How to start a blog that actually makes money. Also, find a more detailed guide on how to start a blog and make money here.
1. Pick a niche and choose a name
The first step of starting a blog is to decide what you want to blog about!
Think about your passions, think about your talents. Think about the things you know how to do that others struggle with (or that you used to have no idea how to do, but are now really good at it!). What can you teach others? What are you good at?
Once you’ve decided on your topic, you will need to choose a name.
What subtopics will you discuss? If you are a fitness blogger you might want to talk about exercise routines, healthy recipes, and weight loss.
Take each of those subtopics and brainstorm a list of all the words that come to your mind when you think of that topic. Then combine them in different ways until you find a name you love.
2. Your domain name
Once you’ve landed on a name, you will need to purchase the domain name. Let me stop for a minute…
You WANT your blog to be self-hosted. If this is your hobby and you never want to make any money then feel free to use a free blog.
But if you want this to be your business and you want this blog to generate an income for you then you absolutely, 100% need this to be a self-hosted WordPress site.
That does NOT mean that it has to cost an arm and a leg. It’s super cheap, and buying a domain name is very inexpensive as well (our next step will discuss this further)
3. set up your hosting
Don’t be nervous if you don’t know these terms. Think of your domain name as your house- this is where your business lives. Now think of the “host” as your address where your house is located. You do not have to be super tech-savvy to set this up, I promise.
Self-hosted basically means that your blog is www.yourblogname.com instead of www.yourblogname.wordpress.com.
This means that you own your site, and more importantly; you can monetize your site however you want. When WordPress owns your site (via the free WordPress.com blogs) you won’t be able to use ads or other forms of monetization.
I highly recommend using Siteground. They are extremely affordable, starting at just $3.95/month (cheaper than almost all other hosts) and the service is outstanding. They are helpful and quick to answer questions and walk you through whatever help you need.
Choose a plan (the $3.95/month is fine for someone just starting out) and go through the process of adding your domain name.. I’ll include a video tutorial after the next step.
4. install WordPress
Again, this is super easy! When I first started, I paid almost $200 to have someone set this up for me. Don’t be like me! Turns out, it’s as easy as clicking a button!
Once you have your host account set up, log in to your C-panel. Scroll down until you see “Autoinstallers” and click on WordPress (also under “WordPress tools”). Click on “install now” and fill out the form with the domain that you want to install WordPress on. After you’ve filled out the form, click install!
It might take a minute or two, but once it’s installed you will receive your WordPress login and password. Easy right?
If you’re a visual learner like me, watch the video tutorial below!
5. making it pretty
Does your site need to be professional-looking? Yes! Do you need to obsess of every tiny detail to make it perfect right now, before you have any content? No!!!
I actually see this a lot! I know you want a pretty site. The best path is to either find a free theme you like or purchase a low cost pre-made theme like from Restored316 or 17th Avenue Designs. I love 17th Avenue because its pretty and super easy to set up with the instructions provided.
Free themes are difficult to set up to look like the demo and there aren’t usually any instructions, so you end up spending weeks of your time and hiring someone to do it anyway.
The key s to make it as easy to navigate and organized as possible. Anyone looking at your site should know how to find whatever they are looking for!
Now step away until you are making enough money to hire a designer!
6. install some plugins
Plugins are things you install in WordPress that essentially just make your life easier. They also do things like help grow your blog or protect it from being hacked. Here are the plugins that I consider essential:
1. Yoast SEO- this helps you optimize every post for SEO, which is what helps your site be found in google searches (increases traffic)
2. Google XML sitemap- helps google bots find you and indexes your site (increases traffic)
3. Jetpack- automatically posts new blog articles to all social media accounts (aka, saves me a TON of time)
4. Lockdown WP Admin- so, WordPress sites get hacked a lot. That’s because every site has the same login URL: yourblogname.com/wp-admin and all the spam bots have figured that out. This plugin lets you change that url to whatever you want so the bots can’t even get on your login page- works fantastic!
5. Shareaholic- social media share buttons, helps people easily share your articles!
6. WP Super cache- Caches your website so it loads faster and runs smoother
7. (Advanced) Thrive Landing Pages- Eventually, you want to invest in some landing page plugin, I like thrive. I bought the one-time purchase (most landing pages require monthly fees) so it saves me money in the long run and it’s easy to use.
It’s also easy to design in case you are worried about lack of graphic design ability! You don’t need this right away but it’s something to think about!
If you are really struggling with understanding WordPress, here’s a FREE class to help you learn how to work it a little bit better!
7. start writing
Another thing I hear a lot is “How many posts do I need to go live?”
Um, ONE. You need one post to go live. When you are just starting out, no one is going to see your blog anyway and that’s ok! You should still hit that publish button.
Here’s why: it takes a LONG time for google to see your site. It takes a long time to build up search engine optimization (which is what makes your site show up when someone googles your topic). If you wait until you have 20 posts written, your just making that process even longer.
I would, however, work on writing 10-15 pillar posts before you start promoting your site. Pillar content is the really good, really informative (usually pretty long) posts that solve your reader’s problem.
But to do that, you must know your reader (or Avatar, as it’s referred to in the blogging world)
8. know your avatar
I avoided doing this for so long and I’m not sure why. I guess I thought it was silly and didn’t see why it would help. DO NOT BE LIKE ME! An avatar is the ideal person that you give a name and background story to.
You go into almost creepy detail about their life. Their age, marital status, if they have kids, what they want out of life, what they are afraid of, what their problems are, what makes them excited, what they would pay anything for.
Mine is named Melissa and everything I do, and everything I write is for her. When you do this, not only does it make coming up with content (and products) easier, but it also naturally attracts your target audience.
Those are “your people” and they are the ones that will stick around. They will trust you and eventually buy your products or things you recommend because they know that you can help solve their problems!
Knowing your avatar’s pain points is the KEY to pillar content. These are the things they are really struggling with, things that they feel like no one can solve for them or that no one understands; but YOU do, and YOU can solve those problems. When they find that post, they will instantly be connected to you.
9. create graphics for your post
This is by far the biggest mistake new bloggers make. There are NO graphics on their posts. Not only do you need to have a graphic but it needs to be Pinterest pretty. Go on Pinterest, look at the pretty pins that make you want to click. What do they have in common?
- They are long, not horizontal
- They have beautiful (but not corny) photos, usually accented with warm colors
- They have a white overlay that includes the post headline
- That headline is enticing and shows the reader that you have a solution to a problem
- They also have an awesome description that is packed full of keywords and related keywords (you may or may not notice that but it’s definitely why the pin popped up when you typed in whatever you searched for!)
The biggest mistake I made early on is thinking that I could use my own pictures. I’m not a photographer, my pictures are terrible.
After I invested a tiny bit (like $1 per photo) in good stock images, my traffic went from 1,000 visitors monthly to over 30k in just 3 months. Make sure you get quality templates for your blog and social media like these!
10. use social media the right way
have a love/hate relationship with social media. This such a huge waste of time but you need it in order to get traffic.
Problem is, it’s really low on my list of ROI (return on investment) it takes a lot of time to build up, time I could be spending doing more important things like writing emails, setting up opt-in freebies, creating products (aka stuff that will make me money and grow my business).
However, if no one sees those things, then it’s a lost effort. So alas, social media is a necessary evil.
The trick is knowing where to put your energy and how to use it the smart way. Honestly, I have most of my social media on autopilot.
I use Tailwind to pin my own content and others’ content on Pinterest.
I also have an account with SmarterQueue and I’m in love with it. How it works is you add content to your feed and it posts it automatically to your Facebook page, Facebook group, LinkedIn, Twitter, etc, on a recurring basis. I never even touch my Facebook page unless I’m asking a question or sharing a meme to increase engagement. It has increased my page views quite a bit and I’ve only used it for about a month!
11. build an email list
Your email list is the driving force of your blog. It’s what will make you the most money, it’s what will convert your readers to fans, it’s what you will likely spend most of your time doing.
It’s your place to get to know your readers, learn what they want, learn how you can help them, connect on a personal level, and provide them with awesome one on one resources and information.
Your email list will likely bring in approximately 80% of your income as a blogger so it’s important to spend a lot of time building your list and nurturing your list.
I’m not kidding when I say that almost nothing else matters in blogging except that email list!
So, if you are going to invest ANY money in your blog- I want it to be on a great email company. This does NOT have to cost an arm and a leg.
I highly recommend ConvertKit because it is the BEST and has all the awesome features like atomization, tagging and segmenting. You need these features to have an awesome email strategy. Please don’t skimp on this, it’s really important!
“Ok, but how do you actually make money with a blog?”
If I have a penny for every time I have been asked that! It’s a valid question, I honestly started a blog thinking I could pop up a couple of ads and call it a day.
I would write posts and people would come and I’d be making a full-time income.
Well, it’s not as easy as that! It’s not that it’s hard but it takes strategy, it takes time and it takes work. Unlike a brick-and-mortar business, it doesn’t take a major financial investment, but it definitely takes a major time investment.
Here’s how bloggers make money:
1. Affiliate Marketing – do you have a product that you use and love? Something that has made your life a thousand times easier and that you know will help your reader too? Basically, you sign up to be an affiliate with them- you tell your reader about it- if they click and buy (or sign up) you get a commission.
It doesn’t cost your reader any extra money. It doesn’t involve you spending time or money to create a product. It’s pretty easy actually and it’s so much less risky than building a product especially if you are just starting out!
2. Ads – There are tons of ad companies out there, most bloggers start with Google Adsense. These are the banner ads and the sidebar ads you see on most blogs.
When someone clicks one you get money (no, you can’t click on them yourself or have your friends or family do it– google is way too smart for that!). Ads are great because it’s totally passive income- you literally have to do nothing, but it takes a lot of traffic to make decent money.
3. Sponsored posts/campaigns- You can either contact a company directly or you can sign up for influencer sites like SoFluential or IZEA. You can apply to be an influencer and different opportunities will be emailed to you. Basically you are paid to write a post either on your blog or on social media. Some people like this and some people don’t.
I only work with companies I truly believe in and I will not sell out my opinion for a dollar. I have backed out of sponsorship opportunities when asked to change my opinion or the facts in my post.
On the other hand, if you do find something you believe in (like my post for the Disabled Veterans Association) it can be an awesome way to make a decent amount of money fairly quickly.
4. Digital Products – Another huge mistake I made when I first started: don’t create a product before you have an audience!!!!!!!
I was following a blogger that was all about products, and YES the best way to make an income blogging is products. But that comes AFTER you have an audience.
You want to be able to survey them. You can literally ask them directly what they are struggling with, what would solve their problem, and what kind of product they would like to have.
Then you make it. And guess what? They will buy it. If you make a product before you know what your readers want, you will likely waste a bunch of time and not make a ton of money from it.
Now, don’t worry- you don’t NEED to have a product right away. I know bloggers that have made well over $10k monthly on just affiliate and ad income alone.
The thing to remember is that NONE of the things above will make you any money unless you have a solid blog foundation. You need to grow your audience and your traffic before any of those things will generate you an income.
Yes, it’s possible to do it quickly (I think my 3rd-month blogging I was already making over $200 and it grew quickly after that) but it does take a lot of time and effort to build-up to the point where you can really call it a business.
It also takes an investment. You can try to do everything the free way for a while but there comes a point where you will plateau and you will not grow unless you start investing back into your business.
Think about it; you can’t start a brick-and-mortar business without investing money, right? The cool thing is that it doesn’t have to cost a fortune and you can use the money you’ve already made!
Not to mention, you will actually start earning MORE money by spending money– it sounds crazy but it’s true!
To grow your business the right way, you need the right resources. I have spent a lot of time and money on learning the ins and outs of blogging.
I have wasted money on courses that brought me little results. But I have also purchased materials that have more than made me back the money I invested! Here’s what I highly recommend in order to grow your blog quickly!
1. HerPaperRoute Academy – Learn everything you need to know in order to start, grow, scale and even SELL your blog and online business.
2. How to Blog Without Selling Your Soul – √ one of the bests book, by far, that I’ve read about blogging
3. Time Management Mama – A great book about managing your time. provides excellent information, advice, and tips for managing your time as a business owners and a mom (also, one of the authors is a milspouse so it’s awesome to have that perspective!)
4. Fiverr- You can pretty much hire anyone to do anything for $5. Logos, design, even VA work. I’ve also had videos made and other stuff- you just can’t beat the price.
5. Convertkit – You will likely hear a lot of bloggers screaming about Convertkit, because, yes Convertkit is awesome! You can tag your readers based on what they click, you can segment your list to make sure you are sending the content that those people want to be reading, and you can also set up automatic sequences to be delivered when someone signs up for your email list
6. List Building- Speaking of list building, this free guide is excellent for teaching you how to create an opt in that your readers actually want, how to set it up to your blog, and how to deliver it to your subscribers. That list is really important- please take time to build it and nurture it!
7. Affiliate Strategy- Easily the best strategy for making affiliate income. This strategy works by launching affiliate products to your email list and walks you through step by step how to do it. The author makes an insane amount of money through affiliates and definitely knows what she’s talking about.
8. The Pinterest Strategy Guide– This guide shows you exactly how to leverage Pinterest to your advantage. It helped me get over 30k monthly pageviews by my third month of blogging! Worth every penny.
9. Tailwind – have campaigns set up that loop my pins and automatically pin to boards and group boards (group boards are key to getting traffic, guys!!) I also have it automatically pinning the best content from others onto my boards for my readers. It has significantly increased my traffic and pageviews, and it’s very affordable.
10. Canva – As someone that is certified in graphic design, I LOVE Canva! This is a free design tool that’s very user-friendly, it’s easy to use and you can make some awesome stuff! I use it for my social media graphics and also to create printables and worksheets!
And of course, don’t forget about Simplifying DIY Design’s epic templates for bloggers!