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by Suzette Franck, (mt) Media Temple WordPress Evangelist

Since its release as a blogging platform on May 27, 2003, ten years ago, the use of WordPress has grown exponentially every year. Before WordPress, advanced functionality programming was difficult, costly, and impossible to manage and maintain. WordPress plugins can do a myriad of different tasks to help you run and promote your business. Today, with the contributions of thousands of volunteer developers, many useful plugins are available to transform your WordPress website into an amazing application. In this article, I highlight ten different business-growing ideas that are made easy with the magic of the WordPress Content Management System (CMS), and the extensibility that is provided by plugins.

(1) e-Commerce Store

Many small businesses rely upon the sales that are generated from their web store, serving customers from all over the globe. There is a wide variety of different e-Commerce plugins to create an online shopping environment in WordPress. The WooCommerce and Shopp plugins feature a fully comprehensive shopping cart application that handles taxes and shipping calculations with ease. These shopping cart solutions generally need to be set up by a developer but can be updated and maintained by the store owner, and offer a lot of flexibility in calculating totals and applying discounts.

(2) Forms & Surveys

The ability to collect relevant, honest feedback from valued customers is a key indicator on what areas you should focus on to grow your business. With one of several awesome plugins, you can easily create a very complex form in a fraction of the time it used to take. You can often do this with additional features like spam filtering and CAPTCHAs, conditional statements, and recording of form submissions to a database. In my opinion, the best and simplest contact form is the one that is included in Jetpack, simply called, Contact Form. Also popular, is the free and long-time favorite, Contact Form 7. If you would like to add conditional statements, newsletter signup forms, or perform simple calculations in your form, I highly recommend the comprehensive Gravity Forms plugin.

(3) Event Calendar

Whether we’re producing a Google Hang Out, hosting a happy hour or exhibiting at a trade show, we need to keep our people up to date with our events. WordPress has several plugins that will allow you to easily add events along with details, and display the data in multiple views. One such plugin is All-in-One Event Calendar by Time.ly. This plugin has one of the best event management interfaces I have ever used. A pro version is available directly from Time.ly, which allows visitors to the site to submit events and the ability to style your calendars to match your specific theme.

(4) Store Locators and Maps

With so many awesome plugins to choose from, adding an interactive map with driving directions or store locator by zip code to your site is a breeze. One plugin to check out is the Store Locator. For simple maps with driving directions, I recommend MapPress Easy Google Maps.

(5) Intranet / Document Repository

Small businesses and companies need Intranets for many different reasons: as an accessible repository for internal documents, to communicate alert notices, provide a listing of contact information of employees, publishing of event calendars and much more. Most Intranets require a variety of publishers from different departments with different access levels, and WordPress handles the administration of these levels beautifully. For more finely grained control over roles and permissions, you can install the Members plugin. The Edit Flow plugin adds many useful tools for teams to collaborate on documentation and articles. To create a network of sites where each department can control their individual site, you may consider installing WordPress Multisite, which is detailed in this Codex.

(6) Slideshow Presentation

The ability to quickly make powerful presentations is a necessity for marketing and training, and you can make it effortless and accessible by using WordPress as your platform. Natalie MacLees explains how to add the jQuery code of the Fullscreen Slit Slider to WordPress, in her presentation, “Adding jQuery Magic to your WordPress Themes”. Chris Lema also wrote an article about Natalie where you may find out more about her and many WordPress Community efforts.

(7) Private Social Network

With BuddyPress, you can transform your WordPress site into a social networking platform complete with member profiles, activity feeds, and friend connections. The real beauty of this can be imagined when you think about all of the niche markets that would benefit from having a Facebook-like application that is not open to the public. With the addition of the s2Member Pro plugin and a PayPal Pro account, you can monetize memberships to your online community, with access and re-billing handled by the application.

(8) Image Gallery

Smartly displaying images is a major component to a sites’ success. In the old days, it took a lot of work to hand code galleries, manually size images, create thumbnails and upload files. With WordPress, you simply upload all of the pictures and let WordPress create all of the hot-linked thumbnails for you – without any data entry errors! The latest version of WordPress features a newly updated Media Manager which is extremely intuitive. If you would like more control of your images, you may consider adding the File Gallery plugin, or NextGEN Gallery.

(9) Forums

It used to be that if you wanted to host a forum to address customer support requests, you had to pay for expensive software license fees and an administrator to configure and maintain your software. Through the magic of many WordPress developers, you can now add this same functionality to your WordPress site with a $0 license fee with the plugin bbPress. It includes all of the features you would expect from a forum, including: the ability to create users and moderators with profiles, the ability to add new topics with threaded replies, and installs with seamless integration into your current theme.

(10) Business Directory and Review Site

Business directories similar to Yelp! have become very popular, but until recently, an easy way to create a complete listing and review system was out of reach. Luckily, with WordPress and the Business Directory plugin, you can easily create a yellow pages style web-listing with categories and user submitted reviews and ratings, similar to Angie’s List. Users may submit free or paid listings to your directory. A number of useful add-on modules are also available, including a radius search-by-zipcode, and the ability for visitors to add images to their listings for an additional fee.

Here’s To Another 10 Years of Awesome WordPress Functionality!

I hope you have enjoyed my list of  “business-growing” ideas and that you are inspired to try something new with WordPress. Make sure that you check the Official WordPress 10th Anniversary Page for pictures and tweets about all of the parties going on.

Have you seen unique uses of WordPress that I forgot to mention? Tell me all about it in the comments below, and follow @mt_Suzette on Twitter for useful articles about WordPress.