In this guide to blogging I’ll show you how I created all of my blogs and monetized them in the past as well as this one you’re reading now. You may want to bookmark this page as it contains a lot of information and covers many different aspects of starting up a blog. This article is based on design related blogging but practically can be applied to any niche.
I’ve kept everything very short just giving you a brief overview on every aspect of blogging. If you want to dig deeper just search for a certain thing on Google or subscribe to Despreneur Newsletter to get latest news as I am going to cover all of the topics mentioned here in detail later.
Transparency notice: some of the links in this post are affiliate links, which means if you buy something I will get a commission on that. That doesn’t affect you at all. You can buy from anywhere else, it’s up to you.
What’s the purpose of you taking up blogging?
Making money, sharing your thoughts, teaching people, becoming popular, promoting your business, these are usually the most popular causes. You have to know clearly why you are going to start a blog.
Why people should care about the things you want to say? How are you going to help your audience with the content you will produce?
These questions must be answered before moving to the next phase.
Don’t start until you have a rough plan of the things you want to accomplish. It doesn’t have to be very clear but knowing the key milestones is very important.
Below is an example of my plan I had for Despreneur:
- Concept development (identifying problem, coming up with solution, market research)
- Defining target audience
- Vision, mission, values
- Content and marketing strategy
- Editorial calendar
- Business model development
- Competitors analysis
- Unique selling proposition (USP) development
- SWOT/TOWS analysis
- WordPress setup, plugins
- Theme customisation
Being clear and having a direction for the content you are going to publish is they key to creating a consistent and valuable blog.
First of all write down all of the topics you are interested in. After that group the topics into the group of two: you’re competent in and ones you are just interested to. The ones that you are expert in should be your core categories in your blog. My example: I started out as a designer, doing Photoshop tutorials and focusing more into web design. I didn’t write about the icon design even though I was always fascinated by these beautiful creations.
For the Despreneur I have created a long list of the keywords and topics I had experience and was interested in. After that I have boiled it down to core categories that wrapped up these smaller topics. You can see the final categories at the top.
This one is a tough step. Requires a lot of creativity, smart hacks and surprisingly dozens of patience. You can quickly come up with funny, catchy, smart or good sounding names right? So do I. The problem is that most of these domain names you just came up with are already taken!
I have been thinking for around 2 months for my new blog name and then suddenly inspiration hit me with Despreneur, then I checked if .com domain name was free and I registered it instantly.
But how to make this task easier? Usually I try to merge two words, look for Latin or Spanish translations or simply add trending prefixes, suffixes and endings like the, get, ly, ify, app etc.
Here are a few useful resources I have used for coming up with a blog name:
For smart domain hacks like tom.as or del.icio.us use Domai.nr.
I personally use GoDaddy for all of my domains, they usually have nice discounts and are pretty easy to manage. Once I have used Name, they are pretty good too, I just prefer using one service for all of my domains. GO.CO is very popular among startups, you can get a cheap .co domain and some perks too.
Hosting will cost you the most when starting up, unless you go with already hosted platform like WordPress.com. For my very first sites I have been using free hosting providers and I would never ever do that again. Management of the blog, performance and uptime were horrible. I have been using WPWebHost Freedom plan for a long time and I can say they are pretty good for a blog up to 50,000 unique visitors a month. For this blog I have chosen a little bit more expensive and powerful MediaTemple. For the cheaper alternative I would suggest you to go with BlueHost.
The way to go from my experience is a self-hosted WordPress. Powerful, secure, tons of articles and tutorials available as well as themes and plugins. However there are more publishing platforms so browse through and choose your favorite one. The main difference between self-hosted and publicly available platform is that on the self-hosted platform you can do whatever you like, customize it, extend its functionality and brand it to be more unique where on free services you are limited to what service offers you and if you want to get something extra, you’ll need to pay.
WordPress (no hosting needed)
Tumblr (no hosting needed)
Medium (no hosting needed)
SquareSpace (no hosting needed)
Content is king
The first mistake I made with my first blog was launching a blog without any content.
I was so excited that I have got it set up, customized and in a few hours and ready to launch that I launched it absolutely empty and started promoting it. Putting it on all possible social networks, writing to my friends on Skype and posting it on the local business forum. Outcome: it sucked like nothing else on this Earth. People hated it. I was so disappointed and felt offended when I just wanted to feel important and be seen as someone who is awesome enough to create his own blog.
Mistake not to do
Never ever launch a blog without a content. Work on your content strategy, develop it and slowly produce quality content before making it available for the public. You simply don’t decide to sell a book, you design a cover, and you sell an empty book. Do your homework. Write your content before publishing your blog so readers can get some value from your blog.
The good thing
Just do it. Screw it, lets do it as sir Richard Branson said. If you got that impulse, that spark just use that energy to build something. Starting up with a crappy product is better than just thinking about perfect product which will never be released.
What should I write about?
This question is killing absolutely every blogger wanna-be, this is often the biggest excuse of not starting a blog – not having a clear idea on what topics to write about.
We all have hobbies, we all like something and spend a lot of time studying it, it might be football, cooking, fishing, designing, art, music, whatever. People are passionate about various things in life, and it is awesome. You definitely have interests that drive you crazy when someone starts to talk about that. You have already thought about it in the Categories phase that I’ve mentioned in this post earlier.
Here are a few actionable steps:
1. Ask yourself what you care about the most in life? Write it down.
2. Why are you caring about it?
3. How people will benefit from your writings?
4. What value you will bring to your readers?
Don’t write about the things you don’t understand. Write about the things you have been geeking out a lot. Choose the topic that you can call yourself an expert.
Another option is to be a curator. You can learn on the way and write about what you have learnt, provide readers with resources, discussing mistakes you did, revealing potential shortcuts etc.
What I mean is not to copy and paste but look what the experts are doing and do the same. For example if they are making giveaways, organising webinars and running podcasts why don’t you try it out as well? Most of the stuff in the world has been already done, most of the topics have been covered, but you can always put your point of view, mix it with other industries and experiences.
Producing useful content
Write long lasting content
What I mean is so called evergreen content, which is simply ageless and is more valuable than trendy news. If you start blogging about history it won’t change so the content doesn’t get old but if you write about the new iPhone 5S and when the new iPhone goes out your post is outdated and doesn’t offer much of a value to your readers.
This post you are reading now is an evergreen content because these points will be valid in a year, two or a decade. Some of the points will be irrelevant or outdated but the main idea and process will stay very similar.
Write tutorials and solve problems
One of the best content strategy for me was tutorial writing and teaching people a new skill or solving a problem.
Feature famous guys in the industry to get into their radar, you may get a shout out from them on social networks. Make a compilation or interview an industry leader and get in touch with them on email letting know that they were featured on your website. These strategies will help you acquire new connections and earn social credibility.
Avoid list posts
List posts are working very well, they don’t require much time to come up with a headline or write the actual content. But the problem is that in the long run it doesn’t give any value, you get some traffic to these posts but you can find these things all around the internet. Think about writing something unique so people start following you and your blog as an expert in something.
Identify what your community wants
Analyze other blogs, discussions boards and try to identify the problems people face, the challenges they can’t overcome. Solve these problems or provide valuable information for them to make their lives better and you will definitely start getting positive feedback, more traffic and loyal readers/followers.
Further reading on producing valuable content:
Picture is worth a thousand words so it is very good to spice up your writing with relevant image which will make your writing more visual in the readers memory. Following are the sources I have been using recently.
Very important thing in blogging is constant learning and adapting, you need to understand who is reading your content, where do they come from and act accordingly. I have personally used Google Analytics for all of my blogs.
Design is the queen
Content is called a king and design must be the queen. Branding is important as hell. Choosing a unique and memorable logo and good design for your blog is crucial in making a successful blog. Simply browse through Themes on WordPress themes directory and choose the one that is clean, simple and portrays your blog’s content.
If you have spare $30-$50 I would highly recommend you to go with Premium theme as you will get more unique theme, easier customization and premium support.
Some tips for quickly designing your logo or blog. Simply go with Helvetica font and your blog name. Make sure to choose right colors for your blog. Use COLOURlovers or Adobe Kuler to find a nice color palette for your brand. Quickly skim through the meanings of colors to check if your brand will be perceived correctly.
For free themes browse official WordPress theme directory or use the premium them providers listed below. Despreneur uses customized theme by WPZoom.
Plugins are used to extend WordPress functionality by adding extra security, spam filters, enhancing search engine optimisation, implementing different widgets, integrating social media and basically everything you will ever need. Check plugins directory on WordPress.
Here is the list of current plugins I use:
Akismet – It keeps your site protected from spam even while you sleep.
All In One SEO Pack – smarter SEO optimisation, custom for pages, posts and the whole blog.
Download Manager – I use this to track freebie downloads.
Google Analyticator – easily implement Google Analytics to see how blog performs.
JM Twitter Cards – Meant to help users to implement and customize Twitter Cards easily.
Login Security Solution – Requires very strong passwords, repels brute force login attacks, prevents login information disclosures
MailChimp – I am using this plugin to integrate newsletter list to blog.
Subscribe to Unlock – I am using this plugin to require people to subscribe to newsletter to download freebies.
WassUp Real Time Analytics – Real time analytics.
Wordfence Security – Anti-virus and Firewall security plugin for WordPress.
WP External Links – Open external links in a new window/tab.
Build an Email List
Building an email list is as important as producing content because then you own the reader and have a personal connection to it. Twitter followers, Facebook fans are not that active in clicking your links, commenting or buying your products. Having an email of your user you have possibility to email him or her at any time and most likely get a response.
If you don’t want to spend any money on your email list start with Mailchimp which gives you a free account for up to 2,000 subscribers.
AWeber – Email marketing and autoresponder software that’s easy to use & only $1 to try.
Mailchimp – I am currently using Mailchimp. Used for collecting emails and sending out the weekly newsletter.
Social Media and online interaction
How you actually get your content in front of the people in such a noisy, messy and over-published world? You have to create value, going back to answering the question why you are doing this and writing a content that people actually get something out of it is the key. But sometimes it is not enough, you have to use some push marketing strategies and get your product – usually knowledge in front of the people. First of all be social and open for new connections in every single life situation and talk about your blog and how you can help other people.
Social media strategy
Identify where your target audience hangs out, Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, forums? You don’t need to be everywhere, social media consumes too much time and converts horribly compared to email list.
Once you chose your social channels develop a simple content sharing strategy. Share different stuff on different channels, otherwise why people should be following you on different platforms? Twitter could be used for quick announcements, questions and answers, where Facebook could be employed as a gallery or discussion board. I hope you get the point.
Specifically for design related blogs there are some websites that help you promote your content. Isn’t that amazing? I am pretty sure you can find something similar in other niches too, just make a thorough research.
Below is the list of communities or websites that allow you to submit your news, other people vote on them and depending on the votes you get promoted by the platform. Contact some fellow bloggers and ask for votes, offering your votes on their submissions.
Layervault Designer News
Connect with like-minded people and talk to them about your blog. When producing content try to reference to others and let them know. Help other bloggers by pushing and promoting their content they will be happy to do the same. Interview industry leaders so you get into their radar as I mentioned before.
Show me the money
So how do you actually make money blogging?
There are many ways but all of them take a lot of time and dedication. If you see blogging as a way for quick cash you will be very disappointed. Following are the ways that work the best.
One of the best ways is affiliate marketing. Affiliate marketing is a type of marketing that pays commission for the person who refers a new customer to a company. For your information this post contains some affiliate links and if you like my content which is useful and valuable (I hope) for you to start something that may change your life you won’t mind that I will get some money from the company that I referred you to.
You can create a product and generate some passive income as well as using affiliate marketing. Product development takes much more time and effort, you have to come up with a product that industry wants, that solves a problem or is just better than the competition.
I have created some small design templates for GraphicRiver and earned some money there (screenshot above). If you want to sell products from your own site following are the tools I recommend you to use to handle payments PayPal or Gumroad.
For the upcoming Despreneur Premium program I am using AMember, a plugin that lets you create a membership site.
Product options: eBooks, tutorials, courses, templates, premium memberships.
Advertising and Banners
Selling backlinks in individual posts or from the homepage of your blog is also a good way to make money. Make sure they are related to the content you are publishing and do not put too many of them as it makes you look like a link farm, people and search engines don’t like it. It’s better to have more incoming links than outgoing.
Personally I don’t like Google Adsense and ads they show so I respect my readers and don’t annoy them with cheap looking ads from Google. It’s up to you.
Use your blog to promote your services. It could be writing, designing, developing, everything works.
Having a blog and community you can create an offline event where you can invite some speakers or organize a workshop for people who want to learn something. Builds awareness and credibility around your blog and personal brand.
If you are creating a lot of valuable stuff and giving it away for free you may want to place a donation button so people who find it really useful might want to thank you by donating some money.
Further reading on making money online:
Summary: Just do it.
Action is what differentiates wannabe from a doer.
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