This post has been a long time comin’. Over the last couple of years as I delved into this journey of not just blogging but having a website in general, one of the main things I realized is that this shit is hard!
I swear I get a little vomit in my mouth now every time I see another one of those posts claiming how easy it is to start a blog, or how someone started earning over $5,000 consistently in the first 2 months.
It’s easy, they said! Just go for it, they said! By the way, you can read more about my rant on the difference between starting a blog and just having one here. And believe me, there is a big difference.
This is not just another one of those “Top 5 Blogging Essentials” or “The Top 5 Things I Couldn’t Run My Website Without” or a “How to Start a Blog with These 5 Things”.
No folks, this post is about the trials and tribulations of a new blogger. These are the no kidding tools that it took me years to research, find, and play around with before I actually felt comfortable enough to call myself a blogger.
So without further ado, here they are.
This post may contain affiliate links, so if you click on them I may get a small commission. But don’t worry, I don’t promote anything I haven’t tried and 100% support!
Here’s the Round-Up
Wait…Aren’t You Missing Something?
Before we dig into each of these, you may be wondering…why isn’t your site platform on this list? Isn’t that essential for a new blogger? Sure I could have included WordPress on this list… or maybe even Squarespace (I ultimately ended up with WordPress but more on that in another post.)
I warned you this wasn’t going to be your typical “How to Start a Blog” post.
WordPress isn’t on this list because it was part of the problem, not the solution!
Are you confused yet? Didn’t I just tell you I ended up using WordPress?
Let me explain.
I started out on Squarespace, which is great by the way, but I kept feeling like something was missing.
So I hopped over to the WordPress bandwagon and hit a brick wall.
I remembered immediately why I had avoided WP for so long. But at this point, I was determined to figure it out because I truly felt that it’s the better platform for my goals.
But I’m going to break the mold here…WordPress is not the beginning, it’s the end game.
What I found was that once I decided on a platform, like WP…because I am not a developer or a coder, there were essentials I needed just to be able to use it to build a site.
So while WordPress is absolutely in my toolbag of essentials, it doesn’t make my list of essentials for new bloggers because, for many of us, WP comes with such a big learning curve, there are boatloads of tools you need to get started with it.
This list is all about starting from the beginning, from scratch, and it assumes you’re already wanting to use WordPress to host your blog.
(Although, really you could use any of these tools with any other platform with the exception of maybe Siteground. For example, Squarespace is an all in one package, so your hosting is automatically done through them.)
So all that being said, wouldn’t I just be wasting a spot on the top 5 list by including WordPress? Jussayin…
Alright, let’s get to it.
#1 – Siteground
Ya’ll, Siteground is my absolute #1 essential for hosting and domain services. Not just with WP, but it is their jam and it’s obvious. Seriously, I only swapped to WordPress after signing up with Siteground, and my old site was still hosted with Squarespace.
I was testing the waters.
Siteground has WordPress Experts
Let me tell you some things about Siteground.
They are not just a host they are WordPress gurus!
You heard that right, they have an entire team dedicated to helping you troubleshoot WordPress.
And let’s face it, that’s one of the huge drawbacks of using WordPress. While there is a huge community and tons of self-help resources available, there’s no little chat button at the bottom right of your screen with a friendly technician available to wave their magic wand and solve all of your problems.
I am a one-on-one kinda girl. Sometimes reading through an article just doesn’t do it for me.
And I gotta tell ya, I loved Siteground soooooo much that when I first started playing around with WP and would get so angry and tempted to just go back to Squarespace…I didn’t simply because I loved Siteground so much!
Around the Clock Unrivaled Customer Service
And their customer service chat is open 24/7. No joke. And that has been amazeballs especially for someone like me who is in Japan and frequently suffers from delays caused by the time difference.
But you can get on a chat call with them in less than 5 minutes ‘round the clock!
This was HUGE for me for just getting started on WordPress.
And if I couldn’t figure out how to do something, guess what they did?
They hopped right on into my WP Dashboard and did it for me!
I would have abandoned the WordPress dream in less than 48 hours had it not been for Siteground.
Just Testing it Out
And here’s something cool I didn’t know before I got started.
You can create as many sites as you want with Siteground with temporary domains at no additional costs.
So if you just want to play around with building out an entire site before you decide to buy a domain to attach to it, you can totally do that.
I have like 5 right now. Pretty cool right?
No Joke Easy to Set-Up and Get Started
It took me less than 5 minutes to purchase their hosting plan, (which is crazy inexpensive by the way, I paid around $70 for the first year), purchase a domain and one-click install WordPress.
The best part is, they actually did it all for me!
I was on chat with one of their customer service reps, before I even purchased a plan, and was just asking all kinds of questions. Because I am indecisive and I was terrified about making the move.
But when I got ready to say yes, they took care of everything. As soon as my hosting plan was paid for, they asked me everything they needed to know straight through the chat.
I gave them my preferred username, what password I wanted…all of that. And they had it all set up and running for me in no time.
And let me tell you, that is HUGE for someone who is not comfortable with stepping out into the self-hosting world.
Now again, up to this point, all I could say was that I had a blog, contrary to what most people will say, this doesn’t mean that I had actually started a blog. Again you can read more on that here.
But at least I did have a website, ready for me to build something on it.
Here are a few other features I love about Siteground that I won’t go into too much detail on, but just in case they are important to you:
- Business email is included and you can have as many as you want. Just set it up through your Dashboard and set up mail forwarding to your email of choice.
- Transfer domain service. For about $15 Siteground experts will do all the legwork to transfer your domain to their platform.
- Staging tool (cloning). You may think you need a fancy paid plugin for this…not with Siteground. You can do it right through your Dashboard
- Same thing with back-ups. Sure you can install additional ones that may or may not have more features with plug-ins, but Siteground has it for free built right in.
- Theme installation. That’s right. You can even pay them to help you install a theme on your new site.
Speaking of themes…
#2 – Themes (So I lied, there’s really 6)
Divi Theme and Builder (Elegant Themes)
While my current theme is not Divi, I still wanted to include it in my list here because without them I also would have abandoned WordPress early on.
I tried Elementor, and while it is a good platform, it just wasn’t for me. Maybe I’ll do a post on that someday…
Anyway, I really started with Divi and I wouldn’t hesitate to use it on another site. They have tons of free or paid designs you can literally install and tweak to get set up quickly.
It’s relatively inexpensive, especially if you plan on having multiple sites…go with the one-time unlimited plan. It’s totally worth it. I started with the smaller plan just to get my feet wet.
(Some people like their good ole’ fashioned coding, and more power to’em!)
Basically what it does is it gives you complete freedom to built your site using drag and drop, very similar to Squarespace, without having to write any code at all.
They call this front-end development. This is great for beginners because you can see exactly what you are doing as you are designing, without having to code because Divi is generating the code on the back-end.
Now, don’t get me wrong ya’ll. This still comes with a learning curve and for about a week straight I swear I think I spent more time on the chat with their customer service than I did sleeping.
And just to touch on their customer service, while it is available 24/7, they are much slower to respond sometimes than I would have liked and sometimes frustrated me with just sending me self-help articles (which I had obviously already tried…hello?? That’s why I am now on chat!)
But at the end of the day, I don’t think there was ever an issue they weren’t able to help me solve and they too can jump right into your back-end (ok that just sounds really wrong)…
But they can get in there if you grant them temporary access through your dashboard and make adjustments for you.
Builder + Theme = Good and Bad
One of the other cool things about Elegant Themes is that their builder comes with their own exclusive theme that works hand in hand with it.
Now, I won’t get into too much detail on this as it would require an entire blog post of its own. This is a cool feature if you know FOR SURE you are going to stick with the Divi theme.
But if you’re like me and can never truly be satisfied and go find a beautiful new theme that you just absolutely have to have…repeatedly…Divi does not make it easy to transition to a different theme.
Because while the Divi builder could be used with some other platforms, it’s not optimized for it.
All that being said, for a brand new blogger with absolutely zero experience and zero interest in learning code (I have dabbled a little here and there for other projects so this wasn’t entirely foreign to me), I highly recommend starting with Divi.
Just know that if you decide to change themes, you’ll do a lot of copying and pasting to your new theme as I did.
Which brings me to my next theme…
17th Avenue Designs
Guys, I cannot say enough good things about 17th Avenue Designs and the owner, Kate.
When I finally threw up my hands with Divi, and just knew I wasn’t entirely happy with the way my site looked, I took to Pinterest to find some of the most reputable theme designers.
I stumbled upon 17th Avenue and immediately fell in love with pretty much ALL of Kate’s designs!
Now you can get as fancy or as simple as you want with this.
Kate builds her themes on the Genesis framework…which is a very popular, lightweight framework that works well with WordPress’s built-in Gutenberg editor.
BUT, the downside is that it does require a certain level of coding knowledge and it requires you to get more familiar with the WordPress dashboard itself, whereas with Divi I never even had to learn what Widgets were to get my site up and running.
So while Kate sells her beautiful themes for a steal at around $50-$70, for the coding stupid, non-techies like me, she has this killer service:
Ya’ll, this saved my life. Seriously. I was pulling my hair out and super frustrated at the idea of starting all over.
This package includes your theme of choice, plus all of the bells and whistles that 17th Avenue Designs offer, PLUS installation by Kate herself!
So I paid the extra cost and even upgraded to the 24-hour install service (yes! That is a thing! And Kate actually had it installed in less than 12!)
So. Totally. Worth it.
And to top it all off, after she installs it, she sends you a guide with how to make updates to just about anything. And if you can’t find the answers there, just email her back directly and she’ll walk you through it.
Kate is super fast at responding and so so so helpful.
Of course, don’t feel like you have to shell out the extra bucks to get the install, all of her themes come with detailed instructions on how to DIY it and obviously her customer support is the shiznit…
But she has multiple options for you to get help installing it if you want to go that route.
And the reason it makes my top 5 list of blogging essentials for new bloggers is that if you are looking for a minimum start up time, excellent customer service and just flat out beautiful theme…I cannot recommend Kate enough.
Once she installed my theme it took me less than a couple of hours to transfer over whatever content she couldn’t get to (remember how I talked about it being difficult to switch from Divi?) I had a fully functional, beautiful website that I was finally happy with.
Although I am grateful for the experience that starting off with the Divi builder provided me, if I had found Kate’s site earlier I would have been up and running WEEKS earlier…because I spent about a month just tinkering with Divi trying to make something I liked.
So do yourself a favor, and go check out 17th Avenue Designs. Kate will absolutely take care of you.
#3 – Flodesk
Let’s talk about email-lists.
In all of the how-to posts I read, the majority of them recommended starting off early with a way to build an email list.
Now, this poses a bit of a challenge for the frugal or financially challenged since as a brand new blogger you ain’t gonna be rakin’ in the dough yet.
Sure, there are some (semi) free options out there like MailChimp (up to 2K subscribers), but the most highly recommended ones like ConvertKit cost a pretty penny just to get started with.
ConvertKit has recently begun advertising a “free” version to begin with, and they do offer a 30-day free trial, but it’s limited. And the free version they’re currently using to entice people to start with them instead of MailChimp is really lackluster and doesn’t include much of anything at all.
In fact, it allows you to create as many forms as you want, but you can’t send emails once you get subscribers…
So I dabbled with MailChimp as so many do because obvs it’s free up to 2K subscribers.
But I actually hated it!
If you want to do anything fancy with your forms you gotta learn code. I mean to make it look really snazzy.
I didn’t find it to be very intuitive or user friendly.
Then one day as I was reading through one of my newsletters, I saw at the bottom it said something about “Made with Flodesk”.
Interest piqued, I hopped over to take a look.
My friends, Flodesk is BE-YOU-TEE-FUL.
Very simple interface, easy to use, amazing templates…everything.
Flodesk also has the coveted functionality of segments, which I know can be a deal-breaker for some.
Now, be forewarned they are an up and coming contender so their features are not nearly as robust as MailChimp or especially ConvertKit when it comes to analytics and all that jazz.
But, they have a free version (I haven’t paid a dime yet and have opt-ins all over my site!) and you can easily get a 50% discount with this affiliate link, bringing the total cost to $19/month.
That’s half of what it costs for ConvertKit!
And they are only going to get better! They’re adding new features all the time.
You don’t need all the fancy stuff to begin with anyway.
I mean, your main purpose is to be able to collect emails and get emails back out to your newly gathered fans right!?
Flodesk can do it all and again, I have to comment on how much easier it is to build beautiful emails and forms with zero coding.
You can even save up to 5 colors from your brand so while you are designing it’s fully aligned with your brand!
Oh, and they integrate with Shopify if that’s something you’re into.
The only drawbacks I have seen so far is they don’t have a chat function (because #millenialsareimpatient), and it took more than a day or two to get a response via email when I had a question.
And the other one is I actually have no idea how the trial works! I have been unable to find anywhere that explains what my trial period is…is it based on subscribers? A time period?
All I know is that I have been using it with full features for over a month and haven’t had to provide a credit card yet. 🤷♀️
But hey, I am set up and ready to go and I am super happy with it so far.
So it makes my list because so far it’s been the cheapest, easiest and most beautifully designed option I have found so far.
#4 – Canva Pro (Yes, the paid version)
Maybe I am biased because it’s the one I started out with years ago, but I love Canva.
And while it is entirely possible for you to do so much with the free version, this is definitely one of those expenses I felt was worth it to take on early.
You get so many additional features and access to additional photos and elements.
I have built all of my logos and brands using nothing but Canva.
It has a super easy interface so it’s not hard to use even for the non-graphic designer.
Canva even has a really robust royalty-free photo selection.
I use it in combination with Unsplash for the majority of my photos.
But guys, I betcha didn’t even know they had some other cool stuff besides just the design tool.
For real, I didn’t even know they had it until a couple of months ago.
Color Palette Generator
Canva has a color palette generator where you can upload or drag and drop a photo and it will pull the colors out of it for you!
Talk about awesomeness!!!
All you gotta do is find pictures that inspire you and BOOM! Get a set of colors that go perfectly together. You can try it out here.
Canva Color Wheel
Another feature you may not know Canva has is their color wheel.
This thingamabob is really cool too. It allows you to play around with different colors to see which ones complement each other.
It also goes into detail explaining color theory.
Here’s an example:
Pretty nifty right!?
And if you find a set of colors you like, you can easily start creating a graphic with the click of a button or simply export the palette to save it later. You can play around with it here.
And you wanna know the best part about both of these little tools?!
They are free!
That’s right, you don’t need the Pro version to take these babies out for a spin.
Talk about some pretty cool stuff for the DIYer.
At the end of the day, if you’re gonna DIY your graphics, I highly recommend you spring for the $12.99/month for Canva Pro.
It’s been a lifesaver for me.
And that brings us to my 5th and final of my blogging essentials for new bloggers….
#5 – Trello
Alright ya’ll, if you’ve been hangin’ around for more than five minutes you know I love all of my planning and productivity tools.
And I am SO guilty of using more than one at a time.
But the one that seriously got me off on the right foot with my blog and website was Trello.
I built a ton of different boards to track #allthethings I needed to do.
But one of the main things I used it for was for planning my content calendar.
But what I was looking for was a balance of functionality and simplicity.
Now don’t get me twisted! Trello is a MEGA powerful tool. But it can also be used in it’s most basic form very simply without any fancy bells and whistles.
See, if you’re like me, you like all those fancy bells and whistles (I actually geek out on them) but that also means they can be a huge distractor for me.
I get in there and I wanna play with it and make it do all the cool stuff.
But in this case, all I really needed was a collection of lists and a way to move projects between steps.
Trello doesn’t immediately scream complicated or fancy when you open it up.
It’s more like a blank slate, and you can really only get fancy if you start digging through all the different add-ons and most of that requires you to upgrade anyway.
So if you know you have squirrel syndrome (don’t look away…I see you!)
I highly recommend you start off with something simple like Trello.
Summing It All Up
So there ya have it. My top 5 blogging essentials for new (WordPress) bloggers.
Over to you guys. What do you think? Have you tried any of these?
What are your biggest pain points when it comes to starting a blog?
Much love and till next time!