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How to Start a Blog or Website: Step-by-Step Instructions
So you don’t have any idea where to start, right? Guess what—neither did we. We were clueless. Literally. When we started The Minimalists a few years ago, we had no idea how to start a blog. We could hardly spell HTML, let alone build a beautiful website.
But good news: it’s easier than you think. We’ve learned a ton during our ascent to 4 million readers. And now you can learn from our pain and suffering to circumvent much of the tedium involved in creating a successful blog. Here’s how we started our blog, step by step, followed by additional rationale and insights below:
- Domain and Hosting. The first thing we did was go to Bluehost and register our domain. We didn’t even need to set up a WordPress page first, since Bluehost does all that for you. Bluehost’s basic price is $3.95 a month, which works for 99% of people (note: readers at The Minimalists can use this link receive a 50% discount off the monthly price and a free domain name). Then, we did a simple install of WordPress through Bluehost. When we had questions we were able to chat with the “live chat” folks at Bluehost for free; they pointed us in the right direction and made the set-up super easy.
- Theme. A good theme gives you the look and feel you want for your blog, allowing you to design your blog exactly how you want it to look. If you’re not a coder (we certainly weren’t), then a theme makes the design work a million times easier. Plus, once you purchase a theme, which are inexpensive for the time they save you, you own it for life. A theme has two halves: the framework (the bones) and the Child Theme (the beauty):
- Framework. There are several WordPress theme frameworks on the market, but Genesis is without a doubt the best and most flexible choice. Genesis is the first half of your theme. Many themes merely handle the aesthetics of your new blog, but Genesis provides a necessary foundation for your Child Theme. Simply go to StudioPress and purchase the Genesis Framework.
- Child Theme. After you get your Genesis Framework, you’ll want to find that right Child Theme (which is just a silly way to say “blog design”). The Minimalists uses the beautiful “tru” theme, which is available at BYLT, the Genesis Community Marketplace. Head on over to BYLT, browse their carefully curated collection of themes, and find the design that’s right for you.
- Tinkering. Once we had our domain, hosting, WordPress, and theme, we spent a lot of time tweaking the theme to get the look and feel we wanted (i.e., making our vision a reality). Then we spent even more time tweaking the theme and arguing about it and tweaking it some more. We also set up a free Feedburner account so people could subscribe to our site via email and RSS subscriptions. And then we established a free Google Analytics account to track our stats. Feedburner and Google Analytics were both easy to sign up for, and we still use both today.
- Plugins. We use only a few plugins on our site: “Google Analytics for WordPress” and really simple Facebook and Twitter share-button plugins (since human beings are intrinsically wired to share value, it’s important to make your posts easy to share with others). They take just a few seconds (literally a few seconds, it’s just a click of a button) to install once your site is all set up. And if you really want to play around with some cool plugins, check out Eight Deuce Media’s 11 WordPress Plugins That Will Get You Laid.
- Content. Last, via WordPress we started writing and uploading the content for our pages: About Page, Contact Page, Start Here Page, Books Page, Events Page, Archives Page, etc. Next, we designed our logo using free images we found online and text from a regular word-processing program. Then we put a picture of ourselves in the header (this is important because people identify with people, not logos). Finally we started writing new blog posts and posting them regularly (at least once a week). And the rest is history.
UPDATE: For a video and step-by-step screenshots of the entire process above, check out Joshua’s set-up instructions.
15 Reasons You Should Blog
We were inspired to research and write this essay after reading Joshua Becker’s 15 Reasons I Think You Should Blog, in which he discusses 15 great reasons why you should start a blog. “Why” being the key word here. In other words, he talks about the purpose of blogging, not just how to start a blog. That’s what all these other blogs about blogging seem to miss, they miss the purpose—the why.
3 Reasons You Should NOT Blog
So Becker gave you 15 reasons why you should start a blog, and we’ve shown you how to start a blog, step-by-step, based on our personal experience, but after giving you those detailed instructions—which could literally save you the hundreds of hours of wasted time—we also want to give you some good reasons why you should not start a blog. (Keep in mind that these reasons are just our opinions and we do not pretend to offer them up as some sort of collection of empirical blogging maxims.)
- Money. You should not start a blog to make money. We need to get that out of the way first. If your primary objective is to replace your full-time income from blogging, forget about it. It doesn’t work that way. Do you think that Jimi Hendrix picked up his first guitar so he could “supplement his income”? No, he didn’t. Rather, he did it for the love of it, for the joy and fulfillment he received, and the income came thereafter, much later actually.
- Notoriety. Don’t plan on getting “Internet famous” right away. Not every site grows as fast as ours did, but that’s totally OK. The truth is that we kind of got lucky. We got a great domain name, somehow cobbled together a logo and site design that people really liked, we write fairly well, and our content connects with people in a unique way. We didn’t start this site to become “famous” though. That’d be ridiculous. Our notoriety and quick rise to “fame,” as it were, came as a surprise to us, and was a result of a little luck and a lot of hard, passionate work.
- Traffic. Not all traffic is good traffic (as we explained here), so don’t worry about getting thousands of readers right away.
The funny thing is that all these things can happen. You could make a full-time income off of your blog; we do it, Corbett Barr does it, and so do many others. And you could become Internet famous like Leo Babauta or Chris Brogan. But if these are the sole reasons why you blog, you’ll be miserable, because it will seem like a job, and if it feels like a job you won’t be passionate about it, and so you’ll either (a) hate it, (b) fall flat on your face, or (c) hate it and fall flat on your face.
Instead, write because you’re passionate about it…
20 Recommendations for Your Blog
We receive plenty of emails asking for advice about how to start a blog. About blog topics. About how to blog. About creating meaningful content. About whether we wear boxers or briefs. These are the answers and recommendations we tend to give.
- Find Your Niche. You needn’t have a niche, but it helps. What are you passionate about? Running? Cooking? Being a parent? Have you found your passion? If so, whatever it is, write about that. If not, then you must first find your passion. (Note: We generally recommend that people don’t blog about minimalism or the paleo diet or any other heavily saturated topic. But what we really mean when we say this is: don’t blog about something unless you have a unique perspective. If you’ve embraced simple living and have a unique perspective, then by all means have at it. Enjoy yourself.)
- Define Your Ideal Readers. Once you’ve found your niche, you need to know who will be reading your stuff. For example, we write about living intentionally; our ideal readers are people who are interested in exploring minimalism so they can clear the path toward more meaningful lives. If you want to write about your newborn baby growing up, that’s great; your ideal readers are probably your friends and family, and that’s wonderful. If you want to write about restoring classic cars, that’s cool too. Tailor your writing to your readers (whether it’s your family or your local community or whomever else will read your blog).
- Add Value. Your content must add value to your readers’ lives. This is the only way you will get Great Quality Readers to your site (and keep them coming back). Adding value is the only way to get someone’s longterm buy-in. We both learned this after a decade of leading and managing people in the corporate world.
- Be Original. Yes, there are other blogs out there about the same thing you want to write about. Q: So why is your blog any different? A: Because of you. You are what makes your blog different; it’s about your perspective, your creativity, the value that you add.
- Be Interesting. Write epic, awesome content. Especially if you want people to share it with others.
- Be Yourself. Part of being interesting is telling your story. Every person is unique, and your story is an important one. The important part of story telling, however, is removing the superfluous details that make the story uninteresting. A great storyteller removes 99% of what really happens—the absorptive details—and leaves the interesting 1% for the reader.
- Be Honest. Your blog needs to be real—it needs to feel real—if you want people to read it. You can be your blog or your blog can be you. That is, do you really embody the stuff that you write about? If not, people will see through you. “Be the change you want to see in the world,” is the famous Gandhi quote. Perhaps bloggers should be the blog they want to write for the world.
- Transparency. Being transparent is different from being honest. You needn’t share every detail about your life just for the sake of being honest. Always be honest, and be transparent when it adds value to what you’re writing. (You won’t ever see pictures of us using the restroom on our site; it’s just not relevant.)
- Time. Once you’ve learned how to start a blog, you’ll learn that blogging takes a lot of time, especially if you’re as neurotic as we are (we spent over 10 hours testing the fonts on this site). And see those black Twitter and Facebook icons in the header? We spent four hours on those). That said, once you have your design set up, don’t tweak it too much, spend the time on your writing.
- Vision. The reason our site design looks good is because we have a great host, we have a great theme, and most important, we had a vision of how we wanted our blog to look. Once we had the vision, we worked hard to make that vision a reality. (N.B. neither of us had any design experience prior to starting this site.) It’s hard to create a great looking site if you don’t know what you want it to look like.
- Find Your Voice. Over time, good writers discover their voice and their writing tends to develop a certain aesthetic, one that is appealing to their readers. Finding your voice makes your writing feel more alive, more real, more urgent. Read Joshua’s essay about Finding Your Voice.
- We Instead of You. Use statements of we/our rather than you/your, especially when talking about negative behaviors or tendencies. It reads far less accusatorially. Think of it this way: we’re writing peer-to-peer; we are not gods.
- When to Post. Q: When is the best day/time to post a blog post? Answer: It doesn’t really matter. We don’t adhere to a particular schedule. Some weeks we post one essay; sometimes we post three. It’s important to write consistently, but you needn’t get too bogged down in the details.
- Social Media. Yes, we recommend using Twitter and Facebook to help connect with readers and other bloggers, but don’t get too caught up in it. Focus on the writing first, social media thereafter.
- Ignore Negative Criticism and Stupidity. Sure, we get a lot of negative comments and stupid questions from ignorant people who aren’t really our readers (e.g., negative comments like “You’re not real minimalists” and stupid questions like “Are you guys gay?”). We call these people seagulls: they fly in, shit on your site, and fly away. But we pay them no mind; our site is not for them. Delete their comment and move on.
- Research. Spend your time researching what you’re writing about. The reason we are able to use so many helpful, relevant links in our essays is because we put in the time to research our topics. That doesn’t mean that we read every blog regularly, but we do put in the time reading them when we’re doing our research.
- Keep It Simple. This is where minimalism can be applied to any blog, irrespective of its genre. No need to place superfluous advertisements or widgets all over your site; stick to the basics and remove anything you don’t need, remove anything that doesn’t add value.
- Picture. Put a picture of yourself on your blog. People identify with other people. If two goofy guys from Ohio aren’t too afraid to put their pictures on their site, then you have nothing to worry about.
- Comments. If you’re going to have comments on your site, then read The Five Words That Kill Your Blog by Scott Stratten.
- Live Your Life. You’re blogging about your life (or about certain aspects of your life, at least), so you still need to live your life. There are things that we always put before writing: exercise, health, relationships, experiences, personal growth, contribution.
Now that you’ve learned how to start a blog—and why you should start a blog—you can subscribe to The Minimalists via email to receive free essays from Joshua and Ryan. (No spam. Ever. Spam is yucky!)
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