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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’re thinking of starting 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 a well-designed, successful lifestyle blog. I’ve also included money-saving websites and tools to help you simplify your life and your money.
Disclosure: There are some affiliate links below, but these are all products I highly recommend. This means I receive commissions for purchases made through links in this post. I won’t put anything on this page that I haven’t verified and/or personally used. Thanks for your support!
Getting Started – Blog Essentials – Start a Blog
Ready to get started? Yay! First thing’s first, be sure to check out my step by step guide to starting a blog on WordPress. I run a self-hosted WordPress blog and honestly, it’s the only way to go. Especially if you plan on monetizing or creating a biz from your blog. There’s no fuss or muss having to try and transfer it over from Blogger or WordPress.com later on. Starting a self-hosted blog requires only a small investment — a few bucks a month for hosting (your home on the interwebs for your blog) and if you choose not to use the free included themes, around $50-70 for an already designed theme.
Now, take it from me, when you start your blog you may get a little overwhelmed at first. You’re thinking:
OMG, where the heck do I start?
What’s a niche and what should I write about?
How do I make it look as snazzy as everyone else’s blog?
How do I get people to read my blog?
And you may even be thinking, how do I make money from my blog?
That’s fine. It happens. Every blogger has been there. If these are some of the Q’s whirling around in your brain, check out Blogging Tips for Beginners, where I share some of the lessons I’ve learned over the past 5 years of blogging.
And guess what? I’m still learning! Things are always changing.
But most important of all — there is really no right way or wrong way to blog. What might work for one blogger, may crash and burn for another. The best way is to take action on things that seem more comfortable to you and avoid things that you don’t like or make you feel icky. Ie. Sleazy salesy stuff.
Hosting, Themes and Plugins – Blog essentials
Huh? Yea, I know. You just shook your head thinking, ‘lady, what on earth are you talking about?’ It’s alright, I’ve got you. I’ve designed more websites than I’d like to remember and had more iterations of this blog than you’d believe — five to be exact and I’m on to my sixth.
If you haven’t already, start out by reading my step by step guide on How to Start a WordPress Blog. This will get you up and running.
Let’s keep this simple and say that hosting is your blog home on the internet. There’s a big computer at your hosting company that holds your blog on it. Simple. Let’s leave it at that or I’ll get all techie on you.
While there are many hosting companies out there, I’ve had the best experience with Bluehost. My site has never gone down, been lost, hacked or had some other unfortunate event happen to it. Customer service is also super awesome too. Start your own blog on Bluehost for $3.95 a month and if you use my exclusive link, you’ll get a FREE domain name (that’s your blog’s web address).
Almost forgot! If you’re unsure of what to name your blog and its corresponding domain name, check out How to Choose a Blog Name You’ll Love.
Themes + Design
Now that you’ve got a home on the internet and chosen your domain name, it’s time to pick a design or theme as its called. And you have options — lots of them! If you’re on a tight budget, you can stick with one of the free themes that comes with WordPress, or if you’d like less hassle and be able to have all the snazzy plugins that other bloggers do, here are a few suggestions for where to buy a theme:
Pretty Darn Cute Design for feminine, easy to use WordPress themes. In the past, I’ve used Modern Blogger Pro and Fun themes.
No, this is not a Glade air freshener for your blog. But how cool would that be? I’d have the Tuberose scent from Dipytique wafting from the pages of my blog. Anyhou, plugins are awesome little tools to upgrade and add functionality to your blog.
Here are a few of my must-haves for starting out:
Akismet Spam Protection for WordPress – as the name says, it gets rid of spam. So helpful to have and costs only $32CDN/yr.
CommentLuv – the commenting system I use on this blog. It’s designed to build community.
Simple Social Icons – an easy to use way to providing social sharing links on your site so readers can share your content.
Yoast SEO – the #1 SEO tool. I’m serious. I’ve been using the FREE version for years now. But, there is also a paid premium version which may be added to my blogging toolkit shortly. Why? Premium allows more keywords, internal linking and content insights.
That’s it! That’s all you need in the beginning to get up and running. Now it’s on to publishing some stellar content for your new baby lifestyle blog…
Writing + Content Creation
Are you letting your writing skills stop you from starting a blog? Well, don’t. Because guess what? Everyone is creative. And if you write emails for work, I think you can write a blog post. Also, the more you write, the better you’ll get at it. I’ve been blogging for five years and my writing style continues to evolve. For as long as I can remember, I’ve loved storytelling and writing. One thing I am a stickler about is spelling and grammar. I’ve also helped many a person edit their writing. So please, use spell check and grammar check.
Pro tip for writing — have weekly brainstorming sessions and keep a list of blog post ideas so you’ll never run out.
Tools to improve your writing and store ideas:
Evernote – for storing all your blog post ideas and brainstorming sessions. I use the Basic plan which is FREE and keep it on my phone and laptop.
Trello – your digital editorial calendar. This is what I use to take blog posts from ideation to promotion. It’s FREE.
Grammarly – remember, spelling and grammar is important! I use the FREE version, but there is a paid version that catches more errors.
Pomodoro Timer – for productivity! It blocks your time in 25 minute increments, then you take a 5 minute break and REPEAT. Easy!
Books I recommend every writer read:
- The Elements of Style – EB Strunk and White
- Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life – Anne Lamott
- On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft – Stephen King – MY FAVE!!
- The Productive Writer: Tips & Tools to Help You Write More, Stress Less, and Create Success – Sage Cohen
Photography is a huge part of the blog for me. It’s one of my passions and I do my best to have original photos that I’ve created for all my blog posts. And, my blog ends up doubling as another online portfolio for me. Your photography is also a way to differentiate yourself from other bloggers. Here’s a few resources to help you out if you’re a beginner:
Photography Styling + Editing
PicMonkey – for super simple photo editing, styling and Pin creation.
Adobe Lightroom – what I use to catalog and edit my photos.
Adobe Photoshop – for the more advanced blogger. You can edit photos and create graphics for your blog.
For tips on styling your photos and ideas for props, check out my post on How to take Blog Photos: Props + Styling.
If you’re not into taking your own photos yet, that’s alright, photography can be intimidating. So here’s a few stock photography sites to help you out:
Death to Stock Photo
Haute Stock *perfect for feminine stock photography but not free. This is a quarterly membership site but the photos are beautiful!
Do you need a big honkin’ DSLR like I have to take great blog photos? Nope. Phone cameras have become so advanced that you can take some pretty decent shots. Now, I love photography, hence why I have 3 cameras – DSLR, small point and shoot, and iPhone. Do you need all that to start? Nope. I’ve been a photographer since I was 10 yrs old – not professionally until lately of course. 😀
DSLR’s can be overwhelming to learn, so I recommend starting basic with your phone at first to get comfortable with composition and styling. Then, when you’re ready, grab a lower end DSLR.
Keep in mind that buying the same camera a blogger you follow has, is not going to guarantee you stunning blog photos. It takes practice. Like I said, you need time to develop your “eye” and learn to compose and style shots.
With that said, here are a few books I recommend for beginners and the list of equipment I use:
- How to Photograph Everything: Simple Techniques for Shooting Spectacular Images – Weldon Owen
- Capture Your Style: Transform Your Instagram Photos, Showcase Your Life, and Build the Ultimate Platform – Aimee Song
- Read This if You Want to Take Great Photographs – Henry Carroll
Equipment I use:
- Canon Mark 5D Mark II (now 7D) Beginner? Try a Canon Rebel T6 series instead, or money-saving bundle with everything to get you started.
- Canon EF 50mm f1.4 Lens
- Canon 24-105mm f/4 L IS USM Lens
- Canon 600 EX II-RT Flash
- Benro Angel Series Tripod with B00 ballhead
- Manfrotto 131DB Horizontal arm (for taking flatlays or shots from above)
- Shutter release for self-portraits
- Lacie Hard Drive for backup
- Lowell EGO Digital Imaging Light
- Collapsible on flash Softbox
- Sandisk Extreme Pro 32GB Compact Flash Memory
Again, you can head over to How to Take Blog Photos: Props and Styling for more help.
Blog management is often overlooked by bloggers, and new ones in particular. There are quite a few behind the scenes elements for blog maintenance. The biggest is backing up your site. In the worst case, and your blog goes down or gets hacked — you’ll have a backup copy handy to get it back up and running. Then there’s hackers and spam to worry about too. Not to mention keeping broken links from bringing down your site rankings and page views.
This is all that backend, behind the scenes type stuff that everyone usually forgets about.
Bluehost management and site backup tools
If you’re not currently with Bluehost, I highly recommend them. I’ve been with them for 7 years now and they are amazing.
WP Fastest Cache – speeds up your site and how fast your blog pages load.
WP Optimize – cleans up your WordPress database to keep your site running efficiently.
Maintenance mode — for when you’re making major design changes and want no one to see.
Wordfence – keeps hackers away and reminds you when updates are needed. I use the FREE version.
Broken Link Checker – LOVE this tool! It lets you know when you have a broken (not working) link on your site, where it is, and how to fix it.
Limit Login Attempts – this keeps the hackers away!
Wordpress Importer – this is amazing if you’re moving one blog to another. It allows you to transfer all your posts and images so you don’t lose them.
Simple Trackback Validation with Topsy Blocker – Phew! This one’s a mouthful but super handy. It checks all the trackbacks (mentions + links) you get from other sites. It blocks any questionable ones and asks you to approve or deny them.
Akismet – gets rid of all that nasty spam and junk mail.
And if you’re one for stats, we certainly can’t forget about Google Analytics!
When you get super serious, I recommend getting a G Suite for Biz account. Get 20% off this biz plan per user for the first year.
Use promo code 377U3EPWGLYEWKV. Or, if you’re more into a Basic plan, use this code for 20% off 374HWWLUHDTGYME.
It’s a cloud based productivity suite that allows you to setup a branded email address (mine is email@example.com) and house all your blog docs, affiliate tracking spreadsheets and more on your own private Google drive.
Grow + Monetize – Affiliate Marketing/Social Media
Grow – Social Media tools:
ConvertKit – for when you’re ready to seriously build your email list. Launch your online biz or blog and get the FIRST MONTH FREE.
Grow – Blog Strategy + Planning:
Elite Blog Academy – this is a comprehensive course for ALL bloggers and I cannot recommend it enough. It changed everything for my blog! By taking this course, I grew my traffic by 556%!! I went from 11,113 visitors in 2016 to 72,920 visitors in 2017 and I’m on pace to blast that out of the water for 2018! Now, I get it, it’s an investment and takes time but it is worth it.
I highly recommend getting on the waitlist ASAP, so when the doors open on March 5th, 2018, you’ll be first in line. As a bonus, click on the image below to snag a FREE Goal Setting Workbook for Bloggers. And don’t forget — GET ON THE WAITLIST NOW!
Making Sense of Affiliate Marketing – the best course on how to master affiliate marketing. I finished this course at the end of Oct. 2017 and I’ve already earned $482 (Jan 2018)! Check out my review post here: Making Sense of Affiliate Marketing: How to Build a Six-Figure Blog Without Selling Your Soul
ShareASale – one of the top affiliate networks for bloggers and the main one I use.
ShopStyleCollective – an affiliate network for the fashionable blogger.
More tools and resources I use to run the blog, biz, and my life…
For the Office:
Freshbooks – for biz invoicing, time tracking and more!
Macbook Pro 15″
Apple Magic Mouse
Herschel Laptop Sleeve
Poppin Desk Accessories
Moleskine Cahier 3 Pack
Day Designer Flagship Planner in Black Stripe
Muji Pens + Highlighters
AirBNB – for amazing travel stays in a local home. Get $45 with my link!
Booking.com – I book all my hotel stays with this site.
Ebates – earn cash for your everyday purchases.
Swagbucks – put cash back in your wallet for shopping at your favorite stores.
Everlane – for minimal, ethically made clothing.