As bloggers running a business, we are extremely fortunate to be working in the present age. We have more blogging and writing tools at our fingertips these days than the average tech wizard who could write code did a couple decades ago.
Services that used to cost thousands of dollars a month when I worked for a tech company in 2000 are now free or close to it. Half the things we get free or cheap now were impossible to implement when I launched my blog in 2003.
Yeah, I know, it feels like we spend a lot on hosting, e-mail marketing services, premium plug-ins, and keyword research tools, but the fact we can even afford these things at the scale we’re getting would have been unheard of for a regular blogger when blogging started. We can do with a WordPress plug-in now things that used to require custom code from an expensive programmer.
It’s kind of hard to keep up with what blogging tools we have available, especially if you start talking about plug-ins, so I’m leaving WordPress tools alone. There are lots of other useful business tools or productivity tools though that I’ve used to grow my publishing business and my writing career, keeping things humming.
As a guy who runs an online productivity course for writers, I’ve tried out a lot of different tools for automating, streamlining, or freeing up more time to focus on deep work that lasts. Here are some of the tools for bloggers that I like best.
Free Blogging Tools to Start Using Today
As the word “freemium” has become part of the modern lexicon, many companies provide the basics for no cost, then make their money from the customers who are willing to pay up for more features. Sometimes it’s worth it to upgrade, at other times you may be just fine with what’s free and sometimes you don’t even have to look at ads or give up all your privacy like you do to use Facebook and Google.
8X8 Video Meetings
I’ve used Skype, Zoom, Facetime, Facebook, Hangouts, and GoToMeeting for video calls in the past. Lately I’ve been trying this service called 8X8 Meetings and I like it a lot. You don’t even have to register to set up a video meeting on the fly to try it out, but if you do you get more functionality and your own dedicated meeting room that’s just a URL. That’s all you have to send or text people—no software to download, super easy to corral everyone in one place. Read more on how it works in this blog post.
Follow Up Then
Do you have an inbox with 1000s of messages in it? Is it hard to process the volume of e-mails and remember which ones you need to deal with in a few days, or a few weeks? Follow Up Then may be your solution. It’s similar to Boomerang for Gmail, but a lot of people find this more useful and intuitive (plus you don’t have to let nosey Google see all your e-mails and target ads based on them).
You basically forward a message to an address that determines the follow-up period. Say you get one where you need to circle back in a week to check what’s going on. You could put it in a folder or let it get buried in your inbox, but with this you forward it to “[email protected]” and it shows up again as a forwarded new message in one week. There are options for 1 day, 3 days, one month, etc. Sign up for free here.
Grammerly Chrome Extension
As I was writing this post, five typos popped up. Hey, it happens to even the most meticulous writers. If you’re in Chrome and using the Grammerly plug-in though, it will catch your typos (along with a few false alarms) and make suggestions you can switch to with a click. It’ll also help you to avoid writing like Idiot-in-chief Trump when you tweet or compose an e-mail in an online editor, as long as you’re doing it with the Chrome extension on. Get it here for free.
If you don’t consider yourself a good writer, upgrade to the premium plan and it’ll make you sound more intelligent. Or polite. Or formal.
Do you realize how many sites you’ve registered on where you had to choose a password? I do: it’s 418. Even if you rotated between just five passwords (which is not a great idea, actually), then that’s still a lot to keep in your head. If you store them in your browser, that’s a huge security risk–a hacker’s delight should your laptop get stolen or hacked into. With LastPass, you are prompted each time you register or log in to save the info and then all you need to get into LastPass is one master log-in. There are alternatives out there, but I’ve been using the free version of this for years and it has preserved my sanity and security. It also helps me manage virtual assistants because I can share log-in info with them without them actually seeing my password.
There’s one morbid extra benefit to this: you can share the master password with a spouse or heir and they can get into your accounts when you’re gone, including banking, your blog, and social media. Quite a few travel bloggers have died suddenly over the past couple years so this is not some obscure and unlikely scenario. Be prepared.
You know when you need to send a screenshot to someone, but part of it is cut off at the bottom or the top? Or you need to save a whole page, well beyond what’s visible? This free browser extension allows you to specify what to save from the web page you are on and save it in a file format you choose. So even if the page you’re on requires scrolling down and down to view it all, this program will capture the whole thing. Or you can choose to cut it off at some point. With a photo editing program, you can then add arrows or circles, crop out a Pinterest-length vertical image, or whatever else you need to do.
It’s a simple program that does one thing, but it’ll save you lots of headaches. Search for it under “extensions” or “add-ons” in your browser.
This site’s primary business is matching freelance writers up with publishers who are looking for good content, though I only seem to get one or two gigs a year from them due to a thin number of travel-related clients. They have a free feature as part of their service though that’s really valuable: a portfolio site.
Sure, I have my own and it’s what comes up first when someone searches my name. This is another entry showing my work, however, and it’s one that potential clients see when they are searching for writers with experience and expertise. Just this week I got contacted by a start-up saying, “I saw your portfolio on Contently…” and we’re working out a deal now. Even if you don’t consider yourself a freelancer, would you take a $350 writing assignment in your niche if it landed in your lap?
Paid Tools for Productive Bloggers
I mentioned how much costs have come down on tech tools and these below are proof. Some of them are literally a few bucks a month. Less than a beer or premium coffee, but they just might earn you enough or save you enough time to buy a year’s worth of beer or coffee.
If there’s one tool that has eliminated redundant work in my life the most, it’s this one. I have several standard reply e-mails that I seem be sending out almost every day. With TextExpander, you can put a sentence, a paragraph, or multiple paragraphs in the tool and it’ll spit all that out every time you put in the code word.
For example, I have one called “adreply” that goes out to anyone requesting a sponsored post. It says what I will and won’t do, how much the rates are, and other terms (like “not accepting new affiliate programs”) that will nip any waste-of-time follow-ups in the bud. If they don’t listen and follow up with some ridiculous offer, I have another TextExpander snippet that tells them to go back and read the original message. You can use this for changing e-mail signatures for different people, sending a polite no to turn down a request to pick your brain, or anything else you have to repeat instead of writing from scratch.
You can try it for free, then it’s $3.33 to $4.16 monthly to use it across all your devices, an amount I earn back in regained time nearly every day.
Soon I’m probably going to bite the bullet and upgrade to one of those expensive SEO tools that gives you detailed info on your rankings and insight as to who is ahead of you and why. In the meantime though, I’ve been using a lite version that does a fine job of just the keyword research part, with a great interface and a much lower price. For $17 a month or $169 a year (less than two months of SEM Rush or Ahrefs), you get up to 200 keyword searches a day, keyword suggestions, competitive analysis, and great info on how much people are paying to advertise with that phrase. It’s web-based, so just log in and go.
It has more than paid for itself when writing new posts that have a good chance of ranking well, helping me find long-tail phrases that aren’t dominated by the big brands spending a fortune on the main search engine. There’s a free trial with fewer searches allowed to try it out. See more info here.
If you ever need to create an online course, do a demo presentation, or train an assistant, you’re probably going to need to record some screenshot video. This is a clunky process with most programs, especially video editing software. I’ve set up more than 30 lessons using Screencast-o-Matic in courses that have generated thousands of dollars in revenue. So the $1.50 to $4 a month they charge (I paid for 12 months at once) is well worth it. They have a free version if you just want to try it out, but you’re hobbled a fair bit with that and their branding is on it. It’s intuitive and easy to use, no poring over pages of instructions to figure out how it works. It’s easy to record narration over the screenshots as you’re demonstrating, so you can have a finished video in one take.
There’s also a free Chrome Extension alternative called Soapbox Video Recorder that will work if you don’t do many of these, but if you’re designing an online course, doing demo videos, or creating S.O.P. instructions for a virtual assistant, ScreenCastoMatic is worth the purchase to be more professional, in my opinion.
This is for authors more than bloggers, but if you’re on-the-ball enough to have an editorial calendar, this would be a good place for drafts and organization of that as well. This is one of those software programs that takes a while to figure out and it’s not nearly as intuitive as it should be. For book authors though, it makes the writing process far easier to organize than when trying to do it all in a word processing program. It’s really meant for novelists and screenwriters, but for non-fiction you just use fewer of the functions. It allows you to save every chapter as a tab (which you can then move around), let’s you record notes and links off to the side for easy access, and has pre-set tabs for pages that most books are going to contain, so you just go fill them in.
When you’re finished, you export to Word for final formatting or go straight to PDF. I have used this to write all three of my last book releases and will be diving into it again for the 2nd edition of A Better Life for Half the Price. If I ever manage to get more than three posts ahead on any of my blogs, I’ll use it for that as well. It costs $49 and you’re done. See the details here.
Have a pesky WordPress problem to fix? Need some logo ideas to choose from? Do you have a few hours of research you keep putting off because you can’t find the time? Fiverr has thousands of freelancers around the world ready to jump in and do it for you, for as little as $7 a project. The list of tasks I’ve outsourced through here is immense: ePub formatting, proofreading, graphic design, php search and replace, theme changes, code fixes, article research, and on and on. Once I even bought a service for $7 that Photoshopped my daughter’s novel into Darth Vader’s hands, seamlessly. I gave it to her as a birthday present and she was thrilled.
Sure, sometimes you get a dud, but at these rates, it’s worth the risk. I once ordered book covers from three designers, then threw two away after getting feedback from my network. (See what won out to the right.) Prices go up according to the complexity and with my last rather complicated WordPress theme change I actually switched over to Upwork’s bidding system instead and paid $50. But I’ve probably used Fiverr at least 30 times this past year. Check it out here and you’ll be blown away at what you can outsource.
There are some I didn’t put on this list because everyone and their brother already seems to be using them: Canva, Hootsuite, Tailwind or Buffer, for instance. All quite useful and recommended.
I hope you found at least one nugget in this list of blogging tools and resources. What have you discovered that changed your business?