Confession: New Year’s Day is my favorite holiday of the year. It beats Christmas and Halloween and Valentine’s Day and even my birthday. Something about boxing up the holiday decorations, throwing out the stale gingerbread men, and starting fresh with a list of resolutions is so energizing. I love the idea of actively chasing a happier you.
Starting a blog is a great resolution in itself because it provides a creative outlet (yay, happier you!) but it can also be a powerful tool to help you stick to whatever resolutions you’ve made by giving you a place to document your progress or a motivator to stick with it.
Also, if any of your resolutions have to do with improving your career or financial situation, a blog can be a solid way to put yourself out there as an expert in some certain area and maybe even make a little extra income. Don’t worry if you aren’t an expert in the Harvard sense of the word – I would hardly call myself an expert parent (see Instagram feed for details) but I am an expert on the subject of my kids, my marriage, and my journey toward being my best self and using that voice gives me a platform to work with brands that fit with my story.
If you’re thinking about starting a blog, don’t be overwhelmed. I put together a whole Start a Blog series about three years ago and a lot of that information is still solid if you wanted to go peruse the archives, but if you’re looking for a quick guide it’s never been faster or easier to get started with blogging so I can break it down for you here. If you start now, you can be an active blogger with an audience, an online personality, and an avenue for making money in about three hours. Two even if you’re speedy. Just do these 5 things:
1 /// Brainstorm offline.
2 /// Get online.
3 /// Write three posts.
4 /// Start a community.
5 /// Market yourself.
Before you start blogging, pick a topic, a dot com name, and a general mood for your blog. Do not, under any circumstances, try to force your hand by picking a general blog name with the idea that you’ll solidify your focus in a month or so. If you aren’t solid on who you want to be online, stay offline for now.
You don’t have to know absolutely everything you’ll want to write about in your first year of blogging, but you should be able to sum up your blog in three sentences (with those sentences not being “I just have a blog about life and whatever. I write what I want. I hope people read it someday.”). If you want to write about your life in general, actually write down your covered topics. Will you be writing about your travels, decorating your home, the food you eat, your personal relationships, etc.?
If you’re writing about something less personal, like a how to guide for a healthy lifestyle or coverage for your particular business, write those topics down as well. If you get stuck, try brainstorming questions you want to answer instead, like “How do I stick to a paleo diet?” or “Where’s the best place in Houston to go furniture shopping?”. Knowing what problems you want to solve for people will help you narrow your focus.
Once you know your focus and topics, pick a dot com. Warning: there are a lot of dot coms taken out there so you’ll probably have to try a bunch on GoDaddy before you find a free one. Even so, keep it simple, easy to spell, and I really really really urge you to stick with dot com instead of dot org or dot anything else. People still think dot com when they think of website names and it will be easier for them to remember how to find your site if you stick to the classic. Also keep in mind that your dot com and your blog name don’t have match but they should be as close as possible.
In my original blog series, I suggested using Bluehost to purchase hosting so you could set up your blog on WordPress. I’m still fine with recommending them and they make it fairly easy but I’ve personally switched over to GoDaddy to keep more of my billing in the same place and I think GoDaddy is actually easier for beginners. You can buy your dot com from them and easily add WordPress Hosting, which means they set your blog up for you and handle a lot of the gritty backstage stuff to get you running and keep you afloat. If you really are flying blind and you don’t want to deal with any of the tech, this is a good option because they walk you through everything. It’s also cheap to pay for monthly hosting if you’re just starting out because they have tiered pricing based on how many visitors your site gets. (You stay at the bottom price until your site is getting more than 100,000 monthly visitors.)
For your site design, you use themes (templates) in WordPress to change the look of your site and you’ll automatically have one installed when they set up your blog for you. Unless you’re really going easy and cheap, you’ll want to change this to fit the mood of your site and I am ALL about throwing a little money at the situation in the beginning to get a good WordPress thene that you don’t have to mess with. There’s no reason to teach yourself web design if that’s not what you want to be doing.
I’ve had great success buying premade WordPress themes from sellers on Etsy so browse over there, find a theme you like, check to make sure there are good reviews about the seller, and make your purchase. It will come with the template and instructions for installing it (usually along with the promise of help from the seller if you need it). To give you an idea of the variety available, here are four that I like:
Write three posts.
Once your blog is online and you have the theme installed and working correctly, start writing. Write and publish three posts before you do anything else. Don’t worry about setting up your “About Me” page or your anything else right now…it’s time to write. If I were you, I would write one introductory post, a really long solve-your-reader’s-problem type post with lots of info, and an easy-to-scan post with big images and not a lot of text…BUT you can write any three posts you want to. Just get something on your blog so people have stuff to look at when they show up.
Little tips: give your readers something they can use today, add at least one large attractive photo to each post, and be specific (not cutesy) in the title. You’ll get a lot more people clicking on the post “The 8 Best Cheeses for Your New Year’s Eve Party” than you will people clicking on “A Cheese By Any Other Name Still Smells“.
Also, if you write one post and you want to stop because you don’t feel like writing another, maybe you shouldn’t even keep your new blog going. No joke. If you can’t think of three separate posts you want to put out there, you will flame out and quit in the first few months. It’s a sign that either (A) you don’t really want to run a blog, (B) you went too specific with your topic and there isn’t enough to write about, or (C) you picked a topic because you thought it would get you money or popularity but you won’t be invested enough in your subject to ever make it to either of those things.
Start a community.
Once you have at least three posts published, feel free to start a Facebook fan page for your blog. Yes, you need one. People expect you to have a place on Facebook where they can interact with you on a more personal level and you’ll want to have a place to do mini-posts and a little advertising. You can also add Instagram accounts, Twitter, etc. (although keep in mind that you’ll have to manage that all in addition to personal accounts if you’re keeping things separate).
Write a separate Facebook post linking to each post you’ve published on your blog and another “welcome to my page” post with a general link to your blog. Pin your “welcome to my page” post to the top of your feed. Add a link to your Facebook page and any other related social media accounts somewhere on your blog so people can find you. Invite at least 10 people to like your new page. It’s OK if those ten people include your mom and your grandma and any other “safe” friend who will accept your invitation. You can work on targeting your ideal audience later.
Oh hey, time to work on targeting your ideal audience.
Put an “About Me” page on your blog that includes a photo of you (or a photo you can consistently use on your blog, your Facebook page, etc.), a way to contact you via e-mail, at least a short background that explains who you are in relation to the topic you’re writing about, and what you are going to offer to your readers. If you get stuck trying to introduce yourself, go to your five favorite blogs and check out their About Me pages for inspiration. Do not copy them verbatim. Bloggers don’t like that.
If you have a specific end game, look at bloggers who are achieving that goal and ask yourself what steps they’re taking to do that. If you want to get paid for more general lifestyle or parenting blogging (like I do), you could look at my site and see that I get a lot of sponsored posts through groups like Clever Girls or Massive Sway, which means you might want to check out what their requirements are to join. If you want to get sample products to try like your favorite fashion or beauty bloggers but you can’t figure out how they started their relationship with that brand, look at the kind of posts they’ve been doing. The brand must like that type of thing so that gives you a roadmap of what types of posts you might want to do to get noticed by the same brand. (Again, don’t steal material from any other blogger. There’s a difference between inspiration and theft. Theft is not flattering. You will get in trouble.)
It will likely take you a bit of time to build up the archive of posts that you need to actually join a blog network or get noticed by a blogger BUT if you start on the right track from the very beginning your timeline will be shorter than a lot of bloggers out there AND you’ll be more likely to grow an audience of people who genuinely like reading your blog and who will probably recommend it to their friends. It’s just like weight loss…this week’s progress might be frustratingly invisible but after six months of effort you’ll look back and you won’t believe what you’e done.
Need more specific help with something in blogland? Check out these articles:
- Don’t Let Your Photos Ruin Your Posts
- Get More People to See Your Posts
- What is SEO and What Should I Be Doing?
- Land Your First Sponsored Post
- How I Made 40K My First Year of Blogging
- Best Practices for Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and Pinterest