Initially, starting your own self-hosted blog can feel like a big investment in and of its own.
It can feel like everywhere you turn, there’s something to buy and someone trying to sell you something. And even if your end game may be to build an empire – you’re still not quite sure whether or not you should throw a bunch of money towards building your blog.
Yes – you do have to spend money in order to make money. But at the same time, you shouldn’t throw all your money at something…if you just don’t have it.
So here are our favorite free and low-cost tools we use to manage and grow our blog.
We make small commissions from affiliate links
to keep our blog running. To learn more, click here.
Go Self-Hosted from Day 1
If you want to take your blog from play-thing to pay-thing, you should invest in your own self-hosted blog. The upfront cost can feel daunting, but investing in a self-hosted WordPress.org blog makes it easier to build and customize a professional blog.
Related Reading: WordPress.com vs WordPress.org
When you own your own space on the internet, you can do anything with it. Plus, companies will take you seriously as you start approaching them for partnerships.
The startup costs of our first blog included:
- hosting & domain from Siteground ($121.75 for 2 years with 60% off hosting)
- Olivia theme by Cityhousedesign ($29)
- G+ Suite for Business ($5/month)
But here’s the big question: how can you make money from your blog after making those investments? We’re diving into the free, and low-cost, tools we use to grow our blog.
Asana has been a total game changer.
It’s basically a digital project calendar. We use it to manage our blog’s content and email schedule for our blog and client tasks.
- It’s free.
- The calendar is color-coded.
- It’s SO SIMPLE to use and edit.
- You can create teams, projects, and calendars with other bloggers (making collaboration + project management so much easier).
- Oh, did we mention it’s free?
We totally got nerd-level excited about this.
Not only have we started using it to balance the post schedules for Reroute Lifestyle and my lifestyle blog, but we’re also using it to track our collaborations with other bloggers, emails we send out (so maybe we’ll start being consistent about it), and OUR TRAVEL PLANS!
We primarily use Asana for its calendar feature. To do this, we:
- Created a project (we named ours “Master Schedule”).
- Opened the calendar feature.
- Selected “show weekends.”
- From there, simply click on the date where you want to add a task.
This is how we organize our calendar:
- Light Green: Posts published on Reroute Lifestyle
- Purple: Collaboration with Other Bloggers (interviews, guest posts, etc.)
- Teal: Emails to our Mailing List
- Blue: Posts in our Facebook Group
- Light Purple: Products, launches, sales
- Orange: Client Work
- Pink: Posts published on my lifestyle blog.
If we need to add notes about a certain task, we click on it and type in comments.
You can also add “sub-tasks” under each one which adds to your to-do list. Asana is highly customizable and ridiculously simple to use for content (and project) planning.
A love of writing brings bloggers together when it comes to perfecting their craft.
But we can’t all be perfect, all the time.
Luckily, there are a ton of free tools that look at your writing from another perspective (well, the perspective of a computer).
- Grammarly is a free grammar and spelling proofreader you can install in your browser and your computer. It’s a very detailed app that suggests when a sentence could be shortened, or if a word doesn’t totally make sense in a sentence. It also lets you know when you write passively. Use Grammarly to ensure concise writing so you can build authority with your readers.
- Hemingway Editor is similar to Grammarly. When you paste your writing into the browser, Hemingway Editor lets you know when you write passively, when a phrase has a simpler alternative, and when sentences are hard to read. Your audience will appreciate the succinct writing if you use this editor.
- CoSchedule Headline Analyzer helps you analyze your blog’s headlines. Say goodbye to drab and blasé headlines, and bring a refreshed new style into your life. Test your different headline ideas with CoSchedule’s analyzer, and use its recommendations to draw your audience in with something catchy.
Maintain Your Mailing List with Mailerlite
Even if you don’t know what to send right away, start building your e-mail list. If you don’t know what to offer as an opt-in, that’s okay. Set up your subscribe form anyway.
You do not want to lose potential returning fans because you neglected to set up a place for them to subscribe.
Mailerlite’s free plan allows you to enjoy all of its additional features including landing pages. It’s free for your first 1,000 subscribers, and after that, it’s only $10 per month to upgrade to a larger plan.
Because we’re still learning the ropes of email marketing, it’s incredible to have a low-cost (actually, free to start) option to experiment with.
Related Reading: How to Build Engagement and Trust with Your Mailing List
Have you seen those staged, crisp images on computer or phone screens? That photo might be a mockup! We use these a lot for Reroute Lifestyle.
Our favorite mockup generator is PlaceIt, which actually lets you download most small-sized mockups at no cost. If you want a larger image, you do pay a small cost ($8+) for lifetime use of that mockup.
Monetize Your Blog with Maven
Bloggers, meet Maven. It’s Pinterest on steroids. Using Maven, you can create boards just like you would Pinterest. What’s unique about it, is you primarily “pin” products to boards. If someone purchases a product from your board, you earn a commission! These boards can be shared on your social media channels or your blog.
Some ways you can use Maven:
- Fashion: create clothes & accessories boards
- Home: create home decor & cooking supplies boards
- Travel: create packing boards (clothes, accessories)
Related Reading: The Influential Blogger’s Guide to Using Maven to Make Money Online
If you’re not on Bloglovin – WHY NOT?!
Bloglovin is a visual RSS feed. Once you set it up – you seriously don’t need to maintain it.
People can subscribe to your Bloglovin, and every time you hit publish on a post, it gets added to Bloglovin automatically. From there, you can see who views your posts from Bloglovin.
Plus – once you set it up – you seriously don’t need to maintain it.
So sign up for Bloglovin, connect your blog, and add that darn follow widget to your blog.
Protip: WordPress users, your tags on each post are automatically added to your Bloglovin posts. So pay attention to which tags your audience interacts with on Bloglovin, and tag accordingly!
Most people know about the paid features Tailwind offers, but did you know you can use Tailwind Tribes to expand the reach of your pins for free?
Think of Tailwind Tribes like pods or groups where you can:
- Post your pins for others to repin, and
- Find great content from your fellow bloggers for you to repin.
Tailwind Tribes pretty much ensure your content will get shared, thereby increasing your reach.
Plus: both Tailwind Tribes and Tailwind itself, are free to start out!
- If you haven’t already, click here to sign up for Tailwind!
- Then, click here to join the Reroute Lifestyle Tailwind Tribe.
Learn More About Tailwind: A Complete Tailwind Strategy: A Surefire Way to Increase Your Page Views
ShareASale Affiliate Network
Join the affiliate network ShareASale for free to get access to its huge marketplace of advertisers.
One benefit to joining ShareASale is its network of advertisers – some of which send free products to bloggers in exchange for a review.
All you have to do is join, apply for a specific program, and then kindly send an advertiser an email asking if they would offer any products in exchange for a review.
Not all advertisers do this, and some advertisers only offer products during certain periods of time. Still, it’s great to have these kinds of resources in one, centralized location.
ShareASale connects bloggers to programs like Etsy, Pura Vida Bracelets, and even FreshBooks.
Best Image Editing Apps
I use three amazing resources to edit my photos at no additional cost.
- VSCO: Are you using this free phone app to edit your photos? I love VSCO because through its editor you can really create brand consistency.
- Canva: Can you believe there is a free way to create beautiful pinnable images, social media cover photos, and logos? Canva’s easy-to-use editor is a game-changer when it comes to making images for your blog.
- Lunapic: Lunapic’s website looks like it hasn’t been updated since 1998. But, it’s actually a great, free way to create images with transparent backgrounds! I use Lunapic to crop images from Canva, and make white backgrounds transparent.
There are so many plugins you can use to customize your blog. These are my favorite plugins that I consider essential to my blog!
- Yoast SEO: This plug-in is essential for every blogger! While it takes some time to rank on search engines, the Yoast SEO plug-in helps optimize your posts. Search Engine Optimization is one thing I feel doesn’t come naturally to bloggers (or maybe it does), so using this tool helps naturalize the process for you. As you write posts, this plug-in gives you advice on how you can improve both SEO and readability.
- jQuery PinIt: With this plugin, your readers can hover over your images and see a “Pin It” icon. It makes your images easily pinnable! Since Pinterest is the main driver of traffic for most blogs, I consider this plugin essential for those who want to succeed.
- Pretty Link: Pretty Link turns your long, ugly affiliate or referral links into pretty ones! It allows your to track how many times your links have been clicked. I like to put notes regarding my commission rates for each link using Pretty Link, too.
- W3 Total Cache: Do you ever try to load a website, and close it if its loading time is far too long? It’s amazing how slow your loading time could be without this plugin! You don’t have to do anything except install the W3 Total Cache plugin, and your site load time improves! You should not be losing potential readers because of slow loading times.
The Income & Growth Bundle for Bloggers
Bloggers, meet the next game changer.
Do you …somewhat… have an idea of your growth as a blogger?
You make money blogging …sometimes… but you don’t really know how you made that money, other than someone clicked your link and made a purchase.
The Blogger Income & Growth Bundle will help you:
- Transform your life from scattered hobby blogger…to savvy business owner,
- Track your monthly and annual income,
- Track your blog’s expenses,
- Analyze social media growth (by week and by month),
- View your overall blog growth (social media, traffic + income) at-a-glance,
- Find simple solutions to grow your traffic.
So if you feel like it’s time to get your #bloggerlife together, this bundle is super affordable ($11), super detailed (5 pages!) and easy-to-use.
Don’t forget the best resource: patience.
Starting your blog can be so overwhelming at first. After all, there is so much information circulating the blogosphere.
But it is an amazing way for you to write about something you feel passionate about, and then share it with the world.
- 10 Affiliate Marketing Strategies to Boost Your Blog Income
- Explode Your Blog Income with an Income Strategy
- 10 Ways to Make Money Blogging This Month
Most importantly, remember that blogging is definitely a “learn-as-you-go” activity. At first, you might feel overwhelmed by the tasks you have to conquer. But, to build a successful blog, you first need to conquer your fears and stop worrying!
Even better, blogging is a great way to make money on the side. You can really turn your play-thing into your pay-thing. The easiest way to do so is to learn more about affiliate marketing and promote products you use and love.
If this guide helped you out, please pin or share!
Now, let’s hear from you! What are your favorite blogging tools?!