I've mentioned repeatedly in the past that I think all freelance writers could benefit from having their own professional website and / or blog to showcase their writing and niche expertise. Today I'm going to share my own favorite resources - the tools and services I use repeatedly when setting up new sites or blogs, and why I use them.
I have hosting accounts with three different companies, but currently am only actively using one - HostGator (the others are set up for sites I'm developing that I want kept separate from the rest). I don't think I sing the praises of any company more than this one.
I use their shared hosting. (Despite my always pleasant experiences with them, I've heard they suffer on the dedicated server front, so if you need that, you may want to try someone else.) Most of you would be perfectly fine with their shared hosting at $10 per month or less, although there are other options if you need more space or resources.
Why do I love HostGator? I have complete freedom. I've never wanted to do something that I couldn't do. They've never given me grief. And while there are occasionally minor issues, their support people are always amazingly friendly and quick to get things fixed. I think the support folks are the primary reason I don't intend to leave - if that suddenly went downhill, I'd reconsider.
I really can't recommend this company highly enough (I'm even hosting this very blog with them, and plan to soon open another hosting account with them to branch off some sites and set up some new ones). You can host unlimited domains on one account (for the $10 / month and higher accounts at least), use as many databases as you need (you'll need them to run blogs or sites on any kind of content management system), and you can set up as many email addresses as you need (not as vital for me now, but when I had to set them up for writers on one of my sites, that was a lifesaver compared to my previous host).
I don't have one particular domain registrar that I use religiously. I have three, with a half dozen to over a dozen domains on each.
If you're looking for a decent deal or want free WHOIS privacy (it hides your contact info from public databases as the domain registrant, and most registrars charge a yearly fee for it per domain), then go with Netfirms. Whenever I want a private domain, I go here.
I'm not exactly sure why I like them, but I also use HostMySite as a domain registrar. They have great sales once in a while, but because I've never had a problem with them, I don't mind paying the higher price for renewals as opposed to moving them elsewhere.
The registrar I use most often is GoDaddy. While I would never recommend their Web hosting (they offer much less freedom than other hosts), they've been good about domains. The perk here is that by looking for coupon codes (they always have a lot of deals running), you can get discounts not only on first-time registrations, but also on renewals (most will give you a low rate up front, and jack up the renewal price). Their administrative interface is a bit more complicated, and their ordering process can seem oddly long and frustrating, but if you're going to register a lot of domains, the lower prices can be worth it.
If I were to tell you to completely avoid any registrar, it would be 1&1. I won't get into the details of the past issues with this company, but suffice it to say they could get nothing right, and they didn't have their customers' interests at heart in the slightest. They may have improved, but I still hear enough horror stories to doubt it. Avoid them like the plague.
I've played with several blogging platforms - Blogger, Movable Type, LiveJournal (only good for personal blogs), Myspace's blog platform, and WordPress.
WordPress (and I mean the self-hosted WP; not the free blogs on WordPress.com) wins for me hands down every time. It's free. It's well-supported by the community (if you want to figure out how to do something, there's generally someone who can tell you on the rare occasion you can't already find the solution by searching). There are a huge number of free and premium templates / themes available to help you out design-wise. There are tons of plugins available to help you customize your blog in any way you want. And WP is very easy to use as not only a blog, but also a content management system (CMS) to run a more standard / static website (like a professional site or portfolio). It's rare that I launch a site without using WordPress at the back-end these days. It's just amazingly comprehensive.
There are other tools I use reasonably often, but the above three are the mandatory ones. I also use Photoshop a lot to deal with image editing for site designs. If you'd like a free version of similar software, try GIMP.
I also need images somewhat often. You can find great free stock photos and graphics at Stock.Xchng, or use the paid service tied to them for better images - StockXpert (I use them pretty often). For another option I've used in the past, you can try the paid options at iStockPhoto - they're great, but I tend to prefer StockXpert because I can see those results while searching Stock.Xchng at the same time.
What are some of your favorite tools when it comes to setting up or managing a website or blog?
Note: This post contains affiliate links.