Advice on how to start a blog seems to fall into two camps: Either it’s over-simplified or over-complicated. Truth is, building a blog is somewhere in between.
I promise I won’t spout off another post about how you should quit your job, start a blog and travel the world. Personally, I think it’s terrible advice.
Instead, what you’ll find here is a practical, no-BS guide on how to start a blog that you can build into a thriving lifestyle business.
Table of Contents
- How to Start a Blog (And a Lifestyle Business) That You Love
How to Start a Blog (And a Lifestyle Business) That You Love
First off, let me apologize if I’m the bearer of bad news. I’m sure you’ve read enough advice about how easy it is to start a blog and change your life. There’s one important thing this advice glosses over: a blog is not a business.
And that’s perfectly okay. Hobby blogging is fun, too. But I’m assuming you’re in it for the long-haul and want to build something that sustains your chosen lifestyle. If so, then please read on :)
Step 1: Choose Your Blog Topic / Blog Niche
The most often touted advice for choosing a blog topic is to follow your passion. I think this is only half the picture.
Yes, it’s important to pick a topic you care about. Your blog won’t sustain otherwise. You don’t want to feel obligated to create your content, you want to experience a spark when you plop in front of your keyboard.
But passion alone isn’t enough. Your passion and a sustainable business model won’t always align. Not every passion can be monetized to the same degree. Sometimes, there just isn’t a big enough market to build a sustainable lifestyle business from your passion.
That’s why I always suggest to start with your passion, but don’t end with it. You need to find that sweet spot where passion meets a demand large enough to build a profitable business.
Grab a piece of paper and brainstorm a list of 10-20 interests. Continue below to see how to transform your interests into a potential business idea…
What About Starting a Travel Blog?
I knew you’d ask! It would be natural for blogging advice on a travel blog to suggest starting a travel blog. Now, don’t get me wrong. Travel blogging can be profitable. But for starting a blog that you can build into a sustainable business, I don’t think starting a travel blog is your best option. The reasoning is simple: there are other niches out there with far better monetization options than travel.
What Does a Good Niche Look Like?
I could probably write thousands of words about this alone. Let’s keep it simple. If you want to start a blog that you can turn into a sustainable lifestyle business, find a niche with some of these characteristics:
- A clear and persistent problem. Start with defining the pain points of the niche. Is there a clear problem that faces people interested in this niche? Solve your audience’s problems (the more embarrassing, painful or annoying the better) and you’ll have little problem growing your lifestyle business.
- A wide variety of products and services. If you can promote products or services, either as an affiliate or selling your own, you’re on the right path to finding a sustainable business model. Think about physical products, services, e-books, membership sites, or courses you could create or promote in the niche.
- Good affiliate programs. Start digging into affiliate programs related to your prospective niche. Do the programs pay high commissions? If not, do you think you could get the sales volume you would need to build a profitable business?
- High search volume. Check out the Google Keyword Tool. How high is the search volume for major niche-related keywords? If search volume is high (let’s say, at least 10K monthly searches), you know there’s a market there.
- Competition. Who said competition was a bad thing? I’d be more worried entering a niche devoid of it. Finding a couple major players means there’s already a thriving market for your business to tackle.
Crosscheck your brainstormed topic list with these characteristics and eliminate any that don’t make the cut. Your list should be more manageable now!
How to Narrow Your Blog Topic / Blog Niche
Run through your topic list, and for each, ask yourself:
- What do I already know about this topic?
- What do I need to learn about this topic?
- Am I interested in learning about this topic?
You might discover that you’re more knowledgeable about one topic or are more interested in learning one over the others. Use this to select just one niche. (I know! It’s hard, isn’t it?)
Once you’ve picked a topic, you’ll still need to narrow it down. Try to qualify it with one (or more) of the following:
- Demographics: gender, age, education levels, geographical location etc.
- Group characteristics and values: independent, rebellious, passionate, hard-working, skilled etc.
- Interests: sports, TV shows, books, movie genres etc.
- Roles: mom, dad, business owner, student, professional etc.
- Skill level: beginner, intermediate, advanced etc.
After this step, you should have a well-defined and useable niche for your blog. Some simple, tightly-focused niche examples could include:
- beginner banjo lessons for time-crunched students
- simple business advice for busy American moms
- better job search engine for skilled professionals in Asia
- beastly muscle-building tips for scrawny Star Trek fans
Now that you’re armed with a solid blog topic, let’s get into the nitty-gritty…
Step 2: Register your Domain
One of the most important decisions you’ll face when starting a blog is choosing your domain name. It’s the first thing your readers will notice when popping in for a visit. You gotta make it stand out! Here are a few tips for selecting the perfect domain name:
- Aim for shorter names. Shorter domains are easier to remember and more pleasing to look at in URLs. If you can keep it below 10 characters, you’re gold.
- Use a branded, not an exact match keyword, domain. Google’s new rules penalize exact match domains. What that means is that you’ll want to avoid spammy names like the-absolute-best-weight-loss-site-ever.com. Stick to something you’d be proud to print on a business card.
- Use private WHOIS protection. Unless you want scammers calling you at all hours and your name & address out there for all to see, pay extra for private domain registration. It’s a small yearly fee for a whole lot of benefit.
- Use a .com domain. New domain extensions seem to materialize out of thin air almost monthly. Still, none carries more prestige than a .com. If you’re targeting a specific national audience, go with a country top-level domain (e.g. .co.uk, .ca, .de). Otherwise, .com is the way to go, even though it restricts your choices.
To register your domain, I’d recommend Namecheap. I’ve only recently started registering my new domains at Namecheap after being a faithful GoDaddy customer for years. I haven’t had problems with either registrar (both are solid companies with good customer service), but I find Namecheap’s user interface easier to navigate and their domain searches quicker and more efficient. When registering a new domain with Namecheap, you also get free private WHOIS protection for the first year and cheaper private protection renewals than with GoDaddy. Check out Namecheap here.
Step 3: Get Web Hosting
When you’re just starting out with build your blog, there’s no need to pay for expensive hosting. To start small and scale up later is a smarter strategy than going big and going broke.
For beginners, I recommend setting up your first web hosting account at Bluehost. You can get your website going on Bluehost for as little as $3.45 per month (introductory offer) for hosting one site with their basic plan. Here’s how to get setup:
1) Sign Up With Bluehost
Find your way to Bluehost and click on the green “get started now” button.
2) Select a Hosting Plan
Any of Bluehost’s shared hosting plans will work for starting your blog. The most popular shared hosting plan is the plus plan. Compared to the cheaper basic plan, the plus plan lets you create and host unlimited websites with one shared hosting account. Especially if you’re considering building a couple different niche sites to test the market, the plus plan will be best to start with.
3) Host Your Domain
I normally recommend registering your domain separately with a company like Namecheap that specializes in domain registration. The domain management tools at a registrar generally outmatch what’s offered by most web hosting providers.
All shared hosting plans at Bluehost, however, include a free domain registration. You might as well take advantage of it. Even if you already own a domain, you can register a new domain at sign up. With the plus plan, you can set up any of your domains with Bluehost hosting.
4) Complete Registration
Next is a series of steps to complete your registration with Bluehost. You’ll need to provide your address and billing information to complete your hosting plan setup.
One thing I would like to note is that you can lower your monthly hosting costs by paying upfront for an annual shared hosting plan. Bluehost offers options to prepay for 12 months, 24 months and 36 months.
The final step to complete your Bluehost account setup is to enter your credit card billing information and agree with their legal terms & conditions.
After confirming your credit card, you’ll receive an email from Bluehost to set up your password. Create a secure password by following the prompts and you’ll be ready to start building your blog on your new hosting account!
Step 4: Install Wordpress
I’m not exactly an early adopter of WordPress. Until about 3 years ago, I coded all my websites by hand. (Yep. HTML, PHP, CSS and the whole bit from scratch.)
I can’t even tell you how much time WordPress has saved me since then!
The secret to launching your blog quicker isn’t much of a secret at all: build your site with WordPress.
Fortunately, it’s super easy to install WordPress on Bluehost.
Bluehost powers its hosting platform with cPanel, one of the most beginner-friendly web hosting user interfaces. Other hosting providers I’ve used in the past charge extra monthly fees to manage your account through cPanel. Luckily, Bluehost includes it in all their shared hosting plans, helping you get up and running with a flatter learning curve.
First, log into your cPanel account with the password you created in the previous step.
On the main cPanel screen, you’ll see a button labelled “Install WordPress.” Click it to start navigating through the installation process.
You be transported to Mojo Marketplace to finish up your WordPress installation. Click on the green “Start” button to begin your installation.
Once you’ve completed all the steps, you get an email from Mojo letting you know your WordPress installation is ready to use:
This email contains the credentials you’ll need to log on to your WordPress. Keep it in a safe place just in case you ever forget your username!
Step 5: Design Your Site
The first time you log into your WordPress site, you’ll have plenty of settings to tweak to get things set up the way you’ll like it. Let’s put those small details aside for now and focus on one big thing that will set your blog up for success: your site design.
The biggest advantage of using Wordpress is that you can design a sleek site without much hassle by installing a good theme.
Whatever you do, don’t trust your site to a free WordPress theme. If there’s any place you want to spend a couple bucks it should be on a premium child theme that runs on top of a solid framework.
I’d recommend nothing other than building your WordPress site with the Genesis Framework by StudioPress.
So far, I’ve built over half a dozen websites using the Genesis Framework and Genesis child themes. Every Genesis child theme I’ve ever used, once configured with easy-to-follow instructions, creates fantastic mobile-responsive websites from the get-go. After you’ve mastered how Genesis works, you’ll be able to create beautiful WordPress site designs in an afternoon! That means more time creating content and building your business, and less time fiddling with your site design.
Aesthetics aren’t the only reason to use the Genesis Framework.
Free WordPress themes are notorious for “breaking” with updates, creating massive technical headaches and wasting precious hours with troubleshooting or redesigning/recoding your theme’s functions. (Trust me, it’s not fun!)
There are two other benefits worth pointing out: security and speed. Genesis is equipped with extra security features under the hood that make your WordPress website less vulnerable than with poorly-coded free themes. Genesis also improves WordPress performance and your site’s speed, a major search engine ranking factor. StudioPress optimizes and updates Genesis regularly to keep the code clean and lightweight.
Genesis Child Themes and StudioPress Pro Plus
What I love about StudioPress is that they offer two options for getting started with Genesis. To build just one site, you’ll only need to grab the framework and your favourite Genesis child theme. You can buy both (with unlimited licenses even!) for less than $100. Far cheaper than hiring a web designer and developer, isn’t?
For those who want more, StudioPress also offers the StudioPress Pro Plus All-Theme Package. I personally started out with the framework and a single theme to test out Genesis and soon found myself upgrading. To this day I still regard StudioPress Pro Plus as one of the wiser website-related purchases I’ve ever made. It’s saved me a ton of time and more than paid for itself in the design work I’ve done using the themes!
Unlike many other premium WordPress theme packages, StudioPress Pro Plus is a one-time fee, rather than a monthly subscription, that gives you access to all current and future StudioPress and third-party Genesis themes.
Start Designing Your Site
It’s beyond the scope of this “how to start a blog” guide to dig deeply into website design. Once you’ve installed the Genesis Framework and a child theme, here are a few recommendations to help get you started:
- Set up your Genesis theme with the demo instructions. The quickest way to get going on a Genesis theme is to use the default configurations found on MyStudioPress. From here you can tweak your design by moving around or switching up widgets and customizing CSS for aesthetic changes.
- Avoid clutter. By default most Genesis themes are built with plenty of whitespace around elements. Don’t overcrowd headers, sidebars and footers with too many widgets or excessive content. Less is more when it comes to modern website design.
- Be original. You may notice a similar design aesthetic on websites in your niche. Don’t blindly copy it. Stand out with a design that’s surprises readers. Even simple changes like ditching your sidebar or adding backstretch feature images can jazz up your site.
Site design is a never-ending process. There’s no need to strive for perfection, simply usability. Once you’ve achieved that, set aside design and move on to the next step…
Step 6: Setup Your Email List
“An email list? But I don’t have content yet!”
I agree: It’s odd to suggest setting up your email list before you’ve even written a single blog post. But there’s a method to my madness:
Your email list is the single most important asset for building a profitable lifestyle business.
The same logic of self-hosting your WordPress website applies to building your email list: never build your house on leased land. You need to be in control of your platform. And besides building your own website on your own domain, no extension of your platform is more under your control than your email list.
How To Set Up a Profitable Email List (And Get More Subscribers)
Building a profitable email list involves a shift in thinking. You can’t build an email list because you were told you should. Your email list building needs to be purposeful and tie into your overall business strategy, not simply act as an additional traffic source to your blog.
Before you even consider hitting “Publish,” set yourself up to start collecting emails with the following quick tips:
- Create a compelling lead magnet. Offering people to sign up for a newsletter isn’t enough to build a profitable army of email subscribers. You need to give your audience something more. Think about problems your audience face and create something helpful. Ideas could include an infographic, e-book, white paper, case study, or email course. Whatever you choose make it specific and insanely useful.
- Create an autoresponder series. Now that you’ve enticed readers to join your email list, you need to prove your usefulness as a resource. Draft up a set of emails that support your lead magnet with additional details. Aim for at least ten emails to start and spread them out over the time you feel it will take you to launch (more on that in the next section). I’d also recommend starting to think about building offers into your autoresponder. The sooner you can create a profit-generating asset, the better.
- Focus your website on email conversions. An an email signup widget in the sidebar isn’t enough to build a big profitable email list. Whatever site design you choose, you need to focus your efforts on converting your visitors to email subscribers. Test various opt-in forms like welcome mats, slide-ins, pop-ups, hello bars or footer widgets to see what works. Just don’t overdo it.
Which Email Provider Should I Choose?
You might be tempted to start out with a free email marketing provider like MailChimp. I would caution against this for one simple reason: you need to build an automated email marketing system.
Free email marketing services rarely have email automation options, often lacking features as simple as setting up an autoresponder. You want to work smarter, not harder. And that’s exactly what email automation and autoresponders will let you do.
I’ve tested out a slew of email marketing systems. The two standout providers I would recommend for getting started with email automation are Aweber and GetResponse.
Both Aweber and GetResponse are widely used and respected, but I’d give a slight edge to GetResponse in terms of value. With GetResponse you’ll get all the features of Aweber—and then some—at a lower price. GetResponse even offers a free trial (at time of writing) to test out the service. Get started here.
Now that you’re set to collect emails, you can begin preparing for your pre-launch…
Step 7: Pre-Launch
The pre-launch stage is where you start setting up your new lifestyle business up for success. And it’s probably far simpler than you think.
Your goal for the pre-launch stage is to start building an audience and rile them up in anticipation for your official launch. Here are the steps you’ll need to take:
- Set up a pre-launch page. Download Launchpad, a free WordPress maintenance-mode plugin that creates a pre-launch page and disallows non-administrators from surfing around your site before its ready. There are several customization options including a countdown timer, headlines, newsletter opt-in and a social media bar. Rearrange the elements and design the page however you wish.
- Include an opt-in form on your pre-launch page. In Launchpad, you’ll find space for a sign-in form. Hook your opt-in form to your Aweber or GetResponse pre-launch email automation that sends off your lead magnet and adds subscribers to your autoresponder.
- Begin creating your pillar content. Behind the scenes, you’ll want to start drafting up your starter content. There’s no hard-and-fast rule here. I suggest starting with three content categories/topics related to your niche, drafting up 5 pillar posts for each. If you can create addition content to drip feed for a couple weeks or months after the launch, even better. Focus on the biggest keywords in each category and make each article beefy and tremendously useful. (No puny 500-word articles here. Think epic!)
How to Drive Traffic To Your Pre-Launch Page
I don’t want to get too bogged down talking about traffic generation here. This is supposed to be an overview after all! Let me just toss you a few ideas that you can run with to build a little buzz:
- Claim your social media profiles. I apologize in advance: this advice isn’t exactly groundbreaking. Start snagging branded social media accounts for your blog. I wouldn’t get too worked up about social media when you’re starting out. It can be a big time drag that draws you away from more important tasks. Focus on one or two social media networks at most to start. Facebook and Pinterest are my recommendations.
- Comment on blogs and forums. I’ll mention it, but I personally wouldn’t spend much time with this. The ROI from blog and forum commenting is growing smaller by the year. Still, with a strong focus, you should be able to pocket a couple new readers before you even go live. Use blog and forum commenting for outreach rather than link building.
- Run Facebook ads. This would my go-to strategy for building up pre-launch buzz. With Facebook ads, you get the most detailed targeting features out of any ad platform. Keep these three things in mind for effective Facebook advertising: 1) Ensure your opt-in page converts (test different headlines and calls-to-action); 2) Optimize your ads (e.g. headline, image, text etc.) for a cheaper cost-per-click; 3) Test, test, and test your ad some more.
Step 8: Launch
By now, you should have the pieces in place. Your design is finished. Your content is ready to go. You should even have a small handful of fans and subscribers!
NOTE: Don’t get discouraged if you didn’t amass hundreds or thousands of new readers in your pre-launch. A small targeted audience is still better than none!
After you’ve tested the site thoroughly, here’s the easiest part: go live!
Don’t just sit around waiting for new readers. Tell the world about your launch by:
- emailing your pre-launch list
- drip sharing your pillar content on your social media accounts (bonus: use paid promotion to increase reach)
- participating and becoming a valuable member in social media groups and communities (please, no spamming!)
- guest posting on popular sites in your niche or in related niches
- connecting with other bloggers in your niche on social media and on their platforms
- building white-hat links using targeted blogger outreach
Truth is, your blog launch is just the beginning of your journey. You can’t build a thriving lifestyle business overnight. It’ll take time, hard work and focus to build your blog into a profitable business.
Read on if you want some ideas on how to do that…
Step 9: Scale Your Business
You soon discover that 80% of your results will come from 20% of your actions. This is the principle you’ll need to master to scale from a blog that generates a little pocket money to a lifestyle business that replaces your full-time income.
How To Focus on What Matters (No More Vanity Metrics!)
It’s hard to get clarity when much of the blogging advice out there pushes you to focus on the wrong things. Steer clear of defining your success with “vanity metrics.” What I mean is that you need to adapt your thinking about your numbers. For example:
- Traffic vs. targeted traffic. Do you want sales or bragging rights? You don’t need more traffic. You need more targeted traffic. A visitor who won’t buy from you has far less value than a potential new customer.
- Number of visitors vs. conversions. Don’t think in terms of how many people you can get to a page, but how many people you can get to take action. Know your visitors intent and keep them coming back by solving their problems and giving more of what they need/want.
- Email subscribers vs. engaged email subscribers. You don’t want any old email list. You want an engaged list. Don’t get too discouraged if you lose an email subscriber. Often it’s not you, it’s them. Sometimes, your list just isn’t the right fit. Simply keep providing engaging and useful content. Those who like you—and your potential new customers!—will stick around for the long-haul.
- Social media followers vs social media engagement. You’ll see many new bloggers attracting followers and likes through mutual followbacks or exchanges. While it might look good on paper, it does little to improve your blog. On platforms like Facebook, it’s even flat out harmful. Focus on building an audience that cares about your blog and business, not one built on mutual favours.
What Should You Scale Up
This is by no means an exhaustive list. Try out a couple of these ideas to generate more revenue for your new lifestyle business:
- Optimize successful content. Your most-read content is a big asset. Update it regularly to give it a rankings boost. Add affiliate links or write more effective sales copy to increase revenue. Build links to it and promote on social media (paid or organic) to give it a burst of new life.
- Add to your email autoresponder. Build more content into your first autoresponder sequence to further automate your email list and drive more sales while you sleep. Improve your sales copy and find different ways to promote solid products/services seamlessly.
- Create more lead magnets. You shouldn’t rely on only one lead magnet to drive subscriptions. Create several opt-in “bribes” to segment subscribers into new automated sales funnels (autoresponders). Use content upgrades on your most popular content to create highly specific segments.
- Build more automated email sales funnels. Along with your new lead magnets, send potential customers into more sophisticated email sales funnels. This will build even more momentum as your product/service line or affiliate-offer portfolio grows.
Whew! That was a bit of a marathon. I hope it wasn’t too overwhelming!
Even with all the ideas we’ve discussed, I still feel like I’ve barely scratched the surface on how to start a blog and a lifestyle business that you’ll love.
In the meantime, if you have any questions about anything you’ve read here, please contact me. I’d love to hear from you!