Last week, I met with a friend of a friend who really wants to make a go of blogging as a career. She is already off to a good start and full of enthusiasm and passion, which is really half the battle. I get asked for blogging tips all the time but unfortunately I don’t have time to sit down one on one with everyone. So I thought I’d share some of my most common sense beginner tips here with you all, if you’re looking to blog seriously. And by seriously, I mean to one day, if not immediately, monetise your blog. In fact, these tips are for anyone who wants to make a longterm go of blogging and even if not for money, to be taken seriously as a blogger. I hope you enjoy!
KEEP IT REAL. If there’s one thing readers tell me they like over and over it’s that they feel like they know me and that I come across as someone who is genuine and doesn’t sugar coat everything. I really try to achieve that. It’s my personality to be this way and that’s what I hope to get across, whether it’s being honest about the realities of self-employment and blogging for a living or not having the perfect interior myself. It’s also a lot easier to be yourself than to keep up a pretence and readers appreciate you letting them into your life a little. I don’t talk about myself and my feelings a lot but, when I do, there’s always a big response.
CHOOSE WORDPRESS. This is my personal platform of choice and of course, you don’t have to take my word (pardon the pun) for it, but I believe this is the best blogging platform out there and its flexibility is key to that. Choosing self-hosted WordPress also means YOU own your blog and if you’re going to start hosting ads and making money, why would you want anyone else to own it? That’s just crazy talk! Did you know Interiors Addict used to live on Tumblr? (Click WP moved me across a couple of years ago).
OUTSOURCE. You can’t do everything. You likely don’t have the time or the skills. I’m no good with web development, graphic design and advertising sales and I outsource all these things. At the beginning, even when budgets are tight, you will still do yourself a favour by getting someone to help you. You have to spend money to make money and if you’re serious, you’ll invest in your blog, even if it’s just a few hundred dollars (you’ll have to sacrifice a bit of your shopping/meals out/holiday money). These days, as a full-time blogger with an employee, I outsource many things, but when I was new it would be an hour of graphic design work here and a bit of email server help there. It all makes a difference.
USE SOCIAL MEDIA BUT DON’T RELY ON IT. Plenty of bloggers (myself included to an extent) felt the pain of relying too heavily on Facebook for traffic when it changed all its rules last year and stopped people seeing the majority of pages’ content unless you paid to boost it. The biggest learning from this is to not put all your eggs in one basket. Social media isn’t the only way to get the word out about your blog either. Consider guest posting on other sites, sending a newsletter and looking at your SEO.
COLLECT EMAIL ADDRESSES. This was a major fail for me and possibly my biggest blogging regret. Although I have a very respectable email database these days, I didn’t start collecting my readers’ email addresses for almost TWO YEARS. D’oh! Start now (I recommend Mailchimp for its ease of use, and it’s free until you have over 2,000 subscribers, but there are other options out there). Make it easy and maybe even offer an incentive, for your readers to sign up to hear more from you. And then make sure you send them content which is relevant, useful and enjoyable. When my second blog launches next month, I will be collecting email addresses from day one! (Oh, you can sign up for our newsletter and get a free eBook in return here!)
BE HONEST AND ETHICAL. While the law around disclosure is a bit patchy, it is increasingly being questioned as brands use influencers like bloggers more and more to spread their marketing messages. I have absolutely no issue with being paid by a brand (provided I like the way they do things) to spread their message to my readers. I have worked hard, and continue to work hard, to build that following and to earn their trust. What I am very big on is transparency. If a post has been paid for on this blog it will always say so at the top. If I’m gifted a product I will always say so. If I don’t like something, I won’t blog about it. It’s that simple. Don’t disrespect your readers by trying to pass off a paid message as your own, unbiased thoughts. If they find out, they’ll not be impressed and you’ll quickly lose their trust.
GET EDUCATED. Of course, you learn a lot as you go when blogging, but in the early days when I was a newbie, I soaked up eBooks and webinars like a sponge (most of them free). I still can’t get enough of the blog learning but these days I seem to have way less time! Some sources I recommend are: Secret Bloggers’ Business, ProBlogger, Blog with Pip, Blog Society, Decor8’s Blogging Your Way and Copyblogger.
COLLABORATE, DON’T COPY! AND BE PREPARED FOR ANNOYING COPYCATS! My advice here is to be open to working with other bloggers and small business owners on win-win situations. Or even just mentor each other. I have had incredible success from teaming up with others and have one friend I regularly meet with to biz brainstorm. Also be prepared that once you start to do well, people will rip off your ideas. It is massively annoying, no matter how flattering people will tell you imitation is. You put in the time and effort and come up with the good idea, then you see it pop up on another blogger’s Instagram a few days later. Not cool. But there’s nothing much you can do about it and getting irritated is a waste of energy. Remember this: there’s no substitute for hard work and originality so just keep doing what you’re doing, let people copy. They won’t get the satisfaction of having had that great idea themselves! And when you see someone else’s great idea, of course it’s natural to be tempted to replicate it (it’s great to be inspired by other bloggers too), but try to at least put your own spin on it and imagine how you’d feel if someone did the same to you!
DITCH THE FREE EMAIL ADDRESS. While there’s nothing wrong with Gmail for example (I heart Gmail a lot), to be taken seriously as any kind of business, I think it really helps to have your own specific, paid-for email address. It just gives a professional impression from the get go. Seems crazy to me, as a website business, to be using a free email address that’s not attached to your URL.
JUST START! For some people, the hardest part about starting a blog is just that: starting. You can procrastinate until the cows come home about the perfect blog name, layout, theme, whether you’re good enough, if anyone will read it and if you’ll run out of things to say, but you really just have to start. It’s that simple. What’s the worst that can happen?
Having said that…
IF YOU’RE NOT TRULY PASSIONATE ABOUT IT, DON’T BOTHER. I blogged for 18 months without earning a cent and I spent hours and hours of my time on Interiors Addict because I just bloody loved it. It was a long time before people started telling me I could make a business out of it and even longer before I started to believe them. You pretty much have to really want to do it, even if you don’t get paid (which is why I never really advocate starting a blog with making money as a priority), to be able to keep going, day in, day out, week in, week out (and that’s as far as many people get because they simply don’t care enough). But if you love what you’re going to write about, the rest can come later. Go for it! Passion will get you a really long way.
You can come and hear me speak about making money from digital publishing at this Pozible event in Sydney as part of the Digital Writers’ Festival next month. You can also watch it online and it’s free.