How to Start a Blog (and Keep it Going!)

Start a BlogMy friends at Bluehost are offering to ramp up my referral commission, simply for writing a “how to” guide for starting your own blog. I figure, why not? I donate 50% of the meager earnings of abandonedcubicle.com to worthy charities, with the rest going to the twins’ college fund. A little bump can’t hurt, right? Besides, I really enjoy this blogging stuff. Over a year into it now, I’m surprised by the unexpected benefits this new habit has yielded.

If memory serves me, I followed a link from Financial Samurai’s wonderful blog to fire up my own. Sam is shameless in promoting others to blog. I like that. You never know what talent lurks within you, and the gobs and gobs of cash you’ll make by writing about things you never thought others would care about. A-hem…

Anyhow, I found the process to be pretty straightforward. Assuming you’re a savvy computer type, you can be rocking your new blog within an hour. All you have to do is head over to Bluehost.com and follow the prompts.

 

Some things to consider though, before you start down this exciting new journey:

  1. Think about a good domain name, like “abandonedcubicle.com.” Genius! Just don’t go for a name that’s too long, or people will forget what your site is when they’re telling their friends all about it at happy hour. I have to give my buddy Josh a little shit here. He started out with “MoneyLifeandtheWholeBallofWax.com.” Don’t do that. Josh quickly caught on and relabeled his site “MoneyLifeWax.com.” Much improved.
  2. Have a clear plan for what your blog will actually be about. There are so many communities out there carving out niches in a super diverse and topic-rich web. My niche is early retirement and personal finance follies. Others enjoy writing about traveling all over the world. If you’re into Pinterest, maybe recipes, food, and crafts are your passion? The main thing is to keep your theme fairly consistent, so your readers aren’t left guessing what the hell your focus is. This is just a tip if you care to build a readership, otherwise, you can certainly treat your blog like a personal diary; albeit a pricey one.
  3. Be ready to WRITE. Blogs are like pets. They need care and feeding. And even when you’re away on vacation, you might just have to take the blog with you to keep your readers well-fed. Writing can be difficult at times, especially when it seems that every topic has been covered ad nauseam. Remember though: This isn’t about sharing your personal discoveries on the wisdom of Index Funds. Your focus should be on sharing your personal experiences, opinions, and straight up storytelling. Leave the stale repeats for Yahoo! Finance.
  4. Recognize that it takes time to build your readership. It can take up to two years or more of consistent effort before your page hits really start to take off. You might be just that good of a writer with an incredible story that gets everyone’s attention, but we’re not all Mr. Money Mustache here. Be okay with that, and keep your expectations within reason, so you don’t get disappointed early on.

Ready to join the fun? Select the Basic plan – which is all you need for now:

You’ll then be asked to enter your domain name of choice. I entered “MrBrokeRetiree.com” and much to my surprise, the domain is available. Finders keepers!

The rest of the process is pretty straightforward. You basically enter your payment information and create a password. Avoid adding any extras at this point. You don’t need them now and you can always add later. I still don’t have anything beyond the basic plan, and I’m over a year into this. Let’s move on to more fun stuff!

At this point, we can select a free theme to get started with. I highly recommend you start with a free theme until you get yourself established. Many of the top bloggers out there continue to do just fine with a free theme, relying on the power of their words to draw in readers. As for me? I waited a year to buy a theme and I’m still not convinced it’s been that great of an upgrade. I tinker too damned much.

And that, folks, is all there is to it! Okay okay… There’s a LOT more to it than that. I’ll share some bits of wisdom next, so you can avoid some of the pitfalls I stumbled into out of the gates.

 

WordPress for Dummies

There’s all sorts of things you can do to customize your blog and optimize with countless plug-ins. I’ll only walk through the basics as it’ll be all you need for now. The first thing you’ll want to do is launch your new blog. The screenshot below is pretty self-explanatory:

Once you’ve launched, you can start hammering out blog posts like a mofo, and changing the world with your velvety prose and compelling arguments. Or, you can be like me and spend hours fiddling with fonts, colors, and menu arrangements. I suggest a healthy blend of the two. Simply take the time to get familiar with the user interface, and use Google to learn as you go.

I mentioned Plugins and I figure it fair to show you what I have installed. I recommend you try to limit the number of plugins you install, as they degrade the speed of your blog as you install more and more of them.

start blog

start blog

The essentials in this list are Akismet Anti-spam, Jetpack (variety of useful tools), UpdraftPlus (free back-up), and Yoast SEO (search engine optimization.) Down the road, you’ll want to explore options to keep your blog humming with speed. I prefer WP Smush to keep my images from bloating the load time of abandonedcubicle.com. W3 Total Cache and WP-Optimize are like mouthwash for your hosting database. Keeps things clean and fresh.

When you really want to get advanced, check out Cloudflare. This is a free service that allows your images and videos to be hosted separately from Bluehost, also reducing your blog’s load time. Hold off on this until you’ve got a few months under your belt.

 

Cubert’s Advice on Blogging

Having done this blogging thing for a whopping 14 months now, I’ve made my share of mistakes, but also found some unexpected success along the way. Blogging has proven to be a wonderful outlet. I enjoy writing and I also enjoy being a smart-ass. Combining the two has seemed to work well enough to keep me at this little hobby.

There was a three-month spell earlier this spring when the blog went dormant. It’s easy to let that happen and I’ll share some advice to help you avoid the trap.

Here’s my top 10 tips for ramping up to blogging success (based on my very own lessons learned):

  1. Join the community

    In the personal finance space, I highly recommend checking out the forums at RockstarFinance.com and MrMoneyMustache.com. Make your presence known with an introduction. We’re a friendly bunch, and you may even discover other bloggers where you live. This creates options for meet-ups and happy hours where you can share ideas to make your blog that much better (and make friends in the process!) Get a Twitter account and connect with other bloggers, but don’t let it consume you. It can become a huge, time-wasting distraction.

  2. Comment on other blogs

    One of the best ways to generate traffic and interest in your blog is to actually engage in what others are writing in your niche. Those who reciprocate often become blogging pals and it creates a circle of virtual friends. Kinda neat. I like to use Feedly to keep up with my peers. There’s so much good content out there!

  3. Write guest posts

    Reach out to some of the leaders in your niche who publish guest posts. This is a great way to get your blog known and generate interest. Within a month of firing up my blog, J. Money over at BudgetsAreSexy.com graciously published this guest spot and all the sudden I started getting some traction.

  4. Use as many of your own photos as possible

    I learned the hard way that those stock images are just sort of artificial. In an era of smart phones, you really have no excuse for not getting out there and snapping away. I’ll occasionally throw in stock pics to emphasize a point, but I feel I connect better with the audience with the personal touch of photos I’ve taken myself.

  5. Keep your site clean in look and feel

    Think “minimalist.” Nothing is more off-putting than visiting a blog and being slammed with pop-up forms, display ads, and other marketing bullshit. Check out Joshua Becker’s blog for a great example of keeping it clean and easy on the eyes. Remember, you want people coming back.

  6. Avoid repeating the “Greatest Hits” of Mr. Money Mustache and other elders in the space

    Unless you have a personal angle chock full of anecdotes and lessons learned, you might not get a lot of love for posts about the virtues of the Health Savings Account and the 401K Employer Match. I’m guilty as charged. Look through my backlog of greatest misses and no further than this “How to” post you’re reading now. 🙂

  7. Carve out time to write, and keep your posting schedule consistent

    It wasn’t until I took on the 5AM wake-up call habit that I finally found the time to focus on my writing. It’s been a revelation. Prior to that, I was lucky to produce one post every two weeks. I now put out two outstanding New York Times quality posts per week, on Mondays and Thursdays. What ego???

  8. Don’t wait too long to switch your blog to HTTPS

    HTTPS is a much more secure option for your site and is a fairly easy migration. Reach out to Grayson Bell who can do this for you and at a very reasonable cost of $65. Bluehost offers SSL security for free, so why not take advantage?

  9. Don’t overdo it with guest posts on your blog

    Establish your brand and voice first, then you can consider bringing other authors into the mix. Some of the best at this are J. Money at BudgetsAreSexy.com, Mr. 1500 at 1500 days to Freedom, and the good doctor at PhysicianOnFire.com. They take pains to make sure the guest content will be well-received, and that the author’s style complements their own writing.

  10. Remember to write for fun, and don’t be too harsh of a self-critic

    At one point this blog felt like a chore, maybe because I felt I had to hit every mark to measure up to the masters. Consequently, a better approach is to write as if you’re having a chat with a good friend at happy hour. You can throw in a few swear words even. You’ll get your point across better if you sound natural and conversational. Avoid trying to sound like Mr. Early Retirement, PhD. (Note how I used the word “consequently” there, which is great for SEO, but terrible if you want someone to listen to you pontificate over beers.)

Go Write Some!

There you have it. A pretty straightforward little tutorial on firing up your very own blog. Give it a shot, and feel free to drop me a note if you have any questions. Having nearly sabotaged this site a few times, I’m happy to share what I’ve learned these past several months. Enjoy the ride, and let it flow!

Comments 18

  1. Nice how-to Cubert! Now that I am officially a blogger I wonder how long until I succumb and get my very own bluehost how-to :). I’m joking of course! and your reasons are solid :). I really like point #6: Avoid repeating the “Greatest Hits” of Mr. Money Mustache and other elders in the space. That’s tough to do for new bloggers. I think that you start out imitating and then you get your own voice. There also seems to be a coming out of your shell type process. You slowly learn that its actually your opinions that people want to hear.

    1. Hey Handy! Appreciate that. I have to give Bluehost credit. They reached out to me about a month ago and very politely and patiently checked in every week or so to poke me about this idea. They’re a good outfit.
      It is tough for new bloggers and I have to cut them some slack. I am guilty of that very “sin” myself. The main thing is even if you choose to right about the benefits of say, “biking to work”, you should wrap it up with your personal experiences to make it genuine.

      1. Good point Cubert! I also found that I really like how some people write. So sometimes I am willing to read something form a particular author just because of how they say it. Millennial Revolution is a good example of this. I enjoy her slight sharpness. Although I think this could go both ways. Its a tough line to walk.

  2. Great stuff as usual. I like the screenshot of your plugins – something new bloggers all need help with!!

    Yes please don’t make your domain name 8 words and some 30ish letters like me haha.

    -Josh

    1. Thanks, Amy. I really don’t expect too much more to flow into the coffers, but if it does come, I’ll be excited to send half to the CDLS Foundation. The rest my kids will need for the insane cost of college tuition… Assuming I don’t send them to welding school instead?

    1. Gracias! Yes, you need to contact Grayson. He also helped me set up redirects when I F’ed up my permalinks a few months back. It only took him a few minutes, I think. I just had to give him access to my BH and WP.

  3. Great guide Cubert! This makes me feel stupid, but one of my early blogging mistakes was that I did not realize that you could schedule posts to publish in the future. That led to an aborted start in 2016, where I felt I could not keep up and post regularly.

    After I learned about the scheduling feature (which I did just clicking around through WordPress) it all changed, since I realized I could write multiple posts in advance and auto-publish them later. I’d say this has been a key, for me, to consistent blogging.

    Another thing I love about blogging is that it makes you have your own business (or at least your own project). I think this helps take you out of an “employee mentality” of following orders, and exercises other awesome life skills (creativity, self-motivation, problem-solving, etc.). At least that’s been my case!

    1. Thanks, Miguel! I haven’t used the schedule posts feature yet, but I’m certain I’ll try it at some point down the road.
      You make a great point about the “business” aspect of this. I think like you, I carry some of this to work with me and gives me confidence when I have to write a succinct report back to executives. Writing skills and people skills are really the difference makers in corporate America. A blog is a nice place to hone and refine the writing side.

    1. You’re doing quite well, Dylan. Really nice look and feel, and solid content. Happy to be blogging along wich’ya!
      Pretty Links turns long URLs into compact strings – good for affiliate links that tend to be super long.

  4. Great post, I need to look into guest posting as well. As far as not repeating classics, at some point I think it’s fair to say that every possible thing has been written about. I think it’s how a particular blogger puts an individual spin or real story on a topic that can interest people and draw them in. For those of us who are FI, I think “spend way less than you earn and invest the difference” is true for all of us, but its the individual experiences and stories of doing that connect with people.

    1. Thanks, AF! I think the exhausted topics is why I contemplated a travel series. I might consider poetry at some point… 🙂
      Definitely my point though – you need to make those tried and true methods *personal* on your posts!

  5. Lovely post! My blog is more for me than anyone else – for me to practice writing skills and web development skills. Of course, I do want people to visit and hopefully comment so I can get some feedback on the skills I am always trying to get to the next level.

    1. Hey Joe – Nothing wrong with that! I have to believe a good number of the higher traffic blogs out there are framed up with similar intent as yours. Best in your endeavors, and thanks for stopping by!

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