I depend on a number of tools to do my work, and I’ve learned through trial and error that there are companies whose products I love and trust, and those I want to avoid like the plague. Which theme? There are thousands. Plugins that add functionality? Yup. Thousands.
When I first started building WordPress sites, I made a lot of bad choices that cost me money. As I got more involved in the WordPress Community, listening to WordPress podcasts, and going to WordCamps and WP Meetups, I made notes about what the well-known designers and developers recommended. I started coming up with a toolbox of resources I rely on (although things are always changing).
No one can promise you a company won’t go south, so even if they’re great now, they may not stay great. Word to the wise.
I’ll just tell you about the good stuff
Here are some free and paid plugins and services. I will regularly update this page, so if you want to bookmark it, that’d be great.
Disclaimer: I’m an affiliate of some of these companies because I believe in their products or services, and I use them (unless I’ve just heard good things about them). You don’t pay any extra, and I make a small commission if you buy via my link. Here’s my affiliate disclaimer.
Domain Registration & Hosting
I recommend that if you have no experience with hosting and email, except to add an email account to your computer, that you please use the paid services of a web professional to help choose the right companies and services. Just insist that you own your domain registration and your hosting account. Personally, I like to at least keep the domain registration and hosting with separate companies, so your domain name can never be held hostage if you want to change hosting companies. That said…
Namecheap (Affiliate): I’ve been using this domain registrar for years, they’re very reasonably priced, and I’m happy with their chat-based support. What’s a domain registrar? Well, your domain is the name of your site, and you have to register it (buy it)…with a domain registrar.
An Honest Host (Affiliate): This is a rapidly-growing company out of Corona, California. His data servers are in the US. I like their shared hosting for low-budget clients, and I have a VPS (virtual private server) with them for my site and for building new sites. An Honest Host isn’t the cheapest or most expensive hosting, but I couldn’t be happier with them or their support. I know the owner, and he’s fanatical about security. One of the smartest and nicest sysadmins (system administrators) I know.
Genesis Framework and Child Themes (Affiliate): I exclusively use the Genesis Framework and child themes from StudioPress, then customize the heck out of them. The framework is lightweight, standards-compliant, and great to work with.
Gravity Forms (Premium): Contact form. Chock-full of add-ons for added functionality, including mail and payment gateway add-ons.
Caldera Forms (Free and Premium): Contact form. Another full-featured contact form plugin with great reviews from developers. I know the developer, and I highly recommend this plugin.
Draw Attention, by Tyler Digital — I used this to make an interactive map of the United States for a client. It’s wonderful, and so is the support. Couldn’t be developed by nicer people.
Site Development Tools
DesktopServer (Affiliate): I honestly can’t work without this software. I use it for starting a website locally (on my computer), training in programming languages, and testing live sites in a safe place, in the case of updates, finding malware, etc. The support is great, and version 4.0 is going to have even more awesome features.
WP Buffs (Affiliate): As I work on focusing my services, I’ve become an affiliate of WP Buffs, a site maintenance/optimization/security/backup service, run by a guy I’ve known for years and trust a lot. He and his staff love this stuff. I don’t so much anymore. He has a whole staff of people and automated services keeping an eye on your site 24/7.
ManageWP: They offer a single dashboard for managing all your WordPress sites, like updates, backups, security, client reports. Many of their extra services are premium, but the basic service is free. I’ve been super happy with them.
Education & Training
Lynda.com: This is an interesting one, and I’ll let you in on a little secret. First, they have over 5,000 courses in business, graphic design, web design, and more. Second, they are paid classes, with two tiers of membership. Lynda.com was bought by LinkedIn in 2015. The higher-price tier includes downloadable working files.
Secret? A lot of public libraries offer free access via your own computer to lynda.com courses with your library card. My county doesn’t offer that, but I found out I was able to drive out to the Claremont library in the Los Angeles Public Library system, get a library card, and start taking full courses (including working files) THAT DAY. In fact, anyone in California, if they are willing to drive to the LA County library branch, can get a card. Take as many course as you want, as often as you want. Other public libraries have the same deal. You just have to call, and keep calling library systems until you find what you need.
WPBeginner: I’ve found a lot of great tutorials and information on this site.
WP101: WP101 offers a ton of tutorial videos — with closed-captioning — for working with your WordPress sites, and they are constantly updating their library, as WordPress updates change things.
CSS3: The Missing Manual, 3rd Edition: I’m a huge fan of The Missing Manuals. They are fun to read, easy to understand, and their book on CSS is superb. You can download working files to do the tutorials in the book.
One of my favorite business people, Jennifer Bourne.
I like to listen to podcasts while I’m driving, or if I’m training to walk a 5K or 10K. My listening to podcasts is ironic because I’m hearing impaired. There you go. As long as the person(s) speaks slowly and clearly and the sound quality is good, I can probably understand what’s being said. Learning on the go. I love it.
Double Your Freelancing
The GaryVee Audio Experience
Matt Report – A WordPress podcast for digital business owners
Online Marketing Made Easy with Amy Porterfield
ProBlogger PodCast: Blog Tips to Help You Make Money Blogging
Search Engine Nerds
WordPress Plugins from A to Z