I created this page to share all the tools I use to run my online business. These are the actual products and services I’ve used to build a blog and a content creation business, and build my career as an indie author and freelance writer. This page started out as a blog post but I wanted to make sure it was easy for you to find (and for me to keep updated) so I’ve moved it to my main pages section and will add to it as I find new tools (so you may want to bookmark it or Pin it so you can come back and check it out in the future).
Many of these tools are free. Most are very affordable. All are excellent value (in my opinion). Most paid tools I recommend have a return policy. Always make sure you’re happy with the features and the return policy of any paid tools.
WordPress is where all the big boys (and girls) blog. It has a lot of cool functions, clean, attractive themes (even the free ones) easy to install plug-ins, widgets, and more functionality than most other platforms. It also integrates easily with almost any other program you might want to use and finding advice and tutorials is always easy, because it’s so popular.
You can set up your own blog on WordPress easily following this simple step-by step tutorial:
Weebly is a basic WYSIWYG (What You See Is What You Get) platform that makes building a professional looking website even easier than WordPress. It doesn’t have the plug-ins, widgets, SEO capabilities and integration features of WordPress, and I don’t recommend it for building a blog that you hope to make a lot of money from.
I, however, set up my ‘big business card’ style freelance writing site KarenBanes.com on Weebly years ago and I love how low maintenance and intuitive it is. Everything is drag and drop and I never have to spend time updating plug-ins (because there aren’t any). If you’re looking for a ridiculously easy website to showcase your portfolio, for example, and you’re really not a tech wizard, you may find a use for Weebly in your bag of tricks.
I’ve used all the big hosting sites (some for myself and some while working with clients) and I recommend Bluehost for hosting your WordPress site. It’s recommended by WordPress too. My tutorial on take how to set up a blog walks you thorough how to use Bluehost. It’s super affordable, reliable and simple to use. You can get your Bluehost account up and running in no time and then install WordPress with the click of a button.
Bluehost are currently offering a free domain with their hosting, which you can register while you’re setting up your blog. But if you already have one, it’s easy to use that as well. I bought TheSavvySolopreneur.net from GoDaddy a while ago (when I started writing The Savvy Solopreneur ebook series and knew I’d want a domain to promote them some day). When I set up this blog it was super simple to log in and redirect the domain to point to my brand new WordPress site.
Update: Looks like Bluehost are currently holding a sale. Hosting is down to $3.95.
Bloggers need an email program to build your list of potential clients and communicate with your audience. I’m currently using Mailchimp and loving it. Mailchimp is free for your first 2000 subscribers, so it grows with you. It’s also good for ecommerce sites as it integrates well with sites like Shopify, WooCommerce and BigCommerce.
Social media marketing is vital to grow a thriving online business, and it’s (mostly) free. Yes, you may end up paying for ads to increase your social media reach, but you can start building an audience on any social media site for free. You’ll find me on Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, LinkedIn, Google+ and, most recently, Instagram.
I advise you to at least have a presence on all the big sites. If you don’t use a particular one often make sure your profile says what you do and who you serve, and includes a link to where potential clients can find out more about you and get in touch.
I store all my work in progress in Dropbox (online cloud storage) allowing me to access it from any location and any device. This is the one tool that helps me be truly flexible, highly productive, and effectively location independent in the way I run my business. It’s also really useful for sharing files with my team and my clients. And the basic version is FREE. (You can upgrade to a paid version if you have a ton of files to store and need more space). Find out more here.
The perfect online, self-paced program to get your blog set up and attracting massive traffic, with special bonuses to help accelerate your success, including the new courses Traffic Avalanche Strategy and Easy Twitter Mastery.
Many freelance writers and professional content creators use all kinds of fancy writing software. Not me. I stick with Microsoft Word. Word documents are easy to work with, universally accepted by editors, and easy to convert to other formats (such as PDF) using a free online conversion tool (I use this one).
With Office you also get Excel which is what I use to track freelance submissions, income and expenses.
I use this free online tool on every headline I write, whether it’s for my own blog, my content creation clients or my freelance writing pitches. I’ve started using it to test out future book titles too.
Your personal online proofreader, Grammarly can proofread everything from a blog post to a book. I’m not saying you should always skip paying a human editor/proofreader (it depends on the project) but for your day-to-day content, Grammarly is great. If you’re launching a book, course or information product, you might want to perfect it by employing a professional copy editor and proofreader, but you can still save money by using Grammarly to improve your content before handing it over to an editor.
This free WordPress plug-in optimizes every post I write, both for myself and my content creation clients. If you’re still not sure how to use Search Engine Optimization, this book does a great job of explaining it, but if you use Yoast, you’ll need less of an in-depth knowledge, and more of a basic understanding. Yoast is one of the five essential free plugins I recommend you install on any new blog.
PLR (Private Label Rights) content is content you buy in to adapt, personalize, monetize and use on your site. PLR articles are usually written by a ghostwriter and sold to several website owners. This means that you (and a limited number of other bloggers) can edit the articles and publish them without being required to link back to anyone or give anyone credit for writing them.
Using PLR is a little complicated, but once you get the hang of using it, it can save you a ton of time. Grab this free report How to Use PLR Content.
The PLR companies I personally use are:
Click on the images above to check them out.
Bonus tip: I rarely buy PLR at full price. Sign up for the newsletter at the above sites and they’ll let you know when they have discounted PLR packages or site-wide sales. That’s when I stock up. Sometimes they’ll even send you free content you can re-brand and use in your business. (You may need to scroll to the bottom of the page to find the sign-up box).
My best resource for ‘Done-For-You’ content. Coachglue sell ready-made templates, planners and coaching kits you can adapt and rebrand to use in your business. They mainly serve business coaches, providing kits they can use to coach their clients and organize their business, but some of their resources work in various niches. I use their planners (such as the Book Brainstorming Planner and Amazon Author Page planner) to coach other writers.
Images are really important in my online business, but I don’t spend a lot on them. I mainly use these free stock photography sites to source images, combined with the resource below.
I also love Creative Market, which is a paid site that gives free images and graphics to its subscribers every month.
Simple to use image editing software that has a basic free version. I only occasionally use the paid elements and you can do so on a pay-as-you-go basis, spending as little as $1 at a time if you want to use a premium image or graphic.
SOCIAL MEDIA MARKETING
Just ReTweet has long been my favorite free way to drive traffic to my blog posts and online articles. It enables you to get a lot of genuine ReTweets, Google shares and Facebook likes very quickly, and helps you attract new followers on Twitter at the same time.
As an extra bonus, this site is also a great place to go to find fresh content to curate and share with your readers.
Sumo is actually a suite of web traffic tools that help with everything from social media marketing to list building. There’s a free and paid version. If you blog on WordPress, at the very least get the free version of Sumo. Then you can do simple but important things like add those floating social share buttons to your posts. They make it a no-brainer for visitors to share any content that’s useful to their audience.
I use Fiverr.com to outsource easy one-off jobs like designing a simple cover for an ebook or info product, keyword research or techie stuff (like moving a blog from one platform to another or making a new domain point at an old site). These are things I could do myself but as I don’t do it on a daily basis it would take me a while to work out (or remember) how to do it. I can outsource it for as little as $5 so… Why not?
Bigger, more important jobs I outsource to trusted professionals who have been recommended by people I know and respect. Not familiar with outsourcing? This Outsource Weekly course will teach you EVERYTHING you need to know about it.
I use Kindle Direct Publishing to publish my ebooks on Amazon, and Smashwords to push them out to other retailers like iBooks and Barnes & Noble. I also log onto those platforms daily to monitor sales and promote my books.
Lastly, everyone needs a daily planner. You can get one from the dollar store, but I think planning is by far the most important daily task for my business, so I treat myself to a proper business planner. Currently I’m loving The Biz Plan Book, created by Natalie Collins.
My online business planner is the last tool on my list, and the least technical, but probably the most important. Planning daily is a huge part of how I get clarity around my long-term business goals.
Need more clarity? To grab your free workbook (and other online business goodies) sign up below.