12 Tools You Need To Start a Successful Blog

Every now and then I get asked questions about my blogging resources and what tools I’m using. I’m surprised to find myself giving advice to newbie bloggers because I never thought of myself as a person in a position to give advice on blogging. I suppose that after 6 years of blogging, a few international blogging awards, and learning to do it all on my own from scratch, I could give a tip or two that someone might actually find useful!

When I started blogging, my computer skills consisted of replying to emails and browsing the internet. No joke!  So I had to learn everything from zero. Blogging is actually a never-ending learning process, you learn something new everyday. I’ve tried different things and made lots of mistakes along the way, so this list will be from my experience and pov what has worked for me. I hope it helps someone out there just getting started. I’ve also candidly shared with you the cost maintaining a site like Blue Abaya for one year ( UPDATED FOR 2018) . You will not believe all the expenses that go into it.

Naturally not everyone who starts a blog wants it to grow big or to become professional bloggers. For example many Saudi based bloggers write for their families back home about their life in KSA.

This is a list of tools and resources I wish I had known and used from day one. It would’ve saved thousands of hours of wasted time and from having to pull my hair out and have mini heart attacks every so often.

What I’ve noticed is that quite a lot of people don’t realize how costly blogging actually is and how much hard work it requires. So for those people eager to start their own blogs or just starting out, there’s a few things to consider investing in, if you want your blog to be successful and take it a step further than a personal journal type blog.

At the end of this post you will see the cost of one year of (pro) blogging. I think many will be surprised! Or shocked like I was. 

12 essential tools for starting a successful blog

My Essential tools for starting a successful blog:

1. Sign up for wordpress account. I recommend wordpress over blogspot especially if you want to take things the extra mile and purchase a beautiful theme for your blog.

2. Get your own domain name. You absolutely need to purchase your own domain name if you want to have credibility and for the long run if you want to turn your blogging into a business. This way you also get an email address with your own domain name. Domain names cost anywhere between 10-20$ per year. Additional domain name privacy (I recommended to prevent spammers from contacting you) will cost another 10-20$ per year. You can get one domain for free at Bluehost when you sign up!) I went from blueabaya.blogspot.com to blueabaya.com in 2013 by purchasing a domain name and hosting plan from Bluehost and moving everything to wordpress. (From bluehost 15.99 per year and domain name privacy 11.88$)

3. Get a hosting provider. Bluehost has hosting plans starting as low as 2.95 per month, depending on what type of blog you have and how much traffic you are getting. I used this hosting service since 2013. Bluehost have 24 h customer service and tons of handy add ons.  (Blue Abaya current VPS cloud server hosting plan is 59.99$ per month, 708$ per year.)

4. Create Blog logo. You could design your own if you have the skills to save money. See the online image editors mentioned further in this post. if you decide to hire someone, the budget option is looking for people on networks like Upwork, Etsy, or Creative Market.

5. Purchase a custom theme. You can get nice themes for wordpress for free from ThemeForest, but it’s worth investing in your theme to make it more customizable, achieve a personalized look and make it easy to navigate. I’m using a drag and drop website builder ProPhoto (199$ for the ProPhoto license + 150$ custom PP theme + 79 $ installation.)

6. Customize and design your site. I designed my own site and learned everything on my own, it’s an ongoing learning process and at first can take months of your time. If you hire a designer make sure they know what they’re doing. Ask to see their verified previous work and talk to previous clients.

7. Watermarking. If your blog is going to have a lot of photography, especially if you are a professional photographer, you will need to get various software to edit your photos with. Photoshop, Lightroom are a must. You’ll also need something to watermark and resize a batch of images at once, the best option for this I’ve found in BlogStomp (49$ one time purchase). BlogStomp will batch resize, watermark, sharpen and rename hundreds of images at a time in just a few seconds.

8. Online photo editors and graphics maker.  I use mainly two online photo editors. Picmonkey is great for quick fixes, adding text, image layers, making collages and social media images. Picmonkey costs 4,99$ per month for the upgraded version which I highly recommend investing in. They have the coolest fonts and you get access to galleries of overlays with the upgraded version.  Picmonkey is super easy to use even if you have zero experience in editing graphic design like I did when I started! Picmonkey has a vast archive of tutorial videos you can learn with. ( 4.99 per month and 59.88$ per year)

I also love Lightroom CC which is a must for more professional needs in photo editing. LR CC can be used from mobile too. ( I use the 9.99 $ monthly for the basic Photography plan 119.88$ yearly)

9. Online storage. You will need to be able to access your images from various places not just your home pc or laptop, so the best solution for me has been Dropbox pro extra storage. Dropbox is really handy in sharing material too and serves as a backup for your images as well. This will cost you 9.99$ monthly for 1TB. ( 9.99$ x 12 months= 119.88$)

10. Back-ups. You will need to back up your blog regularly, for this I recommend Site Backup Pro which is easily purchased through Bluehost. Cost is 35.88$ per year. Or use a free plugin but remember to do it regularly.

11. Security. Don’t overlook this part! A good password is not enough to protect your site. I have purchased SiteLock which is 23.99$ a year from Bluehost. The amount of hacking attempts and malicious malware this program has stopped is amazing. I’ve been really satisfied with it, it’s worth the extra investment for your peace of mind. Consider that if your site gets hacked or infected with a virus, (like what happened to me before I got the SiteLock) it cost over 300$ to fix it.

12. Mailing list providers. You will need to get an email marketing program like MailChimp or Convertkit to send out email to your subscribers and create signup forms with. Mailchimp is free for under 2000 subscribers, but once you pass 2000 subscribers, it’s 30$ per month. I use Convertkit because of the more flexibility and additional features like landing pages, cool sign up forms and outstanding customer support they offer starting 49$ per month. For a list of over 5000 subscribers the monthly plan is 99 $.( 1,188$ per year)


And the grand total of this thing called pro-blogging?

2,561.56 USD 

That is when we count all the one time purchases in the amount.

the annual “maintenance” figure for keeping the blog running, for Blue Abaya is

2,283.56 USD per year. 


Add to this list does not count all the $$$ that goes into hiring freelancers for various tasks like the technical stuff or some more advanced graphic design work, coding, web development or a virtual assistant. I spent through upwork on hiring freelancers last year over 800 $ on top of this so the total expenses would be over 3000 usd for the past year 2017.

Shocking right?? I sure am shocked! This was the first time I ever added everything up like this. I kinda wish I hadn’t, it seems like a huge waste of money right now. Then again my blog is very important to me, it’s like my third baby! I’ve invested literally thousands of dollars from my own pocket into it because I believe in Blue Abaya and its future and I know it helps thousands of people. I can say I’m very proud of what I’ve achieved, mostly by just pure will power and probably some famous Finnish “Sisu” in the mix.

Perhaps the single most important tool a blogger needs is passion! You really need to be passionate about what you do or you will not succeed.

For anyone just starting out don’t be discouraged by these large figures, in the beginning you will not need so many upgrades right away and there are some free alternatives, whatever works for me might not be best way for another blogger in a different niche or different set of goals.

For sure a newbie blogger really has to be dedicated, persistent and not give up! You will also need to figure out ways to pay for these blogging bills with your blog which is easier said than done. One such way are affiliate links, (which this post contains, and bloggers should always mention) or advertisements, and creating products like ebooks, courses or webinars..But that’s a lesson for another time.

I suppose next time someone calls me greedy for writing an ebook guide and charging a WHOPPING 4.99$ for it, I’ll direct them to this post. Or when companies want me to write articles which takes me many days to compile and pay me in “exposure” “free meal” or better yet “tweets”. Yeah, I’ll definitely send them a link here :)

Good luck to all beginning bloggers, I wish you all blogging success!!


Are you a blogger? What are your favorite essential tools and resources for blogging success? Please share with us in the comments.

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  • Famidha AshrafMay 31, 2016 - 4:21 am

    Oh my! I knew there is a maintenance expense when we set up our own domain and then all the little expenses including valuable time! Even with just journaling like mine…its a lot of effort and most of the time I am bogged down. Hats off to you! Your blog is a window to Saudi.ReplyCancel

  • Jo JacksonJune 3, 2016 - 11:54 am

    Thanks for posting these tips. I am newbie blogger and found this very helpful, and good for setting expectations of how much my blog (my fourth baby) will cost. I figure that once I make 1 SAR from my blog, then I will spend some money on a better theme!ReplyCancel

  • Bushra Qamar AhmedJune 7, 2016 - 1:14 pm

    Ahh thats why i dont try ;) I guess I will continue volunteering for you then :DReplyCancel

  • Abeer SadiqJune 12, 2016 - 10:57 pm

    Dear Laura,
    I am Abeer, Mama of two little boys. I am moving to Riyadh in a few days now. I am from Karachi, Pakistan.I discovered you blog when we decided the move for our family and have been following ever since. It has helped me a lot and i feel like i already know a lot about life in KSA and RIyadh specially.
    I am writing to you to ask you a favour that would mean so much to me. You see, I have started my own Family Lifestyle blog. Its about my motherhood journey, travel experiences, food (recipes), photography, DIY crafts and fun toddler activities. I have always wanted to do this, I am an ardent blog reader and i even had another blog a few years ago but then i stopped writing on it. So this time, I am starting fresh with this new perspective that I am going to document my journey in KSA right from the start, along with my other passions. This has really inspired me and i think it will keep me going.
    I will cut to the chase. Every blogger needs readers or else whats the point of it all, right? I am asking you to do a short post on your blog or instagram and guide your readers towards my blog and Facebook page. That would mean the world to me, since i want to target the same set of readers too. Basically I want to target other expats families living there who can read about my family’s adventures and just making sense of the new city. Obviously my blog is nothing compared to yours and you can see that it has a different style to it so i hope I am not asking something inappropriate. I just want you to check out my blog, read a few posts and if it clicks you then you do it. I would be so grateful to you for this. Lets help a fellow sister out. Even if you don’t, i would still like us to be friends and maybe meet you some day when I am there? I will highly appreciate it.
    Please reply to me in either case. I will be waiting. I am posting the links to my blog and FB page below.



  • azzydoonSeptember 21, 2016 - 3:39 pm

    Damn! I never thought it will be so expensive and required that kind of extraordinary effort…!! SALUTE BLUE ABAYA…!!ReplyCancel

  • Bons plans Voyage au CanadaDecember 18, 2016 - 7:33 pm


    thank you for this article. I agree with you Blogging is lot of work ! And I regret I didn’t buy my domain since day 1. I would love to do it but, the problem is I am going to loose or the referencing and the all linked articles on my post will be wrong. Is there a way to avoid that ?ReplyCancel

    • Arabian LauraDecember 19, 2016 - 12:55 am

      yes there is a way, you need to direct all those links to point to the new location on the new domain.ReplyCancel

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