When you're starting an online business, one area that can be a huge source of struggle is picking the best tools to use. Your eCommerce tech stack requires careful consideration because - just on the other side of any sound purchase decision - is the well meaning business bestie who shares the latest and greatest tool to hit the market.
Cue shiny object syndrome.
The more digital entrepreneurs I meet, the more one clear distinction between those who have built a profitable, freedom-giving business and those who struggle to get their businesses to truly thrive rises to the surface...
Those who remember that their purpose is to build a business and not to stress-test every possible solution on the market for 1% improvements do more consistent (and more consistently profitable) work.
In this article, I'm going to explain what a tech stack is, what eCommerce means, and then share the exact tech stack that I use to run my eCommerce site here at LaurenGaggioli.com.
What Is A Tech Stack?
Simply put, a tech stack is a list of the software and apps that businesses use to market and deliver their goods and services to their clients.
While each individual tool and its functionality certainly matters, it's also important to consider how they integrate with one another.
Having the full view of the suite of software you want to implement from the jump will help ensure you avoid a cobbled together Frankesteinian monster of a tech stack down the line.
What Is eCommerce?
eCommerce simply means that you make money on the internet. But there are many different online business models.
- running an online coaching business,
- selling products you craft by hand or designs you outsource to be printed on-demand,
- creating and delivering eCourses,
- providing services directly to clients virtually,
- building websites to promote products that you receive affiliate payments from,
...or any of a myriad other models you can think of, if you make money online and you fancy yourself a digital entrepreneur or online small business owner, you're in eCommerce.
Necessary Tech Stack For eCommerce
A Website That Ranks In Google
I always think this one should be obvious and self-explanatory, but you'd be surprised not only how many digital entrepreneurs don't have a website for their business but also how many people don't realize how powerful a business tool it can be.
After all, did you find my website or this page, specifically, by searching for it in Google?
My guess is that you did. And that's strategic on my part.
It's entirely by design because I know that the best way to serve folks in need of information and solutions that I am uniquely qualified to deliver is by harnessing the tremendous power of Google.
When people have questions or problems they want to solve, they ask Google for help.
If you structure your website so that it shows up in the search results for those queries relevant to your product or service, you have the opportunity to serve a new community member or client with the information you provide on that website.
In fact, if you build your website with proper SEO (search engine optimization) and UX (user experience) in mind, you can build a loyal following without spending more than the time it takes to craft the content on it.
Properly positioned websites are incredibly lucrative.
I know because this is precisely how I built my first business - an online ACT & SAT prep company - that I sold in 2021 for 6-figures.
So please trust me when I say: a website that shows up in search is non-negotiable.
In 2023, if you don't have a website that can be found in Google, you probably don't have a thriving business.
And, if have a website but you're not sure if it's receiving any traffic from Google, now's a great time to conduct a quick DIY Website Audit.
This free, 3-part mini course will show you just how much traffic your website is garnering from Google and share some of the free SEO tools that can help you take your next right steps towards getting on the map to begin with or growing your presence further.
See How Your Website Is Performing In Google
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If you're trying to build a business on social media platforms and third-party marketplaces like ETSY or Ravelry alone, you're building your house on rented land. And you have very little control over whether you'll be able to stand out in the crowds of others offering similar products to yours.
...ok...I'll step down off my SEO soap box...for now... 😉
My favorite tool for building out websites that you own and can use as your business's digital shopfront is WordPress.
WordPress can be a little complicated to get started. But it is 100% worth it.
These are quicker, out-of-the-box website solutions.
However, bear in mind, that whenever you go with a simple-to-use solution that has more built in features, there is a trade off with the control you have within that system.
And, particularly for product-based businesses, Square Space will have a volume/fee tipping point where it will be more financially prudent to create a self-hosted WordPress site with a Shopify, WooCommerce, or other shop or cart integration
A Robust Email Marketing System
In my first eCommerce business - a website that provided online ACT & SAT prep courses - I tried so many different email solutions.
I did it out of necessity because of a minute piece of functionality I needed that wasn't readily available at the time.
I started in MailChimp, explored InfusionSoft (now Keap), migrated into - and out of in a hurry - Ontraport, and finally (blessedly) landed in ActiveCampaign.
I am continually in awe of the functionality that ActiveCampaign provides.
At Higher Scores Test Prep, I was able to craft automations that queued off a students' test date no matter when they joined my course.
This helped me provide tremendously powerful and supportive countdown emails for students and their families leading up to test day in a single automation that was controlled via a few custom fields.
Even though I had a full 12 weeks of emails in that automation, if someone joined just 4 weeks from the exam date, they would drop in at the exact right email in the sequence based on some fancy functionality I built out.
I built it years ago and, even though I no longer own the company, it still provides this high-touch, premium experience to clients in this automagical way.
It allows me to deliver my online courses for purpose seekers and digital entrepreneurs here with the same kind of premium connection that I offered in my past one.
A Branded Email Address
You may be tempted to skip this one, but - to me - it's the first sign that a business owner has chosen to go pro in their business. When I say a branded email, I mean one that reflects your chosen business domain.
Rather than having your email address read firstname.lastname@example.org, you can instantly uplevel your authority by making it email@example.com.
It's simple. It's not incredibly expensive. (It's only about $6 per month via Google Workspace.)
It's also really effective at separating you from the hobbyists in your space.
Plus, you'll gain access to a suite of business tools like Google Calendar, Google Drive, Docs, Forms, Sheets, etc. There's a lot to gain from this small investment so make sure you level up your business from the jump.
With Google Workspace, a branded email address is just the beginning.
Helpful Additions To Your Digital Entrepreneurship Tech Stack
The additional tools you need to run your online business are entirely dependent on your business model.
Therefore, these are the software, systems, and tools I use to accomplish the myriad tasks I need to as a solopreneur in the online business space.
But - please note - I always focus on keeping my tech stack at lean as possible.
I want the right tools in the right amount and no more.
If you don't trim away the fat from time to time, you'll find that you're overpaying for tools that you're underleveraging.
Want to know how I know? I once trimmed $6,000 from my expenses by culling the dead weight from my tech stack.
Yea! $6k right back into my pocket.
So, before you purchase a tool, really assess whether you're going to use it. And use it well. And consistently.
Appointment Scheduling Software
If you intend to set meetings with anyone (and you likely will because it's really hard to do business in a vacuum), I *highly* recommend investing in a scheduling software early.
It will save you so much time.
Because I structure my online mastermind as a drop-in class - one that requires folks to reserve their spot when they want to attend - I needed a system that would automate as much of that process as possible.
I can set the class calendar ahead of time and my mastermind attendees can reserve their spots as they see fit.
I also leverage the Acuity system to manage, charge for, and send communication to my 1-on-1 business coaching clients.
And, when I start my new podcast, I will use Acuity to set recording times with my guests.
The Acuity interface isn't the prettiest on the market.
Calendly is a great alternative if that matters to you and you don't need course functionality; however, you really can't beat how much you can do with Acuity's functionality.
Online Course Plugin for WordPress
If you have a goal to create an online course, there are 2 main ways to deliver them: through your WordPress website via a plugin or through a third-party course platform that lives off your website.
If you haven't gathered how much of a control freak I am yet, I'm here to tell ya, I am 100% a control freak.
I want my courses living under my own roof: namely on my WordPress website.
For my online courses, I turn to Thrive Themes' plugin, Thrive Apprentice, to help me manage and deliver my programs.
It's a learning management system (LMS) that's already included in the annual cost of my Thrive Themes membership.
By hosting my course videos in a paid Vimeo account for additional security, leveraging Thrive Apprentice as my LMS, and delivering stellar service via ActiveCampaign automations, I'm able to host courses where I fully control my clients' experience and make sure the messaging and branding is cohesive and the transformative learning experience runs as smoothly as possible.
Online Cart & Affiliate Software
I process charges for my business through Stripe; however, I do so from a few different systems.
My consulting clients are invoiced via FreshBooks.
My mastermind and coaching clients pay for their services via Acuity so they can schedule their appointments at the same time that they pay for their sessions.
But I also have asynchronous courses. And, for that, I leverage ThriveCart.
I use ThriveCart as my cart for my online courses for 2 main reasons:
1. It has a native integration with Thrive Apprentice. (Despite the name similarities, they are actually two different companies.)
2. I wanted to be able to offer an affiliate program that automates payouts for my affiliate partners and ThriveCart has that capability.
If you, too, need an online cart that integrates with a number of other tools and allows you to offer an affiliate program for your courses, ThriveCart might be just the ticket!
Don't Forget Your SEO...
Circling back to Necessary Tool #1, you know that I believe that a website is a business necessity here in 2023.
But a website positioned correctly - one that that can be found in Google search and help you turn strangers on the internet into happy clients - that's a bonafide business asset.
If you already have a website but you're not sure how it's performing in organic search, I'd love to invite you to join me in my free mini-course that will help you conduct a DIY Website Audit.
Just enter your name and email below and I will send you your free access right away.