There are hundreds of services out there being marketed to website owners. Some of them are really useful, and some of them would be a huge waste of money.
It can be really hard to tell which ones are worth the cost, and which ones are just a waste of time and money. Don’t go through the disappointing process of figuring all this out for yourself. We’ve already been through it. We’ve used dozens of different products and services on our sites over the years and we’ve created a list for you of which ones made the cut. Check it out!
This post isn’t meant to be an exhaustive list of everything we pay for at Income School. It is meant to be a guide to which ones might be worth paying for depending on what your site needs. Some of the links in this post are affiliate links—but not all. That said, we don’t ever recommend any products that we haven’t used ourselves and wouldn’t continues to use if we had the need. Every offering in this post is one that we actively use today on Income School or at least one of our other sites. You can rest assured that every one of them has passed our scrutiny.
4 Paid Services You Should Consider for Every Site
These are things we buy when we start any new site. However, they’re not all necessary. In fact, there is only 1 thing on this list that we think you should never go without, and that’s hosting. Everything else can wait if you just can’t afford it yet.
Every site needs hosting. We never recommend using on of the free options out there—like blogger or WordPress.com. There are a lot of good options for hosting companies that are really inexpensive and that do a great job. Our recommendation is Bluehost. We’ve been using Bluehost for 12 years and it’s where we host every single new site we create. We love their support and have been really happy with their capabilities. The best part is their price. You can get started with Bluehost for as little as $2.95 per month using this link.
Or, if you’re ready to get started but want some free help, go check out our tutorial showing exactly how to start your new website. We’ll walk you through not only getting your hosting set up, but also installing WordPress, getting started with Plugins and Themes, and getting your WordPress settings all squared away.
Having good images on your site is definitely worth the effort. We keep our cost down by using a subscription service called Storyblocks. With Storyblocks, we pay an annual or monthly fee and get access to a huge library of stock images. And we can download as many as we want. Or, you can buy the basic plan and get less downloads per month but for half the price.
Their library isn’t as big as istockphoto or some of the other big stock photo sites, but we can usually find an image in their library that will work well for our needs. And when we can’t, we fill in the gaps with the occasional image from istockphoto or adobe stock. But we save a lot each year by getting most of our photos from Storyblocks. I just recommend that you check out their library before signing up, so you can see if they have images that would work for your site. Check them out here.
A Good Logo
A logo isn’t necessary on day 1 of a new site, but it’s a good idea to get reasonably soon. The reason is that it gives people a higher level of confidence in your site.
If you or someone you know has some experience in graphic design, then absolutely put it to good use here and design your own logo. But if you don’t have that, there are some great options out there that don’t have to break the bank. There are some sites where you can buy a premade logo really inexpensively. Just take one of those and customize it a little and voila! You have a new logo. But if you want to take it up a few notches, our preferred service for logos is 48 Hours Logo.
At 48 hours logo, you actually set up a contest for designers where they compete for your business. You give some explanation of what you’re looking for, and they put together their designs. You look at all the designs and pick your favorite. Can’t decide? You can even set up polls for your friends to vote. In the end, you get the one you want and the designer who created it gets paid. Simple.
With 48 hours logo, you can get a great logo for a little over $100. If you’re looking for a logo, check out 48 hours logo by clicking here.
With a handful of exceptions, most of the free themes you see for WordPress aren’t going to cut it. That said, there are a lot of premium themes I wouldn’t spend money on either.
There are tons of good themes out there, though. If you’re looking for a good theme, just take the time to do some googling. Read reviews, look at demos, and pick one that works well (according to the reviews), looks how you want your site to look, and fits within your budget.
There are a couple themes that we are currently using on our websites that I can recommend without reservations.
X Theme. X Theme is a great theme for a lot of reasons but it’s not for everyone. If you’re building a simple site that doesn’t need a ton of bells and whistles and you’re happy with one of the many demo formats they have then it’s perfect for setting and leaving.
The way pricing works for X Theme is that you buy a new license for each site you use it on, but that license lasts forever. You get all future updates to the theme at no added cost. Check out X Theme by clicking here.
Divi. Divi has been getting a lot of press lately. It’s touted as a user-friendly “drag and drop” style theme. We’ve found that to be the case. The page builder on Divi blows other themes out of the water. It’s one of the easiest-to-use themes out there and appears to work well with all sorts of plugins that we use.
The way pricing works on Divi is that you pay annually, but you have access to all of the themes by Elegant Themes and you can use them on as many sites as you want. So if you have multiple sites, Divi could also be a great option. You can also pay a little more hefty fee up-front to get lifetime access. Learn more about Divi by clicking here.
11 More Paid Services You Might Use on an Established Site
Bluehost is great when you start a site. Their hosting is really inexpensive and they have fantastic customer support. They’ve even done a lot of work in recent years to upgrade their technology to handle large amounts of traffic. But still, Bluehost isn’t set up to be the fastest hosting and massive traffic could still bring your site down.
That’s why for our larger sites, we use WP Engine. Like Bluehost, WP Engine also has really good customer support, but it’s best if you have some experience with your sites before jumping right into hosting with WP Engine. And since the hosting is much more expensive than Bluehost, it doesn’t make sense to start your sites on their platform.
That said, once your site starts to get over 35,000 pageviews per month, it’s probably worth starting to consider an upgrade to WP Engine. The increased site speed will drive more traffic to your site, and you’ll be better able to handle the large spikes in traffic you could start to see at this point.
The best community you can build for your site is one that you own. The problem with social media is that you don’t own your audience. When Facebook changed their algorithm for what appears in newsfeeds a while back, it was devastating to businesses who had grown their entire audience on Facebook. Suddenly, their message wasn’t getting out to their audience. That’s why an email list is so valuable.
There are a lot of perfectly good email list providers out there. For premium features, ActiveCampaign is amazing! But for the basic email list features, Madmimi does the job. In fact, we’re still using MadMimi on IncomeSchool.com. MadMimi has a decent sign-up form builder and all of the features you would expect from any email list. They do drip campaigns, have decent analytics, and really everything you need almost any email list to do. The best part is that your email list starts out totally free. You only start paying when you have over 100 contacts.
If you have a product to sell on your website, having a good checkout tool can mean the difference between making the sale and not. For our digital products, we use Sendowl. Sendowl has a really simple, but customizeable checkout process that makes buying really easy for customers. They’re also full of other features like popups for abandoned carts, upsells, an affiliate program, and coupon codes. They also allow you to accept various forms of payment like credit card, Paypal, Apple pay, and even Bitcoin. If you have a product to sell, check out Sendowl here.
Course and Membership Software
When you have a course, nothing makes it work more smoothly than a good course software. When we set up Project 24, we spend a while searching the various options out there. There are a bunch. But when we looked at available features and cost, we quickly settled on Learndash. Learndash makes it easy to set up courses with lessons, quizzes, assignments, whatever you want. They also have their own checkout tool if you want people to be able to enroll in courses one by one.
Now if you’re looking to have a membership area of your site, MemberPress is definitely the way to go. We combined MemberPress with Learndash to create Project 24. We created our courses to be free to enroll, but they’re only accessible to people who have purchased access through Memberpress.
Memberpress allows me to set rules allowing subscribers to a particular subscription to have access to specific pages, posts, courses, really anything on the site. And it’s easy to customize. With Memberpress you could even have multiple subscription options, each one allowing access to different areas of the site. It’s really cool.
For filming videos on Income School’s Youtube channel, as well as for filming our courses, we the camera we prefer is the Sony a6500. It has fantastic autofocus for video, is small in form-factor, and the image quality is fantastic. A good inexpensive lens for filming Youtube videos is the 35mm f/1.8 prime lens.
We can highly recommend the Rode VideoMic Pro+. It’s on the expensive side, but the battery lasts FOREVER, it turns on/off automatically based on whether the camera is on, and the audio is very good. If you don’t want to spend that much, we can also recommend the Rode Video Micro. IMPORTANT NOTE! Do not buy Rode products on Amazon. Rode doesn’t sell through Amazon and there are TONS of fakes sold on Amazon for Rode products. I bought a VideoMic Pro+ and was given and older version in the new packaging. Buy Rode products from their own website or from B&H Photo or Adorama.
If you’re thinking of recording a podcast, audio course, or any other audio only recording, you’ll want some good audio recording gear.
The setup I use for podcasting is a Rode Procaster and a Zoom R16 audio recorder/mixer combo. This is pretty top notch equipment, though, and odds are you don’t need it. If I were starting today, I would just get an Audio Technica ATR 2100. It has both XLR and USB connections which means you can plug it right in to your computer and use any recording software as your audio recorder. It’s by far the best way to get started without breaking the bank.
Adobe Creative Cloud
With all the work we’ve done with photos, podcasts, and videos, our subscription to the Adobe Creative Cloud has been extremely helpful. We use Photoshop all the time to create featured images and to modify or resize stock images. We used Audition for our audio recordings. There’s not a week that goes by that we don’t use Adobe for something in Income School.
For video, I have to point out that we’re not using Adobe. We actually use Final Cut Pro. It’s excellent video editing software. But if you need Photoshop anyway and have to decide between getting Final Cut Pro or Adobe Creative Cloud, you can go with Adobe which also comes with Premier Pro which is also great video editing software.
If you’re serious about earning an income online, then you need a decent computer. A Chromebook or tablet probably isn’t going to cut it.
On the other hand, unless you’re doing some serious video editing, you probably don’t need anything too crazy. We do serious video editing with high-quality 4K resolution. So we went all out. For you, just assess your needs. If you’re editing photo in photoshop, audio in audition, and video in premier pro or final cut, then you’ll want a computer with enough processing power and RAM to handle that. If you’re writing blog posts and that’s it, then for now a Chromebook will probably do.
That’s right, we also think it can be totally worth it to pay writers. Having others write at least some of your content really boosts what you’re able to get done on your site. It also costs you up front but won’t pay off for months to come… so keep that in mind and really consider how much you can budget for writers each month.
Normal pay for a blog writer is anywhere between 2 and 10 cents per word. If you’re paying between 2 and 5 and the content is up to your standards, then you’ll probably get a good return on that investment. But if you’re paying somewhere in the 5 to 10 cent range, then you’d better make sure you’re getting top notch content.
In general, we like to keep our business costs as low as possible. Especially when starting out. But once you start to earn an income from your site(s), it’s going to be absolutely worth it to start getting support from other professionals.
There are two professional services we find to be more than worth the cost. These two are accounting and legal services.
An accountant will be invaluable as you navigate the world of taxes. I can’t tell you how much time I have saved and how many fines I have avoided because an accountant knew some obscure thing that I never would have found in the tax code. Trust me on this, it’s not as expensive as you think and it’s totally worth it. Just shop around for someone who feels trustworthy and competent, but that won’t break the bank.
A lawyer will be really helpful as you try to decide if and when to form a business entity. If you’re building a first site on your own, then you’re just a sole proprietor and you probably don’t much documentation. However, what you need to do depends when you live. Even within the US, requirements vary from state to state. So if you have any doubt at all, just schedule an hour with a business attorney who can help you navigate through the confusing world of business law. It’ll be money very well spent.
We’re able to do a lot of our own graphic design with using Photoshop. But sometimes you need the perfect featured image, Pinterest image, banner, or other graphic and you just don’t have the skills or the software to do it. For this, we feel it’s definitely worth it to pay for good graphic design.
But graphic design can get really expensive. One great place to get graphic design work done is 99 designs. At 99 designs you get your graphic design work done by freelance designers (like 48 hours logo) and you get what you want or your money back. That’s their guarantee. Again, it’s not cheap, but for some things it’s worth paying for great design.
Some Services we Don’t Pay For
Do SEO professionals know what they’re doing. Some of them do. But most will try to use the same old tactics that get people into trouble. Don’t get suckered into paying outrageous amounts to someone who promises to get you to the top of the Google rankings. We rank #1 on Google for a ton of search phrases using only the techniquest we teach on Income School and in Project 24.
Keyword Research Tools
If you have any question as to our position on keyword research tools, just watch our video on YouTube about this. They are almost a complete waste of money. Their results are often misleading and even flat out wrong. So don’t pay for bad information.