Starting your own self-hosted blog can be overwhelming and many don’t know where to start. There can be confusing information on the web or well-meaning people giving you bad advice.
Sometimes, it may seem so difficult, and you don’t know where to start. I know this; I’ve built many blogs over the years.
And actually making money from a blog? It’s a tall order.
If you listen to many of the “experts,” they will tell you that it takes years of hard work to start even making pennies from your blog, but I’m here to tell you it’s totally not true!
There is an easy set of steps to take when starting a blog, there is no need to stress over it
First, Find Your Purpose, Topic, or Niche
If you’ve been writing on Medium.com for any length of time, you probably already have a great idea of what topic or niche you will be entering with your new blog. If you haven’t been testing your idea on Medium first to see if it is valid, I would suggest you do.
When I was getting ready to start my blogs, I remembered two topics I enjoyed exploring: self-help and blogging. The great thing about those two topics is that they are explosive niches and people are constantly searching for topics related to both.
To give you further ideas, these niches are some of the best:
- Health & wellness
- Fitness & weight loss
If your interests fall under any of these topics you are already on the right path. If the topic you choose is something you happen to be passionate about, even better.
Do a little research about your chosen niche. Find out the problems related to the niche that people are searching for. Google Trends is a great place to start to see if people are talking about and searching for topics related to your niche.
Pick out some keywords that are related and run them through Google search and take a look at the results. See what other topics people are writing about that are related to your niche.
Finding a Name & Buying a Domain
The name you choose should be something close to the topic or niche you have picked. If you are setting yourself up as an authority on the subject matter, your name will work as well. Just know that your choice for a blog name will be heavily influenced by which domain names are available.
You really should get a .com if at all possible, but if you can only find the .net, it will work in a pinch. Just remember, if someone knows your blog name, but not the TLD (top-level domain), they will always put .com!
Quick tip! After you buy your domain, grab all the social media accounts with the same name. At a minimum, get the Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter accounts reserved. Pinterest is also good for traffic so you will want to grab that as well.
Also, search to make sure no one else is using the same name. You wouldn’t want to name your blog “The Coca-Cola Blog!” A quick Google search will save you much trouble in the future. Spend some time thinking about your name because you will have to live with it for a long time.
Re-branding is a pain in the rear!
I won’t spend much time on this, but I do want to make a recommendation. I’ve used a lot of hosts and seen some really bad ones. You need to pick one that will grow with you as your blog becomes more popular. You need to make sure it is fast.
If you are using WordPress, what I suggest is to use SiteGround (not an affiliate link). You can get managed WordPress hosting for $3.95 a month if you pay yearly. They have SSD servers and are very fast. Setting up WordPress is a cinch because they use C-panel. They will grow with you, and you will never have a problem if you need support.
Do yourself a favor. Use them!
But, you don’t have to use WordPress. Maybe people are starting to use services like GhostPro, Wix, Webflow, and Weebly for simple blogs because it is so easy to set up and the hosting is included. Most of these services even offer perks like subscriptions and newsletters.
I currently use GhostPro for two of my blogs and have used all the other services before and found them to work perfectly.
You Need a Theme
After you set up WordPress (if that is what you are using), you will need a theme. Even if you use a service they will ask you to pick one of their premade themes to start with. You can usually customize it later.
But if it’s WordPress, I wouldn’t use the standard one they start you with; it is not good for much. A theme is what drives the look and feel of your blog in the browser. There are thousands of themes, each with a unique look and set of benefits. The biggest thing you want in a theme is for it to be responsive, or it should look good on a computer and a phone screen.
Remember that most of your users will be using mobile to access your blog.
When you are just starting, I wouldn’t spend money buying a theme right away. There are plenty of great free ones that can be upgraded to a pro version later on. Astra is one of the best. It is free to start and has all the functionality you need in the beginning. There is plenty of documentation online to help you get it set up correctly.
It has everything you need to grow your blog, and it is extremely fast (which you will find out that Google loves!).
Setting Goals and Planning Your Content
Before you do anything, it would be good to set a few goals. I often set goals about how often I post, how much money I want to make, and traffic targets. After you read this whole article, you will have a better idea of what you can realistically do for each of these.
As far as posting frequency, I would have a specific day or days that you post and publicize this on your about page. Then your fans will know when to expect new posts from you. Stick to it!
If you are busy, plan only to post once or twice a week because you want your posts to be long and epic. The longer the better. I tend to write shorter pieces on Medium, but blogging tends toward long-form content. Think about that before you commit to anything!
Before you launch your blog, you ideally want to have 5–10 posts published and a few more drafts ready to go. This will be the majority of the work you will do when setting up your blog. Ten posts are quite a bit, so plan your time wisely.
If you already started writing and publishing on Medium, use those posts as the initial posts on your new blog. Just make sure you set the canonical link.
When you are starting, you don’t want to spend a lot of money right away. But, you want a unique look and feel for your blog and social media accounts.
If you have money for a logo and branding elements, you could use a service like 99Designs to create everything for you. It’s pricey but well worth it.
But there is nothing that says you can’t create everything yourself and you don’t need to be a Photoshop expert to do it on your own. All you have to do is use Canva. Canva has some great templates and branding elements that are premade! You just enter your own text, and they are ready to go. The best thing is that you can create unique graphics for each of your posts that are true to your brand.
I would upgrade to “Canva for work” if you want all the functionality they offer. They also give you tons of free images and graphic elements.
You should have your social media set up before you launch, so make sure you spend a little time creating cover graphics and profile images for each of your accounts.
I don’t think you should start with too many social media platforms in the beginning. At the minimum, you should use Pinterest and a Facebook page.
You will find that Pinterest will be the main driver of traffic for you in the beginning as a blogger, so learn how to use it well. There are guides on the internet that will teach you everything you need to know. You need to create unique graphics, or “pins” for each of your posts, and pin them throughout the day. Some programs automate this process like Tailwind, but they are not free.
A Facebook page is a given, and even though they tend to change their policies about reaching your audience frequently, it is still one of the best places for you to interact with your fans.
Later on, you can try Instagram and Twitter but start with a few platforms in the beginning. Your schedule will thank me for it.
Your Email List
Take my word for it; you will want to start an email list from the very beginning. It is a little complicated, but there are plenty of guides that are just a Google search away!
The best email list services I have used are MailChimp and ConvertKit. I prefer ConvertKit because it is easier and has better functionality, but it also costs a bit more. If you are going to spend any money in the beginning, your email list will be the place you don’t want to cut corners.
Pick a service that will grow with you. You may have to pay $30 a month, but it’s well worth it.
Get your pop-ups and opt-in forms set up on your blog before you launch if you are using WordPress. You may find if you offer an incentive to sign up you will get many more email subscribers. The incentive can be anything from a checklist or a short eBook.
If you use a service like GhostPro, they have the functionality for collecting email addresses already built-in. You will offer a weekly email newsletter in exchange for their address. You can even charge monthly for your newsletter if you have a killer offer.
If you spend some time setting up your email list, you will make a lot more money in the future.
This section is the big one! I have some definite opinions on this topic, so read carefully!
Display ads are one of the quickest ways to make a little money, but let me just say that I hate them! I dream of an ad-free internet where we aren’t bombarded by advertising everywhere we turn. I may put one or two small ads on my blog for companies I trust, but I will never, ever join an ad network and plaster ugly ads everywhere. I hate them so much that if I encounter a blogger with too many ads, I will click away from their page.
You must decide how you feel about ads and act accordingly. It is a good way to make a little money, but I think it affects the look and readability of your content.
If you want to make a lot of money right away without selling your soul to the ad networks, affiliate marketing is the way to go.
This is such a huge subject that I couldn’t begin to cover it here. I would suggest you Google it and do some heavy reading on the subject.
You are selling products and services for others, and you make a commission on each sale. Many people have made huge money using this method! It’s somewhat passive too because once you create your content and link to the affiliate offers, you can drive some traffic to it and sit back while the checks roll in.
There are some great affiliate networks like Shareasale and Clickbank but look around for the ones who represent their clients in a non-spammy way. There is a way to do it without being pushy and classless.
Affiliate marketing is one of the best ways to start earning right away.
My new favorite is subscriptions. With my new GhostPro site, Blog Differently, I have a premium daily newsletter that I charge $5 a month for. It is a great way to make a little money in the beginning and as you grow, it can turn into a major source of income.
Don’t discount the power of subscriptions, and even if you are using WordPress, there are plugins that will help you to charge for a newsletter or even a members-only area.
Give it a try.
Sell Products and Services
After you’ve established yourself somewhat and built a sizable email list, it’s a good idea to think about creating products and services of your own.
There are so many different things you can offer as a blogger:
- Courses (I mention this, but be careful, courses can be problematic)
- Freelance writing
- Design services
- Social media services
The list is endless if you think seriously about it.
The key is to get to know your audience and find out what they want and need. Many times, your fans will tell you flat out what they want.
Maybe you’ve learned the secrets of driving traffic with Pinterest. Create a course or an ebook and send an offer to your email list. Just make sure if you create a course, you are offering something of value that they cannot get anywhere else. Offering common knowledge as your own secret formula is scummy and scammy.
Be careful, but the sky is the limit!
How to Make Money from the Very Beginning of Your Blog!
The easiest method to make a decent amount of money is to set up a few affiliate offers in key areas of your posts. You don’t want to put more than three per post because you want to provide value with your content, not push sales at every opportunity.
After you are set up (this is also a good time to make sure you have the opt-ins for your email list set up) all you have to do is drive a ton of traffic to those specific posts by pinning them on Pinterest.
You may want to have 3 or 4 different graphics for each post (made in Canva) because you are going to want to pin them multiple times throughout the day.
The other option is to charge for a newsletter from the very start. If you do that and combine it with affiliate offers, you can jumpstart your earnings.
This should get you started:
- Affiliate Marketing Made Simple — Neil Patel
- How to get traffic to your blog with Pinterest
- The Ultimate Guide to Running a Successful Subscriptions Business
It’s as simple as that!
Making it Through the First Year of Blogging
The first year will be the hardest in your journey to be a successful blogger.
If I could tell you one thing, it would be:
In the beginning, no matter how hard it is and how much you think it sucks to be a blogger, DON’T QUIT!
Make it a habit as you have with your Medium writing (if you started on Medium as you should). Make a schedule and stick to it! When you don’t feel like you are making an impact, just know that you are. If something is not working — try something else! Be flexible and don’t be afraid to try something new.
As a last tip, the best thing you could do is get the support of other bloggers. Join a few Facebook groups or connect with other bloggers in your niche by commenting on their blog posts.
Don’t be a loner even if you tend to be a bit introverted.
I’ve covered a lot of ground, but I will offer this: if I can be of any assistance, please, let me know. Send me a private note at email@example.com or find me on Facebook. I may be able to offer advice that will save you hours of searching. If I have some time, and you have the resources, I may even be able to help you build your blog.
Just remember: sometimes all you have to do is ask.
Good luck in your blogging journey and I hope it turns out to be more than you ever could have dreamed of when you started.
(Some links may be affiliate offers. I may make money if you buy a product I suggest)