How to Start a Blog That Makes Money and Helps People: The Pre-launch Prep Guide (+ FREE Workbook)

16 min read

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How to start a blog, make money, and help others -- A step by step guide that walks you through the whole process and sets you up for success from the very beginning.

That’s the dream, isn’t it? Start a blog, write a bunch of posts that enrich the lives of your readers, sit back, and watch the money roll in.

Now hold your horses for a minute there…

Blogging, if you want to treat it like your business, is just that. It’s a BUSINESS. And entrepreneurship is never easy. It’s a lot of testing things out, failing, learning from them, losing sleep, time, money and a fair amount of lost hair thrown into the mix.

When you start blogging, you need to be prepared for making slow and not always steady progress.

If you’re a writer and you just love to write but don’t want to do the hard work of planning, promoting, marketing and all that, then blogging isn’t for you. Thanks to a superb platform called Medium, you can take your essay writing there instead. It’s all good, many of us do it, and love it!

If you’re curious about all the things blogging involves, then read this blog post: 8 Facts about Blogging That No One Really Wants to Talk About.

A summary of the above article is as follows: writing is only a fraction of all that blogging entails. A lot of blogging is about thinking up your branding (and no, by branding I don’t necessarily mean your logo, your website design, your colors or fonts… they could be part of your branding, but it’s really a lot bigger than that.) A lot of blogging is also about coming up with strategies for how you’re going to make money from blogging. Blogging is crafting clever headlines and keywords, and then writing the actual post. And it doesn’t even end at that. After you’re done writing, you’ll need to create graphics that people want to share on their social media, then you’ll need to promote the heck out of the said blog post. And the aforementioned are only a few of the things you’ll need to take care of as a blogger.

Not to mention, you cannot always write about anything and everything you want to write. Most successful blogs have a particular niche, and that means you’re drawing boundaries… and I think we all know what boundaries do. They can, on one hand, set us up for success, but on the other hand, choke the ingenuity, creativity, and fun out of our lives.

It’s a delicate balance.

So yes, all that is to say that if you’re thinking of starting a blog that you can make money from, proceed with caution, and know what you’re getting into.

Still here?

Great! Then this blog post is just for you!

All of that scary stuff wasn’t meant to discourage you. Not at all! Quite the opposite in fact! If you’re someone who’s contemplating starting a blog, I welcome you with open arms, because really, blogging is a legit way to not only make money, but also a way for us to reach out to others, tell our stories, share the things we’ve learned, teach them what we know, and help those who may benefit from it.

I say the scary stuff because unless you know what you’re getting into, you’re more than likely to throw in the towel halfway through and call it quits.

And I don’t want you to do that!

That’s why, in this blog post, I’ll try my very best to lay out the steps you need to consider before you start your blog: from coming up with a monetization model, figuring out the perfect niche and branding, to actually starting a blog. The following is the ultimate blog-to-biz model!

Ready to figure out how to start a blog? Let’s get cracking!

Step 1: Figure out the Right Monetization Method

Am I really starting off with money? You bet I am!

The money talk often makes some folks uncomfortable.

“But Maliha, I want to blog so I can help others, not just because I want money!”

Yeah, I hear you dude, we’re all trying to make the world a better place. But here’s the truth bomb. Before we go out and start helping and taking care of others, we need to first take care of ourselves. How can you ever expect to care for someone if you’re down in the dumps? OK, maybe I’m being too dramatic and perhaps you’re not so much down in the dumps. But even so, blogging itself takes money and time. And time, my friends, time is money equivalent in my books. What am I getting at?

Well, as a blogger who wants to help people, there is absolutely no reason to cringe away from the concept of making money. The money will help you take care of yourself and it will pay for the time you invest in blogging as well as the resources you need to maintain your blog. This, in turn, will help you help your readers better. 

So yes! I say we all need to start with the money-mindset when considering starting a blog.

So, let’s start again from the top, shall we?

A lot of the blogging process will depend on how you want to make money off of blogging. The way you brand yourself, the way you market, the marketing and promotion platforms you choose, the way you create and curate content — they all depend on how you make money in the first place.

Now, you could choose your niche first, and THEN figure out the best monetization method to compliment your niche, but personally, I find the other way around much easier to handle. That’s how I started this blog, and I can only teach you what I know myself.

You see, I love writing. I knew that as long as I could write something I didn’t hate writing about, a topic very much in demand and helpful to others, I’d be perfectly satisfied. That’s why this model of choosing my monetization method first worked out so well for me.

And now, let me show you how this works.

Ask yourself: how do you want to make money from blogging?

Some popular ways that a blogger makes money are:

  • By way of selling products. These can be physical products, digital products or info products.
    • Physical Products:  Maybe you like to make stuff. Handmade dolls for example (not sure why I thought of that, but yeah, sure, why not?). Or maybe clothing? Or maybe you’re an artist and want to sell your art. The options are limitless.
    • Digital Products: Maybe you’re a graphic designer or illustrator and you want to sell pre-made logos, website templates, or branding packages.
    • Info Products: Perhaps there’s something you know really well and you think there’s a market out there and an audience who can benefit from your knowledge. If so, you could consider creating ebooks, or online courses. Keep in mind that info products (as well as some digital products) have the potential to earn passive income. Once you’ve created some ever-green products, all you have to do is market and promote them periodically, and then sit back and count your money.
  • By way of coaching or teaching or consulting. Coaches and counselors are hitting it BIG these days, albeit, by now, the market is a bit overcrowded and oversaturated. That said, if you’re confident in your skills and you know that there’s an audience for it, then this can be very lucrative. It isn’t the easiest method, but if you have the right knowledge and skill then it can bring in the big bucks. I know Jon Morrow of SmartBlogger was making $1000 per hour doing 1 on 1 consultation at one point, so yes, this is very much doable. But you have to be certain that you know your stuff and you can deliver. Don’t start charging big money if you’re not sure you can provide results.
  • By way of selling ads and sponsored posts. If you’re an online influencer, you could charge big bucks for running ads or creating sponsored posts. I’m usually a bit sketched-out when I hear Google ads or any other kind of generic Adsense, and they don’t even pay too well. But if you can get brands to reach out to you, you’re golden!
  • By way of selling products made by others (a.k.a. affiliate marketing). This is a great way to make passive income. You market, promote, and sell products that someone else has created, and earn commission from these sales. For example, I am an affiliate for the website hosting platform, SiteGround [affiliate link], and email marketing platform ConvertKit [affiliate link]. If someone comes to my blog and purchases their products by following my affiliate links, these companies pay me a commission on each sale as a “thank-you”.
  • By way of selling services. You could also offer services alongside your blog and make money that way. In a sense, this isn’t all that different from freelancing. As a blogger, you have a chance to showcase your expertise in the areas in which you offer services. This builds up your authority in these areas and creates trust among your target audience and potential clients.

Your job at this stage of planning is to figure out the monetization method that you feel most comfortable with. Note that this isn’t meant to limit you. Like any business, the scope of blogging changes as it evolves and you yourself grow with your blog. Choosing a monetization method at this point is to give you direction, and help you in your search for topics/niche to blog about in the subsequent steps.

Step 2: Decide on a Niche

Now’s the time to decide what you want to blog about. Keep in mind the monetization model you’ve chosen. The idea is to think up a niche that goes along well with your monetization model.

For example, if you’re going to sell your art, you could choose to blog about home decor. Chances are, people big into interior decoration may be interested in buying your artwork, so you want to focus on creating content specific to that crowd.

On the other hand, if you want to create an info product, such as an e-course that teaches people how to paint with watercolor, then your target audience is likely those who want to learn how to paint and then make a living from their art. Then the perfect blogging niche may be “how to make a living from your art”, or “all the different ways one can monetize art”.

Another example: let’s say you want to coach people about managing their personal finances, then you could blog about just that! Uh, that was a little too easy!

Yet another example: perhaps you’ve decided that you don’t want to bother with creating your own products, or you don’t have time for coaching or consultation, and you’d rather focus on passive income. If that’s the case, affiliate marketing is likely the best monetization model for you. Now think about a topic that you know and can write about that is monetizable in that way.

To summarize, make a list of all the things you’re passionate about, then do some research to see which of these topics has a high demand (I find that Pinterest and Google Analytics can be helpful in figuring out if a certain topic is in demand), and then figure out if your monetization method can be applied to the niche. If not, move on and pick another niche that you’d like to write about, and continue this process until you’ve found a niche that can be monetized via your chosen method.

If you need some help, here’s a blog post (+ free workbook) on How to Find The Perfect Blog Niche.

Step 3: Create an Opt-in Freebie

You may or may not have chosen to create your own product when you were deciding on your monetization model. However, as bloggers, we MUST create some products; there’s no way around it. Good news is, an opt-in freebie doesn’t have to be anything too grand. In fact, you WANT this freebie to be something short and sweet yet totally usable and actionable.

But I’m getting ahead of myself.

First things first, what is an opt-in freebie and why do we need it at this stage?

One of the most important things you need to do even before you start your official blog is to set up a process to build and grow an email list — subscribers who are interested in what you’re saying. They’re your ideal readers/buyers/clients, whatever have you. They will give you that precious real estate inside their inbox because they trust you and love what you have to say.

The relationship you cultivate with your subscribers will remain the most sacred throughout your blogging career. These are YOUR people! Respect them, take care of them, and they will be your biggest supporters.

But how do you start growing this list when you haven’t even started your blog yet? They don’t know who you are!

That’s why you start by creating an opt-in freebie — a small product that’s representative of what your future blog is about. This will give your ideal readers a taste of what to come, will help them decide whether or not they want to give you access to their inbox, and it also acts as an incentive… in a good way 😉

The idea is to start collecting email even before you launch your blog because it’s not really a launch if you don’t have an audience.

(Total disclosure: I bypassed this step altogether before launching this blog. I’m a really impatient person, so I didn’t have it in me to wait and grow an email list BEFORE starting a blog. I, however, did create a freebie and was able to start collecting email from day-1 of the official blog launch. This section and the next few are dedicated to steps you should take to have more of an impactful blog launch than I did. It’s what I’d do had I started this blog all over again.)

So, how does one start growing a list without a blog? Well, you start by creating the said freebie. A few ideas:

  1. a checklist of actionable things in your niche that your ideal reader will benefit from.
  2. a workbook that walks your reader through a complicated process to make it easier.
  3. a small part of a bigger product (for example: let’s say one of your monetization methods is to sell ebooks. Maybe you could offer a chapter of this ebook as a freebie.)
  4. a short email course.
  5. a quiz.

These are just a few ideas. As you brainstorm, you may find other ways to provide some quick value to your readers that will ACTUALLY benefit them. Make no mistake, if you want to be a successful blogger, you’ll need to be providing value at every step of the way. each and every single blog post will need to be value-packed. Your freebies are no different.

Step 4: Set Up a Platform Where People Can Opt-In To Your Email List in Exchange For The Freebie You Made

OK, so, now you have a freebie. But wait, I haven’t even come to the part where you make a website! So how’re you supposed to collect email addresses?

Simple. Sign up for an email marketing platform. Almost all of the newsletter platforms come with landing page options. Even if you do not have a website or domain at this point, you should still be able to set up a landing page. And at this stage, that’s all you need.

My preferred email marketing platform is ConvertKit [affiliate link]. I love ConvertKit because it makes creating multiple opt-in forms really easy. I have more than one freebie and most of these are content upgrades (freebies I offer with certain blog posts that compliment the post. For example, I have a workbook that walks my readers through selecting a profitable niche for their blog, and I offer this freebie with a blog post on a related topic.) ConvertKit makes it easy to create and maintain multiple lists; something I found more cumbersome in a couple of other email marketing platforms I’d used prior to switching to ConvertKit. While it’s not the cheapest platform, I’ve found that it’s a solid investment. And trust me, if you’re going to invest in your blog, this is what you should start with — your email list.

That said, if your budget is tight, you can just as easily set up a landing page with any of the other email platforms that are free. For example, MailChimp and MailerLite have free plans up to the first 1000 subscribers. These platforms are not as intuitive and maintaining different email lists is a pain, but you should be fine at this stage when you’ll only need one list and one landing page.

Step 5: Start Publishing Content and Growing Email List

But wait… we STILL haven’t set up the blog! Heck, we haven’t even bought a domain yet. I mean… we don’t even know what we’ll call the blog!

And that’s perfectly alright.

Here’s why:

Are you sure the niche you’ve chosen is something people want to read about? And maybe they do, but are you sure you want to continue writing about this topic?

There are plenty of bloggers out there who start a blog that doesn’t go anywhere, and they end up quitting just like that.

I don’t want you to be that blogger. If you’ve read this blog post this far, chances are you’re serious about it. So I want to give you a solid plan of actions that will set you up for success.

When I say you should start publishing, I mean you should start guest blogging. Also, there’s this awesome platform called Medium. It’s a great place to publish your content and check out whether or not there’s traction. When you set up an account on Medium (it’s free), you can add a short bio to your profile. Make sure to add a link along with a short description of the freebie you’re offering on your bio. Add this info at the end (maybe even in the middle) of all the posts you publish on Medium.

As for guest posting, you need a little more work there. Your goal is to find blogs and publications that have a solid following. If you guest-post for a new blog that doesn’t have any dedicated readership, no one will see your post, nor will anyone sign up for your email list. Remember, your goal is to grow that list of yours at this stage. So do your due diligence and research the heck out of all the top blogs in your niche or in a niche that compliments yours.

Step 6: Have Some Subscribers? It’s Time To Set Up Your Blog (and Social Media Outlets).

If you can manage to get at least about 50-100 subscribers within a couple of months, chances are, there are people who are interested in what you’re saying, there’s a market for your future products, and your blog will be a success with continued work and dedication.

This is a good time to finally start thinking about that website of yours.

First things first, you need a domain name. Now, many people tend to get stuck during this phase. You want that perfect domain name, that perfect logo, that perfect branding…

What a waste of time.

Here’s a truth bomb: the colors you start your blog with will change. The blog layout you choose will change. Heck, chances are even the domain name will change! Many successful bloggers have gone through this process of a complete overhaul —  Bloggers like Pat Flynn, Jon Morrow, Melyssa Griffin, Seth Godin. Your job at this stage is to just start. Don’t waste the momentum you’ve created by guest posting and publishing on Medium.

Pick a domain that’s clear in its message (and available). I buy all my domains from NameCheap [affiliate link]. They have free domain privacy (other companies make you pay extra for this), and they have a clean and intuitive back-end interface. You want a self-hosted WordPress blog. Which means you’ll need to purchase hosting. My preferred hosting company is SiteGround [affiliate link]. They have superior security measures in place, making it harder to hack into the system, they have free SSL (you MUST have SSL, and a lot of other companies make you pay for SSL), their websites load faster, and above all, their customer support is PHENOMENAL! They have 24/7 support via phone and live chat, and the waiting period is often less than 10 seconds… yeah, I’ve counted.

Pick a good template. Personally, I’ve been enjoying the drag-and-drop page builder plugin call Elementor [affiliate] these days, paired with the Astra theme (or GeneratePress is also a very lightweight theme that goes well with Elementor).

I also like the Genesis framework [affiliate], paired with StuoPress themes [affiliate]. This second option good for those who’re not too tech savvy and just want a well-built theme out of the box, set up and go.

If you have the money, hire a developer to set things up for you, but if you’re on a tight budget and are DYI-ing, here’s a step by step guide on How to Set Up A Blog with Self-Hosted WordPress.

As for social media, you can, in fact, start these around the same time you start guest posting and posting on Medium. However, I find that guest posting itself is tiresome. You will have to research the blogs and publications you’ll be working with, you’ll need to pitch, create content… basically, it’s a ton of work. And social media, as amazing as it can be, is less important than your email list. It can wait. I also think it’s better to start with just one or two platforms. Personally, I find Facebook and Pinterest (which is in fact not a social media but a visual search engine) to be the most effective traffic drivers. However, I’ve heard some bloggers swear by Instagram. Do a bit of research and pick one or two platforms that you’ll be more likely to commit to.

UPDATE: I do strongly recommend using Pinterest as it’s proven to be the most effective traffic driver for this blog. To learn how I’ve tripled my Pinterest engagement and increased traffic by more than 250% in just 30 days, please read this blog post: How to Triple Your Monthly Pinterest Engagement in 30 Days.

Step 7: Start Creating Hype While You’re Setting Up Your Site (And Add Content)

While you’re taking care of setting up your site, start creating a buzz around your new blog. You have at least 50 subscribers now. Make sure you stay in touch with them. A value-packed email once a week or biweekly is a good place to start. Let them know that you’re about to launch your blog. Set up a date and let your tribe know exactly when the blog is launching. Make sure your blog will have some content. Some say you need 5-10 posts, personally, I think you can start with even just one high-quality, value-packed blog post (I know I’m saying this a lot, but that’s because it’s so important that you provide value at each and every step of the way).

By now, you have some Medium posts as well as guest posts. You can use them on your blog too. Be careful about sharing the guest posts; make sure you can repost them. Some publications do not allow you to repost content you’ve published on their platform.

Aside from reminding your subscribers the launch date a few times leading up to the big day, you can also do some other things to create buzz around the big launch. You can create another free product that you promise to give out, or you can host an official giveaway. If you’re a lifestyle blogger or product review blogger, you may want to see if a company or brand will co-host this giveaway. If you want a brand to work with you, chances are you’ll need more than 50 email subscribers (anywhere from a few hundred to a thousand). It’s a good strategy to keep in mind, just in case.


Congratulations, you’re ready for your BIG LAUNCH!

Do keep in mind that you can’t take it easy just because your blog is live now. You’ve had a great launch, you’re getting more and more traffic and new subscribers every day, but if you get lazy, you’ll suffer! The first few months are really important. There are a TON of blogs out there who start off great, but then phase out in a matter of months.

If you want to create authority and credibility in your field, make sure your readers know that they can trust you to be around and keep providing value. You can’t get people to trust you if you get lazy.

Feel free to ask if you have any questions. Leave a comment and I’ll respond as best as I can, as soon as I can.

Happy blogging!

How to start a blog, make money, and help others -- A step by step guide that walks you through the whole process and sets you up for success from the very beginning. Free Workbook inside. | The Side Blogger #blog #blogger #blogging #bloggingtips #blogtips

Start a blog that's ready to make money and help your ideal readers with the FREE pre blog launch prep guide. Totally free downloadable workbook included! - The Side Blogger #blogging #bloggingtips #blogger #beginnerblogger
How to start a blog, make money, and help others -- A step by step guide that walks you through the whole process and sets you up for success from the very beginning. Free Workbook inside. | The Side Blogger #blog #blogger #blogging #bloggingtips #blogtips
How to start a blog, make money, and help others -- A step by step guide that walks you through the whole process and sets you up for success from the very beginning. Free Workbook inside. | The Side Blogger #blog #blogger #blogging #bloggingtips #blogtips
How to start a blog, make money, and help others -- A step by step guide that walks you through the whole process and sets you up for success from the very beginning. Free Workbook inside. | The Side Blogger #blog #blogger #blogging #bloggingtips #blogtipsEvery you need to know about how to plan for your blog, from its concept, all the way to its launch. A detailed, blog pre-launch prep guide by The Side Blogger #blog #blogging #bloggingtips #beginner blogger

12 thoughts on “How to Start a Blog That Makes Money and Helps People: The Pre-launch Prep Guide (+ FREE Workbook)”

  1. Hi Maliha, I’m definitely going to start my new blog this way! I have tried and failed at two previous blogs and I think it’s because I didn’t try to find out if people wanted it first. I love the landing page & free giveaway strategy. If I can’t drum up people with existing social media followers first, then maybe I need to rethink. Thank you so much for your insight.

    X-o-x

  2. Hi Mahlia. So, I just moved to blogger.com as my Word Press blog wasn’t getting many followers other than friends. I do not know much about affiliates & ads so your blog post is helpful to me. I will continue to read up on blogging as my goal is to help others through sharing my life story and give encouragement and insight to those who are walking where I have walked and facing challenges that I have or am currently facing.

    1. Hi Chrissy,

      Many a great blogger started their journey with Blogger, so no harm in that. As for getting followers, a platform typically isn’t the deciding factor on that front. I personally prefer WordPress (not the .com version, but the self-hosted kind) because of their superiority over any other platform in terms of flexibility, features, functionalities, and capabilities.

      If your long-term goal is to monetize your blog, I very much suggest starting your blog with the self-hosted WordPress platform. If you’re unclear about what a self-hosted WordPress platform is, do a Google search on the difference between WordPress .com and .org versions. The .org is the self-hosted version. May I also suggest you click on the “Start a Blog” tab on the navigation? That article will also help you understand (and help you set up a self-hosted WordPress blog).

      That said, if right now your main goal is to just create content and not worry about anything else, and you just wish to focus on helping people with your content only, feel free to continue with Blogger. Content trumps platform, after all.

      In any case, I’m glad that you’ve found my posts helpful. Thank you and welcome!

      Maliha ❤

  3. This was a great read!
    Question though – I’m starting a blog without A single defined niche. It will be a travel, lifestyle and foodie blog ( with a focus on the latter two for now while i’m a student and unable to travel as much as i’d like) and with that in mind I wanted to create different opt-in freebies per niche. My aim is to create multiple e-mail lists so that people can opt-in to whatever topics they’d like updates from. However i’m not sure how to go about implementing these multiple opt-ins?
    From what you wrote it sounds like you’ve done something similar. How do you go about showing specific opt-ins on particular pages/sections of your website.
    Is this something that would be possible using a free e-mail service ( for now)?
    Thanks 🙂

    1. Hi Luciie, thanks a lot for your comment; appreciate it. You can do this with free email services like MailChimp or Mailerlite. I personally prefer ConvertKit because while it is a paid platform, it’s a solid investment and it makes creating and managing multiple list or groups within one account super easy. Back when I was with MailChimp (for a different blog), I wasn’t utilizing multiple opt-ins because the process is so clunky. But then I moved to CK and it was a breeze. If you can afford 30 bucks a month, I say do sign up with ConvertKit as it will make life easy for you. But if money is an issue (you’re a student so it’s understandable), then sure, you can set up separate lists with different lead magnets with free alternatives as well.

  4. Wow! I wish I had read this post years ago when I first launched my blog. I am in the process of planning another website/blog and will be following your great advice.
    i had never considered growing an email list before i launched…but it makes sense! it is like doing market research to see if your ideas are valid before investing a lot of time, money and effort in setting up your website.
    thanks! 🙂

    1. Hi Rachel, thanks for your kind words. I really do think starting a list beforehand creates a firmer foundation for a blog. And it’s totally doable, so why not?

      Thank you again for reading, and hope you’ll come back for more!

  5. Thank you maliha, this post taught me so much more than i have already learned by reading many other posts.
    I will probably run into some questions but i have started at step one Tonight and will follow through with the rest, step by step. Best wishes, Jana

    1. Hi Jana, I’m glad it’s helpful to new bloggers, after all, that was my goal from the start!

      Feel free to share your journey and ask if you have any questions.

      Thanks so much for your kind words and the comment! I really appreciate you!

  6. Hi….
    This is a great post. It really opened my eyes. I need to do a lot of research. I thought I was all set to start my blog. But this made me realize that I need to do a lot more.
    Although I couldn’t read all of it ( in a rush). I will make sure to come back and complete reading this.
    Thank you!

    1. Thank you, Khushboo; appreciate the comment and kind words. These are some tips I picked up from my own blogging experiences. My intention is to help new bloggers start off the right way, but if you feel that too much information is in fact hindering you from starting at all, then feel free to keep these tips in the back of your mind to revisit eventually, and just start. You can work on these even as you start, little by little, you can build things up.

      Good luck, and please share with us your blog URL when you do start!

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