Hey y’all- hope your week is amazing so far! Thanks so much for all the kind words y’all offered on my one-year blogging anniversary. A couple days ago I shared some general reflections from my first year of blogging. Today I’m continuing my one-year blog-iversary celebration by offering some specific advice for starting a blog. I hope that any aspiring bloggers or new bloggers out there will benefit from these tips!
Note that this post does include some affiliate links for various blogging resources and products I recommend. If you purchase anything through these links, I will earn a commission. However, it doesn’t cost you anything extra, and I personally use and love everything I recommend in this post!
I’m still loving these fun photos from my shoot with Reveling Spaces in Downtown Durham to celebrate my one-year blogging anniversary.
Go for it!
Honestly, this is my biggest piece of advice for starting a blog. You seriously have nothing to lose, so just choose your site design, write your first post, and hit publish. While it’s important to spend a little bit of time having a website you are proud of, don’t feel the pressure to do tons of research or to have everything perfect before you get started. Blogging is definitely a “learn as you go” process, and you can gradually tweak your website design as your journey unfolds. My website currently looks nothing like it did when I published my first post one year ago. (More about that shortly!)
Invest in your own domain name and a self-hosted WordPress.org plan.
This next piece of advice isn’t an absolute must-do, but it’s something I highly recommend, especially if you want to eventually monetize your blog. You can set up a blog completely for free with an address like http://www.yourblog.wordpress.com. My blog was actually set up like this for the first 24 hours. However, I quickly realized that the random ads the free WordPress plan placed on my blog really killed the vibe I was trying to create. So I upgraded to the WordPress.com personal plan. This got rid of the spammy looking ads, and purchasing my domain allowed me to get rid of “WordPress” in my web address and just have http://www.palmettosandpineapples.com.
I kept the personal WordPress.com plan for about five weeks. After reading some advice in the very helpful Boss Girl Bloggers group on Facebook, I decided to switch to a self-hosted WordPress.org blog plan. I know this probably sounds really confusing. But basically WordPress is a content management system. If you have a blog on WordPress.com, WordPress technically owns your blog, and you have limited customization capabilities. There are also limitations to how you can monetize your blog. If your blog is self-hosted via WordPress.org, this means that you use the WordPress content management system, but your blog lives on a server through a different web host. Taking this second route gives you many more customization options for your blog, and there are no limits to how you can monetize your blog.
I use SiteGround as my web host and have been extremely happy with them for the past 11 months. Also, the special introductory price for SiteGround is only $3.95 per month, which is actually around the same as a personal plan on WordPress.com. I highly recommend paying for more than one year upfront if you can, because the price increases to about $10 per month in your second year. You can sign up for a SiteGround web hosting plan here. Feel free to email me if you have any questions about web hosting.
I want to reiterate that if you aren’t in a place where you can spend anything on a domain name or web-hosting, don’t let that stop you from setting up a blog on a free platform like WordPress.com. However, if your budget only allows you to spend money on one blogging tool, use it on a domain name and web hosting!
Choose a WordPress theme that is visually appealing and easy to navigate.
One advantage of having a self-hosted WordPress blog is that you have access to a wider variety of visually appealing and professional looking blog themes. (“Theme” refers to the layout and design of your blog.) When I first switched over to a self-hosted blog via SiteGround, I used one of the free WordPress themes for about six months. Then in September, I purchased my current theme from Bluchic. While you can definitely get by with using one of the free WordPress themes, I highly advise investing in a paid theme whenever your budget allows. I use the “Isabelle” theme from Bluchic, and love how it looks. It’s definitely a notch above the theme I was using before. Once you purchase a theme from Bluchic, you have it for life. You don’t have to worry about renewing it every year.
Don’t be shy about sharing your blog with friends and acquaintances.
Once your blog is up and running, don’t be shy about sharing it with your friends and acquaintances. It takes awhile to grow a following on social media, and to have your blog appear in search engine results. So while you are working on growing those aspects of your blog, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with sharing your creative endeavor with people you already know. Not everyone you know will turn into an avid reader of your blog, but I bet many of them well. I have been blown away by how supportive my friends, family, and acquaintances are of my blog. Although I have separate Instagram and Facebook pages for my blog, I will also regularly promote my blog on my personal social media pages. This usually translates into blog traffic, and sometimes I even get some new followers on my blog social media pages.
Definitely don’t worry about what others will think and let that fear keep you from sharing your blog with people in your circle, and even new people you meet. Your true people will be encouraging. If someone is negative aside from offering constructive criticism, then don’t take it personally.
Don’t compare yourself to other bloggers.
I can’t stress this enough! Especially in the world of Instagram, it is easy to compare. Everyone grows at a different rate. You definitely can’t compare your blog and following to someone who has been at it longer than you have. As the saying goes “don’t compare your beginning to someone else’s middle.” However, also refrain from comparing yourself to bloggers who started around the same time as you or even after you. If they are growing faster than you are, don’t get discouraged. Just because you’re not growing as quickly as someone else doesn’t mean you are any less successful or that your blog has any less value.
Also, remember that God created everyone with a unique plan and purpose. It can be really easy to get discouraged, especially because there are so many bloggers these days. But I have to constantly remind myself that no other blogger out there is exactly like me. Therefore, I have the ability to reach a specific audience by using my unique strengths and voice to share my unique interests and experiences.
Don’t obsess about Instagram following.
This has been HUGE for me. At many points in 2018, I stressed way too much about growing my Instagram following. It definitely took the joy out of creating content. Most bloggers have a goal to eventually get to 10,000 followers on Instagram so they can have the “swipe-up” feature on Instagram stories. It’s very easy to get caught up in getting to 10K as quickly as possible, and to get discouraged when that goal is a long way from becoming a reality.
However, I have come to accept that Instagram is constantly changing its algorithm, and it is becoming harder and harder to grow. Many people also play the follow/unfollow game, so follower count constantly fluctuates. Between working full time, maintaining a personal/social life, and writing posts for my actual blog, I simply don’t have hours to invest in Instagram every day. While I would still love to grow my Instagram following and eventually get to 10K, I no longer have that as my primary goal. More seasoned bloggers have told me that most of their blog traffic and sales do NOT come from Instagram. Therefore, I’m focusing more on my actual blog content and obsessing less about Instagram. I also want to be better about promoting my blog posts on Pinterest. Ever since I have adopted this mentality, a huge weight has lifted from my shoulders.
Furthermore, while it may be harder to grow your overall Instagram following, that doesn’t stop you from strengthening connections with your existing audience. You shouldn’t simply strive for Instagram followers, but rather follows who truly enjoy and engage with your content.
Connect with like-minded bloggers in your niche.
I mentioned in my post from the other day that one of the most rewarding aspects of blogging this past year has been the connections I’ve made with some amazing women. Blogging is hard work! Therefore, it’s great to share the journey with others who understand the ups and downs of creating content. You can find like-minded bloggers by searching hashtags on Instagram, joining blogging Facebook groups, or joining blogger membership organizations.
In addition, I highly recommend joining Style Collective, which provides networking opportunities and educational resources for bloggers. Annie Spano, the founder of Style Collective, has a huge heart for helping girl bosses achieve their fullest potential. She also promotes a platform of women empowering women. Being part of Style Collective is what enabled me to land my collaboration with Ann Taylor back in December. You can join Style Collective here.
Take high-quality photos, but don’t obsess too much about an Instagram theme.
Blogging has a big visual component, especially if you are a fashion or lifestyle blogger like me. So, definitely prioritize shooting high quality images. However, don’t obsess too much about having an Instagram theme. You will find that many bloggers stress a lot about finding the perfect preset for all their photos in order to have a cohesive Instagram feed. I prefer not to spend a ton of time and energy worrying about all the photos in my Instagram feed matching perfectly with respect to lighting and editing, Although I do somewhat try and plan my Instagram grid in advance in order to make sure certain photos look good next to each other, I will still post a high quality photo even if it does’t match the others in my feed perfectly. In my opinion, sticking to a strict theme limits my creativity too much.
Invest in a DSLR camera and periodic professional shoots.
If your budget permits, I highly recommend investing in a DSLR camera and periodic professional photo shoots. Although iPhones take great photos these days, they still don’t compare to a high quality DSLR. I have a Canon Rebel T6, which I love. This is the most basic DSLR camera out there, but it gets the job done. It’s also nice to have for documenting events in my personal life as well. Also, it’s not significantly more expensive than some of the point-and-shoot digital cameras out there.
Also, if you’re able, hire a professional to take blog photos for you periodically. It is so worth it, because they know exactly how to pose you for the shot, as well as edit photos. I’m fortunate to have a great relationship with Amelia Cassar Photography and Emily Gardiner at Reveling Spaces Photography. These girls are friends who I knew before I started blogging, which makes shoots that much more fun. Hit them up if you’re in the Raleigh/Durham area.
Don’t focus solely on making money.
This is one of the best pieces of advice for starting a blog that I can give anyone. If you are only blogging to earn money, the you will burn out. It can take a long time to grow your blog to the point that it brings in significant income. I’ve been blogging for a year and I’m still nowhere near that point. Although I have a goal of developing my blog into a side business, when I am too focused on this goal I get stressed out and don’t enjoy blogging. So I have to rein my thoughts back in, and remind myself that regardless of any dollar amount it brings in, my blog is a creative outlet that God has given me as an opportunity to encourage, inspire, and be a light for Him.
On a related note, it can be very tempting as a new blogger to accept any collaboration or brand sponsorship offers that come your way. However, I advise you NOT to accept any offers to promote a product that doesn’t reflect your interests or your values, regardless of whether payment is in free product or money. Brand sponsorships are an exciting opportunity that blogging brings, but you ultimately want your blog to reflect YOU, and not become an infomercial.
Furthermore, you should NEVER pay out of pocket to collaborate with a brand. Many brands will reach out to bloggers offering a discount in exchange for posts on their blog or Instagram. Unless it’s a brand you already buy from anyways, do NOT accept any offers such as these. A lot of effort goes into creating content, and at the very minimum you should be compensated with free product. Know your worth! I’m fortunate that more experienced bloggers shared this advice with me when I was starting out, so I’m paying it forward!
One final but very important piece of advice for starting a blog- maintain balance! With blogging, there is a never-ending to-do list and always something to work on. I could easily spend every minute I’m not a my full-time job or sleeping working on my blog. However, that would not be healthy. As much as I love blogging and need to be intentional about carving out time to work on my blog, I can’t neglect my other interests and relationships.
Whew, I know this post was a mouthful! But I hope that y’all found my advice for starting a blog helpful. As always, thanks for reading! If you’re a more experienced blogger, I’d love to know which of these nuggets of advice resonated with you, and also if you have any additional advice for an aspiring or a newbie blogger!