How To Start A Blog

Of all the questions I receive, number one MUST be “how do I start a blog?”. The other day I replied to four such emails, only to have another one come in overnight! I wrote a guest post for Problogger a while ago, called Gala’s Lessons In Blogging, which is all the surface-level stuff. However, since I keep getting questions, here is a more in-depth look at starting a blog!

There are a few realities about blogging (& running any kind of online business) that I would like to bring to your attention before I start. Please don’t feel like I am raining on your parade by saying these things — really, I am trying to save you heartbreak.

Starting an online business is not a get-rich-quick scheme!

I promise you, if quick cash is really all that you are after, starting a blog or an online business or selling clothes on Ebay is NOT the best way to do it. A lot of people start websites & then stop posting after a couple of months when they discover that they’re not rolling in dough.

I am what some people might call a “hardcore optimist”. When I started my blog & read Darren Rowse’s article Monkey Bar Blogging, I was kind of annoyed but decided that I wasn’t going to let his reality stop me from achieving my goals. That’s all well & good but the thing is that everything he says in that article is TRUE. It takes time to make money from a website, & anyone whose website is self-sustaining — meaning that it earns more than the outgoings, like domain registration, hosting costs, etc. — is very fortunate. (This doesn’t even take into account the very, very few who manage to live off their website, & comfortably.) This is not to say that it won’t happen for you, but I think it helps to know what you’re getting yourself into.

I really think that blogging is something you should start as a side-project. Keep your day job & blog in your spare time — because baby, when you start your website & you’re earning less than 20c a day, you’re going to appreciate that salary.

Another thing that happens with blogging is that you will get asked — constantly — about how much money you’re making, how you manage to maintain your lifestyle (whatever that may be), & how you do it. I have never been comfortable discussing my financial situation with anyone, it’s just how I was raised, so this has been a big hurdle for me. I don’t feel like anyone needs to be party to that information except for my bank manager & the tax department! Even now, I don’t give out a lot of information on the subject. Just something to be aware of, if you are similarly “funny about money”!

Okay, let’s begin! Here are some things you will need:

A topic or subject area (after all, “Jessica’s Blog About Life, The Universe & Everything” might be a bit overwhelming to start with);

A domain name;

Hosting;

A content management system.

You will probably have some idea of what you want to write about — if not, I would suggest writing about something you love or know a lot about. Some people think they know a lot about shoes, but then run out of steam two months in. Try to pick a topic which REALLY pushes your buttons. As well as making it easier to come up with ideas for articles, passion always makes writing better.

It wasn’t difficult for me to come up with a domain name — it’s just my name! However, there are a lot of people who end up getting URLs like ilikecheeseandpickles.com or bestfashionsiteever.com. Ultimately, it’s up to you, though I would urge you to get something short, without dashes, & preferably something you don’t have to spell out to people. You should be able to yell it across a rowdy bar & have someone understand you. Good old Problogger has an article on Choosing The Domain Name For Your Blog which is worth a squizz. I registered my domain through Joker but I know a lot of people swear by Go Daddy.

My hosting is provided for me by a friend in New Zealand, for which I am incredibly thankful, but again, Darren Rowse comes to the rescue with Blog Hosting Recommendations supplied by his readers!

When it comes to choosing a content management system (basically, what you type the words into), there’s really no one-solution-fits-all. I say, do some research & then pick something which sounds good to you. I use Text Pattern at the moment, which is okay, but I now want to really push the boundaries of my website & Text Pattern just isn’t powerful enough. Those of you who read my guestpost over at Problogger will know that I’m planning a move to Drupal soon, which I am not really looking forward to! As a good starting point, check out Choosing A Blog Platform & Which Blogging Platform Do You Use & Why?

You’ll also need to either choose a template for your site or design one yourself. A logo helps too. If design isn’t your strong point, just throw something together & then upgrade it when you have the chance, either by hiring someone to do it or by spending a few hours on it yourself. Don’t be afraid to get other people’s opinions if you’re not sure how it looks. Really, the most important thing is just to have your website up & running — you can (& will) tweak it later on. iCiNG has had a couple of redesigns in the nine months it’s been around. My boyfriend estimates that we have spent at least a month, full-time, tweaking our Text Pattern design so that it works the way we want it to. He also hand-coded a lot of what we use. Ahh, bless.

Additionally, I suggest reading Problogger’s Blog Hosting, Domains & Blogging Platforms — What We Wish We Knew. (In case you hadn’t twigged to it yet, Problogger is an invaluable resource for those of us slogging away at blogging! Subscribe to it, read EVERYTHING! You will not regret it. Almost everything I know, I learned from Darren!)

Some other things to consider include…

Monetisation
If you’re planning on making some money out of your blog, you really need to work out how you’re going to do that. Google Adwords? Will you sell your own advertising space via Blogads? Will you sell products — physical or digital? (E-Junkie is my favourite shopping cart service.) Will you charge a subscription fee? Will you just ask for donations? (That last one is a hard road, I’m telling you!) Basically, there are a lot of ways you can make money with a website, but you need to find what works best for you. Check out How Bloggers Make Money From Blogs for more information!

Visibility
How are you going to let people know your website exists? Comment on other people’s blogs, especially those in your niche. Make friends with other bloggers, help people when they need it. Submit your website to every search engine ever invented. Email everyone you know & tell them you’ve started a blog & would love to hear their opinion on what you’ve created. If your website is about your local area, write to your newspaper & tell them about it. Don’t hesitate to tell “big, important” people about your website if you think they would like it or if it has information that might help them! Take chances!

Setting a good example
Unless you’re starting a blog which is about being nasty or complaining (please, don’t! There are enough already!), you would probably hope that the people commenting on your website are positive, encouraging & helpful. If they’re not, check your own attitude — often people are just following your lead. I once (innocently) commented on a blog & everyone jumped on my back! I should have known better, the author wasn’t the happiest person on earth…

An average day in the life of Gala

I wake up at 7am & check my email. I respond to the comments left on iCiNG overnight (I receive about 60 a day) & then go through the rest of my email. I normally receive somewhere between 40 & 50 emails (not counting friend requests for Myspace & Facebook!), ALL business-related in some way. People ask me for advice, people send me links or story ideas, I get press releases from PR companies & all manner of things. I try to clear my inbox every day but sometimes it is a struggle!

Then I sit around & write some content. I usually get my first piece done by about 10.30am, then I have some breakfast & a shower & get dressed. Sometimes I’ll take outfit photos, load them up in Photoshop, clean them up, post them. Then I get up & maybe go for a walk. I come back, do more writing, clear more email. Post some more stuff. At around 6pm, we organise some kind of dinner (like pizza or something similarly nutritious). I do some more writing & emailing. I watch an episode of something bad, like Sex & The City, _____’s Next Top Model or Australian Idol. I plan what I’m going to do the next day. I go to sleep at about midnight. (Oh, & this doesn’t include all the time spent reading Livejournal, Facebook & Myspace or checking comments on Flickr, auctions on Ebay or website statistics. Or all the time spent reading the hundreds of RSS feeds in Google Reader!)

Yes, it’s a busy life. The days just disappear. I love what I do, but as you can see, it is 90% work & 10% life. I’m working on my time management, but you know. It’s tricky!

Disclaimer!

I have been really blessed by my circumstances. My boyfriend 100% supports what I do — I often think he has more faith in me than I do! I cannot tell you how incredible that is. It’s pretty tough to do something if you’re the only one who thinks it will happen. He is a fantastic ally. He is also a computer genius (I like ’em clever!) & he takes care of almost all technical aspects of the website. While I designed it (& am okay with HTML, PHP, CSS), he’s the one who thinks about how long it takes for my pages to load, created a lot of the functionality of the website, urged me to think about user interface, submitted my website to a million search engines (& stayed up until the wee hours of the morning doing it on many occasions), etc. He is a TOTAL saviour.

I have also had the wonderful fortune of being hosted, for free, by another guy who is a computer genius. He can fix any problem with my website in the blink of an eye & it doesn’t cost me a cent. How amazing is that? Very. If I was paying either of these men for their technical expertise, it would have cost me tens of thousands of dollars.

Full-time blogging is not for everyone. (23 Questions For Prospective Bloggers — Is A Blog Right For You?) You need to do it for love, or you will go nuts. Some people don’t want the responsibility of starting their own business, & prefer working in an office or a shop. But if you do want to start your own business, you need to know that it is tough, & it really tests you. It’s kind of like having a child — it is constantly on your mind, you worry about it a lot, you wonder whether you’re doing the right thing. Starting a business will challenge all your beliefs.

Do you think you’re smart enough to earn a living? Do you deserve to have your own business? Do you believe that people will want what you’ve got on offer? Are you really that much of an expert? Are you really just a big phoney? What if it doesn’t work? What if you’re a failure? What if you’re a SUCCESS? Will people dislike you? Do you trust yourself with that much money? Will people pretend to like you just because you’re successful? This is a tiny portion of the thoughts which will fly through your head. Trust me, it is hard.

I think that really, with ANY business, you should be doing something that you would DO FOR FREE. I truly believe that this is the way to achieve satisfaction from work.

Good luck!

P.S. If any of you have more technical questions, I’ll get my boyfriend to jump into the comments to help you out.

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