It’s quick and easy to start a blog these days and you can be up and running in moments…if all you want to do is have a diary that you can share with friends and family.
If you dream of reaching thousands, building a business, snagging a book deal or travelling the world then you need a different approach. I’ve distilled what I’ve learned since I started back in 2009 into these six core steps. They’re not some divine intervention from the heavens (alas) but real, practical steps that I believe are crucial and that I wish I’d known when I started.
1) First, practice for free
2) Work out what you want your blog to do for you
3) Lock down a name
4) Set up your blog
5) Get blogging
6) Look to the future
WordPress.com offers completely free blogging software. Dive in at the deep end, experiment, set up two or three blogs and really get a feel for what it’s like to use the software, to write regularly, to format photos and deal with the tech side of things.
Do all of this when you have no audience – and no idea. But don’t stay here for too long. As soon as you can, it’s time to firm up your idea and get to work.
This is easier said than done and lord knows I didn’t have any idea what I was doing when I started. But you can save yourself an ENORMOUS amount of time by really thinking this through first.
What do you want to achieve? Money? A creative outlet? A book deal? A community? Free trips? All of the above? (Please don’t start blogging just to get free trips, don’t even whisper the idea to yourself. A better use of your time would be to come up with some other way of making money so that you don’t mind paying for trips yourself. This will be a much faster and more sustainable route to travel the world. I promise.)
If you’re looking to work in or blog about anything creative then I’d really recommend taking an online course with Kathleen and Tara at Braid. They have a really clear, helpful way of detangling these questions and of corralling your creative ideas into a business plan that works.
Pick a name that fits what you want to write about and make sure you can get the same name across all of the following: Facebook, Twitter, Instagram & Pinterest. How do you do that? Search each of those social media networks for the name you want and see if someone’s already taken it.
You also need to buy the domain name for your blog. All this means is that you buy the address www.whatevernameyoudecideon.com, which is where you are going to put your blog.
Ideally, your name shouldn’t mean anything rude in foreign languages. It should be easy to say, easy to spell and, let’s face it, catchy, sexy and memorable.
This may take some time…
Once you’ve found your ideal name, it’s time to get serious and buy it. You’ll also need to pay for hosting (this is “renting” some web space where your blog will live.)
I used to use Bluehost but have now moved to SiteGround.
Stop! Before you read another word, make sure you have noticed the difference between WordPress.com and WordPress.org. Those three little letters at the end make a big difference. Both are free to use but when you use WordPress.org you must pay for hosting (which you have just done above.) Unsurprisingly, the free option is really limited while the one that requires investment is the one that’s going to allow you to really reach your dreams.
Set up WordPress.org through your Siteground dashboard.
A theme determines what your blog looks like. You can get free templates that look generic or you can buy a design made especially for you.
I’ve gone for the third option: buying a theme that lets you (presumably a non-coding, non graphic designer) customize your look yourself.
I used to use Canvas by WooThemes. It worked well for years but hasn’t quite kept up with what a blog needs to do.
Now, I use Pressive from Thrive Themes for all of my sites:
A plugin is a piece of software that you can “plug in” to the rest of your blog to help you (a non tech person) tweak it the way you want.
Here are the essentials I’d recommend:
– Akismet – for spam protection
– Broken Link Checker – to help keep your links clean
– Google Analytics for WordPress – helps you install Google’s code to track visitors to your blog
– Yoast SEO – helps you optimize your blog for the search engines, a vital source of traffic
– WP Super Cache – helps with the speed of your site
Things go wrong in life. They just do. Software changes and viruses attack. What’s your backup plan? I’d recommend using a plugin as a starting point but as blogging becomes more a part of your professional life, I’d also recommend hiring some help. I’ve worked with Chris Richardson, who runs RTW Labs, for years and would highly recommend his services for this.
Blog regularly and to the best of your abilities! There is no magic formula but posting 1 -4 times a week for about six months seems to put people on solid ground. Pay attention to what works. Be consistent. Be patient. Be passionate. This is what it’s really all about!
Also, write up and publish these key pages:
– About page
– Disclosures/Disclaimers/Cookie Policies/Other key small print
Twitter, Facebook, Google Plus, Instagram. Maybe you love them, maybe you hate them but they all help to build up your online presence. Take them one at a time and build up slowly.
So you’ve set up your blog and are merrily blogging away. It’s easy to become complacent and to keep doing what you’ve always done despite the fact that the world is always changing. Here’s how to keep up with the changes so that you can keep on doing what you love.
Writing, photography, marketing, blogging…they’re all skills and they can all be improved.
I’m a big believer in courses and books – they got me through medical school and they got me to where I am today.
These days, I run my own courses (which you can find out about over here) but I’d also recommend the following:
Getting Out of Auto – a beautiful book on photography to encourage you to move beyond auto
PhotoShelter – a beautiful photo storage site with really high value downloads to help you manage your photography business
The great things about blogging, of course, is that aficionados are almost always online. There are nearly as many conferences and Facebook groups as there are blogs and so you are bound to find some that fit your niche. In the travel sphere, there’s the Global Bloggers Network on Facebook and the PTBA – the Professional Travel Bloggers Association.
Then, there’s Travel Blog Success. I’ll admit, I was extremely reluctant to sign up to this at first. It’s a paid blogging community with tutorials, newsletters and very active online groups. Having been in the business for a few years, though, I couldn’t immediately see what I’d get for my money. Finally, after a long, long discussion with a colleague I took the plunge last summer. And now, I feel a fool for waiting this long. It’s a brilliant, brilliant collection on resources as well as being an inspiring place to “hang out” online. Highly recommended. Sign up now!
Life happens, things change. Software companies go bust and today’s blogging may turn out to be tomorrow’s typewriter. What I’m trying to say is that while the mechanics of how you write may change, but the audience that’s interested in what you have to say will likely not.
By collecting a list of email addresses from people who are interested in your work, you can navigate unexpected changes more easily. Of all the things I wish I’d done differently, I wish I’d started this earlier (But hey! It’s not too late – you can still sign up over here ;-))
The two main contenders for setting up your list are Aweber and MailChimp. MailChimp is easier to get started with (and it’s also free for your first 2000 subscribers) but once things start getting complex, most people prefer AWeber.
So that’s it: the secret recipe behind how to make your own blog in six core steps. Now enough reading and researching online…go and get to it and start bringing those dreams to life!
Go on, shoo! Get to it!
Disclosure – some of these links may earn me money if you buy something through them (at no cost to you.) All of these links are here because I think you’ll find them useful, whether they earn me a few pennies or no. Ta!
It’s the secret part to almost anything worth having in this world.
It’s easy to say but it’s harder to do.
And it’s called work.
Good luck everyone!
Image credits: Shutterstock