Thinking you might want to start a blog? Maybe you have a story to tell. Maybe God is calling you to share your experience by teaching – about the Bible, crafts, cooking, parenting, you name it. Maybe you just want to build up your writing skills.
I've started a few blogs over the years, on different platforms, with different purposes, and to different levels of success. I'm not a beginning writer, but I'm still really a beginner at making this a business! So I want to share with you my boots-on-the-ground, beginner's analysis of the resources out there, the ones I use or have used, and where they might fit in your own journey. The most important thing I can tell you, though, is to just start. You have to write to get good at writing. (Shocking, I know). It will take time to find your voice. Like me, your first attempt might not be the thing you were meant to write about, or you may not be targeting the right audience at first. The only way to figure that out is to start.
This page contains affiliate links – they sure help to pay off those student loans! For more information, please see my disclosure page.
Start Small and Grow
If your goal is to make money with your blog, you don't need to put in a ton of expense up front, but you do need to invest a little bit for your website. You CAN start a blog for free, but if you do, you won't own the platform or have control over things like ads. I do suggest trying to keep your expenses down as much as you can at first, until you have a plan, so that you don't just spend money with no direction and no income. Trust me. Everything I have listed below came from a mistake that I made getting started.
Below I have listed what you will need to get started, and at the bottom of the page, I have linked to a list of my favorite resources for learning to build a blog business and tools to grow your blog business later.
What you need to Start a Blog (The Basics)
#1 Don't Start a Blog Without a Budget ($0)
Yep. You need to start with a budget. While you're in the beginning phases, you probably won't have any income right away. In fact, you're still figuring out what those streams of income are, so your budget isn't going to be totally filled out yet. But you need to do your research and decide how much you are willing to invest before you start making a profit. It can be an amount you have set aside today, or a certain amount per month, but decide in advance. Trust me on this – I didn't do this the first time around and I really regretted it. Making that decision ahead of time will force you to make choices about where and how you spend your money; it will force you to get creative to find better solutions than just throwing money at a problem.
Business Bank Account ($0)
Yes, you need a separate bank account when you start a blog. This will be really important later for tax purposes (and also to tell if you are making a profit!). If your business and personal expenses are all mixed up, you are going to create major chaos. So once you have your budgeted start-up funds ready to go, transfer them to your new business bank account. Learn from my mistakes…I'm still finding business bills that accidentally got renewed against my personal checking account because I didn't do this ahead of time.
Eventually you will want three accounts: a checking account and two savings accounts, one for retained earnings and one for taxes. You can start with just the checking account until you are making a profit, or you can set them all up from the start. Make sure that the accounts have no fees. They don't necessarily need to be “business accounts” according to the bank (although if they are it will make it easier later if you have employees). The most important thing is 1) separate from person finances and 2) no fees.
This is for your operating expenses. When you get paid, it will go in here, and when you pay bills or purchase supplies, etc., you will pay from this account. Look for a free account with a debit card. For most bloggers, an online bank (I use Spark Business from Capital One) is fine, but if you are doing business where people will be paying you in cash you'll want a bank with a local branch so you can easily make deposits. Some online banks allow you to withdraw from ATMs but don't have a way for you to deposit cash except at the branch.
Savings: Retained Earnings
This account is for your emergency fund and future expenses. Once you start to make a profit, ideally you would contribute a percentage of your profits to this account each month until you have 3-6 months of expenses there. If you have a planned expense that you need to save up for, you would also put that here so that it doesn't get moved around with your operating expenses.
When you work a regular job, your employer deducts your taxes from your paycheck. When you are self-employed, you need to do that for yourself, as you will be required to pay quarterly tax estimates based on your profits. The rule of thumb is 25%. So if you decide to pay yourself $1000, you would transfer $750 to your personal funds (=your paycheck) and transfer $250 to your tax savings account. That way you have it ready to go for those quarterly estimates.
I made the mistake at first of using the same PayPal account for personal and business. A few times I accidentally paid something or got paid to the wrong debit card. Go easy on yourself. Set up a separate PayPal account for your new business and only link it to your business checking.
Domain ($12.99 or more)
Your domain is your website's web address (Example: realworldbiblestudy.com). I purchase all my domains through Hover, and .com domains are usually $12.99 for the first year and $14.99 to renew (sometimes you can get them for less with a discount). If you aren't sure what to pick, try using your name for now. At $12.99 a pop, if you need to change it later it isn't financially a big deal and you can just redirect the old one to the new one. Abby Lawson has some great advice about picking a great domain name in her Building a Framework course.
When you're ready to buy your domain, you can use this link to get $2 off your first purchase at Hover.
Web Hosting (varies, $3.95-$12.95/month)
Since you don't have a web server in your garage, you'll need a service provider that will host your website on the internet. It matters who you go with – you don't just want the cheapest out there. While you can change later, it is a little bit of a pain and there will be downtime on your site. When you start a blog, you are looking for a provider with good pricing, good speed and security, and phenomenal customer service, especially if you are new at this. I personally recommend Siteground. Their customer service is AMAZING. I'm not a web designer and sometimes something breaks and I don't know how to fix it, but they are really great about helping me out. They are responsive and super friendly and they get the job done. As of the writing of this page (August 2018), the StartUp Plan is discounted to $3.95/month.
One of the most important things you will do as a blogger is build an email list. This is one of the best ways to build relationships with your customers and even sell to them. You may collect Facebook followers all day long, but you don't own their contact information, so if Facebook changes their rules or goes away, it's not yours. If you need to change email service providers, the contact information belongs to you and you can take it with you.
I personally use MailerLite for a few reasons. It is very user friendly, gives you the ability to create sales landing pages rather than paying for another tool to do this, they have great customer service, and…you get the full features on the free plan (up to 1,000 subscribers). This means you don't have to pay for your email service until it is big enough to be making you some money. This is a huge deal for us bloggers = small business owners. All these little startup costs. This is one you don't need to pay right away when you start a blog. You can sign up for free here. Note that to prevent spam, MailerLite requires you to have some basic content on your website before they will make your account active. Don't worry about getting everything together to meet this requirement. Just put together your About page and your first blog post for now. You're going to want your email set up while you're working on the website later.
PO Box (optional but recommended, $84/year + key deposit)
In the US, when you use an email service for your business such as MailerLite, federal law requires you to include an address in the footer. It needs to be a real address (you can't just make one up). Most of us bloggers are not working out of an office, so if you are not comfortable using your personal home address on every email you send, you will need a PO box. If you want to avoid this expense when you first start a blog, you'll have to use your home address. Right now (August 2017), the smallest PO box is available for $84/year + a small key deposit, or you can pay monthly. That might vary by location. Once you have that PO box set up, go ahead and use it as your business for everything that you can (your bank will probably require your home address even if they use your PO box for a mailing address). It will help you set some boundaries between your personal and business life, which is tough for those of us working from home!
Platform and Theme (cost varies)
It's finally time to start making that website look like…well, a website! To start a blog, you will need a platform to build it with. The most popular one is WordPress, and there will be instructions inside your SiteGround portal to install WordPress on your site.
WordPress itself is free, but that's just the bones. A “theme” is the skin, what makes it look pretty and easy to navigate. Your site will come with a default WordPress theme, and there are tons of free ones out there to get started. I recommend, though, that you save up for a paid theme as soon as you can. A paid theme will give you much more flexibility and a better appearance, and the theme provider should be able to provide great service to help you get set up as well.
I use the Genesis theme with a Restored316 child theme (the Real World Bible Study site has Captivating currently installed. I'm in the process of migrating The Cafe Scholar site to Captivating as well but it currently still has the old theme.). Using a child theme basically means I can switch out the appearance but have the basic structure stay the same. Restored316 has a great Facebook group and great service by the owner and her team to help you out. You can take this quiz to decide which of her themes is best for you. To install the Genesis theme (get 25% off with this link) and a Restored316 child theme you are looking at a one-time cost of $134.95. (Read about why Genesis is the foundation of any smart WordPress design here.)
Learn the Basics
I don't recommend you go blow a whole bunch of money on courses…you will find that you bite off more than you can chew, both financially and informationally. Can you say information overload? Instead, you want to get the right courses at the right time in your blogging journey to learn what you need for that moment. When you first start out, I really recommend Abby Lawson's Building a Framework course ($97). This course will walk you through everything you need to know as a beginning blogger without overwhelming you. In fact, I still refer back to it! If you're not ready to invest in paying for a course yet, you can check out the FREE course, Launch a Blog that Thrives.
I highly recommend that as you start a blog, you learn everything you can about blogging, SEO, and online business. Here I have a directory of some of my favorite courses, membership programs, blogs, books, and podcasts for you to learn the business.
The tools I have listed above are the basics to get you going as you start a blog. But as you grow, especially if you are one person like me, you will find that there are some more free and paid tools to help you accomplish more in less time. I have shared my thoughts on these resources here.