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Tools I Love
Nearly every single day someone asks me, “Erika, what do you recommend I use for ________?” And so, behold: all my (delightful) resources in one handy dandy place.
These are webhosts, themes, plugins, programs, products, books, etc., that I have personally used to build my own blog + business. I will add to this page as I come across new or better tools, so it’s worth bookmarking.
Also, some of the below are affiliate links. That means if you decide to purchase a product or service by going through my link, my little munchkins will get some milkshake + burger money (not a grand piano).
BLOG + BIZ MUST-HAVES
Flywheel (Hosting for WordPress): With nightly backups, blazing-fast load times, WordPress-specific security, and a heroic support team full of WordPress developers, upgrading to managed hosting with Flywheel was a ridiculously easy choice for my business.
Here’s what I’m loving so far:
- Flywheel’s servers are designed specifically for optimal WordPress performance, so everything is crazy fast. (Totally necessary for better SEO!) Plus, they configure all of the caching for me, so I don’t have to fuss with caching plugins anymore.
- My site is backed up nightly, and is easily restorable. I no longer have to worry about configuring my trusty old backup plugin, or figure out how to do manual restores. #lifeisshort
- Flywheel continually scans for and blocks known attempts to hack my site (and trust me, I get a lot of creepy folks who try). In the unlikely event that my site is compromised, they’ll fix it for me – free.
If you already have hosting, know that Flywheel migrated my site at NO cost (before I even signed up for a plan!) and it only took a few hours. I could not recommend them more; check out their plans now.
Bluehost: Can’t afford managed hosting yet? I used Bluehost for website hosting for 3 years. They have low prices ($3.95/mo) and you can get your site and/or blog up and running in mere minutes.
ConvertKit: This email marketing software was built for bloggers like me who want super simple, effective ways to grow their list via multiple content upgrades + quick landing pages. Since using it my daily subscriber rate has doubled!
Tailwind: This is what I tweeted the very first time I used the app for scheduling Pins on Pinterest:
And here is a glimpse of my results from using Tailwind (you can see exactly what happened to my Pinterest impressions the very moment I began using the app):
Is it worth it? Absolutely, my friends. Since using it I’ve grown my following by ~ 400 people per week (that’s up from an average of 100 – 200). Try it for free here.
Themeforest: Themeforest is the go-to spot for premium WordPress themes. I have designed websites using the Avada Theme and Enfold Theme and HIGHLY recommend them. Both are beautiful, well-supported, and easy peasy to customize to your heart’s content — even if you don’t know code.
Elegant Themes: Another pretty + classy option for WordPress themes. If you’re a beginning blogger and specifically want a “feminine theme,” this is a good place to look. Also, one payment gives you access to 85+ themes. Switch when you want! (That’s great for us indecisive bloggers. 😉 )
Buffer: Buffer is my fave social media scheduler for Twitter + Facebook. (And now they have Instagram capability!) It also helps that they arguably have The Best customer service team of any company, ever. Use it for free on two platforms, or upgrade to the Awesome plan for all of your social media needs.
Epic Blog Brew: For a comprehensive, one-stop resource that will legitimately get you a solid online brand from scratch, this is the only course of its kind that I can personally recommend.
EPICBLOG: Every successful blog needs a plan. This one-year blog editorial planner helps you create a purposeful and profitable blog through a mini blog business plan, ideal reader survey, monthly theme planning, monthly content planning, and more.
Blog Beautiful: This smart e-book will walk you through how to create more consistency in your blog’s design, what’s important to have on your blog and what you can get rid of, how to format your posts, + A LOT more. Applicable to both WordPress and Blogger.
Grammarly, The World’s Best Grammar Checker: Grammarly is a slick tool to help you look your best online. (Yes, quality matters if you want a pro blog or biz that people love!) Use it to improve your blog posts, About pages, emails, e-courses, landing pages, and e-books.
Zero to Self-Published Book: Want to make money by selling your own book? This course is incredible: you’ll learn things like how to design + lay out your pages appropriately (w/ exact dimension sizes), apply for an ISBN, put your book on Amazon or in local bookstores, and a heaping ton more.
Delight – The Digital Biz Owner’s Guide to Creating a Pro Client + Customer Service Plan: My popular 64-page workbook to help you thrill clients and customers online. It comes with in-depth questionnaires, checklists, guides, real-life examples, cheat sheets, and other useful, service-boosting goodies.
Pre-Scripted – The Small Biz Owner’s Mini-Guide to Building a Customer Service Script Database: Create a bank of smart customer service scripts that you can use quickly + easily every time you write an email, respond on social media, or answer a review! It includes 87+ exact phrases that will make your client + customer interactions stress-free, friendly, and totally profesh.
The 21 Day Brand Detox: A free email course for refreshing your digital spaces — so you can look as reputable as possible (and have a way easier time building a profitable biz online)!
Go Independent: Establish a Brand That Matters: A free course that will teach you how to humanize, legitimize, and begin to monetize your epic brand from scratch. Packed with helpful info, worksheets, and interviews with successful brand owners!
GRAPHICS + FONTS + STOCK PHOTOS
Creative Market: While this site has some pretty — and delightfully affordable — website themes, my favorite things to buy here are the beautiful script fonts and styled stock photos. 🙂 The other thing I like about buying here is that it supports independent creatives (it’s like an Etsy for digital designers).
Adobe Creative Cloud: Get just one program, or get EVERY Adobe product (including Illustrator, InDesign, Premiere Pro, Dreamweaver, etc), for a low monthly fee. I use Illustrator on a daily basis for my blog, and InDesign is how I design my ebooks + most of my worksheet PDFs. I could not run my blog without this!
PicMonkey: Even though I primarily use programs like Adobe, I still use web-based picture editing software for certain things — and PicMonkey is such a neat choice. You can use it to make social media covers, collages, and add classy overlays, but it even does an impressive job at touching up photos and adding beautiful filters. The core options are free, but it’s only $2.75/month for the full suite of features.
Canva: free graphic design app
TinyPNG: free image compression app
45+ Free Stock Photo Sites: beautiful free images!
Stocksy: premium stock photos for creatives
Screenflow (for Mac): This useful piece of software lets me record via my computer screen, audio, and/or webcam and then edit clips by adding music, text, and cool effects (like zooming or highlighting). And what I really love is that I can publish directly to YouTube (or Facebook, or Vimeo, or whatever) in one click. If you want to make e-courses or workshops with video tutorials, snag this tool. Here are videos I’ve created using Screenflow.
iThemes Security: The BEST and most comprehensive way to secure your site from hackers if you don’t have managed hosting that provides site security for you. I began using this plugin after seeing others having to pay hundreds (or thousands!) of dollars to hire someone to restore their site after being hacked. In my opinion it should be the first plugin you install.
UpdraftPlus: This plugin is the other partner I’ve used to make sure my site is safe + sound. It creates automatic backups of your website, then sends them to the cloud (like Amazon S3 Dropbox, Google Drive, Rackspace Cloud, FTP, email, etc. You can also restore your site in one click.
Coming Soon Pro: Easily setup a gorgeous coming soon page, collect leads, and limit access to your website while it’s “under construction.”
Yoast SEO: Write posts + pages that get found by search engines. *Everyone should install this plugin. Please. It’s that epic.
Disqus: A spam-free commenting platform for your blog that makes conversations, well, better.
Pretty Link Lite: Create shorter, “prettier” links for your content — or for your affiliate links.
BILLING + TIME TRACKING
Quickbooks Self-Employed: If you’re a new freelancer or solopreneur, taxes can be scary. I love this friendly QB app for that reason — it helps you calculate deductions, organize your receipts, and separate your business expenses from your personal ones. No hassle, no fear. It will even estimate your quarterly taxes so there are no ugly surprises! Try it and get 50% off.
FreshBooks: With FreshBooks you can create professional-looking invoices and brand them with your own logo. Then when you’re ready to bill a client, you can send your invoice via email with a single click. You can also bill in any currency, track expenses, track billable time, and easily export to QuickBooks.
BEST EQUIPMENT FOR PHOTOS, PODCASTS, + VIDEOS
I have all of these in my home office — use them to level up your flat lay photographs, webinars, Hangouts, or Periscope broadcasts!
MOO: For gorgeous, super-official business cards that are surprisingly affordable. I upload my own finished designs, but you can design your own on their website — and they even have the option to pull your photos in from Instagram, Facebook, Flickr, and Etsy.
The Freelancer’s Bible: When I was a freelancer, this book was my godsend. It educates about contracts and what you need to put in them to protect yourself, what to consider when deciding on your fee, suggestions for bookkeeping and taxes, scripts for dealing with deadbeat clients, and soooo much more.
UnMarketing: Besides the fact Scott Stratten is my hero, this book makes me want to shout, “YES! That!” the whole time I’m reading it. Which is a little bit UnSettling to those who happen to be around me at the time, but gosh. It’s that good. If you’ve ever been told that you “have” to cold-call people to get business, you will cradle this book to your bosom and weep. In the best way possible.
Everybody Writes: Your Go-To Guide to Creating Ridiculously Good Content: The title says it all, oui? If the process of blogging keeps you up at night, sweating and scared, you should read this book. If you have no clue how to write an engaging Facebook post, you should read this book. If you still don’t know why writing is THE key to building a successful brand, you should read. this. book.
Likeable Social Media: Because believe it or not, there are plenty of ways to be anything but likeable (and successful) on social media. Though most of the examples in this book deal with large companies, there’s plenty to be learned by solopreneurs + small businesses. Everybody can find a way to surprise + delight their fans. Everybody.
What Happens in Vegas Stays on YouTube: Privacy is dead and reputations are dying. Short and to the point, this book is a wake up call for anyone who thinks that their “personal” and “business” online behaviors are — or can be — two different things. As relevant to the college student as it is to the mommy blogger as it is to the CEO of a Fortune 500 company. Get one for yourself, then give one out to everyone you know.
Other faves on my business bookshelf:
The Customer Support Handbook by Sarah Hatter
How To Win Friends & Influence People by Dale Carnegie
Playing Big by Tara Mohr
Uplifting Service by Ron Kaufman
Crisis Communications by Steven Fink
And top picks from my personal bookshelf:
The Road of Lost Innocence by Somaly Mam
Heat by Bill Buford
The Gift of Fear by Gavin de Becker
Why Does He Do That? Inside the Minds of Angry & Controlling Men by Lundy Bancroft
The Little Paris Bookshop by Nina George