Full Disclosure: Some of the links below may be affiliate links. That means at no extra cost to you, I make a commission if you make a purchase. I blog with integrity, and refuse to make money selling or recommending bad products and services to my friends and readers. I only want to recommend and sponsor products that I love and feel would benefit you guys. I’m all about sharing the love.
It’s hard to believe, but this past month I celebrated my first Blogiversary! I’ve learned a lot over the past year, both technically and emotionally speaking. Becoming vulnerable enough to share your life with the world is not as easy as one would think.
There are countless websites dedicated to teaching SEO and Content Marketing, but none can truly prepare you for the inner work that comes along with venturing out on your own and putting your energy into a project like this.
Just like creating any work of art, starting a blog or business forces you outside your comfort zone. You risk failing, and accept the possibility that others will see your sinking ship and say “I told you so”. So much of your soul is poured into every published post, every exchange on social media, every idea that keeps you up writing in stacks of notebooks until the ungodly hours of the early morning.
When I started my blog I was on a very tight budget. I was a stay at home mom with ZERO income coming in. Over the past 12 months I had to financially plan for a big move to the Texas Coast and having a new baby. During that time I also had no time to focus on monetizing my site and chose to work on healing my money mindset before pouring our dollars into my blog before I was ready.
I’m glad that I did the inner work before implementing my business plan. However, walking down that road also meant doing things the “hard way”. I became a Bootstrap Blogger - spending hours and hours looking for cheap or free alternatives to the high dollar tools and services that I wanted but simply couldn’t afford.
If you’ve wanted to start a blog but haven’t because it feels impossible, overwhelming or prohibitively expensive, I’m here to help.
As a way to celebrate my year long journey, I’m sharing what I learned with you, so you can save precious time, money and energy.
Website Platform & Hosting
I’m a full time student. I homeschool my son and worked the majority of my first year blogging. I have a newborn baby girl to take care of, dinner to cook, laundry to wash and a home to clean. All of this means my minutes are priceless. Bootstrap Blogging is not just about saving dough, it’s also about banking time and resources. Whenever I can double up on both, I give myself a big hug and a pat on the back (and sometimes a cookie). I’m also not a computer engineer so I needed a website platform that made my life easier.
I have three recommendations for excellent blogging platforms. Wordpress is one. Many sites use Wordpress because there are so many options available. For someone on a tight budget, you can choose hosting through a site like GoDaddy, Bluehost or HostGator and choose the one click Wordpress installation for no extra charge. There are thousands of themes and plugins available. Make sure that you use Wordpress.org not Wordpress.com. The .com version will limit you on what you can do, and ironically ends up costing a lot more than self hosting.
I am well acquainted with Wordpress now, but when I first started out, my design driven mind really didn't mesh well with the backend setup of Wordpress. I was looking for something that was beautiful and easy to use. That's when I stumbled upon Weebly.
It was love at first sight. The themes are gorgeous. Their drag and drop builder speaks to my right brained mind. And the prices are great. I tried the free subdomain for a while before I launched to make sure I liked the editor. I did choose to put a little money into getting my own domain so my site would be professional. I recommend doing the same.
The Starter Plan is only $54 for 6 months (that’s less than ten bucks a month, about what I pay for Netflix).
And with that price you get all of this:
Option #3 is Squarespace. Their method of designing is easy to use and unique and their themes are hands down some of the most beautiful and professional available on the web today. They also have the option to create "Cover Pages" or Landing Pages. I can write a whole blog entry about the benefit of this, but when you are ready to delve into content marketing, having the ability to create a landing page without your sites menu on it is a very handy tool. Squarespace also gives you the ability to password protect individual pages rather than sitewide, allowing you to create content that only members can access. This is great for hosting your own membership site, webinars, resource libraries, the options are limitless.
Email Marketing Service
One of the best ways to share your posts and products with the world is to build an email list. Posting on Social Media is a necessity but there’s no way to know for sure that what you post, tweet or pin will actually make it in front of your most loyal readers.
The people who sign up for your list have seen value in what you provide, at least enough to set aside space in their digital mailbox. That means they're probably interested in what you have to say. Also, when you send out your newsletter, promotion or campaign you know it will go directly to them, you just have to talk them into clicking on your subject line.
Mailchimp and ConvertKit are the most recommended for new bloggers, and for good reason.
Mailchimp is the most suggested service for beginning bloggers across the board. I use Mailchimp and really like it. It’s good for bootstrapper’s because it’s free for people with less than 2,000 subscribers. They have a drag and drop email builder (which you know I love) that makes creating newsletters a breeze. The only downside is that many of the best features are only available when you upgrade.
ConvertKit is fabulous. They have landing pages, super great opt-in forms, powerful analytics, the list goes on. It costs $30 dollar a month, and is worth it in my opinion. If that feels affordable to you, I really think you should go for it. However, since this post is about going as low as possible, I’m gonna make another suggestion for you to start out with.
If campaigns and dripping content (sending an automated series of emails) is important to you, and your list is small I recommend the free version of MadMimi.
You get almost all of their premium features no matter what plan you're on. The only difference between the free or the pro plans are the number of subscribers on your list. When your list grows, the cost grows with it, but it still stays pretty low. For instance 2,500 subscribers is only $16/mo.
Social Media is one of the most important aspects of a blog’s survival, at least if you want anyone to actually read it. In fact, if part of your monetization strategy is Sponsored Posts or Ad Networks, having a large following may be a required. And it’s free!
The most powerful social media platforms for bloggers are:
Facebook (particularly groups)
Although you start with 10 products on the Weebly Starter plan, there are ways to maximize how much and what you can sell on your site. In the drag and drop builder there is a box that says Embed Code. You guys, this little box should be called Pandora because it literally opens up a universe of possibilities for your blog.
If you're going to sell products - digital or physical, Gumroad is awesome. You can embed products right on your Weebly site (yes, even the free one). Best of all, Gumroad is free, they just take a small percentage when you make a sell. They also have a way to list affiliates for your products at no extra charge. That means other people can share your awesome things and get a commission for all their hard work.
Now get to work building your dreams Rockstar, the world is your stage!
What blogging issues have you guys struggled with and how did you overcome them? Let's chat in the comments below.