Starting a blog happens differently for different people. Some are happy to just jump on the bandwagon and get stuck in, whereas others may spend a fair amount of time considering whether the world of blogging is for them or not. When I first decided I was starting a blog it was most definitely somewhere in between. I’d read a few articles online and had found them really interesting, but it wasn’t until many months later when I was off work sick that I actually decided I would like to sit and write one of my own.
I have to be honest with you here and say that I was absolutely clueless for the first year or so of my blogging life, and in hindsight, I wish I’d done a little more research into what it actually involved. Today I’m sharing 10 questions I think I would have benefited from knowing the answers to before I took the plunge. After all, my blog might have got off to a much better start if I’d thought everything through!
01. When starting a blog, what will you write about?
I think it’s pretty safe to assume that everyone who decides to bite the bullet and start a blog has an idea of what they’re going to write about, but it’s easy to get carried away and start writing about a wide range of different subjects just because you like a certain thing on a certain week. I genuinely think the key to a successful blog is to find your niche early on and then stick to it, and I’ll be talking about this in a lot more detail in another post.
When I started my first blog, ‘Confessions of a Secret Shopper’, I mainly wrote about fashion, beauty, and tales of my shopping trips. But it wasn’t long until I started adding in a bit of parenting advice, recipes and blogging tips and eventually, it just became a mish-mash of all different things. It was then that I noticed my original loyal readers had disappeared and instead I was getting new visitors who would just read one post and then left. And this was disheartening for me as I’d liked the feeling of being part of a little online community who shared a passion with my readers. It was then that I decided to re-brand as a lifestyle blog, and ‘With love from Lou’ was born.
02. Will you tell your family and friends about your blog?
In the 5 and a half years I’ve been blogging I’ve spoken to a lot of people who started their blogs without telling their family and friends about it as they felt embarrassed. Of course, the choice is entirely theirs to make, but almost every one of them then found it hard to tell their loved ones about this rather significant secret they’d been keeping!
I was always honest and upfront about starting my blog, and I’m glad I was as they’ve supported me all the way through my little online journey. I don’t think I would have gotten very far at all without their encouragement and words of wisdom. It’s great to have that little support network. I understand that not all families are like this though, and some of the other bloggers I chat with have friends and relatives who disapprove of what they do and it can be very difficult for them.
As a blogger, it’s extremely important to think about what you’re sharing online, especially if it concerns a loved one. I would strongly recommend talking directly with anyone you plan to mention in your posts just to make sure they’re 100% happy to be talked about. And I would never, ever use a photograph of anyone without asking for their permission first. Of course, this might not apply to you – you might not be planning on writing any personal posts, but it’s something to bear in mind anyway.
And finally, if you don’t want anyone to find out that you’re starting a blog then they don’t have to. In fact, many of my favourite blogs are written by anonymous writers. I think it adds an air of mystery to their blog and just like when you read a good book you have to imagine what they look like. I could never be an anonymous blogger myself mind you – I’m rubbish at keeping secrets!
03. Do you have the time to maintain a successful blog?
I’m not going to lie, maintaining a blog is very time consuming. When I first started writing my fashion and beauty blog back in 2012 I would write around 500 words of copy, add a few pictures, check my spelling and grammar and then hit publish. If I remembered I would share my post on Twitter, and somehow I managed to gather a nice little following.
Fast forward a few years and things have changed big time! Google now look at anything with less than 300 words of copy as spam, bloggers have really upped their game and started to put things such as SEO techniques into practice, as well as feeling under a lot of pressure to publish their posts at specific times on specific days. And don’t even get me started on the amount of time we spend promoting our posts across all the different social networks that are popping up all over the place …
There are also a lot more bloggers around nowadays than there used to be, so as a pro blogger I find myself having to work extra hard to try and stand out from the crowd and create good quality posts that people actually want to read and share across their own networks. Don’t get me wrong, I wouldn’t change it for the world – I love my job – but I don’t want to give anyone any unrealistic expectations either. I probably spend around 20% of my time creating content and 80% of my time working my ass off to get it seen!
04. Have you come up with a blog name?
When choosing a blog name, you might want to consider how your blog will grow with you. For example, you might currently be at uni and wanting to blog about student life. Choosing a blog name with the words ‘Uni’ or ‘student’ in it may seem like a good idea now, but it could end up being extremely limiting in the future when you’ve got yourself a full-time job and a house in the suburbs.
I actually made the mistake of going for a blog name that was limiting when I first started out and I speak from experience when I say it’s an absolute nightmare trying to change it once you’ve gotten established as a blogger. It can be done, but I found it really quite stressful and wished I’d picked a more sensible name to begin with! Why not try some alliteration with your first name? Or even use your full name?
Which brings me nicely to my next point …
05. Is your blog name available?
So, you may have just come up with the most amazing blog name known to man, but there’s a good chance that someone else will have beat you to it and registered it already, dammit! The quickest way to find out if anyone else has the name that you really want is to quickly Google it – it will only take you a few seconds. Make sure that there isn’t an existing blog with the same name, and if there is, pick another.
Now, most people starting a blog will just register for a free URL with Blogger or WordPress, but if you really want to get ahead of the game then I would recommend purchasing your own domain name through a reputable registrar such as GoDaddy. You just type in the name you want and it will tell you if the domain is available, and suggest some alternatives if it isn’t.
And before purchasing your domain name I would advise checking the availability of the name on social media. I can hear you asking why from here, and the answer is simple – using the same name across all platforms ensures your brand identity. After all, if you follow @myexample on Twitter you’d automatically assume that they’d be @myexample on Instagram as well, wouldn’t you? Make it easy for potential followers to find you by creating your social networks to look something like this:
facebook.com/myexample | twitter.com/myexample | instagram.com/myexample | pinterest.com/myexample
You can even use this awesome tool to check them all at once and save yourself some valuable time!
06. Do you want to work on a free platform, or go self-hosted?
I think one of the trickiest decisions to make when starting a blog is whether or not to go self-hosted. Self-hosted blogs are basically the ones that bloggers have full control over. I have blogged on both Blogger’s free platform, and on my own self hosted site and I would definitely recommend going with the latter. It takes a little more time and effort to get to grips with, but it makes life so much easier in the long run – especially if you’re planning to monetize your site at some point!
I run both my blogs through the ‘Managed WordPress’ section of GoDaddy’s website, and it costs me £4.99 per site per month to keep them up and running. The best part for me though is that GoDaddy set everything up for me a the click of a button – something you don’t get when you buy your hosting through other companies.
If self-hosting isn’t your thing then I would recommend setting up a free blog on Blogger, as you can customize your site extensively so it feels like your own and still makes a little money through it too, whereas you can’t-do either of these things on the free version of the WordPress site. How sucky is that?! You can also transfer from Blogger to WordPress self-hosted at a later date if you want to as well.
07. Do you have a separate e-mail address you can use for blog related stuff?
Another mistake I made when I first started blogging was using my personal e-mail address for blog related stuff. It seems I was really naive as within the first couple of months of me starting up I had several companies contact me to see if I would be interested in reviewing some products for them, and then soon after that came event invitations, sponsored post requests and advertising enquiries. It took me hours every night to go through all the e-mails and I would often miss important none-blog related ones as they looked like spam – not a good thing to happen!
If you have another account you can use then that’s fantastic, but if not I’d urge you to create one especially for your blog. I created a free one for this particular blog when I re-branded – firstname.lastname@example.org – but alternatively, you could add a contact form to your blog for brands and readers to use instead. This way they can’t see what your e-mail address actually is. The choice is yours!
The other problem with being a blogger and having an e-mail address on show is that you will get spam e-mails on a daily basis. And I don’t just mean one or two. I mean a lot. In the last 4 years, I have apparently won several lotteries, had millions of pounds worth of tax refunded, won hundreds of competitions I didn’t even enter and have even been offered the enlargement of body parts that I didn’t even realise I had! I’m literally shuddering at the thought as I type this.
I just urge everyone who is thinking of starting a blog to be careful when they’re reading their e-mails. Things aren’t always what they seem …
08. Are you comfortable with putting yourself out there?
One of the worst parts of blogging has to be the fact that once you’ve posted something online it’s there forever whether you like it or not. So before you sign up you need to be sure of what sort of info you’re prepared to share. For example, do you want to remain completely anonymous to the world? If so, that’s great. You can get around having to post your name online and if you’re offered a product to review by a PR you can accept and just give your blog name or initials as the first part of your address.
You could also just share your first name. Or make up a completely different name altogether. The choice is totally yours. Just be careful when you’re writing that you don’t publish any personal details like your address, telephone number or even any personal details of any of your friends or family members. Oh, and if you have kids try not to post any pictures of them with their school badge or logo on show on any of their clothing. That can be a dead giveaway to where you are!
The other thing about being online is that there is always going to be someone who doesn’t like what you’ve written or someone who is jealous of you. I was actually aware of this when I took the first steps to starting a blog but it still shocked me when I received my first nasty comment. I didn’t let it bother me for long and, if anything, it made me work a lot harder which worked in my favour as I started getting paid work shortly after that moment.
My advice to anyone who thinks they wouldn’t be able to handle any negative comments but still wants to blog would be to see if you can gather a few friends together and write a joint blog with them. That way you have a nice little support network to help you through any tough times.
09. Do you know what you want your blog to look like?
When I first started blogging I just used a standard Blogger design, but as I got more established I wanted something a little more … me. There are hundreds of free Blogger and WordPress themes out there to choose from when you first start out, and I’d suggest going for something quite simple while you figure out your style.
If you can’t find anything you like though, and would rather spend a little money making your site look pretty then you need to head on over to Etsy. Some of the sellers on there have themes that are really cheap but are just as pretty as some of the more expensive ones. I paid just £11.99 for the very first theme I had on this blog, and people used to compliment me on it all the time. Bargain!
10. Do you have a strategy for attracting readers?
This is a question I can’t even begin to try and answer for you, so let’s think of it as a homework question. Have a think about how you can set yourself apart from all the other bloggers that are out there. Do you have a special skill that you haven’t noticed anyone else blog about? Could you use it to your advantage? And do you have any ideas on how you could get your blog noticed once your first post has gone live?
It doesn’t matter if you can’t answer those last few questions today. I’ll be covering ways to drive traffic to your site over the next few weeks and you’re more than welcome to drop me an e-mail or tweet me for any advice in the meantime.
So, did you manage to answer all 10 questions above positively? If so, you’re most definitely ready to take those first steps towards starting a blog. Way to go!
Do you write a blog? If so, is there anything you wished you’d known before starting it?
Let me know in the comments below.