There's never been a better time to start and run a business. If you're just starting out, there's a ton of products and services that are available free or at low cost to help you receive payments, schedule your social media or book appointments – but keeping track of how all of these things work together can be confusing if you're just starting out.
In this article I'm going to show you how the info products side of my business works – in the "back office". I use a collection of services to automate as much of the work as I can so I can spend my time developing info products and working with clients.
Before we jump in, I do need to state that I am not affiliated with any of the providers, and I don't get anything from them to mention them here. I use these products because they work for me – you may choose to use the same or similar products.
An info products business lends itself to a high level of automation. If you're running a business that does not sell info products you can still benefit from some of the automations and integrations I show here – you may just need less of them.
So let's jump right in.
The big picture
The diagram shows all the systems I currently use in my back office.
In the diagram, I use colours to show how each system is used:
- green blocks are client facing, like my website or blog;
- orange blocks are landing pages on my website used primarily to get subscribers to sign up and download a free lead magnet; and
- yellow blocks are systems I use but subscribers don't see.
Green blocks with a red tag in the bottom left corner are where I get new subscribers from. Tagging these blocks helps me understand how I get new subscribers and how I should welcome them.
Let's look at each system in turn.
Website and Blog
My website and blog are based on WordPress and hosted by Black Sun in Canada. However, I'm in the process of converting the website to Squarespace – even though I have a technical background and can drive WordPress quite happily, I've found that I can create better-looking web pages faster with Squarespace.
To make the sign-up process for new subscribers as easy as possible, I create forms in in Drip and embed them in my blog and web pages (more about Drip in a bit). When subscribers submit a form, Drip registers them as a new subscriber and an automated welcome or download workflow gets kicked off.
For sales pages, I use SendOwl to create a form or button which is embedded in a web page. When a subscriber clicks on the purchase button, they are taken to a SendOwl page which handles the purchase and download.
To create blog articles like this, I use Ulysses as my main writing app (not shown in the diagram). Ulysses is a distraction-free writing app that supports direct publishing to WordPress blogs (you can also directly publish to Medium).
All my blog articles are published in my own blog, and I then manually add them to Medium using their import feature. I have to edit the story in Medium to make it look good there – this usually takes about 5 to 10 minutes.
CoSchedule is a marketing automation service. As a solopreneur, I use only a small portion of CoSchedule, mostly to create social media campaigns for my blog posts.
The killer feature that makes CoSchedule my tool of choice is their social media templates. It takes a bit of work to set up, but I now have a template that automagically creates a year-long blog post promotion (about 9 or 10 posts in total over a 12-month period). Each promotion uses the post excerpt and featured image together with three text snippets and images (which I create in Pablo) and posts in my social media channels over a period of 12 months.
Once an article is posted in my blog, it takes me about 15 to 20 minutes to create three text snippets and three images which are used in the promotion. I've set CoSchedule up to mix and match the snippets and images so no two posts look the same.
Promoting blog posts over a long period means that I can maintain a solid social media presence – but more importantly, the comments I get on social media for articles that were published up to a year ago is proof that these promotions work to drive engagement.
Drip is at the heart of all my automation. They label themselves as an "ecommerce CRM", but compared to other CRM's the focus is less on CRM (Customer Relationship Management) and more on automated workflows. You can build workflows to do everything from welcoming new subscribers to qualified sales funnels.
For me, Drip's biggest attraction is the sheer range of direct integrations with the other systems I use. I can get notifications directly in Drip when someone purchases a product in SendOwl, buys a ticket on EventBrite or books a meeting in Calendly. This allows me to set up workflows to welcome new subscribers, say thank you for online purchases or even create sales funnel automations to qualify and guide subscribers to a purchase.
Systems like Drip (or ConvertKit, HubSpot and so on) are tremendously capable, but with that capability comes a learning curve. If you do decide to invest in a system like this, be prepared to spend time to learn how to use them well – it's well worth the effort.
SendOwl, Stripe and PayPal
I use SendOwl to manage the purchase and delivery of my info products. To sell a product on SendOwl I first need to integrate it with my Stripe and PayPal accounts – this is usually just a few minutes work.
Once the integrations are set up, I can create products in SendOwl and upload the digital files (usually PDF's). When a client purchases a product from SendOwl, they can choose to use Stripe or Paypal. When the purchase has been completed SendOwl will send a message to the subscriber with the download links, allowing up to three downloads per product (you can override this if you need to).
SendOwl has some other nifty features including the ability to sell bundles of products (multiple products purchased as one). For a few dollars more you can enable up sells (offering additional products while the customer buying).
The one feature I do use is PDF watermarking which automatically adds the buyer's email to the bottom of PDF's. While this not a real deterrent to copying, it does personalise the experience of downloading a digital product just a little bit.
I use Stripe and PayPal as my payment processors. Both of these are easy to set up and link to your bank accounts. Stripe automatically deposits purchases to your bank account; you have to do a manual transfer with PayPal.
I do host workshops (paid and free) and Eventbrite is my go-to system for selling tickets. You're probably familiar with Eventbrite – they've been around this business for a while, and are quick and easy to set up and use.
Technically I could use something like SendOwl to sell tickets to events as well, but Eventbrite's presentation as "real tickets' are a distinct advantage – and it is familiar to a lot of people.
Calendly is an appointment booking system. It takes care of the heavy lifting around figuring out which time slots are available in which time zones and makes the calendar-go-round a lot easier. If I have to book a meeting with someone I usually refer them to one of my Calendly booking pages.
Calendly also does some nifty things like integrate with my calendars (all hosted on Google Calendars) so that there aren't any conflicts. You can set buffers around meetings to make sure you don't end up with back-to-back meetings, limit the number of meetings per day, prevent meetings less than a certain time away and put limits around how far ahead someone can book a meeting.
What does it all cost?
Here's what I'm paying for these systems now (all price in USD):
- website and blog: domain registration, SSL certificate and WordPress hosting, around $150 to $200 per year.
- CoSchedule: $49 per month
- Drip: $49 per month
- SendOwl: $15 per month
- Stripe & PayPal: per transaction fee
- Eventbrite: per transaction fee
- Calendly: $10 per month
Note that most of the vendors have discounts for paying annually in advance.
Putting it all together
There are some 8 systems I use to automate the info products side of my business. Some of them you set up once (like Calendly) and use over and over again; others need some ongoing care and feeding (like promoting blog posts via CoSchedule).
Together these systems allow me to do a lot of work I would otherwise have had to hire someone to do, or have to do manually. I don't use all of the systems as well as I could, but given that there's a learning curve I'm happy with where I am and know that I can only get better.
You may not need all of these systems to automate your business – but where small things like Calendly can make something as simple as booking meetings a lot easier, it's well worth the small investment.
I hope this has given you some insight into what can go into automating your back office. There are simpler setups out there, and some way more sophisticated – your mileage may vary. But knowing these systems are out there may help you automate some of the smaller tasks you have to do.
As always, comments and questions are very welcome – drop me a note.
Good luck building your business!