Whew! Starting a blog is an exciting adventure! From the initial thought of a blog name, to seeing your design coming together, to witnessing a first twitter follower, the excitement does not stop!
This is my third post (my first one was 6 days ago after about a week of researching and setting up my design) and boy have I learned a lot about blogging and all of the resources out there. I wanted to share a list of free online tools that I have set up that have increased my productivity immensely in only a week!
I also want this to be an encouragement to new bloggers. Right now I only have less than 5 followers on each social media platform, my page views are not as high as I wished, but each re-tweet and Instagram like give me hope that at least a few people are reading. Even if no one is, I’m still working hard to post and upkeep social media while still having a life at home. These tools that I came upon help me to save some time by bulking my projects. (Also, my morning routine has helped me to be more productive. Read about that here!)
FREE blogging tools were of great importance to me because I don’t want to make the mistake of throwing a lot of money into my blog up front. I did buy the domain of AnchoredAtHome.com through HostGator.com, but I haven’t spent anything else other than time. My goal of the beginning of this blog is to spend as little as possible, only spending money where absolutely necessary, until I generate some income to balance spending. Once this generates an income (hopefully), I will look into purchasing plans for various tools.
Thankfully I have had a week of from my full time job, otherwise this blog would not be where it is in just about two weeks. These tools will help me continue blogging and be productive with my time when I start working full time again next week.
Here we go! (Remember these are FREE! Or at least have FREE versions, which I am using.)
With all of the accounts I had to set up during the first week of blogging, there is no way I could remember all of the passwords I used. LastPass is a secure way to store ALL of your passwords. You simply open up “My Vault” and launch the website. If you have the Chrome extension or desktop version, LastPass automatically inputs your username and password. You don’t have to type it!
The only con is that unless you buy the upgraded version, which is only $12 a year which isn’t bad at all, you don’t have passwords stored on your phone. So any phone apps have to be set up when you have access to your vault on a computer. Also, I hesitate at putting all of that sensitive information on my phone, which can easily get stolen. I will think about upgrading in the future, but right now, hello FREE version!
Email Accounts (GMail and Domain Email)
Before I hit submit on buying my domain, I created an admin email through GMail. This is also free and includes all of the Google Apps (Drive, Keep, Photos, Calendar, etc.). I do not give this email out to anyone but just use it for my administrative tools for my domain.
I also created another GMail email that is solely for Google Drive and some other Google Apps. Be careful with how many GMail accounts you have set up with one phone number because during the first week, I got an email on one of my accounts saying it had been suspended. I successfully revoked the suspension and ended up deleting two email accounts that I haven’t used in a long time that were connected to my phone number. That suspension email was a little scary! Since I’ve reigned in the number of GMail accounts that I have, I have not received another suspension email.
Also, any plan on HostGator comes with the option to create an email address with the @yourdomain.com ending. I setup an email here for business use.
Social Media Accounts
Shortly after buying my domain, I also created four social media accounts: Facebook, Pinterest, Twitter, and Instagram (after doing a thorough search of available usernames while figuring out my domain name). Click the links here or in the sidebar to check them out! And while you’re at it, follow me and share this post if you’d like! (:
Hootsuite is a FREE tool I setup to help with social media scheduling and automation with Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. Read about it below!
I currently do not have an automated tool for Pinterest. I’ve found a few but they cost at least $10 a month. This will probably be something I invest in in the future.
If I had only known about this from day 1 instead of the end of this week! A special thanks to Kara at BohoBerry I have my own Blog Editorial Calendar set up on Trello. I also set up a simple To Do List to save me time from switching back and forth with Trello and Google Keep (which is also a great checklist and note program through your Google Account for FREE!).
I was initially turned off of Trello by the fact that the interface on the promo page on Trello.com looks like a Pinterest board. However, you can customize how your boards look (they even copied that name from Pinterest) AND the benefits of this program are AMAZING. I LOVE organization and having everything in one place and Kara gave a great tutorial on how to set up a productive board for a blog editorial calendar. Check out her article, How I Use Trello as a Blog Editorial Calendar.
There is also a FREE Trello app! It doesn’t have as many editing features as the online version, but you can add cards and edit labels and a few other things on the go!
This tool just happened to have a free plan that worked seamlessly with the social media accounts I had setup. The FREE version lets you connect 3 accounts. For me those three are Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. (Pinterest isn’t even an option on Hootsuite.) If you decided to just set up a few social media accounts like I did, this free version will work for you! There are also other social media platforms you can link apart from the three I linked. Check out Hootsuite!
You can schedule posts on one or all of your accounts in a few seconds! This is great for initial promos of posts and follow-up promos weeks, months, or even years out! The interface is very user friendly and is easy to set up.
The only catch is with Instagram, you have to approve posts at the time the post is scheduled. But if you have the FREE Hootsuite app, the process is seamless on your phone. The app copies the photo and text you scheduled to your phone’s clipboard so all you have to do is paste and post! So worth the extra step.
If you are using WordPress, these are a few plugins I’ve activated that are helpful:
- Akismet – This plugin protects your blog from spam-y comments.
- Jetpack by WordPress.com – Jetpack has a variety of features. The first is a site monitor that tells you when your site is down and the page/post view statistics. My favorite feature is the Publicize function that posts each new post to Facebook and Twitter (what I use at least) at the time of publication. Yay automation! You can also add Sharing buttons to posts and/or pages and use a lot of other features.
- Formidable and Ninja Forms – Both of these are form creators. I like Ninja forms because of the simplicity and Formidable because it has more settings options.
- Posts In Page – I use this plugin on my home page to show recent posts. I wanted to include the welcome graphic on a static front page but also wanted to have a feed of my posts. This plugin lets me have both!
- Google Analytics – Seamlessly enable your Google Analytics account with your WordPress site using this plugin. Read more about Google Analytics below!
I need to research some more good plugins, like one for the Pin It button or pop up forms, but I’ll do that when I get around to it. #timemanagement
I was first introduced to Canva at work for graphic designing purposes. This tool has saved me tons of time because it is so much simpler and easier to use than Adobe InDesign, which I was using at work.
The FREE version is enough for me right now. You can upload your own photos, create images of all sizes using the templates (social media templates included!) or custom dimensions. Canva has a resource bank with a lot of free pictures, pre-formatted text, shapes, illustrations, and layouts. You have to pay for some graphics ($1 most of the time), but I get around just fine creating images for free. And best of all, you can download your images in .jpeg, .png, and .pdf (for your freebies!!) formats AND there is no watermark!
Also, I just stumbled upon the folder feature in the All of Your Designs tab. I made a folder for Templates so I can quickly find the template I need, design, download, and post! You gotta get a Canva account and start designing Pin-worthy images!
I have made the commitment to use my own stock photos for all of my graphics. This will prevent me from dealing with copyright AND hopefully improve my photography skills. My dad so graciously lent me his nice digital camera, which he does not use much and is pretty old, so I’ve been snapping shots occasionally. So look at my photos and give me some tips on photography if you have some talent!
Because I am using my own photos, I needed a free photo editing software. Pixlr is wonderful and has a FREE version! The program can be web based or desktop based. I like the desktop based program because of the bigger screen and functionality.
I mainly use the refine features to brighten, increase contrast and saturation, and play around with the colors. Check it out today for FREE!
I just recently created a FREE account with Mail Chimp and hope to have a email newsletter up and running by next weekend. Mail Chimp is apparently the way to go, due to all of the Pinterest pins about using it.
The only catch is that you have to provide a physical address to include on the bottom of all of your emails. I don’t want to give out my home address so I will probably have to buy a PO box this week. Unfortunately that is not free for me, but if you already have a PO box, don’t mind giving your home address out to the public (think twice!), or have a place of work that will let you have mail sent to your name, you can sign up seamlessly today for FREE!
There is also a Mail Chimp WordPress Plugin that I will install once I have it up and running.
MyHours is a web based platform with an app that you can use to track the time you spend on any project. You setup projects on the web login and you can use the app to start and stop the timer when you begin and end working on a specific project. If you’re going to do side work with your blog (like editing, writing, designing, etc.) and pricing is based on hours worked, this is a great FREE app to use to track your time!
I have set it up but haven’t gotten in enough of a rhythm to categorize a specified amount of time with one task. I usually start writing, think of something, add it to my to-do list, research something about it on Pinterest, then start pinning things, look at social media…. and there goes time! Eventually I hope to use this tool to keep me on track and track my time I spend on my blog.
This is a FREE tool for you with your Google Account if you have less than 2 million monthly visitors… so FREE! See site stats by day, hour, and demographics (if set up). You have to add your Tracking ID to your site so using the Google Analytics WordPress Plugin easily lets you copy and paste and track!
I think that completes my list of all of the tools I currently have set up during the first few weeks of having a blog. If you have created one of these accounts after reading this article, I’d love to hear about it by you commenting below! I would also love to check out your new blog so leave your site address too!