Blogging is one of the best ways to improve your thinking, hone your writing, and grow an audience. But many people don’t know where to begin, what they’ll write about, or how they’ll get people to read their work. So I set out to write this post as an easy, step-by-step guide for anyone who’s new to the game.
I’ve split this post into two parts: planning and publishing.
The planning phase has 4 steps:
- Nail your niche and audience
- Pick a platform
- Build a community
- Monetize your blog if you want to
The publishing phase has 3 steps:
- Pick a cadence
- Build a topic web
- Write, edit, and publish
- Promote your writing
Let’s get started.
Part A: Planning
Before you write a single word, you need to map out a few things about your blog. This includes deciding what you’ll write about (and for who), picking the right platform and building a community around it, and deciding whether or not you’ll monetize your blog. Let’s explore each of these in turn.
#1 Nail your niche and audience
The first step is to be crystal clear about two things:
- What you want to say
- Who will read your work
What you’re saying needs to be interesting enough to warrant an online existence, the energy to crank out content, and the sheer drive to promote it. If you’re not passionate about your content, you’ll quit sooner than you need to.
Secondly, that content needs to be relevant to a specific audience — whether that’s stay-at-home moms or mid-career PR practitioners. Knowing your ideal audience helps you write content that’s relevant to them.
“What if I don’t care about amassing a readership and just want to write my thoughts down?“
That’s fine, too. Use your blog as a safe space to think and write — you might just discover others out there who think along the same lines as you.
#2 Pick a platform
There are many options out there, but to simplify things for you, choose between WordPress and Substack.
- WordPress is the most well-known blogging platform, powering about 40% of the web. A powerful tool for pro bloggers, WordPress lets you add extra functionality (like sending emails, backing up your blog, tracking your visitors, and changing your blog’s appearance) through plugins. It’s also free (well, ad-supported, with an option to upgrade to a paid plan). It’s what I use for my website blog (through my hosting service).
- Substack is free, has a clean UI, lets you set up paid memberships, automatically builds your email list, and doesn’t show ads anywhere on your content. It’s what I use for my email newsletter.
How to choose: If you have a domain and hosting package, install WordPress. If you just want to start writing without worrying about domains, hosting, plugins, and all that jazz, use Substack.
#3 Build a community
There are several advantages to building a community around your content:
- You have guaranteed eyes on every new blog post you write.
- Your audience shares your content and brings you new readers.
- You can monetize your community through books, courses, products, etc.
You can build an audience over email, on social media, and on mobile:
- Email is the most crucial element of your audience-building and promotional efforts. Having email subscribers means that they get your content as soon as it’s out, and you don’t have to hunt for new readers every time you publish a new post. My newsletter is an example of that – subscribe now.
- Social media expands your potential reach and allows for community engagement in a way that email simply doesn’t. You can create threads on Twitter, run competitions on Instagram or Facebook, run polls on LinkedIn, create rooms on Clubhouse, and more. Consider establishing a presence on one or two of the major social media platforms as you go along. See my guide on how to improve your online visibility.
- Mobile makes it easy for people to share your work with their contacts. You can create WhatsApp groups, Telegram channels, and Slack communities to promote your content in.
There are plenty of other channels and platforms you can consider, but these are all you need to start with.
#4 Monetize your blog if you want to
You don’t have to monetize your blog at all (I wouldn’t even worry about that initially). However, as you grow your writing portfolio and audience, opportunities to make money will present themselves. There are many ways to turn a buck from blogging — here are 11 of them:
- Banner ads: You can place ad banners all over your blog and earn a few cents whenever someone clicks on them. If you have high traffic, this can be a great way to earn passive income — but never sacrifice the reading experience for ad revenue. Readers hate spammy blogs.
- Affiliate marketing: You can write about stuff (products, courses, services) and earn a commission whenever someone signs up under your affiliate link. Affiliate programs want to partner with bloggers who have decent traffic, great content, and loyal readers. For example, if you blog about gourmet meals, a kitchenware retailer might give you a unique URL to include in your pieces about cooking classes. For each reader that buys a set of pots using your link, you get a commission.
- Memberships: This involves creating lots of great content and putting some of it behind a paywall (“gated content”). Readers have to sign up to view your premium content, and you can charge them a one-off fee or a monthly/annual subscription.
- Partnerships: Here, a brand pays you to post about them, their products and services, or their upcoming event in exchange for cash. Again, brands will want to see traffic and loyalty to your blog before they ink any partnerships with you. For example, if you blog about beauty tips and have a sizable social media following or decent blog traffic, an international beauty brand might pay you a certain amount of money to post about their new lipstick range.
- Courses and training: Courses allow you to package your knowledge once and sell it infinite times. For example, if you blog about digital marketing, you can create a course for your readers and use it as a lead magnet to grow your email list and expand your online community.
- Consultations: Writing establishes authority on a topic, and over time, people want to tap into your expertise. If you blog about the law, you can include a call to action at the bottom of each article to contact you for legal advice. Every blog post thus becomes a sales tool for your services.
- Speaking gigs: Your readers come from different backgrounds, and some of them might work in companies that need speakers on the topic you write about. The more you write, the more likely you are to be invited on stage and paid to speak.
- Events: With enough blog traffic, you can turn your readers into attendants at your next event or conference. For example, if you blog about the music industry and have built up a sizable readership, you can launch a music festival and sell tickets, merchandise, and backstage passes through your blog. Rinse and repeat every year.
- Merchandise: Readers who love your content typically want more of you than you can provide. One solution is to create branded merchandise like clothing, accessories, and stationery. Your blog content then powers your shop, which allows you to hire people to write full-time for you, leaving you to make more merchandise and earn more money, ad infinitum.
- Book opportunities: After writing for a while, you can compile your content into a book or series of books. You might need to update your content with new data, hire an editor to clean up the text, and speak to a publisher about getting your book out there — or simply self-publish on Amazon. The book then becomes a way for new readers to find your blog.
- Freelance writing opportunities: When you publish good work, other people will want you to write guest posts for them for a fee. These arrangements can be highly lucrative depending on how well-known you are within your niche.
There are other ways to earn money from blogging, but these 11 options should keep your coffers full whether you pick one or more to explore.
Part B: Publishing
After deciding on what you’ll write about, who you’ll write it for, where you’ll publish, and how you’ll monetize it (or not), it’s time to write. There are 4 steps here:
- Pick a cadence
- Build a topic web
- Write, edit, and publish
- Promote your writing
Here’s a little more detail on each:
#1 Pick a cadence
The idea of blogging on a schedule can be intimidating for new writers, but picking a cadence (frequency) can help you build your writing muscles much faster.
Consistency breeds results, and when you decide to publish once or twice a week — every week, no excuses — the quality of your writing improves significantly. Decide on a cadence that works for you and commit to it for the long haul — it’ll pay big dividends.
#2 Build a topic web
You’re not a blogger; you’re a spider whose job is to build a web of content so deep, wide, and sticky that your readers can’t help but happily get lost in it.
Take finance, for example.
You can begin by writing about How to Set a Budget (article #1) then write about How to Clear Your Debt (#2) and link to it in #1.
You can then follow up with a piece on How to Prepare Tax Returns (#3) and link to in #1. After that, you could write an article on How to Pick the Right Credit Card (#4) and link to it in #2 (on debt).
This is called a “topic cluster,” and Google loves that stuff. Topic clusters help your readers find related information, help you build your authority as a writer, and increase how much time people spend on your blog.
#3 Write, edit, and publish
Writing is the easiest part — you’ll actually spend most of your time on research. Start by Googling the topic you want to write about and scanning the top 5-10 results to see how they’ve structured their content, the topics you need to include, and what you can improve upon. Then, create an outline and flesh it out.
You can also reverse the process and start by writing your own thoughts, then seeing what others have written about the topic and adding their insights to yours. If you’re suffering from writer’s block, use a tool like Copy.ai to generate blog intros.
#4 Promote your writing
Blogging is primarily about getting others to read your work (otherwise, you’re just writing in a diary — and you don’t need WordPress or Substack for that). You can promote each piece in different ways, such as by:
- Posting it to social media
- Emailing to your subscribers
- Posting it to relevant groups on Facebook, LinkedIn, and Reddit
- Sending it to other bloggers in your space to share with their readers
Revisit each piece after 3-6 months to promote it again for new readers, email subscribers, and followers (assuming it’s evergreen content).
Start writing online
When I started writing this, I meant for it to be a quick 600-word piece on how to start blogging. But the more I wrote, the more I thought about new things to add that would help make this a definitive yet concise guide to starting a blog. That’s one of the benefits (and curses) of writing — you’ll never run out of things to write.
Another benefit of writing this post is that I’ll never again need to explain the process of starting a blog to anyone — I can just point them to this post. By parking my thoughts online, I’ve made it easy to reference myself whenever I need to. This is a massive timesaver that you’ll come to appreciate as you blog more often.
A word of warning, though: beware of The Dip.
Post #1 will be easy to write. Posts #2-5 will test you — and you’ll feel like quitting the journey halfway through. Hang in there — that’s Resistance trying to dissuade you from Mastery. By the time you get to Post #6, you won’t even recognize your writing from Post #1 because you’ll have improved so much. That’s the beauty of consistency.
You now have the tools to start your blog. Go forth and write.
Till next week,
In my last post, I gave 14 tips on how to improve your CV and land a job. Read it:
Need to talk about your brand, career, or project? Get in touch.
I’m also on Twitter and LinkedIn.
Mohammed Shehu, Ph.D. writes on content and marketing for creators and brands. You can find him online @shehuphd everywhere.