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In the course of our online design career, and particularly with WordPress, we’ve figured out what works and what doesn’t when it comes to tools that make running your business a joy rather than an exercise in tearing your hair out. We’re constantly discovering and testing, and conferring with the experts to determine which plug-ins, shopping carts, membership programs, etc. are the best options for our clients. (Just so you’re aware, a few – not all by any means – of the links below are affiliate links, which means we earn a small fee if you purchase the product or service – that said, we’d never recommend a service or software we don’t love and use ourselves or haven’t researched fully.  If we find it no longer works or the service has gone downhill, we take it off our resources list. That said, we obviously can’t guarantee you’ll have the same experience, but are pretty confident the product or service does what it says it does, and well!).

Here’s a list of just a few of the tools we love, depend on and use every day:

  • Studiopress/Genesis Themes – Professional, well designed out of the box responsive themes from one of the ‘original’ WordPress theme developers.  Can’t go wrong with Studiopress.
  • Elegant Themes – Beautifully designed themes for WordPress with really solid customer support and dedicated development team.  We use Elegant Themes a lot – and for the price, the value is remarkable!  All their themes for $65 a year.  Crazy value.
  • Headway – If you want the ultimate in flexibility for your website design, there’s nothing more powerful (or easy to use once you get the hang of it) than Headway.  Definitely not for everyone, but if you’re the type who likes to really dig in and have full creative control without having to learn a lot of CSS, PHP, etc., it can’t be beat.
  • Optimize Press - Sort of a ‘1-stop shop’ that works either as a theme or as a plugin if you like the theme you’ve already got or have invested into. Landing pages, sales funnels, blog pages, and a simple membership functionality all in one slick package.
  • Digital Access Pass – Without a doubt the most comprehensive, flexible membership program for WordPress you’ll find for the price.
  • Sucuri – Hands down the most affordable, fastest and easiest to use malware monitoring and ‘repair’ service out there.
  • Slidedeck – My favorite image slider for WordPress.  It’s incredibly flexible and looks amazing.
  • Layer Slider – Another flexible slider for WordPress.
  • Gravity Forms – If you need more than just a basic contact form (like maybe you want to create forms to gather client information), this is your best bet.
  • Aweber – A robust email marketing solution with solid analytics capabilities.  What does that mean?  You can see how effective your campaigns are!  And it’s used by a lot of the pros.
  • Mailchimp – A simpler, fun-to-use email campaign solution with attitude.  I don’t recommend if you’re building a business and require serious analytics of your mailing lists, but for many people, Mailchimp works just fine.
  • AudioAcrobat – There are lots of choices out there for hosting your audio and video files, podcasts and more.  Audio Acrobat gives you a place to keep them all in one place.  And they’re adding new features all the time.
  • Vimeo – Video hosting.
  • Surveymonkey – Does what it says – surveys!
  • Basecamp – I couldn’t run my business without Basecamp.  It’s like having an extra brain!  Allows me to keep track of tasks and to-do lists, and my clients to keep track of everything in one  place.
  • – A free online photo editor that does almost all the things Photoshop can (except without the skill requirement – or the cost).  I use this to do some effects for online photos and love its simplicity.  After the demise of Picnik, this was my go-to for referring to clients who didn’t want to spend the money or time on more complex photo editors.

Site Hosting:

The world of WordPress site hosting has gone through some remarkable changes the last year or two, and not in a good way.  Some of the big hosts we used to recommend have gone downhill – and fast.  At this point (June 2014), we’ve reviewed a number of hosting solutions based on the following parameters:

  1. Reliability & excellent uptime over time.
  2. Use of CPANEL and not some bizarre proprietary control panel that will have you pulling your hair out.
  3. 24/7 support availability by phone, chat or email with techs who are pleasant to deal with.
  4. Positive reviews by a number of large websites (what they’re now recommending for their clients) and lots of individual users.
  5. Longevity – they have to have been around for a long time and not be new on the block.
  6. Affordable and scaleable hosting packages.
  7. Ability to move to a virtual private server or dedicated hosting easily as your business grows.
  8. ‘Optimized’ for WordPress and with WordPress-knowledgeable support.
  9. Dependable automated back-ups.
  10. Free site transfer.

And with that, we’ve narrowed it down to three options.  Of course there are a gazillion possibilities out there for hosting, so this is not an exhaustive list by any means, but they’re the ones that have come up over and over again as providing excellent service.  That said, as we’ve so painfully found with other hosting companies, there’s no guarantee the great service will continue in future, but from what we’ve seen so far, we believe we can safely recommend these companies to provide quality hosting for your business WordPress site:

  1. Site5
  2. Siteground
  3. Inmotion Hosting
  4. WP Engine – For high volume, profitable websites where you want to hand all the management over to one company.  Expensive, but if your business is booming and you want to be able to pretty much forget about your site hosting, well worth it.