There comes a time in your business where using the free tools and services won’t give you the leverage you need to grow your business.
Investing in your online business. It’s what allows you to scale and grow your income.
But how do you know what to invest in?
It’s difficult to decide where to put your money and what you can trust in. You want to look for maximum leverage. What will give you more time to use your true gifts and talents to grow your income?
What can automate simple tasks for you? Where can you outsource to free up more of your time and bring on someone more skilled in a certain task and better able to scale for you?
We’ve had our travel blog business for 10 years and have learned a lot about the best tools, services and resources to help it grow. Some we’ve used for years because of their effectiveness. Some we outgrew and some were just complete junk.
We won’t share those ones with you!!
Here are a few useful tools and services that help keep our business running efficiently and smoothly. Some of these are free (yay!) and others involve an investment, most of them a small one.
I try to keep it as simple and real as I can. There is nothing worse than overwhelming yourself with too many tools, services and gadgets.
(Please note some of the links below may be affiliate links. This means I receive a small commission which helps cover the costs of them!)
1. Hosting with Cloudways & Cloudflare
Cloudways is the web hosting platform we use. We’ve used several others before. Websynthesis previous to Cloudways who were great. Sadly they were taken over by a way more expensive company.
We have not had any problems with Cloudways and they are so affordable. I was very surprised at how much less we were paying than Websynthesis or similar quality and service.
It is probably a web hosting solution for more advanced and robust sites as it is a premium product. i.e. expensive. Our tech guru guy, Chris Richardson recommended it and set it up for us.
For less advanced users try Siteground or Bluehost – which does come with mixed reviews but will be the cheapest option for beginning.
Cloudflare is an extra service we add on to protect our site and speed it up. It’s essential for growth.
Read More: How to start a travel blog in 11 steps
2. Email software providers
Ontraport is the system I used for six years for managing and sending out emails to our subscribers. It’s robust and powerful and makes your email communication much stronger with your subscribers.
You can do in-depth tagging and targeted emails, which makes your communication much better. PLUS, they have the ability to create pretty awesome landing pages, optin pages and sales pages. It’s effortless to do it once you learn.
It’s an all in one system so can save you having to invest in other tools. I’ve written a full review on Ontraport here.
However, We recently moved to Drip. Our email list was growing, and my strategy changing. I wanted to send more targeted emails. Unfortunately that put me over my email limit each month, which skyrocketed my costs.
So I moved to Drip as they have unlimited email and could do most of the things I needed.
Ontraport can do soooo much, and I didn’t really use so much of what it offered so it was wasted money. My focus had to be on unlimited emails.
I’ve been using Drip now for a couple of months and it’s pretty good. I like their pop up optin forms a lot and the organization is less complicated than Ontraport but there is a lot they can improve on to make the quality of the product better. I do think Ontraport is a superior product and their customer service is way better than Drips. I’ve been very disappointed with their customer service – it takes days for them to reply via email support. You have to use the chat box – which has limited hours – otherwise the response time is not good enough for what they charge
3. Last Pass
I use LastPass as a way to store all my passwords and login information. I couldn’t operate without it. I upgraded to the paid account so I could access it on mobile as well. Super important for a travel blogger!
4. Project Management Software
To be honest, I am not very good at using project management software. I feel like it’s just another thing for me to manage. So I often keep it all in my head or traditional pen and paper.
Whenever I use them though, I wonder why I don’t use them more often. I just forget!! To be more efficient and organized I do recommend you take advantage of them,.
And guess what, the free versions are more than adequate!
Trello, has a simple drag and drop features to organize your thoughts, ideas and to-do lists among visual boards. I love the simplicity of it.
Asana is the project management software I use the most. It’s a little more robust and flexible, but probably has a higher learning curve.
Google docs can be useful for project management, sharing files and collaborating on documents with others. I probably use Google Docs the most.
5. Wetransfer- File Transfer
If you need to transfer large files to someone, wetransfer is a great option – easy and effortless. There is a free account where you can upload 2GB max each time (can be multiple files up to this amount).
We upgraded to allow for larger files as we were working on big video projects and needed a lot more bandwidth. The free was more than adequate for many years and we may even downgrade now.
6. Screen Recording: Jing & Camtasia
Jing is the free software I once used to grab quick screenshots or to create quick how-to videos for anyone on our team. The free version stops the video recording at five minutes which can be annoying. But, you can upgrade.
We upgraded to Camtasia. As we were creating courses I needed something that had more features and could record longer than 5 minutes.
7. Skype, Zoom
Skype is what we use for our international business calls and interviews. It’s free from Skype-to-Skype accounts and there’s also a chat feature.
Zoom is the software of 2020. Great for virtual meetings. It’s been a lifesaver for connecting and learning during the pandemic. There is a free or premium version.
8. My favorite planner
good planner or organizer is key for savvy bloggers.
I have a million ideas, tasks, and appointments running through my head on any given day. I need an organizer that helps me brain dump, jot down, strategize, plan, and schedule.
One that helps me reflect is also beneficial.
I’ve had this planner for three years and absolutely love it. It keeps me focused, organized and on track to forming helpful habits and nailing my goals.
Get yours here. It’s seriously one of my favorite things I own and it goes everywhere with me.
9. Later Instagram Scheduler
An essential tool for helping us schedule our Instagram posts is Latergram
It allows you to schedule photos and videos to your account as well as engage with hashtags and repost other people’s photos. It’s very easy to use.
We have their premium account, but to be honest, I don’t think it’s worth it. Their hashtag feature is dreadful. You can get buy with the limited free version. You can also schedule to Twitter, Pinterest and Facebook. I have not used those features.
Tailwind (next) is better but still needs improvement as well.
10. Tailwind app: Pinterest and Instagram
Tailwind app is a tool we use to run our large Pinterest account. It’s been a lifesaver for making Pinning easier.
It has great in built analytics and monitoring systems, and recently they introduced a scheduling tool which we use a lot to post our Pins for when most of our followers are online in the US.
It’s also our preferred platform for Instagram scheduling although can be buggy. Improvements are being made.
You can read more on 8 ways we use Tailwind to improve our Pinterest marketing
11. IQ Hashtags
IQ Hashtags is my favorite tool for finding hashtags. Quick, easy, efficient. You can use filters to search for more targeted hashtags.
You can also check your hashtags to make sure they aren’t on the banned hashtag list, which keeps your account safe from shadow banning. This tool saves me oodles of time. I look forward to seeing how it evolves with new features. Check it out here.
SocialBee is a social media scheduling tool. We only really use it for Twitter and Facebook. I like how you can auto post to groups through here.
We got in on a fantastic AppSumo deal for SocialBee, which enabled us to purchase a lifetime membership when they first started – saving me hundreds on Meet Edgar the tool we were using. This does the same thing.
I also like their concierge services, where you can hire the bees to manage different parts of your business. It’s affordable and efficient. The customer service is excellent with SocialBee. See more here.
13. Design Pickle
A service I can’t live without! We have used Design Pickle for nearly three years now. You pay a monthly/ annual free for unlimited design services.
We compared what we would spend each year on graphic design with Design Pickle to see if it was cost effective. The result absolutely.
Because it was unlimited design it meant we could pass over fiddly design tasks like Pin images and social media updates. These do add up to consume time that is better off spent elsewhere.
They also create email optins for me – as I was hopeless in doing this even when using a template. They also create eye-catching proposals, media kits, and reports for us that impress and lead to more client work and income.
Even better is that we now have our new site ThisisRaleigh.com which we can also use this service for. That’s two for the price of one for us!
We still use a designer for top level new logos, branding and website design, which is only needed every couple of years. Design Pickle is one of my favorite blog services. Full review on Design Pickle here.
Another can’t live without tool is SEMRush. Keyword research and search engine optimization is vital to produce content that is seen for years and earns us passive income.
SEMRush is by far the best tool we have used and provides the most in-depth information. It also have valuable site audit tools which help us ensure our site is running at an optimal level and it will tel me what needs fixing. Over the past 4 months I have used this tool to take our site from a 56% site health to 90%.
Learn more here.
15. The Blog Fixer
Do you have enough time to fix 1600 simple SEO issues on your site?
I didn’t think so! The Blog Fixer has saved me hours and hours of work. It’s a robot tool that can automatically make simple fixes that can improve your site’s SEO – and for a very reasonable price.
We have a monthly subscription and purchase separate services as needed.
Learn more here.
16. Affilimate – Tracking Affiliate program
This is a tool we signed up for in Beta mode just before Rona hit. It hasn’t been so useful since then because the floor fell out of travel and our traffic and income dried up.
We are sticking with it as it’s a super valuable tool. It gathers all the data for your affiliate programs in the one place which makes it easy for you to track your reports.
It also shares valuable information and hotspotting to let you know what is working well and what needs changing. IT is still in Beta mode which is a great opportunity for you to jump in now. They are using the community’s feedback to implement great changes and create an incredible tool to help you earn more!
See more here.
17. Interact Quiz Generator
We haven’t used Interact Quiz Generator in some time, but will soon in the future, now we have more time to implement a better strategy.
It’s a valuable service to help grow your email list very quickly. It helps you build online quizzes to entice people to join your list (people love quizzes)
You can also use it to poll your audience and dive deeper into what your community wants, who they are, and how to serve them better. You can read our full review on Interact here.
18. Accounting: Bench
We’ve been with Bench for a year now and are very happy with the bookkeeping services. It’s efficient and they use their own software so you don’t need to add on an expensive option like Xero.
You can upgrade to have them fix your financial tax documents each year, but we have an accountant who does that. We use them just for bookkeeping. They hand over everything to my accountant which makes things easy for me!
They were also very helpful in helping their clients access the recent relief loans due to Rona.
Learn more about their services here.
19. Invoicing: Freshbooks
This is a service I’m debating over whether I need, but since it’s a low price (I got a great 6 month deal) and automates and syncs with Bench, I’m keeping it for now.
It’s an easy way to create invoices for clients. You can also use it for other accounting purposes. See more here.
20. FluidStance Balance Board
Everyone in our family loves the Fluidstance balance board. It’s a great way to work your core while standing and doing work. It helps improve focus and gives you a little work out!
The girls love to use it when they do their schoolwork and it definitely helps them focus better. Full review of the balance board here.
21. Adobe Creative Cloud
We have a subscription to the Adobe Creative Cloud which gives us access to a range of Adobe products that are essential to our business including:
- Adobe Acrobat for PDF documents
- Adobe Lightroom: the best photo editing software that we have used so far. Easy to understand and use and enhances your photos.
- Adobe Premiere Pro for video editing. We have a video editor so I don’t use this much
- Adobe Premiere Rush – a much easier to use software for basic video editing. Perfect for social media. There may be a free version
- Adobe Audition for our podcast recordings
22. Photo & Graphic Tools: Canva & Picmonkey
Picmonkey is a super easy photo editing online software to use.
Canva is another tool to help you create amazing graphics for your blog posts and social media. Canva has a lot of great functions and can help you start designing like a pro. You can create more than images – we use it to create PDF files like our media kit.
They have lots of great tutorials to help you. BUT, I detest using Canva. It is not good to use if your internet is slow, it chews up the data and is super buggy. I use less of it now because of these reasons and we have a permanent designer who now takes care of most of these tasks for us.
23. Canon Cameras
We recently shared a post here on our camera lenses and camera. We have used Canon for ever and love our Canon 700D. The quality of our photos drastically improved when we got it and better lenses.
We now have a Canon 6D Mark II – the professional (and of course expensive one) mostly for photography. And we have a Canon M50 for videos. Both are awesome cameras.
24. Microsoft Surface Book 2
We love our Microsoft Surface Books. It’s the first PC computer we’ve become loyal fans of. My first one lasted 4 years. It’s actually still operating really well and Savannah uses it. But I chose to upgrade when Craig upgraded his and got a good financing deal on it.
Craig got the Surface Laptop 3 as it was cheaper and less powerful. He doesn’t need a lot of RAM for what he does on the computer. I got the higher RAM and memory for the video editing I sometimes do.
25. Samsung External Hard Drives
Take it from us professional travel bloggers – do not skimp out on your portable external hard drive. Forget cheap. Get quality.
Think how you’ll feel when you lose two months of footage from incredible travel experiences like a 15 mile hike to a glacier in North Cascades National Park, incredible hikes through two of of the US’s best national parks: Glacier National Park and Yellowstone National Park. Devastated!!
After experiencing that I asked the tech guy who tried to help salvage it what was the best hard drive moving forward to protect my images.
His reply – The Samsung Portable SSD The SSD is what makes it tougher, which is what you need if you are always moving like travel bloggers are! It’s hard to back up to the cloud when you are traveling as you often have internet speed challenges and data limits if you are hotspotting!!
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What are some tools you use for your digital online business?