It’s easy to start a personal finance blog. Super easy. You can just pop on to wordpress.com or blogspot.com and within a matter of minutes, you can be up and running with your own blog. But what about the rest of it? What does it really take to become one of the big bloggers, the ones who can afford to walk away from their jobs and just work for a few hours a day, a couple days a week, and get rich in the process?
I wouldn’t know. Ha!
There are a lot of bloggers out there who are super successful. They’ve either been around for years, and are making so much money blogging that they’ve ditched their day jobs and are semi-retired. There are a few who started fairly recently and caught a lucky break and went viral, or marketed their butts off and have been gaining serious traction. Those bloggers tend to post about their successes, which is great. It’s a good motivational tool for the rest of us, because we know that big money might be possible.
But hardly anyone ever posts about the average blogger, who’s making zero to very little money. This is that story. And it’s not a pity party, either. I just thought that some of the newbies or prospective bloggers might want to know what it’s like for the regular folks before they jump in.
What Does it Take to Start a Personal Finance Blog? Step 1: Buy a Domain Name and Figure Out Where You Want to Host It.
As I mentioned above, the actual act of setting up a blog is easy. If your goal is to set up a purely personal blog, just for fun (and not for profit), you could choose a domain name and get rolling in a matter of minutes through Blogger (blogspot.com) or WordPress (wordpress.com).
I set up my first blog with Blogger in mid-2012. It was strictly a personal blog, and I had no real intentions of monetizing it. It was intended to just be a creative outlet for me, and a way of documenting the silly adventures of life. I set it up on Blogger in about five minutes, although I dorked around with the design for an hour or more. Blogger is owned by Google, and at the time, they had a deal set up with GoDaddy where you could buy a domain name for $10 per year, and Blogger hosts it for free.
When I went to set up this blog in November 2015, I did the same thing as before. I went to Blogger.com and selected the options to start a new blog. Through that process, I bought my domain name. Google now sells domain names directly through Google Domains, instead of through GoDaddy. The price was now $12 instead of $10, but that’s fine. I walked through the steps, got my basic blog design set up, and designed my own logo.
Not too long after I started, I was doing some research online, and some people were saying that if you wanted a blog that made money, it was better to buy your own domain name and start with your own (paid) web host, instead of using one of the freebies. The reasoning behind it is that WordPress.com (the free version) and Blogger give you only limited ways to customize your site, and because they are hosting your site for free, you don’t really have control over that portion. Theoretically, they could yank your hosting out from under you, and you’d be left with no web presence and no real control over your content anymore.
I don’t know if all of this is true. It seemed true, based on what little I knew, but it was a convincing enough argument and enough people were saying it that I thought I should probably follow that advice. So that’s what I did.
Do Some Homework on Web Hosts Before You Buy
Nearly everyone was promoting Bluehost.com as a good web host to start with. So that’s what I started with. I signed up for the cheapo $3.95 per month service (the discounted rate at the time), and locked in the rate for three years. I figured, why not, since Bluehost lets you cancel at any time and they will give you a prorated refund.
The good thing about Bluehost is that their customer service and tech support reps are very nice, and very competent. I got stuck a couple of times when moving my website over to Bluehost, mostly because I already had an active website and a domain name, and I wanted to stage my website on Bluehost’s servers in advance. That way, when I pointed the domain name from the old server to the new server, I wouldn’t have any downtime.
Anyway, each time I needed Bluehost’s help, I got a representative who was able to solve my problem in a matter of minutes (once I got through to a rep, that is). Unfortunately, sometimes it took a very long time to get through to a representative. Prepare to spend over an hour by telephone, and from 12 to 30 minutes on average for web chat.
The big problems I had with Bluehost were with server speed and reliability. After reading everyone else talking about how they had their sites on Bluehost and how happy they were, I figured the basic hosting plan might work just fine for me. I was just starting out, and it’s not like I have any videos or data-intensive things on my site. Also, I liked the idea of unlimited bandwidth, because I had no idea how to gauge how much traffic I might have, or how much bandwidth I might eat up getting my site up and running.
What I learned later is that sometimes unlimited everything is a bad idea. Without limits, it’s difficult for web hosts to plan adequate resources for everyone. Sometimes web hosts overcrowd websites on too few servers, or you might get stuck on a server with another website that hogs resources and causes your own website to run sluggishly. My website was SUPER slow at first. I had optimized it fairly well, but still it was taking about 4 seconds or more to load the main content on the page. I don’t mean to FULLY load the page, I mean just to load the header and the first big chunk of content.
Slow speeds not only kill you when you’re trying to read a website, they also get you when you’re trying to upload content to your own website. Writing content and hitting “save” takes a few seconds longer each time, and uploading photos can take an excruciatingly long time. Server outages were a big problem, too. There were many times that I tried to load the page and it wouldn’t load at all because the server was down. It was really embarrassing to give out my URL to someone and then to have them tell me they couldn’t pull my site up.
Frustrated, I asked Bluehost what the problem was. They analyzed my website and said that there were a few more things I could do to try to optimize it, but they admitted that the primary problem was on the server side. They recommended that I upgrade to the $8.95 per month cloud hosting option. They said that they put fewer websites on each of the cloud servers, and they were more reliable since they were set in different locations. I was annoyed because it felt like they suckered me in with the cheap option, knowing it was inadequate, with the hope that I would just upgrade to the next option that was more than twice as expensive. But the cheaper option just wasn’t working for me, so I upgraded.
After the upgrade, I noticed a marked improvement in my website loading speed. It now took on average just a second or two max to load the main content. That wasn’t perfect, but it was okay. It did still have some down times, though. Generally speaking, though, the down time was infrequent enough and short enough that I could live with it, and I really didn’t want to move to a new web host.
But just this past week, there was a big outage. I don’t know what the cause was, but I know that there was one day where my site was down for 38 minutes, then nearly two hours, then 23 minutes, then another 2 hours plus. That’s crazy. I was trying to figure out what was going on during the earlier two hour outage, and I had to sit on the online chat for about 30 minutes before I finally got a rep who said they were working on it, but she couldn’t tell me more.
It’s Hard to Find a Good Review These Days
I wanted to switch web hosts, but I was frustrated at how many review websites plugged Bluehost and some of the other web hosts that paid out high affiliate fees. I knew that I was frustrated with Bluehost’s overcrowded servers, and I really didn’t want to sign up for another one like that. (Bluehost pays about $65 to its affiliates for each new signup, so there’s a lot of incentive for bloggers to try to push Bluehost on people.)
I posted on Twitter how I was annoyed at Bluehost, and within a few minutes, a Twitter user named Review Hell started following me. I checked out their website (like I always do before I follow someone back on Twitter), and I was so happy to see what appeared to be real, honest-to-God reviews instead of people just stumping for one brand or another to earn affiliate fees. I saw reviews for web hosts I hadn’t heard of before. This was a good sign, because it meant that they weren’t trying to steer people into one or two choices that pay high affiliate fees. One of the companies they reviewed was called MDD Hosting, and they seemed to have the features that I wanted at a pretty low price. Lower than I was currently paying with Bluehost. (Also, for the record, MDD Hosting‘s affiliate fees are only $15–25, depending on the level of hosting purchased, so there’s far less incentive for someone to plug MDD Hosting versus Bluehost.)
MDD Hosting has been around since 2007, so they’re not some fly-by-night company. What I like best about them is that they haven’t been purchased by a mega conglomerate, like the one that now owns Bluehost and HostGator and dozens of other web hosts. The review on Review Hell goes into far more depth about it than I can here, but if you’re in the market for web hosting companies, I would check out the reviews there. (Note: I am not being compensated by Review Hell for mentioning their site here. I’m just grateful for the work they did in screening web hosting companies.)
My switch to MDD was very easy. I saw on their website that they would even help you migrate your site over to them, so after I tried to do it myself for about 15 minutes (unsuccessfully), I finally just put in a support ticket and asked them if they could do it for me. Only three minutes later, I received an email response asking for my login information at Bluehost to start the migration. I provided those details, and they informed me that new migrations are a medium priority item, so it may take 24–48 hours to complete. But just barely over two hours later, I received another email saying the migration was complete. Boom.
I popped on to Google Domains and changed the DNS servers to the new ones provided to me by MDD Hosting. Within an hour, I checked the DNS settings for my website and saw that for about half the world, it had already changed over to the new servers. It took another day or so for all of the remaining locations to switch over. I logged on to Bluehost and canceled my old hosting plan. Thankfully, the prorated refund policy came in handy. I got most of my money back, since I had signed up for a 3-year plan and only spent 5 months using their service.
So far, I’m really happy with MDD Hosting. My website seems to be loading faster than before, and I haven’t had any outages yet. It’s only been a few days, so I will have to keep you posted on its reliability in the long term.
Next time: Time dedicated to working on the blog, and the earnings numbers so far.