Category: Entrepreneurship

Entrepreneurship

Best Workflow Management Software

Disclosure: This content is reader-supported, which means if you click on some of our links that we may earn a commission.

There is a tool that helps you create a repeatable and seamless workflow. A system that lets you look at the bigger picture of any given work process and its current status. A place where you can make sure your whole team is on the same page, so your boss doesn’t scream at you. 

It’s called workflow management software, and it makes your work life at least ten times easier. 

Workflow management software takes chaos and organizes it into a clear roadmap that helps you achieve your work goals in less time and with better results. The trick is finding the one that fits perfectly with the way you do business.

To help you with that, I’m taking a look at the top workflow management tools in detail below so you can choose which one can work best for your team. 

The Top 5 Options For Workflow Management Software

  1. ClickUp – Best for versatile workflow management
  2. Monday.com – Best for remote teams
  3. Wrike – Best for creative teams
  4. Trello – Best free workflow management tool 
  5. Smartsheet – Best for IT and operations

How to Choose The Best Workflow Management Software For You

The more complex your process to finish work and reach deadlines becomes, the more likely you are to need efficient workflow software to help you get the job done. First, you always want to take stock of your current workflow system regarding what it’s lacking and what is already working well. This way, you can choose a workflow solution that’ll integrate with your work style and more accurately solve your issues. 

To start, ask yourself a few simple questions:

  • Is your team scrambling to know what work was assigned to who at the last minute? 
  • Did your Excel spreadsheet get too complex to automate your work processes efficiently?
  • Is there repeatable work that could be streamlined more effectively to save you time and resources?
  • Is your team too overwhelmed to turn in great work because there isn’t a supportive framework to help them through their work process?
  • Are there current limits that could be removed for more efficient work delivery or completion?

Workflow management and project management systems are often confused as the same thing because they share a lot of the same tools and processes. However, there is a difference. 

Workflow management systems exist to manage and maintain ongoing work processes within a business. In contrast, project management systems are used to start and finish individual business projects as efficiently as possible. 

So, a project management system can exist within a workflow management system while the workflow management system takes care of the bigger picture and recurring work processes in your overall business. A bit of a mouthful, but it becomes more understandable once you dive into the world of workflow management software and what it has to offer. 

Once you know the distinction and made sure a workflow management system is what you’re looking for, here are additional specifications to think about when choosing a workflow system that makes the most sense for your business. 

Team Structure

Your team’s size and planning for growth matter when you’re trying to choose a workflow tool. Why? Workflow management tools tend to charge by user. This can be a deciding factor in which system you select due to budgeting constraints. The more users you add to a system, the more you’ll be paying per month.  

To add, if you don’t have to deal with a complex team structure, you might not need workflow software with all the bells and whistles that a larger business might find more useful. Sometimes, more functionality doesn’t mean it’s better for your needs. 

Think about a few things as you move forward: Are there different departments that’ll need to communicate with each other frequently to greenlight work processes and projects? Are your teams adaptable to new software, or are there new API integrations you’ll need to make? 

The simpler your team structures, the simpler your workflow system can be. This also often means less of a learning curve. 

Tasks and Workflow Complexity

What tasks need the most comprehensive management? This can differ by niche, meaning you might need some features specifically designed for your industry and the value you create. 

Some workflow systems are more equipped to deliver specific tasks than others. This can be done with anything ranging from:

  • Dashboard reporting
  • Gantt charts
  • Document sharing and collaboration
  • Scheduling software
  • Task assignments and sign-offs
  • Work status reports
  • Integrations with third-party software
  • Kanban boards
  • Advanced data analysis
  • Scrum work management boards

Communication Style

Communicating effectively with the appropriate workflow system will eliminate possible bottlenecks that slow down your growth.

With open API and integration features, your workflow system can be a seamless communication tool amongst each team member. This way, you can quickly review and respond to related emails, review project feedback, make corrections and comments, use team chat or message boards, and make sure changes to scheduling or project direction are accessible to each team member as part of your daily workflow. 

If tons of communication isn’t how you handle business, and you have a more straightforward workflow management approach, you can always adjust your processes with a more customizable system. 

Workflow Views

An additional factor to think about is workflow views and how you choose to organize the information, processes, and tasks you input. Effective workflow management software gives you different ways of managing and viewing tasks and workflows. 

To illustrate, a Gantt chart view, a graphical organization of a project or process, can help you simplify complex workflows. Kanban boards make viewing workflows easier and more manageable as you move cards from one chronological board to another. 

A scrum board breaks down work processes into sprints and can be ordered into horizontal and vertical lanes. Looking for a workflow management system with the flexibility in preferred style makes your team’s life easier and may make your work processes faster. 

The Different Types of  Workflow Management Software

There are two main categories of workflow management software. Here I take a look at each.

Highly Customizable vs. Niche-Specific 

With workflow management software, you can either choose a highly customizable system that fits just about any niche or go with software that caters to a set of specific ones. The choice is ultimately up to you after you audit what tools your teams need to create a better workflow process.

For instance, software like ClickUp is highly adaptable to just about any industry that wants to use it to manage their ongoing work operations. On the other hand, Wrike provides tools that are specifically adaptable to creative industries. 

Cloud-Based vs. Local

Most software on this list is cloud-based, meaning you can access them from anywhere at any time. You can choose to go with software that lives on your local servers and computers, too, though keep in mind that brings its own set of pros and cons. 

With a cloud-based solution, your team will be able to access the software from anywhere from multiple devices to stay accessible and updated. 

#1 – ClickUp — The Best For Versatile Workflow Management

ClickUp is a powerful workflow management system that makes sure every part of your workflow can be streamlined and optimized for efficiency and speed. 

That’s why it’s my top recommendation for almost everyone. 

Companies like Google, Airbnb, Uber, and Nike are all optimized for a seamless work process with the ability to plug into over 1,000 integrations. With ClickUp, you won’t only manage your workflow. It’s customizable enough to also manage your projects all from one place with tools like:

  • Resource management
  • Goal tracking and reminders
  • Email and chat features
  • Complex or simple spreadsheets
  • Third-party app integration
  • Strategy management

With the ability to create chat views, table views, timeline views, or mind maps, you can always be sure your team is staying on top of each work task and their progress in a way that makes work easier for them. 

Because of its setup, ClickUp allows you to save a lot of time by linking all project tasks, email, comments, or wikis together and allowing you to view your projects however you want and automating recurring work tasks. The tool is equipped for bigger and more complex workflow management, as well as for small businesses that want to get a handle on their growing workflow systems.  

If you’re switching to ClickUp from another workflow management system, it is super easy to automatically import all your work and project information with the import feature. 

One of the best parts of using such a versatile workflow manager is their price point. You can start using the system in a matter of seconds by signing up for a free account. You’ll immediately get 100 MB of space with unlimited members and unlimited tasks. 

The paid plan is only $5 per user, and you get access to unlimited storage, integrations, calendar tools, guests, portfolios, boards, and custom fields. 

If you’re managing a growing team, you have the option of negotiating a price point per user or team size once you fill out a quick form and send them a short proposal. All in all, ClickUp’s versatility goes far. That’s why more than 100,000 teams use it and why I’d recommend it to just about everyone. 

Start your free account with ClickUp here and use it to optimize every aspect of your workflow. 

#2 – Monday.com — The Best For Remote Teams

If you manage a growing remote team, Monday.com is the workflow solution that seamlessly brings everyone together. 

It’s an excellent workflow system used by BBC Studios, NBC, Discovery Channel, Hulu, Cocacola, Deezer, and 100,000 other teams to ensure they’re effectively managing every step of their workflow processes with onsite and offsite team members. 

With Monday.com, it’s easy to collaborate with your team from anywhere in the world by aligning work progress, video chats, and plenty of synced calendars to make sure you’re always meeting collaborative work deadlines. 

You can easily start organizing tasks and automating workflows with templated daily team tasks, knowledge libraries, remote team requests, employee statuses, and one-on-one meetings. Of course, if none of these templates will do it for you, you can start from scratch and build your own any time with their vast array of tools. 

Some Monday.com features that are great for remote workflow management are:

  • Weekly schedules
  • A meetings board with updates and recaps
  • Zoom integrations to record meetings
  • Local time zone tracking for each team member
  • Workload and work capacity maps for any given project
  • The ability to create contingency plans from project data

Monday.com charges per seat based on the tier you want access to, and each of them comes with an extensive list of features. The tiers start at three seats each, and you can save money if you choose to go with an annual plan. Here’s a quick breakdown of each level:

  • Basic: $8 a user per month starting at three seats
  • Standard: $10 a user per month starting at three seats
  • Pro: $16 a user per month starting at three seats
  • Enterprise: Contact them for more information

If you’d like to test drive Monday.com first, you can get started with their free trial here. 

#3 – Wrike — The Best For Creative Teams

Wrike is a dynamic workflow management system built for creative teams. Repetitive admin tasks and reiterations can be the bane of any creative team trying to ship great work. Wrike makes it easy to streamline all your tasks in one place to ensure both productivity and speed.

With Wrike, you can manage incoming creative requests throughout their entire lifecycle with customizable forms, templates, briefs, and markup tools, so you always know the progress on each job.

For instance, Wrike’s approval tool makes it easy for anyone to leave clear project feedback on deliverables with comments for specific images, videos, or documents. You can check who is working on any project whenever you need it and create a more streamlined intake system for work requests by creating one formal point of contact for each work project. 

This makes it easy to finish projects that require multiple reviews and revisions.

Some of their best features for creative workflow management are:

  • Project approval templates
  • Project scheduling
  • Task assignment
  • Daily marketing operations management
  • Drag-and-drop dashboards

Wrike is free for up to five users and includes 2 GBs of space, along with tools like spreadsheet view, task management, file sharing, and basic integrations. 

You can take advantage of a free trial and see how you like it. Once you’re ready to choose a paid plan, the main plans are:

  • Free: Up to 5 users with a shared tasks list for small teams
  • Professional: Up to 15 users at $9.80 per user per month with full project planning and collaboration
  • Business: Up to 200 users at $24.80 per user per month with work management customization and reporting
  • Enterprise: Unlimited users, contact their team for custom pricing for the most comprehensive solution

Wrike also offers plans that cater specifically to marketing/creative teams and professional services teams. Both of these categories have a free trial and unlisted pricing.

While Wrike does get meticulous with their pricing and feature breakdown, it ensures that you get the best plan for your specific creative workflow needs. I recommend you check out their pricing page for a full list of features to get more familiar with what’s included.

But first, you can try out Wrike free for 14 days here. 

#4 – Trello — The Best Free Workflow Management Software

If you’re on a budget, Trello’s workflow system can get you on the right track for free for up to 10 boards per team.

Millions of users are already using Trello and their organized dashboards to prioritize and automate daily tasks and projects. With it, you can create boards and name them, add your tasks and team, and then add specific details to each card like due dates, work briefs, checklists, attachments, and comments.

Trello works great as a simple workflow manager for smaller teams geared for growth and efficiency without shelling out a ton on work software expenses. It is a Kanban board style layout and is especially popular for people who like very visual task and workflow management. 

As mentioned, Trello is free for up to 10 boards per team, with unlimited cards and lists and a 10 MB per file attachment limit. If you love their free version so much that you want to go with a paid plan, you can choose from two options:

  • Business Class: $9.99 per user per month
  • Enterprise: $17.50 per user per month for 100 users (the more users you add, the less you pay per user)

Get started with Trello for free here and use their easy boards feature to begin organizing your workflow. 

#5 – Smartsheet — The Best For IT and Operations

Smartsheet makes for excellent workflow management software in IT and operations teams. Generally, the two things you need when working in IT management are consistency and speed. Smartsheets deliver on this by allowing you to quickly adapt and archive projects, coordinate data center migrations, and even set up automated alerts and approvals to save you time.

Smartsheets enables collaboration across teams and gives you control access to resources. They bring it all together on an easy-to-use dashboard with plenty of reporting capabilities. 

Smartsheets offers a free 30-day trial. For the paid plans, they break down their pricing tiers into four categories. These include individual, business, enterprise, or premier. To learn their prices, you’ll have to contact them first. I recommend visiting their price page to get a feel for what features and capabilities you get with each tier from their exhaustive list of features. You can also watch a demo of the tool.

Try Smartsheet free for 30 days and start creating better workflows for your team today.  

Summary

Choosing the best workflow management software for you depends on a lot of variables. But you can easily start weeding out what won’t work by outlining what your workflow needs are in terms of niche, workflow needs, and team size.

I’d recommend ClickUp and Monday.com for almost anyone. ClickUp is the most versatile system to work with. It has a stellar price point, can be easy to use once you get over a slight learning curve, and it’s highly customizable for just about any workflow management need imaginable. Monday.com is ideal for remote teams and collaboration, which is needed now more than ever.

If you have more specific workflow needs for your given industry, use this guide to learn how to choose the right workflow management software for your company’s needs.

The post Best Workflow Management Software appeared first on Neil Patel.

Entrepreneurship

How to Start a Business

Disclosure: This content is reader-supported, which means if you click on some of our links that we may earn a commission.

Starting your own business is the dream, right?

It’s also easier than ever, thanks to the golden age of entrepreneurship we currently live in. 

Almost anybody can start up a business – all you need is a great idea, the right systems, and the drive to see it through. 

No college degree, huge bank balance, or business experience is needed.

Moreover, everything you need to do has been done a million times before.

So, even if you’re starting from scratch, you won’t have to waste a single moment wondering what to do next or try to reinvent the wheel. 

Since you’re already searching for ways to learn about how to start a business, odds are you already have the drive. What you need is how to start building your future empire. 

In this article, I’m going to discuss the exact steps to start a business.

Excited? Let’s get down to business!

Your 2-Minute Cheat Sheet

Don’t want to go through the whole thing? We have compiled everything in short here–this isn’t as detailed, though.

Refine your idea based on the needs and demands of your target customers, along with your preferences. 

Next, you’ll create a business plan. This is a crucial part of the whole process, so you have to get this right. 

After chalking out your business’s entire framework, do market research, and collect feedback from friends, mentors, and family.

Then work on the legal stuff. This includes deciding your business structure, registering your business, getting the necessary license and permits, and setting up bank accounts. This step is going to be long and tedious.

At this point, you have your idea and a plan to make it come to life. You can then use it to arrange for the required capital to launch your product or service. Follow this up by building your team and finding a location if you’re opening a physical store.

Finally, focus your efforts on generating more sales and growing your business, which is also what you’ll find yourself doing for most of your career.

That was the gist of everything. 

Now, let’s talk in more detail.

Step 1: Come Up With a Business Idea

Every business begins with an idea. If you already have one, congratulations! You can proceed to the next step. If not, you need to start brainstorming.

Here are a few tips to come up with a great business idea:

  • Think of ways to get ahead of the curve. Think of how your product or service can change the business landscape, especially with the constant technological advancements.
  • Solve a problem you identify. After all, your customers would prefer more of a good thing and less of a bad thing.
  • Try to bring a fresh perspective that helps you gain a competitive edge over your competitors.
  • Think of ways to make your approach better, cheaper, and faster if your business idea isn’t new.

At this stage, you can also conduct surveys and collect perspectives by meeting people and asking for advice. Researching ideas online is another excellent way to come up with business ideas.

Step 2: Conduct Market Research

The whole point of conducting market research is to understand typical consumer behavior, pain points, and relevant market trends in your chosen niche. This is a sure way to determine how your potential startup might fit into the existing industry landscape.

Given the current economic climate and the changes brought forward by the coronavirus pandemic, this step is especially crucial right now.

Try to find the answers to the following questions while doing market research:

  1. What product or service is currently in demand in your given market?
  2. What is the market size, or how many clients make up your target audience?
  3. How many competitors share a similar concept to your business idea?
  4. What is the price that customers are willing to pay for products and services in your market?
  5. What’s the typical consumer engagement in your market? Did your competitors move online during the pandemic? Can you replicate their sales process or do it better?

One of the best ways to gain genuine insights is to speak with consumers directly. Take surveys, make questionnaires, and do one-on-one interviews. 

Step 3: Work on the Legal Stuff

I always make sure to get the legal stuff out of the way early. This way, I don’t have to worry about anybody else taking my big idea, ending up in a bad partnership, or getting sued because of misinformation.

Determine your business structure first, as it’ll dictate the legal and tax requirements you will have to meet. Your options include sole proprietorship, partnership, limited liability company (LLC), and corporation. 

Enlist a tax professional’s services, as every structure has its own set of tax requirements, or use an online business formation service.

At this stage, you’ll also have to choose a business name and register your business. Find out whether your chosen name is available for registration in your state and within the digital space. You want availability as a:

  • Business name in your state
  • Domain name
  • Social media platform usernames

If a specific name isn’t available, you can always consider permutations of the name. Make sure your domain name and business name aren’t impinging on any registered trademarks.

There is a quick checklist of other things that you’ll need:

  • Federal tax ID
  • State tax ID
  • Permits and licenses (as needed)
  • Business bank accounts
  • Trademarks, patents, and copyrights (as needed)

It’s best to consult a lawyer to cover everything you need. You can always work out things on your own, but sometimes it’s best to ask an expert.

Step 4: Write Your Business Plan

Many people question the purpose of creating a business plan. After all, if you already have a vision for your business, why write it down?

When you create a business plan, you describe every aspect of your business in a formal document. You put everything into words. 

In the words of Benjamin Franklin, “There never was a good knife made of bad steel.” 

It’s precisely why a business plan is such a crucial part of any business. It defines your thoughts and research and exactly what you need to do to make a business a success. 

This helps put things into perspective and allows you to identify areas to streamline future processes.

Let me clarify: Your business plan doesn’t need to be 100 pages long. It only needs to be readable and include the main components. Such as:

  • Pain points your business solves
  • An elevator pitch about what your business does
  • A list of your target audiences
  • An idea list of how you’ll promote your business (your marketing strategy)
  • The financial plan of how you’ll raise money to pay and how your business will make money
  • Financial documents

Do a SWOT analysis (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats) of your business, too, to gain insights and identify ways to achieve your goals.

As the industry and market are always changing, you’ll find yourself revising your plan frequently. Periodic revisions and refinement of your business plan ensure that your business remains competitive in the long run.

Step 5: Raise Capital for Your Business

There are many ways you can get the resources to start your business. Below, I’ve discussed some of the best ways I found raising capital is easy and effective. You can choose one or more that work best for you.

Start at Home

Bootstrapping your business is a long process, but it gives you full control over your business. You can also leverage personal relationships by asking friends and family for a loan or to invest in your business.

Online Crowdfunding 

There’s no disputing the power in numbers, especially when it comes to raising capital. Crowdfunding gives you direct access to small investments that can add up to something massive. Check out Kickstarter or Indiegogo, or Google a list of the most popular crowdfunding websites. Crowdfunding is more for a physical product than a service.

Reach Out to Venture Capital Investors or Local Angel Investors 

Venture capitalist investors look for proven teams that require a capital investment of $1 million or more, which is why you need some traction before approaching them.

If you feel you don’t have such traction right now, you can instead apply to online platforms like AngelList and Gust to find potential investors who would be interested in your project.

Apply for a Small Business Grant

Grants.gov is an online directory of more than 1000 federal grant programs that can supply you with the capital to kickstart your project. Although the process is long, you don’t have to give away any equity.

Get a Bank Loan or a Line of Credit 

Applying for a bank loan is easy, but you should do so only if you really need a bank loan and if you’re eligible. You can head over to the Small Business Administration to look for loan opportunities.

Step 6: Develop Your Product or Service

Nothing feels better than seeing your idea come to life. The only problem is creating a product takes a village–if not a city.

You’ll have a different set of requirements based on your product or service. For instance, if you want to develop an app, you want someone with the technical know-how, whereas if you’re going to mass-produce an item, you’ll need a manufacturer.

Product simplicity and quality should be your top priority. Rather than creating the cheapest product, focus on developing something that catches someone’s attention. You can further streamline the process by keeping in mind the following tips:

  1. Avoid handing over product development to someone else or another firm, and if you do, make sure you supervise constantly.
  2. Implement regular checks and balances to reduce the level of risk involved. For example, if you decide to hire freelancers, hire multiple people so that you don’t put all your eggs in one basket.
  3. Enlist specialists instead of generalists. A jack-of-all-trades isn’t what you need right now.
  4. Always operate within your budget.

For service-focused entrepreneurs, the game is slightly different. 

Your primary focus should be to have the necessary certificates and educational requirements. Search online job portals and freelance working platforms to find opportunities. Upwork and ProBlogger could be great places to start.

Step 7: Build a Reliable and Responsible Team

What’s the best way to scale your business and achieve all your organizational goals?

Have a good team.

One of the critical aspects of a growing business is delegating responsibilities to other people, whether a partner, employee, or freelancer. Here are a few tips to help you find the right team members:

State Your Goals Clearly 

When your team members understand your vision and their role in helping you achieve it, they’ll make fewer errors.

Establish and Follow Hiring Protocols

Welcoming people to your team involves several processes, ranging from screening people, carrying out interviews, and having proper forms. This will help you create a more competent team.

Create a Strong Company Culture 

Great company culture is all about respecting and empowering employees through training and mentorship. You don’t need futuristic decor or ping-pong tables (if you can afford that, that’s great!) but you do need a positive atmosphere where everybody feels welcomed and appreciated.

Step 8: Find a Business Location

One in four businesses that starts within the next 12 months will have a 100% remote workforce. But if you decide to open a brick-and-mortar retail business, you need to focus on getting the right location.

Here are a few things you should keep in mind:

  • Demographics: Think about your customers and how they interact with your location. Does your target clientele frequent the potential location? Does your location reflect the image you’re trying to project?
  • Foot Traffic: Monitor the foot traffic outside a potential location throughout the day. Do you see a couple of passers-by throughout the day? Or is it away from the public eye? Is there parking available?
  • Business Community: The business community refers to the other businesses nearby that can bring you foot traffic. Is there a mall nearby? Are there restaurants where customers can go after shopping at your store?
  • Competition: Contrary to popular belief, having competitors nearby isn’t always bad. Whatever your stand, you should be aware of whether or not you have competitors nearby before deciding on a location.

Research the history of the location as well. If other businesses have tried and failed in the space, find out why. And of course, always keep the cost in mind. Expenses like rent, cleaning services, insurance, and parking fees need to be considered.

Step 9: Work On Generating Sales

Start by listening to your potential customers to know their wants, needs, likes, and dislikes. Next, learn the art of asking for a commitment without being too pushy. In other words, don’t force your customers into buying goods from you, or they won’t return.

Moreover, you have to prepare yourself for hearing “NO“ too. Sad, I know. 

People listen to your elevator pitch despite having no intention to buy simply because they’re polite. If they don’t end up buying from you, don’t get disheartened.

Grow your customer base and put out advertisements to find an audience to fit your business. At this point, you’ll also have to figure out the right sales funnel and strategy to generate leads and convert them into paying customers.

Sales and marketing are critical to building a successful business.

Step 10: Expand Your Business

You must have a growth plan if you want to earn and scale your business. Luckily, there are about a million ways to grow your company.

I’d highly recommend utilizing the power of social media through organic, influencer, and paid campaigns. Email marketing works equally well to create and nurture a dedicated customer base.

One of the key aspects of long-term growth is to have a dedicated customer base and reduce customer churn. All the efforts you put into nurturing your existing customers can be useful in the long run when they act as your repeat customers, ensuring revenue in the long run.

Conclusion

We’ve covered everything you need to know to start a business. Now you can prepare for the exciting adventure in front of you.

Taking the first step can feel a bit scary, but don’t fear. Take the plunge and launch your business–it’s a lot of fun! 

Of course, you’ll find challenges and roadblocks along the way, but as long as you remain dedicated and driven, you can learn from your mistakes and climb higher up the ladder.

Don’t wait any longer! 

The post How to Start a Business appeared first on Neil Patel.

Entrepreneurship

Best Employee Retirement Plans

Disclosure: This content is reader-supported, which means if you click on some of our links that we may earn a commission.

Starting an employee retirement plan is not too hard or expensive, even for small businesses.

Plus, these programs offer tax advantages to both the employees and the company, which leave more money in everyone’s account.

Offering such benefits is a great way to attract qualified candidates and gives your top talent a huge reason to stay. 

The sooner you start the better.

First, I’ll walk you through the different types of employee retirement plans available. There are more than just 401(k) plans helping people save for post-career life, including some types that are specifically made for small businesses.

Then we’ll take a look at what to consider as you decide on which provider you want to manage your employee retirement plan. 

There’s a little bit to know, sure, but a lot to be gained. 

For almost everyone, retirement is the largest expense of their lifetime. By offering a plan to help them save, employers provide a much needed sense of security to employees thinking about their family’s future.

Keep reading to start getting better candidates, happier employees, and serious tax-breaks every year.

The Top 4 Options for Employee Retirement Plans

  1. Guideline – Easiest way to start a 401(k)
  2. Human Interest – Best 401(k) for small to midsize organizations
  3. Nationwide – Best for large organizations
  4. Vanguard – Best SIMPLE IRA

The Different Types of Employee Retirement Plans

In terms of picking an appropriate type of employee retirement plan, employers need to pay attention to a few important details.

For all the tax law and government regulations involved, the choice comes down to the basic structure of each plan, which doesn’t take an MBA to understand.

Plus, after partnering with a good coverage provider, you’ll have someone to help you close gaps in knowledge, forecast what each plan will realize in the years to come, and steer you toward a more appropriate plan if it’s not the right fit.

Let’s dig in.

Qualified employee retirement plans—that is, those that have tax advantages—fall in two major categories, only one of which is used widely today:

  • Defined benefits plans are managed entirely by employers. These are also known as pensions and pay out a set benefit each month. These were really popular until the 1980s, but are being phased out because of how expensive they are for employers to maintain.
  • Defined contribution plans are much more common today. With these plans, employees contribute money from each paycheck toward their retirement. Companies may choose to match employee contributions, as well.

The amount that employees contribute, the company contributes, and how that money is taxed varies from plan to plan. Companies have some flexibility in how they enact each plan, but many of the basic rules and limits are set by the federal government.

Important note: Plans have different limits for how much employees and employers can contribute each year. These limits change periodically because the government adjusts for cost-of-living increases. The IRS provides current limitations on benefits contribution limits for every type of employee retirement plan limits for benefits and contributions maintained by the IRS.

It’s really important to understand the essential rules of each plan and how it will help people save over the long term. 

Let’s go through the most widely-used types of defined contribution plan, how they are different, and which sorts of companies use them. The ones I’m going to cover are:

  • 401(k) plans
  • Roth 401(k) plans
  • SEP plans
  • SIMPLE IRA
  • Payroll deduction IRA
  • Profit Sharing Plans

There are some types of employee retirement plan options that I haven’t covered here, but these are the most common plans available.

401(k) Plans

A 401(k) plan is an employer-sponsored retirement savings account. Employees contribute a portion of their salary to the account, which may or may not be matched by the employer.

Contributions are pre-tax, which means they are not taxed until the employee withdraws funds from the 401(k), typically after they retire. The amount that employees contribute also reduces their taxable income each year.

The money in a 401(k) grows tax-deferred (as in not taxed until retirement) and sets an employee’s retirement savings on autopilot. A little bit of the gross of each paycheck goes straight into their nest egg each month.

Companies may choose to match the employee contributions, but it doesn’t have to be a 100% match. It is usually based on a formula they set. An example of a common matching formula is an employer who matches 50% of contributions up to 6% of salary.

Matching contributions are tax-deductible, so a 401(k) can be part of a company’s tax strategy, helping both employer and employee save more for the future. 

It gets even better.

Thanks to new legislation in 2019, the tax credit for businesses starting a 401(k) is now as much as $5,000 and no less than $500 per year for three years, with an additional $500 for setting up autoenrollment. The credit can go towards setup and administrative costs.

There is a lot more paperwork necessary to get a 401(k) started than with other plans, so this tax credit can help smooth the transition and get everything set up properly. Once it’s established, 401(k) plans let employees contribute a lot more money each year than other types of plans.

Investment options for a 401(k) are determined by the plan the company chooses. Employees may get some say in where they invest the money, though they will most often be choosing from a limited portfolio of options.

Withdrawing funds early (before age 59½) will result in a 10% penalty on top of the taxes owed. There are exceptions to this rule, though, for workers over 55, which allows them to avoid the penalty for early withdrawals. This only includes the 401(k) of the job they leave, not retirement plans with other former companies.

There are also special rules for people who have an “immediate and heavy financial need.” This is known as a hardship distribution and means people can use money from their 401(k) without penalty for things like necessary medical treatment or to avoid foreclosure and eviction.

There are two common variations of the 401(k) available to specific types of workers:

  • 403(b) plans: employees of public schools, colleges, universities, churches, tax-exempt, and non-profit organizations
  • 457(b) plans: employees of state and local governments

With the exception of a few special rules, these plans are identical to the 401(k)

Roth 401(k) Plans

Employers may choose to sponsor a Roth 401(k), which is virtually identical to a traditional 401(k) except that contributions are made after-tax.

This is an important change that has pros and cons.

Employees are not able to deduct contributions from their taxes, so they’re not decreasing their tax burden as they save, which is a benefit of a traditional 401(k). 

On the flipside, with a Roth 401(k) they get to withdraw both their contributions and earnings tax-free once they reach retirement. 

Another nice perk is that you can make withdrawals tax free once the plan has been established for five years. You would still have to pay taxes on earnings for an early withdrawal, but not the money you have already paid taxes on.

So that’s the tradeoff. With a Roth 401(k) you pay taxes now, but when you retire, all of the savings and earnings are yours without a haircut from Uncle Sam..

This could work very well for a young employee who thinks they are going to earn more later in life. They pay taxes on income now and avoid paying when they’re in a higher bracket.

It’s not the best for everyone, though, as senior employees may not want to pay taxes at their current bracket. For them, it’s likely better to pay upon retirement and take the deductions now.

Some companies may choose to offer both a Roth and traditional 401(k), allowing employees to choose how best to save for retirement. 

SEP Plans

A simplified employee pension (SEP) is a type of individual retirement account (IRA) offered by an employer. 

It’s a lot less complex to manage than a 401(k), which makes it ideal for smaller businesses and people who are self-employed.

Only employers contribute to the SEP and these contributions are tax-deductible. The money is held in an IRA in the employee’s name and grows tax-deferred. 

The contribution limits are much higher for a SEP than for a personal IRA, allowing people to set aside a lot more money than they could otherwise. There are also fewer rules about income limits, which make it good for high earners.

SEP plans are nice because of their flexibility. Companies have to contribute the same percentage to all eligible employees each year, but that percentage can change. 

During a good year, for example, an employer may choose to max out contributions, whereas they might not contribute anything if the business is strapped for cash.

Because these plans are easier to manage and they let businesses contribute flexible amounts each year, SEP plans are great for smaller businesses that want to grow and help their employees save at the same time.

SIMPLE IRA

A SIMPLE IRA is an employee retirement plan for businesses with 100 employees or fewer that doesn’t offer another qualified retirement plan, like a 401(k).

SIMPLE stands for “Savings Incentive Match PLan for Employees,” and is appropriately named because the plan requires very little administrative paperwork. It’s really just the initial plan and annual disclosures. 

Employees can choose to contribute a portion of their salary to the SIMPLE IRA and employers are required to either:

  • Match employee contributions dollar for dollar up to 3% of an employee’s compensation, or
  • Make a fixed contribution of 2% of compensation for all eligible employees, regardless of whether the employees contribute themselves.

The low startup costs and administrative burden make it ideal for smaller companies that want the tax advantages of a retirement plan without the legwork that goes into a 401(k).

The downsides to a SIMPLE IRA are the contribution limits—which are less than a 401(k)—and the 25% the penalties for early withdrawal are steep during the first two years.

Payroll Deduction IRA

A payroll deduction IRA allows companies to set up an employee retirement plan without filing anything with the government.

Employers work with a financial institution to make it so employees can automatically divert part of their paycheck to an IRA. The employer can designate one or multiple IRA providers to receive distributions, but they don’t have a say in the investment options.

In this plan employees make all the contributions. There is no matching, but contributions are tax deductible, which can help employees save each year.

A payroll deduction IRA is a low-cost, zero-risk way for a company to encourage their employees to save for retirement. 

Profit Sharing Plans

Profit sharing plans (PSPs) can be set up by employers or with help from a financial institution. Each year, the employer contributes to the plan based on business conditions, effectively sharing profits with employees.

Employers decide how much, if anything, they want to contribute each year.

All of the assets in the plan are held in a trust, which is overseen by a trustee who ensures the integrity of contributions, participants, distributions, and reporting.

Employers have a large degree of freedom in terms of how these plans are structured, but they require more oversight than a SEP plan or SIMPLE IRA. This is true even if an employer is sharing the responsibility with a financial institution. 

Profit sharing plans can be set up in addition to other qualified employee retirement plans, like a 401(k). They are a good option for profitable companies that want to help employees save more and decrease their current tax burden.

How to Choose the Best Employee Retirement Plan Option for You

Once you know which employee retirement plan—or set of plans—makes sense with your goals and resources, it’s time to select a financial institution to help you make it a reality. 

Banks, mutual funds, and insurance companies are all appropriate options that can help businesses set up and manage an employee retirement plan.

How do you choose the right one to be your coverage provider?

While institutions offer the same basic set of employee retirement plans, the levels of service they provide are not identical by any means. They have varying degrees of support, charge fees according to their own rules, and offer different kinds of investments.

All of these factors can have a big impact on tax strategy and the health of a retirement fund over time.

Before we look at the top providers for employee retirement plans, I want to highlight the major criteria you can use to evaluate how it will work for your company. 

Administrative Responsibilities

Some of the simpler employee retirement plans are attractive because there is not a lot of administrative overhead. Other plans, like a 401(k) or profit sharing plan, have a lot of moving parts and regulatory requirements.

After the plan is set up, there are a variety of things that have to happen, including:

  • Preparing benefit statements, returns, and reports required by law
  • Allocating contributions
  • Processing distributions (employee payouts)
  • Assessing compliance with contribution limits and non-discrimination
  • Amending plan documents

As you search for different plans, it’s important to understand what the employer is responsible for, what the provider is going to do, and how much all of that is going to cost.

Plan Fees 

With payroll deduction, SEP and SIMPLE IRA plans, there’s not a ton of administrative paperwork or fees. For those plans, there are likely to be low yearly rates and then other fees depending on how employees invest their money.

With any type of 401(k) plan, on the other hand, there is a lot more paperwork, larger amounts of money at stake, and fees can really impact people’s savings over time. 

How these fees break down can be incredibly complex, especially when there are multiple providers servicing the plan.

Fortunately for employers, all covered service providers are required by law to explain how they are compensated in a 408(b)(2) disclosure. 

This will show how every party is being paid out of the 401(k), including:

  • Direct compensation: fees paid directly to the provider
  • Indirect compensation: fees paid from plan investments

Direct fees are easy to identify, but indirect compensation fees can be more difficult to figure out. This could include revenue sharing, where a financial advisor’s management fee is paid out of investment earnings rather than directly. 

This means revenue sharing will show up as a percentage of plan assets rather than a hard dollar amount.

These fees should be explained on the 408(b)(2) in order for employers to make an informed decision, and the government encourages providers to walk employers through all of the fees.

At the end of the day, however, providers can hide fees in ways that can be really challenging to track down, even if you know what you are looking for.

This is why it is so valuable to find a retirement plan provider who is transparent and upfront about fees.

Once you have established a 401(k), you will want to keep a close eye on your 404(a)(5) Participant Fee Disclosure. This will show all of the fees that your plan faces.

Investments Options

Where is all of this money going to go? It’s not just getting parked in a savings account.

Depending on the plan you choose, your employees will have different types of options about where and how their money is invested. Typically, these include:

  • Bond funds
  • Foreign funds
  • Index funds,
  • Large-cap and small-cap funds
  • Mutual funds
  • Real estate funds

These options tend to include relatively safe and stable investment opportunities, but may include more aggressive growth funds as well.

With simpler plans, there are usually less options than with a 401(k). Depending on the provider you choose, you may be able to offer a limited portfolio of choices or wide selection of investment options to your employees. 

Generally speaking, a wider range of investment options requires more oversight, paperwork, and fees.

Some will offer brokerage windows, which allow employees to self-direct the investment of their retirement funds. 

This allows companies to offer a wider range of options and control to their employees without necessarily having to absorb any extra responsibility. Employees will make their own decisions and take their own risks.

This can be really attractive because people may want to save differently, depending on where they are in their career. 

It’s a healthy practice to diversify types of investments for retirement to more easily weather shocks to individual slices of the market. 

Giving employees more choice is good, but it comes at a cost. You might be surprised at how diverse a portfolio can be created from the relatively narrow options in a plan like Human Interest.

Payroll Integration

Find an employee retirement plan that integrates with your payroll. I’m talking about seamless, direct integration where your provider is communicating directly with your payroll service. You never have to update information yourself.

A lot of the time you are going to see hands-free or no-touch solutions. That’s only true if it integrates directly with your payroll or HR services. 

If not, there’s going to be a lot of data entry and administrative tasks involved with managing a 401(k). It’s worth seriously considering switching to a different payroll service if you can’t find something that integrates with a plan you like.

It could be a huge pain, especially if you are working with a HR service or PEO, but what are the consequences of choosing a plan with less-than-ideal benefits? They could be massive, in the long-term. 

Plus, you might wind up having to employ full-time staff to manage payroll functions that could be automated. 

Not having payroll integration might be okay for a SEP or SIMPLE IRA, as they don’t have as much administrative overhead. 

At the same time, the integration would eliminate dozens of steps to process monthly contributions for every employee. What small business owner wouldn’t want to save a few hours a month making sure the retirement fund is in order?

Support

If everything goes well, the relationship between your business and retirement plan provider is going to last a long time. Over the years, the quality of communication and support you receive are going to have a major impact.

Be aware that you may have to pay extra for the type of support you want. 

Human Interest, for example, will provide different levels of customer service depending on the pricing tier. It’s no accident that their different plans are called Essentials, Complete, and Concierge. 

With Essentials, employers pay less, but have to do more on their own. Concierge, on the other hand, comes with dedicated account management at a higher price tag.

Another thing to do is read online reviews from current customers to get a sense of how dependable providers are. This can give you a more authentic picture of what to expect than a provider’s marketing material, though you should take reviews with a grain of salt.

#1 – Guideline — Easiest Way to Start a 401(k)

Guideline is a 401(k) provider that doesn’t charge any fees on investments and handles all of the administrative paperwork. This makes Guideline both one of the most affordable and one of the easiest ways to start a 401(k) for your employees.

It can help employers set up both traditional and Roth 401(k) plans, with or without matching options. Employers can also create profit sharing plans that work as a year-end contribution to an employee’s 401(k), like a bonus.

The way the pricing works is that Guideline charges a base fee per month, plus $8/month per employee. There is no extra charge for annual reports, government filings, or custodial services.

This flat monthly fee makes the pricing predictable, which is markedly different from most other employee retirement plan options. There’s no complicated revenue sharing or third-party fees eating into people’s savings.

The reason that Guideline is so inexpensive is that they have built software that automates almost every 401(k) administrative task. 

Guideline has direct integrations with eight of the best payroll services, like ADP, Gusto QuickBooks, and Square. These sync your payroll and HR data in real time with no work on your part.

Guideline also provides intuitive dashboards for employers and employees, so they can monitor their retirement account and can choose from more than 40 index funds in which they can invest their money. 

Alternatively, they can invest in a managed portfolio of stocks and bonds.

Managed portfolios are entirely overseen by Guideline, so there is not a lot of freedom to pick individual investments. They simply pick the risk level—like conservative, moderate, or very aggressive—and they are automatically invested in a range of stocks, bonds, and funds that meet their goals.

This eliminates any work for employees. Portfolios are rebalanced automatically, which ensures that people are always investing in a diverse, risk-tolerant set of assets.

For Guideline, the base fee is $39/month (plus the aforementioned $8/month per employee), which includes all of the administrative fees, live customer support, and employee onboarding.

Guideline Prime has a $99/month base fee with the same per-employee charge, and comes with a dedicated account manager, customizable financial and billing reports, and additional tools for profit sharing plans.

Any company of any size can get started with Guideline today and have an employee retirement plan in place tomorrow.

#2 – Human Interest — Best 401(k) for Small to Midsize Organizations

Human Interest provides a low-cost, hands-off 401(k) solution that works really well for startups and SMBs.

The interface is modern, easy to navigate, and effortless to set up. They can handle all the administrative tasks, including recordkeeping and IRS compliance, while boasting more than 50 payroll integrations. 

The major tradeoff with this fully managed provider is the lack of investment options and retirement plans. They only offer 401(k) plans, profit sharing plans, and 403(b) plans for employees of public schools and tax-exempt organizations.

There are more than 30,000 mutual and index funds to choose from, but no other types of investment options.

Larger organizations might find the lack of diversity an issue, but companies that just want to set up a stable, no-frills retirement plan will find Human Interest to be a high-quality option.

The simplicity of the platform keeps costs low and administrative overhead to a minimum.

I recommend it for people who want to put their employee retirement plan on auto-pilot. They can focus on work and the savings will take care of itself in the long run. Low-risk index funds and mutual funds will build wealth over time with no special attention necessary.

It’s particularly effective for people who don’t want to learn about financial markets. Retirement funds are managed entirely by Human Interest, though they do make self-directed options available.

There are three different pricing tiers available, which are based on the level of administrative support:

  • Essentials: $120/month base fee, plus $4/month per employee
  • Complete: $150/month base fee, plus $6/month per employee
  • Concierge: $150/month base fee, plus $8/month per employee

The Essentials tier offers a phenomenal price for an all-in-one 401(k) solution. Adding eligible employees at $4/month is less than even Guideline, though Human Interest’s monthly base fee is higher.

For small and midsize companies that are trying to grow, Human Interest lets them offer an affordable plan to attract good workers. As they scale that plan, costs remain low and predictable.

With Complete, Human Interest takes over a lot more of the administrative work, including signing and filing all of your IRS documents. Concierge comes with all of that, plus dedicated account management.

You can get started with Human Interest in fifteen minutes, the company says. Think about the difference those fifteen minutes could make fifteen years down the road.

#3 – Nationwide — Best for Large Organizations

Nationwide Mutual Insurance Company is one of the largest insurance and financial services groups in the United States and a member of the Fortune 100.

They offer every type of employee retirement plan I’ve talked about and they can administer other types of benefits as well, such as health savings accounts (HSAs). 

They also provide a rich selection of investment options, as well, including a wide array of funds, bonds, and stocks.

Employees have a lot of say in how their investments are handled. They can choose a hands-off approach—like professional account management—where employees just sit back and let advisors drive.

These accounts are nice for employees who are not experienced investors, though they should understand how much they are paying for management. Most of these fees will be indirect, but Nationwide prides themselves on explaining all plan fees as clearly as possible.

Nationwide offers other options that give employees more control. At the hands-on end of the spectrum, employees can open up a self-directed brokerage account and invest in virtually any publicly-traded mutual fund, exchange-traded fund (ETF), bond or stock.

I like it for large organizations because of the wide array of plan and investment options. Large organizations need to be able to offer employee retirement plans that suit workers of all ages and abilities.

Rank and file workers have the freedom to invest how they want, and employers can create special benefits packages for top talent. 

Nationwide also supports multiple types of auto enrollment. This can help increase plan participation in a way that makes sense for both the employee and employer.

You’ll have to get in touch with Nationwide for pricing. Because they already service more than 2.5 million participants and $141 billion in retirement assets, you can be confident that they will help your company grow its savings as well.

#4 –  Vanguard — Best SIMPLE IRA

Vanguard is one of the world’s largest investment companies. They offer virtually every type of employee retirement plan available and give people a huge range of investments to choose from.

I recommend Vanguard for businesses that qualify for a SIMPLE IRA and want to set one up. This includes self-employed individuals, small business owners, and businesses with less than 100 people that don’t have another qualified retirement plan.

Vanguard doesn’t charge you anything to set up an account. There is a $25 annual fee for each fund in the SIMPLE IRA, but no additional costs beyond that.

And, once you have $50,000 of qualifying assets in your Vanguard fund, the $25 fees are waived. The annual fee then shifts to 0.30% of the total assets managed.

When it comes to administrative support, there’s not much to worry about with a SIMPLE IRA. There are no reporting requirements for the IRS, although there are certain employee notifications required.

In the event that something goes wrong, however, Vanguard has a stellar reputation for customer service and investor support.

Another reason to choose Vanguard is the wealth of investment options. This is true for companies that want to set up a 401(k), SEP, or other retirement plan, not just a SIMPLE IRA.

Employees using Vanguard for retirement may invest in more than 100 different mutual funds. This includes some of Vanguard’s index funds, which have generated incredibly consistent returns for investors year after year.

Summary

The sooner you begin an employee retirement plan the sooner everyone can start saving. It provides employees with an unrivaled sense of security and helps them keep a long-term perspective when the day-to-day gets tough.

Both Guideline and Human Interest are going to work for self-employed individuals, small business owners, and midsize businesses. 

Guideline has the more diverse investment options, and a lower base fee each month. Human interest has the ability to support 403(b) plans in addition to 401(k), and may come at a lower monthly cost per employee.

For larger organizations, or smaller organizations that want to start a different type of retirement plan than a 401(k), Nationwide and Vanguard offer a wide range of options.

Nationwide is my top pick for organizations because of the deep range of investment opportunities. Individual employees save on their own terms, and employers can build out plans that help them make the most of every dollar.

While Vanguard has the resources to help any company save for the future, I wanted to call out their SIMPLE IRA because it is such a good deal for qualified small businesses. If the 401(k) is too daunting, a SIMPLE IRA with Vanguard is just the plan to start saving.

The post Best Employee Retirement Plans appeared first on Neil Patel.

Entrepreneurship

How to Make Money Blogging

Disclosure: This content is reader-supported, which means if you click on some of our links that we may earn a commission.

Is it actually possible to make a living out of blogging? Or is it just a myth?

Here’s the good news: You CAN make money from blogging. You just have to do it right.

Take my blog as an example.

Blogging played a crucial role in my success. But reaching this point did have its fair share of obstacles, mistakes, and lessons.

Currently, my revenue is $381,772 for 30 days. 

Now, that’s a LOT of money, especially for a blog.

But how am I able to pull this off?

I was completely dedicated and put in tons of hard work to create useful and detailed content and use relevant images to provide accurate and thorough information to my readers.

This helped me become an authoritative figure and thought leader in my niche.

And no, it doesn’t have to take you years to become a successful blogger. 

Knowing the art of consistently churning out top-quality content, driving search engine traffic, leveraging social media, and generating leads is great. But you also need to know how to make money from your blog.

The process is certainly challenging, especially with the internet painted with a lot of bad advice. 

But this isn’t one of those articles.

In this guide, I’ll show you the exact way to make money from blogging by avoiding the mistakes I’d made in my 10-year journey. So not only will your blogging success be easier, but it also is quicker.

Excited? Let’s begin. 

Your 2-Minute Cheat Sheet

The very first thing you need to start making money is to come up with an idea and the name for your blog. Think through the topics you’d want to write about often.

After that, sign up for the Basic plan with Bluehost. Even if you don’t have much of a budget, this is practically a steal at just $2.95 per month. 

Set up your account, taking care to skip all the add-ons except for domain privacy and protection. A few extra dollars for better privacy and security is an investment.

And with this, you’ll have your own blog domain. Hurrah!

The next steps will have you installing WordPress and then finally writing and publishing your first blog post.

Once you’ve posted a couple of blogs and have started to attract some traffic, you can work on monetizing it to make your first dollars.

For this, you’ll have to sign up for a Google AdSense and Amazon Associates account to make money through ads and affiliate marketing, respectively. You can also sell your own products and services after successfully driving high traffic to your site.

That was the basics. Let’s get into the details now.

Step 1: Figure Out Your Blog’s Niche

The first on the agenda is to decide what your blog is going to be about. Whether you want to talk about marketing, CBD, veganism, or just random life stories, figure it out.

Remember, your idea doesn’t have to be revolutionary, but you do need a unique voice.

Here are two tips for deciding on a blog niche:

Choose Something That You Enjoy

I know that this sounds like a cliche, but it makes no sense to blog about it if you don’t love the topic.

Never start blogging about something that you don’t love–it will show in your writing and your readers will know. Moreover, you won’t be able to consistently produce top-notch content to build your audience and later monetize from it.

Make a list of things that get you naturally curious and that you enjoy learning about. Or think about what your friends and family come to you when seeking advice.

Find Out Whether a Prospective Niche Has a Readership

The only way you can earn money through your blog is if you have enough site visitors. 

Let’s assume you’ve already figured out your blog niche and want to write about arts and crafts.

You make a smart decision to niche down further and develop a blog exclusively dedicated to either paper art or scrapbooking. While you enjoy writing about both topics, you prefer to focus on one primarily.

But how do you choose between the two options? 

Answer: Do a quick Google search.

As you can see, there are far more results related to paper art as opposed to scrapbooking. Therefore, it makes more sense to write about paper art, which is what audiences are searching for. 

I would also like to add that it’s better to avoid broad or generic topics. Don’t be afraid to get specific as long as you have takers for it. 

For instance, if you want to create a food blog, don’t use words like “food.” Instead, use “barbecue” or “vegan.”

Get my point?

Step 2: Name Your Blog

Once an idea is in place, you need to work on naming your blog.

Does the name Stefani Joanne Angelina Germanotta ring a bell? Thought so.

But I bet Lady Gaga does.

Stefani Joanne Angelina Germanotta is Lady Gaga’s real name. She decided to go with a catchier and easier-to-remember alternative that aligns better with her music. 

That’s the power of the right name.

Choosing a blog name is equal parts exciting and daunting. After all, this will be your brand name and dictate how people will remember you.

Don’t overthink it, and don’t name your blog something random or offensive.

Keep in mind the following questions when deciding on a name:

  • Does it reflect what your blog is going to be about?
  • Would your target audience like it?
  • Is the name easy to say and spell?
  • Is it short and concise?

I chose my own name as my domain (NeilPatel.com) simply because Neil Patel is who I am, and it’s also my brand. You could do what I did or come up with something entirely different.

Whatever name you come up with, make sure it’s available as website domains. 

You can use Bluehost’s domain name checker for this purpose. Type in each potential name in the search bar, and click Check Availability to know.

I’d recommend opting for a .com whenever possible.

Don’t buy an available domain at this point. I have something up my sleeve to help you get it for free.

Step 3: Sign up With a Web Host Like Bluehost

You need to sign up for a web hosting service to get your blog live, along with a registered domain name that will serve as your blog’s address.

I recommend Bluehost as its hands down one of the best web hosting companies—not to mention affordable—that assures excellent service and a free domain.

And did I mention that as a NeilPatel.com reader, you get an additional discount?

You’re welcome.

Head over to Bluehost.com, and click on the green Get Started Now button. 

Next, sign up for the Basic plan. You can always upgrade later, but since you’re just starting a blog, it’s better to stick to the Basic plan.

Register the domain name you came up with without having to pay anything extra. Just make sure the drop-down is set to .com before you click Next.

Following this, you need to sign in using your Google account. You can also manually enter your personal credentials. 

Scroll down to choose your registration term, which can either be a 36-month, a 24-month, or a 12-month agreement. To get the best deal ($2.95 per month), you’ll have to sign up for a three-year contract.

It still isn’t over yet.

You’ll find package options like Domain Privacy + Protection, Codeguard Basic, Bluehost SEO Tools, Microsoft 365 Mailbox Trial, and SiteLock Security Essentials.

In my opinion, you only need Domain Privacy + Protection to protect your contact information against scam callers and unsolicited emails. Ignore the others.

Finally, enter your payment information, read the terms and conditions, and hit submit.

This is the point where you’ll have your blog! 

Complete all the remaining instructions to set up your account, and then move onto the next step.

Step 4: Install WordPress CMS

You have your web host, next you need blogging software.

I trust WordPress to run all my blogs as it is user-friendly, feature-rich, and free. Plus, you can install thousands of free plugins to make your blog more functional and customize it however you want.

After signing up for Bluehost, you will have a free domain and hosting account. Log in by filling in your credentials and then click on Install WordPress

Next, select Do it yourself (FREE) and hit Install, followed by Check Domain. Lastly, acknowledge WordPress’s terms of service and finalize your install.

Ta-Da! You now have a fully functional WordPress blog ready to roll.

Step 5: Design Your WordPress Blog

To design a blog, you need to select an attractive and affordable WordPress theme.

Why do you need this? Well, after signing up for WordPress, your blog will look something like this:

Not exactly what you’d call sleek and welcoming, right? The way your website looks can help drive more website traffic, which, in turn, will enable you to make more money.

Luckily, WordPress has thousands and thousands of themes for you to choose from. I’ve even done a roundup of some of the best ones. Here’s how you can select a WordPress theme:

  1. Log into your WordPress account.
  2. Click on Appearance in the sidebar menu on your dashboard. 
  3. From the drop-down options, select Themes.
  1. Go to Add New, located at the very top of the screen, to gain access to thousands of fancy WordPress themes. You can also click on Feature Filter to filter your search to see options more suited to your tastes.

You should choose a theme that fits your personal style, but at the same time, it should also be in sync with your blog niche.

  1. Preview the theme to see what it will look like. 
  2. If you like the sneak peek of a specific theme, click on Install and then Activate.

With a nice new theme, your website will get a much-needed upgrade that makes it look appealing to visitors.

Step 6: Come up With Interesting Blog Topics

If you want to increase your website traffic or encourage more email signups, you need to offer your readers interesting content. 

My tip is to make a list of questions you get often. Trust me, within just 30 minutes, you’ll be able to come up with a bunch of potential blog topics. Your priority should be to look at things from your reader’s viewpoint.

You can also focus on higher-level questions.

Suppose you want to start a parenting blog for stay-at-home moms. Below, I’ve created a list of questions to ask yourself, along with a list of answers concerning the mom blog.

Q1) What could be an intriguing or exciting talking point for your readers?

For stay-at-home moms, topics related to sleep training, homeschooling, and budget-friendly meal ideas could be a great place to start.

Q2) What are your reader’s pain points and challenges?

Common household challenges for stay-at-home moms could be meal planning, understanding developmental milestones, and so on.

Q3) What are your readers’ character traits?

Moms are typically patient and caring and appreciate a sense of humor.

Q4) What niche topics would appeal the most to your readers?

A child’s mental, physical, and emotional development could be attractive talk points for stay-at-home moms.

Q5) What topics would your readers hate about my niche?

Stay-at-home moms don’t like to be looked down on by others. So, you could write blogs about how society views them and their impact.

Similarly, you can use the above questions to come up with ideas according to your niche. While you’re at it, don’t forget to work out a catchy headline that will make the reader instantly click on your blog.

Step 7: Optimize Your Blogs for the SERPs

Search engine optimization or SEO is a crucial step to earn money via blogging. Here, you will optimize your website to rank higher in search engines for specific keywords and phrases.

If you’ve been following me for a long time, you may already know how SEO is my trump card.

By incorporating particular keywords and phrases, I’ve successfully driven more than 30 million visitors to my website. Shocked?

That’s the power of SEO.

On WordPress, you can optimize your content and blog by downloading a plugin called Yoast SEO. 

Go to the Plugins menu, and click on Add New. Search for Yoast SEO in the search bar, and then install the plugin. 

Don’t forget to activate it to complete the installation process.

You’ll find that this plugin will give you all kinds of improvement tips and suggestions based on the keyword you select to help you optimize your content. I’d recommend incorporating as many suggestions as you can to improve SEO and content readability.

Step 8: Sign up for Google AdSense

Setting up ads is the best way to monetize your blog. But you need to be smart about it.

The biggest mistake people make is to bombard their sites with blinking ads. Avoid this at all costs. 

Instead, focus on using targeted ads that appeal to your customers without annoying them.

To start earning money through ads, you need a Google AdSense account. Head over to the AdSense page, and click on Sign Up Now. If you don’t have an existing Google account, you have to set up a new one. If you already have a Google account, simply sign in.

Fill out all the relevant information before submitting your application. The AdSense team reviews every application, and if everything goes well, you’ll be in!

Next, follow the below steps to set up your account:

  1. Go to your AdSense dashboard and click on My Ads > New ad unit.
  2. Select the size of your ad and the type of ad. Once you’re done, select Save and get code
  1. You’ll get a bit of code that you’ll then have to copy and paste between your page’s <body> tags. Here’s how it’ll look.
  1. Once you’ve pasted the code, your ad will be live. Your AdSense dashboard will have all information about your earnings, so check it regularly.

While you can use ads on as many as you want, I would recommend starting with just one–maybe two max–to get an idea of how your audience responds to them. 

If you see a higher bounce rate on your dashboard, you should consider repositioning your current ads for better results.

Step 9: Create an Amazon Associates Account

You might have already heard of affiliate marketing. If your goal is to earn passive income, leveraging the power of affiliates is your best bet.

You can start by signing up for Amazon Associates, which allows you to start earning right away through referral links, display ads, or Amazon-based shopping carts. 

If your visitors decide to use your referral link or click on the display ads, you’ll get a small commission.

To sign up for Amazon Associates, all you need to do is visit the website and click on Join Now for Free.

This can be pretty effective. Just check out these earnings of Brendan Mace for definitive proof.

Amazon Associates isn’t the only affiliate program. 

You’ll be happy to know that there are plenty of companies with their own affiliate programs, some of which pay higher commissions than Amazon. Just make sure to research before signing up to be an affiliate for a brand.

That said, I’d also like to emphasize the importance of advertising only those products or services that you’ve used yourself or genuinely believe can help your audience.

Step 10: Offer a Product or Service for Sale (Optional)

Many people think that advertisements are the only source of income for bloggers. This might be true for a few, but you’ll also find many bloggers make quite a bit of money by selling a product or service.

Of course, this will only work when you already have a loyal readership with steady website traffic like Nomadic Matt. Once you’re at this stage, you shouldn’t be afraid to take the leap.

Here are a few things that you can consider selling:

  • Training courses
  • Books
  • Video courses/webinars
  • Coaching services
  • Consulting services

Next, you have to figure out how you want to sell your product. Services like Shopify or WooCommerce plugins on WordPress, Amazon, or Etsy are great options for digital products. If you’re selling a physical product (like phone cases or clothes), you’ll have to set up a more comprehensive ecommerce store. 

Finally, let your audience know about your product or service by sending them emails. You can also consider developing lead magnets like pre-recorded webinars, PDFs, and whitepapers to build your email list.

Conclusion

There’s a difference between simply having a blog and monetizing a blog. To make this transition successful, you’ll need to adopt a more proactive and focused approach.

You’ve got this! 

Just remain focused and work consistently to keep improving your blog and build trust between you and your audience. And follow my steps above to get things started on the right track.

Remember to stick with what works, and you’ll have a successful formula.

Have you tried blogging yet? Let me know about your experience.

The post How to Make Money Blogging appeared first on Neil Patel.

Entrepreneurship

Best Free Web Hosting

Disclosure: This content is reader-supported, which means if you click on some of our links that we may earn a commission.

You want a quick and easy way to start a website yet have no clue how web hosting works.

Or perhaps you know how it works but don’t have the budget or urgency to invest in one. 

The good news is you can get a website up and running without spending a dime. The bad news is also the fact that it’s free.

Free web hosting enables you to set up a website with a few clicks, but don’t expect anything fancy. Ads, a cap on how much traffic you can get, sudden downtimes, and little to no customer support are just some of the trade-offs that come with using a free host. 

However, free web hosting does have the same security, bandwidth, and port speed as most paid hosting options. 

Unless you only want a basic website with no bells and whistles, I recommend spending as little as $2.75 a month on a shared hosting plan. Should you insist on a free web host, check out my list of recommended products below. 

The Top 6 Options For Free Web Hosting

  1. Wix – Best Free Web Hosting with Website Builder
  2. GitHub Pages – The Best Free Static Web Hosting for Developers
  3. Square Online – Best Free Ecommerce Hosting Platform
  4. DreamHost – The Best Free Web Hosting for Nonprofits
  5. SiteGround – The Best Free Web Hosting for Teachers
  6. WordPress.com – The Best Free WordPress Hosting Service

How to Choose The Best Free Web Hosting For You

Before we proceed, you have to remember that there’s no such thing as a free lunch. 

In the case of a free web host, it has limitations that don’t appeal to everyone. 

Free web hosting is designed to meet the needs of a niche market like a new hobby blogger who doesn’t intend to earn from his website or a student looking for a free platform where she can test her web development projects. 

With that being said, you can’t use the same criteria in selecting a paid hosting plan when zeroing on the best free web hosting to suit your needs. 

Remember, you get what you pay for. And in the case of a free web host, you shouldn’t expect to receive round-the-clock support, daily or on-demand backups, and 100% uptime guarantee, among others. 

However, some free options are a cut above the rest. Use the following parameters to figure out whether a free web hosting service is worth a try. 

Custom Domain

Most companies are willing to host your website for free so long as you’re also willing to use a subdomain. 

For instance, Wix is a popular website builder that requires its free users to use a subdomain (e.g., neilpatel.wix.com). 

A subdomain doesn’t look professional nor is it good for branding. So, unless you only want a stripped down website you can play around with, it would be better to opt for a company that can host your custom domain for free. 

A custom domain is one that you own (e.g., neilpatel.com). You can purchase it from a domain registrar or from any hosting provider that also offers domain registration on the side. Domains are inexpensive, and you’ll need to renew them annually.

If branding is your top priority, make sure to find a free web host that gives you the option to stand out in a sea of other freely hosted websites. 

Security

While advanced security features don’t exist in free web hosting platforms, they should at least offer a free SSL certificate.

SSL (secure sockets layer) is a technology that encrypts the information that passes through your website. It protects your site visitor’s sensitive data like passwords and credit card data from outside intruders. 

If you’re launching a basic ecommerce site on a free hosting platform, a free SSL certificate is non-negotiable. However, some free web hosting services only offer a self-signed SSL, which misleads users into thinking that it’s the same as the industry-standard SSL certificate.

A self-signed SSL is issued by servers and not by trusted authorities like Comodo, Digicert, and Let’s Encrypt. Since it’s not a standard version, websites with self-signed SSL will still show security warnings to visitors.

Hence, a self-signed SSL defeats the purpose of an SSL certificate even though it offers the same level of encryption. Especially if you’re planning to sell a product through your website, having a self-signed SSL is no better than not having an SSL certificate at all. 

Storage and Bandwidth

As a rule of thumb, never go with free web hosting unless you’ll use it for a basic website with little to no traffic. 

A free web host isn’t designed to handle huge traffic volume. This is why it’s important to read the fine print of the hosting provider’s terms and conditions before signing up.  

Unfortunately, a lot of free hosting providers tend to mislead clueless users by including “unlimited storage” and “unlimited bandwidth” in their list of features. 

Disk space or storage space is the amount of server space allocated to your website files, while bandwidth is the amount of data allowed to transfer from the server to your visitors in a given amount of time. If your website is hosted in a free platform, your disk space and bandwidth are best described as low and never “unlimited.”

“Unlimited bandwidth” is a promotional tactic by free hosting providers based on the assumption that sites on a shared server will not use up the available resources, which is rarely the case. 

Instead of being swayed by these superficial features, pay more attention specifically to file size limit and CPU limit. 

A file size limit is the maximum file size your website can upload, while the CPU limit refers to how much of the server’s central processing unit (CPU) your website is allowed to use. 

Free web hosting providers can temporarily shut down your site without warning, so make sure you know exactly what and how much your limitations are. 

Ads

The only reason why free web hosting continues to exist is because of the business behind it. And a business requires a source of revenue. 

Some of the more popular free web hosts sustain their platform through ad space. This monetization method may be effective, but it comes at the expense of your visitors.

You have no control over what appears on the advertisements or where they’re placed. Not to mention ads, in general, tend to be obtrusive and take the joy out of consuming your content.

If you want free hosting but care about your site’s aesthetics and user-friendliness, you can opt for a company that supports their free platform through other means, such as the sales of premium hosting plans. 

Customer support

Support for websites hosted in a free web host is limited at best. Unless you already have both the budget and need to upgrade to premium plans, there’s nothing else you can do. 

When looking for the best free web host to entrust your website, choose one with an active community forum. 

Check the latest posts and see how fast the response time is. The more active users the service has, the quicker you’ll get a resolution to any problem you might face in the future.

In addition to a community forum, some free web hosts also have a self-service knowledge base where users can quickly get answers to their most basic questions. 

The Different Types of  Free Web Hosting

Free web hosting comes in different forms. Let’s explore these different free web hosting options and who they’re for. 

Freemium Web Hosting

Freemium means anyone can have access to the free web host anytime. But there’s a catch: features are extremely limited, and your website will likely be littered with ads. 

Wix and Weebly are free website builders that use this strategy to acquire customers. You have the option to upgrade to premium plans to remove the ads or keep using the free product for as long as you want. Either way, the hosting company wins. 

“Free Trial” Web Hosting

This “almost free” web hosting allows users to use all or a limited number of its paid hosting features within a specific period. The time frame you can enjoy web hosting for free usually lasts anywhere from seven to 30 days. 

Choose this type of free web hosting if you intend to pay for a hosting plan but are eager to know first if the web host can meet your expectations. 

Free Site Hosting Service for Developers 

There are free hosting services specifically built for students and web developers. The type of hosting you’ll choose depends on whether you’re testing a static or dynamic website. 

Static sites are the most basic websites with fixed content built from HTML, CSS, and Javascript files. They’re the easiest sites to create for developers as they don’t need a web programming design like dynamic sites. 

GitHub Pages is a fine example of free hosting service for static sites. 

To publish a static site through GitHub Pages, you must first take the HTML files from the open-source code repository of GitHub, run it through a build process, and then publish the website. 

Although websites are usually hosted on yourusername.github.io, there’s also the option to host them on a custom domain. 

As for dynamic sites, there are hosting providers that are free to use within a limited time frame. 

For example, Google Cloud allows developers to have hands-on experience with their products for free so long as they don’t go over the free usage limit. They also have the option to fully explore the Google Cloud platform using a $300 free credit and be charged only when they choose to upgrade. 

Amazon AWS is a similar product that provides access to its free tier products for 12 months. Afterward, you will be required to pay only for what you use. 

#1 – Wix — Best Free Web Hosting With Website Builder

When it comes to building a simple blog or an online portfolio that highlights your work, Wix is the best intuitive website builder you can count on. 

With the help of its simple drag-and-drop interface, you can create a simple website in minutes. Wix takes care of your website through free hosting so long as you don’t mind having Wix brand ads displayed on your pages. 

Although free accounts can only use the Wix subdomain, there are enough templates and apps you can choose from to add a little bit of personal touch to your website. 

Should you decide to create a website with Wix, you will get a storage space of 500 MB and a bandwidth of 500 MB, enough for a low-traffic site like an online portfolio.

If you want more flexibility, you can upgrade to premium plans anytime to access custom domain, email, and ecommerce features. 

Premium plans also eliminate ads so your website will look more professional and less cookie-cutter. 

But even with ads, Wix has plenty to offer that will put the spotlight on your content. Whether you’re a writer, designer, or photographer, Wix remains the best website builder to help you establish an online presence without touching any code. 

#2 – GitHub Pages — The Best Free Static Web Hosting for Developers

Anyone with basic coding skills is already familiar with GitHub, an open-source platform where developers store their coding projects. GitHub Pages is where you can take these codes from the repository, have them go through a build process, and turn them into a simple static website. 

A static website is ideal for those who prefer a small website that doesn’t need to be updated regularly. It’s also perfect for students who want a test site to play around with or present for their school projects. 

GitHub Pages is completely free, yet it comes with a range of outstanding features:

  • One site per GitHub account 
  • Unlimited project websites
  • 1 GB of storage plus 100 GB bandwidth every month
  • Standard github.io subdomain or custom domain name you own
  • Free HTTPS to prevent others from tampering with your traffic
  • Built-in integration with Jekyll, a popular static site generator, for more customization options

To build your static website, all you need to do is sign in to your account and create a new repository. You can then use the Jekyll Theme Chooser to pick from one of the pre-made themes. 

If you don’t like your theme or your static website’s content, no need to worry as changes are a simple edit and push away. You can make these changes either via the web or locally on your computer. 

Whether you’re a developer or a non-techy looking for easy-to-follow instructions, GitHub Pages has all the tools you need to create a free static site. 

#3 – Square Online — Best Free Ecommerce Hosting Platform

Square Online is a free ecommerce platform for aspiring entrepreneurs who are still getting their feet wet with online selling. Unlike big names in the industry, Square Online lets you sell unlimited products without paying recurring fees.

To set up your online store hosted by Square Online, all you need to do is answer a few questions. The platform’s Artificial Design Intelligence (ADI) will then automatically generate a website with a design based on the answers you give. 

The drag-and-drop editor only offers four customizable themes, but you get an assurance that every design follows your industry’s best practice. Without touching any code, you can create your online store with a responsive design that fits in any device. 

Square Online also offers the following to help you get started with your business:

  • Square POS integration so you can automatically import your product catalog and let it sync with your online store for a seamless inventory management
  • Payment processing system that accepts all major credit cards, Google Pay, and Apple Pay
  • In-house and on-demand delivery
  • Instagram integration
  • Free SSL security
  • SEO tools

In exchange for hosting your online store for free, Square Online requires a small commission fee of 2.9% + 30¢ for each product sold. Should you decide to scale your business, you can leave the free plan and move to the premium plans starting at $12 per month. 

Through a new feature called Square Online Checkout, sellers also have the option to sell their products and receive payment using only a link instead of a website. 

Whether you’re an established brick-and-mortar store owner or just starting from scratch, Square Online has all the basics to help you navigate the unfamiliar world of ecommerce with ease. 

#4 – DreamHost — The Best Free Web Hosting for Nonprofits

DreamHost believes in every nonprofit organization’s advocacy so much that they’re giving them a shared hosting plan at no cost. 

Aside from free web hosting, DreamHost also provides US-based charitable organizations with the following:

  • Free domain
  • Free backups
  • Free shopping cart installation so you can accept donations with ease
  • Unmetered transfer and unlimited monthly visitors
  • Free SSL certificate to keep online transactions secure

To create a free hosting account, DreamHost does not require any credit card details and needs just your billing address for verification purposes. 

You also need to attach a 501(c)(3) determination letter, a document from the United States IRS proving your tax-exempt non-profit status under the applicable sections of the tax code.

Since it’s a free account, you won’t have access to reliable 24/7 customer support. However, DreamHost’s dedicated help center and ticketing system offset this, which more than meets the need for straightforward troubleshooting solutions. 

Should you want more control over your account, nonprofit organizations can also avail themselves of a 35% discount off DreamHost’s managed WordPress hosting plans. This means you can host your site under a paid plan for as low as $11 per month. 

#5 – SiteGround — The Best Free Web Hosting for Teachers 

SiteGround, one of the leading providers of top-notch shared hosting technology, is giving away its StartUp Plan for free to teachers. This way, hard-working educators can focus on what they do best while SiteGround takes care of the technology that makes online learning possible. 

In addition to a free hosting account, educators also get a free SiteGround subdomain which will serve as the home to their online course or a repository of their supplementary resources. 

The plan also provides dependable 24/7 support via chat, phone, or ticketing system, so any technical issues will be resolved on your behalf. 

This robust free web hosting also includes the following features:

  • LAMP server, PHP, MySQL with PhpMyAdmin
  • 10 GB space and unmetered traffic
  • Free emails with spam protection
  • CDN caching solution to make your website faster
  • Free learning management system (LMS) to help you deliver efficient, user-friendly educational courses to your students

Whether your classes are entirely conducted online or through a hybrid of physical and online classrooms, SiteGround has the free tools you need to help your students adapt in a changing world.

#6 – WordPress.com — The Best Free WordPress Hosting Service

Often confused with the open-source software WordPress.org, WordPress.com is the free platform where non-technical users can create websites. 

Since it is powered by the same robust and world-class infrastructure behind nearly half of the world’s websites, WordPress.com is the best place to learn how to manage a website while you’re still not ready or able to pay for a hosting service.

Setting up a website is easy. You can select a WordPress subdomain and choose from any of the available themes. 

Just like Wix, WordPress.com also displays ads to sustain its free platform. While the ads may sometimes be annoying, this is a small price to pay for all the other features that WordPress.com has to offer:

  • 3 GB storage space so you can publish both text and beautiful images
  • Unlimited bandwidth
  • Free SSL certificate for an additional layer of security
  • Optional backups so you can save your files on your hard drive

While it has excellent performance for a free hosting platform, WordPress.com can’t beat the paid version in terms of flexibility. The WordPress CMS installed on websites in paid hosting plans gives you direct server access and freedom to install plugins and themes of your choice.

Still, WordPress.com is good for starters, especially if you only want a simple, stripped-down website to showcase your writing portfolio or personal diary. 

Summary

Nothing beats a paid hosting plan for all the extra support, features, and functionality. Still, if you need free web hosting or if you want to try out different web hosts before committing to an investment, there are some good free options available. 

The best free web hosting for you depends on what you’re looking for. This guide will help you narrow down your choices to end up with free hosting that satisfies your unique criteria. 

The post Best Free Web Hosting appeared first on Neil Patel.

Entrepreneurship

9 Tips On How To Build A User-Friendly eCommerce…

eCommerce, or online stores, are already part of our daily lives now. All those small and local businesses that earlier considered online stores as something specific to large retail brands now are coming out of this mindset and embracing online marketplaces.  But since an increasing number of businesses are building their online stores, getting ahead […]

The post 9 Tips On How To Build A User-Friendly eCommerce Website appeared first on Nimble Blog.

Entrepreneurship

Best Learning Management Systems

Disclosure: This content is reader-supported, which means if you click on some of our links that we may earn a commission.

What happens when people aren’t engaged in their education?

Very little, unfortunately.

It’s a stubborn problem that confronts HR staff and elementary school teachers alike.

Top talent gets bored and moves on. Students lose interest and tune out. 

All the preparation and dedication it takes to develop a good course means nothing if people aren’t buying in.

This problem doesn’t get easier when learners and instructors are meeting online instead of in a classroom or on site.

Creating a digital environment where people can really learn is challenging, even in ideal circumstances. Having the right learning management system (LMS) software in place makes this task much more manageable for everyone involved.

Administrators have a clear view of what’s happening, instructors have the freedom to create courses that matter, and learners get a relevant, unique experience that meets them where they are.

LMS software will not replace the hard work and perseverance that goes into creating lessons and educating people. The right one, however, will let everyone focus on their work instead of fighting with a frustrating system.

The Top 6 Options for LMS Software

  1. Schoology – Best for K-12 education
  2. D2L Brightspace – Best for higher education
  3. Tovuti – Best for selling online courses
  4. Looop – Best for SMB employee training
  5. Docebo – Best for enterprise learning
  6. Sensei – Best LMS plugin for WordPress

The Different Types of LMS Software

Deciding on the type of LMS software is not going to be too difficult for most people. 

Some of the vendors on this list offer products that span different categories, but for the most part, the different types of LMS software are aimed at specific educational settings:

  • Educational LMS Software
  • Corporate LMS Software
  • Ecommerce LMS Software

Deciding on the particular product within these three categories is where you are going to spend most of your time.

Let’s break these three types down a little further.

Educational LMS Software

These products are designed with school students in mind. They are built to help different types of educational organizations comply with government standards and meet the needs of their varied student populations.

Educational LMS Software can be broken down into two subtypes.

K-12 LMS Software is for towns, school districts, and private institutions that want to get every student on the same platform. They are built to scale appropriately, and track a student’s journey as they advance grades.

These types of platforms also accommodate the needs of parents, who are able to view grades and communicate with teachers.

Higher Education LMS Software is for colleges and universities. These platforms are designed to give students a much more independent experience, accommodating their unique set of courses and trajectory through undergrad, graduate, or postgraduate education.

Corporate LMS Software

These products are designed with adult learners in mind, particularly for businesses who need to train employees, customers, or partners.

These platforms help administrators create and deliver courses about company content and best practices. It works much better than throwing “the manual” at new members of your business.

Courses and company resources on a corporate LMS help with:

  • Onboarding: educating new employees, customers, or partners.
  • Training: providing basic knowledge to learners for a position, role, or skill. 
  • Development: providing advanced knowledge to upskill or specialize a learner.
  • Enablement: provides educational resources to help skilled learners improve.

Some platforms will work across the organization to meet all of these needs for both external and internal uses. 

Others may specialize in a particular area, like employee training, sales enablement, or customer onboarding.

Ecommerce LMS Software

These products are designed for individuals and institutions that want to sell online courses and other digital learning content.

Instead of a heavy-duty platform designed for a school district or enterprise organization, ecommerce LMS software is sleek and oriented around self-service.

Instructors can build out exactly the content they need, and have control over the costs via subscriptions or per-course fees.

Learners can find the courses they are looking for at a price that makes sense.

Many of these platforms have less expensive options that let you do everything but charge for courses. These non-monetized plans can work well for tutors, non-profits, and other individuals who need to organize and distribute educational content.

How to Choose the Best LMS Software for You

There are hundreds of vendors who make LMS software. To make your search easier, let’s focus on the people LMS software serves:

  • Learners
  • Instructors
  • Administrators

What do they want? What do they need? Really think about how each LMS is going to perform for each role. 

In the end, how these different types of users feel about the product is going to determine whether it sinks or sets sail. 

Let’s go in depth on considerations for each role. This is going to help you think through your specific situation and zero in on the product that checks all your boxes.

We’ll close this section with a look at some of the technical considerations that really matter when picking LMS software

Learner Experience

Much of the learner experience will depend on the type of LMS software you choose. Some platforms are going to be aimed at students, others at adult employees.

At the same time, many of the essential considerations are going to be the same regardless of the type you choose. Likely, you are going to want support for one or more of the following types of learning environments:

  • Distance learning: Using online teaching to reach learners who are separated by great physical distance.
  • Remote learning: Using online teaching to reach learners during situations where people cannot meet in a physical classroom.
  • Blended learning: Using a mix of in-person and remote learning.
  • Mobile learning: Letting learners interact with phones and tablets, and on-the-go. 
  • Social learning: Allowing learners to interact and teach each other.
  • Virtual classroom: An online space where learners and instructors can interact in real time, talking, sharing materials, and working in groups.

These environments are interrelated. Instructors leading a training session may make use of both mobile learning and a virtual classroom, for example. 

What’s important to your search is selecting a platform that supports the learning environments necessary for all of the students, teams, or departments who use it.

Additionally, you’ll want to consider the learning styles supported. Depending on your organization, you may want to have some or all of these options for learning available:

  • Synchronous: Learners and instructors are in the same place at the same time, even if it’s a digital “place.” Everyone goes through the learning path together.
  • Asynchronous: Learners can complete their work at different times and may progress through the course at their own pace. It is sometimes called “self-paced” learning.
  • On-Demand: Learners have anytime access to courses and learning resources. In some cases, learners can select their own courses of study.
  • Accessible: Learners with special circumstances are supported by features like closed-captions, text-to-speech, and translation. 

Instructor Freedom

There’s no lesson that’s going to work for every learner every time. Instructors need the ability to experiment, to blend the tried-and-true methods with new tactics.

If a platform doesn’t have the features or functions an instructor needs, they’re going to be spending time finding workarounds.

Find something that centralizes all the tools instructors need to accomplish their goals, and lets them build exactly what they need. This is going to be different for each department or branch of a business.

Pay particular attention to course management features and how they are going to help your instructors create an effective learning experience. These include:

  • Quizzes and graded assignments
  • Learner profiles and rosters
  • Learner reports and analytics
  • Discussion boards and chats
  • Content library
  • Multimedia uploads

With the exception of brand-new instructors, most will be approaching the new LMS with existing resources they’d like to continue using. I’m thinking of content from past courses as well as services like plagiarism detectors.

It shouldn’t be impossible for them to transfer their current course content (from paper or a previous LMS) to the new platform. Scanning with handwriting/optical character recognition will allow them to upload and use any type of document can be really helpful.

Here, it’s important to consider the platform’s ease-of-use. Not every instructor is going to want to become an expert in the intricacies of LMS software. Many want something that gets out of the way and just lets them teach, so to speak.

It’s about making enough online learning resources available without overwhelming instructors. If it’s annoying or constricting to use certain features, they won’t.

Administrator Control

A lot of the best LMS software is cloud-based, which means organizations aren’t responsible for maintaining the backend IT infrastructure.

Even so, administrators play a leading role in the success or failure of any platform. What you are looking for is something that gives these all-important users the visibility and control they need.

An LMS that integrates and syncs with your student information system or identity provider is going to make this task a lot easier.

Additionally, admins need to be able to pull reports quickly. This could be for an individual student, class, or entire school district, depending on your use case. How hard is it going to be for administrators to get big picture and granular insight?

Technical Considerations

The LMS you choose has to fit into your environment. It’s going to be one of a number of tools that people are using throughout their day, and if it doesn’t play nice with others, there’s trouble ahead.

This is true of any software, but with an LMS, you have to be extra careful to consider every aspect of this issue before signing on to a particular platform. 

Integrations are going to be important. Will it work with your identity provider, student information system, plagiarism detector, or cloud storage services?

Look for direct integrations, as those will be the easiest to use. With LMS software, however, you should also be aware that many come with APIs that can be used to build custom solutions. These can work well, but you want to make sure these methods aren’t going to break at scale.

The other thing to pay attention to is content compliance. This includes standards like SCORM, LTI, AICC, and others. If a platform is SCORM compliant, for example, that means instructors will be able to import any content that meets those standards.

Unless you want to build everything instructors are using from scratch, it will be really helpful to find a platform that is compliant with the content you already depend on. 

#1 – Schoology — Best for K-12 Blended Learning

Schoology has proven itself to be one of the most nimble LMS providers in a time where adapting to new learning environments really matters. 

The platform connects everyone involved: students, teachers, parents, coaches, and administrators. It can accommodate virtually any type of learning environment, from in-person, to blended, to fully remote.

With Schoology, instructors can continue to “use what they know” because it has direct integrations with more than 200 popular tools, like Turnitin and Khan Academy, as well as compliance with SCORM, LTI, QTI and Common Cartridge.

Whether the schools are open or closed, teachers can use the lessons they trust without having to reinvent the wheel. They can manage everything from assessments to attendance within a single dashboard, and share all of their content with students on their class homepage.

Students can find the information they need quickly and a space to reach out if they need help. It has the feel of a social media platform, in terms of user-friendliness and student approachability.

Within this simple framework, instructors have a ton of freedom to create unique content for their students, design meaningful assessments, and a rich set of tools for tracking progress.

They can figure out what’s working quickly, and have the ability to personalize content for individualized instruction. 

This is really important in blended learning environments where students don’t necessarily have equal access to technology. Schoology makes it easier for teachers to create different types of assessments that let students go at their own pace or access resources offline, even on the mobile app.

That’s the beauty of Schoology. It doesn’t change what teachers teach, it just gives them the tools to do it in any setting, with features like:

  • Course & lesson designers
  • Grading tools
  • Commenting and video feedback
  • Student tracking
  • Online discussions

On the administrator side, Schoology syncs with student information systems, which cuts down on busy work and keeps information consistent. 

It will work especially well for districts that are already using Powerschool as their student information system, as Schoology is now part of the same company.

Students, instructors, parents and advisors can create a free Schoology account, but institutions will have to get in touch with Schoology for pricing. 

The strength of the product for K-12 schools is that it integrates with tools that teachers already use, in a format that’s comfortable for students.

#2 – D2L Brightspace — Best for Higher Education

D2L, which stands for Desire 2 Learn, makes LMS software for higher education that is used by some of the biggest universities in the country. It’s become a lifesaver for many institutions that are trying to adjust to remote learning.

For as powerful and customizable as it is, D2L’s Brightspace for Higher Education feels extremely light. It’s easy to navigate for students, giving them the ability to monitor grades, assignments, classes, and announcements from a single dashboard.

The truth is that each professor only needs a fraction of the capabilities available to create and manage their courses. D2L can be customized to meet the needs of different departments and pedagogical approaches.

In Brightspace, the interface is easy for professors to use, no matter how they want to build their course and track assessment. They’re not having to shoehorn their lectures into a mold or trying to develop work arounds to include the content they want.

On the student side, the experience remains minimalist, regardless of which features their professors using. One class may use a ton of collaborative and social tools, like discussion boards. Another might be all videos and interactive labs. 

Either way, the student gets a single, clean, cohesive experience since D2L’s mobile app is responsive and works well on any screen size. 

In short, students have one place for all their academic needs and can access the platform from wherever they are.

Whether students are going to be on campus, engaging in remote learning, or some mix of the two, D2L Brightspace comes with everything an institution needs to continue operating, including:

  • Virtual classrooms
  • Video assignments
  • Student/Class progress dashboards
  • Single sign-on (SSO)
  • Disaster recovery

All of these features come with Brightspace Core. Additional reporting and tracking features are available with Performance Plus, which can be helpful for identifying at-risk students before problems become unsolvable.

Engagement Plus, another Brightspace add-on, comes with additional features to further enhance digital learning environments. Instructors will be able to deliver fully-searchable video content, which is great for lectures, and enable gamification in their courses.

You’ll have to get in touch with D2L for pricing. Call them today and see why so many public and private institutions are choosing to go with Brightspace over the competition.

#3 – Tovuti — Best for Selling Online Courses

Tovuti is a super-flexible LMS software option. I like it best for individuals and institutions that are looking to sell courses online, though it could be a favorable option as a lightweight corporate LMS.

Tovuti provides a strong blend of ecommerce LMS functionality with course management features that help instructors make sure that learners are getting the most bang for their buck.

Unlike other similar platforms, course authoring tools are included. Within the platform you can create more than 40 different types of content, like interactive videos, quizzes, and memory games.

Once you’ve built your courses, Tovuti makes it easy to manage, track, and grow your enrollment. There’s a built-in content management system, blog, and web designer, as well as plenty of features to help you create an experience that aligns with your brand.

Create extended learning paths with multiple courses or deliver your content in a microlearning format where learners are free to choose from individual PDFs and videos in your content library.

By enabling feedback (which is optional), you can let learners rate and review your courses. This puts them on the radar of learners with similar goals.

All the marketing, ecommerce, and content creation capabilities an instructor needs are centralized in one intuitive platform. 

Some of the other highlights include:

  • Virtual classroom
  • Personalized learner portals
  • Mobile learning
  • Single sign-on (SSO)
  • SCORM compliance
  • PowerPoint importer
  • Gamification

To use Tovuti as an ecommerce LMS, you’ll need to get the Pro plan. This is going to be more expensive than the Core plan, but that doesn’t let you charge for courses.

The upside is that the Pro plan comes with a ton of features that are all exceptionally deep. For example, their virtual classroom allows for breakout rooms. Smaller groups can split up, talk about the discussion and rejoin the larger meeting seamlessly.

Get in touch with Tovuti today and supercharge your e-learning business for tomorrow.

#4 – Looop — Best for SMB Employee Training and Development

Looop helps small businesses bring new hires up to speed quickly and keep top talent engaged. At the heart of Looop’s strategy for delivering a meaningful LMS is their understanding of how employees actually learn

Most people’s instinct is to use search engines to find the information they need rather than in-house resources. But you can’t ensure the information they get from Google has the context, depth, and relevance to be applied properly to your company. 

Looop lets you turn company content into the on-demand resource employees crave. Quickly build engaging training modules and other resources, or integrate existing SCORM and xAPI content into your platform.

One of the standout features of Looop is that administrators can use automated campaigns to deliver content directly to the inboxes or Slack channels of employees who need it. Similar to marketing automation, these campaigns can be personalized to meet the needs of the learner.

Admins can then track which messages have been opened, which trainings have been completed, and automatically send the next training module when they’re ready.

Plus, it’s all mobile-responsive, so employees can access these resources whenever and wherever they need them.

There are also built-in survey tools that allow learners to provide feedback and dashboards for instructors and admins to keep tabs on overall progress. Continually optimize content based on how learners are responding.

Some of the other standout features that come with Loop include:

  • Instructor-led training
  • Unlimited content creation
  • Video and screencast uploads
  • Flexible roles and permissions
  • Pre-created content libraries
  • Automatic content backups

Companies of any size can benefit from Looop’s transparent, predictable pricing. There are four tiers, which are based on the number of users:

  • Small Businesses: $299/month, up to 50 users
  • Mid Size Businesses: $699/month, up to 250 users
  • Enterprise: $1,199/month, up to 500 users
  • Enterprise Plus: Contact sales for more than 500 users

Keeping the price down is not hard with Looop. You can archive users, which means you can keep their record without their seat counting toward your limit

And if your user size falls somewhere between the tiers, they’re happy to work with you to find a fitting price.

I like it for SMBs because it’s something they can stick with as they grow and it’s not nearly as expensive as other corporate LMS software. 

For small and midmarket organizations that are focused on training employees, Looop is a solid choice. Learners get the resources they need at their fingertips, and administrators can monitor progress with very little legwork.

You can try Looop free for seven days, which comes with a live demo to get you started on the right foot. The demo is only about 20-30 minutes long, which gives you an idea of how easy it is to use.

#5 – Docebo — Best LMS software for Enterprise Learning

Docebo is a corporate LMS built from the ground up to serve medium to large enterprises. Learning and development administrators will love how easy the platform is to use, manage, and evolve as new challenges emerge.

First things first, Docebo is pronounced doh-chay-bo. It’s Latin for “I will teach.” Even their name is educational.

It’s best for companies that need to train 300 or more people each month. These could be courses for employees, customers, and partners. 

High-growth companies—especially if they are on the verge of outgrowing their existing LMS—will find that Docebo provides the tools they need to scale their learning programs. 

Easy content creation, flexible teaching environments, and excellent reporting features allow companies to upskill everyone inside and outside the company. The most common use cases include:

  • Compliance training
  • Customer training
  • Employee development
  • Employee onboarding
  • Partner training
  • Sales enablement

It’s built to ensure that admins and instructors can securely share the information learners need and keep track of their ongoing education. Managers can quickly see how each member of their team is progressing and who may need a little extra help.

In Docebo, managers and admins get the freedom not just to create content, but to customize the user experience for their learners. With the Pages feature, managers can quickly create a unique space for learners that matches the needs of their specific audience and organizes all the relevant resources.

Using the simple drag-and-drop interface, managers can add widgets like calendars, activity feeds, reports, and other features to keep everyone on the same page.

Some of the other features that make Docebo such a good out-of-the-box solution for an enterprise LMS include:

  • Unlimited cloud storage
  • SSO & integration with IdPs
  • 40+ languages supported 
  • ROI dashboards
  • Ecommerce LMS functionality
  • Compliance with SCORM, AICC, and xAPI

For those who need it, being able to manage multiple languages on the platform will be critical. Docebo comes with a localization tool that helps you ensure that translations capture your intended meaning.

You’ll have to get in touch with Docebo for pricing, but it’s most certainly geared towards the needs of larger organizations that are growing quickly. 

If you need a one-and-done onboarding course, Docebo will be overkill. It works well for extended or ongoing learning programs. 

There are no pricing tiers for less than 300 learners a month, so it can be difficult for an SMB to justify the cost of Docebo, regardless of how good it is.

It’s also not intended for K-12 or higher education. The company states this clearly on their website.

If you need corporate LMS software that is going to work at scale, Docebo is the best choice available. Companies like Bose, Amazon Web Services, and WalMart have made it their LMS for a reason.

Get in touch with Docebo today and impress the sales team with your Latin pronunciation.

#6 – Sensei — Best LMS Plugin for WordPress

Sensei is a premium plugin made by WooCommerce that lets people design and sell courses within their WordPress site.

It takes just a few clicks to ingrate Sensei. Now, instead of a blog, you have a classroom with lessons, quizzes, grading, and learner management features.

If you are just interested in sharing your knowledge within an LMS rather than a blog, Sensei has you covered.

Should you want to monetize that venture, just add the WooCommerce Paid Course extension. A few more clicks and now your teaching has become a source of income.

Piano teachers, tutors, professors, even humble bloggers such as myself can build out courses within the WordPress platform as if they’re making a new page or post.

It’s as easy as you think it is. Why? Because Sensei is made by Automattic, the same people who power WordPress, WooCommerce, and other sites that continuously deliver best-in-breed products to their users.

Like their other products, Sensei is an intuitive balance of power and simplicity. There’s a lot you can do in terms of customizing courses, but it’s not overwhelming.

The ease-of-use is passed on to the students, who enjoy a welcoming interface and clear roadmap of what they need to get done. Choosing courses is as easy as shopping on WooCommerce and navigating your site is as easy as clicking around your blog.

The features are not as deep as they are with some of the more robust corporate LMS software, but it has everything an individual needs to get started selling courses, including:

  • Lesson, course, and quiz builder
  • Image and video uploads
  • Integration with WordPress themes
  • Grading
  • Learner management and analytics
  • Private messaging

Looking at all-in pricing to use Sensei, it breaks down like this:

  • SenseiLMS: Free
  • WooCommerce Paid Courses: $129/year
  • WordPress hosting: starting at $2.95/month with Bluehost

The price of WordPress hosting is going to vary. I recommend going with Bluehost, because it’s affordable and dependable.

All in, the total price is still well below many other LMS software options, most of which would take a lot more effort to set up. And, if you are already paying for WordPress hosting, you simply need to make more than $11 bucks off courses each month to turn a profit.

And if you don’t want to make money sharing your knowledge, you can just use Sensei for free.

Whether you want to make money with what you know or not, Sensei will help you turn your blog into an educational environment. We all love the comment section, but what kind of commitment from your readers will you build by offering interactive courses?

Sensei can help you find out, and may turn into a source of passive income if you can find an audience.

Summary

Teaching is hard. Instructors, coaches, mentors and business leaders will all admit that with pride.

How long is a new hire’s honeymoon period where they’re really willing to learn? Or a student, for that matter? How long do you want to wait for that manager to get trained up?

Creating the conditions for learning is always going to be a challenge, but using the right LMS software is going to take a ton of the legwork out. 

Everyone can focus on their work instead of fighting with a frustrating system.

K-12 teachers have enough on their plate without having to reinvent the way they instruct. Using Schoology LMS, teachers can stick with what they know and utilize the best-in-class platform to deliver their lessons.

For higher education, D2L Brightspace is going to make student, faculty, and administrator lives much easier. Professors have the flexibility to design the exact online learning experience their courses need without overwhelming students. Administrators get the visibility and control they need to manage a constantly changing environment.

Looking at the corporate LMS software, Looop should be the choice for small business and Docebo for enterprise.

Looop is lighter but still very powerful, and it comes in at a reasonable price point for SMBs who don’t need to train hundreds of people each month. 

Docebo, on the other hand, is built to scale with enterprise growth. Learners inside and outside the company are well supported by the platform.

In terms of selling online courses, Tovuti is the complete package. People monetize and deliver engaging content, and the platform is packed with marketing features designed to grow their audience.

For people who are using WordPress to grow their business (something I endorse wholeheartedly), SenseiLMS will let them turn their blog into a classroom. A couple clicks, a little planning, and now their WordPress site is paying for itself.

The post Best Learning Management Systems appeared first on Neil Patel.

Entrepreneurship

Best Small Business CRM Software

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Most small business owners that I know want more, happier customers.

Customer relationship management (CRM) software is designed to help companies with that exact goal. So why aren’t they using it?

My guess is that it’s because CRM software has a reputation for being massive, expensive, and really challenging to use.

That was true, but it’s not anymore.

In fact, there are dozens of CRM software solutions that small businesses can start using this afternoon. They’re affordable, sleek, and ready to help teams connect with customers on their own terms.

Here’s my list for the best CRM software choices to take your small business to the next level.

The Top 4 Options For Small Business CRM Software

  1. HubSpot – Best for scaling quickly
  2. Nutshell – Best for B2B sales teams
  3. Less Annoying CRM – Most affordable solution for sales and marketing
  4. Nimble – Best for teams using Microsoft 365

How to Choose the Best Small Business CRM Software for You

A small business owner could spend a full year trying out every CRM software option, and they might make it through a quarter of the products available right now.

To find a product that’s going to work—without spending a lifetime doing it—you’ll need to focus on what’s really going to really add value, save time, and provide useful insight for your company.

Right out of the gate, you are going to be able to eliminate some otherwise decent options by looking at how the nuts and bolts line up with your specific situation. 

I’ve called these the essential considerations. With CRM software for small business, these points are even more important. Here’s why:

  • Ease-of-use: Everyone using the CRMs has to input accurate information or the platform will be useless. Avoid an elaborate onboarding process for every hire by finding something that’s easy enough for non-techies to use and troubleshoot issues on their own.
  • Integrations: A CRM has to tie into the tools you are already using. Direct integrations are great because DIY and API integrations can easily break at scale. Centralizing the tools a small business uses is better than adding to the stack.
  • Channels: A CRM has to collect customer information no matter where it’s coming from—talk, text, chat, social, and so on. If it can only connect with a limited number of the channels you use, information will be incomplete, and customer experience fragmented.
  • Price: If growth is the goal, the platform you choose should fit your budget moving forward. Cost may vary based on numbers of users, contacts, emails, etc. Budget this out to avoid hitting annoying limits or having to switch CRMs. No small business wants to spend resources migrating their customer data while they’re trying to grow.

There may be a CRM that strikes you as very appealing until you discover that the must-have integrations and channels are not available. It’s better to double-check the essential considerations before getting into the nitty gritty.

Once you find a shortlist of products that satisfy these, then it’s time to look at how each product manages the three core responsibilities of CRM software as they relate to your business: contact management, process automation, and reporting & business intelligence.

Organizing and tracking contacts

The chief responsibility of CRM software is to help companies organize and track every contact in their database. How they accomplish this goal is a little different from one platform to another.

Small business owners need to ask the following questions about each option:

  • Will it help teams grow their contact list? Look for sites, landing pages, forms, and other touchpoints where interested customers can find the business and establish a connection.
  • Will it help teams refine their contact list? Look for products with robust segmentation features.
  • Will it help teams manage their contact list? Look for tools that allow users to make notes, set appointments, and schedule calls directly within the interface.
  • Will it provide teams with real-time customer insights? Look for tools that make entire customer histories available no matter where users are working (inbox, chat, phone, etc.)
  • Will it help teams meet their goals? Look for options that provide frameworks for reaching objectives like closing deals, resolving customer problems, and nurturing long-term relationships.

When it comes to CRM software, small businesses need a tool that’s going to help them reach all those bolded objectives.

For some, this is going to entail a sales pipeline and marketing automation features. Others may be more focused on outfitting an ultra-responsive help desk. Some may need all of it.

Some will also come with outreach tools you can use on social media, turning passerbys on Twitter and Facebook into your next customer. 

Start with your customer-focused goals, and work backwards from there to figure out which CRM software is going to really help your teams stay on top of every relationship.

Process automation

Generally speaking, there are two different levels of automation that come with CRM software. Both can make a big difference to small businesses.

The first is automating routine tasks like data entry. 

These platforms create contacts automatically whenever a rep or agent starts a conversation with a customer who is not in the database. Instead of having to go in and create a customer, the CRM software auto-generates a new profile or gives a user the option to create it in a single click. 

Some CRMs look at the domain on the email, scour public databases, and fill in as much information as possible on its own. Some will automate list segmentation, which essentially groups customers based on criteria you set, such as age, gender, buying habits, or location.

A marketing team that wants to get thousands of emails out to interested customers can query the CRM based on relevant criteria (for example, customers who subscribed in the last 90 days) and their list is ready to go.

Each minute saved is more time to generate leads, close deals, and resolve issues. Plus, all the customer data is right there, all the time, with no extra time spent hunting it down.This is just one example, but good CRM software is constantly working behind the scenes to eliminate many of the routine tasks, saving minutes during every interaction.

It also makes automating workflows a very powerful capability. The marketing team that just generated a list of thousands of recent subscribers can begin an automated email campaign instantly.

As contacts enter the sales pipeline, tasks can automatically be assigned to the right rep. When a customer has a problem, they can automatically be routed to the right agent.

From streamlining customer onboarding processes to closing more deals quickly, CRM software can help small businesses do more with less..

Reporting and business intelligence

CRM software gets loaded with information that can help small businesses make decisions about where to focus their energy and resources.

This goes way beyond simple metrics like conversion rates. Say you want to increase the number of customer service interactions that are resolved on the first call. CRM software can provide the information necessary for teams to see what tactics are working and pivot accordingly.

With segmentation features and a rich picture of each relationship, you can really drill down into why some leads are converting and others are not. 

Some of the more robust CRM platforms come with rich analytics features that convert overwhelming amounts of customer data into clear visualizations. Many let you customize dashboards to track key metrics, turning your database into actionable insights.

The Different Types of Small Business CRM Software

For a lot of SMBs, the really ritzy CRM software is not a feasible option. 

Taking the prohibitively expensive and chunky products off the table, there are two types of CRM software that work great for small businesses. These will keep costs reasonable without sacrificing on the important functions that companies need.

Free CRM software

I’ve blogged about the best free CRM software, which can be an amazing zero-cost solution for small businesses.

They can handle the core CRM duties, like contact organization and tracking, as well as other features that vary depending on the platform. Some have sales pipelines, others have helpdesk features geared toward customer service.

There are limits, sure. The reporting won’t be as detailed and there’s definitely less ability to customize the platform. But depending on an organization’s needs, these free forever products can work for months, if not years.

And even when they won’t work as a long-term solution, these options actually give people a chance to really understand the tools. Instead of testing the product during a 2-4 week trial, companies can see how it performs across a few business cycles.

Specialized CRM software

Marketing teams need to start relationships with customers they don’t know yet. So the toolkit they need is going to be different from customer service, even if they are doing a lot of the same things, like organizing contacts, responding to emails, and sharing content.

To this end, some of the most useful CRM software for small business is built to serve the specific needs of different departments. These are:

  • Sales CRM software
  • Marketing CRM software
  • Customer service CRM software

Specialized CRM software may come as a standalone solution, like Nutshell, or as a modular part of a larger system that can be purchased individually.

Hubspot, for example, offers CRM software for marketing, sales and customer service. People can pick one, two, or all three of these modules.

#1 – HubSpot — Best for scaling quickly

HubSpotCRM is the option for small businesses that are on the fence about whether or not they need dedicated CRM software. 

First of all, their freemium plan is bananas in terms of how much they give you. You get chatbots, sales pipelines, and literally dozens of other features you would normally have to pay for. 

On top of that, you get unlimited users and it’s free forever, so you don’t have to worry about how many contacts you make while you’re trying to grow.

When you are ready, you can upgrade individual “Hubs” to get advanced tools for sales, marketing, customer service, and content management. Only pay for what you need.

Okay, so let’s take a look at how the free HubSpotCRM can make an impact on day one.

Inside a HubSpot-enabled inbox, for example, users can see every contact’s history in a sidebar. This includes past interactions (across any channel), but also recent activities from the contact’s social channels.

It provides every HubSpot user with up-to-date customer insight no matter where they are working. Whether they are chatting with a confused customer or crafting a proposal, agents and reps can deliver personalized, relevant information with ease.

HubSpot can do this because everything is centralized within a client record in the CRM. Every ticket, conversation, and email is captured and organized without any legwork.

Cutting down on data entry frees people up, giving them more time to dedicate to each client. 

In addition to phenomenal contact management, there is a ton more functionality in their free plan, which includes:

  • Ticketing
  • Live chat and conversational bots
  • Reporting dashboards
  • Gmail and Outlook integration
  • Email tracking and notification
  • VoIP calling

There’s even more on top of that, believe me. 

It will take a little time for users to get fully acquainted with everything that’s included. One, because there is so much, and two, because HubSpot has their own jargon and way of doing things known as inbound marketing.

This isn’t a downside at all, considering how many companies have used inbound marketing to explode their customer base. 

If you are already all about inbound marketing, HubSpot is far and away the obvious choice for CRM software. And even if you aren’t, the platform is flexible enough to work for any strategy, and easy enough to get people onboard. 

With the premium Hubs, you’ll be able automate processes by  building out workflows for customer service, sales automation, marketing automation, email automation, and more.

Looking at pricing for the paid plans, the Starter Growth Suite is a great option for small businesses that will benefit from Hubspot’s premium features. It starts at $50/month, and comes with additional features for sales, marketing, and customer service.

For companies that are already using HubSpot’s marketing and sales tools, the addition of their CRM software is a no-brainer. 

For teams new to CRM, HubSpot’s freemium plan is really generous. A small business will be able to get a good sense of whether or not they like the HubSpot way of doing things.

And if they like HubSpot, nothing else will do. Try it for free today.

#2 – Nutshell — Best for B2B Sales Teams

Nutshell offers a nice balance of user-friendliness and sophistication that works extremely well for B2B sales teams.

Reps get the information, support, and collaborative tools they need to start selling smarter, even over a long sales cycle. 

B2B deals take time and engagement with various stakeholders throughout the process. Keeping track of everything that’s involved across multiple deals is hard. 

Nutshell keeps important people and conversations from falling through the cracks. Their CRM interface is really welcoming (your reps will actually want to use it) and their mobile app is just as good.

Edit contacts, log meeting notes, receive alerts, and scan business cards to create new leads, all directly within the iOS or Android app.

Lots of CRM software options come with mobile apps, but not all of them have a great reputation. HubSpot, for example, has a lot of work to do in this area, whereas Nutshell provides a best-in-breed service.

Sales reps need the ability to provide a quote without having to call back to the office. With the Nutshell mobile app, they can access client information, product catalogs, and generate a quote on the spot.

The iron doesn’t stay hot forever, especially in a crowded space full of competitors that are reaching out to your customers on every channel.

Nutshell is also loaded with tools that help B2B sales teams coordinate. Never miss another lead, double-book an appointment, or forget to touch base with features including:

  • Customizable sales pipelines
  • Leaderboards
  • Communication histories
  • Activity reminders
  • Team @mentions and alerts
  • Click-to-call and phone recordings

The reporting and performance tracking features make sales management more efficient and productive over the long term. 

Sales leaders get both real-time insights from customizable dashboards and the ability to pull reports about new leads, losses, win-rate, pipeline growth, sales cycle size, and more.

Pricing for Nutshell is really straight forward:

  • Starter: $19/month per user
  • Pro: $35/month per user

With Starter, you get a sleek, no-frills CRM software solution that will work wonders for your sales team. With Pro, you get many more tools for sales automation, including:

  • Guided sales process builder
  • Automated lead assignment, advancement, and pipeline distribution
  • Post-sale lead management

Nutshell syncs with G Suite, Microsoft 365, Outlook, and Exchange. They also offer one-click integrations with the best email marketing services, like MailChimp and Constant Contact, as well as other important business tools like Slack and Quickbooks.

Out-of-the-box, no other small business CRM software is as well designed for the challenges that face smaller B2B sales teams. It comes down to the fully-functional mobile app, the collaborative tools, and the rich sales reporting.

Nutshell is like getting the best parts of Salesforce at a fraction of the price. It won’t work across the entire organization as well, but for a B2B-focused sales team, everything is right there. The only difference is that Nutshell is much easier to use and doesn’t require a developer to set up.

Nutshell’s customer support is always available by phone, email, or chat, and there is a comprehensive self-service knowledge base online. They also offer free data importing assistance when you sign up, making the transition as smooth as possible.

Empower your sales team and start your 14-day free trial of Nutshell today.

#3 – Less Annoying CRM — Most Affordable Solution for Sales and Marketing

Less Annoying CRM has one goal and I bet you can guess what it is.

It’s a simple platform with transparent, affordable pricing. They know that small businesses need a CRM solution but can’t spend all of their money or time on software. 

Enter Less Annoying CRM, or LACRM for short.

This is a low-cost, high-performance tool for managing and organizing all of a company’s contacts in a single platform. Users sign into their LACRM workspace and are instantly brought up to speed about all their most important customer relationships.

There is an agenda of their events for the day, a prioritized task list, a pipeline report, and an activity report. Individuals can see the status of all their activities and leaders will also be able to see the activity status of anyone they manage.

Say goodbye to post-it notes and forgotten conversations. 

Every task, appointment, and document can be linked to an individual contact or company. Because every member has all the information they need in front of them, there’s no more emailing back and forth to figure out a course of action.

I really recommend LACRM for companies that want to make the lives of their sales and marketing teams more manageable, but don’t want to pay through the nose. It’s not the most visually appealing platform on the market, and the email integration can be finicky at times.

There’s also no customer service module. This is something to keep in mind if you plan on having a unified CRM in the future, as LACRM does not have pre-built integrations for other CRM or help desk software.

Still, for sales and marketing, LACRM is stocked with features to increase outreach and drive sales, including:

  • Built-in calendar
  • Customizable pipelines
  • Role-based access control
  • Customizable fields for contacts
  • Email integration
  • Integration with MailChimp

LACRM is definitely a pipeline-focused product, which is great for sales. But it’s really flexible. Teams can use the platform to develop referral programs, loyalty programs, as well as track customer feedback and marketing expenses.

The price of LACRM is $15/month per user. End of story. There are no contracts, pricing tiers, usage limits, or upsells.

It’s not going to work as well for larger companies with complex reporting and automation requirements. For smaller businesses and teams, though, LACRM is winning over users everyday.

It’s just the tool they are looking for, at a price that makes sense.

Their focus on being less annoying extends to their customer service. When you sign up, they take pains to make the process as easy as possible, reaching out and assisting wherever you need help.

Updates are seamless and free. Your data is always backed up on multiple Amazon Web Services servers.

If less annoying sounds good, you can try their platform free for 30-days without giving your credit card information. After that, it’s a predictable monthly payment with absolutely no surprise charges.

#4 – Nimble — Best for Teams Using Microsoft 365

Nimble is a great CRM for small businesses that don’t want to change the way they do business. It has integrations with more than 160 business apps that will pull all of your contacts, conversations, appointments, inboxes, and social media connections into a single interface.

For teams that are using the Microsoft 365 productivity suite (formerly Office 365), Nimble is simply the best CRM. 

Tools like Microsoft Outlook are set up to handle basic contact management needs, but users constantly find that they have to Google information or keep multiple tabs open to track everything they need.

With Nimble enabled, Outlook is smarter. The Nimble sidebar contains rich information about each contact, as well as any linked appointments, deals, events, and so on.

Instead of the basic info, Nimble provides a full digital dossier of the contact, which is always up to date across your Microsoft environment. Whether you are working in Teams, SharePoint, or Dynamics, all of the information you need is within the interface.

Think of it as the missing CRM piece for Microsoft 365. Your teams can still work the way they always have, but now they get features like:

  • Sales pipelines
  • Intelligent email tracking
  • Activity reminders, alerts, and notifications
  • List segmentation features
  • Sales and customer dashboard
  • Sales forecasting and analytics
  • Group email marketing

Nimble doesn’t have a dedicated customer service module, so I really recommend it on its sales and marketing merits. If you really need customer service, HubSpot has you covered and provides a similar feel, though the Microsoft 365 integration is not as tight.

The pricing for Nimble Business starts at $19/month per user. One thing to note is that each user gets 2GB of storage, after which it is $10/month per 10 GB of additional storage. 

Nimble works with G Suite, as well, but the Microsoft 365 integration is more complete, making it a better choice for companies that have already invested time and energy in the Microsoft ecosystem.

Try Nimble free for 14 days to see if your teams reap the benefits of a more streamlined experience.

Microsoft may release CRM software one of these days, though it will probably cost a lot more than Nimble and come with features no small business is asking for. 

Summary

I started blogging more than 10 years ago. Just me and a screen. 

My business has a lot of moving parts now. Though it’s still “small” by the industry standard of less than 50 people, we communicate with thousands of customers every hour through our content, emails, newsletters, and podcasts.

Small teams need powerful tools when it comes to managing customer relationships. All of these CRM options provide the features necessary for teams to stay organized as they grow.

For teams looking to expand their outreach, Less Annoying CRM is going to get the job done at a really competitive price. As they benefit from being able to connect with more customers, they can bring on new team members at the same low rate.

Teams that are working in a Microsoft environment should shortlist Nimble. It’s been engineered to work across the Microsoft environment, meaning teams aren’t going to have to change their processes to get onboard.

For B2B sales teams, Nutshell is purpose-built to handle the long, unpredictable sales cycle. The collaborative tools and powerful mobile app enable every rep to be ready to strike when the iron is hot.

If you are looking for a full-stack CRM solution, HubSpot is the choice for small business. The freemium plan is second to none, in terms of depth, and it’s the only option on this list that has a dedicated customer service module.

The post Best Small Business CRM Software appeared first on Neil Patel.

Entrepreneurship

Best WordPress Themes

Disclosure: This content is reader-supported, which means if you click on some of our links that we may earn a commission.

All businesses need a good website.

The sites must load quickly, and they need to have a winning design.

The good news is there’s a wide variety of excellent WordPress themes that do just that.

WordPress themes use different layouts to present content beautifully and boost engagement with your brand.

I’ve put together a guide to the best WordPress themes available now to help get you started.

The Top 7 Options For WordPress Themes: 

  1. Astra — The Best WordPress Theme for Beginners
  2. Sydney — The Best WordPress Theme for Freelancers
  3. Foodie Pro — The Best WordPress Theme for Food Bloggers
  4. Jayla — The Best WordPress Theme for Online Shops
  5. Zakra — The Best WordPress Theme for SEO
  6. Tusant — The Best WordPress Theme for Podcast Creators
  7. Travel Way — The Best WordPress Theme for Travel Bloggers

How to Choose The Best WordPress Themes For You

Deciding on a single WordPress theme for your brand can be overwhelming. There are tons of options out there, and it can be difficult to know where to start. If you’re struggling to pick one, try thinking about the complete picture.

The first aspect to think about is whether you should get a free or paid WordPress theme. The difference isn’t just in the pricing.

A free WordPress theme can offer a lot to the right person, but it’s worth knowing some of the drawbacks. The main one is the lack of ongoing support for that specific theme, which, in most cases, can mean you’re left tracking down the original creator’s email for help when something breaks.

Far from ideal.

Not to mention that the same free themes can pop up on many websites, taking away originality from your branding.

But you can usually try out a theme for free before deciding to invest in the full paid version, so they do have their uses.

Paid themes are a better bet for brands in general, though. They generally include regular updates and support, higher levels of customization, and higher-quality code.

Another thing to mention is that WordPress.org, or ‘self-hosted WordPress,’ (as opposed to WordPress.com) is the best bet for most businesses as it gives a greater level of control and is cheaper overall. This extends to themes, availability, and customization.

With that said, I’ve seen some top brands on WordPress.com, or ‘hosted WordPress,’ with some genuinely dazzling themes, too.

If you’re in doubt, I’d still say go for WordPress.org.

Other key things to think about are the following:

Theme Functionality

Thinking about functionality is very important. I’m talking about what you need a site to do to conduct business.

Do you need social media icons that link out to brand accounts? How about a comment section or forum, and what about the e-commerce side of things like a shop?

In other words, you need to think hard about the features you need.

The great news is that WordPress plugins can add a significant number of extras whenever you want, but it’s worth looking into the functionality of a theme you like.

For example, specific themes might be coded in such a way that adding a forum could prove difficult.

If you like a theme, make sure you’ve done your research before buying it and that it can support your core needs.

Site Responsiveness

How responsive a site is can make it or break it. It’s that simple. There are more devices out there than ever before, and the list keeps on growing.

Can the theme you’ve chosen adjust to these different devices?

A mobile reader needs to have the same complete experience as a desktop user, so any good WordPress theme will adapt to this on a case-by-case basis. Don’t forget that Google has made it mandatory for sites to be mobile responsive, which can affect your rankings in a big way.

Mobile traffic is increasing every year, so a responsive WordPress theme is essential. Most WordPress themes include this as standard, but not all do, and free themes often don’t. Think carefully about this when researching.

Page Builders

A good page builder will allow you to drag and drop to create pages with little fuss.

Most WordPress themes come bundled with page builders, but not all of them do. Some themes may even use a bespoke page builder that could slow down a site with unwanted code.

Ideally, you want a WordPress theme optimized to work with the best page builders, particularly if you have a preference.

You could find a WordPress theme that provides almost everything you want, only to find it’s incompatible with your favorite builder. Or buy one that features a proprietary builder, but it’s just not very good. Too late, though, because you’ve already purchased it.

Browser Support

A theme can load smoothly and look beautiful on your browser, but what about on your customer’s browser? It’s worth noting that not all themes will work correctly on every browser, so a good deal of testing is a sound idea.

You can usually check a browser’s compatibility under a WordPress theme’s details, but the developers won’t always list this. In that case, test it yourself.

It’s as simple as downloading a few of the most popular browsers, loading up your site with its new theme, and seeing what works and what doesn’t.

More often than not, you’ll find an issue or two that only occurs on a specific browser. I’ve seen pages breaking inexplicably on certain browsers while others were fine. This is often an overlooked area, so it’s prudent to get ahead of any potential issues.

Different Types of WordPress Themes

WordPress can be a little more complicated than you might first think. It isn’t just free themes versus paid themes or basic versus premium themes.

There are quite a few different groupings of themes, but they can be split down into the following core clusters:

Starter Themes

A starter WordPress theme is essentially a skeleton of a theme. These themes offer the vital infrastructure a WordPress theme needs, but that’s all.

From there, it’s up to you to create the rest of the site. For some brands, that might be just what they want, and for others, it might be a scary thought and too much work.

The idea is that these themes are minimal in design and are malleable and very customizable.

Framework Themes

Framework WordPress themes are all about meshing together different parts. A framework theme combines a parent and child theme into a fully functional and customizable theme.

A child theme is effectively an add-on that goes on top of a parent theme. This allows you to modify and tweak a site to your heart’s content.

A parent theme, on the other hand, is the base theme underneath. It can operate alone, but you can’t modify it without the child theme’s help.

The advantage of these themes is that they can be turned into something unique using the parent theme’s existing structure as the starting point.

Tailored Themes

Tailored themes are another category. These are themes designed by a professional team tailored to your specific niche and needs.

You can tailor a theme yourself, of course, but if you have the budget, a theme designed and created by a team could prove to be far more successful and can be built exactly how you want.

Be warned, though, these can be expensive.

#1 – Astra — The Best WordPress Theme for Beginners

We all have to start somewhere, and the same is true with WordPress themes. Where do you even begin? The answer is with Astra.

Astra is our top pick for WordPress beginners for its slick customization options, high level of functionality, and the considerable number of free extensions available for it.

I mentioned earlier that ensuring great page builders were compatible with a theme was important, and Astra doesn’t disappoint. Some of the most popular page builder plugins, like Elementor and Beaver Builder, are easily used with it.

On top of that, Astra offers a lightweight experience, allowing it to load exceptionally quickly. That’s without mentioning the super easy customization and pre-built options for blogs, portfolios, and online shops.

Other key features of the Astra theme include:

  • Dedicated sidebar
  • WooCommerce ready
  • Mega-menu
  • Mobile headers
  • Fluid layout
  • Spacing control
  • Custom fonts
  • Infinite loading

In terms of pricing, you can get Astra for free, and this provides you with a basic theme able to get you up and running. For some, it might be all they need.

There is also a pro version of Astra available that offers additional settings and options. The pro version is a must if you need a great deal of customization and new layouts. You can purchase it for $59.

#2 – Sydney — The Best WordPress Theme for Freelancers

Whether you’re a freelance marketer, editor, or content writer, an excellent theme to show off your accomplishments and details is essential.

That is where Sydney comes in. This is a powerful and feature-rich theme ideal for freelancers, both those new to the industry and those who have been doing it for years and might want to change things up.

Sydney has more than 600 different Google fonts to choose from, and users have access to a full-screen slider, which can make a strong first impression on potential clients.

I also like the custom Elementor blocks that can be designed just how you want, enabling you to focus on getting your branding right.

Other features of the Sydney theme include:

  • Slider or static image header
  • Translation ready
  • Social buttons
  • Cross-browser support
  • Regular updates
  • Live customizer
  • Parallax backgrounds
  • Color controls

Sydney has a free version, and you’ll have access to a lot of vital features.

With that said, the pro license only costs $59, and the upgrade will allow you to take things to the next level with extra page options, templates, WooCommerce, video headers, and more.

It’s a good idea for most freelancers and small businesses.

#3 – Foodie Pro — The Best WordPress Theme for Food Bloggers

This compelling WordPress theme is perfect for sharing new recipes and the best cooking tips with your online audience.

Minimalist and clean, yet offering loads of features and specific design choices, you can’t go wrong with Foodie Pro.

Consisting of the Genesis Framework—both secure and search-engine-optimized—Foodie Pro offers an almost countless number of color and typography options.

You’ll be able to upload your brand’s logo quickly, and a selection of pre-built templates only helps speed things up if you’re in a hurry to launch.

Other features of Foodie Pro include:

  • Customizable header
  • Mobile responsive
  • Widget areas
  • Recipe index
  • Works with popular plugins
  • Child theme based on the Genesis Framework
  • WordPress customizer
  • Lightweight design

There’s no free version of Foodie Pro, but you can buy the theme and complete framework package for $129.95, which I think is a fair offer based on what you can do with it.

There’s also a Genesis Pro option for those who love the framework and want to invest further. The Genesis Pro variant includes access to additional support and every future theme the company releases.

Genesis Pro is a good choice for those with big plans and costs $360 a year.

#4 – Jayla — The Best WordPress Theme for Online Shops

The Jayla theme offers a minimal and contemporary approach to the e-commerce industry, allowing you to create a store and sell products online with ease.

Jayla is built around the popular and powerful WooCommerce plugin, which means you’ll have access to a large number of features.

Jayla also gives you access to multi-block builders to speed up your site’s creation and an almost unlimited number of colors for your layout.

Perhaps most impressive is the wide variety of shops you can build with the theme. From furniture shops to tech stores and everything in-between, Jayla is useful in most e-commerce scenarios.

Other highlights of the Jayla theme include:

  • One-click install demo
  • Lifetime support
  • Header and foot builder
  • Drag and drop page builder
  • Woo product filter
  • Compatible with Yoast SEO
  • WooCommerce product wishlist
  • Supports over 800 Google fonts

On the pricing side, Jayla costs just $59 for the regular license, which is more than enough to get your store started.

That regular license also adds in future updates for no extra cost and six months of support with site bugs and other issues.

If you want additional support, you can extend it to 12 months for $17.63.

#5 – Zakra — The Best WordPress Theme for SEO

Zakra isn’t just a memorable name—no, this stylish WordPress theme will help your brand rank higher on Google.

Zakra is optimized for the largest search engines, loads quickly, and supports almost all essential SEO plugins.

One particularly impressive feature is the 50 or so demos that are pre-built and ready to go with the theme.

These demos cover multiple scenarios you may need and can be quickly set up with a one-click demo importer. From there, you’ll be able to customize the demo to your liking.

One major advantage is the speed at which you can do this, so it’s an excellent option for those short on time.

The Zakra theme also delivers:

  • Lightweight designWooCommerce integration
  • Suitable across multiple devices
  • Compatible with key page builders
  • Translation-ready theme
  • Right-to-left text direction languages
  • Dynamic, customizable areas
  • Menu styling option

Zakra is free to use, but be aware that multiple features are locked out. Once you’re happy with the theme, you can upgrade to one of the more premium packages.

There are four pricing tiers, and all of them feature the Zakra Pro extras. The following prices are for lifetime access:

  • Personal: $112 for 1 site license
  • Personal Plus: $139 for 3 site licenses plus 30+ premium starter demos and Elementor companion
  • Professional: $259 for 10 site licenses plus 30+ premium starter demos and Elementor companion
  • Developer: $359 for unlimited site licenses plus 30+ premium starter demos, Elementor companion, and future plugins

You can also choose to pay via an annual fee. I think the Personal Plus package with a lifetime subscription would be a great option for most.

#6 – Tusant — The Best WordPress Theme for Podcast Creators

Tusant by Second Line is a first-rate theme that’s best suited for podcast creators, musicians, voice-over actors, and music streaming.

While many themes can offer flashy designs, Tusant is practical, too, allowing you to embed audio and video from multiple sources.

For example, a podcast creator would be able to embed an entire ongoing series with ease, while musicians could display their latest work. The developers say Tusant can showcase an unlimited number of entries.

What’s more, Tusant supports all of the vital podcasting plugins such as PowerPress, Seriously Simple Podcasting, and PodLove. You can host MP3 files locally, too, so there’s little to get in the way of your creativity.

Tusant also offers the following:

  • Over 900 Google fonts supported 
  • One-click theme install
  • Dedicated support
  • Responsive mobile design
  • WordPress built-in customizer
  • Full documentation for each section
  • Translation ready
  • Page builder support included

For the pricing, there are three distinct tiers from the Tusant creators:

  • Single Podcast Theme: $69 for one Second Line Podcast WordPress theme of your choice + 12 months of updates and support
  • Podcast Theme Bundle: $139 for access to all Second Lines Podcast WordPress themes + 12 months of updates and support
  • Lifetime access: $389 for unlimited lifetime access to all Second Lines Podcast  WordPress themes + lifetime updates and support

Second Line currently has five different podcast WordPress themes. Tusant offers multiple layouts, beautiful displays for playlists, and supports over 20 podcast hosting providers. If you’re a podcaster, you cannot go wrong with Tusant.

#7 – Travel Way — The Best WordPress Theme for Travel Bloggers

Travel Way is perfect for travel bloggers and photographers who want to show their locations’ real beauty. Travel Way is also great for travel agencies and portfolios.

With call-to-action buttons, multiple sections, and handy social icons, it’s a theme ready for the modern traveler.

The free version of Travel Way is flexible and highly customizable, with the option of setting up galleries, booking forms, services, and portfolios. There’s a huge amount you can do with this theme.

Even better, it works well with all of the major browsers, is very responsive, and offers unlimited pages for each section of your site.

Other attractive features of Travel Way include:

  • Featured sections
  • More than nine custom widgets
  • Testimonials
  • Tour packages
  • Custom sidebar areas
  • Full layout controls
  • Page builder compatible
  • Extensive slider options

The pro version features advanced custom widgets, multiple options for comment sections, more menu and logo positions, and quite a bit more.

It costs just $55 for personal use and $99 for developers, so if you’re pretty set on the theme, I wouldn’t hesitate to upgrade for the rest of the features.

Summary

There are tons of beautiful WordPress themes out there, and my list has given you just a snapshot of everything you can do on the platform. But many themes work better for specific uses.

The picks on the list offer some of the best themes available in their respective areas:

  • Astra — The Best WordPress Theme for Beginners
  • Sydney — The Best WordPress Theme for Freelancers
  • Foodie Pro — The Best WordPress Theme for Food Bloggers
  • Jayla — The Best WordPress Theme for Online Shops
  • Zakra — The Best WordPress Theme for SEO
  • Tusant — The Best WordPress Theme for Podcast Creators
  • Travel Way — The Best WordPress Theme for Travel Bloggers

Whether you’re a freelancer, travel blogger, podcaster, or you want to launch an online shop, WordPress has got you covered.

The best part is how much you can do with a single theme, so dive in and get started.

The sky really is the limit.

The post Best WordPress Themes appeared first on Neil Patel.

Entrepreneurship

Best Task Management Software

Disclosure: This content is reader-supported, which means if you click on some of our links that we may earn a commission.

Most project managers confess to having problems with defining clear objectives. And even when goals are clear, it can be challenging to measure progress. Furthermore, it is not always clear who should be working on which tasks. By deploying the right resources at the right time, you can significantly boost team members’ productivity.

Task management software helps solve the challenges mentioned above and much more. You don’t even have to be working in a team to benefit from this software. Prioritizing your tasks helps you systematically approach your goal, increasing the chances of finishing your project on time and within budget.

Task management can be chaotic, especially when working in a team environment with complex tasks and interdependencies. To this end, I have picked out the best seven task management software tools to help you streamline this essential workflow process.

The Top 7 Options For Task Management Software

  1. ClickUp – Best Free Task Management Software
  2. Trello – Best For Individuals And Small Teams
  3. Wrike – Best For Reporting
  4. WorkFlow Max – Best For Business Management
  5. Jira – Best For Large Agile Teams
  6. Microsoft To-Do – Best For Personal Use
  7. Accelo – Best For Automation

How To Choose The Best Task Management Software For You

It helps if you have a good idea of the features to look for in task management software. What makes good task management software may vary slightly depending on your specific needs and industry. Once you have an overview of what to look out for, you can then pick out the features that seem to fit your bill and use this as the basis for choosing specific software.

When thinking of purchasing a task management software, don’t be afraid to take advantage of multiple free trials to find the one that best suits your needs. And be aware that some software on this list includes free options. 

Some of the most crucial features, and the ones I used when compiling this review include:

Task Creation

This is the most basic function of a task management tool. You should be able to create tasks and assign them accordingly. Look for custom fields. This feature helps you to define the task so that the assignee understands it easily.

It also helps if the tool allows you to add links, photos, videos, documents, and comments to tasks. Additionally, you should be able to quickly sort the job by your preferred criteria, such as by task, due date, department, or resource.

Notifications as deadlines draw close is a bonus.

Communication Tools

Communication is indispensable in a team working towards a common goal. Good task management software should have built-in communication tools. This could be a discussion board, instant messaging, or both.

Discussion boards are handy for large teams. Everyone can see what other team members are talking about. Some task management tools will even let you create task cards out of these discussions. This feature can come in handy during a productive brainstorming session.

Visualization

Once the project is underway, it helps if team members can have simple visuals of the process as it unfolds. Kanban boards do this very well, offering a simple view of individual tasks and their progress. The drag-and-drop feature of kanban boards also makes them easy to work with.

Gnatt charts are also very popular for task management. These charts are familiar and offer plenty of information at a glance, including assignee, start and end dates, dependencies, and completion percentage.

Reporting

Creating reports can be tedious, but it is an essential part of task management. Software with a reporting tool makes the process much more comfortable. You can insert and collect data regarding budget, expenses, performance, resource allocation, and more.

Some software has templates, automated reporting based on pre-defined criteria, and customized reporting. Look for reporting features that will provide you with the highest value information for your needs. 

Notifications

You cannot expect team members to be on the dashboard at all times. You will be reassigning tasks, adding comments, or making other changes to jobs. Notifications help keep everyone in the loop in real-time of any changes. Some task management software will also notify users of upcoming deadlines or other urgent actions that need to be taken.

The Different Types Of Task Management Software

There are three basic types of task management software. 

Individual Task Management Software

A single person uses individual task management software. You may think of this as your day planner, calendar, or diary. This software is often simple and has basic features to create lists and track progress.

The software may be installed on various machines or accessed as a cloud service by multiple people. Even in these cases, the tool is for personal use. This option is perfect for coordinating simple office or personal tasks.

Collaborative Task Management Software

As the name suggests, collaborative task management software is used by a team. This software is interactive, allowing team members to change their projects’ status as they progress through the workflow cycle. Collaborative software is designed for a single team working on a joint project.

Integrated Task Management Software

You’ll often see this type of software in large organizations. A single interface collects and displays project information from a diverse group of teams. Project managers can access data for all ongoing projects and teams from a single interface. The software typically integrates with additional file-sharing tools like Outlook, email, Dropbox, Slack, and more.

#1 – ClickUp – Best Free Task Management Software

ClickUp is an excellent option if you have a small team and cannot yet justify the cost of task management software. Some companies that use this tool include Uber, Nike, Google, and Airbnb.

ClickUp has a free version with an incredible suite of features and capabilities. The free version also supports unlimited tasks and unlimited members.

You get many advanced features, including automation, mind maps, goals, portfolio, sprints, Gantt charts, real-time collaborations, workload view, and more than 50 native integrations.

The software’s layout is user-friendly and allows you to break down tasks into subtasks for easier management. One subtle but handy feature is the assignable comments feature. You can convert comments into independent tasks with the click of a button. 

The mentions feature is also quite useful for getting team members’ attention.

ClickUp is also highly customizable, and you have free reign to customize status toolbars, tasks, categories, sections, and comments. The features and functionality of the free plan are almost as good as some paid task management software.

ClickUp has a free version as well as three paid plans, including:

  • Unlimited: $5 per member per month
  • Business: $9 per member per month
  • Enterprise: Contact the ClickUp sales team for pricing.

You may need to go for a paid plan if you find that the free version is too restrictive or need more spaces. However, this is highly unlikely for a small team with a relatively simple workflow. 

#2 – Trello – Best Task Management Software for Individuals and Simple Workflow

Trello is a task management tool in the best sense. You can equally think of this software as a Kanban board app. The software includes boards, lists, and cards, allowing you to create as many projects and columns as you need to track progress.

You can assign tasks to team members, attach files to each task, create checklists, and add comments, tag members, and link files. Trello is highly customizable, allowing you to annotate cards with labels so you can quickly identify them.

The drag-and-drop feature is very handy. Team members simply slide their cards from one column to the next (e.g., from To Do to In Progress) as they hit the various milestones. The board view keeps everything clearly organized and labeled.

The Power-Up feature is worth noting. You can add integrations and features to your boards, including custom fields, social media, document management, time-tracking, and calendar view. The free version offers only one power-up, but you get more with the paid plans.

Trello’s plan tiers include:

  • Free Version
  • Business Class: $9.99 per user per month
  • Enterprise: $17.50 per user per month

Trello is a perfect tool for project managers who want a quick and straightforward overview of the workflow. The free version is equally suitable for an individual managing a startup or even a household. The software has over 19 million users worldwide, including Adobe, Fender, Pixer, and Google.

#3 – Wrike – Best Task Management Software For Reporting

Strictly speaking, Wrike is a project management tool, and you can see this with its robust and powerful features. You can see who is assigned which task, the duration for the task, dependencies, and the task’s progress from one simple dashboard.

You can view and manage projects using lists, tables, kanban boards, and Gantt charts. By default, Wrike sorts tasks by status (active or complete), but you can customize the headers for additional workflow categories.

Despite its numerous features, Wrike is straightforward to use. You can choose from templates for project scheduling, agile teamwork, marketing campaign management, product launch, professional services management, complex project with phases, and much more.

Another handy feature is the document editor. This one allows you to edit documents directly on the cloud without first having to download them. The purpose-built templates also make this software very easy to use. 

Additional features include:

  • Advanced integrations
  • File sharing
  • Collaborators
  • Calendars
  • Graphical analytics
  • Time tracking
  • Salesforce integration
  • User audit report
  • Automation engine

The Business plan or higher comes highly recommended for its reporting capabilities. You can share reports in real-time, have access to report templates, and schedule report notifications.

Wrike also has add-on features you can integrate into your account by paying an additional fee. Wrike Analyze, for example, is basically a business intelligence tool. You don’t need to export, run, or manage reports anywhere else except your account. You can create highly customized, highly visual reports. Choose from 15 different visuals, including heatmaps, pie charts, and column charts. You can also create a dashboard just for reporting.

Wrike has a free plan and three paid tiers:

  • Professional: $9.80 per user per month
  • Business: $24.80 per user per month
  • Enterprise: Contact Wrike for pricing

Wrike is straightforward to use for such a feature-rich task management tool.

#4 – WorkFlow Max – Best Task Management Software For Business Management

WorkFlow Max does everything you would need task management software to do and more. You can assign tasks complete with a to-do checklist, estimate task times, and set due dates. You can track the progress of the entire project and individual tasks making up the project.

You can also view jobs based on the assignee, important date, progress, or deadline. You can also view the completed percentage of each task in real-time. There is an automated feature for assigning recurring jobs complete with start and end dates, templates, descriptions, and categories.

The advanced time tracking feature allows you to record time in eight different ways. Additionally, you can include details of how time is spent, which is useful for creating detailed reports. Time tracking with the software also helps you compare the actual time it takes to complete tasks compared to the estimated time.

WorkFlow Max also helps with billing and payments. You can send out invoices, manage un-invoiced jobs, and track job costs. The job costing feature is particularly useful and tracks the estimated cost down to individual tasks. It also tracks quoted costs and the actual costs. WorkFlow Max all but guarantees you will be sending out accurate quotes.

Additional WorkFlow Max features include:

  • Document management
  • Lead manager
  • Client manager
  • Purchase orders
  • Custom fields
  • Xero integration
  • Reporting
  • Notifications

WorkFlow Max is owned by Xero and easily integrates with the latter’s software and systems, including Xero Accounting Software. This tool also integrates with more than 25 other products, including Dropbox, Box, Adobe Time Tracking, Actual, Google Drive, and Flexitime.

You can get WorkFlowMax starting at $45 per month. There is also a full-feature app available for iOS and Android.

#5 – JIRA – Best Task Management Software For Large Agile Teams

JIRA is designed explicitly with software developers in mind. Its kanban workflow features make it attractive to a diverse group of industries. If you are looking for task management software optimized for agile, JIRA is the best choice.

If you are already using JIRA, there is no need to sign up for a separate service. The platform works on a ticket system, making sure that tasks are completed in sequence. As is often the case in software development, some tasks may be interdependent. JIRA allows you to link tickets easily.

JIRA also supports kanban and standard sprint planning, among other workflows. You can easily switch between kanban boards, Gantt charts, and spring backlogs. Users can create and save stories and easily retrieve them, complete with estimate, weight, and priority.

Additional features include:

  • Request management
  • Problem management
  • Knowledge management
  • Incident management
  • Configuration management
  • Agile methodologies
  • Portfolio management
  • Milestone tracking

JIRA may not be the easiest task management tool to use outside software development, but this is an easy problem to overcome. JIRA integrates with other project management tools such as Proggio. You can also sync the two tools so that completing a JIRA task is marked as such on Proggio.

This task management software is also scalable and easily accommodates a fast-growing software development team. JIRA has three plans:

  • Standard: $60 per month
  • Premium: $40 per month
  • Enterprise: Contact JIRA for pricing

It’s hard to beat this task management tool for large DevOps teams.

#6 – Microsoft To-Do – Best Task Management Mobile App For Personal Tasks

If you wish you had an easier time organizing your personal life, Microsoft To-Do just might be the answer. You can do a lot, including creating tasks, setting reminders, prioritizing tasks, adding due dates, attaching notes or files to tasks, and grouping related tasks together.

This is a mobile and web app, so you can access your planner anywhere and anytime. You can also share your to-do lists with others, including colleagues, family, and friends.

Microsoft To-Do also integrates with Outlook Tasks, so you can also manage your professional tasks along with your day-to-day personal tasks. This app is also very intuitive and suggests personalized tasks that you might want to add to your list.

This is a straightforward yet effective task management app, and it is free! This is more like a daily planner and is an excellent alternative to Trello if you don’t need the latter’s more complicated features.

#7- Accelo – Best Task Management Software For Automation

If you find that you are spending a lot of time on recurring tasks, you could automate them to make task management smoother. Accelo does exceedingly well in this regard. The software provides several automated features. You can configure essential milestones and set up the system such that users are prompted to enter information or update fields.

You can also automate client communications. Accelo automatically tracks emails, giving you crucial client information in one place. Other features you can automate include routing emails, billing, and timesheets. You can also automate triggers such as closing a ticket, sending emails, or converting emails to tickets.

Setting up recurring tasks is also very easy with this software. You can configure these tasks on a calendar and have the system automatically assign them to team members on the predetermined date.

Accelo is easy to use for task management. You can reassign and reorder tasks as you go along, then send notifications to team members when you rearrange tasks.

The simple dashboard lets you sort tasks by workload, status, or due date. Additionally, you can highlight tickets that require immediate or special attention, such as overdue or unassigned tickets.

Accelo is highly customizable and serves a range of industries, including digital and creative, business consulting, information technology, engineering, marketing, property and architecture, and more. The industry-specific templates, which you can also personalize, allows Accelo to adjust your task and project management requirements seamlessly.  

Additional features include:

  • Team inbox
  • Project collaboration
  • Client database
  • Client records
  • Usage tracking
  • Quotes
  • Invoicing
  • Reporting dashboard

Accelo has five different offerings, including Projects, Sales, Retainers, and Service. These cost $39 per month. You can also go for the All-in-One ServOps for $79. This option gives you all the features of the other four options combined.

Summary

It doesn’t matter if you prefer proactive methodology like Waterfall or reactive methods like Scrum or Agile. A task management tool will help you manage the workflow cycle and increase efficiency and productivity.

It pays if you first take some time to define your task management needs. After, pick the best task management software that best fits the day-to-day problems you are attempting to solve using this guide.

Be honest about your requirements and look to the future before making your final decision. Robust (and more expensive) project management software may be more capable of handling complex tasks and is easily scalable than a simple kanban board tool like Trello.

The post Best Task Management Software appeared first on Neil Patel.

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