Ask Stacy: How Do You Start a Blog?

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Here’s an email I recently received from a reader who’s interested in making a little extra money by blogging…

Thanks for your great blog and your articles on working from home! I’m thinking of starting some sort of blog myself, but I have no experience in that area. I’d really appreciate any tips you have on getting started, choosing topics, attracting readers, etc. Thanks, and keep up the good work!

Cheers,
Renee

Thanks for the kind words, Renee!

I have to laugh when I think back to January 2010, the date I started “blogging.” That’s because, although I’d been writing TV news scripts for 20 years and books for 10, I really didn’t understand just what a “blog” was. For those of you similarly impaired, let’s start with part of Wikipedia’s definition of a blog

A blog (a blend of the term web log) is a type of website or part of a website that’s updated with new content from time to time. Blogs are usually maintained by an individual with regular entries of commentary, descriptions of events, or other material such as graphics or video. Entries are commonly displayed in reverse-chronological order.

Note that most of this definition would fit any article-driven website, as well as magazines and newspapers. So blogs are really just websites with stories. The difference between a blog and, say, CNN.com, is that a blog is often just one person, and the articles they’re writing might feature more opinions and experiences than fact-based journalism. But look at this site or others like it, and you’ll see the distinction between a traditional news site like CNN and a blog isn’t always clear.

The point of all that was that if you can write stuff people want to read, whatever you choose to call it, you can potentially earn some extra scratch.

How to begin?

I started this site as a place to provide additional information for the TV news stories we syndicate nationwide. Since that’s not the way you or Renee will begin, however, I did what I do dozens of times a day: asked the Internet. I put the phrase “How do I start a blog?” in a search engine, and in less than a second, I got 8,600,000,000 responses. One of the first was, not surprisingly, the website How To Start a Blog. It has some decent advice, and so does Wikihow. I found lots of good information at this page of ProBlogger.net, including a link to an article called 23 Questions to Determine If a Blog Is Right For You.

In short, there’s no shortage of resources to determine how to get started and whether you should. Check out as many as you can before deciding to go further.

How much does it cost?

There are lots of ways to set up a blog cheap, or even free. Google will set you up free. So will WordPress, the platform we use here. And MSN. And Yahoo. But getting a free blog can be ultimately prove costly. From How to Start a Blog

Yes, it’s free, but nothing is really free. When you start a blog with a free blogging service, you don’t get your own domain. You get something like mygreatblog.blogspot.com (where there are a million other blogs) and you don’t actually own the blog. If you ever do decide to move to your own domain, you have no way to take your readers with you, because you have no control over the site.

To start a blog with your own domain name will require some cash, but not a ton. Typically you’ll pay a company like GoDaddy about $10 a year to register the name. The only hard part is finding one you like that isn’t already taken. Then look for a blogging service that will let you use a custom domain name. Tumblr will do it for free if you’re tech-savvy enough. Or for a few dollars more, WordPress will let you register a domain and point it to a blog without leaving their site. The total cost is only $17 a year per domain.

I’m not going to go into more details about the mechanics of setting up a blog because space is limited and the process is already well-documented. Instead, let’s focus on other important issues.

What should you write about?

There’s only one answer to that question: Write what you know and feel passionate about. For example, I honestly believe that I was put on this earth to help people harness the power of money to live a more rewarding life. If I won the lottery tomorrow, I wouldn’t quit my job. (I might, however, sleep later.)

In short, pick a topic that’s so compelling that you’d happily write about it free.

While it may seem counter-intuitive, I’d also suggest choosing a topic that is relatively narrow rather than broad. While a broad topic by definition will appeal to a broader audience, it will also have more competition. Better to be a bigger fish in a smaller pond.

Can you make money?

I get asked this question a lot. The answer is, “Maybe, but it’s not easy.”

There are two ways to make money from any website whose product is information: Either charge your readers to subscribe or sell advertising. Unless you’re either super-famous, super-talented, or both, getting people to pay to read your work will be an uphill climb. That leaves advertising. Since Google Adsense will find advertisers for you, getting advertisers isn’t tough. What’s tough is getting enough traffic to your website to make those advertisements pay a decent amount.

Different types of ads pay different amounts, but as a very general rule of thumb, if you use Adsense and have the type and quantity of the ads you see on this page, you should make a few thousand dollars for every 100,000 visitors you get to your site monthly. That’s not that much, especially considering that getting 100,000 people to your blog every month isn’t easy. Most bloggers never achieve more than a fraction of that.

How do you attract readers?

If you expect the answer is “be a great writer,” you’re wrong. Compelling, well-written articles that connect with your audience are obviously important. But ask any great musician you see in a neighborhood bar whether being talented automatically leads to fame and fortune. Life’s not that easy. If you want readers, you’ll need to go out and find them. How? ProBlogger.net lists 23 ways in this article. But the single most effective technique we’ve used is getting noticed by guest-posting on other sites. Sites like MSN Money and Yahoo Finance now regularly run our stuff, and that’s made all the difference for us.

That being said, don’t expect to simply email MSN and start writing. Getting on these sites took years of door-knocking, and I started with solid credentials and 20 years of experience. But you don’t have to start at the top. Write some great stuff, talk to some bigger bloggers, ask if they’ll let you guest-post, then work your way up. Will everyone be nice and helpful? Absolutely not. But keep at it and, if you’re good, you’ll eventually get there.

Bottom line? Starting a blog is like starting any business. Combine passion with perseverance and, if you’ve got the staying power, sooner or later – probably later – you’ll succeed. At least, that’s always been the way it’s been for me.

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