How to Simplify and Authentically Grow Your Blog Without Spending Money

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Blogging is now a viable career option and there are endless examples of bloggers who have monetised their site to the point where they can quit their 9-5 job and live the dream.

Consequently, the bloggosphere (blogisphere? blogosphere? There really should be some clarification on this) is filled with ‘Earning Reports’ (which I often ignore), along with a bajillion things that we should all be doing to optimise our traffic and increase engagement to our sites. I apparently need an email list, in which I should offer incentives. I should be part of an Instagram pod or tailwind tribe. I should be self-hosted and have a professionally designed site, I should have paid advertising across all of my social media. I should be building up my social media accounts by following and then unfollowing people.

Nonsense.

No wonder so many bloggers are feeling overwhelmed or disappointed with the fact that they haven’t been able to quit their job after blogging for two months. There’s so much conflicting information that many feel the need to do everything because they have seen that it works for someone else.

Unfortunately, anyone who knows me will tell you that, while I am not unintelligent by any means, I can be scatterbrained and incredibly lazy, combined with a heavy level of resistance to change and stubbornness. Essentially, if there is an easy way to do something that doesn’t involve moving lots of things around and/or paying for it, then THAT’s the way for me. I’m not self-hosted and I don’t belong to Instagram pods or tailwind tribes. I don’t have a targeted email list, nor do I have pop-ups. I’m in a small number of Facebook groups. I don’t post every day. I don’t follow hundreds and hundreds of blogs on WordPress – I think at my last count it was at about 250, but lots of those haven’t been active for quite some time. I don’t have plug-ins that aren’t already part of .com. I have a Bloglovin’ account but do absolutely nothing with it – it’s linked to share my posts and that’s it. My blog is not professionally designed. I made a one-off payment for my theme, and during the year I pay for three things: an annual payment for my premium account and domain name ($99), a monthly subscription to BoardBooster for Pinterest ($10), and unlimited wi-fi. Admittedly, I once paid Β£13.00 for Facebook advertising, only to receive nine extra views. NINE.

And yet, I have received nearly 750,000 views on Suzie Speaks. Of course, it isn’t in the same league as some of the big blogs that I see, but it’s enough to afford me a lifestyle that I could have only dreamed of a few years ago. There’s me, my blog and my social media accounts. I don’t have a Virtual Assistant or anyone else helping me. I write, post, promote, reply and repeat.

Of course, if blogging is a career goal, then numbers are important. I’m admittedly a stats obsessive. It’s a harsh statement to make, but Β it’s an unfortunate fact that you are more likely to be taken seriously if your numbers are high. However, high numbers of followers, particularly on social media don’t necessarily equate to high engagement.

For example: I have just 81 people following my StumbleUpon account, and have received several thousand views from SU since the start of the year. I have just over 3,400 followers on Pinterest, but have received over SIX times that in referrals since the beginning of January.

The key is to grow your following authentically is by keeping it simple, by engaging with others, establishing a genuine community, and above all, PUTTING THE TIME AND EFFORT IN. And for those who complain they don’t have time, I did a large amount of this when I was working full-time in a very stressful teaching job.

This is what I did.

Social Media Management

When it comes to social media, I have a Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, Stumble Upon, Instagram and Flipboard account, all with apps that I have on my phone to give easy access to them wherever I am. However, I didn’t start off with all of those – I began with Facebook, then Twitter, then slowly added the others over a period of time.

I initially began by doing a bit of social media planning in advance.

As a large percentage of my following is American, I worked out that I should be promoting early for my British audience before they started work and late in the evening for the Americans to coincide when they would be finishing work on or their lunchtime.

On Twitter, I wrote down a list of popular hashtags and chats for each day of the week (along with times), along with a list of posts that are relevant to these. Tip: you can schedule tweets in advance by using tools like Hootsuite. I don’t use a scheduling app for Twitter – I like to tweet and then engage immediately with others and Hootsuite can’t predict trending hashtags which I use – but it is indeed a useful and time-saving resource. I also put my favourite bloggers into a list so that I could easily access their posts.

On Facebook, I wrote down a list of the days when the opportunity to share blog and social media links are allowed.

On Pinterest, I joined large group boards and noted their follower numbers, created a group board of my own, made a list of posts and topics for each board and then set up BoardBooster.

I then used this information to create a daily checklist in an effort to try and organise myself. Nothing big or fancy, just a simple black notebook in which I have a list of tasks that I tick off, along with the amount of views I receive on that day.

This is a very basic version of my checklist for my OWN BLOG on my social media (I’ve simplified it to avoid having to name every group and their numbers etc)

Tweet x3 with hashtags (which will vary depending on the day and are staggered)
Share post or image on Facebook page
Share post in Facebook group (which will vary depending on the day)
Share post to SU
Post image on Instagram
Flip five posts
Share post on Flipboard

I don’t have anything specific for my own blog on Pinterest as I already have BoardBooster set up – this will send out pins to targeted boards throughout the day and evening and is totally worth the $10 a month.

To do this via my apps takes about 10 minutes, and aside from BoardBooster I haven’t spent any money.

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Now, HERE’S where the work starts.

I reply to every single comment on my blog. I have set it so that comments have to be moderated and approved to appear, so I don’t approve anything until I have read and replied to them, even if it is to say a simple thank you. This may take minutes or even days if I have had a lot of comments, but I value the comments above anything else.

When I tweet a post out, I then share posts from others who are using the same hashtag.

I pin lots of posts from others into my various boards on Pinterest throughout the day.

If I have left a post in a Facebook group link-up, I comment on a post from someone else participating.

I will share posts from others on my blog in the form of a reblog – not every day, but I certainly do five or six a month.

I visit at least five blogs I follow every day on WordPress, leaving a meaningful comment. I can’t do more than that – I once tried to read as many as I could and I quickly became overwhelmed.

I reply to questions that other bloggers post in Facebook groups.

I stumble other bloggers posts every day.

On certain days, I participate in chats and link-ups on Twitter. For example, during my #SundayBlogShare link-up I spend several hours reading and retweeting the thousands of people that participate every week. I also host a link-up in my Facebook group.

I put a link to most of my social media accounts at the bottom of almost every blog post I publish, so that people who enjoy my posts will know where they can find me elsewhere online.

I do my best to TALK to people and establish connections. As a result, I have a core group of blog friends (some of whom I have known for years) that have been a huge support. I have met some of them in person, we send each other Christmas and birthday cards. If they have published a book, I want to help promote it. If they have written a killer blog post, I want to share it. Blogging is not just about YOUR blog posts – the more you share, the more likely you are to get back in return.

I DON’T follow and unfollow lots of people. I’ll unfollow if they haven’t posted in a while, consistently don’t engage with me over a long period of time or are suddenly writing things that don’t necessarily match my own views (ie. I suddenly see posts from them that are racist, sexist and homophobic). This sort of activity is one of the reasons why I am not a huge fan of Instagram, and I actually mentally blacklist bloggers who have repeatedly done this to me on Twitter. It’s a shady way to conduct yourself.

When adding up the amount of time I spend online every day, it can vary from an hour to three-four hours at the weekends, not including the amount of time it takes me to write a post and create a pinnable image. However, I can do lots of it while doing other things at the same time using my apps, and it’s totally worth it.

So, if you want to grow your blog without spending lots of money:

  • Choose a few things to focus on as a starting point. When you feel comfortable with what you’re doing, then you can add more.
  • Create and effectively use a targeted checklist.
  • Consistently engage with people because you enjoy reading their blogs, not because you want to boost your numbers.
  • Promote your posts daily across your social media.
  • Share lots of posts from others across your social media.
  • Use social media scheduling tools.
  • Be patient! You aren’t going to get anything simply by pressing the publish button!

What about you guys? Do you pay for advertising? What’s your most effective way of building your views?

You can also find me on Twitter and Tumblr @suzie81blog, and don’t forget to check out my Facebook page http://www.facebook.com/suzie81speaks, my Pinterest page http://www.pinterest.com/suzie81speaks and my Instagram page http://www.instagram.com/suzie81speaks.

247 thoughts on “How to Simplify and Authentically Grow Your Blog Without Spending Money

  1. Hi Suzie,
    Excellent tips. I follow many and mean to follow many like which groups allow sharing on which days. Keeping up with the blogging is so time-consuming, and I teach outside the home. These are definitely goals I plan to do as time allows.
    Janice

  2. I love this! I’m a new blogger trying to find my way and I am seeing the shady things that some people do first hand. I’m still trying to locate a blog friend lol, but the FB groups are great for answering any questions and promoting your post further than you could on your own. I’m going to take some of your advice and create a schedule for myself to stay on track.

  3. I completely agree with you, especially about being genuine – that is the key for me. Plus I do love blogs where the author takes the time to respond to comments, numerous blogs, some I no longer follow for that reason alone. I think if I am taking the time to respond to your post, it is really nice to receive a reply.

    • I totally agree. I went through a phase about a year after i started of not replying to comments as i was told that it was a waste of time, but I felt really rude. I make a point of replying to every single one where I can, even if it means taking a few days to do it…

  4. I love this post! It’s so good to hear someone with success say that it isn’t something you throw together in a few sittings.

    I’ve been looking into ways to monetise my blog further (I really need the cash) but I struggle with maths and financial concepts, as well as anxiety, so I have to think everything through v thoroughly to make sure I haven’t missed something that would be glaringly obvious to other people/don’t have a panic attack.

    I think growing things organically (e.g. figuring out one social media platform at a time) is the best way to avoid getting overwhelmed with these things! πŸ™‚

  5. Wowee! Your reality is my goal. I’m doing as much as I can on my own. Trying only to pay for what is necessary- you didn’t mention which email marketing you use?. Mailchimp. I love blogging and don’t know why. I’m thing that the writing is creative expression and the rest is like a big jigsaw puzzle with friends

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  7. This: “There’s so much conflicting information…” Yes. What you should and shouldn’t do.

    I’ll take advice, of course, and better what I’m doing or learn something new but I won’t have someone tell me I HAVE to do this or that. That’s what they want to do. And that’s great.

    I don’t know how you manage all this but I’m going to reread. One thing that stuck out was that you visit 5 blogs a day. I try to visit them all in one or two days. It’s imposiible and I very quickly get overwhelmed. A lot of fantastic info here! πŸ’– Thanks.

  8. I have yet to actually create my own blog yet, so this REALLY helps πŸ™‚ I’ve been compiling some plans and ideas to get started (topics, etc) and I was VASTLY overwhelmed by the “blog help” articles I’ve been reading on Pinterest. Yours has been my absolute favorite so far and thank you SO MUCH for sharing πŸ™‚

  9. I love how you approach blog growth! I have very similar philosophies. I love to engage with other bloggers, and don’t like to pay or automate things, because it doesn’t feel as genuine. We blog for the community, to help others, and yes, to make money, but that will come when you’re providing value. Thanks so much for your thoughts!

  10. Brilliant post and thanks for reiterating again that F/U or commenting on 100 blogs doesn’t bring success. Some smart tips here- some I am already doing, some I will work towards. Thanks for sharing πŸ™‚

  11. Great post! Thank you for sharing your experience.
    I’m a new blogger and I do feel the pressure and stress that comes from the need to be established and known in the blogging world.
    Another thing, I blog in English even though I live in Italy, do you think I should translate my posts and have a bilingual blog?
    I’m already doing some of your tips, and I’ll definitely try the others!

  12. I liked your post! I am super new to blogging, just went live today in fact! Some of what you said still sounds like French to me, but I know that it will come with time. Thanks for the encouragement for newbies!

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  14. These tips are so handy Suzie. I think it does take a lot of effort and particularly planning to run a successful blog. I admit to having got a little overwhelmed by it all, but am slowly and surely getting back into the thick of it!
    I like your idea about moderating comments so none get missed. I think I am going to try that now to see if it works for me.
    I lost contact with a few favourite bloggers too despite still following them, as I hardly use the reader now. I have realised that I am missing out a lot. Time for a bit of a re-think all round for me! πŸ™‚

  15. Well I think it’s wonderful how well you have done simply by being a lovely, genuine person, rather than someone who automates everything. I must admit, I love my email list, because most of my readers are not bloggers (so they don’t have a WP account), or writers, and the email list gives people an opportunity to engage and contact me. But other than that, I fully support everything you say. I’ve not had much interest through Pinterest, even though there are lots of people on there who love Ireland, so there must be opportunity there, I guess I just haven’t found the way in yet. Thanks for sharing all your experiences, and giving us hope! 😁 Lots of things I might try here, the checklist being one of them. πŸ˜™

  16. For once, blogging advice that doesn’t leave my head spinning and the back of my neck breaking out in a cold sweat. It’s also good to see that I was following some of these tips already, albeit not closely enough to have much impact.
    Do you have any advice for promoting fiction based blog posts on pinterest and twitter?

  17. I enjoyed reading this post as a recommendation from another blogger whom I follow but I honestly don’t believe the time frames that you specify for completing these simple daily tasks. Perhaps I’m just a slow reader but it seems to take me ages to read my followed posts. Anyway, thanks for the tips.

  18. This is such a great post! I’m a newbie blogger and I’ve spent a fair bit of time looking through posts for tips and tricks etc, but so much of it included paid boosts and things like that, which I just don’t think I’m big enough for yet.

  19. Lots of awesome tips here SuZie. I must admit I don’t use social media as much as I could, mainly Instagram (which I’m fairly new at) and FB occasionally to share a blog post.

  20. Goodness! This is really helpful for us new bloggers that don’t really know what we’re doing yet. Thank you for sharing your tips.

    I have only just started following people and so far, I am loving reading such a diverse range of opinions on such a diverse range of subjects. But I only really started my blog for fun, and I doubt I’d ever have enough regular readers to give up the day job, but it is still good to see ways in which I might be able to connect with more people.

    p.s. I’d never even heard of people following/unfollowing each other on instagram. That sounds like way too much work!!

  21. I really needed to read this today – I’m having a blog crisis! You always make so much sense without making the reader feel like they’re asking stupid questions. Thanks so much.

  22. I love the idea of commenting on like 5 fellow WP’ers a day. After two years of making valuable connections I have hit a point where I’m overwhelmed with the speed and magnitude of my feed. Some days I just completely shut it down; I really don’t want to. But I like the idea of dedicating myself to a particular number a day…something not too time consuming, or biting off more than I can chew!

  23. I agree! This post is great because so many people think they have to spend a ton of money to be successful as a blogger when in reality all they have to do is create content be themselves and connect with others along with sharing not just their own stuff but other things from other bloggers that they find interesting or useful.

  24. Amen to ALL of this! I don’t have as much time as I used to so I’ve actually culled my social media and I’m cleaning up followers/following so that the time I do have will be spent in engaging with people in a meaningful way. I also realised that I really love the blogging process and I’m not very obsessed with my stats – it was never meant to be a money-making venture, so stats matter not.

    • I started off by not caring about my stats and then it just sort of spiralled haha! I recently did a big social media cull and it reminded me of the great blogs that I haven’t visited in a while, so I am going to concentrate on that a lot more in the next few weeks…

  25. Great tips and great insights!!! Its funny- you say you started up at your full time job as a teacher. I started this blog at work, too. As an accountant. LOL! I am enjoying blogging very much. I find it so much fun. I love connecting with others- and reading their thoughts. Thank you for this!

    • Thanks lovely – I didn’t start the blog while I was physically at work, I would write when I got home, but it was difficult to try and keep it going when work was stressful! Really pleased you’re enjoying blogging – it changed my life!

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