Over the past 8 years since I’ve started blogging, I’ve spent at least $20,000 on my blog. From paying for hosting and buying tech equipment, to paying for writers and buying clothes and hair products, I’ve invested a good chunk of money into this business. While many of my investments have been useful and resulted in more opportunities, more pay, or more exposure, some have been a complete waste of my time. Whether you’re just starting a blog or you’ve made a few extra bucks and are thinking of the best way to spend it, here are seven really useful ways to invest in your blog, plus a few things you shouldn’t spend money on.
Invest In: A Self Hosted Domain & Clean Site Design
(~$10-$20/month + theme cost)
The very first thing you should invest in if you’re trying to be a serious blogger (aka monetize your blog or be recognized as an expert in your niche) is a self-hosted domain. In 2018, it is impossible to grow your blog or work with brands with a Wix or WordPress.com website. A domain costs about ~$10/year. Bluehost (which I use because it easily integrates with wordpress.org) always has sign up deals for $2-3 a month for basic hosting. You don’t have to pay for a whole web designer, but you should buy a theme (here are some recommendations) for a clean, user friendly design. Themes that I’ve played around with average between $25-$50 for a one time fee.
While you’re at it, go the extra mile and get an email address with @yourblogname.com. A domain based email comes with some hosting plans (including Bluehost), but I’ve recently switched to email via GSuite (starts at $5/month) because of it’s other features (which I’ll get to later).
Invest In: Professional Photography
Although there are plenty of ways to take good pictures on your own, professional photography is the one investment I’ve made in my blog that has had the clearest benefit. I started working with (aka paying) photographers regularly in the summer of 2016. Since then, the number of brand collaborations I’ve received has quadrupled, but more importantly, the amount of income I’ve been able to make has skyrocketed. Seriously, as in I earned more in the first 3 months of 2018 than I did all 2017.
Here’s why this is a smart investment: when you work with a photographer, the quality of your work goes up, so you’re able to charge more for campaigns as brands see you’re factoring in the cost of a photographer. But working with photographers also saves you TIME. Time trying to learn how to use a camera, time trying to learn how to edit pictures, and time trying to make your pictures look professional. Time is money, so spend the money to save your time. Photography costs are all over the place, and it’s possible you can find a decent quality photographer for much less, but I spend a little less than $500/month on my photography. I know this is a lot for most aspiring bloggers, but at the very least get your blog headshots done professionally!
DON’T Invest In: A DSLR Camera
I have spent $2,500 on cameras, lens, and camera equipment in the past several years. Chances are you will end up like me and keep buying newer cameras and different lens in an attempt to recreate the quality of a professional photographer, to no avail. Now there have been times when I’ve used my DSLR for photoshoots (like for all these images in this post… I know I’m a hypocrite lol!), but it would have been a better use of my money and time to hire a photographer for those campaigns. If you just need content for Instagram, your smartphone is likely sufficient to take great pictures, and with the power of mobile editing apps, you can really transform basic pictures into Instagram worthy shots.
If you’re planning on recording videos, then an actual camera may be useful (like this vlogger fave) but tons of people are now recording with their phones and a tripod. Just make sure you get a phone with tons of storage or GSuite which comes with unlimited Google Drive storage so you have space for all your footage!
Maybe Invest In: Lightroom Presets
($10/month, $20+ one time cost)
Sticking with the theme of imagery, I think it’s worthwhile to invest in Lightroom Presets (here are my favorite ones). Being able to quickly and cohesively edit my photos, even when they’re shot professionally, has really helped bring more uniformity to my feed. There’s a debate on whether you need a cohesive feed to grow on Instagram, but I think that a cohesive feed helps brands quickly identify that you’re a blogger/influencer vs a regular Instagram user.
To use presets you’ll need Adobe Lightroom, and I use the Adobe CC photography plan that is $9.99/month. They just released an update that allows you to access desktop presets on mobile, so I now edit almost exclusively on my phone! I was able to take these pictures while out to dinner with my friend Sade and edit them in minutes with Lightroom presets. Although these were taken with a camera, the same images could have been taken with a phone… I just happened to feel guilty for not using my camera for weeks!
Invest In: Blog & Social Media Planning Tools
(~$10/month and up)
Unless you have time to be on your phone or computer all day posting to Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram, you should invest in a tool that helps you plan and schedule out content. For Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest, I use CoSchedule because it is both an editorial calendar and a social media marketing calendar. I can schedule out my blog posts, video posts, and campaigns, while also scheduling and auto-posting social shares. There is also a ReQueue feature I’ve been loving lately that will automatically share a message on days when you don’t have anything scheduled. Perfect for when I’m traveling and forget to post! The basic CoSchedule plan starts at $40/month, or you can join their referral program to try and get your cost down to $0. There’s a two week trial too, so you should try it out before committing to it!
For Instagram, I use Planoly to plan out my posts. Again, whether or not you think a cohesive feed is necessary, planning out your posts ahead of time can save time and energy, which is great if you’re not blogging full time and need to allocate your time wisely. I talked more about Planoly in this post but I use the Solo plan that is $7/month for unlimited uploads. The free plan allows for 30 uploads/month so if you don’t post on IG daily and are pretty decisive, that might work for you.
Invest In: Outside Help
The biggest mistake I’ve made in my blogging career is trying to do everything by myself. When I first started my blog, I really prided myself on designing my site my myself. Then I was taking pictures by myself. Editing them by myself. Sourcing looks and locations by myself. Driving myself crazy! Ijeoma of all trades and master of none.
There is no successful person that does it all by themselves (eh hem, Forbes…). You NEED to outsource some tasks because there is no way you can do everything alone. Don’t think that you need an office to have a team, or to be making a certain amount of money to get outside help. You can use sites like Fiverr for one off tasks like logo design or site customization (starting at $5), or use Upwork to find freelancers. You can even throw out a call on Instagram to see if anyone is interested – if you won’t ask, you won’t receive (help)!
I recently hired an administrative assistant and it has changed my entire workflow for the better. I pay her for about 10 hours of work a week and in return, I have someone checking all my emails, finding PR contacts, optimizing the blog, etc while I can focus my day on creating content and trying to be a good doctoral student. Now I could have gotten an assistant for free or hired a college student as an intern, but I wanted someone who had professional experience and wasn’t looking for mentorship.
By helping me weed out spammy emails or brand proposals that want 7 videos in exchange for a lip gloss, my assistant helps me focus on the emails that need my attention: the deals that need to be negotiated, the brands I’ve been dying to work with that reach out, the followers who have pressing questions. My email response rate is so much better, I’m able to negotiate more (because I’m not replying two weeks later once a campaign has already filled up) and my inbox is neat and tidy! Since our emails are hosted on GSuite, we can easily share Google Docs to manage campaign tasks, Spreadsheets to track payments, and use Hangouts for our weekly calls.
For the rest of 2018, I’m focusing on expanding my team to include a video editor (currently hiring!), a styling consultant, and a local personal assistant. Heck, I’m even considering getting a manager! I believe I can work smarter by spreading my work out, and doing so is the only way I’m going to be able to keep blogging at this pace while finishing up my PhD.
Invest In: Blog Conferences
Ok so I actually haven’t been to a blog conference yet but I’m going to my first one next week! But I’ve heard from other bloggers that blog conferences have been an amazing investment because 1. they are able to get amazing advice from established people in the industry (more on that later) 2. they are able to meet other bloggers and 3. they are able to make connections with brands & PR people. That is the real key! I know someone who had been trying to work with a specific brand and had sent countless emails with no luck. Goes to a blog conference, randomly meets the person who does that brand’s marketing, and books a campaign! I’m hoping my favor is setup that way for next week’s conference!
There are a ton of blog conferences out there and the biggest ones aren’t always the most helpful. Depending on your goals – networking vs learning vs one on one strategy – some blog conferences may be a better fit than others. Really think aboout what you want to gain from a conference before committing to it, and come ready to receive!
Maybe Don’t Invest In: Courses
Ok so this one might get me in trouble, but I don’t generally think that online course are a good investment for aspiring bloggers. Do I think that courses provide amazing information that can jumpstart your blog and grow your business? Yes. Do I think there are some extremely qualified and knowledgeable people out there running courses? Yes. But I don’t think you need to invest in a course to monetize your blog.
You simply need to do the work. I’ve paid for courses that had tons of resources and extra bonuses and guess what? All that info is still sitting unopened in my email. I wasn’t ready to do the work (in this case it was for Pinterest growth), because if I really was, I would have done research on Pinterest myself rather than jumping on a course. There is a ton of free information online and I don’t think that bloggers should invest in courses unless they have exhausted their resources online.
On the flip side, you can think about courses as a time-saving investment, a consolidation of all the online resources you could find for free but would have to spend time digging through. In that case, go ahead and get the course. But make sure that you’re not buying a course hoping for the exact results (like 1,000 followers in a week or $10,000 in a month) without being fully ready to do the work that comes with it.