Over the last few months, I've had several calls and emails from people who were interested in starting their own blogs, asking me if I had any tips for someone who was just starting out. Most recently, a friend asked me for some advice via email, and two days ago, I sent a horrifyingly long (and very likely incredibly overwhelming) tome in response, containing my initial thoughts on things to consider when starting a blog.
It is entirely possible that I'm a little too passionate about blogging.
Anyway, in the off-chance some of you are toying with the idea of starting your own blog, I thought I'd share my thoughts here. (For those of you who have no interest in blogging, feel free to skip to the bottom of this post).
First of all, consider your purpose. From my perspective, I think that the best blogs are written by people who have a distinct purpose for writing their blogs. For example, if you're thinking about starting a food blog, it makes sense to flesh out the type of food blog you're thinking about writing: Do you want this to just be a personal archive of your favourite recipes? Do you want to make this a place merely for friends and family? Do you want this to be a huge blog that has a lot of followers? Will you do restaurant reviews? Will you feature gourmet food? Ethnic food? Good home cooking? It can be good to have an idea of where you'd like this to go -- although to be perfectly frank, the way I blog now is far different from how I started, as a new mom blogger. In any event, while chances are likely that your blog will morph and evolve over time, it sometimes helps to have an overall vision in mind that you can tweak as you go along.
Ultimately, however, it's a good idea to write something you're passionate about, as opposed to something you just think "the world needs." Like, you might think that there aren't enough blogs out there talking about natural hair dyes (as a completely random example), but unless you're really passionate about natural hair dyes, I'd recommend thinking about another subject. The best blogs to read are the ones written by someone who you can tell loved writing every word.
Secondly on considering blogging platforms -- There are lots of different "platforms," or blogging applications out there that are really awesome. For the very simple and very clean (but really allow for limited customization) there's Posterous.com and Tumblr.com -- these are quick-and-dirty platforms that are free, and very easy to use, but won't allow for any customization of design. (I actually use Posterous as a place to dump my photographs I take with my iPhone, you can see it here.)
For more in-depth and customizable ones, you might want to consider Typepad.com, Blogger.com, Wordpress.org (and lately, Wordpress seems to be getting all the ... well, press). In order to customize them, you may have to pay a fee -- but they are surprisingly inexpensive, and generally very easy to use -- if you can use Microsoft Word and most email applications, you can use these blogging platforms. I started with Typepad, and it was very good; as I said, Wordpress is starting to get some serious buzz, and I've seen some really beautiful blogs that use them.
All that said, nowadays, I use Squarespace.com -- which I absolutely love. The customer service is amazing, and the ability to customize it I find pretty spectacular. A caveat: it might be more blogging platform than you need starting out. But make no mistake -- it's lovely to use, they do great work. I can't imagine using any other platform.
Third, on naming your blog: Here's where things can get a bit tricky. Some thoughts:
b) Make the name unique -- Even though you may not be planning on purchasing your own URL anytime soon, again, one day you may want to, so do a little research to see if the name you'd like to pick hasn't been taken by someone else. A nice easy way to find out if a blog name is taken is to put what you'd like to call your blog in the field here (https://www.pairnic.com/index.html) -- it will tell you if it's available or if it's already taken. Again, I'm not suggesting you buy the URL outright (although you certainly can), but it can be good to know if there's going to be a likelihood of confusion between your site and someone else's.
c) Don't pick a name that you might outgrow -- A lot of times the temptation is to name the blog around something that's very exciting in your life now ("newmommyeats.com" or "lovinglondonfood.com") -- but in the case of the "new mommy" name, your kid is going to grow up; in the case of "loving london," you might be moving sometime in the foreseeable future. Something to think about.
In my case, I was a new mom, and I'm from Trinidad, so I wanted a name for my blog that reflected that (because I was going to write about my daughter). I chose "Chookooloonks" because it's a word we Trinis use to mean "sweetheart," particularly when talking about a child.
I was lucky -- even though I outgrew the new mom thing, since most people don't know the significance of "Chookooloonks," the name managed to grow with me (since "Mommy" or "mom" aren't in the title.). Because it's a fun word to say, and it's so unique, it was easy for me to purchase chookooloonks.com as a URL. The down side? Most people have a hard time pronouncing it at first, much less spelling it -- and a small part of me wishes I'd picked something easier to spell. No worries though -- it's sort of become my brand, and it works for me.
Finally, on writing your blog -- The trick is to be casual and warm, without sacrificing good grammar and spelling. People will not come back if it's tough to read. When I write my blog, I sort of try to write it like I would write to a favourite former professor or boss -- proper grammar, proper spelling, but not so formal as to be alienating, you know? And definitely let your personality show in your blog -- in my experience, I've always loved blogs that made me feel like I was getting to know the author. That said, guard your privacy, and don't say anything about anyone on your blog that you wouldn't say to their face in a crowded room. Because trust me, even if they don't read your blog? One day they will read your blog.
As far as frequency -- the more frequently you blog, the more traffic to your site you will tend to earn and sustain. That said, you don't want to get burned out, either. I'd say aim for -- twice a week, I suppose, at first? And then tweak it up or down depending on how you feel. In my case, I make a concerted effort to blog 5 days a week, and it's pretty time consuming -- but I consider my blog an integral part of how I make my living, and after almost 7 years of blogging, I feel like I've developed a strong relationship with my readers, so I think it's important to have a consistent, frequent schedule. Besides, I'm passionate about what I blog about, so it's all good.
Update: A reader just asked me: "I enjoyed your post. But what if you blog just to write and not to earn? Does that mean anything anymore?" I think it's an awesome question (thank you so much for asking it!), and one that bears addressing:
You'll notice I don't have ads on this blog (although I do have ads on The Beauty of Different blog), and I only do any sort of sponsored or paid posts here on Chookooloonks on a very rare occasion. While I certainly don't begrudge anyone who wants to make money on their sites (obviously), the advice I give here is intended for someone who is starting a blog because they feel they have something to say that they want a wider audience to read. Obviously, there are private blogs out there, or blogs intended for only immediate family and friends; but this advice is for someone who has passion around a certain subject, and loves to write. In fact, I would add this advice: you should only start a blog if you have passion around a subject, and love to write -- otherwise, you'll lose interest, and the blog will fall by the wayside, anyway. In any event, the monetization/branding thing is a whole separate topic, I think, and not one that I intended to address in any way here.
Hope that helps!
(Here's the part you can start reading again, if you skipped all of the above.) So anyway, those are my thoughts -- for those of you who are experienced bloggers, please feel to leave your own advice and tips in the comments section, below. Also, just because we can all do with some inspiration, bloggers or not, I thought I'd share my favourite blog "muses" (affectionately called my "Chookoolinks") -- these are some really, really good sites. Please check them out.
And finally, now seems as good a time as any to say special thanks to the Black Weblog Awards, whose judges voted Chookooloonks Best Photoblog of 2010. I'm truly honoured. Thank you.
Also on a completely unrelated note: Are you in Houston, a woman with adult children, how happens to have (or had) a great relationship with her mom, and would like me to take your picture? I'm working on a paid photography/writing gig (which I'm totally excited to share with you guys soon) on motherhood, and would love to meet you. If you're interested, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Thanks!
And with that, have a wonderful weekend, everyone. It's a long weekend here in the US, so if you're traveling, please stay safe.
Image: Those lovely purple flowers Alex picked out for me, photographed with my Nikon D300, 60mm micro. This shot was also processed with the Adobe Lightroom 3 -- and at the risk of gushing too much, I really, really like this software.