November 6, 2014 Ian Blyth

3 Free Resources You Can Use to Make Your Blog Look Awesome

For a bunch of reasons that don’t really matter, I’m currently recovering from a seven-year social media and blogging hiatus.

As far hiatuses go, I wouldn’t recommend one from the social scene. I watched a lot of things happen around me, missed out on some great conversations, and lost valuable time I could’ve spent meeting great people.

My skills went pretty soft too. That’s perhaps the worst part.

So when I decided to jump back into the mix, I did what most anybody would do if they were coming back to something after a long while.

I made a list of the resources I would. In this case, it was a list of stuff I would need to start telling my story on a blog. After some thought, I soon discovered one awesome thing from this exercise that I want to share with you.

Everything you need to tell your story on the web is free. 

And that’s what this post is all about. It’s about free stuff to put enhance your writing from stock photos, to tools and even the platform to host your blog.

This isn’t about how to form your blog post because other people a ton smarter than me have already done that. (Read: 5 Elements of a “Perfect” Blog Post) This isn’t even about inspiration because I’m willing to bet you’re already inspired.

Everything below is free and can be used today to get started telling your amazing story. Let’s go.

1. There’s Free Stock Photos to Make Your Blog Look Awesome

Let’s start with explaining why you need pictures to accompany your story.

Imagery is a vital part of blogging because it helps illustrate your tale and anyway, people relate to pictures. If you need more convincing, go read what the experts say about using images in your blog posts.

First off, there’s a bunch of sites with free stock photography on the web. You probably already knew that.

Here’s something you didn’t know: Some of them actually have awesome stuff.

The good folks over at BufferSocial complied a pretty decent list of over 50 sites to get you started. (53+ Free Image Sources For Your Blog and Social Media Posts)

As an aside, if you haven’t already, you need to check out the Buffer. It’s amazing.

Now, the list is pretty long and some of the sites aren’t the greatest thing ever. Some of the suggested sources are just plain difficult to navigate from a user experience perspective. Other sites have photos that are just plain bad.

But there’s some awesome stuff and here’s two right off the bat (plus one I like):

this-job-is-on-fire-1434906-4-m

From FreeImages.com

Free Images www.freeimages.com

I’ve personally used this site so many times for countless varied projects.

The site offers high-res, user-contributed photos that can be used for personal blogs or corporate campaigns. Polished isn’t exactly the word I’d use for this images – this is all about utility.

It just gets the job done consistently and that’s why I recommend it a lot.

If you’re a small business and you’re looking to start content marketing, the stunning amount of vertical-specific art on Freeimages.com makes it a must-have resource.

The account is free (that’s 100%, no future payment) so get after it.

IM Free

From IM Free

IM Free (www.imcreator.com/free)

I want you to take a good hard look at the image to the right.

That’s a beautiful picture from the site above.

It’s inspirational. They say “When it’s beautiful you don’t have to force it, it works on it’s own.” That’s what we have here.

This is the kind of work you build a site around. If you’re starting a gym geared toward kick-ass women, this is the picture you use.

IM Free is packed with this kind of quality photography and it’s free for you to use. This site has a personal feeling unlike any other I’ve seen out there. You can find inspiration for just about any project just by perusing the site.

Startup Stock Photos (startupstockphotos.com)

Startup Stock Photos

From Startup Stock

When I think of Startup Stock Photos, it reminds me of the good people on the Internet and how fortunate we are to have them.

The site’s creators obviously know how difficult it can be to work for a startup. Making this kind of high quality stock photography seems to be their way of giving back.

It’s all there in the site’s tag line:

“Take ’em, these things are free. Go. Make something.”

Startup Stock Photos is packed with professional, ultra-clean, modern, art.  And the best part is they are high-res, highly versatile, and above all, free.

Takeaway: There’s a bunch of free stock photography out there but a small percentage of it is awesome.  When you find something you like that inspires you — and it’s free — be polite and attribute the author.

When using this stuff, think about the time and effort the people put into what you are using for no charge. Take five seconds to give the author some credit. It’s the least you can do.

2. There’s Free Software to Make Your Blog Awesome

As you can probably guess,  one of my favorite things about the web is you don’t have to look far to find the free version of what others pay so much for.

Now, don’t get me wrong when I go into this because I firmly believe Adobe’s Creative Cloud is solidly amazing. Every part of it offers features to make your creative job easier.

Photoshop is here, it will be here tomorrow, and it’ll be here 100 years from now. It’s like A Christmas Story 24 hours a day on December 25. It will always be.

However, if you don’t have Photoshop, and tons of people probably don’t, here’s two options.

If You’re Confident in Your Internet Connection, Go With Pixlr

I was in a pretty tight spot for a few months. I was working on a big project but my Adobe license became an issue for me. And I needed to work on several different machines but always take my work with me. imgres

In other words, I needed to be awesome with a 16 gig USB and nothing else but my talent.  Enter Pixlr.

Pixlr is a browser-based image editor that just rocks.

From the layout to actual existence of layers, features and filters, color control and file formats, Pixlr is everything you’d need if you didn’t have the real thing, and you can access it anywhere without even signing up for an account.

A special bonus is you can save to the editor’s layed file format just like a PSD and return back to your work later.

Pixlr is your answer for free art creation if you have an internet connection that is steady. Plus it won’t cost you a dime.

If Your Internet Connection is a Question, Go with GIMP

Wait, hold on. Do this first: Download GIMP anyway, just to have it around.

Seriously, if you’re ever in a tight spot and say to yourself, “Wow, I have no Internet, it’s the Zombie Apocalypse, and I need to color correct this picture of a pancake on my cat’s head,” you’ll be glad you have GIMP.search

Here’s the deal. You can download GIMP for absolutely nothing and have a surprisingly powerful photo editing suite that rivals photoshop. (There, I said it.)

GIMP has been around since 1996 so it’s been through the motions. It’s baked out.

Aside from it’s long list of features, GIMP has an intuitive, easy to grasp interface, which helps if you need to hit the ground running. Plus it’s totally free.

And what are you going to use for a word processor? You could wait until the next day and pound out a couple hundred words on your company computer in Word but who wants to wait? I have two options, both of which I use often.

If You Can Jump Online, Use Google Docs

Everyone has a Google account these days but Google Docs is still somewhat unknown as far as the search engine behemoth’s other branded material goes.

In short, Google Docs takes everything useful about Microsoft Office and makes it free.

Google Docs has three features:

  • Slides: a fairly decent presentation editor for slide decks
  • Sheets: a spreadsheet tool
  • Docs: an online word processor

Docs is everything you are used to with Microsoft Word except it’s free and it’s online. Everything you need to fire up a blog posting and make sure it’s spelled correctly is in Docs.

It’s a beautiful thing.

If Your Internet Connection is Shaky, You Need OpenOffice orb

Again, I’m going to make a suggestion. Just download OpenOffice, even if just to have it around.

Every time I get a new machine, I download it as a safety net because it’s free and incredibly powerful.

OpenOffice has all the elements of Google Docs with the addition of a 3D Illustration editor, database administration tool, and mathematical equation editor. It really has that last part, I’m not kidding.

OpenOffice’s word processor, Writer, is a sleek, modern writing tool that — believe me when I say this — gets more powerful as you use it. It’s a smart tool that makes writing easier.

If you’re looking for a program to write without distraction you need to check out OpenOffice. It’s amazingly free.

3. There’s Plenty of Free Places to Host Your Blog

As far as actually getting your content out there, you have two pretty solid options — Blogger and WordPress.

The Google-owned Blogger has been around since 1999.

It’s quite simply the easiest site to use if you’re going to start up a blog and see if you can stick with it. It’s fairly customizable — you can change some HTML / CSS — and its easy to add video and images.

Given, there’s only so much you can do as far as customization goes but that’s the tradeoff for a free product.

WordPress is another big-name option that lets you blog for free. It’s great too and has just as many features as Blogger.  There’s some customization and features. Like Blogger, WordPress is super simple to use and pretty much gets out of your way.

To be clear, the only real reason I’ve heard anyone prefer the free versions of WordPress over Blogger is the former just looks cleaner.

Blogger’s user interface is in sore need of a overhaul. WordPress looks bright and simple. Both are, but WordPress just is.

And then there’s Medium.

I love this site because it’s not about flash or even features – it’s about writing.

Medium features both distraction-free writing and presentation.  It’s remarkably modern, clean, and above all – free.

If Medium was a design element, it would be the white space used to enhance art.

Mashable writer Grace Smith did an awesome job pulling together 16 Blogging Platforms for Distraction Free Writing. Read up on that for more.

But, if you have a few bucks, host your own.

Now, I admit it, I feel way more comfortable with a platform that I can manipulate, right down to the bits.

So, I pay for hosting. By the way, if you’re looks for hosting with awesome customer service, go check out InMotion Hosting  (inmotionhosting.com).

Anyway, I pay for hosting because I like to know that I can customize my site and when I’m done, good or bad, it’s my design. Plus its my content.

That’s the whole reason I use WordPress on a hosted site. It’s free to download and install and considerably easy to use and customize. Also I don’t have to pay to add certain themes, styles, and I don’t have copyright issues to deal with. It’s my content.

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