How to Start a Blog
A few years ago, I had a crazy idea to start a blog.
As time went by it slowly turned into a community, a business, a series of books and events, a tour to 150 cities (so far…) and so much more.
When people ask if I still recommend blogging, there’s an easy answer: YES!
When they ask how to do it, I say, just figure it out!
Wait… that’s probably not the best answer.
I recently made a new page to help people set up their first blog or website. This is one of the most common questions I encounter, especially from readers who stumble on 279 Days to Overnight Success, a manifesto from 2009 that is still fairly relevant.
If you’d like to learn how to set up a blog in 15 minutes or less, here’s a page for it.
Step 1. Get a hosting account (as little as $3.49/month)
Step 2. Get a domain ($15 or less)
Step 3. Set up WordPress
Step 1. Get a hosting account.
You’ll need somewhere to host your blog. It can be done for free with services like WordPress.com or Blogspot.com, but these usually aren’t great options for most people. A better solution is to pay a small amount of money to a hosting service that will essentially provide a home for your blog to live.
I’ve tried at least a dozen different hosts over the years before settling on InMotion.
I used Bluehost, another provider, for much of this time and finally said farewell to them after too many disasters. Every new site I’ve built recently is hosted by InMotion. If I have a problem, I can call 24 hours a day. I can email and hear back within 20 minutes. In short, I feel comfortable recommending them without reservation.
Get InMotion Hosting for just $3.49/month (56% off!)
I convinced my new hosting company to give me a special deal I could pass along to you. This is an affiliate link, meaning that I get paid for referrals. If you’d prefer to sign up with them directly and not receive the deal, just visit inmotion.com without the part at the end to do that.
Is InMotion the best solution for everything? Probably not. For higher-end stuff, my genius developer works with Linode. He manages everything with the servers himself. But InMotion is cheap and easy—and I have no idea how to manage servers, so I prefer the turnkey solution.
Step 2. Get a domain name.
You also need a domain name. You can check for availability at InMotion, the same company I recommend for hosting, or plenty of other places.
I own at least 50 domains, if not more. The cost is usually about $10 a year. They’re so cheap that if you see a domain you like, you should probably buy it.
If the best name in the world isn’t available, don’t fret. You could always have the last name Guillebeau, which no one ever knows how to spell—and somehow I’ve still managed. I’ve also used .org and .co domains for some of my projects, so if you can’t get the .com, consider those alternatives.
Once you have a domain, you need to “assign” it to your hosting account. If you buy the domain direct from InMotion, they’ll do it automatically. If you buy it elsewhere, you just need to tell the other place to redirect the settings over to the host.
Step 3. Set up WordPress (Or another content management system—but use WordPress unless you have a good reason not to.)
More than 95% of all blogs are published through WordPress. Actually, I just made that up—I don’t know the real number. But a lot of blogs are, and that’s because it’s so easy. Once you’ve got WordPress installed (more on that in a moment), you can use it to publish posts and pages. These will then magically appear to the world! It’s the miracle of our modern age.
You can install WordPress in 5-minutes, or InMotion will do it for free. What! Yes, free. (Hat tip to Joel Runyon: I didn’t know this until I saw he had mentioned it.)
Guess what the cost is for WordPress? It’s a grand total of zero dollars. So yeah—use it unless you have a good reason not to.
WordPress is so easy, even I can figure it out. It’s also apparently so advanced that if you do know what you’re doing, you can use it to trick out all kinds of websites. Our genius developer has built many of our projects on WordPress, from the Travel Hacking Cartel to the original World Domination Summit site. As a user, you probably never notice that these are WordPress sites… but indeed they are.
Next up: create a basic website without getting too carried away (add to it later if you want).
You need a few things on your new blog. You don’t need awesome graphics, lots of fancy plug-ins, or any expensive software at all.
You should, however, consider that your blog is essentially an online “home” for your message. As such, you need to make sure you introduce yourself well. These three components are critical:
About page. Don’t skip this part!
What is the most important page on a website? I believe it’s not the home page but rather the About page, which tells the story of what the site (and the person or group who made the site) is all about.
Yet many blogs, even established ones, forget to make an About page or just make a sub-standard one. This is your first and most important chance to connect with people who stop in. Readers who are interested in a post or were referred by another source will want to know who you are. Tell them! Be sure to include at least one photo of yourself as well. (This matters.)
Contact page. Don’t skip this part either!
Just as I’m surprised that many websites tell visitors nothing about the person who made it, many websites also skip the contact page. Dolt! You do want to hear from people, right? Give them some way to get in touch with you.
Fortunately, WordPress makes this pretty easy too. You can add a free contact form from any number of plugins. For the most part you just press a button, fill in a couple of fields, and bam—you have a contact form.
You’ll also want to include links to any social services you use, including Twitter and Facebook. For the first year and a half of my blog I published my cell phone number for all to see. I don’t usually like talking on the phone, but I had some interesting conversations as as result. These days I just have a contact form and a Google Voice number that goes to voicemail.
However you do it, make sure there’s a way to get in touch.
Newsletter. Don’t skip… right, you know.
This part takes a bit more work, but it’s worth it. You need to have a mailing list, especially if you plan on ever making money from your blog, but even if you just want to build a non-commercial project. There’s no good reason not to grow an email list.
I use Aweber and MadMimi for all of my newsletters. Between all the projects we produce, there are more than 200,000 people signed up for various things on these two services, and for the most part the systems all work well.
Aweber: Offers more of a traditional “business” solution. I use them for my main newsletter and for several update series to the products I sell.
MadMimi: Offers an open and flexible API, which makes it easier to customize. I use them for WDS, Pioneer Nation, the Travel Hacking Cartel, and a bunch of other stuff.
Note: Lots of other people like MailChimp, a service that also has a good reputation. I haven’t worked with them myself but I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend them.
Wondering which of these services to choose? I don’t think it matters that much, so take a look at each and see which sounds best to you. The more important issue is getting your newsletter up and running!
I always encourage people to read my blog by email newsletter. Of course, I’m happy for them to read it however they’d like—by RSS, through social posting, or just by checking back in directly. But when people are on the email list, it’s a higher form of trust and access.
Some Tips on Getting Going
- Be “content first!” Even though I appreciate great design, if you’re publishing a blog, people will stick around for the reading. Great design should complement the words, not supersede them.
- Adopt a publishing schedule even if no one else is reading. For more than five years, I’ve published a post every Monday and Thursday. No exceptions! It’s not a heavy schedule, and not every post is especially in-depth, but the discipline greatly helps.
- Ignore the advice on choosing a niche (but do choose a theme). The sub-head of my blog is “Unconventional Strategies for Life, Work, and Travel,” which is pretty much the opposite of a niche. I do think it’s helpful to choose an overall theme, though. This way you can write about a variety of interests but still have something that ties it all together.
- Do be helpful and useful. If you can serve people, they’ll remember.
Over the years, some of the posts that have done especially well on AONC include:
- How to Book a Round-the-World Plane Ticket
- Beginner’s Guide to Travel Hacking
- Frequent Flyer Challenge (various posts)
- How to Conduct Your Own Annual Review
- Unconventional Business Ideas
- How to Write 300,000 Words in One Year
All of these posts have a few things in common: they’re very specific and detailed. You can read them and then do something with them right away.
Making Money with Your Blog
This is a whole separate concept. At some point I’ll make a resource page strictly for that. Until then, check out the Empire Building Kit (for sale) or 200+ posts on entrepreneurship in the archives (for free).
Generally speaking, I believe the best way to make money with your blog is by building relationships over time and then occasionally a) endorsing products you believe in, receiving payment through affiliate programs, or b) creating your own products and services directly for readers.
Need more help? Say something.
Blogging has helped me reach a worldwide audience of amazing people. It’s also been a great deal of fun.
When I started my blog way back in 2008, I worried I was too late. Lots of other folks had been blogging for a long time, and I figured I was way behind. But obviously I wasn’t, and you aren’t either: more and more people continue to get online for the first time everyday.
Just as important, you have something to share with the world. Don’t hold back just because you don’t know how to run a website. I don’t either. 🙂
I want this resource page to be as helpful as possible for everyone who wants to start a blog, so feel free to let me know if there’s something else you need.
InMotion Hosting Deal (50% off)
Aweber, MadMimi, or Mailchimp (your choice of email providers)
279 Days to Overnight Success (a bit dated, but still mostly relevant in terms of strategy)