Updated: December 20, 2016
If you are going to learn how to start an awesome blog you need to take a bit of time to understand what blogs really are and what makes them special.
Blogs get a bad rap.
The reason why is because blogs encompass so many different sites.
It might be a Tumblr blog that posts nothing but cats dressed as Smurfs.
It might be a Buzzfeed post that shows you 13 ways to spice up your sex life with mayonnaise.
It might be a blog by someone who has cancer and wants to share their experience with the world.
For the sake of this guide when I talk about blogs, I'm talking about those that are created by individuals looking to make a change.
The change is usually in their life, but change also happens in the life of their readers.
I love blogging because it helps me share my thoughts with the world. It also introduces me to people I would never have met otherwise.
For something that is so easy to setup, a blog can have a tremendous impact on a number of lives.
A lot of the answers I look for can be found in a blog post. That means someone else was going through the same problem as I was and decided to share their experience.
That is powerful.
It's very easy to simply think about blogs as a way to make money, but when you do that you are selling your blog short. By blogging, you have a chance to change someone else's life in a positive way.
Blogging for a Living
It's amazing the reaction you get when someone asks you what you do for a living and you say you own a blog.
They look at you like you cheated life.
You're just a bum writing random thoughts onto a web page. That doesn't deserve the title of "job".
But what if someone asks you what you do and you told them that you share your experiences with the world hoping that you may have a positive impact on someone's life?
Who is going to laugh at that?!
Evil people maybe, but everyone else? They'll nod their head and say that is cool.
Because it is cool.
So. Damn. Cool.
Can You Really Make Money With Blogs?
This is the reason why you are here.
You want to change the world, but first, you need to make some money with your blog so you can do everything else.
I guess that means the big question is can you make money with blogs?
Yes and no.
Blogs help me make over 5 figures a month in revenue allowing me to work from anywhere in the world that I want (I choose to stay at home). However, the blogs themselves do not directly make me money.
If that answer is confusing then take a look at some of the blog posts that I've written:
- You Can’t Make Money Blogging
- Why You Should Absolutely Aim to Make $1,000,000 With Your Blog
- How to Make Money Blogging: A Beginner’s Guide to Working at Home
Even the post titles contradict each other.
The problem is that when people think about making money with their blog they simply think about writing posts.
When they put their thinking cap on it doesn't make sense. You can't make money writing posts unless someone is paying you and that doesn't usually happen. So if that's the case then you can't make money from blogging right?
Meh, that's mostly wrong.
A blog doesn't directly make you money. What I mean is that you just don't start a blog and money comes in. You make money by offering something of value that your audience wants and they give you money for that value.
We will dive deeper into this in the chapter about Making Money but first there are a lot more things you should know about blogging before you step into that area.
Blogging as a Gateway
Think of a blog more as a gateway.
It brings in the audience that you want so you can introduce them to the value that you are offering.
Why is this important?
Because the sales cycle for individuals that can't afford awesome TV spots or full page spreads is a lot different from a big company.
If you're unfamiliar with sales cycles then here is a quick primer.
The Customer Lifecycle
Not all buyers are created equal.
You can't really understand how to sell to people until you understand what phase of the customer lifecycle they are in.
Depending on who you ask, the customer lifecycle is broken up into 5-7 phases.
This is the first stage of the lifecycle. In this stage, the customer is just starting to become aware of their problem.
For example, your problem might be you don't know how to start a successful blog. You're actively aware of that problem so you start to search for solutions.
What you find is that there are a healthy number of books and courses that will teach you how to start a successful blog.
Most of these products are attached to a blog. It's the blog's job to build up awareness of the problem and to inform you that you can find the solution in a product.
Now that you know there are different products that can help solve your problem you start to evaluate them to find the best one for you.
You've made your decision and it is time to purchase the product.
You start to use the product and hopefully you find that it is worth your time.
This is the dream of every business owner. They want every single person that purchases from them to become an advocate of the product and tell their friends and family about it.
How a Blog Helps With the Customer Lifecycle
You might be thinking to yourself that there are a ton of big companies that don't have blogs so what's the point?
If I own an Android phone and am thinking about switching over to Apple then what do I do? I go and read reviews and articles by other people to learn more about the iPhone. I know about the iPhone because I see them all over the place and have been exposed to Apple ads a million times over.
Apple doesn't need a blog.
But let's say you wrote a sci-fi romance teen vampire time traveler novel. You put it up on Amazon thinking it would sell itself, but it doesn't. Nobody cares about it at all.
You are some no name that doesn't have a major publisher behind them. There is no ad budget or anything like that. People have no idea who are you. There is no connection with you.
So what can you do?
You can start a blog of course.
A blog gives you the opportunity to build an audience (awareness) that wants to read your corny novels. A blog gives you the shot to market things your way.
Blogging is one of the best ways to build an audience online because it provides them with insight into how you think.
This is very important.
Let's try another example.
Let's pretend you are a meditation guru. You love the benefits that meditation provides so you are offering your meditation consulting services to the world, but nobody is biting.
Because nobody else knows the benefits of meditation. You can't just tell someone to buy your services if they don't have a need for it let alone know why they should buy it.
You can have the world's greatest sales page, but people need to go through an education/sales cycle before getting out their wallet.
You need to make them aware that they have a problem that you can solve.
Blogging helps you walk them through that cycle.
If they read 5 genuine posts from you showcasing the benefits of meditation then they are more likely to buy your book on meditation.
If they appear on your site and you try to sell them your book right away then they will probably leave.
We will talk more about monetizing your blog in the monetize your blog section, but for now, consider a blog as a nice long sales pitch for whatever you want to offer.
Building a Brand
There are some blogs that simply go for traffic because they use ads to make money. They can do okay, but they don't do as well as the blogs that become brands.
Marie Forleo started off pretty simple with a blog. However, right from the beginning she understood that she was doing more than just writing blog posts.
She was building a brand.
You see, people love to buy from brands that they trust.
It's more likely that Obstacle.co customers will come and buy Blog Rocket products than any other person.
Because they trust the Obstacle.co brand and believe that anything offered here will provide them with the same value they find with Obstacle.co.
Bloggers that just blog to blog have a ceiling for how much they can earn with their blog.
Bloggers that aim to build a brand have no ceiling.
When you focus on building a brand it doesn't matter what niche your site is in.
A strong brand can make money in any niche. Niches simply don't matter.
That's a hard concept to swallow for some people because the bloggers that teach you how to blog all work in lucrative niches.
The bloggers that teach you about gardening aren't spending their time teaching you how they grew their blog.
I run blogs that cover health & fitness, making money online, personal finance, productivity, and other topics. When I think of a topic that I want to blog about I don't concern myself with whether or not that topic can earn money because I know it can if I build a strong brand behind it.
That's why in the future I'm going to have a blog on dogs and coffee as well.
Your niche doesn't limit your potential to make money with a blog.
Your ability to build a brand does however.
What Is a Brand?
All of this then begs the question what is a brand?
The default response many people have is that your brand is your logo.
Unfortunately, that is incorrect. If building a strong brand was as simple as getting a pretty logo designed then we would all be sitting pretty.
A brand is the feeling someone gets when they think about you.
That's weird because it's really hard to quantify. It also means that you can't fully control it because you don't have control over other people's emotions or thoughts.
The best you can do is guide people along and provide the best experience possible so they associate your brand with positive feelings.
Look at Blog Rocket.
I can't control what you think about it, but by making sure you don't have to jump through any hoops to get started and offering a reading experience that isn't interrupted by ads or pop-ups I hope that you leave with a positive feeling.
I also want to make sure that all the content on the site is valuable and helpful.
Just because there are a lot of pages that doesn't mean they will help you. If you leave feeling like you've wasted your time then that hurts the Blog Rocket, and by extension my own, brand.
Your Brand Is Everywhere
Everything you do in relation to your blog is an extension of your brand.
When someone visits your site, the first impression they get from your site's design is a reflection of your brand.
By default, I have a negative feeling towards welcome mats and pop-ups on a site so when I see them it makes me feel like the blog owner only cares about getting my email address.
They aren't concerned with me finding the solution that their blog post promises.
This might not be true of the blogger, but that is how I feel when I experience such things.
Then there are times when I'll click on a link to a blog a couple of different times and each time I'm presented with a post that isn't very helpful. Eventually, when I see a link to their site I no longer click it because their brand doesn't represent quality content in my mind.
If I follow a blogger on Twitter and all they seem to do is promote their own stuff then I'll unfollow because their brand represents self-promotion in my eyes.
Everything you do is a reflection of your brand so you have to be considerate of how you want people to feel when they interact with your brand.
If you are able to maintain a strong brand amongst a group of people then you will have no problem making money with your blog.
Your Blog the Business
When people think about starting a business they usually envision a lot of complicated processes. Some might even picture brick and mortar stores.
Nobody pictures starting a blog and calling it a business.
However, if you want to create a successful blog you have to approach it like a business from the beginning.
You can't think about it as a hobby and if things work out you will convert it into a business.
It must be treated as a business from the very beginning and that is the approach this guide takes.
However, if you have plans for your blog to become the focal point of how you earn a living then your mentality needs to shift.
When looking at successful bloggers that have made this their living there are some key differences you can see that separate them from those that start a blog and fail.
1. Showing Up Daily
If I asked you to prepare for a marathon 6 months from now how would you go about it? Would you run every once in a while or would you run every chance you got?
Creating a successful blog is hard because it requires that you show up every single day at the beginning.
One of the most frequent frustrations I hear from bloggers is that they don't understand why their blog isn't getting off the ground. I ask them how long they've been working on it and what I see doesn't match the time period they mention.
If you've been working on your blog for 3 months then it should look like you've put 3 months of work into it, not 3 days.
Why should you expect your blog that has 5 posts that are 500 words each to be doing just as well as a blog that has 20 posts that are over 2,000 words each?
Why should you expect your audience to be bigger than another blogger who happens to be posting to social media daily and writing to their mailing list weekly?
I get it. Life gets in the way, but that's what life does. Those that are able to push through things are the ones that succeed.
Later on when your blog is successful and you're making a nice and healthy stream of passive income you can take more time off for yourself but you are workig hard and showing up daily at the beginning so you have that privilege to take time off later.
2. Consistently Curious
You have to be a sponge for knowledge. There are so many great resources out there teaching you how to do things that if you aren't taking the time to learn something daily, you are wasting your time.
Rarely will you pick something up the first time. You have to continue to dig into it because you are curious.
When learning about SEO you can't expect to learn it in an hour and be done with it. There is no exact science to it so that means constant experimentation.
You can't be scared to try new things to see what works best.
The best bloggers are able to consistently push themselves outside of their comfort zones because they are curious about the results.
You might think that you aren't ready to write an ebook yet but how do you know? Have you tried it?
You might think that creating a sales funnel is beyond your scope of knowledge, but how do you know? Have you tried it?
While this guide is going to help you on your journey, it is nothing more than words on a screen. When you read a section you should be curious and ask yourself if the principles will work for you.
I remember reading about how you should write out 25 blog post title variations before settling on one. I'm not going to lie, I thought that was a pretty dumb thing to do. A complete waste of time.
But I was curious to see the results and they were amazing.
Whenever I see good results on one of my blogs I'm curious as to whether I can improve them and so I make tweaks to see.
When I see that a blogger did something crazy to make more money or gain more subscribers I copy them and do the same thing because I'm curious to know if it works.
It's okay to be scared and think you are going to mess things up but that should never stop you from being curious.
3. Plan Long Term
Running ads on your blog is one of the worst ways to make money. You'll understand why in the section on monetization, but the general idea is that the work you put in to make any type of good money from ads could be better spent on things that will make you much more money.
Here's a scenario I see all too often. A blogger will post an income report and show that they are making $5,000 a month. Not too bad!
The problem though is that they have been working on their blog for two years and get over 200,000 pageviews a month!
Running some fake numbers we can pretend that the blog gets 150,000 readers a month. $5,000 from 150,000 means you are getting $0.03 per reader. To get to $10,000 you would need to get to 300,000 readers at that rate.
Of course I'm not saying you should try to do the same thing, but if you're going to try and make this work, why not make it work to its greatest potential?
That means you constantly have to have eyes on the horizon.
4. Build Relationships
One of the appeals of blogging is that you can do it on your own. Unfortunately you won't be very successful doing it on your own.
It's much easier to grow your audience when you have someone else promoting you to their audience.
Successful blogging doesn't happen in a vacuum. Great bloggers are constantly looking for ways to collaborate with other great bloggers.
I've built many great relationships through blogging. It can open up so many doors if you are receptive to it.
Regina has a great post showing you 33 different ways bloggers can collaborate.
5. Go Over the Top
There are millions of blogs out there and only 24 hours in a day. People can only read so many blogs in that time.
Some people in your audience will have their favorites and you are competing with them for attention. You'll get thousands (or millions) of people to come to your blog every single month, but what is going to make them come back?
What is going to make them recommend your site to their friends?
What is going to prevent them from unsubscribing from your mailing list?
Great bloggers understand that they need to go over the top with what they do. Being a mediocre blogger that does mediocre things isn't going to get you to the places you want.
This doesn't mean that you need to be great right out of the bat, but it needs to be something you strive for on a daily basis. Take a look at the best blogs in your niche and ask yourself why people will choose to spend the next 15 minutes reading your site before they go to bed over those other blogs?
On Obstacle.co I created two free email courses. Then I built a separate site and created a 7-day challenge. Then I created another site and started writing a guide (this one!) on blogging along with showing how I build a blog from scratch.
I'm constantly thinking of ways that I can go above and beyond what others in my niche are doing. I don't always hit the mark, but when I do it is pretty awesome.
Look at this site! It's a complete free guide on building a successful blog! Over the top!
6. They Invest in Their Blog
You can start a blog for cheap, but that doesn't mean you should. To grow a blog you will need to invest in tools that handle a lot of the repetitive tasks for you.
There are only 24 hours in a day and you can only scale so much.
Do you need to throw down $100 before you launch? No, but you should understand what tools will help you out and when you should start using them.
We will talk about some helpful tools in another chapter, but don't think you can avoid spending money to create a successful blog.
You can save money and make $100 a month or you can spend $200 and make $50,000 a month. However, don't just spend money on tools because others have used them to be successful. Analyze how they will benefit your blog and see if the return on investment is worth it.
Pro bloggers are constantly on the look out for tools and services that will help them streamline processes so they can focus on the things that don't scale like interacting with their audience and building relationships with other bloggers.
If a tool helps you sleep better at night then it's a wise investment.
7. They Understand Their Audience Is Everything
A store with no customers isn't a store.
A blog without an audience is nothing more than a personal journal.
Everything that you do should be done with your audience in mind. The more you cater to them, the better your business will be.
Hobby or Business: Choose One
You have to decide right now if your blog is going to be a nice little hobby that occupies some of your time or a business that consumes your thoughts.
The bloggers that end up being successful ended up that way because they showed perserverance and showed up every single day.