They say you eat an elephant one bite at a time...and let me tell you, blogging is one heck of an elephant!
As I mentioned in yesterday's post, Becoming a Blogger, if you're headed into blogging with realistic expectations you'll know you're in for a lot of blood, sweat, and tears to pull it all together. Today's post will focus on what I wish I'd known about developing a blog before I ever got started.
Developing your Blog:
Babies don't come out of the womb running marathons, and neither do successful blogs (weird analogy, I know...but you get my point). It often takes years of growth and development before the training-wheels can be taken off, and when I started blogging I wish I'd known just how much it would take to develop my blog-baby. Okay, that's enough baby references for one paragraph!
Does your web design matter?
In a word, yes. Going back to yesterday's post, I mentioned that your motivation for blogging will determine every aspect of your blog...and site development is one of the most influenced areas. If you choose to blog purely for personal reasons, you might settle in with a theme no problem...but if you're hoping to turn your blog into the next big thing, you might take a different approach. You might look to see what other bloggers are doing to determine what you like and what you don't. You might even consider what your site will offer that will set you apart from everyone else.
(psst...the little piggy bank you see in the photo is from this post here.)
Here's a little secret...it's okay to want to be good enough at blogging to eventually make money at it. It's not a ridiculous notion to view your blog as a business right out of the gate.
Personally, I would describe this as, "Don't blog to make money...but blog to make money!" It sounds contradicting, but what I mean is you should never start a blog as a get-rich-quick-gig, but there is nothing wrong with wanting to make money doing what you love. If you eventually want to make money as a blogger then you'll need to make sure you develop a site that will attract followers and advertisers over time--this means paying close attention to your page layouts, quality of content and images, and creating unique content people like to read.
Now, before I continue, let me clarifiy that to date I haven't made a single dime from this blog. Not one penny. In fact, tomorrow I'll tell you how much it has cost me to run this blog over the past year...so I'm certainly not claiming to know what it's like to make money from your blog. Truthfully, these words of advice come more from my MBA experience than anything else. If you want people to buy what you're selling, then you need to produce a great product. It's that simple. I know that eventually I would like to attract sponsors to my site, so you'd better believe I'm going to do my darndest to produce great content for my readers.
Ideas, Ideas, Ideas...What to do with all these ideas??
When I started A Happy Place Called Home I was like a kid in a candy store. I had so many ideas for projects, posts, and site features that I didn't know what to do with them all. Looking back, this is where I went wrong. I knew where I wanted to take my blog, but I found I didn't have the time to maintain each aspect of my site. That's why you might find some pages around here that are half-way finished, or even why you've seen some features disappear all-together.
After one year of trying to do everything all at once, my advice would be focus on the key elements of your blog, then grow from there. Web development takes time. Each page to a viewer might be a simple click, but to you it's hours-and-hours of image editing, uploading, hyperlinking, etc., etc., etc. Start small, then build.
Can bloggers be friends?
This was something that really threw me for a loop when I entered into the blog-o-sphere. You see, when I started this blog I was wrapping up my MBA degree...learning about the never-ending battle that is capitalism. I was learning about guarding your intellectual property, keeping a close eye on the competition, and doing whatever it took to make sure you were the leading company in your industry.
...and then I started blogging...
When I came across my first "link party" I nearly fell out of my chair. It was ludicrous! Bloggers from around the country were joining in, sharing their projects on someone else's website! What's more, all individuals involved seemed to be happy about it...hmmm...what kind of a business is this???
By the time I reached the final class in my MBA program I have to admit, I was laughing on the inside by how cut-throat everything was. I simply smiled because I realized I was entering an industry that thrived on collaboration, partnerships, and support. I was entering a business where the success of one could mean the success of another...everyone could share...everyone could support one another...everyone could say "I love your latest project, keep it up!"
Seriously, name one other industry where you can email folks to introduce yourself as a new-comer and have them say, "Welcome!" So, yes...bloggers can definitely be friends...bloggers should be friends...and the more blogger friends you gain along the way, the better!
Creating Your Brand:
Just imagine what it would be like if you could have chosen your own name when you were younger. Your entire life would be impacted by that name, and the name you chose would be what the rest of the world would know you by. Branding your blog is just the same.
Your site's title is the most important part of your brand, so before you run off and register for your domain name, take some time to give it some thought. You can always change the look and feel of your blog, but you'll run the risk of losing followers if you choose to name-swap down the road.
Choosing is no easy task, but here are things you should try to avoid.
1. A name that is too specific, or too broad. You'll find writing about a single topic to be challenging, so choose a name that allows for some flexibility...but narrow it in enough so people know what to expect when they visit your site.
2. A name that sounds too personal. If readers think they're invading on your privacy, your blog might not receive the traffic it deserves. Choose a name that lets your readers know they're welcome to stay awhile.
3. A name that can't stand the test of time. Don't limit your time blogging just because you've chosen a name with a time-stamp on it. Choose something that will always be...something you wouldn't mind tattooing on your butt...and yes, if I weren't deathly afraid of needles I'd tattoo my blog's name on my butt...just in case you were wondering.
4. A name that is too confusing. It's sad to say, but not everyone out there knows what GR8, LOL, BRB, and TTFN mean, so you probably shouldn't include things like that in your site name. You'll just confuse folks, and that's anything but GR8!
5. A name that is offensive (obviously). No-brainer here...but seriously think about this one before you go live. Evaluate your name in every possible way. We all know that sarcasm is often mis-interpreted through the written form, so it's probably best to avoid it all together.
Ask yourself who you want to be, and how you would like to be viewed by your readers. It took me a while to figure that out...but I finally landed on the brand of happiness. Well, more like I lucked out and fell into the brand of happiness because my original plan for my site name was "A Place Called Home"...but that name was already taken. Oh well--no-harm, no foul! I consider myself fortunate to have found a site name that fits my intentions so well!
The Juggling Act:
Life won't hit the pause-button to make room for blogging, so plan on learning to juggle one more thing. For me, it's been challenging to make it all work. There's just not enough time in the day! In fact, for the past year I've been living off of about five hours of sleep per night, simply because I couldn't put my laptop down.
I'm not saying that's the norm, but because I also work full-time that's what my first year of blogging has entailed. My evenings are spent on the computer writing posts, editing photos, and working on page layouts, while my weekends are spent doing projects.
The down-side? Well, my blogging time competes with my "spare" time for errands, grocery shopping, house keeping, doctor's appointments, etc. I'm only one me, so there's always something that's got to give.
If I could do this year over again, I'd probably simplify things a bit. I found that I took on too much, too fast...which meant I wasn't able to be my best at any one thing. There were too many cooks in the kitchen, so to speak. Too many ideas were competing inside my mind, fighting for my attention. As I'd near the completion of one project, I'd spawn at least three new ideas that I wanted to work on.
It came to be a vicious cycle, and I found it actually caused a bit of detriment to my health. I've never caught as many flu bugs as I did this first year of blogging and I blame that on two things...one, my full-time job is notorious for passing the latest bugs around like candy...and two, my lack of sleep was leaving me completely vulnerable to anything that flew my way.
So here's my recommendation...don't be like me. Don't be so enthralled in your blog that you forget to take care of yourself. Don't sacrifice sleep to edit a photo, or to re-design a page layout. Instead, take things on gradually and invest in a good notebook to jot down your ideas. Once you get your feet on the ground you'll find it easier to keep up with everything. Thankfully, I'm finally getting to the place where I can spend less time on site development and more time on blogging...which helps me get to bed at a more reasonable hour.
To sum up this post remember to take things one step at a time, develop a great brand, and find a healthy routine to balance it all. I wish I'd known that I didn't need to be everything to everyone when I started this blog. My time would have been better served this past year had I focused on doing a few things extremely well, than a lot of things sorta okay.
Here's a reminder about the agenda this week. Be sure to check in tomorrow for details on blogging tools I've found along the way that helped me out. Thanks for stopping by!
Words with Friends
Here are more insider tips from"The Mentors!" They've seen a thing or two when it comes to blogging, and I'm soooo glad they've taken time to share their ideas on blogging. I'm constantly looking for information on how blogs develop over time, and these are the folks I trust!