I Want To Blog: Where Do I Start?

Some people start blogging because they have an opinion or mindset they feel they HAVE to share with the world. Others start because they see an opportunity to make a side income, or even a full-time job out of it.

No matter the reason, blogging itself has become a mainstream tool of expression, and the accessibility to resources like open-source platforms (WordPress for example), and social media have made it easier than ever to go from idea to action as a blogger. So why is it so many people start big, but then disappear?

While I can’t speak for all bloggers, I will share what almost knocked me out of the blogosphere in the beginning, and I hope it helps some of you avoid the same pitfalls.

Pay your hosting first, and everything else after.

This is where we have the grown-up talk about budgeting and fiscal responsibility. The idea of blogging for a living is a great one. Your startup fees are minimal, just domain registration and hosting, and your freedom is unlimited. You can choose to design a site yourself, use free and open source blogging software with endless themes and plugins to improve the user experience and make all the modifications you want for very little out of pocket cost. You can even get fancy and buy upgraded packages or hire freelancers to create a web design that helps you stand out from the hobbyists, and it’ll still be one of the lowest-cost investments you’ll ever make in your lifetime.

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Now, of course, I can only speak from my own personal experience, but what seems like an easy pocket-change chance at a successful future can quickly add up to an overwhelming budgeting nightmare. This is why so many people enter the blogging universe as a bare-bones hobbyist before transitioning to a full-time career. Unless you have some serious backing from an existing community in your niche it will be quite a while before your blog starts paying for itself much less turning a profit. You’ll want to do as much as you can to minimize your overhead costs while getting the most bang for your buck if you really want to build a foundation for future success, and since I made plenty of mistakes starting out, I’ll share what I wish I had done the first time around.

First, rock those annual savings by committing upfront to at least 12 months of almost any renewable service or product you sign up for. Most domain registrars and hosting companies give deep discounts in the 30+% range for annual purchases over the month-to-month subscriptions, and the same goes for blog monitoring tools and professional organization memberships.

Second, find referral and entry discounts. Chances are, you already follow a few other bloggers in your social circles. Take a good long look at what they are using or just ask them who they turn to for their needs, and most are happy to drop you a referral link that gives you introductory savings and gives them rewards. This especially goes for hosting accounts and SEO tools. This also may strengthen your networking relationships since everyone loves a mutual benefit transaction built around a positive recommendation.

Third, and probably most important, stagger your annual costs. While it’s easy to get swept up in the excitement of finally launching your own little piece of internet real estate, signing up for everything all at once can actually hurt your budget down the road. You may have a little money set aside from your full-time job to cover your start-up costs, but what happens a year from now when you’ve quit that job to live the dream full time, and suddenly you have hundreds or even thousands of dollars in renewal fees come at you all at once? Not a happy place to be at all.

Instead, be strategic about your services. Lock your domain in first, and go ahead and get the 5-year registration on that baby. You know you’re in this for the long haul and you don’t want to risk losing that ideal URL that perfectly sums up your passion. Spend your first month mocking up your site design and if you’re using a platform like WordPress, exploring different themes and plugins on their free WordPress.org site until you know exactly how you want your blog to function. You can also use this first month to start drafting articles and building a great image library that will come in handy when you are ready to start scheduling content. You can also begin building your social media profiles to support your blog and build buzz around your launch.

In the second month, get your domain and email hosting going, and take full advantage of the annual savings. This month will be a busy one as you install your site and begin building out your editorial calendar. You will hit some speed bumps as you learn to format your content for your chosen platform, and to be honest, this is an ongoing thing that changes and evolves with every update of the search engine algorithms and blogging platform updates. This is a great time for testing free social sharing tools and scheduling assistants. I hesitate to call out any by name since the nature of a book like this one is to provide timeless education about a topic, not dated references to overnight startup successes, but trust me, the tools are out there. This period is the most critical in your blog’s development because if we’re both a realist and an optimist, you won’t have any real readers or social following yet, so mistakes made early on can easily be cleaned up before the site becomes successful. This is also the time to set up your free analytics tools and learn how to navigate their reports, as well as start exploring advertising and affiliate income options to support your blog’s future.

Assuming that your setup and testing are done and you have your initial content loaded and scheduled, it’s time to get ready for launch. This is where the most flexible part of your budget is going to be, but also where a lot of startups get a little out of control. In my personal opinion, the most important thing you can invest in now is ongoing marketing tools like an email newsletter management account, custom brand design elements like logos, business cards if you are going out to live events, and other physical marketing materials. You can also consider online marketing at this phase. A social media brand awareness campaign can really help get your blog off the ground and running once you’ve begun publishing. Be careful at first by purchasing small runs of advertising and analyzing the effectiveness before doubling down on ad dollars.

By now you are up and running, publishing frequently, building up an email subscriber list and interacting with readers all over the social media landscape. You might even be getting a bit of organic search engine traffic and you’re ready to start fine-tuning your content to better reach new readers. Now you can start signing up for keyword tracking tools, site audits, and other search engine marketing tools. There are a few big players out there that offer really great free trials and always free tools that you can test out before you commit to some expensive monthly service, and I highly recommend you spend as much time as you can reasonably afford to explore the ins and outs of as many of these free services as you can until you figure out which ones give you the information, education, and direction you need in order to improve your readership. You may find that you are happy with the free tools and get all the information you need at this stage, and that’s ok. I’ve been running for over a decade and only recently began using premium optimization tools. This is entirely a personal decision based on your needs and goals.

By staggering your startup expenses and taking your time to build out content in advance, by the time you have launched and then begun analyzing your initial traffic, you’ll have a better idea of how successful your chosen niche and writing voice are. This can help you tremendously in updating or redefining your blogging goals and choosing your spending priorities as you continue forward on this big adventure.

To see some of the handy blogging tools I keep close by when I go out in the field, check out this collection on my Kit.com profile!

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