Build a Successful Blog on a Budget at krista aoki, a lifestyle and travel blog | free tools and resources for bloggers and entrepreneurs! blogging, small biz, growth, social media management, grow your blog, skyrocket blog traffic

Blog on a Budget: Build a Successful Blog Without Spending Money

April 5, 2017
Build a Successful Blog on a Budget at krista aoki, a lifestyle and travel blog | free tools and resources for bloggers and entrepreneurs! blogging, small biz, growth, social media management, grow your blog, skyrocket blog traffic
Build a Successful Blog on a Budget at krista aoki, a lifestyle and travel blog | free tools and resources for bloggers and entrepreneurs! blogging, small biz, growth, social media management, grow your blog, skyrocket blog trafficBuild a Successful Blog on a Budget at krista aoki, a lifestyle and travel blog | free tools and resources for bloggers and entrepreneurs! blogging, small biz, growth, social media management, grow your blog, skyrocket blog trafficBuild a Successful Blog on a Budget at krista aoki, a lifestyle and travel blog | free tools and resources for bloggers and entrepreneurs! blogging, small biz, growth, social media management, grow your blog, skyrocket blog traffic

Initially, starting your own self-hosted blog can be a big investment in and of its own. When I started my own blog, I invested around $150 to start it. After that, everywhere I turned, it felt like people around the blogosphere were trying to sell me something. eCourses, eBooks, subscriptions, social media planners. Given that I’m frugal-by-nature, I felt determined to build a successful blog on a budget.

I started blogging at the beginning of this year. So far, I’ve had two successful months. During my first month, I earned nearly $75 blogging. In my second month of blogging, I earned over nine times that amount. I earned $693.94 from my blog in March.

Because I’ve found so much success blogging, I want to share with you the free tools I use to grow my blog.

This post contains affiliate links to help keep this blog running.
To learn more about affiliate links, click here.

Build a Successful Blog on a Budget

First of all, you should invest in your own self-hosted blog. The upfront cost is daunting, but investing in a self-hosted WordPress.org blog makes it easier to build and customize a professional blog.

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.

When I started my blog, I purchased:

  • hosting & domain from Siteground ($121.75 for 2 years with 60% off hosting)
    • I’ve since purchased a 2nd domain with Namecheap (at $6.88) and I fully recommend it!
  • Olivia theme by Cityhousedesign ($26)
  • G+ Suite for Business ($5/month)

(if you’re curious, the only additional cost after that has been my recent subscription to Boardbooster’s $5/month plan after using their free trial…and a $6 Facebook ad campaign that wasn’t all that successful)

But fo’ reallll: how can you build your blog after that?

I want to share tools you can use to build your blog without spending any money. These are tools I found useful for the growth of my blog, all for free!

Writing Tools

Do you ever open a website, get turned off by an author’s writing style, and exit the site immediately?Trust me, it happens.

You do not want to lose a potential fan from something simple like poor writing. Luckily, there are free online resources you can use to ensure you produce tip-top content.Build a Successful Blog on a Budget at krista aoki, a lifestyle and travel blog | free tools and resources for bloggers and entrepreneurs! blogging, small biz, growth, social media management, grow your blog, skyrocket blog traffic

  • Grammarly is a free grammar and spelling proofreader you can install in your browser and your computer. It is a very detailed app that lets you know when you write passively. It also suggests when a sentence could be shortened, or if a word doesn’t totally make sense in a sentence. 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.

Related Reading: How to Effortlessly Captivate Your Audience and Improve Your Writing

E-mail List

Even if you don’t know what to send out 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 (that’s what I did – and what a huge, huge thanks to you angels who actually subscribed!).

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.

Maven

I consider Maven to be 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)

Social Media

This one should be obvious. Social media profiles are free tools to both grow and connect with your audience. I see bloggers who say that they don’t have a certain profile for their blog, but I think each platform has a special way of contributing to your website’s growth.Build a Successful Blog on a Budget at krista aoki, a lifestyle and travel blog | free tools and resources for bloggers and entrepreneurs! blogging, small biz, growth, social media management, grow your blog, skyrocket blog traffic

  • Pinterest. Do not neglect using Pinterest to grow your audience. The wonderful part about Pinterest is you can get your content seen by a large audience whether you have 1 follower, or 2,000. Many bloggers claim Pinterest’s visual search engine as the #1 way they drive traffic to their blog.
  • Facebook. If someone likes you enough to like your page, that is great! Use Facebook as a way to connect with your fans and keep them up-to-date. Since you’ll always be getting new fans, don’t forget to share a link to an old blog post every once and a while. Oh, and you should definitely use Facebook to interact in Facebook groups related to your niche!
  • Twitter. You can use hashtags on Twitter to both promote your posts and interact with others. Figure out which hashtags your audience is using, and then monitor those hashtags. Interact with others using those hashtags to expand your audience!
  • Instagram. Let’s be real: this generation is becoming increasingly engaged when it comes to visually beautiful content. Use this to your advantage! Instagram is the perfect avenue for businesses to promote their products, tell their story (through photos and captions), and connect with their audience. If you use the right hashtags and post beautiful photos, you will definitely see your audience grow, too.
  • Bloglovin. When someone subscribes to your Bloglovin, that means they enjoy your blog enough they want to see it on your feed! This is a great way to connect with other bloggers while also seeing what else they like and follow!
  • Google+. Using Google+ is great for boosting your SEO. There are some niches that benefit from taking advantage of Google+, but it definitely varies and is the least promoted out of the social media listed above.

Related Reading: 3 Ways to Boost Traffic with Pinterest

Tailwind Tribes

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.

To get you started, you can join this Tailwind Tribe to showcase your lifestyle, travel, and blogging related articles.

Learn More About Tailwind Tribes: 3 Ways to Boost Traffic with Pinterest

Boost Your Website’s SEO with Jaaxy

One way I think about creative content ideas is through the tool Jaaxy. It’s great for learning about creating articles with Search Engine Optimization (SEO) in mind.

Learn the secret to creating interesting articles...& boosting your SEO at the same time.… Click To Tweet

This tool helps you find out what people are searching. It also tells you how many websites are competing for certain keywords. 

Using Jaaxy is simple. First, type in a keyword you’re thinking about using into Jaaxy’s search engine. Jaaxy will then:

  • Tell you highly searched keywords related to the one you type in;
  • Tell you the competition for each set of keywords (if it’s high competition or low competition)
  • Essentially let you know which keywords are HIGHLY searched with low competition.

All of this combined makes it easier for you to rank in Google for an article.

The reason why you want to use highly searched keywords in your articles is because if you write about what people are searching, then people are more likely to click on your blog post.

#DidYouKnow writing about what people are searching will drive traffic to your blog? Click To Tweet

Jaaxy goes one step beyond this and tells you which keywords are low competition. So, you are more likely to rank higher in a keyword search! Yes, that means more traffic to your blog in the long-term!

You get your first thirty searches for free with Jaaxy. But, they actually give you an additional ten searches for each referral. So, you can essentially use their tool for free! (I do.)

Share-a-Sale Affiliate Program

Join the affiliate program Share-a-Sale for free to get access to its huge marketplace of advertisers.

Share-a-Sale is known for having vendors who offer their affiliates complementary products to 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.

Flexoffers Affiliate Program

Just like Share-a-Sale, Flexoffers connects you with its huge marketplace of affiliate advertisers. What I love about Flexoffers is their easy-to-navigate interface. They lay out all of their categories (travel, finance, fashion, education) on one page and you can easily search through advertisers that way.

Media.net Advertisements

If you’d like to grow your income, consider showcasing advertisements on your site. Media.net is one popular option for bloggers just starting out. They even give you an extra 10% of the revenue you earn for the first three months if you use my link.

Hootsuite Social Media Scheduler

For scheduling your social media content, Hootsuite is the perfect tool. You can use Hootsuite’s scheduler on your first three connected accounts at no cost. There is no limit as to how many posts you can schedule in advance!

I use it to schedule:

This way, once you publish a post, you can of course post it on your Facebook and Twitter immediately.

But how will you continue to generate traffic for that post? Simply remind your readers in a few months that it exists!

It’s tedious to go through old posts and repost them on a regular basis. So, after you publish a post, select dates in the future to advertise old content on your social media accounts! It only takes a few minutes to schedule your content in advance, and it’s free.

Image Editing

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. Check out my guide on How to Use VSCO to Create Stunning Images for Your Brand.
  • Canva: Can you believe there is a free way to create beautiful pinnable images, social media cover photos, and logos? You should definitely use Canva to create photos 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! To get that circular image on my sidebar, I did purchase the phone app Afterlight which allows you to make images with the circular frame. Then, I use Lunapic to make the white background transparent!

Stock Photos

If you have more of an affinity for stock photos, IvoryMix is a great resource for free stock photos. Bookmark their library for all your beautiful stock photo needs!

Alternatively, if you’re looking for inexpensive stock photos, you can try Photodune. Their stock photos start as low as $2.

WordPress Plug-ins

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 SEOThis 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.

KristaAoki.com

For those of you who might not know, my website is a great, free resource for bloggers to build a beautiful, successful blog. The blogging content isn’t stopping; I publish 2-3 blogging articles per month.

I also write income reports and am fully transparent about how I earn my income through blogging. Plus, I’m very responsive to questions! Always feel free to shoot me a question via Twitter or e-mail.

Blogging Resources at KristaAoki.com:

Since I’m focusing on social media scheduling this month, I created blank, printable social media scheduling calendars for my e-mail list.

It’s a little difficult to use Hootsuite’s free version and see the big picture of the content you are planning to share on social media.

I needed a way to scribble down ideas of content to schedule! These pretty social media scheduling planners can be repurposed with every year!

Do you want to get access to my exclusive content library and receive blogging tips in your e-mail inbox? Then don’t forget to subscribe!

Check out these AMAZING free tools to grow your blog #otb Click To Tweet

With Determination, You Can Succeed

Starting your blog can be so overwhelming at first. After all, there is so much information circulating the blogosphere.Build a Successful Blog on a Budget at krista aoki, a lifestyle and travel blog | free tools and resources for bloggers and entrepreneurs! blogging, small biz, growth, social media management, grow your blog, skyrocket blog traffic

But it is an amazing way for you to write about something you feel passionate about, and then share it with the world.

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. After my first month, I can confidently say that to build a successful blog, you first need to conquer your fears and stop worrying!

Starting a blog can be intimidating. In fact, I felt apprehensive before I started this blog. So many questions ran through my head. Would people think I’m weird? What if I’m unsuccessful? Now, in retrospect, I’m only overwhelmed by all the fantastic, positive support I received!

Even better, blogging is a great way to make money on the side. You can really turn your play-thing into a pay-thing. Affiliate marketing is a great way for bloggers to write content they are passionate about, and earn money at the same time. To learn how to start your own blog, use this guide. Or, you can jump start and use my link to sign up for web hosting at only $3.95 per month!

If this guide helped you out, please pin or share!

I want to hear from you! What are your favorite blogging tools?!

P.S. If you’re interested in monetizing your blog and profiting from your passion, take my free 10-day blogging course, Passionate Profit. Sign up using the form below!

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  • Another great post Krista!! I love getting new resources to use. I’m looking into Maven today. I LOL’d about the site that looks like it hasn’t been updated since 1998. Ha! Love it!

    • Haha! Lunapic looks SOOO outdated, but I actually use it rather frequently!

  • Krista, Thank you so much for all of the free resources you offer! Your blog really helped me get started on launching my own and you give the greatest ideas on free things to try! A lot of time a title of a blog post will sounds super enticing but once you read through it, theres a bunch of catches. This was so straight forward and easy to read through to see which things I’m not using yet!

    • Adrienne, wow! Thank you sooo much for your sweet, sweet words! I’m very very glad you found usefulness from my blog.

      If there is one thing that peeves me – it’s clicking on a post that SOUNDS enticing but doesn’t deliver.

      Please feel free to let me know if you ever run into any questions as you start to use these programs!

  • Great tips, girl! I don’t have an email list because Ic can’t think of anything to email them. But thanks to this, I will add a plugin on my sidebar shortly. I’m so bad with SEO and keywords. I will try Jaaxy. As always, your posts are very helpful!

    • Maria,

      Yay! I’m happy to hear you’ll be implementing an e-mail list. I didn’t know what to send initially either. In fact, I still have to force myself to send e-mails. But it’s another avenue for connecting with your readers on a regular basis.

  • I 100% agree that self-hosting is SO important. I’ve heard horror stories of people having their free blogs deleted randomly. Plus, if you’re serious about making an income from your blog, it’s so important.

    Also, I followed a piece of your advice and switched from Tailwind to Board Booster using your link. In just 3 days, since Sunday, I’ve seen 70 new followers and so much more repin action. Definitely loving Board Booster more than Tailwind. Thanks for the advice girl!

    • Girl! Yes. I have a few horror stories of my own from my experience on WordPress.com, but I can’t really complain as I was using its free version. Now I feel so much more in control, with hosting support that is phenomenal from Siteground.

      I’m so so happy that you’re enjoying your experience with Boardbooster! I didn’t think I would be sold on it…but it’s definitely a fantastically designed program that makes pinning effortless!

  • Thanks for sharing this information, I love learning more about how to improve my blog!

    http://www.myclusterofthoughts.com/

    • You are so welcome Katherine! Please feel free to let me know if you ever have any questions.

  • Hi Krista,

    Congrats on your early success with your blog. You’re definitely correct, there’s so much information floating around the Blogosphere about tools, programs and etc…one should spend money on.

    I think that bloggers just have to be willing to put their head down and work hard to reach their goals. There’s nothing wrong with spending money to grow your blog. One just has to ask themselves if that will make their life easier? And will it help them reach their goals.

    Don’t buy everything just because someone says they need it. You’re definitely correct, it doesn’t cost a lot to start a blog. Just a domain and hosting to start with.

    Later as your blog starts to grow and you start understanding what you’re doing. You can always invest in other tools if you want.

    Again thanks for sharing which tools you use. I’ve never heard of Maven, I may have to check it out.

    Have a great day 🙂

    Susan

    • Hi Susan,
      Thank you for taking the time to write such a thoughtful comment! You’re right – there’s nothing wrong with spending money to grow your blog. But, it can also be hard for some bloggers to justify spending that additional money. Especially when you’re just starting out and testing the blogging waters.
      Which is why I created this guide to show bloggers there are free resources they can use to grow their blog if they don’t want to spend money on it!

  • Beth

    Enjoyed reading your blog! Congrats… you are inspiring!

    • Wow, thanks Beth! That’s so kind of you to say. Please feel free to let me know if you ever have any questions!

  • I just started my blog not even one month ago, so your post is super helpful. It’s well organized and well written. Thanks for sharing!

    • Thank you so much for the kind words! I’m glad you found this post helpful. Definitely feel free to share your accomplishments with me as you make money blogging!

  • Definitely love all the tips! Thanks for sharing love! <3

    xo Tina
    http://www.tinasweetheart.com

  • Joanne

    Hi Krista,
    All the info you provided are awesome. I’ve been reading other bloggers info just to see what other ideas they have. I know I’ve been wanting to start a blog but cannot seem to just “go ahead and do it!” I have some ideas what my blog is going to be about. Thank you for sharing with us.

    • Hey Joanne, you’re welcome!

      Initially I had a different idea of where my blog was going. It was going to be lifestyle, travel, style, money. After a while, I realized I had no style so I definitely couldn’t write about it. HA! And while I consider myself good with money, I can’t write about it enough to have a bunch of articles ready in that category. Sometimes, it’s good to have a general idea (like eventually, after writing a few articles, I settled on lifestyle and travel) and then proceed from there.

      Hope this helps you. Take care, and enjoy your blogging journey!

  • I really don’t want to spend money on a new blog so this was really helpful! Thanks 🙂