So I’m going to come out and say it: This post has zip to do with coloring books. Zilch. Nothing whatsoever.
But, when you’ve run a reasonably successful blog for several years, whether it’s about coloring books or saving money, people who also want to start a blog tend to gravitate towards you with questions about the process. How do I start a blog? What do you need to get started? How much does a blog cost? Should I use WordPress? What’s the best host to start blogging on?
I used to have this super simple email with tips that I wrote up for my father in law about how to create a WordPress website for his church that I would forward to people when they asked. Kinda weird. But you know what? Today, we’re going to make things official. This is my official guide to starting a blog.
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Unlike the rest of my blog, this post has nothing to do with creative hobbies! But if you are creative and you like hobbies, I bet you’ll like my newsletter! Get updates roughly once a week about coloring books, sweet new giveaways, and other creative living tips.
This post contains affiliate links. That means, without changing the price for you, if you click one of the links in this post and decide to make a purchase, I’ll make a commission off of what you buy. It’s like Refer-A-Friend! That’s part of what keeps Cleverpedia going, as you’ll read below. All the products I link out to in this post are products I’ve been using for a long time and recommend with confidence.
Just Tell Me What You Recommend
I wanted to just start out with a quick list of the services I use and recommend in case you just wanted my suggested resources and none of the lengthy how to below.
- Domain registrar: Hover
- Hosting: Bluehost
- CMS: self-hosted WordPress
- WordPress themes: Themeforest
- Pinterest scheduling: Tailwind
- Blogging courses/community: Billionaire Blog Club
Why I Sorta Kinda Know What I’m Talking About
This post is 100% based on my own trial and error. The real experiences I went through creating Cleverpedia, and have gone through creating other blogs and helping my friends create and grow them, have all shaped the advice I’m going to give you in this article. Think of it as me making the mistakes so you don’t have to.
Cleverpedia is, like I said a few paragraphs ago, a reasonably successful blog. It long ago earned back what it took to start up (and because of the way I started this blog, I had steep startup costs, way steeper than you will have to go through) and continues to earn a healthy amount every month. If I did this full time, I have full confidence that I could knock this thing out of the park and earn so much more from it. But, I happen to love my full-time job, so that is not going to happen.
This blog began in March 2014 as a dramatically different blog than it is today. I had known for a while that I wanted to start a blog, but what kicked me into action was this post on the blog ViperChill. Cleverpedia was born just days after that article went live as a viral news blog, in the style of Viral Nova, and I spent an embarrassing amount of money on Facebook ads trying to make my blog a breakout success. Let me tell you: no matter what people tell you, the viral news niche is an uninspiring, difficult, unsustaining niche. Unsurprisingly, after a lot of time and money, I failed. Bummer.
For a little while, Cleverpedia lay dormant. Then, in 2015 I saw the adult coloring trend picking up speed, and I changed course. Now, I can confidently say that my blog is among the most popular blogs about coloring books.
A few other things that show I know what I am talking about: I’ve been working at one of the best internet marketing agencies in the country for more than five years, so a lot of my knowledge is thanks to my amazing employer. Also, I’ve been running a blogging group at my work for over a year.
So let’s get started, shall we?
So, Why Do You Want to Start a Blog?
Before we go any further, I want you to stop and think a second about why exactly it is that you want to start a blog. Seriously, take a second to decide. Got it?
There are lots and lots of reasons to start a blog. But in my opinion, there are three really important ones:
To express yourself. After all, that’s what a blog is. Do you love to write? Take beautiful photos? Create incredible baked goods that you leave in the office kitchen and make me want to binge eat rainbow sprinkle cake while I’m heating up my healthy lunch? (Ahem) Whatever your groove is, wanting to get it down and share it with the world is a great reason to want to start a blog.
To learn. Are you one of those people that can never get enough of continuing their education? A perfectionist who tweaks and tweaks until your masterpiece is complete? Do you have a desire to be an expert at something? Blogging is all about learning: learning the ropes of building a blog, and becoming an expert at whatever it is you help your readers learn.
To make money. Finally, a hobby that pays you back! While you can’t expect blogging to be a get rich quick scheme, it’s rewarding in so many ways, including that you can earn money or even make a living on it. Heck, I get it; my original reason for starting Cleverpedia was all about the money, because nobody starts a viral news blog for fun.
So was your reason one of them?
The thing about it is, to be successful, you can’t really have just one reason to want to start a blog. Blogging is so rewarding, so much fun, and for me growing my blog is one of my proudest accomplishments. But one thing blogging ain’t is easy. You need more than one reason to want to do it so you can keep going when the going gets rough.
When you get writer’s block, you need more than just your desire for self-expression to get you trudging through your 77th post about coloring books. When you break your site and spend hours trying to get it back online you are going to laugh in the face of this being a valuable lesson. And when you spend hours crafting a beautiful post that you think is going to be the motherload of gift guides and make you so much money, and it crashes and burns, you need your passion for the work to keep you from calling it quits.
In case I haven’t made it painfully obvious enough, I am speaking from experience here.
Even if you only really have one reason to want to start a blog (maybe even a reason I didn’t list above!), I think a lot can be said for building your passion as you go. I started out with making money as my #1 goal, but this blog has become such a great vehicle for self-expression, and it’s really built my enthusiasm for building websites and tinkering. If you’re reading this, I’m willing to bet you have that same streak of passion for this that I do.
Why I Use WordPress
You can start a blog completely for free, using a platform like WordPress.com or Blogger. However, from here on out, I’m going to be operating under the assumption that what you want to do is create a self-hosted WordPress website (not the same thing as WordPress.com. I know, confusing, right?).
Why? Lots of reasons, actually. First of all, that’s what I did, so it’s what I know. But also, self-hosted WordPress gives you tons of freedom; freedom to earn money the way you want, freedom to make your site look the way you want, and freedom to make your website do what you want. There really is no competition out there. That’s why 29% of the internet runs on WordPress.
Just be sure that you understand that when I refer to WordPress from here on out, I am NOT talking about WordPress.com, where you set up a blog at yourblogname.wordpress.com. That platform is much more limited than self-hosted WordPress.
So let’s do this thang.
A Highly Unscientific Explanation of How Websites Work
Think of the internet as a neighborhood for a second. Admittedly, a huge neighborhood. There are so many houses (websites) that they stretch out endlessly in all directions.
But one of those houses is going to be your website!
To find your house, you are going to need an address. This is like your domain name. It is the word or words with an extension at the end (usually .com) that helps people find your website.
So your house exists on a plot of land. This is like your web hosting. If you don’t have access to some space to put your house, you can’t build it, right? Your web host will give you that space.
When you first build your house, it is entirely empty inside. It’s not even wired up to your utilities. Your utilities are like your CMS or Content Management System. A CMS gives you a dashboard so you can change your website without having to dive into code. You don’t need a CMS — you could totally hand code your site — but that just isn’t the ideal scenario for a blog, where many pages change every time you publish a post. The CMS I use, as I mentioned, is WordPress.
Finally, the color of paint on your house and all your nice landscaping is your theme. You can use one of the default themes, but then your house is going to look like a lot of other houses in the neighborhood.
That, my friends, is basically how the following things you are about to set up work together.
How to Create a Blog in 20 Minutes or Less
Believe it or not, it does not take that long to get a blog online. This, of course, is not counting the time you spend deliberating over things like your blog’s name and what theme to use! Here’s how you do it.
1. First, you need your address, or your domain name. I use and highly recommend Hover.
If you haven’t decided what you are going to blog about yet, it’s probably a good idea to know that before you buy your domain name. But all things considered, I don’t think your name matters all that much — my coloring book blog, after all, is called Cleverpedia. What’s that got to do with coloring books, you ask? Great question! …
You’re going to need to decide your blog’s name while you are searching for a domain, because chances are, the first name or five that you try to search for a domain name for are going to be taken. Don’t fall in love with a name before you know if it is available. Just try different names out and see what is available. Definitely go for a .com over any other extension — the others just aren’t as widely used. For more domain name advice, I recommend this article about how to choose a blog name you won’t regret.
Approximate cost: $15/year, including free whois protection, which cuts down on spam you receive. Other hosts make you pay $7-12 a year just for whois privacy.
2. Next, you need a web host. I use and recommend Bluehost.
Yes, you can buy your domain name through Bluehost, too. But buying your domain name with your hosting company kind of locks you in. Bluehost is great to start out on because it is cheap and reliable, but someday if Cleverpedia keeps growing at the speed it is, I will probably need to switch to a higher end host. I keep my domain names separate because, first of all, I love Hover, but also it would make it easier to move.
You don’t need any of the bells and whistles they will try to sell you on: just basic hosting.
Approximate cost: $70/year, but if you can swing it, I’d recommend paying for your first 3 years up-front because you actually get them for the price of 2 that way. That costs about $142.
3. Next, you need to point your domain name at your host.
You do this on your domain registrar’s website. If you are using Hover, go to your list of Domains and click “Edit” beside your domain name and choose “Edit Nameservers.”
Set your nameservers to Bluehost‘s (unless you are not using Bluehost, in which case you’ll need to look up your host’s nameservers):
4. Next, you need to install self-hosted WordPress.
This is way easier than it sounds. Back on Bluehost, click your cPanel, then click the “Install WordPress” icon.
Follow the prompts to install WordPress right on the main directory of the new domain name you just bought.
Ta da! That’s it… you have a blog! Crazy, right?
How to Make Your Blog Beautiful
So, right now your blog isn’t much to look at. It’s going to be all set with the default WordPress theme, and maybe your title and tagline if you added them.
You may now embark down the rabbit hole that is getting your site to look exactly how you want it.
But first, I’m going to express a perhaps unpopular opinion: It doesn’t really matter what your site looks like.
The thing is, at the very beginning, you will have no traffic. Your focus should be on building out your content and then trying to grow your traffic. The traffic that ends up getting to your site, especially at first, is probably going to come from social media or Google. They don’t care what your website looks like. They just came to get some information from you, short and simple.
Plus, you can always change your theme later. Right now, Cleverpedia is on its third theme.
Therefore, it is totally fine to get started with a free WordPress theme. Here are some popular free themes from WordPress.
However, there is something to be said for a beautiful site being motivating. I prefer premium themes because they are more customizable and unique than free themes tend to be, with better documentation and support. I absolutely freaking love this theme. Apparently so do my visitors because I’ve seen at least one other coloring book blog that started using it after me…
If you want something more than a free theme can offer, I use and recommend Themeforest to search for themes, because it is just so easy to use.
Approximate cost: $49-65 one time
Here are a few features to look for in a premium theme:
- Highly rated / popular theme (you can actually filter by this on Themeforest, which I always do)
- Updated within the last year
- Questions in the comments get quick replies from the theme creator
- Good documentation
- A demo that looks similar to the end result you are going for, that you can import (and easy instructions for doing so)
Go wild. Just don’t be a total perfectionist. You are going to learn so much about blogging on this journey. Don’t let not achieving the exact perfect look stop you from even getting started. You can do this!
What Should I Write About on My New Blog?
Here is some common blogging advice: Start a blog about something you are passionate about.
I’m not going to say that’s not true, because it is true. I wouldn’t be here today if I was not the slightest bit passionate about coloring books.
But it takes more than passion for something to stick with it. Think back to why YOU wanted to start a blog. Those are the things that keep you going. Meanwhile, here is much much better blogging advice that might seem almost the same, but it’s really not:
Better blogging advice: Start a blog about something you can write about over and over and over.
I have written over 70 posts about coloring books on this blog so far. With very few exceptions, those posts are all over 1000 words long. Some of them are over 3000 words. By my estimation, I have written over 100,000 words about coloring books.
Let that sink in a moment. If I was doing National Novel Writing Month, that is two novels.
What can you stand writing about, over and over and over?
I am passionate about the French language. I am passionate about my favorite artists. I am passionate about Thai food.
But no freaking way am I going to be able to sustain those interests enough to write 100,000 words about them.
Here’s another way to look at it, although this is not the only way I recommend looking at this. I can be an expert on coloring books. There is a lot to say about them, and in the years I’ve written about them, I’ve become really good at researching books, and I’ve gotten really in-tune with coloring book news. That’s a level of expertise I probably could not accomplish with French, Van Gogh, or pad see ew.
The reason I don’t full-heartedly recommend that way of looking at it: you can really pigeonhole yourself. I love coloring books, but I’d be lying through my teeth if I told you that there has never been a day I’ve dreaded needing to pound out a particular post. It is what it is, and I’m fortunate that I hit the right balance of specificity, timing, and audience size. For what it’s worth, if I started over I wouldn’t pin myself quite so tightly to such a specific topic.
How to Stay Motivated
Blogging isn’t a thing you do one time. If you want to start a blog, you need to keep at it consistently if you want to be successful.
At the very beginning, unless you are a marketing genius or hit upon some incredible stroke of luck, you are not going to have traffic. You are not going to have an audience. And therefore, you are not going to make money right off the bat.
If that’s all you’re in it for, it pretty much sucks. Fortunately, you have those other reasons (self-expression and your desire to learn and tinker) keeping you going.
It took me over a year of blogging to earn enough to hit the minimum payout of $100 from Google AdSense. It took me very close to two years to earn back all the money I put into starting Cleverpedia (keep in mind I spent a lot of money on Facebook ads for my failed viral news blog though).
In that time, I was all about the tinkering, though. I tried out different plugins. I experimented with social media. I worked on my design. And, obviously, I buckled down and wrote a lot of posts.
Now, I can count on a consistent income from this blog, because I built the right foundation and didn’t give up on it. There were a lot of bumps along the way, mistakes that I wouldn’t have made knowing what I know now. (If you guys find this post valuable, let me know in the comments! I could keep writing more about the process of growing a blog!)
But it’s worth it, for so many more reasons than money (though money helps). Because I have some of the sweetest, most thoughtful readers, man. Because I get to spend my evenings immersed in a creative hobby that I’ve enjoyed for years. Because I still get that massive sense of accomplishment, that super giddy feeling, when I get this notification in the WordPress app:
You can do it too. The hardest part is getting started. Once you experience those first few sparks of excitement — traffic surges, subscribers, that first $100 hitting your bank account — you’ll feel just as passionate about it.
Checklist: Everything You Need to Start a Blog
Once again, for simplicity’s sake, here’s the list of services I use and highly recommend:
- Domain registrar: Hover
- Hosting: Bluehost
- CMS: self-hosted WordPress
- WordPress themes: Themeforest
- Pinterest scheduling: Tailwind
- Blogging courses/community: Billionaire Blog Club
Did you like this post? This is outside of the realm of what I usually cover on Cleverpedia, but I’d love to keep writing about how to start and grow a blog if you guys have more questions. Let me know what you’d like me to cover in the comments!