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My decision to start blogging on the side of my day job, building relationships with influencers in my industry is what propelled me into a six-figure freelance business working with clients like LinkedIn, Zendesk, Google, Intuit and more. On top of that, my blog has also helped me generate thousands of dollars in passive income each month, book interviews with some of the world’s top entrepreneurs for my podcast, and forge partnerships with several of them.
Whether you’re trying to build a freelance business, launch a personal brand or earn a living from blogging, there’s nothing I would recommend more than challenging yourself to learn how to start blogging today—and at the very least, it can lay the foundation for countless opportunities to come.
Let’s get one thing out of the way first: the only thing standing in the way of starting your own blog is you. It’s easy to say that you don’t have time or you’re tired from work or that it’s too much effort. But that effort is what makes starting a blog so worth it.
When I spoke to Preston Lee, the founder of Millo.co, for an episode of my podcast, he told me that he started his blog on the train commute to and from his day job. He had 40 minutes each way, and he used that time to write, design and create his blog, which now brings in upward of $15,000 a month in sponsorship revenue.
Yes, Preston did a lot of things right. But what it all comes down to is that he started in the same place you likely are right now. He committed to creating his blog. That commitment is something that we’ll talk a lot about here.
The most popular, successful and profitable blogs in 2018 are all run by people who care deeply about the subject matter they’re writing about. They’re committed and excited to post. They know that running a blog is an investment that will only bring them greater returns the more they keep at it.
And as long as you’re on the same page, your blog will be a success, too. So, let’s dive into the first step of blogging.
Find your niche and decide what to blog about
You don’t read a blog because it looks nice. You don’t read a blog because it publishes frequently. You read a blog because you care about what it says.
Before you go down the road of deciding everything your blog is going to do and what it’s going to look like, you need to answer one simple question: Why?
To answer that question, I like to think of a blog like any other online business and first pick a niche.
What is a niche? And why does your blog need one?
A niche is more than just a topic. It’s the approach you’re going to take, the audience you want to go after, and the way in which you’re going to position yourself as an expert.
A niche doesn’t have to be your passion (although it’s definitely easier to stay committed to starting your blog when you’re passionate about it). But it does have to be an interest of yours. The best niches are exciting enough that you’ll be motivated to continually post about it, and accessible enough that you can build an audience.
The reason your blog needs a niche is that it gives it focus. Your niche is how you’ll plan your content calendar, decide on design, and know where (and how) to market your blog. It’s also how your audience will find you and how you’ll make connections with other bloggers.
Remember, when you write to everyone, you’re writing to no one.
Taking it a step further: How to know if there’s a business opportunity for your niche
If you want to make money from blogging, you’ll also want to do a bit of research to see if there is a market demand for your niche.
What this means is: Are people actively searching for what you’re writing about? And can you add value and help them in a way that makes you money?
In order to create a business from your blog, you need to solve a problem for people. To do this, I use a simple spreadsheet I call the Niche Market Demand Checker (you can grab a copy of it in my free course, How to Build a Profitable Blog in 7 Days).
Take the niche that you’re thinking about and come up with five to 10 keyword phrases or topics within that niche that you would write about.
So, if you wanted to start a blog about playing guitar, you might choose keywords like “best guitar books,” “how to play guitar,” “beginner guitar chords,” “what guitar should I buy” and so on.
Now, enter one of those keywords into your Google search. If there are tens of millions (or more) results, that’s a pretty strong indicator that people care about your topic. But to be extra sure, I like to use a tool like SEMrush to check the Monthly Search Volume (how many people are searching for this term each month).
Do this for each of your keywords and look at the results. If all of your top keywords have a Monthly Search Volume of 5,000 to 10,000, you’ve got a potentially profitable niche.
If you’re too much over that up into the high hundreds of thousands of Monthly Searches, you might want to get more specific with your niche.
Choose a blogging platform (CMS)
Now that you know what you’re going to blog about, it’s time to get into the nitty gritty of setting up your actual blog. This is where you might start to feel a little friction with the process of building a blog.
If you’re completely new to blogging, some of this might seem a bit daunting, so let’s get the basic terminology out of the way first.
What is a CMS?
A Content Management System, or CMS, is where you’ll write, design and publish your blog posts. A good CMS is easy to use, lets you organize your content, upload images and videos, and have control over how your entire blog looks using themes or custom design elements.
The most popular CMS you’ve most likely heard of is WordPress, which is what I use on my blog. In fact, the latest numbers say that over 60 percent of all blogs run on this CMS, including the websites for Forbes, New York Observer, TED, Thought Catalog, TechCrunch, NBC and others.
Should I start my blog on WordPress? And is WordPress free?
Of course, there are other CMS options you can look at, such as Squarespace, Ghost and Wix.
However, I strongly recommend setting up a self-hosted WordPress site for your blog, as it’s the most sustainable, long-term solution—and really the only option worth considering if you’re blogging with the eventual goal of making money from your website in some way, shape or form.
Plus, with WordPress, the CMS is 100 percent free. You’ll just have to pay the one-time fee for registering your domain name and then the ongoing monthly costs for whichever WordPress hosting plan makes the most sense for the amount of traffic you’re driving.
Pick your blog’s name, domain and hosting provider
Next, it’s time to pick a name for your blog and make sure that your (future) readers out there are able to find it.
There are two sections to this step that we’re going to cover: Picking a name for your blog and buying a domain name. Let’s start with the slightly more technical part first.
What is a domain name and where do I get one?
In a nutshell, a domain name is like your address. It tells people (and web browsers) where to find your site. If you’re using a free blogging service, you’ll most likely get to pick your own domain name with it. However, it will almost always have the company’s name attached to it.
So, if you use a free Wix site to make your blog, your domain name will look like this: Yoursitename.wixsite.com
Ugh. Not very nice, right? If you’re trying to build a business around your blog, or want other people to take it seriously, this isn’t a great start. Instead, when you buy a domain name, you get to choose exactly what you want it to be as long as it’s available.
You can buy your domain name from a number of companies like Bluehost, GoDaddy and Namecheap. Most charge a relatively low yearly fee of $10 to $20.
How to pick the right name for your blog
The name you choose is one of the more important parts of setting up your blog. This is the first thing people see when you show up in search results and can often tell them about who you are, what you’re writing about and even your personality.
There are tons of ways to come up with a name for your blog, so let’s run through a few fun exercises to help you pick a name.
The first thing you want to do, is get familiar with other people in the space (if you’re not already).
Check out the other blogs in your niche and pay special attention to how they name and brand themselves. Is there anything you can learn from, play off of, or subvert? Don’t just think about the biggest bloggers in your niche, but look for fresh inspiration and things that stand out to you.
You can even get a little outside your niche and look for words that some of your favorite companies use. I like to call this looking for “good words.” What words keep popping up that you’re drawn to? Make a list of these.
Go back to your list from picking a niche and start to dig into what represents what you’re trying to say.
Finding a hosting provider
The last of the technical parts of launching a blog is finding a blog hosting service. To make your website accessible to other people on the internet, you need a “host.” The host keeps all of your website files safe and secure, and makes sure that people can access your site when they click on a link or type in your URL.
What are the best blog hosting services?
There are tons of great website hosting services out there, but what you should be looking for in all of them is:
- Track record
Choose one of the major (affordable) hosting providers like Bluehost, GoDaddy or Namecheap that have been around for years and provide competitive pricing, features and security.
What comes next?
After you’ve published your blog, it’s time to start laying the foundation for creating compelling content that’ll attract (and delight) your readers.
Remember, if you want people to read your content, you need to give them a reason to. Write exciting content, connect with people in the space and enthusiastically share what you’re working on.
Stay tuned for the next installment of this series, when I’ll be talking about how to do exactly that.