This post may contain affiliate links. Please see my disclosure for more information.
So you’ve seen the income reports out there from successful bloggers and now you’re ready to start a blog so you can get in on the action. Hold it right there, missy (/mister). Before you go diving in, you need to make sure you’re in the right headspace.
FREE Blog Post Checklist
Use this checklist to create share worthy blog posts every time.
First of all,
Why do you want to start a blog?
To make money? Have a new creative outlet? Organize your thoughts or hold yourself accountable?
Blogging is great for many reasons. You get to network with other bloggers, maybe attend some cool events you wouldn’t have otherwise known about, and share your thoughts and ideas with the world.
You can choose to create a business with your blog or to simply use your blog as a creative outlet or a public medium for tracking your personal goals.
If you offer other services online or off, a blog is a great place to showcase your writing skills or expertise in your subject area.
Whatever your reason for starting a blog, it’s important to know it beforehand in order to:
- Get your mindset right
- Choose the correct platform and tools
If you just want to use your blog as a creative outlet or online journal, then you can sign up for a free account on WordPress.com and call it a day. Your blog won’t be as customizable or have some of the advanced features of a self-hosted account, and you won’t be able to monetize it the way you could a self-hosted site, but it’ll serve its purpose.
If, however, you plan to make money from your blog through products, services, ads, affiliate marketing, etc. or you want more control over the design and functionality of your blog, then you’ll need a self-hosted site (tutorial below).
What will you write about?
If you plan to start a business with your blog, then you’ll need to figure out what it is you’re going to write about and for whom you’re going to write. All the bloggers (or most of them, I should say) who make significant money through their blogs target a very specific niche. Once you figure out yours, you’ll have a clearer path for what to write and how to structure your business (products, services, affiliates, etc.).
Don’t know what to write about? Think about what your skills are and what you’re passionate about. Can you combine the two to come up with a specific audience that would be interested in what you have to say?
Coming up with your perfect niche is a lot more difficult than some people make it sound, or at least it was for me (probably because I’m a lover of a million and one things and master of none). If it doesn’t come to you right away, then don’t sweat it. Brainstorm a few ideas, start writing, and see what comes most naturally and what you like writing about the most. You should enjoy whatever topic/niche it is you choose because if you don’t, no one else will either.
Plan Your Content
Running a successful blog involves more than signing up for some affiliate accounts, throwin’ some ads up, and writing a few dinky 200-word posts. If you want to be successful at blogging, you should start writing and planning your content now. I started my blog with only four posts because I was SUPER impatient, but I wouldn’t recommend doing what I did.
Sit down and write at least 20-30 meaty, 1,500+ word posts that you think will truly help your audience (once you find out who that audience is). Then launch your blog.
Sorry if that’s not what you wanted to hear. The good news, though, is that there really are no rules when it comes to blogging. If you’re as impatient as I am, then go ahead – start your blog! But there’s no harm in waiting until you’ve created a real plan. It is a business, after all. And all successful businesses require strategy. If you still need to refine yours, then you can save this post to Pinterest and come back to it when you’re ready.
Set Up Your Domain and Hosting
Bluehost was started in 1996, making it one of the oldest web hosting companies out there. They host millions of websites and are the official WordPress recommended hosting provider that I, and many other bloggers, use.
Not to mention when you sign up for hosting with Bluehost, you’ll get a free domain name (~$15 value).
Here’s how to set up your blog with Bluehost:
- Go to Bluehost and click get started now
- On the next screen (not shown) choose whichever plan works for you (basic and plus are the most popular)
- Enter your new domain name (get it free through this link!) or a domain name you’ve already purchased.
- When you fill out your account information, you’ll have options to add extras like Domain Privacy Protection, Site Backup Pro, Search Engine Jumpstart, and SiteLock Security. You can click the links below each to read more about their specific offerings, but I don’t recommend purchasing any right away. There’s always the option to add them later.
- On the next screen, enter your payment information and check out.
- Next, you’ll be directed to create a secure password for your account.
- Create a secure password and make sure to keep it somewhere safe! I use LastPass to manage all my business and personal passwords. It’s free, secure, and can generate secure passwords in a second.
- And you’re good to go!! :D
- Once you’ve created your password, you’ll have the option to choose a free theme (you can always change it or upgrade to a paid theme later).
- Once you’ve chosen your first theme, click Start Building to begin building your website. (This is where the fun begins!)
- You’ll be taken to your WordPress Dashboard and asked a few questions like whether your account is for personal or business use.
- In the left menu at the very top, click Bluehost > Home. Here you can see all the Bluehost tools available, like the Marketplace and your site Performance. From here, you can also create blog posts and add pages!
That’s it, you’ve got a WordPress blog!
Designing Your Blog
This was one of my favorite parts of setting up my blog (I’m a wannabe tech nerd + graphic designer).
When you first visit your site, it’ll look pretty plain. The good news is – designing a beautiful WordPress site is super easy – all you need is a theme!
There are so many options to choose from, so before you get sucked into checking out every theme tutorial on the Interwebs, let me just tell you what countless hours of research taught me: Genesis is amazing.
The Genesis Framework is search engine optimized, has great security, responsive design, unlimited free updates, and is really easy to customize. And StudioPress, the creators of the Genesis Framework, provides awesome support for all their customers. For me, Genesis was a no brainer.
The Genesis Framework is what’s called a parent theme; it’s the basic structure for your blog’s design. In order to fully customize your website, you’ll need a child theme to go with it. Without a child theme, any changes you make to your design would be wiped with the newest Genesis update. Here are some of my personal favorite child themes:
Look familiar? This is the one I currently use on my blog (as of the writing of this post). Foodie Pro has a sleek, clean, minimalist design, but don’t let the simple exterior fool you; it’s not lacking in features. Foodie Pro is the most flexible Genesis Theme to date – with a minimalist style and plenty of color and typography options.
It was a very close call for me between the Foodie Pro and Simply Pro themes. (Are you getting an idea for my taste?). Both are very clean and minimalist, and both have a variety of design options that make customization super simple.
Like I said, there’s a lot more to running a blog than just writing and publishing content (although that is undeniably the most important part).
In order to further customize your website with things like contact forms, sliders, galleries, etc. and ensure its success, you’ll need a few additional tools. There are over 46,000 WordPress plugins available. To keep you from feeling overwhelmed and performing hours of research that I’ve already done, here are the ones that I recommend:
For the Beginner:
BackupBuddy : I wasn’t backing up my blog when I first started. But then I read some horror stories about bloggers who lost everything on their site because they weren’t backing up properly. I couldn’t fathom the thought of all my hard work going down the drain, so I did my research (like always) and installed BackupBuddy to ensure that it never does (at least not because of technical failures).
BackupBuddy is super simple and it backs up everything on your site, not just the core files or database. I’m talking pictures, plugins, widgets, the whole enchilada. It’s about $80 per year, but I never have to worry about losing all my hard work. Totally worth it.
Contextual Related Posts: This is another awesome free plugin. It allows you to display a list of related posts on your website and in your feed that’s based on the content of the title and/or posts. This makes the list more relevant and thus more likely to be of interest to your readers, allowing you to reduce bounce rates, retain visitors, and refresh old entries. This is what it looks like on my site:
FMTC Affiliate Disclosure: This free plugin is a must if you plan to monetize your blog through affiliate marketing. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) requires bloggers, affiliates, and publishers to disclose their relationships with merchants if they earn money from links in their blog posts. There are multiple ways to add a disclosure to your posts, but a really simple way I’ve found is with this simple plugin. All you do is type in the text you want to display and where to display it, and voila! On my site:
Genesis Simple Edits: This is free StudioPress plugin to complement the Genesis Framework that allows you to edit the post-info (byline), post-meta, and footer area on any Genesis theme without having to dig into your theme’s code. It’s extremely helpful if you don’t have coding experience and don’t want to spend hours trying to figure out how to change your footer.
Simple Social Icons: Another free StudioPress plugin built for the Genesis Framework. This one allows you to display icons to various social media profiles. It’s easily customizable; you can change the color, size, and choose which social profiles you want to display.
Shareaholic: This free plugin places social share buttons on all your blog posts and pages (unless you specify otherwise) to make it easy for readers to share your content. It offers other free features such as displaying related content and displaying ads, but I only use it for the social share buttons. There are paid social sharing plugins out there that look nicer and provide more options. You might want to upgrade to one of the paid plugins at a later time, but I recommend starting with this one. It looks like this:
Google Analytics for WordPress by MonsterInsights: Knowing how much traffic your site is getting, where they’re coming from, and where they go once they land on your page is very important when you’re looking to monetize your site. Google Analytics shows all of this and more. MonsterInsights allow you to connect your WordPress website with Google Analytics, and it’s free.
Pretty Link: Another must if you plan to use affiliate marketing. Pretty Link allows you to shorten those ugly affiliate links using your own domain name, which looks super…well, pretty. It also tracks hits on each link, even in emails and on social media, and provides an analysis of where it came from, the browser, and more. You may want to upgrade to Pretty Link Pro at a later date, but starting with Pretty Link Lite is free.
Once you’ve got your footing:
ConvertKit: It’s important to start collecting email addresses as SOON as you begin promoting your content. Every successful blogger will tell you this. You own your email list, but you do not own your social media following. I started out with ConvertKit rather than a free service like MailChimp because I knew I wanted my blog to grow quickly and I didn’t want to have to switch service providers only a few months in. Wishful thinking, maybe, but I wanted to plan ahead.
ConvertKit also has a lot of functionality that I didn’t find with the free versions of other email service providers. You can create automated email courses and tag users who are interested in different subjects. It also allows you to create popups, landing pages, and design versatile opt-in forms. The lowest plan is $29 per month for up to 1K email subscribers.
LeadPages: LeadPages allows you to create beautiful, mobile-responsive landing pages designed to convert. It also integrates seamlessly with ConvertKit so you don’t have to worry about emails getting lost between the two platforms.
Note: I have not yet implemented LeadPages into my blog, which is why this is NOT an affiliate link. It is included here because many other very successful bloggers use and rave about it, and I do plan to implement it myself in the future.
Invest in Your Education
Making money through your blog will probably be slow at first. To shorten the gap between launching and earning, you might consider investing in training from people who have been very successful at what you’re trying to do. From my experience, the two best monetization methods from those just starting out are 1) affiliate marketing and 2) freelance writing.
Within two weeks of launching my blog, I enrolled in Michelle Schroeder-Gardner’s Making Sense of Affiliate Marketing course. Michelle has made over $300K in affiliate marketing from a single blog post and regularly makes $50K+ per month with affiliate marketing.
I figured if there was anyone who could teach me how to do affiliate marketing the right way, it was her. And I was absolutely correct. I spent weeks researching affiliate marketing methods even before I launched my blog and thought I knew pretty much everything I needed when I enrolled in Michelle’s course. But I learned SO much. I actually have a strategy now that I feel pretty confident about.
If you’re starting a blog, that probably means you like to write. I hope you do, anyway, because you’re going to be doing a lot of it.
Freelance writing and blogging go hand in hand. You can use each to promote the other, and you can make a decent income while doing it. Holly Johnson found that out soon after launching her blog, ClubThrifty.com. She started pitching freelance writing clients and now makes $200k+ from freelance writing alone.
In her signature course, Earn More Writing, she details the exact methods she used to build her business from the ground up to replace her full-time income within 12 months. To learn more about her course and how Holly built her business, check out my exclusive interview with her on how to get started as a freelance writer.
Pat Yourself on the Back
You’re on your way to blogging success! I hope this guide was helpful. I tried to pack in everything I’ve learned since I started my blog and all the things I wish someone had told me earlier on.
I’ll continue to update it whenever I find plugins/resources that would benefit new bloggers. If you found this article helpful, I’d appreciate it if you’d share it on social media so others can get started on the right path with their blog as well.
Did you find this guide helpful? If you have a blog, what do you wish you’d known when you first started out?
I’m a financial coach and author + owner of Goodbye to Broke. I love all things personal finance, money management, and healthy living. And I talk to my dog way too much, if we’re being honest.