So you want to start a blog, eh?
You probably want to show the world how well you can contour, or tell everyone about the incredible hotel you stayed at in Bali.
But let me tell you a secret: being a blogger is not about any of that.
Blogging is about having a safe space to share whatever you want (a modern-day room of one’s own, if you will) with no one to tell you what to write about, how to write it, or editing your work beyond recognition.
Lots of people have blogs, but lezzbeehaaanest, some of them just aren’t very good.
This leads to them writing that awkward line ‘occasional blogger’ or ‘blogging newbie’ in their Twitter bio, or when asked whether they blog saying ‘oh, yeah, but I haven’t updated it in ages.’
A wise Ghanaian man once told me that a blogger who is embarrassed of their blog, is like a mother who is embarrassed of her child.
So, are you ready to create a baby you’re proud of?
1. Decide what you want to write about
This is such an important first step. Don’t even google ‘best blogging platforms’ or ‘how do bloggers make money’ or ‘how to shoot great pictures’ before you’ve decided what you want to blog about.
The topic you blog about is called a ‘niche,’ and it needs to be very specific – a teeny tiny area that you can dominate, not some generic thing everyone is blogging about (it should be the size of a pineapple chunk in a fruit salad, not a crate of pineapples.)
All successful companies have niches:
Nandos – Portuguese-inspired chicken served in a casual setting
Drake – sentimental hip hop with lots of references to Canada
MAC – professional make up with frequent celebrity collaborations
Here’s a handy equation I read on an email course from Mariah Coz: Niche = Passion + Skills, for a specific audience. So if you’re passionate about travel, and you are very good at keeping costs down, your niche could be frugal travelling tips (like Nomadic Matt).
2. Find three publications in your niche and buy/subscribe to them
FACT: everything you want to write about has already been written about.
But, what will make your blog different is the way you write it, present it, and the specific audience you’re targeting.
Knowing who your target audience is changes an article title from vanilla to hot pink. Like this:
General article idea that doesn’t cater to any niche: Top five skincare products
Very specific article idea that speaks to a niche market: The only five skincare products girls with sensitive skin need to buy in 2016
A very good example of a publication that knows its niche is Blavity.
Tagline: The Voice of Black Millennials
Three examples of Blavity article titles:
Tamar Braxton to host new talk show produced by Steve Harvey
(they don’t need to explain who these people are, because every single person in their target audience already knows)
12 of L.A.’s best donut shops to hit up this #NationalDonutDay
(knowing their niche allows them to use informal language like ‘hit up’ because it speaks to their target audience and won’t confuse or alienate them. Blavity actually uses the line ‘Are you Becky with the good hair?’ as the hook for their newsletter sign up, because they are confident that literally everyone in their target market has listened to Beyonce’s Lemonade.)
NC senator drops HBCUs from bill attempting to bankrupt them
(Do you know what a HBCU* is? Maybe not, but guess who does, their target audience!)
*historically black colleges and universities
3. Brainstorm 30 blog ideas
Now you’ve found your niche, and either subscribed to online or physically bought some publications, it’s time to get creative.
As I already told you, everything has already been written, or to put it more eloquently ‘there is nothing new under the sun’. So you’re going to go through these publications and pour some of your special niche sauce over the articles.
I do this with Time Out, Grazia and Look Magazine, as you’ll know if you follow me on Snapchat. I go through and pull out interesting articles, then take a post-it note and write my, niched-up, version and stick it on. Here’s what my niche sauce changes:
Time Out’s top commuting complaints to my 11 things all bloggers hate.
Grazia’s Q&A to Bloggers of Colour’s 19 Questions for…
Not all your ideas will be great, but get some ideas down on paper, or in the notes section of your phone, whatever floats your boat.
4. Write five of them
“Phoebe, you mean to tell me I’ve just come up with 30 ideas, and I only get to write five?!”
Yes boo boo, you don’t need to write every single idea. We only want the best ones, the ones you can’t stop thinking about, the ones that excite you and give you that tingling feeling in your stomach.
And if you don’t feel like that about any of your ideas, just start writing something and it will come.
Write these first five blog posts in a word document, with headlines, don’t worry about images yet.
Think about what your audience really wants to read, and how they really speak.
If your target audience is teenage girls, then you don’t need to use long words, but you will need to use abbreviations like; OMG, bae, totes etc. and any products you advertise will need to be affordable, unless your target market is like, Kylie Jenner.
5. Write your about page
Why. Do. People. Still. Have. Websites. With. No. About. Page?!
It’s literally the most irritating thing in the entire world, so please, stop it. Stop being camera shy and not having a picture of you up on your site, stop being ashamed of your age and writing ‘twenty-something,’ you don’t need to have your age on there at all, and stop writing an essay about your life story from birth to now.
One thing I’ve realised is that actually no one cares.
Just make it easy for people to put a face to the name, and figure out whether you blog full time or what else you do , which country you’re based in, and what they can expect to read on the blog.
As you open my website you’ll see my face (you should never ever have a selfie as your blog photo, but I’m a rebel) and a quick description of who I am, and what people can expect to read on the site:
“Phoebe Parke is a Christian London-based journalist with a nose for a good story. She blogs about beauty products that actually work, what you should be doing to get ahead in your career, and bad dates.”
Then my about page goes in to more detail. So, create a long and short version of your bio, find a professional picture, and let’s keep it moving.
6. Set up a WordPress or Squarespace site
As Mattie James once said on Periscope, nobody should be on blogspot in 2016.
I use WordPress because it’s easy to navigate for someone who has no web design background. Go to www.wordpress.com and sign up.
SO many of you ask me how to design your blog using WordPress, and you tell me you find it overwhelming. I found this guide from Brittany Melton that goes through every single stage from choosing a theme to designing a cute sidebar, with videos!
Phew, saved me so much typing, thanks Brit!
Squarespace is also popular, I haven’t used it personally, but there’s a handy guide here.
Once you’ve set up your site, copy over your first five posts and About page and format them (see Brittany’s guide to make sure they’re looking their best.) Keep your site private for now.
Remember when I said not to worry about images yet? Now is the time to worry! I highly recommend shooting your own pictures, the iPhone camera is surprisingly good (it’s what I use), make sure you utilize the edit tools on the phone to enhance the brightness, colour etc. and shoot using natural light (that’s the sun to me and you.)
You should get into the habit of either shooting your own images or, if you’re doing product reviews, getting them from the brand you’re reviewing. I know that the Internet has a gabillion great images, but even if it’s online, stealing is still stealing, so either use your own or if you do use someone else’s, credit them and link back to their site where possible.
In addition, here are my favourite places to can get some incredible stock images (for free!) Thanks to London Beauty Queen for sharing these gems and more:
Stocksnap: Hundreds of high resolution images added weekly
Picjumbo: Totally free photos for your commercial and personal works
Pixabay: Free images and videos you can use anywhere
7. Put time in your calendar to write, market and brainstorm new articles ideas
Now, we’re not going to give birth and then leave our babies are we?!
So plan time and space to write in; you need a quiet place, a laptop or desktop computer and your list of ideas, and put it in your calendar.
Blogging is as much about writing as it is about marketing (I know, no one told me that either). So carve out some time each week to write tweets and schedule posts on Facebook, Instagram etc. telling people you have a new post. If you have no idea where to start with that, here are some helpful articles:
How to effectively market your work without DMing anyone – you can get a more detailed workbook on this exact topic for free by signing up to my mailing list.
Five things you should do right now to improve your social media presence
Seven easy ways to make your Instagram pop
And here are three things I will virtually hit you over the head if you do:
- Throw a launch party for your blog
- DM someone you don’t know on Twitter telling them you’ve launched a blog
- Just go live with your site, don’t tell anyone either on or offline, and expect to people to find you
8. Set up your posts to share automatically to all the social media platforms you are currently on
You don’t have to be on every single social media platform (yet). But if you’re using wordpress go to ‘sharing’ under the ‘configure’ heading on the left hand side bar and set up sharing to all the platforms you have.
If you’re feeling shy about this, you’re not alone. I didn’t share my posts on Facebook for the first two years I was blogging, and now Facebook is consistently in the top three sources of traffic to my blog.
Think of all the views I could have racked up if I hadn’t been worried about what people I went to school with thought of my views on Lush Spa’s new massage treatment?
9. Make your site public and email the link to me
I’m so proud of you! Excited to see your new baby: firstname.lastname@example.org
You can now sign up to my email list to receive my free workbook on how to market your content effectively on and offline: http://eepurl.com/b2rdHP