Tools to Start an Income Blog
This page summarizes the products and services that we use and recommend. 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.
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 both stable and flexible. Choosing a good theme is an important decision as you don't want to have to change it after you get started.
We recently published a listing of the primary tools we use to run our online business.
- 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. Warning: I heavily favor a self-hosted WordPress install. 🙂
- Thesis: A powerful option used by many top bloggers – with tons of flexibility. BloggerAbroad is powered by Thesis. Check out the full set of premium WordPress themes.
- WooThemes: When I was getting started I used a number of WooThemes. They are produced by fluent English speakers (different from many of the lower cost themes) which means you'll understand all the instructions. Sounds funny – but some of the other theme designers are frustrating to use because of poor English. WooThemes has a ton of theme options, and they offer a buy-1 get-2-more-for-free deal. It's great if you are planning a couple of sites (or if you just can't make up your mind). They also produce a set of ecommerce themes known as WooCommerce.
- 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.
- Learn to Blog (Video Tutorials): Learn the technical stuff about blogging from WordPress expert Matt Wolfe. I'm a student and refer to the video lessons frequently.
- 123RF (Stock Photos): 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.
- CDN (Content Delivery Network): To improve site speed, we use MaxCDN. It costs just $9 a month and keeps our site running fast. Read about how we improve site speed.
Blog Web Hosting
- Liquid Web: This powerful shared host is the current home to this site and Gringos Abroad (our living abroad blog). I switched from a “higher end” cloud host to this premium level shared host and noticed a significant difference. It costs less per month, plus there are no extra surcharges. The host is powerful and fast. Highly recommended!
- HostGator: Despite their quirky marketing Host Gator 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.
- BlueHost: A strong contender to Host Gator, BlueHost is a reliable option.
- GoDaddy: If you like your domain together with your hosting, then GoDaddy is a good way to go. Hosting is inexpensive and flexible. I haven't tested GoDaddy Hosting yet.
- WP Engine: 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.
- I use GoDaddy exclusively. They are huge, reliable and inexpensive. (Read about how to choose a domain name.)
WordPress Plugins That We Use:
- Optin Skin: Increase your newsletter conversion rate with this powerful plugin that allows you to place sign-up forms all over your site. Above, below or inside of post. The use of short-codes lets 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.
- BlogVault: 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 available for download. Every time I'm going to make updates or significant changes to a site, I log-in and generate a backup. If something goes wrong on what I'm doing, I can just restore it – and the tool restores the site as it was before I broke it.
- EasyRedirect Script: Creating clean affiliate links doesn't have to be hard. A tool like Easy Redirect Script changes a link like this: http://nanacast.com/vp/100004/382460/ to one like this http://bryanhaines.com/ers Both go to the same place and we get affiliate commissions either way – but it sure looks better, doesn't it? I can see 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 tool (it installs on your server, sort of like a WordPress install) 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.
- Popup Domination: This plugin consistently spiked new subscriber sign-ups by more than 400%. A/B testing helps determine which version works best for conversion and there is the option to limit on which page the popup will display. A powerful tool to build your list – and your community.
- Tweet Old Post: This free plugin connects your blog archives to Twitter. It is a great way to bring attention to past posts. You can add specific or category based #hashtags. It will build your Twitter following and bring a steady flow of traffic to your blog. Very customizable.
- Smart Archives Reloaded: This simple (and free) plugin generates an attractive archives (site map) for a blog. See it in action here.
- 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 both Optin Skin and Popup Domination to help build your list size quickly. And while many internet marketers use Aweber in a spammy way – it doesn't need to be. A professional newsletter is easily accomplished and, in fact, what Aweber was created for. If you prefer another email service provider, you can take a look at Constant Contact. I used them for a few years before switching to Aweber – and they work great.
Online Accounting and Services
- FreeAgent: (Get a 10% discount with this link or this code 42bq8bxd) FreeAgent is a solid online accounting system that integrates with your bank accounts (checking, saving, credit cards and Paypal) and pulls it all together into one dashboard. Easily check expenses and income increases/decreases. Because the data automatically pulls from my accounts, it makes reconciliation very easy. Costs USD$20/month.
- Elance: Whether you are looking for work or to outsource tasks within your business, Elance is a great tool. I've hired database development to a company in Pakistan, embroidery design digitizing to Indonesia, and logo design to a firm in Hong Kong – all with great success.
- 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 device. My daughter loves it too – English books can be hard to find in Ecuador so she loves getting her adventure books on Audible. Get a free audio book with this link – it is a free 30 day trial, but keep the audio book forever.
- Skype: While it's popular for video conferencing, skype is so much more. We have a US-based phone number that can reach us anywhere in the world. Our number comes complete with voice mail that emails me when there is a new message. I also use skype to call abroad – it is so much easier than making international calls from a landline.
Online Backup and Storage
- SugarSync: (Free 5gb account plus 500mb bonus with this link) 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 300gb+ of data it would be both impossible and horribly time consuming. SugarSync 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 can use SugarSync to sync my data across my desktop and laptop – ensuring that I have the most recent version of each file. Get a 5gb account for free and if you subscribe with this link we'll both get 500mb of bonus space.
- Dropbox: (Free 2gb account plus 500mb bonus with this link) Similar to SugarSync, 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.
- 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 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.
- 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.
Learn a Language
- Speak from Day 1: Ready to learn a new language? Why not learn how-to from a language expert? Benny speaks more than 10 languages and is a long-term world traveler. The course is impressive and worth the money. If you aren't sure, just click the link and check out his video – it is very motivational.
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.
Recommended Travel and Expat Books
- The Family Sabbatical Handbook: If you are lacking the confidence to pull up your family and head to another country, then reading about these 16 families who have successfully done that will certainly help. The book covers families who have taken sabbaticals in Europe, China, Mexico and South America. Learn about how they made things work – everything from money and schooling to language and the reentry to their home country.
- The 17 Best Expat Books: We published this listing a few years ago and it remains one of our most popular posts on GringosAbroad.