Contrary to popular belief, buying hosting is not the first step in starting a blog. In fact, there are many, many steps to take before ever spending a dime.
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In this post, I’ll walk you through all of the things you should do when planning your blog, before setting up your actual website, including making sure that blogging is right for you (before you invest).
A note before we dive in: This series wasn’t written to be more content for you to consume. It’s meant to be actionable and to give you concrete steps to follow to start your own blog.
If you want to read through the whole post before getting started, that’s fine. But don’t forget to take action. Once you’ve read through the post, come back to the beginning and go through it slowly, actually taking the time to follow the steps. I can’t wait to see what you create!
First Things First
First things first, write out your “why”. Everyone’s reason for starting a blog is different. Your reason will dictate what your blog ends up being.
Your reason can change what you blog about, how often you blog, how long you continue to blog, and many other things.
For example, if your only reason for blogging is to share your story, that’s great, but you shouldn’t expect a ton of traffic and you likely won’t make much of an income. But if your only reason is for sharing your story, it might not matter that only a few people read it and it definitely won’t matter that you don’t make money from it.
However, if your main reason for blogging is to make money, you’ll need to choose a topic that people are interested in and willing to pay for help with. Essentially, you need to identify a problem that you can solve and work to fix it.
Another reason might be to gain popularity. If that’s the case, you will want your blog to be driven by your status as an influencer and not by the blog’s general brand. This will dictate which social media platforms you use and how you use them.
These are obviously all very different ways to approach blogging, and these are only three of many.
Take some time to figure out your why before you do anything else.
Deciding Your Niche
After you identify why you want to blog, it’s time to decide on a niche.
“Niche” is just another way of saying “topic”, and it’s terminology that’s very common in the blogging world. But, without being all fancy, your niche is simply what you blog about.
You niche can be very specific or it can be very broad, but if you want to create a profitable blog, I would suggest being more specific than not.
When people come to your blog, they should be able to easily identify what it’s about.
Research other blogs
When deciding your niche, I would first spend some time looking at other blogs. Think about which blogs you already read and what interests you the most.
As you come up with possible niches, search for blogs within those niches and see which you like best.
It may also be true that blogs you enjoy reading are not blogs you would enjoy writing. For example, you might enjoy reading recipes on food blogs, but if you don’t like to make up recipes, you probably won’t enjoy writing a food blog. So, think about which niche you would really enjoy writing.
Decide on a niche
After you’ve done your research, it’s time to decide on a niche. This step may take you a little while, but, hopefully, there’s a topic that sticks out to you that you really enjoy.
A little later on, we’ll talk about how to make sure this niche is right for you, before launching your blog.
Decide on categories
Your niche can also be a combination of topics. That’s where categories come in.
Many people have lifestyle blogs that cover a wide range of topics that are sorted out into categories.
For example, a lifestyle blog could contain categories for travel, beauty, personal development, and parenting. These are all very different topics that are put together into one blog because they’re all things the blogger really enjoys.
However, many bloggers warn against going too broad, because blogs that cover many different topics can be more difficult to monetize. If you blog about anything and everything, your readers may not connect with you as deeply or they may not see you as an expert on a specific topic, which are two big reasons that people spend money through blogs.
Even specific blogs have categories, though. For example, mommy blogs are blogs that are specifically about parenting. But a mommy blog could have a number of different categories. Some examples are pregnancy, breastfeeding, caring for toddlers, and activities for kids.
With Jamimico, the niche is lifestyle design and the categories are personal growth, productivity, and financial freedom.
Once you decide your niche, you should decide which categories you will write about. When beginning, I would recommend choosing 3-5 categories. You can always start with 3 and then add more as you go.
Write a description of your ideal reader
Another important part of choosing a niche is understanding your ideal reader.
Your blog shouldn’t be for anyone and everyone. In fact, it can’t be for anyone and everyone. There will naturally be some people that like your blog more than others and you should decide who those people are.
If you try to appeal to everyone, you’ll end up appealing to no one.
Instead, create an ideal reader in your head (and write it down on paper) and then focus on addressing that person.
As an example, my ideal reader for Jamimico is a millennial woman who works a 9-to-5 but is feeling unfulfilled and wants more out of her life than her current cycle of work-sleep-work-sleep.
Keep your ideal reader in mind every step of the way. From choosing a niche and categories to writing your blog posts to choosing products to promote, you should be thinking about your ideal reader every step of the way.
Write your blog’s elevator pitch
Once you’ve decided your blog’s niche, categories, and ideal reader, it’s time to write your blog’s elevator pitch.
An elevator pitch is basically a 30 second spiel describing who you are and what you do. Elevator pitches can be about yourself, but they can also be about your business.
Picture this: You’re standing outside the elevator and strike up a conversation with a stranger. You mention your blog and they ask what it’s about. The elevator opens and you both step in. You now have 30 seconds between the first floor and the fourth floor to explain your blog. What do you say?
The point of the elevator pitch is to force you to be concise and confident about your blog’s identity.
If it takes longer than thirty seconds to explain your blog, you probably don’t have a clear enough understanding of what you want your blog to be.
Want an example? Here’s mine:
“I run a blog called Jamimico, where I share about my journey towards creating a more fulfilling life and career and inspire other women to do so, too, by focusing on personal growth, productivity, and financial freedom.”
Clear, concise, confident, and definitely less than 30 seconds.
Once you know what your blog is about, it’s time to decide how you’re going to make money from it. It’s important to think through this at least a little in the beginning because it will determine what type of content you write.
There are four main ways to monetize your content: ads, affiliate marketing, sponsorships, and selling your own products.
To make money with ads, you would sign up with an ad network and then place the ads on your blog.
Each ad network works a little differently, but for most, you will either be paid based on the number of people who see the ad or based on the number of people who click on the ad.
Either way, monetizing with ads requires a large amount of traffic for substantial income.
For some bloggers who are able to bring in massive amounts of traffic, ads can result in a full-time income.
However, unless you’re a genius at getting traffic, you’ll likely want to consider additional revenue streams if you’re hoping to bring in more than a few dollars each month.
A note about ads: As you consider ads, you should also consider your audience’s experience on your blog. Make sure you’re not placing so many ads that your audience will get annoyed, leave, and never come back.
Affiliate marketing is another great option for monetizing your blog.
In case you’re not familiar with it, with affiliate marketing you agree to market someone else’s product in exchange for a commission if they purchase through your link.
The nice thing about affiliate marketing is that it’s a win-win. You get paid for successfully advertising, and the company doesn’t have to pay money for advertising unless it’s successful.
Almost every product now has an affiliate marketing program, so there are tons of things to choose from. The hardest part of affiliate marketing is really narrowing down the options and choosing the handful of things you’ll actually market.
While, like ads, affiliate marketing is somewhat reliant on traffic, it also has much greater potential for income. Many programs offer 25-50% commissions on sales, which can add up quickly.
Sponsored content is the least traffic-driven method of monetizing your blog.
With sponsorships, a company pays you a fixed amount to advertise them or their product. Normally the advertisement is through a blog post, but it could also be through social media or your email list.
Sponsored posts can be a great way to make a reliable income through blogging, as long as you carefully select brands and products that will resonate with your audience.
Selling your own products
This one is huge. Selling your own products is by far the most daunting way to make money blogging, but also the monetization strategy with the most potential for income.
When done right, selling a product through your blog can take your income from mediocre to out-of-this-world crazy.
Most bloggers who get rich blogging do so by selling their own products.
There are two main types of products you can sell: digital and physical.
Physical products are real-life products that you would mail to the person after purchasing. For example, a subscription box is a physical product that would sell well through a blog.
Digital products include products like ebooks, courses, worksheets, workbooks, digital planners, etc. The vast majority of bloggers who make a living by selling products online are selling digital products.
The wonderful thing about digital products is that they generally don’t require any inventory and there are no shipping costs, so the overhead is virtually non-existent.
Is Blogging Right for You?
This may be the most important part of the planning process – deciding if blogging is right for you.
So many people set out with big ideas of what their blog is going to be about and how much money they’re going to make, and then a month or two in they realize that they overlooked the most important part of blogging – creating content. They don’t enjoy writing or they don’t have anything to write about.
But there’s a simple way to figure out if blogging is right for you and that’s to create sample content.
Write 20 sample headlines
First, make sure you’re not going to run out of things to write about. Write out at least 20 sample headlines for blog posts that fit into your niche and categories and that you feel confident you can write.
If you can’t think of 20 headlines, you probably need to widen your niche a little or change it altogether.
The last thing you want is to pay for hosting and then only make it 9 weeks into blogging before running out of things to write.
Write at least 3 posts for each category
Once you have your sample headlines, take some time to write at least 3 blog posts for each category.
Yes, I know. It’s a lot of work and it will take time. The first few posts generally take the longest because you’re still getting the hang of it.
But these will be the first 9 to 15 posts that you publish on your blog, and this is the perfect practice for helping you know if you really enjoy the content creation process as much as you’ll need to to keep going with your blog when times get tough.
Don’t worry about making the posts perfect. You’ll have plenty of time to edit later (and nothing you ever publish will really be perfect). The point here is just to finish the posts and evaluate how you felt while you were writing them.
Is writing posts going to be something you dread or did you find it enjoyable? Will you be able to write 1, 2, or 3 posts each week to keep your content schedule consistent?
Be honest with yourself now, because you don’t want to spend money on a blog you’ll dread writing. You don’t have to love writing to be a successful blogger, but you shouldn’t hate writing either.
If you found that you really enjoyed writing the posts, that’s great! You’ll find it much easier to keep up with your content schedule because you look forward to writing.
Finding Your Style
Now that you’ve written some posts and are feeling more confident about starting a blog, you need to decide what your blog will look like.
Chances are, you’ve already thought through this a little. When I was thinking about starting a blog, one of the first things I decided was the color scheme. Part of my “why” for creating Jamimico was to create something beautiful. I loved the idea of creating a online space that felt calm and lovely, so as I was planning my blog, I couldn’t wait to get to the design part.
Create a brand/style guide
When deciding your blog’s design, think about what you want to the blog to feel like to readers. Should it feel modern or comforting or exciting or homely?
Think of a few words to describe how your blog should feel and then write them down. Don’t forget to consider your niche and your ideal reader.
You’ll now want to choose a color scheme and fonts and create a logo. As you make decisions on each of these items, write down your decisions somewhere. The document you create will be your blog’s style guide.
Choose a color scheme
First, choose a color scheme. I would recommend choosing somewhere between 2 to 4 colors.
Did you know that every color has a number? Try typing “color finder” into Google. A box with colors should appear. As you move the circle over different colors, the numbers to the left of the box will change. Those numbers are the colors’ numbers.
Play around with the color finder to find colors that fit how you want your blog to feel. Remember to write down in your style guide the numbers of the colors you find so that you’ll be able to find them again later.
If you’ve found a color that you like but aren’t sure what colors will go well with it, just do a quick search for “color apps”. You should be able to find a number of different color apps that will suggest complementary colors.
Pick your fonts
You don’t need to spend too much time picking your fonts, but you should still think through which fonts you’ll use.
You can either use one font for both the headings and the body of each post or your headings and the body can be different fonts. However, I wouldn’t suggest using more than two fonts on your blog.
The fonts should be simple and easy to read. The easier to read, the better. You want your readers to flow smoothly down the page and not have to stop to figure out what a word says.
Again, don’t spend too much time on this, because it doesn’t really matter that much. But once you pick your fonts, make sure to write them in your style guide.
Create a logo
Here’s the fun part of branding… creating a logo!
But it can also be the most overwhelming part. Rest assured, your logo can always be redone. The logo you start with doesn’t have to be the logo you stick with.
As you design your logo, tell yourself that it’s okay if your logo isn’t perfect. Once you find a logo you like and that matches the feel you’re going for with your blog, decide that good is good enough.
There are two ways to get a logo: hire someone to design it for you or design it yourself. I would strongly suggest doing it yourself, especially at this point in your blogging career.
Like I mentioned above, you don’t have to stick with your first logo forever and changing your logo is easy.
So, if you’re going to design your own logo, start by signing up for a free design software. I use Canva and love it! They do have a paid version, but I’ve been using the free version for 6 months and haven’t found it necessary to switch to the paid version yet.
In Canva, mess around with the software and try creating multiple logos. Once you have a few different options, you can compare them to see which you like best. Remember, for now, good is good enough.
I created my logo in Canva, and, while it certainly isn’t a masterpiece, I think it turned out fairly well for being my first-ever design project.
One Last Note
You made it! I’m so proud of you and all you’ve accomplished so far and you should be proud of yourself too!
Do you have a logo you created or a post you wrote that you’re proud of? Shoot me an email and show it off. I’d love to see what you’ve created!
I hope you found these steps for planning your blog helpful and that you now have a better understanding of what to do before spending any money on your blog.