Let's be real; starting a blog costs money. While there are certainly ways to start posting your writings online for free, when it comes to creating a community and generating profit, you're going to need to invest some dough. If you've already begun your blogging journey, you've already taken the first financial step: paying for web hosting. If you've yet to start, you'll be giving up some money soon enough. So here's the real question: Have you created a budget for your blog yet?
Update: I have since developed a new system for budgeting for business. You can check out the new post here!
Disclaimer: This article contains affiliate links, meaning that I receive compensation if you purchase through the links on this page (at no additional cost to you!). I preach transparency around here, so know that affiliate programs in no way affect my opinions of these products. I 100% believe in what I recommend.
If you've already spent money for your blog without a budget, you're behind. If you're about to start your blog without a budget, stop.
When you plan to blog for profit, you're creating a business. And as someone who has cleaned up plenty of small business books at my accounting job, I can tell you that business expenses get out of hand real fast.
Bloggers talk all day about their list building strategies, their product launch schedules, and their content plans. We plan our social media and our email campaigns and our lead magnet offerings.
But if you're not planning ahead for your finances and tracking your expenses, you're building everything on a dangerously unstable foundation.
Some of you are probably thinking, "Okay, but it's not like I have inventory costs or general overhead expenses."
You're right. Starting out, you're not going to have a ton of expenses to track. A lot of your costs when you first start your blog are only annual charges. You may go another couple months without spending a dime.
So why bother?
Here's why you bother.
- The best time to start a budget is when it's easy and simple.
Trust me, you're not going to have a lot of fun trying to track down every little expense when they become relevant a year or two from now. And it's a lot easier to build on an existing system to adapt to complexity than it is to develop an intricate system from scratch.
- Blogging has a honeymoon phase.
When you first get started, everything is exciting. Everything is new. Everything is enticing.
You're going to want Divi and Convertkit and LeadPages and Edgar. You're going to want every course and ebook with a decent sales page. You'll even want to redesign your desk space so you can have the perfect Instagram-worthy work-from-home desk setup.
If you don't set limitations on your expenditures, you'll spend way more than you can afford, way earlier than you should.
- Sanity is powerful.
Having a complete understanding of where your business is standing and how your financial position looks will assuredly contribute to sanity.
And not just for you. Any chance you have a spouse, parent, or partner that's trying to be supportive but doesn't fully understand the blogging world? How much better would they feel if they could not only see how much you are spending, but how much you expect to spend?
Even just knowing that you know how much you're spending can put a lot of worries to rest.
So where do you begin?
Honestly, it all starts with your personal finances.
You have to know how much you can afford to invest in your business.
I really can't do this part for you, as everyone's situation is different. All I have are a couple pieces of advice:
- Realize that blogging is not a get-rich-quick-scheme.
While it varies greatly from person to person, it can take a few months to see more than a hundred dollars in revenue for a brand new blog. Don't justify a higher spending budget because "you'll make that money back in no time." I promise, it'll take time.
- Involve your spouse.
This may not be a personal finance blog, but I have a passion for money and thus have some strong opinions.
One of those is that spouses should always handle the finances together. If you're investing money into a business pursuit that could affect your financial future, your spouse better be involved and in-the-know.
It may take a little more persuasion, tug-of-war, and compromise to justify an expense, but that's part of marriage. And maybe, just maybe, they can be your voice of reason when you're stuck on your blogging honeymoon.
Plan the expenses.
Do some research, and get an idea of what you'll need to start paying for in order to run your blog. I get you started over here, but maybe you're a long-term planner.
Step one is going to be a gameplan. You need to prioritize before you research products and prices. Obviously, you need to start with hosting and a domain. From there, move down the list from legal templates, email providers, social media schedulers, blog themes, etc.
If you've already begun your blogging journey, make this list as if you haven't. Maybe you'll see where you're spending money on something you don't need yet. Or you'll see something that you should invest in as soon as possible! Create your budget as if you haven't started, and we'll make the necessary adjustments later.
Here's a ballpark range of expenses for popular blogging tools. Keep in mind, these are always subject to change, so do your own research!
Special note: These are not necessarily my recommendations. Links with an * are affiliate links, which I do recommend. All products here are simply a basic list of popular tools you'll come across in your blogging research. Many of these items have free versions/trials or alternatives (for example, Recurpost isn't listed because it has a very nice free version).
Siteground* - $47.40/year
Bluehost - $59.40/year
Domain - $10-$15/year
Domain ID Protection - $3-15/year
Tailwind* - $120 for 1 year
Buffer - $0-$10/month
Hootsuite - $19/month
MeetEdgar - $49/month
Divi Theme - $89/year
Genesis Theme - $59.95
LeadPages - $25-48/month
Thrive Architect - $67-97
Mailchimp - $0-$35/month
MailerLite*-$0-$10/month or $84/year
Adobe Creative Cloud - $49.99/month
Legal Templates - $50-150
eCourses - $100-$300
eBooks - $10-$60
Extra note: If you go to one of these sites and notice the prices have changed a lot, I'd appreciate it if you'd let me know in a quick email! Notify me at email@example.com. Thank you for helping me keep TLS accurate!
As you write down these expected costs, reevaluate your priority list and adjust as needed. Maybe you thought you needed Thrive, but realized you won't have a product that needs a landing page anytime soon and you're not ready to drop $67/month for it.
Make a Wishlist.
Courses and ebooks are so enticing when you feel the overwhelm of the blogging world.
However, if you don't have spending limits, you're going to start signing up for more courses than you have time for, buying books that aren't useful, and throwing a lot of money down the drain.
Instead, make a wishlist. As you come across products you're interested in, write down the creator's name, product name, price, and time of year it's offered, if applicable.
If you find you have extra money to spend one month, you can go to this list and see which ones you're still dying to purchase!
You can also apply the wishlist concept to tools and plug-ins that aren't necessary for your blog's function but would be really nice to have.
Investing in your Business
We interrupt this program to bring you a very important rant.
Do not disguise wasteful spending as "business investment."
Seriously, don't do it. You're only hurting yourself and your business.
A lot of online influencers and entrepreneurs pitch these extravagant dreams of hitting rock bottom, putting every dollar they have into their business while living on a couch, and growing their business into a seven-figure machine as a result of their "hard work" and "dedication."
While I don't doubt these people worked hard for their dreams, I have no respect for businesspeople who teach this principle as "true entrepreneurship." It's not grit, it's not brave, it's not a true sign of commitment.
Sometimes, you hit rock bottom, and you make some seriously delicious lemonade from it. But do not try to get others to buy into the idea that when they invest large sums of money into their business (usually by buying your product), they'll find success.
You know how people build long-lasting, successful businesses in the real, commonplace, everyday world?
They plan, strategize, and prepare. They're patient and careful. They calculate and analyze. And they save up and invest when they're ready.
Some people launch a business by jumping off a cliff and discovering they can fly. That's okay if you were already falling off the cliff. The rest of us are going to take our time to build reliable wings so we don't jump off that cliff and realize gravity sucks. (But like, don't fly too close to the sun or sea, Icarus. #greekmythologyrocks)
Creating your budget
Once you have an idea of the kinds of expenses you're going to have, alongside the amount of money you can actually afford to put into your business, it's time to get these down in writing.
Any expert in goal achievement will tell you that a written plan is much more powerful and reliable than one you keep in your head. Write it down, hold yourself accountable.
Oh, hey! Lucky you!
I've created a workbook to get you started, along with an Excel template you can fill out after you plan your way through the workbook. You can snag those here!
Let me walk through an example to help you through this process.
Flash is a new blogger. Everyone say, "Hiiii, Flash!"
Flash's take-home pay is $2,500 per month. After his living expenses (rent, groceries, bills, etc.) and money for his personal savings, he only has $100-$150 he can put towards his blog.
Flash lists out his anticipated annual and monthly blog expenses.
As you can see, Flash just doesn't have a lot of funds he can throw at his blog right now, so he has to be patient. His options are to spend his budget each month until he's paid for what he needs, or he could set aside the money and save it up until he's ready to buy it all at once. This time, he chose option one because he didn't want someone to steal his domain name.
Flash decided to pay the one time cost for a website theme in the beginning, then pay for his hosting, domain, and domain privacy. In month 2, his funds go towards the annual fee for Tailwind. Then in month 3, he has room to invest in some handy tools that charge monthly (as identified in the blue boxes). He even had leftover money to buy that ebook he had been eyeing!
Flash decides to take it a step further and budget his blog's income. He's set his goal to earn $100 in a single month by Month 6. Flash is a hustler so he knows he'll do whatever it takes to meet this goal, and seeing the number motivates him to keep working hard until he reaches it.
Fun Fact: There are more helpful pages and sections than this in the workbook!
Tracking your progress
What good is a budget if you don't track your actual activity? You'll never know if it's working!
When you're first starting to budget, you might be way off. After all, your numbers are just guesswork. My tracking it every month, you'll be able to adjust the next month's budget to be more in line with reality if you find you had the wrong estimates.
It's okay to flounder a bit at first, just keep going! Things will iron out and it'll quickly become a natural process for you.
- When do I count income and expenses?
One of the first things I see on bloggers' income reports is a discussion about when they're tracking something as an income or expense. You'll commonly see things like "I earned more affiliate income this month, but I won't see that in my bank for another month, so I didn't count it here."
Related Post: 3 Mistakes Bloggers Make on Their Income Reports
They may not realize it, but that's actually what is called "Cash Basis" accounting. When you count income and expenses as the actual cash is received or paid out.
One of the fundamental lessons in accounting is cash vs. accrual methods. Most regular businesses use accrual accounting, which means that you count income when it's earned, and expenses when they're used. (And "used" isn't technically the right term. It's more accurate to say "incurred.")
If a blogger were to use accrual accounting, they would count their affiliate sales as income, even if the company hasn't paid them yet. Technically, they've earned that money, and they can expect to receive that cash in a reasonable amount of time.
Additionally, we pay for hosting a year in advance, right? So while $60 may have left our bank, we haven't actually used a year's worth of hosting yet. So you would actually only say your business expenses are $5 a month as you use up the hosting you purchased. This is the difference between a cost and an expense.
Weird, right? Most of you probably have no interest in accounting, though, so I'll shortcut the rest for ya:
Bloggers should almost always use cash basis accounting.
While yes, the accrual method is technically more accurate, most small business (especially those without inventory and who don't sell on credit) use cash basis. It's much simpler, easier to track through your bank account, and it'll work out better for you during tax time. (Accrual businesses may pay taxes on income that they've earned but haven't actually received yet! Yuck!)
So count the income when it's in your bank. Count the expense when the money goes out.
- What expenses are blog related?
You may be surprised by what expenses you should count as blog expenses. While yes, it's pretty easy to assign hosting and email services to your blog, did you know your eBooks are business expenses?
Here are a couple tax-friendly categories used in accounting that you'll see in your blog expenses:
Misc. Taxes & Licenses - sales taxes, payroll taxes, business licenses, etc.
Education & Training - ebooks, courses, conferences, etc.
Travel - airfare, hotel stays, and other travel expenses tied to a blog-related event (like conferences)
Office Expense - planners, notebooks, hosting, domain, software, etc.
Subcontract Labor - hiring freelancers
Legal & Professional - accountants, lawyers, consultants, coaches, etc.
Advertising - Anything promotional, like paid ads
Merchant Processor Fees / Bank Fees - payment processor fees, or if you incurred a bank charge due to a business-related event
Note that you can separate Office Expense into "Office Supplies" for physical items and "Computer & Internet" or whatever you want to call it if you don't like notebooks and hosting to be in the same category. Really, you can play around with these titles all you want, as long as it keeps you organized! (And as long as your tax professional can interpret them!)
And honestly, there's likely several more. Just remember, if buy a new binder but you're using it for recipes (and you're not a recipe blogger), that's not blog related.
But if you spend money on anything that you are then using for your blog, that's a business expense!
Your Profit & Loss Statement
Now don't freak out, but I think you should be creating monthly P&L statements for your blog. Call me an accountant (I am), but P&Ls provide valuable insight into your business.
Even if you aren't making money, don't you want to know when you finally go positive?
Just so you know, having one good month doesn't mean you finally became profitable.
Let's say you've put $250 into your blog for three months. Then, on month four, you spent $20 and made $70. Wow! You're profitable, right? Wrong. You're stillin the hole $200.
Having an income statement that tracks your monthly progress alongside your year-to-date progress will give you a much more accurate picture of how your business is performing. It's also useful to look at what percentage of your revenue each expense is taking up.
If I haven't been able to turn a profit but 60% of the money I have made is going into courses and ebooks, I need to reevaluate what education materials I'm investing in. If 50% of my revenue is going to planner supplies, I need to stop buying washi tape and start turning those plans into action.
Lucky for you, I made it super easy for you to create one of these statements. The spreadsheet you can download at the bottom of this post gives you detailed instructions for making the most of the template I made for you!
Related Post: Mastering Your Blog's First DIY Income Statement
Planning for Taxes
We can't talk about financial preparedness without addressing taxes. I'm American, so I'm basing this section on U.S. tax law only.
I'll do a post in the future with more detail on this area, because it can get kind of complicated.
Basically, just know that you have to report any and all income from your blog, whether it's for a hobby or if you're running as a business. The effect this will have on your taxes will depend on the expense items you can deduct, your regular income, and about a dozen other factors.
If you're deemed self-employed, you are going to be responsible for payroll taxes as well. You know how a typical paycheck from an employer has medicare and social security taxes deducted from your gross earnings? Well, that's you paying half of your taxes, and your employer paying the other half.
Where a normal employee is only paying 6.2% of gross wages for social security and 1.45% for medicare, a self-employed individual has to pay 12.4% and 2.9%. You're paying your portion and the employer portion; factor in typical income tax and you could end up with a decent bill next Spring if you're not prepared.
As I said, a lot of factors are at play here, and it's hard to generalize your tax situation. This is why I'm only going to tell you three things.
Set aside 30% of your income to prepare for taxes. This is a generally acknowledged ballpark figure that usually puts you in the safe zone come tax time. Bonus points for putting this into a separate checking account that is reserved for taxes.
Be prepared to pay quarterly. If the government gets a sense from your last tax return that you generate a hefty tax bill on the regular, they'll require you to make quarterly payments. This reduces the total bill on your tax return, and gives the government peace of mind that they'll get their money.
Get a tax professional. I'm partial to working with actual CPAs over the people at H&R Block. You do not want to mess up your taxes. As someone who has had to make phone calls to inform clients they have 10, 20, or 30 thousand dollar tax bills because they messed up one year, I cannot stress this enough.
A quick disclaimer, I may have some tax experience, but I am not a substitute for a tax professional. I'm giving highly generalized tips here, but taxes are extremely subjective. Consult a tax professional to receive tailored advice to your personal situation.
A Strong Financial Foundation
Are you ready to create a strong financial foundation for your blog?
To do so, you need a plan and a system.
You need to budget, and you need to track. You need to be able to tell your business' financial story.
The workbook I created will walk you through the plan. It'll help you organize your thoughts and predict your next sixth months of finances. Then, you can use my spreadsheet template to develop your system for tracking your income and expenses and analyzing your business' performance.
Don't try to stumble onto your profits! Take charge today and make it happen yourself.
Don't forget to grab your starter kit!
What are your financial goals for your blogging business?
Let me know in the comments, or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org!
Until next time,