Are you overwhelmed by all of the bells and whistles you're constantly being told you need to make money from online courses?

This is one of the things that I’ve found really holds people back with just effing doing it (technical term: JFDI).

The sales blurb makes you feel like your project is doomed to failure without the latest gadget.

Well, I’ve been there.

I’ve used them all.

Hell, if you think that’s time-consuming, I used to build all of my tools myself (and with the help of my dev team).

I once built a whizz-bang dynamic mobile marketing, content distribution and subscription system that was more powerful back in the early 2000s than Infusionsoft is TODAY. I spent 4 years and over $3million building that one!

But these days you only need a few tools.

And those tools will do pretty much everything you need to build your very own digital content business for just a few bucks a month.

You’d be crazy to build stuff yourself these days, unless you want to sell the platform to other people.

So, here’s what I currently use for myself and my clients.

(Disclosure: some of these are affiliate links but that in no way influences which tools I list here – I use every one of these religiously!)

Website Hosting

I’ve used them all.

Fasthosts, GoDaddy, AWS, BlueHost, WP Engine, you name it, I’ve been a customer.

The thing with hosting is, you’re paying for three times: uptime, consistent speed and support.

The one that always catches you out is support.

You NEED 24/7 instant support, regardless of whether it’s you or your techie that’s going to be dealing with issues.

ESPECIALLY if you have a tech guy.

Because you might be able to get a basic GoDaddy account for $5/month but once something goes wrong, the extra time your techie has to spend tearing their hair out dealing with a crappy support system is going to cost you hundreds.

WP Engine are good, but fairly expensive.

BlueHost are recommended left, right and centre – but I believe it’s because their affiliate program pays out so much.

Right now my strong recommendation is to go with SiteGround.

I’ve used LiveChat to talk to their support staff for my sites and my clients’, hundreds of times.

I don’t think I’ve ever had to wait more than 2 minutes to talk to someone.

And when the frontline team can’t fix it immediately, they’ll escalate it to their expert high-level support staff for you.

Even then I can’t think of a time when a fix has taken more than an hour.

This is priceless. Well, almost…

Their GoGeek account should be more than enough for any business making less than $5,000/month.

The GoGeek account costs $29.95 but you can sign up here for a discounted starter price of $11.95.

And this lets you host multiple websites…

(If you’re making more than $10k/month online you should be looking at a dedicated server.)

Course / Membership Platforms

I don’t have just one recommendation here.

For starters, there are at least two aspects to selling courses online.

  1. Firstly, you need to protect your content so that people can’t see it unless they’re supposed to (usually this means they’ve paid to see it). This side of things is usually called ‘membership’.
  2. Secondly, you want to deliver content in a structured way, and make it easier for students to navigate their way around it, including picking up where they left off. So you’ll want a ‘course platform’ or ‘course plugin’.

Sometimes these come packaged together (usually when you’re paying for a cloud-based service), but if you’re doing everything in Wordpress you’ll probably need two separate plugins.

The first thing you need to do here is think about what TYPE of platform is right for you.

    Do you want your course / membership site totally under your control, hosted on the same server as your Wordpress website, and for the look and feel to be totally integrated? You don’t mind having to worry about keeping everything online, and you’re OK with the risk of things breaking when you update or install plugins? And the thought of having to get lots of different plugins and features working happily together doesn’t break you out in a sweat?
    If you don’t mind losing a little control in return for ease of use… If you’d sleep more easily knowing that your revenue-generating online courses and membership services are going to be pretty much ready to go, and kept online 24/7 by specialists, but you don’t mind paying a premium (usually a monthly subscription fee) for the privilege… then check out my cloud-hosted recommendations.


I have two ‘go-to’ platforms at the moment. It’s an unsual client who wouldn’t be well-served by one of these. They’re quite different but both very capable systems.

  • (New) Kajabi. Recently completely overhauled, the new Kajabi system is an incredible all-in-one solution for course marketers. Brendon Burchard runs pretty much his entire business through Kajabi. If you don’t want to get involved with separate systems for creating landing pages, tracking affiliate sales, building websites and blogs, collecting payments, lead nurture, CRM etc then it’s all here. It’s not the cheapest system but it IS way cheaper than you’re likely going to be able to deploy all of those tools separately. And, of course, it’s quicker to get working and runs like clockwork. The sites it creates are pretty stunning, too, with less effort required than doing things yourself in Wordpress.
    • Pricing starts at $103/month if paid annually ($129/month otherwise), but if you go to then you’ll get a 15% discount (and I’ll get a 15% commission).
  • Thinkific. While Thinkific isn’t quite the Swiss Army Knife that is Kajabi, it does have more power when it comes to the actual courses. In fact, it can host SCORM-compliant multimedia courses used by professionals and big learning institutions. But it offers FREE starter plans where they make money simply by taking a percentage of your sales. So it’ll grow with you as you start making more money and your requirements become more complex.
    • Pricing starts at $0/month (they take 10%) – go to


If you’re happy to choose, install, configure and manage your course and membership plugins yourself on your own Wordpress site, then you have a few options.

Which tools to use should be influenced by which CRM you’re using.


ActiveMember360 Pricing…

LearnDash Pricing…

Memberium Pricing…

  • Other CRMs = MemberPress & LearnDash
    • Depending on which CRM you’re using there might be something specific that works well. But MemberPress is a great all-rounder as far as membership management plugins go, and they have a really good value price.
    • LearnDash, as always, is solid and works well with MemberPress

MemberPress Pricing…

CRM / Email Autoresponder

If you want to start conversations with visitors to your website, you need to have a way of getting your message to them.

And it’s a cliche (because it’s true) that your ‘mailing list’ (or list of email addresses, and your relationship with that list) will pretty much determine how much money you make online.

That means that – even if you’re not selling digital content – you need a place to store people’s email addresses along with tools to make it easy to send messages to them.

This is a CRM (Customer Relationship Manager) or Email Autoresponder.

A basic but well-known option being MailChimp.

But I don’t recommend that.

No prizes for guessing what I DO recommend if you’ve already ready the section above.

I think Active Campaign should be the core of almost any small or medium sized business selling digital content in 2017.

And yes, I believe it’s far superior to Infusionsoft which can cost you $1,500 just to get started (it’s so hard to start using that it’s been ‘affectionately’ renamed ‘Confusionsoft’), plus hundreds of dollars a month at least.

ActiveCampaign will only cost you $9/month to get started if you have a list of less than 500 leads and customers.

It does almost everything Infusionsoft does, plus a lot more besides.

It plays nicely with almost any other plugin or platform you might decide to use in your business.

And crucially it’s a dream to use compared to outdated platforms like Infusionsoft.

Don’t get me wrong – some of the stuff it can handle is quite advanced so it’s not like you can just use every feature without hitting any issues.

But it’s responsive, they have solid support, and you can find the answer to pretty much anything quickly.

Sign up at

Blogging & Social Media Posting

You may not need this if you’re just starting out.

But if you’re more advanced and working with a team to plan, schedule, write and promote articles, videos and social media posts, it’s a lifesaver.

It integrates with Wordpress and creates a calendar for your website.

You add users and then plan your upcoming content schedule – when each blog article, video or other content needs to go live.

Then you can work back from there and set deadlines for first drafts and final drafts – either for yourself or for team members (such as writers or editors).

So any of your team can clearly see what they need to do, and by when.

You can write the outlines, scripts and even actual blog posts all in the same place.

And what makes it really powerful is when you add in the social media elements.

So if you have a blog post scheduled to go out this Friday, you can set a whole collection of social media promotions to go out afterwards.

Such as:

  • a Facebook business page post 5 minutes after it goes live
  • a Twitter post an hour later
  • an Instagram post that evening
  • a personal Facebook post a day later
  • a LinkedIn post 4 days later
  • reminder posts a week or month later

And it has smart scheduling and rescheduling, too – so that gaps in your social media schedule can be automatically filled in with posts of a particular type.

I love this tool, and I really need it to keep me organised!

Head over to


There are two essential payment systems you need to use.

Firstly, Stripe.

Secondly, Paypal.

There might be others -Apple/Android Pay, Amazon and Google Payments being contenders – but Stripe and Paypal are must-haves.

They’re both pretty quick to set up compared to the older, painful payment processors you used to be stuck with.

They’re almost ubiquitous.

And, used together, you’ll convert more sales than using just one of them.

In my experience, at least 5% more.

Don’t leave this until the last minute – get started right away if you’re planning to take payments and don’t have them in place already.


You might also want to consider using Thrivecart, too.

It’s a simple, funnel-oriented ‘shopping cart’.

It lets you quickly build sales pages and popup carts incorporating upsells, downsells, bump offers and the like.

It’ll play nice with Active Campaign.

If you don’t know what I’m talking about, don’t worry about this one – you can grab it once you’re ready.


Lead Capture & Landing Pages

So you already know the imporance of your mailing list.

And you know you should be using Active Campaign or something similar to store and manage your communications with that list.

But how do you actually build the list?

Well, from a stategic point of view, it’s simple – you consistently provide value to your audience.

But from a practical point of view, what tools do you use to help people sign up to your list once you’ve actually delivered value?

Well, two of the main things you can do are build dedicated pages on your website along with ‘lead capture’ forms where people actually enter their email addresses.

Both of these things can be handled really well by Thrive Leads and Thrive Content Builder.

Note, this is nothing to do with ThriveCart which I mentioned above.

These plugins will work with almost any Wordpress theme.

Thrive Content Builder is a drag-and-drop tool that will help you build landing pages.

And Thrive Leads uses the same approach to build lead forms.

Basically you try to solve a single problem, then explain how you’ll do this within a landing page focused on that problem. Within that page you’ll include a lead form where users enter their email address in return for something like a download or a series of tips that helps them even more.

Or, you can include these lead forms into your existing blog articles.

If you prefer, you can get Thrive Leads, Thrive Content Builder and a ton of other cool plugins from Thrive (such as quiz builders and scarcity tools) at a price of $19/month at

Messenger Marketing

Your email list is super-important.

But it’s clear that it’s more difficult now to build that list than it was a few years ago, and it’s only going to get harder.

More and more companies are learning how to do it, and people are getting more used to being asked for their emails.

So they’re more protective about handing them over.

Plus, even when they do, inboxes are so clogged up nowadays that it’s pretty unlikely your emails will get opened.

So, while you should be getting started NOW rather than waiting around for another year or two, you should also be looking at ways to make it easier.

And right now, I think that means you need to be building a list in Facebook.

It’s an exciting new area – people are happy to give permission for you to communicate in their inbox.

Plus, they’re HIGHLY likely to read and respond.

The most powerful and flexible tool I know of right now is FlowXO.

But unfortunately it’s close to being unusable as they make things really complicated.

They’ve promised me they’re working on this with a total redesign of their system.

But until that happens, my recommended tool right now that helps you do this is ManyChat.

It’s like a landing page builder (think Thrive, LeadPages or ClickFunnels) but for Facebook Messenger.

You can quickly create landing pages, buttons and popup forms to insert in your website or elsewhere.

You can deliver eBooks, videos and other downloads to users in their inbox.

And you can broadcast messages and build sequences of messages that go out automatically based on what people say they’re interested in.

And of course you can start live chat conversations to help people personally.

Bottom line, you could be looking at achieving TEN TIMES the conversion rates you get when trying to sign people up to email.

And if you can persuade 10% of those people to give you your email (I bet you can smash that), then you’re not losing out at all when it comes to your email list.

Go to for a free trial

Facebook Ad Management

Ad Espresso makes advertising on Facebook a breeze!

This tool isn’t cheap, but it IS great value if you’re spending between $1,000 and $20,000 a month on Facebook ads (there are other tools that might be better suited if you’re spending SERIOUS money).

The beauty lies in how easy it is to create, monitor and tweak split-tests of every element of your adverts.

And THAT, if you know anything about online marketing, is KEY to success.

Use their wizard and create your ads step-by-step.

For any element (such as the image or headline), if you want to run split-tests, you just click a ‘+’ button and enter the variation.

Do this as many times as you want and Ad Espresso will automagically create all of the different versions of the ads for you.

So, if you entered three headlines and three images to test, you’ll end up with 9 ads.

Or, you could test how a male vs female audience responds to those 9 ads, meaning you’ll end up with 18 tests.

Even better, if you give it some time for the tests to play out, it’ll make recommendations based on the results, like this:

If you agree with its recommendations, you just click the ‘pause’ button and every version of the ad that’s not performing well will be stopped. And your overall performance should instantly improve.

Great if you don’t have time to properly analyse your results, or you just find that too complicated.

To sign up, go to

Team Communications

I won’t be the first person you’ve heard telling you this.

But if you’re working in a team, I recommend using Slack.

It makes it way easier to compartmentalise different projects.

You can use it to refer back to conversations with ease.

And it plugs into other tools so you can really automate everything you do.

Go to to sign up – it’s free unless you need advanced features.

Video Editing & Creation

Adobe Premiere

I use Adobe Premiere for most video editing work.

If you already have an Adobe subscription, then you already have a license, and if you’re familiar with other software such as Photoshop, Illustrator or Dreamweaver then you’ll probably pick up using this pretty easily. And it works on Mac AND PC, unlike most other video editing software.

However, if that’s not the case then it might be a little too powerful and take a while to learn, so consider one of the following options.

But you can sign up for your first month free at


Final Cut Pro X

Final Cut Pro is also a pro-level editing package. It’s made by Apple so it’s Mac-only.

It’s a little easier to learn and use without any experience compared to Premiere.

You can get it from the Mac App Store or

But it costs a few hundred bucks.

So if you’re looking for something cheaper and easier, here are a couple of options…


MAC: iMovie

This used to be free but now there’s a small charge.

It’s pretty basic but good enough for most course production purposes.

Grab it from the Mac App Store or

PC/Mac: Filmora

There’s a free trial, it’s easy to use, and it’s currently $70 for a lifetime license.

Go to

Screen Capture

If you’re planning to do anything other than record yourself talking directly to camera, you’ll probably need to do some ‘screen capture’.

This is when you record what happens on your computer, tablet or mobile phone screen so others can see it.

This is useful not only for showing people how to do things like use software but also for creating videos based on slide presentations made in Powerpoint or Keynote.

You just plug in your mic, scroll through your presentation and hey presto – you have the videos ready to use in your course!

There are two recommendations – one for PC, one for Mac.

Also, these can actually edit video recording on your camera which means that as long as your video editing requirements are pretty simple, you might be able to avoid the cost of purchasing and learning to use a dedicated video editor.


PC Screen Capture: Camtasia

This is also available on Mac, but it has traditionally not been anywhere near as good as the PC version. They’ve updated it recently but I haven’t used this new Mac version so can’t recommend it.

You can get Camtasia from


Mac Screen Capture: Screenflow

Able to record not only what happens on your Mac but you can also plug in iPads and iPhones and record what happens on there, too.

There’s a free trial of Screenflow available at

Graphic Design

There are two choices here, at opposite ends of the spectrum.

Once again, if you have an Adobe Creative Cloud subscription, you have what’s known as the ‘Dog’s Gonads’ when it comes to design software.

Quite simply, use Illustrator and/or Photoshop.

They’re available as part of the monthly CC subscription, along with Premiere for video editing and tons of other stuff.

But if you want something free, platform-independent and easy to use – go with Canva.

It’s so good, in fact, that even though I have Adobe, there  are many occasions when I prefer to use this little beauty.

You can quickly make content that’s perfectly sized for different types of social media – Facebook ads, Instagram posts, etc.

And the templates and sheer ease of use mean it’s often faster to use this and still get great results.

Plus it’s FREE – unless you choose to use some of their premium add-ons.

Other Plugins

  • Gravity Forms – if you need to use forms to do anything special, this is THE best plugin. It has add-ons that can submit directly into ActiveCampaign and other CRMs, and it can even plug into Stripe to take payments
  • WordFence -it’s essential you have protection for your website. These guys have a free option but if your site is well established you should pay for the extra peace of mind the premium option gives you
  • ManageWP – one of the first things I install on any website. It’s amazing and great value. For managing multiple sites, I couldn’t be without it, but even for a single site, it makes life easy. Firstly it can run regular backups – weekly is free, but having a daily backup is super inexpensive. You can almost instantly deploy to a new server – imagine what a godsend that is in case your site hosting falls over. It’ll also monitor downtime and message you as soon as your site goes offline, plus you can manage Wordpress plugins and all sorts of other cool stuff.
  • Post Duplicator – a super simple but time-saving plugin that lets you quickly create copies of posts, pages and other elements in Wordpress so you can retain layout and design, only focusing on changing the content
  • URL Params – a neat little tool that lets you greet visitors by name (in combination with your CRM or other capable tools) by passing it to Wordpress via the URL
  • Yoast SEO – not as important as it once was, but still something you should ‘tick off’ whenever building and adding to your website, so people can easily find it online
  • ActiveCampaign – if you use ActiveCampaign, the easiest way to integrate with your website is with this plugin. With this in place and configured, you can react to the way people actually move around your website, so that you’re always staying relevant to what they need when you email them
  • Google Tag Manager – the best way to add scripts and tracking code (such as the Facebook pixel) to your website. Add this plugin and then go to to manage all of your code

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