I remember the first blog I ever started. It was called Inky Fingers and it was supposed to revolutionise the world of creative writing, while creating a community for other wannabe authors. After a few months of plodding away at posts, scrolling for non-existent comments and watching an email inbox remain empty, I gave in. What had seemed like a great plan for drawing writers together had failed. I decided that blogging wasn’t for me.
Of course, what I know now, is that the idea for the blog wasn’t bad. Actually, it was great! The content for Inky Fingers was a kind of progress report for a novel I was working on, which nearly ended up going all the way. After several revisions, the final manuscript was picked up by an agent in New York and we came a hair’s breadth from winning a publishing deal.
Imagine if I’d been writing that blog the whole time, and building a following – it would have been a great platform for my published novel! No, the blog idea wasn’t so bad. I was just clueless about how to build an audience.
Inky Fingers was also being written at the start of the last decade which meant – no social networks. Blogging was really tough back then – you just had to hope that people stumbled upon your writing, or drive traffic to it with a pretty aggressive email campaign. Fortunately, for bloggers nowadays, building an audience is much easier. The hardest part is standing out in a crowded field.
A blogger who is starting out today has to be a plate spinner. Before your first post even goes up, you need several things in place.
1. A good idea
Let’s say you want to blog about travel. Or creative writing. Or kittens. What’s going to make your blog stick in people’s minds and make them come back to read more? Some of the best blogs encapsulate a very simple idea and they do it very well. Des Hommes, Des Chatons is a gorgeous Tumblr account which puts photos of cute guys next to fluffy kittens with quirky expressions. That’s all it does, but the results are outstanding. MiddleClassProblems is a twitter account which pokes fun at imaginary bourgeois problems in just a few words. It recently got a book deal. So don’t be afraid of going too niche – sometimes the more focused the idea, the better. More suggestions for that coming up in a future post.
2. A social media presence
You might not have used the full range of social media in the past, or used them sporadically, to share pictures or ideas with your friends. Actually, that doesn’t matter. You can quite easily rename Twitter and Instagram accounts, and even rebrand a Facebook page (although Facebook will run any changes past your followers, giving them the option of unsubscribing). Otherwise, brand new accounts can be opened in just a few minutes, particularly if you use Facebook to log in. That way your friends will often be informed that you’ve signed up and start following you right away. Social media is now essential for blogging – those accounts can help spread the word every time you post a story, and find an audience for your posts. You don’t need every type – I’d start with a Facebook page, Twitter account and Instagram. More on that in a future post.
3. A blogging platform
There are a few options out there for creating a blog, but I recommend starting out with a free WordPress blog. They are so easy to create these days, with lots of very attractive free themes. This way, you can play around with some ideas without any initial outlay, and actually build a decent following in a relatively short space of time. WordPress.com also promotes your blog within its community, so you’ll find yourself getting likes and engagements from complete strangers almost immediately. Also, when you finally want to transition to a paid domain, lots of web designers know their way around WordPress and can help you – you might even be brave enough by then to export it yourself!
4. Some outstanding content
Before you even post your first story, it’s important to have a selection of posts in different categories ready to go. Maybe as few as three or four, or perhaps even as many as ten or twenty. By writing a few different stories before you publish any of them, you can quickly find your voice and – most importantly – work out what the main themes and arguments of your blog will be. Longer blog posts can be split into shorter stories, which then link back to one another. These kind of links – creating hub pages – all help your page and ultimately site ranking.
5. Stunning images
Even if your blog is focused on words, you shouldn’t overlook the power of images. You’ve probably been inspired to share great pictures on social networks, and blogging is no different. Sometimes people will share your story just because it has a great featured image. Other times, the images might inspire the first click. You can also use images as teasers for your blog stories across social media, overlaying words on pictures to build up to your posts or show what you’re about to tell.
6. A great eye For detail
Between drafting content, taking or sourcing pictures, lining up your social media accounts (and branding them – are you using appropriate pictures and biography content across all the different platforms?) it’s really easy for mistakes to slip in. If you have a friend to help check things as you go along, great. Otherwise, try and build in some buffer time for proof reading. I like to prepare an article at night and then publish it the day after – you can often spot errors with a fresh pair of eyes.
And that’s about it – six essential steps for starting your brand new blog. Most importantly, enjoy it! It takes a lot of work to start and build a great blog, but if you’re organised and use social media in a powerful way, you’ll soon find an audience for your writing. Do you have any essential steps you’d like to share in the comments?