they do a certain number of transactions in those states. My biz is now required to collect and pay sales tax in over 30 other states, with others being added all the time (I think it’ll be all 50 within the next year). It’s been a nightmare, because not only does each state have their own tax amount, but each state also has thousands of separate tax jurisdictions of its own. In fact, there are a couple hundred thousand tax jurisdictions in the United States, and MOST of the states make you not only pay their sales tax, but also each of these separate tax jurisdictions separately.. and oh yes, you must tie it up in a nice, neat little bow for them, too. (REPORTS).

If your head is not wrapping around that, I feel your pain. It took me a year to get compliant with all of them so far, but TaxJar has helped with a large portion of it. It will integrate with WooCommerce, and automatically calculate the taxes due, at the moment the customer is checking out. Then, it will help you with the reporting and filing each month, quarterly, or whenever, for each state (they are all different).

And second, the physical products:

(shipping supplies, office products, photography & video equipment, etc, coming soon!)

*Please be aware that a couple of the above links are affiliate links. But, I recommend them because I use them myself.

2 Responses
  • Andrew Santos
    February 23, 2016

    Hi Staci,

    Let me start off by saying I love the fact that you are show people how to setup their blog/shop/website and you do it in terms that even a newbie can understand. Thank you for taking the time to layout the foundation for starting an online business in the simplest terms.

    I found the link for “Backing up your site:Backup Creator” under the heading Building Your Site/Blog does not send you to the correct page. Your missing the colon between the http and the two back slashes.

    I like to hear about the shipping software your using and the ones you considered. If you would like to use all or any part of this in your testimonials/comments please do. Thank again.

    Andrew Santos

    • Staci Ann Lowry
      March 25, 2016

      Thank for letting me know about the link, Andrew, I appreciate it!

      Right now I am using ShippingEasy (http://shippingeasy.com). It integrates with my Ecwid shop so that makes it really easy, and it’s also a very simple software to learn. I’ve been very happy with it.

      Unfortunately, I now also have a recurring subscription thing going, and Ecwid does not handle recurring payments. Other solutions I’m considering to take its place do not integrate with ShippingEasy. So, I might be trying out some other shipping softwares soon. (Sounds like a good future blog article 🙂 )

      Thank you again, Andrew!

What do you think?

Your email address will not be published.