By Rachel Lankester.
Favourite resources and very cool tools.
When I started my Mutton Club journey, I did a ridiculous amount of web surfing, watching of videos, following of free courses, researching the best resources available. Oooh, actually I still do a lot of all that! Whenever I hit on a favourite resources page on somebody’s website, I realised I’d struck gold. Especially if I’d already decided I rather liked the somebody whose website it was. So here’s my list of favourite resources. Lots to do with websites, online business courses and some just to do with life in general.
I apologise now for the length of this post but boy did I discover some great stuff (and some awesome people too)! I’ll keep adding to this list so you may want to bookmark it to revisit later.
Because we need to somehow turn this labour of love (The Mutton Club) into a money-making venture, some of the links below are affiliate links which means we earn a bit (not a lot!) if you click through and spend any money. We only ever recommend things we really like.
Website building, hosting and maintenance
WordPress is my preferred CMS (content management system). I looked at others like Squarespace but most experts suggested WordPress was the best for us and would offer the most flexibility as the site grew. I know some people hate WordPress and I struggled with it at the beginning. But once I’d learnt how it worked, I fell in love with it.
Then again I did build the Mutton Club website myself! I tried out two budget website developers, one in India and one in Manchester, UK, both from the site peopleperhour.com. Neither worked out well – I think I was probably hopeless at selection back then! But I learnt a lot seeing what they did (and didn’t do) and realised I could do a lot better and quicker if I just applied myself. YouTube is a wonderful thing. I never looked back.
WP Engine is our website hosting company and I can’t recommend them highly enough. They’re not cheap but they are great. Speed is great, security is fantastic, backups are inbuilt and the phone and online chat support 24/7 is out of this world. Seriously. The WP Engine helpdesk became my website development coaches and nothing was ever too much trouble. They talked me calmly through so many elements of the website, not just the hosting but how plugins (more on those below) worked and how to get the whole site functioning. The advice I’ve received has more than covered the cost of the hosting service.
Simple Mag is the Mutton Club theme. I originally tried to build a bespoke site using Headway, a ‘theme’ recommended by US techies. I thought it would provide lots of flexibility. But it was a disaster. No-one on this side of the world knew anything about Headway and as a WordPress novice I couldn’t work it out either. I also only latterly discovered I could get all the functionality I needed with sufficient flexibility, from a magazine theme like Simple Mag, which I bought through Theme Forest. So much simpler! And their support is great too.
Having started out wanting a bespoke site, I finally realised a theme was a VERY GOOD IDEA. I have also since built sites using the very flexible Divi theme from Elegant Themes and that is also a good place to look for sharp, smart, intuitive, responsive and elegant themes.
WP Curve is a recent discovery. They offer economical WordPress development support for a monthly fee. The minimum signup period is 3 months. As the site has grown and got even more fabulous, WP Curve helped sort out some performance issues so that you, the viewer, don’t need to wait too long for pages to load etc.
Canva is an incredible free online design tool that’s really easy to use. I use Canva for banners, quotation images, party invites, Pinterest pins etc. If you use your own images it’s completely free – you only pay if you use Canva’s own images or layouts. Check out our Best of the Mutton Club board on Pinterest to see some of the pins we’ve designed. I’m quite proud of those!
99designs is another great design tool. You put out a brief and designers bid for your work. You then chose who you want to work with. I did it slightly differently as I worked with someone already recommended. But our 12 ways to transform midlife and beyond ebook was designed through 99designs. I reckon it’s pretty cool. What do you think?
Stencil is a great online design tool similar to Canva with loads of images included in their database. It’s great for creating Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest images etc and moving between sizes without having to recreate the wheel. I signed up to a special lifetime access deal when it was still Share as image and that gives me access to an incredible image library. You can access that for free for 10 images a month and unlimited for $9 per month.
Free image sites
These sites offer free images for download to avoid hefty stock image charges. I do often use Bigstock (not free but less expensive) for images for posts on Mutton Club and have occasionally used iStock (more expensive) when I don’t have time to search, but mostly I use the following:
Unsplash (no search but gorgeous photos)
Erika Madden of Olyvia.co has written this amazing post listing 47 great sites where you can get free stock images.
Here are the best plugins I’ve found to make the Mutton Club awesome:
SEO by Yoast – just brilliant and free. Makes search engine optimisation (SEO) manageable for anyone! Just learn as you go.
Monarch social sharing I looked and looked and looked for the best social sharing plugin and I eventually decided it made sense to buy the Monarch plugin from Elegant Themes. A year later I still feel the same so they must be doing something right. Clean, sophisticated and relatively customisable. Not great with Pinterest but you can’t have everything!
Facebook comments is what I finally opted for comments on posts. I considered WordPress’ own comments and also Disqus but eventually decided Facebook would be best. I know it shuts out anyone who isn’t on Facebook but I can’t please everyone right! One thing I do like about this comment device is that is forces people to be themselves. People can’t hide behind a fake identity unless they have a fake identity on Facebook! It has proved a bit tricky: I lost all the comments when trying to change the URL structure of posts and also when I tried to add additional security to the site via an SSL certificate. But you win some, you lose some.
Flexi quote rotator – not a biggie but I struggled to find it, so I reckon others might find it useful! It does what it says it does at the top of our homepage sidebar.
Tinypng image compression – if you have lots of image on your site like we do, don’t bother looking over the competition, just use this. It’s really great. 500 image compressions per month for free then a nominal amount after that. Note that your images will need multiple compressions depending on size – more than you think you need – so this will bump up the number made. But the cost will likely still only be nominal.
We used to use Mailchimp which is free up to 2000 subscribers and is relatively easy. It filled our needs for a year but we then explored other possibilities and the top ones of those seemed to be AWeber, Infusionsoft (reported to be rather complicated) and most recently ConvertKit, none of which are free.
We decided to go with ConvertKit and while we struggled to make the transition from Mailchimp, mainly because of different language for similar things, we like it a lot now. One great thing is that you can resend to subscribers who haven’t opened the email you sent. It’s email sequences are also pretty intuitive. Convertkit also includes their own lead pages but we haven’t used those because we use Leadpages.
LeadPages is a powerful tool to help generate leads for your site. We put off getting Leadpages for a year but saw a big increase in our subscribers when we finally signed up. It’s not cheap but we’re pleased so far.
Google Analytics is a must have if you have a website and you want to know anything about who’s visiting it. It’s tough at the beginning but there are plenty of tutorials out there. Charm Fernandez provides a good Google Analytics set up service, as well as a free 3 day DIY training programme.
Popup Ally is a great tool for creating polite popups. I’m not a huge fan of popups (what we use to encourage visitors to sign up) but they do work and far better than without. But some are annoying in that they keep popping up. This one is different in that you can set each popup to only appear once per view, week, fortnight etc. and not at all to people who have already subscribed.
There are some of the ways we (try to) make money from the Mutton Club.
Amazon Associates – if you see books or products recommended on here, they’ll usually have an Amazon link. We only recommend things we genuinely like very much.
AdSense – Google ad network where we get a (tiny) bit of money from advertising on the site if you click on the ads.
Svorn – another ad network that pays just for hosting the advert rather than needing someone to click through. But someone has to want to run an ad on your site for you to get any reward so it will default to AdSense if no one wants to play!
Social media management
We’re very active on social media and the following help us:
MeetEdgar is the tool we use for scheduling all our different content across multiple platforms. Again we put off getting this as it is expensive, but life is so much easier since we signed up. We use it to schedule Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn. It doesn’t do Pinterest or Instagram. We’ve heard good things about Recur Post which is a lot cheaper and when our contract is up with MeetEdgar we may try that out. But by then MeetEdgar will have got us well entrenched and the pain of moving may be too much!
We used Postplanner for scheduling before we moved over to MeetEdgar. It’s much cheaper and was a good start but more convoluted to use than MeetEdgar. We still use it for sourcing great and popular content for Facebook and Twitter.
Manageflitter is a good tool that has enabled us to grow our Twitter following (now over 5000) – not with random followers but with great women in our target group. It allows sophisticated searching across profiles and tweets, and also allows posting of Tweets at optimal times according to when your followers are online. We don’t use it very much now but it has proved useful.
Boardbooster is a great tool for managing pinning on Pinterest. Once it’s set up, it runs automatically. We’ve only recently started using it but so far it is dramatically increasing re-pins, followers and most importantly traffic back to the Mutton Club.
Pinfinite Growth is a cool course run by Melyssa Griffin and has been great for upscaling the Mutton Club presence on Pinterest and driving more traffic to the site. The course includes a free trial of Boardbooster.
Mentors and courses
I’m rather an online course junkie and I love input and learning new stuff! Here are some of my favourite online mentors and courses.
Marie Forleo is amazing. I discovered her about 18 months ago from a friend’s referral. Then I came across her online business school B-School on the last day of signup. Unusually for me, I made a snap decision and signed up. It was brilliant and Mutton Club, which was just a vague idea when it started, blossomed and grew over the 8 week course. B-School gave me all the training and tools I needed to set up an online business. I also met the most amazing group of women through the online community. Some have become great friends. Fantastic.
Nathalie Lussier is a tech wiz and has loads of free resources on her site, a free 30 day list building challenge and lots of other stuff. She’s an online entrepreneur and the brains behind products like Popup Alley mentioned above. She’s also an INFJ like me :).
Jen Lehner is a great friend of the Mutton Club and a very clever and funny lady. She knows everything there is to know about social media marketing and has loads of free webinars as well as fantastic courses at very reasonable prices. You can read more about her in her Mutton Club profile.
Erika Madden of Olyvia.co has lots of free resources for bloggers and online entrepreneurs.
Regina has amazing free resources for bloggers and online entrepreneurs. She is particularly great on branding.
Ruth Soukup’s Elite Blog Academy is fantastic – great value for money if you’re serious about blogging.
I’m a huge fan of podcasts. I listen to them when I’m running and have learnt so much as a result. I like to think of it as optimal multi-tasking! Here are some of my favourites:
ProBlogger – great blogging tips from Aussie Darren Rowse.
Social Media Examiner – anything and everything about social media marketing and more.
Tim Ferriss – I think I’m in love with Tim Ferris. Or I’d just like to be his favourite auntie. His weekly podcast deconstructing the habits and likes of world-class performers is absolutely brilliant. I wish he had more women on his show (truth be told I’ve only heard one) but the in-depth conversations he has with the most fascinating people are incredibly inspiring. My kindle is now full of books recommended by Tim and his guests. I’ve just bought his book Tools for Titans, an amalgamation of all the great advice from his hundreds of podcast guests.
Wow! You made it all the way to the bottom. I’ll be adding cool Facebook groups and books to this list in the future so come on back and check it out.
Rachel Lankester is the founder and editor of the Mutton Club. She has a background in corporate communications and sustainability, and has found her passion helping empower women at any stage and particularly midlife. She’s rather introverted but still has an awful lot she wants to communicate to the world! She loves yoga, singing, travel and anything to do with China. On Twitter: @ (but mostly @) Read her thoughts on Cuba and her review of Ai Weiwei’s controversial work.