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As a blogger and online business owner I get asked quite often which tools, programs, courses, and such that I use to run my blog, create content, send emails, and grow my social media following.
Using the right tools to complete certain tasks can mean the difference between pulling your hair out in frustration and breezing through a task in 20 minutes.
So to answer all your questions of “What did you use for that?” I’ve put together this comprehensive list of all the tools and resources I currently use or have used in my online business.
You’ll find recommendations for everything here — from what I use to build my website, host webinars, run email marketing campaigns, create beautiful content, social media, and much more.
Some of the links below are affiliate links. That means if you purchase something through one of them, I may make a small commission (at no extra cost to you of course!). I only post affiliate links for products and services that I’ve personally used and love. You can read my full disclaimer here.
Jump to the different categories of resources I use and recommend:
- Website + Hosting
- Graphics, Images + Design
- Image Creation + Editing
- Content Storage + Hosting
- Tech + Hardware
- Email Marketing
- Online Course Creation
- Social Media
- Payment Processors
- Landing Pages + Opt-ins
Website + Hosting
- Bluehost is a great web host for those just starting out, and they offer yearly packages at a low rate. I’ve had very few issues with them, and the few times I’ve had problems with my site it was fixed quickly after contacting support. You can sign up for hosting for as little as $2.75 per month (as of early 2018). I bought my domain name with them when I signed up as well. For a step-by-step walk-through of setting up your new blog with Bluehost, check out this post.
- WordPress definitely has a bit of a learning curve, but you DON’T need to know how to code in order to use it (which was perfect for someone like me!). There are a ton of great drag-and-drop type page builders, so look for a theme that functions like this (i.e. says something along the lines of “no coding required” in the description). Just make sure you’re setting up your site on WordPress.ORG and not WordPress.COM – the latter is the freebie version and is very limited in features.
- Themes – You can find a whole bunch of great themes on Themeforest, so take a peek and I’m sure you’ll find something that suits your specific needs. I’m currently using the Total Theme by WPExplorer, and I can also recommend the Divi Theme as a great and (relatively) easy to use theme for those who don’t know how to code.
The great thing about a WordPress.org site is that you can add almost any functionality you want through the use of plugins. Here are a few of the best that I use and recommend:
- Sumo – Has all sorts of features, but I mainly use it for that social sharing bar on the left hand side of all the pages on my site. This is great for letting your visitors help spread the word about your amazing content by sharing your blog posts on their preferred social platform.
With Sumo, you can also set up opt-in boxes, welcome mats, popups, and other things that will help you get your website visitors to sign up for your email list. Some features are free, but you’ll get the most out of Sumo by signing up for a paid account.
- WooCommerce – An essential plugin that allows me to sell my products right on my own site. I currently use this to host my shop on lobotany.com.
- BackWPup – backing up your WordPress site is essential, because at some point something will go wrong and you may have to restore your website. I schedule in frequent backups of my whole site, so I don’t have to worry about losing everything if a problem arises. Note: there are a ton of great backup plugins, this is just the one I happen to use (plus it’s free!).
- Thrive Leads – I use this plugin to add content upgrade opt-in boxes to most of my blog posts. They’re those little clickable text boxes or images sprinkled throughout, that tempt my readers to subscribe to my list in exchange for cool upgrades. The reader clicks the box, and a popup shows up prompting them to enter their email to access the extra content.
This is a GREAT way to start turning your readers into email subscribers, and I highly recommend adding content upgrades to your blog posts to start growing your list on autopilot.
UPDATE: I’ve upgraded to LeadPages for all my landing page needs. LeadPages does require a monthly fee, but it is well worth the cost for the easy of use and the speed with which I’m able to set up gorgeous looking landing pages. But if you’re looking for something to do all of the above and for a one time fee, Thrive Leads is your best bet.
- Yoast SEO – I know everyone keeps talking about this one, and you’re probably tired of hearing about it. But Yoast is one of those essential plugins that every WP site should have, so I had to include it here.
You can use Yoast to optimize your web pages and blog posts to rank higher in Google search, and therefore get more traffic to your site. Kind of important, right? Enter in the keywords you want to rank for, and Yoast will tell you what you need to do in order to improve your chances of ranking high.
It can also analyse your text for readability, so you can improve your prose to keep your readers interested and engaged.
Graphics, Images, and Design
For the images I use on my website and in my social media campaigns, I use a mix of free and paid content.
- Free Image Sources – My go-to place for free images has got to be Pixabay, simply because they have such a wide range of options and they’re free to use — they don’t require any crediting of the original author, which is super convenient.
- Paid Image Sources (for reasonable prices)
- Creative Market – I honestly get pulled down the rabbit hole that is Creative Market more often than I’d like to admit. There is SO much good content here from individual creators, and you can find almost anything you need — and it’s all so gosh darn PRETTY. I personally have found some great styled stock images, fonts, mock-ups, and Power Point templates here. It’s one of the first places I look when searching for that perfect piece of content.
Plus, if you sign up for their email list, they release 6 free goodies every single week for you to download for FREE.
- Envato Market – In this digital marketplace you can find almost anything you could ever possibly need — images, video, graphics, animations, music, sound clips, WP themes — you name it, it’s probably here. Though prices depend on the seller, I’ve found most things to be reasonably priced here.
Image Creation + Editing
- Adobe Photoshop + Adobe Illustrator – I break out the big guns when it comes to hardcore image editing. I use Photoshop for adjusting photos images, and illustrator if I’m creating graphics or icons, or something that needs to be easily scaleable like logos.
- Canva – I use Canva quite a lot because I can often throw together a nice promo image faster in here than I can with Photoshop or Illustrator. It’s just so easy to use, quick, and FREE (though there is a paid version, I find the free one is enough for me).
So for things like Facebook group posts, Facebook ad images, Instagram promo images, and covers for PDF workbooks or content upgrades, I usually accomplish it all in Canva.
Content Storage + Hosting
- Images, PDFs and Power Point slide decks are created and hosted in Google Drive.
- I’ve used Dropbox in the past for images, but I’m finding Google Drive to be much more convenient since I write all my content within Google Docs anyway. It’s great having all my content in one place, so I’ve slowly been switching over exclusively to Google Drive, and phasing out Dropbox.
- My free video content is hosted on YouTube since it’s easily accessible and free, while my paid video content is hosted right inside Teachable (my course hosting platform).
Tech + Hardware
- Iphone X – For taking most photos and some videos. I also do most of my image editing for social media right on my phone (see the Social Media section for the apps I use to do this).
- Canon Rebel T3i – I break this bad boy out when things get serious, which is happening less and less often since the camera in my iPhone is so great! Still the best option for serious photo shoots though.
- Blue Snowball Microphone – I use this microphone any time I need to record my voice for something, whether that’s video course content, voice overs, or live webinars. I HIGHLY recommend getting a USB microphone if you’re doing anything with video — the sound quality is a LOT better than the one built into your computer and it’ll make your content sound so much more professional.
There are plenty of fancier and more expensive options out there, but the Blue Snowball provides great sound quality for a great price.
- Convertkit – I know, I know, another one that everyone keeps talking about! But it totally lives up to its good reputation.
I started out on Mailchimp, and hardly ever sent out emails because A) I was a newbie and didn’t know what I was supposed to be sending and B) Mailchimp has so many features which make it kind of confusing.
But with Convertkit, I’ve learned how to do SO many useful things – from setting up an email course, evergreen sales funnel, and sending out email blasts to certain segments of my list. The tagging system within Convertkit really allows me to segment and organize my subscribers based on what they’ve signed up for, what categories of my content they’re interested in, and so much more.
- Mailchimp – Convertkit does come at a (reasonable) monthly fee, but if you’re looking to start out with something free Mailchimp has that option and can definitely do the job for you.
Course Creation + Hosting
- Teachable – This is where I host all my courses, and I am absolutely IN LOVE with it! Teachable makes it SO easy to upload all your course content and present it in a professional looking way. It also handles your payments through PayPal and/or Stripe and you can create the sales page for your course right inside the platform as well.
There is also a free option with limited features if you’re just starting out — at the time of this writing I am currently on the Basic $39/mo plan, and it’s worth every penny.
- Camtasia – I use this program for recording and editing all my videos that involve screen capture, such as tutorials where I’m walking you through how to do something on Instagram, or recording masterclass videos with prepared slides.
Super simple to use, it’s easy to get the hang of even if you’re not technologically inclined. I simply watched a couple tutorial videos and was ready to start recording!
- Reflector 3 – You know those videos where I show you what’s happening on my iPhone screen? I did that using this nifty little tool called Reflector 3. What it does is mirror your iPhone screen (or iPad or other device) onto your computer. I use this in combination with Camtasia to record Instagram tutorial videos where I need to show my audience how to do something in app.
- Blue Snowball Microphone – I use this microphone any time I need to record my voice for something, whether that’s video course content, voice overs, or live webinars.
I HIGHLY recommend getting a USB microphone if you’re doing anything with video — the sound quality is a LOT better than the one built into your computer and it’ll make your content sound so much more professional.
- Webinar Ninja – I’m by no means a webinar expert, but I did my homework and ended up choosing Webinar Ninja as the hosting platform for mine. You can get Webinar Ninja for a monthly subscription, with price depending on the number of live viewers you can have. I’m currently on the lowest plan that goes up to 100 live viewers, but you can upgrade and downgrade whenever you want.
So if you have a huge spike in signups for an upcoming webinar, you can upgrade for that month to accommodate your larger audience.
So far, I’ve found this platform simple and easy to setup and use, which is something I know can’t be said for every webinar hosting platform out there *cough* GoToWebinar *cough*.
- Scheduling – For scheduling, I’ve used both Later and Plann — though I’m using the term “used” rather lightly. I’m not one to schedule too much in advance, so I’ve always struggled to make myself use these programs on a consistent basis. But if being organized is your thing, these programs will help you schedule your Instagram posts and make sure all your photos look good together before posting them.
- Analytics – Keeping track of what’s working for you and what’s not is SUPER important to your success on Instagram. There are a TON of options out there both free and paid for analytics, but here are my favorites:
- Iconosquare – This one comes with a monthly fee, but it’s the most comprehensive of all the analytics options I’ve come across. You can track almost everything you need to on Instagram with this guy, from best times to post, which posts are getting you the most engagement, hashtag performance, growth, etc.
- Ink361 – This is a free website where you can check your basic Instagram analytics, and spy on your competitors’ progress as well. Compare your best posts, amount of likes and comments over time, and best times to post among other statistics.
- Social Blade – The simplest of the three, but also free. You can use Social Blade to track your follower growth, posting frequency, and compare your stats with your competitors.
- Image Editing – I mentioned earlier that I do most of my image editing for social media right on my iPhone, and I achieve that with a handful of awesome apps!
- A Color Story – Great for adding some really neat filters and effects to your images, to really give your feed a cohesive and branded look. Free, but you can access more filters with inexpensive in-app purchases.
- WordSwag – Add a text overlay or watermark to your images with this app. I mostly use this to create awesome looking quote images for Instagram. A paid app, available for a few bucks on iOS and Android.
- Typorama – Very similar to WordSwag, except it’s available for free and only on iOS (sorry Android users!). You do have to pay a small fee to remove Typorama branding, but it’s totally worth it in order to look professional.
- Snapseed – My go-to app for image editing and tweaking on iPhone. A simple to use, yet powerful program that will have your Instagram photos looking fly in no time.
- Networking + Engagement Groups – Lots of people participate in engagement groups right in the Instagram app, but you can create much bigger groups if you host it somewhere else (max is 15 people per Instagram DM group).
- Telegram is the place to be, a chat app where you can include up to 5000 people per group, giving you tons of possibilities when it comes to organizing a networking group.
- Giveaways – The best way to host a giveaway on Instagram is to do it with a WordPress plugin called KingSumo. Normally, people don’t want to share a giveaway with their friends because the more entries there are, the lower their chances to win.
KingSumo turns this concept on it’s head by allowing you to run viral giveaways — participants earn extra entries in the contest for every friend they get to sign up, resulting in a TON of social sharing when done right.
- Link Shorteners – If you want to share a link in your Instagram bio, but the one you’ve got is long or ugly, you’ll need a link shortener to clean it up.
- BoardBooster – I love love LOVE this handy little tool! BoardBooster is the backbone of my entire Pinterest strategy. I use it to schedule pins, loop older pins to be re-posted to my own boards, and set campaigns to post to a multitude of group boards in order to boost my exposure.
You need to be actively pinning on Pinterest every day in order to get your content seen and drive traffic to your site, and BoardBooster helps you do that with minimal effort. I literally 10x’ed my blog traffic in one month when I started using this program — it’s THAT good.
- Canva – I create all my Pinterest optimized images using Canva, simply because it’s so easy and quick to create something that stands out and also sticks to my brand imaging. Plus, they have preset templates for Pinterest images so you don’t have to go searching for the perfect image dimensions that will get your posts seen.
- Hootsuite – I’m not huge into Facebook since they’ve limited the reach on business pages, but Facebook Groups are a whole other story. I use Hootsuite to schedule weekly prompts in my Facebook Group in order to encourage discussions and interactions between group members.
I’m using the free version at the moment, since it does all I need it to do.
- I’ve used both PayPal and Stripe to accept payment. Both do the job, though Stripe is a little more difficult to get set up on your own website — which is why I’ve only used it in combination with the Teachable platform (so far).
- LeadPages – I use LeadPages to create just about all of my landing pages now. I started out creating them myself right inside WordPress, but this was an often long, and tedious process. With LeadPages I am able to quickly select a template I like, edit and customize it so it fits in my my branding and look, and hit Publish all within a few minutes. This service is a MASSIVE time saver and I highly recommend it if you require a lot of landing pages and opt-ins for your online business.
- Thrive Leads – I use this plugin to add content upgrade opt in boxes to most of my blog posts. They’re those little clickable text boxes or images sprinkled throughout my blog posts with cool upgrades. The reader clicks the box, and a popup shows up prompting them to enter their email to access the extra content.
This is a GREAT way to start turning your readers into email subscribers, and I highly recommend adding content upgrades to your blog posts to start growing your list on autopilot.