May 23, 2013

Thinking about starting a blog? 10 great tips for starting a blog that you probably haven't read elsewhere.

I don't write many posts directed at bloggers but lately I've noticed a little trend.  I've had more than a few friends reach out for advice on starting a blog or what they can do to work on theirs.  I also get many inquiries from readers asking how I got started in all of this and if they can do it too.  So I figured I'd throw in a little weekend reading for those of you who are curious and as always don't hesitate to ask me a question!

Want to start a blog?  10 great tips for starting a blog that you probably won't hear elsewhere. tips for blogger relationships

I've only been blogging for about a year but wow, what a year it's been!  Blogging is now my full time job and while my income isn't enough to support my family where we live in coastal San Diego I bet it actually would be a huge contribution if we lived in an area with a lower cost of living.  So here goes:

ONE - Know what you're signing up for.

If blogging will be a hobby for you then there isn't all that much to think about.  Feel free to go where the wind takes you and put as much or as little into it as you like.  If it's even a potential career move then know that this is not a job you ever sign off from and you will invest a ton of time in the hopes of making something from nothing.

There, I said it and I don't mean to sound all Debbie Downer, but it's true.  There is a LOT that goes into blogging.  Some blogs are just a place where people essentially write stream of consciousness and don't think about much else.  Those are the hobbyists.  If your blog will be a business then know that you'll become your own micro-publishing house where you'll wear all the hats of writer, editor, photographer, Videographer, PR team, Social Media team and on and on.  However if you're the "let me just handle it" type and I am, this may be the perfect fit for you.

It's not a 9-5 job so the flexibility that comes with it can be great and it can be your worst enemy.  I'd be lying if I said I don't spend several nights a week up late working...because it's also a job that never really ends and there is always more you can be doing.

TWO - Talk to your family about what you will or won't share.

This is different for everyone.  In the beginning I didn't share any information about my family because I was freaked out by the Internet.  Now I'm pretty much an open book about myself, my daughter and occasionally my husband (hey, I need to maintain a friendly front at home!) I have friends who never reveal their children's names and friends who will do nothing short of post videos of themselves on the toilet.  It's true, I swear.  

Really this just comes down to what you are comfortable with.  If I write something that involves another family member I usually let them know and make sure they are okay with it.  Because really, what family needs more drama?

THREE - Know when to outsource!  

This can be the biggest deal breaker in your success.  I'll come right out and say it - when I started this site I spent about $75 to have someone design it for me.  It was quite possibly the best $75 I ever spent. Sure you can use the free templates that Blogger offers but between us I think they tend to be horrendous looking.  You can almost always tell when you've landed on a site that uses one of those.  Something about it just feels robotic, cold and unprofessional.

What many people don't realize is there are a slew of graphic designers on Etsy who can whip you up a custom site or a site using one of their premade templates in just a few days. If I had tried to design and install my own it would have taken forever (way more than $75 worth my time) and probably not have been ideal regardless.

FOUR - Step outside of your comfort zone and make friends.

This is tough.  Entering the world of blogging is like starting at a new high school with a specialized curriculum that everyone else has been learning for years and you just showed up one day with no textbooks or prior education. Oh, and you had to sit alone at lunch.  At least that's how it felt to me.  I'm a very social girl when comfortable amongst a crowd but can be very shy when I don't have at least a couple of people I know in some form.

I was very lucky to get pulled into a Facebook group with lots of bloggers who helped one another and there was a nice sense of community.  Some of those bloggers became great friends and wonderful resources on how to tweak my blog, how to write better and how to become a budding photog.  Yes - there are all kinds of secret little groups out there where you can meet other bloggers and learn a TON.  I know, this sounds super weird but it's true.  Just like navigating the school moms and dads you have to find your people.

FIVE - Decide how you feel comfortable monetizing.

This was the hardest part of all for me.  I remember in the beginning all of our friends would congratulate me on starting something and immediately ask the follow up question "so how are you going to make money?"  I took my time in investigating my options and seeing what was a good fit for me and my readers because in my opinion the most important factor are my readers.  I don't want to do things that they see as bothersome or annoying.

The truth is there are a lot of ways to turn a blog into your job.  The most important thing is that you feel comfortable with whatever ways you decide to do it. So if you can, take the time to really think about it before slapping an ad on your site or agreeing to write a post about something you may not really like.  I for one REALLY don't like ads, particularly the flashing, talking takeover your screen kind. They bother me when I visit other blogs and I really prefer an uncluttered screen.  There are lots of options for how to monetize including ads, affiliate linking, sponsored posts, speaking engagements, consulting, etc.  so don't worry!

SIX -  Don't be afraid to apply to things, but do stay on track

When you start a blog suddenly you'll see doors open for opportunities and the reality is that many of them are not ideal.  In life (not to go all Bethenney on you) I try to come from a place of yes.  When it comes to my blog I generally come from a place of NO or let me sleep on that.

If your blog is your business then it's like another child.  You want the best for it and really if you're scratching your head about whether something fits into what you're trying to do the answer is probably that it doesn't.  One of my blogging buddies once made a great point at a dinner we were at where she said "If it's not a hell yes, then it's a no."  Generally speaking I live by that same rule.

If there is something you think you would be a great fit for, but you don't totally meet the requirements, buck up.  Find someone to contact and see if you can make your case.  Don't spam them or anything but give it one nice well worded shot.  The worst they can do is say no.  But if you never ask or apply, then the answer will always be no.  See below on how to handle this.

SEVEN -  Grow a thick skin.

Rejection happens.  It happens a LOT.  I have never been awesome with rejection but when I set out on this venture I decided from day one that I would be okay with it.  I never get angry about it and I'm being honest.  Frustrated - occasionally, but that's human.  I don't waste time wallowing in sorrow or getting bitter about opportunities missed because I was too small or too new or not enough whatever.

I think by learning to focus on doing the best work I could for the things I was chosen for I created a nice track record of good work and that opened doors I never thought would open for me.  People and even large international brands make exceptions when you show them why they should and can back it up with evidence. Be okay taking risks and putting yourself out there.  Don't promise things you can't deliver but do learn to be your own cheerleader of sorts.

The old me would never have entered a writing contest after just starting to write for a few months and lo and behold I was one of the winners from the BlogHer Wells Fargo contest last year.  The old me would never have applied for a Step2 ambassadorship knowing most of those bloggers are HUGE and have been doing this for years, but I did and I'm glad I did because they picked little me, and now I get to work with a company I adore.

EIGHT -  Always remember the people who helped you.

There are so many people who have played an integral role in my success and I don't talk about it a ton on my blog.  I think of them as true friends and I do try to let them know how much their help, encouragement and candor means to me.

Just like friends you see every day I try to make sure I make time to help them when they need something looked at, apologize if I've been slacking on something, do them a favor here and there in sharing something and most importantly be there when they just need a listening ear to vent to.

You'll be amazed at the relationships you can create online and I say that in the least creepy sounding way possible.  It's true - it's a very foreign concept to me to have friends you don't physically see but some of the people I have met in this short time I've been blogging have had a stronger impact on my life than others I have known for years and years.  You'll see.

NINE -  Figure out your specialty and run with that!

I don't mean your blog niche.  Yes everyone will tell you that but I'm saying figure out what style of blogger you are and work that skill.  Me - I'm a story teller and I write how I would talk to you if we were two friends having coffee.  I've recently met a bunch of people who read my blog and one of the first things a bunch of them said was "you're exactly as I imagined you." So content is my specialty.

That doesn't have to be yours but you should have some level of comfort with words or it's hard to imagine that you'll enjoy blogging.  Your specialty can be photos or videos (vlogging) with less writing and more imagery.  It's really just finding what you do best and what you enjoy.

In my opinion some of the best bloggers have a specialty but are proficient in one of the other areas.  I'm no professional photographer AT ALL.  A year ago I didn't even own a point and shoot camera! But I have taught myself to take pretty nice photos and those photos are an integral part of my blog and account for a great deal of my traffic through Google searches and Pinterest.  

TEN - Stay away from the negativity and the drama

I'll only touch on this for a second because I really do tend to ignore it, but I think it's worth mentioning to those just starting out.  Like any job place or community, there is drama in the blogging world. There will always be people who just don't like certain people, people who have no filter and those who don't behave professionally.

How do I handle it?  Avoid.  Like the plague.  I keep my head down and work.  I'm not the only one who has figured this out.  Occasionally I entertain my husband or closest friends with little tidbits of things I observe, but I never engage.   Let's be honest, women behaving badly is entertaining!!  Otherwise the Real Housewives would certainly not be a successful franchise.  But leave it at that.  Let that reality show play in the background while you focus on building your blog, your brand and your group of helpful, positive friends who you truly enjoy.

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