We all have our favourite tools and resources that we use religiously-- those that we have found to work the best, with the least amount of time and hassle. I'm no different, and I've compiled a list of my own go-to resources that I've been using... not only to build and maintain this website, but for a wide range of applications in my life. Check them out!
Starting a site from scratch can be a daunting process with what seems like a thousand strategies-- and a million options... and everyone preaches a different modus operandi.
And I guess I'm no different. 🙄
But I won't push! This is simply a list of the things that have been working wonderfully for me. In most cases, these few key elements will be unavoidable aspects of your process... so it's imperative that you make decisions that will get you off to an amazing start. There will still be lots to learn (trust me) so the less time wasted on trial and error, the better!
BLUEHOST has become one of the leading hosting services on the Internet today! They are secure, reliable and affordable. It's true that there are countless hosting options out there, but you really need to make sure you pick one you can trust. I've been a client of theirs for a while now, and .
Automattic, whether or not you've heard the name, is the backbone of most websites. They are the company behind WORDPRESS, the world's most popular framework for buidling websites... period (and the only one I use and recommend). If you use the other resources on this page, you will only be needing the free version of WordPress-- forever. If not, they have affordable plans that can help you do the heavy lifting. It's a beautiful thing, and that alone validates my Automattic claim... but they do so much more!
JETPACK, for instance, which employs two other Automattic tools-- Akismet and Vaultpress-- along with a few other crucial features to protect, back up, and optimize websites on so many levels. If you only use one plugin for your WordPress site, Jetpack would be it.
And I needed e-commerce functionality for my new graphic tee design venture, Smart Ass Tees... for which Automattic has the answer: WOOCOMMERCE! A simple, yet powerful, turnkey e-commerce solution for whatever it is you're looking to sell. I personally use the free version, but their premium extensions and packages are definitely something I'll be investing in when I start making some modest green!
So Automattic is a powerhouse... that's obvious. But there are a few specific resources I use to absolutely max out its form and functionality, and I really can't sing their praises loud enough...
GENESIS BY STUDIOPRESS is the skeleton of every single website I've built! It is a sophisticated framework, with beautiful child themes, which is placed on top of your WordPress interface. You'll need to choose a child theme anyway-- of which WordPress has its own free and premium options-- but Genesis is on a whole new level. Genesis itself is free, and the child themes can be purchased individually... or you can access all of them with a WP-ENGINE plan (an all-in-one website solution that may replace some of these recommended resources, but is worth your consideration).
Building your website is most of the work. But getting traction in the search rankings can be a tough battle too. The best way to do this organically is by making sure your pages and posts have titles, keywords, descriptions and images for the search engines to index. There are a few different ways of getting this done, but using a really good SEO plugin is the easiest. Although it's not the only player in the game, ALL-IN-ONE SEO is the clear winner in my books. It simplifies the process, and lets you stay focused on your content.
That's one piece of the SEO (search engine optimization) picture... the other is the keywords you actually target. There are ways of doing effective keyword research using Google tools, and even just common sense, but I wanted a tool that takes the guesswork out of the equation... and that's KEYSEARCH! Again there are lots of options in this arena, but Keysearch is the biggest bang for your buck: all the advanced features and data you'll need with a user-friendly interface, at a much lower price point than the competition. Plans start at only $17 per month... and you can use my exclusive discount code, KSDISC, to get an extra 20% off!
The last tool you will likely want to become familiar with is an email marketing platform. But don't over-complicate it... basically, that means the collection of visitors' email addresses and the design, and automated delivery, of messages to them. This can mean many things, but it's not rocket science. If you're a blogger, keep your fans interested and updated. If you sell things, remind them and give some exclusive value to subscribers. Keep it simple-- it's only as complex as you make it. Let's just cursorily say that an email list is a powerful thing... so build one.
There are two big players worth mentioning. AWEBER is my recommendation for those of you who already understand the value of an email list and want to maximize its features and functionality. And MAILCHIMP is a more beginner-friendly choice, in the sense that it has a very basic free platform with the option of more robust paid plans. AWeber's cheapest plan, on the other hand, comes with a much richer set of features out of the gate. In either case, you will be harnessing the power of the email list... so it's a huge win.
I would like to preface this short list by saying that everyone should shop at their local, independently-owned bookstores as much as possible! I sincerely mean that... but if you do still enjoy the occasional literary shopping spree online, then these few retailers are the cream of the crop (in my humble opinion).
Number One? AMAZON... shocker.
Everybody who's anybody knows why Amazon has taken over the universe: a staggering selection, rock-bottom prices in most cases, and inconceivably fast delivery for Amazon-fulfilled and Prime-qualifying products. You don't have to be a Prime member, but it's well worth the small annual fee-- discounted product subscriptions, free shipping and Prime Video and Music... and much more! I'm a proud card-carrying member myself and I highly recommend it (disclosure: there is no card to carry, unfortunately).
BIBLIO is a very cool online book retailer, and a close second! Not only do they have an extensive inventory of eclectic and high-quality used books (including a rare books section), but they take a responsible approach to everything they do: ethical profit management, carbon-offset shipping practices, a focus on supporting independent booksellers and collectors, and charitable work in international indigenous literacy and education through their organization, BiblioWorks. So if you want to feel a little better about your purchasing decisions, skip Amazon and shop at Biblio!
Another very similar online bookstore, not to overload you with options, is BETTER WORLD BOOKS. Their mission and values are quite closely aligned with those of Biblio, and they are both independently-owned... so either one would be a great choice!
E-reading is a growing trend, and it doesn't seem to be going anywhere, so I thought I would include a website of which you may not yet be aware (and you really should be)... E-BOOKS.COM! They've been around-- independently, selling nothing but e-books-- since the year 2000. I'll give that a moment to really sink in... that's right: an e-book retailer almost as old as the e-book format itself-- and not some lifeless branch of a bigger corporation or conglomerate either. E-Books.com is a family-run outfit with a real passion for literature.
I'm kicking this section off with a tool that some may think is silly: a ballpoint pen. But not just any pen... the Bic Atlantis ballpoint pen! I'm not joking either. This is the Cadillac of disposable ballpoint pens-- a distinctly higher-end feel and performance at Bic's affordable price point. It's the only pen I use now, and I recommend you do the same. Just as immediate examples, check out: this BLACK 12-PACK, and this MULTICOLOR 14-PACK (for when you're feeling fancy). Amazon has the best selection and prices on the planet.
And while I'm back on the subject of Amazon, there is one more simple tool I buy all the time: AmazonBasics notebooks and notepads. Seriously... such great value! My favourites are the STANDARD 12-PACK, the 5x8 12-PACK and the CLASSIC ARCHIVAL NOTEBOOK. So if you're an old-school idea scribbler like myself, there is never enough paper! Problem solved.
It's quite possible that my single greatest investment has been my DELL CHROMEBOOK 11-3180. Perfect for writing, research and online browsing, but also as an on-the-go streaming entertainment hub for my young daughter and I. It really has been the best productivity tool in my belt... and it cost me less than $300! I'm not sure if this particular model will vary in price periodically or by region, but the SAMSUNG CHROMEBOOK 3 is another comparable machine. Check them both out if you're looking for a cheap laptop that will do the simple tasks beautifully.
This website isn't just for reading either... I give my fair share of writing talks and tips, so it only makes sense that I include at least one resource for writers, with a fitting name too: WRITERS WORK. It is touted to be an all-in-one platform for writers-- with extensive training modules, an online job market and publication directory, a word processor interface, an attractive online portfolio, an organization application, goal setting and more! It does have all of these things-- and they range in their level of functionality-- but you may find yourself only using a few of them. I think that's totally fine, especially at a cost of $47-- one time, forever and ever. The training alone is well worth it... and the word processor is surprisingly dope!
If you're a writer and you're just looking for general advice about publishing and marketing, then JOANNA PENN is my only recommendation. Her BOOKS are packed full of actionable tips and resources, and her website is a veritable academic institution for any level of writer. Joanna is also featured in my COMMUNITY section, along with a few other notable people, so check that out if you have time.
And if you want a more robust author community experience-- one in which you can learn the ins-and-outs of self-publishing and get a marketing boost when you do choose to put your work out there-- then you should really look into the ALLIANCE OF INDEPENDENT AUTHORS, or ALLi, an indie writer cooperative of sorts to which Joanna Penn is herself an Professional Advisory Member. I haven't published a book yet, but this is me telling the world it's happening (and I'm going to do it right the first time).