If I had a dollar for every time someone approaches me about wanting to start a blog (or wanting to grow their blog), I would have enough money to take that fakecation to Miami I wrote about a few weeks ago…plus some leftover! The following questions are easily the most frequently asked that I get via email, comments, and in person: how do I start a blog? how can I make money off of my blog? I want to blog full-time, what are some tips/tricks? how can I grow my blog? Though I always respond individually to each person (and will continue to do so as long as I’m able), I thought it would be wise to publish a post addressing the truth about blogging, and to put to rest this thought that blogging is a “get rich quick” scheme. Hah. I wish! Today, I’m going to share what you really need to know about blogging as well as questions to ask yourself before you start, or, in the case that you already have a blog, questions to ask yourself as you continue to grow your readership.
1 | Anyone Can Start a Blog, But Not Everyone Should (Another hobby may be better!)
The awesome thing about blogging is that anyone can start a blog. I heard a figure last week that about 200,000 blogs are started each day. Honestly, that number doesn’t shock me at all! (I’m actually surprised it’s not higher!) Somehow, the simplicity of being about to go to WordPress or Blogspot (or another platform), enter basic information, and start blogging, makes many people forget to really ask themselves: is this for me? Do I have something to write about? (Am I a good writer?) Do I know who my audience is? How much time do I plan on spending weekly on my blog?
Of course, if you just want to try it out, then go for it! That’s the beauty of blogging. It’s free to try, and you can stop whenever you want. My advice? Try it without the announcement. It makes me laugh when Facebook friends make grand announcements via posts about their own new blogs that they’re going to commit to, only to post twice and then never update them again. (I see this all the time!) Instead, consider posting over the course of a month and shooting for somewhere around 25 posts (people won’t stick around a blog that only has a couple of posts), and see how you feel about it. Perhaps ask close friends and family for their advice, but skip the “HERE I GO!” Facebook posts until you have indeed, well, gone.
Questions to ask yourself: Do I really want to start a blog or is it just the “cool thing” to do right now? Do I jump into new things and just as quickly quit them? If so, how will this be different? What can I do to hold myself accountable?
2 | Good Writing is Critical
Now, of course, the phrase “good writer” is highly subjective. Everyone has different style preferences…some prefer short, to-the-point writing, while others love the long-winded flow of detailed sentences and paragraphs. Your writing style is as unique as you are and something that will develop and morph over time. I always tell newbie bloggers, if you’re funny, be funny. If you’re serious, be serious. If you’re sassy, be sassy. You can pick out a blogger who is writing in someone else’s voice easily; their posts will sound forced and be uncomfortable to read. So part one of “you should be a good writer” is essentially this: you should have a writing style that suits you, develop your voice, and stick to both. Though this can be learned, it is often innate. A naturally gifted writer will likely be successful more quickly at developing his/her style and voice than someone who is more gifted in other areas. (That is not to discourage, it’s just the honest truth.)
Secondly, and very importantly, you must have an understanding of grammar, spelling, usage, and punctuation if you want to grow a highly-trafficked blog. (Even if your blog is photo-heavy, there will always be some copy!) Nothing is more frustrating than reading a blog that misuses “your” and “you’re” or “to,” “two,” and “too.” Or one that drones on and on, without proper punctuation or paragraph breaks so that the reader can rest. There will always be little typos that slip through the cracks (I sometimes find them in my own work, though I proofread each post multiple times), but those are different than consistently poor grammar. Unlike developing your writing style and voice, you can learn proper grammar simply by reading books, taking an online course, or pulling out your old high school notes! (Though, of course, some people will pick this skill up more easily than others.)
Questions to ask yourself: Do I have my own style and voice? Do I understand grammar, spelling, usage, and punctuation? If not, will I work to cultivate these skills? How?
3 | Blogging Takes More Time Than You Think
If you think that you can throw together a substantial, engaging, clear post with good photos quickly, I hate to break it to you, but you’re wrong. Most of my posts take between four and six hours to write, and then even more time to broadcast (read my blog post writing process here). It’s very obvious when a blogger just “word vomits” and pushes publish; there are lots of typos, sentences that don’t make sense, fuzzy photos, and a general lack of clarity around the post’s supposed topic. Posts feel haphazard, because they are.
Now, if you just want to get your thoughts out, and you don’t care much about how clean your posts are, then you’re free to write, publish, repeat. But if you plan on approaching blogging more professionally, then you’ll have to put in the time to thoughtfully write and edit, proofread thoroughly, add meaningful images, and broadcast your post appropriately. This takes time, there’s no way around it. If you don’t have time now, and don’t plan on moving your schedule around to make time, I would consider whether starting a blog is realistic. (There have been chunks of time before I started blogging full-time where I had to go on a hiatus simply because I didn’t have the time to write and produce with excellence.)
Basically, growing a great blog takes a lot of time. It takes time to design your blog, to create engaging social media pages and posts, to respond to reader emails and comments, to take photos and videos, and, of course, to write well thought-out blog posts. Most bloggers aren’t full-time, so it would be wholly unrealistic to think that you’d have to set aside 40 hours a week to blog, especially if it’s your hobby and not your career. However, posting just two or three excellent posts (and everything that goes with that) could easily take 10+ hours a week. Keep that in mind!
Questions to ask yourself: Do I have time to blog? What is my standard of excellence? How long would I have to set aside weekly to realistically meet or exceed that standard?
4 | Deciding What To Write About Can Be Challenging
I am constantly asked the question, “How do you come up with so many things to write about?!” Valid question. As I outlined in this post, I keep a running list of ideas and work my way through them as I feel inspired. But coming up with ideas can be very difficult, especially when you’re first starting out. You really have to know yourself (and your intended audience) and write about topics that would be encouraging, inspirational, informational, or simply interesting. Before you can do this, you’ll need to shape your blog content by deciding what your blog will be about…will it be a photography blog? A travel blog? A dog training blog? A fashion blog? A random thoughts blog? Why would someone read your blog–what would they be looking for?
For example, I am a lifestyle blogger, meaning that I write about anything that falls within the vast umbrella of my life. I don’t just write about one thing; this is purposely not a niche blog. However, I have defined my lifestyle so that my posts are cohesive. Here is how I would define it: I choose to live in a way that is intentional, slow-paced, and Jesus-seeking, as well as authentic, honest, and real. I believe in choosing joy in my heart, faith walk, marriage, and relationships while also vulnerably sharing about life’s challenges for the purpose of offering hope and healing to others. I believe that God has called me primarily to be an encourager and a truth-speaker, so I strive to stay true to those two things above all else. All of this is what shapes my blog post topics…this is how I come up with things to write about. But firming up and being able to accurately define my lifestyle and purpose for writing took time (several years), which is something to keep in mind, especially if you’re just starting out.
You don’t have to choose a niche to be a successful blogger (though you certainly can). You can write about a variety of things–many bloggers do, including me! I share recipes, travel plans, organizational systems, wedding details, what God is teaching me, blogging information, and my own story, among other things. However, it’s important to build all of your posts on the same foundation, which for me, is what I’ve outlined above, basically this: honest and authentic Christ-centered intentionality and encouragement. Completely random and mismatched thoughts without any commonalities can be difficult for a reader to connect with, whereas varying thoughts with a similar thread can be engaging and interesting.
Questions to ask yourself: Do I know what I want to write about? What are my core truths and values that I want to built my writing on?
5 | The Internet Can Be Mean
I don’t know if it’s even worth elaborating this point, because I’m confident that anyone reading this is nodding in agreement. The internet is vast, and it can be really, really mean.
Though 95 percent of my readers leave encouraging comments, great suggestions, constructive criticism, and interesting “me too!” stories, there’s always that other five percent. The people who send hateful and ugly comments and emails for no reason other than simply to be mean! The people who criticize what they don’t understand and jump to assumptions and accusations prematurely. You know these people, you’ve seen them on Facebook, on other blogs, on Instagram–anywhere where people can post hateful things anonymously (or without having to look the recipient in the eye), they do. It’s so odd to me, so cowardly. Like, you know there’s a person behind the pixels, right?
Anyway, the bottom line is this: that you will experience the beauty and the ugly of the internet if you blog. Your audience will eventually grow beyond your Facebook friends and family and other people who don’t know you personally will begin to read your writing. When this happens, it’s really exciting, especially if you’re intentionally trying to grow your following. But along with the excitement can come a heavy dose of deflation if you’re not expecting some of the mean comments you’ll almost certainly receive. Spiteful, rude people and internet trolls should not deter you from blogging, but you should be realistic with yourself. Know that the feedback you’ll receive won’t always be kind!
The best way to handle this, in my opinion, is to always write from a place of who you authentically are (see #4). When you’re genuinely doing that, anyone who is mean or critical of your ideas won’t ruin you because you’ll be able to stand firmly behind your words and thoughts, since they were written out of an authentic place. (Even though hurtful words will still sting!)
Questions to ask yourself: How will I handle ugliness and criticism when it arises? Will I delete comments and emails that are hurtful or respond to them? If I choose to respond, what kinds of things will I say?
6 | Web Design Is Important
You can have the most meaningful, well thought-out blog posts in the world, but if your site design is unappealing or difficult to navigate, you’ll have a hard time getting your blog off the ground. Personally, I feel that a basic understanding of web design is very important if you want to build a blog that will grow. I’ve never had any formal web design education, but I watched YouTube videos, read blog posts, and looked at blog designs that I loved in order to learn how to make my site functional, clean, and beautiful. (It’s still a work in progress!)
If you don’t have time to learn how to do basic web design (which, in some cases, is as basic as finding a theme, purchasing it, and installing it), but you have some money to invest, consider hiring a web designer. You may not be able to afford a fully built-from-scratch site, but could you pay for someone to tweak your existing theme so that it better suits your style and needs? (You may have a friend or family member who knows web design and would help you out for a discount!)
Take a look at your favorite websites and blogs. Notice what they have in common and what about their design interests you. Seek to make your blog look more like theirs. Not in a I’m-going-to-copy-everything-I-see kind of way, but rather, if you notice that a blog you love has a lot of white space, add some white space to yours, it’ll probably feel cleaner. If you think a blogger has a great “about me” photo, take note of why it’s great and seek to find or take your own. At the end of the day, your site’s design is the first impression that readers will get…make sure your first impression is a good one!
Questions to ask yourself: What kind of web design do I like? How can I reflect both my personal style and my writing style through my blog design? What can I do to improve my design?
7 | To Grow, You Need To Learn How To Market Your Blog
I admittedly have a slight leg-up in this area because I have my degree in Business Marketing. I understand how marketing works, both inbound and outbound, which is important for growing a blog and attracting interested readers. I have also both interned at a social media marketing agency as well as worked as the social media marketing coordinator for a tech startup. Because of these experiences plus my college coursework, some of what I know about marketing feels like common sense, though when I think about it, I know that I spent years studying and learning . (And I continue to spend time almost every afternoon educating myself on current marketing trends and best practices–read more about that here!) You don’t have to get a four-year degree in marketing to learn how to “sell your blog” well. Reading online articles, blog posts, and books will help you immensely.
As with anything, there are all kinds of theories and differing schools of thought surrounding marketing. Some people feel like bloggers should offer eBooks and other free downloads without any web forms to increase traffic and value, while others insist on asking for at least the downloader’s name and email address for newsletters, etc. Some marketers argue that you should only publish blog posts or broadcast on social media at certain times of the day, others believe that variety in scheduling is the key to success. There are many more dichotomies, but the basic reality is that no one agrees on everything. As you learn about marketing, you’ll have to decide for yourself which practices work best for you. The key here is to learn about online marketing.
Questions to ask yourself: What do I know about marketing? What do I know about marketing as it relates to my blog? Do I know my target audience? Do I know when I should be publishing new posts? How can I best broadcast my blog? What do I need to do to increase my understanding of marking as it relates to blogging?
8 | You Won’t Make Money Right Away
This. This is the point that gets me on my soapbox. I have people email me (or approach me in person) all the time asking me how they can start making big money on their blogs or that they’ve decided to start blogging for the purpose of making money. What I really want to say is this: don’t you think if it were that easy that all 200,000 of the people who start blogs each day would quit their day jobs and blog instead?!
If you start your blog for the sole purpose of making money, you probably won’t. Here’s why: it takes lots and lots of engaging posts, a heavy flow of traffic, and good marketing to get to a place where enough people are visiting your blog, clicking through your ads, and purchasing items through any affiliate programs you’re a part of to make any money. (Not to mention how much traffic you’ll need for sponsors!) For the first two years of my blog, I made nothing more than a few dollars each month, with the occasional paid review, which was maybe $75. Yeah, blogging is no “get rich quick” scheme. To make money blogging, you have to stick with it, even when no one is reading your words and no one is paying you to write. It can take years to get to a solid place where you’re making good money through your blog (I’m still working towards that point), but if you’re only blogging for money, and you aren’t seeing an immediate ROI, you’ll likely quit!
There’s nothing wrong with blogging with the goal of generating income, but I am warning you that this will not happen overnight. Be prepared to post a lot of quality work before you start seeing any significant ROI financially.
Questions to ask yourself: Why am I blogging–to share my story, ideas, and thoughts–or to make money? How long am I willing to stick with blogging even if I’m not making money? Have I researched the best ways for my blog to make money (either now or in the future)? What can I do today to set myself up for financial success in the future as it relates to blogging?
9 | Blogging Isn’t Easy, But It’s Worth It
I hate to wrap this post up in a neat bow because it’s been very raw and honest. But the truth is that this point is honestly true for me: that blogging is challenging and difficult at times, but for me, it is completely worth it. I spend hours each day working on my site, connecting with my readers, taking photos, editing videos, writing posts, editing, publishing, marketing, and broadcasting. For me, those hours are well spent. I find a lot of purpose in blogging and thoroughly enjoy connecting with people who I would otherwise never meet (or even speak with)! I have dreamed about blogging full-time for years and am thankful for the opportunity to pour myself in to my blog, a platform I am extremely passionate about. If you’re a reader, thank you so much for your support.
I don’t know how long I’ll keep up with writing on this blog. Right now, I think it will be for a very long time, through moves and pregnancies and babies and life’s changes. I feel so fulfilled and at peace about blogging full-time, but I am open to whatever God has in store for me in the future! I still have a long way to go in many of the areas I mentioned above, but I am working toward excellence (not perfection).
Questions to ask yourself: Knowing what I know, does it make sense for me to start a blog? If I already have a blog, does it make sense for me to pour myself into it? Is it worth it? Do I have the time and energy? Am I willing to do what it takes to grow in any areas where I’m weak?
// If you’re thinking about starting a blog, or you have one that you’re interested in growing, I truly hope this post gave you an honest picture of what it’s like to be a blogger. If you have any further questions, please comment below–I’d be happy to answer them! Happy Blogging! 🙂
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Even though I am not a blogger, I can appreciate this post! As a reader, it annoys me when I can tell when someone woke up with a random thought and turned it into a post, just for the sake of posting something. If it is not well thought out and jumbled, reading it is a waste of time. That sounds harsh, but it honestly makes me want to quit reading that particular blog.
What drew me to your blog (and what keeps me coming back) is the fact that your writing is well thought out and I can tell you put a lot of effort and time into each post. Grammar, punctuation, and sentence structure go a long way as well! Plus, your content is always right up my alley!
Keep it up!
Blair Lamb says
Thank you so much for your comment! YES, I am totally with you sister! You can tell when someone throws together a lame post just to post something…it really is annoying. I try my best not to be that person and appreciate your affirmation so much! 🙂 You are so kind. Thanks for reading!
Caryn Leigh says
Thank you for such a relatable post. I still look at my blog appearance some days and think, “eh.” I’m glad I’m not the only one! I love Blair Blogs. Your design was a big inspo when I created my new site.
Lovely work always!
Blair Lamb says
I’m glad you were encouraged! Thank you so much for reading and commenting! 🙂
I found your blog through a fashion blog some months, and I keep coming back to read because you write so well and the content is so well managed! I am not religious, but I do like reading about your lifestyle involving god, which although I can’t relate to, I do enjoy reading. Your blog is very positive and enjoyable.
This post was great! I have been blogging for years (mostly for myself), but gradually I have started to become interested in the dynamics of professional blogging.
Blair Lamb says
Hi Pooja! Thank you so much for reading! 🙂 Big hugs.
Grady Katherine Savage says
I love this! I’ve been casually blogging for quite some time, but only this year have I really been able to put more time and effort into it – still not as much as I’d like, but enough to make it a more consistent part of my life… not to make money, but because I love it and I want to encourage people with my writing! Really a great read – thanks for sharing!