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So, you want to start a blog? My guess is you read my post about long-term side hustles and want to make some extra money. If not, maybe you have a passion for writing, or maybe you follow a ton of bloggers and think it’s something you could do too!
Whatever the reason, thanks for joining me! Please take a seat and grab a Tim Tam while you can.
There are many ways to start a blog and almost every blogger out there will write a ‘How to Start a Blog’ post. What makes this post different, however, is that I will tell you everything you need to know. (This is a definitive guide, after all!) I understand that there’s a lot of ground to cover, but I’ve noticed that other bloggers usually omit key information like the importance of an editorial calendar and they aren’t really clear about all the costs involved in setting up a blog.
If you’re like me, money might be tight and you’ll want to know the costs upfront, as well as find the cheapest possible way to do it. Shopping around is my forte, so you’re in good hands!
Before we start, I want to make a few things clear:
- Blogging is not a get-rich-quick-scheme. Making money from a blog takes time and blogging itself should be considered a long-term strategy, not a short-term one. Check out my simple side hustles post.
- To succeed as a blogger, you need to love what you’re writing about, know who you’re writing to and consistently work hard on your content. Success comes from consistent effort and consistent, high-quality targeted content. If you lack any of these, blogging may not be the best choice for you.
- There will be some costs to starting a blog, whether or not you ever intend to make money from it. I want to make this clear from the onset, as I want you to be fully informed. In this post, however, I’ll share all of my cost-saving tips to professionally blog on a budget.
What do you mean by a “professional” blog?
A “professional” blog is:
- One that is self-hosted. There are two options when it comes to blogging: (1) You can use a free platform like WordPress.com or Blogger or (2) you can sign up for paid hosting with a company like Bluehost where you host your blog and domain name yourself (self-hosted).
- One with the ability to make money. If you use a free blogging platform, you may have to pay to make money from your site. It’s just not an option on a free platform like WordPress.com.
- One that’s customisable and is plugin compatible. Initially, I had a free WordPress.com site, but my design options were extremely limited. Likewise, if you want to do anything cool like track your analytics or display your Instagram feed, you need to be able to use plugins. Again, something unavailable to free platform users.
Why should I set up a “professional” blog?
You should set up a “professional” blog for the following reasons:
- To get the domain you want. If you use a free blogging platform, your domain name will end in “.wordpress.com” or something similar. If you self-host your blog, however, you can have any domain you want, provided it hasn’t already been bought by someone else.
- To own all the content you write. Believe it or not, if you’re blogging on WordPress.com, you don’t own the content or the blog you create; WordPress does. Maybe I’m in the minority here, but I get possessive over my work and I believe it should be mine to control. A self-hosted blog solves this problem.
- To build up your credibility as a blogger. Literally anyone can start a blog, but if you want to be taken seriously, you need to self-host your blog.
- To have the option to make money. As discussed previously, free platforms prevent you from monetising your blog. If you ever think you may one day possibly consider trying to make money from your blog, you need to go down the self-hosted route.
- To control your servers, have more storage and have more options in terms of how you design, build and optimise your blog. A self-hosted site will allow you to do almost anything you want. Who doesn’t like options?
How do I set up a “professional” blog?
Now that I’ve got you on board with setting up a professional blog, let me show you how to do it for the cheapest possible price, without skimping on quality. I’ve used all of the following services, and have even become affiliated with some of them because I’m so happy with them! There are 10 steps in this process. Bookmark or pin this post if you want to come back to it later.
STEP 1: Choose a host
First things first, if you’re going to self-host your blog, you’ve got a choose a host. As you know, all professional blogs are self-hosted. But which one to choose? Popular picks are Bluehost, Siteground, GoDaddy and A2Hosting.
You might be tempted to go for the cheapest option (I am showing you how to blog on a budget, after all). In the long run, however, you might end up losing more money by going with the least expensive option, since this price may only be an introductory offer for the first year.
Here are a few things to keep in mind when making your decision:
- Be aware of introductory prices. Additionally, investigate whether/by how much these increase when you renew your hosting (yearly).
- Prioritise quality and reliability. Your web host should offer speedy and reliable service for your site. If your site takes too long to load or crashes all the time, you could lose readers forever.
- Customer service is essential. Whether you’re confused about setting up your hosting or if a full-on disaster strikes, 24-hour customer service is essential.
- Consider bonuses. Daily backups, a free domain name, free site transfers, security certificates and options like CDN Integration to keep your site performing well when you start to gain more traffic are just some of the great extras you should look for when choosing a host.
If you want to blog on a budget, use Bluehost to host your site. Bluehost was cost-effective and ticked all of my initial criteria, including being extremely user-friendly. (I’m definitely not a tech-savvy person.) Connecting it to WordPress was also a lot more straightforward than I thought it would be. I’ve been pleased with my experience so far, and have recently renewed my hosting for another year.
Here’s how to get started on Bluehost:
- Head to Bluehost.com.
- Select a plan. (Basic is fine.)
- Buy a domain (more about this in the next section).
- Set up an account.
- Confirm payment details and buy any additional features you require.
- Make your purchase.
- Create an account.
Cost of hosting on Bluehost: $3.95 per month for the first year.
STEP 2: Choose and purchase a domain
The second thing you need to do to start a blog is choose a domain. (If you signed up to Bluehost, you may have already done this.) You can usually purchase a domain through your host for free, which is convenient, cheaper and a lot easier than trying to connect your domain to a host from an external site. If you choose to buy your domain separately, you can do so on sites like GoDaddy, Crazydomains or even through WordPress.org.
Initially, I bought my domain through WordPress.org and hosted it through Bluehost, but have since transferred my registration to my host. You can save money by buying your domain through your host, but there are pros and cons to this, and in the end, you have to weigh up whether it’s better for you to register your domain name on the same platform that you host from. Everyone’s situations are different. I recommend reading this article by Winning WP which outlines these pros and cons.
Strategies to help you choose a domain:
- Write out the mission and purpose of your blog, then identify a range of keywords that sum it up. E.g. www.empoweredmillennialgirl.com
- Identify your avatar or intended audience. E.g. techsavvymama.com
- Use your own name. E.g. www.samlaurabrown.com
More tips when choosing a domain:
- Ensure your domain is memorable, easy to pronounce, spell and sounds trustworthy. This is where a brainstorm of possible ideas comes in handy.
- Avoid awkward spellings. How does your chosen domain look when it’s combined without spaces? Choose wisely. E.g. www.speedofart.com
- Have a few possible domain options up your sleeve in case your desired domain is unavailable. A thesaurus can help you find different words with a similar meaning.
- Try to choose a domain with 15 or less characters, with no punctuation or numbers, spelled correctly. Audiences love it when you make things easy for them.
- If your domain name could easily be misspelled, consider buying domains with alternate spellings as well and redirect them to your main site. E.g. empoweredmillennialgirl.com and empoweredmillenialgirl.com
- Always try to get a domain ending in “.com”, unless you’re catering to a local audience. If you live in Australia, for example, and plan to write specifically to Australians, “.com.au” is more appropriate. Avoid lesser known extensions like “.net”, “.org” and “.co” as this may reduce your findability online.
- Consider buying other main extensions of your domain name like “.co”, “.co.uk”, “.org” and “.net” and redirecting them to your main site. Unless you plan on creating an online empire, this may not be an issue, but a site with the same domain and a different extension could cost you traffic and money down the line.
Cost of domain registration: Around $10-15 per year
STEP 3: Install WordPress.org and set up your blog
The third step in the process is to link your domain and host to a site builder. This is what sites like WordPress.org, GoDaddy, Squarespace and Wix are used for. You can use whatever platform you like, but I encourage you to use WordPress.org because it offers a range of features, including over 50,000 plugins, there are plenty of troubleshooting articles and videos available, it can handle changes (like if you want to add a podcast to your blog), is SEO friendly and is the most popular website building platform in the world! Ever heard of The New York Times, Variety, Sony Music, or Beyoncé? All of these use WordPress!
Believe it or not, you can build your site on WordPress.org for free! (Perfect for those setting up a blog on a budget.) WordPress.org is free because it uses open source software, and you have to set it up yourself with a domain and a host. There are some cons to this, but it’s what I would choose to do.
Here’s how to install WordPress.org:
- Log in to your Bluehost.
- Find the Website tab on the side and select “Install WordPress”.
- Click “Install”.
- Choose the domain name to install it to.
- If necessary, edit the email address, username and password for the new WordPress installation using “Advanced Options”.
- Read through the agreements, check the boxes and select “Install Now”.
Now you’re free to head over to WordPress (through your Bluehost account) and start building your site!
Cost to build your site on WordPress.org: FREE!
STEP 4: Choose or purchase a theme
The fourth step is the fun one: time to design your website! Before you jump ahead though, it’s important to do a little bit of brand planning. This will help you choose the right theme and encourage you to be more consistent later on.
Ask yourself the following questions before you choose your theme:
- What will the main colours of my blog be? E.g. White, black and pink.
- What fonts will I use? E.g. Serif and script (for logo).
- What’s my style? E.g. Classic, minimal and feminine.
- How do I want visitors to feel when they visit my blog? E.g. Attracted to the pictures, understood as a person and interested in the content.
Once you’ve made these decisions, you have two options: (1) You can either choose a free theme on WordPress, or (2) purchase one that suits your needs. Since you plan to blog on a budget, I’ve included instructions below on how to set up a free theme below.
How to set up a free theme:
- Log in to your Bluehost
- Click “Log in to WordPress”.
- Click on “Appearance” (on the left sidebar).
- Click on “Themes” and “Add new”.
- When you find one you like, click “Install”, then “Activate”.
- Finally, customise your theme by clicking on “Appearance” again, then clicking on the “Customise” option.
If you followed the steps above, you might be dissatisfied with your options. Free themes are great, but they don’t really excite anyone or do much other than display your content. There’s a world of possibilities for what you can do with your blog, and free themes usually don’t have as many capabilities as a paid one.
Personally, I think it’s worth investing in a paid theme for the following reasons:
- Paid themes look more professional. If you were comparing a basic template with a pretty one, which one would appeal more? Paid templates stand out and make you seem more credible to readers.
- Paid themes are more customisable. You may be able to customise free themes, but there are usually some limits to what you can do. Paid themes offer you much more flexibility and may include additional features such as Instagram widgets, sliders and more so you can make your blog look exactly how you want!
- Some paid themes are more optimised for SEO than free themes. SEO stands for Search Engine Optimisation and it’s what you need to consider when you’re building your blog if you want people to find your content online. Give yourself a head start by having an optimised theme!
What to look for when choosing a WordPress (or whatever site builder you choose) supported theme:
- A simple, clean design with customisation options. No theme will look exactly how you want, so ensure you can customise important features like colours and promo boxes at the very least.
- Mobile compatibility. Most of my audience view my blog posts on their phones, and yours probably will too, so it’s important that your site works well and looks good on mobile and tablet, as well as desktop.
- SEO optimisation. When you’re trying to get eyeballs on your content, SEO plays a major factor in whether or not it gets found online. Make sure your theme is optimised for SEO.
- What plugins it supports (and doesn’t). Plugins are a powerful way to enhance your website, so make sure your theme at least supports the important ones, like Yoast SEO, Monster Insights and
- If it’s translation and multilingual ready. To reach an even wider audience, make sure your theme is translation ready and supports multilingual plugins.
- Highly-rated reviews. Anyone can create a theme, but that doesn’t make it good! Look carefully at the reviews or star ratings a theme has been given before purchasing one.
You can buy website themes on digital marketplaces like Etsy, Envato, Creative Market or from specialty websites like Pipdig, Bluchic or 17th Avenue Designs. I highly recommend Creative Market because it’s one of the cheapest places to purchase website themes, offers thousands of options and you can trust that payment will be processed securely. I bought my current theme on Creative Market for $25, which shows you don’t have to spend a lot to get a professional looking website! In summary, you can (and should) use a paid theme, even if you plan to blog on a budget.
Final note: If you purchase a theme, you’ll need to install it onto WordPress to be able to use it. Set up instructions are usually included with the purchase of a theme and are relatively easy to do. If the developer hasn’t included instructions, check the item description on the website you bought it from, Google it, or worst-case scenario; contact the developer!
Cost of a website theme: $0-$100
STEP 5: Set up an editorial calendar
Now that you’ve set up your blog, the next step is to decide on a posting schedule and plan out your blog posts. Together these make up what is known as an editorial calendar.
Consistency is key when it comes to blogging. There’s no set rule for how often you should post, as long as you’re posting as consistently as possible i.e. on the same day every week/fortnight/month. This is probably one of the least appealing parts of setting up a blog, but it’s crucial if you want to grow your audience.
How to come up with blog post ideas:
- Decide on your niche. E.g. Health, fashion, travel, personal development, lifestyle.
- Identify what topics you see yourself discussing on your blog (and what you don’t).
- Consider or find out what your ideal avatar or intended reader wants to read/learn about in your niche.
- Choose some categories for your blog. E.g. Recipes, meal plans, workout routines.
- Take at least 15 minutes to brainstorm blog post ideas that fall under each category.
Once you’ve got some ideas, you’ll need to decide upon the order in which you’re going to write them. Plan as far ahead as you want. I like to write about a different category each week, but you could have a theme for the month where you solely focus on one category. Do what appeals to you, then start writing!
There are different ways to create an editorial calendar. If you’re a digital person, you could use Google Calendar, ClickUp or Asana to plan out your content. (Hint: Google Calendar and ClickUp are free.) Alternatively, if your worst fear is losing everything and not having a backup, you could use a good old-fashioned paper planner. Choose whatever works best for you and your budget!
Initially, I used a cheap blank paper planner which cost about $10. (Hardly a huge investment.) This year I was gifted The Content Planner which also allows me to set blog goals, plan hashtags and keep an eye on important dates. I wouldn’t recommend this, however, if you’re just starting out. (We’re starting a blog on a budget and there’s a reason it was gifted!)
Cost of an editorial calendar: $0-$110 per year
STEP 6: Set up social media accounts
When you’ve written some blog posts, you’ll need to apply the sixth step in the process and set up social media accounts, specifically for you blog. (No personal accounts here.) You should create separate accounts on Instagram, Facebook, Pinterest and Twitter for your blog in order to separate your blog from your personal life. Utilising social media is one of the most effective ways to promote your content and gain readers and traffic.
It may sound daunting to keep up with all of these platforms, but you really only have to focus on one or two of them. (Which platform/s you focus on depends on where your avatar hangs out.) I only use the remaining platforms to promote my weekly blog posts, which takes me less than ten minutes to schedule every week. Did I mention, it’s also FREE?!
Setting up social media accounts as a promotional tool for your blog is a no-brainer if you want to blog on a budget! I encourage you to take advantage of the free business account feature that Instagram and Pinterest have, as they can provide you with analytics such as the best time to post, let you see how much traffic you’re receiving and also show you what your most popular posts are. If I were you, I’d set up a business account on Instagram, Facebook and Pinterest while I can. Who knows when they might become a pay to play platform.
Cost of setting up your blog’s social media accounts: FREE!
STEP 7: Consider the use of stock photos and graphics software
The next step in setting up a blog is to consider the type/s of images you’ll use on your site and on social media. Written content is fine, but it’s your images that will catch readers’ attention and help you to stand out from the crowd. (Hello, Instagram and Pinterest.)
You have three options when it comes to the photography:
- Take all of your own photos. For this you will need lots of time and a high quality smart phone or digital camera. Cost: $500+
- Use free stock photos. My favourite sources are Pexels, Unsplash and Kaboom Pics.
- Subscribe to a stock photo membership site. Perfect for consistent photo styling and high-quality pictures. If you have it in your budget, check out Haute Stock, Styled Stock Society and Ivory Mix. Cost: $120+ per year
Cost of blog photography: Unlimited
Graphics software is also a must. Why? To create promotional graphics such as pins for Pinterest (see the image below). You can also use it to create brand logos, headers and banners, as well as to edit any photos you take.
These free tools are essential for your blog:
- Canva. A graphic design website that lets you create anything, with millions of free fonts, photos and graphics to choose from. All you need to do is create an account to save your projects!
- Adobe Photoshop (mobile). A handy app to quickly touch up photos or add special effects. Perfect in combination with Adobe Lightroom.
- Adobe Lightroom (mobile). The one-and-only photo editor that every well-known blogger in the world uses, and for good reason. If you want to create a beautiful Instagram feed, you can use Lightroom to create your own preset so all of your photos look consistent.
Many well-known bloggers use the full version of Adobe Photoshop and Adobe Lightroom to edit photos on their desktop. I don’t. An Adobe Cloud subscription (which allows you to access all of the Adobe applications) will set you back $600 a year, so it’s not really justifiable if you want to blog on a budget, especially when you can do it all on your phone for free.
Cost of graphics software: FREE!
STEP 8: Create a freebie
Once you’ve gotten the hang of posting regularly to your blog, it’s time to take things up a notch by creating a free resource! Creating a resource gives you the chance to be more creative and it’s a brilliant way to provide extra value to your readers. Freebies also allow you to grow your email list (a following you actually own), which I will discuss in the next section.
Examples of freebies:
- Worksheet or workbook.
- Chart or table.
- Report or guide.
- List or recipe.
- Audio or video recording.
I create all of my resources using a free account on Canva. (Ideal if you’re setting up a blog on a budget!) A good rule of thumb is to create something that you know will do well because it goes hand in hand with one of your most popular blog posts. That being said, the resource needs to enhance what you’ve shared. For example, last year I wrote a budgeting post and created a fully-formatted budgeting spreadsheet to support it so that readers could easily apply the steps mentioned. It makes sense and adds value to the content!
Cost of creating a freebie on Canva: FREE!
If you want to create multiple resources to grow your email list, you can set up a password protected resource library on your site to share them. (Check out mine below.) To do this you will be required to purchase a plugin such as Essential Grid which costs less than $30. In my opinion, if you have a lot of resources to share, this plugin is well worth the money. This is the exact tutorial I used to set up a resource library.
Cost for resource library plugin: $27
STEP 9: Start an email list
Now that you’ve created a resource (or a few), your next move should be to sign up for a mailing service like MailChimp or ConvertKit. Why do you need one? You’ll need an email service to create a sign-up form. Sign-up forms are a way for those who are interested in your resources to give you their email address so they can receive your freebie instantaneously. Mailing services are also used to send out newsletters and to inform your readers about offers, challenges and other exciting news.
Personally, I use MailChimp because it’s a free service with good reporting and attractive templates. To blog on a budget, I wouldn’t waste money on bigger platforms like Drip or ConvertKit. It’s just not worth it if you’re starting out. Nevertheless, if you’re interested in the other options out there, this article compares the best mailing platforms.
Cost to use MailChimp: FREE for the first 2,000 subscribers
How do I approach GDPR? I have a Privacy and Disclosure page on my blog and I freely give those who sign up for my resource library the password without any strings attached. Yes, I encourage visitors to sign up to my newsletter to receive further communication from me, but it’s optional after I have given them the freebies. It’s not an automatic sign up.
STEP 10: Utilise hello bars, pop-ups, sidebars and more
The final step in setting up your blog is utilising hello bars, pop-ups and sidebars (to name a few). If you want people to sign up for your freebie/s and join your mailing list, you need to catch their attention and give them a way to get to your sign-up form!
If there’s ever anything you want to add to your blog, plugins are usually the answer. Therefore, if you want to include hello bars, pop-ups, and sidebars, you’ll need to download a few plugins through WordPress. Many bloggers use paid services like Thriveleads or Leadpages to add pop-ups to their sites, but there are free plugins that work just as well for those creating a blog on a budget.
These are the free opt-in plugins I use:
- Icegram. With Icegram you can easily create a hello bar and additional features like a messenger pop-up to gain immediate attention when someone visits a page on your site.
- Hustle. This plugin allows you to easily create custom pop-ups, slide-ins and embed sign-up forms at the bottom of blog posts.
- Elementor. Instagram only lets you share one link in your bio. You can use Elementor to create a landing page on your site where you can share multiple links in one place. Then all you need to do is share the link for your landing page. Easy! (Pictured below.)
Cost of opt-in plugins: FREE!
How much does it cost to set up a “professional” blog?
How long’s a piece of string? There’s no exact figure I can give you if you want to set up a “professional” blog, since everyone’s budgets are different and there are so many variables to consider. That being said, I can give you approximate costs and you can go from there.
At the very least, to blog on a budget it will cost you about $47 for the first year. This covers your hosting and domain on Bluehost. If you also want to purchase a swanky theme from Creative Market, it could cost around $106 altogether since the average price of a website theme is $59. If you had the money, you could easily spend $2k on all the equipment, software, plugins and resources that well-known bloggers are using, but you don’t need to! Work out your budget and stick to it.
Please be aware that the prices above are a guideline, based on the businesses mentioned previously in this post, at the time of writing. Keep in mind that you’ll have to pay for your hosting and renew your domain registration every year and that prices may increase.
There are 10 steps to starting a blog. Firstly, you need to choose a host and purchase a domain, then you’ll need to install a site builder like WordPress.org and choose a theme. Next, you’ll need to set up an editorial calendar and your social media accounts. Consider the types of images you’ll use and download graphics software. When you’re ready, create a freebie and start building an email list. Finally, utilise plugins to catch readers’ attention. If you want to start a blog on a budget, you can easily create a professional site for $100 or less! If you want to create a blog, “budget” should no longer be an excuse. So, what are you waiting for? Let’s get your blog started today!
If you found this post helpful, please share it! Or if you used this guide to set up your blog, please link your domain in the comments below. I’d LOVE to see what you do!