How to Start and Monetize a Blog + Regrets from Established Bloggers
This post may contain affiliate links which means I receive a small commission at no cost to you when you make a purchase. As an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases.
I said I wasn't gonna do it.
I wasn't gonna write a “how to start a blog” post because there are so. many. damn. posts. about it out there on the interwebz.
My SEO gal told me to focus on other things, but my brain wouldn't let me.
What almost all of the “how to blog” blog posts have in common is that they're doing nothing but pushing you to BlueHost hosting because they make a fat ass commission ($100+ in some cases) when you sign up – even though most of them don't use the hosting themselves.
Okay, so you got your commission, cool. But what happens after I sign up? I need guidance!
This post is different – and I don't care if you use my affiliate links for hosting or not. What I do care about is that you choose a fast, reliable host with great customer service – and that you DO THE THING.
My favorite web host is BigScoots. I don't know jack about tech, and every time I break something, they fix it without making me pay extra. You can go to bigscoots.com to sign up – click on SHARED HOSTING and go from there.
If you want to use my affiliate link, it is sadiesmiley.com/hosting – but like I said, what matters is that you choose a great host, not that I earn $5 from you signing up through my link.
Starting a blog in 2022 that you can monetize by 2023
Now all of that is out of the way, let's get to the meat and potatoes: how to really start a blog and make money with it. I mean, that's why you're here, right? Who starts a blog without the intention of making money these days?
I'm guessing all the other how to start a blog blog posts you've read focus almost solely on choosing a domain and hosting. I completely disagree with those two things being your first steps, and here's why: you may never even need a domain and hosting, because you might not be ready to blog.
Usually the path they send you down goes something like this:
Buy a domain and hosting through my affiliate link NOWWWWWW (cha-ching!!), then write some blog posts and blah blah blah… whatever you wanna do, I really don't care because you're already on the hook for hosting and I got paid.
There's a different path I want you to take.
FIRST, figure out what to blog about.
THEN, find out if you're actually going to put the work in to start a blog.
FINALLY, sign up for a domain and hosting – after you prove to yourself that you're in this for the long haul.
Don't buy a domain and don't pay for hosting until after you've chosen a niche and brainstormed 50 blog posts.
So many people buy the domain and hosting and don't stick with blogging. Sure, this makes those “how to blog” bloggers happy because their bank accounts are piled high… but it doesn't make those would-be bloggers happy; they wasted time and money on something they never put the effort in to make profitable!
There's a better way, and I'm going to show it to you.
Flip the switch in your mind.
Before you can be a profitable blogger, you have to realize that blogging is not a get rich quick thing. Blogging is a long-term game plan and it can take 6 months or more to see your first profitable day.
Imagine going to work every day for 6 months and not getting paid. That would be extremely frustrating, right? And chances are, you'd quit as soon as you found out you weren't getting paid.
It's going to feel like you're working and working and working and nothing is happening… but if you stick with it, between the 6 and 12 month mark, things start to pop off and all of your hard work begins to come to fruition.
What if there was a way to show up for yourself every day and even though you aren't getting paid up front, it will pay off in spades for years to come?
If I calculate the amount of money I made from blogging this year, divided by the amount of hours I put in, I made well over $100 an hour. But the first few months? I made $0!
Can you handle showing up for work every day for 6 months without getting paid? Without seeing much, if any, progress? If you can't, you may want to stick with side hustling and trading dollars for hours.
If you can and will, let's get this party started because I want everyone to have a profitable blog that helps them achieve time and financial freedom.
How much money do bloggers make?
Bloggers make literally anywhere from $0/mo to more than $100,000/mo. The spread is absolutely insane! I wrote a blog post about how much money bloggers make and broke it down, so you can check that out if you want. 😉
While bloggers can make that much, $100K/mo is not typical for blog earnings. What is typical is someone starts a blog and gives up 3 months in because they aren't rich. But, these results ARE real and ARE possible, if you flip your mindset and are ready to put the work in.
It was difficult to find bloggers who share income reports that don't rely on BlueHost affiliates as the majority of their income, but I found a few.
While most of the bloggers sharing their income reports are in the niche of teaching others how to blog, sell digital products, market, etc, plenty of other bloggers are making money! They just don't publish their income reports as often because they aren't as valuable for their audiences.
Allison from Financial Flamingo made more than $1,000 in her 7th month of blogging, so it doesn't always take years to see a profit – but you've gotta put the work in to make magic like that happen.
For example, I know several food bloggers who make six figures from their blogs, without teaching courses or having memberships. The majority of their revenue comes from ads, with affiliate marketing and sponsored posts sprinkled in.
Pinch of Yum – one of the best food blogs on the planet – stopped publishing income reports back in 2016, but theirs were very detailed and helpful and still are a wonderful source of inspiration. I love that they break down exactly what they're working on (like improving each post even though they had 750+ recipes at the time), so I can do the same.
My husband, Kevin, didn't even know what blogging was when he met me… yet within 10 months, Smiley's Points was making more than $1K/month!
We built it up and sold 70% of Smiley's Points and still retain 30% as passive income. There are so many options with blogging; you can build and sell, build and keep, or build and sell part and keep the other part as passive income.
It's like real estate, but all digital and way less risky.
Kylie from the Midwest Foodie Blog made more than $70,000 during Q4 of 2021 with her food blog. With more than 700,000 pageviews a month, I can see why!
Craft bloggers are making money, too, if you were wondering.
Crochetpreneur published some impressive income reports but I was more inspired by her charitable giving. I need to include those numbers in my upcoming income reports to inspire others to give as well.
How do bloggers make money?
I have a friend who is a travel blogger who makes 5 figures each month on a regular basis, and the majority of her revenue comes from sponsored posts and IG sponsorships.
Pretty much any blog can be monetized if you choose a niche that will get eyeballs, and you are passionate about the topic. We will talk more about how my blog makes money in a bit.
Choose a profitable blog niche.
The first step in creating a blog is to choose a profitable blog niche.
Don't get hung up on the word “profitable” here, but don't choose an obscure niche that nobody gives a shit about, either. I've already written an entire blog post on profitable blog niche ideas, so read that if you have time.
First: Who do you want to talk to?
If you get stuck with the “what should I blog about?” question, think about your niche as an audience instead: who do you want to serve? Who do you want to help? Who will you be writing to?
My main audience is divided into three demographics:
- women who want to leave their 9-5 to have more time with family
- women who want to leave shitty relationships
- people who want to get rich and help change the world
Believe it or not, that second demographic has been drawn to me since I first started blogging. Any time someone says they want to leave a relationship but can't because of finances, I transform into a tornado of ideas to help get them out of their situation as quickly and safely as possible.
Does that mean only women read my blog? Of course not. In fact, I have a growing readership of non-women and I'm thankful for every person who finds me! But when I write my content, I keep those demographics above in mind and I serve them damn well. If others benefit from it, awesome!
When you write content, you're a magnet with two sides. One side will attract your perfect target audience, while the other side will repel people who don't belong or who won't appreciate your content.
Side note: The third demographic I mentioned is a new group of people I've been attracting and I'm super excited about this because we just moved to Mexico and have seen firsthand how a little bit of help can actually help a lot.
If this is you, please join me along the PIPs journey because we need more people like you who care enough to affect change. You can get on my email list here. I will update you with what we are doing for local families and how you can help folks in your area, too.
Your responsibility as a blogger
On a side note, I want to mention that with the privilege of your platform comes responsibility. While there is no formal obligation to use your platform for good, it's important to me that I use the voice I've been given – and that you do the same.
People I align with are those who want to stand up for what they believe is right, no matter the cost – and to help change the world in a positive way. If that's you, keep reading.
Next: Check out Google trends.
If you start with a general idea like “fishing” and it feels way too broad, that's okay. Inside your blog, you can attack subtopics one at a time until your authority in the whole niche is growing. You can also start with a narrower topic like “fly fishing” from the get go.
I chose “fishing” because that is all my husband is talking about lately LOL.
Green: fly fishing
Yellow: dirt bikes
Blue: fly fishing
Red: bass fishing
Yellow: bait fishing
Green: bank fishing
Just because a topic is the lowest on the graph doesn't mean you should avoid pursuing it. Google Trends is just one tool to use for research.
You can also use other tools like Facebook: are there active groups on the topic with thousands of members? Chances are it's a safe topic to create a niche blog about.
Hat tip: I learned to compare the baseline to “quilting” or “dirt bikes” from a course I took a few years ago called Project24. P24 is a very thorough course if you have the budget, and has everything you need to grow and monetize a blog.
Be sure to choose a niche or niche audience for your blog; it's much easier to monetize a blog that has a specific topic rather than a catch-all mommy blog that talks about 100 things.
Action step: choose a niche and plug it into Google Trends. What patterns do you see? Plug it into Facebook: is there interest?
Brainstorm 50 blog post ideas.
Now that you've chosen a niche, the real work starts.
Use a tool like Keyword Sheeter (or Google Alphabet Soup – which I outline in my course) to help brainstorm at least 50 blog post ideas. You don't have to create the exact titles, just general topics.
For example, some blog post ideas for my blog would be:
- side hustles for teens
- quick ways to make $100 today
- how to start a blog
Later, you'll formulate those ideas into actual headings such as “How to Start a Blog in 2022: 5 Easy Steps to Monetization” or “Start a Blog in 7 Easy Steps.”
If you can't come up with at least 50 blog post ideas for your niche, it's probably not the niche for you. It's important to be passionate about the topic you choose, at least for your first blog.
As you learn the ropes, you know the mechanics of it all so you can choose a topic that you're not as passionate about. But while you're getting your first blog off the ground? It needs to be the path of least resistance.
Action step: write down/type out 50 blog post ideas that match your niche.
To social or not to social
Many people get wrapped up in social media early on in the blogging game. Instead of doing that, I recommend securing your blog name on all social media platforms, and letting them sit – for now. You can worry about social later (if at all).
I choose one social platform for each blog, if I do social at all. Lately, my social of choice for this blog is my Facebook group. For my travel blog, I'll use a Facebook group as well.
I personally don't use Instagram or TikTok so I'm not on there with my blogs for now, either. While it could change in the future, I highly doubt it. If you love a certain social platform, that may be the one you run with, but for now, just grab the names and let them sit.
I believe in taking the path of least resistance to get to the money, so if you're not super keen on social, don't worry about it right now.
Action step: secure your blog name on all social media platforms
Setting up your blog
In my blogging course, I walk you through the tech of setting up a blog. I also provide resources if you get stuck.
Don't freak out if you're techphobic. Everything is fixable. If you break something, it's fine… I've broken that same thing 10 times before, I promise.
Reach out to your hosting provider if you need help with anything. They're getting paid; that's what they're there for. If they won't help you set your blog up, they aren't a good host to begin with. Find one that will help (like BigScoots).
While everything is fixable, it is possible to lose it all if you don't back it up. Ask me how I know… *groan*
Always do regular backups of your blog content. Reach out to your host if you don't know how to do this and they will help you figure it out.
Consistency in blogging
Before we talk about monetization, I want to be very clear: consistency in blogging matters. In fact, it's one of the most important parts of making money with a blog. If you can't commit to writing almost every single day, now is not the time to start a blog – unless you're a machine and can crank out 2-3 blog posts every weekend.
If you're going to go “all in” for a few months and publish 2-3 times a week, but then fall off and not publish anything for a few weeks (or months), your blog isn't going to do very well. There are exceptions to this and people do get lucky, but overall if you aren't willing to be consistent, I don't think blogging is a path you should take.
Action step: decide how many posts you're going to publish each week. Keep in mind that for most niches, you'll be writing 1,000+ words for each post. You can use a tool like Jasper to help.
How to monetize your new blog
Monetizing a blog is the real reason you're here, so let's talk about the who what when where why how of blog monetization.
In order to monetize your blog, you need eyeballs. Yes, eyeballs on your content are what pay the bills. When you first start writing and publishing blog posts, though, nobody really cares… which means there are no eyeballs – and no money. 🙁
Fortunately, making money with a blog is now easier than ever.
Blogs make money in various ways but let's talk about how my blog makes money. Feel free to read my income reports if you want a play by play break down.
- affiliate marketing
- digital products
Affiliate marketing makes me more than $5,000 per month, because of the way I do it. I teach this way inside my PIPs membership, but the general overview is this:
Create content around affiliate marketing, not the other way around.
When I first started blogging, there weren't many resources out there about how to blog the “right” way so we were all kind of throwing spaghetti at the wall to see what would stick.
What a lot of us found is that affiliates like Amazon don't pay worth a shit, and weren't worth our time and effort, but we didn't really know what else to do.
Finally, after lots of trial and error, I figured out that if I created content around my affiliates, I would make a lot more money and help a lot more people. You can see examples of this in action in my Jasper, Etsy, and Canva posts.
The bulk of my income comes from selling digital products such as:
- worksheets (on my blog, Etsy, and TPT)
- workbooks (on my blog and Etsy)
- keyword cheat sheets (on my blog, my PLR site, and Etsy)
- ebooks (on Etsy and KDP)
- PIPs LITE, PIPs+, and VIP
I like digital products because you can create them one time and sell them over and over again. The online education market is predicted to hit $350billion by 2025, and those projections were made before the pandemic. I bet the prediction is even higher now.
I absolutely LOVE my membership because I don't have to keep chasing new customers; I just have to take care of the ones I already have.
New people are pulled into my membership through content (like this blog post), my email list, and my free Facebook group. But my main job is just to keep the people who are already in my memberships happy. That's easy peasy!! I truly enjoy meeting with them, coaching them, and helping them make money.
My VIP membership is temporarily closed, but I'm working on a VIP boot camp that will prepare my PIPs+ peeps for VIP. I made a mistake of letting too many people in VIP at once and experienced massive growing pains. Because of that, I closed the doors and am revamping my process.
Once my VIP boot camp is ready, I will be much happier because I will have a steady stream of people coming into VIP (which is where I really want everyone – they make a LOT more money that way).
I've decided to remove ads from my blog for now. I hate how ads look on other blogs and I am working hard to improve the user experience – even if that means making $0 with ads. I'm going to replace third party ads with my own ads to drive more readers to my membership.
This will make them happier (no more ads junking up their screen) and will make me happier (more people to help along the PIPs path).
If your blog gets 100,000+ pageviews a month, it's worth it to have ads. However, my blog is still small (10,000-15,000 pageviews per month), so I'm making less than $1,000 per month with ads. As a user I hate how ads look, so it's worth it for me to replace them with my own “ads.”
Action step: dream a little – or a lot! Write down the number you're going to go after with your blog.
Is your goal to make an extra $1,000 a month? $10,000? It doesn't matter how big or how small it is; what matters is that you have that number in front of your face every time you sit down at the computer. I use a desktop background to keep my goals front and center.
How to get in bed with search engines
This ain't farmersonly.com or a monogamous relationship, y'all – it's more like Tinder. You want alllll the search engines up on your blog content. Don't discriminate. Google, Bing, Duck Duck Go… yep, go get 'em, tiger!
Am I taking the dating app metaphor too far? Meh. This topic is so difficult to rank for anyway, I might as well have fun writing it, right?
One thing I didn't cover in my blogging basics course (because I don't want you to get hung up on it) is search engine optimization (SEO). Why? Because the way to SEO is simple:
Write the best damn content you can and your content-shake will bring alllll the search engines to your yard.
See that big jump in traffic? It's a topic with high competition and fairly low search volume, yet it brought quite a few people to my blog (and converted well to get people on my email list). Why? Because I wrote a damn good blog post.
Writing amazing content means doing unique research, not just regurgitating what others in your niche are saying.
For example, one of my VIP clients has a blog about camping. She hired a writer to write about a specific campground.
The writer called the campground and had a conversation with the folks there, learning about their new hours, how things operate post-COVID, and even some history that wasn't shared online! As a result, the article she wrote is now full of original research and is going to get loads of links back to it (backlinks).
Backlinks = SEO gold
So if you really want to attract the search engines, put your best foot forward and never phone it in. Even if an article takes 5 hours to write, it's much better to have a #1 ranking article that took 5 hours than a #23 ranking article that you cranked out in 30 minutes. Do the research required to deliver amazing value to your audience every. single. time.
While you know I'm a huge fan of lightning fast content creation, there is a balance and sometimes articles (like this one) are going to take several hours to put together… and that's okay.
Top regrets from big time bloggers (aka my VIPs)
With success, there's always hindsight. I talked to several bloggers and scoured the web to find the answer to “what do you wish you had done differently?”
I wouldn't say I have any regrets, but I've learned many lessons. If I was starting over today, I would:
Start an email list right away and focus on it instead of social media.
Back in my Slap Dash Mom days, I focused a lot on social media instead of my email list. If I was starting a blog today, my #1 focus would be content and my close second would be an email list that I write to regularly.
Stop stressing about SEO.
I spent years trying to “figure out SEO” – all the while, I was actually already optimizing my posts for search… I just didn't realize it. I got hung up in trying to “keep up” with the techy people and it caused a lot of unnecessary stress. I've always ranked well for any keywords I try to rank for, even if I don't do keyword research before writing the post.
RankIQ (my keyword research tool of choice lately) told me this blog post needed to be A++ content (they ranked this post a “D”, by the way) and nearly 6,000 words. While I have no problem writing 6,000 words, I am not going to write that many words just to try and outrank others who write about this topic.
Writing 1,000+ more words than I did would mean fluffing up my article past what is needed to “do the thing” and I'm just not gonna do that.
In fact, this blog post is one that is nearly impossible for me to rank for, but I know it will do well on my blog because I know my audience. I know you guys want to make money and I know how to help you do it, so when I write a post I don't worry much about what the keyword research says… I just write.
This is what I was talking about earlier when I said to write the best damn content. The best content beats keyword research all day.
I don't need to rank on the front page of Google, I need you to DO THE THING so we can get rich together. 😉 Kevin and I have been building a circle of influence full of people who have similar goals (get rich and change the world), and we would love to have you at the table with us!!
With that being said, I did find out I was ranking for a bunch of keywords I didn't even realize I could rank for, so I hired Petra to find more keywords for me to write about that will serve my readers.
She did, and I've been working through writing them. Though I must admit, it's not as fun as just writing about whatever I want, so those posts are just sprinkled throughout the blog in between posts like these.
Start “selling” from day 1.
I was so scared of “selling” and running my audience off that I didn't deliver the products they were asking for. People would literally ask me how to blog and I was too scared to sell them a course teaching them how.
I had so much experience with slimy sales people that it clouded my judgment and kept me from creating products for a long time. While I did start teaching how to blog all the way back in 2009, the market quickly got saturated and I got nervous because I didn't teach like everyone else did.
When I pivoted to teaching people how to become virtual assistants, the same thing happened. Others came on the scene and started teaching so differently, I second guessed myself over and over again until I quit.
Had I stuck with one thing from the get go, I would've been at $100K months by now. I don't regret hopping around from topic to topic because I learned a lot along the way, and can now help more people… but I do wish I would've had more focus and confidence from the beginning.
Now, I create a product and say “here ya go!” … if it sells, it sells. If it doesn't, well, I haven't had that happen but I imagine I'd just rework the product and try again.
Avoid high-ticket masterminds and coaching.
I signed up for a coaching program with a blogger I had followed for about 2 years. I had purchased her products, courses, etc and really loved them. I splurged and bought into her $10K-ish coaching program, and was immediately disappointed.
I watched a webinar on Thursday afternoon that got me sucked into signing up for her coaching RIGHT NOWWWW, yet the next step was to join and get welcomed into the Facebook group and I didn't get accepted or hear from anyone until Monday!
I emailed to find out what was going on and found out that their entire team takes Friday, Saturday, and Sunday off – and were already off for the day Thursday. I was so frustrated, but I gave her a chance and asked some questions in the Facebook group after being approved.
When she did finally answer, they were mediocre answers that I could've gotten from someone else for free. I cancelled my membership immediately and unfortunately was out over $2,000 because that was the down payment I put down.
Another high ticket coaching program I got sucked into was a “mastermind” that cost $25,000 for the year. To say I was disappointed with this one would be the understatement of the year. The marketing/sales guy was GREAT, I'd love to go grab a drink with him, but the mastermind itself left much to be desired.
Because I had already invested several thousand dollars, I tried to give them a chance… but they didn't follow through on any of their problems, and the overall vibe was just skeezy AF.
Those two shitty coaching programs are what motivated me to expand my VIP program, actually. I didn't ever want one of my readers to get sucked into one of those messes and lose out on so much money.
You don't need to pay thousands of dollars to get the mentoring and coaching you need. Look for someone who charges fair prices and delivers the value promised.
Advice from my VIPs
My biggest mistake was Starting with weebly instead of self-hosted WordPress. Spending too much time on themes and making things pretty and perfect. Trying to learn all the things and never executing. – Taima, Poor in a Private Plane
When I first started blogging, I was all over the place. Had I focused on my niche in the beginning, I would have made it easier on myself. Once I made that pivot, writing became easier and my thought process improved. The other thing I had to overcome was not having to have it perfect. I learned published not perfect is better than overthinking. – Cryssi, Caffeinated Minimalist
More votes for focus and consistency:
I wish I would have focused and done one thing before putting too many irons in the fire. – Marci, Give Mom a Minute
I wish I would have had a course like Sadie's that showed me step by step instead of spinning our wheels writing content “we liked” instead of learning how to create content people are looking for. We learned to be consistent and publish quality content our readers will love! My only regret is that we didn’t start this journey sooner! – Nat, Skoolie Project
I wish I would have just kept going and stayed consistent with blogging. Instead, I hopped around from shiny object to shiny object which all ended up being time-consuming distractions that ultimately didn’t move my business forward.
I basically lost a year trying to do “all the things” (I’m looking at you, social media) just to end up back doing what I love, writing. If I would have stayed consistent I would have had a whole other year’s worth of content out there ranking on Google! – Andrea, Sparkle With Grace
Write every day, even if it’s only for 10 minutes, write every day. – ABTaft
Should I start a blog?
If you're asking if you should start a blog, only you can answer that question. This post is long AF so if you read this far, maybe you do have what it takes. There's only one way to find out!
Want this in an easy-to-digest format? Want to dive deeper and learn how to set up a domain email, how to write your blog post outlines, and more?
Take my easy blogging course to get started on your path to financial freedom. It teaches the bare bones basics you need to start a blog TODAY. No more overthinking, no more guesswork, just doing the thing.
Not sure if you want to take my course? If you don't listen to me, listen to Daysha, one of my newest blogging students!
Sadie, thank you so much for this opportunity! I’ve started and stopped my blogging path so many times because I’m just so overwhelmed with information coming from everywhere. Having a course…with awesome check offs…is exactly what I’m looking for.
So, what are you waiting for? Let's do this thing… together!
Action step: complete my blogging101 course!
I strongly relate to Taima’s story. Though I didn’t choose Weebly, I was still totally immersed in making my first blog “perfect” by changing themes and customizing it every day. The result? My blog never became perfect and I never achieved anything.
Thank God, I’ve learned something from it.