Blogging about blogging is like writing a book about writing a book. Or teaching a class about teaching a class.
It may sound redundant, but it can actually be quite helpful.
This is the first part of the series I'm writing on blogging, covering the very basics and including my personal experiences along the way. Thanks to a great idea from a facebook fan, I'm breaking it into three parts: Starting, Growing, Maintaining.
Starting will include topics like:
why do you want to blog?
establishing social media (name, consistency)
Growing will cover:
networking/connecting with other bloggers
*vlogging, if you so choose!
Maintaining will cover:
finding your voice
connecting with bigger brands
attending a conference
It only makes sense to share a little bit of my experience blogging, so we can start from the beginning.
I started blogging here at The Small Things Blog in January of 2011, after starting a few satirical and sarcastic anonymous blogs before that.
I would write about my travel experiences, tell over-dramaticized tales of things that I thought were funny, and occasionally rant about things that were annoying.
Thankfully that blog died a quick death due to disinterest after just a few posts.
I started The Small Things Blog as a place where I would share about "the small things in life" that I enjoyed. I'd feature an Etsy shop I loved, or share my new favorite lip color.
I filmed my first video hair tutorial in July 2011, and posted it to my blog as a resource for my clients to refer back to. I opted to post it on my blog instead of e-mailing the file to each client who asked for it.
Originally, I didn't want to be the girl in front of the camera. I searched YouTube and hair blogs, but I couldn't find any that were professional enough for me to share with my clients. I wanted to give them an option for a "second lesson" beyond what I taught them in the chair.
After a few weekly tutorial videos, I began posting the after photo's to Pinterest. Pinterest was exploding around this time. People were flocking to it like a moth to a flame. Everyone was talking about it, filling up their boards, and spending many hours on the site.
I thought, "hey. maybe a few other people might learn something. who knows."
So I pinned a few photos of my tutorials.
My they began to get repinned. And repinned. And repinned.
And I learned 2 important things:
1. Other women, besides my clients, are finding these basic videos informative.
2. Pinterest is a great way to reach people, especially new readers.
At this time I was also participating in link parties*, sharing my hair tutorial of the week. These parties helped direct traffic to my blog as well.
*what is a link party?
I kept filming, pinning, and filling the rest of the week with my typical content. I added a few more outfit posts, makeup ideas, and hair product reviews, but I didn't want to turn into solely a hair blog. I wanted to maintain the variety in content, in an effort to avoid burning out.
My blog grew quickly. Almost too fast. I felt "behind" immediately. I knew nothing. By the fall of 2011, my blog was averaging roughly 2-3 million pageviews a month. And since then, that number has continued to grow.
Shocked? So was I. The hardest part was still learning how to blog successfully, but learning publicly with people watching. It's a humbling experience!
I joined the BlogHer publishing network in October 2011 thanks to a recommendation from another blogger. That was an eye-opening experience, and for the first time I thought, "Man, I could really turn this into a second job."
Fast forward to now, roughly a little over a year after having this blog become a source of income. I consider it a business, and now my second job, since I am still working behind the chair in my studio.
My time is split 50/50 between doing hair and writing this blog. I'm immensely grateful that I get to do two things that I love.
So what does the future hold for these businesses? Who knows. And I'm okay with that. For now, I'm going to keep doing what I'm doing.
I struggle with writing about blogging. I often think things like : When have you learned enough to be a credible source? How many pageviews do you have to have in order to give advice? How many years should you have spent blogging in order to share valuable experiences? Do you have to be a "big" blogger? What is a "big" blogger?
I've been doing hair for 10 years. I feel credible in that arena.
I've been blogging for 2 years. I feel like a 1st grader sometimes. I'm constantly learning new things. And maybe that never goes away?
Nonetheless, I've learned a lot over these past few years, and if you are starting a blog, or interested in maintaining/growing your blog, maybe these tips will help.
So you want to start a blog?
It may be helpful to ask yourself these questions : Why are you interested in blogging? What blog(s) drew you to the idea of starting your own? What types of blogs do you find most interesting?
Answering these questions honestly will help you hone in your ideas, and give you a clear direction for starting out. There isn't a wrong answer, by the way. And you can change as you go, just like I did.
2. Are you a patient person?
Blogging takes time, effort, more time, and more effort. It isn't just snapping pics, uploading them to a post, writing a few words, and peace-ing out. There are so many more details behind the scenes that you won't discover until you start. So be patient. Learn. Skim through other blogs. Find your favorites. Read them consistently and see if you can notice routines and details. Perhaps begin to connect with these bloggers via social media.
3. Are you only looking for a get rich quick scheme or c/o clothes?
Plain and simple : it's fantastic to get paid for blogging. It's allowed me to take more time away from the studio in order to blog without loosing income. I'm grateful.
Can you make 6 figures? Maybe. I bet Pioneer Woman does. In fact, she probably makes 7 figures. And good for her, she's got a fantastic blog--which as morphed into an entire brand!
But think about how her blog started. It was out of a love for blogging/sharing. She's a writer. She loves to write. And her business grew out of something she loved.
So keep that in mind, as you begin your blog. Blog out of interest, and because you enjoy it. If it brings in some income, fantastic. If that hasn't started yet, be patient.
C/o clothes/items (aka "Courtesy of") are a great perk to blogging. Don't lose yourself in "c/o" clothes/items. Maintain your original sense of style throughout your blogging. It's obvious if you are wearing something that you otherwise wouldn't even go near in a store. I've learned from some hasty decisions that I've made in the past two years regarding c/o items, and am now tailoring my giveaways and c/o items to things that really and truly fit my personal style.
I would encourage you to do that from the beginning. Don't say yes to everything. No matter how valuable the product, or how good the money is. If it's not you, your readers won't care. They read your blog for you. Remember that.
This might be a good time to talk about sponsored posts. I'd recommend the same thing about sponsored posts that I do about accepting c/o items. If it fits your content, makes sense on your blog, and you actually care about it, I say do it. I don't think sponsored posts are bad, but it's important to not go overboard with them. I wrote a little bit more about this here.
From time to time I ask myself, "would I still blog if I didn't make any money?" At this point, it would look different as I would probably go back to the salon full-time, but I'd still blog. I love talking about beauty-related things in real life, and therefore, I love blogging about it.
The first steps:
1. Figure out a name.
That is one of the most challenging things about a blog. Think long and hard about it, and make sure it won't lock you into a certain category (unless you are sure you want to only blog about one, or similar, topics ). Type it out to see how it looks as a URL. Make sure it makes sense, it's easy to spell, and easy to say.
My original blog URL was "itsthesmallthingsblog.blogspot.com". People would ask for my blog URL and I would say, "It's itsthesmallthings dot blogspot dot com". It's its. It was redundant and annoying. When I bought my domain name, I dropped the it's.
It's very simple to buy a domain name, click here for a guide.
2. Choose a platform.
The debate between Wordpress and Blogger, two of the most popular platforms, is like comparing a PC to a Mac. Both will work for you. Both will do the basics of what you need. One is "cooler" and more popular than the other, but there are perks for both.
I've been using Blogger since the beginning but have considered many times switching to Wordpress. I haven't found a convincing enough argument to have made the plunge up until this point, but I'm always checking out other blogs and seeing if they are using a feature (on Wordpress) that I would enjoy to have on Blogger.
A lot of the articles or reviews comparing Wordpress to Blogger are incredibly vauge. I've read through comments like "If you want to take your blog to the next level, you have to be on Wordpress", or "There is so much more design freedom on Wordpress. You can do so much more". My question is, "Like what?". For someone who isn't a designer, I can't put a value on the design freedom since I don't really know what that is. The layouts are different, and I think you have more options for customizing your blog, but you can also customize Blogger pretty well too.
As I write this, I'm almost 90% sure that I'm going to switch to Wordpress in the near future. I've picked up on some things that I'd like to incorporate into my blog, and I will definitely write a post about whether it was worth it!
I asked my friend Kacia to write a little bit about her comparison of blogger and wordpress, since she's done both.
1. Blogger keeps blogging simple and straightforward: it is linked with your email, you don't need to know about servers or coding or hosting to get started.
2. If you want to purchase a URL, all you need to do is purchase the URL. Blogger makes it very easy to make the switch.
3. It's common and it's customizable! You typically see larger blogs without custom URLs on blogspot.com, not wordpress.com. There are a few reasons for this fact, but it is most likely due to the customization limitations on wordpress.com--no ads, no plugins, limited themes, etc.
So why make the switch? While there are many reasons to stay with blogger, there are probably just as many reasons to switch. For me, it was the user interface for wordpress that really appealed to me. It was easy to use and figure out--I love being able to customize with plugins and widgets that are drag and drop. Wordpress also has thousands of themes available for free or to purchase. These themes vary from simple blog themes, to websites, to ecommerce, to forums. The wide range of site that can be built on wordpress is very appealing! For example, you could have 3 sites all running on wordpress, but only one might be a blog-type layout.
What do you need to do to make the switch?
1. Find a hosting company you trust--and one that will help you make the switch. I highly recommend Kelly at Twenty70 Hosting--no, I'm not getting paid to say that! She charges a very competitive monthly rate and will help you transfer your content from blogger to wordpress.
2. Research themes: google is your friend. :) I receive a lot of emails asking how I learned my way about wordpress and various types of code (HTML, CSS, etc). My answer? Google it.
3. Have fun! As I mentioned before, I love exploring, learning, and finding new plugins--maybe keep your blogger site live for a while, so you can create a sandbox website using wordpress just to play in for a while.
4. Don't be afraid to ask questions. The community of bloggers would be really boring if we didn't ask questions and help each other out! Ask questions and then when you become an expert, share your knowledge with others as well!
I hope this helps! I know there are many reasons why people love all sorts of blogging platforms: typepad and tumblr, to name a few. Stay true to you, make a list of reasons for making the switch, and then just jump in to whichever platform you decide is best for you!"
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3. Find a design you like.
There is no shortage of design options to choose from. You can find some pretty fantastic free basic templates to start with, or dive right in and get a custom look.
I'd suggest starting with something free and see what you like and dislike about it. You'll be better prepared to help design a custom look if you already know what really matters to you.
One example of something I learned about design is after a new redesign I received so many comments of readers that were thankful that I finally put a "search" box in my sidebar. However, there was a search box in the previous design, but was placed lower in the sidebar. Make sure the "popular" features that people will want to use in your blog design are accessible and easy to find.
People occasionally will e-mail asking how they can follow me on Pinterest, for example, even though the navigation boxes are right near the top of the screen. They may not see them, or not know that they are clickable. So know that, no matter how streamlined the design, it can't be perfectly tailored to everyone's visual preferences. Choose a design that speaks to you, make it easy to navigate, and blog away.
The easiest way to look for a designer is to click through from blogs whose designs you love. The most common way to find who designed a blog is to scroll to the bottom of the page and you may find a "designed by" link at the very bottom in the center. Oftentimes you can click through to that designers site.
Otherwise, I would google "blogger blog design" "blogger template design" "blog design" "wordpress blog designer" and other keywords like that. You'll find a plethora.
Lastly, don't forget about Etsy. Search "blog design" on Etsy and you'll be brought to tons of designers. You can also choose a price range you are comfortable with, and narrow down designers that way.
3. After your blog is live, it's named, and designed, get going with social media. Choose usernames that coincide with your blog name.
Example blog : I Love Cats
twitter handle : @catlove4life
instagram : @catlove4life
facebook fan page : facebook.com/ILoveCats
Maintain some level of consistancy so people can connect it to your blog.
Social media humanizes a blogger. It's more of a conversational tool than a blog post in itself, and allows readers/followers to get to know you better.
If I had to rate social media, and what they do in a relational sense, here is how I would rate it.
Instagram: the most personal. snapshots of daily life.
Twitter: the most conversational, especially around brands/other bloggers.
Facebook: the best way to connect with readers, especially those that don't have a blog.
Vine: awkward videos that also show more of your personality. Or your husbands. Whatever.
4. Blogging takes time. But the amount of time is up to you. I'm spending at least 20 hours a week on my blog, or doing blog-related things. Most of my time is spent shooting and filming, but right behind that is answering e-mails or writing posts.
You can make it whatever you want it to be. If you can only commit to writing twice a week, write twice a week. If you want to write daily, write daily. I even know some blogs that post new content mulitple times a day.
But again, it's your blog and you can do what you want with it! You'll figure out the right flow, and how much time you are interested in spending on it.
I hope this helps with the foundational aspects of starting a blog. If you have any questions relating to topics that I wrote about on this post, feel free to ask them below. Save any questions related to the Maintaining and Growing sections of this series for those posts please!