Writing a blog is hard.
This is probably the third or fourth time I’ve tried to start a blog. My other failed attempts died from lack of motivation, reader interaction, me being a confused puppy with no idea how to do website design, and my inner critic.
So where does that leave me, dear readers?
Currently, I’m in a good spot. I’ve got my website and blog off the ground. My social media pages are set up and linked, and I’ve got tons of great post ideas heading your way. Of course, like any good writer who is a pantser (That means I’m not a planner for you non NaNoers*), I’ve had my difficulties. Jumping head first into a project without a set direction is a road that leads to some tough lessons.
Jumping head first into a project without a set direction is a road that leads to some tough lessons.Tweet
I’d like to share with you five important lessons I’ve learned about setting up a blog. Five lessons I should have followed when setting up my current one and my past attempts. While they won’t solve all your problems, they may save your sanity and keep you from staring at your computer screen like this:
#1 Self Criticism
I’m sure many young adults my age can agree with me, when it comes to criticism, we are our own worst enemies. Whether at work or at home, I guarantee you, we’ve already had a self deprecating go around about why we’ve failed before you even try to break the news gently to us. That inner critic is a menace to us all.
I’m sure you can relate to my struggles at least somewhat. Just imagine for example, that small inner person in your head telling you not to try, that no one will like you, don’t do it. Kudos if yours comes with an existential crisis, a Gollum complex (You know that thing he does when he talks to ‘himself’ or refers to himself as two different people? Yeah, that), and a flare for the dramatic.
*Inner critic pops into existence from thin air with a show of blinding colors and explosions*
Me: See what I mean?
Inner Critic: Oh stop being a drama queen.
Me: HEY. You’re the one that decided to enter like a freakin fashion model.
Inner Critic: That is called style, my dear, something you seem to lack, along with other critical design and writing skills.
Me: Yeah, yeah, shoo. We agreed, you’d let me write in peace and I’d let you feed off my emotional uncertainty and regret later.
Inner Critic: *frowns* Fine, but make sure to eat that extra cookie so I can scream at you like a personal trainer (Is that what personal trainers do?).
*disappears in a flash*
Me: *stuffs cookie into my mouth just to be a brat*
Meet my inner critic. The antithesis of me. The dark side of the Force. The Gollum to my Smeagol. The Hyde to my Jekyll . Okay, you get the picture. Essentially, he’s the embodiment of my self doubt and self hatred.
Anyone else feel like he should have a name?
I’m thinking Bob. Bob sounds good.
One thing that Bob really likes to remind me of is fear. The fear of not being listened to, of being judged, of my words not being worth someone’s time. He can get so loud that I hear him screaming in my ears not to do something. It’s a waste of time he says, no one will want to hear you.
In all honesty, haven’t we all had that inner critic yelling at us at some point?
When starting a blog, you’re making yourself vulnerable. You put your life and your words out for people to see and judge you. So when you struggle with even the basic levels of emotional vulnerability like me, you may find yourself with crippling self doubt that keeps you from moving forward.
So what’s the answer? I find it’s all in the mindset. A lot of ‘How to be a Successful Blogger’ posts I’ve read like to tell you to curate your content to your audience. While this may be true, I’d like to bet that someone out there will be interested in what you want to write. Be true to yourself, don’t give up your passion just to make money or find readers. Learn to compromise and do both.
If you have talent, your niche will find you. It just takes a little extra work and a lot of patience.
#2 Design & Setup
Who else has either accidentally or purposely skipped a tutorial and opted to figure it out on your own?
*Raises hand out a ten story building*
I learn best by doing, making mistakes, and then learning how to fix them.
HOWEVER, this makes setting up a website an absolute pain. Unless you happen to have a nice little dual monitor setup that allows you to open and view multiple tabs of information, it might be doable for you then. Unfortunately, many of us are starving artists though and lack that kind of setup. Tough luck.
Some of you may have the luxury of having a friend or a family member who is a guru in all things coding and website design. If that’s the case, then by all means, throw the tutorial out the window. You can always laugh at the guru when a spot trips them up and they scramble madly to find the tutorial. That’s a rare case though, you’re in good hands, trust them and don’t fight with their knowledge. Coders tend to be INTPs and they have about six arguments to back themselves up if you try to argue.
For those of you trying to figure it out on your own, I would suggest doing some research into your chosen platform before signing up. Find out how user friendly they are and how computer literate you need to be in order to navigate and design your new home. Also be aware of their pricing plans and what comes with your free version. Consider a different platform if it doesn’t meet with your needs.
When you inevitably run into issues trying to navigate and design your site, take a deep breath and remember, crying and binge eating chocolate is always a solution. For real though, there will be frustrating, hair tearing moments where you want to scream or throw your computer/laptop/phone through a window. Just breath and step back.
Remember, crying and binge eating chocolate is always a solution.Tweet
I spent almost an entire day trying to figure out why my share buttons were showing up everywhere except my blog post. After reading and following multiple how-tos that made everything more complicated and confusing, I finally gave up for the night. Long story short, I reread one of those how-tos the next day and discovered that I was just blind and the navigation on this platform is not for beginners.
Word of advice when it comes to choosing a platform? Do your research beforehand, it will save you at least a little time and a whole lot of chocolate.
#3 Social Media
So maybe you’re starting out the undertaking of a new blog with only a vague understanding of marketing like me. You know the basics but that’s about it. Then you have an ‘oh s***’ moment and frantically try to figure out what all goes into the marketing of a new blog.
A little over two years ago I was required by my community college to complete an internship in order to graduate. After much frantic looking and many applications being sent with no returns, I finally ended up at this little start up business that provided fiber internet and IT support.
One of the things you should know about working for a small business is everyone is overworked and no one has time to train you or give you a direction. So here I am flouncing into this internship with one of my required goals being to help set up and write social media posts to market the business.
I should be a pro at this, right?
Over worked staff with high stress = cranky micromanaging supervisors
No guidance and nothing in the terms of how to get better and make them happy.
That was my grand experience in social media marketing. Even though I can ‘technically’ claim it as a strength on my resume, I can’t tell you how to set it up or use it effectively.
Getting it set up for this blog took some time and a fair amount of research and observation. I’m still trying to dust off my cobweb scattered knowledge (Yes, Twitter does indeed use hashtags) and work out what the heck I’m doing, but I’ve learned/relearned a few things already.
- Have a plan
- Choose your platforms
- Design with uniformity
- Pictures are your friend
- Set up your website for easy sharing
Lets break that down a little more.
Have a Plan
Before you start creating social media pages left, right, and center, take a minute to break down your plan. Who is your audience? Where are they most likely to spend more time? What sites allow you the best marketing tools? Etc. If your blog and extra content is going to be more visual, then Pinterest and Instagram may be a better bet then Twitter or Facebook.
Also take the time to find out more about each platform, like what times you should post, or how often. What kind of content gets you the most views and clicks. Are pretty graphics going to get you more views? Or is it presentation and campaigns? Really think about how much time and effort you’re going to need to promote your blog.
Choose Your Platforms
I recently read a blog post about why you should choose a couple platforms to start out with and build your engagement before trying to master another site. Simply put, you only have so much time to dedicate in building your image and at the beginning, you’re stretched pretty thin.
Instead of stressing yourself out and trying to move so fast, take your time and utilize the tools you have available. Because I am most familiar and experienced with Pinterest, I’m planning on starting there. I also believe the answers and experiences I write about will have a greater chance of finding a following on Pinterest rather than a different platform.
Design With Uniformity
While not entirely necessary, this one can be useful. If you have a logo or a profile picture, make sure that’s always front and center on all your platforms. Sure, it’s fun to have all kinds of fun photos and designs out there, but nothing screams professional like high quality uniformity across multiple platforms. Plus it’s a nice help for your viewers to confirm they are on the right page.
Pictures are Your Friend
Not just pictures though, but graphics. You don’t just throw a nice picture out there with a link to your blog post and a brief description. It might work on a platform like Facebook, but even that is questionable. If you want viewers and page clicks, then you need to have a good graphic.
Take this post’s main graphic for instance. It’s nothing fancy. After an initial refresher course (Aka, trying and failing to replace the background to a picture before realizing that’s not how Canva works), I managed to whip up that little graphic in less than 15 minutes with a nice little free website called Canva.
So don’t be afraid to spend a little extra time designing those graphics, you’ll thank me later.
Set Up Your Website for Easy Sharing
OKAY. This one can be tough. If you’re semi blind and technology incompetent like me, then you may struggle with it, but I cannot stress this enough.
Make. Sure. You. Have. Share. Buttons.
Nothing is more annoying than running across a super interesting post on a website, wanting to share it, and then finding out the author forgot share buttons. You spend several minutes combing around, before finally giving up and deciding it’s not worth it.
Now think of the writer, they just missed a huge marketing opportunity. For beginners, we rely on a random person reading our content and liking it so much they want to share it with ten other people. And maybe half of those ten people decide to pass it on. Before you know it, maybe you have 150 views, 100 clicks, and 75% engagement.
So let me say this again because I can’t stress it enough.
Make. Sure. You. Have. Share. Buttons.
#4 Site Monetization
Of all the things I wish I’d known before starting this blog, site monetization was pretty high on the list. It’s probably a good idea to do some research into what kind of ads and affiliate programs you can use. Especially when you find out that you have to PAY for a better website plan to enable the ad feature.
Yeah. Still a bit annoyed about that one.
I’m not going to lie, I like free things, especially when I’m coming off being unemployed for a month and having all kinds of expenses that sap my savings. So finding out I’m required to have a premium account to use ads, well, lets just say I used some ‘choice’ language.
As the age old philosopher says, “You must spend money to make money” (Trivia fact for you, that quote is attributed to the Roman playwright, poet, and philosopher; Titus Maccius Plautus).
It’s an age old marketing fact, in order to make a profit on something, you have to make some kind of monetary investment. For those of us starving artists, working jobs that barely provide, this is painful. Extremely.
So, please, please, please keep that in mind before you go off and start yourself a blog thinking you’re going to make a nice little extra portion of money for the month. Even if you can find a way to make money without a premium account, you still have to create a reader base, and it’s rare nowadays to achieve this without paid ad campaigns on social media.
Regardless of how hard you try, you’re going to most likely end up investing at least some money. It may be some time before you make it back or end up in the positive, so choose your investments wisely.
Upgrading your platform is probably my first suggestion on investment, it does open some nice options for design and you lose the annoying .wordpress tag. Definitely look into that before launching your website or even designing it.
Next, I would spend some money on running ad campaigns. Especially if your main platform is Facebook or Pinterest.
Last Spring when Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris caught fire, I immediately started a Facebook page in mourning and support. I spent $50 to boost my opening post and ended up with over 5K post reach and 480 post engagements. I got lucky because I was able to set the page up right at the beginning of a big news event. I definitely got a lot more attention than a new blog is probably going to get, but never underestimate the power of a little moolah.
My last bit of advice is to build your content a little before you start investing in ad campaigns. You want to make sure you have enough content to engage and interest your audience. No point in running campaigns if you’re just starting out and don’t have any goods to offer. That’s like being offered a pie and finding out the filling is missing.
Aka, DON’T DO IT. YOU WILL MAKE PIE EATERS VERY ANGRY.
#5 Post Content
I’ve struggled with post content a lot in the past. I’m going to blame Bob for that.
Bob: *frown appears in midair*
Bob: I heard that!
Me: Yes, and you’d better leave and avoid causing me any more problems. Otherwise you can’t critique me later.
Bob: *frown slowly disappears*
I have a lot of trouble relating to other people. I tend to speak in a language no one else does, so oftentimes I don’t feel like anyone will want to read what I write. That feeling can develop from disinterest shown by someone who’s approval you crave and need in your developmental years. It leaves you with the feeling of insecurity and being unsure of your identity.
I’ve been hardcore writing for about seven years now. I wanted to be a fiction writer with a specialty in fantasy. I had a lot of dreams of being a best selling author. Reality has since kicked in, but I still have some ambitions of reaching that goal. Even with years of experience, I hardly ever shared my writing with anyone.
Until something possessed me to contribute to Fanfiction.net last Spring.
I know I have a decent amount of talent, but I’ve never had much success or feedback. Yet, somehow I managed to build a following through that story. I also got some great feedback and really boosted my confidence when it came to my capabilities of entertaining an audience and creating a following.
Writing that story taught me there are people who will have the same interests as me. So if I can keep a steadily building engagement for a story more than a year old, I can build an audience on a blog.
You’re probably wondering where I’m going with this example.
Essentially, if you have a passion, find a way to monopolize it and market it. Someone will find your writing interesting, you just have to find your following. Good content that answers your readers’ questions and problems is half the battle. You can teach yourself to be a marketer, but learning good, engaging writing skills is much harder.
That being said, you can make a post about almost anything. Hobbies, interests, trying something new, general routines, product trials, and most importantly, how-tos. Of course, it is important to keep within a general theme, so make sure you define your theme before you start your blog. My blog is for sharing my life experiences, almost like a travel blog, which means I have free range to share my interests and hobbies.
You should be considering a few things before you start posting random content though. Just think P.A.I.N.T.S.
P = Profit
A = Answers
I = Information
N = New
T = Theme
S = Structure
Does my information profit my readers? What can I do to make my content more profitable and worth their time?
Is my content giving my readers the answers they need? What questions do they have? How can I help them find the answers they need?
Am I passing on useful information to my readers? Is this information beneficial to them? Will it help them fulfill their goals?
What makes my content new? How does it differ from every other blogger in existence? How can I highlight my differences and strengths?
Does my content match the theme of my blog and stay true to my passions? Am keeping true to my first reader; myself?
Is there structure to my content? How can I better organize it to help both my readers and myself navigate it?
Paints can be used to create bright eye-catching pictures; words can do the same. If you make use of the P.A.I.N.T.S. system, you will find it easier to create valuable content. Even if your own little Bob decides to show up, just throw paints at him!
Me: *ignores the little gremlin*
I’ll get more in depth about P.A.I.N.T.S. and how to find content ideas in a later post, but first, just a couple of last minute tips.
Have a few posts drafted and ready to go when you go live with your website. It will save you the pain of having to scramble for content while trying to complete a massive list of other goals. If you get the time, you can always come back and write other posts to fill in any gaps in your content schedule.
Creating post series is a great way to elongate content and insure your readers keep coming back to your website. Have some great blogging tips? Create a four or five post series and tease the next post at the end of your current one (Don’t forget to add an estimate when your next post will come out). The best part is you can use series for any content and it works well. It’s a great way to break long posts into smaller pieces and keep you away from a content slump.
Hopefully, that gives you some ideas of 5 things I’ve discovered along the way of the massive undertaking of starting a blog. I’ll eventually go a little deeper into each subject as I learn more about what the heck I’m doing.
As always, thanks for reading! Until next time, my lovelies! *hugs*
Bob: *pops out of thin air and starts notating every other sentence*
*NaNoers = NaNoWriMo participants