My friend Katie contacted me, because she’s interested in starting her own blog in order to document the trials and tribulations of owning her first house, renovating and decorating it. I started to write her back a long and detailed email, and then I realized – this information would be helpful to other people too! So here ya go, my thoughts and advice on how to start a blog.
First off, ask yourself these two questions:
I’ve been blogging in some form since, oh, 2001 or so?? (Time flies, right??) My first blog was a personal one, on Livejournal.com. I kept that blog up until after I started Miss Malaprop in 2006. At some point after starting this site, my Livejournal blog fell to the wayside. But Livejournal can still be awesome if you want to write primarily for yourself, or to connect with friends via the communities they have there. (Side note: Livejournal is actually how David and I first met, way back in the day. And most of my good friends at the time had Livejournal accounts – we sort of used it the way we use Facebook now!)
Blogger has its advantages, especially if you are not super tech savvy. Plus, it’s owned by Google, so you’re likely to get a built in traffic boost because of that. You can also start a free, hosted blog at WordPress.com if you are not confident with maintaining all of the technical aspects yourself. I’ve also heard great things about SquareSpace.
THAT SAID – in my opinion, if your goal is to use your blog as a launching pad for a business, to promote yourself as an expert in your field and further your career, or to try to make money blogging (even if it’s just a little extra spendin’ cash), you should go with WordPress. That’s self-hosted WordPress, of the .org variety. NOT the kind at WordPress.com where they host everything for you the way Blogger does.
Make money. image credit: epSos.de, via Flickr
Let’s get things straight – yes, there are some ProBloggers, people who earn a living entirely, or primarily via their blogs. BUT those people are few and far between and most of them started their websites YEARS ago. You’re too late. I’m sorry, but it’s pretty much true, unless you get SUPER lucky or plan to WORK YOUR ASS OFF AND THEN SOME. (And even then you might not earn a living from a blog. Or at least from just one blog alone.)
But blogging IS super worthwhile and rewarding, and it can lead to bigger and better things for you. I know plenty of people who used their blogs to jump-start a new career or part-time gig, whether as a freelance writer, stylist, or even a book deal. Stuff like that DOES still happen, but you get out of it what you put into it.
That’s why the first thing you should ever do before you start your blog is ask yourself some questions about why you want to start it, what you want it to be about, etc. I did all of this before starting Miss Malaprop in 2006 – I thought about branding and who my target audience was meant to be, before I ever set fingers to keyboard to start blogging. A lot of care and research went into what colors & fonts I use on all of my promotional materials and web design. I even polled friends and strangers to get some of the details settled. And this was before I did so much as register a domain name!
Seriously – get out a piece of paper and a pen and step away from your computer for a few minutes. Start brainstorming and making notes about what you want your blog to be about. What possible features do you see yourself writing about regularly? What is your aesthetic? (Particularly important for fashion, lifestyle or design bloggers – have you noticed that I never write about celebrity fashion or runway trends here??) Figure out your niche that makes YOU special and unique. Hone in on that. That’s what will help your blog stand out from the crowd.
If computers and the thought of using Facebook or Microsoft Word totally freak you out, I’ll be honest. Stick with a blogging platform like Blogger or WordPress.com, where everything on the back-end is pretty much taken care of for you. But if you are serious about blogging, you CAN learn how to use self-hosted WordPress. YES, you will totally have times where something goes all weird and you shake your head and can’t figure out what’s happened to your blog. (It’s happened to me on numerous occasions, I promise.) But you know what you do?? Google it. Seriously, all answers for this kind of thing can usually be found on the Internet somewhere, because it’s already happened to someone else too.
That, and if you get a good web-hosting company, they should have a tech support staff that is happy to help you out of the roughest spots when you need it. I recently moved Miss Malaprop over to Site Ground, after reading really good things about them online. The process of switching my site over was super painless and every time I’ve had a customer support question, they’ve been super quick to answer me. They offer an easy installation of WordPress, plus lots of other tools and support, which makes it really easy to get up and running!
As for how to style your blog, there are a ton of great free themes out there for WordPress. Here at Miss Malaprop I started out with a free theme which I had customized, but now I happily use the Thesis Theme. It’s a paid theme, but I love it and have used it for multiple sites.[bctt tweet=”1 thing more people should pay attention to with their #Wordpress sites? Security. “]
So there is one thing I’ve discovered about using WordPress to run your site – and it took me a long time and some mistakes of my own to discover. WordPress is awesome, and it’s one of the most popular platforms for building websites or blogs on the Internet today. It’s open-source, which makes it free, but unfortunately that fact, coupled with the fact that it’s so popular makes it a target for hackers. And many people running their sites on WordPress have left some back doors wide open that can be easily closed. So when you decide to build your blog on WordPress (which I think you should!) be sure to also take some security precautions, and learn more about the basics of securing your WordPress site:
“Content is king.” You’ve probably heard that expression before. And it’s truer than ever these days – because Google HATES to see spammy, poorly written or recycled content. (As in, you just copy and pasted some stuff from another website and slapped it on your blog like it was your own.)
So how do you go about getting fresh ideas and new material to write about on your blog? Look back to that brainstorm cheat sheet I had you make at the beginning of this post. (Did you do that?? You wrote down all the things you wanted your blog to be, right??) Let this be your guide, but most importantly, let YOU be YOU!
Blogs aren’t English Lit class, that’s for sure. Blogs and the way they are written come in all shapes, sizes and voices. Let your voice be heard, and make sure it’s your own. Some blogs are funny, because the people that write them are funny and silly in real life. Some blogs are more serious, and that’s okay too.
Before you can expect anyone to want to read your blog, you’ll need some stuff for them to READ first. Content – hello!!! Try to get at least 5-10 good posts written up on your blog before you start promoting it to people. And when you do start – share it with your friends, family and loved ones first.
Think about branding and how you’ll promote your blog from the beginning. If you call your blog “Alison’s Design Blog”, it’s going to be hard to stand out in the wide ocean that is today’s blogosphere. I thought long and hard and did tons of research to come up with a blog name that was all my own, and I also locked down as many social media accounts with the same name as quick as I could. Go ahead and find a name that is really unique and represents YOU and YOUR BLOG and snatch up all of the social media accounts with that name. I’m talking Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, you name it.
You’ve gotta pick and choose what works best for you. CERTAINLY DO NOT WASTE YOUR LIFE AWAY ON TWITTER IF YOU HATE TWITTER. But I DO think you should at least claim all of the names that match your blog, in case you ever DO decide you want to use those services later on. Experiment and see which services you, and your intended audience, respond to best. Some bloggers find a following on Twitter, some do not.
Here’s the thing – blogging is pretty much summed up like this – YOU GOTTA TRY. Try stuff, experiment. See what works. See what posts and topics people respond to. Obviously stay within your niche as best you can – but sometimes you’ll want to break the rules. And that’s okay too, because in life, we’re allowed to change directions, if that’s what makes us happy.
Yeah, there is a LOT of information out there to learn and take in when it comes to starting a blog. That said, just get started. Bookmark this page, and come back to it as needed. Because here are a whole bunch of other resources that you’ll want to come back to, as you develop your blog:
Reach out and let me know!
Mallory Whitfield has been making things and performing for as long as she can remember. She started blogging at MissMalaprop.com in 2006, and currently hosts the Badass Creatives podcast. Throughout her journey as a creative entrepreneur, Mallory has worn many hats, including blogger, visual artist, upcycled clothing creator, performance artist, jewelry designer, craft show vendor, creative strategist, speaker, teacher and consultant to other small business owners. She worked as Content Analyst at FSC Interactive, a leading digital marketing agency, prior to taking on her current role as Director of Marketing at LookFar, a New Orleans-based startup studio which builds digital products and visionary companies.
Do you believe that art, creativity, innovation, and kindness can change the world? If you answered “Heck yeah!” then this is the podcast for you.
Badass Creatives is hosted by Mallory Whitfield and features marketing and business advice for creatives, as well as interviews with a diverse range of handmade artists, performers, makers, and creative entrepreneurs.
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