As a freelance web developer or designer (or any online business owner really), you need to be consistently creating content on your blog. Why?
Blog content is how you get your name out there and get the attention of potential clients. It’s how you show those potential clients you know what you’re doing. And, it’s how you get potential clients to trust you enough in advance to hire you.
Every single one of my clients has come as a result of the content I produce on my blog. In fact, my entire business is driven by my blog content. Without it, I’d have nothing.
But, let’s assume you know that (or at least are now convinced of it)… how do you set your blog up? Well, I’m going to show you how to start your blog in 20 minutes or less in this post.
Step #1: Let’s Start With The Basics
You’ll need to decide on a domain name if you don’t already have one. I strongly recommend using some variation of your name unless you already have a clearly established brand name.
Especially, if you’re starting from scratch. That’s because your approach, the kind of content you create, etc will likely shift as you blog more.
If you lock yourself into a set brand name, those shifts can cause the domain name to not make sense anymore and it puts you in a tough spot.
For example, I used to have the domain: LearnPHP.co. Pretty great name. But, it stopped making sense as I moved into teaching other languages, teaching freelancing and more general online business info.
I was forced to “re-brand” my work and all the work I’d done building up that brand and domain was mostly lost.
If you put it all under your name (e.g. johnmorrisonline.com) you can shift what you’re doing without worrying about undermining your brand.
Also, as a freelancer it’s almost always (99.999999%) better to brand you and your name than trying to build a brand from scratch.
People buy from people… and it’ll be much easier to market you then some brand name you make up.
Of course, if you already have your domain that’s no problem. I’ll show you how to use it. But, it is easier and cheaper if you don’t have one yet.
Step #2: Get a Web Host
Once you’ve decided what your domain name is going to be (or you already have one) you’ll need to get a web host. This is where your web site “lives” on the internet.
Specifically, it’s a computer you rent that will store your blog’s files in a way where they can be accessed by everyone on the internet.
Technically, you could use your own computer to host your files, set up a static IP address with your ISP and serve them from your hardware.
But, you’ll almost assuredly pay much more, it’ll be much less reliable, and you’ll have no help or support if something goes wrong.
Of course, there are probably thousands of companies out there that do this but I recommend Bluehost. Here’s why:
- Reason #1: Trust. I use WordPress on almost every site I build. And, WordPress is used by 76.5 million blogs. Interestingly, WordPress only recommends 3 web hosts and Bluehost is it’s top recommendation. If the world’s largest CMS trusts Bluehost, there’s likely a reason why.
- Reason #2: Reliability. Bluehost’s uptime average is 99.9%. And, that’s not their number. It’s a third-party that’s been tracking them since 2005. So, you don’t have to worry about your site going down for any significant period of time.
- Reason #3: Support. Bluehost offers 24/7 support via phone, email or chat. All their support staff is based in the U.S. So, if you have any sort of issue or question, you can get ahold of someone any time of day and get it resolved.
- Reason #4: Affordability. You can start anywhere from 3.49 to 5.99 per month based on the plan you choose. That’s about as affordable as you’re going to find.
- Reason #5: Limitless. Bluehost offers unlimited bandwidth, unlimited disk space, unlimited domains and unlimited email accounts. So, there’s plenty of room for you to grow without spending a bunch of extra money.
As a matter of fact, I like Bluehost so much that I became an affiliate. And, I am even offering to help publicize your blog to my audience if you join Bluehost through my affiliate link. You can read the details of that here.
Of course, most web hosts have similar programs so that’s not why I recommend them. I find they’re the best fit for the majority of website owners out there.
All right, so assuming you’re ready to get rocking with Bluehost here’s how to get your account set up and your blog installed and running.
First, you’ll want to head over the the Bluehost homepage and click on the “Get Started Now” button:
Here, you’ll see the various plans Bluehost offers. I recommend the Plus Plan because it’s very affordable and boasts all the unlimited good-ness I mentioned earlier. Just hit the “Select” button on the plan you want:
Now, here’s where you need to specify if you have a domain already or not. If you don’t, simply enter your desired domain name in the “New Domain” box. If you do have a domain, then simply enter it in the “Transfer Domain” box.
You’ll notice the “note” in the “Transfer Domain” box says Bluehost will provide you with instructions on transferring your domain. This is a small extra step you’ll need to take if you already have a domain. But, it’s really simple and Bluehost will walk you through it:
Next, you’ll need to enter your contact information. Pretty standard stuff here:
Then, you’ll be offered add-ons for your hosting package. Again, pretty standard offerings. SiteLock and Site Backup are two I would consider heavily.
SiteLock essentially makes sure nobody can steal your domain (I’ve had it happen) and Site Backup helps you backup and restore your site if something breaks.
I strongly recommend a service like this. If not here through Bluehost, then somewhere.
The others aren’t something I’d use… unless you have some reason you need the privacy protection. But, most people don’t and you probably already know if you do.
Once you’ve selected any add-ons, enter your billing information and continue on:
At this point, Bluehost has a few additional offers they’ll walk you through. Like additional domain names and such.
Generally, I don’t find that kind of thing necessary but if you wanted to snatch up all the variations of your domain name, you could. I never do. But that’s me.
Once you’re done with the payment process, you’ll see a Welcome screen like this:
Click on the “Create Your Password” button and you’ll see a page where you can set your password, like this:
Please, please, please use the Password Generator here and do NOT use a password that you’ve used anywhere else or that’s “easy to remember”. Speaking from experience… if you do you will get hacked at some point.
Once done setting your password, hit “Create” and you’ll be taken to the Bluehost login where you can login with your new credentials:
Once logged in, you’ll see a welcome pop-up. Just go ahead and hit the “I Can Do It” button:
All right, now here’s where we got to the nitty-gritty. You should now see your cPanel dashboard which looks like this:
What you want is the WordPress icon. Click that and we’ll install WordPress for your blogging platform. You’ll now see a page like this:
Click the “Start” button so we can start installing WordPress. It’ll first ask you what domain you’d like to install it on:
Of course, you’ll select the domain you created (or transferred) when you created your account. You’ll then see an installing screen. Simply wait for this to finish:
Once finished installing, you’ll be asked to enter some basic info including your desired admin username and password.
Do NOT make your admin username “admin”. Usually your first and last name are fine or your email address.
Also, again (broken record) use a unique password that is not easy to remember. Then, hit “Install Now”:
Once installed, you’ll see a completion screen like this:
Now, check your email because you’ll receive a welcome email with all your relevant WordPress login info including where you need to login at. Click the URL in the email and bookmark it. You’ll be going here a lot:
That URL will take you to the WordPress login screen where you can login in with your WordPress credentials (in the email):
Once logged in, you’ll be taken to the WordPress dashboard page which is now your home for creating our blog content!
Now, that’s the 15-minute setup and install. But, let me go a bit further and show you how to get rolling with your blog.
Step #3: Set Up WordPress
Here’s a very quick run-down of the things you need to know to get going with WordPress:
- Posts. Posts are exactly what the name implies. These are your blog posts that contain your content. These are the main thing you’ll be posting. With WordPress, you simply create a new post for each piece of content and it handles all the display stuff for you.
- Categories. Again, self-explanatory. You can create categories to help organize your content. For example, on my blog I have a “PHP” category and any posts I create related to PHP I put in that category and WordPress displays them accordingly.
- Pages. Pages sometimes confuse people because they look an awful lot like posts. The main difference is that pages will NOT show up in your regular post listings. So, for example your homepage that lists all your posts will NOT show pages. Pages also don’t get categorized. Pages are meant for “administration” type stuff like your “Contact” page or a “Support” page.
- Themes. Themes control the look and feel of your site. They are what control how your content is displayed. Different themes will have different colors, layouts, options and so on. It’s worth taking some time and browsing the free themes available and finding one you like.
- Plugins. Plugins add functionality to your site. For example, a plugin like Contact Form 7 will let you add contact forms to your site. Or a plugin like WishList Member will help turn your blog into a membership site. Just don’t overdo it. Generally speaking, more plugins means more overhead. You want to keep your site lean and fast.
So, with that basic understanding let’s run through setting up WordPress so you can start blogging.
Let’s start with the general settings. On the left side of the WordPress Dashboard, click on the “Settings” tab. This will take you to the General Settings page:
Set your site title, site tagline, timezone, date format and time format. These are used in various places on both the front and back end of WordPress.
Next, click on the Settings > Permalinks tab:
99.9999999999% of the time you’ll select the “Post Name” option. The only time you won’t is if you know something I don’t and one of the other options is somehow better. But, you’ll already know that and you’re smarter than me so have at it.
Next, things get a bit tricky but don’t worry… I’ll walk you through it. WordPress is in the middle of this funny transition right now where theme options can potentially exist in three places.
Theme options are the settings each theme has that let you customize the look and feel of your site. Every theme has different options. Some more. Some less.
These options can show up in three places. The first (old) place is under Appearance > Theme Options. The second (old) is under its own menu (e.g. Canvas). The third (new) is under Appearance > Customize.
In the future, theme options should be housed under Appearance > Customize so check there first. If you don’t find much then look for the other two places.
That said… once you find where the options are there’s a few basic options most themes should let you customize.
The first is your logo. On my theme, it looks like this:
This will differ a bit based on your theme, but most should have a way for you to upload your logo. Do that. If you don’t have one… try to get one fairly soon but don’t worry because WordPress will simply display your Site Title and Tagline.
Of course, for your theme you can look through the different theme options available and play around a bit to find what you like.
Next up is your menus. This is the menu bar that displays across the top of your site. You can specify what links appear there.
To do this, we’ll need to create a couple pages to display in our menu. So, go to Pages > Add New:
For now, we’ll create two pages: About and Contact. You can simply just enter the title for each page and save them. You can come back and edit them later. We just need them created so we can add them to your menu.
Once those two pages are created, head over to Appearance > Menus:
Here, there’s a few things to look at. First, you have Menus and you have Theme Locations. On this page, you’re essentially accomplishing two things:
- Creating menus with your desired menu items
- Associating menus to theme locations
So, each theme will have different “locations” where you can add menus. Most will have a menu bar at the top which is usually the Primary Navigation Menu. But, there could be many others.
You can create multiple menus and associate different menus with different locations. So for example, you could have one menu with one set of items at the top of your blog and another menu with a different set of items in your footer.
This screen does all that.
For now, we’re worried about the Primary theme location.
Create a new menu and name it Primary.
Then, on the left side under “Pages” check the boxes next to “Home”, “About” and “Contact” (the two pages we just created) and select “Add to Menu”.
Then, at the bottom select the “Primary Navigation Menu” checkbox under the “Theme Locations” section.
Then, hit “Save Menu”. This will add those items to your menu and associate that menu with the primary theme location.
If you go to the front end of your site, you should now see those menu items at the top of your blog.
Now, we can move onto widgets. Go to Appearance > Widgets. This is where you can add items to the sidebar of your blog.
Again, different themes will have different Sidebars where you can add widgets. However, most will have a Primary or Default sidebar.
For now, simply drag the Recent Posts and the Categories widget from the left side of the screen over to the Primary Sidebar and drop them there.
This will add these widgets to your sidebar.
Finally, click the home icon on the top left of WordPress. This will take you to the front end of your site so you can see how it looks. You should now have set up site with your menu, widgets, logo and all the basic stuff set up:
To get back to the “back end” of WordPress you can click the “Dashboard” link in the top menu bar:
So, that does it for the initial setup. From here you can start creating content and getting familiar with WordPress. Of course, you might be wondering what now. Here’s a few next steps you can take:
- Don’t forget to edit your About and Contact pages
- Delete the “Hello World” post WordPress comes with
- Create and publish your first post
- Browse through some themes at Appearance > Themes
- Browse the Plugin Repository at Plugins > Add New
If you know someone who would benefit from this post, I’d really appreciate it if you’d share it with them.