Products I Love

Tools of the tradeThis is a funny page for me to be writing. I never thought I’d sell anything to anyone! I was a reporter, y’know.

But as I’ve gained experience as a freelance writer and blogger, I’ve encountered some great tools and training opportunities that can really help writers earn more in today’s new-media world.

Since that’s what this blog is all about, I’m proud to recommend the products below. (See also the books I recommend.)

My policy: I never recommend a product unless I have personally used it or have thoroughly reviewed it. The books and tools below are all created by mentors and teachers I really trust. I’ve used them, loved them, and they helped me build my business.

With everything it takes to be a successful writer online today, you need really useful, affordable tools that make you look professional. I’m frequently asked how I manage my busy freelance-writing career — so now you know what’s behind the curtain.

If you click on the product links below, I will get a commission. Want to be up-front about that. If you are considering using these tools and products, I appreciate your using my referral links. Won’t cost you a dime extra, and it helps keep this blog cranking out the free, practical tips that help you earn more.

Jon Morrow’s GuestBlogging Program

johnmorrowreport500pxMy experience: In 2010, Jon Morrow noticed one of my articles on Twitter and asked me to guest post on Copyblogger, where he’s associate editor. He worked with me on my first guest post for them, and I do mean worked…I actually ripped up the first try on his advice and wrote a whole new one. Which, with his guidance, went on to get over 1,000 retweets and be included in Best of Copyblogger 2010.

Which is my long way of saying: Jon Morrow is a genius when it comes to blogging. Did I mention he literally wrote the book on how to write Internet headlines? Yep, he wrote Copyblogger’s famous Headline Hacks report. So when I found out he was doing a group-coaching course for bloggers, where he works with you for three entire months, I thought…wow. He worked with me once for like an hour. I can’t even imagine what would happen to your blog and your writing career if you had three months of his time!

This program is insane, honestly — you get headline clinic calls with him, Q&A sessions…and at the end of the course, he introduces you to other top bloggers who’re looking for guest posters. I’m unaware of any other pro blogger who is performing this kind of service.

If you’d like a taste of his brilliance, check out this handy cheat sheet for writing blog posts that go viral. If you need to learn how blogging *really* works and how you can start building an audience, Jon explains that all for you brilliantly.

A-List Blogging Courses

My experience: I joined an earlier iteration of the A-List classes, called A-List Blogger Club. It was really affordable, and I’d learned a lot from co-founder Leo Babauta’s free eBook on how he got 150,000 subscribers on his Zen Habits blog. I thought I’d quickly read all their content and go on my way.

But what I found in A-List, both in quantity and quality of information, totally blew me away. If you want gritty details about real-life changes I made to this blog as a direct result of being in A-List, I’ve blogged in detail about why I joined and what I learned about blog design, and about how A-List helps me with technology.

In sum: A-List was a huge factor in creating the success of my blog. I recommend their trainings wholeheartedly. Mary Jaksch from Write to Done, who runs these courses, is amazing.

Now, A-List is better than ever as it has split into two course tracks: Kick-Start Your Blog, and A-List Blogging Masterclass. This setup is less overwhelming and allows you to work on exactly what you need to learn, either as a new blogger or one looking to grow and refine your blogging.

I operate a community for writers myself, but if they tell me their main goal is to build and earn from their own blog, I tell them to go check out A-List. If you want a taste of what you’ll learn in Kickstart, check out this free training — the Fast Track to Turning Your Blog into a Cash Machine.

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National Association of Independent Writers & Editors (NAIWE)

Join the National Association of Independent Writers and Editors! www.NAIWE.com My experience: I am stoked to finally be an official NAIWE member. I’ve been getting their newsletter for ages, so I knew they had great teleclasses and other member resources. Currently, it’s just $99 to join NAIWE, down from $149.

What makes this the best bargain in writer services? For your dues money, you get a free WordPress blog site with your own name URL. Your site is also part of NAIWE’s busy network of sites, so your writing business gets found by more people (and you can get NAIWE to retweet your posts and feature you on their website’s blogroll).

For any writer who needs to get a writer site together and is boggled by technology, this is a fantastic, cheap solution. You’d pay this much for hosting or more at any decent place…but here you also get NAIWE’s professional support, resource library, and much more.

Writer’s Residence

writers_residence_ad_200x200My experience: Writer’s Residence came to my attention fairly recently as a new alternative for freelance writers. Big plus: These folks do nothing but create writer websites!

I checked out their site and their pricing and think they represent a great new option for getting up a quick, simple WordPress-based writer website.

Things I love here include a handy portfolio-building tool, and a 30-day free trial. They’ve got a great intro video that quickly shows you how to use their platform. And after that free trial, it’s just $8.99 a month US to use the service.

OutstandingSETUP

My experience: Full disclosure: I already had my site set up when this service from GhostwriterDad’s Sean Platt launched, so I did not set up my site through them. BUT…when I started reviewing writer websites OutstandingSETUP created for members of Freelance Writers Den and had a chance to check out their work, I was sold immediately on this low-cost WordPress website design/hosting/support service.

If you’re considering hiring some fancy-pants designer for many hundreds because you want a really great-looking site, and you’re grappling with learning WordPress and wondering who will help you when things break, this could be a simple, affordable solution. This team knows how to set up an attractive, clean site that’s a real sales tool for your writing services.

It kills me when writers show me an expensive site they’ve had designed that has to be REdone because it’s a mess…so avoid all that and check this service out.

Freshbooks

FreshBooksMy experience: OK, this is embarrassing. But until around 2011, I had no real bookkeeping system for my freelance writing business. I wrote my assignments down in a Word document, and I threw them into another part of the document when they got paid. I know!

Thankfully, a writer-friend introduced me to Freshbooks. They let you get started free for your first few clients, so you have a chance to try it out and see if it’s for you, which I really liked.

If you decide to use it, Freshbooks is low-cost, and it’s intuitive and easy to use. And man, does it make my invoices look a heck of a lot more professional! I was just sending lame Word document attachments before.

Clincher: They have this Paypal Business Payments deal with PayPal now, where if you invoice through Freshbooks, you only pay 50 cents in fees to PayPal, regardless of invoice size. This feature has saved me more than my annual fee from Freshbooks, easy.

Mailchimp

My experience: Another confession: When I started my blog, I didn’t know you wanted people to subscribe. Yep. I really started from zero.

Once I learned how important it is to stay in touch with readers through an email list, I quickly discovered you can’t email a big list from inside your regular email program — it gets blocked. It also looks like crap.

You need a pro email provider so that you look pro to your blog readers. The premium provider, Aweber, was way too intimidating for me — and you have to pay from the start. Mailchimp is free for the first 2,000 subscribers, so as far as I’m concerned, every beginning blogger should be on it! You have nothing to lose by giving it a try.

Now, email marketing is one of the easiest parts of my life as a blogger. Mailchimp gives you super-easy tools for creating and replicating campaigns and autoresponders (they’ll teach you what those are if you don’t know). It’s a snap to create an RSS campaign that sends out your blog posts. There’s tons of helpful support on email and in their forums and other materials. You can make your campaigns look just the way you want and change them in a minute flat.

Finally, their help desk is super-responsive. I think they feed them extra bananas.