Blogging has changed so much since I first started in 2008. Back then, it was less about site design, SEO, and sponsorships, and the whole thing felt a lot more casual. There are still plenty of hobby bloggers out there, but blogging is big business, and if you Google “blogging tips,” you’ll find hundreds of thousands of posts about how to be successful. There’s no one-size-fits-all approach, though, and for lots of new and even veteran bloggers, the scale at which the industry is growing can be overwhelming and even demoralizing.
In some ways, I’m excited about the future of blogging in the sense that never before have writers had this much opportunity to share our work, connect with our audience, and potentially earn a (modest) living. On the other hand, the stress of trying to carve out a niche, find an audience in saturated markets, and figure out how to make an income (if at all), can suck the joy right out of the process.
It’s easy to forget the first question: Why did you start blogging in the first place?
I started blogging at the suggestion of a friend, with no intention beyond developing my photography skills, practicing my writing skills, and giving myself a creative outlet. Today, I have a book deal because of my blog. I never imagined it in a million years.
If you find yourself confused, anxiety-ridden, or generally frustrated by the state of blogging today, you’re one of many. So much has been written about the slow blogging movement, and a general feeling of longing for the days when numbers weren’t so important… but here we are.
Is it possible to succeed, make (some) money, write books, and partner with sponsors without selling your soul? Yes, I believe it is. You just need to know what you believe it, what your values are, and say no when your gut tells you to.
There’s a lot more to say on the topic, but for now, I’ll share a few (updated} notes I first published back in 2013. Funny enough, the sentiments are more relevant than ever, and I hope will give you a boost if you’ve been feeling sluggish about where you’re at, or prone to comparing yourself to others.
10 Blogging Tips and Lessons for Growing Your Online Space
1. Blogs are planted like seeds in the ground, so start where you are
Don't worry about what your blog will look like or sound like a few years from now, or even six months from now. The blog you have will grow and change in ways you might not be able to account for just yet. You'll be a better writer by then, a better storyteller. Your community might offer new ideas. Your life might change. Don't let the big, giant picture stop you from beginning. Just remember: @@Blogs are planted like seeds in the ground, so start where you are.@@
2. Write for yourself
It’s important to think about your readers, certainly. But don’t make them the reason you blog.
3. You won’t reach everyone
We must let go of this notion of trying to please everyone, because we never will. There will always be people who don’t connect with your worldview. You’re not writing for them. You’re writing for yourself, plus the people who will resonate with your work. Focus on those people.
4. Community takes time
If you work hard and cultivate it, and begin from a place of openness, your community will be revealed to you over time. This will make you feel like you’re exactly where you need to be. That’s been my experience, at least, but it took time. Years, actually. Relationships are like that, so if you’re prepared for the long-haul, you’ll do just fine.
5. Embrace your niche
Julia Child said something that you may have heard before, but I think it's especially useful to remember when thinking about blogging and determining your niche. My first niche was easy recipes to make after work. My food blog Cooking After Five kept me tremendously interested in learning to cook, and that helped build confidence for the moment when poetry would slam back into my life and my only option was to embrace it and change course.
6. If you're still unsure what to write about, here's a question
What do you care about most? Reconnecting with your family history through food? Navigating how to eat while traveling the world? Encouraging mothers to cook from scratch for their kids? Cooking to fuel exercise? Be specific! Don't feel like a niche will be limiting. Your niche is the lens through which you see the world, and everything else important in life—family, work, faith, travel, hope, love, etc.—will be reflected through your unique perspective.
7. Make a good first impression, but don’t use blog design as a procrastination tool
My blog journey began with Wordpress, and have been using Squarespace for the last six years. If you use a platform like Wordpress or Blogger, you'll also need a web host like BlueHost or GoDaddy. (Squarespace is a platform and host in one, so it's more self contained and offers clean layouts for simple blogs.) If you're serious about blogging, I also recommend buying your URL. All of this will cost some money to set up properly, so be prepared to spend a bit every month to do it right, but it’s not exorbitant. Once your website is up and running, focus on your content. I spent many nights up late changing the smallest design elements that felt enormously important at the time. (This was also before so many gorgeous, easy-to-use templates were available.) Really, I was just avoiding doing the real work.
8. Get to know people, but not because you want something from them
It's easier than ever to find tips, inspiration, and connect with other creative-types online. Try ALT Summit classes, attend a conference, or brush up on tutorials. One of the most important things to do is read other blogs, comment, follow people on Twitter, start a conversation, and start building relationships. It will take time and effort, but the best thing about the blogging community is the people I've met along the way who all bring unique perspectives and ideas to their online spaces. Once you identify folks you resonate with, you'll find yourself inspired every day.
9. Recognize your weaknesses
Something that took me a while to learn is that my skill set is not in logo or web design. You should have seen me at the beginning. I must have changed my banner every two weeks as I taught myself the basics of Photoshop and InDesign. Even though I'm comfortable with those programs now, it still doesn't change the fact that I'm not an artist. I decided that my time was too valuable and my skills too limited to keep going on this way, so I hired a graphic designer friend to design my logo.
If you're just starting out, it's ok to use a great font and not have a logo, per se. As your build your platform and settle in, if you're interested in updating the look of your site, it might be time to spend a little money and do it right. (Note: Spending time on small details like this is also a marvelous procrastination tool to keep yourself from actually writing. See #7.)
10. Find flow with your posting schedule
Some bloggers have detailed editorial calendars, partner with brands to create posts with their ingredients and products, and treat their blogs like a business. There’s a place for that, but it might not work for everyone. For your blog to be sustainable, you need a schedule that suits your lifestyle. Whatever you feel most comfortable with will be what your readers come to expect. If you post valuable, honest content, it won't matter whether it's every other day, once a week, or once a month. Your voice is what people should come for, regardless of the frequency. Just be consistent.
In his 1876 book, How to Write Letters, J. Willis Westlake offers this advice, which can be applied to our blog posts also. (Thanks to Brain Pickings for this!)