If you’ve ever stopped by the blog and wondered how we manage the blog, shoot photos, create graphics, make money or wrap our heads around the business of blogging, this page is for you. Each of us started out as complete amateurs. Ten years ago, when we were looking forward to our careers in education (Maria) and law (Rob), neither one of us had any idea that we would find ourselves immersed in blogging, photography, graphic design, content creation, and coding.
And yet here we are and this is what we do each day (after we get home from our “regular” jobs).
This page contains affiliate and referral links to some of the tools and services we use. If you make a purchase after clicking on any of our referral links, we receive a small commission, which helps to support the blog. We are always appreciative of any purchases made through our links.
Also, if you’re new to blogging, you should know that what we just did is called a “disclosure statement” and the Federal Trade Commission requires bloggers to disclose anytime paid links are shared online. You can get in big trouble for failing to disclose, so make sure you always state that you are sharing affiliate links. It’s not that difficult, but it is the ethical (and legal) thing to do.
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Now, let’s dive into some of our favorite blogging tools!
When it comes to blogging, there are a few very basic tools you need to get started: an online platform for sharing content, a computer or other device with internet access that you can type on, and a camera. When Maria started blogging in 2012, she did everything with Blogger, her laptop, her iPhone 4, and iPhoto. We’ve made several upgrades along the way and these are the current tools we use for the essentials of blogging.
Maria’s Laptop: Macbook Pro 15″
Maria uses a fully loaded mid-2015 Macbook Pro 15″ laptop from Apple. Since Maria does most of our photo processing and other heavy-duty processing, having a really good computer is a must. It’s amazing that Apple can load all of that power into such a compact computer that weighs 4.5 lbs.
Rob’s Laptop: Macbook Air 13″
Rob currently uses a mid-2012 Macbook Air 13″ laptop from Apple. This computer is more than enough to meet the needs of most bloggers. It’s compact, lightweight (less than 3 lbs.) and great for blogging on the go.
We use a Canon Rebel t6i camera for most of our photos, especially around the house. The t6i is not really a professional camera, but it is a heck of lot more camera than most people have. Unlike professional grade DSLR cameras, the t6i is lightweight enough for Maria to comfortably hold in one hand for her Stitch Fix mirror selfies.
Our favorite lens for this camera is the 40 mm pancake lens, which is small, light, and captures fantastic shots.
When we are traveling, we always bring our Sony DSC-RX100M III, which is a nifty point-and-shoot camera. This little camera fits easily in Maria’s purse and relieves us of having to carry our heavy t6i and lenses around when we are out on the town. It also happens to take the most amazing food and low-light photos. Remember our trip to Nashville? We shot every food and restaurant photo with this handy little camera.
All of our blogs use WordPress as their back-end. Specifically, we have self-hosted WordPress installations (from WordPress.org) for Crazy Together and Kinder Craze, which means we downloaded the WordPress software and installed it on our webhost’s servers. Rob’s blog Spare Time Science is a free blog hosted by WordPress.com (much like Blogger blogs are hosted by Google). We love how customizable and relatively easy-to-use WordPress is, which is why we use it and why it has become pretty much the industry standard.
We use a wonderful company called TechSurgeons to host our blogs. Jay at TechSurgeons is a whiz, often working way later than I would expect him to be. While the website may not be much to look at, they are prompt, super friendly and (most important) their servers are fast. As you would expect, though, great service and super reliable hosting does come at a price.
If you are looking for something more in your budget, Bluehost is a widely-used hosting company that may be a better fit for your needs as your blog begins to grow.
Once your blog has been created, it’s time to get to work! We draft all of our posts within WordPress, but we edit our photos in Lightroom and create graphics in Photoshop and Illustrator. The longer we blog, the more we find ourselves sharing files between our two computers and even with other bloggers. These are some of our favorite blogging tools to manage our creativity and productivity.
Since both of us have a hand in blog content and management, we needed a way to easily access and share files. Dropbox has suited that need perfectly. We access our dropbox files multiple times throughout the day and it saves us from constantly asking each other “Can you email me that file to me?” Better yet, if one of us updates a file saved on Dropbox, we both have access to the most current version.
Maria splurged and upgraded to a Pro account for $99 annually (she uses it to manage personal files, blog files even shared files at school.) You can get 500mb of free file storage if you join using Rob’s referral link.
Adobe Creative Cloud
Since we do a lot of photo management and editing, Maria has a subscription to the Adobe Creative Cloud. She designs most of our graphic images in Photoshop, is slowly learning the ropes of Illustrator, and manages all of her photos in Lightroom (all of which are included in our Creative Cloud subscription.) Maria also likes that the Creative Cloud gives her access to Adobe’s entire product suite, just in case she wants to expand her creative horizons.
For most users, the Creative Cloud Photography plan will suit their needs just fine. This plan provides access to Lightroom and Photoshop. Lightroom is the industry standard for managing and editing large volumes of photos and, after using it for a while, it’s easy to see why.
Every blog needs visuals. A logo, photos and images that tell your story. Maria creates all of the visual elements for our posts and she loves Creative Market. Discover beautiful free fonts or invest in a font bundle and the creative opportunities are endless. While you’re there, be sure to check out the stock photo and graphic collections.
How to Make Money Blogging
Yes, you can make money blogging, but it’s not a get-rich-quick scheme. It takes a lot of time and energy to build a blog to the point of earning significant income. Our two blogs (Kinder Craze and Crazy Together) combine to create a modest income from affiliate marketing, sponsored content and ad revenue. Here’s an overview of some basic revenue platforms.
Google AdSense is a really easy-to-use ad network that will accept just about anybody into their program. We used AdSense up until the fall of 2015 and it was great. Since AdSense is a Google product, it’s very easy to integrate with the Blogger platform (which is also owned by Google). WordPress.com users cannot run ads on their site, but self-hosted WordPress users (like us) can run Google ads in their content without issue.
Since the fall of 2015, we have been partners with the AdThrive ad network for advertising on our blog and replaced all of our former Google ads with AdThrive ads. AdThrive does a great job of matching your blog up with higher-paying advertisers, so we get a better ad rate than we did with Google AdSense. Plus, the people at AdThrive are super-helpful and work with us to maintain the spirit of our blogs. AdThrive is selective of the blogs and websites that they work with, so they might not be an option for you if you are just starting out. They require 100,000 pageviews in a month to join the program.
Amazon Associates Affiliate Program
If you ever talk about anything on your blog that is sold on Amazon, you should definitely become an Amazon Associate. Just about everyone who uses the internet shops on Amazon, so it’s only natural partner up with them. Any time we talk about a product sold on Amazon, we include an affiliate link to that product on Amazon. If someone clicks the link, we get a commission for any purchases (not just the product we advertised) they make on Amazon in the next 24 hours. It’s a great program and they accept almost everyone into the Associates program.
Online Tools for Growing Your Blog
So you’ve got the blog and the basic tools to get you started. You’re starting to use affiliate links and monetize your blog to get something back from all that time you’ve been investing. At some point, you are going to start thinking more strategically about the content you share and how to connect with your readers beyond a quick share on social media. These are our favorite tools for growing our online mailing list and connecting with our readers.
Email is one of the most reliable tools we have for reaching our readers. By now, you’ve probably heard all about Facebook and their dreaded “algorithm” and the new Instagram algorithm. Unlike social media, email is the sure-fire way to guarantee access to your readers. There is no algorithm guarding the inboxes of readers who genuinely want to hear from you. We used Mailchimp to manage our email lists right from the beginning. It’s a great, reliable service with easy-to-use templates. It’s also FREE to use for your first 2,000 subscribers. That free service served us well for a good, long time.
Then we started to grow and made the switch to ConvertKit.
We eventually became more strategic about growing our email list so we could connect with our readers in a reliable way. Our MailChimp list had grown so much, that we could switch to a more powerful tool for the same cost so we said “hello” to ConvertKit! This online marketing tool allows us to manage multiple email lists with ease and doesn’t charge extra if the same person subscribes to multiple mailing lists (a feature that has proven to be a significant cost-saver for us).
We use SumoMe for two things: (1) heatmaps to see where people are clicking on individual pages and posts and (2) the “welcome mat” email sign up that shows up every now and again when you visit the blogs. SumoMe has a bunch of other helpful apps, but we haven’t fully explored those yet.
LeadPages is a fantastic resource for helping to grow your email list. We mainly use LeadPages to create LeadBoxes (the little boxes that pop up when you want to download one of our freebies), but it can also be used to create landing pages that help convert into sign-ups or sales if you are selling something.
They also have tons of templates to get you started off right. LeadPages has been the most powerful tool in growing our Kinder Craze email list and we wish we had discovered the service sooner. In our experience, LeadPages works best if you have significant traffic visiting your blog daily and/or high quality free downloads. We yield many more new subscribers on Kinder Craze than Crazy Together because Kinder Craze has both of those key features: lots of traffic and high-quality freebies.
Blog Design and Branding
Most blogs originate from very humble beginnings. One look at Kinder Craze’s archive from 2012 in the Wayback Machine is proof that Maria’s start in the blogging world was certainly not the exception exception to this rule. Since those early days, we’ve come a long way in developing our blog design and the visual elements of our brand. If your brand needs a refresh, here are some great resources for all manner of projects.
So you finally have a blog design that you love and you’re getting ready to step out into the real world. You really should have some business cards made to match your brand. We use Vistaprint to create our business cards and have always been pleased with the results. Business cards are essential for any blogger meetup or conference, but there have been dozens of occasions where we find ourselves discussing our blog with people we randomly encounter in the real world. We keep a few business cards in our purse/wallet at all times us for just this reason. You never know when you will meet your next blog reader!
Blog Design Services
It’s a good idea stay current with a fresh blog design from time to time. Trends change and brands tend to evolve for the better. If it’s time for a new look (or time to switch blogging platforms), you’ll probably want to hire a designer.
Here are a few blog designers of note:
Restored 316 Designs
Lauren from Restored 316 Designs offers beautiful feminine WordPress themes and complete documentation for bloggers to install and customize the themes on their own. If you’re not comfortable installing your own theme, Restored 316 Designs also offers a blog installation package.
Georgia Lou Studios
If you are looking for a easy to implement DIY design for Blogger or WordPress, Georgia Lou Studios is for you. We recently helped a friend give her tired old Blogger blog a much-needed facelift and used a custom theme from Georgia Lou Studios. The template cost us $12 and came with complete installation instructions. It took Rob about 10 minutes to install. Maria whipped up a quick image for the blog header and that was that! If blog code intimidates you or you would like a custom project, Georgia Lou Studios offers those services, too, and the finished projects always look stunning.
Pretty Darn Cute Design
Fabulously adorable WordPress themes are Lindsey’s specialty at Pretty Darn Cute Design, where you can purchase a pre-made theme for the Genesis Framework. Documentation is included to guide you step-by-step through setup and installation. Buyers can also choose to leave the technical stuff to the pros and purchase a 24 hour setup package for an additional fee.
Bellano Web Studio
We hired Thauna from Bellano web studio to design both of our blogs. She was great to work with and did a truly beautiful job. She was also incredibly patient with all of our questions and the little changes Maria wanted to make along the way. If you haven’t noticed, Maria can be a bit of a perfectionist so the fact that Thauna made her vision come to life really says a lot about the quality of service she offers. We truly can’t say enough good things!
If you need some graphics designed for your blog or brand and you don’t know where to turn, give 99designs a try. The service gives you access to over a million professionally trained freelance designers that can design anything for you -- from logos and websites to packaging and t-shirts.
You create a project in 99designs and designers submit sample graphics for your project in competition with each other. You have the opportunity to narrow down your favorites, give suggestions and ultimately select a winner. You even have an opportunity to refine the winning design before the project closes. Maria used 99designs for a Kinder Craze project was was very pleased with the experience. It’s a great service if you need truly professional quality graphics and designs.
Podcasts for Bloggers
It may seem like we have this blogging stuff all figured out, but that is certainly not the case. And we were both pretty clueless when we got started. We are learning every day, just like you. Most of our new information comes from podcasts. Unlike reading a blog post or online article, we have the ability to multitask while we listen to podcasts and learn while we do time-consuming tasks like driving (Maria) or cooking dinner (Rob). Here are a few of our favorite podcasts for all things blogging and marketing.
Online Marketing Made Easy
ProBlogger by Darren Rowse
If you could subscribe to only one podcast, Problogger is it. Problogger is the brainchild of Darren Rowse, creater of ProBlogger.com and Digital Photography School. Most of Darren’s podcasts deal with lessons he’s learned in his 15-odd years of blogging. Every episode has essential or inspiring information that any blogger could use at any stage of their career. We often find ourselves asking each other “Did you hear the latest ProBlogger podcast?” over dinner so we can talk about how to implement Darren’s ideas on our own blogs.
This is Your Life by Michael Hyatt
The heart and soul of Michael Hyatt’s podcast This is Your Life is to cultivate business leadership and he offers advice about everything from increasing productivity to being a better spouse. Maria picks and chooses which of these podcasts to listen to, but occasionally she stumbles upon a great one for bloggers like the “How to Blow Up Your Blog” podcast from season 6.
As our blogs grow and we discover great new tools and resources, we will certainly be adding to this list. In the meantime, pin this image to your blogging Pinterest board and be sure to check back in soon.
Want more information about how we manage our blogs? Subscribe to our Blogging Tips email list for instant updates and an inside look at what goes on behind the scenes at Crazy Together. If you have any specific questions, please leave a comment and we will do our best to provide an answer.
Behind the Scenes of a Stitch Fix Blog Post
Maria’s Stitch Fix reviews are most popular posts we share on the blog. She laid out the entire process of crafting a Stitch Fix post: from shooting and editing photo, to drafting the text and tagging the post for SEO. If you’ve ever wondered what goes into a quality blog post, be sure to check out this post and get ready to take lots of notes.
See you next time!
-- Maria and Rob