How to Launch a Professional-Looking Blog on a Shoestring

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an FTP program—I downloaded a free one called FileZilla. This allows you to plop all of the PHP scripts, stylesheets, functions, and images, that came with your custom theme into the “public-html” or “www” directory on your new Web server. WooThemes has a helpful video that walks you through the whole theme installation process.

Cost: $0.

The WooThemes Antisocial calendar and tag widgets4. I fiddled with the theme options to give my new blog a personal spin. Most WooThemes themes come with a variety of options for customizing the layout, color scheme, and behavior of your blog. WordPress makes it easy to select your favorites using the “Theme Options” panel. I chose a nice burnt-orange color scheme for Travels with Rhody. I set up the navigation scheme so that visitors can browse my posts by category. I added a few free WordPress plugins, including one that shows the latest photos I’ve uploaded to Flickr, and another that shows my most recent tweets at Twitter. (Adding plugins to a WordPress blog is easy: you just download them from the free WordPress plugin directory, FTP them to the plugin directory on your server, activate them in the WordPress administrative dashboard, and use a drag and drop interface to arrange them inside the “widgetized” areas of your WooThemes theme.) I also took advantage of several of the custom widgets that came with the Antisocial theme, including the social-media widget that handles the aforementioned button column, as well as the tagging and calendar widgets.

Cost: $0.

5. I created a logo. Every professionally designed blog needs a slick logo. Fortunately you don’t have to hire a Web designer to make one—you can do it yourself using any number of free graphics programs, as long as you’re willing to learn a few tricks. I used GIMP, the GNU Image Manipulation Program, which you can download here. I liked the look of the generic logo that came with the Antisocial theme, so I fiddled around with GIMP’s text, fuzzy selection, gradient, drop-shadow, and rotation tools until I had something similar that I liked, and then uploaded it to WordPress using the Custom Logo area of the Theme Options panel. The key thing when making a logo is to do it on a transparent background and save it in a file format that supports transparency, such as PNG or GIF. I found some useful tutorials on creating logos in GIMP here and here.

Cost: $0.

6. I started blogging. This, obviously, is the hard part. Once you’ve got a nifty personal blog, it helps if you have something to say. I plan to use Travels with Rhody just as I always have—as a place to collect and share article links, photographs, random discoveries, and thoughts about journalism, technology, and my other passions. For example, I just blogged about my participation in a recent Web Innovators Group panel in on how early-stage startups can handle their own public relations. The panel generated quite a bit of heated discussion among the actual public relations professionals who were in the audience, and I wanted to respond, but it’s the sort of inside-baseball stuff that isn’t really appropriate for Xconomy. Whatever you decide to write about, I guarantee that the stylish, sophisticated themes available from WooThemes will make you feel like a pro.

Cost: Priceless.

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Wade Roush is a contributing editor at Xconomy. Follow @wroush

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