Blogging is a brilliant communications medium because it's accessible to anyone, and the point of entry is so low. As long as you have a computer and an internet connection you're away. But the difference between a mediocre blog and a great blog is huge. A great blog takes a lot of work and creative talent. And while it's good that anyone can blog, it also means that the internet is diluted with poor quality blogs, brimming with weak content, badly written posts, bad grammar and typos. In the 7 years I've spent blogging I've learnt a lot. So today I thought I'd share some of the lessons that I've found most useful in making a great blog.
Define your reasons for having a blog
Before sitting down at your computer and setting up your blog, you first need to answer some questions. What exactly do you want to blog about? What are your passions? Do you have a niche subject like fashion or beauty? If you want to start a lifestyle blog, what will make yours different? What have you got to offer? Put simply, your blog will only work if it's a reflection of something you're passionate about, and most importantly, making money cannot be your primary reason for starting a blog.
The writer Charles Bukowski summed it up perfectly when he said: "If it doesn't come bursting out of you in spite of everything, don't do it. Unless it comes unasked out of your heart and your mind and your mouth and your gut, don't do it. If you have to sit for hours staring at your computer screen or hunched over your typewriter searching for words, don't do it. If you're doing it for money or fame, don't do it. If you're doing it because you want women in your bed, don't do it. If you have to sit there and rewrite it again and again, don't do it. If it's hard work just thinking about doing it, don't do it. If you're trying to write like somebody else, forget about it."
Get the right equipment
Ok, the passion is burning in your chest, you have a great blog theme and you're itching to get going. So what exactly do you need to get started? Well, obviously a computer and internet connection is necessary. You'll also need a way of taking photos too. This could be a simple iPhone or hand held camera. I decided to upgrade to a Canon EOS 550D last year and have never looked back. I use a selection of lenses, a tripod and a remote control for outfit shots. I personally don't use image editing software as my laptop is in desperate need of an upgrade, but this is also helpful for blogging. I host my images on Flickr, where I pay for a pro account. My only other tool is a good old notebook and pen to jot down all my ideas.
Plan, plan, plan
Time and time again I've seen fledgling bloggers running before they can walk. They get over excited, design their blog, write their first few posts and..... flop. It lays dormant for weeks or months on end. They've focused so much on the blog post they want to write today that they've forgotten to think about what they might want to write about in a couple of days' time, or a week's time, or a fortnight's time. Without forward planning, time inevitably catches up with you, making it impossible to keep up the momentum. So, here's what I do.
The month ahead
First, at the end of each month I use a blank calendar for the upcoming month and print it out. Then, I go through my diary and write any events I might want to blog about onto the calendar. This could be a trip I'm taking, a birthday, a night out or some other special event. I also take a quick peak at whether there are any special days coming up that I might like to blog about (like World Book Day) and add these in.
I also keep a Word document on file which I call my 'blog brain dump'. Any time I have an idea for a post I add it to the list, which helps me keep my ideas on track. I won't religiously plan everything I'm going to post in the month ahead, but keeping a little calendar will make sure you don't miss anything important.
The week ahead
While I don't need to know exactly what I'll be blogging about in three weeks' time, I do like to know what I'll be blogging about in the week ahead. So, at some point over the weekend I'll go back to my monthly calendar and fill in any gaps for the upcoming week with posts I know I'd like to write. This might be an outfit post for a new dress I've bought, a recipe I'd like to try or some craft project I'm planning to start. I'll then write a to do list for the week where I note down any photos I need to take and posts I need to write.
Some other pointers
Make some time
There's no doubt about it, blogging is time-consuming. The steps involved in creating just one blog post include the brainstorming, the photography, the writing, editing the photos, uploading them, formatting the post, publishing it and marketing it through social networks, not to mention the mammoth blog-reading sessions which make it all worthwhile and help you feel part of something bigger. If you're already a busy person, it's unlikely you'll be able to blog every day, so be realistic and don't set yourself up for failure. Schedule time in your diary for blogging, making sure to keep a good blog/life balance so that it doesn't take over your life. This could be during your lunch hour, in the evenings, the weekend, or even before work. Ultimately, you get out of a blog what you put in. You can't expect it to be successful if you're not willing to do the hard graft. This brings me to my next point...
Expect a lifestyle change
Ever since I started blogging my whole outlook on life has changed. I find myself constantly looking for inspiration. I take more notice of the things going on around me. I carry my camera everywhere. You never know when an opportunity for a post might arise, so it's best to be prepared. I find it also helps if those around you are sympathetic. My ex husband used to think my previous blog efforts were 'narcissistic'. He wasn't supportive and had no desire to encourage my creativity. Frank on the other hand is a dream. He encourages me, waits patiently for his dinner while I photograph it, he helps me think up new ideas, let's me feature him in my posts, acts as the perfect sounding board for ideas and even takes some of my outfit shots. That's not to say I want to be a burden on him, but it's helpful when your loved ones understand and embrace the fact that blogging is part of who you are.
Build your community
Successful blogging can't happen in isolation. 'No man is an island' as they say, and involving yourself in the online blogging community is almost as important as the actual blogging itself. As a blogger, you can't expect people to read your blog if you're not willing to read blogs too, and there's so much good fodder out there that you're bound to be inspired. Twitter is essential for networking with bloggers, sharing things you've read, gathering inspiration and marketing your own posts. Facebook, Pinterest and Instagram are also helpful. Many bloggers are also active on sites like Hello Cotton and Bloglovin' which are excellent for networking, building your profile and finding new blogs to follow.
Don't let money be the driver
If your sole reason for blogging is to make money, I suggest you give up right now. A little bit of cash is a nice bonus, but it should never ever be your reason for running a blog. The reason should be the passion you have for your content. It's very difficult to monetise a blog, and requires a huge amount of work. I've been lucky enough to make a teeny bit of money from blogging, or else be given the odd freebie, but I try and keep sponsored posts few and far between in order not to put off my readers. I do accept sponsored posts as a means of supplementing my income a little, and as a personal reward for working so hard on my blog, but I'd never let them be my sole driver. Also, brands are essentially paying for a link, and it would be easy to chuck up a half-hearted post that includes the link, but your readers come to your blog because they want to read high quality content. I always try to think up an interesting, relevant angle when writing sponsored posts, and I never accept pre-written content in return for cash. The way I see it, my blog = my work.
Push the boundaries
When you first start blogging you'll be brimming with ideas, but after a few years of blogging nearly every day the inspiration might be wearing thin. It's important therefore to keep the creative juices flowing and really push the boundaries of what you're capable of. This could be related to the themes you write about, starting collaborative projects with other bloggers or branching into video or podcasting for example. Having big aspirations for your blog will ultimately translate into exciting new adventures in your personal life as well.
Enjoy the journey
We don't blog because we have to; we blog because we want to. If it stops being fun, I would seriously question the reasons why you're blogging. Blogging has been such an adventure for me, you won't get it perfect straight away, and it's a constantly evolving process with new technologies, platforms and networks springing up all the time. I learn something new every day through blogging, and I'm constantly inspired by what bloggers can and do achieve. The most important thing above all else is to enjoy yourself, have fun, and see where blogging takes you.
I really hope you've found this mass of thoughts helpful! I'd love to hear your additional tips for new bloggers - just pop them in the comments below!
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