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Please note, some links contain affiliate links.  All this means is that I may receive a commission of the sale if you click on a link and purchase.  These are all my own opinions - money will not sway me!

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MUST HAVE TOOLS:

  • Bluehost ~ A great choice for getting started with hosting. (Plus a free 1-year domain included.)
  • ElegantThemes ~ Over my years, I’ve realized what I want out of my blog.. and that’s not having to do tons of custom coding.  I’ve seen Elegant Themes around a lot because of their helpful blog posts, and finally decided to try them out. I’ve been absolutely blown away with their jam-packed features, as well as their visual builder!
  • Typorama ~ This iPhone typography app has been my go-to for all things custom thumbnails. Absolutely love it!
  • MailChimp ~ An amazing platform to learn your email marketing with.  Free to up to 2,000 users, with automation, too!  (As you advance.. I find their automation a bit cumbersome.  I’ve started to use ConvertKit for my electrician blog for more flexibility, however, it’s a paid platform.)

My Personal Recommendations..

I wanted to create a resource page recommending some of my favorite website tools and what I think are the best WordPress plugins for my needs.

I’ve worked on a lot of different WordPress themes, some frameworks, and even created my own custom WordPress theme (which was an awesome learning experience, but not worth the time depending on what you’re wanting to get out of your blog.)

Again, these tools are not just specific to WordPress plugins.  These are tools that help me run my websites and online activities with high quality and efficiency!

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Best Plugins for WordPress and Website Tools:

You’ll find posts like “What are the Best Plugins for WordPress”..

But I want to share the WordPress tools + plugins which I use in real world practice.  Some of these are absolutey necessary, while some are luxury.

Hosting + Domains..

  • Bluehost ~ When starting up, Bluehost is an amazing platform because of the free domain for the first year, and affordability!  My first host was actually Hostgator, which I later found out is a sister company of Bluehost.  (I have used both services – Bluehost has a better starter program)
  • Namecheap ~ Many registrars get you in the door by offering a domain extremely cheap. But after that first year, the price bumps up.. it feels almost like “Gotcha!” – I chose my current registrar (Name.org) because their renewal prices were affordable, but it seems they boosted their prices 🙁 – However, I have seen Namecheap.com around the industry for a long time. Their prices are quite affordable in terms of new purchase, transfers, and renewals.  I also see many recommendations to the service around the web, too.

Themes + Frameworks..

In my early days of blogging, I used pre-made themes from Themeforest and TemplateMonster.

It always left a big learning gap, leaving me to read the theme’s documentation or search Google for specific answers. Sometimes I was never able to fully get the theme exactly how I wanted because of coding reasons.

These pre-made themes are great when beginning.. but there’s a reason WordPress frameworks exist.

A popular term you’ll hear in web development is DRY.  It stands for Do Not Repeat Yourself.

Another common term is:  “Do not reinvent the wheel”

Both these sayings are why frameworks have been created.  (They save us time by not having to re-write code, and they’ve been tested by professionals who know what they’re doing!)

When I had to choose, I was unsure between the Genesis Framework and Elegant Themes.

I have not used Genesis.. but from reading reviews, as well as researching the product, I was intrigued by how easy Elegant Themes seemed to operate!  In addition, they also have a bunch of helpful tools that help save us bloggers time.

 

  • Elegant Themes ~ I started with Elegant Themes in June 2017.  After purchasing, I was amazed at how much value is jam-packed into their service!  It’s an all-in-one website marketing bundle containing an email opt-in and social sharing plugin!  The visual builder is probably my favorite part as I’m able to see the front-end as I write these articles!  (This site is actually built off of their Extra theme, which is free if you are on their monthly or lifetime package.)
  • Code Snippet Module ~ I was trying to add code snippets to my WordPress blog, and found an amazing add-on plugin for Divi. (At the time it’s only $10!) – It allows you to paste your code snippet in and has TONS of color themes creating that beautiful full-width code look on your site. Super easy to install and use.

Email Marketing Tools

You’ll hear people say, “The money is in the list”, and I believe this is true.

It’s very important to not think of your subscriber as a number, but as a relationship.

Genuine relationships are what you want to build, as that is what builds community, and from there, your niche blog can skyrocket in popularity!

I’ve had my feet wet with email marketing since 2011, and over my years I’ve discovered more advanced techniques like segmenting your list reach those who are interested in specific things.

Here’s what I recommend:

 

  • MailChimp ~ MailChimp has been an amazing platform for me to learn email marketing with. The idea of sending emails and marketing is such a learning curve where you have to make mistakes to learn.  In terms of beautiful automation, I feel MailChimp is cumbersome but amazing to learn off of.  Start with MailChimp if you’re just beginning.
  • Bloom ~ This comes free with the Elegant Themes packages.  I love how easy it is to create an email opt-in whether that be a pop-up, bottom screen slide-in, or bottom of the post insert.  There are a few things lacking from Bloom such as exit-intent (which is patented), a full-screen welcome gate, as well as being able to send subscribers to groups when using MailChimp (extremely important for that segment stuff I mentioned above!)
  • Convert Kit ~ These guys are the industry leaders of email marketing.  If you’re ready to start paying, start here!
  • OptinMonster ~ The absolute pinnacle of email lead generation.  They are by far the most popular and include all the missing features I described above with Bloom.  Again, this is a paid tool, whereas Bloom comes free with the Elegant Themes package.. so it’s a trade between money + free tool which works well.

Website Connectivity

Sometimes you need to get your hands dirty and get into some code + server access.  I prefer the following tools to do that!:

  • Sublime Text ~ My favorite text editor.
  • Filezilla ~ A quick and easy way to access files on your web server!

Optimized Website + Custom Thumbnails

If you really care for your users (as well as the speed of your website), you will make sure your images are small in size.

Notice I did not say of low quality? You can use compression which reduces the size of the image and makes your website load faster.  (People on data plans will love you! 🙂 )

  • JPEGmini ~ An awesome image compression tool. It only works for .JPG files, however.  But what I really like about it is that it not only compresses an image to make it smaller, you can also make it resize the image too, which is handy!
  • TinyPNG / TinyJPEG ~ This is my favorite compression tool for .PNG files.. you can also drag .JPG files in too!  (It will not resize the image, so just make sure your image is the right size, and you’ll see dramatic file size while keeping the similar quality.)
  • Typorama ~ Creating custom thumbnails is a big thing for YouTube. In addition, having eye-catching featured images on WordPress is important, too!  I use Typorama for my custom thumbnails + featured images. It allows you to set the aspect ratio of the image, add text, filters, overlays, as well as adjust the image in brightness, exposure, blur, and more!

The Ultimate Vlogging Set Up

For awhile I was on a hunt for the best vlogging camera set up with a high-quality microphone, while at the same time not being super bulky and embarrassing to bring around.

I’ve finally found such an awesome vlogging set up which results in 60FPS 1080P recordings, is quite lightweight, and the vlog audio quality is superb! Here’s the vlogging configuration:

 

  • Canon M6: Mirrorless cameras are becoming very popula because of their light weight size and very similar quality to DSLR cameras!  I love how compact the Canon M6 is and the results it produces.  (It’s important to have a lens which isn’t super zoomed in, so the 15-45mm bundle that I’ve linked to is a good choice!)
  • Joby GorillaPod: This is by far one of the best tripods for vlogging, as you can easily set down the camera to record, or walk around with in your hand.  I would suggest getting the Ballhead adapter that comes in a bundle deal.  (It allows you to level the camera easier.)
  • Flash Bracket: or.. you can also get away with this L-Bracket, too!  This flash bracket is an amazing little extension that you put on the bottom of your camera so you can mount the microphone to the side of the camera.  Since the Canon M6 screen flips up, you can’t place a microphone in its hot shoe, as it will block your screen!  So this flash bracket is a great alternative.  You screw the Joby GorillaPod to the flash bracket, then the flash bracket screws into the bottom of your camera.  You would then put the microphone on the cold shoe (with the adapter I explain below.)
  • Sound Recorder (H4N): Here’s the problem.. these nice cameras are meant for high-quality video.. not high-quality audio!  With audio, you need a thing called a pre amp to boost the signal of your microphone.  If you rely on the camera’s pre amps, they are very low quality and result in TONS of background hiss.  The way around this is to get the signal loud BEFORE it goes into the camera.  That way you barely use the camera’s pre amps resulting in high-quality audio.  (You can also get the Zoom H1 for a cheaper alternative.) Note – I have linked to the H4N bundle which includes the windscreen.  This is important to prevent your plosives causing distortion – your words that start with p’s, b’s, etc.  One’s that blow out extra wind!
  • Hot Shoe Mount: Since the sound recorder tripod mount is female threads, we need a hot shoe adapter.  This device screws into your sound recorder, then it slides onto the shoe of the flash bracket.  It works wonderfully!
  • Audio Cable: Now this one was tricky for me to find.  I was looking for those nice small coiled cables to prevent the cable from bumping the audio recorder and making noise.  You can rotate the connection so the coil is free-aired to plug into the camera for a really clean look and performs very well!
  • Memory Card: Now, depending on if you’re recording in 60FPS or not, this will dictate how large of a camera memory card to purchase.  I’m currently at 32GB, and it’s been sufficient.. but I’d say 64GB will give you peace of mind to not have to worry about going over memory, or constantly clearing out your memory card so your next vlog has its space.

That Concludes My List for Now..

Those are things I can currently think of.

As I think of more, I will be sure to add them.

Hope these tools help your business as they do mine 🙂