I set up a blog and email list
Writing on Medium is a fantastic way to find and connect with readers.
However, there are reasons you might not want to keep all your writing solely on Medium. In particular, there is always a risk that you could lose access to your Medium account for any number of reasons. Were that to happen, you could lose access to your content and your followers, potentially without warning.
Plus its a lot of fun to set up a space that is all yours and you can do whatever you want with. I also wanted the freedom to be able to maybe create and sell products or other ways to monetise content in the future.
So, whilst I’m still pretty new to this whole writing thing, I decided this weekend to set up a website blog, and start an email list. And I thought it might be interesting to document exactly how I did it, what providers I chose, and how much it all cost.
1. I bought a hosting service and a domain from BlueHost
I’ve been playing around with a “brand” name and a logo for a little while now (using Canva — that’s probably another post). But I’ve decided I like the name enough to stick with it. It seems to fit what I’m doing pretty well. So I jumped in and bought the domain name.
I chose BlueHost because it seems to be well established in the WordPress space, with reviews generally suggesting that it was pretty easy to get started on for someone with zero coding or web design experience, and was pretty much a plug and play option. I paid £153.32 ($213.84) upfront (including taxes) for 3 years of hosting, which was the most economic option they had available for their mid-tier product. That includes 12 months of registration for the domain name, which will renew at around £12.99 a year. Their current pricing cards are here.
I went for the basic shared hosting package (Choice PLUS version) rather than the Wordpress PRO package which was significantly more expensive. I’m not sure what I’m missing out on, but the basic package seems to do everything I need.
2. I set up an email account linked to the domain name
I also chose to take up BlueHost’s 30 day free Office 365 subscription, giving me an email linked to my domain name. This will renew at $2.99 a month after the trial period. I did this for several reasons:
- I read somewhere that outlook is more reliable for sending emails through Email Octopus;
- it definitely looks more professional/cool to have an email @ your domain name; and
- as I write under a pen name none of my existing free email addresses were suitable.
3. I set up an Email Octopus account
I had seen Email Octopus recommended on here by Jason among others, and having looked around it seemed to offer the best deal, with the free plan allowing up to 10,000 emails to up to 2,500 subscibers. See their pricing page here.
You need to first set up a list (as I don’t have any subscribers yet I just added one of my own email accounts as a test). From here, you can then set up a landing page. There are 5 templates for landing pages (under “forms” on the list page) which was fine for my needs. I understand it is possible to integrate templates from other providers too if this limited selection doesn’t meet your needs.
4. I started setting up my Wordpress site
Whilst the BlueHost / Wordpress interface guides you through the whole process, I did find this to be a pretty steep learning curve. But after a bit of playing around, I got something that I’m pretty happy with for now.
The first thing you need to do is to choose a “theme”. There are loads to choose from. The one I chose is called “X Blog”. You can change your theme whenever you want, but I think it might take a little work to get everything sorted out how you want it again, so better to try and pick one you want to stick with before you get too far into editing.
I linked my Email Octopus account to the Wordpress site by downloading a plugin (under “forms” on the EO lists page) and then activating it. This allows you to set up a form that you can embed wherever you want on your website. You set up the form by going to the Email Octopus menu that has now appeared near the bottom of your WP Admin page. There are several ways to embed this into your pages, but I chose to put it into the sidebar on each page, which you can do from “widgets” on the Appearance menu on your WP Admin page).
I also added widgets for a search bar, and an index of posts by category to my sidebar.
A key decision to make is whether you want your home page to show all your blog posts, or to be a static page with posts published on a different page. This will affect how many pages you need to set up.
I decided to set mine up with a static home page (which has a short welcome message and links to connect with me on various social media platforms), with a separate page for posts.
I also added an “about me” page, because that’s often the first place I go when I visit other people’s blogs.
5. I added some posts
Medium allows you to download all of your data in a zip file (in settings scroll down to “Download your information”). You then receive an email with the zip file.
In the zip file will be a folder called “posts”. If you open any of these files it will look like a mess of HTML data. However I discovered (more by luck than anything else), that if you save into your google drive, you can open with google docs, which is a readable / copy and pasteable format, which carries over almost exactly unchanged into the WP new post editor.
Edit as necessary, and then publish.
By default, the whole of your stories will show one after the other on your posts page (at least this was the case for the theme I chose — it might be different for other themes). However, if you want to summarise posts to allow for easier scrolling, the way to do this is through “Excerpt”.
When editing a post, in the settings on the right hand side is a menu item labelled “Excerpt”. If you expand this you will see a small text box. Fill in this box with a short summary of your story. On the posts page you will now see the title, followed by the excerpt you have written — like this:
As you can see from the above screenshot, you can also add categories and tags to your posts. These can be managed from your WP Admin page.
6. Launch your site!
You’re ready to unleash yourself on the world! Don’t worry you can come back and edit anything whenever you want, so don’t think you need to get everything absolutely perfect before you go live.
Now you’ve got your own blog!
7. Keep learning and playing and writing
There’s loads more to learn than I can possibly cover here. This is just a taster of what can be done. The best way to learn is to have a go yourself. So just try things and see what happens. Make it your own. And have fun!
If you want to check out my site to see how it looks you can find it here. I’m sure it will evolve further as I get to grips with all the features, but this is what I managed to get in place over a few hours at the weekend.
And if you want to hear more from me (or just check out my Email Octopus landing page!), you can sign up to my email list here!