Below, you’ll find a list of some of my favorite tools and resources for WordPress website developers and DIY entrepreneurs learning to manage their sites for themselves. This list is by no means exhaustive, but it’s a good start!
Some of the links in this list are affiliate links. In case you’re unfamiliar, that means that if you purchase something that I’ve recommended after clicking on my affiliate link, I will earn a small commission. The price is the same for you either way. I’ve highlighted my reasons for recommending each of these resources to help you to make an educated decision about whether or not they will serve you in your business. And I will never recommend anything to you that I haven’t used myself.
WordPress Communities on Facebook
The best way to learn something new is to do it. The second best way is to teach it. In these WordPress groups, you’ll have the opportunity to do both :).
Largely a WordPress question-and-answer group, WP4B is great for all levels of WordPress user…from the DIY entrepreneur who only wants to learn enough to manage his or her own site, to the professional making a living designing and developing using WordPress. I admit, I’m biased about this group. I’ve been a member since the beginning, and I am an admin. It’s one of my favorite places on the Net :). But it’s free, so don’t let my bias stop you! And we often have a very long waiting list, so if you click to join, PM me on Facebook to let me know. I’ll jump you to the front of the line.
I recently started this group as an offshoot of WP4B, and it’s growing quickly. It is for (you guessed it) posting paying WordPress gigs. If you’re a WP professional, you’ll probably benefit from being there. If you’re a solo entrepreneur or small business owner, and DIY isn’t your thing, we’d love to have you post your paying gigs in this group.
This is another VERY new spinoff from WordPress for Business. I noticed a trend happening in WP4B where technical “how to” questions are addressed–there are many people willing to help. But questions that pertain to actually being a WordPress professional (contracts, pricing, etc.) tend to be ignored. I think it’s because so many of the WP4B members are not WordPress professionals–they’re entrepreneurs and small business owners interested only in managing their own sites. So I thought I’d start a group dedicated solely to the issues around becoming a successful WordPress professional.
This group caters to more advanced WordPress developers. Some members are fairly intolerant of questions from more inexperienced users. If your interest in WordPress is as a small business owner trying to manage your own site, this probably isn’t the group for you. But if you’re looking to be a WordPress professional, even if you’re brand new to WordPress, I think it would benefit you to be there. Just know that you’ll be better received as a listener and learner. And consider asking your own questions in WordPress for Business (above) or a couple of the other options below.
This group was created as a spinoff from AWP (above) because of the newbie-intolerance. It’s also a great place to be, and a welcoming place to ask your questions. Even though I admin WP4B, I’m an active member here, as well.
This is another great WordPress group. It’s akin to WordPress for Business, but every group has its own personality. So you may benefit from being a part of both groups.
There are many other WordPress communities on Facebook. I’m a member of several of them. But this handful should get you started!
Other Communities on Facebook
This is one of my favorite places on Facebook. The founder is a brilliant writer of persuasive copy (which is a pretty handy skill to have). And he shares his insights readily. Many other members of the group are also very skilled copywriters. Since pretty much everything you ever write for your website will be used to persuade someone to do something (share, “like,” leave a comment, “tweet,” download a freebie, read the next page, find out more, etc.), exposing yourself to persuasive writers isn’t a bad idea. One word of warning, though…there is no language filter in this group. If 4-letter words offend you, you may not want to join.
This group has a huge waiting list, so it may take you a while to get in once you ask. It’s for Internet marketers…which really means it’s for anyone who does business online. And the online business experience that members have varies greatly, so you can learn a lot by reading others’ posts and comments. There’s really no online business stone left unturned in there.
To set up a website, you need two things: a domain (that’s the URL…the domain for this site is mollyogren.com) and a host (that’s where all of the content on your website lives).
In the interest of not keeping all of your eggs in one basket, I recommend that you register your domains somewhere other than in your website hosting account. It may make sense to you at first to keep everything in one place so that you only have to manage one account. But there are several good reasons for keeping your domain and your host separate.
1. If you ever want to leave your web host, it’ll be easier to do if your domain is registered somewhere else. Rather than having to also move your domain, you’ll just be able to change one quick setting to make it point to your new host. The best web hosts today may become the worst tomorrow. You need to be able to be flexible, so that you can quickly do what’s best for your business.
2. If you ever want to set up a second (or third, or fourth, etc.) website, you’ll be able to manage all of your domains from one place. If you register each domain with each site host, all of your domains will be in different places. And what started as a good idea to keep everything in one place will turn into a bit of a mess.
3. If a hacker ever gains control of your website hosting account, you don’t want them to be able to change ownership of your domain over to them. If that happens, getting it back is a huge ordeal…and sometimes it’s not even possible. As long as you’ve set yourself up with regular backups, if a hacker takes down your site, you can recover pretty quickly. But if they take control of your address, things become much more difficult.
NameCheap has competitive pricing and an easy-to-navigate user interface. Your first year comes with free privacy (help keep spammers from bothering you), and it’s only $2/year after that. They are a good option for domain registration. They also have two-factor authentication to help prevent theft. Once set up, a hacker would have to also have access to your cell phone in order to get in to your account.
Google Domains is a relatively new option. It’s only been open to the public for a short time. But it’s a very promising option with transparent pricing and privacy included (good for keeping spammers from emailing you).
One of the most-asked questions in WordPress for Business (and many other groups) is “what’s the best hosting for WordPress?” And there are almost as many opinions as there are options. Everyone has a favorite.
The truth is, there are a few worsts, but there isn’t a “best.” The ones that I would stay away from for sure are those that are owned by EIG. You can find them here. Some of those companies, like Bluehost and Hostgator, used to be WP community favorites. But since being taken over by EIG, their performance has quickly declined. I’d avoid GoDaddy for hosting as well. They’re a popular registrar, but as a shared host, I don’t recommend them.
Other than that, many of the most popular hosts today will serve you just fine. My personal preference is SiteGround.
SiteGround has shared server options at very competitive prices, which are great for getting started. While it’s not their very lowest option, I’d recommend starting with the “GrowBig” account. It’s not their least expensive, but it comes with free SSL for a year. And Google has added SSL (https instead of http) as an important factor in SEO. However, from a hosting quality standpoint, if you need to start smaller with the “StartUp” account, you can always move up.
They also have Cloud Hosting and Dedicated Servers. So as your business grows, you’ll be able to increase server capacity without having to deal with the hassle of changing companies. And, even their shared hosting (at the “GoGeek” level–$14.95/month, currently) gives you access to a staging site (so you can test changes on your server without making them live on your site). There are many hosts dedicated to WordPress hosting that include staging areas. The most popular of these starts at $29/month.
If you register your domain with Namecheap, and then buy web hosting through SiteGround, you can follow this tutorial to change your DNS settings on Namecheap to point to your nameservers on SiteGround.
Another regular question to be asked in many WordPress groups is “what’s the best theme for XYZ business?” Themes are about design, not functionality. This confuses many people who are new to WordPress. The short answer is that there is no single “best theme” for any type of business. The best theme for you is the one that achieves the LOOK that you want…which can be anything! Plugins (which we’ll discuss below) are used for a site’s functionality. And THAT should be decided based on the needs of your business.
That said, I do have one huge recommendation for you, particularly if you’re a WordPress website developer…
Don’t waste your time searching for a new theme for each project. Find a theme framework that you like, and stick with it. One of the biggest time wasters in WordPress site development is new learning curves with each new piece of software that you incorporate. Every theme works differently. You can sink so much of your production time into learning how to navigate a new theme’s back end, that you sacrifice your profits on the project. Picking the right framework for you is great–learn it once, and you can make it look however you want it to look so that every project is still unique.
There are lots of great frameworks. Like hosting companies, ask in a group and you’ll hear as many answers as there are options. Everyone has a favorite, myself included.
I like working with the Genesis framework, using the Dynamik Website Builder child theme.
The Genesis Framework is built by StudioPress. They’ve been around a long time, and they have a very solid track record. The coding is clean and efficient, and they keep everything up to date (Schema.org, HTML5, CSS3 are all incorporated). A framework like Genesis can be used as the foundation of all of your WordPress websites. When you click the “Genesis Framework” link, you’ll end up on their “features” page. Scroll to the bottom of the page, and you’ll see three different buying options. You can buy just the Genesis Framework–with a single one-time payment, you can use Genesis on ALL of your clients’ sites.
You’ll need to use a child theme with the Genesis framework. StudioPress has many Genesis child themes that you can purchase individually. Or you can buy them all as a package. You’ll see that option at the bottom of the features page as well. But before you do that, take a look at this…
Dynamik Website Builder is my favorite Genesis child theme. I’ve been using it for many years. Dynamik started out as its own standalone theme called “Frugal.” Over time, Eric Hamm, the developer, separated Frugal into a “parent” framework theme, and a child theme. The parent framework was called Catalyst, and the child theme was called Dynamik. For a long time, Eric and his team supported both Catalyst and Dynamik. And then they developed a version of Dynamik for Genesis.
Because Genesis has such a strong development team, Eric decided to fold Catalyst and concentrate only on Dynamik Website Builder (the Genesis version of Dynamik). He did this so that he could focus on improving Dynamik over time without also having to worry about supporting the base framework. Since Genesis is so well supported, it was a very smart decision.
In the years since that change, Dynamik has continued to improve. It is my “go to” theme. Every time. I’d recommend that you use Genesis and Dynamik as your go to WordPress theme package as well.
Genesis Extender is a plugin, so *technically it doesn’t belong in this section. But I’m telling you about it in the themes section of this page because it is designed to work with any Genesis child theme (other than Dynamik) to enhance its core structure, design, and functionality. If you use Dynamik, you do not need the Genesis Extender plugin. All of its functionality is built into Dynamik. But if you decide to use other Genesis child themes (which will give you many premade design choices, so you may do that), then making the Genesis Extender plugin a part of your design framework will give you a lot of extra freedom when customizing your clients’ sites.
I am going to be offering a Genesis/Dynamik/Extender weekly tutorial club in the next few months. If you’d like me to let you know more about that when it’s available, fill out the form below. I’ll email you when it’s ready to go…
There are so many great WordPress plugins available. Over time, I will be doing strategy tutorials (not just the “how to,” but the “why” as well) for using WordPress for your business and your clients’ businesses. (See that “Tutorials” link at the top of the page…that’s where I’ll put them.) As I create those tutorials, I will introduce you to many of my other favorite WordPress plugins.
Here, I’m just going to tell you about my staples. These are the plugins that I use over and again on nearly every type of WordPress website. You’ll develop your own list of “go to” plugins…maybe some of mine will be on it :).
Since we’ve just finished talking about theme options for designing your site, let’s take a look at a plugin option for designing your pages.
I included the Genesis Extender plugin in the themes section because it is used to customize the design of your site as a whole (and it has an awesome front-end editor to help you, if you don’t know how to write code). Thrive Content Builder also helps you customize design on your site. But it is for the actual content of your PAGES (and posts). (So Extender does things like layout, background colors, extra widget areas, etc., while Thrive helps you custom design the content of the page itself…like the words you’re reading right now.)
Full Disclosure: I don’t actually use Thrive Content Builder on this site. At least not yet. But that’s because I’m proficient at writing HTML and CSS, and I actually like to do it. So when I need to customize the contents of a page, I tend to hand code it.
But I do use Thrive for many client sites. Because most of them do not know how to write any code, so they can’t easily customize or change the formatting and design of the content on the page. When I include sales letter templates, for example, they’d be stuck with an unstyled blob of text on the page. With Thrive, they can easily style their page content without knowing any code at all. (It is pretty great, so I may start using it, too!)
Digital Access Pass tops my list of favorites. I’ve been using it since its inception. Ravi and Veena, the developers, are fantastic people who continue to innovate, making DAP better and better.
DAP is a membership plugin and affiliate system rolled into one. It can be used on its own to protect and sell virtual items–PDF downloads, drip content membership sites, members-only extra content, etc. It is fully integrated with WordPress, but the DAP software itself sits outside of your WordPress site. And if you choose, your DAP admin can have a different password than your WordPress admin, which increases security for your membership/affiliate management. It is extremely flexible, with a ton of features. While it’s very well-documented, because it is so powerful, it can have a bit of a learning curve. Some people find that frustrating (it’s definitely not just “upload and go”). But if you take the time to learn it, you won’t be sorry.
I’m going to be putting together some guides for using DAP strategically in several different types of businesses (not just the “how to,” but the “why” as well). These will highlight ways that you can use DAP on your own WordPress site, as well as ways that you can package and promote DAP to clients. If you’d like to be notified when these guides become available (probably mid-2015), fill out the form below and I’ll be sure to email you.
WooCommerce is a free eCommerce plugin for running an online store. You can use WooCommerce to sell both digital and physical products. Sales tax, shipping, limited quantities, product options, etc. It has a free add-on for making your digital product sales comply with the new EU VAT tax laws (ick!). And there are many, many paid add-ons available to extend its capabilities.
But my very favorite feature is that it has been integrated with DAP. Now, you can combine physical, digital, and membership site sales into one seamless online marketplace. In fact, this site runs WooCommerce and DAP together. The integration allows you to add physical product add-ons (like a book) to your membership offers. It allows you to limit quantities on virtual offers (like group coaching or beta memberships). And because of WooCommerce’s VAT add-on options, making your hands-off memberships VAT-compliant is simple. (Too bad WooCommerce and DAP won’t also FILE your taxes!)
FastMember is another membership/affiliate software rolled into one. It isn’t as flexible as DAP, but it is quite powerful. Because it has fewer features and integrations, it is much more “plug and go.” DAP is my first choice. But when I’m building sites for clients who don’t require all of the functionality that DAP has to offer, FastMember is a great option. And they, like the DAP developers, work hard to continually improve and innovate.
Gravity Forms does just what you’d expect…it allows you to create forms for your site. There are several other great form builders, some of which I’ll probably use in tutorials over time. But Gravity Forms is my favorite. It is well-supported, and very popular.
There are all kinds of add-ons available for extending its functionality. (One of my favorite add-ons is the free persistence add-on, which allows logged in users to leave long forms and come back to them later, without losing any of their content.) Also, many WordPress developers publish snippets, integrations, and custom functions to help you do even more customized things with it.
I use it all over this site. Go ahead…fill out an opt-in form to test it for yourself ;).
Easy Content Types makes adding custom post types, taxonomies, and meta boxes to your site really quick and easy. And you can export your code for use on client sites without the plugin…which is a huge time saver if you’re used to writing CPT plugins for your clients yourself.
Easy Webinar allows you to host both live and evergreen webinars directly on your site. There are several WordPress webinar plugins–this one is my favorite. Integration with Google Hangouts enables you to host live presentations on your site while taking advantage of Google’s free streaming platform. And recorded webinars can be played in “real time” for evergreen sales cycles, with videos hosted for free on YouTube. It integrates with other video platforms as well (Wistia is my favorite).
Email Autoresponder Services
There are many autoresponder services, and they each have their pluses and minuses. Aweber, Constant Contact, GetResponse, and Mailchimp are four of the most well-known. You’re probably fine using any one of them for your business, but my personal preference is MailChimp. When you’re first getting started, their generous free plan will let you get up and running without adding any new monthly expenses to your bottom line. And when you’re ready for a paid account, MailChimp is competitively priced. Or, as your lists grows, you may consider one of the options below instead. I recommend MailChimp for most clients when they’re first getting started.
This is another reason that I love Digital Access Pass. When you set up new products in DAP, you can add dripped content (membership sites, for example) and you can schedule as many autoresponders as you’d like to go along with that dripped content. By default, DAP will use your website’s server to send those emails. But to enhance deliverability, and avoid the limitations that most shared hosts put on the amount of outgoing email that you’re permitted to send, DAP can be easily integrated with Amazon SES. (And SES is really inexpensive for bulk mailing.)
DAP’s interface for setting up autoresponders is not nearly as friendly as MailChimps because DAP isn’t intended to be a list management software. But it does the trick for sending emails timed with the release of your membership content. And it can also be used to send bulk messages to your members (by product, by active/inactive status, etc.). I use a combination of MailChimp for autoresponders and DAP for membership mailings, myself.
Sendy is a self-hosted autoresponder software. It has a one-time payment, and is installed directly on your server. This would be another great option to consider once your list has outgrown MailChimp’s free package. It does take a bit more know-how, though, since you’ll have to install and manage it yourself.
WP Migrate DB Pro does exactly what you’d expect…it allows you to quickly move WordPress databases from one location to another. You can develop locally and quickly push changes to a live server. You can pull a database from a live site to make changes or troubleshoot on a development site. You can selectively choose which database content you want to move, and you can avoid moving useless content, like SPAM comments, altogether. If you do a lot of WordPress development, it’s a handy tool to have in your arsenal. (You can use the coupon code SUPER20 for a 20% discount).
If you develop sites that require a lot of content at the outset, WP All Import is a great tool to have. For example, I use it when creating eCommerce sites for clients. It’s especially handy when they have a lot of physical products with several attributions (a shirt that comes in six colors and five sizes, for example).
The client provides a spreadsheet of their products with all of the necessary info, you import all of their products at once with just a few clicks.
It’s also great for clients who have extensive data management needs. You can set up a cron job to regularly import a file…the client updates their spreadsheet, and WP All Import’s cron job regularly updates their site from that spreadsheet.
WampServer and MAMP are both free software that enable you to run a virtual server right on your home computer. Once you’ve installed the appropriate option for your operating system, you can install WordPress sites that run on your computer without an Internet connection. There are many tutorials online for using WampServer or MAMP to run WordPress. One of these days, I’ll probably put together a start-to-finish “how to” as well. 🙂
DesktopServer is similar to WAMP and MAMP, with a lot more oomph. I developed using WampServer for many years, and it works great. But if you can invest a little more in your dev tools, this makes development and deployment even easier. My favorite features are how quickly you can push your development site live, and that you can install it on more than one computer, then use the import/export feature to move development sites from one computer to another (when you’re tired of working at your desk, you can move your work to your laptop and head out for some new scenery).
Photoshop is the industry gold standard for graphic design. GIMP is a really great stand-in…available for free. If you want the capabilities of Photoshop (including the ability to use Photoshop patterns and brushes) without the price tag, it’s worth getting to know. YouTube is full of great GIMP tutorials, and Grokking the GIMP is a very thorough manual.
Inkscape is a another great free graphics program, akin to Adobe’s Illustrator, without the price tag. I don’t generally do graphics or logo work for my clients any more, but I used to. And Inkscape was my go to tool. (I used it to create my own logo on this site, from a scanned image of my signature, too.) Like GIMP, you’ll find many great tutorials on YouTube.
If you do audio recordings of any kind (for yourself or your clients), Audacity is a great free tool to use, both for recording, and for cleaning and editing the final version before exporting to MP3.
If you do any type of screen recording or video creation (for yourself or your clients), Camtasia is a great tool to use…it’s not free, but it’s worth the price. And they do have a free trial to get you started.