Wednesday, February 17, 2016

So, You Wanna Start a Blog? Welcome to the Beginner's Guide



So you want to write a blog! You've got an idea that's been bouncing around in your head for a little while, and you're ready. Well you lucky little fish, what perfect timing, because here I have just written a pretty full on post all about what I think you need to know to start blogging your little ass off! This post is based entirely in my own experience, both as a fledgling blogger (I've been going for a year, and what a year it's been!) and as someone who has been working in communications, PR and marketing for a while. Look, it's pretty lengthy, but I've tried to break this post up into sensible chunks so you know where you are, and so you can come back to it at later stages and find what you are looking for pretty quickly (Bookmark this puppy for easy reference). So go make yourself a brew, get comfy, and start reading. There's quite a bit to get through. 

Getting started

Finding your focus
In my mind, the best blogs have focus. Even so called 'lifestyle' blogs, which seem to be about everything and anything to do with that person's life, usually have some general content categories that underpin them. Most regular visitors of blogs like a sense of continuity. They keep returning because they are interested in what you write about and the way you write about it.


Many blogs evolve over time, and so it may be that you start with a handful of topics and gradually move towards others. This is fine. But when you are setting up your blog it is a good idea to sit down and think about what it is you are wanting to blog about. So my pillars, for example, might be Plus Size Fashion, Plus Size Lingerie, Body Positivity, Vintage Styling, Confidence and Wellbeing. Most of what I write about falls under these categories. Most of them also overlap. That's fine. Great even! It makes what I write about feel joined up.


Settling on your style
When I started blogging I had to make a concerted effort to get away from the corporate style I was used to writing in for work, and remember what my own voice sounded like. Blogs are meant to sound personal. The joy of them is that they have personality, like an actual individual is talking to you - about their experience, their opinions, giving you their advice or recommendations. So speak as yourself.


Imagine your blog is a person. As my blog is quite personal, I imagine my blog as me - and try to present all content and design as me but digital. (Does that make sense? Hope so!)


Picking a name
Now that you know what you're writing about, and what you sound like, it's a good time to pick a name. There are no hard and fast rules, but I do believe that the best names are easy to remember, and have a clear link to the purpose of your blog. Ideally they're not too long. And will work well as a handle on social media too.


There is nothing new under the sun, so make sure you Google to check your idea isn't taken already. You don't want to be competing from the offset. Whatever you go with, ideally it should have a timeless quality so you feel happy using it as long as possible, and it should represent you and your brand. And while you're at it, buy your domain name! Most platforms you use will be quite easy to direct to a personal domain, and the longer you are on your domain the better. Some brands won't even work with bloggers who don't have their own domains, so keep that in mind.


Design
Design is a personal thing, and everyone has a different idea of what looks good. I got it horribly wrong at first with my blog (and I have a design background). I was so worried about my template representing me that I didn't realise it wasn't a good conduit for my content.


My blog is image heavy. And I tend to write quite a bit. So if you're planning on starting a similar sort of blog remember that plain backgrounds and "clean" designs will show off your images best. Also plain white backgrounds, or very pale pastel backgrounds are the easiest for reading text on. You don't want someone giving up before they've started because your text is a big old mess or you've chosen a ridiculous font (comic sans should be outlawed people!).


The most exciting part is the blog header. You can get some easy design tools on your phone or computer to put one together. If you already content to invest that little bit more, there are some great artists online you can commission. Mine was done by my incredibly talented friend Bridget from Studio & Sketch. I also love the cute designs Jemma from DorkFace does, but there are loads of options online.


Don't worry about perfection, just get going!
All of this sounds pretty exacting. But it doesn't have to be perfect. I spent quite a while fiddling around with my design and layout. But luckily I had set myself a go live date of 1 January. So when it rolled round I just had to start writing. Your blog is largely about the content. And the most important thing is to start writing, photographing, musing, collating. Otherwise you might never get round to it.


Blog designs, layouts, all of that can be tweaked. I think of my blog as an ever evolving work in progress, and that takes the pressure off of getting it just right.


The Basics

Content
If you're going to be a largely review based blog like mine, then you're gonna need stuff to review. When I started I just reviewed things I already had in my wardrobe (obviously!). I mixed in some new stuff too, but largely I was reviewing things I'd had for a while. It was a way to show my style, and how plus size women can dress however they like.

Luckily my shopping habit mean I never really ran out of new content, but if you're on a really tight budget I know of bloggers who would buy an item, review it, and then send it back. So there are ways! If you are getting into beauty blogging, review stuff you're already using - your staple products. It doesn't have to be new!

There are loads of ways to do helpful filler posts too - when a brand launches their latest collection give your overview and thoughts on it (helps build brand relationships too), or put together a themed wish list.

At any one time there will be multiple blogger challenges going on - where there are themes to blog to each day or week. If you are struggling to think of what to write about, these will provide a helpful structure until you overcome the block.
Suffice to say, there are many ways to generate content and ideas!

The words
You're ready to get into the good stuff now. Writing! If you're starting a blog it's clearly something you already like to do. There are loads of tips you can Google about effective writing for the Web, but I think many of the general rules for good writing still stand.


Firstly, writing under pressure can be tricky. If you don't know how to start something, then don't worry about starting. Go from the middle. Just get something down. You can always go back and add, rewrite, fiddle. But there is nothing more intimidating than a blank page/ screen. And sometimes something just isn't ready to be written. I always have a few stubs of posts kicking around in my drafts, just waiting to be awesome when I'm in the right state of mind!


Secondly, I love a good edit. As one of my University lecturers once told me: "There is not such thing as great writing, just great rewriting". So be prepared to edit. I see loads of blog posts that would benefit from a good edit. (Oops, this might be one of them!). So always go back and check for the obvious errors like spelling and grammar, but also make sure that your piece makes sense. Does it flow? Have you covered everything you want to cover? Is it all necessary? Have you said enough?

Pictures
I am no photography pro. Some of the photography exhibited on beauty blogs particularly make my heart sing. I am heavily reliant on my iPhone and the kindness of my family and friends to get my blog photography done. So if you're doing fashion photography, my key bit of advice here is natural light! Wherever you can take those pictures outside.


Be conscious of your environment too. I've wasted more than one set of pictures because I didn't notice some dog poo or litter in shot!


When your starting you will very likely be relying on people without the best camera skills. Direct them as much as possible, because if you don't then you're probably wasting both of your time. Oh, and watch out for a smeary lens. Camera phone lenses get so dirty so give them a quick wipe before you start!


Comments
When I first started a (now defunct) blog 5 or 6 years back, blogs were a hive of commenters. People followed via platforms such as blogger, and commented on everything. Now, lots of people engage with blogs via social media and leave their comments or Likes there. But you will still get the odd commenter, and I try to do my best to answer each and everyone one of these where I can. If people are taking them time to interact with you then do interact back.


Regularity
How often you post is really up to you. It's really depends on how much time you have to write, and to a certain extent what you write about. So for example I have noticed that beauty bloggers tend to post a lot more than fashion bloggers.


When I started I wanted to post at least weekly, preferably twice a week. Very occasionally I've done three. But then sometimes I've not done any for almost a month. Continuity is ideal because then you can meet the expectations of your readers as well as get a schedule going yourself. But remember, you're a person. Sometimes things are going to get in the way, and that's okay. It's your blog. Do what you can, when you can.


Get involved
I have had incredible support since I started blogging. I assumed that it would be quite closed quarters, and that I would have to try and muscle my way in. Or that it would be quite a solitary activity. But a year in, and I have had so much support, help and friendship from fellow bloggers. I just got involved. I waded into Twitter. Tweeted people when I admired what they were doing, liked what they'd said, loved their latest look or post. I voiced my opinions on current issues in the blogging and plus size worlds. I got involved.

And you know what? When I got stuck I asked questions. God, I asked many, many questions! When I have doubts or insecurities, when I am not sure whether to take up an opportunity or not, when I have technical issues - I ask! And these poor people have helped me out time and again. Some of my bests include Georgina from She Might Be Loved, Caroline from CurvyWordy, George from Fuller Figure Fuller Bust, Fiona from The Escapologist's Daughter and Danielle Vanier.

My advice? Ask! If you need help, if you're not sure what's going on, if you want someone to ease your worries, or help you fix a wonky widget - ask! My experience has been that everyone is more than happy to help, so lean on that community. And when someone asks you for help (believe me that day will come) pay it forward! So, if you're struggling with something just give me a shout. Tweet me, email me, send me an FB message. I'll get back to you.

Social Media

Nowadays, a social media presence is just as important as your blog. I think the reason that blogger social media is so popular, is because it shows you a more day-to-day personal side to your fave blogger. I struggled with this at first. I didn’t know how much of my actual real life I wanted out there. And I still struggle from time to time to know where the line is for me (for everyone it will be different), so have a think about what you want the world to know, and what you don’t before you go ahead.


But my advice is to start employing social media in conjunction with your blog from day one. I set up an Instagram account at the same time as starting Curves n Curls, and the others pretty shortly followed. People engage with bloggers in lots of different ways, and there are different channels for different audiences. But just do as much as you can handle, and what you feel comfortable with in the beginning. Remember, this is your blog.


Good advice is to, where possible, use the same handles across platforms. It makes it easier for simultaneous posting (especially between Instagram and Twitter). Now for more specific advice…


Twitter
Before starting my blog I had never really used Twitter properly. In fact, I acknowledge that I was a little intimidated by the whole thing. Like, where do you even start?


A little while ago I read a really helpful description of Twitter. They compared it to London. When you first arrive in London it is huge and sprawling and overwhelming. How can you ever get to know London? How can you meet people? How do you begin to comprehend it? But then you find your neighbourhood, and you get to know people. You know where the shops are, the post office, the local pub. And slowly you explore more of the city. Twitter is the same. You need to find your neighbourhood, and work from there.


I found mine in the intersection of the body positive, plus size and blogger communities. It’s a space my blog fits into, and a space I largely use to discuss this part of my life.  I have ventured out from there, and still get overwhelmed by the sheer magnitude of Twitter, but I have my own little corner of the internet, and that’s pretty great. It overlaps with other parts of my life, but generally for me that is what it’s for. But on to the more helpful stuff…

There are loads of Twitter chats that are blog specific, and they are a great way for you to find other members of the blogging community, ask questions that are blog specific, find new blogs to follow and get new followers yourself. Some of my favourites are:

  • Bloggers Do It Better - #bdib – Mondays, 19.00 (GMT)
  • Fashion, Beauty, Lifestyle Bloggers - #fbl – Tuesdays, 20.00 (GMT)
  • 30 Plus Bloggers Chat - #30plusblogs – Thursdays, 20.00 (GMT)


I like Twitter for the fact that it’s real time and anecdotal, a quick window into someone’s life and interests. For this reason, I only schedule a few posts – leading people to my newest blog post, directing them to my social media links, etc – but I try not to overdo it. I have unfollowed people in the past for spamming me every half hour with links to their posts. These are my personal feeling about this, and I am sure there are people who that strategy works for, but personally it drives me nuts! I find Tweet Deck really useful for scheduling.


Pinned tweets are really useful. It means you pin the tweet you most want people to see to the top of your profile. I tend to pin a tweet directing people to my latest post, but it’s up to you how you use it.


Twitter can be a bit of an intimidating place. As well as being big and unwieldy, it is full of people assertively shouting their opinions. And it is a case of whoever shouts the loudest tends to get heard. I treat people on Twitter as I would in life – I am as polite as I would be to their face, and tend to avoid bullies, or those who want to be controversial for the sake of it. Again, you will decide how you want to operate in this space, but I prefer to make my opinions clear through thoughtful blog posts, rather than 140 character rants.


Overall, my experience on Twitter has been a good one. It has brought me closer to a community I wouldn’t have had much engagement with otherwise, has been good for my profile as a blogger, and to be honest I find it a fun and stimulating channel.


Instagram
I love me a bit of Instagram. Instagram is full of style gurus, fashionistas and makeup mavens. And they’re so easy to find because of instagrammers flagrant use of hastags.


When I was starting out Instagram was my best friend. I tried to post every day, usually a picture of what I was wearing, and maybe some sort of body positive message or art. That’s still largely what I want my account to be about – a safe space for body positivity. I picked a few hashtags that I posted to, and started following other accounts that were posting along these lines too. Now my Instagram feed is a bustle of body positive babes and I have a decent following and really it was just down to that simple strategy. Post regularly, generously like other accounts you like, follow what you love. Instagram sorted!

Facebook 
Being in my thirties now, Facebook is easily the social network I am most comfortable with. And yet, it has been my slowest to grow a decent following. I think that’s just the nature of it though. It’s hard for your posts to compete with people’s personal lives. There are pictures of new babies, music videos from your favourite bands, people getting engaged and you friend’s latest holiday snaps. Sometimes the other pages you follow can feel like an intrusion into a very personal space. So I try not to over post, to make things fun and relevant, and to not worry too much about my Facebook numbers.


Facebook can be really good for your blogging network though. There are loads of blogger specific groups you can join for support, and to meet other people to share idea with etc. I am a member of UK Bloggers, Plus Size Blogger Network, #PSBloggers among others. Many offer comment swaps – meaning that you comment on someone else’s post in return for a comment on yours. All of these are great ways to get things going, and spread the news about your blog.


Blog Lovin’
Another slow burner follower wise has been Blog Lovin’. I don’t really know how to attract more people to follow my blog via Blog Lovin’, and to be honest I haven’t actively tried to recruit more followers. But it’s a good thing to register on, because however slowly you do manage to gather followers.


Working with PR and Media


I've been blogging a little over a year now. It sometimes feels like a lot longer, so much has happened in that time. I still really love it - it began as a hobby and I still get a great sense of achievement every time I publish a post. I would be lost without this outlet now, and most of the time I actively want to be doing it. So, yes I still find it super fun (or I wouldn't be doing it), but it's also hard work! The way I like to write and present my posts is time consuming. I am certainly not just bashing out content. And I do it alongside a full time (and pretty demanding) job. I dedicate a reasonable amount of my own free time to this endeavor, and sometimes it can be hard to squash everything in. 

Blogging can be a pretty competitive space. The UK's appetite for working with bloggers is still quite small when compared with somewhere like the States, so if you are looking to work with brands competition can be stiff. Bloggers are also not introverts. When people are celebrating their achievements (as they are totally entitled to do) sometimes it can be easy to slip into a 'What about me?' mindset. So I think it's important to have a very strong sense of why you are blogging. I am first and foremost a hobby blogger. Which means I didn't really start this blog with the hope of any real gains. 

I started blogging because I was interested in being part of a growing tribe of women who were changing the conversation when it came to plus size fashion. Women who refused to be sold endless tunic and legging combinations as "fashion". Women who inhabited their bodies proudly, who spoke honestly of their experiences, and made me talk and think about my body in a different way. 

In a short time I've been fortunate. I've attended some awesome events, I've met some incredible women, I've worked with some great brands. Some of that has been down to good fortune, to luck. Some has been down to hard work on my part. There is no formula for this. And sometimes it's hard to know what is and isn't working. My honest advice would be start that hobby blog for yourself. Because you want to write, you have opinions you want to express, you want to be part of a conversation. But don't start it for freebies. They're not guaranteed, they're certainly not consistent for most of us, and they won't keep you going when life is a little crazy and you need to find some extra energy to write a post. 

That said, the nature of things like fashion and beauty blogging is that Public Relations teams are working more and more with bloggers, alongside more traditional publicity approaches. So, while there is no formula for getting spotted or picked by PR professionals, here are some tips that you might find helpful, both from my perspective as a blogger and as a person who works in PR and communications: 

It's not personal
It's a strange relationship between blogger and PR professional. If, like me, you're a hobby blogger, then your blog is quite a personal activity, while the publicist is usually just doing their job. This is an odd dynamic, I grant you. But it makes me tend towards treating these as professional relationships. Remember that these people are doing a job. To get their brand exposure, and what they believe to be the right kind of exposure. So, if they don't pick you for something view this not as a personal decision, but as a professional one. It stings less.

Be polite
Blogger events, launches, previews should all be viewed as networking opportunities. I would assume that you are going to meet people, learn about their brands and show interest. So remember that. Good manners are likely to leave people with a positive memory of you. Ask questions, be interested and interesting. If I am invited to an event for a brand I don't know, I always do my research. Who are they, what are they about, what do they do.
You're a specialist in your field - so give constructive feedback, and pass on any intelligence you think will be helpful to the brand. Being thoughtful in your interactions will mean PR people to take you more seriously, and remember you the next time they are working on something.

Get a card
It may seem a little premature, but get some business cards. It helps build on your professional reputation, and is a great way to give out your details and for people to remember who you were. I put my photograph on mine, because my face and style are my brand when it comes to blogging. Plus it makes it that little bit easier to identify who is who.

Don't do it for the sake of it
I think there is only one post I can say I regret writing. It was one of the first times I was offered something free to review and I was so overwhelmed that people had thought of me, that I agreed to review something that really wasn't me. This item didn't really have any place on my blog, and I felt less authentic because of it. So, while opportunities are flattering and exciting, try to do things that feel like they fit with your blog and your brand. Your readers will thank you for it, and you're feel better for it.

Be confident...but not pushy
This is a fine line to tread, I know. And something I wasn't comfortable with at all when I started (and still struggle with to be honest). But you need to get your pitch right in your head. What can you offer to potential partners? What is your unique selling point? Why are you great to work with? When you have the opportunity to network do it. Introduce yourself, talk about what you do, and what you offer.

Don't be afraid to ask for opportunities. There have been brands I just really wanted to work with, because I love what they do. And I've just asked - with an impassioned and personalised pitch - and something has come from it.

But personally, I am not comfortable with being too pushy. I don't want to look desperate, and I don't want to put people off. If I remain calm, polite and professional, even if what they are working on right now doesn't suit me, maybe something in the future will.

Don't make it your marker for success
But if you're a hobby blogger, how many brands you work with or campaigns you are involved with shouldn't be how you decide if you are doing well. What did your blog set out to do? Are you reaching who you wanted to reach with the messages you wanted to give them? I started because I wanted to help women feel better about their bodies. This is still my main aim. And that means that every message I get reaffirming that I have helped someone along their journey tells me I am still doing the right thing. And these messages are what keep me going, keep me posting. Brands will come and go. But that impact you are hoping to have (on yourself and others) - that's the real win. 

As this is a beginners guide I am not going to be talking about working for exposure vs working for compensation. But there have been some interesting posts about that for those of you who are further along. I'd start with Georgina Grogan's from She Might Be Loved.

Final thoughts...

Blogging is wonderful. Writing this blog has changed my life, and so much for the better. I have made some truly wonderful friends that I have no doubt I will have for life. I have a sense of purpose that I sometimes lacked in my day job. I have found a new sense of confidence, and I love spreading that to other women too.

I would say that it is really important to remember that if you start a blog it is your blog. Write about what you care about, what is true to your purpose, and what you would like to read about. Go at your own pace. If this is your creative outlet, you decide how much time you can dedicate to it. And if you need a break take one. Don't do something that is not making you happy. And don't do something just because other people are doing it. We all have our own voices. And those voices all have value. So be authentic. The best writing comes from places of truth. (Getting a little heavy now, apologies!)

And enjoy it! That's the whole point!

I hope that was helpful. Do you have any other questions? Anything you think I omitted that would be good to know? Anything you want to add? Let me know below... 
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22 comments

  1. Great post and thanks for the shout out!:)

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  2. Goodness, this is such a comprehensive post! This is really going to help so many people who are just starting to find their feet. Also that mug in the opening shot is brilliant! ;)

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    1. I love that mug. One of my besties bought it for me. It's great. And thanks, it's pretty long but hopefully it covers everything!

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  3. Wow such a detailed post! I will be passing this on to friends of mine who want to start a blog

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  4. So many great tips. I wish I read a similar post before I started blogging a few years ago! :)
    http://lilinhaangel.com/

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    1. Haha, that's why I wrote it. Some of this I found other places and some of it I just found out through making my own mistakes and asking people for help!

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  5. Wish you'd written this post when I was starting - so helpful!

    C xx
    CurvyGirlThin.com

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    1. You and I had to learn the hard way - a shit load of trial and error!

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  6. Awesome tips. Finding a name was so hard for me (and I still have days where I wish I'd picked a better one - especially as Tanya said it sounds like a code name for a vagina!!!) and I definitely struggle with not falling in with the pressure to be perfect. I'm also awful at not taking things personally!

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    1. I know it's so hard! But sometimes it helps to know that everyone has those struggles!

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    1. A pleasure my lovely. Hope it gives you some helpful tips!

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  8. I wanna start by saying tHANK YOU so much for mentioning me, thats so sweet and thoughtful.

    And oh my gooooooooooodddddddddddd this post is SO GOOD! Im gonna refer any newbies I chat to right here, because this is like a one stop place for EVERYTHING! So so detailed, well done you! xx

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    1. Haha, it's an absolute pleasure angel. Thank you, and glad you think it will be helpful!

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  9. Thank you for the brilliant post. Very informative and helpful.
    Could I ask what template you use for your blog? I like the large photo headings for the blog posts but my template only seems to do small pics (my blog isn't the one this comment is linked to, it was the only way I could sign in to comment).

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    1. Hey Nic. Glad you found it helpful. I actually bought it from a site called Pipdig who specialise in blogger and wordpress templates. Someone else helped me put it on, but it's supposedly pretty easy to do. This one is called Tundra. I think they are quite reasonably priced, and I felt it was worth it. Hope that helps!

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  10. Thank you for the brilliant post. Very informative and helpful.
    Could I ask what template you use for your blog? I like the large photo headings for the blog posts but my template only seems to do small pics (my blog isn't the one this comment is linked to, it was the only way I could sign in to comment).

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    1. Hi, sorry I have only just seen this comment. I can't remember the name of this template, but it is from Pipdig - they do special templates for blogger and wordpress (there is a cost but I think it's totally worth it)

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  11. Very informative!!! I thought that my blog was very simple, but I see your points! Your pictures still look great to me though!

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  12. Its so nice of you to spend so much time helping out us newbies! Amazing!! :-)

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