I’m not exaggerating when I say that learning how to start a blog has completely changed my life.
Here’s the short version of my story…
I was working as a high school band director and started working on this site in the evenings and weekends. Then, after six months of blogging, I quit my steady day job to blog full-time. Three months later, I was outperforming my teaching income. And just four years after that, I’m regularly earning around $75,000/month, and my best month so far was over $155,000!
I’ll admit that my blogging journey is not the norm for most bloggers. It was part luck, part having a good story (paying off $40,000 of student loans in 18 months), and part strategy (more on this shortly). I also took a huge risk by quitting my teaching job after earning just $3 from my site… don’t do this.
Every blogger I know has a slightly different story and timeline, and there are still lots of opportunities online and money to earn when you learn how to start a blog.
Blogging is a long game, though. Most bloggers spend months earning zero to not much at all.
But the reason it’s worth that time and energy investment is because there is literally nothing like earning money from your blog. As long as you have an internet connection and a computer, you can make money anywhere, and the earning potential is nearly limitless.
Blogging can = freedom.
It’s allowed my wife to retire. We built a beautiful house. I have multiple businesses. I’ve traveled more in the past couple of years than I have in my entire life. And we do it all while living debt-free.
If you’re interested in learning how to start a blog, I’m going to take you through 8 simple steps that will teach you how to start a WordPress blog hosted on Bluehost. We are going to start from the very beginning of picking a topic and work our way to the most effective way to drive traffic to your blog.
I’m also going to tell you about five blogging mistakes that I made… they were bad.
How to start a blog in 2020 in 8 easy-to-follow steps
Step 1: Find your blogging voice and message
This step is all about knowing what you’re going to blog about. And if you think you already know, please stick around and read through this step because picking a topic is more nuanced than you might expect.
Here’s what I mean… finding your voice is all about defining your audience from the start of your blog.
This is so freaking important because blogging isn’t about reaching as many people as possible. It’s about reaching the right people.
Reaching the right people starts with a clearly defined focus. Then you can expand your message, not the other way around.
Let’s take two brand new baby personal finance bloggers:
- Blogger A starts writing about all things money-related — budgeting apps, investing, side hustles, credit scores, etc.
- Blogger B starts a blog that tells people how they paid off their $25,000 credit card debt in 7 months.
Blogger B is going to find an audience for their site much faster than Blogger A because they’ve narrowed down the focus of a much larger topic. And when bloggers start with a niche topic, they become an expert on that specific area. People will want to come to you for support, advice, guidance, commiseration, etc.
But Bobby, how do I pick that niche topic?
Ha, I figured you’d ask that! Here are some ways to form your blog’s message:
- Pick a topic that you really enjoy talking about. If you’re excited about something, that’s going to show up in your writing. It’s also a heck of a lot easier to write extensively on a topic when you enjoy it.
- Pick a topic that you know a lot about. Sharing your wealth of knowledge with others is an awesome thing, and you’re establishing yourself as an expert that your readers can trust.
- Blog about a skill or topic you’re learning about. On the flip side, you don’t have to be an expert in your topic. People love connecting through learning experiences.
Once you have a foundation for your blog’s topic, you can niche down by defining your audience.
Think about what kind of readers you want to share your blog with? What specific things are you going to help them with?
If you take this site as an example, I started with the topic of personal finance because I genuinely enjoy learning about it, but I niched down to personal finance advice for millennials because I saw so many of my peers struggling with their student loan debt, saving, etc.
The oldest posts on this site are a lot different from the new ones, and because as M$M has grown, I’ve expanded the scope of my blog.
Step 2: How to start a blog in 3 steps
While this entire article is about learning how to start a blog, Step #2 is specifically about the technical side of starting a blog — selecting hosting services so you can get your blog online.
If this already sounds complicated, it isn’t. You don’t need to be a computer wizard if you want to learn how to start a blog, and it’s also not going to cost you a ton of money to start your site.
Actually, starting a blog is one of the most affordable business models because you can start a successful blog for under $3/month, and you can have total control over your content.
Paying for hosting services with Bluehost is my favorite option for new bloggers because it’s designed specifically for bloggers who are just starting out but still want to take their blogs seriously and make money. Here’s why:
- Bluehost has a ton of themes to choose from that will make your blog look professional without paying for web design services.
- You’re going to get stellar customer service.
- You get a free domain name for the first year.
- WordPress is included with Bluehost (more on why this is so valuable in just a minute).
But, the most important reason to pay for hosting services is because you will own the content you put on your site.
Free hosting services can own your content and control how you monetize your site. Nope, no thanks. If you're putting this much into learning how to start a blog, it should be your rules, your content, period.
Now that you know why we’re going with Bluehost, back to learning how to start a blog…
Bluehost has three different pricing plans, and I recommend the Basic plan for new bloggers. It’s only $2.95/month when you sign up through my exclusive M$M link.
2. Register your domain name
After you’ve selected Basic, you’re going to see this screen pop up:
Your domain name is your site’s web address, so it’s how people will find you. I see a lot of new bloggers get hung up here. I’m going to give you some tips on picking a domain name, but If it’s preventing you from starting a blog, skip this step and come back later.
How to pick a domain name
My biggest piece of advice for picking a domain name is to keep it simple, and here are four tips for an awesome domain name:
- Easy to remember
- Easy to spell
- Gives people an idea of what your blog is about
- Stick with a .com domain name, not a .net or .whatever stuff
When you enter your awesome new blog name in Bluehost, you’ll see if that domain name is available or not. If not, don’t panic. It took me a few tries to land on millennialmoneyman.com. But I think it’s worked out pretty well 🙂
3. Create an account
You’ll use your account to log in and out of Bluehost, but for the purpose of this step, it’s also how you pay for hosting services.
You do have to pay for your blog hosting package upfront to get the special pricing. Basic is $60/year if you go with 12 months, but you get a much better value at $2.95/month if you choose the 36-month option.
Bluehost is going to ask you if you want any extras, but remember that one of my biggest tips, when you’re learning how to start a blog, is to keep things simple. You don’t need all of those extras right now, but I do recommend adding on the Domain Privacy Protection, which keeps all of your contact information hidden. Well worth the $12/year IMO.
The final part is entering your payment information, and bam — you’ve just started your very own blog!
Step 3: Install WordPress and make your blog look awesome
If you’re interested in skipping this step and have someone set your blog up for you (for free), click here to jump down to “Want help setting up your blog?”
First, let’s talk a little bit about WordPress…
There are two different kinds of WordPress — WordPress.org and WordPress.com.
WordPress.org is what you want, and it’s what comes free with Bluehost. It offers more robust tools for bloggers to customize their sites, which is why I’ve continued using it for this site.
When you start a blog on WordPress.org, you are in complete control of your content. That’s not the case with WordPress.com.
But the biggest reason that WordPress.com is so popular is because the WordPress platform allows you to make money. It has a lot of features that aren’t available on other platforms, especially the free ones, and all of these features are fully integrated with Bluehost.
Bottom line: wordpress.org > wordpress.com
Now, here’s how to install WordPress on your Bluehost hosted blog:
- Log back into Bluehost.
- Name your site if you haven’t done it yet.
- Tell Bluehost a little about your site so they can recommend the right plug-ins for your goals.
- Bluehost will ask you to pick a theme for your site. Don’t spend too much time here, just pick the one you like the most. You can always change your theme down the line.
- Click the “Start Building” button on the message that pops up.
- You’ll be taken to your WordPress dashboard where you’ll choose a business or personal site. Choose which applies to you or “I don’t need help.”
- Your blog will remain offline until you click the “Launch” button on your WordPress dashboard.
A few notes on picking a theme…
Remember, don’t get hung up on picking a theme. I’ve changed the look of my site a few times since starting, and you’ll eventually land on something that you really love. Drag and drop themes do make it easier to customize your site, but keep it simple!
When you’re learning how to start a blog, the design is way less important than the content your creating.
Should you use a free theme or pay for one?
When you’re just starting out, I don’t think you need to pay for a theme. You can get a lot of stuff up on your site, get comfortable with writing regular blog posts, etc., and then upgrade to a paid theme.
If you want to learn how to start a blog and make money, you’ll eventually want to pay for a theme. But you can work on growing your page views before you drop much more cash on your site.
Want help setting up your blog?
If this whole setting up your blog process seems like a lot, I’ve got you fam…
Launch That Blog is a free service I created in partnership with Bluehost after having so many people ask me questions about how to start a blog.
Starting a blog can be pretty intimidating… I know I felt this way at first… especially on the technical side. I put off starting my site for a few months because I was so intimidated by it, and this was after watching hours of YouTube tutorials and reading other blogs that explained how to start a site.
Knowing how awesome blogging is as a hobby, a side hustle, or business, I wanted to help future bloggers out. This is where my free service Launch That Blog comes in.
- My team will handle the entire installation process of your self-hosted WordPress blog and deliver it to you within two business days.
- We install our favorite customizable website theme so that your blog looks professional from Day 1.
- Launch That Blog installs the 10 essential plugins that every professional blog needs to have.
- You’ll receive four training resources, both video and PDF guides, where I show you exactly how to get a strong start and make money from your blog.
Launch That Blog also comes with this exclusive content:
- Creating Blog Posts in WordPress: A Step-By-Step Walkthrough
- The Key Ingredients to the Perfect Post (Step-By-Step Video Guide)
- The Professional Blogger’s Toolkit
- The Blueprint to Building a Profitable Blog
- Facebook Ads 101 Training For Bloggers
- BONUS: How to Customize Your Blog — My web developer for Millennial Money Man has put together a special bonus training showing you exactly how to customize your theme to make your blog look great in minutes!
Learn more about Launch That Blog at How to Start a Blog With Launch That Blog.
Step 4: Start building your audience
Back in the very beginning of this post, I mentioned that blogging isn’t about reaching the most people, because it’s about reaching the right people.
This step is all about finding the right people, what I call your true fans.
These are the readers who are going to love every piece of content you put out. They’re going to share your blog posts, follow you on social media, purchase the products you recommend or sell, etc.
And you’re going to start with a goal of reaching your first 1,000 true fans.
You’re going to have to work for those true fans, but it’s not as hard as it sounds with the strategies I’m about to cover.
Here’s how to start building your audience:
- Pick one social media source and master it. This needs to be something other than Facebook (like Twitter, Instagram, etc.). You’ll want to start an account for your site, and you’ll be using it to share your content, connect with readers, etc. I’m going to cover more about this in step #6.
- Try the “Oprah approach.” This is having other experts (bloggers) come on your site and write content for you. It’s more content to share, increased exposure, and shared value.
- Post on a regular schedule. You don’t need to post every day of the week… it’s an easy way to burn out, but 1-2 posts per week is a good goal. Make sure you do it on the same days each week.
Step 5: Learn how to make money with your blog
If you want to learn how to start a blog with the goal of making money, pay attention to this step!
But first, let me be clear about something… blogging is not a get-rich-quick business. Blogging is a long game. It can legitimately take 3-6 months to start making money from your site.
And, a lot of bloggers fail in the first year because they stop blogging too soon, usually right before their site could have blown up. If I had stopped when I was feeling like my blog wasn’t going anywhere, I would never have been featured on CNBC or Forbes. I never would have started a second business. I never would have hit a six-figure income month.
“Making it” as a successful blogger is much more about the effort you put into your site than your level of talent.
Now, let’s talk about the most common ways to make money with your blog.
People always get confused when I talk about this as a way to make money through your blog, but hear me out…
After you learn how to start a blog, it can take a while to start making any money. That’s why I recommend using your blog to find freelance clients to start generating income quickly.
Here are a few different freelance services you can offer through your site:
- Freelance writing. You can write posts for other bloggers, for websites, etc. Your blog makes for a good portfolio of your work.
- Managing Pinterest accounts. Learning how to become a Pinterest virtual assistant can net you around $500 per month/per client.
- Running Facebook ads for local businesses. This is exactly the service I offered when I started blogging, and I wound up making $3,500+ each month running ads.
- Web design. This is an in-demand skill that pairs well with blogging.
- Copy-editing/proofreading. If you nerd out on grammar and punctuation, you can provide valuable services to other bloggers, business owners, etc. Learn more at How to Work as a Proofreader.
You’ll need to put a “Hire Me” or “Work With Me” button on your blog so people can find your services and hire you.
Affiliate marketing is when you work with a company to promote their services or products. You’re given a special link to use on your site, and when someone purchases something through that link, you make a conversion and get paid.
A lot of bloggers think of this as super passive income — once you’ve written the content and placed the links, you don’t have to worry about it anymore.
However, that’s not true. Affiliate income is passive-ish. You’re not directly trading time for money, but you do have to maintain those links and articles, and keep driving traffic to them.
But here’s the most important thing to know about affiliate income: your affiliates must provide value to your readers. If you’re promoting products that don’t make sense to your readers, then you’re going to lose those true fans you worked so hard to get.
When you do affiliate marketing the right way, you can actually provide value by telling your readers about products and services that can improve their lives. It’s a win-win for both of you.
After my first year of blogging, I was making around $3,000-$4,000/month in affiliate income alone. Not only has my affiliate income increased, I also pay out over $150,000/year to affiliates that sell my courses.
If you want to learn more about affiliate marketing, I highly recommend Michelle Schroeder-Gardner’s course Making Sense of Affiliate Marketing. It lays out how to start, picking the right affiliates, maintaining relationships, and much more. Michelle is the boss of affiliate marketing, and regularly earns around $50,000/month in affiliate sales.
You can read my full review of her course at HONEST Making Sense of Affiliate Marketing Course Review.
I’m sure you’ve seen display ads before, and it’s how a lot of bloggers start earning money. You’ll see display ads on the top, bottom, or sides of a webpage. Bloggers make money when people click on those ads (called CPC or PPC) or by how many people see the ad (CPM or cost per impressions).
I don’t really recommend display ads until your traffic is closer to 50,000 views/month. That’s because they barely make any money for your site, while diminishing the quality of your blog. I recently got rid of display ads on M$M for that very reason, but can make sense for some bloggers.
When and if you are interested in display ads, you can connect with ad networks like Google Adsense, Mediavine, and AdThrive.
Learn even more ways to monetize your blog at How to Make Money Blogging (How I Went From Teacher to 7-Figure Online Business).
Social media can be a huge asset to any blogger, both brand new and seasoned ones. The problem most new bloggers face is that they try to do everything at once, then never really master anything.
While you can create accounts for your new blog on several different social media sites, you don’t have to be prolific on every platform in the beginning. However, you should make sure that you’re using the same handle across all platforms — this keeps your branding consistent and makes it easier for people to find you.
So, do you remember when I said that you need to pick one platform in the beginning? I want to cover the most popular options to help you decide where to focus your energy.
Twitter: Great for sharing hot takes and building perceived authority, but it’s easy to get lost on Twitter, so not great for driving traffic. It’s also a pretty loud platform overall.
Facebook: You can create awesome private groups around your site (here’s mine as an example), get a solid official page for your site to build authority, and if you pay for ads (more on this shortly), you can get a lot of traffic. The downside is that it’s hard to reach a lot of people without paying for traffic.
Instagram: It offers cool ways to build an engaged community around your brand, like using IG stories. Great for bloggers who want to advertise as an influencer. But, Instagram makes it difficult to share links, so it’s hard to drive traffic off of IG.
Pinterest and YouTube can be useful platforms too, but they’re not social media and require their own strategies. You can always create a handle and wait until you’re ready to use them.
Once you pick your preferred platform, create a ton of content and go hard with it, become prolific. And as long as you’re being yourself and true to your brand, you’ll be fine.
Step 7: Start growing your email list
You’ve already learned so much about how to start a blog, but we’re in the home stretch, so keep paying attention.
Your email list… this is a really important part of running any kind of online business, and that’s what your blog is. Right?
The people on your email list are going to convert at a higher rate than people that just stop by your blog from time to time. That’s because these people have given you permission to show up in their inbox.
More importantly, out of all of the ways you reach your readers (Facebook, Pinterest, Google, etc.) emails are the only one that you own. You don’t have control over what those other platforms do, but you do have control of your email list.
But how do you get people to sign up for your email list?
The answer is lead magnets.
A lead magnet is when you give someone something away for free in exchange for their email address. Your lead magnet needs to be highly valuable, and it needs to help your readers.
Here’s an example of one of my lead magnets:
I have several lead magnets on my site, but it only takes one when you first learn how to start a blog.
Your lead magnet should solve a problem for your audience. What do they struggle with? What do they need help doing? What are their pain points?
Let’s say you’re a food blogger… you could create an awesome guide that gives readers 10 recipes using the same 10 ingredients. A home decor blogger could create a lead magnet that shows 10 ways to make your house look beautiful without spending more than $100.
A reader signs up for your awesome freebie, you collect their address, your email service provider delivers the freebie to their inbox. Then, you can send them even more content in the future.
Wait, email service provider? What’s that?
Right, an email service provider (or ESP) is how you send emails and email sequences out to all of your readers.
I currently use ConvertKit because it’s made for bloggers, but you can start with a free service like Mailchimp, which is free for up to 2,000 email addresses. You can upgrade to a paid service once your list grows.
Step 8: Learn how to promote your blog on Facebook
Up until this point, you’ve learned how to start a successful blog… nice work! But, I still want to tell you about one more strategy — Facebook ads — knowing that it’s not something you should focus on in the very beginning.
The reason that running Facebook ads is not the best idea for new bloggers is because it’s making a bigger financial investment in your site. Don’t get me wrong, it’s entirely worth it, but most new bloggers don’t want to invest a lot in their sites in the beginning, and that’s okay!
Now, what are Facebook ads for bloggers?
Facebook’s algorithm has changed a lot in the past couple of years, and it’s gotten harder than ever to make a post, get some clicks, and watch it go viral. Facebook really requires that you “pay-to-play” now.
Posts can still gain some traction without running ads, but if you want to guarantee that your articles are going to be read and shared, then spending $5 here and there on Facebook ads might really speed up your growth.
Here’s one way to think about it… would you be willing to spend $5 to get 250 readers in a day? $20 for 1,000 new readers?
You don’t have to do this in the beginning, and I highly recommend that your site is up and running smoothly before paying for traffic… don’t forget that Launch That Blog is a free service to help you install, set-up, and get your site running.
Before you start using Facebook ads, you can share posts on your personal page, the page you create for your blog, etc. And make sure you interact with your readers. Click buttons, comment back, etc.
If you’re interested in learning more about Facebook ads, check out my Free FB Ads 101: Blogger Edition Training Video. You’ll learn how to set up your account, start running ads, and more.
5 blogging mistakes to avoid: Don’t do what I did!
I didn’t always know what I was doing on this site. I learned a lot by trial and error and finding help from others in the community. To help you be a better blogger than I was in the beginning, I’m going to share my five biggest blogging mistakes.
1. I didn’t start investing in my business soon enough
It’s hard to invest in something that isn’t giving you much of a return. That was my mindset when I learned how to start a blog.
I didn’t realize that to be successful, I needed to put some money into my site. Now that I invest in my site regularly — website design, legal stuff, freelance help, advertising, courses, etc. — I get how valuable these resources are.
The ROI (return on investment) makes sense for me now, and I make more money paying for products and services for my site than doing it on my own.
I’m not trying to tell you that you must spend money on your site in the very beginning (I wouldn’t do that unless it makes sense financially for you), but I am saying don’t put it off.
2. I didn’t post consistently
You’ve already read about the value in regular posting, but I cannot stress how important it is.
I know all about this because when I was in my fourth month of blogging, my site dropped from 20,000 to 4,000 page views/month after missing a few weeks of posting. It took me months to get back to where I was, and it was easily avoidable.
To avoid this, pick how many posts you can realistically put out a week, pick the days you’ll publish those posts (you can always write them in advance), and stick to that schedule.
3. I waited too long to start and grow my email list
I can’t tell you how many bloggers I hear this from. Seriously, find an email service provider — Convertkit is what I use, but MailChimp is free for under 2,000 emails — and get to work.
I hate “could-haves,” but I could have had so many more readers, more income, and now I’m playing catch-up.
4. I was focusing on other people, not myself
Don’t try to figure out how to be someone else, figure out how to be yourself.
Your blog is unique because it’s yours, not because you’ve successfully copied someone else’s model.
Learning how to start a successful blog is crafting a story that’s uniquely yours. People will come to you for your voice, message, and content. Being yourself is how you stand out, so go hard with it.
5. I wasn’t active in the blogging community
A lot of bloggers make the mistake of thinking that other bloggers are competition. They’re not. They are members of this wild community we work in, and we all have a lot to offer each other.
It can be hard to put yourself out there, but you can make some great friends online when you find others are active in the same niche as you. They can honestly motivate you to create even better content.
The final word on how to start a blog
I want to end where I started… learning how to start a blog changed my life.
It’s been a hard road at times, especially in the beginning, but I would do it over and over again. Okay, I would avoid those mistakes I just told you about.
I spent a lot of rough nights sitting at my in-laws' kitchen table when I started this site, but I knew that I wanted more than my current job was offering. That was my why, and it’s kept me going this entire time.
Starting a blog is like any other hard thing. You have to keep your eyes on your long-term goals when you’re feeling the struggle. Remember why you started your blog. Maybe it was to earn extra money, quit your day job, retire early, whatever!
As long as you’re willing to put in the work and not quit too soon, there’s room for your here online.