Free resources for building an IM business
One of the unique things about building an internet business is the low cost of entry. You don’t need to spend thousands of dollars on equipment, rent, staff, signage, inventory or any of the myriad of other things a traditional business would need to get started.
All you really need is a computer and an internet connection (and you can even use someone else’s if necessary).
But what about the software and other tools you need to operate your business? There’s going to be a cost for those things, right?
Good news – there doesn’t have to be.
Sure, you can spend hundreds of dollars on software like Microsoft Office, Adobe Photoshop, Camtasia Studio and various other things that are commonly used in this business. But virtually all of them have free alternatives.
In this report we’re going to look at some of the best of those free alternatives, so you can get your business up and running – and making money – without having to spend a dime.
This is probably the most fundamental resource in this business – a website. No matter what strategy you’re using in your internet marketing business, you’re going to need a website.
Yes, there are strategies that promise you can make money without even having a website. And I’m sure some people do just that. But if you don’t have your own website, you’re always going to be at the mercy of some other person or company who can turn off the lights without any notice.
There are actually quite a few different tools that will help you build a website of your own, and don’t cost anything. But we’re going to look at two in particular.
WordPress was designed as a “blogging platform” but over the years it has developed into a full content management system (CMS). Which basically means it
makes it really easy to post new content to your website, without having to worry about the design or layout of the content. It manages all that stuff for you.
WordPress is free to use, and is available to download via the official WordPress website:
If you download it from there, you’ll need to install it on your web server. This isn’t a difficult process, and the instructions are all on their website.
The other option for installing WordPress is to use a service called Fantastico that is included with many hosting plans. Fantastico will install WordPress (along with a bunch of other packages) in just a few clicks.
One of the biggest advantages of WordPress is how easy it is to change the layout of your website, and add new functionality to your site.
There are hundreds of free WordPress themes available through the Free Themes Directory:
No matter what type of site your building, you’ll be able to find a suitable theme for it.
Adding new functions to your WordPress site is done through plugins, of which there are also hundreds available for free. They are available through the Plugin Directory:
Because WordPress manages the content of your site separately from the design, you can change your theme or add plugins any time without affecting the content on your website.
Some people prefer to build static HTML websites. There are two main reasons that you might want to do this:
1. Static HTML is faster, particularly if you get a lot of traffic
2. Static HTML gives you more fine-tuned control over the layout of your
There are several free applications for building static HTML websites, but the one I recommend is KompoZer:
It has many of the same features as a commercial application like Adobe Dreamweaver but without the high cost. Plus, it’s available for Windows, Mac and Linux so you can use it on whichever operating system you prefer.
While static HTML doesn’t let you switch designs on the fly the same way WordPress does, you can still find plenty of free templates to use for your site layout. Here are a few of the places you can find these templates:
Email generally doesn’t have a cost associated with it. At least, not a monetary cost. But there are some “hidden” costs that you might run into if you’re not careful. Let’s look at a couple of those costs, and why they’re a problem before we get to the recommended tools.
There are two types of email addresses that most internet marketers use:
1. The one provided by their ISP (Internet Service Provider)
2. A free one like Gmail, Yahoo Mail, Hotmail, etc.
Neither of these options will cost you money (beyond what you’re paying for internet service anyway) but they could both ultimately cost you in other ways.
In the first case – an ISP provided email address – if you ever want to switch ISPs, you’re going to lose that email address. You might get a better offer from another company, your ISP’s service might deteriorate or you might move to another city or even another country where they aren’t available.
Whatever the reason, if you have to make the switch you will lose that email address. So everything that you’ve ever signed up for using that address, every place you’ve shared it and everybody you know who uses it will no longer be able to contact you there.
The free email option is more portable, but the cost here is more intangible – a less “professional” appearance.
If you’re dealing with other people – whether customers, partners or anything else -using a free email address doesn’t look as professional as one that’s on your own domain.
Which of the following would you consider more professional-looking:
Like it or not, appearances do have a bearing on how people perceive you online. Fortunately, you can get the best of both worlds – the spam filtering, ease of use and massive storage of Gmail along with your own domain name.
Graphics and images for your websites, reports, ebooks, videos and other forms of content can get expensive, in a couple of ways.
First, if you buy them through stock image sellers, you can wind up spending quite a bit if you use very many. And second, if you just go out and grab images from the internet, you could wind up getting sued for copyright infringement, which would cost you even more.
Fortunately there are some free sources for graphics.
If you’re looking for photos to use on your website or in other types of content, you can get royalty-free images from a couple of sources:
If you’re selling your own products or services, or have a need for your customers to be able to interact with you, there are a couple of options. You can just use regular old email, of course, but the problem you’ll run into is that it’s not 100% reliable.
Messages get marked as spam by mistake sometimes, and you may not get them immediately if you don’t scan your spam folder every day. This can lead to delays in responding to questions or feedback, and ultimately to unhappy customers.
The better way to handle customer support is through a help desk that tracks everything and ensures you don’t miss anything.
There are a number of options here but the one I recommend is Hesk help desk software:
The software can be downloaded for free from that site or some hosts let you install it with a single click using a service called Scriptaculous, which is very similar to Fantastico but not as widely offered.
Once you have Hesk installed, you can refer people to your support website rather than tell them to email you. When they open a support “ticket” it will all get tracked through the system, giving you a full history of your interaction.
I recommend registering a dedicated domain for your help desk or at least setting up a
dedicated subdomain for it (something like support.mywebsite.com).If you sell multiple
products or deal with customers in different capacities, they can all be handled through
a single help desk . Centralizing it in a single place will make it easier for you to keep
track of it all, and your customers will get to know how to contact you for anything they
Another useful tool for customer support is the survey. You can survey your audience to get all kinds of valuable information:
· Solutions they need (and would make good products for you to create)
· What their biggest sticking points are
· Why they haven’t bought from you
· Why the have bought from you
There are two options for survey services, both of which are free:
Survey Monkey is a paid service, but they have a free plan that will let you create surveys with up to 10 questions and up to 100 responses. They track all the responses for you so you can analyze the feedback you get.
Google Docs has a Forms feature that lets you create a survey, and it automatically creates a Google Docs spreadsheet that contains all the results for you to analyze however you want. You can even export that spreadsheet to a different format (Excel, csv, etc.) if you want to be able to analyze it using your favorite spreadsheet app.
Content can take many forms – text, video, audio, images and more. There are commercial applications for all of these, but you don’t need to spend that money. You can get very capable free software that will handle all the basics.
If you’re writing a report, an ebook or some other type of product that is going to wind up in print or as a PDF, the best free option is Open Office:
It is a very capable alternative to Microsoft Office that won’t cost you a thing. Plus, it’s available for Windows, Mac and Linux.
Another option for these types of document is Google Docs:
Google’s solution isn’t quite as powerful as Open Office, but it still works very well. And it has the advantage of allowing multiple people to collaborate on a document, so if you outsource your writing or work with a partner, it may be your best choice. If you’re writing content for the web, you’re often better off using a pure text editor. Word processors like Open Office can add formatting that doesn’t translate well to the web. You could just use Notepad on Windows or Textedit on the Mac, or you could use something a little more powerful:
If you’re recording audio content, most computers include some kind of recording software. But the built-in apps don’t give you a great deal of control over your recording, and their editing features are not so good (if they even let you edit at all). For recording and editing audio files, the best choice is Audacity:
Again, Audacity is available for Windows, Mac and Linux so you can use it with whichever operating system you prefer.
There are a couple of styles of video that are common in internet marketing – live action and screen capture.
If you’re recording live action video, such as you in front of the camera giving a presentation, the best free editing software is probably already installed on your computer. Windows PCs include Microsoft Movie Maker and Macs normally come with iMovie. These are both pretty good applications that will give you all the editing features you need when you’re starting out.
If you want to do screen capture videos, you have a couple of options:
Quicktime X is included as part of the Mac operating system, since OS X Snow Leopard (10.6). The only limitation is with Jing – it will only let you record up to 5 minutes of video.
The main communication tool you’ll probably use as an internet marketer is email, which we’ve already discussed. But there are a couple of other tools that can be very helpful as well.
The first is Skype:
Skype gives you several benefits:
· You can talk to other Skype users for free, anywhere in the world
· You can create or join Skype Groups, for masterminds, collaborations and other uses
· You can use instant messaging if you prefer to text chat
Skype is widely used in the internet marketing community, but there are other
instant messaging platforms as well:
These services all have similar features, so the biggest deciding factor for most people is which one most of their contacts are using. In the internet marketing world, that’s usually going to be Skype.
Storage & Backup
One of the most important – and all-too-often overlooked – parts of running an online business is having a good backup system. Practically everything you do is in digital form, and computers have parts that wear out. If a hard drive fails and you don’t have a backup, you can lose a lot of important work.
One of the best forms of backup is “cloud” storage – storage that’s internet-based. When you backup to the cloud, that backup is inherently kept offsite, which is a critical piece of a good backup system.
You might be backing up regularly, but if those backups are on an external hard drive that’s sitting right beside the computer what happens if someone breaks in and steals it, or the house burns down? The backup is going to be gone along with the primary copy on your computer.
Cloud storage fixes that problem.
There are several cloud storage systems that give you a certain amount of space for free:
Dropbox is the most widely used of these services, and it has very effective syncing capabilities if you use multiple computers and want to keep them in sync. But it also offers the least amount of storage in the free account, so it’s a bit of a trade off one way or the other.
There’s no reason you can’t use them all, however, and store different things on each one.
If you’re mainly backing up text-based content, even 2GB is a ton of space. Audio and video files take up quite a bit more space, however, so if you’re storing much multimedia you may need to use more than one to get enough space.
There are several types of research that internet marketers do on a regular basis:
· Market research
· Keyword research
· Niche mining
There are a number of paid tools for each of these, but you can get almost all the same functionality using free tools. The biggest difference between free and paid here is the level of automation. Paid tools often combine several of these free tools in a single place, so they can be faster. But you can get started without paying a thing and invest in a paid tool once you start generating some revenue. Google offers a couple of very useful research tools:
The keyword tool will help you develop a keyword list, based on your seed keywords. It gives you competition numbers, search quantities and lets you filter based on geographic location and several other factors.
Google Trends is helpful for tracking the popularity of a given market or niche, or comparing two different markets. You can use it to gauge which of several markets is the most popular, seasonality of a given market and various other trends. If you’re looking for more general ideas for markets to tackle, or products to promote, there are two very useful resources:
These will show you the top sellers on the respective websites, and you can drill down into specific categories and other more detailed information. Another very helpful resource in virtually any market is market-related forums. You can find these by searching Google for something like:
<market keyword> forum
These forums are filled with people who are interested in the market, and you can find all kinds of valuable information there:
· Common questions and problems
· Most popular topics
· What people are buying
· What people aren’t buying
· What other marketers are promoting
This can be particularly helpful if you’re not immersed in the market yourself and need to study up on it before you get involved.
Tracking all your research can become a bit of a chore sometimes as well, particularly when you don’t know the market all that well. There is a free software application that is useful for putting all the information together:
Evernote will clip websites, store text notes, store images and much more. You can tag the information or sort it into folders, to keep your research organized by market or website. And the software is available for Windows, Mac and even most smartphones so you can store data from almost anywhere.
For example, if you’re in your local magazine shop and see a headline that you want to swipe for your own content, just snap a picture of it with your smartphone. When you get back to your computer, that picture will be synchronized with Evernote on the desktop so it’s available for you almost instantly.
There are lots of paid tools for internet marketers, and even more people trying to convince you to buy them. In many cases, those tools are in fact very useful, but you can usually find free alternatives.
When you’re starting out or trying to cut costs, these free resources are perfect. In some cases, you might find they are all you need. In others, you might decide to invest in a paid tool once you start generating some income. But either way, there’s no excuse for not getting started today!