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How to Start a Blog (my no bullshit guide)

Lately, I’ve been getting A LOT of questions and requests for information about how to start a blog. And when I get the same question over and over, a little lightbulb goes off above my head and is like, “Hey, Kallie, maybe a blog post on this topic is a good idea!”

There is only so much info I can share in a DM or email, so I wanted to take the time to write a post, even if it isn’t exhaustive, on this topic. Obviously, I can’t cover every little detail that goes into blogging. There are entire blogs just about blogging. So this might be a more general overview. There is SO much that goes into it, it’s impossible to cover in even a series of posts. The goal of this post is to give you a bird’s eye view into what it really takes to be a blogger. And, like everything I try to do when it comes to sharing on the internet, I’m going to be as HONEST and TRANSPARENT as I can — hence this being the “no bullshit guide.”

Ready? Good. Let’s do this.

My Blogging Story

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been asked, “So, how did you start blogging?” It’s as natural of a question as “Where did you two meet?” or “What’s your job?”

In the spring of 2013 I was about to have my first summer vacation as a teacher. I don’t do well with idle hands and was thinking about what I could do to keep myself occupied during the months of July and August, and then this blog was born. I started it to be a creative outlet. A place to share some fun ideas (it started as recipes and some beauty reviews) and also a place to use my creative energy.

It was great! I had tons of fun shooting my posts, writing the content, and learning about this whole new world of blogging. By the fall it had grown enough that I felt I couldn’t just give it up. Mind you, when I say it had grown I don’t mean I was making money. I just mean I had like 400 followers on Blogger and surely I couldn’t just let them down!

I was not a professional at this out the gate. I mean, just take a look at my blog from its first year:

The photo header. The cursive font for the menu. Bokeh light background…ouch. But, trust me this was totally cool in 2013 (I tell myself).

Anyways, I continued blogging. It was the perfect creative outlet for me even though I didn’t know what the heck I was doing at first. So I just self-taught myself everything as I went. I read articles. Watched videos. Listened to podcasts. I became totally enthralled in this new world learning about HTML tricks, what the heck SEO was, social media marketing, all of it. And here we are 6 years later. I just learned is as I went.

So, my first tip to someone considering a blog is DO IT. You don’t need to know everything when you start. You’ll learn as you go like I did. Doing is the best way to learn.

The Hard Facts About Making Money from My Blog

I think most people ask me about blogging because they are thinking of doing it themselves. They want to work for themselves, quit their jobs, stay at home with their babies….etc.

But let me tell you. While you might hear stories here and there about women starting a blog and being six-figure bloggers within a year, that’s about 0.01% at most. Here’s what my journey looked like.

Year One:

  • I got my first “free” product about five months into blogging. It was a pair of wine glasses. I thought I had made it.
  • I made my first money through AdSense. I think it was $0.98.

Year Two:

  • I landed my first paid post. It was maybe $150. For the next year, I was making an average of $250-300/month.
  • Most of the work I did was for free products or affiliate commission or nothing at all.

Year Three:

  • I was definitely on the up. I got tons of free products and was pitched many sponsored deals. But still, many weren’t a lot of money for the time and effort I would have to put into it.
  • I was making enough to cover my some of time and money I put into it (costs to cover web hosting, domain, third party integrations, etc.), but I was still barely making a real profit.

Year Four:

  • I was finally making a profit from my blog!
  • I landed my first paid campaign over $1,000.
  • I finally was able to become selective with who I worked with. I turned down most sponsorships and chose just what I wanted.
  • I finally felt like I knew what I was doing with blogging. I had developed my “voice.”

Year Five:

  • The first year my income from blogging/YouTube surpassed my day job income. Subsequently, that year I decided not to go back to work full-time after Miles was born.

The Hard Facts About How Much Time Blogging Takes

The time it takes before you actually make money blogging often surprises people. The second thing that surprises people is the sheer time it takes. The truth is, when you’re a blogger you’re more than just a blogger. You’re a photographer, author, editor, web developer, bookkeeper, manager, PR, HR, marketer….and more.

How much time do I spend each week?

  • Filming/photographing: 1-6 hours
  • Writing: 2-6 hours
  • Editing content: 3-15 hours (because I do video my editing takes a lot more time than JUST blogging)
  • Bookkeeping, PR, marketing, admin tasks: 3-6 hours
  • Social Media Marketing: 2-5 hours
  • Tech/web dev work: 0-5 hours

So, on average we’re looking at 12-33 hours a week. And keep in mind, I worked full-time up until Miles was born, and I still have an office job 20 hours a week, so this is on top of that. So, yes, for the last six years of my life I’ve worked a full-time job and a 15-33 hour/week blogging side hustle.

And, if I were to make the switch to blogging full time I’d likely increase my content creation so I’d easily be working 40+ hours a week.

So…what does this all mean?

It means if you’re looking to start blogging to make an income, then that’s the wrong reason.

It took me 2-3 years just to learn the ropes of blogging, online marketing, and social media and find my voice. It took another year before I was actually making a profit from what I was doing. It wasn’t until I was 4-5 years into it that I felt like I could make enough of an income that I’d feel comfortable doing it as my career.

And, most importantly, it took work. Like, A LOT of work. I woke up at 5 am every morning for two years before my office job to work on my blog. I work nights. I work weekends. I work on holidays. This isn’t something to go into if you’re not willing and able to put the time in.

Is it for you?

I’m not saying these things to scare you away. I’m just saying it to be real.

I’ve been in blogging long enough to see a lot of people come and go. Most people just can’t keep up with the time commitment. That being said, if it’s something you really want to do, I 100% support people starting a blog. It’s FUN! It’s a creative outlet! It’s a great way to learn new skills. You’ll meet new, awesome people.

And, if you’re willing to put in the time and effort, you CAN make money.

Ok, so you wanna start a blog. Now what?

Name your blog: My best tip here is keep it simple and don’t niche it down too much. Sometimes people start a blog about, say, travel and name it something like “Kallie Travels the Globe.” Or maybe you plan to do a blog about your weight loss journey and call it “Kallie Gets Fit.” The problem is, if you plan to do this for the long haul, in five years you might be a new mom and not traveling the globe as much or have lost the weight and aren’t really on a “weight loss journey” anymore. The problem with niching down your brand too much is that the name won’t grow with you. Pick something that can change and evolve with you.

Get a domain, web hosting, and blogging platform: This is the basic techie stuff. You can obviously start a free blog on different platforms, but I suggest, if you want to be serious about it, start by self-hosting from the get-go. It helps you avoid having to migrate your blog later and is a small investment to make at the onset.

Personally, I suggest a self-hosted WordPress blog. This simply means you use the WordPress platform to blog (in my opinion, the best blogging platform for SEO, tools, and resources), and host that site on your own server you pay for. I personally use WP Help and HIGHLY recommend them. You can use them just for blog hosting or sign up for their Care Package, which I highly suggest, especially as a new blogger because it takes a lot of that work off your plate. It includes your monthly hosting, plus monthly back-ups, security monitoring, and 24/7 support for anything WordPress-related from tech things to speed optimization, to layout and page edits, and more. They are extremely helpful, responsive, and an amazing team to have to back you.

Start writing! OK, maybe sounds easier said than done. But don’t overthink it. Just start writing. I think this is the roadblock that stops most people. So just start with what you know. If you’re a foodie, share recipes. If you love makeup, share tutorials. If you are a new mom, share tips or review products. Don’t overthink it — the first step is just getting started. You’ll hone in on what you enjoy writing about as you go. Like I said, there’s a good chance what you start blogging about isn’t what you’ll blog about forever. I started by doing a lot of beauty content, and now that’s just a small blip of my content. Your blog content will grow and evolve with you.

Learn and perfect as you go: If you wait until you’re totally ready, you’ll never start a blog. You’re going to learn as you go with something like this. So don’t be afraid to start with not the most perfect photos or a layout that isn’t just right. You’ll improve over time! Check out my 9 Tips for New Bloggers for some more insights on being a new blogger.

Helpful Tips for Growing Your Blog

Starting the blog is one thing but getting people to actually read it…this is another story. And, it’s not something I can totally cover in a post. The truth is there isn’t some magic formula to growing an audience. If there was, people would bottle it up and sell it.

But, here are some quick, down-and-dirty tips for growing your blog:

Be Authentic

This word “authentic” is thrown around a lot. WTF does that even mean, right? You’d think being authentic is the most normal, natural thing in the whole world. But the truth is, when you’re sharing yourself online, it’s actually not. People easily fall into habits of copying and replicating others. You find yourself being who you think our audience WANTS to see and you’ll find it’s actually really hard to be YOURSELF.

But when you give yourself the chance to be your true self, it’s A LOT easier to connect with your ideal audience. These are people who are going to truly care about you and your content, engage with you, and help you grow.

Focus on Engagement, Not Numbers

It’s easy to lose yourself in the rat race of followers and subscriber counts. But what really matters is engagement, especially in the long run. Having 100,000 followers is cool, but if only 1% of them interact and engage with you…then they are just empty seats. And this really matters if you want to monetize your work and make money from what you’re doing.

Tips for Engaged Followers:

  • Be authentic. (Wait, didn’t I just say that? Yes…I did. Now rinse, spit, repeat.)
  • Talk to them. Like, really talk to THEM. Ask them questions. Post polls. Respond to their comments with a genuine response. Bring them in on the conversation. It shouldn’t just be a one-way conversation of you talking/sharing without any communication coming back.
  • Let them in on your life. You can let people in on your life without sharing your whole world. I think we all have a natural desire to keep some of our private life private and you totally can. But, let followers in on little glimpses of real life. I’m talking REAL life, not perfectly curated images and moments. Talk to them about the weird dream you had last night while still in your pajamas. Tell them a funny story about your weird husband who only eats 1/2 of their candy bar (that reference is for my IG followers, I see you). Bring them along while you clean your bedroom. People like to see pretty pictures but the REAL LIFE moments are what makes them connect to you. As they say in marketing, when people know you they like you they trust you. You want your followers to not just know or idolize you. You want them to like you and trust you.

Focus on What You Do Best

When it’s time to grow yourself, it can be easy to get caught up in it all. You want to grow your blog, have more Instagram followers, increase your Facebook likes, grow your newsletter mailing list, get more followers on Pinterest, start a YouTube channel.

You can’t do it all, especially not right away.

Pick 1-2 platforms you can do really well and focus there. Personally, Instagram was never my bread and butter. I really just can’t take THAT nice of photos (in comparison to the IG girls). While my blogger friends were all hustling Instagram to get more followers, I focused on what I did well: blogging and YouTube. I saw others growing their Instagram audience way past mine and I could have gotten caught up in that. But by allowing myself to focus on what I did well instead of trying to keep up with everyone else, it allowed me to grow my YouTube audience to over 350,000 subscribers and increased blog readership month over month. Now I have a great audience base, followers who are engaged, and I’m doing what I do best, not trying to perfect something I don’t do well.

And, I feel like it gives me a competitive edge. Nowadays there are so many blogs out there, having something that makes you different than the others is a plus.

Blogging FAQs From YOU

I took to IG to ask you all for your biggest blogging questions. I plan to do an IG Live to answer them at length, but here are the most popular ones.

How do you get readers to your blog/increase traffic?

I covered this briefly above in growing your blog. But if you want to talk about getting traffic to your blog in the most literal sense, you need to market your blog posts just like you’d do anything else. I suggest:

  • Pinterest (check out this helpful post). Pinterest is an amazing way to get traffic. Always create Pinterest-worthy images to make pinning easier. Post your pins with great captions. I also suggest using group boards, which the post I linked above doesn’t cover.
  • SEO or search engine optimization. This is how your blog shows up on Google. It’s an ENTIRE method and not something you can learn or master overnight. But, for evergreen blog posts, you should definitely utilize it. It’s how I get a lot of my traffic. Check out this post, this post, and this post.
  • Social Media. Like I said before, pick one platform and really focus on growing that. Then use it to grow your blog. I like to think of ways to push my audience from one platform to another. I might make a YouTube video and mention/link a blog post that relates or say, “Check out my blog post for the free guide” or “If you want to hear more, I have an entire blog post in the description box.” For Instagram, I try to link blog posts whenever relevant or on topics I know people are interested in. This post, for example, is being written because I get questions ALL THE TIME about it. I can link and share it a ton! When there are other topics or request I get asked about a lot, I write a post about it.
  • Write content people want to read. Seems simple, I know. But it’s not always. Sometimes we get into a habit of writing what we want to write, which is OK, but it shouldn’t be the ONLY thing we consider. Sometimes we need to listen to our audience and hear what they want to read. Look at posts that get a lot of traffic, etc.
  • Give it time. It’s not going to happen overnight. Stick with it. Learn as you go. And always look at your analytics to see the top-performing posts and where the traffic is currently coming from.

How do you come up with blog post ideas/content ideas?

Sometimes ideas just come to me. I have a running list on my phone to pick from. When I master something or learn something new, I like to share it. Often my ideas come from my audience. When I get the same request or question a lot, I know it’s time for a post.

I also look closely at my analytics. I see what are my top-read posts of all time and this month. This gives me ideas for new content. If someone really liked one post, is there a variation or spinoff of that post I can do?

How do you make money from blogging?

There’s a handful of ways, and you don’t need to do them all. I’d say the two most common are sponsored content and affiliate links. You can also make money from ads on your site if you have enough traffic. Also, a lot of bloggers have started selling their own products and merchandise. And as you grow your social platforms, there are options to do sponsored content there as well. So the answer is that there’s a lot of avenues, and most bloggers dabble in a little bit of all of them. Usually one of the categories is their main revenue source, and the others are smaller additional streams of revenue.

One person asked if it was a sustainable lifestyle financially to be a blogger. The answer there is that you need multiple revenue streams to make it so. For example, you don’t just want to rely on affiliate links and that’s it. You want to get to a place where you’re making money from affiliates, sponsored posts, advertising, and maybe freelancing. This gives you more financial security.

Do you think blogs are dead?

Nope. I don’t. I know a lot of people think they are but I disagree.

Truth is, there is A LOT of content out there online nowadays, and so standing out and getting found feels impossible. This is why I think many people think blogs are dying. But I still think blogs are extremely important and powerful. They are essentially your business card. They are my landing page where someone can find me and link out to all my other medias. You can learn more about me, contact me, shop my favorites, read my posts, get to my videos, etc. It’s everything in one simple place. You can also optimize them for search engines (which you can’t do on social media). To give you an idea, I just had a call with the producers at The Rachel Ray show in NYC about a guest appearance and they found me THROUGH my blog. And that’s not the first time. I’ve been on local news stations, interviewed on podcasts, featured on The Daily Mail and BuzzFeed, and I actually have the local nightly news coming to my house tomorrow for an interview. ALL of these found me from my blog.

So, no. I don’t think blogs are dead. I just think you need to utilize them a little differently and continue to stay creative with how you market them.

How do you find the time?

I feel like I addressed this mostly above. But the hard truth is it’s A LOT of work. And, it’s not going to happen if you’re not willing to put in the hard time. You need to be diligent. You need to be willing to work nights and weekends. You need to be willing to wake up early.

I use a planner to divide and conquer. I plan out my week and know when I’m tackling what content and when. I plan bigger things for weekends when Michael and be around to watch Miles.