Are you ready to share your personal finance story with the world? Good! Let’s talk about how to start a personal finance blog. First off, you should know that I enjoy writing. Over time, blogging has grown my confidence and improved the quality of what I type.
Let’s Start a Blog on SiteGround
I think you’d agree as a reader, that blogs offer a wealth of useful information in an entertaining, “bite-sized” medium. So why not fire up your very own slice of the Internet?
You never know what talent lurks within you, and the gobs and gobs of cash you’ll make by writing about things you never thought others would care about. A-hem…
I found the process of starting my blog to be pretty straightforward. Assuming you’re a savvy computer type, you can be rocking your new blog within an hour. All you have to do is head over to SiteGround and follow the prompts:
Some Things to Consider:
- Think about a good domain name, like “www.abandonedcubicle.com.” Genius! Just don’t go for a name that’s too long, or people will forget what your site is when they’re telling their friends all about it at happy hour. I have to give my buddy Josh a little sh*t here. He started with “MoneyLifeandtheWholeBallofWax.com.” Don’t do that. Josh quickly caught on and relabeled his site “MoneyLifeWax.com.” Much improved.
- Have a clear plan for what your blog will be about. There are so many communities out there carving out niches in a super diverse and topic-rich web. My niche is early retirement and personal finance follies. Others enjoy writing about traveling all over the world. If you’re into Pinterest, maybe recipes, food, and crafts are your passion. The main thing is to keep your theme fairly consistent, so your readers aren’t left guessing what the hell your focus is. This is just a tip if you care to build a readership, otherwise, you can certainly treat your blog like a personal diary; albeit a pricey one.
- Be ready to WRITE. Blogs are like pets. They need care and feeding. And even when you’re away on vacation, you might just have to take the blog with you to keep your readers well-fed. Writing can be difficult at times, especially when it seems that every topic has been covered ad nauseam. Remember though: This isn’t about sharing your discoveries on the wisdom of Index Funds. Your focus should be on sharing your personal experiences, opinions, and straight-up storytelling. Leave the stale repeats for Yahoo! Finance.
- Recognize that it takes time to build your readership. It can take up to two years or more of consistent effort before your page hits start to take off. You might be just that good of a writer with an incredible story that gets everyone’s attention, but everyone’s timeline for building an audience is different. Be okay with that, and keep your expectations within reason, so you don’t get disappointed early on.
Select the Start-Up Plan:
You’ll then be asked to enter your domain name of choice. I entered “MrBrokeRetiree.com” (not shown here) and much to my surprise, the domain is available. Finders keepers!
The rest of the process is pretty straightforward. You enter your payment information and create a password. Avoid adding any extras at this point. You don’t need them now and you can always add them later. I now use the “Grow Big” plan, but all you need for the first 12-24 months is the lowest-cost “Start Up” plan.
Now that you’ve got your hosting ducks in a row, it’s time to install your blogging platform on top of it: WordPress. Go to the “My Accounts” tab, and click on “Go to cPanel.” cPanel is where you’ll manage any changes to the hosting of your blog.
Once in the cPanel, select the WordPress installer, (circled in highlight):
Next, you’ll need to enter your preferred protocol and domain. Because SiteGround offers free SSL certificates (for secure HTTPS browsing), be sure to select “HTTPS.” Another key – be sure to select the “www.” precursor. It’s simply a classier way to go…
Selecting a Theme
Your next step will be to select a free theme to get started with. I highly recommend you start with a free theme until you get yourself established. Many of the top bloggers out there continue to do just fine with a free theme, relying on the power of their words to draw in readers.
As for me? I’m using the Genesis Framework which runs about $59. It’s lightweight and very flexible with several free “child themes” you can pick from. I use Magazine Pro and it’s been my mainstay theme for over two years running.
BOOYAH! And that, folks, is all there is to it! Okay okay… There’s a lot more to it than that. I’ll share some bits of wisdom next, so you can avoid some of the pitfalls I stumbled into out of the gates (and later on, and then later on after that….)
There are all sorts of things you can do to customize your blog and optimize it with countless plug-ins. I’ll only walk through the basics as it’ll be all you need for now. The first thing you’ll want to do is launch your new blog. The screenshot below is pretty self-explanatory:
Once you’ve launched, you can start hammering out blog posts like a machine and changing the world with your velvety prose and compelling arguments. Or, you can be like me and spend hours fiddling with fonts, colors, and menu arrangements. I suggest the former, as a recovering OCD blogger.
Educate Yourself With Google and YouTube
I mentioned Plugins and I figure it fair to show you what I have installed. I recommend you try to limit the number of plugins you install, as they degrade the speed of your blog as you install more and more of them.
Since I’m now using the “Grow Big” plan from SiteGround, daily backups are included so I don’t need a plugin.
SiteGround also offers image optimization, which helps speed up your blog’s rendering on mobile devices. Read on about SEO for why this is important.
I used to use the plugins Autoptimize and WP-Optimize. But now I stick with the SiteGround “SG Optimizer” Plug-in. It works much better in 2022 than in its earlier days.
If you want to get technical, check out The Programming Expert. Here you’ll find all sorts of goodies for customizing your site at the coding level.
UPDATE 5/24/18: With GDPR privacy compliance upon us, I highly recommend Do You Even Blog’s excellent and comprehensive overview of GDPR.
SEO: Search Engine Optimization
Soon after setting up your site and getting a few posts under your belt, you’ll want to learn the art and science of SEO: Search Engine Optimization. There is a TON you can learn to tweak and configure your blog to maximize your search position in Google (and other) search queries.
The best strategy? Produce quality content! But to cover all the bases, focus as well on providing a fast website, and establish domain authority.
The latter of those is achieved by producing excellent content and ALSO ensuring that content gets linked to credible and authoritative sites. This can take time to muster organically, or, you can work to pitch your content and brand within your niche blogging/news community.
I’ve not had much success with HARO (help a reporter out), but that’s for two reasons: One, I haven’t submitted more than a half dozen pitches. And the competition is FIERCE. Second, journalists find real people more credible.
Finally, I’d highly recommend checking out Mediavine’s free SEO articles. I learned an incredible amount of useful info from this source in my SEO exploration. If you can solve the SEO riddle, then you know how to start a blog and keep it going STRONG.
How to Start a Blog and Keep It Going
- Join the countless online communities in the PF blogging space. Make your presence known with an introduction. We’re a friendly bunch, and you may even discover other bloggers where you live. This creates options for meet-ups and happy hours where you can share ideas to make your blog that much better (and make friends in the process!) Get a Twitter account and connect with other bloggers, but don’t let it consume you. It can become a huge, time-wasting distraction.
- Comment on other blogs (but don’t let it consume you!) One of the best ways to generate traffic and interest in your blog is to engage in what others are writing in your niche. Those who reciprocate often become blogging pals and it creates a circle of virtual friends. Neat! I like to use Feedly to keep up with my peers. There’s so much good content out there! Just don’t go nuts. You’ll find yourself spending more time commenting elsewhere than focusing on crafting and curating your content.
- Write guest posts. Reach out to some of the leaders in your niche who publish guest posts. This is a great way to get your blog known and generate interest. Be mindful of the tone of the blog you’re posting for. Is swearing common or not? What are the main themes? Mainly, don’t be a d*ck. Put some effort into editing your post: include meaningful internal and external links, and include three or more quality images. Run spell-check. Duh.
- Use as many of your photos as possible. I learned the hard way that those stock images are just sort of artificial. In an era of smartphones, you have no excuse for not getting out there and snapping away. I’ll occasionally throw in stock pics to emphasize a point, but I feel I connect better with the audience with the personal touch of photos I’ve taken myself. And by the way, you could easily get caught if you use copyrighted images on your site. Don’t take the risk. Use Unsplash or Openverse if you must use photos that aren’t your own!
- Keep your site clean in look and feel. Think “minimalist.” Nothing is more off-putting than visiting a blog and being slammed with pop-up forms, display ads, and other marketing bullsh*t. Check out THIS blog for a great example of keeping it clean and easy on the eyes. Remember, you want people coming back.
- Avoid repeating the “Greatest Hits” and other elders in the space. Unless you have a personal angle chock full of anecdotes and lessons learned, you might not get a lot of love for posts about the virtues of the Health Savings Account and the 401K Employer Match. I’m guilty as charged. Look through my backlog of greatest misses and no further than this “How to” post you’re reading now.
- Carve out time to write, and keep your posting schedule consistent. It wasn’t until I took on the 5 AM wake-up call habit that I finally found the time to focus on my writing. It’s been a revelation. Before that, I was lucky to produce one post every two weeks. I now put out two outstanding New York Times quality posts per week, on Mondays and Thursdays. What ego?
- Don’t overdo it with guest posts on your blog. Establish your brand and voice first, then you can consider bringing other authors into the mix. The best in the business take pains to make sure the guest’s content will be well-received, and that the author’s style complements their writing.
- Remember to write for fun, and don’t be too harsh of a self-critic. At one point this blog felt like a chore, maybe because I felt I had to hit every mark to measure up to the masters. Consequently, a better approach is to write as if you’re having a chat with a good friend at happy hour. You can throw in a few swear words even. You’ll get your point across better if you sound natural and conversational. Avoid trying to sound like Mr. Early Retirement, Ph.D. (Note how I used the word “consequently” there, which is great for SEO, but terrible if you want someone to listen to you pontificate over beers.)
- Don’t start with Bluehost if you prefer hosting that’s fast, secure, and provides knowledgeable and effective support. Read on if you want to avoid all the heartache I went through in December 2017. This blog went hard down and suffered mightily with corrupted files and a lack of decent support from Bluehost. I made the switch to SiteGround and haven’t looked back. They truly are everything they were talked up to be in my research.
- Bonus Tip: Don’t forget to protect your privacy! I found out the hard way how easy it is for someone to learn your name, address, and personal email. It’s public information when you establish your domain, via sites like “whois.com.” With SiteGround, you can pay $1 a month for their Domain ID Protect service. Since I’m an anonymous blogger, I’m glad I stumbled upon my info on whois.com, before anyone mischievous did. Now, my information is concealed whenever someone looks up “AbandonedCubicle.com”
Enhance Your Blog
Now almost two years into the blogging scene, I’ve added a couple of powerful tools to the blogging toolbox. The first is my theme set. After a big fail with another purchased template in year one, I eventually landed on Studio Press. They produced the elegant, simple, and highly intuitive Genesis Framework.
You purchase and install the framework theme, and then install a child theme. There are countless free child themes you can pick from. I have since upgraded to the Magazine Pro theme to meet the design needs of this blog.
Give yourself a good year of blogging before investing in these more customizable themes. Once you’ve established yourself, look into these Studio Press options for speedier pages, minimalist and elegant design, and solid customer support.
Around the year mark, you may also consider a graphics editing tool to help you with logos, Pinterest pins, and enhancing the photos you include in your pages and posts. I use Canva (free!). Canva is a handy web-based tool that allows you to apply filters, overlay text, crop, and all sorts of other fancy enhancements. Worth a look if you want to up your blogging game!
As for the smart logo on my header and the cute bicycle couple caricature of Mrs. Cubert and me? I used Fiverr.com. There, you can find several talented graphic designers offering logo designs for as low as $5. I paid $30 or so for my logo, and about the same for the caricature. Unless you’ve got the knack for design, leave it to the pros.
There you have it: A straightforward tutorial on how to start a cubicle blog of your own. Give it a shot, and feel free to drop me a note if you have any questions. Having nearly sabotaged this site a few times, I’m happy to share what I’ve learned these past several months. Enjoy the ride, and let it flow!
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Nice how-to Cubert! Now that I am officially a blogger I wonder how long until I succumb and get my very own bluehost how-to :). I’m joking of course! and your reasons are solid :). I really like point #6: Avoid repeating the “Greatest Hits” of Mr. Money Mustache and other elders in the space. That’s tough to do for new bloggers. I think that you start out imitating and then you get your own voice. There also seems to be a coming out of your shell type process. You slowly learn that its actually your opinions that people want to hear.
Hey Handy! Appreciate that. I have to give Bluehost credit. They reached out to me about a month ago and very politely and patiently checked in every week or so to poke me about this idea. They’re a good outfit.
It is tough for new bloggers and I have to cut them some slack. I am guilty of that very “sin” myself. The main thing is even if you choose to right about the benefits of say, “biking to work”, you should wrap it up with your personal experiences to make it genuine.
Good point Cubert! I also found that I really like how some people write. So sometimes I am willing to read something form a particular author just because of how they say it. Millennial Revolution is a good example of this. I enjoy her slight sharpness. Although I think this could go both ways. Its a tough line to walk.
Millennial Revolution, eh? I’ll have to check that one out!
Josh Hastings says
Great stuff as usual. I like the screenshot of your plugins – something new bloggers all need help with!!
Yes please don’t make your domain name 8 words and some 30ish letters like me haha.
Thanks, Josh! And thanks for letting me call you out like a good sport would. Love what you’ve got going over at your newly renamed site. Keep it up!
Amy @ LifeZemplified says
Really good advice, Cubert. I hope it adds to your coffers. I need to figure out Cloudflare, I ran into an issue the first time I tried to go with it but of course don’t recall now what it was…
Thanks, Amy. I really don’t expect too much more to flow into the coffers, but if it does come, I’ll be excited to send half to the CDLS Foundation. The rest my kids will need for the insane cost of college tuition… Assuming I don’t send them to welding school instead?
Mr Defined Sight says
Good sum up buddy! I’m going to look into Grayson for the https migration. I’ve been pushing that off for too long now. That price seems reasonable too. How long did it take to do yours?
Gracias! Yes, you need to contact Grayson. He also helped me set up redirects when I F’ed up my permalinks a few months back. It only took him a few minutes, I think. I just had to give him access to my BH and WP.
Miguel (The Rich Miser) says
Great guide Cubert! This makes me feel stupid, but one of my early blogging mistakes was that I did not realize that you could schedule posts to publish in the future. That led to an aborted start in 2016, where I felt I could not keep up and post regularly.
After I learned about the scheduling feature (which I did just clicking around through WordPress) it all changed, since I realized I could write multiple posts in advance and auto-publish them later. I’d say this has been a key, for me, to consistent blogging.
Another thing I love about blogging is that it makes you have your own business (or at least your own project). I think this helps take you out of an “employee mentality” of following orders, and exercises other awesome life skills (creativity, self-motivation, problem-solving, etc.). At least that’s been my case!
Thanks, Miguel! I haven’t used the schedule posts feature yet, but I’m certain I’ll try it at some point down the road.
You make a great point about the “business” aspect of this. I think like you, I carry some of this to work with me and gives me confidence when I have to write a succinct report back to executives. Writing skills and people skills are really the difference makers in corporate America. A blog is a nice place to hone and refine the writing side.
Dylan | Trail to FI says
Yeah…I need to get some guest posts going. That’s on my to-do list.
What does Pretty Links do? I probably have >50% more plugins than you do…maybe I should pare it down.
You’re doing quite well, Dylan. Really nice look and feel, and solid content. Happy to be blogging along wich’ya!
Pretty Links turns long URLs into compact strings – good for affiliate links that tend to be super long.
Accidental Fire says
Great post, I need to look into guest posting as well. As far as not repeating classics, at some point I think it’s fair to say that every possible thing has been written about. I think it’s how a particular blogger puts an individual spin or real story on a topic that can interest people and draw them in. For those of us who are FI, I think “spend way less than you earn and invest the difference” is true for all of us, but its the individual experiences and stories of doing that connect with people.
Thanks, AF! I think the exhausted topics is why I contemplated a travel series. I might consider poetry at some point… 🙂
Definitely my point though – you need to make those tried and true methods *personal* on your posts!
Mr. PoF says
I agree that there are definitely merits to “repeating classics” on a new blog. I also agree that personalizing is KEY to making sure that you are not simply beating a dead horse.
A-men! It’s all in the story you have to share. Keep up the great work on your blog, Mr. PoF!
Lovely post! My blog is more for me than anyone else – for me to practice writing skills and web development skills. Of course, I do want people to visit and hopefully comment so I can get some feedback on the skills I am always trying to get to the next level.
Hey Joe – Nothing wrong with that! I have to believe a good number of the higher traffic blogs out there are framed up with similar intent as yours. Best in your endeavors, and thanks for stopping by!
Great info. You love of blue host is apparent. (I get it 🙂 and Im open to change….
Im there now, and am actually looking for a new hosting company when its tme to renew. only to save coin, because my needs a re very light. I need a host company, that beats bluehosts price with a wordpress install option- period!
Ive been at blogging (seriously) for under a year.
I have abandoned all goals, “social Media” , and (for a time) have stopped looking at other blogs – to avoid the influence –
…Im finding without the NEED or influence for likes, follows, revenue, really anything at all,
That I wrote differently! I write from the authentic me. The one, who like you Cuberts, is a wise ass with some wisdom 🙂
I have decided to never allow advertisers on my blog- I got ENOUGH lack of freedom in life, why add eggshells to my floor???
Thank you for a QUALITY blog my friend,
As you can see, Im here – just read your blog, and as I said I have taken time away from that (with this exception (yes- thats a kudos.
Thanks for the kind words, as always, Scott! Now go sign up for SiteGround through my banners!!! JK – Do what you feel is best when you’re ready. (But I AM loving SG!)
Dang Millennial says
Blogging is an interesting beast!
I enjoy it a lot when I am interested in what I am writing about. I try not to just force posts to get them out there.
I have enjoyed blogging and in this money/investing space it keeps me focused and hungry.
Well, there you go my friend! I find it odd that I’ve felt the consistency of my Mon-Thurs posts have invigorated that little inner writer in me. Sure, there are some days it feels “forced” but more often than not I’m looking at my archives feeling better about this past year than my first, unscheduled year.
Stay hungry, DM!
Peter McPherson says
woot woot! Thanks for the shoutout AC. (and this is actually a seriously excellent guide, btw. Really well done)
Thank you, Peter! Really appreciate that. And appreciate as well your excellent resource for the fledgling blogger!
Now to find the time to clean up this guide – change is a constant!