Tools to Start an Income Blog
This page summarizes the products and services that we use to run our business online.
Sorting the thousands of options down to this short list took many years. These are the services that we depend on. This page is being constantly updated.
Last updated: July 6, 2016
Disclosure: Many of these links are affiliate links – meaning that we will make a commission if you decide to use them. It is important to note that this doesn't affect your cost at all. Read our full affiliate disclaimer.
To start blogging, you will need a blogging platform and a blog theme. I recommend WordPress (platform) and Thesis (theme framework). With these two tools side-by-side you can do just about anything you want to. I've also included Genesis themes below – they are also a stable, flexible choice. Choosing a good theme is an important decision – you won't want to change it after you get started.
Here's a list of the primary tools we use to run our online business.
Blog CMS (Content Managment System)
WordPress: The world's top blogging platform is the choice of virtually all the top bloggers. Download for free, or install with 1-Click option inside of your web hosting.
Not convinced you should use WordPress? Here are the 11 best blogging platforms. I should mention that I heavily favor a self-hosted WordPress install. 🙂
Blog Framework (Theme)
An alternative to Thesis is another framework called Genesis. I've tested and love this theme. If I wasn't already using Thesis, this would have been a strong contender. I may find a fit for this theme on one of my sites yet.
123RF: I've used many stock photo agencies and I was shocked when I started using 123RF – they have the same photos (over 17 million) as the other agencies but they cost much less. A standard 400px wide image (perfect for blogging) costs $0.89 each – when bought with credits.
This site saves me time (looking through my photos, or on free photo sites) and money (they cost a third to a quarter of other agencies). Definitely worth a look.
Blog Web Hosting
I currently use two web hosts. WP Engine for the larger sites and HostGator for the smaller ones.
WP Engine: $29/month for one site. For a managed WordPress host, it doesn't get any better than WP Engine.
The managed feature means that they take care of most of the site maintenance and upgrades. They ensure that any plugins you add won't break (or harm) your site. Our largest sites are all hosted with WP Engine.
WP Engine has a 10 site plan for $99/mo. which is the plan we're currently using.
HostGator: $4/month for one site. Despite their quirky marketing, HostGator offers a solid hosting solution for your online business. I have been with them for years and will be for many more. They are stable and inexpensive.
I use GoDaddy exclusively. They are huge, reliable and inexpensive. We have more than 30 domains with them and have been customers for more than seven years.
Read about how to choose a domain name.
AWeber: AWeber is the standard in email marketing. There really is no need to look at other options. They offer a powerful auto-responder and signup forms.
AWeber integrates seamlessly with virtually all list building plugins (like Optin Skin and Popup Domination). I've used other email service providers in the past – and they just can't compare to AWeber.
Here are 6 reasons we use AWeber for our blog newsletter
WordPress Plugins That We Use:
Pretty Link Pro:$47 for lifetime updates Creating clean affiliate links doesn't have to be hard.
Pretty Link Pro changes a link like this: https://prettylinkpro.com?aff=bryandena to one like this bryanhaines.com/prettylink. Both go to the same place and we get affiliate commissions either way – but it sure looks better, doesn't it?
The tool allows me to view click count and organize links by categories. And if the affiliate changes the coding in the future, I only need to update the change in the plugin (from inside of WordPress) and it updates all links – even if they are in an old email or even in a pdf file someone has stored on their computer.
BlogVault: $9/month This is a plugin that I can't do without. It automatically backs-up and protects my sites.
Every 24-hours a complete backup is generated and becomes available for download. Every time I'm going to make updates or significant changes to a site, I log-in and generate a new backup. If something goes wrong on what I'm doing, I can just restore it automatically – to what the site was before I broke it.
Update (January 2016): Since switching to WP Engine, I'm not longer a direct customer of BlogVault. This is because WP Engine uses BlogVault as their backup provider and it was redundant to have the service twice. If you host with WP Engine, you're covered. If you host with HostGator (or any other host) you need to sign up with BlogVault.
Yoast SEO: Free This free plugin is a must for all business bloggers. It allows for site wide SEO changes, integration with social accounts and Google tools. There are premium modules, but you probably won't need them right away.
SumoMe: Free to $100/month This set of tools are built to grow your site traffic. The ones I use are: list builder (pop-up), image share, heat maps, and smart bar. I currently use the free version – and it has boosted my email conversion rate significantly.
Akismet: Free This free plugin is a must for preventing spam. Since setting it up, it has prevented 196,569 spam comments – on just one of our sites! Just install it and forget about it.
Ninja Forms: Free There are lots of web-form plugins. We are using Ninja forms right now.
WordPress Editorial Calendar: Free This is how we manage our content schedule across many blogs.
Q2W3 Fixed Widget: Free This free plugin allows you to keep specific sidebar content visible as the page is scrolled. Simple and effective.
Optin Skin: This powerful plugin will increase your conversion rate by allowing you to place sign-up forms anywhere on your site. The short-codes let you insert a signup form inside of any page, post or sidebar. There are options to run A/B testing to determine the best signup form – both text, colors and images can be tested. Comes with a nice set of skins, that are customizable.
Online Services and Backup
Audible: (Get a free audio book with this link) For audio books, Audible is the best I've seen. I have a large library of both business and personal books. And they sync across my desktop, laptop and mobile devices.
Get a free audio book with this link – it is a free 30 day trial, but keep the audiobook forever.
SpiderOak Online Backup: $129/year for 1TB of space. I recently switched from SugarSync to SpiderOak. The services are very similar but SpiderOak costs much less. And they offer much larger plans than SugarSync – so there's room to grow.
Backing up data can be a real pain. Back in the old days, I used to burn multiple DVD's with all of my files. Now, with 950GB+ of data it would be both impossible and horribly time consuming.
SpiderOak manages my data by backing-up everything I tell it to, and then monitors my files for changes and automatically backs-up the newer versions. I also use SpiderOak to sync my data across my desktop and laptop – ensuring that I have the most recent version of each file.
Dropbox: Free Similar to SpiderOak, DropBox also syncs files between devices. I used DropBox to share files with Dena and Drew. Instead of emailing an image, text or mp3 file we just place it in DropBox and seconds later it appears in the folder on each of our computers. I use just the free version of this application – and it is powerful. You can get a 2GB account for free and with this link we both get 500mb of bonus space.
If you're just getting started, here's a beginner's guide to affiliate marketing.
ClickBank: ClickBank is home to more electronic educational products than anywhere else. Once you get approved with ClickBank you can become a vendor for any of the thousands of products for sale. Or for just $49.95 you can list your products for sale. They then take $1 + 7.5% per transaction. The cost might seem a little high – but when you take into account that they manage your affiliate program, shopping cart and credit card transaction it is actually quite reasonable. And it is very easy to get started. Payment is by check to get started and then they offer direct deposit after a few months.
Shareasale: Some of my favorite vendors host their affiliate programs here. Over the past 12 months, we've been paid healthy 5-digit commissions through Shareasale. Great to both find affiliate products and to sell your own product/services. They make payment by check or direct deposit.
Commission Junction: They are one of the largest affiliate networks and have an impossibly huge number of affiliates. You will need a functioning web site to get approved but once you are in, there are lots of opportunities. Payment is made by check or direct deposit.
Amazon Associates: This is one of the most popular (and easy to implement) affiliate programs. If you're just getting started, check out the Bloggers Guide to Making Money with Amazon Associates.
- Samson Go Mic: This tiny condenser mic is great for travel and desktop. Portable size and professional sound – this is what I use in audio recording and conference calls.
- GoPro: This tiny camera has been a machine of content creating. They are waterproof / shockproof and shoot in true hd video/photo. We've written about creating timelapse videos and the required settings.
- Tools for Video Creation: For video creation, we use Canon Vixia HF R500, Audio-Technica ATR-3350 Lavalier Condenser Mics, and a Wasabi Power Battery (2-Pack) and Charger.
Recommended Business Books and Training
- The Four Hour Workweek: This recent classic has come to define the lifestyle design movement. Tim Ferriss takes societies standards and turns them on their head. He covers lifestyle design for employees, business owners, singles and families.
- Empire Building Kit: This is one of the most comprehensive step-by-step guides to starting an online business. A full years worth of daily emails, plus case studies and action plans – this course is sure to help you go from wishing, to a functioning online business.
- Attention! This Book Will Make You Money: This is one of my favorite business books – and yet it reads more like advice from a good (expert) friend. Jim Kukral speaks from personal experience about topics ranging from idea generation and selling online to proper use of social media and powerful branding.
- Bloggers Boot Camp: Think you have what it takes to be a professional blogger? Long-time bloggers Charlie White (Mashable.com) and John Biggs (TechCrunch.com) give a glimpse into just what's required to make a successful blog/business. They cover tools and tactics. Not all that deep, but definitely a solid introduction.