How to Start a Blog (to Make Money or Otherwise) in 2020

Updated December 3, 2019

Wondering how to start a blog? Hi, I’m Amy. I’ve been blogging for 15 years and I like simple. In this beginner’s guide, I’ll show you how to start a blog simply (and on a budget). It’s easier and faster than you think! Plus, no technical experience required.

How to start a blog to make money or otherwise

Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links. If you click through and make a purchase, I’ll earn a commission, at no additional cost to you. Read my full disclosure here.


Short on time?

This post is thorough, but you can easily jump ahead without a problem:

Shortcut #1: Already know you want a self-hosted WordPress blog? Not interested in the tech-y reasons it’s better? Click here to jump to Step 4 and setup your blog in minutes. Step 4 is where the magic starts. You won’t miss anything crucial, I promise. Besides, you can always come back later and catch up if you want.

Shortcut #2: Already know what a blog is but want to know about choosing a topic and hosting? Click here to skip the introduction and jump to Step 1.


introduction

I created my first blog in 2004 with zero computer experience. It took me forever because I had to google my way through. It’s much easier these days! This how-to guide has step-by-step instructions in an easy-to follow format.

7 steps to start a blog

  1. Decide what to blog about
  2. Choose a blogging platform
  3. Pick hosting
  4. Set up your blog
  5. Get started with WordPress
  6. Complete your domain setup
  7. Customize & launch!

What is a blog?

A blog is a type of website with posts (articles). The newest ones are usually displayed at the top.

Why start a blog?

Here are a few popular reasons from my readers:

  • Make money working from home. I make a full-time income blogging. Many bloggers do the same. Blogging takes work, but it’s a great opportunity due to low risk and low overhead.
  • Become a published author. Publishers want authors to have an online presence. The reason is simple: it’s a lot easier to sell books to people who already know you. A blog is a perfect way to become known.
  • Help your business or organization. A blog helps businesses and organizations reach a lot of people at little cost.
  • Just write. If you want to write, share your story or encourage others, a blog is a great place to do that.

A blog is an online home you own and control. If you’re serious about breaking into the online space, don’t put your livelihood, brand or reputation in the hands of others (like Facebook, Instagram, YouTube or other social media).

How much does a blog cost?

If you use the method below, it works out to $5 to $10 a month. I blogged for years on this budget. As my blog and income grew, I started paying for more premium tools and services, but they are not required to start.

Can I start a blog for free?

Yes, but I don’t recommend it if you want to make money. Why? Five reasons:

  • Limited money-making capability. Some free services limit the money you can make unless you “upgrade” to a higher level. You’ll have to pay for that upgrade of course, which defeats the purpose of having a free blog in the first place.
  • Lack of support. Companies don’t offer free blogs out of the goodness of their hearts. They want to make money. If you’re not making them money, they won’t go out of their way to keep you happy. Sometimes this means you’ll have little to no support. Other times you’ll be badgered with offers for their paid-for products.
  • Only basic features. Basic features might not be a problem at first, but as you grow, you’ll feel the pinch. Expandability and flexibility are key. Both are limited with free blogging services.
  • Switching isn’t easy. If you want to switch to a better service later (common for those who start a free blog), it’s a hassle and can be costly. Doing it yourself takes a lot of time and know-how. Hiring someone to do it correctly costs hundreds of dollars.
  • Can’t use others for inspiration. This happens to new bloggers all the time. They start a blog for free. Soon they notice cool features on other blogs which they want too. The problem is, those features aren’t options on their free service.

If those common problems don’t convince you, or a free blog is truly your only choice, I would start with Medium or Blogger.

How long will it take to make money?

Those who treat their blog like a part-time job typically start making coffee money (under $100 a month) around 6 months and a solid part-time income ($500-$1000) around 12 months. If you want to make a consistent, full-time income, allow 24 months.

What is the best kind of blog to start?

Most big and small bloggers have a self-hosted WordPress blog. It’s my recommendation too.

These are my easy-to-follow steps to start a self-hosted WordPress blog, no technical experience required.

Step one to start a blog

Step 1: Decide what to blog about

If you’re part of a business, company or organization, your blog should be related to the product(s) or service(s) you provide, or the cause you promote.

If you’re an individual, you have more flexibility when choosing a topic. I talked about it here, but the main things to remember are:

  • Blog about something you enjoy. If you aren’t excited about your topic, writing about it will be drudgery. (And who wants that?) Also, readers won’t be enthusiastic if you aren’t.
  • Blog about something with plenty of room for discussion. A blog requires a lot of excellent content to get going and remain interesting.
  • Choose a topic you can be the go-to resource for. You probably won’t be the first person to blog about the topic you choose. Don’t fret about this, just come up with a unique angle. Do you have a reasonable chance of making your blog better than others talking about the same thing? The goal for any blog is to become the go-to resource in its topic or niche.

What if I don’t know what to blog about?

Start anyway! One of the biggest beginner mistakes is thinking your topic must be set in stone before you start. If you’re like most of us, you’ll either switch topics or settle into something as you go.

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Step two to make a clickable image

Step 2: Choose a blogging platform

If you want to open a restaurant, you need a kitchen to prepare food. If you want to start a blog, you need a blogging platform (a.k.a. content management system or CMS) to prepare words.

There are many blogging platforms to choose from. WordPress, Blogger, Squarespace, Wix and Weebly are a few.

All have pros and cons, but WordPress is by far the most popular (source) , and for good reason. It’s flexible, functional, has a large community of users and works great if you want to make money.

I use and recommend WordPress. Most bloggers do.

However, don’t rush over to WordPress.com. Wait, what? I know, it’s a bit confusing. It has to do with hosting. So let’s talk about hosting…

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Step three to make a clickable image

Step 3: Pick hosting

As I said, if you want to open a restaurant, you need a kitchen to prepare food. But you also need a dining room to serve your guests, right?

Similarly, if you want to start a blog, you need a blogging platform to prepare words, but you also need hosting, a place to “serve” your words (blog posts) to visitors. 

Put another way, a blogging platform puts your words into blog form. Hosting makes your blog live and accessible on the internet. 

Let’s recap:

  • Kitchen + dining room = restaurant
  • Blogging platform + hosting = blog.

With me so far?

Really quickly, and just so you’re in the know, let’s go back to that confusing WordPress.com thing I mentioned at the end of Step 2…

In short, do not go to WordPress.com to start your blog. Let me explain.

When you choose WordPress as your blogging platform, you have two options for hosting:

  • Hosted WordPress blogs, sometimes called WordPress.com blogs, are hosted by WordPress themselves. These blogs are free, but in exchange, you get less control and your income potential is limited. (Sad.)
  • Self-hosted WordPress blogs, sometimes called WordPress.org blogs, are hosted by a host you choose yourself. These blogs cost a little money but give you much more control, plus your income is not limited. (Hooray!) 

Sidenote: Even though a self-hosted WordPress blog is sometimes called a WordPress.org blog, you do not have to use a .org at the end of your name. You can still use .com, just like I do for AmyLynnAndrews.com. Alright, moving on…

This guide teaches you how to start a self-hosted WordPress blog, the kind of blog preferred by beginner and veteran bloggers alike.

As we said, to start your own blog, you need two things: a blogging platform + hosting. Let’s get both at once, shall we? It’ll take about 15 minutes.

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Step four to make a clickable image

Step 4: Set up your blog

The combination I’ve personally used, paid for and recommend to beginners is WordPress (blogging platform) + Bluehost (hosting). It’s a simple, all-in-one setup, and there’s a money-back guarantee. Plus, use this link for a discount:

–> Click here to go to Bluehost. Hit the green Get Started button.

bluehost signup homepage

By the way, images may vary and it will look slightly different on mobile, but it’s easy to follow along.

Select a plan. Scroll to the plan choices. Click a green Select button to choose a plan:

Choose a Bluehost plan with domain privacy

I prefer the Choice Plus plan because it has more unlimited features and includes domain privacy. Domain privacy keeps your personal contact information hidden from the public and who doesn’t want that?

If you choose a different plan, you can add domain privacy later for a fee.

Enter the domain you want to use. Or, skip this step and choose later (super handy!).

Bluehost choose a domain or choose later

Your domain is your web address. For example, AmyLynnAndrews.com is my domain name.

If you’re not sure what domain to use, or your first choice domain is taken (very common), click the link at the bottom to easily choose one later.

Otherwise, enter a new domain, or one you already own in the appropriate box. (Entering an existing domain won’t connect it yet. It’s only used to identify your Bluehost account for now.)

For this tutorial, I’ll use a new domain, but you can follow along no matter what you decide.

Set up your Bluehost account. Sign in with Google or enter your contact info manually. Either works.

bluehost account information

Select your package information. Choose a package from the dropdown menu based on how far in advance you want to pay.

bluehost account package information

Bluehost bills 1, 2 or 3 years upfront. They do not offer a monthly payment plan (hosts that do charge much more). As you can see, it works out to be just a few dollars a month. And remember, there’s a 30-day money back guarantee.

Tip: The low pricing for new customers applies to the first payment only. For example, if you choose the 12-month plan, your pricing will be good for 1 year but may go up after that. If you choose the 36-month plan, your pricing will be locked in for 3 years. So, choose the longest plan your budget allows.

Skip the package extras except domain privacy. Don’t see the option for domain privacy? See below.

bluehost package extras

As I mentioned, domain privacy keeps your personal contact information private. It’s free with the Choice Plus plan (as it is in the image above). If you chose a different plan, add it here by checking its box.

Don’t see the option here at all? You won’t see it if you are using an existing domain or will choose a domain later. For existing domains, domain privacy is handled by the company where you registered it in the first place (GoDaddy, Namecheap, etc.), so contact them. If you choose your domain later, Bluehost will give you the option for domain privacy then. I cover this at the end of this post.

I uncheck the rest of the boxes in this section.

Complete your hosting purchase. Enter your payment information, review the Terms, check the box, hit Submit.

bluehost payment information

You’ll probably see dancing people in congratulations. Cute. Click through to create your account.

Create your Bluehost account and set a password. This is the password to your Bluehost account, not your WordPress blog (that will come via email).

bluehost create your account password

Log in to Bluehost. Use the password you just created. Or sign in with Google.

bluehost account login

Start creating your website! Enter the name of your blog and a tagline if you have an idea. Things these are easily changeable later!

bluehost let's create a website

Toggle the switch next to “Do you want a blog?” to turn it on. (Leave it off if you want a regular website without blog posts. You can always turn your blog on later.) For this tutorial, I’ll assume you want a blog.

Choose whether you want your blog posts to show up on your home page or on a separate blog page. This is a matter of personal preference and can be changed at any time.

Currently, I display my blog posts on a different page. If a visitor comes to my home page, they’ll see a welcome page that doesn’t change. If they want to read my blog posts, they can click the Blog link in my header.

An example of a blog with blog posts on the home page is Money Saving Mom.

Finish the survey questions. You may be asked about the type of blog you’re starting or how new you are to blogging. Neither locks you in.

Be careful with the free themes! Don’t choose a free theme unless you’re familiar with it. Why? Because many free themes aren’t kept updated, leaving holes in your site’s security. It’s not worth the risk.

My favorite free theme on the list, and a safe one, is Astra.

Free Astra theme for WordPress

My second favorite free theme on the list is GeneratePress.

You should be safe with either of those. And don’t worry, they are both highly customizable so they don’t have to look like they do here.

You can always skip picking a theme now by scrolling down and clicking the link at the bottom of the window.

Congratulations, you have a self-hosted WordPress blog!

From here, I click the WordPress button so I can configure important settings in the WordPress Dashboard which we’ll do next.

bluehost go to WordPress
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Step five to make a clickable image

Step 5: Get started with WordPress

At this point, you should have two sets of login information (sent via email): 

  1. WordPress, where you write your posts and manage your blog.
  2. Bluehost, where you manage your hosting account and pay your hosting bill.

From this point, we’ll spend most of our time in WordPress.

Welcome to the WordPress Dashboard. You’ll spend a lot of time in the Dashboard, publishing posts and managing all aspects of your WordPress blog. It’s the nerve center of your blog.

Welcome to your Bluehost WordPress dashboard

The black column on the left is a good indicator you are in the WordPress Dashboard. The rest of the screen might look different. Not to worry. The key is the black column! Black column = WordPress Dashboard.

Alright, let’s get important settings in order first.

Check your permalink structure. In the black column, go to Settings > Permalinks. Make sure “Post name” is selected. If it’s not, read What Are Permalinks and How Do You Choose Them?

Check your username to make sure it’s not admin. In the black column, go to Users > All Users. Make sure your Username is not “admin” like it is here:

WordPress hover over admin

If it is “admin” like the image above, read these instructions to change it.

If it’s something other than “admin” you’re good to go. Read on!

Install important plugins. Despite my love/hate relationship with plugins, there is one plugin I always install right away: Yoast SEO. It is widely recognized as the SEO plugin. (What is SEO?)

Also, if you’re going to allow people to comment on your blog posts, I would install Antispam Bee. It fights comment spam.

To install a plugin:

  • Go to Plugins > Add New.
  • In the search bar up top, enter the name of the plugin you’re looking for. Find it in the list and click Install Now.
  • Once it’s installed, you have to Activate a plugin before it will start working. Otherwise, it lies dormant on your site in its deactivated state, which is not ideal. Either activate or delete a plugin. To activate, go to Plugins > Installed Plugins and click Activate under the plugin name.
  • Once installed and activated, you will be able to access its features as you write your posts (like Yoast SEO), unless it’s a plugin that runs in the background (like Antispam Bee).
  • Also once activated, configure a plugin’s settings if needed. You can often tell if there are settings for a particular plugin by going to Plugins > Installed Plugins and looking for a Settings link under the plugin name. You might also see a plugin listed in the black left column of your Dashboard. Yoast SEO is accessible this way. Most plugins come with a default configuration which is fine to start with. If you want to dive into configuration, Yoast has a Configuration Wizard you can find under SEO > General. Antispam Bee has a settings link under Plugins > Installed Plugins.
  • If you ever search for a plugin but it doesn’t appear as an option, no worries. Some plugins have to be uploaded directly.

Here are my top tips for plugins.

Delete unnecessary plugins. Go to Plugins > Installed Plugins. I delete all of them except the Bluehost and WPForms Lite plugins.

A plugin must be deactivated before it can be deleted, so if you hover over a plugin you may have to choose Deactivate, then hover again to see the Delete link. Plugins can always be added back later if you want.

Edit some general settings. Go to Settings > General.

  • Site title and tagline. Your site title doesn’t have to match your domain but it likely will. Your tagline is a short phrase that describes your site or mission well. Again, these can be changed any time.
  • Email address. If your main email address is not entered here, go ahead and put yours in. Notifications will be sent to this address.
  • Timezone. A wrong timezone won’t break anything, but scheduled posts get published according to this setting, so if it’s not set correctly, you’ll wonder why your posts aren’t going live at the times you expect.
  • Don’t touch your site URLs! You may be wondering about those URLs. If you change them now, it will mess things up. Your blog starts on on a temporary domain. This is normal. Let’s talk about how it gets switched to your permanent domain…
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Step six to start a blog

Step 6: Complete your domain setup

Move from your temporary domain. The way you proceed here depends on what you entered in the domain screen back in Step 4. Here are your three choices:

Did you enter a new domain? Activate it. Check your email inbox to find the domain activation email. Click the button inside to complete the activation process. Simple. Now just wait. Bluehost will automatically switch it for you.

Did you enter an existing domain? Point it. Edit the name servers where your domain is registered. Here are instructions by registrar. If you get stuck, call Bluehost and they’ll walk you through.

Did you click the link to choose your domain later? First, decide on a domain. Then, in the black column of your WordPress Dashboard, go to Bluehost > Back to Bluehost.

WordPress Dashboard back to Bluehost account

Click on Domains in the left column.

Then click the Register link (an option in the left column).

Hopefully your desired domain will be available. It should be at the top of the list.

Choosing a domain later in Bluehost

Add the domain to your cart by clicking the cart button.

If you chose a plan in Step 4 that came with a free domain, at checkout, the balance should be zero because the credit for a free domain was automatically applied to your account. Also at checkout, you can add domain privacy if you didn’t choose it before (which I definitely recommend).

Once you have the domain, go to Domains > Assign. Use a domain associated with your account. Choose it from the dropdown menu.

Wait a few hours for your domain to propagate. That’s a fancy way of saying it takes a while for your WordPress blog and your domain to find each other on the world wide web and solidify their connection. Once they do, anyone should be able to type your domain into a web browser and your blog will appear!

If you’re wondering if they’ve found each other, type your domain into your browser’s address bar (Chrome, Safari, Firefox, etc.) and see if your permanent domain sticks without forwarding to your temporary domain. If so, you’re set!

Sidenote: Your blog will look horrible at this point. Don’t worry, I’ve got you covered there too. More on that below.

Add SSL (from HTTP to HTTPS). Once your permanent domain is working, make it secure. What this does is adds an S to the end of HTTP like so:

Secure HTTPS site icon in Chrome

This gives visitors peace of mind. It also keeps your site on Google’s good side.

To complete this step, you’ll need to activate an SSL certificate or turn on your free Bluehost SSL certificate. Don’t be intimidated by the fancy term. It’s easy.

Again, how you proceed depends on what you chose back on the domain screen way back in Step 4.

Did you enter a new domain or choose one later? Follow these instructions.

(Did you enter an existing domain? Contact the company where your domain is registered. Tell them you want to secure your site with an SSL certificate.)

After adding SSL, give your domain a bit of time to catch up. Eventually, when you type your domain into a browser like Chrome, you’ll see a secure icon:

Secure HTTPS site icon in Chrome

An insecure site will have an “i” with a circle around it like this in Chrome:

insecure http website icon in chrome

If your site doesn’t show the HTTPS after 24 hours, call Bluehost (for new or chosen later domains) or your domain registrar (existing domains) so they can find the problem.

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Step seven to start a blog

Step 7: Customize & launch!

This is where you take over and start making your blog your own. I recommend doing things in the following order.

Publish some pages and posts. Adding content to your blog makes customizing your design easier since it won’t be empty like a deflated balloon. Also, readers will have something to read.

Know the difference between posts and pages. And here’s how to create a new post or page.

Pages. The pages I recommend creating first are:

  • Home (mine)
  • Blog (if applicable; it should be there already if you chose to add a blog during Step 4; check by going to Pages > All Pages)
  • About (mine and how to write a good one)
  • Contact (mine)
  • Privacy Policy (mine; follow the link at the bottom for the generator I use)
  • Others (like Tools and a Disclosure Policy if you sell something )

Posts. I recommend having at least 2-3 excellent posts published when you launch. If you’re having trouble coming up with ideas for your first post, type your main topic or niche into Google and see what others have written. Don’t copy of course, but use those posts as inspiration. Make your post even more thorough. Here are tips for writing posts.

It’s good to have solid content available if visitors find you, but at the same time, don’t get bogged down writing a dozen or more posts before you publish anything. Get your blog off the ground as soon as possible! This helps with SEO.

Customize your design. If you’re like most, you’ll want to customize your design. A lot of new bloggers get really excited about all the design options available. However, less is more. The more fancy your theme, the more moving parts. The more moving parts, the more there is to break. Read my post about choosing a WordPress theme.

What is the best free WordPress theme?

If you’re not ready to pay for a theme yet, Astra and GeneratePress are my favorite free themes.

To install either from your Dashboard, go to Appearance > Themes > Add New. Search for Astra or GeneratePress. Click Install > Activate. This video explains how to use GeneratePress, but will be helpful regardless of the theme you choose:

Can’t see the video? Click here.

Remove the Coming Soon page. Bluehost automatically starts your blog with a Coming Soon page:

Coming soon page for a new Bluehost site

When your pages and posts are published, and your design is customized to your liking (it’s always changeable!), click the button at the top of your Dashboard and follow the prompts to remove the Coming Soon page:

coming soon active button in WordPress Dashboard

Congratulations, your blog is live!

what's next

From here, focus on consistently publishing new posts. One post a week is a good starting point, but quality is more important. Better to post fewer but better posts.

You will feel overwhelmed, especially at the beginning. This is normal. When it comes to starting a blog, there is a steep learning curve, but don’t give up. Push through! If you want some encouragement, read 18 Tips for New Bloggers.

Here are some troubleshooting topics followed by a handful of posts you’ll find helpful as you grow.

I need technical support

If you encountered something unexpected during setup, contact Bluehost technical support. Calling is better than live chatting. If you’re in the US, call 844-213-7846. They have access to your account (something I don’t have) and can get you unstuck.

I need help with WordPress

Start with my WordPress Tips for Beginners or use Bluehost’s free Blue Spark service.

How do I stop all the Bluehost emails?

If you don’t like getting all the promotional emails from Bluehost (I don’t), change your email preferences.

  • Log in to your Bluehost account.
  • Click the person icon in the top right corner.
  • Choose Profile from the list that appears.
  • Uncheck the boxes under Email Preferences and Ad Preferences.

How can I see what my blog looks like?

From your WordPress Dashboard, hover over the house icon in the top left corner of the screen. Click “Visit Site.”

How to visit your site from WordPress dashboard

Or, simply type your domain into your browser’s address bar.

Note: Make sure you’re logged into WordPress, otherwise you’ll see the Coming Soon page!

Why am I seeing a Coming Soon page?

Probably because your blog is not launched yet and you are logged out of WordPress. To work on your blog before launch, you must be logged into WordPress (here’s how). Otherwise, you’ll be treated like any other visitor and get the Coming Soon page.

What if I want a website and a blog? Are they separate?

Nope. Use the steps above for a regular website, just don’t turn on the blog part. But it’s always there in case you change your mind. More here.

Next Steps

Concentrate on creating content first. The following list of posts explain things you’ll want to tackle eventually. I list them here for reference, but understand they all require content to work!

13 thoughts on “How to Start a Blog (to Make Money or Otherwise) in 2020”

  1. Hello Amy – Thanks a lot! I have tried to create a blog for a while now to no avail. Your article is really help full and easy to understand.

    I own a blog now, thanks once again.

  2. I used bluehost before but had issues and switched to siteground. I think it was the speed but can’t remember for sure. Maybe my theme had something to do with it. I just purchased EBA after stalking it for 3 years. I closed my blog down last year so I’m excited about getting back into the groove but I want to do things right this time!

    Guess I’llgive bluehost Another chance.

    1. Hi Shauna,

      You bring up a great point: no host is perfect. All have issues, downtime, hiccups and glitches. (In fact, I just read a post this morning by someone using SiteGround who’s been frustrated lately.) It’s just the nature of hosting.

      Congrats on getting into the blogging groove once again! I hope it’s a great experience this time around!

      Amy

  3. Your writing is good: it’s clean, it’s clear, and it’s well-organized, and that’s saying a LOT for the topic of blogging! I’m sure I’ll be referring to your blog a lot when I do the first steps, and again when tweaking. Thank you for excellent information.

  4. My blog is using free themes and plugins but I’m planning to get premium themes asap.

    Thanks for sharing the link re free theme, hope to try it first before getting a premium theme.

    Nhick

  5. This was a phenomenal read! Incredibly useful. I’ve been doing a lot of research as I am in the very beginning stages of starting a blog and this so far has been the most informative post. It goes more into detail than just “buy a domain, buy a hosting site, install word press and VOILA you’re ready”.
    I will be book marking this page for sure.

    Thanks again 🙂

    1. I agree ! This is such a helpful post, and I am in the same boat with starting a blog as you are. I will definitely be referring back to this post!

  6. Hi Amy,

    It’s a wonderful post – Full of useful information, everything has been explained in detail, and the sentences are very simple to understand. From the beginning to the end, I enjoyed reading the whole post.

    I started my blog last year. After publishing 250+ posts, today, my Technology News Blog is growing very fast.

    I completely agree with your opinion about using a Premium Theme. Paid themes and plugins are very helpful.

    Thank you

  7. Hi Amy, I have subscribed to your Userletter since January 2018. Your guidance is wonderful. I plan to take the leap in 2019 to start my blog. Before I start, I have one question for you – are all the services you recommend accessible through an iPhone? I plan to manage my blog only through my iPhone Xs Max. Let me know what you think. Thanks.

  8. Hello Amy – Wow ! This is a great deal of information. I have been “exercising” my brain over the past 5 weeks as I change from dinosaur to an online maven.

    Recently retired at 66 and eager to learn the ins and outs of affiliate marketing.

    It seems I have found a new mentor, thank you. Mike

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