Wow! This past year has absolutely flown by! I launched this blog on October 17, 2016 and haven’t looked back since. I have to admit that I really didn’t know what to expect when I first launched my site; I had big dreams and big goals, but I wasn’t sure how realistic they actually were. I think all bloggers can relate to each other on several levels, so I wanted to write this post about what I learned my first year blogging. Note: This post may contain affiliate links; however I only promote products I love, from companies I trust.
First of all, I have to be transparent and let you know that I wasn’t new to the blogging world. I actually started my first blog in 2009 and this is the fourth blog that I’ve launched. One blog was to promote my photography business that I owned at the time (so I shared photos of recent weddings, engagement sessions, etc.); another blog was a local wedding industry related site; and another blog was a healthy cooking site (but I really don’t like to cook, so that one didn’t last long! Haha!). In addition to my prior blogging background, I also have a Bachelor Degree in Graphic Design and an MBA in Marketing. So design, branding, and marketing are “my thing.”
Over the years SO MANY people have asked me for advice on how to start their own blog or website, how to use social media for business purposes, how to reach your ideal audience, and HOW IN THE WORLD do you actually make money online? Since I was hearing these questions ALL the time, I decided to start this blog dedicated to helping other bloggers, small businesses, and entrepreneurs. This site had a completely different mission and I was determined to make it successful. So, here are a few things I’ve learned over the past 365 days:
Blogging Is Hard
Let’s just get this one out of the way first. To all of the people out there who think that blogging is easy, think again. Yes, the writing part is easy but there is SO MUCH MORE that goes into running a blog than just writing. You have to come up with the topics that will appeal to your audience, write great quality posts, effectively utilize SEO strategies so people can find your blog, take photos for each post (or use stock photos), design info-graphics, cover images, and social media graphics, promote your posts on several social media platforms. continually keep your plugins updated, fix technical issues as they pop up, keep up with the ever-changing technology of blogging, build your email list, send an email newsletter….and the list goes on and on.
I’m just keeping it real here; blogging is time consuming and is a far cry from being an east job, BUT if you love it, it won’t feel like work and you will actually look forward to it. That’s why it’s SO important to pick a topic that you truly love and that you want to write about and promote. Which brings me to my next lesson….
Your Blogging Niche Should Be Something You Love
Remember when I mentioned above that I started a food blog a few years ago? Yeah…that was an epic fail. I was super excited about it for the first few weeks, but the excitement quickly wore off when I realized I would actually have to create unique recipes, go grocery shopping for the ingredients, cook the food, and then photograph the food before I even got to eat it. It lost it’s luster fast and I had no desire to keep it going. So, think about what you LOVE LOVE LOVE to do; what are you knowledgeable about? How can you help other people? Before I started this blog I sat down and wrote out 100 different possible blog posts that I could easily write. Yes, 100. At that point, I knew that I was qualified to write about blogging, I had the experience and the knowledge, it was something that I was passionate about, and most importantly it was something that I could help others with. Your niche doesn’t have to be so narrow that you feel limited on the topics you can write about, but it should be specific enough that your readers know what to expect from you and your blog. There’s nothing more confusing than going to a food blog only to find interior design related posts (yes, I have seen this!).
Write Evergreen Content
Each blogger has their own blogging strategy; some post a new blog everyday, some post once a week, some even post once per month. You have to decide what works best for you, but I like the less is more approach. Write a post and then PROMOTE, PROMOTE, PROMOTE. If you’re writing new content everyday, how will you ever have time to promote your posts to your audience? There are only so many hours in the day so balance is key. I personally write blog posts that are Evergreen; meaning that they aren’t about a certain holiday, event, or date that will come and go. Evergreen content gives you the opportunity to write it once and promote it for months. I constantly get visitors to my blog on posts that I wrote months ago and this strategy works well for me.
Blogging Is The Least Expensive Business You Will Ever Start
Yes, there are some expenses involved with setting up a professional blog, but in the grand scheme of things the overall cost is pretty low if you are treating it like a business. For example. let’s say your domain name and web hosting for the year is around $100, a premium WordPress theme is around $100, and a stock photo subscription is around $100. What other business can you start for $300? Seriously…think about it! Let’s say you have $500 to spend; you can get all of the things I just mentioned plus pay for a social media scheduler, email newsletter provider, and purchase a few eBooks or eCourses. You would be ALL SET! Plus, you can make that money back quickly by utilizing affiliate marketing on your site (see the details below). Remember to keep all of your receipts for everything you purchase and use them for tax deductions. I’m not an accountant but look this up!
If you plan on making money with your blog, you definitely need to have a self-hosted WordPress site. Don’t even bother with the free WordPress sites, Blogger, Wix, or any of those types of blogs. Yes, they are cheaper to set up but it’s almost impossible to make money using them due to their strict requirements about ad placements, affiliate links, etc. Do yourself a favor and start out on the right foot with a professional self-hosted WordPress site. My blog is hosted on Bluehost and I’m using a premium theme from Restored 316 Designs. Do your research and find out what works best for you:
- My favorite web hosting providers are Bluehost and SiteGround
- My favorite WordPress Premium Themes are from Restored 316 Designs, Studio Press, Elegant Themes, and Angie Makes
- My favorite stock photos are from Haute Stock
- My favorite social media schedulers are Viraltag and Tailwind
- My favorite email newsletter providers are ConvertKit and Aweber
- My favorite eBooks and eCourses are Building A Framework: The Ultimate Blogging Handbook, Traffic Transformation – 17 Strategies To Increase Your Page Views, Simple eBook Creation and Facebook Strategies Worth Sharing
You Blog Must Appeal To Your Audience
If you are trying to grow your blog to the point where you have tons of loyal followers and can make money from your site, you must write for your readers not for yourself. Who is your target audience? What are their demographics? This will vary from blog to blog, but are you writing for a specific industry? Are your readers mostly female, male, or a mix of both? What age range are the majority of your readers in? Sit down and think about who you are trying to appeal to and how does your site benefit THEM? There are so many blogs and website out there (with more popping up everyday), so you must provide value to your readers or they will loose interest….quickly. I’m sure that YOU think your blog posts are awesome, but how do you know if your readers do? Check out how many viewers you are getting! Install Google Analytics and see how many people come to your site each day, how many page views you’re getting on a daily/weekly/monthly basis, how long they stay on your site, and where they came from. If your site is booming with traffic then you know you’re doing something right! If it’s crickets….you need to change your strategy. The numbers don’t lie.
Social Media Is SO Important
You may have the BEST blog on the entire internet with the BEST content out there for your specific audience, but if no one knows that your site exists, how can they find you? Ponder that for a minute. You have to promote your blog; you have to be your own biggest cheerleader, and you have to continually get the word out there. I’m not saying that you have to use all of the social media platforms, but pick two or three that will best fit the demographic you’re marketing to. I use Instagram and Pinterest the most, but I also post on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn. Every social media platform is different, and some work better than others depending on the type of blog you have. Start with one or two and work your way up to more if you think it will be beneficial.
Speaking of social media, I get a TON of traffic from Pinterest and I have it set up almost on auto-pilot. I use Viraltag to schedule all of my pins in advance. I take about an hour or so every two months to get set up everything in Viraltag and the traffic keeps rolling into my blog day after day. It’s a small price to pay to save hours and hours of time! If you are still doing all of your social media manually, definitely check out Viraltag or Tailwind. You will thank me later.
Your Blog Must Look Professional
I get it; you’re not a graphic designer, you don’t have a creative bone in your body, and the word “branding” confuses the heck out of you. Don’t worry!!! There are so many high-quality premium WordPress templates out there that you can easily customize that will give you a high-end look without hiring a designer. This site uses a template from Restored 316 Designs, but you can also check out Studio Press, Elegant Themes, and Angie Makes for professionally designed templates. It’s a small investment (much less than you would pay a designer) and will save you tons of time. Plus, purchasing a blog template is a one-time fee (unless of course you decide to change it down the road).
Photography is another element that belongs in this category. If you want to take your own photos, go for it! If you’re not a great photographer, or just don’t have the time to spend setting up photos, taking photos, editing photos, etc. then check out some of the amazing stock photo websites out there. My absolute favorite is Haute Stock. All of the photos you see on this blog and on all of my social media pages are from Haute Stock and I absolutely love the high-quality photos that give me a consistent brand image. Plus, for one low price you get access to the entire stock photo library with new collections released twice per month. It’s like I have a personal photographer and I always have a steady stream of new photos to use. How cool is that?!
Quality Over Quantity
Don’t get so caught up with how many followers you have. Seriously, the quality of your followers is WAY more important than the quantity. Let’s say you have 100 followers on Instagram, but they are all actively reading your blog and commenting on your posts. That is MUCH better than having 1,000 followers who never check out your site and rarely interact with you you. Yes, you want to reach a wide audience but you want people who love your blog, look forward to reading your email newsletters, and interact with your social media posts. Provide value and your numbers will grow organically.
Education Is Key
The blogging world is constantly changing! Someone recently asked me if I had a blog mentor or coach when I first started and the answer is no. Nothing against going that route, but I choose to follow blogs that I love and purchase eBooks and eCourses as I need them. Some of my favorites are resources are:
- Building A Framework: The Ultimate Blogging Handbook
- Traffic Transformation – 17 Strategies To Increase Your Page Views
- Simple eBook Creation
- Facebook Strategies Worth Sharing.
These are written by top industry professionals and are filled with rock solid information that you can easily implement into your own blogging strategy. Whatever way you go, always make time to continue to learn. Technology is constantly changing so you have to stay on top of it.
You Can Make Money Right Away
Yes, right away! So many new bloggers think that they have to have a certain amount of email subscribers or page views per month before they can start making money online, and that’s not true at all! I made my first affiliate sale just TWO DAYS after I launched this site. Score! With affiliate marketing, you recommend products and services that you use and love (that are beneficial to your target audience). When someone makes a purchase, you get a percentage of the sale. I have a whole post about affiliate marketing, so definitely read this for more information on how to get started: Affiliate Marketing For Bloggers
Community Over Competition
If you’ve read some of my other posts, you may have heard me say this before. The blogging community is actually quite small; we’re all part of various Facebook groups, we all follow each other on social media, and (for the most part) we all actively support each other. Don’t think of other bloggers as your competition. The internet is a HUGE place with plenty of rooms for all bloggers to thrive and succeed. Be unique; offer something new and fresh to your readers, and do YOUR thing. We’re all in this together….remember a rising tide lifts all boats. Let’s elevate the blogging industry together.
I could go on and on about the things that I learned my first year blogging, but I already have several posts that go into much more detail. Feel free to check out these related posts as well:
- My Favorite Blogging Tools and Must-Have Resources
- Starting A Blog Checklist: Things To Do Before You Launch
- Answers To Your Blogging Questions
- Understanding WordPress: A Guide For New Bloggers
- Pinterest Tips For Bloggers
- Instagram Tips For Bloggers
So, if you are thinking about starting a blog, take a leap of faith! Do your research, have a game plan, and jump in. My blog has grown faster than I ever imagined, I have reached more readers than I initially hoped for, and all of the goals I had initially set for my blog have been blown out of the water. Don’t let fear hold you back from making your dream into a reality. You can get started today with this easy step-by-step guide to starting a blog.
Also, a special thank you to YOU! I am so honored and thankful to have such loyal readers. I started this blog with the sole intention of helping people, and everyday I feel like I am accomplishing that. I am here for YOU so if there’s anything you specifically want to know about, leave me a comment below.