Get business cards. Tick. Get a website. Tick and move on.
Many solopreneurs mentally shove their website in the same mental category as their printing and see their website as a sort of glorified brochure with the added bonus of a contact form.
If you want to sell things from your website, you may add on a little bit of e-commerce functionality, but that’s where mentally things often tend to stop.
But what if your website could be more than just a fancy brochure? WordPress powers 31.9% of all websites across the web, and in the past few years, super clever coders have beavered away in darkened, coffee cup littered rooms, to create powerful plugins to pimp out the functionality of your site.
What’s a plugin?
Think of WordPress as the engine of your car. The theme is the bit that gives your car it’s particular look and feel (eg Toyota Camry). Plugins are the extra bits that give your car features such as a sunroof or mega speakers to let the people on the other side of the planet know you like blaring Queen’s Greatest Hits when you drive.
Here are some interesting ways you can add WordPress plugins to turn your website into a towering powerhouse of usability and support for your business.
Useful WordPress plugins for small businesses
Need to answer client queries or provide support for your product or service? Helpdesk plugins help create a structure for your clients and ensure no client query falls through the cracks. (Check out Awesome Support, Zendesk and Support Candy).
Have your client log into a private area in your site so they can access personal notes, meeting recordings, reports and provide comments or feedback. This is great for personal trainers wanting to share personalised training and eating plans; creatives wanting to share and get feedback on designs and business coaches or consultants sharing tasks or meeting notes. (Check out WP-Client and WP Private Content Plus).
Events & Ticketing
If you hold events or training sessions, then rather than juggling payments over the phone or in person, and shuffling reams of paper RSVP lists, add in a calendar, events and ticketing plugin. (Check out Event Manager Pro).
Online Calendars & Bookings
Tired of playing email or phone tag when someone wants to make an appointment in your diary? There are a raft of online calendars and booking systems that sync to your existing calendar to make things easier for you and your clients. (Check out Booking Calendar, WP Simple Booking Calendar, Bookly and Birchpress Scheduler).
Project Management & Client Communication
If your budget doesn’t stretch to Basecamp, there are now some seriously cool project management plugins on the market to keep clients and team members in the loop, share resources and keep track of progress. (Check out Projectopia and Upstream).
Many small businesses have specialist industry-specific WordPress plugins available to help them streamline and run their business.
Health & Fitness
Run a gym and want to offer membership? Do you run training classes or have weight loss challenges? There are plugins available for all of these things. (Check out WPGYM and Weight Tracker).
Beauty & Hairdressing
Want clients to be able to select and book your services online, automate SMS or email reminders, and accept online payments? There are salon plugins to make that happen. (Check out Salon Booking System and Bookly)
Finance & Mortgage Brokers
There are a stack of mortgage and finance calculator plugins available to help your clients to calculate potential costs. You can also find currency converters and stock market tickers if your business heads down that path. (Too many to recommend specific ones here!)
Creatives & Web Designers
We all know how challenging it can be to get client feedback on designs, or to get clients to send through that information they promised you ten weeks ago. There are plugins available that take over the workflow process and nagging for you. (Check out Content Snare and Project Huddle).
A few words of warning
Adding in cool WordPress plugins to your website should come with warning labels similar to “Don’t feed them after midnight”.
They slow down your site
Adding plugins is as tempting as an all you can eat smorgasbord at half price night. However, each plugin you add can slow your site down, so add judiciously and look for plugins that combine functions.
You need quality hosting
Some plugins are resource heavy and take a decent whack of your hosting space. Make sure your website hosting is good quality as budget basement hosting may not be enough to run what you want.
Only choose reputable brands
Every plugin you add is like cutting another key to the front door of your house. Only add plugins that are actively maintained, are popular and have positive reviews. Stay away from creepy, abandoned plugins with only a few users in the same way that you would stay away from hitchhiking at Wolf Creek.
Paid is better
While free is good, paid plugins generally mean the developer is motivated to provide support and to continue maintaining and developing the plugin. How willing are you to give free products and support to people to ring your business? Go for good karma.
Keep them updated
Every plugin needs to be regularly updated to fix code glitches and security flaws. Setting and forgetting is a recipe for getting hacked.
There are existing WordPress plugins for just about every purpose. While this is great for solving problems fast, do your research and tread carefully.