How to Start a Blog or Personal Site

So this post is going to be META as hell, but I want to write this now as kind of a historical record of how I started a blog and my attempts to get something amazing.

Why bother with a blog?

One of the things I brag about being at Capital One is that so far I’ve had an amazing work life balance. I work 9-5 and besides for the super rare occasions like a big presentation, I rarely do anything work related after 5PM (excluding fun work social events). Oddly enough this work life balance became one of my biggest struggles to deal with in my transition to adulthood. At CMU I was always busy. I was on the exec board of the Undergraduate Marketing Organization, president of Project Rwanda, volunteering with APO, etc etc. So coming into the real world it was really weird not being so busy.

I had a lot of time to think about what I wanted to be doing in a few years and I came to the conclusion, I eventually want to work for myself. Whether it be a small business, a startup, or my own marketing agency, I realized to start any of these goals I need to have a tangible skillset. Given my area of knowledge was digital marketing it made sense to try starting a blog so I can get a taste of all aspects of digital marketing. With this blog alone I’ll be able to practice things like

  • Copywriting through the posts I write
  • Setting up an email marketing channel (once I finish writing a bunch of posts)
  • Growing a site from 0 visitors/days to XYZ amount of visitors/day
  • Self motivation from just putting in the time as much as I can

Granted, for the average person who doesn’t have as much of an interest in digital marketing, there is still a ton of reasons you should try blogging!

  1. It’s low key kind of fun: Everyone has ideas on something. Whether it be about politics, finance, education, etc I guarantee you have an idea you probably want to share with the world. Anyone that knows me will know I love talking about my own experiences and this is just another outlet for me to do so.
  2. OK FINE, LET’S TALK MONEY: Yes there is good money that can be made from blogging. I’m not going to touch too much on this as I have not made any money ;(, but some common routes of monetization is advertisements and affiliate sponsorships. Advertising is pretty obvious the more people you get on your site, the higher chance people will click on an ad, and thus the higher advertising revenue you make. Personally I don’t think any solid internet business should rely solely on Ads, so a good additional source of revenue is affiliate sponsorships. For example, I have a discover credit card and I think it is one of the best credit cards to get as a college student because the cash back rewards are top notch (1% on everything, 5% on certain rotating categories, and at the end of your first year Discover doubles all of your cash back making it a 2% cash back/ 10% rotating category card) and you don’t need that much credit to get approved. I can write a convincing post and direct you to make an account here¬†https://refer.discover.com/s/c3p35. If you sign up through the link you get a bonus of $50 cash back, and I get a bonus of $50 cash back. So imagine if you had 1000 visitors to your site every day and every day 1 person made an account (a conversion rate of .1%). You could be looking at $50 of cashback being made every day which could be a solid $18,250 a year from one post you made. There’s lots of caveats to this but affiliate links is one of the simplest ways to monetize. You could also use your reader base to push new products like if I ever write an Ebook on marketing. There are tons of ways you could monetize but we’ll discuss that in depth once I make some money hehehe.
  3. Personal Branding: Most people who don’t want to blog just want a personal site for things like a portfolio or an online resume. This is a great way to make yourself stand out from the crowd and give a personal touch to job applications which is what makes it so powerful for personal branding. Also low key it fuels my own narcissism… shh don’t tell anyone that part.

So if any of this interests you let’s jump right into how I started this site.

So what’s the first steps then?

1. Pick A Domain Name and Hosting Service

This is actually a pretty hard first step because there’s so many options you can pick. My advice would be to pick a name based on what you are intending to use the blog for.

If you are just looking for a personal site that has your resume and maybe a few posts, maybe considering just doing something like YOURNAME.COM. It’ll be super easy for you to give to recruiters, and will probably help your SEO in the long run quite a bit. I chose digitalrichard.com mainly because I wanted my site to be a bit more than just my online resume. My goal is to establish my personal brand as a digital marketer so I really wanted digital in the domain name. Was this a smart choice? Let’s wait a few months and see *fingers crossed*.

If you are trying to build a site for any other purpose like an online store then we need to start thinking harder. My advice is to first plan what your site is going to be about. You want to strike a fine balance of being in a niche area but also being general enough to have a demand. For example, one of my past failed sites was mystarterkits.com. One of the reasons I scrapped this site was that it was WAY too general. It made it incredibly hard for me to write content and thus it made it hard for me to get excited working on the site.

After you’ve picked the perfect domain name it’s time to put your money where your mouth is and actually buy a domain. I personally use bluehost, their are a ton of different providers out there but I found bluehost to be really easy to setup a domain name and hosting in one go. In addition all of my favorite bloggers highly recommended it themselves, so I followed their advice and signed up through bluehost.

You can sign up here to get a special referral discount!

When you go to sign up you’ll see three options. If this is your first ever website, I would just go with the basic version because chances are your first site is going to fail. I went through 4 different sites before I finally got serious with DigitalRichard so this is all part of the learning process (I’ll go into more details on my failures in a future post). If you have some experience, I recommend going with the Plus or Prime tier just incase you ever need the extras. There’s a good chance you might not need them but it never hurts to get it for a few bucks more per month.

2. Install WordPress

Next up is to install WordPress into your site! You can do this from the bluehost portal where there will be an easy one click button to install wordpress. It should be located in the website section according to bluehost themselves. If you can’t find it, never forget to just google it and there’s definitely people who can help you out! For example one of my favorite pod casters, Nick Loper has a great guide to installing wordpress/ picking a theme here.

(Note a few times I have had to reinstall wordpress because the first time something went wrong. So if something isn’t working try that.)

3. Find a theme/ learn from others

Now is the fun but most difficult part. Now that you have a blank canvas to work with, it’s a pretty daunting task to get started. Take a look at all of the different wordpress themes out there and try using their sample themes. My advice is to play around with all the free themes you can and see if it works for you. The only bad part of free themes like this is that you are going to lose a lot of flexibility unless you are proficient in HTML and CSS. You could pay $25-$50 for a top notch theme that comes with more customization options, but being a recent college grad with little disposable money I chose the DIY way…. Youtube.

Before you watch it, YES I COPIED THIS GUYS SITE. Honestly there’s nothing wrong with that at all especially if you are learning. As time goes on this site will probably look less and less like the video as I develop my own styling, but I think this guy did a fantastic job in explaining step by step how to build a site. It took me maybe 3 hours of building/ rewatching parts of the video to finally get something workable and it felt amazing.

One thing I absolutely loved about this video is that it stresses on how important it is to understand what you are doing. Many videos I watch kind of skim through a lot of the nitty gritty and while it makes your experience easier, it will hurt you in the long run. In the past I’ve tried countless templates for sites, but everytime I want to do something outside of the template I got stuck.

I didn’t know how to style parts of the template. I didn’t know how to add an additional section to the template. I ended up getting frustrated and giving up which is a terrible way to spend your time and effort. This is why I can’t stress enough to learn the basics first and it’ll save you so much effort in the future!

4. Customize

So a lot of people will tell you that you should do most of the work for a site before you launch. If you wanted to make a blog, have ideas for posts written up before hand. If you are running an online store, have the whole customer experience mapped out before you start. In my case, I didn’t really do all of this beforehand…. I wanted it to be a learning experience for myself and any early readers so that they could see from the start how I work on changing the site. (also so I can write meta posts like this one hehe)

Regardless of how much work you put in before hand, now that you have a working site it’s time to get busy! I recommend looking at other sites you like for ideas. Play around with your color schemes, fonts, buttons, pictures, and any other aspects of the site you want to change. It is exciting thinking about working with a blank canvas so go nuts.

5. Persevere and Grow

I’ll be honest the beginning steps of making a site and growing it is lonely. Lets face it, most personal sites or blogs won’t ever make it big without you putting in tons of hours to develop the site, write content, and attract readers (or you can just throw money at it and hire people but…. we’re not that rich). That’s just the nature of building an online presence and the worst part is you probably won’t see any big returns until a couple of months of effort. Even for me, my plan right now is to write write write for 2-3 months and once I have a sufficient amount of quality posts I’ll go out and market this blog. Until then, I am completely happy with the fact most of my readers are going to be my family and friends.

Still I view this blog as a LONGGGGG term investment. Even if it doesn’t explode, even if it doesn’t make any money, I am constantly learning. Yeah I work at a great company and I could probably just coast through life working 9-5, come home watch netflix, and repeat but ultimately I want my own autonomy. To get to that point I need the skill sets to thrive in the future digital world and even if it’s just 1 hour a day. Think about it, i’m 22 and imagine how much experience I’ll have when i’m 30 from just 1 hour a day.

6. Get Started

GO!

For years I kept telling people I wanted to start a site and for years I kept stalling. I tried a variety of free tools, bootstrapping, and what not but I never fully committed to my own site. It wasn’t until I started listening to some entrepreneurship podcasts like Side Hustle Nation, and I kept hearing the words, JUST DO IT. So many times successful entrepreneurs would tell the podcast getting started is the hardest step so sometimes you have to commit know it will probably fail.

This JUST DO IT, is different for everyone. For me it was putting down $100 to buy 3 years of domain and service from bluehost. For you it might be trying a free wordpress blog or working with someone on their website.  Regardless, start something today and it might just be your ticket to success.

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If you want to hear more about my past failures check out this newer post that details my mistakes and what I learned from them!