There is no one “right” way to build a profitable blog, but there is a sequence that I see over and over again by successful bloggers that I’d like to share with you. If you are a beginner, this information is especially important so you can get an idea of what might lie ahead and also to set proper expectations. The process basically goes like this:
Before I get into the step-by-step blueprint, I want to set the proper expectation.
- Blogging itself is easy but takes time.
- Writing great content is more difficult but gets easier over time.
- Setting up monetization on your blog is not that hard when you know what to do, and with proper guidance it’s something just about anyone can do.
- Getting traffic is what turns all your efforts into dollars, and unfortunately that is the difficult part and requires persistent effort over years. The traffic will come from many different places, and the blend of sources and the tactics used will vary widely depending on you and your niche.
It’s also worth pointing out that not everyone is cut out for this business, but you won’t know unless you try. After some time you may decide you don’t enjoy it, in which case you should rethink your niche, make a lateral move into a related field, or eject. Or you may reach a level where you are happy with the returns (both monetary and otherwise) you are receiving for your efforts and decide to ride that level without putting efforts into future growth. However, if you catch the entrepreneurial fever you’ll realize there is no ceiling to what you can accomplish. This amazes me. Please go back and reread what I just said about expectations again, slowly, before continuing.
The Basic Blueprint for a Profitable Blog
For you some of these steps may occur in a slightly different order, and some will happen simultaneously. For example, as a beginner you may only get so far with “Setting Up Shop” before you start focusing your efforts on blogging, as you should. After some time you’ll come back to tweaking the site as you become more comfortable with WordPress.
But for most content rich bloggers, this is more or less the path as viewed from a high level. When we look back at the different phases of my wife’s blog we cringe at some of the previous layouts, but the good quality content was always there and that’s what drove the traffic (and what matters the most in the end).
Choose Your Path
You might not get this right the first time, but that’s okay. You learn by doing.
- List out 6 months worth of blog post ideas. If you plan on publishing 2x a week that is over 50 post titles. If you are not sure of your blog’s focus yet, do this for each of your top ideas.
- Write a couple high quality posts, but don’t publish them. These should be core articles you can refer back to again and again and that cover some of the basics of your blog’s primary topic(s).
- Take a moment to re-assess your blog’s focus. You are about to spend a lot of time and effort promoting your blog, and you want to put your best foot forward. If necessary, go back to step #2. Conversely, don’t get paralyzed here. If the ideas flow and you enjoy the writing, give it a go.
Set Up Shop
- Start a self-hosted blog.
- Choose a theme (here are some free and paid options) and do some basic customization (if necessary) like colors, layout, menus, font, etc.
- Add basics like the about page, search box, welcome photo, logo, tag line, recent posts, archives, contact page, resources, etc.
- Install basic plugins (Akismet for spam, Yoast for SEO, Jetpack, W3 Total Cache for performance, etc.)
- Set up your site preferences (permalink settings, # of blogs posts shown on the home page, comment settings, etc.)
- Set up backups (we use BackWPup on 100 Days of Real Food and I am experimenting with UpdraftPlus on ProBlogSchool since it allows for easier restoration).
- Set up security (we use and recommend Sucuri for monitoring and protection from malware, denial of service attacks, etc.). I also recommend 2-step authentication, strong passwords, and atypical user names.
- Make your site “sticky” to turn visitors into followers.
- Add social sharing buttons and a Pin It button for images.
- Create email subscription forms (we’ve had the best luck with a from between the blog post and comments).
- Later you can add things like lead magnets (a free downloadable resource in exchange for subscribing to your list or liking your Facebook page, for example), a Hello Bar , a related content widget, and a Facebook like and/or email subscription counter to provide social proof.
Create and Promote
- Publish your blog post(s). ALWAYS consider your readers (and their needs) and write content that will help them, not just bring you financial gain.
- Promote it through your social media channels, opt-in email list (even if it’s just your mom at this point), word of mouth, and any media contacts or social media groups you have at your disposal. I advise against over-saturating your list of friends with this info…a couple shoutouts about your new blog is fine, but don’t overdo it! Those that are interested will start following you.
- Interact with your readers by replying to comments.
- Track other bloggers in your space and authentically interact with them (i.e. don’t “poach” their audiences; add value).
- Repeat steps 12-15 on a regular basis. Pick a regular posting frequency and stick with it as best you can. 1-3 times per week is a good ballpark, and having a handful of draft posts ready to go can really help you keep to your schedule when life happens.
The absolute best reason I can think of to monetize your blog (other than the huge injection of confidence from that first dollar earned) is so you can eventually afford to hire some help. More on that later.
- Set up a Google Adsense account and start showing ads on your blog.
- Set up an Amazon Associates account (assuming you are not in a banned state; check the operating agreement). If you are in a state banned by Amazon, consider Skimlinks to easily work with tens of thousands of other merchants automatically.
Get Your Name Out
Most beginner bloggers don’t get this, but it is absolutely crucial to network with other bloggers. Take on an abundance mindset and realize it’s not you or them, but you and them.
- Attend blogging conferences and network like crazy. Also try to find a good web developer while you are there.
- Find some related blogger groups on Facebook and network there as well.
- Help other bloggers out (sharing their content is one great way to do this).
- Guest post on your new friends’ blogs and vice versa.
- Work hard to get local media exposure to start building your credibility. Later, once you have built your credentials, you can attract state>national>international media coverage.
- Try to secure speaking engagements (even small crowds that you speak to for free can start favorable word of mouth advertising).
Build a Business
- Set up your company or corporation. We are an LLC taxed as an S-Corp, but your needs may vary.
- Keep accurate books. It’s fine to start off with Excel to track your income and expenses (which of course you must do to pay quarterly estimated taxes and file your annual tax return), but as soon as possible move to a real accounting software. You’ll be glad you did because it can be a total pain in the a$$ to keep the books straight and generate reports otherwise. Personally I detest Quickbooks and love Xero.
- At this point you should have an idea of what you’re all about. Get a professionally designed logo that speaks to this.
- Now that you’ve found your voice and have developed an audience, it’s time to revamp your site to reflect this. Consider changes to layout, navigation, ad zones and style to best serves the needs of you and your audience.
Get a Little Help
- Hire a web developer that you can pay by the hour. How much you do yourself versus hiring out depends on your skills and available time, but having an expert you can call on is critical. This is the first person you should hire.
- Hire a virtual assistant. The more you can delegate the better. This is the second person you should hire.
- Join or start a mastermind group.
Monetize More (Advanced)
- Add a premium ad network (and perhaps a second one if possible).
- Consider selling ads direct (you can start doing so yourself, but hire a sales manager ASAP).
- Offer your own products/services on your site and through affiliate networks.
- Sell other individual products/services on an affiliate basis (e-junkie, people in your network, etc.)
Grow Your Team
One of the most important things you can do in your business is to delegate work to others. This allows you to focus on creating content, connecting with people, and making executive decisions. The things you want to leave for yourself are those that no one else can do or that you just enjoy.
- Hire people. Here are some examples of people we employ:
- Web Developer
- Virtual Assistant (multiple, as necessary)
- Comment Moderator (for the blog)
- Social Media Moderator/Manager
- Sales Manager (for selling ads/sponsored posts/affiliate deals/etc. directly)
- Contributing Writer(s)
Build a Brand
It’s time to look at the big picture. You can use the power of your reach to build your brand and touch people through different media and through different products and services.
- Consider the following (to date we’ve only done a handful of these):
- Re-design your website (again), but this time pay a professional to do it.
- Shoot videos for new content or to re-purpose old posts.
- Create more related products or services on your own.
- Hire a merchandising agent to create branded products.
- Land paid speaking engagements.
- Start a podcast.
- Write a book (use a literary agent if going the route of traditional publishing!).
- Host your own seminars/retreats/conferences.
- Major media appearances (you may need to hire a publicist).
- Become a TV show host.
- Branch out into activism or philanthropy.
The End Game
Now where you go from here is up to you, and is getting into “stuff I don’t yet know about” territory. Some aim to sell their blog for a big payout. Others wish to write multiple books. Others automate the business as much as possible and scale back their hours to provide more time for family or other life pursuits (that sounds tasty, no?).
But for most people, the ultimate end game is unknown and doesn’t matter at the moment anyway. It’s the here and now that is important. Constructing some model of what may or may not come to be years from now is a little silly. Just get to work and see what happens. Enjoy the process and the small victories. Focus on one or two things at at time. Be patient.
So I’m curious, where are you in your blogging journey and did you find this overview helpful? For the pros out there, does this jive with your experiences? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments.