This month I reached a big milestone in blogging – I officially made more money on the blog than I spent running it – and this is not including writing gigs I’ve gotten because of the blog.
So, this seems like a good time to pause, reflect, and really think about what I’ve learned over the last 9 months of blogging and writing well over 100 blog posts for this blog.
If you’re an inspiring blogger, I’ll also be sharing everything I’ve learned, used, loved, and learned from.
This is a very long, thorough explanation on how to blog and what you need if you want to see your blog as a potential business. Many people charge money for this information. To that end, affiliate links are used. Here we go.
Update: As of August 2020, the blog is reaching almost 200,000 viewers and I am working with AdThrive for ads. What I’m telling you here – WORKS.
What it’s Really Like to Blog:
I’ll tell you this – even after years as a freelance writer, I’ve been surprised by how much work it is to run a blog.
I’ll admit that I thought it wasn’t going to be that much different from just writing content.
I know, I know.
And before you have the money to really invest in tools that’ll make it faster, easier, and more efficient – and before you can outsource time-consuming, mind-numbing tasks, you have to do everything yourself.
And it’s a long list, baby.
Sure, there are some real thrills to moments like – getting an email from a brand you love wanting to collaborate, getting a comment on Instagram from a blogger you’ve followed for years, and having someone you know reach out and say – hey, I found your blog and I love it.
And, there are real downsides, too, such as the long hours it’ll take to write a blog post, only to watch it sink to the bottom of the internet where no one ever goes.
Or, realizing you’ve made some major mistakes that takes hours and hours to fix.
So, Why Write a Blog, Anyway?
For me, it’s a creative challenge. I spend hours writing what clients want me to write for them – and I love it (and I’m good at it), but there are times when I want to have the creative freedom to control my content.
Also, blogging gives me a byline. Running this blog has allowed me to form partnerships and relationships with companies and brands that I couldn’t have otherwise.
For example, I’ve been working on blog posts for SignUpGenius. This is huge – since SUG enjoys over 18 million blog viewers a month. Here’s one of my posts.
That kind of platform is major – and I wouldn’t have been considered if I hadn’t been running this here blog for awhile.
What Do You Need To Run a Blog?
Well, the intangible qualities are pretty important:
- Work ethic
- Attention to detail
- Ability to work hard without return on investment for a long time
- Fast Learner
- Abundance mentality – you’ll realize really quickly your ideas are not as unique as you think they are. You have to be able to accept that there is room for everyone in the blogosphere and work with other bloggers towards everyone’s success.
Now, for the tangible items you can get, download and/or buy – buckle up, buttercup, because this is gonna be a long ride.
And, the tangible elements are important too:
1. How To Start a Blog The Right Way:
Start your blog off right with a foundation that will allow you to grow, potentially monetize, and incorporate whatever you need down the road – such as products, a shop, portfolio, etc.
Self-Hosted WordPress (aka WordPress.org):
Like I mentioned in my blogging mistakes post, I did not start with a self-hosted WordPress blog. You can read more about it in that post, but suffice to say – learn from my expensive mistake and set your blog up right with wordpress.org, a hosting service, maybe a Genesis framework, and a premium theme.
Together, this power pack will give your blog the backbone it needs to go the distance. Altogether, it’s about a $100 investment.
To give you an idea, I paid 4x that cost to fix my mistake. It’s not worth it. Start smart, friends.
*Wordpress.com is the free version, but it does not allow you to control every detail of of your site and eventually monetize it. It’s essentially an online diary.
The host powers your site. You want a host that has excellent service. The last thing you want is someone trying to read your blog, but it’s down because of a server issue. You also want great customer service, because you’ll have questions. Believe me. I have experience with 3 hosting companies that I would highly recommend. Related: Read my more in-depth post on each of these blog hosts here.
The first is the most affordable option for a new blogger and you’ll read about them everywhere. Bluehost can get you started for $3.95 a month, which can’t be beat. It’s a great deal.
Now, you’ll probably outgrow their plans at some point and need managed WordPress support – but there’s no reason to spend more than you have to when you get started – especially if you’re bootstrapping your blog and not sure how long you’ll stick with it.
Bluehost is a fan favorite hosting option, because of their great service and affordable prices.
Recently, I started a site for my brother, a DIY pro. I hosted his new site with Siteground.
I was BLOWN AWAY by their set-up. It was SO MUCH FASTER to set up his site than any other host I’ve used.
In fact, the HTTPS was done – AUTOMATICALLY – and getting that set up has taken me days and lots of customer service chat support in the past.
Plus, their dashboard is so easy to use and customer service is just a quick click away.
Siteground is also super affordable and a great host I highly recommend.
After the blog grew a bit, I switched over to BigScoots. I love the speed, quality, and customer service.
Seriously, they respond to my (many, many) pleas for help at all hours of the day, night and weekend. I don’t think they ever sleep over there. Thank God for that. Highly recommend BigScoots.
Their plans start low as well, with enough storage to last you for a bit as a beginner.
BigScoots is a great host with excellent customer service that I use and recommend.
B. Genesis Framework:
The Genesis Framework gives your site the ability to customize, monetize, and be more agile than just a basic WordPress theme. Plus, many WordPress theme designers design exclusively for the Genesis framework, making it essential to have both.
Genesis is a one-time purchase that gives your site so much more bang for its buck.
Think of this like you are investing in the platform that will give your blog the legs it needs to run the marathon ahead.
C. Premium Theme:
The theme sits on top of the Genesis Framework and is what people see when they visit your blog. Not every site needs to have a Genesis Framework. There are two main options I would recommend for how you can design your site. The first is a Genesis Framework and theme with Studio Press. The second is the ultimate website theme builder that works for any type of blog or site called Elegant Themes.
A premium theme sits on top of the Genesis framework and gives you lots of cool widgets and stylistic options. There are so many great premium themes to choose from.
Choosing a theme also impacts how others view your blog and how seriously you’ll be taken by brands, readers, and other bloggers.
If you feel paralyzed by the theme selection, you’re not alone. Eventually, you just need to pick something and know that you can always switch out the theme.
2. Studio Press Premium Themes:
Here are a few of my favorite themes with ideas of who they could be a fit for:
- This is the Foodie Pro theme, which is such a great choice for food bloggers or lifestyle bloggers with lots of pictures:
- The Niche Pro Theme is one of my favorites. So great for beauty and fashion bloggers.
- The Pretty Chic Theme was my first theme for I Spy. It was so easy to navigate and use. A great first theme.
- Glam Pro is a very popular theme, because of the options, excellent coding, and eye-catching layout. Great for beauty, fashion, lifestyle, or photo heavy blogs.
3. Elegant Themes:
Elegant Themes has a robust collection of themes that you can drag and drop into perfection. They give you ultimate flexibility to quickly create a custom looking site – plus the freedom to change it as often as you like.
Typically, changing your theme is a laborious process that takes hours to switch over. With Elegant Themes like Divi, you won’t have that time commitment when you want to make tweaks and updates – and you will – because everything looks dated over time.
There is a higher cost with this flexibility, but when you factor in the price of a theme every year or two, you can see how it pays for itself quickly.
Elegant Themes is a robust solution for the dedicated site or blog owner
2. Image Creation:
Once you’ve got the blog up and running, you’ll need gorgeous images. Sure, you’ll want to take some of them yourself, but it’s difficult to take all your own photos – at least in the beginning.
Stock photography is a great resource. You can find gorgeous stock photography on free sites or you can sign up for stock photography memberships, where you get access to exclusive stock photography that is updated each month.
Another option is to buy stock photography packages that are in certain colors or of items you write about. These are an affordable way to get a set of images not everyone will be using.
Just make sure you are using royalty free images and not just any image you find on Google. There have been stories of bloggers being sued by the original owner of a random picture on Google images and it sounds like a nightmare.
- Canva – I LOVE Canva and use it every day! The free plan is great, but the Pro is even better and has great stock images included
- PicMonkey – So great, affordable, with excellent templates and stock photo options.
- DepositPhotos – Incredible stock photo packages for a great price. They have don’t-miss deals a few times a year, too.
- Ivory Mix
- Shay Cochrane
- Creative Market– Excellent source for clipart, stock photos, fonts, and tons of other graphic design assets. I love Creative Market and use it all the time!
Once you have images, you’ll need to shape them to what looks best in your blog spaces and on social media.
The size image you’ll use for your Instagram, for example, won’t be the same as your Pinterest.
Once you have gorgeous images ready to go, you’ll want to have a strategy in place for how you use them on social media. Blogging takes a lot of time, but if you don’t promote your work – nobody will find it. But, if sitting on Pinterest or social media all day makes you want to gag – a scheduling tool can make it look like you’re on there all day, when you’re not. Win win.
My favorite Pinterest scheduler is Tailwind. You’ll receive a month free trial with my link, so don’t be shy.
The only Pinterest approved scheduler right now is Tailwind. You are able to schedule out your pins, so they trickle out and if you make a bunch per post, like I do, you can make sure they don’t all lump together on Pinterest and get you shut down because they think you’re scamming. There’s also options like Tribes and SmartLoop.
Tailwind Tribes are where pinners create groups around themes or niches. Pinners will share their own pins in the tribe in hopes that other pinners will repin them on their own Pinterest boards. Over time, you’ll notice which Tribes your pins do better in and focus on those.
However, you do NOT have to pay for Tailwind to see success on Pinterest.
One of my favorite courses is by a blogger who didn’t pay for a schedule for years and ONLY used manual pinning on Pinterest to grow her massive following.
I’ll talk about her course later in this post. It’s very affordable and very helpful.
5. Image Squishing:
I remember reading posts like this before I was very comfortable blogging and laughing OUT LOUD that somebody took the time to shrink their images.
Like, who really has time for that?
Well, after I used up my beginner host package pretty quickly, I realized – oh crap, I need to squish my images.
Plus, too many big images slow down your site.
People bounce slow sites like rats on a ship.
So, squish it. Squish it real good
It’s easier than you think. And FREE.
FINALLY, something is free – am I right?
- Tinypng.com – Just bookmark this site. You can upload up to 20 at a time for free. Then, download and upload to your blog. Easy.
- WP Smush – Download this free plug-in on your blog to smush them all again.
Image reduction is one of the easiest ways you can optimize your site while you’re still learning all of the other things that blogging requires.
Squish everything that goes on your blog. Everything. Header images, photos, social media images, screenshots, everything.
6. Research Blog Posts:
This one annoyed me at first. After all, I was starting my blog to have creative freedom. I didn’t want to spend hours researching keywords and investigating my competition before writing.
But, I eventually got tired of the crickets after putting up another post. There’s only so long a person can write for an empty room.
So, I started learning more about keyword research.
I am no expert on this. Here are my super easy, free or affordable, and fast recommendations for keyword research:
You need this. When you search something in Google, you’ll immediately see how many people have searched that term, as well as options in the sidebar for related searches.
Very, very easily you can test out blog post ideas that you have and see what words you need to use to make the title reach the most people.
My posts have done much better since installing this free tool.
This tool is created by SEO and blog guru, Neil Patel. Seriously, sign up for his emails immediately. He gives so much value away for free.
In fact, this is one of his newer videos on how brand new blogs can drive traffic very quickly.
I wish I had this when I started.
His tool, UberSuggest, allows you to find the keywords that other blogs, or your own, are ranking for.
By using this, you can see what other blogs DAs are, compare it to your own, find similar blogs as yours, and see what they can ran for.
This way, you can stop spinning your wheels by going for keywords that much higher ranked blogs are snapping up and see much more success with accessible keywords.
I always find it enlightening to see what keywords blogs I follow are ranking for.
Plus, many features are free.
Okay, this one is really cool and you only have to do it maybe once a month or so.
You get 5 free searches a day. I use them to spy on my competition.
Don’t reinvent the wheel here, folks, look up the most popular posts for your blogging friends by searching their blog like this.
You’ll immediately see their most searched, shared blog posts.
This can just give you an idea of what is trending – even for the bigwig bloggers out there.
I always find this really interesting and, usually, surprising.
Be careful, though. Just because that meal plan post was huge for The Everygirl, it doesn’t mean yours will take off like it’s on fire. #LessonLearned
D. Good Ol’ Google:
Sometimes I like to let Google help me out.
I’ll start to type a subject into the search bar and wait for Google to finish my sentence.
This will give you a few more ideas for that post, another post, or even how you title a post.
Very easy. Very quick. Very free.
7. Affiliate Marketing:
At some point, you may decide to monetize what you’re writing about – even if just to offset the costs of setting up and running the blog.
Be realistic with this at first. Affiliate marketing is harder than you think.
The degree of clicks to conversions is not really in your favor and it can be really disappointing to see that 800 people clicked a link, but only 1 person bought it and you made a whopping $.30 cents.
Affiliate commissions are VERY, VERY small, so the amount you need to sell is quite high for it to be profitable.
Of course, the higher the price, the higher the commission. So, if you’re discussing computers or furniture, it’ll add up faster than mascara or t-shirts.
Even still, there’s no reason NOT to use affiliate marketing. It doesn’t cost you readers anything and all YOU need to do is apply to the networks and then use their links.
Here are a few affiliate marketing networks that accept brand new bloggers and are very easy to use.
C. Amazon Associates
8. Other Ways to Monetize A Blog:
Work with brands by creating content around their products in exchange for pay or product or both. Be willing to say no to any brand collab you don’t think is a fit for your audience.
But, also, stay open to new opportunities. You don’t know where those relationships will lead.
As your blog grows, you can reach out to brands you like and mention and share posts you’ve written about their products.
Usually, if your reach is good, your site looks professional and your writing is high quality, they’ll be happy to partner with you.
It takes a long time to make a living off a blog. Continue to offer services, such as freelance writing, VA work, blogging services, or more, to continue building relationships in the industry, honing your writing skills, and help pay the bills.
Here’s a great post on ways to 21 high-paying sites for freelance writers.
Eventually, you will probably decide you want to design your own products. Whether this is a line of physical products you can sell, like t-shirts or coffee mugs, or digital products with your own take on things, such as Pinterest e-books or courses, there are so many avenues for you to take your writing and knowledge and monetize it.
This helps everybody, since other people get fast-tracked to success and you are able to profit of all that hard and free labor.
Once you have a certain number of followers and engagement, you can sign up for influencer networks that connect you with brands who are looking for influencers.
You would post certain content and then get paid for it.
Just remember to stay on brand, or all those followers will get tired of just being sold to and go somewhere else.
One of the most well-known is RewardStyle, which owns those LikeToKnowIt posts you see all over Instagram.
8. Email Services:
There are a lot of options for email services. You’ll want to start collecting emails at some point, in case you want to start scheduling out emails. I’ll admit, email marketing has never been very successful for me, but I do have experience with a couple of email services:
Free to 1,000 subscribers. Has really cool templates and email builders that can make your emails look sharp and fun to read. I love a good-looking email and prefer it to just plain text, so I am very much drawn to the functionality and options with MailerLite.
I’ve been with them for awhile and they are still very affordable comparatively. I am starting to see the limitations of the service.
Overall, MailerLite is super easy to use, has great templates and affordable pricing.
ConvertKit has a cult following in the blogger world. They don’t have templates and make a stern argument for why that is better. I’m not sure it’s better for everyone, but it’s what you get with ConvertKit. They do have a more sophisticated system for organizing subscribers and emails.
Convertkit is a fan favorite for bloggers, because their system is pretty much designed for exactly what we do.
9. 3 Blog Courses Worth Investing In:
I’ll be honest, I have not bought any of the expensive blogging courses. I took as much free content as I could from all the top bloggers and then paid for a couple of products that I repeatedly saw mentioned everywhere, even from bloggers who were not affiliates and wouldn’t make a dime on the recommendation.
One of the tactics I’ve used is to go to top bloggers sites and sign up for their free email courses. This gives you a good sense of a few things you need to know before investing in their site:
- Their instruction style. You won’t jive with everyone’s voice. Find the person you connect with the most.
- Depth of Knowledge. If their email course is just the surface and you know everything, it’s likely their advanced course won’t add much value for you, either.
- Experience. Do they have a lot of blogging experience, outside of just talking about blogging? Have they run a successful blog, that isn’t about blogging for a good period of time? These are your people. If their only success is blogging about blogging, there is a good chance they are curating content from other bloggers. This is still probably going to be helpful for you as a newbie, but the people in the trenches, slaving away day after day for years on a site that is NOT about blogging are going to have a unique perspective on the industry.
- Your needs. Once you take a handful of free courses and put them into practice, you will have a better sense of what you personally need to invest in. For me, I started seeing specific gaps in areas like SEO, email marketing, and photography. Had I bought courses earlier, I would’ve potentially wasted money on courses I could’ve easily figured out for myself.
These are the types of lessons you can learn from just taking advantage of all the free courses you can get your hands on, before investing in any classes.
At this point, I’ve taken quite a few, most of them included in bundles that cost me very little, but retailed for hundreds of dollars.
I won’t name names, but there are many of these courses I am very glad I did not pay retail value for.
These are the blogging courses I really recommend, based on my own experience:
This company curates courses on a particular niche and sells them at a huge discount.
So, you might get thousands in retail value of courses for under a hundred bucks.
The best way to use these is open everything and save to your computer, so you don’t have to go looking for it and find all the logins again. Then, as you need to learn something, go toy our dropbox and look for a course on that subject.
If only a handful of the courses add value, you’ve gotten your money’s worth.
I got the 2018 Genius Blogger’s Toolkit and several of the courses were very valuable.
I would absolutely buy this year’s toolkit, too, as they do mix up the courses available in each year’s bundle.
- Many courses on lots of subjects
- Everything from SEO to stock photography
- More value than any other type of course
- Lots of teaching styles and voices to choose from
- Not all courses will be current or valuable to you
- Some courses will be a waste of your time
- Overwhelm from having so many courses
- You have to put the pieces together on how these different courses can work.
A worthwhile investment that will continue to give to you as you grow as a blogger.
Check out current Ultimate Bundles here:
You’ll read about this one everywhere. Here’s why: Carly Campbell grew a hugely successful mom blog by bootstrapping her blogging expenses.
This means, she didn’t even pay for a Pinterest scheduler like Tailwind, and instead grew her account massively with just her own manual pinning strategy.
After honing her strategy for years, she wrote this ebook to teach others how to do it.
- Very accessible for beginner to advanced bloggers
- Easy to follow and understand
- Tips really work!
- A bit disorganized. If you’re super Type-A, you will notice how casual her approach is to the program. She writes it very stream of consciousness.
- First half of the course will be basic for intermediate or advanced bloggers.
When I started this course, I had been blogging for 6 months. I was initially frustrated with how basic it was and thought – crap, I wasted my money.
Then, she started to dig a little deeper. And then, bam, she was really blowing my mind with how in-depth she goes to really find the pins that are exploding and use that knowledge to her advantage.
Plus, she talks about some other subjects that are a bit off topic, but work in synergy with a Pinterest strategy to grow your blog.
Even though it doesn’t have all the fancy graphics and bells and whistles, this is a course full of MAJOR value for under $50 that will absolutely give you actionable ideas of what you can go and do to build up your Pinterest and your blog.
Check out Pinteresting Strategies course here.
After Carly’s Pinterest class blew my mind, I hopped on the bandwagon and bought her Affiliate Marketing for Bloggers class.
This one was very thought-provoking.
In fact, there were a lot of surprises in this one for me, and I was already heavily using Amazon and various other affiliate networks.
The creativity here and the ways that she uses affiliate networks and partnerships to monetize posts that are giving tons of value to people for free is nothing short of brilliant.
I took a looooot of notes on this one, people. A lot. I would guess that you will, too.
The course is $79 and worth it.
Check out Affiliate Marketing for Bloggers here.
10. Set Reasonable Expectations
Listen, we are all narcissists at heart. We all want to believe that we’ll hit publish on our first post and wake up in the morning to our site having crashed from ALL THE TRAFFIC.
But, that’s not realistic.
Even the pins you see on Pinterest of bloggers having overnight success and making $10,000 a month their first 6 months blogging are probably not telling you the whole story.
Many of those bloggers started several failed blogs before that one that was a success or they did months and months of research before starting.
Or, my personal favorite, people who leverage a huge personal network and their friends and family ruthlessly share and promote it for them.
Sure, that would be so great if that happened for everyone – but we all come to the starting block from a different place, with different experiences and knowledge, so our outcomes will be different, too.
Some of the ways you can help yourself stay positive and grounded when the insecurity starts to sink in (it will), is to reach out to other bloggers and ask questions, or join Facebook groups of bloggers to talk with people who get it. I’ve joined quite a few and my favorite is BTOP – Breaking The One Percent.
The member are so kind, many are very successful bloggers, but a fair share are brand new and working hard to grow their blogs.
In fact, the guys who run it spent an entire year blogging making absolutely no money until they really started figuring out what to do. Now they make 6-figures a month.
I mean, can you even imagine?
This would be me:
Another thing you can do is reach out to another blogger you admire and strike up a conversation.
I’ve done this a few times and have only been blown off by one. I get it; not everybody has the time or energy.
But, the ones that respond really make my day and their feedback is always invaluable.
There you go! The 10 building blocks for setting up an incredible blog that has the potential to grow into a thriving business.
This post was really inspired by another post I wrote with some similar content, but a different angle with more emphasis on content creation called, “The 10 Blog Tips I wish I Had When I Started.” You’re welcome to check that one out too with some great content creation tips that’ll save you time.
Thanks so much for reading. Be sure to comment below with your new blog so we can all go visit and give you some support!
Have a fabulous day,