Let’s begin with a major mom fail, shall we?
As my four year old was about to take a bath recently, a centipede-like bug was sitting stagnant in the tub. Ivy, who has no problem standing next to a thousand pound horse, is deathly afraid of bugs. I grabbed a paper towel and went to grab the little creature as she peered over my shoulder and watched. I just about had it in my hand when it saw me and scurried across the tub.
“Oh, hell no!” Ivy yelled and then ran out of the room faster than Forrest Gump in search of some chocolate.
Maybe, she didn’t say hell. But it totally sounded like it. And I heard her grumble to herself as she ran, “No. Nope. No way. Uh uh,” which was equally amusing.
Not that I condone four year old’s swearing.
But, seriously people, there are worse things.
Just get off my case!
Anyway, Ivy hid out in her sister’s room for a good fifteen minutes until I confirmed the bug was gone. Then she came into my bedroom, with Hannah as a chaperone, and wanted some answers.
“How do you know it’s gone?”
Because there is only one bug of that kind in every state and I just killed it.
“Where are all the other bugs like that now?”
“What do those bugs eat?”
By this time, Hannah and I were trying not to laugh and failing miserably.
I know, I know. Some of you are rolling your eyes and judging me. Why don’t I just be frank with her about the damn bug?
Well, why do I also tell her that flies get their feelings hurt when she screams and runs from them and that, to them, she looks like a hysterical giant on steroids.
Because I can.
Anyway, it obviously all backfired. Ivy declared she’s never visiting Wisconsin again, which isn’t going to really work for us since my family happens to live there. So, once again, Brian had to enter the situation and set her straight.
And I’ve been told to maybe think things through before I say them.
If you could all take a moment and wish me luck on that, I’d appreciate it.
Ok, moving on!
As I’ve been writing publicly for over a decade now, there are a few questions I get asked repeatedly.
How did you get someone normal like Brian to marry you?
Is there really nothing you can do about your cankles?
Why do people in Missouri pronounce Mostaccioli “muska-choley?”
Ok, fine, no one really asks me those first two questions. Though I know you’re thinking it, jerks. And that third one may just be my own inquiry…
Seriously though, there is one particular question I really do get asked a lot and it’s this:
How do I start my own blog?
This is always tricky for me to answer, because there are so many types of bloggers out there now and how you should do it depends on what your end goal is.
I consider myself a writer first and a blogger second, so I never feel like I’m the right person to go to with this question. When I started writing a blog over ten years ago, it was absolutely nothing like it is today. People were just writing to write and posts were more like public musings or short stories or even a way to get your unpublished manuscript out there. Most blogs, these days, are a completely different beast.
I am definitely not hating on blogs or bloggers, let me make that clear! I’ve somehow slid into the change – though not very gracefully at times – and I’m still learning as I go. I’ve made many mistakes and I struggled (and still struggle) with keeping my authentic voice in a sea of self promotion.
Another reason that I don’t think I’m a good person to go to for this is that my full time job is not blogging. I may work from home, but it’s for a law firm and has absolutely nothing to do with the blogging world. Therefore, I don’t have the time or dedication to do this the “right way,” if there is such a thing. There are so many awesome examples out there of how to do it aggressively while remaining authentic. I’m just not your girl for that and don’t know that I will ever be.
But, since I get asked this a lot anyway, I figured I would put as much information here as I could that has helped me. I’ve done some things right. And I’ve done some things very wrong. And I’m going to tell you about both.
Start out on WordPress.
This is my personal preference. It’s a great, user friendly site that gives you beautiful, free theme options (the layout of your blog). It also lets you preview how your blog will look before deciding on a theme. Toy with different looks and find the one that best fits you. And, remember, you can change it any time you want! Don’t be afraid to move things around and mess with your page with reckless abandon. This is how you will learn things! Trust me, the more you mess around, the more intuitive it will become. Before you know it, you’ll be typing code in the CSS space!
Don’t worry, I had no idea what that meant either…
Ok, if your plan for a blog is simply for writing, this is all the advice I have. You’ll have to google the rest on your own, because I’m of no more use to you, I’m sorry! If you plan to self-promote, offer goods or run a lifestyle (or themed) blog, keep reading…
Buy your domain.
This is so easy and can be done through GoDaddy or whatever. It can be as little as $9. Having a .com or .org or whichever URL you want is far more professional looking than the WordPress URL address alone. (This is assuming your end goal is to be a brand or more commercial.)
Invest in a beautiful/professional theme.
Once you feel comfortable in WordPress, you can venture out and buy very professional, unique themes. I’ve used themes from Bluchic that I’ve really loved. I know that $79 may seem like a lot for a layout, but it’s a one-time price and your web page will look that much more professional for it. There are much less expensive options out there though, so Google your heart out! And, if you’re really serious, get out there and find a graphic designer who will personalize your site. (Sometimes you can find interns who will do it for free!)
Get an Instagram account. Stat.
Micro-blogging through Instagram has become the go-to for bloggers. In fact, some bloggers have nixed their web sites altogether in favor of this easy peasy platform. I could write a whole post alone on Instagram and the good, bad and ugly I’ve learned from it. My ultimate advice: do your homework.
Take some time and really scroll through Instagram. Find feeds you like and really look at them. What is it about them that you like? The one thing all successful Instagram accounts have in common for bloggers: they are uniform in content. The photos matter. You want quality images that blend well together. Use the same filters or editing techniques so that they visually groove together when someone glances at your feed.
Let me make this clear for anyone who is rolling their eyes at this advice: if you just have a personal account on Instagram, this advice is obviously not directed at you. If you are using this account as a link to your blog or brand, then you are who I’m talking to.
Though, duh, that’s the whole reason for this post, so I have no idea why I felt I needed to (over) explain that…
Line up your content.
Ok, this is where I really fail. The random writer in me just can’t get a handle on this, because, again, this is not my full time job and I don’t have the time I’d love to have in order to do this correctly. But if you want to be successful, you really need to have a list of blog posts lined up and schedule your posts consistently. This goes for Instagram photos as well. Though, again, I’m terrible at this.
I write when I feel like writing and barely ever edit before hitting Publish! (Hence, me editing two or three times after you’ve already read my posts.) Successful bloggers and brands, these days, have content lined up and ready to go and have scheduled posts on standby.
Whether you are writing a sponsored post or not, be authentic. I used to turn down a lot of sponsored posts, because they just made me feel so gross. Now, when I get offers, I make it very clear that I will only promote if a) I genuinly liked the product and b) I can use my own voice when writing. Sponsored posts are still a little tricky for me, but I have been balancing them out with unsponsored promotions of things I find on my own and love. I’m remaining true to myself while not feeling like a sell out.
Also, be authentic in your writing, in general. Don’t start to blur into everyone else. This has also been really tricky with me. My solution: I rarely ever read other’s blogs. I know that sounds terrible and unsupportive, but I think this comes back to the fact that I consider myself a writer first and blogger second. I don’t want other’s interests and ideas to affect my own. And I’m extremely supportive of my blogger friends in other areas (Instagram, for one).
And finally, definitely speak your truth. Don’t write what people want to hear. Write what you actually feel. People will disagree with you, but guess what? How boring would this world be if we all thought exactly the same? I’m not willing to live in a cult, are you?
Just remain true to yourself. I promise this is the best way to stand out!
Don’t get hung up on numbers.
Man, this is a tough one. Because every blogger out there tries not to pay attention to the numbers, but sometimes we just can’t help ourselves. For my actual blog website, I don’t really care about the numbers. Most of the time, I write just for me and happen to bring you all along (sorry, that’s the truth). But for my blog’s social media accounts, like my Facebook page (By the way, create one! As my friend Jamie put it, Facebook is not dead, no matter what anyone thinks. It’s a great way to get your blog and content out there) and Instagram, it is so easy to focus on the numbers.
I have had my Instagram account for about four years and I’m just reaching 8,000 followers. And it has been the slowest. crawl. ever. I’m definitely no expert on how to maneuver Instagram and get thousands of followers. For that, I suggest listening to podcasts from marketing experts, like Jenna Kutcher. But if I do have some advice, it’s on one thing not to do: don’t buy followers. Trust me. Not only does Instagram have an insane algorithm now that is completely onto that nonsense and will punish you for it, it’s also the grossest feeling in the world and extremely transparent to others.
When I first started really getting into Instagram, I bought 500 followers. I thought it would help draw people in. You know what it did? Made me feel gross. It also made me look like a complete sham, because how did I have 500 extra followers, but only ten “likes” on each photo? The math doesn’t add up. I see a lot of bloggers still doing this and the amount of “likes” on each photo is a dead giveaway that about six thousand of their followers are fake foreign accounts that don’t interact with them whatsoever.
Luckily, I was later able to clean out those icky 500 fake accounts with an app, and I now know that my follower count is mostly authentic. Yes, I still have a lot of strange foreign accounts that follow me, but somehow those weirdos find me on their own.
Do your research on algorithms and marketing yourself authentically. Engagement is huge in promoting yourself, so put yourself out there and connect with others.
Genuine interaction is key!
Most of all, toughen up!
If you really want to start a blog or a brand or just write publicly, you better be tough. This is not for the weak. I’ve said it a thousand times. You will be mocked, made fun of, gossiped about – all in one day! You may even lose friends (but, were they ever friends?). The beauty in this is that you will find out who really loves and supports you. There are some people who think they want you to succeed until they see you actually doing it. And then they turn and say, “Who does she think she is?” This is 100% the truth and you better be ready for it.
Putting yourself out there in any capacity – whether you’re starting a new online store or just writing about new restaurants in town – will trigger negativity. It seems so ridiculous, right? Why would others find your ambition annoying? I mean, hell, no one is forcing them to read it! But they do. And they will. And you need to mentally prepare yourself.
One of the biggest things I’ve learned through blogging is how important genuine support is. And through that lesson, I’ve learned how to be a better, supportive person myself.
So, there you have it! I hope this helps even a little if you are thinking of venturing into this crazy, but fun, territory!
I can’t stress enough that I am no expert on any of this and I would never pretend to be. I have learned a lot along the way and I’m still learning so much, but I hope this helped in getting you started!
The blogging world can be so fun. And it can be so frustrating. You either love it or hate it. Or, if you’re like me, you feel both equally at times. Either way, if you want to do it, you have to commit. It’s slow going and it may seem like an eternity to get where you want to be. But if it’s something you really want to do, do it!
I will be your biggest cheerleader, I promise. I want you to succeed!