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How to blog on a (very small) budget (Part 1)

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blog-on-a-budgetIt seems that “saving money” is the gossip subject of recent times. All over the world, the news tells us of recession, companies going into administration and massive cuts in jobs. Most of us are tightening the belt and keeping a close eye on our wallets, saving money and reducing spending wherever possible. And a great deal more people it seems are looking to the internet in the hope of earning an extra income.

While there are literally hundreds of sites and blogs dedicated to the subject of making money online, it seems there very few which explain how to save money online. Established bloggers and webmasters may well understand the concept of sites draining our pockets while new webpreneurs may feel overwhelmed by just how much money can be spent on creating, hosting and marketing a new venture.

In this short series of articles, I’ll explain how I have learned to build a successful blog on a very small, meager budget in the hope that my advices will be of benefit to you too! In this first installment, we’ll look at in detail at cheap (or free) web hosting and how to get the best price for your chosen domain name.

Overview

I first began blogging when I was a student at university. Back then I was a single parent and money was very tight, so when you bear in mind that my motivation was purely personal back then, I’m sure you’ll understand how saving money online was an important aspect of my ventures!

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The blogs I built back then did not stand the test of time, though the lessons I learned have served me well in my current projects and I can honestly say I’ve saved hundreds of dollars from having blogged to a budget from the start! My main site, Blogger Buster has grown to become one of the most popular niche meta-blogs on the net. I have barely any outgoing expenses from my site and have not spend a dime in advertising ehich effectively ensures any earnings are purely my own.

Provided you are able to put a lot of tie and effort into your blogging ventures, you should be able to develop your own successful and professional blog by spending only a few dollars a year, not the hundreds accumulated over the months from hosting, advertising and marketing which you could spend to achieve similar results.

Perhaps not all of my ideas will be appropriate for your own needs, especially if you have already established your site. Instead, you should take the advice most suitable for your own requirements, which I hope will help you save money over the long term.

Choosing a blog host

When you want to save money, choosing a blog host is probably the most important aspect of building a successful blog. For many bloggers, the costs of monthly or yearly hosting is something which must be built into our budgets. So first let me explain my preferred solution: one which is (almost) entirely free!

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Blogger.com

My preferred solution is to use Blogger.com for blog hosting. This is for two major reasons

  1. It is completely FREE
  2. It’s been the most reliable blog host I’ve ever encountered!

When using Blogger to host your blog, you will discover no restrictions on the amount of content (posts and images) you can host, and no restrictions on bandwidth whatsoever. Hosting with Blogger is free as in FREE. You will never be charged for hosting, your posts are safe and always available to visitors. The only cost involved with hosting your blog on Blogger is if you decide to use a custom domain for your site. In this case, you can purchase your domain for only $10 a year (and often far less as I’ll explain later).

There is far more which can be achieved when using Blogger than you may first think. While many believe that Blogger is incapable of producing a professional styled template, many experienced Blogger users have discovered new and exciting ways to customize their template to produce even magazine style layouts.

The key to success with Blogger relies on time, effort and patience. If you are prepared to work hard to create your perfect design, you can certainly host a professional and stylish blog for free with this host. On the other hand, of you prefer the functionality of plugins, a wider variety of “ready-made” templates and easier methods of customization, then you may find hosting WordPress, Joomla or Expression Engine on a reliable budget host to be a preferred solution for you.

Purchasing hosting for your “self-hosted” blog

If you choose not to use Blogger then you will need to find a reliable but cheap hosting provider with whom to host your venture.

I’ve found the best way to find cheap and reliable hosting is to ask around. Visit forums, such as Web Hosting Talk, the Blogging Tips forums and Web Hosting Advice to learn about which hosts are recommended and how much you can expect to pay each month.

Often you will find that the “cheapest” and most popular web hosts are not so reliable or reasonable as they seem. I’ve personally used several “budget” hosts whose service has proved extremely unreliable. Budget hosts offer “shared” hosting solutions which can often see hundreds of sites hosted on a single server. While your contract may offer a certain amount of web space and bandwidth, you could often find your site inaccessible at busy times as the servers are overwhelmed by requests from the other sites hosted upon it.

Many webmasters find that small local hosting companies offer a much more reliable service. Though the cost of their basic hosting packages may be higher than that of large international companies, you will often find a much friendlier customer services department which is more than willing to offer help, resolve issues and offer upgrades at a reasonable price when needed.

You should also search online for any discounts or coupon codes offered by your choice of hosting company. Dreamhost for example offer a fabulous affiliate scheme which enables affiliates to offer hosting at up to 50% off the regular price (and joining their affiliate scheme could also help you earn money to contribute towards this lessened cost of hosting your site!). Simply Google the name of any hosting companies you are interested in to see if any discounts or additional services may be available and be sure to use these when purchasing your package!

Find cheaper hosting when you already have an established blog

If you have already established a blog, you may still be able to save money in the long term by changing your blog host or asking your existing host for a discount (just make sure you are not bound to a length of time by your contract!).

Search around for competitive monthly prices and compare your existing hosting with what else is on offer. Hosting providers who offer a more personal approach could be persuaded to reduce their hosting costs if you email or telephone to explain why you are considering leaving; ensure you have details of competitive hosting plans to hand to strengthen your case. While this approach may not be as effective as bartering for goods in a shop face to face, it’s certainly worth a try and if successful this could save you a lot of money each year.

It is also possible to migrate your existing blog from WordPress to Blogger using BlogSync via Zeaster’s site. This tool is not yet as reliable as importing from Blogger to WordPress, though we can hope soon Blogger will improve the new Export/Import feature to accommodate blogs from other hosts and platforms.

Cheap Domains

domain-namesWhether you choose to host your blog on Blogger or purchase a hosting account for your blog platform, you’ll likely need your own domain name.

Many hosting packages offer a free domain name as part of a package deal, but if this isn’t the case you should be able to purchase a domain name for a maximum of $10 a year (and often far less!).

By far the cheapest domain name provider I know of is GoDaddy. The default price for dot.com domain names is $9.99 per year which surprisingly includes some free basic hosting and one domain based email address in the bargain. But if you search online for GoDaddy discount codes, you may even be able to purchase a domain for as little as $1.99!

Dot.info domains can be purchased for very low fees (often $0.99) though you should be aware that this price reflects the poor reputation of dot.info domains in general (many spam sites use this extension, and it is often inferred that sites on these domains rank less in search engine results because if this reputation).

You may also get a reduction in the cost of your domain name if you secure the domain for two or more years, rather than just the one.

If you choose a location based domain (eg: dot.co.uk or dot.co.nz for example) you may find it more economical to purchase a domain from a domain reseller based in your home country. However, do shop around and use a currency converter to ensure you get the best proce for your domain, especially if you plan on purchasing the domain for several years instead of just the one!

Here are a few more things to consider when purchasing your domain name to ensure you buy a true bargain rather than an unusable domain:

  • Ensure that you can modify the DNS settings without further charge. Some domain sellers charge (a lot) extra for the ability to alter DNS settings and you would need to modify these settings if you plan on associating your domain name with a different hosting provider.
  • Make sure that your domain is set to automatically renew. Otherwise if you forget to renew on the date your purchased domain registration ends, someone else could purchase your domain name (including the associated PageRank and “brand identity”) right under your nose!
  • Be sure to set up and make use of any freebies offered when you purchase a domain name. Many companies offer some free hosting, an email address or other software which could be useful to you as a blogger.

Conclusions

Web hosting and domain names can be the two greatest expenses of a successful blog. In this article I’ve offered advice based on my own experiences of how you could save money by finding cheap (or free) hosting for your blog and being savvy when it comes to purchasing your domain names.

In the next part of this series, I’ll expand upon these notions and offer some advice regarding image, script and application hosting which can help reduce bandwidth and hosting charges and even eradicate these altogether!

I hope you have enjoyed reading this series so far. Please feel free to add your comments and your own suggestions by leaving your message below.

Image credits

Empty wallet byJeff Keen; Thrifty buttons by Normanack; Hosting servers by Johnnie W@lker;  Domain names by
A. www.viajar24h.com. All via Flickr Creative Commons.

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Amanda is a freelance blogger and web/blog designer. She writes about Blogger at www.BloggerBuster.com and maintains several other blogs on various subjects.

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4 Blogging Lessons Learned in Bali

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I have spent over a year collectively on the Island of the Gods.

Bali is a special place.

This popular island in Indonesia teaches you 4 clear blogging success lessons too.

Let’s dive in guys.

1: Expect the Unexpected

During a house sit at a huge villa in Jimbaran I:

  • faced down and helped slay a spitting cobra
  • dealt with a chicken killing dog
  • lost 2 of the pets (1 to cancer and 1 to likely thievery)

This list could go on forever. From this sit alone.

Bali is a fun, fascinating and sometimes wild place. Like most developing places; you never know what waits around the corner.

I am writing this guest post because the security certificate expired on my blog. I had no idea this would happen right now. Completely unexpected. But being a blogger for 10 years I know to expect the unexpected.

When my developer wakes up he addresses it and we move forward. Until then I am at peace with my blog being down. No worries. Part of the blogging game.

Expect the unexpected with your blog guys. It will happen.

2: Learn to Celebrate Everything

Balinese are an appreciative people who celebrate everything.

Staff at the villa in Jimbaran regularly took off for ceremonies, celebrating everything from cell phones, to papayas, to motorbikes.

Even cremation ceremonies are lavish, eye-popping celebrations of life and death.

Appreciate it all with your blog. Wins, losses, and all in between. Celebrating it all makes you appreciative of the internet lifestyle.

I celebrated big wins and tough losses because all these experiences made me I am the blogger I am today.

3: Step Away from the Herd to Be Heard and Seen

Kuta is a tourist trap. Ubud town center can be a bit too much.

But the rice fields well outside of Ubud and the Bukit region of the island are authentic, colorful, peaceful gems.

My wife Kelli and I stand out from many other bloggers because we tend to stay in more remote areas of the island. Even in the popular fishing village of Jimbaran we did a house sit in off the grid farm country and rented a place up in the hills, away from the heavily touristed bay. Our experiences are authentic; not many tourists in Kuta facing down spitting cobras.

Blog in your voice. Tell your story. Be genuine. Blog from the heart.

Step away from the blogging herd. All success lies well away from the herd of bloggers in your niche who tend to follow each other like blogging sheeple, blogging in 3rd person voice and never sharing authentic experiences.

4: The Best Experiences Happen Outside of Your Comfort Zone

We rented a villa in the rice fields outside of Ubud once.

We had to ride a motorbike 5 minutes into the rice fields to reach the villa.

Save 1 other human living on the other side of the compound no people existed for miles around.

The experience was amazing. Once in a lifetime deal. But we had to get used to snakes slithering inside of the house, using an open air bathroom as huge fruit bats flew over your head at 2 AM and roaches, mosquitoes and other insects regularly shacking up inside of the crib.

I would never trade in this amazingly fun, freeing and brilliant experience but of course I felt terrified at times. Definitely pushed me outside of my comfort zone.

A bit before 10 PM on a Wednesday night I’d be comfortable in bed. But since my site is down for a bit now I nudge myself outside of my comfort zone to write this blog post. All part and parcel with being a full time blogger who renders generous service for his readers.

All of my biggest blogging wins occurred because I went the extra mile; even if doing so felt highly uncomfortable.

Get comfortable with being uncomfortable. Your greatest blogging success occurs well outside of your comfort zone.

What blogging lessons have you learned recently?

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Top 5 Most Competitive Niches for Bloggers

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Finding the perfect niche is like a unicorn for many bloggers. The right mix of passion and competitiveness can be found in the most surprising places and isn’t always clear until you’re already well on your way. But the good news is that the harder you look, the closer you get — which is a cliche, but surprisingly true in this case. So before you give up on your dream of creating content about knitting dog pajamas or anthropomorphized helicopters, start by having a look at what niches are the most competitive at the moment.

Most blogs earn their money through affiliation. The good thing about affiliation is that it doesn’t require you to focus on one particular brand, unlike sponsorships. You’re free to place links in your content or not. And to write whatever you like about the brand in question. Money is earned through reader engagement, not through passive exposure.

Travel

Of course, the most coveted and stereotypical blogging dream niche is travel. Who would turn down reviewing hotels in the Caribbean or exciting jungle safaris? Only a few bloggers get to do this, however, but there are still a lot of sub-niches that are easy to get into and earn well in. Local guides and localized content is a great way to find perfect fits for valuable affiliation links and you can even make direct content advertising if you ask. The future is definitely localized.

Gambling

Making content about gambling is often as much about search engine optimization as affiliation links. This has made reviews and guides extremely competitive, but creating content only for SEO purposes can be a little monotonous. More localized information in a specific niche like mobile gambling makes mobile-casino.ca a perfect example of how to stay competitive without losing quality.

Health & Fitness

For ethically minded bloggers, this niche can be a minefield. Health and fitness bloggers can benefit from having a blog of their own in many ways — such as keeping themselves healthy and fit, while also inspiring others in the process. This niche market is also filled with misinformation, dangerous recommendations and straight up lies. Are you the one to finally inform readers about the one true way to stay healthy or get fit? Joking aside, whether you’re a zealot or a skeptic, there are affiliation networks for you. Just include a source or two, please.

Lifestyle

Including this niche might be cheating. It can cover so much — but that doesn’t mean that your blog should. Specialised content that you’re both passionate and informed about can be very valuable for direct ads. Everyone has some kind of lifestyle niche they’re focused on, whether it be simple admin improvement or urban hiking. Find out if readers are interested in the topic, either directly or related, before you go all in, though.

Blogging

With how competitive blogging is, blogs that explain how to succeed are more popular than ever. You’re reading one right now and you could write your own very easily. You don’t have to be the best or the most insightful to write an inspiring blog about blogging — it’s more useful than you think to write down what works and what doesn’t in your own humble experience. You can be an expert in learning.

Have you noticed any commonalities yet? If you look hard enough in any niche, you’ll learn enough to create content with a fresh and exciting take. And that’s the current trend for being competitive: Being both subjective and informed; localized and aware of international trends.

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Do You Really Know Your Readers?

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See the featured image up top guys?

I know readers dig my eBook. Said readers dig my paperback too.

Enter this featured image. I use similar images frequently on Blogging From Paradise. Smart way to appeal to my audience.

But during lean years I did not know my readers because I:

  • did not listen to my readers
  • did not ask my readers questions
  • did not spot my reader’s pain points
  • did not read my reader’s comments carefully
  • did not spot patterns among my readers

Eventually I woke up. Easy to see this now. But back in the day I had a hellish time owning the fact that I did not know my readers.

Reader Red Flags

You do not know your readers if:

  • traffic stalls or disappears
  • blogging profits stall or disappear
  • engagement dies on your blog
  • nobody seems to reach out to you on social media

These are a few red flags guys. Own the flags. Honestly. Owning your mistakes is one quick way to turn things around, to free yourself of this common blogging error.

Do You Know Your Readers?

I mean; do you really know your blog readers? Be genuine before you answer the question.

I know my readers incredibly well now because every blog post, video or podcast I create meets their needs. No guess work, no writing and publishing because I want to write and publish a post and certainly no off topic posting here, on Blogging From Paradise or any place where I guest post.

The other day one of my blogging buddies endorsed my paperback with a YouTube review. In addition to feeling grateful I tuned into one other idea; his endorsement, emails from other book customers and smiling selfies from other book customers alerted me to the fact that my readers are beginning to buy my paperback too, in addition to my eBook. I published a post linking to my paperback and explaining how my book solves pressing blogging problems after spotting this pattern.

I know my readers better and better each passing day because I listen to my readers more closely each passing day. As everything expands with my blogging campaign I find it easier and easier to help folks, to come up with blog post ideas and to know my content hits the mark because blogging with my readers in mind has been the simplest way to connect with these folks.

Your blog is for you and your readers. Never forget this fact. Never forget that if you write just for yourself you are publishing a cyber diary. No need for anyone to read a blog if the blog does not solve their problems.

Knowing your readers genuinely requires you to be:

  • compassionate
  • empathetic
  • heart-centered
  • loving
  • caring
  • observant
  • present

Listen to the latest podcast interview I did with Alonzo Pichardo on his Sound Cloud channel:

He has invited me to chat on his highly popular channel – with over 300,000 listens between only 8 episodes.

Alonzo is a master at spotting the most pressing issues of his audience. My readers also suffer from problems related to these topics. Naturally, as he shares and builds his impressive tribe and as I build my tribe, we have well over a quarter of a million listens between only 8 podcast episodes.

If you get to really know your readers and patiently hit the mark with your content, over years, 10 listens becomes 100 listens, then 100 becomes 1000, then 1000 becomes 10,000 listens, then 10,000 becomes 100,000 listens, and upward from there.

Develop an intimate bond with your readers guys. Poll them. Email them, asking how you can help them.

Much of your blogging success rests on knowing clearly what your reader wants so you can serve it up to them.

Listen. Ask. Observe.

Prosper.

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