Resources for small (remote) businesses
Welcome to the Minimalist Journeys Business Resources page, a curated list of the products and services we use and recommend to those who want to set up, run and grow their own small (remote) business.
We have tried and tested many options, but only those resources that we recommend are listed here. Given our company is incorporated in New Zealand, the resources on this page are geared towards a New Zealand company and may not be available across the globe.
Obviously, these are our preferences, and this is by no means an exhaustive list. Though, we do add and change this list as we find better resources that help us all. As such, we always look for companies that are aligned with our values. So if you represent a company interested in working with us please get in touch.
What is the best computer for a digital nomad? Well, as with everything, it depends… on the type of job you do. For us, the Microsoft Surface Pro is our laptop device of choice. And after more than four years of travelling full-time, we have reduced our (other) hardware requirements down to the bare minimum to do our jobs. Apart from our trusted Microsoft Surface Pros, all we carry these days are the following:
When people think of an office productivity suite, Google and Microsoft tend to come to mind. And for good reason: while there are other alternatives on the market, those two do remain the most popular tools for business users. Both offer similar functionality (word processing, spreadsheets and file storage) but differ in other aspects. For example, Microsoft offers both desktop and cloud deployments of its Office suite, while Google’s G-Suite (formerly Google Apps) is cloud-only.
Microsoft 365 Business Standard
We use Microsoft 365 Business Standard as it contains the productivity tools (Excel, Outlook, OneNote, PowerPoint and Word) that we have worked within our corporate careers for many years. It is subscription-based, which means we pay an annual fee to access it and to keep it up to date.
We use the app/desktop versions on our laptop computers and smartphones. When we are online, software updates can be easily managed and installed.
Because we have good-sized hard drives, our work files can be accessed online and offline. When we are online they sync automatically to our SharePoint site. That means, we have access to our latest files anywhere/anytime. If someone stole our gear we could still work, accessing the Office web version from a computer in an internet cafe or library.
Microsoft 365 Business Standard makes it easy to collaborate and work seamlessly across multiple devices. To give you an example: Using OneNote on our smartphone, we may record ideas while we travel. When we have internet access, these sync automatically to our laptop computers, and we continue developing our ideas on our laptops.
We have found the Microsoft 24/7 telephone and web support excellent. We have used it several times over the past few years. They are always polite, answer our questions in a non-technical way and follow up afterwards to make sure any issues are resolved 100%.
How often do you read a post (whether your own or someone else’s) and cringe when you stumble upon a spelling mistake? We always review our content before we push publish, but some spelling mistakes just manage to remain undetected. So, in addition to our own rigorous peer review process, we use Grammarly.
It even offers accurate, context-specific suggestions to help you improve your copy. We use the basic version, which is free.
(Reasonably fast) Internet access is essential to running a remote business. We survived with just one laptop between the two of us during our first year travelling around the Americas. As you may imagine, we travelled through countries where internet connections were not the fastest or you needed to jump through hoops to even be able to send an email (Cuba anyone?).
But even in more developed countries (in internet terms), accessibility and speeds can vary widely. Below are some tools we use that help us find fast (enough) internet.
WiFi Map is a smartphone app that provides a crowdsourced list of over 100 million public and private WiFi spots worldwide – all for free.
How does it work? While still online (for example, at your current destination), you install the WiFi Map app and download the country and/or city data of your next destination. Once at your next destination, you can use the smart-search map and based on your location, the app shows you all the networks in your area (offline).
In turn, as a user, you are encouraged to enter new publicly-available WiFi networks (and their associated passwords) for all users to access or update the details for existing places where passwords have changed.
One of the first things we do when we arrive at a new accommodation is to check the internet speed, using the Speedtest app from Ookla. To work effectively, we need speeds of minimum 10 Mbps download and 5 Mbps upload.
To measure the internet speed between your device and a test server, the app sends packages of data to one of the 9400+ servers around the world that host the Speedtest server daemon, returning a result for both upload and download speeds within about a minute.
But not only that: Ookla uses the data collect from all the speed tests around the world to provide a summary of internet speeds by country (and globally). For example, in November 2019, the global average internet speed for mobile devices was 30.93 Mbps download and 11.88 Mbps upload.
For any company, data security is paramount.
Being location-independent, there is always a (higher) risk of (y)our devices being lost or stolen: someone tries to snatch your smartphone in a cafe while you’re momentarily distracted or your bedroom door at your Airbnb may have no locks. While a degree of vigilance goes a long way, there are many factors you have no control over.
It is imperative to be able to store (y)our files securely (with sufficient back-up), but also be able to access them easily as and when required. This holds true for home businesses too, BTW.
As mentioned above, we use Microsoft 365 Business Standard, so naturally, we use SharePoint as part of our collaboration suite. Although we are only a small company, we take full advantage of the SharePoint features including:
- to store our image/video (and password manager) files, sync the files between all the devices (as long as we are connected to the internet) and access them from our smartphones and Surface Pros.
- share files with specific people, for example, our accountant and other professionals (even if they don’t use SharePoint).
- back up our website database, folders and files (so that there is an offline copy that is not associated with our hosting service SiteGround).
We use the Office Lens app to scan all our invoices, receipts, travel documents, etc.
- As a central repository, it stores all your company data and maintains an audit trail.
- You can customize it to suit your business needs, and its’ comprehensive set of features helps with your productivity.
- It complies with ISO standards and other legislation.
- It integrates with most other software, and there is lots of third party / consulting support if you ever need help.
- The multitude of features means that it takes time (and sometimes paid expertise) to customize the site in a way you get the most out of it for your business.
- It’s browser-based, which means you have no SharePoint access without the Internet. Files are available offline though: you just need to ensure your files sync whenever you are online.
Security and Protection
Our intellectual property (our brand, logo, copy and images) is an important part of our business and as such, also requires protection.
Authy is a PIN-protected app that provides the second factor within two-factor authentication:
- The first factor is something you know (for example, your user ID and password).
- The second factor is something you have (for example, a device – including your smartphone or tablet – that can receive or generate a single issue code / one time PIN).
Financial institutions may send you a single issue code / one time PIN (OTP) to your mobile number before you can complete a transaction. They may provide a token (a small physical device) that generates an OTP at the push of a button or have an OTP generating application embedded in their mobile/online banking solution.
Every device that can be used to access the internet must have some type of antivirus or malware protection. Period. No questions asked.
Since 2012, we have been using products from Avira, a German multinational security software company mainly known for their antivirus software Avira Internet Security. We started with their free individual application, Avira Free Security Suite and have slowly increased it to the point where we subscribe to Avira Prime. The free suite version includes 10 applications including their award-winning Avira Free Antivirus.
Because we use unknown WiFi connections all the time, we need to have the best protection for our laptops and smartphones available. Avira Prime allows us to download all the latest software from Avira’s premium service, including limitless VPN. We pay an annual fee that is cheaper than paying month by month.
Everyone needs to have a means to store the passwords they use – especially in business. You hear stories of security breaches in the news all the time.
Our golden rule is to never ever use the same password more than once. And always make it as complex and as long as the application allows.
Our recommended password manager and digital wallet is mSecure. We have been using it since 2012, have never had a problem with the application and have never been hacked or had our passwords compromised.
The reasons we use mSecure are:
- You buy it once – there are no ongoing subscription fees (unlike a lot of other password manager applications).
- It can be used on iOS, Android, Mac or Windows devices; so if you change operating systems down the track you’re password manager still works.
- Password data is securely stored on our devices and synced between our devices and our cloud service of choice (Dropbox) rather than a server of the password manager provider.
- The file data itself (and transmission during syncing) is encrypted to industry-standard AES-256 bit encryption. Your master password is not saved anywhere within the application.
If you are planning to set up your own blog/website check out what common technology mistakes you should avoid when starting a website for more learnings.
Your yearly cost for a personal blog should be about USD100 (or less). In most cases:
- Your website name (domain) will cost USD12-15 per year.
- Web hosting space (hosting account) normally costs USD4-8 per month, depending on the host company you choose.
- make comprehensive changes to all your domain records (for example, nameserver, mail, who-is records – including the ability to mask the who-is data from prying eyes);
- easily transfer domain names in and out of the registrar; and
- select between manual and auto-renewal.
Its online customer support is excellent.
The price varies depending on the extension of the domain name, ranging from USD0.89 per year to USD32.88 per year. There are no hidden fees (such as a fee for transferring a domain out to another registrar).
Selecting the right platform is critical for the long term success of your website. Our platform of choice is WordPress.org.
- It’s free, and you own your content.
- As an open-source platform, it is versatile and highly customisable, supporting thousands of themes and plugins.
- Its’ dashboard is easily navigable, even for novices.
- With more than 30% of all websites using WordPress.org, technical support is never far away.
- WordPress.org does not include web hosting: you will need to obtain the services of a web hosting company (see below).
- You manage your own platform. As such, you are responsible for the end-to-end solution, which requires more technical expertise than many of you may have.
- Standard functionality is free. However, to differentiate your website/blog you need more advanced themes and plugins (see below), which (often) cost money.
WordPress Theme: X Theme
In early 2018, we changed our WordPress theme (Credence) to ThemeCo’s X Theme, paying USD59 for our first-year licence and support.
Having to replace an end of life theme (only) three years after purchase, meant strong, ongoing theme support was a critical selection criterion for our new theme. X Theme has been around since the end of 2013, and features are being continuously improved upon:
- You can choose between four different designs, each containing multiple features, making it highly customisable.
- Custom pages can be created easily, either by using Cornerstone (the theme’s own page builder) or by activating WPBakery Page Builder.
- Your licence includes 29 Premium plugins (and support).
- The ThemeCo website has ample documentation to help you during set-up. If you get stuck, great technical support is not far away.
Hosting Provider: SiteGround
For many years, we were with another hosting provider but in 2019, we changed to SiteGround. The biggest benefits over the previous provider were:
- Ability to host our files in the geography where the majority of our readers are through free integration with CloudFlare CDN which speeds up access (and thus UX), removes redundancies and provides security
- Free daily backup and restores
- Use of SSD Storage
- Staging platform if we needed to test a new functionality
- Easy-to-use site tools with simple help wiki pages as well as an efficient and knowledgeable support desk (when needed)
AAWP is a plugin for generating shortcodes for Amazon Affiliate links. Since we installed it, we have seen a 400% increase in clicks and fees earned. The tool itself, supported by the online documentation, is really easy to use.
With AAWP, we:
- create specific templates to promote Amazon product boxes on our site;
- Link to the various Amazon sites around the world, based upon the user’s location; and
- Create automated bestseller lists based upon specific keywords associated with the topic discussed.
Plugin: Advanced Ads
Advanced Ads is by far the best and most comprehensive graphical ad delivery service for WordPress. We couldn’t present and track our graphical advertisements without the feature set that Advanced Ads provides. We use it to
- create and manage all our graphical advertisements;
- add advertisements automatically at specified locations in posts and pages;
- display advertisements based on our readers’ location;
- choose whether to display an advertisement on mobile, desktop, or both devices; and
- define groups of advertisements which auto-rotate based on specified weightings.
We purchased the All Access plan, which gives us the complete bundle of Advanced Ads add-ons including Advanced Ads Pro. The ease of use, regular product updates and the technical support are just a few reasons why we continue to use this plugin on our WordPress site.
We dislike spam as much as you do. We therefore use Akismet to identify and remove spam comments and other malicious content entered via our website forms. We subscribe to the Plus Plan for USD60 per year, which provides us with priority support if we encounter any issues.
Our website had a major failure several years ago, and the backup service provided by our hosting partner at the time failed us (one of the reasons we changed providers). So we investigated a backup solution that worked well with WordPress, was easy to create backup images and just as importantly, easy to restore from those images. iTheme’s BackupBuddy was the best choice for a solution that worked seamlessly out of the box.
Plugin: Social Warfare Pro
One way that our blog posts get promoted is directly through our audience as they share our content on social media. And the best plugin to assist is Social Warfare Pro.
You can download the free version, but we went with the Pro version which had a lot of additional features we felt was money well-spent. Social Warfare Pro is super-fast and just works. The features we use the most are:
- Ability to customize exactly how our content is shared, particularly with Pinterest
- Not displaying statistics until our social proof has gone past a certain number of shares
- Access to more social network sharing buttons
- Ability to reactivate, track and display Twitter tweet counts.
Plugin: Thirsty Affiliates
Although we have been dabbling with affiliate programs since we began our website, it was only in 2018 that we really looked at affiliate marketing in a more professional way in order to start monetizing our website. Thirsty Affiliates is an affiliate link management plugin that allows us to add, manage, and easily insert affiliate links into our post and pages.
Plugin: WP Review Pro
Part of our business is to research, analyse and review products and services that we think would be a good fit for ourselves as well as our audience.
Until 2019, any reviews we conducted were quite informal and not geared towards SEO or structured data formats for website optimization. We introduced a more professional approach when we reviewed Coconut Matters. After determining our requirements and researching the options, we quickly realized that WP Review Pro was the best solution for our needs.
Plugin: Yoast SEO
The Yoast SEO Premium plugin helps us to optimize our site in a number of different ways including being search engine-friendly. Some of the features we use are
- editing SEO title and description;
- the easy to use SEO and readability analyses (though with a grain of salt);
- adding internal links based on Yoast’s suggestions; and
- creating XML maps to help search engines understand the structure of our website.
Google Analytics and Google Data Studio
Google Analytics is our primary analytics service that tracks and reports our website traffic, while Google Data Studio is the advanced dashboard and reporting tool that makes it easier to relate the data back to our Key Performance Indicators.
Installing the Google Analytics code should be one of the first tasks when you set up your website. Why? If you don’t, you’ll never know how successful your website really is or where improvements need to be made.
While it has Lite in its name, it is anything but light when it comes to features and functionality. It has a modern and simple user interface that is available in 10 languages, and reports are easy to access and understand. Having used a combination of several tools (including MailChimp, Yikes and OptimizePress) in the past. we have been very impressed with this platform and its customer support.
It is free while you have 1,000 or fewer subscribers! While the freemium misses some pro features, such as live chat, the ability to insert your own logo or newsletter templates, auto-resend and deliver by time zone functionality, it does include all the basic features you need to test the service and decide whether you need more features.
If you have a larger subscriber base or need more features, the cost is still reasonable. Sign up here to set up your own account.
Minimalist Journeys creates, markets and sells our own online courses.
Another way we make money is through our website is from affiliate marketing. It is a good way to make passive income from your blog. And obviously the larger your traffic volume, the more chance of referral.
In addition to joining affiliate programs offered (directly) by organisations we are happy to recommend, we have also joined affiliate program managers/aggregators. While you don’t automatically join all affiliate programs managed by the aggregator, it increases your chances of a successful application with the individual companies (in their portfolio) you want to partner with.
Amazon Affiliate Program
We are a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for us to earn commission by linking to Amazon.com and affiliated sites. It is probably the world’s most popular affiliate program because of its relevance to all bloggers. There is always something you can promote on Amazon no matter what niche you are in.
Awin makes it easy to sign up and join programs of interest in order to earn money online. Their dashboard provides all the statistics you need and if you need more information, the reports allow you to drill down even further. They have a great wiki section and video tutorials in a number of different languages.
CJ Affiliate (formerly Commission Junction) is the world’s largest and most established affiliate marketing network. Over the past few years, they seem to have purchased, acquired and assimilated other smaller affiliate marketing companies. Their corporate headquarters are in California with offices around the world.
And because they are big, they can be quite picky and a little impersonal. That said, their list of merchants is massive.
FlexOffers is an affiliate network of publishers and advertisers that offers high quality partnerships. We only use them for a couple of affiliate programs, but their platform is user-friendly.
Impact (the brand) is owned by Impact Tech, Inc, and was created by a team of people who had previously founded Commission Junction (now called CJ), Savings.com and LeadPoint. They are affiliate industry disruptors who introduced a SaaS platform to manage all revenue generating partnerships. Their affiliate management platform which manages several advertisers we, as a media partner, work with is called Radius.
TravelPayouts is a nich affiliate management platform designed to help travel bloggers and others who recommend and promote certain travel and tourism-based suppliers consolidate their affiliate advertisers in one place.
Social Media Management
It took us a while to cotton on to Pinterest as a search engine in its own right rather than just a place to collect pretty images, recipes and the like.
These days, we use Tailwind to manage our Pinterest account. It allows us to bulk schedule pins for days or even weeks in advance, recommending related pins for re-posting and leveraging analytics to identify the best timing for our pins.
We are a permanent team of two – Paul and Sandra (in life but also in our business). Our job roles are well-defined: each of us has their own area of accountability based on our prior experience and strengths. We are fortunate that our skills and expertise complement each other well.
That said, every now and then our expertise is just not enough and we do require outside help. In those instances, we seek the help of contractors. Some relationships are more temporary; others (for example with our web developer) are more permanent / ongoing.
Fiverr® is one of the original online marketplaces for freelance services, so much so that they have registered the trademarks of Gig® and Gigs®.
Founded in 2010 and based in Israel, the company provides a platform for freelancers to offer services to customers worldwide. And it is these freelancers, we have used in the past for small, specific projects, utilising a strong brief with detailed requirements to find the right person for the job.
We found both of our web developers through Upwork:
- For the first two years of our website, we contracted Tifiny from SharpCookie to assist us with nearly 100 hours of technical support. The site would not have functioned as well as it did without her input and advice.
- Since January 2019, we’ve been working with Ankit Bhatia from Reliqus and are equally happy with his support.
Photography and Image Management
Images sell – more than words. So if your small business includes a website, you need a good (smartphone) camera, a smart editing suite, and the skills to operate both.
We are not experienced photographers by any stretch of the imagination and have for several years used stock photos or photos we have taken using our trusty old smartphone cameras (which no longer cut the mustard).
So when the time came to purchase a camera that we could use to take appropriate photos for our website, we did a lot of research. This may not suit everyone, but the criteria we considered beyond affordability (in order of priority) were:
- Large sensor size – the bigger the better
- Small aperture – the smaller the number (after the f) the better
- Optical zoom (x.times)/focal length (mm) – the larger the better
- Minimum of 12megapixels
- Image stabilization (OIS/EIS)
- Video performance
- USB charging
- Water-resistance (ideally/to also replace our GoPro)
- Wi-Fi and Bluetooth interface.
We didn’t find a solution that met all our needs (there never is) but found the Canon PowerShot G5X was the best compromise. This lightweight, compact digital camera is ideal for travel bloggers who, like us, aren’t seasoned photographers.
Pixabay is a community of photographers and artists who share copyright-free images and videos. The content is released under the Pixabay License, which makes them safe to use without asking for permission (even for commercial purposes).
We use Pixabay images in our website articles where we don’t have own images or our own images are not good enough to highlight or illustrate a point. We use Pixabay as it has a large library (over 1 million free images and vectors), and the keyword searches are accurate. The added advantage: In May 2019, Canva acquired Pixabay, which means Pixabay’s image library can now be accessed directly within the Canva platform (see below).
While many bloggers use the more advanced (and equally expensive) Adobe Photoshop, we prefer the graphic editor PaintShop Pro from Corel Corporation. PaintShop Pro has continued to improve over the years since it was originally created by JASC. We have regularly upgraded to the latest version when we saw the value. We now use PaintShop Pro 2020 Ultimate.
We use it to:
- Retouch images to improve image quality
- Add layers to images for social media usage
- Batch process images to add or adjust file property information
- Run the optimizer to improve the file size.
You need a graphics application that ties in well with your social media platforms? So did we, and our application of choice is Canva. Even as non-design people, we can easily create beautiful designs using Canva’s drag-and-drop feature and professional layouts.
Here are some of the features of the free version:
- Access to over 8,000 templates and 200,000 free stock photos
- Ability to upload own images or purchase millions of stock photos starting at USD1
- 1GB storage for photos and images
- Ability to tailor social media designs (including brand colour palettes) to reinforce your professional image.
While the free version is already feature rich, with Canva Pro, you get even more:
- Access to 20,000+ premium templates, 2 million free photos, and over 500,000 premium illustrations and icons
- 100GB storage for photos and images, and unlimited folders for designs
- Ability to upload fonts, resize to any format, create animations and GIFs, and roll back to previous versions.
Course Development and Management
We had two choices when it came to managing and promoting our courses:
- Host on a platform that allows us to build our course website, sell online courses from our own website, but manage the marketing and promotions ourselves
- Host on an online marketplace that allows us to list and sell through their platform (for a higher percentage of the revenues)
We choose Teachable. The functionality in assembling the course materials, managing student enrolments, providing just the right amount of flexibility as well as the great blog, webinars, support documentation meant that we had the exact SaaS application we needed. We still have to do all the marketing and promotion ourselves, but we feel confident in the solution provided.
Do you like standing in front of a camera? We don’t. It’s not naturally to either of us. It’s one of the reasons we haven’t started a YouTube channel. So when we did decide to take the plunge and start creating courses, we opted to use animation videos to get the message across.
It took many weeks of reviewing the options and shortlisting animation platforms, but in October 2020, we decided to take the plunge and purchase the annual Vyond Premium Plan.
Using the code MINIMALIST5 and the link, you will receive a 5% discount anytime on all plan types (new purchases only).
After much research (and deliberation), we decided to go with Westpac New Zealand. We use the Bizpac Banking Package at a small monthly fee. Our business income is paid into the Business Transaction account, and we move it from there into savings accounts and investments as needed (to generate higher returns than the 0% interest the transaction account provides).
Accounting and Taxation Centre in Stoke, New Zealand provide an excellent service for an affordable price. Our accountant has an excellent understanding of the nature and needs of digital nomads with a New Zealand incorporated business and has provided us with sound taxation-related advice over the years. Although we have been to their office once, the majority of our interactions with them (due to our lifestyle) have been via email or telephone calls. Even complex taxation matters are explained in a way that they are easy to understand.
Communities are invaluable to anyone starting and growing a business. As your professional support network, communities enable you to connect and interact with peers and mentors across industries, skill sets and locations. There are primarily two types of communities:
- virtual communities where members interact with each other primarily online; and
- more traditional face to face communities where people meet up in person.
Obviously, different communities offer different benefits to members. Here are just some that we have joined over the years and found beneficial to building and growing our business.
Ethical Influencers is an online network connecting influencers with like-minded brands, helping to spread the word and make a real difference. In essence, it is a digital community doing good – from content developers to podcasters, ethical Instagrammers, to no waste vloggers. It brings together brands that deserve the attention and those able to provide the voice. Ethical Influencers was founded by Besma Whayeb, the Author of sustainable fashion and lifestyle blog Curiously Conscious.
We are passionate about values-based living and sustainable travel, both driven by sustainable and ethical decision-making, and we are proud to work through Ethical Influencers with brands such as Coconut Matter and Net Zero Co.
We started tuning into Amy’s podcasts before we’d even left our corporate careers. Many of the stories have inspired us and helped shape what our Nomadtopia looks like today. The Nomadtopia Collective gives you access to up-to-date, relevant resources for living a location-independent life and a small but supportive community for your journey. Especially when you’re on your own, having the backing of the community makes location-independent life less lonely, and more sustainable.
Travel Is Life Tribe
The Travel Is Life Tribe is a community of more than 700 like-minded travel professionals and influencers around the world. As a member of the group:
- You gain access to a private Facebook group that is friendly, super supportive and committed to each other’s success. For real.
- You receive an invitation to the Best Travel Tailwind Tribe so that you can share the best travel Pinterest pins. There are rules for the group, but they are really easy to abide by and the benefits are huge.
- You also gain access to the Travel The World Like A Pro Pinterest group board – another great research for sharing and increasing your travel blog readership.
Travel Massive is the world’s largest independent, open community for the travel industry. They offer free events, it is open to anyone in the travel industry and has a lively forum to connect and share ideas.
Last Updated 22 November 2020