I started writing this post back in November after some questions from another blogger. I realized that some new bloggers who want to take their blogs to the next level may not really have a gauge as to what it takes to make a blog work, to get asked to post sponsored content, to get ads, or to get approached by brands. After some thinking and talking with a few other bloggers, I decided to write this *post*. This post ended up turning into a series of posts. Apparently I had a lot to say. But it is all good information, I promise.
Starting a Blog
A lot of us built our blogs just for fun, or as a hobby. I built my blog because I was a techy. I loved to tinker. I was working in IT, so I was always looking to learn more. I wanted to test out different ways to build websites. I was using HTML at the time. Then I built with MS Frontpage (complete with the huge, flashy buttons). I built this blog because I wanted to try out WordPress. I let it hang around, but at first it was just a hobby. This was back at a time when it was not common to make a living from a website. As times changed and my blog evolved I just kind of fell into being what most would consider a professional blogger. But I didn’t start that way, and I did not start with that intention. I had time to play, to learn, to grow, to network, and to make plenty of social media friends and connections. It was a while before I collected one penny or one item to review on my blog. And since I had a background in technology, and always built and maintained my sites myself, I learned a lot about what goes into really making a blog work from the design to the SEO to the promoting. And there is always more to learn.
However, times are different now. Many brands see the value in working with bloggers. Plus blogging has been sensationalized. Now people see their friends blogging, getting free stuff, taking trips, and making money and they say “Hey. I need to do that too!” But can you?
Building a blog is just like building a business. It is hard work to maintain, get a following, and work with brands. Even if you fall into it by accident like I did, once it becomes serious it takes planning and dedication to be even semi-successful. You should blog because you love it, not merely because you want to get stuff. If you don’t, you will get burned out… fast. This is just like any other job.
If you are looking to build a successful blog you need to have a plan. It’s best that you have one before you get started. However, if you have a blog already, you can think about the below things, make a list, and refocus.
Decide Why You Are Blogging
If your primary reason to build a blog is to get free stuff and money you may want to rethink your decision. I tell people all the time “Do not start a blog just to make money and get free stuff. You may be disappointed.” Jumping in and expecting to just take off and immediately get *stuff* may lead to disappointment. It takes time to build a blog. You need to focus on creating quality content, promoting, and gaining a readership. Focusing on these things first shows consistency and dedication and will ensure that your blog is noticed by brands.
Define Your Niche
Knowing what you will blog about is important. There are many niches out there. Technology, fashion, food, automotive, lifestyle, and humor are just a few. Lifestyle is a bit of a cheat. There you can blog about just about anything and it fits. Niche blogging is more targeted. This blog is probably over 90% tech. That means I cover all things technology related. Every now and then I throw in something else that shows I am still human. The important thing is to blog what you know. I worked in IT for over 16 years. It was only natural that I would write a tech blog. However, if you start a tech blog (or switch your blog to tech) because you think you will get free tech stuff, it will show. Just about anyone can review a gadget by telling whether or not you like it. However, can you answer your readers questions about the device? If they bring up tech terms in the comments will you know what they are talking about? Just be careful that whatever you decide to blog about you actually know (and enjoy) so that confidence comes across in all of your posts.
Define Your Audience
Obviously this may be easy once you define your niche. But will your blog cater to PR professionals? Moms? Men? Or auto enthusiasts? Your answer may help decide the structure of your blog, the design of the theme, how often you post, and how you promote.
Plan Your Design
This one is very important. While you may not be a WordPress designer, chances are you have seen some site designs that you like. You can browse the web and bookmark sites with a similar niche to yours, or sites with great design. Or, you can just think about and sketch out where you might like things to go. This way, when you start talking to a designer you can show them what you like. This will give them an idea of how to start building your blog. They will then take your ideas, use their expertise and build a great blog design.
Taking the time to focus on a great blog design will help your success. Sure there are plenty of free themes out there, but putting a little time, money, and effort into making your blog design great shows that you are serious about being successful. A bad design can turn away readers and brands.
Before moving onto the next phase, actually building your blog, take some time to make some notes on the above.
Up Next: What goes into great blog design?
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