Ready for all my blogging, biz and photography secrets?!
Alrighty then, brace yourself for the ultimate list of blog, biz and photography tools. If you want to start a blog, recently started a blog, want to grow your blog, or you’re thinking of monetizing? Then you’re in the right place.
Here you’ll find tools, products, and services to help you build an efficient, well-designed, successful lifestyle blog. I’ve also included money-saving websites and tools to help you simplify your life and your money.
Quick Guide: The order of these resources is similar to how you would build a blog from start to finish. It starts with website hosts, then onto themes, plugins, and tools. Below is a quick access section, just in case you want to jump ahead.
Disclosure: This page contains affiliate links which means I earn a commission if you use these links. I only recommend brands I use and trust. Thanks for your support!
To setup your site, you’ll need a cozy home for it on the internet. While there are many options, a self-hosted WordPress site is the best choice. No worries with having to convert it later. Let’s just say it’s the new blogging standard that allows you access to an amazing amount of free add-ons (called plugins), and will be able to grow with your blog as it grows. Of all the hosting services I’ve researched, I recommend the following hosting service for a self-hosted WordPress site.
Bluehost: This was the first and only host I’ve worked with and they are amazing. Customer service and tech support are the best! There’s been many a time where I’ve buggered a database file or made an oopsie with code and they’ve helped me out at no charge. They’re also great for those of you on a budget. Bluehost is one of the top hosting companies an you can start your own blog with them for as low as $3.95 a month (this low price though my link only)! Read How to Start A WordPress Blog (with Bluehost).
Next, you need to make your site look pretty, or colorful, or minimalist, whatever your fancy. With WordPress, adding a theme is a snap. A framework + child theme setup is ideal (for reasons of security, seo, efficiency, etc.) and it’s how this site is currently setup.
Genesis: In all the research I’ve done over the years about the best website frameworks, it’s always come back to Genesis. It’s solid, runs efficiently, and always keeps security as a top priority. It’s also the most popular with an abundance of themes available. I run Genesis on this site with a custom child theme from Studiopress.
StudioPress Themes: StudioPress offers a beautiful selection of themes from various publishers. Looking for a magazine layout? They have it. Or maybe, you need a food blog layout, they’ve got that too! I’ve purchased a few themes them in the past and it’s been a simple, transparent process. They also stand behind all the themes they offer with detailed documentation and support.
Pretty Darn Cute Design: Lindsey is absolutely amazing and a rock star! Her themes are feminine, fun and colorful. They’re super easy to setup, and come with complete instructions and support. I’ve used two of her themes in the past and have loved them.
Design by Bloom: This site and my photography portfolio both use themes from Bloom. They’re minimal and classy themes, AND….AND…Kelsey is super awesome with support and any questions you have with setup and tweaking a theme.
Plugins? What? You lost me at themes. I know, right? So much to remember, but trust me, plugins make life super easy. The availability of third-party plugins is one of the biggest benefits of using a WordPress site. Here are my top recommendations:
Simple Share Buttons: Share buttons on posts make it easy for your readers to share your content on social media.
Yoast SEO: This plugin does two powerful things: 1. It creates a site map (a list of everything on your site) that google likes; and 2. It gives you the power to improve SEO data. SEO doesn’t matter at all if your content isn’t good (sorry, but you’re not smart enough to trick google), but it can be helpful if you can more accurately describe your content for readers that might find your site via search.
Coming Soon! Checkout all the plugins I’m running here.
I use a variety of tools to make this site run fast, keep it online, and keep things running smoothly. Out of all of these options, hosting your mailing list offsite (not directly in your WordPress blog) would be my biggest recommendation.
Mailchimp: For a long time, this has been considered the standard of email marketing. They have an easy RSS-to-email feature, which is what I use to send readers updates of blog posts as they are posted.
Akismet: We all hate spam, it clogs up your site and makes it a nightmare to figure out legit comments. Akismet is one of the best anti-spam plugins for WordPress. I’ve tried free vs. paid, and it’s worth the small amount to pay. The awesome part? For bloggers, Akismet lets you name your price, so its perfect for almost any budget.
Google Analytics: The free and pretty much industry standard tool for tracking website traffic and stats.
Google Webmaster: Another free resource from Google to help you watch out for broken links and give you insight into how people are ending up on your site via search results. This also allows you to manually submit a site map, which is a helpful tool for getting indexed fast (check the free SEO plugin I use above or on this page).
Adobe CC: I primarily use Photoshop and Lightroom for all my photos. I use Photoshop for heavy editing and Lightroom for cataloging and organization. The monthly subscription is an amazing deal and ensures you’re always up-to-date with the latest software. Sadly, for Canadians, they don’t yet bill in CDN so you have to pay USD. Soon, I hope.
PicMonkey: If you’re not a regular photographer with the need for heavy-duty editing tools, PicMonkey is perfect for bloggers. It’s super easy to use and makes creating Pinterest graphics a breeze.
I try to keep my camera equipment simple and have only upgraded when I’ve been able to afford to do so.
For lifestyle photography, I’d suggest getting a Canon DSLR & 50mm lens (lots of options to adjust to your budget).
Canon 5D Mark II (latest version is 5D Mark IV)
Since the 5D and newer 7D series can be quite expensive, and have a lot of Pro features, I would suggest the Canon Rebel T6 as a budget friendly option.
Canon EF 50mm f/1.8 L
Canon 600EX-RT Flash
Benro Travel Angel Tripod A0690T
Sandisk Extreme PRO 32GB Compact Flash Card
Lastolite Easybox for Speedlite
Lowel EGO Digital Imaging Light
Panasonic Lumix GF-1 – this is a high-end point and shoot that I use when the iPhone won’t cut it or for video.
Coming Soon! Check out What’s in my Camera Bag for setups and top recommendations for every budget.
Freshbooks: This is the best tool that I’ve found for time tracking and invoicing. For $12.99USD per month, you can do all your business accounting and more. Track expenses, invoice, track your time on projects, it’s awesome.
Asana: This free project management tool will keep you on time and on track with all your projects. I use these for both my blog business and writing clients.
The reality is, staying consistent and continuing to produce content is a struggle, especially if you’re not seeing the growth and results you want. It’s hard to stay motivated, and keeping at it is key to making this blogging thing work. Here are some of my top choices to help you get started and keep the fire going.
Danielle Laporte: Is one amazing lady! Danielle knows what works for our souls, she connects. I’ve read all of her books and they’ve helped me start my own business and get clear on what I want.
When I first read The Desire Map by Danielle LaPorte, I was like Whoa! I knew it would change the way I lived my life. “You’re not chasing a goal. You’re chasing a feeling.” When I read that, something shifted for me. I just knew she undersood me. I’m a highly sensitive person and an INFJ to boot. Goals with soul. Totally transformational.
Ready to get clear on life? Check out The Desire Map: A Guide to Creating Goals with Soul
Ignite your soul, prioritize what’s sacred, and shine brighter than ever before. The Fire Starter Sessions will help you make shit happen. You’ll get to the core of everything from career to relationships.
Ebates: We all shop but when we do it’s important to shop smart. I use Ebates.ca to earn CASH BACK for all my online shopping. It’s super easy too! Simply click on a store you want to shop at (they have TONS of stores such as J.Crew, Hudson’s Bay, Amazon, Indigo, Sephora, and more!), and shop as you normally would. Ebates tracks your purchase, sends you an email in 24-48 hours showing the cash back you’ve earned then pays you via check or Paypal.
Flipp: This one little smartphone app has saved me hundreds of dollars. I use it every time I go grocery shopping for price matches and I use it to create my shopping list. It even shows you when you can double up on a sale with a coupon for extra savings. This is my go to app for saving on food.
Swagbucks: Who doesn’t love FREE gift cards? Swagbucks allows you to collect points based on your internet searches, taking surveys and any online shopping you do. So far I’ve collected $85 in gift cards!
YNAB: YNAB has to be my favorite budgeting software that I’ve tried so far. The YNAB method of budgeting shows you how to put every dollar you earn to work. The end goal is to have you living on last month’s pay. Get a FREE month of YNAB only with my exclusive link! Read How YNAB stacks up: The first 30 days
Booking.com: This is one of my favorite travel websites. I use it to book most of my hotel stays. With Booking.com, you can find affordable hotels, resorts, apartments, and more for your next vacation. I recently used them to find a super low rate for a hotels in California.
This list is always growing and changing, so be sure to keep checking back. I add new products, tools and services based on your feedback and from my own experimentation.