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The Online Entrepreneur’s Tool Kit

What do you need to sell information products online? The list changes constantly. Some of the services I couldn’t do without might be meaningless to you. Even so, here’s the beginning of a list of essential web sites, tools, applications, and services that no online entrepreneur should be without.


WEB SERVICES AND ACCOUNTS

Email Accounts

You absolutely must have an email account for your business. No mybiz@comcast.net or mystore@aol.com. That’s just not good enough. If you haven’t done it already, register your business domain name and set up a POP 3 email account.

You’ll probably want an online account as well. Right or wrong, Hotmail, Yahoo and AOL all still carry a stigma. If you want the convenience of web mail with almost limitless storage and good SPAM protection, get a free GMail account. Just don’t confuse personal and business accounts.

Blog Readers

Please don’t waste time constantly checking your favorite blogs for updates. Get a good online RSS aggregator. That’s the fancy name for a blog reader. Google Reader and Bloglines are free, convenient, and easy to use. Pick one.

Web Site

Web 2.0 hasn’t made the conventional web site obsolete yet. In fact, depending on what you sell and who your clients are, you may find that relying too heavily on your blog will cost you business. You’re going to register your domain anyway, and you need an email plan – so get a web site and put up at least few simple pages. Let your clients know who you are, what you can do for them, and why they should choose you over your competitors.

You may not envision a multi-site empire, but why get a single domain plan when Blue Host offers unlimited domains for the same price? I’ve used Blue Host for over three years without a complaint. Set your site up on Blue Host and you’ll be ready to grow.

Blog

You need one. Stop procrastinating. If you absolutely cannot bear to deal with the technical details, get a free blog at either Blogspot or WordPress. Just do it!

Photo Sharing

If you sell on eBay, you’ve probably set up an account with PhotoBucket or Auctiva to host your listing photos. But you also need a way to share your other photos with the world, not just with eBay buyers.

Social media is a real phenonenon. Your competitors are not standing still. The game has changed and if you refuse to participate, you’ll soon be left behind. Even if all you do is embed a Flickr photo in your blog, you’ll need a Flickr account. Start with the free account. If you find the 100 MB per month limit too restrictive, you can sign up for a Pro account. It’s only about $25.00 annually.

You Tube

Video is probably the single biggest sales tool at your disposal. If you don’t already have a You Tube account, you are throwing money away. This is not a fad or a trend or a flash in the pan. This is not even tomorrow. Video is already mandatory. Don’t be left behind.

TOOLS

Flip Video Camcorder

The little Flip has taken over the world. If you make DVDs or shoot professional video, the Flip will never replace your 3CC camcorder. But it will certainly supplement it. Professional videographers carry Flips in their gadget bags. Teleseminar hosts keep them in their briefcases next to the cell phone. Bloggers make room in the backpack, right next to the iPhone.

There is nothing that can compete with the Flip for value and ease of use. If you don’t have one yet, you probably dismiss all the oooing and aaaahhhhing as fan-boy silliness. Once you get one, you won’t be able to believe you conducted business without it. Like the cell phone, the Flip became an instant must have business tool.

Embeddable FLV Player

Sure, you’ll probably stream most of your videos from You Tube or Vimeo. But for crystal clear Camtasia tutorials, nothing beats the JW Media Player hosted on your own site. It’s free for non-commercial use. And the Set-Up Wizard makes installation a snap.

Screen Capture Application

Is it possible to offer any sort of training without using screen caps? Sure – some people still do it, but those people are what their rivals call “dog meat.” Come on – this is 2008! Screen caps have been a fact of life since at least 1993.

There are dozens of screen capture tools on the market. Many are free. But none of them beat Snag-It. It is dirt cheap at $49.99 and there is nothing it can’t do.

If you want to add a little more pizzaz to your instructions, download TechSmith’s Jing. It’s a free, lightweight screen recorder from the makers of Camtasia. Save yourself several hours a week in training and support calls. Build up a small Jing library that answers your most Frequently Asked Questions and email a Jing videos when someone needs help. Your clients will love you.

Holy smoke – that barely scratches the surface. There are many, many more amazing and empowering tools out there for anyone who takes the time to look. And the most amazing part is – things that you would have spent thousands of dollars on not that long ago are now free. Jing, Flickr, Blogger, GMail, unlimited hosting – the list keeps growing. These are hgh quality products just waiting to make you money. Are you using them?

Free Web Presentation Tools

Camtasia is a wonderful tool for creating screencasts, but for many product developers or internet retailers, it is overkill. With a hefty $300.00 price tag, you have to really need Camtasia before you buy it. So what do you do if you just need to make a slideshow and post it to your web site, blog, or Facebook page?

There are a surprising number of free tools available. They may lack the polish or flexibility of Camtasia – but they get the job done.

Jing

For short tutorials – especially if demonstrating software or answering user questions is part of your customer service package – it is hard to beat Jing. This small screencasting application is also made by TechSmith. There are versions for both Windows and the Mac, and – perhaps most surprisingly – it comes with 2 GB of free storage at Screencast.com. If you are just getting your feet wet with screencasting, this is a great place to start.

Photo Story 3

If you want to create a slideshow, with Ken Burns like pans and zooms, accompanied by royalty free music and your own narration – you’ll want Photo Story from Microsoft.  PhotoStory, which is free, can be downloaded from Microsoft’s web site. However, please note: Photo Story 3 is for Windows XP. It probably won’t work with Windows Vista. (Microsoft recommends that Vista users use Windows Movie Maker instead.)

Many top videos on You Tube were created with Photo Story. With a little effort, you can produce very professional results. (If you are looking for the missing Photo Story instruction manual – try Ghost Leg Media’s Everyone’s Guide to Photo Story.)

Flypaper

Perhaps the Ken Burns effect isn’t quite what you wanted. Maybe you want to add a little sizzle to your presentation. Then you need to check out Flypaper. Flypaper is finally out of beta, and the Standard version is free. (There is a paid, Pro version as well.) Flypaper uses a collection of templates to build online brochures, presentations, and movies. Although the templates may restrict your flexibility, Flypaper is optimized to work with eBay, You Tube, and Facebook and MySpace – so it is definitely worth checking out if you want to spice up your auctions.

Yodio

Yodio adds a twist to recording audio. You can use your phone to record the narration – removing another technical stumbling block for folks without a microphone. Finished Yodios can be emailed or embedded in blogs, Facebook pages, etc. If you want to see what a Yodio is, check out Cindy Shebley’s simple explanation of HDR Photography. Like the other services discussed so far, Yodio is free.

SlideShare

If you’ve struggled with sharing your PowerPoint presentation online, look no further than SlideShare. You don’t need to master Flash or Camtasia or any of the other programs that convert PowerPoint into a movie. With SlideShare, you can add audio, or just let viewers click through your slides. The presentations are also downloadable at the creator’s discretion, so make sure you watermark unique content. Slideshows can be shared publically or privately (only selected viewers, according to rules created by you). Just sign up for a free account, upload your PowerPoint presentation and you are ready to go!

SlideShare still lacks some of the polish of a PowerPoint slideshow run on your computer (no transitions, for instance). And there is a conversion process which, like You Tube’s, can make pictures fuzzier than the original. But as a simple way to get your slides on the web, it is hard to beat. The FAQ will answer most of your questions about the service.

How can you take advantage of these tools?

If you are an eBay Educational Specialist and you want people to sign up for your classes – maybe Flypaper is the way to announce the schedule and content. If you want to offer a preview of an upcoming seminar, SlideShare could be the answer. Photo Story can perfectly showcase any product you have to sell. Jing will allow you to answer customer service questions in half the time and with twice the effectiveness of an emailed reply. Yodio can bring pizazz to any announcement, regardless of your video or audio equipment (or lack of it). This is just a taste of the free photo/slide/screencast services available to product developers. More are added every day. What are you using?

Firefox Screencast Contest

Do you use Firefox? Do you love screencasting? Well, if you said yes to either of those questions – it’s time to get crackin’

Firefox is holding a contest to help create screencasts for the Top 100 Support articles in the Firefox Knowledge Base. The Grand Prize is a Flip Video Ultra. The next 100 winners get a t-shirt.

Check out the Contest Guidleines

  1. Use Firefox 3
  2. Use an English language version of Firefox
  3. Create Flash videos (if you don’t have Camtasia – use Jing)
  4. Video only – don’t add narration or music
  5. Size videos to 640 x 480

That’s it – Submit your screencast and win!