Happy Week-after-Mother’s-Day, to all the mamas and people-with-mamas in the audience. Hope your weekends were full of family and fun.
Today, I figured it’s due time to dive into a topic I’ve actually been getting quiiiiiiite a lotta emails and messages about: starting a blog. I kinda wanna start a blog. Should I start a blog? How the heck do I start a blog?!?!
In typical CUR style, I got your back. 😉
P.S. Before you even start, make sure you’ve got access to this *free* library of blogging resources! It’ll just keep growing…
HOW TO START A BLOG:
Before you start…
First thing’s first…Know your WHY – and be driven by that. Why do you want to start a blog in the first place? Pick up yo’ pen and write this down on paper. Pen to paper. Do it. Even if it’s just “for fun” or “for myself” like an online journal of sorts, write that down. This clarity is absolutely essential, especially once you start actually creating content and building a brand for yourself. “I WANT TO START A BLOG BECAUSE _________.”
Start your blog with zero intention of making money. Making money blogging is no easy feat. It definitely gets easier with reaching key milestones on the www, but in a world where basically anyone can pull up a free blogging platform and hit “publish,” it’s becoming increasingly difficult to get visible. BUT, while it might be difficult to get visible, it’s not necessarily as difficult to stand out if you’ve got something truly stellar goin’ on. Until you find and create your space, though, and see where you fit into the market in a unique, worthwhile way, it’s not something that you can just jump into with a money-making mindset and expect brands to flock to you. That…just ain’t gonna happen. Keep your WHY as the main goal until you are at a place where growth is the name of the game.
Brace yo’self. The journey is wild and crazy and stressful and fun and always. changing. Brace yo’self for one helluvah ride – strap up and buckle down! Now it’s time to…
Brainstorm content. Become BFFs with Excel. Some people recommend figuring out the 1-2 things you’re going to blog about and just sticking true to that – finding a very distinct “niche”. I don’t necessarily agree (brand strategy lesson ahead…). If that same theory were applied to really big, awesome brands, then Coca-Cola Company might never have branched into Sprite territory, and a whole market of folks who lovelovelove lemon-lime soda but hate le cola would go unserved…or be heading to Pepsi’s Sierra Mist. The key is making sure there is SOME common thread that holds it all together. Coke’s common thread is Happiness. In all communications with consumers, Coke screams happiness – having a great time laughing with family, experiencing kickass vending machine surprises at school with friends, Santa Clause at Christmas…happiness. Your thread might be your really sassy approach or a little introductory video before any post. The common thread is the KEY, though. Otherwise, you do risk confusing people and turning people away by posting food one day, then something about motorcycles, then a post about your family, then your favorite drugstore lipstick, then your trip to Thailand, then…you get the drift. Humans are selfish by nature – we think the world would and should naturally just really care about us. But you’ve got to give people a REASON to care. If you make them laugh all the time or make them feel inspired all the time or make them dig deep and think about something in a new light, that’s a good reason to keep them coming back. But this is going to turn into a whole brand strategy spiel, SO. In brainstorming content, kick things off by opening up Excel and doing a stream of consciousness of anything and everything you could see yourself writing about. What do you know a lot about? What do you have a strong opinion on? What do you have a *unique* opinion on? Write all of it down in your spreadsheet. Brainstorm without stopping for 15 minutes straight. By the end of 15 minutes, you should feel like you have SO MUCH MORE you could say. Once you’re done, sit back and find any categorical common threads. Did you have a lot of ideas surrounding beauty? Life as a military wife? Being a bargain shopper? Decorating your home? Wherever you see lots of repeat “themes”, these might be good categories for your blog. (FYI, if you click on “Categories” on my main navigation bar, you’ll see a dropdown list with my own categories on CUR!)
Covering your bases…
Build a brand base. Just “being yourself” is not a brand strategy. Sure, some famous people can just “be themselves” and make money doing it, but that’s not a brand strategy for us Joe Schmoe’s starting out from ground zero. Unless your last name is “Kardashian,” chances are you won’t be able to just show up to life and make millions.
Figure out who you think will be reading your blog – your ideal audience. Sometimes I think this is a more dynamic, evolutionary process, though. You don’t even know what you lovelovelove sharing yet, or what others are loving…you’re hypothesizing the wants and needs of a completely fictional cohort of online peeps, up to this point, which I think is not the most useful way to go about things. Instead, give yourself grace to start with some leeway to make a few mistakes as you get comfy, push your comfort zone, and break new boundaries quickly. You’ll see what starts to stick, for both you and them, and then you can hone your craft and dive deeper from that point forward.
Start writing! You’ve got your list of brainstormed idea…now turn them into something more. Write blog posts. Experiment with your voice and your flow and your conversational tone. Flesh out those ideas and turn them into publishable content.
Get a planner! One of the most important aspects of blogging successfully is blogging consistently. Another important aspect? Staying organized. They work hand in hand here, and a solid planner can really work wonders for upping your game in both. I’m a total planner whore, as many of you already know, so I’ve come to be super picky with my planners. There was a time I had five going at the same time, each serving a different purpose because I couldn’t find one planner that encompassed *everything* as nicely as I envisioned or hoped. BUT I FOUND MY DREAM PLANNER. I use The Purposeful Planner by Corie Clark to keep my life organized. I have both a weekly and a daily, but the daily is my fave because each day is outlined by the hour, with room on every page to track everything from your water intake to your shopping list to your daily prayers of gratitude and your non-negotiable tasks. Seriously guys, this planner is lit. Right now they’re about to relaunch for 2016-2017 planners in I *think* third week of May, so I’m already bracing for pre-sale! These suckers sell out FAST, so get yours, like, yesterday. Like I said, I’m a bit of a planner whore, but I’m *picky* about ’em; I couldn’t love this one more. (If you want more details on it and/or want an inside snapshot of mine to see what it’s like, just shoot me an email or tweet me and I’d be happy to show you!)
Write some more. Just. keep. writing.
Making it official…
Make sure your website stands the heck out. When you think about your favorite websites, what makes them your favorite? Chances are, they *look* pretty baller. They probably have a great userface, are easy to navigate, are visually appealing, etc. Your website is as equally deserving of “baller” status as any other website, so make sure you’re giving it the TLC it needs. Tip: When thinking about/designing/planning your own blog, put yourself behind the screen of your reader. Think about what YOU look for in your favorite websites, and then apply that same mindset to an imaginary reader checking out YOUR website. Where’s my search bar? Is it clear where to find categories so that my reader knows exactly where to find what they’re looking for? Does my photography jump off of the page? Are my colors inviting? Are my fonds readable? Is everything clickable and drawing me in for more?
Pick a platform. Here’s the problem with free platforms (like wordpress.com): they have full rights to your content. Um, aca-scuse me? Yeah, you heard that right. You publish your innermost thoughts, feelings, opinions, how-to’s, etc., and they own it. Not cool! If you’re blogging “for yourself” or your mom or just to diary your thoughts, a free platform might work for you, because it might not be something that someone would try to re-publish and re-purpose anyways. BUT, if you are serious about wanting to start a blog and potentially have it be a serious blog (ie., something to show others, potentially make money from, etc.), just buck it up and buy the paid caboodle right off the bat. Otherwise, you’ll be confronted with switching platforms down the line if/when you change your mind and want to be serious about it, and switching platforms is a real pain in the rear.
If you’re on a paid platform, use the right host server. HostGator has been my ride or die for years now (use code COMINGUPROSES for 25% off your own plan), and I’ve only ever had one issue ever – I’ve had plenty o’ blog friend on Bluehost or GoDaddy that experience waaaaaaaay too much down time and problem spots for my liking, so Hostgator was always my #1. Their customer service team is also honestly one of the most impressively kind and helpful service teams I’ve ever dealt with for any product or service ever. Forrealz. They’re speedy, and when something goes viral and your server is too small, they’re helpful – and they’re a 24/7 service team. PLUS PLUS PLUS, Hostgator has unlimited bandwidth and disk space. But Erica, how much does it cost to be on the Hostgator server?? As low as $3.71 a month. I bought the Hatchling plan for myself when I went self-hosted and paid for the longest amount of time possible up front (I think it was for ~3 years), because I knew I was in it for the long haul. Plus the rate is *so affordable*. AND you can get an additional 25% off your plan with code COMINGUPROSES.
After signing up with HostGator, you’ll be able to register your domain (that’s yourdomainname.com) and then connect to WordPress. When you’re registering your domain name, you’ll need to choose something that’s not already taken. And I *highly* recommend choosing something strategically, with longevity. “rosygirl638.com” would sound like a sketchy adult site . “cominguproses.com” was already taken. “cominguprosestheblog.com” separates CUR the blog from any “Coming Up Roses” flower shop on the web, or the random Kiera Knightley movie. Pick a name you lovelovelove!
Create a branding + style guide. You won’t have much freedom on a free service, just because great things don’t (usually) come free. On your own, though, you’ve got leeway to design as desired. Invest in a truly stellar designer. There are countless websites in this world, and the marketplace of blogs just keeps gettin’ more saturated. If you’re just blogging for mom and the bestie, no problemo if you don’t want to lay down Benjamins on a fancy schmancy website. But, if you have any hope in growing an audience – any hope in developing actual influence and monetizing your brand – you need a kickass website. They say don’t judge a book by its cover…by people judge websites by their covers. If you get on a site, you judge it in the first few microseconds it’s on your screen. Don’t even lie. You just know whether or not it’s going to be garbage before even reading a blog post title, and that’s sad…because it’s not always garbage you’re reading! Set your designer up for success (and yourself!) by doing some research to get inspired on what vibe you want your brand to have. What’s your color scheme? What’s your font family? What creative images tell a story similar to yours? Pinterest is great for this (I mean, obvi), but consider the depth of your guide when thinking about the depth of your endeavor. Pretty pictures just don’t cut it when it comes to creating a style guide. There’s a whole psychology behind colors and why brands choose the colors they do. Some images represent happiness, others tranquility, others a fiery passion – what’s the energy you want readers to embody when they click on your website? This is huge, because your readers’ subconscious will play a scarily whopping big role in whether or not they choose to stay on your website…or click back to Facebook.
Use said style guide for templating graphics. Canva is a *FREE* website that’s oh-so-perfect for creating on brand, stylized graphics for social media sharing. Original photography is always the #1 way to go when it comes to imagery in a post, but when you have a super relevant, shareable post, you’ll want a Pinterest-optimized image (meaning it’s dimensions are 735 x 1102 pixels). Canva allows you to select the exact social media platform you’re looking to create an image for and automatically sizes the canvas for you in the correct size. Create a few branded images that can serve as “templates”. The “How to Start a Blog” graphic above was made entirely on Canva, for free, and it’s all ready to go be pinned. (Wanna pin it? 🙂 )
Take high quality photos. Stock photos only when it’s a quasi-emergency (like, if your coffee machine broke the night before and you couldn’t go on with your next day without getting a new Keurig kinda emergency). Photography is one of the driving forces behind brands wanting to work with bloggers. They want to know that their products are picture perfect, because who wants to buy crappy-looking stuff? Not us. Or anyone else, for that matter. Don’t worry, though, if you don’t have a fancy schmancy (and expensive) DSLR – using an iPhone can go far!
Feel a bit awkward being photographed? Check out these 16 Fashion Photography Tips for Non-Fashion Bloggers.
New to photography altogether? Here are 7 blog photography tips to help ya out!
Have a branded photoshoot. Your website should be jampacked with photography of y-o-u, so that new peeps to your site know who they’re talking with on the reg! Your homepage bio, about page, and any other stagnant page (like an FAQ or Work with Me section) should have a different branded image. “Branded image” meaning a photo that is visually consistent with the style you chose above. On CUR, you’ll notice all of my branded photography is black and white and pink. The pink matches the exact shade of pink on the rest of my website, and the black and white is neutral and punchy (but also consistent). Roses are present because duh, I’ve got on killer heels (because I say all o’er the site how much I dig cute shoes), my lipstick is bold (en pointe with my bio), and I’ve even got some coffee present. Mix it up, keep it in the tone of your brand (no laughing and giggling if your site is all serious and stuff, you know?), and keep it consistent!
Head to your WordPress dashboard, now that you’ve made your WordPress account. You’ll see a buncha labels and details on your left sidebar. “Posts” is where you’ll create and view any posts that you make, so that’s a biggie. Another biggie is “Plugins” a bit farther down. Akismet is a must-have Plug-in from the get go for lessening (if not eliminating) spam from your site. Jetpack is a great one for automatic shares of posts to social media (meaning you’ll hit “publish” on a blog post, and the plug-in will automatically tweet it out for you, etc.). Make sure you have something for security purposes (I like Wordfence Security) to protect your online space from any online attackers. And Yoast SEO is another big must – because using SEO on every post means that your blog can GROW and be found by complete strangers on the world wide web via Google or other search engines. #magic.
Learn social media. Well, duh. Nancy Drew in the building, ladies and gents. But really though, be strategic about your social media usage. Once you’ve entered the big bad world of blogging, there’s practically no coming back. You need an actual strategy for social media that extends far beyond “share my new post on Facebook, then tweet it out, then Pin it to my board.” To grow, you need to be visible. There is SO much to be said for each of the different social media platforms, so I’ll leave you with some helpful additional resources to explore in that realm.
On Instagram: How to Theme your Instagram (+ a FREE Growth Guide!)
On Pinterest: Pinfinite Growth – a course by Melyssa Griffin on how to grow blog traffic using Pinterest
On Twitter: Triple your Twitter – a course by Helene Sula on optimizing your Twitter time
OPTIONAL NEXT STEPS:
Create an email list. To build relationships with your readers on a deeper level and provide awesome value, free of charge. Best used with intention, when you have something really important to say/share, and/or when you’ve got a paid product that would be super valuable to your readers to know about!
Create email list opt-in. To get people actually, truly, genuinely interested in having you show up in their inbox unannounced. 😉
Know what to avoid. Like these 13 mistakes that many people make blogging.
Connect with others and SHARE your blog intentionally. “Intentionally” is key, here! It might help to write down a list of 5-10 reasons why someone might like to read your blog. Are you funny? Is it super helpful for new moms? Does it provide a conversation-inspiring perspective on politics? Will it be *the* best way for friends and family to see photography from your daily life? Whatever the reason may be, share the REASON with others, because that’s going to be what makes them want to check it out. Don’t be afraid to reach out to people saying, “Hey ____, I know you love ____, so I thought I’d share my new online space with you – I’ll be creating a lot of content about ____ so I think you’ll lovelovelove!”
Keep on truckin’ + keep on learnin’. And never stop. Either. Starting a blog is easy – keeping it up, growing it, and turning it into something that’s more than a once-in-awhile hobby – that’s another story.
The final word count on this baby is over 3,200 words. I hope these tips help you feel more confident about your own decision to start a blog and help point you in the right direction!
Are you looking to start a blog?
If you’re already a blogger, what tips would you add to the above list? AND AND AND, if you’re already #BeenThereDoneThat with all of the above and think these tips are helpful for any newbies in the house, would you share this “how to start a blog” guide on your platform of choice?
That would make all of the coffee and wine that made this happen worth it. 😉
Now go forth and BLOG!