If you love to write, blogging is one of the best side hustles you can ask for. You can do it on your own time, you can be your own boss, and it’s totally lucrative if you play your cards right. Blogging gives you a platform to share your best expertise, and it can be a great way to turn your passions into a full-time job or profitable side hustle.
However, the “build it and they will come” advice that used to be the norm for blogging is, sadly, false. But don’t worry – not all hope is lost.
With the right content, strategy, and business mindset, YOU can build a blog that makes money and captivates readers around the world, about any topic. To help you get started, I’ve written this step-by-step post with all of the steps you need to take to get your blog up and running!
Who Is This Guide For?
This guide is for anyone who wants to start a blog as a business that eventually makes money. If you’d like to start a blog just for fun, I encourage you to do so on a free platform like WordPress.com.
Of course, to manage your expectations, you are not going to start making money as soon as you set up the site. However, with this guide, I’ll show you how to build the blog/structural foundation to effectively grow your audience and build your business.
Important Principles To Remember
As you’re trying to build a business and not simply a hobby blog, there are a few things about any startup that you need to keep in mind:
- You need to spend (at least some) money to make money
- Setting the right foundation is essential for growth later
- Putting in the time early-on will pay dividends in the future
Keep these in the back of your head as you read and follow our instructions, and you’ll be ready to start your first blog!
In a rush to get started? Here are some of the products I use and love for my blog(s):
- GoDaddy – For purchasing and registering a domain name. Easy to manage all of my domains at once.
- SiteGround – For self-hosting my website(s) and working on technical stuff. Great customer service and an easy-to-use interface.
- CheerUp Theme by Envato – The most beautiful WordPress theme on the web for building sleek and mobile-responsive websites.
- ConvertKit – For generating email subscribers and creating sleek opt-in email funnels.
- Tailwind – For building serious traffic to my blog(s) via Pinterest through automation.
How to Start a Blog in 11 Easy Steps
Step 1: Decide on a topic or niche
Sometimes you’ll see posts on how to start a blog that say things to the effect of, “be you and that’s all you need to do.” Sorry, people, but that’s really not going to work. There are millions of blogs out there, and in order to stand out and build your monetization streams, you need to have a specific topic that you write about.
For example, my travel blog is my primary money maker right now and focuses on short-term travel for ambitious and adventurous young professionals. Because of this specific target audience and niche, I focus on short-term itineraries, adventure/outdoor activities, packing lists, etc.
Some things I DON’T write about? Budget backpacking, hitchhiking, 2+ week itineraries, and blogging. My audience on there does not care about these things.
Having a super defined idea of who you’re trying to target and what you’re going to write about will help you refine your content, create an editorial calendar, and eventually pitch to brands.
Step 2: Choose a catchy blog name
Okay, cool, so you’ve chosen your topic! Woohoo! Now, we’re on to step 2, which is choosing a catchy blog name. If you’re super creative and already chose a name during step one, feel free to skip this step and move on to the next one. However, for the rest of us, choosing a name is a critical step in the blog building process, and not one you want to take lightly.
I’ve been blogging for a long time, and the one piece of advice I always give to new bloggers is to pick a name with a punch. What does this mean, exactly? It means that you want a blog name that readers can easily remember.
Here are some best practices I’ve seen across many top blogs:
- Choose a name that hasn’t been taken by someone else, including variations.
- The shorter, the better.
- Make your name topical.
- Avoid cliches.
- Make it evergreen.
You’ll want to choose 3-5 potential blog names that you love, because sometimes, the domains aren’t available (more on this in Step 3).
This should be obvious, but your blog name is everything.
It will be the name of all of your social media handles. It will go on your business cards. It’s the heart and soul of your brand. You’ll probably say it in your head at least 50 times a day. Literally, you’re stuck with your blog name until you (or your blog) die. So think long and hard about it, and don’t move on to the next step until you’ve come up with a name you ABSOLUTELY LOVE.
Step 3: Buy a domain name and set up a hosting package
Here’s where it gets really real: you’re going to set up your website! In this step, you’ll need to create the foundation for your site to give it the best platform for growth.
If you want to blog for money, you cannot skip this step. You need to self-host your website and own your domain name. It’s going to cost a little bit upfront to get things started, but not more than $100 if you do your research and plan carefully.
- Use a domain provider like GoDaddy to check if your blog name’s domains are available.
- If one or more are available, choose which domain you’d like to buy (and what you’d like to name your blog).
- Purchase the domain on GoDaddy and you’re all set!
Next, you’ll need to buy a hosting package. Think about your hosting package as the server foundation where your website will live. Your domain provider will be responsible for most of the technical aspects of your site, so you’ll want to choose one that has excellent customer service and low website downtime.
For hosting, I wholeheartedly recommend SiteGround – they have incredibly responsive 24-hour customer service and an easy to use site management platform. I use them for 3 different sites (including this one) and I couldn’t recommend their services or hosting packages more!
After you’ve set up both your domain and your hosting, you’ll need to take one more step to connect the two. Basically, this involves going into your domain registrar and pointing your domain name to your website. Here’s a comprehensive article on how to point your domain to your hosted website.
Are you feeling overwhelmed? Strapped for time? Having trouble with your blog setup?
If so, we can help you with Step 3! All you need to do is provide us with a domain name and a hosting package. Once we’ve set up your website, all you have to do is choose and install a theme and get started with Steps 4-11. Contact us to learn more.
Step 4: Install WordPress and add a theme
Once you’ve set up your hosting, it’s time to make your blog look pretty. To do this, you’ll need to add a content management system (CMS) program and choose a theme.
WordPress vs. Other CMS Platforms (Blogger, SquareSpace, etc.)
For anyone who asks me, I always tell them to install WordPress for their blogs. Is it perfect? No. But is it the industry standard for blogging? Yes, absolutely. Using WordPress will be highly beneficial to you later, as most of the biggest blogs in the world use this CMS.
Setting up WordPress on your site
This should be fairly straightforward, but will differ based on your host. On SiteGround, you can do it easily using the Setup Wizard or by clicking the WordPress icon in your Control Panel and installing it there.
Choosing a theme
No one wants to visit an annoying, hard-to-read website, and your blog is no exception! You will want to choose a sleek, highly visual theme that’s mobile responsive. While there are some free themes offered through WordPress, they’re not easily customizable and often look very basic.
I’ve tried dozens of themes. There have been some I’ve hated and some I’ve loved. But for a sleek, beautiful website that will charm your readers, there’s no theme I love more than the Cheer Up theme by Envato. With a bunch of different variations and a lot of customizable elements, plus an easy-to-use interface, it’s almost like having a designer at your fingertips.
In the past, I’ve also used the X Theme and StudioPress’ Genesis Framework. I’d recommend both, but I still love the Cheer Up theme the best.
Adding a theme to your WordPress site
To add your purchased theme to your WordPress backend, head to your dashboard then navigate (on the left hand panel) to Appearance > Themes > Add New (near the top of the page). Then, upload the .zip file provided by your theme vendor and click “Activate.” That’s it, you’re all set!
After you’ve added your theme, you can head to Appearance > Customize and customize your page elements, like navigation and font colors, manually.
Step 5: Claim your blog’s handles on all social media networks
While I don’t recommend being on every single social network, you’ll want to claim your blog’s handles so that no one else takes them! You can decide later which networks you want to focus on, but for now, go ahead and just make the accounts.
Some popular social media networks to create accounts on include:
Step 6: Set up email collection
Email marketing is your best friend. Use it to your advantage, to cultivate a following that keeps on coming back. You should give everyone who visits your site the opportunity to subscribe to your site’s updates. So, before you start generating traffic to your blog, choose an email provider and set up email collection.
Choosing an email newsletter provider
In order to be able to have readers opt in and send emails to them, you’ll need an email service provider. Here are the three most common ones I’ve seen amongst professional bloggers:
- ConvertKit – The most highly recommended newsletter option, which I’m currently using on this site. It is an advanced tool that has a TON of functionality for making subscriber forms, optimizing conversions, and launching email sequences. Their basic plan is $29 a month but it makes creating an opt-in and sales funnel much, much easier later on.
- MailChimp – I used this in the past because I don’t use opt-in funnels on my travel blogs. The interface is easy to use and manage, and I like using it. MailChimp is free up to 500 subscribers, and after that the pricing depends on the number of subscribers you have.
Step 7: Create and fill in your site’s basic pages
Every blog should have certain pages that tell their readers who they are and give important information about your website. These pages include:
- About – Tells the reader who you are and what your site was made for.
- Contact – Gives readers your contact information or a form they can use to contact you.
I won’t get too far in the weeds here, but I’ll give you the basics on the most important one: the About page.
How to create a page
There are two ways to create a page on your site. The first is in the left sidebar – you’ll clikc Pages > Add New.
The second way is to click the “+ NEW” icon in the top bar on your dashboard, then select “Page.” Once you’re in the page editor, title the page “About” and hit save. That’s it!
Writing your “About” page
Why is the “About” page the most important one? Well, besides being the first place people will visit when they want to know more about you, it’s also a critical place to describe how your site if different than everything else out there.
We could go on forever about the ins and outs of writing a stellar description, but instead, here’s a fantastic post on how to write a wonderful, catchy About page for your blog.
Step 8: Brainstorm your navigation bar and first 5 posts
Here’s where you’ll begin to think about the most important thing on any blog: content. Now that you’ve chosen your topical niche, you can start to get a bit more granular by breaking that niche into different content areas, and brainstorming potential posts that can fit into those areas.
Choosing topic areas
For new bloggers, I recommend choosing 3-5 topic areas you’re going to focus on for your website. This will help guide your reader to the information they want to learn more about. Having an easy-to-understand internal organization system within your website is critical to decreasing bounce rates and increasing reader satisfaction.
Example: If you’re running a photography blog, those topic areas might include photography gear reviews, composition and shooting tips, and post-processing/editing.
Creating categories and navigation menus
You can easily create a category by clicking on Categories in the left-hand panel of your dashboard, then Add New. Then, as you’re writing your posts, check the right-hand panel of the post editor to be sure the correct categories are checked for that particular post.
Once you’ve determined your 3-5 main categories and created them, head to Appearance > Menus and create your navigation menu. Then, under Customize, choose that menu to use as your main navigation.
Brainstorming topics for your posts
No one wants to arrive at your blog only to find that there’s no content on it! Therefore, you’ll want to start off your site with a few things people can click into. Aim for 5 posts to start with, and try to break them up between the different categories you’ve chosen for your blog.
Going along with the photography example, your first five posts might look like this:
- Photography Gear Reviews
- Post #1: Sony Mirrorless Camera Review
- Composition and Shooting Techniques
- Post #2: How to Take Photos of Cities At Night
- Post #3: Why Sunrise Is the Best Time to Take Photos
- Editing and Post-Processing
- Post #4: How to Edit a Backlit Photo
- Post #5: Lightroom 101 – The Best Techniques for Beautifully Edited Photos
You see? Creating a small set of posts within categories should be easy. If you’re having trouble thinking of posts that fit into one of your categories, you might want to rethink if it’s a good category to use. Once you’ve chosen your first few post topics, go ahead and start writing!
Step 9: Set up Google Analytics
Once your site is all up and running, you’ll need to add Google Analytics to start tracking your traffic RIGHT AWAY. Why? Because you want to start monitoring your audience and growth metrics as soon as possible. The more you can see how people behave on your site, the easier it will be to refine your posting and monetization strategy.
Setting up Google Analytics is a bit of a process, but this article can walk you through it quickly and painlessly.
Step 10: Add necessary plugins
There are a ton of plugins out there that can improve your workflows and save you a lot of time. In the beginning, some plugins you’ll want to look into include:
- Spam filters for your comments – Once your site grows, you’ll probably start getting spam comments from terrible companies and websites. To automatically block these, download the free version of Akismet.
- Social media sharing buttons – Make it as easy as possible for people to share your content! I use the Social Warfare plugin here on Happy to Hustle.
- A contact form – A form for use on your contact page that redirects all inquiries to your email address. I use Contact Form 7.
- A website caching system – Automated caching makes your website load faster. My preferred caching plugin is called WP Super Cache.
Depending on your needs, there are many other plugins you may want to consider getting. However, these should set you up to at least get started on your site, and you can continue to add plugins as you go.
Step 11: Work blogging into your schedule
The number one key to a successful blog is consistency. Yes, it’s something I’ve struggled with on ALL of my sites, even back in 2012 when I started my very first one. If you can dedicate a set number of hours to your blog each week, it will be guaranteed to grow in a sustainable, long-term way. However, if you try to do too much in the beginning, you might burn out, rage quit, and never want to blog again.
One of my favorite ways to ensure consistency is by planning out an editorial calendar with draft dates, publish dates, and status markers. I plan out and track my editorial calendars for each quarter on an Excel document, but if you like fancy software, Asana, Trello, and CoSchedule (paid program) work perfectly for making a seamless editorial calendar.
Moving Forward With Your Blog
Growing your traffic & cultivating a following
Once you’ve written a few posts and have a good editorial calendar worked out, it’s time to start building your traffic and brand! Here are a couple of common ways that bloggers do this:
- Search engine optimization: You MUST optimize your site in order to get found on search engines like Google. Here’s a fantastic article on SEO basics that can help you get a grasp for the most important search ranking factors.
- Pinterest: Pinterest is a search engine/social media hybrid that can help generate serious traffic for your site, when done strategically.
- Social media: Cultivating an engaged following on social media is a great way to grow your brand AND your site at the same time! If you want my advice here, choose a platform and be an active part of the community on that platform.
This is a whole separate topic on its own, but starting early with monetization can mean huge payoffs in the long run. There are a few great ways to monetize your blog, including:
- Affiliate marketing: Selling products on behalf of other businesses and receiving a commission for each product sold off your site.
- Advertising: Advertising with display units or partner content for businesses on your website or social media.
- Sponsored posts: Similar to advertising, sponsored posts are typically posts written in order to promote another product or service.
- Freelancing: You can offer freelance services, such as virtual assisting, consulting, or writing for clients through your blog as well.
One of the BEST things you can invest in early-on is your own education. Getting smart on topics that will help you grow your brand is the key to success. Here are a few of my recommendations for books and courses you can take to learn more about growing your online business.
- SEO – There are tons of free resources on SEO, but if I had to recommend two eBooks, this is my absolute favorite:
- Complete SEO Strategy from Make Traffic Happen: The ultimate eBook resource on search engine optimization. It’s also beginner-friendly!
- Pinterest – I’ve taken over 5 Pinterest courses with varying degrees of satisfaction. There’s really only one course I’d recommend to get a solid grasp on Pinterest from end-to-end:
- Pinterest Traffic Avalanche: It’s a really concise and strategic look into how a VERY successful blogging couple grew their Pinterest traffic in just a handful of months. I loved this course and I think it’s definitely worth the investment!
- Facebook – Facebook is a great place to build communities and traffic. Here are a couple of resources I found valuable in my quest to master Facebook:
- One Million Followers by Brendan Kane: An awesome book on how you can use paid and organic methods on Facebook to create community and grow your brand.
- Moolah Marketer: If you want to step up your Facebook game, there’s no course I can recommend more than Moolah Marketer for killing it on this platform.
- Affiliate Marketing – Want to start making money with affiliate marketing? Here’s my favorite course that can help you do just that.
- Making Sense of Affiliate Marketing: This is the ultimate course on affiliate marketing, created by someone who makes tens of thousands of dollars from affiliate marketing every month!
Additional Blogging Resources
If you have additional questions or just want to read more about how to start a blog, here are some more helpful resources on our site for getting started:
- 15 Incredibly Useful Things to Know Before Starting a Blog
- I’ll continue to update this page with more of our posts as they continue to get published!
What questions do you have about starting a blog? Drop them below and I’ll try my best to answer!