It is so easy to spend hours and days futzing around trying to sort through the hundreds of blogs, podcasts, hosting options, training courses… This can easily lead to analysis paralysis. Ask me how I know!
Here are some of my favourite tools and resources. I’ve probably spent 200 hours over the last 6 months coming up with the list below for my own use and I’m happy to share.
I use all of these every day and they make my life better. They’ll make your life better too.
Training and Community
Fizzle: I am definitely a bit of a Fizzle fan-boy. These guys are a real breath of fresh air in an industry that can feel like it’s full of scam artists trying to make a quick buck with marginal information. They provide high quality video training that focuses on building a sustainable, ethical business that truly serves your audience.
The forums of your like-minded peers are also well worth the subscription, even without considering the courses. Try them out. It’s only $1 for the first month and $35/mo after that.
Setting up Your Website
Finding a Domain Name: Lean Domain Search (free) generates hundreds of domain ideas from a seed word and shows you the available ones. Very helpful in brainstorming your brand/domain.
Namechk will take a domain idea and check all of the top domains (.com, .org, etc.) plus every social media platform to make sure that the brand name is available on all of them.
Domain Registration: You can often get free registration with hosting, but if you separate the two, it will make moving hosts in the future much easier. It only costs a few dollars a year.
Namecheap is one of the two largest domain registrars. Godaddy is sometimes a dollar or two per year cheaper, but is so full of up-sells and spammy practices that it turns my stomach a little.
I’ve found Namecheap to be no bullshit, inexpensive, and it includes free whois privacy. Their affiliate program isn’t nearly as rich as Godaddy’s, which is probably why you don’t hear about them as much.
Hosting: When you’re first start out, shared hosting is fine. There are many, many options but you will often see Bluehost and Hostgator touted by some pretty big name bloggers. Of course, these big bloggers have long since moved to dedicated hosting with other companies, so their recommendations are stale.
Unfortunately, both Bluehost and Hostgator were purchased by EIG in the last couple years. They are a conglomerate who own many other hosting companies. Their reputation isn’t good and there are increasing reports of problems. It was enough to scare me away. (December 2015 update: A good friend with a very large blog has just reported to me that Bluehost has shifted their customer service to a service with low skill and limited English. Her site has had constant problems and as of this writing has completely disappeared from their servers and they can’t find it or the back-up. I’m so glad I stayed away!)
I am using Siteground for my shared hosting. My experience so far has been very positive. They are well priced, have industry leading speed and up-time, use the standard cpanel interface, and have very prompt, friendly and useful support staff. They’ve always answered my questions within a couple minutes.
In fact, they contacted me by phone in my first week to make sure that I was getting on OK with setting up my first site and see if I had questions. I was really impressed by this personal touch.
They don’t have as generous an affiliate program, but they were very careful to ask me detailed questions about my site and how I would be representing them as an affiliate. I was impressed that they cared so much that their affiliates wouldn’t be out spamming the world like some of their competitors. I don’t hesitate to recommend them.
WordPress Themes: You want a site that looks professional. There are some decent free themes, and this is a great way to get started. Eventually, though, you’ll want the extra features and professional look of a paid theme.
There are many, many paid themes available, but the quality can vary a lot. I’m still using a free theme for this site, but for my FBA brand’s website, I decided to use the Genesis Framework from StudioPress.
Genesis was recommended to me by both professional designers and less technical webmasters. They have many beautiful and functional child themes to choose from and the support and forums are excellent.
Favicons: It may seem like a small thing, but having that little tiny picture in the browser tab is an important part of the user experience. It helps brand your site and makes you easy to find in a long list of bookmarks.
This little icon is called the favicon. It isn’t complicated to create one. My favourite (free) service is Real Favicon Generator. You simply provide a 260×260 graphic (it will accept .png with a transparent background or just a .jpg) and it will create a dozen different files for all browsers, IOS icons, etc. and output a block of text for you to put in your header.php (tip for Genesis users: To change the favicon, use the (free) Genesis Simple Hooks plugin).
Why pay for an email server when you’re just starting out if the best service is free?
You should be collecting email addresses right from the start, and MailChimp is free for the first 2000 subscribers. You’ll need a paid subscription to do autoresponders, but if you use this link to sign up, you’ll get a $30 credit for whenever you decide to switch from free to paid.
And don’t think that just because it’s free it isn’t the best. Many people have decided to switch over from aweber to MailChimp for the powerful features.
The many great plug-ins are key to the power of WordPress. Don’t get greedy, though. Running too many plug-ins can really slow your site down! All of these are free:
SumoMe: Great social sharing buttons and email sign-up forms that pop-in or stick to the top of your site. Beware the floating social buttons, though. Test vigorously as they will often cover content at certain screen resolutions. Great if they’ll work with your theme!
MailChimp for WP: Easily create good-looking email sign-up forms that you can insert anywhere with a shortcode.
Keyword research should be an important part of your traffic and SEO strategy. You can read more in part 1 and part 2 of my Keyword Research series. There are many expensive paid tools which can save time in your research, but when you’re starting out, these free tools are all you need:
Google Keyword Planner: This is where all of the paid tools get their core data. It’s very powerful in its own right, but not without its weaknesses. It returns excellent data on keywords, but is only mediocre at suggesting new keywords based on a “seed.”
Keywordtool.io: A great additional tool which partially addresses the problem with Google Keyword Planner with suggestions. Keywordtool.io uses the suggested search terms which come up when you start typing a word into Google. You can then import these back into Google Keyword Planner to get search data on them.
MozBar: Once you find candidate keywords, you need to analyze your competition on the search engine results page (SERP). MozBar is a free chrome or firefox extension that makes this simple.
It’s important to have good, eye-catching pictures on your site. Unfortunately, most of what you find on the web is copyright protected. Here’s a comprehensive list of sources of free, legal photos. I mostly use these two:
Flickr: A huge searchable database of photos. In the search results, click “License” and choose “commercial use allowed.” You should link a photo credit back to the photographer’s page.
Pixabay: The photo for this page came from Pixabay. All images are royalty free and no attribution is required.
Canva: This is much more than just free pictures (though it has those, too). This amazing site let’s you edit your pictures and add text. You may have noticed that my new post illustrations have the post title on them. This is how I’ve been doing it. This is huge for social and looks great. Take their free design course while you’re at it.
The 4-Hour Workweek: Escape 9-5, Live Anywhere, and Join the New Rich: This book was a game changer for me and for many, many others. The details are perhaps a little bit dated now, but the basic concepts of designing your life around a passive online business are absolutely the same.
Tim concentrates on a validated process for setting up an online business to drop-ship actual physical products, all on autopilot. An inspirational read.
The $100 Startup: Reinvent the Way You Make a Living, Do What You Love, and Create a New Future:Chris Guillebeau interviews fifty successful online business owners to find out how they started their business, what works and what doesn’t. The lessons are clear and honest. These are actual businesses making $50,000 per year or more. Their whole business model and actual revenue figures are shared. This book is absolutely brilliant. It will give you ideas, motivate you, and give you the first steps to starting your own business.
The Lean Startup: How Today’s Entrepreneurs Use Continuous Innovation to Create Radically Successful Businesses: This book is relevant to any start-up including your online business. The focus is on creating a “Minimum Viable Product” and getting it out there fast. Only getting a product in front of actual, paying customers will give you the feedback you need to iterate quickly and develop a great product that people will be happy to pay you for.
Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain: This isn’t really a business book, but it is one of the few books I’ve ever read that truly changed the way that I think. Our brain evolved at a time when we were very physically active. To stay sharp and healthy, it needs the chemicals produced during exercise.
If you’re working a day job and setting up an online business on the side, you’re going to be tempted to skip exercising. Don’t! You will be happier, healthier and much more productive if you get out for a run a few times a week.
I spend at least an hour and a half in the car commuting to work and back every weekday. I’m often on the phone to Europe in the mornings, but at night I’ve discovered the wonders of podcasts. I learn while I drive.
Smart Passive Income: Pat Flynn’s podcast is usually an interview format with online industry leaders. It’s a shorter format and introduces you to many people doing great things with their online businesses.
Family Adventure Podcast: This one isn’t actually an online business podcast. It’s about getting out into the world and doing extended travel adventures with your family. For me, this is the main reason that I got into creating Online Passive Income in the first place.
Full disclosure: A few of the links above are affiliate links. This means that if you choose to purchase the item by clicking on the link, I will receive a small commission at no cost to you (thank you!). I recommend these products because I believe in them and because I know that you’ll find them as useful as I do.