Aside from the ironic choice of words, I am just going to hop right in and start out with my biggest tip. Do you're best and don't try to keep up with the rest.
There will always be blogs out there that are more streamlined, that have fresher graphics and sharper images, that pump out more projects, that post more frequently and that seem to have endless budgets. And in a world where our readers have an infinite selection of blogs to read, it is easy to fall into a comparison trap and try to do it all. So my advice is to set goals, stay motivated, but do it at your own pace and do it for you. Just as no two homes or lifestyles are the same, no two bloggers are the same. The one you are trying to keep up with may have a team of helpers, a money tree in the front yard, sleep apnea, a photography background, a graphic design background, no kids, ten kids, a nanny and a housekeeper, a handyman... You just never know and to try to compare will only do more damage than good. You can't do it all, so prioritize your wishes for your site, budget/schedule your time and do the best you can. And just be YOU. Tap your inner passions and focus on what will set you apart from the rest. Everything else is just fluff.
In the words of Stuart Smalley, "You're Good Enough, You're Smart Enough, and Doggone It, People Like You!"
2. HELLO MY NAME IS...
OK future bloggers, this one is for you. Think long and hard about your blog name before committing. I mean really sit on it for days. Make a list of pros and cons. Be sure to consider where your blog may go. When I started up, I thought about my name for about ten minutes because I was thinking I may just offer occasional organizing tips. Now, I am completely pigeonholed into an organizing themed blog. Do I love to organize? Yes. But do I love to do so much more around our home? Yes! And would people know that from the name of my blog? Nope!
So once you have a name nailed down, get feedback from family and peers and make sure you think about how you will feel when you spurt it out at a blog conference, see it published in a magazine or you tell that random person in the elevator what you do for a living.
Once you are set on it, gobble up that domain quicker than you can say, "your domain". Don't hesitate (cough, cough, lesson learned right here folks).
3. PICK YOUR PLATFORM POISON
Do your research prior to jumping on just any site to start your blog, because transferring it later will be costly and a headache. Especially the longer you blog, as that means more and more content, photos, Pinterest pins and links you will have to worry about.
Blogger is free and super easy to use, but you have very little control over your site design, widgets, speed, etc... And if Google ever decides it no longer wishes to support the Blogger platform, then what? It is also my understanding that you may not have as many Ad Network options with a .blogspot address. Wordpress is the other primary option, but can pose new challenges in managing the site design and dealing with hosting fees and site maintenance. There are other new website building platforms showing up on the market all the time as well, such as Wix and SquareSpace. So just study, study, study and try to find the best option for you and your site mission.
4. IN TRYING TO PLEASE ALL, YOU JUST MAY PLEASE NONE
OK, more of the obvious, but these are all things that seem so simple but take awhile to grasp. I have gone through many phases of trying to be a people pleaser, and I have driven myself crazy trying to balance all of the feedback. Just as I mentioned above, no two people are the same. That means that your readers are all coming to your blog for different reasons, looking for different things and wanting more or less or those said things. Some will want more words, some will want more photos, some will want more personal stories and others will tell you to keep it DIY related (or whatever your specific niche is of course). Your readers will form opinions about you, your style, your parenting, your life choices, your budget, and how you opt to run your blog, but it will never be the same for everyone. Ever.
So stay receptive and compassionate to feedback and to your reader's opinions. Watch for themes and consistencies and be open to adjusting accordingly. I can honestly say that my blog has only grown and evolved for the better with the help and feedback I have received from my readers over the years. But it is also necessary to listen to your heart and follow your gut.
5. YOU GOTTA KEEP 'EM MODERATED
I don't want to spend much time on "mean" comments, because I think there is a lot of buzz in blogland about this already, and it really is a bit of a drag. But is something we all are faced with at some point of our blogging career, so just some quick thoughts on the subject.
As a blogger, we share ourselves, our families and our style. In the home and DIY niche, we are sharing our projects, our design choices and our interiors. Because we inject our hearts and personalities into these rooms and projects, it instantly becomes personal. So any feedback, good or bad, is also personal.
So think about why you blog. For me, it is because I love connecting with folks who have similar passions, it is because I heart organizing, photography and projects and ultimately I really love documenting our home journey. I find so much joy (and even some embarrassment), looking back at old posts. It is fun to see how my style has changed, what I have learned, what succeeded as well as the things that I now eye roll at. I love reading our old stories and reading through old comments. But most importantly, I find invaluable the information I have learned from my readers. And nothing is better than a day that I receive an email from a reader showing me a project they are excited about, because they found a piece of inspiration on my blog. That is what it is about and why I do what I do.
That said, when you put yourself out on the Internet, it reaches a very diverse crowd of people. And those critical comments will come. And because it is personal and because you are passionate about what you do, some of those comments will hurt. There is no avoiding that and even after five years of blogging, although my skin is slowly thickening, it is still hard to hear negative reactions to a choice I have made, especially when I am putting myself out there with good intentions.
We all have different ways of coping with feedback, so put in place a comment policy that works for you. Some people have turned off comments all together, but connecting is a huge reason why I blog, so for now, I find no need to do that. I just have a few guidelines in my mind regarding the types of comments I receive and how I plan to handle them when they come in:
- Does the comment make a valid point?
- Is it a learning opportunity for myself or my readers?
- Was the commenter tactful in their message or is there a chance they will offend someone?
- Will the comment turn my blog into a controversial message board straying away from the initial topic at hand?
- Was there a constructive solution provided or was it just straight up insulting?
Those questions help me determine if I will publish a comment or not. If the comment states, "That looks like crap", what value is that adding? However, if the comment states, "What if you tried x,y,z instead?" then there is a helpful solution to what may have been missing or lacking in my post. And I am totally down for that. As I said, I have learned so much from my readers, so feedback is always welcome. But if it is downright insulting and offers no value, I click delete and move on. I have posted countless projects over my five years of blogging, and there are so many that have had one person say, "I LOVE this so much!" and the next comment will say, "I don't get it, everything about this is just wrong". That is the beauty of design and reaching out to a diverse audience. So when you see that happen, ask yourself, do YOU love it? And if the answer is yes, than that is what matters because YOU have to live with it in your home.
Bottom line: Have pre-determined comment policy / guide to help you out in the moment of comment moderation. And never be quick to respond to something that doesn't sit well with you. Give yourself an hour or two to think of a respectable response and remember that all is there for the public to see.
"I have learned that not everyone will like you or your style and that some people will judge you harshly. It’s hard when you receive negative feedback, but it’s not the end of the world." Megan, Honey We're Home
6. HOME IS WHERE THE HEART IS... AND ALSO WHERE YOU WORK
I love working from home and at the end of the day, for me, the pros far outweigh the cons. But, it is not all rainbows and butterflies. Working from home has a whole new set of challenges I never would have expected jumping in.
In fact, I was super naive in thinking that once I started blogging full time, that I would have oodles of spare time and my to-do list would always be done. However, it is basically the opposite of that. But that is also a choice that I personally make and I own that.
Here are a few things I have learned over the years when it comes to working where you also eat, sleep, socialize and live.
- Set working hours. I will start with my biggest fail over the years, which is to set a schedule and "office" hours. SO hard when you have the flexibility to run to the grocery store on Wednesday afternoon or head to lunch with the girls on Monday or meet Grandma for coffee on Friday morning. But I have found that when I take time off during my working days, then I typically have to make it up for it at night. And trying to make it up at night when my family needs me, most likely means that I am either going to have to seclude myself or work really late and not get good sleep. So now I set working hours and try to work while they are away and really limit my daily shenanigans. Setting working hours is also beneficial in my time management and in building a routine to juggle the variety of tasks I do on top of writing posts (shop, email, projects, client work, etc..). I don't stick to the same schedule everyday, because one thing any blogger will tell you is that many days are unpredictable, but it does help to have a plan. At the end of the day, you pick your hours and how much time you want to dedicate to your blog / business. But I have found that the amount of time and heart you put into it will also relate to how well it does for you and your connection with your readers / customers. If you want to make a living doing it (find out how here), it is just like any other job and will require your time and effort.
- Get out! I live in a small town in the middle of nowhere, so it is easy for me to feel secluded and lonely working from home all day. So now I find productive ways to get work done outside of the home. Ways to do this are to plan trips to coffee shops, sign up for classes, work with other bloggers and clients and sign up to attend conferences and meet-ups. Just because you work from home doesn't mean you always have to work from home.
- The chores can wait! Going back to my first point, set your schedule and do your chores later. I am a believer that my whole family should help with household chores and maintenance, so other than a quick sprucing of our main living areas in the morning, I work while they are away and do the majority of the housework when they are home. Although I work from home, I try to treat it as if I don't. It keeps me much more productive on both sides of the coin.
- Get dressed! It is probably just me, but when I take the time to pull myself together in the morning, I feel much more excited about the day ahead and I naturally feel more productive.
- Take breaks. If you are always working on your house, it can be hard to actually enjoy your house. Take at least one weekend off from projects a month, or one night off per week. Plan a family night, host dinner for your pals or just curl up on the couch with your favorite magazine to be sure you are savoring your home on the days you are not working on your home.
- "The work will wait while you show the child the rainbow, but the rainbow won't wait while you do the work." - Patricia Clafford The biggest challenge I face working from home, is that the internet is 24/7 and I can't just leave the office to go home. I find myself checking in on things throughout the evening and struggle with just shutting things down for the day. Patricia's quote is one I have to repeat to myself frequently, as the kiddos are only young once and one of the reasons I love what I do so much is because it allows me to be home with them.
"I am not sure I have figured it all out. When things start spinning out of control, pull back. You are in charge so don't make it something that suddenly brings on stress. I stopped taking design clients when I felt overwhelmed. Life is too short. Choose what you love and get after it. Always put family first. My kids and husband trump all blogging commitments. " - Courtney, A Thoughtful Place Blog (when asked about work / life balance)
"It’s easy to become obsessed with your blog and hard to just shut it down." - Megan, Honey We're Home
7. ASK FOR HELP
If you feel like you are having a hard time keeping up in a specific area of your blog, hire help! Especially consider it if you are running a shop, managing sponsors and giveaways, writing daily posts, working on frequent projects and answering daily emails and comments while maintaining your social media channels. As your site grows, so will the number of opportunities that come your way, and no one person can do it all. You will burn out trying. If you have long term business goals, then consider how the investment in help with allow you to grow. I also highly recommend hiring an accountant (taxes), bookkeeper (payroll) and a lawyer (trademarking, reviewing contracts, advice, etc..). All will be helpful experts in areas you most likely are not.
Also, just say no! To drugs of course, but also to things that don't make sense for your growth and your brand. As you are just getting started, you may have more time to say yes to every interview, blog series, feature, article, email, question, event, etc... In fact, many of those items will help you grow and diversify your audience. But taking on too much will add a variety of new stresses and not allow you to thrive at any single thing.
8. PLAYING THE NUMBERS GAME
When I first started blogging, I checked my stats hourly. How can that be healthy? Although I look back and find that it may have been a bit silly, it was still important to dig deep into what I was doing and look for ways to continue to grow my readership. The numbers ultimately drive your ability to earn some income from blogging, so knowing them is always important (Google Analytics is great for this).
Speaking of growing your readership, I am asked frequently about "how" to grow a blog. Bottom line, build content. And good quality content. Consistent content is going to keep your readers coming back. Solid, creative and inventive content will bring new traffic through Pinterest. And features on other blogs and publications will open you up to a whole new set of traffic. By checking in on your stats, you will be able to gauge which features and projects are your biggest winners and allow you to evaluate how to best utilize your time moving forward.
I think it is important as a business owner to stay tuned in to what makes your blog tick and what is driving your income. Know what posts are most popular, know where most of your traffic stems from and know your monthly stats... but it can also be a double edge sword. Making it all about the numbers will take away your creativity and passion and ability to blog organically. This is totally a personal opinion, but when I finally stopped checking my stats each day, week and even month, I felt much less intimidated to hit that publish button and stopped over analyzing every peek and valley. Set personal goals for yourself and your business and do an occasional check-in with the numbers.
"Stay authentic. Readers come to your particular blog to hear from you. They identify with you. Also create relationships. And again, keep it authentic. You will naturally gravitate towards other bloggers. What I love most about this community is how supportive it its. Feature other bloggers, comment on posts, treat others how you want to be treated. Sounds cliche but it's just the truth. You readers and other bloggers will appreciate great content and genuine character." - Courtney, A Thoughtful Place Blog
"You can pin your projects, and leave comments on other blogs to generate more traffic, but what's going to keep readers coming back, is good content and your genuine voice." - Cassie, Hi Sugarplum!
"Post consistently and make your content worth reading. People take time out of their busy lives to read your blog, so be respectful of your readers, answer their questions, visit the blogs of your commenters (if they have one). Connect with other bloggers and feature each other. Be nice!" - Megan, Honey We're Home
"First up, don't try and be everything to everything. Know who your ideal audience is. Get to KNOW them in your head. What are they looking for when they're online? Where do they shop? What other blogs do they read? Do they prefer to hangout on Facebook or Instagram?
Then work out ways that you can reach out to them and share your awesome content. Guest post on similar blogs, comment on blogs and social media where they hang out, work with brands you love. It's one thing to have a brilliant blog, but you have to make sure the right people find you.
Also consider joining Blogging Groups and Blogging Courses - there are a bunch around and most come with member only facebook pages where you all support each other and help grow each other's readership." - Serena, Pretty Fluffy Blog
9. COMMIT TO NOT OVER-COMMIT
Once you put it out there, your readers will hold you to it. And they should. So stay realistic about what you can commit to. If you are going to put together a blogging series, be sure you will have the time to put into it and even have much of it ready to go before you announce it. Because once you have built it up, if you miss a day, week or month, your readers will naturally be waiting for it and will find themselves disappointed if it doesn't come to fruition.
The same thing applies to your posting schedule. When I first started writing, I committed to my readers that I would blog 4-5 days per week. The first week that didn't happen, I received feedback that a few readers were let down and disappointed. On days I couldn't post, I found myself feeling like I needed to check in to let people know I was ill, or that I had a family emergency or I just needed a mental health day. By setting such a firm expectation, I in turn feared that my readers were going to be frustrated or leave me because I missed a day. No bueno.
"I used to post every day. I think if you are growing your blog you really need to post frequently. I now post somewhere between 3-5 times a week. I am trying really hard to remember that you are only as good as your last blog post so I think it's better to go lighter on the posting schedule if the content isn't going to be there." - Courtney, A Thoughtful Place Blog
"Facebook and Instagram are my favorites because they allow me to really interact with readers on a personal, immediate level. But it's Instagram I gravitate towards because I love seeing glimpses of my online friend's real lives." - Cassie, Hi Sugarplum!
"Pinterest is my favorite social media platform. I'm a very visual person and Pretty Fluffy as a blog is very visual too. One image can inspire you in a million ways. It's a great way for people to keep images and ideas that inspire them, which they can return to when they have the time to implement in their lives. Also since discovering Viraltag - pinning my own content has never been easier! It allows me to schedule pins so they don't bombard my audience, but makes sure they have every opportunity to see them." - Serena, Pretty Fluffy Blog
10. KEEP IT REAL!
Almost any blogger I chat with tells me that their number one referring traffic source is Pinterest (which is true for me as well). This has really changed the way blogs are run. They are becoming more business focused and less personal and images are becoming prettier and prettier. This is because those Pinterest views ultimately translate to income. But it is also a fine line. Too much pretty and perfect can be discouraging and insinuate an un-realistic lifestyle. So stay true to you, build relationships, connect with your audience and have fun gosh darnit!
"To be honest, I sort of just keep my blog like I am talking to my best friend. So if I feel like getting a bit personal, I will. My family dealt with a lot of grief over the past couple of years and I hope that in sharing a bit of that, others might be able to relate or feel less alone with their struggles. In the end, readers come for great content, but I think they stay if they feel a connection." - Courtney, A Thoughtful Place Blog
I feel like I am at my kitchen table, sipping on coffee with my girlfriends, just chatting about what I love. So I apologize this ended up so lengthy. Clearly, blogging is a topic I am passionate about and also something I receive a lot of inquiries about, so I had a lot of information to share. Blogging is such a blessing, but it is also what you chose to make of it. Cheers to finding what works for you and making the most of a good thing.
Check out more from this blogging series here: The Bread & Butter of the Blog