Are you ready to prototype your business? Here’s a list of plugins that can help

Many new entrepreneurs think the goal is to create a startup. But you might be better off thinking about it another way: your first goal is to create a prototype of your business.

It’s easier to take the first step when it’s not off a cliff. A prototype allows you to experiment, explore, and find out what works and what doesn’t, quickly and cheaply. Because let’s face it. Most new business ideas need work.

There are so many options for new digital businesses—both hybrid and fully online—that you probably don’t know exactly the right answers for your new business idea until you take it for a test drive.

Luckily, business prototyping in the digital world is easier than ever. You could hire, contract, or partner for a custom programming job, but there are plenty of do-it-yourself options that are easy and powerful. A prototype could be as simple as a social media account, or a basic web page built from a template.

For a good do-it-yourself option that hits a sweet spot of power vs. ease of use, look no further than the world’s most used web publishing platform, WordPress. Not only is WordPress great for organizing content, and giving your site a pro look, but WordPress has a universe of plugins that can be used to create a variety of digital businesses ‘out of the box’.

So why not try business prototyping today? When you do, check out these WordPress plugin options. (Only free or freemium plugins are included in our list.)

Overall top picks

Contact forms are a must for many prototypes, and WP Forms Lite is a good form plugin choice among many options. OptinMonster provides popups and other tools to capture visitor signups. Yoast SEO helps your prototype improve those all-important search results. UpdraftPlus makes backing up and recovering your prototype easier, just in case. Shared Counts is a newer plugin for adding social media sharing buttons. WPMail SMTP allows your site to use any email service. WooCommerce is the leading shopping plugin for creating online stores. And MonsterInsights is a leading plugin for connecting your prototype to Google Analytics, the world’s most used platform for visitor and performance data.

Front end – Look and feel your best

Everyone wants their prototype to look pro. To add social media to your prototype, consider Smash Balloons Social Photo Feed for your Instagram feed, and Simple Social Buttons for your sharing buttons. Or use Simple Author Box to add social buttons, along with a nice little bio. Elementor and Beaver Builder Lite are two plugins that allow you to edit page layouts by dragging and dropping. Improve your images with Modula Image Gallery and Smart Slider 3, and give your videos more pizazz with the WP Video Lightbox, HTML5 Video Player, and All-In-One Video Gallery plugins. Format a fancy table with TablePress. Translate your prototype into multiple languages with Polylang or GTranslate. Use File Manager Advanced if you have lots of files to download. Popup Maker allows you to add those annoying but effective pop-ups. If you’re not ready for prime time yet, the Coming Soon Page plugin will hopefully convince people it’ll be worth the wait.

Back end – Smooth behind the scenes

Not everything in your prototype is about the glamorous front end. The RankMath plugin can help you improve your search results. Sucuri Security will hopefully keep the dark armies out, while changing the location for logging in with WPS Hide Login might at least hide the back door. The Age Gate plugin is useful for restricting content based on age. Google Site Kit ties into a number of Google services, including search queries people are using to find you. Many email marketing services offer a WordPress plugin, including Mailchimp for WP, but you could also run your own email list with Newsletter or MailPoet. If you’d like more editing options, Ultimate Blocks provides a number of treats to add to your pages.

Content business prototyping

For many digital businesses, it’s all about the content. Show off your events with The Events Calendar plugin. Use a forms plugin like Ninja Forms to collect submission from users. Making content available, and even selling it, is a smoother process with a plugin like Easy Digital Downloads. Educational content can be shared or sold through plugins such as Lifter LMS, Tutor, and Quiz Master Next. If you’d like visitors to stick around, recommend more content through the Yet Another Related Posts Plugin. And if you’re concerned about others lifting your unique content, you can try to protect it through a plugin like Secure Copy Content Protection.

Community business prototyping

If your business idea involves creating community online, or relying on user submissions, WordPress plugins can help your prototype become a social hub. BBPress is a popular plugin for creating discussion forums. For making comments more interactive, use a comment plugin like wpDiscuz, and allow users to subscribe to comment updates with Replyable or Subscribe to Comments Reloaded. For live events discussions, take a look at Arena.IM. To create a full-on social network based on user profiles, check out BuddyPress. Build a review site with Business Directory or GeoDirectory. Create a StackOverflow-like Q&A site with CM Answers. To make the registration process more effective, use a plugin like User Registration.

Store prototyping

To build your own online store with WordPress, WooCommerce has become the plugin of choice. For a store that sells purely digital downloads, consider either Download Manager or Music Store.

Matchmaker prototyping

Want to be the next AirBnb? Matchmaker businesses are among the more challenging to prototype, but there are plugins that can help. WPAdverts and Advanced Classifieds & Directory Pro are plugins that can build classified ad sites. WCMarketplace will allow other vendors to set up their own stores on your WooCommerce site.

Prototyping for offline businesses

If you’re trying to promote an existing business, there are many specialized WordPress themes and plugins for local businesses. RafflePress organizes giveaways and contests. RestaurantPress and Five Star Restaurant Menu display restaurant menus and facilitate orders. Many good plugins exist for appointment booking, including Appointment Hour Booking, Amelia, Booking Calendar, and Bookly. To create a real estate site, check out Estatik.

Advertising/Affiliate prototyping

It’s easy to put targeted ads on your prototype, especially if you work with one of the large advertising networks such as Google AdSense. Plugins like Ad Inserter and Advanced Ads can make the process easier. For selling through affiliate links, consider plugins such as Pretty Links, ThirstyAffiliates, or Amazon Auto Links for the Amazon affiliate program. If you’d like to start your own affiliate program to bring traffic in to your site, consider a plugin like Affiliates Manager.

Donations prototyping

If you’re creating a donations campaign and need more than a link to a fundraising site, a plugin like Charitable can help.

Membership/Subscription prototyping

If the revenue model you’re trying out is membership or subscription fees, plugins such as Membership by Supsystic can help collect payments and provide access based on membership levels.

Need more ideas? Here are more ‘top plugin’ lists

Updated October 2020.

JP Allen