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This is part 1 in the series: “You Started a Blog…Now What?!
Starting a new blog is exciting! The potential opportunities are endless. There’s opportunity to help thousands of people. Opportunity to connect with people from all over the world. The opportunity to work from home and make money blogging.
Yes starting a new blog is exciting!
But it is also overwhelming.
What do you need for hosting? What plugins will help your blog? What courses are worth your investment, both time and money? And email, what’s this about having an email list and where do you start? Then there is the money piece. Just how much is this all going to cost?!
Yes blogging is exciting and so much fun, but in the beginning there are a lot more questions than answers! In this post I am going to guide you through my favorite tools, plugins, courses, and resources that will answer all your questions on how to start a blog the right way and how much it will cost you!
Every blog starts with a platform. The place where your blogging words will exist. I have tried two different platforms during my blogging career, Blogger and WordPress. I absolutely love WordPress!
With WordPress you have more options for plugins. These plugins give you more options to help you with SEO, growing your email list, and putting ads on your site. Also there are a ton of WordPress users out there which means there is a lot of support if you get stuck on something.
A note about WordPress.com and WordPress.org. WordPress.com is the free version of the blogging software. If you are serious about becoming a full time blogger I don’t recommend you start out on the free version of WordPress.com.
First, WordPress.com gives you a domain that looks like this: yourblog.wordpress.com. You can have the WordPress part removed for a fee, but at that point if you are paying money, you are better off self-hosted through WordPress.org.
Also with the free version you do not have access to the plugins that will help you grow and monetize your site. Your email plugins for example will be limited. You will also be limited in your monetization strategies. WordPress does allow you to have ads from their network only, but not from popular third party ad sites that a lot of bloggers use.
I recommend that if you are serious about starting a blog, you start out self-hosted with WordPress.org. Don’t let the term self-hosted scare you! Self-hosted simply means that you are paying a hosting company, like SiteGround, to host your blog. Let’s jump into hosting next.
Cost: The WordPress.org platform itself is free!
A hosting company is where your blog lives. This is the place where you will install your WordPress.org platform and start blogging. This technical step can be overwhelming, but when you choose the right hosting company it is easy peasey!
I use SiteGround to host my blog. Their plans are so affordable! For as little as $3.95 a month you can get started with their StartUp plan. This is what I recommend for any blogger that is just getting started blogging.
Now remember that technical part about setting up your WordPress site? SiteGround will help you with all of that! Their customer support is incredible! They have a hands on support team that is available 24/7. Gotta love that right?!
If you are more of a DIY-er, I do have a tutorial that will walk you through the steps of how to start your blog with SiteGround. It really is an easy process! http://womenwinningonline.com/startblog/
Now that you know what self-hosted is, let’s talk about why your blog needs to be self-hosted. For me it all comes down to one word: Control.
When you have a self-hosted blog it is all yours. You control it 100%. You can put all the plugins you like on there, choose your own theme, and put ads wherever you want. It is your website and you can do with it as you wish! Having a self-hosted blog puts you in the driver’s seat of how you are going to grow your blog.
Cost: Hosting with SiteGround is as little as $3.95 a month.
Next on your to do list is picking out a theme for your blog. The theme is the outside shell of your blog that makes it look pretty. The theme determines your logo placement, what your sidebars will look like, and how your blog posts will appear.
There are free themes out there, but I prefer paid themes for four reasons:
- Free themes do not have as many features available to you as paid themes. You are limited in your buttons, shortcodes, landing pages, and more.
- Next it is harder to customize free themes. They are straight out of the box with very little access to the code needed to customize the theme.
- Another issue that arises is your theme isn’t unique. There could be thousands of people using your theme which makes it even harder to stand out in an already crowded place.
- Finally most free themes do not come with support if you get stuck or something goes wrong on your theme.
For the last 10 years I have used a site called ThemeForest to purchase all my themes. I love ThemeForest! All their themes go through a strict testing process so you can trust that you are getting the best coded themes in the business. Many of the themes come with detailed instructions and lifetime support. I have never had bad luck with a theme from ThemeForest and I have used over 25 themes in the last 10 years.
A few of my favorite ThemeForest themes are:
Plugins are pieces of code that you add to your blog to add bonus content to your blog. I use plugins to make my blog run faster, to protect me from spam, to have people sign up for my email list. There are a ton of options for plugins, both free and paid.
The following are my favorite plugins, plus a description of what I use them for:
- Akismet Anti-Spam: Protects blogs from spam and spam comments.
- CommentLuv: Reward your readers by automatically placing a link to their last blog post at the end of their comment.
- Contact Form 7: Contact form that you can use for people to email you from your blog.
- Google Analytics Dashboard for WP: Displays Google Analytics Reports and Real-Time Statistics in your Dashboard. Automatically inserts the tracking code in every page of your website.
- Insert Headers and Footers: Allows you to insert code or text in the header or footer of your WordPress blog. Some blogs come with this feature in their customization section. Check there before installing this plugin.
- Limit Login Attempts: Limit rate of login attempts from spammers and hackers
- Pinterest Pin It Button: Pin Your WordPress Blog Post Images with Pinterest
- Pretty Link: Customize your affiliate links to make them look good
- Search Exclude: Hide any page or post from the WordPress search results by checking off the checkbox.
- UpdraftPlus: Backup and restore your blog daily
- Wordfence Security: Wordfence Security – Anti-virus, Firewall and Malware Scan
- WP-Optimize: Clean up your WordPress database easily and safely
- WP Super Cache: Very fast caching plugin. Helps your site run faster.
- Yoast SEO: The best all-in-one SEO solution for WordPress
My favorite ever paid plugin is my Thrive plugin. Or I should say plugins. Thrive has so many plugins that make it easier to run my blog. Here’s a rundown of what I do with Thrive:
Thrive Leads: I use Thrive Leads to collect email addresses from my readers. I use it to add content upgrades to my blog posts, the pink header opt-in box at the top of this page, my exit popup, and email sign up widget in the sidebar.
Thrive Landing Pages: I use Thrive to create my pretty landing pages. I use landing pages to collect email addresses and sell my courses.
Thrive Headline Optimizer: I use this plugin to test which headline performs better for any given blog post.
Thrive Ultimatum: I use this plugin to set a timer for any special offers on my courses.
Thrive is my go-to plugin to capture email addresses, make sales on my blog, and test out what works best for my posts. It is a robust set of plugins that are incredible!
Cost: Plugins range from free to $100+. Some charge a monthly or annual fee. Thrive plugins start out at $67 for a single blog site.
Right after you set up your blog, the theme, and the plugins, you should set up an email service. An email service is something that will collect reader’s email addresses for you. It also lets you send emails to your readers.
There are so many reasons why you need an email service, in fact I have gone into them in this post: 9 Reasons Every Blogger Needs an Email List. In short you need an email list to get to know your readers, help them, and eventually to monetize your blog. For all the reasons why you need an email service, check out the post I mentioned above.
Now, there is a trend among new bloggers to start out with MailChimp. DO NOT DO THIS! MailChimp is not known for being good at delivering emails into readers’ inboxes. A lot of their emails go to spam. Heck, I once had an email from MailChimp themselves go into spam! On top of this their customer support is terrible!
There are three good options for email services when you start blogging:
MailerLite is free for your first 1,000 email subscribers. After that it is $10 a month up to 2,500 subscribers. With MailerLite you get access to opt-in forms, landing pages, and automation features. It is a great way to get your feet wet with email marketing.
That being said…I am wary of free options after MailChimp. I get nervous that too many people will sign up for free including spammers. I worry that it will compromise the integrity of the system, much like MailChimp. Because email is such a critical part of growing a blog, it is worth it to me to invest in it up front. Plus it’s a pain to move all that information if you decide to down the road.
ActiveCampaign is an affordable and robust email marketing service for bloggers. It is what I use and I really like it! ActiveCampaign is only $9 a month for your first 500 subscribers. For $9 a month you get access to sign up forms, automation tools, and split-testing.
ActiveCampaign can be a little clunky to learn when you are starting out. It isn’t as straightforward as ConvertKit even though it is just as good.
ConvertKit is a popular choice among bloggers. In fact the company bills itself as the email marketing service for professional bloggers. It is $27 a month to start for up to 1,000 subscribers.
The thing I like about ConvertKit is that it is more user friendly than other service providers. I also believe they have top notch customer service and really work with bloggers to grow their lists.
Costs: Free to $9-$27 a month
Investing in the right courses will help you grow faster as a blogger. You are paying someone else to learn from their mistakes and their wins. You are speeding up your learning curve so you can get to the successful side sooner. But how do you know which courses are worth the money? Here are a few of my favorites that I have personally taken or my friends have.
Find Your Tribe Online
Full disclosure, Find Your Tribe Online is my signature program. It is a course that helps you identify your ideal reader and find them all online. I show you how to find your readers in Facebook groups and on Pinterest Group boards. I walk you through the process of how to engage with people on social media to attract them to your blog.
Find Your Tribe Online includes access to:
- 407 Pinterest Group Boards
- 440 Facebook Groups
- 165 Popular Bloggers + their social media accounts
My students that have implemented my strategies have tripled their blog traffic in just days. Yup just days! How exciting is that?!
Why you need Find Your Tribe Online: To find your blog readers and bring them to your blog!
Cost: $67 one time fee
Blog By Number
Blog By Number is a great course by my friend Suzi Whitford of Start a Mom Blog! Suzi’s course walks you through the basics of setting a blog up the right way, how to use Pinterest, and how to start making money blogging. It really is the complete solution for starting a blog the right way. Plus you get to learn from the uber successful Suzi who grew her blog to $9,000 a month in under a year! It’s an amazing course!
Why you need Blog By Number: If you are a new blogger and aren’t sure where to start. Or if you have a blog but feel like you are floundering or missing something.
Cost: $47 one time fee
Pinterest to Profits
Pinterest to Profits is a course by my friend McKinzie Bean of Moms Make Cents. I love this course! It has helped me so much with my Pinterest strategy! McKinzie walks you through the basics of setting up a Pinterest account and creating the perfect Pin. She also walks you through her exact strategy on how to use BoardBooster to put your Pinterest marketing on autopilot.
Why you need Pinterest to Profits: As a blogger Pinterest must be your number one driver of traffic for your blog. If you aren’t sure where to start with Pinterest or aren’t getting the results you want, McKinzie’s course is a must!
Cost: $197 one time fee
Making Sense of Affiliate Marketing
Making Sense of Affiliate Marketing is a must have course if you want to earn affiliate income from your blog. Michelle currently earns $50,000+ blogging and the majority of her income comes from affiliate marketing. Michelle’s course walks you through exclusive tips that will help you grow your income through affiliate marketing.
Why you need Making Sense of Affiliate Marketing: If you aren’t sure how to start earning an income through affiliate marketing or aren’t earning what you want to, Michelle’s course will help you fix it!
Cost: $197 one time fee
Starting a blog is a heck of a lot of fun, but as you can see there is a lot involved! In fact I have created a cheat sheet for you to print and use as you are creating or updating your blog. I hope it helps you stay on track and feel encouraged as you start and grow your blog!
What lessons have you learned as you started your blog or what blogging questions do you have before you start your blog? Please share with us in the comments below!