Here’s the truth. You can launch (and start to grow) a blog on a budget. Like an epic, baller blog. As with many of our posts, we dive deep, so you may want to grab a tasty beverage and get comfy because what you’re about to learn can be the foundation for starting (or relaunching) a beautiful blog with a small (or non-existent) budget.
There are 10 main sections to read through, each with resources (free, inexpensive, mid-range, and high-end --> if you want to ball out in certain areas) and tools you can start using today.
If I may say, before we get into the blog launch guide: Launching a successful blog, whether on a slim budget or super duper budget, takes a lot of work. When launching on a budget, you're going to have to get a smidge more crafty, research-y, and DIY-y than the next person, but the process of learning and doing will be valuable because you'll then understand the ins and outs of your site and strategy. Every popular + useful blog takes a huge investment, whether it's almost all time, almost all money, or a healthy mix of both.
Also, this guide is more like a class on how to start your blog (with a small budget) than it is a blog post. I just want to warn you that this is probably best for people who are really serious about starting/re-starting a blog, because it's intense.
Here’s your table of contents:
1. Planning // 2. CMS or Platform // 3. Brand Identity // 4. Domain + Hosting // 5. Blog or Theme Design // 6. Images // 7. Style Guide // 8. Making Money While Your Blog is Still New // 9. Plugins + Extras // 10. Promotion
1. Planning Your Blog on a Budget
Planning is your new BFF. Saving money/stress/headache/time on your blog launch will require good planning. There are a lot of decisions to make when you get into the details of launching or relaunching a blog that you hope to truly start #winning with. We'll address many of these important topics in this post, but . . .
There are a few crucial things to plan out first: your topics or niche, your blog's ideal audience, your blog categories, the types of posts + content you will create, and your blogging frequency. I recommend waiting to finalize the name of your blog until you've done the "ideal blog reader survey" activity and formed your "ideal reader brief" linked in the DIY Tools and Tips of this section because this often influences what name would appeal to your reader.
If you want to get started on planning the items above now, feel free to download, print, and fill out the simple "getting started" Blog Planning Cheat Sheet directly below. Also check out the questions below the worksheet to get you thinking.
Some questions you may want to answer:
What are your goals and desired outcomes of this blog for your life and lifestyle?
What are your goals and desired outcomes of this blog for your readers?
If you were breaking down what you will blog about into 3 - 5 categories, what would they be?
What are five example posts you might create? (Just the title or gist of the post will do.)
Do you want to set your blog up so that you can make money from it? If so, how much would you ideally make per month from it in the future?
Is the idea "worth it" to you if it doesn't make any "real" money for the first nine months to a year?
How often do you see yourself posting to your blog?
What is the amount of time you can reasonably expect to commit to writing for, promoting, tweaking, and improving your blog each week?
What is your ideal timeframe to launch your blog?
What does success look like to you with your blog? "I'll feel my blog is successful when __________"
If you plan well, and can give an honest answer you feel good about to the questions above, then when it comes time to make all the other decisions you have coming up, you'll have a lot more clarity. Can you try to trust me on this one? Me who has done it the very disorganized and unclear way in the past? Thanks.
How to Decide What to Blog About via Amy Lynn Andrews +
Personalized coaching + blog planning from a blog coach (Sarah Von Bargen, or
XOSarah.com, or moi)
DIY Tools + Tips
>> Create a Blog Business Plan
>> Check out some books on blogging: Blog, Inc.: Blogging for Passion, Profit, and to Create Community + Blogging for Creatives: How designers, artists, crafters and writers can blog to make contacts, win business and build success
2. Picking a Blog CMS on a Budget
Since you're planning to blog regularly, a CMS will make your life happy. A CMS is simply a content management system (in other words: a way to easily manage your blog content without knowing code). Your blog's CMS is also often referred to as its platform.
Each blog platform has its own advantages for different types of bloggers and blogs. There isn't one platform that is always the best solution for everyone. I used to actually believe WordPress could solve every problem and fill every need. Don't judge me. I was in love. Actually, I'm still in love and it's what I use (screenshot of the WordPress CMS below), but there are other great platforms out there. View the posts in the "Tools + Tips" section below for some well-explained overviews of the benefits of each of the main CMS platforms available.
Inexpensive: WordPress.org, self-hosted, which is free software that will need to be used with an inexpensive hosting account (explained in Section 4)
High-end: Shopify (if you'll be selling a whole lot of items, this is a highly useful platform)
Tools + Tips How to Choose the Best Platform for Your Blog Best Blogging Platforms (which does not include an overview of WordPress.org, so please view the article above for that) WordPress.com vs. WordPress.org
3. Creating Your Blog + Brand Identity on a Budget
So, not only does your brand identity need to match your style, match your audience, and match the type of content you'll be sharing (as in, you don't want your fun lifestyle blog to have a corporate/bank feel), but your blog identity should also be something that you won't have to change twice a year. It should be long term, beautiful, and functional for the foreseeable future.
Want more help with branding? Check out The Epic Brand Identity Workbook.
Free: DIY (obvs), but CreativeLive's classes are free while they're live, so check out their great lineup to learn how to DIY. Thanks Jon King for making me aware of this resource.
Inexpensive: These Skillshare classes >> Beyond the Logo: Crafting a Brand Identity
Mid-range: 99Designs.com or a graphic designer who is still establishing themselves.
High-end (but amazing): A professional, established graphic designer.
4. Getting a Domain Name and Hosting Account for Your Blog on a Budget
As one of my BFFs always says, "Your domain name is like the street address of your house (so people know where to find you), and your hosting account is the plot of land that allows you to build your house (and hold all your digital files)." Makes sense, right? You need both a domain name (ex: byRegina.com) and a hosting account (through a company like the ones I share below) to hold all the code, files, or friendly CMS goodies necessary to make your site work.
Choose something memorable, brandable, and that allows some wiggle room (room for growth). Then make sure your name passes the following tests:
The name sounds good to my ideal readers. Ask trusted friends, clients, business people, and anyone you know in your target market.
The name is not already a registered trademark. Use the United States Patent and Trademark Office electronic search system to check this: www.uspto.gov/trademarks
There is not already a similar brand/company with a similar name. Use Google or Bing to search this.
There is not any other brand/company with a similar name that has a bad reputation, a pending lawsuit, or products I don’t want to be associated with. Use Google to search this.
There is not already a related or unrelated brand/blog with a similar name that dominates the first two pages or more of search results. Use Google to search this.
My brand name passes the "radio test." It’s preferable to have a name that is easy to spell upon hearing it.
My brand name is globally and socially appropriate. Make sure your brand name doesn’t mean anything negative in slang or in another language.
My brand name is available as a domain name, or there’s a good alternative if not. Use a service like smallbusiness.yahoo.com/domains to search for available domain names.
My brand name (or a good variation) is available in the social media accounts I want. Use a service like namechk.com to check multiple social media accounts at once.
If my brand will be an official business, the name is available for registration in my state. Check your secretary of state website or state’s commerce division for current business entity registrations.
The quality of your hosting account has an effect on user experience, SEO, readership, and even sales (if your blog is down for several hours, you're not making any money from it). This is one area I recommend you invest in. Choose a host that has good reviews, minimal downtime, and happens to be super secure. My current favorite option is "managed hosting," which is a type of hosting where the host checks for malware (hackers and whatnot), makes daily backups of your site, keeps your site loading at a fast speed (good for SEO and users), and keeps your software updated (if you use WordPress, for example).
P.S. An exceptional and/or managed hosting account will be your best friend if your website goes viral or mini-viral. With regular host servers, spikes in traffic can cause your site to crash or go verrrrrrry sloooooooowwwwwly. Check out the high-end hosts below ($20+ per month) for managed hosting.
Free: any of the free blogging software such as Blogger, WordPress.com, or
High-end (but lovely): WPEngine (I host four sites here--for WordPress only) and Media Temple
Tools + Tips It's okay to start with one host that's more affordable for now and move to a premium host when you see that your blog is growing, but either way you go, always, always have a system in place to get regular backups of your blog. You'd never want to lose all your content, and yes, it has happened to real people before. Lastly, make sure you are the one who owns your blog's domain name and hosting account (don't leave that to your blog designer or developer). You always need access to your files.
5. Getting a Blog or Theme Design on a Budget
With blog design, you have the option to completely DIY, or hire someone else for everything, or do a mix (ex: you buy a pre-made theme and modify it yourself or you have a designer create a blog header for you and you plug it in to a free theme within your CMS). Below are some basic layouts to have in mind as you plan your blog, but don't forget to poke around the web and view samples of what you like. What features will you want to incorporate? Do you like how others lay out their sites? Take notes as you research. Take screenshots as well or pin some items in Pinterest.
There are four main options (with many variations) you can choose from for your website and blog's home page layout:
Traditional (London Lane, below): Best for blogs/brands that want to highlight their services or core message + visuals before anything else.
Blog integrated with home page (WifeMomSuperwoman): Best for sites that want to show visuals and snippets of helpful/informative blog posts (and optionally highlight a service or two) immediately.
Blog as home page (the old byRegina.com): Best for blogs/brands that want to provide information and resources as their “selling point,” hoping clients will explore the other pages after viewing the brand’s utility. Also good for blogs that are "strictly blogs" with no services for sale.
Full screen home page (Bottom left theme): Best for blogs that have strong visuals or video, which will entice potential readers and clients to explore the rest of the site. These images should be compelling, stunning, engaging, or should cause great curiosity.
Inexpensive: For DIY, try these Skillshare classes >> Build Your Own Website Using WordPress for Creative Professionals // Intro to Web Design: Friendly Design for Startups and Small Business
For professional, pre-made themes try CreativeMarket.com.
Mid-range: Blog/web designers who are still establishing themselves may charge moderate prices but still provide good quality to you. Once you decide on what platform you might like to use for your blog, do a search for "[insert CMS type here] blog designers" >> Take a good look at their portfolios, terms of service, and response time to make sure they'll be pleasant to work with.
High-end (but amazing): A professional blog/web designer with super nunchuck skills, such as ELEMBEE
Tools + Tips >> 10 BLOG DESIGN DOS AND DONT'S via Amy Lynn Andrews
6. Finding Blog Images on a Budget
Your blog's images can make or break your blog's popularity and "shareability" on the web. Your images include post photos, photos of you, sidebar graphics, product images, and more. You have the option to take your own photos, hire a photographer, illustrate your own work, hire an illustrator, get stock photography and/or add elements and graphics to your photos.
Unsplash: Beautiful, high-resolution images for you to use. This is our favorite resource for high quality free and safe to use images.
Pixabay: Free public domain images including some icons
Flickr Creative Commons: Free images under the Creative Commons License
Inexpensive Stock Photos:
Fotolia: Quality stock photography
Photo Dune: Quality stock images
Creative Market: Quality, beautiful images
Death to the Stock Photo: Amazing images at a low monthly fee (or emailed out monthly for free)
High-end Stock Photos:
"Embeddable" Photos: Allows you to embed many Getty images into your blog/site or social media for free
Free Photo/Graphic Editing Software:
Canva: My favorite graphics creation tool outside of Photoshop
Fotor: Love it. So easy to use.
Pixlr: Advanced, online photo + graphic editing software
PicMonkey: Photo and social media image editing software
Keynote: This is our favorite way to design without using Photoshop! It’s a surprisingly easy way to create a Visual Theme Kit for your brand (which btw, we teach in Visual Arsenal 3.0)
Inexpensive Graphics and Designs:
Fiverr: Everything starts at $5, even logos
99Designs: Affordable logos and other designs
GraphicRiver: Design and image templates
Tools + Tips Study the most effective images you see in use on Pinterest, blogs, and other social media platforms, then head to the next section and create a style guide for your blog.
7. Creating a Style Guide for Your Blog on a Budget
In order to create and maintain a cohesive blog that engages readers, you may want to consider a style guide for your blog. A style guide is a document (PDF/binder/digital file) you create to keep you consistent on important blog elements like fonts, colors, and image styles.
Inexpensive: Here's a Skillshare class on Creating a Style Guide.
8. Making Money When You're Just Starting to Get a Readership
When your blog's readership is still growing, you have to be very purposeful and creative about earning money from your blog. I plan to make this topic into a full post of its own soon, but for now I'll recommend that you choose monetization methods that don't rely solely on high traffic, such as:
Selling your own services; and
Selling your own high-end information products;
Partnering with an affiliate program that allows you to earn a significant amount per sale
With affiliate programs, you'll want to make sure you create useful resources around them, instead of just linking aimlessly or posting random pictures/ads in your sidebar. Let's take a beauty blogger for example, and let's also say that you make a small commission every time you link to products on Site X.
Here are some ideas of posts that you can create around Product Y that is sold on Site X:
A video tutorial on how to use Product Y, with your link included of course.
A challenge for readers and friends to participate in that includes the use of Product Y.
A text + photo post on "10 Ways to Use Product Y."
An epic DIY project using Product Y with tons of pretty pictures.
A giveaway of Product Z, that pairs well with Product Y (again, include your link).
9. Adding Plugins + Extras to Your Blog
As you search around for inspiration for your blog, you may run across cool features and extras you want to include in your blog. Depending on your CMS, these extras might range from free to expensive widgets, plugins, or hand-coded functionality.
Some of the things you may be looking for are:
social media integration in your sidebar
a rollover "pin it" button to encourage people to share your images on Pinterest (example below)
a way to sell products or services on your site
a way to integrate ads in your sidebar
a way to make sections of your site a "membership" site so you can teach private classes
Free (if you're using self-hosted WordPress): Check out their library of plugins here
Inexpensive (for multiple CMS platforms): CodeCanyon plugins and scripts
Mid-range to high-end: Search for "Premium [insert name of function you desire] plugins or widgets for [insert your CMS name here]"
10. Promoting Your Blog on a Budget
When you first launch, you probably don't want to spend half your life savings to promote your blog and start to grow your readership. I get that. So let's get creative.
For ideas on promoting your blog and getting your products in front of clients, check out our guide with 35 Ways to Find Your First Clients.
Tools + Tips
MailChimp for free, beautiful emails.
ConvertKit for smart tagging and creating segments so you can customize the email experience for your audience.
How to Create the Perfect Social Media Post via Peg Fitzpatrick
Also, if you used Bluehost for your hosting, claim their free $50 in Facebook advertising.
So, if that post wasn't log enough for you, feel free to read it one more time. That's a joke my friends. Which of the topics above should I turn into its own post first? Any questions? Any resources you'd add?
Click to share this tweet with others, please: . . . and that's the complete guide on how to launch a blog on a budget!