Tools Of The Trade

The gear and apps I use to make tutorials and online courses, plus inexpensive alternatives

First, Let's Get Something Straight...

The tools, software, and tech you use have literally zero impact on the success of your online course business.

In fact, fiddling with the tech is often just a form of procrastination, as a means of avoiding the real hard work.

But having said that… it’s fun nerding out over tech gear, right? 🤓

I’m frequently asked what gear I use for making videos, creating courses and running my online course business—so here it is.

(Heads-up: most of the links on this page are affiliate links.)

“My online course business only took off once I had the right camera and lights…”

Said literally NO successful course creator ever.

A tiny, dark box bedroom with a desk and an old laptop.
Old laptop, rusty mic, dark cupboard.

If you’re just starting out, be aware I’ve gradually built up this gear over a period of 5 years.

Please don’t think you need anything like this level of equipment to get started. You really don’t.

I made my first $40k of revenue with a battered and ailing 4-year old MacBook Air, a 20-year old rusty microphone I already had, and no lighting whatsoever.

You do NOT need lots of expensive kit to build a profitable course business.

Lead capture & Cart

Cart & course platform in one

ThriveCart

Everything I’ve ever sold—live events, courses, coaching calls—I’ve sold with ThriveCart, a hosted cart solution with a built-in course platform.

ThriveCart is hands-down the most valuable purchase I’ve ever made. I’ve sold multiple 6-figure $ with it, all for a single one-time fee back in 2017.

  • My historical customer sales data is all in one place. I can sell whatever I like, or switch course platforms any time, without having my data scattered across multiple apps I maybe no longer use.
  • The checkout process for customers is simple and frictionless—many customers comment on it.
  • The affiliate management features are superb, as are the options for setting product pricing.
  • It collects payment plan and subscription payments beautifully, allowing customers to update their own details.
  • It also replaces the need for a separate course platform, as there’s a fantastic course platform built in, Learn.
  • No maintenance or updates to worry about, cos it’s all managed by ThriveCart.

I can’t recommend ThriveCart enough.

ThriveCart logo
Lead capture & Opt-Ins

ConvertBox

One of the most important things you can do as an online course creator is to always be building your email list.

I use ConvertBox to create and manage my all-important pop-ups lead capture forms across multiple websites.

ConvertBox is another (rare) one-time investment I don’t regret, that continues to pay off in spades.

Like ThriveCart, it’s a hosted service, meaning I can use my pop-ups and forms on any website, regardless of what the site was built with. Future-proof.

ConvertBox makes it very easy to create visually engaging pop-ups, yes. But its true power is how it allows you intelligently display highly personalised and segmented offers. It does this by integrating with your email marketing system—checking which tags each visitor has—as well as monitoring your visitor’s behaviour on your site.

Too many great things about ConvertBox to mention here. Go check it out.

ConvertBox logo

Cameras & Lenses

Camera

Sony A6100

I make videos and live stream with the Sony A6100.

It shoots beautiful 4k video and is nice and small. It’s pretty easy to use, and the face tracking auto-focus is fast.

To turn this into a high quality webcam for live streaming, I use the Elgato Cam Link 4K.

Inexpensive alternatives:

  • Any webcam—like Logitech’s StreamCam—is perfectly fine.
  • Don’t forget you can probably shoot 4K footage on your mobile phone! It’s also dead easy to go live on Facebook or YouTube, either with their native apps or with a 3rd party service like Streamyard. And apps like EpocCam turn your phone into a streaming webcam.
  • Mac OS Ventura has a Continuity Camera feature that lets you use your iPhone as a webcam.
Sony A6100 mirrorless camera.
Lens

Sigma 16mm f/1.4

I bought the Sony A6100 camera body on its own and bought a lens separately: the lovely Sigma 16mm f/1.4.

16mm is just about the right focal length for the distance I typically stand from the camera, it gives a nice wide angle view of the room.

And the wide aperture helps me easily achieve that sweet blurred background effect that makes you look more like a pro—hey, I’ll take all the help I can get.

Sigma 16mm 1.4 lens
Webcam

Logitech StreamCam

I made my first YouTube videos, created my first course, and made my first $40k in revenue with the timeless Logitech C920. And it’s still a great inexpensive webcam I can highly recommend.

I now use and love the Logitech’s StreamCam. It’s “only” 1080p, but you can’t stream anywhere in 4K anyway. It’s more than good enough.

The picture quality is great, really natural looking. The white balance controls work as you’d expect—hurray for normal-looking skin tones!

Inexpensive alternatives:

  • As mentioned above, there’s software out there that lets you use your phone as a webcam. You can also likely shoot high quality 4K footage with it too.
Logitech StreamCam
Teleprompter

Glide Gear TMP100

People are surprised when they learn that I often use a teleprompter. I use one when I want to be sure that I convey information clearly and concisely, without any waffle.

I absolutely love my Glide Gear teleprompter.

Install your camera of choice into the back of it. Load a teleprompter app with your script onto your tablet or mobile device (I use PromptSmart because it automatically stops and starts as you speak). Then slide your device into the Glide Gear, and away you go.

Inexpensive alternatives:

  • The Parrot Teleprompter 2 is a portable teleprompter that slides directly onto your camera lens.
  • Or if you record with your phone camera (perfectly acceptable!), PromptSmart allows to overlay the auto-scrolling script onto your phone screen as you record.
Glide Gear TMP100 teleprompter

Live Streaming

Video Capture

Elgato Cam Link 4K

I mentioned above that I use my main Sony A6100 camera for live streaming. It looks waaaay better than any webcam could. (I still use the Logitech StreamCam for day-to-day Zoom calls.)

To live stream with a ‘proper’ camera you need a capture device, plugged between your camera and computer. For this, I use the Elgato Cam Link 4k.

It works great, just plug and play.

Elgato Cam Link 4K capture device
Livestream Controller

Elgato Stream Deck

The Elgato Stream Deck is probably my absolute favourite toy… I mean, serious piece of professional equipment.

On a webinar or live stream it allows you to quickly switch between different scenes with the press of a button, like a TV show. For example: my face on camera, then to a web browser, back to camera, then to a few slides of a slideshow, back to the camera… you get the idea.

It works with all sorts of apps, including Ecamm Live. And Ecamm’s Virtual Cam feature allows me to use Ecamm and the Stream Deck anywhere—like Zoom calls, and any webinar platform.

I’ve got the 15 button version (you can create infinite ‘sets’ so you’re not limited to just 15 preset actions) but there are XL and Mini versions too. AND a mobile app version. Spoilt for choice.

Elgato Stream Deck

Lighting

Desk lights

Elgato Key Lights

When I first started I had literally the light from a desk lamp and a window to work with. I later bought a couple of very inexpensive LED lights which seriously improved my videos! All you need when getting started.

However, I now use a couple of Elgato Key Lights. They come with rock-solid adjustable-height stands that clamp to your desk, so they take up ZERO valuable floor space.

The light quality is beautiful, thanks to nice big diffuser panels. The design is clever—the provided stands sit flush against a wall, which is great if you’re short on space. And the Elgato Control Centre app makes it easy to control brightness and colour temperature.

Note – there’s also a cheaper version: Key Light Air.

Inexpensive alternatives:

  • Any LED lights will be fine (see example below). Best to have two placed either side of you, one brighter than the other.
Elgato Key Lights
LED Lights

Yongnuo YN300

My very first video lighting set-up was two Yongnuo YN300 Air LED lights, placed on tripod light stands.

They’re great! Small, inexpensive. Not hugely powerful, but plenty enough light for video you. The built-in diffuser helps give off a nice soft, flattering light.

I’ve since replaced them with Elgato Key Lights as my main video lights, but I still use them for other purposes—great for plonking down on a table when making quick videos in other parts of the house, for example.

I also later added the more powerful YN300 III to my collection, which I shine on the background of the room behind me, just out of shot.

Yongnuo Air light
Background & Accent Lights

Philips Hue

For a long time, I just pointed a couple of lights at my face, and that was it. But I realised I could improve the look of my videos further with some nice lighting in the background.

I use a few different light types in the Philips Hue smart light range for this. You can set them to be literally any colour and brightness you like.

I have a Philips Hue Go Portable light on a chest of drawers behind me, which provides a nice warm accent glow. I also have a couple of Philips Hue Play lights on the floor shining upwards.

I’ve since bought more Philips Hue lights for around the house! They’re addictive.

Note: you’ll need the Philips Hue Smart Hub Bridge too.

Inexpensive alternatives:

Philips Hue lights

Mics & Audio

Shotgun Mic

Sennheiser MKE 600

For all my ‘standing at my desk’ video recording I use a shotgun mic—a Sennheiser MKE-600. There are loads of other options though, like the Rode NTG2 that I see Pat Flynn using in his live streams, for example.

You mount it above and in front of you, just out of shot, pointed down at your chest.

I like it because it’s out of shot, so it’s not distracting for me or the audience.

Note: this is not a USB mic, it’s an XLR mic that you plug into an audio interface.

Inexpensive alternatives:

  • When you’re starting out, don’t bother with a shotgun mic like this. In fact, many people never use them. Just get a good USB dynamic mic, like either the Audio Technica ATR2100X or Samson Q2U.
Sennheiser MKE-600 shotgun mic
Broadcast dynamic Mic

Rode Procaster

The first decent mic I bought with some of the proceeds of my first course sale was the brilliant Rode Procaster.

It’s a ‘dynamic’ mic, so it only picks up sounds directly in front of it, not ambient noises from the back or sides. This makes it perfect for close-up voice recording. (I’d advise against ‘condenser’ mics, which pick up everything).

Dynamic mics like this often need their input gain level boosting a bit. So I put a Cloudlifter CL-1 in-between my mic and audio interface. It gives the signal a volume boost, meaning I can keep the gain down on my interface, which results in a much cleaner, quieter recording.

Note: the Procaster is not a USB mic, it’s an XLR mic that you plug into an audio interface.

Inexpensive alternatives:

  • You can’t go wrong with either the Audio Technica ATR2100X or Samson Q2U. Both are fantastic mics for the money, both are USB (just plug them straight into your computer), and both do a great job of blocking out background noise.
Rode Procaster microphone
CAM-MOUNTED Mic

Deity V-Mic D3

If I need to attach a microphone to my camera, I use the Deity V-Mic D3. It’s a lovely camera-mounted shotgun mic. The audio quality is excellent, and it’s super lightweight and well made.

You could definitely use the Deity V-Mic D3 as your main ‘recording at your desk’ mic, maybe attached to your camera. I know a few people who do this.

It also comes with a dead cat. No, not an actual dead cat… it’s the name for those windshields you pop over the top to reduce wind noises when recording outside. Meow.

Deity V D3 Mic
Audio Interface

Universal Audio Apollo Solo

You don’t absolutely need an audio interface to record audio. You can plug a USB microphone straight into your computer and away you go. They’re convenient and inexpensive, and more than fine.

However… USB mics don’t sound as good as ‘proper’ XLR microphones. I use XLR mics wherever I can. But XLR mics need to be plugged into an audio interface—you can’t plug them direct to your computer like with USB.

The Universal Audio Apollo Solo interface is a true pro audio interface. It sounds amazing, and has way too many features to cover in this tiny space. I love it. (Actually, mine is the Arrow, which the newer Audio Apollo Solo replaced—but basically the same thing).

Inexpensive alternatives:

  • You don’t need an audio interface at all. You can plug USB mics like the Audio Technica ATR2100X or Samson Q2U directly into your computer.
  • However, an audio interface is very handy for plugging speakers into, and you can plug an XLR mic into it, which sound better than USB. Great options that won’t break the bank are the Evo 4 and Focusrite Scarlett Solo.
Universal Audio Apollo Solo audio interface

Stands

Light, Mic, & Camera stands

Elgato Multi Mounts & Flex Arms

In all of the rooms I’ve made videos and courses in, floor space has always been in very short supply.

The Elgato Multi Mount system is the answer. These sturdy, clever little things mount firmly onto the edge of your desk. They’re telescopic, so you can put them at whatever height you like. They can sit flush to a wall, if you’re really short of space. And they can mount lights, mics or cameras equally well.

You can extend them with the add-on Elgato Flex Arm, an articulated extension system (sold separately) that you can bend in any direction you like. 

Elgato Flex Arm
Tripod light stands

Neewer Tripod Light Stands

I mount pretty much everything on my desk these days with the various Elgato Multi Mounts (see above) because they save so much space.

But I still use a few standalone Neewer tripod light stands here and there. The Neewer light stands are light, solid, steady, easily adjustable and inexpensive. Nothing not to like.

For example, I mount my Yongnuo YN300 III LED that lights my video background on one of them.

They’re also great for quickly mounting lights if I set up in a different part of the house for a change of scenery.

Neewer light stand
Portable handheld tripod

SwitchPod

SwitchPod is a hand-held, versatile tripod designed for vloggers. It’s the brainchild of Smart Passive Income‘s Pat Flynn and his video editor, Caleb Wojcik.

SwitchPod is two stands in one. First, it’s a lightweight, portable tripod you can plonk on a desk or table-top anywhere. But with one swift motion, it transforms into something like a hand-held selfie stick. Perfect for portable filming.

You can mount any phone, mirrorless camera or DLSR to it. And I also have the separately sold SwitchPod Ballhead which gives me more options for pointing my attached camera in different directions, like right up my nose (kidding).

Switchpod tripod

Recording & Editing Software

Video recording & editing

ScreenFlow

One of the best decisions I made was to choose ScreenFlow (Mac only) as my video editor and screen recording tool, right from the start.

I can record any combination of screens, cameras and audio at once. The editing process is a breeze—in fact, I wish Logic’s editing process and keyboard shortcuts were as well thought out.

On a PC? Camtasia is the nearest equivalent (there’s a Mac version too). I personally can’t get on with Camtasia, but I know folks who love it.

Inexpensive alternatives:

On a Mac you can record your screen for free with QuickTime or iMovie. I know people who record using OBS. And there are all kinds of other free and reasonably-priced alternatives too—just get started!

Screenflow logo
Audio recording & editing

Logic Pro

I used to record and edit audio with GarageBand, Apple’s free audio software that comes with a Mac. And it’s excellent.

I later upgraded to Logic Pro, which is the pro version of GarageBand. In fact… under the hood, GarageBand is just Logic with stripped-down features and a simpler interface ‘skin’.

Inexpensive alternatives:

  • You don’t absolutely need audio recording/editing software. Many people just record and edit audio in their screen recording software, like ScreenFlow.
  • Otherwise free tools like GarageBand (Mac) or Audacity (Mac and PC) are great.
Logic Pro X