How to Start Your Own Blog

by Carlos Portocarrero on 5 October 2009 13 comments
Photo: John A Ward

I'm a huge believer in starting a blog to further your career — you'll learn so much in the process that in the end you'll become a better job candidate and a better employee. From SEO and writing skills to marketing and creativity, blogging can teach you a lot valuable skills.

But how do you get started? Most people get caught up in the excitement and the first thing they do is start spending money. They buy a domain name, a few custom themes for their site, and hire a designer to create a logo.

But take it from someone who's been doing it for years: that's not the right order. Here's a better way to get started:

Brainstorm

Starting a blog is like starting a business: you don't just get an idea and decide to launch it the next day. You need to think things through first.

Here are some questions you should ask yourself:

  • What are you so passionate about that you'll potentially write about every day?
  • What makes your blog different?
  • Is there an audience out there for what you'll be blogging about?
  • Do you want to make money or is this strictly about drawing an audience or furthering your career?
  • Do you have the time?

When I started The Writer's Coin, I had been reading personal-finance blogs for a long time and it hit me — I could do this. There was a lot of stuff being written and only 15% of it was any good. I wanted to become a part of that 15%.

I was also becoming very passionate about personal finance so I wanted an avenue to express that.

And yes, when I heard people were making thousands of dollars a month, I wanted to make some money too. I didn't think through most of the questions I listed, and I had to learn that the hard way.

Practice

There are two major blogging platforms out there: Blogger and Wordpress. I'm a Wordpress nut, so that's what I'm going to recommend every chance I get.

But here's the best part: they're both free.

I started blogging on thewriterscoin.wordpress.com — it was free because I wasn't using my own domain. It's great because it gives you a testing ground to see if this is really something you want to do without spending any money.

The free version of Wordpress isn't as robust, but it's all you need to get started. And don't worry, if and when you decide to move on the next level, Wordpress makes it a smooth transition.

Why is practicing for free such a big deal? Because most blogs die pretty quickly. Eventually, people realize they aren't as passionate about the topic or the idea of blogging after a month or so. So practicing lets you get started without spending any money — it's kind of like the ten-second rule only this one should last at least a few months.

When I decided to launch a second blog about baseball, I first tested it out and sure enough, two months later I realized I didn't have the desire to make it an ongoing thing. Total cost: $0. I did write a bunch of posts and spend quite a bit of time on it, but I didn't spend any money. No harm, no foul — that's the point of starting on a free platform.

It took me about three months before I realized that, yes, I wanted to keep doing this indefinitely. That's when I got my own domain and decided to step it up. And one thing you should know ahead of time: you will get better. So it's a good idea to get the shitty first drafts out of the way before you move up to the next level.

Make Time

"If you want to be a good writer you have to do two things — read a lot and write a lot." —Stephen King

Same goes with blogging. If you thought all you'd be doing is writing, you're wrong. And guess what? You're going to need a LOT of time to do the reading and writing it takes to set up your blog.

Set up a routine where you have a couple of hours a day to work on this. Trust me, you'll need every bit of that time and then some. For me, the mornings before I go to work are the best time: it's quiet and my brain is ready to roll.

Some tips:

  • Take a notebook with you wherever you go to jot down any ideas you may have about stuff to write about.
  • Read Problogger, Copyblogger, and every blog related to your niche that you think is good. Every day.
  • Write three posts a day if you can. The more you write early on, the quicker you'll find your voice.
  • Use Creative Commons for images — they make a big difference
  • Network like crazy: without a community you'll have nothing.

Take it to the Next Level

So you went through all the steps and three months later you've got a blog you're still passionate about. But you want more. More flexibility, more features, more everything.

Now's the time to buy your domain name. If you want a theme that isn't free, now's the time to do it. Want to hire someone to create a custom logo? This is the time. (I used this guy—he's good.)

I know this last step is pretty vague — it could be a long post of its own — but once you've gotten to this point you should have a bunch of people that you can ask for help. That's how I learned: by asking questions.

Now you're basically starting your own business. Success doesn't necessarily mean money, but it should mean you're getting what you want out of it. You should be learning new things, your writing should be getting better, and you should be getting to know new people in the space.

These are all the reasons you started the blog in the first place, remember? Next time you go to an interview, regardless of what field you're in, showing a potential employer that you've taken the initiative to blog about what you do is a huge point that will make you stand out among other candidates.

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Guest's picture
Craig

Blogging should be looked as a way to have an online portfolio and resume builder more than a business. Unless it is paired with another product that can be sold, it is difficult to make money from blogging.

Guest's picture

Blogging is great, because no matter who you are, your posts have equal access to the marketplace of ideas. If you write compelling ideas, you will gain readership; if not, then it's the other way around.

And if you want to learn marketing and networking, it's hands down the best way.

Financial Samurai's picture

Fantastic outlet for anybody to practice their first amendment right.

Keigu,

Financial Samurai
"Slicing Through Money's Mysteries"

Guest's picture

I am relatively new blogger at http://www.mewothoutdebt.com and have been using Blogger. I feel Wordpress is more customizable (and hence elegant) but somewhat is more expensive than Blogger and also more complicated for a new bloggers. I believe maybe Blogger is a good for starting bloggers until they are ready to spend some more time and money and move on to Wordpress.

Guest's picture

I started on blogger and moved to wordpress... And it's been great! I haven't jumped into paying for hosting, but I did buy my own domain name through WP. (It helps a lot in my niche for search engine results, so I've noticed.) I did this early on in the blog, mostly because I had been writing about cars for a while already and wanted a new blog to start clean after I figured out what direction I wanted to go in. (That's where I made the jump from blogger to wordpress.)

I think an important part is to have a set schedule for posts. For my blog, a post goes up every three days. This lets me write good content without churning out crappy, sub-par articles just to meet a deadline. If you set up a schedule, you can let readers know and they can either check back every once in a while to read your blog or else sign up for RSS feed and not have to worry about missing it. Just because you don't post content everyday doesn't mean you should skip writing everyday if that's important to you. (I just write when I feel inspired, which isn't too hard when you have a forgiving posting schedule like mine.)

Then again, I'm just working on my writing and all before I try to monetize anything. I'd rather join another blog as a staff writer or publish articles in magazines than monetize my blog. I like blogging for blogging's sake. :)

Guest's picture
Kevin

I have been blogging since 2007 and didn't really pay attention to my blog until this year. I realized that indeed there is earning potential for blogs and there is a real need for valuable information out there. There is so much crap on the net that if you come up with valuable content people will really respond. The issue though is the time!

Guest's picture

Great article!

Wish I'd read it years ago, but I have also learned the hard way. This is excellent advice, and I totally agree that you should write about what you're passionate about and make the necessary time to do so.

I'm crazy about barter, own my own barter business, so it makes logical sense that that is what my blog is about, but I have others too.

My best advice would be to start for FUN first, enjoy it, get involved with the friendly blogging community, and you'll either catch "Blogging-itus" (I just made that up!) or you won't.

Thanks for the post again!

Guest's picture

Thanks for the great advice!

Guest's picture
Robin Lupton

I really appreciate this advice. It is incredibly helpful. I'm not a blogger...yet. (this is actually my first comment ever) I would like to get started blogging for several of the reasons listed above, Mainly to network, get my writing out there and enhance my career. I do have a few questions about this however, do you think it is actually possible to hurt your career by having a poor blog and it there a blog distilling the etiquette if their is such a thing for blogging. Thanks.

Carlos Portocarrero's picture

Hey Robin, it can definitely reflect poorly on you if the blog sucks, that's for sure. But if you aren't confident you can always be anonymous. That's what I do. As for sites to help get you started, I would visit Copyblogger and ProBlogger, they're a great start.

Good luck!

The Writer's Coin  |  Follow me on Twitter

Guest's picture

I agree blogging can help you in your career also. I think through blogging and commenting on other blogs it has translated into my regular full time job that I have also. I think I respond to my emails at work better and I think this has come about through my commenting on blogs.

I think to be successful in blogging you have to definately have to pick a topic that you are passionate about. If you are passionate about it it will make writing about the topic that much easier. I think it can at times find the right subject for yourself, but you just need to keep searching and you will find it. Remember just like you said success doesn't always mean money. Just creating your own blog and writing about topics that you are passionate about and getting readers and comments on your blog makes you successful. It is a great feeling to have people come to your blog and make comments.

Jim

Guest's picture
Peter

Blogging can be a great way to build a second income, be a good creative outlet and it doesn't have to be hard. My advice to those who want to blog and know they're in it for the long haul? Start out on Wordpress.org self hosted platform as it's the best, is the most customizable, and you'll be switching to it later on anyway if you stick to it. How much does it cost? A domain name ($10) and 1 year of hosting = $60 or so. $5-7 a month is a worthwhile investment - you'll be glad you did.

Thanks for the plug for my logo design side-business/blog WC!

Guest's picture
Tanha

I have been using Blogger as my free blogging platform for a few months now. I do want to move on to having my own domain. Thanks for the tips like ProBlogger as well as for images (Creative Commons).