Some tools I use are free and some I pay a small fee for. I was loathed to spend any money when I started out, and no-one should feel like they have them to make their blog a success, however I have found that since making smart decisions on where to invest, I have seen a huge growth in traffic and visibility, and therefore more paid work and passive income, both of which are my end goals. If that’s not your goal, some of the tools can still help, particularly the design and scheduling tools. Some of the following are affiliate links, meaning I get a small commission if you purchase anything through my link, however I only recommend things I use and find helpful myself.
Convert kit – I’ve changed over from the free mailchimp service to a paid one with convertkit. So far it’s great, I understand it a lot better and it makes sense to me. I can easily provide content upgrades and free downloads to my readers, design forms and send emails in a plain and simple format. I’m also going to be using it for my online courses. It’s $29 a month, but it’s well worth it if you want to grow your email list and offer some sort of digital product or download. It didn’t take me long to suss it out, so if you have any questions about it I’m happy to chat to you.
I use TSOhost for my blog website host, I used to be on the free wordpress.com platform when I started, then I migrated with the help of TSO. I wrote about the changeover here. They also helped me out when my blog got hacked and when I wanted to get my SSL certification and secure site, so I now have https and a green padlock. I’ve always found them helpful and available and haven’t had any issues. You can chat via live chat or phone them any time. At first I was OK on the lite plan which is £14.99 for the year, but now I have a lot more content I am on the professional plan which is £4.99 a month. You can use my code MLife10 for 10% discount on hosting or domain names.
Canva – canva is my go to for graphics designing and I love using it. If I have my photos edited, I upload them to canva and then pick a layout to tinker with or start from scratch. It’s free, and you can design Pinterest graphics, Youtube thumbnails, Facebook posts, Ebook covers, Infographics, ads and more. You can upgrade to Canva for work, which gives you a brand palette and you can upload extra fonts, add team members and customise dimensions. I tried it for a while but didn’t find I gained that much, so I downgraded it again, and my brand colours and fonts are still there. I sometimes pay $1 here and there for particular elements or images, which is far better value than shutterstock. I have used Picmonkey and Befunky too, and sometimes still use them if I want particular dimensions, or want to cut out or tidy up a background. Picmonkey is good for choosing your dimensions and they have good grids and cutouts. They have a free and a royale membership, I just use the free version. I tend to stick to Canva though. Befunky is free with some paid features, it has a good collage maker.
Evernote – it’s a notes app where you can write on the go, and then it syncs anywhere, so your notes will be immediately available on your PC too. I have my Instagram hashtags, notes for post drafts and anything else I want to save while I’m on the go. The free option syncs with 2 devices and you can upload 60MB per month, with a note size limit of 25 MB. I’ve not exceeded it yet.
Creative Market – every Monday they have 6 free downloads of fonts and graphics, which you can then use for your blog graphics in one of the design apps above. They also have loads of graphics and fonts for really low prices. Particularly good if you want to do logo design and have different graphics than the usual templates. You can sign up for free to their mailing list and every Monday you get the freebies. You can also sign up to be an affiliate.
Inlinkz – for setting up your own linky, they have a free version without images and a paid version, which costs $2.99 a month. I use the paid version for my blog link ups, because the images look so much better. You can also use it to list links in a nice table like format with images. At the moment I’m trialing the Inlinkz project manager and LinkDeli, which allows you to use your affiliate links in an attractive list format with images. Here’s an example of a post I’ve written using the project manager. It’s so much easier than adding your own images and links, plus once you enter a link it’s then there to use multiple times. It’s so worth it!
Buffer -I use this to schedule my tweets and some facebook posts for my 2 twitter accounts. I also have the chrome extension so I can buffer pretty much anything. I upgraded to Buffer awesome so that I can schedule more than 10 at a time and I can connect more than one account. It also gives me the option to connect my RSS feeds so I have content ready to share.
Postcron – this is another scheduler, I’m using it for facebook, particularly in groups, as an addition to Buffer. I’m using the free version which is all I need.
Boardbooster – I literally can’t manage Pinterest without it! It lets me schedule pins, loop my blog pins so they’re continually promoted, and add my pins to all the group boards I’m on over a set time period so I don’t forget or spam pinterest with the same pin all the time, putting my followers off. You can get a free trial of 100 pins worth to see if it’s for you. If you need help, I’ve written all I know about Pinterest and boardbooster here.
I’ve heard good things about Tailwind, I signed up for a free trial account as I already have boardbooster and it’s working so well, I know I’m going to continue it. I’ve joined for the tribes mainly, more than the scheduling to see if it’ll give my traffic a boost. Nothing can replace boardbooster for the ease of the campaigns and looping though (for me). The tribes are free but you can sign up for the Tailwind plus plan, which has 4 months free and gives you unlimited scheduling function, for $119 a year, or $15 a month. The tribes work a bit like group boards, where you share and re-pin in your chosen niche.
Siteguarding – My blog got hacked twice this year. The first time it was just one post that was affected, and I removed it and thought it was sorted. The second time, it affected my whole blog, and despite re-setting my blog back a week via TSO, it still hadn’t removed the malicious codes or files. I was recommended to use Siteguarding as a one off cleaning service, which I did. They cleared all the malicious code and then removed the infected files. I had a couple more attempts which were blocked and now it’s safe. I used their live chat facility which was invaluable, they could chat and immediately look into issues. I decided to pay monthly to have the peace of mind it offers in case I get hacked again. Most people use wordfence as a plugin, which I have but it didn’t detect any problems! I still have it, but don’t trust it. I’d definitely recommend Siteguarding. They can tell if your site is blacklisted by Google and remove it for you too.
My Affiliate networks
Affiliate window, now known as AWIN is my main affiliate network and has many UK retailers and websites you can use for promotion, like House of Fraser, Boots, Etsy and The Entertainer to name a few. You deposit £5 to sign up which then goes on your balance and once you get to £20 you can withdraw the money, so you get it back. You have to apply to each retailer, or you can install convert-a-link to your blog which converts all the links for you. I’ve had a couple of payouts now, you can use text links or banner ads.
Share-a-sale – a US site which has a lot of useful affiliates
Amazon affiliates – very useful, you can promote just about anything. The commission is usually quite low but if you get it right it’s a winner. I use text links to searches or products via the site stripe, a search widget in my sidebar and I have the plugin to quickly and easily put in a product carousel directly into the end or middle of my posts (see example below my signature).