How to Start a Blog and Make Money in 2020 – A Minimalist’s Guide

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Wondering how to start a blog? My heart jumps for joy that you are here, ready to carve out a slice of personal success. In this post, I’ll show you how to set up your own self-hosted WordPress blog (by far the most popular kind and the only kind I recommend) and answer some frequently asked questions along the way.

Starting a blog is super easy and fun and you can do it without any previous experience or technical knowledge. This step-by-step guide will help you set up your very first self-hosted WordPress blog in no time. You can complete step 1 & 2 in less than 15 minutes. Then you can finish step 3 to 5 at your own leisure.

UPDATE: Bluehost, my web hosting provider, has given me a special discount for my readers! You can now get hosted with Bluehost for as little as $2.95/month (including a FREE domain name for the first year!)

How to start a blog in 5 steps (for beginners)

When I started blogging years ago, I could barely find any information on how to start a blog. So I had to google my way through and made all the mistakes in the book. I stumbled and fell and built a better blog next time.

This easy to follow guide contains what I learned. In plain English. So you can start a blog TODAY. With confidence!

But first, I’ll answer some common questions. Wanna skip them? Click here to jump to step 1.

What is a blog?

A blog is a website that is regularly updated with articles (aka blog posts) about a specific topic. Some blogs cover various topics written from a unique angle or perspective that ties them all together. Blog posts are then displayed in reverse chronological order, with the latest posts appearing first.

How much does it cost to start a blog?

Starting a blog is incredibly budget-friendly. It can cost as little as $2.95 a month. That’s because when you are just starting out, the only investment you really need to make is in good web hosting. When I started this blog, web hosting was my only expense. So if you are on a tight budget, know that it is possible to start a blog for very little. In time, as your blog grows, you might want to upgrade to premium tools and services, but that’s not required in the beginning.

Can I start a blog for free in 2019?

You can, but I wouldn’t recommend it unless you have absolutely no plans whatsoever to monetize your blog. Like ever.

Basically, there are two types of blogging platforms out there:

  • FREE (e.g. Blogger, WordPress.com, Wix, Tumblr, Weebly, etc). Blogs are hosted on the platform’s own servers. They don’t charge you for server space, but instead, they offer limited customization, functionality, and monetization opportunities. And you don’t always own or have full control over your content. Free blogs are called hosted blogs and they are usually sloppy and slow (nobody likes a slow blog!). Switching to a better service, later on, can be a hassle.
  • PAID (e.g. WordPress.org, which is the blogging platform I use and recommend and the most popular blogging platform by far). WordPress.org is a tool that makes your blog easy to manage. But WordPress.org does not host your blog. That’s why you need to purchase hosting from a company like Bluehost in order to have a fully functional blog. With WordPress.org, the sky is the limit. WordPress.org blogs are called SELF-hosted blogs.

What is the difference between WordPress.com and WordPress.org?

WordPress.com is a free blogging platform. They host your blog without charging you a penny and assign your blog a subdomain name that looks like this myblog.wordpress.com. Because they don’t make any money from you, they set certain limits in terms of design, functionality, and monetization (ouch!). If you want more features, you’ll be asked to upgrade, usually for a hefty sum (double ouch!). If you have a free WordPress.com blog that you’ve outgrown, you can migrate it to self-hosted WordPress.org so you don’t lose all your hard work.

WordPress.org in itself is a free tool. But you can use it only if you purchase web hosting from a company like Bluehost first. Then you have to install WordPress on your web hosting account (with Bluehost, WordPress comes already installed so you can start building your blog and create content right away!). You will also have a custom domain of your choice, like myawesomeblog.com. Having a WordPress.org blog doesn’t mean your domain must end in .org. It can end in anything you choose, like .com, .net, .info, .biz, .store, .us and so on.

In this post, I’ll show you how to start a self-hosted blog on WordPress.org.

Starting a self-hosted blog is really inexpensive (and it’s good for accountability too!).

1. Set up hosting for your blog

Just like people live in houses, blogs live on servers.

Web hosting companies provide server space for blogs. So getting hosted is like buying a plot of land to build your house on.

I use and recommend Bluehost because they have been an amazing host for my blogs. If you want to know more about Bluehost and their features, read this post where I talk about all the reasons you should host your blog with Bluehost.

Setting up a blog with Bluehost is super easy and extremely affordable (only $2.95/month), which makes them ideal for starting your first blog.

To get started, CLICK HERE to go to Bluehost (the Bluehost website will open in a new tab in your browser so you can reference these instructions as you work).

How to start a blog for only $2.95/month - Get started with Bluehost

Once the page opens, click the green get started button. Images may vary and look slightly different if you are on mobile, but the process of starting a blog is the same.

Select a hosting plan

Bluehost offers 4 hosting plans (basic, plus, choice plus, and pro). Choose the one that’s right for you.

However, if you are just starting, the basic plan is probably all you need for now. You can upgrade anytime.

Depending on whether you want to pay 1, 2, 3 or 5 years upfront, starting a blog on the basic plan can cost you between $59.40 and $177.

  • $59.40 for the 12-month plan
  • $94.80 for the 24-month plan
  • $106.20 for the 36-month plan
  • $177 for the 60-month plan

The longer the hosting plan you choose, the cheaper the monthly rate gets. The 36 and 60-month plans come with a 63% discount on the monthly hosting price + you get a free domain name for the first year (an $11.99 value). This means you can start your blog for as little as $2.95/month.

Bluehost doesn’t offer monthly payments (hosts that do charge a lot more!). They do however have a 30-day money back guarantee for peace of mind.

Remember that all plans come with a FREE domain name for the first year + a free SSL certificate (which I’ll show you how to activate in step 4 of this tutorial).

Now click the green select button under your plan of choice to go to the next step.

How to start a blog on Bluehost - Select your hosting plan

2. Choose your free domain name

Your domain name is the address people will type in the browser to access your blog. For example, bylauraiancu.com is my domain.

Tips for choosing a great domain name

  • Make it easy to spell, pronounce, and remember
  • Avoid using numbers and special characters
  • Keep it short (under 15 characters)
  • If .com is not available, explore other extensions, like .net, .org, .me, .photography, .travel, etc.
  • Make it brandable

Option 1: If you don’t have a domain name, get a free one by typing it in the box on the left. Choose .com or a different extension from the drop-down menu. Click next.

Option 2: If you’ve already registered a domain name with another domain registrar, type it to the right. Don’t worry, this will only identify your account for now. Click next.

Option 3: In case you don’t have a domain name and you can’t make up your mind just yet, click on the choose later link at the bottom of the page. You will be allocated a temporary domain name and prompted to grab your free domain name after your sign up is complete.

How to start a blog and get a free domain name.

Create your account

It’s time to fill in your details, choose the length of your hosting plan and introduce your payment info.

The account details are pretty straightforward – simply type in your name, address, and email. These details will show on your invoice, so double-check them (although you can make changes later and your invoice will be updated in real time). The email is the most important part here. Make sure you have access to this email because this is where your log in details will be sent.

Now scroll down to the package information. Choose the length of your plan – the longer, the cheaper the monthly rate gets.

I highly recommend the 36-month plan (only $106.20 for the first 3 years) or even the 60-month plan (only $177 for the first 5 years) because you end up saving tons of money. Alternatively, you can opt for the 12-month plan for $59.40 or the 24-month plan for $94.80, but subsequent years will renew at $95.88/year.

Uncheck everything else except domain privacy.

I recommend you pay for the domain privacy because this way the personal details you typed above (name & address) won’t show publicly in the WHOIS database. However, if you registered as a company and you’ll display your address on your website anyway, paying for domain privacy doesn’t make much sense.

Next, introduce your payment details (I guess no explanation is necessary here). Check the terms of service box and click the green submit button.

How to start a blog on WordPress - Create Bluehost hosting account

Create a password

The new screen will welcome you to Bluehost and ask you to choose a password for your account. Click the create your password button.

Choose a complex password following Bluehost’s instructions (8-30 characters, at least 1 lower and 1 uppercase letter, a number, a special character). Write password down, tick the terms of service box and click next.

You’ve successfully created a new password screen will appear. Click on the blue log in button.

How to start a blog - Create a Bluehost password

3. Familiarize yourself with WordPress

WordPress.org comes automatically installed on your Bluehost account and you can start building your awesome blog right away.

Should you pick a free theme now?

Once you’ve created your password in the previous step and clicked on the blue log in button, Bluehost will tempt you with some free themes.

Don’t overthink this. They offer these themes to everyone, so many people have them installed and you want your blog to look unique, right?

Just pick the first one that catches your eye. You’ll probably end up changing it later on anyways.

How to start a WordPress blog with Bluehost - Pick a theme

Start building your blog

Whether you clicked the skip this step button or installed a theme, the next screen will look like this.

How to start a WordPress blog with Bluehost - Start building your awesome WordPress blog

Click on the blue start building button. This will take you to your brand new WordPress dashboard.

On the left-hand side, you will see a dark grey column. This is your WordPress menu. It might look intimidating right now, but you will actually become very familiar with it. Believe me, it’s not as complicated as it looks.

On the right-hand side, you’ll be asked if you want to set up a business or personal site. I recommend you skip this and click on the I don’t need help link. The alternative is a series of questions you might not have the answers to right now.

How to start a WordPress blog with Bluehost - WordPress dashboard

Temporary domain & coming soon page

For the first few hours, your blog will be on a temporary domain. So don’t be alarmed if you the URL in your browser looks weird. This is absolutely normal while your new domain name is being fully registered (it can take up to 24 hours). You don’t have to do anything either. Bluehost will take care of this for you automatically.

At first, your blog will display a ‘Coming soon!‘ message. This is a welcome page courtesy of Bluehost. When as you are ready to make your blog public, you can do so from your WordPress dashboard.

Get familiar with your WordPress dashboard

Posts >> this is where you’ll find all your blog posts. Start writing your first post by going to Posts >> Add new.

Media >> you can upload and manage your photos, videos, and PDFs here. When you’re just starting out, this is empty.

Pages >> unlike posts, pages have a static nature. They can’t be included in the RSS feed, organized by date, or have categories or tag. But they can be nested under each other to create a hierarchy. Examples include the About page and a static homepage. Create your first page by going to Pages >> Add new.

Comments >> here you’ll find all the comments people left on your posts.

Appearance >> where your themes, widgets, and menus live. You can change your theme as often as you want. To add a free theme go to Appearance >> Themes >> Add new. Choose the one you like, install and activate it. But if you are like most, you’ll probably want to make your blog look unique. Read how to choose a WordPress theme to learn about the benefits of going premium and how to find the perfect theme for your blog. You might also want to check out my post on design hacks to grow a personal brand.

Plugins >> plugins are an easy way to expand the functionality of your blog. To add a plugin go to Plugins >> Add new. Only install the ones you need and delete the ones you don’t use.

Users >> where you can add new blog authors and set permissions.

Tools >> only use this in case you want to import an existing blog from a different platform.

Settings >> this is where you can set the date format (under General); URL structure (under Permalinks); choose your comments settings (under Discussion); set a static homepage (under Reading).

How do I log into WordPress once I log out?

If you registered a new domain name in step 3, your WordPress dashboard login URL will look like this yournewblog.com/wp-admin (you’ll find the link in the welcome email Bluehost sent you).

If you used an existing domain in step 3, you’ll have to change the nameservers to point to your new blog. For this, you have to log into your domain registrar and change the DNS nameservers with the Bluehost ones as you received them in your welcome email (these are usually ns1.bluehost.com and ns2.bluehost.com). If you can’t figure out where to enter your new nameservers, I suggest you call your domain registrar and ask for their help.

4. Activate your free SSL certificate

This step is really simple. But first, let’s see what on earth is an SSL certificate.

Despite the fancy term, an SSL certificate is a way to make sure all the sensitive data your readers introduce on your blog (like email addresses and payment info) is secure from prying eyes.

The difference is a simple letter in your readers’ browser, so your blog will be accessed via HTTPS instead of HTTP. Notice the lock icon and the S?

Without the S, Google will display the letter i inside a circle in the search bar next to your domain name, which is the symbol for not secure. If you click on it, Google will give you more information – Your connection to this site is not secure. You should not enter any sensitive information on this site.

Google has been pushing for a safer web and if your blog is not secure they might show it further down in the search results.

So let’s activate that free SSL certificate.

Once your domain registration is fully complete and you can type in your domain name in any browser without it being redirected to a weird looking domain (it usually takes a few hours), log into your Bluehost account.

Click on WordPress tools on the main menu.

Scroll down to Security.

Toggle on the free SSL certificate.

That’s it. Give it a few hours to catch up. You’ll soon see a beautiful lock icon next to your domain name.

5. Set up a custom email address

I love Gmail, I really do. But having a personalized email address ending in your own domain name will make the communication with readers and clients so much more professional. Not to mention most email marketing services will only send your newsletter from a custom email address.

Log into your Bluehost hosting account, go to email, and click the create an email account button.

In the first field, enter the first part of your email address, like hello or yourownname. I recommend you stay away from info or contact because they sound too impersonal. Right next to it, you should see the awesome domain name you chose in step 3.

In the fields below, enter your password and then retype it. Remember to write it down next to the previously created ones.

How to start a blog on Bluehost - Create a custom email address

Choose any of the default webmail clients and click create.

Set up Gmail to check and send emails as your custom email address

If you’ve opted for the basic plan, Bluehost limits you to 100MB of storage per email account (all the other plans come with unlimited email storage space). So sooner or later your inbox will get full and you might lose important emails. On the other hand, if you keep deleting emails, you won’t be able to reference old conversations in the future.

The workaround is to use a free Gmail account with 15GB of storage to send and receive emails from your personalized email address.

Step 1. Configure your Gmail account to check the mail from your custom email

Go to your Gmail account and click on the gear icon. Choose Settings >> Accounts and import >> Check mail from other accounts. Click the Add a mail account link. A yellow popup window will open.

Type the recently created email address ending in your own domain name and click Next.

Check Import emails from my other account (POP3) and click Next again.

In the username field, retype your custom email address and in the password field, your custom email address’s password.

In the POP server field type box869.bluehost.com or your domain name (without the www) and change the port to 995 (you can also find this info in your Bluehost account under Configure email client, in case your settings are different)

If you have the Bluehost basic plan, you’ll want to keep the Leave a copy of retrieved message on the server unchecked so your 100MB inbox will never get full.

Select Always use a secure connection (SSL) when retrieving mail.

Click Add account.

Step 2. Send mail as your custom email address using Gmail

Gmail will ask you if you would also like to be able to send mail as your custom email address. Select Yes and click Next.

Enter your name as you want it to appear in the sender field. Leave the Treat as an alias checked and go to the next step.

Now you’ll configure your email to be sent through Bluehost’s servers.

The SMTP server is yourdomain.com (change this to your own custom domain). Again, this info can be found in your Bluehost account under Configure email client, in case your settings are different.

The username is your custom email. Type in your password, tick Secured connection using SSL and change the port to 465. Click Add account.

You will be sent an email with a verification code and a link to your Gmail account. Use either one to verify your account.

Step 3. Set a default email address for your Gmail account

Choose the default address your emails should be sent from by going back to Settings >> Accounts and import >> Send mail as. 

You have the option to make your custom email address the default by clicking Make default next to it.

Underneath, choose between Reply from the same address the message was sent to and Always reply from default address.

You are all set now and you can start building an email list of raving fans.

How do bloggers make money?

If you are like most people who want to learn how to start a blog these days, you probably want to make money with it one way or another. Your blog could be a side hustle or replace your day job income entirely, a way to boost sales for an already existing business or a portfolio to show off your work to potential clients.

Bloggers (even beginner bloggers!) make money in a number of ways. These are the most common ones – digital products (like eBooks and courses), affiliate marketing, advertising, sponsored posts, services (like coaching and consulting).

Blogging income varies greatly. Many bloggers make a comfortable living with their blogs. Some even make 7 figures a year. While others hardly ever make more than a few bucks. It depends a great deal on a number of factors, including consistency.

Next steps to take

Congrats! You’ve finished setting up your blog. What next? Read how to launch your blog with a bang and how to look like a professional blogger when you’re just starting out.


ABOUT LAURA
Hey girl hey! I’m a writer, designer and the creator of I Am Unstoppable: A Journal For Winning At Life. I’m on a mission to inspire and empower women to simplify their blogs and business so they can show up for their dreams in a sustainable way. I also love to travel, play with kitties and decorate my home.