Do you obsess over the best tools to use for your small business? Me too (I wish I didn’t). I’ve likely wasted hours of valuable time trying and comparing resources before deciding what to use for my online businesses, over and over again..
I could have probably used that time better, but at least now I can share the tools with you.. maybe it wasn’t such a waste!
These are all tools that I have actually used and recommend. There’s some awesome stuff here that I know you’ll find useful. I’ll be updating this page when I discover new tools and resources that help me out in my online business endeavours, so bookmark and check back if you like.
Anyway, without further ado, here’s the list!
NOTE – This page contains a few affiliate links (although a lot of the tools are free!). This means that if you make a purchase through one of the links, I will make a small commission at no extra cost to you. I only ever link to products that I actually use and honestly recommend. If you choose to use one of the links, I really appreciate the support, but if not, that’s cool too. I hope you find this helpful!
Website / Blog
One of the reasons I started this blog was to learn WordPress. Having jumped into it, I’m sold. You own what you make, it’s free and it has a massive community behind it. I’ll be using WordPress for most projects in the future.
I went with SiteGround for web hosting after reading a lot of positive feedback about them, and a few concerning things about their main competitor.. I’ve not been disappointed, and was pleasantly surprised to receive a phone call from them offering help with setup after I’d bought hosting. A nice touch. I’ve not had any problems, but I know great customer support is there if I need it.
I own 8 domain names, and they are all registered through I Want My Name. WHOIS Privacy is included, so you can keep things like your name, address, and phone number private (a lot of domain registrars will charge extra for this). There are also useful integrations which make it easy to set up your email and website. In summary, everything you need, and nothing you don’t. Refreshing.
This is the WordPress theme I use for surfpreneur.co. It’s lightweight, has free and paid options, and has a public-facing, involved developer and an active community. The support has been excellent and goes beyond what I’d expect (you’ll get help with things like specific custom CSS if you need it, which is really nothing to do with the theme itself). This theme is awesome.
I switched to MailerLite from MailChimp to avoid double-opt-in (confirm your subscription email) when I was doing a giveaway. MailChimp has since added support for single-opt-in but I’ve found I like MailerLite more anyway. They offer all the features I need in an easy to use interface, and they are cheaper than the main competition once you get a paid number of subscribers. Plus, they don’t stick their branding all over your forms and emails, even on the free plan!
I use ZohoMail so I can create professional email addresses for my domain names. I used them initially because they were free (for one domain), but I now pay £18/year. This lets me send email from multiple different domain email addresses in the same inbox. So I have the email addresses for all my businesses in the same place! It’s convenient, and you can set up separate signatures for each address and forwarding rules for email to the different addresses.
If you are interested in coding, you should get on GitHub. I’ve used it for a few coding experiments, and to host multiple static websites with custom domains for free with GitHub pages. If you don’t need a blog or shop on your site and don’t mind messing about with code, GitHub is for you.
Speaking of code, here is a text editor for coding. It’s pretty good. One might say it’s sublime (I’m sorry).
You can use Cloudflare for free to get an SSL certificate and use a CDN. This means that your site will be more secure (which helps with Google) and faster (a Content Delivery Network allows you to serve your website’s files from a server closer to the user wherever they are in the world, instead of just from one place).
I use Squarespace for my online photography business website and e-commerce store. It’s been an easy way to build a website and online shop. Its advantage is that it’s simpler to set up than a self-hosted WordPress site, but it does have limitations. Overall, I’ve had a good experience using it and would recommend it depending on the use (so long as you are considering other options as well!).
Free icons that you can easily use on your website. I use it on this site (it comes set up in GeneratePress), but you can use it on any website. The icons in the headings on this page are all from Font Awesome.
Gives you analytics on where the users of your site come from and how they interact with it. All that good stuff that you need to know, so you can improve your site for your visitors.
I use Pingdom’s Website Speed Test to make sure all my websites are loading quickly. Slow websites lose visitors!
Evernote is my online brain. I use it for everything; drafting posts, making plans, to-do lists, budgets, study. It keeps me organised.
A free little app that helps me use the Pomodoro Technique. If you’ve not heard of it, it’s a time management technique where you work for a set period of time, take a short break, and repeat. This stops me procrastinating (most of the time).
Toggl is a tool that tracks time at the click of a button. Great for freelance work, or making it even clearer where I waste my time!
Recently, I’ve been using Trello for blog post ideas, scheduling and review. It offers a different way to organise projects and ideas that helps me keep on top of tasks.
A tool for scheduling posts across different social media platforms. Saves a lot of time.
Studies have shown that ambient background noise can have a positive influence on creativity and productivity. I use Noisli. It’s a free tool with a convenient browser add-on. I like rain, a little bit of wind and thunder, and the crackling of fire. Here’s a mix.
Feedly is an RSS reader. I use it to follow my favourite blogs and publications, keep up to date on what my competitors are doing, and find freelance work.
Sick of having to remember your passwords? Or do you have the same password for everything?! *gasp* LastPass solves this problem. It generates solid passwords that you won’t have to remember, securely stores them, and automatically provides them when they’re needed. And it works across multiple devices.
Research suggests that exposure to blue light (the kind that your phone or laptop glows at you) is bad for your sleep. Flux warms my laptop screen for those productive late night sessions, without keeping me awake afterwards. I like.
Allows you to find that person’s email address you need. There are plenty of services that can do this, but VoilaNorbert is the one I’ve been using. 100% hit rate so far!
Store stuff online and use Google Docs, Sheets etc. Preeetty useful.
Like mindmaps? Me too. I use Coggle to make information visual and appealing. See it in action and get some business ideas here!
You’ve probably heard of Grammarly. I can’t seem to watch a YouTube video without seeing one of their ads! Despite that, they do provide a useful tool. I use the free version to check all my blog posts, emails, university writing etc.
Another free tool. This helps me make my writing clear and concise.
Use the same words too often in your writing? Hemingboard helps me find the perfect word every time, while keeping me from sounding repetitive.
Depending on what you want done, there is a lot of talent on Fiverr that can be tapped into for not a lot of money. I’ve used it a couple times for small tasks, and have been pleased with the results.
There are a few subreddits dedicated to hiring freelancers. Definitely worth a look if you need something done. You’ll find freelancers posting their skills for hire, as well as job requests. I’ve linked to a multireddit for a few I keep an eye on.
I keep going back to Booking.com for my accommodation when I’m travelling, whether it’s a Guesthouse in Cornwall or an apartment in Fuerteventura (I had memorable experiences in both of these places.. got plenty of waves and even a little work done!). There are some deals to be found on the site, and it makes sorting out your accommodation simple.
A VPN protects your data when you’re using public WiFi networks abroad; crucial if you’re running a business from your laptop. Plus, you can watch Netflix for other countries (or home)! I did a lot of research before deciding on ExpressVPN, which has the right balance of features for me. It’s fast, easy to use, secure, and private.
I’ve been learning Spanish for about a year and I’d describe myself as conversational (and improving!). Duolingo gave me a strong base to build on, by making language learning a game and focusing on useful vocabulary and speaking. Combine it with some podcasts and reading, and you don’t need anything else to start having conversations.
A necessity when working abroad. I’ve been using this exact plug adaptor regularly for the last year and it’s not let me down.
Keyword Research / SEO
I use BuzzSumo to research competition and evaluate the potential success of content ideas.
Soovle pulls suggested search results for a given keyword from multiple sources, which is a cool way to find post ideas for your general niche.
Another useful tool for getting ideas for blog posts and keywords, and zeroing in on the questions that people are asking.
I use Moz Bar, Moz’s free browser add-on, to get metrics on search results and websites, as well as using their Keyword Explorer and Open Site Explorer to evaluate keywords and check backlinks.
SEOQuake is another free browser add-on that’s helpful for optimising your website for search engines and getting metrics on search results.
A tool that I use together with Google’s Keyword Planner for evaluating keywords and deciding on my main keyword for pages and posts.
A WordPress plugin for optimising your website’s pages and posts so they can be found in search engines. This makes on-page SEO easy.
No fees to use this card anywhere in the world for transactions or cash withdrawals! If you are from the UK and spending time abroad whilst running a business, you should get this credit card.
A real bank account you use from your mobile phone. It has a host of useful features, but best of all, there are no fees for transactions or cash withdrawals abroad.
Send and receive money from abroad in multiple currencies with the real exchange rate. If you need to accept payments from abroad for services you provide, Transferwise is the ideal solution.
Working with Images
The Adobe Suite has been crucial for me in my online business adventures. I use it all the time to edit photos and videos and create branding and marketing material. It gives me the flexibility to make changes myself when I outsource work as well.
Pixieset lets you sell both digital downloads and photography prints to clients. I use it to sell image downloads to surfers for my photography business.
A great company I stumbled upon! Instant Print will send you a free sample pack of their print options, which convinced me to go with them over other printers in the UK. I’ve used them for various flyers, and printed gift vouchers with a gorgeous finish. I’m thrilled with the results.
If you need to make graphics for your business, but don’t want to jump into the Adobe suite, Canva is an excellent option.
A website for finding beautiful photographs you can use commercially for free, without attribution. It’s nice to give credit anyway though.. (the wrench at the top of this page is by Matt Artz on Unsplash). I get photos from here when I don’t have one of my own that fits.
A tool I stumbled on when looking for a way to take full-screen screenshots of web pages for business case studies. It’s since come in handy a bunch of times, and is the only tool I’ve found that always takes accurate screenshots of web pages. There is a free plan which is more than enough for my needs.
I use Inkthreadable to dropship T-shirts and tote bags for my surf photography business. They have a wide range of products to choose from and I’ve found them to be high quality at a reasonable price.
This is the camera I use (together with a couple of different lenses) to take the photos for my photography business. It’s compact, high quality, and shoots at a fast burst rate. Perfect for my needs. Also the ideal camera for travel.
GoPros are super. I use mine to make videos in the sea..
A high-quality compact camera, well-suited for vlogging!
A relatively compact tripod which has proven itself invaluable on multiple occasions. I’d never drag a proper tripod around with me, but this lets me get the shot anyway.
There are a lot of accessories I could have included, but the Rocket Blower is universal! I use it for cleaning cameras, lenses, and my laptop. And it’s shaped like a rocket.. do I really have to say more?
I use a 2015 MacBook Pro Retina 13″ for everything. It’s allowed me to do a lot of things I’m proud of, including all this business stuff. An essential tool.
I have two of these 1TB Hard Drives. I use them to make backups of important files and store all my RAW photographs. I keep them cloned as I’m paranoid one of them will break! It’s not that I’ve had any problems, it’s just I can’t afford to lose the stuff I keep on them..
This is a bit of an odd one to include, but I’ve had mine for about three years (it’s all bashed up) and I take it everywhere and use it every day! I don’t know how many litres of water I’ve drunk out of the thing, plus it saves me money and stops me from buying disposable plastic bottles which are not good.
HubSpot offers a number of free certifications, which are perfect for learning more about marketing and improving your C.V. I’ve personally completed the Content Marketing certification (so far), and found the course valuable and professionally presented. I’m surprised these are free!
Comprehensive case studies and guides for learning about Search Engine Optimization.
One of the only blogs I’ve found about the process of building a business, from the point of view of someone actually doing it. From starting a brand of gin to matched betting, there’s definitely some interesting stuff here!
Insightful blog posts and conversations about building a blog.
Listen to this podcast if you’re a photographer looking to start making money from your work.
And that’s it! I hope you’ve found something that can help you with your online or small business.
I get preeetty geeky over this kind of stuff, so if you’ve any alternate (or new) suggestions, I’d love to hear them. You can send me an email or a Tweet. Oh, and if you think someone else might find this page useful, give it a share!
Last updated: 25 November 2017