Let’s be honest, blogging is awesome. I’ve talked at length about why I blog and why you should too: It gives us a voice, lets us tell our story, helps us find like-minded people who are super into the same things as we are, gives us access to otherwise inaccessible people and events, generates space for intentional living, allows us to make money and can launch opportunities that would never happen otherwise. The reasons to start a blog are limited only by our imaginations!
Sure, blogs are also a giant time suck and a lot of fucking work. Writing, photography, editing, social media, developing content, writing content, sharing content,etc… But to live the life you dream of and have the freedom to do what you want and getting to foster genuine connections with people who are like you? Totally worth it.
Don’t wait – today is the day to start YOUR blog for less than the cost of a good gin martini per month!
I’ve been blogging for over 8 years and I’ve landed hundreds of lucrative brand partnerships, started my own very successful design company, quit my day job, met hundreds of people who inspire me and feed my soul, become a professional food photographer, written for nation-wide publications and just recently accepted a cookbook deal with a major U.S. publisher and offered a book deal.
Not to brag or anything, I just want to show you that the dreamable, is feasible – If you set yourself up for success. When I first began blogging, I made a butt load of mistakes. Especially in the initial stages. I want to save you from those and that all begins when you start a blog.
Is This “Start A Blog” Guide For You?
The average client I’m accepting to work with right now right now invests about $7000 on their design project. Not everyone is ready for that yet. And I get it. If you’re brand new to blogging, just barely launching an idea for a business, not making much money on your blog yet or have almost zero budget, this guide is for you.
Just because you can’t afford a full custom design doesn’t mean I don’t value or want to work with you. I totally do. Because you deserve the joy and freedom and moolah as much as anyone else.
This resource is 100% free to you. I’m not going to sell you a thing.
Here’s the catch: it’s not entirely free to start a blog. Anyone who tells you it is, doesn’t have your best interests at heart. As with any hobby or new business, there is a minimal investment to get the tools you need to set your blog up to be successful, profitable and enjoyable.
These 7 steps are exactly, precisely and simply how you’re going to start your blog for (almost) free. And totally kick ass at it.
Why Not Totally Free?
But Kristy! Why almost? I can jump on Blogger or Tumblr right now and start up without spending a cent!
I hear ya. But here’s why you can’t do it for free my lovelies:
- You don’t own your blog (if Google scraps that service, your blog disappears).
- Your don’t own your domain name (nothing looks more amateur than .blogspot.com in your URL).
- And you’ll be severely limited functionality and design (ouch and ew).
- If one of the free providers gets hacked, your blog is gone – no backups (yikes!).
I want to save you money, frustration, time and a whole lot of mess later on by getting you started on the right foot to begin with.
I’m thinking big picture here.
A small investment – less than $15 a month – and you can have a great blog with the functionality, aesthetic and flexibility of a professionally designed one.
Not to mention the fact that if you want to make money on your blog (now or in the future) you have to show brands and sponsors that you take their brand seriously. You can’t do that – not really – on a free platform. You want to be treated like a professional? You have to look and act like one.
Would you spend your money in a store that looked like it might close down any minute? With torn drapes or second-rate knock off products or that has a funny smell? Probably not. Your readership and brand partners think the exact same way. Give them a reason to stick around.
The Value of a Professional Custom Design Vs. DIY (almost) Free
If you can have all those things – the functionality, aesthetic and flexibility – of a professionally designed website the without investing $7000 in a design, why buy one?
The (almost) free blog & website
Pros: If you follow these 7 steps, you’ll have a great website from which to launch your blog or business. Plus it’s cheaperoo, batman! If you’re on a very limited budget, this is the path for you. You still get a ton of my resources and expertise without shelling out thousands of dollars to have an awesome website.
Cons: Your design won’t be entirely unique to you and you’ll have some limits on functionality, design, copywriting and SEO. Unless you take the time to learn that shit. People pay designers to create beautiful, functional, effective websites and brands that see results because we’re trained in it and have years of experience in research, design and implementation.
The custom design
Pros: Having a custom design guarantees you’ll have a professional, optimized and unique site that is positioned in the best possible way for success. Plus it saves you hours – if not weeks or months – of all the techy behind the scenes work.
Cons: There are none? Just kidding. It’s expensive. Not everyone has that kind of cash. And that’s what this guide is for. It’s what you’re here for.
So let’s get on with it, yes?
The No-Fail, Super Successful, Sexy 7 Steps to Start Your Blog (Overview)
- Fun & Creative Planning – Envision Your Blog!
- Get A Domain Name & Buy Hosting (super sweet freebie deal here!)
- Install WordPress
- Make ‘er Shine Like A Pretty Penny
- Plug It In, Plug It In
- Create Content
- Discover Your Community
The No-Fail, Super Successful, Sexy 7 Steps to Start Your Blog (In Detail)
1. Creative planning – envision your blog
Before you begin your blog, you’ll want to have a clear idea as to what you want it to look like – both figuratively and literally. This will make writing posts, choosing topics and selecting a website much easier on you.
For coaching clients, I suggest physically sitting down and writing out a bubble map. You know – the lines and circles that stem out from each other?
Things to include in your bubble map: Key words, ideas, concepts, topics, names, readership, goals. Get messy with it! Have fun with it! Think of it like a creative writing exercise. Don’t take it too seriously. Then, once you get everything out of your head and down on paper, start to narrow it down. Ultimately you’ll be left with the following:
- The main themes you’ll write about. These should be something you’re passionate about! Try to keep them to 5 or less to begin with – the fewer, the better;
- A goal/mission statement. This should only be 2 – 3 sentences. If you had to describe your blog to a person who knew nothing about it – what would you say it’s about? What’s it’s purpose?
- A blog name. Keep it short, keep it simple, keep it easy to spell.
→ Choosing the perfect blog niche
→ Define your audience Avatar
2. Get a domain name & buy hosting
Domain (URL) Cost: FREE
Hosting Cost: $4 – $6/month
The domain name is the URL people enter to get to your website; The hosting is where your website actually lives – in essence, it’s “hosted” (just like a dinner party) somewhere.
There’s a lot of hosting providers out there and some are definitely better than others. I highly recommend, use and pimp out Siteground to anyone who will listen. Why?
- Their hosting is very reliable (your website pretty much never goes down);
- Their customer service is unparalleled 24/7 via phone, email and live chat support;
- You get a free domain name with hosting which saves you about $20 a year;
- You get unlimited free email addresses with your domain name;
- The user interface is very user friendly;
- They offer a 30 day money back guarantee;
***To sweeten the deal, if you purchase your hosting and register your domain name via my referral code to Siteground, I’ll install WordPress FOR you, totally free. Once you do, just email me to tell me, we’ll verify it and I’ll install WordPress for you within 72 hours.
- Go to Siteground by clicking this link (it’ll open in a separate window for you so you can keep following these instructions).
- Click the big white “sign up” button.
- Click “get a new hosting account” and “register a domain”.
- Choose the “Start Up” or “Grow Big” package options – I usually take “Grow Big”.
- Follow the next steps for preferences and payment.
- Check your email baby! All done! There will be CPanel (hosting) login information there. That’s what I’ll need to install WordPress for you.
FYI – in choosing your new domain:
- Keep it short;
- Keep it simple to say and spell so people will remember it;
- Think big picture – your blog will change as time goes by. When in doubt, use your name. That will grow with you as your focus and topics evolve;
- Don’t use punctuation, numbers or strange symbols;
- Try to find a .com ending (or .ca if you’re Canadian);
- Be creative and don’t get hung up on having it be perfect. You may need to try a few to find one that isn’t taken – that’s okay. Just do your best to choose one that’s close to your mission and then own it (literally)!
3. Install WordPress
You can do this yourself if you want OR…
As I mentioned above, if you purchase your hosting and register your domain name via my referral link to Siteground…
I’ll install WordPress FOR you, totally free.
Because this is the scariest part of the start a blog process. And like I said before – just because you can’t afford to invest in a $5000 – $7000 custom design doesn’t mean I don’t want to work with you. I totally do and I totally want you to succeed.
So once you buy your hosting and register your domain name, just email me to tell me, we’ll verify it and I’ll install WordPress for you within 72 hours.
Easy peasy lemon squeezy!
4. Make it shine!
Cost: $50 – $200
This is where the minimal investment kicks in. There are literally hundreds – if not thousands – of free themes out there. They suck. Design, functionality, SEO (Google stuff), social media integration, support, user-friendliness, mobile-friendliness, security. They’re more or less bad news bears. Don’t waste your time.
Get A (Premium) Theme
By far and away, the most functional, beautiful and user-friendly (with great client support) premium themes are StudioPress themes. These are what I use on my and my client’s websites.
The gist: Once WordPress is installed, you purchase the “Genesis” framework which sits on top of your WordPress installation and then a secondary theme (aka a child theme) which sits on top of Genesis.
Think of it this way, if your blog were a car, WordPress is the frame, Genesis is the body and the “child theme” is where your design elements come from, like paint, wood paneling, or leather seats. You get the idea.
Basically this ensures your site:
- Is ready for SEO (Google);
- Is cell phone, desktop and tablet friendly;
- Has carefully prepared and maintained air-tight security;
- Has one click updates so your site is always up to date and functions seamlessly;
- Loads quickly for optimal reader experience;
- Is super flexible and customizable (even without knowing code!) for colours, layouts, fonts, etc…;
- Gets unlimited updates and support;
Like most designers, I’m obviously I’m a StudioPress junkie. And you should be too. Get Genesis and your secondary theme by clicking here.
To help get you started, here are 6 of my favourite StudioPress secondary/child themes:
→ 10 Things Your Blog Should Definitely Have
→ Why Your Website Design Matters
→ 10 Things NOT To Do On Your Blog
5. Plug it in, plug it in.
Now that you have your theme, you’ll need plugins. Basically these are elements/functionality that don’t come with your theme, but make your site super awesome.
You can easily do this with a couple clicks. Read this article to see exactly how to do it.
Essential Plugins You’ll Need (10)
- Yoast SEO (Free or Premium – both are awesome)
- Yoast SEO will give you a running head start on your search engine optimization site wide – posts, pages and the website itself. Without needing to know code. The free version is pretty incredible and I highly suggest you use it to help get found in search.
- W3 Total Cache
- Caching programs are like deleting cookies from your browser – it makes everything load faster. W3 Total Cache is one of the best with detailed instructions on how to set it up and customize it. Very good!
- Yoast Google Analytics
- Tracking who visits your site, what kinds of content they look at and where they come from are just the basics of Google Analytics but they can tell you a ton about whether what you’re doing is working overall. Yoast Google Analytics easily integrates GA with your blog.
- Updraft Plus
- For the love of god, back up your blog. If something crazy happens in the internet world and your content (read: years of hard work) disappears, you can replace it with the backup. Please. Back. Up. Your. Blog.
- Spam bots will leave junky comments on your site and Akismet filters out 99% of them! It’s kind of awesome. And comes installed on your blog as soon as you install WordPress. Amazing, right? You just have to get a “key” for it, but the plugin walks you through it when you try to adjust the settings. Easy.
- Mailchimp for WordPress
- Whether you send newsletters or not in the beginning, you should be collecting email addresses. This is a key feature in selling products or services later on and brands LOVE when you have a newsletter because your reach is more intimate and longer with your audience. Mailchimp for WordPress lets you easily integrate a newsletter/email sign up area so when you’re ready to send a newsletter (and you will be at one point), you’ve already got a base to send emails to!
- Fast Secure Contact Form
- You should have a contact page and at least 2 ways for readers and brands to contact you -email address & contact form. Fast Secure Contact Form lets you place a tiny little snippet of code on your Contact Page and automatically populates a contact form for you! There’s also lots of documentation on how to set it up & customize it.
- Simple Share Buttons Adder
- You want your blog to get seen right? You definitely need social sharing icons so people can help spread your wonderful content far and wide. Simple Share Buttons Adder has the most common social platforms and you can easily place it above posts, below posts or both by adjusting the settings.
- JQuery Pin It Button for Images
- I guarantee you – it doesn’t matter what niche your blog is, Pinterest will be one of your highest drivers of traffic. So you want to integrate Pinterest into your site as much as possible. The JQuery Pin It Button for Images adds a hover “Pin It” button to all your images. It’s awesome.
- If you’re a food blogger, Cookbook Plugin (for recipes)
- Your readers deserve (and demand) a user-friendly recipe experience. With Cookbook Recipes you can create beautiful recipes that readers can print, save and review. It optimizes your recipes for search engines, generates nutrition facts and allows you to customize the colours, fonts and layout of recipes.
→ You Should Start A Newsletter that Doesn’t Suck
→ Yoast SEO 101: Get More Traffic! (How to use it in your posts and pages)
→ 5 Ways to Improve SEO (Show Up in Google Search) for Free
6. Create content
Cost: Your sanity (Jk, jk). Totally FREE
This is where we get to inject YOU into the design! A website is about as interesting as a flip flop until you add your personality to the whole dang thing. This happens with posts and pages. The difference between the two can be found here, but summed up, posts is where your regularly added new content will go while pages are for more static content like your “About” section, a recipe index, FAQs, Contact and/or Work with Me info, etc..
I’m often asked by coaching clients how many posts they should publish and how often. The answer is this: It depends! Start with one or two posts per week and see how that feels. If you want to do more, do more. If you want to do less, do less. Building a repository of content takes time. You’ve got this.
Note: It’s incredibly important for SEO (Google search and reader user-experience) that you include at least 1 beautiful photograph for each post you write. It’s also incredibly important that you HAVE THE RIGHTS TO USE THE IMAGE. You can’t just grab any picture you find on the internet – there’s copyright laws and ethics codes.
You can buy images to use on stock image websites, take them yourself or get them for free on a variety of free stock photo sites. Here are 6 sources to get you running:
→ 3 Ways to Find Your Voice
→ Create A Blog Schedule (free printable)
→ What Quality Content REALLY Means
→ How To Actually Be Authentic
7. Discover your community
Now comes the hard work! Choosing, setting up and writing a blog is all well and good but just because you build it, doesn’t mean they’ll come. In fact, they probably won’t. You have to let people know it exists!
This can involve becoming active on some social media sites, delving into private blogging Facebook Groups to help spread each other’s content (yes, these exist and they’re the best kept secret in the blogging world) or meeting with other bloggers in your area to swap ideas and vent about issues only other bloggers care about.
The point is this: Get out there! Find your community. The key to really successful blogs or websites is in forming relationships with other bloggers, industry leaders and peers. Just like with life, who you know, matters. So go meet some people! Let those who have been at it longer than you inspire you. Let those who are at your level teach you. Let those who are newer and shinier than you learn from you. And with everyone, grow together, be awesome and totally kick ass.
→ How to Build Your Blog’s Audience
→ Do It Right: How to Use Social Media
→ Beyond Blogging: What to Do Moving Forward
→ FREE Ebook: How to Do It – Blogging, Entrepreneurship, Life, Sex & Money
Let’s Tally it up:
Get A Domain Name & Buy Hosting
Install WordPress (I’ll do this for you! Fo’ realz.)
Make ‘er Shine Like A Pretty Penny
Plug It In, Plug It In
Discover Your Community
$0 + $4 – $6 / month
$50 – $200
$98 – $248 /year OR $8 – $20 /month
You see? While creating a blog or website for almost free isn’t a custom job that would be tailored to your unique vision, brand and goals, for less than a good gin martini per month you can have a fully functional, beautiful, DIY website or blog that will allow you to begin living a life you love! And NOW you know exactly how to do it too!
I know this is a ton of information. If you have info-overload, I suggest going back and reading things again. Be patient with yourself and give your brain time to absorb it all. And of course, if by some unfortunate circumstance you get stuck or have any questions for me about how to create a blog, just get in touch with me or leave a comment below. I’ll help you out with any problems.
Transparency Disclosure: There are affiliate links on this page. If you click on these links and decide to make a purchase, I will earn a small amount of commission (it’s how I can afford to give you this valuable information for free) but you will pay exactly the same amount. I use these products myself and for my design clients, I’m sharing them with you because they will help you become a more successful blogger.