Photo Credits: spcummings
As social media grow in popularity, more small business owners are getting interested in blogging. Once they decide to have a blog the next question is: what tools to use, and how much do they cost?
The cost of operating a blog is virtually negligible. Around $100/year will buy you access to a self publishing platform with all the tools to instantly reach people all over the world. From a cost-benefit perspective, blogging is really a no-brainer.
Here’s a breakdown of the tools I’m using and how much they cost:
Domain Name ($9/year):
I used Godaddy (aff) to register shoestringbranding.com and all my other domains. Godaddy has excellent prices and a user-friendly interface. Make sure you check these tips on how to chose the best domain name before you proceed.
With pencil and paper at hand, I quickly drafted a manual version of how I wanted my logo to look, and sent it to Gotlogos to clean up and convert into a small jpg file. Since I’m not a graphic artist my logo is very simple, but it gets the job done and it’s even been nominated for awards.
I’m not recommending that you skimp on your logo. In fact, a good logo is probably the best investment you can make. In any case, a professionally designed logo will rarely cost you more than a few hundred dollars (Guy Kawasaki reports that he spent just $399 for the logo of Truemors).
Hosting Package ($7.95/month):
I set up ShoestringBranding as an add on domain in a hosting account that I already had, so technically my incremental hosting costs were $0. My existing account is a basic hosting package with Midphase for which I pay $7.95/month.
A basic package will give you more space and bandwidth that you’re going to need in a long time (you can always upgrade later if your blog hits the big time).
Blogging Software (Free):
I use WordPress for its features, its ease of customization, and because it has been endorsed by Google engineers as a search-engine-friendly blogging platform. It is also free, and usually comes included in most hosting packages.
Activating WordPress is very easy (your hosting company can give you instructions), or you can read this tutorial.
Note: don’t confuse WordPress.org (an open source free blogging software that you can customize and is available with most hosting packages) with WordPress.com (a free hosted blogging platform with very limited customization options). Learn more about the differences between wordpress.org and wordpress.com .
Blog Theme (Free):
There are hundreds of themes that have been developed especially for WordPress, and that you can freely use. I went to the WordPress Theme Site and picked the two-column Cutline theme, by Chris Pearson .
I chose this theme because I wanted a mostly white, minimalist template that was easy to manipulate and customize (it is easier to customize a white, minimalist template than a theme that uses more colors and textures).
Also, I chose the two-column over the three-column layout. Some people prefer three columns (two sidebars) because it gives them more space to put ads and widgets. I, however, prefer the two column layout (one sidebar) because it offers less distractions and helps readers focus on the content (sometimes more is not necessarily better).
I then customized the theme’s style sheets to achieve the look and feel I wanted. All I really did was to change the font type, modify the header, and change the link colors.
Since I know some HTML, I was able to do the changes myself. However, if you are not that technically inclined, you can always get some affordable help in Craigslist to make the changes for you.
RSS Feed Service (Free):
I use Feedburner, an RSS tool that lets you distribute your content through many different feed readers. Feedburner also gives you the option to put a form on your blog to allow your visitors to subscribe by email.
With Feedburner you can also keep track of your subscriber numbers and learn some basic statistics about your visitors.
Bookmarking Buttons (Free):
It is recommended to put social bookmarking icons at the end of your entries so that your readers can easily bookmark your posts. I chose three bookmarking services: Del.icio.us, Digg and Stumbleupon and placed links to each of them at the end of my posts.
You can also use the comprehensive bookmarking icon offered by Addthis.com. It looks very good and lets you bookmark your post in almost every bookmarking site available.
Stats Package (Free):
I use Google Analytics, a great free tool from Google that tells you how many visitors are coming to your site, where are they coming from, what keywords are they using to find your pages in the search engines, etc.
Google Analytics is very easy to install and is a must if you want to understand your blog’s traffic patterns. (I installed the Google Analytics code in the footer.php page).
Search Engine (Free)
I use Google Custom Search to give my visitors the option to search my site (see search box at the top of the sidebar, to your right).
After you sign up, you’ll be given two snippets of HTML: one of them to place where you want your search box to be, and the other one to put in the page where you want the search results to appear (this excellent Google Custom Search tutorial will show you how to do it).
If you have a Google Adsense account you can tie it to your Google Custom Search account and Google will pay you every time somebody clicks on the sponsored links in your search results page.
Photographs and images significantly increase the credibility of your blog, enhancing your posts and making them easier to read. I use Flickr images for all my posts. Here’s how to find Flickr pictures that you can use legally on your blog .
There is also a good royalty-free image site called istockphoto.com where you can buy the rights to use a picture on your blog for as low as $1.00.
That’s all there is to it. In summary, I have just spent $25 for a logo and $9/year for a domain name. In addition to this, you will need around $95.40/year for a basic package. Any way you look at it, publishing a blog is a bargain.
Aside from the cost of the tools you need to get your blog up and running, your biggest expense will be the time you invest in researching and writing posts . However, if you are like me, you will heavily discount the value of that time because you’ll be doing something you enjoy.
What other tools are you using? What advice can you give bloggers that are just starting out? We would love to hear your tips and suggestions.