19 Easy-to-Follow Steps To Start Your Blog (2020 Side Hustle Guide)
The ultimate guide if you’re interested in how to create a blog in Japan whether you’re an expat or a native, whether you’re an ALT, or an aspiring eikaiwa owner. If you live in Japan, and are looking to start an online business, this growing resource page is a great place to bookmark and revisit as you grow your domain here in Japan.
How to Start a Blog From the Ground Up
Launching a blog is all about knowing the steps. This is the blueprint.
The Right Tools for the Job
Profesionals use the best tools to help them succeed. Learn about a few that can fuel growth.
Fail to Plan. Plan to Fail.
Running a profitable blog requires a plan. Content. Marketing. Design. Tech. No worries, though… it’s all here. Finally, “Put Your Side Hustle on Autopilot.”™
How to Start A Blog From A to Z
(and finally put your side hustle on autopilot!)
How to Start a Profitable Blog in 19 Easy-to-Follow Steps
Last updated: September 10, 2020
If you’ve been thinking about starting a blog as a side hustle to bring in passive income, but still haven’t got around to doing anything about it, you’re in the right spot. On this single page, I’ll walk you through all the steps I’ve used to start and finish five different blogs in the span of only four months here in Japan—all while still holding down a real gig.
I’ll teach you about affiliate marketing, SEO, lead magnets and content marketing, and how to put your processes on auto-pilot with the help of the right tools and the right virtual assistants so you can move on to your next side hustle. I’ll also teach you how to leverage the newfound skills you’re going to develop so you can also sell your services as a consultant here in Japan, or elsewhere.
If you’re an expat like me, living the good life between the mountains and the sea here in Kobe, jam-packed into Kanto, or enjoying the tech and ramen in Kyushu, you’re in for special treat with the content on this blog, because a lot of what I’ll use as examples for others will be tailored to you.
Of course, if you’re outside Japan, and still are looking for the inside scoop on how to start a blog, Nihon Hustle will help you get there as well. After all nearly all the affiliate partners we’ll end up working with are in the U.S. 😉 So! Stick around… lots of actionable info coming your way.
Howdy, I’m Doc Kane.
I’m a writer and English teacher in Kobe, Japan, and the co-founder of Maplopo—a Japanese literature translation company. I’m also the founder of a number of online ventures that help provide a profitable existence for my family. I want to help you get there as well. It takes a lot of hustle, but when you apply the principles I’m about to share with you, your gains will impress even you.
Much of what I’ve learned comes from 26 years in marketing, and devouring everything I could about management, business, copywriting, and marketing on the whole from successful individuals and companies that have proven themselves over the last 100 years. There is a lot to learn from books and websites (both old and new) and I share all that will you in my ever-evolving Nihon Hustle Library List. You can get the most frequently updated version by signing up for my Reading Circle.
Starting a blogging business does not have to be difficult. It does require effort. It does require a plan. And, it does require spending money. Stick around for how to get things done.
Disclaimer: This is a business blog focused on helping you create an income for yourself. And, because I try to do the same for my family, I team up other companies that can help us get our businesses off the ground. So, you’ll note that in the interest of business, we’re proud to be affiliates for many of companies we reference on these pages. If you happen to use any of these firms as we do, we both benefit. Me in the form of a commission from them that costs you nothing, and you in the form of a wonderful tool that helps drive your business. Then, once you fall in love as I have, you should do the same and partner-up. It’s the way business works. Have fun, and only invest in these tools when you’re financially ready to do so. Cheers, Doc
Choose Your Blog’s Niche
Blogging, like any other form of writing, requires you have a solid understanding of your audience. In other words, who exactly, will you be writing to? This is particularly important when you’re trying to sell something with your words.
In the marketing world, we use fancy words like “buyer persona” or “niche marketing” to describe this effort. But, essentially it’s a rather simple process.
Basically, you want to ask yourself:
- what it is you have to sell
- what sort of person will be searching for what you have on offfer
- what precisely does that person LOOK like?
Once you’ve addressed each of these questions, you’ll have your niche. I’ll explain this a bit more in detail below. But, if you’ve got your niche already picked out and you know what you’re wanting to say to them, you might need a website and hosting partner to get things rolling. The only company I use for both of these things is MediaTemple. Their support is incredible, and their pricing doesn’t change with every renewal. I’m a proud affiliate, and have over 100 sites registered with them.
Let’s get this side hustle started, why don’t we? Register your domain name for only ¥1,937, and get a grid hosting plan (the exact plan I use) for only ¥2,152 a month.
Below are a few articles that might inspire you to come up with a blog niche that might work for you…
Pick a Domain Name
Picking a domain name doeesn’t have to be an agonizing affair. I find it quite easy actually, and have far too many for my own good. There are a few writing and brainstorming tricks that might help you cut through the process a bit more easily, though. Let’s take a look at a few of my favorite.
- Word Visuals
- Your Name
- Your business vertical, plus an action word
- Your business vertical, plus geographic location
- A domain name that’s completely random
- A single word + .io or .co
- Domain name search tools
- Buy an already existing domain name
- Buy an existing company!
Choose a Web Hosting Plan and Register Your Domain
Once you’ve formalized your niche, and come up settled on a domain name, it’s time to grab it. There are a ton of places you can do this, and since 1994, I have hosted my sites on more than I can remember at this point: Network Solutions, GoDaddy, Bluehost, private small shops… none has lived up to Media Temple. None. Let’s talk about why. And, it has nothing to do with one-click installations, a low price, and 99.9% server uptime—these are all sales gimmicks, mostly touted by affiliates. The real proof of the pudding is in support. Here’s what you want to be on the lookout for when you’re evaluating domain and hosting providers:
- 24/7 chat support
- Location of your support teams
- Renewal fees (ask for the last 3-5 years of price increases for hosting and domain renewals)
- Do they offer grid hosting (much more affordable)
- Do the offer free SSL?
- What is their turnaround time on support tickets?
- What is their payout to affliates. Many hosting providers you hear about are referred everywhere because their affiliate payouts are huge. Bluehost, for example, is among the highest in the industry.
- Evaluate their help documentation. Do they offer video tutorials, full technical write-ups on common procesdures like SSL, email forwarding, and integration with Google Suite?
- Do they offer monthly Malware protection with a partner company? Be careful with this.
- Do they offer managed WordPress, and Managed hosting (If you don’t want to worry about maintenace, this can be a God-send)
- Can you scale with ease if you grow? Or, is migration a big pain in the butt?
Media Temple checks off all of these boxes for me, except with regards to setting up your SSL. But, it’s easy as heck to do (and free) with Get HTTPS for Free. I’ll even show you how to do it in my WordPress Weekend Jumpstart Membership Group. So, Grab that domain name for only ¥1,937, and consider a grid hosting plan (the exact plan I use) for only ¥2,152 a month from Media Temple.
If you’re using Media Temple as your hosting provider, and using their affordable grid hosting service, setting up WordPress on a domain is dead-simple. Could you use another web platform like Joomla, Wix, Weebly, Squarespace… but, why? Outside of proprietary, custom-built solutions, the online world pretty much runs on WordPress, and since I’m big on encouraging you to develop marketable skill sets while you’re ramping up your side hustle, getting good at WordPress will give you a ton more skills you can offer to other companies or individuals in the form of consulting services later down the road. Don’t make the mistake of opting for cheap, when flexible and universal is what you really want. For that, I recommend WordPress. It’s free, and you will immediately increase your worth in the marketplace. If you’ve never thought you could e a WordPress consultant building out webpages for other people here in Japan, or elsewhere, (or even just doing WordPress maintenance—a HUGE need( just take look at all the things you’ll learn just by starting a blog of your own in 2020.
You can learn how to set up a WordPress website in a weekend using my WordPress Wekeend Jumpstart Course. Normally, it’s $67 to access, but for members of the Nihon Hustle Reading Circle, it’s free. 😉 Yep. You can get your invitation to the the full 45 video course, and forever access to updates on the WordPress Weekend Jumpstart on the Nihon Hustle Reading Circle page.
- WordPress Dashboard (the admin bar, how to use WordPress’ quick draft, changing your password)
- WordPress Pages Module (adding new Gutenberg pages, using trash, restoring pages, pages vs. posts)
- Classic Editor Module (the toolbar, editing text, using paragraphs, heading styles, hyperlinks, lists, embed videos, creating playlists, post excerpts)
- WordPress Appearance (Themes, Customizer, managing widgets, navigation menus)
- Working with Images (uploading images, adding images, image galleries, editing images, replacing images, deleting images, how to set a featured image)
- Managing Comments
- WordPress Posts (adding new Gutenberg posts, using trash, restoring posts, revisions)
- How to use Gutenberg Blocks
- The Media Library
- How to Organize WordPress Content (categories, and using tags)
- Utilizing Tools
- Create and Edit Users
- How to Adjust WordPress Setttings
- Run Updates (See the WordPress Support area, for my reccomendatiosn on this!)
- Install a Theme
- How to Install and Configure a Plugin
Set up Your Domain-Specific Email
To streamline your online business building efforts, you’ll want to quickly set up your business email account. Having anything other than an email account with your business domain will only set you back, and it will prevent you from streamlining the establishment of multiple social media accounts and affiliate marketing accounts. It’s a crictical and often overlooked step. Here’s why it’s important:
- It helps you set up social media accounts that are separate from your personal accounts
- Allows you to apply to affiliate marketing programs quickly and professsionally
- Allows you to brand yourself as a consultant
- Keeps all of your business email out of your personal in box
Want to know how to configure gMail with MediaTemple? Or, Apple Mail, or Android? Media Temple makes integrating your email with all 3rd party providers deaad simple in their how to Set Up 3rd Party Email Applications Guide.
Set up Your Social Media Accounts
Once you’ve secured your domain name and set up for first domain-related email address, you’ll want to secure any important social media accounts that will help fuel the growth of your online business. Many, if not all social media platforms are a significant waste of time. They can be good for immediate initial exposure, outreach and research (particularly Twitter) and exposure as you grow (especially, YouTube), but most are hardly worth the time. The true gold is in email, and web content. Below are my most recommended social media platforms for 2020.
Pick and Install Your WordPress Theme
One of the biggest hassles you’re going to encounter when setting up your online business is working with your website’s theme. All of them require a learning curve. None of them are “easy.” But, again once you get in the swing of things, you’ll become a master at managing your specific theme, and can begin to offer the same sort of consulting services to other people and companies here in Japan—or in any other country around the world—for that matter.
I use one single WordPress themr for every single one of my sites: Divi, from Elegant Themes. I use this theme because it’s framework allows me to learn one blog platform, then apply that knoweldege acriss dozens of different visual layouts to match whatever website property I’m working on at the time. Their support is great, and their online documentation is even better. I highly recommend Elegant Themes. Here’s why:
- Amazingly in-depth online tutorials and videos
- Wide base of trained professionals also blogging about the Divi Theme
- Community of Divi Developers you can hire when you’re done pulling your hair out
- Drag and drop technology that actually works
- Affordable WordPress Themes and Plugins
- Developer license that alloows you unlimited domains for multiple side hustles
- Free email and back-end support to help get you past snags
- Integration with other platforms
- Vast array of virtual admins who are trained on the platform and can support you.
- A marketable consulting skill YOU can sell once you’ve learned it yourself.
Consider Professional WordPress Support
This year, I discovered the incredible world of managed WordPress support, and my life has been forever changed. I have saved countless hours and additional hair simply because I made this one discovery and began working with WMPU DEV. Many hosting providers offer a similar service (like Media Temple), but I can only speak to the effectiveness of WMPU DEV. I LOVE them, and cannot operate my multiple online side hustles here in Japan without them. I pay for their $79 a month developer plan because I have multiple websites, but you can get in for $49 and still benefit from 24/7 chat support, access to their entire suite of professional plugins and general awesomeness. Here are a few of the reasons I love working with them.
- They will save your life multiple times over with their 24/7 chat support
- Top notch content delivery network to help speed up your site
- Premium WordPress Plugins
- One-click site updates (for all sites at once!)
- Automatic backups
- Simple integration with WordPress
- Referral Program that allows you to earn points for free months of service
- Web Hosting that allows you to keep your entire oneline presence under one roof
Install WordPress Plugins
There are tens of thousands of WordPress plugins out there. A handful are must-haves and free, and a few I’d highly recommend that are premium and cost a few bucks. There are many, many more you don’t need. They’ll slow down your site, sometimes infect your site with malware, and are otherwise just uncessary. Plugins are kinda’ like apps for your phone… in the beginning you think you need tons of them, but learn quickly you really only needed a few. Below are the ones I recommend, and that others have recommended based on the different type of niches you may be considering. In general, though, because WPMU DEV offers its premium plugins to me for free, and they cover almost everything you need, I don’t have anything else other than a few other premium plugins installed on my sites. Here’s my list of favorites from my own usage and research I’ve done on your behalf.
Obtain Your SSL
If you read the above section on the best WordPress plugins, for your Japan side hustle, you’ll note my reference to Simple SSL Pro. What used to be a luxury, is now a neccessity from a branding standpoint, an SEO standpoint, and security standpoint. And, with 4 million+ installations of their basic version (Really Simple SSL), it’s hardly a new kid on the block.
Without that little gray padlock on your blog that having an SSL gives you, people will be warned that your site is “not secure,” and that’s the last thing you want people to be thinking when they’ve finally arrived at your site beccause of all that great writing and SEO work you’ve done. Don’t send them running, and spend the money to set up your SSL.
- What is SSL?
- How to get SSL for your blog
- How to get a free SSL certificate for your blog
- How to install Simple SSL
- Is SSL Pro worth it? Yes. Why you should upgrade to SSL Pro.
- How to install your SSL certificate using Media Temple
- How to renew your SSL certificate on Media Temple
Download and Create Amazing Brand Imagery
Many beginning business bloggers make the mistake of focusing too much time and energy planning, creating content for their blog, and spending too much time on social media before they’ve got their brand imagery down. And, thats unfortunate. Because while words are what’s going to drive eyeballs to your site, imagery is often what’s going to give them the physical impression of your brand long after they’ve forgotten about what you’ve said. It’s a constant process, and you’ll note that on this blog branding elements are, and always will be changing. That’s normal, and good for business. But, start early. Don’t leave your barnding till after everything else is complete. It should come early… very early. In fact, before you post a single thing on social media, you should at the very least, have a logo to share with the world. And, you don’t need to spedn a fortune (really, ANY money) to do it theese days. Why is it so important to do this before using social?
Because without the ability to attract people with video, pictures, infographics, illustrations, etc. you’ll be losing out on one of the more successful techniques you can leverage to market yourself and buiild a platform. Plus, platforms like Pinterest and Instagram demand it. When you front-load this effort, instead of allowing it to wait, you can successfully catapult yourself to the front of the branding line. Let’s talke a look at what tools you can use and why they’re importatnt.
- After Effects
- Affinity Designer
There is a lot of snake oil pushing when it comes to the topic of creating a search engine optimized (SEO) website. Fundamentally, though, it’s not that difficult. And, you don’t need to pay consultants thousands, or worse, tens of thousands to do it well. You may wish to drop some money on enhanced research tools, but in the end, good writing focusing on the language and needs of those in your niche will take you a lot of the way toward good SEO. To excel, you might want to try out some of the tools below. Some are free, some cost money—too much in my opinion, but they can sometimes be a worthwhile, perhaps even as temporary investment. Here’s my short list of the best SEO tools for business bloggers.
- Google AdWords
- Glock Apps
- Rank Tracker
- SEM Rush
- 3 Months to No.1: The 2020 “NoNonsense” SEO Playbook, by Will Coombes
- SEO 2020: Learn search engine optimization with smart internet marketing strategies, by Adam Clarke
- Google Webmaster Central Blog
Create a Content Marketing Plan
Creating Content is one thing. Marketing it, and distributing it is a completely different beast. And, it’s the hardest thing to nail down. I’m hardly an expert either… no one is, really. There are however a decent array of good resources that can help you get things ton. By reading and investing in tools that allow you to scale your effort, without, perhaps, scaling to the point where you need employees, you can really succeed to the point wheere you’re generating a significant amount of monthly cash flow. The effort up front is immense, but once you get the ball rolling and use good systems, the world is really your oyster. Set things on rails as I say , and easy up on the gas once things start rolling to a manageable and predictable level. Here are some of the tools and resources that will help you add momentum to your blog and put your side hustle on autopilot.
- Optinmonster’s 25 Clever Content Marketing Examples with Amazing Results Case Study
- “The Only 10 Ways to Make Money from Content Marketing,” by Joe Pulizzi of the Content Markting Institute (CMI). P.S. EVERYTHING by CMI is worth reading, and I highly recommend Joe’s books.
- “Everything You Need to Know for Small Business Content Marketing Success,” from Keap. (Formerly Infusionsoft)
- The Brand Publishing Institute’s “Content Distribution: Amplifying Content in Many Sales, Marketing, and Media Channels” (class notes from the Brand Publishing Institutute’s Certification Program for Marketers, from the ProfitableChannels.com website)
Create a Lead Magnet
Once you’ve got the attention of folks, you’re going to want to have something to send so you can begin sharing your knowldge and promote to a list of people who want to hear from you. You’ll understand once you arrive at this step exactly why it’s so important to have your branding and imagery in motion. Because if you thought designing a blog without appealing design, and promoting yourself via social media was a challenge without those same assets, you’re really going to have a difficult time doing so without imagery when it comes to devloping your lead magnet.
Below, let’s talk about why you need a lead magnet for your blog, what you can put in one, and how to put one together in less than a weekend. Ready? Let’s go.
- Why You Need a Lead Magnet for Your Blog
- What to Include in Your Lead Magnet
- How to Create a Lead Magnet in Less Than a Weekend
Create A Mailing List
Your mailing list will be the lifeblood of your blogging business. Why do think I keep asking you to sign up for my list? Because when you’re on my list, I can demonstrate to you how I can help. Because when you’re on my mailing list, you can give me feedback that makes my business stronger. Because by being on my mailing list, you’ll learn how to create your own so that you can do the same. Creating a mailing list does not have to be difficult, but it won’t happen over night either. Every single platform has it’s own learning curve, and some are far more complicated than others.
I love Mailchimp because it’s as universal as WordPress is when it comes to blogging. But, it’s not always simple to use. That said, the goal here is to build a blog that supports your passive income goals here in Japan or elsewhere, right? If you keep that in mind, the half a day it takes to get set up will be well worth it. If your boss asked you to do it, you couldn’t say no, right? Don’t make the same mistake and rob yourself of the incredible opportunity building a mailing list will do for you. And the best part is… the feedback and thanks you’ll receive from real readers of your blog (and supporters of your business!) will make you feel like a true hero. So, let’s examine Mailchimp a bit to see how things work on the inside. I’ll also share with you some of the logistics behind finding and growing your mailing list from zero to the moon. Stick around.
- The best email list program? For my dollar: Mailchimp
- Growing Your Email List from Scratch
- Nurturing and Growing Your Email List Best Practices from the Pros
Build Your Content Library
No matter when you’ve arrived on this blog of mine here on Nihon Hustle, you’ve likely noticed a few things. Remember how I talked about structure earlier on? Well, because I’ve taken a strategic approach to building an audience with this blog that employs good SEO research, (hopefully) good content, a solid permalink structure, that’s hopefully what you see: a blog thats made up of several very long, informative posts pages called “pillar content,” a business tools section, where I’m continuously reviewing and rating products that help me grow and manage my business, and that provide affiliate income so I can keep doing this work for you and my family, a resources section where I highlight my most favorite applications and software platforms, a consulting page, if you’d like to work with me, and finally an ongoing “Notes from the Bog” section where I add frequent content based on new things I’m learning that I feel will be helpful for you as grow your business in Japan.
This is all CONTENT. As such, they make up what’s known as a content library. And, while you can add a few pages here and there and stop, you’ll likely run out of Google love quickly. You’ll also be less appealing as a partner to companies as an affiliate, and less intriguing as a consulting to people and companies you can help wit all of that knowledge you’ve packed within your head. So, keep writing. That’s how you turn all this into a successful online business. I do it all from Kobe if I’m not traveling throughout Japan. Where are you based? Work from there and win. Building your content library doesn’t have to be difficult. It’s all about having a plan and a discipline. As a writer of nearly 30 years now, here are my tips for making all this come together. Read on.
- How To Create A Content Library From Scratch
- How To Scale Your Content Library
How To Repurpose Your Content Library
Network With Others Who Can Help You Reach Your Goals
I learned an amazingly powerful strategy for building out your online blogging business recently from a smart cat named Adam Enfroy. In the end, what he suggested wasn’t anything new. Write. Network. Guest Post. Reap the rewards. The difference, though was in how he framd it. Just don’t guest post for anyone, aim for certain blogs that have a lot of clout in the marketplace, and make that networking and guest blogging the root of your effort in drawing eyeballs to your own blog and online business. It’s a rather genius approach really… to make guest blogging THE effort, instead of the icing on the overal content marketin system. It can and does work wonders. Another gent I learned a lot from lately is Pat Walls over and Starter Story. He’s idea of interviewing business owners at scale is such a slap-yourself aross the face idea, I can’t believe i didn’t think of it myself. Both of these guys can help you talke your business from zero to through the moon because they provide you with an ama;zing frame work to borrw from, and a system to help you scale and automate things. Spend as much time as you have in this blogging journey of yours lelarning from them. What they have to teaach is worth it’s weight in gold.
- How to Network on Social Media to Grow your Online Business (which platforms, and what to say)
- How to Leverage Your Mailing List to Reach More People and Deliver an Outstanding Customer Experience
- In-person Networking Events in Japan and Elsewhere That Actually Pay Dividends
Create a 3-8 Day Drip Course
Creating a drip email course you can send out to subscribers to your blog’s email list is a tremendous way to build goodwill, get people fired up and taking aaction on your advice, and a wonderful way to stoke interest in purchasing something from you in the future. So, if you’re considering a bootcamp, a mastermind, or a membership site, a simple drip course is the perfect way to get started and test the waters a bit. Below are my best recommended sources for this strategy in 202—until I build out my own!
- How to Build an Email Course That Creates Ultra-Engaged Customers, from Drip.com
- Does Mailchimp have Drip Campaigns? from ChimpEssentials
- Creating A Course With Drip Fed Content (Locking Lessons), from Teachery
- How to Create an Email Course That Converts Like Crazy, from Teachable
- How to Use Drip Training & Learning to Sell More Courses, from LearnWorlds
- How to Drip Your Online Course Content, from Podia
- What is Drip Marketing: How to Create an Amazing Drip Campaign, from Kajabi
Rinse, Lather, Repeat on Your Content Marketing and Professional Outreach Plans
If you follow this plan from start to finish, you should start seeing results within a reason balbe amount of time. Of course, as with everything in life, there are no promises, no guarantees. We can only be responsible for our own hustle. In the end, that’s what we should strive for, and be most proud of. Once you start seeing results. Take a breather. Stretch your neck. Go for a run. Take a vacation. You deserve it. Then, get back on the horse and create some more content, repurpose old content, and maybe stretch out into a new medium like YouTube, or repeat the process in an entirely new verticacl… like me. Time to work on another site!