Zero, nada, nothing, zilch, niente, rien – yes, that’s how much it may cost to start a blog. With one caveat of course – your time! A laptop, MacBook, Chromebook, tablet or phablet are the only first-up costs. Although bloggers have started out bootstrapping using free internet and desktops in public libraries.
In fact, if you want to start a blog – so long as not self-hosted – there are no cost barriers at all! Tumblr, WordPress.com and Medium are so popular for that reason and because they have less of a tech learning curve. Here, we’re talking self-hosted WordPress blogs which you can start plain vanilla and two years later find you’ve a full Neapolitan on your hands.
As with home makeovers, your blog home costs on WordPress can spiral and end up sucking you into a deep dark hole as your blogging ambitions grow. So, the million $ question I am going to try to tackle here is to how to put some sort of budget not only on the start-up costs of a WordPress blog, but also on the likely costs of running and growing a blog.
Already a blog? Know what it it costs to run?
The chances are if you’re reading this you’re already blogging of sorts. But don’t disappear! Because this post will also help you think through your blog strategy. As you peg up the levels (and costs) below, you’ll realise that they are tied to how pro you wish to go. Whether you’re a potential or new blogger or wanting to take your blog to the next level, it’s a good idea to gauge how much you’ll be forking out as you grow your blogging career.
Plan & Budget
My salvo of advice before we hit the list and costs, is to be strategic from day zero of blogging. Work out, at least ballpark, what your goals are. What can you afford up front, what you can invest in before monetizing your blog and what tools you’re budgeting for to really take your blog pro.
You can access my [thrive_2step id=’1046′]Blog Budget Planner[/thrive_2step] to fill in and plan your start-up and running costs It’s a great checklist to see what you might need to cost out on your blogging horizon. When filled in, you might find you can’t ditch the day job just yet!
At the end of this post, I’ve created a quick-view table of the costs to start a blog for each blogging level (excuse the coffee terms):
Skinny: beginner blogger / hobbyist
Latte: going pro blogger
Affogato: the blogpreneur completely ‘sunk’ into their blog, aiming to monetizing and wanting lashings of extras.
Costs to Start & Grow a WordPress Blog
This excludes laptop, Chromebook, Phablet, desktop, mobile etc though the [thrive_2step id=’1046′]Blog Budget Planner[/thrive_2step] includes the hardware.
Let’s take GoDaddy as the rule of thumb. A single dotcom domain is around $13 / year, depending on whether there are offers and discounts. If you buy hosting with GoDaddy or other hosts like Siteground or BlueHost, the basic hosting plan offers one free domain for a year. But I prefer to have my domain and hosting with different companies.
I really wish with my first blogs that I had paid upfront for email@example.com. Starting from day zero with a custom domain email puts you in a business blogging frame of mind and is so much more professional a face to your blog. To get a custom domain, set up Google Apps for Work for $5 a month for one user.
Siteground, WPEngine, BlueHost, GoDaddy vary according, again, to any discounts and promos going on. At the time of writing, Siteground has 50% off its basic shared hosting so comes in at just under $4 / month. GoDaddy with current promo is about the same. WPEngine is way more at $29 / month but we aren’t quite comparing like with like as it gives you capacity up to double the traffic a month (25K a month). The rule here is go cheap but do compare the hosts’ nitty gritty like storage, back-ups, traffic, price to renew after a year and also the qualitative aspects like customer care and ticketing support.
Do your homework before you choose your host. I am with Siteground* on the mid-range Go Pro package as I host several sites. To be honest, their low pricing has been accompanied so far by flawless customer service. I didn’t require their domain name though prefer to split domain and hosting as I don’t like bundling and prefer more choice.
*Disclosure: I do run a Siteground affiliate link the sidebar, but I’ve used them for 3+ years and only just added the link. So, I’ve tested them a fair bit and feel comfy vouching for them. Just to let you know that the in-content links here aren’t affiliate links so don’t earn me anything if you click through!
It’s quite easy to grab a totally free WordPress child theme to bolt on to the free WordPress.org engine and so you don’t have to also use the free basic WordPress 2016 theme. Start with WordPress.org itself.
A great place to find free WordPress themes for self-hosting is Creativemarket. Sign up and you’ll receive Monday freebies to download which include nearly every week a WP template that’s pretty decent. Can’t wait or not so cheapskate? Let’s face it, choosing a WordPress theme is the most fun part of starting a blog.
Between $10 – $20 on Creativemarket gets you a good choice of WordPress themes that suit everyone from the fashion, food and lifestyle blogger to small businesses. Another great haunt for creative themes is of course Etsy. Truly ace themes, again for the single blogger and more. When I browsed many were 30% discounted and came in at a mere $16 a shot.
Envato (Themeforest) is a huge source of WordPress themes and again, it’s case of browsing through. On Envato, prices tend to be a little higher. I like the former two sources as they are ideal for creative bloggers.
WordPress / IT Assistance
This may be zero if you have the skills to get your self-hosted WordPress site online yourself. Basic set up – just getting your WordPress and theme files on your host (even if you have no idea how to do that) – is resolved by looking for info your host and/or theme provider gives you. Themes rarely come without set up info on how to configure the theme to look like the demo one. And hosts dealing with WordPress in particular will have a really easy single button to Install WordPress via the C-Panel. Contact them if you can’t find it.
If you need some theme customization and can’t face delving into the stylesheet CSS code, or fear touching php code that defines the way your theme functions, you’ll need to ‘phone a friend’ who can help. Or pay for some expertise. There are lots of online marketplaces where you can hire WP support. Set a budget but be warned you won’t get anything much for less than around $100. Try WPBoys or WPSupportOnline which has a membership / monthly fee structure. These kind of services work best for development help.
Cheaper still, you can find installation, support and dev services on Fiverr.
Your theme provider may well offer a customization service as bespoke pricing or packages. I do this and so do others like Restored 316 Designs, whose themes I currently offer. Also, check to see if your theme provider runs a slack Facebook Group where you can ask the customer community for help. There is bound to be someone who has had your issue and resolved it.
Design & Branding
No need to worry about knocking up a logo in more sophisticated programmes like Photoshop or Adobe Illustrator as you can easily use free cloud-based software like Canva or Picmonkey to create a very decent logo. Sometimes the theme itself will have a reasonable default font for the header and often the top of the homepage will be a slider so you can just plop in images to take the stress off a logo.
If you are intending to go pro, these hobbyist routes to branding might not suffice. I really can’t stress how important it is if you’ve aspirations to monetize that you come across as a coherent brand – self brand YOU or your freelancer business. You will need consistency across your site (set fonts, complementary colors, header and subhead sizing etc) as well as coherency in your social media (headers, profile images, feed post images and so on).
Branding and design costs can spiral if you don’t think through your blog monetization strategy up front. You can buy in a logo only from Fiverr say, which will cost you virtually nothing, but remember that it may not last you long as you realise a half year into blogging that you need the whole shebang.
Think also how your brand logo will apply to downloads, ebooks, ecourse headers and so on. You will no doubt be offering free optins and paid-for services and products which need to be stamped with your brand identity.
A better option than going alone and rustling up a logo for free might be to get a pre-made logo template by a pro designer. Again, Etsy has a good choice of these from reputable and talented graphic designers. You can also get custom packages at good value too.
My advice here is to budget for branding as soon as you can so you have a good two years to get on with monetizing rather than constantly fiddling with branding and design – moves that will set you back. You will need to be on social media immediately as new blogger, if you hope to drive traffic so do think how your branding will cross platforms seamlessly.
I am going to leave off costing out the vital hardware of a laptop / Chromebook / tablet / phablet. I am a PC person but a MacBook is on my agenda by end year – budget allowing! Don’t think you need the latest iPhone or Mac to be a pro blogger. I quite happily ran three blogs using an aged laptop hand-me-down from my husband.
The hardware is your pigeon but please don’t feel you need from early days a lot of what’s coming up below. Use the list to strategize and forward budget. Many of these items I only added to my kit in the past year, after 16 years blogging!
If you’re doing more than Skyping your granny each Sunday, and are planning to up the anti on your blog by doing live coaching sessions or training like running webinars or recording eCourses, then you’ll need to invest in a webcam that gives you high-quality visuals and audio. Google Hangouts, Vlogging, Youtube vidoes and volumes more will be way better if you can fork out for a decent webcam.
I bought the Logitech HD Pro Webcam C920 which is at the time of posting is just under $70. It’s come down in price, believe me, and is so worth it.
External Microphone & Headsets
When I started recording my eCourse script, I realised I needed a far more pro microphone even though the Logitech webcam was doing quite well. I needed to sound-proof, as well as I could, my large stone office, and have a mic that could give me that pro (radio announcer) voice that was crisp but not echoey and didn’t make me feel showered with plosives every ‘b’ and ‘p’ nor hiss with each ‘s’!
I did quite some research on the various microphones and opted for one at the top of my budget – the Blue Yeti at $129. It does pick up everything and needs some cocooning but if you work out how to insulate your home office a bit, it’s the biz. It’s a favourite among Youtubers.
Podcasters also like the Audio-Technica ATR2100-USB Cardioid Dynamic USB/XLR Microphone which comes in at $79. Both microphones perform better with pop filters to stop those plosives – these are $8 or so.
Search Amazon and read endless reviews on Youtube too to work out which suits your set up if you intend your blog to ‘go live on air’.
Another vital piece of hardware for broadcasting is the headset. I use Apple Earpods with mic at $31.99. If you need a wireless option for live vids out and about or if you’re filming exercise classes for Youtube, then you might be looking at some pricey pro equipment like the Samson AirLine Micro Earset Wireless System at $249 or so.
When it comes to tech gadgets, the gearhead in you might take control, so check your spending. Remember, almost everything can be done well on a shoestring – it’s a case of content over the urge to spend cash.
Food and fashion bloggers and flatlay enthusiasts know that a quality DSRL with around 2-3 lenses is the way to go pro. Travel and street photography works well with smartphones. So think through the kind of impression you need to make with the images on our blog. If your own photos are going to be key to defining your content and your brand style, an ace DSLR is a must.
I use a Canon EOS Rebel T3i having upgraded from a Canon 5D on which I used almost exclusively a single (and cheap) 50mm lens for my food photography. I bought the T3 because I had a windfall selling a redundant domain name!
A DSLR is a useful investment if you intend to film short vidoes to introduce eCourses for example. I am shooting the intros to my upcoming ecourses with it as I didn’t wish to film myself using the webcam – it’s far more pro to be seen sitting or standing full length talking to camera (rather than just as a head). In fact, I have borrowed another Canon DSLR to film from a different angle too. My Canon films in HD 1080px which is the recommended and highest quality to stream on Youtube.
I won’t launch off into video cameras as that’s way more pro gear than the average blogger, even those seeking to monetize big time, will likely need. The Smartphone cum DSLR combo will likely suffice for most of us.
This is the main tool of the blogger – pro or not. Who can afford not to have a decent enough cell to post to all those social channels on the move? As well as capture moments to show the behind the scenes of your blog in a more informal way?
I am not an iPhone fan, let’s make that clear! I am quite happy with my Umi Iron Pro which has excellent HD capabilities. I can’t fault it, so far. Especially as it cost $165.
Backdrops / Lighting / Props
Moving from techhead gear to soft furnishings for a moment, you can see that as you get on screen more, you might feel you need a pro backdrop rather than whatever your home office is screening. I actually have no problem with bloggers’ home environments being au naturelle in the background so long as there’s no mess and the lighting is good. Bookcases and kitchens by the way work really well as backdrops!
However, if you want consistency and are putting out a fair priced eCourse or training video series, I think that it’s time to invest in a backdrop with carefully positioned logo and title. These don’t have to be that expensive, even custom designed. The basic Green Screen comes in anywhere from $13 upwards, including tripods. See some options on Amazon here. Google how to create a Youtube studio in your home or look for photo backdrop / screen companies. Costs of commercial screens vary but for around $100 or less you can get a customized one.
Going the pro video way, you’ll need a good home studio tripod, screen and lighting set up. This can run into the thousands or be a DIY job for less than $100. A resource I came across that drills down the options and prices is here and you can find plenty of Youtubers with advice too. Remember, that lighting is key. But also remember that for short intro videos – the kind you see on Udemy courses – it can be more memorable and a change from the norm for your audience if you film outdoors (background noise to the minimum of course).
Lightboxes, softboxes, tripods – I almost forgot these! Food and make-up bloggers will know all about the importance of ace lighting equipment. Expect to pay $50 – $100 for a basic kit and upward to stratospheric prices if you’re a gear head pro.
OMG, we’re only halfway through the cost and potential cost list so far! OK, moving on swiftly from the filming gear, we come to the capturing and editing software. Thankfully we’re now looking at some free options that do pretty darn well even for the aspiring pro.
Screencast-O-Matic is just about all you’ll need if you are recording eCourses whether you as a talking head via your webcam or actual screencasts. I am only just upgrading to Camtasia from TechSmith as it offers full, not restricted, editing capabilities. It costs US$ 299.
Screencast-O-Matic is great for newbies as it’s free and has a very short learning curve. It’s recommended for teachers because of these attributes. I’ve dug up some comparisons for you to review here and here – the latter being a brilliant blog post with a full comparison of what must be all the capture and editing options out there – free and not.
For editing audio (think podcasts), don’t look beyond Audacity, which, like WordPress.org is open source and free. I love Audacity’s power so much that I even split my audio and visual tracks in Camtasia, download and edit the audio in Audacity, and re-upload and merge tracks. I need to be careful not to lop too much in length so the audio fits the visuals, but one can always extend a frame in Camtasia to overcome this in screencasting, if not in talking head film.
Apps & Services
Apps and services will be such a personal choice as must-haves or nots on your blog, I’ll only list some key ones. These tools lie at the heart of your blog housekeeping and also your interface with your audience. At the very least you are likely to need to pay for some storage for various resources and films, stock and own photography, downloadables and so on.
Dropbox storage comes in at $11 or so for 1 TB (1,000 GB) of space and a 30-day back-up for your files. It is great to house and share files ( think resources for your eCourses) such as photos, videos, docs and other files, and to retrieve them from the cloud when you’re on the move.
Youtube, Vimeo or Wistia? That is a good question. As a regular blogger, then Youtube probably does the job nicely for you – free. Vimeo and Wistia for those of us wanting to go pro is a tougher choice for hosting our videos. There are horses for courses. And less to distinguish them since Vimeo Pro added https security for those needing users to create accounts to view paid-for courses, for example.
Wistia is free if you don’t mind their branding and are uploading only 5 videos. But it’s meant for more pro vloggers so starts at $25 a month for 25 vids and no branding. Vimeo, beyond the basic free level, starts at €7.95 month-to-month but has discounts for annual payment. It offers 5 GB / week or 250 GB / year for $56.95 a year. If you’re a gamer, then you’ll not get far on that upload quota.
There’s a good personal take on Vimeo and Wistia here and I suggest you read the small print carefully on both as well as research them widely before paying for their services.
Then there are premium options for any note-taking and bookmarking apps like Evernote and Pearltrees, or planners like Trello. And how the list goes on and on when it comes to apps that help your organise your blogger cum freelancer life and thoughts!
Social Media Apps
There are some I’ve purchased rather than rely on free plans only.
Hootsuite helps you listen and research and follow streams of relevance to your fields of interest. It is invaluable as a listening tool but I prefer Buffer when it comes to scheduling and automatically posting.
That said, I’ve recently paid for Meet Edgar following a free month’s trial. Meet Edgar is in the steeper, go-pro price bracket so not needed for the beginner blogger without many posts. Its best feature is that it allows you to tag posts in a library for re-posting automatically – up to 3 months later – at times you’ve programmed it to. This enables you to dust off your legacy posts with ease for new audiences. There is a free trial but no free basic plan so expect $49 / month to run it.
If you’re an Instagrammer big time, you may need to look at premium IG management tools like Iconosquare. I did once use Crowdfire to grow my IG account but as Instagram has changed the way it allows third-party apps to interface with it, several apps no longer seems as useful, so I stopped the paid-for account.
Actually, do your homework on these types of apps as you often find they over promise but under deliver, thanks to the shifting sands of those social media platforms. Many a time, Google Analytics can do a lot for free of what these apps lure you with!
After 16 years blogging, I have only just started buying premium plugins in the past year. The light clicked on and I now realise that some premiums are totally necessary to do things like building my business and brand professionally and securing my site.
The main ones I first looked at were for marketing. I use Thriveleads and Thrive Contentbuilder for landing pages, optin forms, lightboxes, content upgrade forms etc – all those touchpoints that reach out to my visitors. Leadpages and Clickfunnels are similar premium plugins and also very popular. Shop around and read up on the reviews. I paid $97 for Thriveleads for use on all my sites. I see they now offer a $19 membership a month for all their premium plugins, which is great value.
You will need premium Askimet if you do grow into a business because you’d be inundated with spam otherwise. You might need to upgrade the security plugin WordFence too, to give you that extra peace of mind. The free version is incredible in stopping potential hack attacks.
While on the topic of security, you may need a SSL (secure sockets layer) certificate at around $60 (GoDaddy pricing) to guarantee a secure connection from your customer to the server.
Email Marketing Providers
I know you’ve heard of Mailchimp, which is almost every blogger’s first port of call as an enews service provider. It’s free for up to 2,000 subscribers on your list and/or up to 12,000 emails. It serves most of us well until we wish to start automating emails perhaps as a sequence sending out an optin course, or to upsell an ecourse or webinar. Once you start automating, then you start paying.
At first it might not seem expensive (at $20 / month) but it can mount up once you start growing your blogging business. Some newcomer email platforms are stealing a march on Mailchimp by ensuring that you have way more control over your subscribers which are seen as indivuals not list fodder. Convertkit, for example, allows you to tag subscribers and create filters so you can do more than just ‘divide’ a list. So, you can tag, for example, everyone who subscribes for a certain free optin as potential customers of a new ecourse.
I won’t list all the possible email platforms but names you may have seen popping up on enews are Aweber, Infusionsoft and Convertkit – the latter costs from $29 / month for 1000 subscribers. It isn’t for the beginner, but is a service to check out if you’re business blog minded.
Virtual Assistants (VAs)
Am I alone these days in running a blog with no help? I just about cope with the blog as I love having my say (as this epic 5,000-word post shows!). But managing social media is tough 24/7 even if you focus on two channels only. Enter, the rise of the Virtual Assistant (VA) for bloggers. The person behind the scenes who keeps your routine stuff rolling along while you focus on the meat of your freelancer and blogging business.
A VA can do far more than manage your social. Their roles include post topic and keyword research, SEO on your posts, finding you opportunities to guest post, comment obo of you on blogs, write and send your enews and far more. The rates vary of course depending on what level of expertise is required. Some might wish to stick to social posting while others are accomplished copywriters and editors and can do some meaty work for your blog.
The cost? The average VA pay seems to be around $16 an hour, with rates varying from as low as $5.50 and going up to $30+ an hour depending on skills required and the nature of the job at hand.
Melyssa Griffin, an ecourse entrepreneur helping bloggers and freelancers said in her April ’16 income report that she paid VAs $1,741 in that month. That’s just over 100 hours of VA time at the median rate.
Stock Photos & Graphics
What a change from when I first started out blogging in 2004. Getting your hands on free – meaning no cost and royalty-free – stock images is easier than ever. There are so many free stock sites like Pexels, Unsplash and even Canva. On the latter, you’ll find a large and less used image bank with single images costing just $1. This is great value compared to real stock sites like iStock or Shutterstock.
How much you need to buy is up to you. You may fork out for decent less used images for key parts of your blog or website, like homepage sliders. But the average blog post can be populated with free stock most of the time. Just check you vary the sites you use so you don’t find the same image peppered all over Pinterest!
Creativemarket and Etsy have good priced stock images, both vector and photography if you wish to find a pro image that’s not overused. I have purchased social media graphic templates from Creativemarket to save me the hassle and time of creating my own. Totally worthwhile and a snip at around $15 or so for a bundle of 20 templates to use across Instagram, Pinterest, Twitter, Facebook etc.
The totally free option is take your own photos! Use that upgraded phone and DSLR. You might need to learn new photo techniques like flatlay photography and styling.
eLearning, Coaching & Memberships
I urge you to join a good dozen Facebook Groups in your niche or related to your target audience. Take a look at my round up of a Top 10 Awesome Facebook Groups for Solopreneurs and Bloggers – they are amazing resources for your own blog, ecourse dev and for simply hanging out and not feeling alone on those blog slogging days!
Some are closed groups only open to those who’ve bought a course, so they are member support and share groups. Start with the free ones – including any group attached to your chosen WordPress theme (a lot WP theme companies have ace support groups).
There are volumes of free advice on blogging online, of course, but inevitably you will find at some point you need to be taken step by step through a course with specific goals and outcomes attached. I’ve done ecourses on Instagram, eCourse creation, how to use Audacity and Camtasia, coding courses and more. To up the level of your blogging I can’t stress how important is it to keep on learning! So, your blog budget will need to factor in some self-development costs for sure. Even A-lister bloggers have coaches!
Live & Online Events / Meet ups
These are so crazy, hectic and wonderful to attend, but do of course cost and sometimes quite a packet if you don’t live near to the venue. But, factor them in you must if you’ve been blogging a year or more.
After two years of food blogging, I bit the bullet and forked out to fly to London for Europe’s only niche event in that neck of the blogosphere – Food Blogger Connect. It took some courage to hit buy when I knew it involved quite some costs – flights and lots of expensive UK train fares for starters. I luckily had accommodation for free.
But, I don’t regret the trip. The two-day event was jammed with excellent live speakers including top food stylists, authors, chefs (Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi) and photographers and provided me with the mojo my blogging sorely needed. The networking on the fringes was so helpful too and I probably picked up as many tips from counterparts as from the speakers themselves.
To blog pro, you will need to network at live events. If you’re on a tight budget look for online events. These are also excellent ways to learn. Many take place at weekends and are delivered on Google hangouts and as live webinars grouping A-listers in your field. They can deliver quite some punch in terms of valuable tips and know-how.
Advertising & Marketing
Last but far from least are your social media marketing costs. Gone are the glory days on social. Who said social media marketing was free? If you’re planning to sell any kind of info product from your blog, then Facebook ads are likely to be on your radar. There are Twitter and Instagram ads too so just pick a budget and social channel that best reaches your target audience. I won’t go into the pros, cons and wherefores of each channel here, but suffice to say, you will find advocates for each and plenty of online (sometimes paid-for) help in learning how to set up and market on them. Hopefully effectively.
Google Adwords is more for corporates than we solopreneur bloggers unless you’re hitting the big time blogging. Instagram shout-outs are worth looking into though as around $30 upwards can buy you some shares and traffic. I’ve not used it, but it might work for some. Of course, Fiverr has lots of folk offering to help! I prefer to do my own contacting and connecting.
Social media ads can be a black hole so do learn lots and do your homework before you take the plunge.
In Conclusion: What does it Cost to Start a Blog?
Did I answer the $1m question? Yes and no! Your costs to start a blog can be skeletal. And they can be scary! The costs to continue to grow your blog can be as long as that perennial piece of string. Which is why I advise strategizing your goals before you start, and readjusting them every six months setting defined quarterly actions and outcomes.
With a plan in place, you will know what to budget for, whether you need to just upgrade to a premium plugin, buy Facebook ads or purchase tools like recording software. Plan and budget and set costs against your blog income goals.
Here is my ballpark on what it costs to start a blog. Head to my Blog Budget Planner for more and for annual running costs. For fun, see which blogger stage you’re at and planning to get to on my Richter scale of Coffee Types:
Blog Costs Ballpark*
- Basic Set-Up
Going Pro Blog
- Basic + Frills
Pro Biz Blog
- Basic + Even more frills
These ballpark figures represent what I feel is the barebones minimum cost for each blogging level. Once you get past the costs for basic hosting, theme, email and some design, costs are almost finger in the wind estimates. Of course, for ease of comparison, I assume your costs to get to a specific level in a year. Once you’ve bought your gear, you don’t have that outlay the next year of course. So, then you just have running costs, learning, events, and any upgrades and marketing to factor in.
Now see how your blog compares!
Access and fill in your own comprehensive [thrive_2step id=’1046′]Blog Budget Planner here[/thrive_2step].