It’s easy to get overwhelmed with all the options available when it comes to apps and plugins, email services and hosting. And no matter how good something is, it isn’t the best thing for you or your website if it sidetracks you from your goals.
But having the right tools can make your trade infinitely easier. And I believe I would do you a greater disservice by not letting you look inside my toolbox. I’m going to tell you about the tools I use, the apps that save me time, and the plugins I won’t use WordPress without. I’m going to provide you with links to learn about my favorite WordPress hosts and the professional themes I use.
You just have to promise me that you’ll treat them as tools. Focus on learning one new thing at a time. And don’t let shiny new apps and plugins keep you from exercising your writing muscles. Promise?
I’ve organized the tools I use into three WordPress-specific pages, followed by a list of general apps, software, and services that are crucial for digital wordsmiths like you and me. Some links are affiliate links, which means that–at no cost to you–I get a small commission if you purchase that service. Thank you for helping me try new plugins!
Get the scoop on my favorite web hosts, with options for all budgets.
Browse a variety of professional WordPress Themes from recommended sources.
Find out about my must-have WordPress Plugins and the ones that make my job easier.
Email Service Providers
- ConvertKit: I can’t say enough good things about the open rate, the flexibility, and the customer service of ConvertKit. It is worth every penny.
- Active Campaign: With Active Campaign’s Lite plan, you can enjoy many of the features of ConvertKit for a smaller price tag. While Active Campaign lacks the simplicity of ConvertKit, it has powerful features if you can overcome the learning curve.
- MailChimp: A favorite for many because the free plan is good up to 2,000 subscribers and 12,000 emails per month, MailChimp is easy to use and fits the bill for many beginning bloggers and small businesses.
- Mad Mimi: A budget-friendly option, great for ministries and non-profits, what Mad Mimi lacks in features it makes up for with the best customer service in the industry.
- MailerLite: At first glance, MailerLite has the best features of MailChimp and ConvertKit all rolled into one. It’s definitely worth trying if you are on a tight budget. It will be a service to watch as it grows.
- Adobe Photoshop CC: The gold standard in image creation, Photoshop is my software of choice for editing the images I use on my blog. I subscribe to the Adobe Creative Cloud Photography Plan so I can always have the latest version of Photoshop at my fingertips.
- Lightroom: I was a fan of Picasa back in the day, but now I love everything about how Lightroom allows me to sort and organize my photos. It comes along with Photoshop as part of the Adobe Creative Cloud Photography Plan.
- Canva: A free online image editor, Canva is a good solution for teams or those who want to avoid the challenge of Photoshop. You’ll need the premium version to use your own fonts.
- PicMonkey: PicMonkey is another favorite free online image editor among bloggers. You can use your own fonts on the free version, but you’ll need the premium version to edit your images after saving them.
- JPEGmini and TinyPNG: When I used Canva, the image file sizes were so large that I needed to run all my images through JPEGmini before I uploaded them to my website (I found the free version to be ample for my needs). TinyPNG works when you’re using transparent files (but remember that if you don’t need transparency, JPG images are usually going to be a smaller file size and better for use on your site).
- Paint.NET or GIMP (GNU Image Manipulation Program): Free software with capabilities similar to Photoshop, these are a great option if you need a robust image editor but can’t fit Photoshop into the budget.
- Google Calendar: From our family calendar (which my husband and I share), to blog post and social media schedules, it all lives in Google Calendar and I view it via whichever Android calendar app suits my fancy this month!
- Plum Paper: My daily planner is a gorgeous Plum Paper planner. I use the 7×9 horizontal priorities layout + dispersed lined pages + lined and dotted pages. (Message me for a 10% off link!) For a more budget-friendly option, order a ready-to-ship Plum Paper planner or look at Blue Sky planners from Staples.
- AnyList: My husband and I share lists for our local grocery store, Costco, and the like. This saves our sanity and means that as long as we remember our phone, we remembered the grocery list!
- Trello: You can do so much with Trello, but I use it exclusively as a Kanban board to keep track of my client queue.
- Todoist: My digital memory. All my recurring tasks go into Todoist. (Don’t miss the Todoist for Gmail extension!).
- Evernote: My digital notebook. The way I take notes and keep track of details and long lists.
- LastPass: The last password you’ll ever have to remember and the most secure way to share your passwords. Even my husband loves this app!
- IFTTT (If This, Then That): I use IFTTT for everything from backing up my Instagram posts to a private (searchable!) blog to scheduling my social media posts.
- HootSuite: When I use a social media scheduling app, it’s HootSuite.
- Later: When I schedule my Instagram posts ahead of time, I use Later.
- Feedly: A clean and simple way to read RSS feeds (an alternative to Bloglovin’).
- Pocket: Save articles to read later rather than getting distracted when you find them.
- Gmail & G Suite: Everything integrates with it. And the search function is amazing. I use it for everything. (I use G Suite for Gmail features in domain branded email.) (Email me for an unused promo code that will give you 20% off your first year. Be sure to specify whether you’d like a code for the G Suite Basic Plan or G Suite Business Plan.)
- Gmail Canned Responses: Type once, send the same template countless times!
- Gmail Undo Send: Because if you’re not using Grammarly, you notice those typos two seconds after you send.
- Hiver or Keeping: Hiver shares select email conversations based on Gmail labels and makes teamwork so much easier with Gmail. Keeping offers collaboration and assignment in Gmail.
Files & Backups
- Dropbox: My no-brainer backup solution is this: all my files live in the Dropbox folder that is constantly syncing with the cloud. While I do periodically backup even my Dropbox folders to my external hard drive, I sleep better at night knowing my files are backed up automatically.
- SmugMug: If you’ve looked at photo backup solutions, you know that they can be expense, but SmugMug is inexpensive and unlimited–for full resolution images. I upload photos to SmugMug from my phone and from Lightroom, but it’s easy to import photos from other apps and services into SmugMug, as well. The best thing about SmugMug, though, is how easy it makes photo sharing.
- Google Photos: Because I believe in multiple backup options, I use Google Photos free “good quality” unlimited backup on my phone and computer.
- Amazon Prime Photos: I don’t have Amazon Prime right now, but if I did, I would use Prime Photos for an additional cloud backup. Prime Photos is unlimited and backs up the full resolution file. (When it comes to backups, one can never have too many.)
Bookkeeping, Time Tracking, & Invoicing
- QuickBooks Online Essentials: I’ve tried Microsoft Money, and while Mint, YNAB, and EveryDollar sound excellent for personal use, QuickBooks Online Essentials has been the first thing that worked to manage all our financial accounts at once. I actually love balancing the bank statements now!
- Dubsado: I loved many aspects of Harvest and Toggl is great for time tracking alone. But I used 17hats for two years before looking for a more innovative service. That’s when I landed upon Dubsado: it brings the entire workflow–from quotes to contracts to time tracking and invoicing–all into the same service.
In a world of course overwhelm, there are only two courses that I recommend right now.
- Blog Smarter: This intense mentorship program is a crucial paradigm shift for bloggers.
- Sticky Blogging: Whether you are an author turned blogger trying to learn the ropes, or a blogger wanting to write worthwhile content, the Sticky Blogging courses are going to challenge you to write better, more evergreen content fit for consumption on the world wide web. Start with the free course and free SEO cheat sheet and you’ll see why I think you should invest in the full course plus the Sticky SEO training.
- Take Excellent Photos With Your Phone: Jennifer’s practical tips have shown me how to reframe my photography–both literally and figuratively. I so appreciate Jennifer’s teaching and her heart for helping everyone learn how to take better photos with the tools they already have on hand.
- Google Drive and Google Docs: Most of my first drafts are written in the Google Docs app on my phone. The ability to have the doc open in more than one location and easily send it to someone for feedback makes Google Drive a perfect fit for the documents I’m always sharing.
- Grammarly: I’m embarrassed by how many times Grammarly catches my mistakes, but I’m so glad to have it. The free browser extension is a must for everyone; the premium version is a great aid to professional wordsmiths.
- Scrivener: If I ever write that eBook, I’ll use Scrivener. My author friends love it.
- Write Beside You: Cheri is a wordsmith beautifully gifted to encourage other wordsmiths on the way.
- Next Step Editing: Sandra’s editing services are top-notch; I’ve never seen an error in a book she has edited.
- Samantha Johnson: Samantha’s proofreading is of the most professional quality; I was incredibly impressed with her attention to detail.
- Elisabeth Adams: Elisabeth is a gracious and gifted editor (I know! she’s edited my work), with the ability to see the big picture and guide the writer to what they really meant to say.
- Rachelle Rea Cobb: Rachelle is the kind of grammar geek you want proofreading your work (and she’s the kind of friend I want to read my blog posts before I send them out!).
- Jessica Leigh Brown: Jessica is a wordsmith well suited to writing or editing your copy.
- Tim Grahl: Great social media and book launch advice for authors, including a free personalized book launch assessment.