Lately I have been floored by the number of people who have talked to me about wanting to start their own blog. These people want to blog for numerous reasons – as an aid to establish their start-up, diarise their home renovation or build, enhance their freelance career prospects or just for fun.
I don’t feel like I am a blogging expert – at least not yet! But I have learned so much about the blog world since I started House Nerd in September 2012, and in that time I have made many, many dumb mistakes! So for all the people who have asked me for my advice, this post is for you. Here are my twelve bits of advice for new and wannabe bloggers.
1. Blogging takes a lot longer than you might expect.
Unless you are some kind of effortlessly brilliant writing genius who spills Tolstoy from his fingertips, blogging well takes a looong time. Think of how long you think it will take you to write a post and add forty minutes. Then times that by six. That’s probably about right. Times it by ten if you are a perfectionist! I am and I know that being a perfectionist can be maddening.
2. Outline your intentions for your blog from the beginning.
It’s not very romantic, but I work as a full-time writer and I started House Nerd with the aim of turning it in into a part of my job, which it has become. You might not want to blog for career reasons. Maybe for you a blog is a memory-keeping thing you’d like your kids to read one day when they’re older. Or you just want to write or explore something creative. Maybe you love all things makeup and skincare and can think of nothing better than PRs sending you free product to review for your hobby beauty blog.
For the purpose of this post, I’m going to presume that a lot of you are reading this because you want to blog to create a part-time income, as an aid to a fledgling small business or to enhance your career prospects.
Whatever you want out of your blog, writing down two or three goals for it will be a big help. Be honest! No-one is going to make fun of you, because no-one is going to read it except you, except your little sister if she goes through your diary. So write whatever comes to mind, even if you feel a little silly. “I want to have a Julie and Julia moment and score a book deal with stacks of publishers leaving me voice messages and it would be pretty good to live above a pizza shop too.” Write it down. It will give you direction when maintaining a blog is the last thing you feel like doing.
3. You can avoid RSI.
One of my biggest dumb mistakes? Resizing hundreds of photos for posts, one by one, in MS Paint to make them web-size. Use a program that will do it for you in seconds. Mr Nerd found one for me called PIXresizer.
4. A blog is not a necessity for freelances and small business owners.
Don’t blog unless you really want to write, and unless you have the time and energy to devote to it. I probably would not suggest you start a blog if you feel obligated, like a blog is something “you should do”. For example, if you are starting a small business and you feel like a blog "should be" part of your brand.
For many small business owners, blogging is not a necessity. It might seem like it is, and writing a blog may at first seem attractive and fun. That will wear off! Blogging – and blogging well - takes a long time, and you are going to be even more busy and tired when your business starts picking up. Investing your time and energy into social media – Instagram, Facebook, Pinterest – could be much more beneficial for you than writing blog posts. You are going to have to do that stuff for business purposes anyway. Add a blog into the mix and you are going to be even more time-pressed. I am not trying to put a dampener on anyone’s spirits. But I know from friends that running a start-up is exhausting and time-consuming and you don’t need another chore. You don’t need to blog. You have social media for that. Social media will most likely work much better for your business goals than a blog will.
5. Keep updating it!
If you have a start-up and blogging still sounds attractive, you could create a blog section to your website and update it once a month with snippets from your latest projects to show people you’re busy, working and growing. That’s all you need.
Keep updating it, though. I know this sounds kind of mean, and maybe this is just me, but if I am checking out someone’s website and they have a blog section and their last post was in November 2012, it makes me think that that person’s career has gone downhill since then or that they have lost their drive. I think, “Oh, are they even still working in this role?”
So if you are a working professional and have a blog section on your website, do try to post just once a month. Collate some pics from Instagram and Facebook and just put together a short breezy update, like you’re too busy with paid jobs to blog (and chances are you will be).
6. Blogging can be one of the best things you do for your career.
I know I seem to be contradicting myself here, but if you are working in the media or in a creative profession and you are wondering how to put yourself and your work out there, blog! If you want to catapult a career in writing, journalism, marketing, styling, public relations, interior design, marketing, art, photography, music, whatever, blogging is the most fantastic avenue for self-promotion.
These days potential employers WILL search for you on Facebook and Google before they consider calling you in for an interview, which is kind of a pity because if you Google me one of the things that comes up is this picture of me with Ronnie Coleman from my bodybuilding magazine days.
Yet since I started House Nerd, I get emails every week from people asking me about doing work for them. Many people trip over my blog and sometimes it turns into a real opportunity. I never expected this and naively didn’t even think about this when I started House Nerd, but starting a blog has been THE best thing I have done for making contacts and boosting my profile. In fact before I started House Nerd I’m not even sure I would consider what I had a profile, at all, and I can’t believe I didn’t even have a website portfolio for my writing work before House Nerd. If you have something positive going on, there will be people who will want you to work with you. A blog is a fantastic way to create an online, ongoing portfolio to showcase your talents.
In certain fields you can also be worth more as an employer or a contractor if you have a following. For example, many publishing companies these days tend to look favourably upon emerging and established writers who have a blog, are active on social media and already have a fan base. They know there is value in a writer having a network of fans already in place to sell books to. You could argue that’s better than an author no-one knows nothing about. (And think of how many big-name bloggers have scored book deals!)
7. Promoting your blog through social media is going to suck up a lot of time.
Something else that shows you how much of a dinosaur I was when I decided to branch into online writing - I didn’t have an Instagram, Twitter or Pinterest before blogging. I didn’t know how Facebook Pages worked, I didn’t even know what Bloglovin’ was! I was very naïve about the amount of time I would have to spend maintaining social media and answering emails.
8. Get all your social media outlets up there and out there from the get-go.
Even if you haven’t started blogging much yet. Even if you don’t focus on one of your social media outlets too much in the beginning, let it be there, just slowly ticking subscribers along. Get on Instagram straight away. Or Facebook. Or Twitter. If you don’t want to use all social media avenues, pick one or two and focus on making it really good. Make sure you have Bloglovin’ set up from the get go (I didn’t, and wish I had now) and at least have a Facebook page or an Instagram. My personal favourite social media avenue is Instagram. It hasn’t (yet) been tweaked by revenue-raising algorithms like Facebook has, and the people on there are just a really nice bunch – I’ve met some who have actually become really good friends.
9. Use Facebook sparingly for your blog promotion.
I’m not an expert on Facebook algorithms, but I think you should be very careful about over-posting. Post too often on your blog fan page and Facebook will start to limit the number of people who see each post.
About two years ago Facebook put new systems into place with the aim of reducing spam and also to entice brands and businesses to pay for posts (although, fair enough. Facebook is a business like any other). All of a sudden, a lot of bloggers were finding that their posts saw a HUGE drop in engagement. For example, Jen Bishop who writes the Interiors Addict blog has an impressive Facebook following – a massive 29k – yet sometimes she will have a post that gets maybe two to five likes. Nothing at all in comparison to her huge fan base and it’s because of these new Facebook algorithms.
Say you have 1000 Facebook fans liking your blog page. You might presume that if you put up a status update announcing that you have written a new blog post that 1000 people will see it. Not necessarily. Facebook might show that post to only 500 people. Then if you post again the same day, Facebook might show that post to only 100 people. And if you post a third time the next day, only a fraction.
The more you post, the more you run the risk of each post’s reach being limited. I know that Facebook and a lot of social media consultants actually advise businesses and brands to post or share content on Facebook three times a day, to ‘stay in people’s minds’, but I think this system is dated, and I personally have had much better success driving traffic from Facebook to my blog when I don’t post too often.
So, post sparingly. Post only the most interesting or newsworthy stuff when you do. Don’t be like that insipid Facebook friend who writes a status update about making toast. No-one wants to read about you making toast. Unless maybe Jesus is in your toast and then it better REALLY look like Him.
10. Announce your new blog posts at the right times.
You might have your blog linked to your Facebook so updates come out automatically (I use Networked Blogs for this) but make sure you formally announce your new blog posts at the optimal times for your readership. Don’t waste a good post posting about something or sharing good news at 10pm on a Saturday night, because a huge chunk of your readership isn’t going to see it. I like posting on Monday mornings, when many people are weeping at their desks and wanting a distraction.
11. Nice photos are important. If you suck at Photoshop, download some great photo editing apps.
Some good ones are VSCO Cam, Camera+ and Afterlight. And A Beautiful Mess for adding fonts.
12. Blogging can change your life.
“Really?” you say skeptically. Yes, I know you are laughing! If you had told me that 18 months ago, I would have laughed too. But while starting a blog has been one of the hardest personal projects I have undertaken, it has also been one of the most rewarding. Blogging can improve your career and job prospects and connects you with loads of new people – I have met so many new people and made new friends, some who I have become extremely close with. Blogging is not always easy – yet my life feels fuller now from writing House Nerd.
Do you write a blog? Have you ever thought about starting one? If you write a blog, I would love it if you’d share your advice with other bloggers or would-be bloggers below. Tell me what you’ve learned about blogging, or what you wish you knew when you began. Maya x