Tools to Start and Grow a Money Making Blog - for Free (or Really Cheap!)

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by Robin

Have you ever thought about starting a blog?  Do you think it must be expensive?  Despite what you may have read elsewhere - it doesn't need a big investment.  There are great, affordable tools that we use that could help you to easily and affordably build a blog of your own.

A good friend of mine is planning to start blogging.  She's got plans for what she'd like to blog about - and dreams about bringing her voice to the world.  She wouldn't say no to making some income for her family by following her passions.  These are great goals for a blog.  It can happen, too.

I am brimming with excitement for my friend - and when she asked me for advice about how to start her blog - you KNOW my excitement overflowed!  This is my jam, in life and on this blog: helping people find simple and affordable ways to do the things that matter to them.

I started to tap out some lists for my friend and soon realized that she probably isn't alone.  Chances are good that lots of people out there would like to start a blog - and maybe make some money doing it - but don't know where or how to start.

When you're starting out the vast sea of blogging tools and advice can be overwhelming.  They can be so costly, too!  You can spend hundreds on hosting fees and custom designs, plug-ins and tools.  But you don't have to.

Today's post is about sharing how to start and grow your blog for free.  And, if you have about $40 to invest - you can make it look as attractive and professional as the big ones.

So, you've got an idea for a blog?  You know what you'd like to name it and what you plan to share on it.  Great!  Those are essential decisions to make before you start.

Then you get into the tools...

This post contains affiliate links. 
This just means that we get a small commission on things purchased through our links - but doing so doesn't cost our readers a cent more.

Step One: Choose Your Blogging Platform

You will read a lot of posts that will tell you a self-hosted WordPress blog is the ONLY way to go.  I disagree.  I am a huge fan of Blogger - here's why I'm so thrilled with it:

  • It's free to get started.  Create an account, make a couple choices and instantly you have a blog.
  • It's supported by Google.  Are you familiar with this company?  I thought you might be.  It's huge and trusted and its search engine is where most of the world goes first when they want to know something.  
  • Google security is built-in.  I am part of so many groups of WordPress bloggers that have their sites hacked.  It's virtually unheard of with Blogger.
  • It costs you $0 a month to have your blog hosted.  When you use another platform, you need to find a company to host you and you need to pay them money every single month.  The more your audience grows, the more you will need to pay.  We have never paid a cent for hosting.
  • Crash-proof.  Thanks, again, Google.  Many self-hosted blogs will crash when a post goes viral and they have massive page-views.  Often it's because the hosting they pay for only supports a modest number of visitors.  But if a post goes nuts on social media and your views skyrocket - Google has you covered again.  We've had many posts get off the charts views and have never once had our site crash.  And we're not alone.  The power of Google can handle these coveted viral spikes.  For free, of course.

Step 2: Set Up Your Blog Domain Name

When you sign up for your Blogger blog you'll be able to choose your own domain name.  Of course, it needs to be one that isn't taken already, but other than that your imagination is the only limit! (And maybe human decency - probably super-porno-y names won't be allowed either.)

Your free domain name will look a bit different: www.yourdomainname.blogspot.com   It's that last bit that makes it free: .blogspot 

Lot's of people dislike the ".blogspot".  I get it.  It's long and clunky and it looks less professional than a domain name without it.  The first $12 we spent on our blog was to buy our custom domain name.
 You sure don't need to, but if you're serious about growing your blog it's a great thing to do early.  The cost is pretty small - and is just paid annually.

We've used other companies, but we've come to like Go Daddy for our domain names.  The latest reason is that they can provide an easy affordable way to have an email address with your domain in it vs. the free email services. e.g. Me@yourdomain.com  vs. Me@gmail.com.  There are benefits to this - the main one being your emails end up in spam folders less often.

Step 3: Design Your Blog

A few months ago Blogger introduced new templates.  You are spoiled for choice now.  You can choose from these templates and build how you want your blog to look.  Of course, it's also free.

It will take you some time, but as your learn how the platform works, you can build your blog to look and function just how you want.

But you're not on this path alone.  There are some great bloggers out there who guide you with Blogger tips.  Their price is right too - also free!  I've gotten some well-written DIY blog design tutorials that have saved me big bucks and headaches. These are my go to people:

If you have a bit of money to spend, I'd recommend picking up a professional looking template. Etsy is a great source to search. It might be a coincidence, but a couple of weeks after installing our first professionally created template for our blog we were hired for our first freelance writing gig!  The investment paid off many times over.

You don't have to spend hundreds for custom, there are wonderfully designed templates you can install for as little as $15:

  • Fearne Creative  We upgraded our template to one of Eve's in 2018.  It's this one. Her templates are fast, beautiful and well-organized.  Her customer service was amazing. She went above and beyond to help us.  I couldn't be more impressed!

Tip: If the template is not "mobile responsive" don't bother.  Most people do their online reading on their phones and are turned off if your layout is a hard to read desktop version.

Step 4: Professional Looking Images

Images drive readers.  Your blog's images will be the first thing readers see and they need to be great.

We tend to take our own photos and use Pic Monkey to edit them to look better and to add our Frugal Family Times watermark to them.  Pic Monkey gives you a 7 day free trial - and you can upgrade if you like it as much as we do.

An early worthwhile investment would be a good DSLR camera.  It doesn't need to be fancy, but a DSLR camera will make any photo you take look better - there's some kind of magic built-in there (-the extent of my knowledge). We picked up an entry level model,  Canon Rebel DSLR Camera and it does everything we need and more.  Plus it's super easy to use.

The other place we find photos is from free Stock photo sites.  Here's a few worth looking at:
  • StockSnap.io  My current fave.
  • Gratisography  Such fun photos here!
  • Flickr Creative Commons Be sure to follow the Attribution Agreements very carefully - some are totally free for you to use - others have requirements.
  • MorgueFile  This one's like a good thrift store - you need to really dig around to find the gems - and they're there - but there are some super, odd, head-shaker kinds of photos, too. (I'm looking at you Asian guy wearing all the different coats...)

Step 5: Set up Your Contact Info

Google's got your back again - you can create a Gmail account for free with your blog's name.  Make sure there's a spot on your blog for people to find your Contact Info - without it you could be missing some great opportunities.  But, expect a lot of emails with unsolicited sketchy invitations.  

Step 6: Get Social

Be sure to set up your social media accounts early, even if you're not ready to dive in.  A great tip is to try to have the same name for all your accounts, this way your readers can easily find you.

I know there are more - but right now these are the big 4:

- Facebook Page

- Pinterest Be sure to set up a Business Account and Rich Pins

- Instagram

Now, if you follow our blog on Twitter or Instagram you'll know, we are less than active there.  We've been ghosting those platforms.  We tried for awhile to be on all four networks - but we got burned out really quickly.

We made a deliberate choice to focus on the social media areas we enjoy most and bring us the most traffic.  So we are very active on just Pinterest and Facebook.  There are virtual cobwebs on our other accounts.  We're ok with that.  Are we missing out on things online? Probably.  Are we better able to focus on our lives and home and family? You betcha.

Step 7: Grow Your Following


Tailwind - I had almost given up on Pinterest until I found Tailwind.  Pinterest has changed dramatically since we first started our blog.  In the past, all the people who follow you would see all the pins you posted.  Everyone.

Now, there's Smart Feed, which makes decisions for what Pinterest users want, rather than just showing them all the things they've asked to see.  It's a whole different playing field now - driven by Pinterest trying to make a better profit.

Until I understood the new rules, I was utterly discouraged.  The most basic explanation I can give now is: Pinterest rewards you for sharing other people's pins along with your own.  It seems 30 to 40 pins a day is optimum, most of which are other people's.

Who in the world has time to find and pin 30 to 40 great pieces of content?!?  That's where Tailwind comes in - thank goodness.

It's useful for scheduling pins - meaning that you can choose pins to go to your boards at the best times for your readers vs. when you have 5 minutes to pin a pile.

My absolute favourite feature is Tribes - and you don't have to be a paid member to use Tribes.  This is a spot to share your content with other bloggers for them to share with their followers - and to find great content to pin to your own boards.  Win-win.

Signing up through this link will give you a free trial of Tailwind - plus some extra perks.

Encourage your Readers to Share:
Add This
Up on the top of this post, you should see a row of share buttons.  This is a really handy feature to have.  This way you're encouraging your readers to share your work.  I love the Add This share buttons because they are free - and they don't slow Blogger blogs down - which is annoying and common with other share buttons.

Encourage your Readers to Follow You:
This pop-up is a simple way to grow your social followers.  You can choose what social networks you want to grow, and a small, pretty unobtrusive pop-up will encourage your readers to keep in touch with you.  There's a 30-day free trial.

Build an Email List:
With social networks, like Pinterest and Facebook, increasingly becoming pay-to-play reaching your readers can get expensive.   Did you know that only a small percentage of your followers will actually see your posts?  Yup.  If you want them all to see, you've got to pay up.

You can save money by creating an email list so that you can reach your readers for free or inexpensively.  I resisted doing this for so long, and regret it.  It doesn't have to be a ton more work - which was my fear.  You can use an email service to simply send out your blog posts automatically when you publish, or you can create a newsletter.  We have a newsletter now, but using the RSS feature would be so much less work.

We chose MailChimp for our newsletter.  It allows you to create and send newsletters to up to 2000 subscribers for free.  It's pretty user-friendly and some bloggers I respect say it has the best deliverability - meaning MailChimp emails end up in people's spam folders less often.

So how do you collect all those emails?  This was a stumbling block for me - and when I was using the wrong one - it meant another layer of work to import emails into Mail Chimp.  Then I discovered MailMunch.  Mail Munch is an easy to use - free - email capture tool.  It imports the emails automatically into Mail Chimp - so it's seamless and it eliminated an extra layer of work for me.  Yes! There are paid features, but I haven't needed them.

Step 8: Basic Monetizing

If you plan to have ads on your blog, I think it's a great idea to start right away.  Then your readers will know what to expect - there are no surprises later.  Plus, my feeling is that ads tell readers that this is indeed a public, professional site - they haven't stumbled upon a blog that's really just intended for family and friends.  That's just my humble opinion though.

Adsense is a great first step to monetizing.  If your content is clean, there's a very good chance you'll be accepted into the program. You can put up to three ads on your blog.  There a features that allow you to control the type of ad that's on there.  If you don't want ads for Gambling or Dating, etc. you can opt out.  

Amazon affiliates is another accessible program.  It allows you to send your readers to products and get a tiny percentage back when they make a purchase - at no cost to your readers, of course.  

Step 9: Hone Your Writing Craft

Typos, spelling mistakes and grammar errors are easy to make and embarrassing.  Despite my best efforts, some mistake will slip by my edits.  This is much less true now that I've installed Grammarly.  It's an instant spelling and grammar checker and the free version has many, many functions.  I rely on it now to make me look a bit smarter than I am.

There's an art to blogging.  Your writing matters.  My absolute, hands down, favourite writing course comes from Kelly at Sticky Blogging.  She has a free intro course that I have found is better than many paid ones.  Check her course out:  Sticky Blogging 

Step 10: Work Incredibly Hard

While it doesn't have to cost much to start, it's going to take a real time investment to grow your blog.  It takes hours to craft a great post - between writing, photographing, editing, working on projects or recipes (if that's your niche).  It's going to take even more hours to get readers to your work - sharing on social media can take a tonne of effort.  The list of "must do's" keeps growing as the blogging world gets more saturated.

Be prepared to work harder than you expect - it can be a real slog - but, it can be incredibly fun and it can bring opportunities that maybe you never dreamed of.  Heck, Ed got a job writing about Lego through our blog!  Lego!  Basically, his childhood dream job.

Was this helpful?  Do you have questions?


  1. I know how to begin a site for free and make money utilizing this 4 stage control. Take after the framework however be set up to contribute a lot of your time and push to make your site succeed.

  2. This is such a great post with so much information! I'm also a huge fan of Blogger & don't understand the hate it gets!

    1. Thanks for your comment, Tiff! It's great to find other Blogger fans. It's been refreshing to be a part of Kim Six & LadyGadget's facebook group - lots of fans there and a great resource for sharing Blogger tips. :)

  3. Work incredibly hard! Love this. Awesome tips for how to monetize a blog!

    1. You KNOW about all the hard work, Ashley! But the rewards can be huge - like your BHG feature. :)

  4. Wow...what a thorough post! And I didn't know that Blogger had google security built in! That's a great perk.
    Wish I had read a post like this before I started my blog..would have saved me a whole bunch of headache!

    1. I wish I had a post like this too, Lynn! Trial and error is a great teacher - but a frustrating and time consuming one. I hope the post helps someone avoid some pitfalls when starting their blog. Thanks for your comment! :)


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