Starting a Blog: Everything I Wish I Knew
[dropcap]I[/dropcap]’ve been asked by a few people now about starting a blog. That is SUCH a loaded question! Instead of continuing to try to individually answer everyone briefly, I thought I’d outline my own how to start a blog tutorial for reference. This isn’t so much as a step-by-step process, but more about what I wish I knew before starting my own blog.
I feel like I’ve said this in random places a thousand times, but I’ve actually been blogging and in the blogosphere since 2007/8 when I was a fifteen-year-old who needed more fashion in my life. I had flipped through every glossy magazine from Seventeen to Vogue, and it wasn’t enough. I began searching around on Google, found the now defunct I Am Fashion, and my mad love for the digital world was born.
I’ve since gone through a number of hobby blogs and have literally witnessed the beginnings of some of the digital behemoths today. Guys, I was blogging before anyone figured out what social media even was. You calculated your influence through Google Friends Connect and how many comments you could get on your last post.
The world has changed a lot, and I wasn’t paying a ton of attention to any of it until maybe around 2014.
I had never really considered turning blogging into a business until then. I had already switched blogs a few times and was still pretty low key about it in real life.
And, of course, I was a completely different human at 22 than at 15. I was no longer really interested in college, crafts, or fashion the way I once was.
I realized pretty quickly that travel was my one true love. It was something I could see talking about for years and years. I also wasn’t particularly interested in becoming an internet celebrity like I’ve seen many bloggers become, and the travel niche allows me to be a bit more private.
Anyhow, from about 2014-2015, I decided if I was going to create a new blog, I was going to do it the right way and make it a more professional. This way, even if I did get tired of the whole thing and let this site fall to the archives of Google, I’d at least have developed some seriously transferable job skills to future endeavors. I did a lot of research before I launched, but even now looking back I could have learned so much more.
Here’s the thing, you can buy multiple “How to Blog” courses, read SEO- friendly posts for newcomers, and have a Pinterest board overflowing with articles promising high numbers, but ultimately it’s practicing what you’ve learned and having real conversations with others in your field that will reveal the goods.
I’m going to do my best here to cover everything I wish I had known before I started to blog, so I hope you’re ready for a TL;DR like you’ve never seen.
Starting a Blog: What I Wish I Knew
General “How to Be a Good Human in This Field” Tips
1. Your ideas are not new, and you are not a special snowflake.
I’m not going to lie, when starting my blog I kept thinking of how different I’d be and how my site would be a new experience. NEWSFLASH: it’s not. You may think your post about x is going to be revolutionary, but there are probably millions of posts out there with similar ideas.
Trust me, we’re all a pretty narcissistic bunch, it’s just a matter of how narcissistic you are. None of us are special snowflakes, even the most popular and famous of us.
2. Etiquette is still necessary.
Hey, you know what’s nice? Proper e-mail etiquette. If you began working with a co-worker on a project, would you immediately jump into what you need her to do or be nice enough to ask how she is?
You know what’s also nice? Being professional. Bickering in forums and on Facebook threads or making blanket statements in your personal posts is not professional. If you wouldn’t act a certain way in an office environment, then don’t do it in a blogging forum. Just because things are more casual, and we’re all behind a screen doesn’t mean you can turn into a little troll.
3. BE YOURSELF. BE YOURSELF. BE YOURSELF.
I cannot emphasize how important it is to just be yourself in blogging. I’ve made so many lovely blogging friends, and it’s 100% because I’m just myself. And yes, sometimes that means coming off unpolished or too opinionated. Just be you, and you’ll connect with people like yourself. Blogging can be a lonely game if you don’t make friends who get it.
4. You will never be happy playing the comparison game.
Oh my gosh, just stop right now. STOP. Stay in your own lane, and focus on building your presence, developing your content, and appreciating your followers. Even if it’s only your mom and dad in the beginning.
5. Sometimes the rules apply, more often they don’t.
There is no clearcut rulebook for blogging. Some people do extremely well and seem to have broken every norm out there. If you want to try something new, then go for it. Refer to this Casey Neistat video for inspiration. Repeatedly.
The Business of Getting Started
1. Before you do anything, sit down and write a business plan.
I cannot emphasize how important creating a business plan is. I used By Regina‘s post to make my initial one, and have since adapted it to my own changing plans. This will keep you organized, clarify your goals, and help establish an actual plan.
2. Snatch up those social media handles ASAP.
As soon as you’ve written your business plan and come up with a name, snatch those suckers up ASAP. You’re a lucky duck if your name is still available fully intact. If you’ve noticed I’ve had to make some changes to keep There She Goes Again:
- My blog is .org instead of .com because that domain is taken (annoying by someone who hasn’t updated their site since 2011!). I did try to come up with different names, but I was really attached to TSGA before I even started planning.
- My social handles are either thereshegoesagn or thshegoesagain.
It hasn’t caused me any problems, but you don’t want to get too out of the blue! Your followers should still be able to find you pretty easily with just a quick search!
3. Buy your domain + hosting.
If you really want to take your blog seriously, don’t even think about using a freebie site where your URL is .wordpress.com or .blogspot.com. It’s a waste a time. Buy the domain and hosting right away.
I use Bluehost, and yes, I became an affiliate. I tried using GoDaddy a long time ago and never really clicked with it. I’ve had Bluehost now for over two years, and I have no complaints. They’ve always been responsive if I need help, my plan has been reasonably priced, and my site has always been fine. I know other bloggers hate them with a passion, but I’ve also seen similar frustration with all the other options out there! BH does have a 30-day money back guarantee, so if you truly hate it, you don’t have to worry about losing money.
If you do use BH, here’s a quick tutorial:
- Sign up. (If you use my link here, I get a commission, and I appreciate the support!)
- Choose a plan. The cheapest is $3.95/month if you purchase for 3 years + you get your domain name for free for a year. I’d start here, and you can always upgrade later.
- They’ll then ask you to choose your domain. If you’ve already purchased one, you can use that. I believe I just got mine via BH. Keep in mind you have to renew your domain every year!
- Once you set-up an account, they’ll ask for any additional purchases. You’ll want to get:
– SiteLock Domain Security
– Site Backup Pro
-Domain WHOIS Privacy. WHOIS is basically a database of public information for domain purchases, meaning when I got my GoDaddy host years ago, my home address and phone number were all public… Oops.
- You’ll then link up BH with WordPress. They’ve made it super easy with step-by-step instructions along the way, so don’t worry about connecting the two. WordPress is where you’ll be doing all the heavy lifting for your site (writing posts, customizing your theme…).
>> DON’T FORGET, USING MY LINK YOU’LL GET $3.95/MONTH FOR 36 MONTHS + FREE DOMAIN HOSTING FOR A YEAR <<
4. Create content across the board before you even think about publishing your site.
Before you publish, write a post or two for each of the categories you’re planning on discussing. This way you’re not just starting with a blank slate.
What You Need to Invest In
1. Camera equipment
If you want to be a blogger, good photography is essential. Honestly, it’s probably more essential than your writing skills (just look at some blogs that do well…). No one wants to look at ugly photography, especially from a newbie! Budget at least $500-$1,000 for a new camera. You can do either mirrorless or DSLR. I have the Sony A6000 which is great if you’re starting from nothing. I’d like to continue using it for travel, but I really want a better model for more serious projects. Here are some favorites below:
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Until you can afford a proper camera or take the time to study photography, there’s always stock photography. I personally love Unsplash, and I’ve subscribed to a few different stock photography sites. I tend to use stock photos for flat lays because I’m exceptionally lazy when it comes to setting them up, and there are so many pretty stock options!
Oh gosh, the amount of email lists I’ve subscribed to and little blogging books I’ve picked up along the way… Ultimately, you’re going to need to invest in your blogging education. Whether it’s general blogging courses or specific “How to Make Money,” “How to Grow Your Pinterest,” type courses, there’s a ton out there. Yes, you can find all the information you need out on the interwebs and with A/B testing, but sometimes you just don’t have time. I personally purchased Making Sense of Affiliate Marketing because I wanted to start implementing links on TSGA, and I just didn’t have the energy or time to do all the research on my own.
*If you’d like to learn more, check out Making Sense of Affiliate Marketing here.
3. Your Website Theme
Yep, businesses cost money, honey. You’re much better off buying a theme than trying to work with a free one. I’ve gone through three so far, and the Parker theme by Seven Station is the current one I use. They have quite a few gorgeous, feminine themes!
Others I like but ultimately didn’t fit with my blog aesthetic are Solopine and Kadence themes.
Say goodbye to the days where you’re just an average social media consumer, sharing funny memories on Facebook, uploading selfies on IG, and pinning random cat photos that make you laugh. Social media has completely changed the blogging world. Heck, some people make all their money solely off of Instagram, that’s how big it’s gotten.
If you’re a one-man show, there’s no way you can be active on social media as much as a business would be. This is where schedulers come in. Invest. I currently have a budget for $30/month to put towards scheduling tools. Here’s what I use:
Here’s what I use:
- Boardbooster – There are a lot of debates on whether Boardbooster or Tailwind is better for Pinterest, and I am firmly in the BB camp after trying both of them and researching what the top Pinteresters use. I have a full post coming out in the next month or so about my Pinterest strategy. But this strategy has been working well on both my accounts and two of the travel accounts I manage! Start out with the free trial of 100 pins/month and then add as you see fit. I’m currently on the $25/month plan, but I was on the $10/month for a long time.
*For your Boardbooster free trial, click here.
- Buffer – This is great for Twitter, and I need to get better at scheduling out my posts. I was really good for a while, and then totally lapsed in working on other aspects. I also use Buffer to schedule posts to my Facebook group. I’m currently on the free plan as I figure out my Twitter strategy moving forward, but the best is the $10/month one.
- Facebook – Did you know FB has its own built-in scheduler? I just use this when I’m planning on sharing a post, photo, etc.
** NOTE: Instagram is the one platform I do everything manually and have been since trying out Mass Planner for about a week or so and not liking it. It has been getting rid of all third party apps that bloggers used to use, so it’s best to keep that one platform as the one you do yourself or hire a VA to do for you.
Marketing, Marketing, Marketing
1. Prepare yourself. You’re about to take on about three different jobs in addition to the multiple ones you already have.
You’re not only the CEO, content creator, accountant, and analyst for your blog, you’re also the main marketer. This means you’re responsible for PR, communications, digital marketing, social media marketing, and more. Yep, now you know why bloggers are always talking about the hustle!
Oh, and you’re probably not going to make much money or get paid for a while… if ever. Seriously, though, don’t get into this field because you think it’s lucrative and glamorous. It’s often not, especially travel, so you know we’re doin’ it out of love, not dollar signs.
2. 70% Marketing 30% Content Creation
For every post you make, you should be spending over twice as much time marketing it. This means using social media, joining Facebook groups and share threads, messaging tourism boards if you’ve written a particularly good post about their city, and much more…
You’re better off with 20 posts you can market the heck out of than 100 posts that you’ve only been able to dedicate a few minutes of marketing too.
3. Analytics are key.
Learn. Google. Analytics. This is going to be hard at first because you won’t have solid numbers to work with, but over time as your traffic grows, it’s important to analyze your blog. What posts are doing well? Where is your traffic coming from?
If you don’t have a solid sense of your analytics, you won’t be able to grow your blog. If writing about historical monuments generates no traffic and doesn’t help you define your niche, it might be time to find new ways to talk about them.
4. Balancing Social Media Marketing
Here are the main social media platforms bloggers use: Instagram, Pinterest, Twitter, Facebook, Stumbleupon, and Flipboard.
As a travel blogger, my focus is mainly on Instagram and Pinterest. Twitter helps, but it isn’t the end all-be all, and growing a new Facebook page is like climbing up a downward escalator. In the time I’ve grown my Instagram to nearly 40k, my Facebook has gotten to a whopping 900 followers…
You want to have a presence on most social media platforms, but choose two to focus on the most. I chose Instagram because I love photography and I see it as a portfolio for my style. As I improve, I hope to leverage my photography and Instagram towards travel projects. Instagram does not bring me traffic at all (maybe like 40 visitors a month?), so if that’s your goal, good luck. To balance this, Pinterest is my main source of traffic, so I’ve been studying up on designing pins and getting click-throughs.
5. Blogging Networking 101
Get to know your fellow bloggers! It’s no fun being in a bubble by yourself. As much as I love my IRL friends, if I start talking Instagram numbers or traffic sources, I can already see them falling asleep.
Make blogging friends. The kind you can chat about annoying algorithm changes or WTF moments with. The best way? Join Facebook groups! Here are a few to search for, especially if you’re a beginner:
- We Travel We Blog
- Female Travel Bloggers
- Business of Blogging
Not specifically blogging:
- Girls vs Globe (for female travelers)
- Female Digital Nomads (for women working abroad)
- The Department of Wandering’s Laptop Army (for anyone working abroad)
- Follow Me Away Community (more for photographers but also bloggers and travelers in general)
- Online Business BFFs (for anyone running an online biz)
The Sweetest Way has a massive list if you want even more options.
Let’s Talk Numbers (Briefly)
1. Traffic and the numbers that really matter.
Ultimately the number that should be the most important to you is your site traffic. I wish I had recognized how important this was and spent time marketing my posts when I first began. Social media is forever changing, but your site is something you and only you control. There are two ways to monitor site traffic: Unique Pageviews and Pageviews. You can find them under the Behavior – Overview page in Google Analytics.
Here’s the milestones I’ve set for myself:
- 10K Unique Pageviews
- 25K Unique Pageviews (this is where you can apply to work with Mediavine, an ad company)
- 50K Unique Pageviews
- 100K Unique Pageviews (this is generally when you can see a good return on affiliate income though of course, this number varies greatly)
- 250K+ Unique Pageviews (your blog is pretty darn successful!)
If you want to build traffic, your best bet is to focus on mastering Google SEO and Pinterest.
There are so many ways to monetize a blog. It’s best to wait for a little until you have solid growth. However, as you grow, here are a few ways:
- Sponsored Blog Posts (i.e: “You Need to Experience the Luxurious Hotel Lugarno This Summer“)
- Sponsored Social Media Posts
- Affiliate Links
I’ll go into these more in detail in another post as I still don’t have the strongest grasp of monetization.
Yep, if you make an income, that means taxes. I’m not going to dole out tax advice here because it’s different for anyone. However, my one tip once you really start bringing in a profit: HIRE AN ACCOUNTANT. You’re going to be considered self-employed, so things get a lot trickier than if you were working for a company.
Last Minute Notes
1. Get out of the “fan” mentality and quickly.
You know how people are like, “Don’t forget celebs are people too?” That’s how you should feel about the hugely successful bloggers who probably inspired you into this field. There’s nothing wrong with mentioning them as inspiration, but if you ever hope to be taken seriously and considered as a contemporary, you need to stop putting them on a pedestal.
I’ve met people I look up to. I am the most uncool person in the world. I’ve gotten books signed by visiting authors at my college and managed to forget basic grammar in the four seconds I spoke to them. I’ve seen a few Korean celebrities in Seoul and forgot how to walk. Don’t ask me what will happen if I ever get to meet Taylor Swift or Kyuhyun. I’ll probably spontaneously combust.
Now, imagine if you felt this way about someone who you’re trying to be a contemporary within blogging? Exactly.
2. There’s a HUGE difference between hobby blogging + professional blogging.
If I was a hobby blogger, here’s how I’d probably title a post:
- “My Visit to Seoul”
- “What I Did in Seoul”
- “Feelin’ the Soul in Seoul”
Then I’d probably ramble on about my time in no coherent order with a few fun photos barely edited.
Professionally, here’s how I’d title a post:
- “10 Amazing Things to Do in Seoul” keyword: “things to do in seoul”
- “What to Do in Seoul” keyword: “what to do in seoul”
- “Your Ultimate Guide to Seoul” keyword: “guide to seoul” or “ultimate guide to seoul”
Then I’d probably break it up into a list format with tons of headings to make it easier to read and as carefully edited or selected photos.
No, it’s not as personal, and I’m sure I’m competing with a ton of other sites with those keywords. But the likelihood of someone clicking on one of the latter titles vs. the former is pretty great. The reason I started #Korea was so I could have something that was more journal-y to share each week!
I hope these tips help you in starting a blog! I know it’s a lot. Let me know if you have any questions.
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Thanks so much for this extensive guide! One of the best I’ve read!
Ready to kick start my poorly neglected blog :D
Aw thank you! Good luck getting it going :)!!
Thank you so much for this! I want to start a travel/organization blog, and this will give me a great foundation to begin on.
Oh, I’m glad it was helpful! It really is like starting your own small business — there’s just SO much to it!
Great tips Sam! Wish we had this when we first started out! I like how you set milestones for yourself! We should do that too so when we get there we feel like we tackled a goal!
Thanks, Megan! And yes. If there’s anything I learned from my business minor, it’s about setting tangible/concrete goals!