Sure, you can start a blog for free. Just go to Blogger or WordPress or any other number of free blogging sites and sign up for an account. Within minutes you can write anything you want and press the publish button.
And so starts your journey in blogging. But soon you'll learn first-hand the limitations of free blogging.
The cold, hard truth is that blogging does cost money. From hosting to themes to premium services, blogging absolutely does cost money. How much money it costs is largely up to you. There are ways to find value on the web and keep your blogging costs to a minimum.
That's important when you're starting out with no income, and even more important when you start to make money.
The one cost no blogger can avoid is hosting. Your blog has to live somewhere on the internet, and that means paying a company to place your data on their servers. The good news: there are dozens and dozens of big-name hosts that will get your site online for a reasonable price. The bad news: many of them won't help you much as you grow.
Most initial hosting packages cost between $80 and $100 US per year, and they can handle a fledgling website. But when you start to grow and get more visitors, you'll need to upgrade your hosting package. Some of these big name providers don't offer much support when upgrading, leaving you in a bind. Changing hosts is a technically involved and potentially expensive proposition. It's best to avoid that at all costs.
Perhaps the best solution is to find a cloud hosting provider such as Amazon Web Services. You pay for usage with cloud providers, so you pay more as you grow. But the hosting services grow with you. That leaves you with little to worry about as your site grows and attracts more visitors.
If you think you can get a free, responsive WordPress theme, go ahead and try. Yes, there are probably some good ones among the thousands of free WordPress themes, but good luck finding them. Perhaps a free theme would have worked in the past, but in the publishing world today you need a responsive, dynamic theme in order to compete. And that means paying for a theme.
The problem with themes is that while there are thousands of free ones, there are also hundreds of premium ones. How do you sift through those and find one that is worth paying for? Moreover, how can you protect yourself against change? That is to say, there's a good chance that your theme will be outdated soon enough. Will the theme developer support upgrades? Or are you paying for a static product?
One solution is to find a theme that works on a framework, such as Woo Themes or Genesis. Once you have the framework in place, you can purchase new themes cheaply, or even start to develop your own. Even when you change the actual theme, you'll still have the same level of control. Frameworks can get a little expensive, sure, but the long-term savings are considerable.
If you want to get visitors to your blog, you'll have to start marketing it. Thankfully, there are many ways to market your blog for free. You can take to Twitter and Facebook to attract people. As you recently read here, there are many ways to drive traffic. But if you're serious, you're going to have to start paying to bring in more readers.
Pay-per-click (PPC) advertising is helpful, because you can target people with intent. When people search for a keyword you're advertising on, they will see your site above all of the organic results. You only pay when they click. If you have a niche and can target quality keywords, it's one of the most effective ways to bring people to your blog. If you engage in affiliate marketing, it's an even more effective way to drive sales.
Other costly marketing tactics include promoted tweets on Twitter, and promoted feeds on Facebook. These might not be necessary for your blog, but they are certainly ways to get your material in front of more readers.
Keeping an eye on it
The most important part of sticking to a budget is monitoring it closely. Once you decide how much you can afford to spend on hosting, themes, and marketing, you'll have to make sure you're not exceeding those amounts. That means keeping a close eye on your accounts. Thankfully, that can be easy with an app.
Mint.com offers tools for money management that you can apply directly to your blog. Just hook up your bank accounts to the app and it will automatically check your balances and your spending habits. It's one way to ensure that you're not going over budget, or spending too rapidly. Those kinds of habits can ruin any budget and make it more difficult to run your blog.
Blogging costs money, plain and simple. In the past free solutions might have worked, but today they're not nearly as viable. The key, then, is stay within a budget and know your costs. With these tips you can create a new blog without breaking the bank.