I have a confession to make. It took me almost a month to completely write and edit this entry. Not because I found it hard but because I couldn’t find the right voice to write it in. Should I be blunt? Sarcastic? Sincere? Formal? How honest should I really be? And I couldn’t narrow down all my points that I wanted to talk about to save my life.
So you’re getting a novel.
This month marks the anniversary of 1 year since I started my blog. Around the 6 month blogging point I wrote a Revelations & Lessons recap about blogging. A lot of things have changed since then. The biggest thing being that I took the jump from a Free WordPress blog to a self hosted one and changed the name of my blog.
I had read that when bloggers reach this milestone in their blog, they tend to cringe when they when they read their early posts. Because as you go along with a blog, you fine tune it and finesse it and narrow down the direction you want it to go in. And then when you read back some of your first posts, they may seem to be candidates for a blog fail.
Believe me, mine are beyond in the qualifying range for that. Between long run on sentences to crappy photos it makes me want to go and press delete because some are just so completely mortifying. And even your tastes change. I posted things on here that I look at and go “Really I wanted this in my house?” And those are the entries that actually have somewhat decent photos.
Half my early thrift store entries were missing their photo galleries after my WordPress.com(free blog) to WordPress.org (self hosted) transfer and I would have had to have gone through hundreds of photos just to get them re-done in the imaginary 25th hour of my day. So after much debate, I deleted them. That wasn’t fun. But in the same breath it was very cathartic. I think I may do more of that.
Because of some of these experiences, I decided to write some more Lessons and a bit of Retrospective being a first time blogger for a whole year.
I’d like just say that this isn’t blogging advice per say that I am giving out, because I really believe sometimes you need to experience a lot of your own path when it comes to blogging to see what you’d like to get out of it. And we all blog for different reasons. Some of us blog for the sheer creativity of it or to keep a family journal. Others hope to parlay their blog into a business. So reading this will depend on your personal goal for your blog. I am writing a lot of this from a perspective that maybe you want to take your creative outlet to the next level. Take from it what you will.
Again, get comfy. This is long. Perhaps you’d like to take this time to get a stiff drink or re-fill your coffee depending on what neck of the world you’re reading this from.
Ok here we go.
Don’t waste a good DIY/Craft/Project on a bad photo.
You just spent hours if not days trying to finish an amazing DIY. You poured blood, sweat and tears, pissed off every employee at Michael’s while shopping for your craft supplies as your child spilled glitter on their floor and already admitted defeat with the first prototype of the finished item.
Then are you wasting it on a crappy flash shot in the middle of a bad weather day?! I currently live in the darkness of Daylight Savings Time in our grey, cold Canadian winter. I empathize, I do.
But don’t settle for a less than stellar example of your finished item after all the time you spent on it. That’s not being fake either (because I have a huge problem with being fake), that’s called showcasing your work. There’s a difference. Take a better photo. And post bigger photos. No one needs to squint to see what the hell your furniture makeover looks like.
Alt Design Summit has a great write up on how set up a small photo studio in your home. In fact I recommend you browse their entire website for eye opening ideas on all that goes into designing and expanding your blog. Just a small FYI – I do half my craft photos on my freezer counter top in my kitchen and I try to use the most natural light. That’s my high tech photo studio that gets me shots like this. I also recently invested (read: dollar store) in some big white foam boards that I fold up and put away for easy storage, which I can port with me anywhere to do a product shot including outdoors on my deck in the middle of winter.
Half the bloggers that started out at the same time you did, won’t make it past 6 months.
Recently I checked my WordPress.com Reader under the Topic of DIY and noticed a whole new crop of bloggers that came out. Then I went through the list of blogs that I had started to Follow and realized that a whole bunch of them hadn’t posted in months.
Tell me if you have ever read this from a fellow blogger:
“Hey! Oh wow it’s been several weeks since I last posted! My bad, I promise to get back into the swing of it. Here’s what I’ve been up to.”
3 months goes by.
“Well, hello there. Real life has been super busy and I’ve totally neglected this blog. I really need to start writing more.”
6 months goes by.
“Hey. Ok well, I don’t know what to say. I’ve made it a new goal for the coming year to revamp my site and start new. And I promise to blog more”.
And then they’re gone. Half the people that started a blog around the same time as you did, won’t make it to 6 months.
Blogging, as gratifying as it is (and believe me it is, the amazing blogging friends I have met from across the miles that I never would have gotten to meet without this medium) is a lot more work, time wise that is (it’s not brain surgery), than people expect until they start their own. When you reach this point in blogging (and you will), you need to decide what your goals are for your blog and what you hope to get out of it, if not way before then. Actually decide your goals way before then. Possibly now.
The reality of having a blog and the pressures to maintain it when you’re not feeling creative can be eye opening. And sadly lots of bloggers quit because of this before they give themselves a chance to fully explore their potential with blogging.
Write your posts in advance and schedule when they are to publish.
While this may not work for everyone this changed how I blog more specifically with craft and DIY posts, especially around the holidays. I would do a whole bunch of crafts that I was doing for say Christmas, then write up all the posts I needed for them in one block of time and schedule publishing dates for each post throughout the month. That left me with more room to build content in the coming month and do other things. Like play with my kids. Spend time with my husband. Cook. Do laundry. Clean. Visit friends. Do more crafts.
Not live on my computer.
If you’re not happy with the direction of your blog, change it.
When I started out I was supposed to do a blog about our home renovations. A funny thing about home renovations, they cost money. And time. Lots of time between saving up that money to do the renovations and tearing down a wall and building a new one. It became clear to me within the first 3 months, that was not going to happen. When we re-do things, if it’s a great home DIY decor project then for sure I’ll share it. But to focus soley on home renovations didn’t work for me.
My blog had quickly evolved more into the things I did in and around my house/life – arts & crafts, gardening, thrift store shopping – than it was about renovating it. And when I sorted that out, my blog fell into place and the writing became easier because I was writing about things I enjoyed.
I wrote all that just as we’re thinking about painting the kitchen cabinets. Go figure.
The Watermarking Issue.
I am going to have a million bloggers disagree with me, but my biggest regret with blogging (aside from choosing a blog name that didn’t fit for me in the beginning so for the love of all that is good choose your blog name wisely) was watermarking my photos. I have a lot of great old entries that contain my old free blog watermark on them. I hate looking at them and I am constantly trying to update the photos in old entries, which is insanely time consuming. I can’t bring myself to delete a lot of them because not only are they memories of my life in the past year, but there are some great DIY’s in there that I am proud of.
I truly wish I had never watermarked my photos. I know why people do it, to avoid theft, to claim credit and so forth. The reality is, if someone is good at photoshop and they really want your photo, it’s not that hard to get rid of a watermark. In many ways a poorly done one can make your awesome final photo look like crap and not be featured on other blogs, because it’s so in your face taking over your photo.
And what happens if one day the blog that you started to write under the name of “Nurseries and Puppies” suddenly doesn’t fit with who you are as a person and you want to change directions. Suddenly you realize you have a lot of old photos that have that name all over them. Frustrating doesn’t even begin to cover it. If you’re going to do a watermark, make sure it’s a fitting watermark to your photos and style and not some crappy font that you ask yourself “Why didn’t anyone tell me how crappy it looked?”
So I’m telling you because I wish someone had told me.
Find what you are talented at and showcase it.
You know Sherry from a little blog you may be familiar with called Young House Love? She has often joked about how much she struggles with her sewing skills. Do you think that in anyway has hindered her/their blog success? Hmmm.
So you can’t sew/bake/craft in your sleep/refurnish furniture like other bloggers. But maybe you can write/paint/upcycle second hand items/style a living room like no one’s business. Everyone is talented at something. Find out what makes you tick and do it. You’d be amazed at how easy it is to blog about something that you really enjoy doing. Stop worrying about whether or not it’s popular or other people will like it. If you like it, it will show.
You know what that will do for you? Boost your confidence in what you can do. And in turn that will probably encourage you to try new things. Like sewing. And if you fail, blog about it. You’ll be amazed at how many other people will relate to it.
Write a blog that you would like to read.
We tend to be emotional about our blogs because we showcase projects and write about things we love and we think others will love them as much as we do. And when they don’t, we cry in our wine late at night looking at our stats pretending we don’t care but are secretly festering about them. Do you remember what life was like before Stats and View Counts?
Take a step back and look at your blog. Would you subscribe to it if it wasn’t written by yourself? What do you like about it? What could you improve upon? Are you happy with your layout? Is it clean and easy to read? Are you posting regularly?
No one’s commenting on your cute photos of your cookies, your home and your kids? Guess what? There are a lot of other blogs that post pictures of their cookies, their home and their kids. What makes yours different? (See the point about sharing your talents above). Do you respond to comments? Do you take the time to go visit other blogs and comment on theirs? Have you reached out to other bloggers whose blogs you admire and ask them for advice or help?
Take a step back and look at it from a different non-emotional perspective.
With great power comes great responsibility.
Voltaire and Spiderman can duke out the credit for that quote but it is very applicable to blogging. The bigger your blog gets and the greater your audience net is cast, blogging success may not always be what you think it’s like. Free products? Awesome. Trips? Amazing. Getting paid to write about doing creative projects? Are you kidding me? Dream job. However…
You know that small group of blogging friends that you chat with about projects and life that are always there to cheer you on? Get ready to start receiving your first hate mail from people who want to do nothing more than tell you how much you suck. Because there’s a lot of people on the internet who have way more courage behind the anonymity of their keyboard to say things to you in print that they would never have the guts to tell to your face.
All the comments that you were able to respond to and chat with everyone on a personal level? Try doing that daily when you have hundreds per post. And then when you can’t, the people that left them there think you’re ignoring them and get mad.
The cheques that you started to get from sponsors from your first ad sales that you were so proud of? The sponsors start emailing you asking why your views are slipping that month and that if they don’t increase their sales within the next 3 months, they’re leaving your sidebar.
So if you want a greater readership or you want to make a business out of your blog, you need be able to have the backbone to handle all of the ramifications of that decision, both the good and the bad.
Blogging is a Community.
Getting to know other bloggers is very important because they can really help you get on your feet. You can’t expect to sit back and have people come visit you when you’re a newbie. Well I mean you can. But the average blogger who writes about their home decor, their DIY projects, their crafts or their kids isn’t Ray Kinsella and “if you build it they will come” is like expecting the Grand Duke to show up at your doorstep with the glass slipper.
I cannot stress how invaluable some of the great blogging friends I have met have been for me during this year, especially after I left the WordPress.com community and went self hosted to WordPress.org. It is a great thing to be able to talk to them outside of the blog on a personal level about our blogs, brainstorming ideas for projects, discussing problems and concerns with blogging, our writing and the like. If you find a blogger that you click with, take the initiative and talk to them outside of the walls of your blog. Support each other with your issues. It’s like bouncing ideas off of someone that completely understands all you’re going through as a new blogger.
And be genuine about your interactions with other bloggers. For example, I don’t follow every popular blog just because they’re deemed popular. If I don’t share either the same interests, decor taste or enjoy how they write, then I won’t follow them. If I like a blog, I don’t care if you have 5 readers or 5 million readers. If I enjoy your blog, I enjoy your blog. And that’s how you should look at it too. Don’t feel obligated to hang onto people that are weighing you down or read blogs that you’re not enjoying. Chances are they probably feel the same way about you. You can’t expect to mesh with every single person you meet online. Get to know the people that you truly enjoy and are eager to read their posts when they show up in your Reader.
The Myth of Overnight Blog Success.
There is rarely such a thing as out of nowhere overnight success. What you don’t hear about with all the overnight success stories is the part about how much work they put into their blogs before that success happened. Even Ana White who is deemed a blogging Cinderella story for how quickly her blog took off, worked her tail off writing posts in the middle of the night while taking care of her toddler (read her actual response in the story link). She offered a free service (plans on how to build your own furniture) that people wanted and were actively looking for online, thus filling a void in a market. Then she learned a graphic program to provide her readers with these plans for free and after her initial Apartment Therapy feature, took the opportunity to build on that success and provided more free plans. All while building her own house with her bare hands. You know how long it takes to take a good photo or write a blog entry? Now imagine doing that, while saying “Hey honey let’s go build the roof today”. That’s hard work. And she values her readers and has a Brag Forum for them so that they can share their builds.
So even if you have an overnight feature catapult you to blogger view count heaven, you need ensure that you have talent and continued content to back up it up so that those views translate into readers. One post isn’t going to cut it. You know the expression, “Luck is when preparation meets opportunity”. Very applicable.
As I was writing this I came across this quote and I thought how timely:
Too often after some time passes with our blogs, we start to itch for more. More readers, more exposure, more something. Validity? I’m not sure how to convey it. We see very well known bloggers and don’t realize how long they’ve been in the game to get to that point. Or we see new bloggers that pass us in popularity and think what am I doing wrong if we’re not happy with what we deem as success for our own pages.
It is not a competition. If you make it a competition you will set yourself down a dangerous path and it will take away all the enjoyment you feel when you blog. The thing that you reveled in doing will become a nuisance.
We all come from different backgrounds and capabilities. Some people have more money. Some people have more time. Others are born with specific talents. Some people just had good timing. To compare yourself to everyone’s corner of the internet is a recipe that will drive you crazy. Try and remember why you started to blog. To share your stories, to share your voice, to share your projects. Your self esteem should not be determined by your view counts or number of followers. Despite what your late night wine drinking sessions are telling you.
In the same breath, if you are genuinely unhappy with your progress, don’t sit back and be frustrated. Get motivated. Start to implement smaller changes. Show better photos and tutorials. Change your blog design. Get into the habit of writing more and posting more. Go self hosted. Do projects with other bloggers. Use social media to connect with people on a broader scale. The blogs that you see that are a success, usually are the ones that treat it like a job. One that they love but one that they consistently work at and have a long term plan for. When you’re organized on your site and with how you blog, things will flow easier than if you just wing it. You have to cultivate your blog just like you would any project that you do for your home.
If you’re not tired from reading, please leave your thoughts in the comments as I always love to hear other people’s experiences with blogging!
Cheers and I hope you don’t need glasses or an Advil now.