This is a list of all the tools I use to run an online business as well as manage my personal affairs while traveling.
Some of the products are free or have a free trial period. Other products are paid plans or require a one time fee.
I’ll probably write more detailed reviews later on, but for now I’ve included a short description of why I recommend/don’t recommend each product.
August 2014: The list is starting to get long so here’s a handy table of contents!
- Tools I use to manage my life and business while I’m traveling
- Tools and resources I use to make money online
- Writing and self-publishing (non-Amazon)
- Webhosts that don’t suck
- Email marketing
- Analytics & website data, optimization
- WordPress plugins
- Expired domains & market/keyword research
- Code and website management
- Social media
- Free stock photos
- Beyond text: Create pretty web content
- Cross-browser site testing
- Domain registrars
- General computer/workflow tools
Life Management While Traveling
Telestial International SIM Cards – This is the perfect phone plan to have right after you’ve landed in a new country and need a phone to get in touch with your hotel/accommodations. Works worldwide and I keep this in my emergency phone while traveling. You’ll still want to get a SIM card from a local phone company once you’ve settled in your new country. DO NOT USE THIS FOR DATA!!! You’ll get a permanent UK phone number and a rotating US phone number. I’ve had the same SIM card for several years and haven’t had to top up my account with more than $25 / yr. I don’t think there’s a maintenance/inactivity fee (don’t quote me on this). The only negative to letting the account go inactive is that you’ll be assigned a new US phone number. You didn’t hear it from me, but this could be a positive if you need a temporary number for account verifications …
Virtual Post Mail – Scans, holds, and forwards your mail and packages. One of the most reasonably priced virtual mail box services with the best user interface I’ve seen among mail forwarding services. They’ll also serve as a registered agent if you wish to incorporate in California. Other services include check deposits for checks sent to your mailbox. If you need to process check payments from affiliate programs or vendors while overseas, this is the perfect solution.
UK Post Box – Offers the same services as the above, but in the UK. Are you tired of getting dropped by programs due to your state’s stupid affiliate tax laws? Solve the problem in one step with an overseas mailing address.
Jumpstart – Hong Kong virtual offices. Get an office address in Central or Kowloon. They’ll handle basic mail forwarding and serve as the registered address for your business. Prices start around $110 HKD per month. I personally haven’t used this service, but other expats give good ratings to Jumpstart. There’s cheaper virtual office services in HK, but the websites and communications/English skills leave a lot to be desired especially if you’re not physically in HK and don’t speak Cantonese.
Excess-Baggage.com – A budget friendly international moving company. Finding myself in that undefined area between semi-permanent traveler and expat, I’ve accumulated enough stuff that it would be too expensive to check-in a bunch of luggage every time I relocate to another country. Yet I’m not one of those expats who needs to ship all my furniture and appliances from country to country. Excess Baggage is the perfect solution for small volume relocations or excess baggage you want to ship home from overseas. They offer seafreight and airfreight plans depending on how quickly you need your stuff and how much you’re ready to pay. Boxes and bubble wrap are provided with no extra charge and they’ll pickup and deliver door to door by contracting out to DHL.
Seven Seas Worldwide – Another excess baggage/small volume international moving company. Offers door to door or door to port services as well as storage while you work out the details for your arrival/destination.
Phone.com – Keep and use the same phone number no matter where you are in the world. Forward calls to your international number and setup the after-hours answering function and your customers will be able to reach you no matter where you are. Toll-free numbers and caller analytics as well as other business features makes this the perfect service if you want to present a professional front to your customers. I use this as the listed number for my online business projects. Pair this with one of the virtual post box services above for online business listings.
Google Voice – Free virtual phone number. Give this number out when you sign up for important stuff like utilities and banking. Forward calls to this number to your real cell phone. This way you won’t have to update your profiles if you change your phone number. I use this to call US numbers from my computer when I’m overseas. Calls to US numbers are free wherever you are. Rates per minute for calls to other countries are reasonable. Easier to use than a calling card and cheaper than an international phone plan. Free.
Kitestring – Stay safe while traveling alone. Kitestring will send alerts to your personalized emergency contacts if you don’t check back after a set amount of time. Free to join and use.
Tools & Resources I Use To Make Money Online
Writing & Non-Amazon Self-Publishing
Leanpub – Simple delivery of ebooks in pdf, ipad, kindle formats. Authors can set a minimum sale price and customers can choose to pay more if they wish. Earn 90% royalties less $0.50 fee per sale. You can publish in progress works and update as you go. Want to promote your book with an affiliate program? You can choose to participate in the affiliate program and split your profits with affiliates who promote your book.
MDD Hosting – I’m currently using this. Very stable and reliable host with good customer service. This is where I host my higher traffic sites. Good speeds and while they are not the cheapest for shared hosting, the prices are very reasonable.
Stablehost – I’m currently using this. Currently using this host for some of my niche sites. Use hub40off to get 40% off your first payment.
Crocweb – I’m currently using this. I signed up with crocweb with a really good deal that works out to $2.30 per month for shared hosting. Some smaller personal projects are hosted here. Load times are decent most of the time. I have noticed frequent downtime from a couple minutes to an hour every week. If stability and uptime are important to you, then I suggest stablehost or mdd instead.
Mailchimp – I’m currently using this. Free and simple to use for beginners. Only paid plans have autoresponder functionality unless you were grandfathered in under an older plan. Link your mailchimp account with mandrill if you run an ecommerce site and send out transactional emails. Backup your lists regularly because mailchimp is not affiliate friendly. Do not spam your list or you will get banned! Stuff like MMO links in your emails is not going to fly. Always remember to link from email to landing page and then to your offer. Other than that I really like mailchimp because from my non-scientific experiments it seems they have a higher deliverability than aweber or getresponse. I’ve never had a mailchimp email land in my spambox while it seems mails from other emailers often end up filtered as junk mail. Free and paid plans.
Mandrill – I’m currently using this. Free for up to 12000 emails a month. Why would you use mandrill instead of your own website’s email servers to send emails? Because this way your emails have a higher chance of getting delivered instead of landing in spam boxes. Mandrill also lets you track link clicks and email opens and gives you valuable analytics data. Free and paid.
Aweber – I used to but am not currently not using this. If you are building a list in one of the more “dirty” niches like dating, weightloss, or make money online then aweber will be a better choice. Be aware that if you import an existing list, they won’t let you import without having everyone re-optin. More robust tracking and followup email features compared to mailchimp. The available email templates are not as pretty as mailchimp’s. The tradeoff is that editing emails in aweber is faster and less laggy.
Getresponse – I used to but am not currently not using this. More email templates than aweber or mailchimp. Like mailchimp, getresponse has a wysiwyg editor for editing emails, though it isn’t as easy to use. Getresponse has much more robust split testing features and supports testing of up to 5 versions of your email. If you have a large list, getresponse works out to be cheaper than mailchimp and aweber. You can import existing lists without forcing everyone to reconfirm their subscription. Free trial and paid plans.
Mailpoet – I’m currently using this. If you’re even a little bit comfortable with tinkering around with php and other settings in cpanel, then use this wordpress plugin and OWN YOUR LIST. Skip the monthly fees and fears of losing your account with the above senders. You’ll want to pair mailpoet with a third party mailer such as mandrill to make sure people get your emails. Features include autoresponder and easy management of multiple lists. You can also send out digests of your latest blog posts. The current version is missing advanced segmentation features so you’ll have to separate your main list into new lists instead of relying on tags/segments. Mailpoet is free for up to 2000 subscribers per wordpress install. The premium version comes with an annual fee and removes the subscriber limit and unlocks advanced functions. It’s easy to fix the free plugin so you can see click data from mandrill in mailpoet. The free templates are actually really good though the built-in wysiwyg newsletter editor can be a bit clunky at times. The form wizard isn’t as robust as I like and is really idiot proof which you might not like if you like to tinker around with your form’s code. Free and paid.
Tracking, Data, Optimization
Clicky – I’m currently using this. Want to stop depending on Google Analytics? Get real time data with clicky. Paid plans have additional features like heatmaps and split testing. Easy to transition from Google Analytics as they use the same tags for campaigns. Your existing campaigns should work without too much editing. Free and paid plans.
NextScripts Social Networks Auto Poster PRO – I’m currently using this. I usually recommend free wordpress plugins over paid ones. This is one of the few exceptions. It is impossible to manually manage multiple social media accounts if you have a network of many websites. I use SNAP Pro to automatically push social media updates as soon as I hit “Publish post” in wordpress. The main reason I use the PRO version is to get the ability to stagger my broadcasts to multiple social media sites. The other reason to get the PRO version is to get the ability to post to Google+ and Pinterest.The free version is adequate if you only post to facebook/twitter/tumblr.
Custom content by country – Vary what your visitors see by their ip address. Automatically switches out Amazon affiliate links. Other content can be varied with shortcodes. Free.
AutoChimp – Integrate your mailchimp list and wordpress blog. Automatically subscribe users to your email list when they sign-up to your wordpress blog and automatically send out emails when you add a new post. Free.
Broken link checker – Monitor your site for broken links. Stop losing visitors and money to dead affiliate links. Free.
InfiniteWP – The best and easiest way to manage multiple wordpress sites. Update, add, delete, and maintain your wordpress installs, plugins, and themes from one central dashboard. Get the admin panel from infinitewp.com. Free.
EWWW Image Optimizer – Optimize all the images in your media library. Save bandwidth and speed up page load times. Only performs lossless optimization. If you need to radically compress your files to the point where there’s a downgrade in quality you should use imsanity. Free.
First Comment Redirect – Redirect your commenters to a thank you page. On your thank you page you could ask them to signup to your newsletter or ask them to follow you on social media. Free.
Insert PHP – Sometimes you’ll need to include some php code in individual post or page content. Free.
Scroll Triggered Box – Ask your visitors to signup to your newsletter with a box that slides up as they scroll. Much less intrusive and disruptive than a pop-up. Free.
WP No Category Base – For some reason wordpress adds “category” to the url for category pages. It’s unnecessary. It’s ugly. It has no SEO benefit. Get rid of it with this plugin. Free.
Pretty Link – Get rid of long ugly links with this plugin. Makes link management easy if you ever need to change a link later on. Just swap the target URL once in pretty link instead of doing a search and replace across your entire site. Has some basic click tracking functionality. I’ve never gotten the parameter forwarding function to work though, so I don’t recommend that you activate it. Free and paid versions.
Custom Field Suite – Add custom fields to your wordpress posts. Much easier way to manage custom fields than fiddling with functions.php. Free.
Custom Post Type UI – Create and manage custom post types and custom taxonomies. Again, it’s just easier to manage things this way rather than editing your theme. Free.
Expired Domains & Market/Keyword Research
Scrapebox – I’m currently using this. The swiss army knife of SEO. While some use scrapebox to blast comment spam, other possible (much better) uses include finding expired domains, keyword research, and data harvesting. Regularly updated. One time fee.
Xenu – I use xenu link sleuth to find expired domains. Free.
Google Global Market Finder – If you must do keyword research. Free.
Metafilter – Know your markets and audiences! Think in terms of audiences/niches NOT keywords!
Reddit – Know your markets and audiences! Think in terms of audiences/niches NOT keywords!
Code & Website Management
BigDump: SQL dump – On shared hosting? Do you get timeout errors when you try to import really big sql files in phpmyadmin? Use BigDump instead. Free.
jQuery Waypoints – Increase conversion rates by giving your visitors a smoother reading/scrolling experience. Free.
Templated.co – 840+ free creative commons CSS & HTML templates.
jQuery Image Gallery Plugin – Need a collage for whatever reason? Here’s the code for that. Free.
XAMPP – Test out new code locally before you make any changes to your live site. I use this to run infinitewp on my laptop centralized dashboard for all my wordpress sites.
Uptime Robot – Get email or text alerts on the status of your website. You are losing money every minute your site is down. With uptime robot alerts you can pause your campaigns as soon as your site goes down and stop wasting $$$ sending traffic to a dead site.
Virality Check – Check how many times a page has been shared across different social media platforms. Free.
Tweetdeck – This app is indispensable for managing 10s of twitter accounts. Monitor multiple accounts and lists. Set custom alerts so you’re only alerted when there’s relevant posts. Schedule posts and mute irrelevant users or content. Free.
Stock Photos & Images (free & creative commons). Because I HATE cheesy stock photos.
Unsplash – Public domain photos. Do whatever you want with them! Free.
Compfight – Find stock photos that don’t suck. Search engine for flickr. Filter stock photos by creative commons license. Free and paid.
Stocksy – High quality stock photos that don’t look like stock photos aka the kind of photos you want to use on your authority sites. Paid.
Gratisography – Free creative commons photos. Stock photos that don’t look like stock photos. Curated list is updated weekly. Free.
New Old Stock – Get your hipster on! Vintage stock photos. Free of copyright restrictions. Free.
Superfamous – Free professional photographs under creative commons license. Free.
Little Visuals – Get 7 high resolution images emailed to you every week. Under CC public domain license. Do whatever you want with them! Free.
Picjumbo – Even more photos that don’t suck. For personal and commercial use. Free.
Tools to Make Pretty & Interactive Web Content
Haiku Deck – Slides != powerpoint. Go make some pretty slideshows and presentations. Export it as a pdf or ppt. Offer it as a download gift for email subscribers. Distribute it to slideshare. Turn it into an infographic. Turn it into a video. Distribute it to youtube. Free.
Canva – Create gorgeous graphics for your blog posts and social media. Lots of icons, pretty text, and pretty infographic elements. Use this if you are too cheap to outsource and hire fiverr gigs for graphics. Use this if you have no idea wtf you’re doing in photoshop. Export images as png files or as a pdf file. Free and paid.
Adobe Kuler – Are you colorblind? Can’t put together a matching outfit to save your life? Use kuler to generate pretty color schemes for your web projects. Free.
Colourlovers – A social site with lots of color palettes and background patterns. Free.
Stripe Generator – Need a seamless striped background? Use stripe generator. Free.
BatchGeo – Upload address data and make a pinned/markered Google map. Free for up to 250 addresses. Free and paid.
Mobile Phone Emulator – See what your website looks like to mobile users with this phone emulator. Free.
Google PageSpeed Insights – Troubleshoot and fix any issues that make your website slow or difficult to navigate for your users. Free.
BrowserShots Cross Browser Testing – See what your website looks like across different browsers and resolutions. Free.
Namecheap – I’m currently using this. Great support, but pricy for .coms. Some less common TLDs are cheaper here. Whois privacy is not free. They give out coupon codes all the time and have great 24-hour sales each year around the holidays so you’ll want to follow them on twitter to get sales and coupon alerts.
Internetbs – I’m currently using this. Awesome registrar. The website isn’t the prettiest but they’re simple and efficient. You’ll never have to go through endless upsells and offers like with Godaddy. They never give out coupon codes but their prices are lower than almost all registrars for .com, .net, .org. Plus they offer free whois privacy forever for all domains, not just for the first year like other registrars. I register most of my domains here. Located outside of the US in the Bahamas.
WriteMonkey – A free portable markdown text editor. The free version of WriteMonkey has more features than the free version of markdownpad including the all important support for markdown extra (lets you nestle markdown code inside block level html elements and supports id and class attributes inside markdown syntax). Also lets you use your own css styles for exports so you can preview how your blog post will look without uploading it to your live site. For distraction free writing WriteMonkey is amazing. WriteMonkey is donation-ware.
Markdownpad – Do you want to ragequit every time you write a blog post in the wordpress editor? You NEED this. I’m a recent convert to markdown and I will never look back. At first I was like wtf, not another syntax I need to learn. But this has increased my productivity so much. No more dealing with the temperamental tinymce wordpress editor, or messing with funky html caused by copy-pasting from Microsoft Word, or staring at ugly html in notepad while you’re trying to push out blog posts at nanowrimo speeds. The free version should be fine unless you need to mess with nestled markdown syntax/block elements or custom css. GET THIS! Free and paid versions.
Sandboxie – Don’t want to leave a trail of information following you across browsing sessions? Maintain your privacy and keep your computer safe from malware. Do all your browsing and competitive spying in a sandbox and delete the contents when you’re done. Pair with proxies to see how ads and search results differ from country to country. Free and paid versions.
Dust-Me Selectors – Clean up your css code with this plugin. I don’t know why, but there are older versions on Mozilla. Make sure you get the 4.1 version or the the add-on won’t work with the current version of firefox. Free.
OutWit Hub – I use this when I need a quick solution to harvest data that’s consistent across a bunch of pages. Free and paid versions.
LeechBlock – A must-have for all procrastinators.