Awesome Resources for Building a Business, Blog or Brand
Here’s a list of tools I use regularly to successfully run my own business, blog and brand.
Some of these are affiliate links, which means if you click and buy, you’re helping support this blog.
Growing a Blog Community and Newsletter
MailChimp: My preferred newsletter service. With their free version, you can store up to 2,000 subscribers and send up to 12,000 emails per month. I pay $50/month for up to 5,000 subscribers. (Other popular newsletter programs include Aweber and Constant Contact, but neither has a free option.)
Media Temple: My choice for web hosting. I’ve had several bad experiences with unreliable hosts, so it’s awesome to find one I can rely on. My team and I use Media Temple to host not only AlexisGrant.com, but also TheWriteLife.com and Socialexis.com.
Meeting Burner: This is the program I use to run my webinars; it’s an affordable alternative to GoToWebinar. Costs $99/month for unlimited webinars up to 1,000 participants. Read my review for more details.
ClicktoTweet: Creates a tweet that readers can easily click and share. I embed these in blog posts and newsletters to encourage social sharing. It’s free; you don’t even have to sign up for an account.
Rapportive: Free Gmail add-on that pulls social information for anyone you’re emailing to the right of your inbox. This is a MUST for anyone looking to network strategically.
Thesis Theme for WordPress: The theme of my website — I love it. It’s customizable, and there’s a robust support community online. Costs $87-$167 depending on which version you choose.
The Genesis Framework: The theme we use for TheWriteLife. Lots of features are built it, yet it’s also highly customizable. In short, a winner.
WooThemes: This company creates professional and clean-looking themes, several of which I use for client websites. Customizable and easy to use. Prices vary by theme.
Managing Blogs and Social Media Campaigns
Hootsuite: Makes it easy to organize, customize, and manage your social media streams from one place. Basic version is free; paid version allows more team members and additional features.
Feedly: An easy way to organize your RSS feeds, so you can keep up with as many blogs as you’d like. This is what I’m using now that Google Reader’s on its way out.
Google Calendar: I use this free calendar to organize content for the various blogs I manage.
Photodune: Where my team and I buy our stock photos these days. You’ll find lots of services that offer this, from iStock to BigStock, but Photodune is easy to use and reasonably priced, about $1 per photo. Photodune’s parent company, Envato, also offers beautiful website themes.
Google Analytics: Free analytics tool to track blog progress. If you’re new to blogging, stick to WordPress stats (comes free with any WordPress install) and you can always add Google Analyics later.
Creating and Selling Ebooks & Courses
E-Junkie: An easy-to-use shopping cart. This is how I sell my guides and courses; when someone buys, e-junkie sends them the product automatically. You can also integrate e-junkie with MailChimp so anyone who buys one of your products is automatically added to one of your email lists. E-Junkie costs just $5/month no matter how much you sell. The site doesn’t look impressive, but it has always worked seamlessly for me.
Camtasia: For $299, Camtasia lets me record my screen and shows me in the lower right corner. Great for web tutorials. They also offer a free version for short videos called Jing.
Scrivener: A genius program for writers that keeps notes, references, outlines, and other parts of your writing projects totally organized. I write all of my ebooks and courses in Scrivener.
PayPal: Commission is high, but this is still the go-to method for online payments. PayPal integrates with E-Junkie, and that’s how I get paid for my guides and courses. There’s also a way you can avoid PayPal fees as a freelancer, which I explain here.
99designs: If you don’t have a designer you want to work with, or you don’t know exactly what you want and need ideas, try launching a contest at 99designs. Lots of designers will offer ideas, then you choose a winner. I’ve used this for ebook covers, as well as logos for websites and courses.
Bloggers’ Guide to Irresistible Ebooks: By Ali Luke, this is the best guide to writing ebooks I read before creating my first one.
Running a Business and Working Remotely
Google Hangouts: My entire team works remotely, and this is how we conduct all our meetings — face-to-face over Google Hangout. It’s easy to use, almost always works, integrates easily with Google Calendar, and I love seeing the people I work with rather than just hearing them.
Join.me: When Google Hangout isn’t cooperating, we use Join.me for team screenshares. It’s free, easy and doesn’t requires a download.
Flow: I love this task-management system; it’s how my team and I stay organized. I use Flow to give my team members assignments, and they give each other assignments, too. The system lets us know when someone has completed a task and keeps track of any conversations we have revolving around a certain task. Cost is per team member. They also have a chat feature that’s similar to Slack. Read my review here.
Google Drive: I keep everything — and I mean everything — in Google Docs. All my notes, drafts and ideas. For some of the blogs I manage, we also use Google Drive to share blog posts before plugging them into WordPress.
Harvest: I use this mainly for time-tracking, to keep track of how much time I spend on particular projects and clients. But it’s also a great invoicing alternative to Freshbooks. There’s a free version, and the next basic package (what I use) is $12/month.
HP Mini Laptop: I have a regular-sized laptop and extra screen in my home office, but when I work in coffee shops or abroad, I use this 10-inch laptop. Absolutely love it.
Acer Chromebook: I’m experimenting with a Chromebook setup in my office. This 11.6-inch screen isn’t big enough for me to work on, so I attach it to a massive screen and keyboard. I love how quickly this laptop boots up, but it doesn’t support programs like GoToWebinar and Skype. (I still have those programs on a Dell laptop at my home office if I really need them.)
Dropbox: Anything that’s not in Google Drive is saved in Dropbox. This cloud-based program also makes it easy to share files no matter how big they are.
Boomerang for Gmail: Browser plug-in that helps you keep your inbox empty. It allows you to schedule messages to send later and boomerang them back to your inbox if no one responds. Basic version is free, but I pay $4.99/month for more sends.
Karma: Social hotspot that lets you carry WiFi with you. It’s pay-as-you-go, and the latest version is billed to work everywhere. This gadget has been a lifesaver during some of my coffee-shop work sessions and while traveling.
Over-the-head Bluetooth headset: This headset connects to my cell phone wirelessly, leaving my hands free to type. I use it for client and team calls, as well as for webinars. Runs about $21.
Logitech USB Headset: The second headset in my arsensal connects to my laptop via USB, and I use it primarily for Skype calls and interview. Interviewers say it significantly improves how I sound for viewers. Costs about $70 on Amazon.
Doodle: Free scheduling system that makes it easy to poll a group of people and find the time to meet when most people are available.
ScheduleOnce: A scheduling system that allows people to see when I’m free and request time for a meeting. It also sends reminders and syncs with Google Calendar and other calendar programs.
PrimoPDF: Free tool that turns Word Docs into PDFs. You can also do this in new versions of Word, but I use Primo because it makes it easy to add an electronic signature.
Clarity: A community of experts. If you’ve got a problem, search for an expert in that niche and book a call for advice. You can also use the service to let people book your time and pay you, which makes this an awesome alternative to getting your brain picked for free. My favorite feature is you can donate your time to your favorite charity.
Screenr: Lets you record your screen and voice so you can show an employee or colleague how to do a task. Similar to Camtasia (listed above) but easier and quicker to use, plus there’s a free version.
Screencast-O-Matic: Despite the cheesy name and almost-too-simple website, this product works, allowing you to record your screen and voice like Screenr. I had laptop-specific problems with Screenr, so I tried this instead and ended up signing up for the $15/year membership. Works great.
Google Forms: You’ll find so many uses for this Google Tool, but one of my favorites is surveying blog readers. Here’s a post about how I used Google Forms to collect feedback on cover designs for my Kindle book.
OIO Publisher: An easy solution for selling ads on your website. It allows you to sell ads to advertisers, add them to your website, track clicks and even rotate ads evenly if you sell more than one. This is how we manage ads for The Write Life.
QuickBooks: For years, I tracked my business finances in a custom Google spreadsheet. Four years into running the company, we moved to QuickBooks, a popular solution for small and medium-sized businesses.
Charlie Gilkey: When I hit a ceiling with my business, Charlie helped me break through and hit the next level. He taught me how to prioritize, helped me hire a project manager, and systemize my business so I could take a three-week vacation without checking in. I’d highly recommend Charlie if you’re overwhelmed by scaling your business. Read his ebook on The Small Business Life cycle to see if you like his style.
The 4-Hour Workweek: Tim Ferriss’ guide to being awesome
The Education of Millionaires: Michael Ellsberg on how to make connections and build a successful career
Start: Jon Acuff’s tough love on why and how to get started
The Referral Engine: Jon Jantsch of Duct Tape Marketing explains how to help your business market yourself
The $100 Startup: Chris Guillebeau shows how you can grow an awesome business without a huge financial investment
Evil Plans: Hugh MacLeod on how to have fun while dominating the world
My Guides & Courses
How to Build a Part-Time Social Media Business: My popular guide to making money off your social media skills.
How to Create a Freakin’ Fabulous Social Media Strategy: Follow this ebook’s advice to wow your clients, become a hero with your boss or rock your own brand.
Turn Your Side Hustle Into a Full-Time Business: Tips in ebook form from someone who has done it, with a focus on making money online.
Become a Twitter Power User: An email-based course that teaches you how to harness the power of Twitter for networking.
How to Take a Career Break to Travel: This guide shows you how to take your dream trip without giving up your dream career.
You Deserve to Love Your Job: A guide to succeeding in the new, digital world of work. Available on Amazon.