If you’re passionate about writing and comfortable with technology, starting a blog is one way to share your personal experiences and insights with the world. And if you do it right, you might be able to turn your blog into a profitable hobby – or even a full-time career. While that might sound crazy, I can assure you it’s not.
If you’ll remember, The Simple Dollar was created in 2006 as Trent Hamm’s personal blog and online journal. As the years marched on, the site grew to the point where it became wildly popular and profitable and needed the attention of a full-time staff. That’s the magic of starting a blog: If you build a following and get a steady flow of traffic, the opportunities that come your way can be limitless.
I, too, can attest to the power of starting a personal blog and building it over time. My husband and I started out first website, Club Thrifty, in 2012 and have collaborated on several others since then. We both had full-time jobs when we started, and I nurtured my freelance writing career on the side. Several years later, we are both out of our former industry and working full-time on our blog and a variety of online endeavors from home. And let me tell you, self-employment is amazing!
Of course, not everyone wants to turn a website into a side hustle. For some people, blogging is more of a therapeutic or creative activity than anything else. There are literally millions of blogs out there. Virtually every topic you can think of has hundreds or even thousands of blogs devoted to it. But with so many people online, there’s always room for one more.
How to Start a Blog: What You Need to Get Started
The first part of the equation is figuring out your topic. What exactly are you going to write about?
If you write about a broad topic, you’ll have a lot more material to write about and the potential to reach a larger audience — but you’ll also have far more competition. If you stick to a narrow topic, there will be fewer things to write about and you may have less competition, but your audience can only grow so big. Both strategies have advantages and disadvantages.
Here at The Simple Dollar, we focus on money issues from a personal angle, tying together financial advice with the realities of living through life’s ups and downs. This isn’t an entirely unique angle, of course, but very few things are truly unique online these days.
Another factor to consider is what you personally bring to the table. Who are you? What is your voice? Will you be snarky? Or will you be earnest? Are you writing from the perspective of a parent? Are you a fan or a critic? What area of the country or the world are you writing from? What are your other interests that you might tie into the topic?
You want to be able to describe yourself and your website in just a few words. For example, I would describe content offered on The Simple Dollar as honest, forthcoming, and helpful. That’s a set of traits that makes The Simple Dollar at least somewhat unique. Other personal finance blogs may be snarky or sophisticated or hail from other regions or cover different financial situations. Some bring in other interests, too.
Once you’ve come up with a topic and a tone for your website, you’ll need to figure out a domain name that tells potential readers what you’re about. Here at The Simple Dollar, our name says it all. In addition to offering basic financial education, we offer simple ideas on how to get the most out of your money.
When it comes to choosing a domain name for your own site, you can go in a number of different ways. If you want your topic to be obvious, pick a domain that makes your passion and covered interests clear. Conversely, you can pick a blog name that is unique or quirky – or one that represents who you really are. (Here’s an in-depth guide to help you choose a domain name.)
In addition to a domain name and blog angle, you’ll also need the ability to write clearly, plenty of time to spend on your hobby, and some ideas to get the ball rolling. Other than that, an internet connection and a reliable computer are the only other investments you’ll need to make.
Starting a Blog: Steps to Get Started
Step 1: Choose a niche
As I mentioned before, you’ll want to have a unique angle or topic idea before you get started. Start by brainstorming ideas, paying special attention to any subject you’re especially passionate or knowledgeable about.
If your passion is personal finance, for example, you’ll want to pick a niche that has something to do with money, investing, or frugality. Likewise, if you want to write about food and cooking, you should pick an angle that will allow you to explore your ideas and share the recipes and concepts you’re most invested in.
Step 2: Create a name
Now that you have a niche nailed down, you need to name your blog. It could be something as simple as your own name. However, you may wish to consider branding your blog.
For example, Trent Hamm didn’t call this website TrentHamm.com; he named it The Simple Dollar. With that one act, he made the website more about money than himself and gave it a broader appeal for readers.
Step 3: Register your domain name
Once you come up with a name for your blog, you’ll want to choose a domain that matches it as closely as possible. Prepare yourself for the inevitability that your preferred name may already be taken — at times it seems almost every dot-combination of words has been snatched up by enterprising domain hoarders — but it’s usually easy enough to find a variation that will work.
The best way to search domain names and ultimately buy one is to visit a site such as GoDaddy.com and conduct a search. (Domainr.com also has an easy search feature and will suggest alternative spellings and suffixes that may be available.)
Note that if you purchase a web hosting plan — which you should, and we’ll cover that in a minute — the hosting service will often include one free domain name, so you may not need to purchase one separately.
Using GoDaddy.com for our example, here are the steps you’ll take to find and register a domain name:
1. Fill in your preferred domain name, click the green button, and search for your domain. If your preferred domain isn’t available, keep looking for options until you find something that will work:
2. Your results will look like this. Click the green “Select” button, then the orange “Continue to Cart” button to move on to the purchase page.
3. When you’re ready to buy, you’ll be asked whether or not you’d like to purchase any add-ons. Generally, the only add-on I’d consider is the private domain option. Registering your domain privately keeps your personal information private so people can’t find it via a simple search. Make your selections and click “Continue to Cart”.
4. Review your selections and click the orange “Proceed to Checkout” button. Be sure to pay special attention to the number of years you’re purchasing the domain for. By default, it will show five years. You can change that to increase or reduce the price (and the price per year).
5. On the following page, fill in your billing information and choose your method of payment. Click the orange “Continue” button.
6. On the next page, confirm your selections and complete the sale.
Step 4: Find a host
When creating your own blog, you’ll want a Web hosting company if you hope to make money off it one day. (You can start a free blog using sites like Blogger or WordPress.com — you’ll just face some limitations.)
Personally, I use BlueHost. Not only is it easy to use, but they offer excellent customer support – especially for newbies. Here are the steps you should take if you want to sign up with Bluehost and link your new website.
1. Go to Bluehost.com and click on “Get Started Now.”
2. Select your plan. It’s fine to start with a basic plan — you can always upgrade to a premium one later on.
3. Enter your domain name under “I Have a Domain Name” (or sign up for a free domain name from Bluehost):
4. Confirm your purchase details and enter your billing information:
5. Buy any additional related domain names if you want to own them:
6. Create a Bluehost password, and you’re done!
Step 5: Connect your host and registrar
Now that you’re all set up with hosting services, you need to make sure that your web address is pointed in the right direction. After you open your Bluehost account, you should get a welcome email from them. In the email, you’ll find a list of your nameservers.
They should look something like this: Nameserver 1: ns1.bluehost.com, Nameserver 2: ns2.bluehost.com.
You’ll need these details to connect your new host with your registered domain, so make sure you save this email and its contents. To connect your host and registrar:
1. Login into your GoDaddy.com account.
2. Find the “Domains” row in your dashboard, and click on the green “Manage” button:
3. In the domains menu, click on the domain you’d like to update.
4. Find the “Nameservers” row and click on “Manage”:
5. On the next screen, click on “Custom” and “Edit Nameservers”:
6. Add your new nameservers, click save, and you’re done!
Step 6: Build your website using WordPress and Genesis
Once you have the details of your website up and running, you’ll need to build actual web pages people will see. There are a few different platforms that are available, but in my opinion, WordPress is the best.
Overall, WordPress sites are among the easiest to use and build from scratch – especially for beginners. They also have a bunch of free themes available, which can help cut down on the overall costs of creating your blog.
If really want a professional design, you can purchase a “premium” theme. There are dozens to choose from, but my favorite is the Genesis Framework. For somewhere between $85 and $100, you can get the Genesis Framework and a “child theme” that will improve your site’s efficiency and look.
Do you really need a professional theme? Probably not, at least not at the outset — but it’s worth considering.
Think of your website like a car. WordPress is the engine, the Genesis Framework is the body, and the child theme is the paint job. Sure, the engine is the most important part and runs fine without the other two items — but it sure is more attractive with a sleek body and a professional look.
Even if you don’t need a professional theme at first, chances are good you’ll want one eventually. As more and more people visit your website, you’ll want to find a way to improve its appearance and feel. But, first things first — let’s get WordPress installed.
Step 7: Install WordPress in Bluehost
Bluehost makes it super simple to install a WordPress website. Here’s how you do it:
1. Log in to the Bluehost dashboard and click on cPanel:
2. Find the “Website Builders” section and click on WordPress:
3. Click on the green “Start” button:
4. Select the domain you wish to use as a WordPress site, and then install it:
5. Create your WordPress login information:
6. Yay! You’ve installed WordPress!
Step 8: Create a new theme using Genesis
If you do decide to go with a professional theme, here’s a step-by-step guide to setting up the Genesis Framework and a child theme on your site:
1. Go to StudioPress.com and click “Shop for Themes.”
2. Find a child theme you like, scroll over it, and click on “See Details and Pricing.”
3. Click on “Buy Theme + Framework.”
4. On the next screen, you’ll create your account and payment details. Once you’ve completed your registration and payment, click on “My StudioPress” and then “Downloads.”
5. Scroll down to the themes you have purchased and click the blue download button for both the Genesis Framework and your new child theme.
6. Once the download is complete, save the .zip files where you know you can find them. Next, log in to your WordPress dashboard and click “Appearance” and then “Themes.”
7. Click “Add New.”
8. Click “Upload Theme.”
9. Click “Choose File,” choose the .zip files you saved earlier, and click “Install Now.” You’ll need to download the Genesis Framework file first, then the child theme file.
10. Once you have both the Genesis Framework and your child theme files uploaded, click again on “Appearance” and “Themes.”
11. Find the child theme you want, click “Activate,” and your child theme is now live. Click on “Customize” to begin customizing the look and feel of your website.
You’ll need to play around with your child theme’s settings in order to get it to look the way you want. It may take a little time to get it just right, but in the meantime, you’ll have a fully functioning website.
Now that you’ve created a platform to share your passion and your stories, it’s time to get busy creating. While starting a blog from scratch can seem overwhelming, the important thing to remember is that you have to start somewhere.
Sure, it may be frustrating when your website has just a few articles, but everything worth doing takes time. And if you pour your heart and soul into it, you can quickly build a portfolio of posts and stories you can be proud of.
Turning Your Blog Into a Business
After all of this work, most people hope to get something in return. This begs the question, “Can you really make money blogging?”
Most blogs make money in one of three ways: displaying advertisements, linking to other affiliated sites, or selling a product. The first two are the relevant ones here, so we’ll focus on those.
Display Ads and Google Adsense
Display advertisements are those banner ads and box ads that you see on many sites, including The Simple Dollar. Generally, these ads pay you a fraction of a penny each time they’re displayed. You usually earn a “CPM” rate from these ads – this refers to how much you make for every thousand views of an ad. In other words, you’ll earn that much each time 1,000 pages are viewed on your blog.
There are a number of different ad networks with different rates, but many are closed networks, meaning you have to be invited in. The biggest ad network, however, is basically open to everyone. It’s called Google Adsense. Adsense pays a relatively low rate for their ads, but it’s generally the best option for beginners.
Another way to earn money is through affiliate links. For example, let’s say you’re talking about a book and you decide to link to that book on Amazon.com. Amazon has a program – called Amazon Associates – where those links can earn you a little bit of money.
In Amazon’s case, it works by giving you a tool to generate a customized link to that book on Amazon that includes a special code. When a reader clicks that link, they get the ordinary Amazon page, but then you earn a small reward if they decide to buy anything during their visit, usually a percentage of their total purchase.
So, let’s say you have an affiliate link on your site to buy a book and someone follows that link. If they buy a $10 book and you’re earning a 4% commission, you’ll earn $0.40. But if they also toss a $50 video game into their cart and buy that, too, you’re now earning $2.40. With enough Web traffic, you can see how it ads up.
There are many different affiliate programs online. Depending on what you’re writing about, you can dig around and find ones relevant to you. However, since Amazon sells just about everything, their program is relevant to just about anyone.
What Can You Really Earn?
How much you can earn depends on many, many factors, but the biggest factor is the number of readers you attract. The more readers, the more you’re going to earn.
When you first start, you should be able to earn $2 or $3 per thousand page views on your site. However, with limited content, it’s hard to get that many page views. You might only generate that many in the first month or two of your site’s existence, meaning your first weeks of slaving away over posts might not even cover the cost of your domain name.
Later on, once you have lots of articles, you may be generating a few thousand page views a day. Plus, your CPM rate — your earnings per thousand views — might be raised as your site grows more successful. When your site starts earning $10 or more each day, day in and day out, it feels pretty darn good. It just takes a while to get there.
However, sometimes, your site will just click and you’ll do far better than that. The thing is, it’s incredibly hard to predict whether that will happen. Just keep writing the best stuff you can and sharing it on social media to reach new audiences.
Surviving the ‘Valley of Death’ and Finding Long-Term Success with Your Blog Business
As with every endeavor, the first few weeks are really exciting. You’re posting articles and people are actually reading them!
After that, it becomes quite hard. I call this period the “valley of death” because many people abandon their blogs in this time frame.
What happens is that your site’s readership isn’t growing very fast, but the “newness” of writing has worn off. You begin to feel frustrated because you didn’t gain any readers over the last week or even lost a few. It’s not the runaway hit you dreamed about.
The Long Tail
The truth is that success for most blogs actually comes from the “long tail.” In other words, they don’t necessarily build a huge active readership for a very long time. Instead, they build up lots and lots of visitors from Google or other search engines because of their extensive archives of articles.
When you reach this point, there are a lot of search terms that match your site in Google, so you get a healthy number of visitors coming in from the search engine all the time. You also have a lot of other articles for those visitors to look at, so they might stick around for a while (especially if your articles link to each other). This generates more ad views and also provides more opportunity for visitors to click on those affiliate links.
Most people never have the patience to reach this point, however. They give up because they don’t earn much from their first 10 or 30 articles. Unless you’re very lucky, those first articles won’t earn you much — until months or years later, when they start to bring in search traffic.
It builds, but it builds slowly. You’ll need patience.
Don’t Sweat the Stats
It’s easy to get obsessed with your site’s statistics. For a long time, I looked at them on an hourly basis. Now? I basically don’t even look at them.
Why? They don’t really matter. The stats don’t really help you make your site better. What makes your site better is writing good stuff that people want to read.
As your site becomes popular, your posts will start attracting comments. Some of them are going to be negative.
The problem with negative comments is that most of the time comments are anonymous. You have no idea whether the person is actually expressing a real concern or they’re just trying to evoke a response from you. There are a lot of people online who get a strange joy out of provoking bloggers in their comment section by posting negative or absurd things.
You cannot let this bother you or it will eat you alive. If someone posts a negative comment, the best suggestion is to completely ignore it. Responding is almost always a mistake.
Yes, sometimes negative comments do point out a genuine problem with something you’re writing about, but when there’s a genuine problem, a genuine commenter can find a polite way of discussing it without personally attacking you or other commenters and without using negative language. When people do those things, they’re just looking for a response. Don’t let those truly negative people bother you, because their negativity usually has nothing at all to do with you. It’s their own problems boiling to the surface.
If you find that it’s too problematic or upsetting, don’t hesitate to turn off the comment section on your site. You can carry on discussions in other places, such as Twitter or via email.
Success from blogging comes down to consistency above all else. At first, the time invested will not seem worth it in terms of earnings, so it makes sense to choose a topic you enjoy writing about.
However, if you stick with it and survive the “valley of death,” blogging can earn you a nice little side income that will continue to grow for as long as you choose to write.
Starting a Blog: Frequently Asked Questions
How much does it cost to start a blog?
Starting a website is fairly inexpensive if you don’t pay for all the bells and whistles at first. Most of the time, all you’ll need to start your hobby is a domain ($2.99 – $12.99) and monthly hosting ($3.95 per month and up).
If you want a professional theme, you’ll usually need to fork over around $100. As you get the ball rolling, you’ll find the biggest investment you need to make is with your time, not money.
What ongoing costs will I need to pay?
When you buy your domain, you’ll have the option of purchasing it for one year or several. No matter what you choose to do, you’ll need to renew your domain every few years at minimum. This isn’t a huge consideration since domains generally cost less than $20, but it’s definitely worth keeping in mind. Other than that, you’ll just need to pay your monthly hosting fee to BlueHost or whichever host you choose.
How much time investment is involved?
Blogging is just like any other hobby; you can spend as little or as much time on it as you want. To build a blog as a business, however, you should expect to spend several hours per week at minimum.
If you get really involved, you could wind up spending considerably more time than that. It all depends on your personal desires and abilities.
Who should create a blog? Who shouldn’t?
Starting a blog is a good idea for anyone who needs a creative outlet, wants to keep track of their personal or family journey online, or hopes to build a website that will grow into a business.
Likewise, a blog might be a bad idea for someone who has little time to spend on a side hustle, not to mention anyone who dislikes writing or is uncomfortable with technology.