tips for starting a blog

I frequently get emails or messages asking me for tips on how to start a blog, and lately the number of messages with this question has increased significantly, so instead of writing the same thing over and over in emails, I thought it'd be more useful to have a post to refer people to here on the blog!

What people really mean when they ask for tips on starting a blog is, "how do I start a successful blog?" because really, just starting a blog is pretty straightforward:  sign up for a blogging service and just do it.  What happens after that is what determines whether or not your blog is "successful."  I put that in quotations because success is such a relative term.  It means different things to different people, especially when applied to blogging.  Some might consider their blog a success if they get 100 followers, some might not feel successful until they're partnering with huge companies or publishing books.  I think a lot of people have a misconception that as soon as they start blogging, tons of followers will instantly find their blog and think it's amazing and the blog will take off right away.  For me, I never experienced this and have only heard of a few cases where this happened.  In my understanding, gaining followers and presence online is a slow process.  So don't be super bummed out if you don't have hundreds of followers in the first few months.

Start with a great layout design.

I think most people skip this step because they want to get to the part where they start blogging, which is great- content is king, as they say.  But in a world where visual communication is becoming more and more paramount, the way your blog looks upon a reader loading your page will really speak more to them about whether or not they want to stick around.  If a blog is visually jarring or unpleasant, I will click away about 99% of the time.  Going to a blog kind of feels like entering someone's house, and if the house is unwelcoming and unkempt, then readers are unlikely to want to stick around.  Having a nice design also shows that you care about your blog.  You believe your content deserves a beautiful place to house it.  This alone will make readers believe the same, even if your content isn't as awesome as the content on an ugly looking blog.  Respect your content by giving it a nice house to live in.  The very first thing I did when I got my blog is customize the look of it to reflect my personality.  I know a lot of new bloggers don't have any knowledge in HTML, but there are lots of free online resources where you can find free blog templates that are better than the basic layout that comes with your blog when you first sign up.

Produce good content, frequently.

if you want people to come to your blog and stay, you have to give them something to stay for.  This is where the content of your blog comes in.  The design of your blog is the hook, but if you don't have great content, even the best blog design won't turn first time readers into subscribers.  And not only should you produce good content, do it frequently.  This doesn't mean you have to post every day, but consistently enough that your readers look forward to reading.  Plus, it's kind of annoying when the only thing a blogger does is post apologies for not having blogged in so long.

If you have pictures, make them good.

I think I would almost rather have no pictures on a blog, than pictures that are tiny and/or super poor quality.  This doesn't mean you need to have a fancy DSLR with a $400 lens.  Phones these days can take perfectly nice photos!  Obviously a nice DSLR will give you a higher quality photograph, but a good photographer can take a great photo with any camera.  A nice camera does not a photographer make, so don't use the lack of a fancy camera as an excuse for your bad photos.  Also, if you're a personal style blogger who doesn't have a boyfriend/husband to take your photos, don't use that as an excuse either.  There are plenty of personal style bloggers who are very successful who use a tripod and self timer set up.  No boyfriend necessary.  Again, caring about your images shows that you believe your content is worth reading.
And when it comes to placing your photos in your posts, make sure they are large enough and that they all have the same widths, regardless of whether they're horizontally/vertically oriented.  If your pictures are too small, it doesn't matter how great they are, no one can see them.  And in terms of standardizing your photo widths, that's mostly just my own personal preference as it bugs my eyes to have to keep jumping back and forth between wide and skinny photos.  Photos on my blog are all 600px wide so that when you scroll down, the width of the text and photos is consistent.

Join social networks.

If you want people to know about your blog, you have to actually go let people know about it.  If your blog is a personal style blog, you can join sites like Chictopia or Lookbook where you can post a look and then if people like it they'll probably want to see more over at your blog.  Connect with readers via facebook and twitter, too, since pretty much everyone is on those social networks.

Interact with fellow bloggers.

Start a clothing swap group or some other blogging group.  Go to local blogger meet ups.  Get to know other bloggers with a similar sized readership who have a similar blog to yours and maybe do guest posts on each other's blog.  Chances are, the other blog has readers who aren't yet reading your blog, and since you guys have a similar vibe and content, their readers will quite likely want to start reading your blog!  Or do a feature/interview of a blogger you like, then if they tell their readers about the interview, they might find that they like your blog too.  If you contact a blogger with a much larger readership and they aren't interested in doing a guest post or being involved with your project, don't be too sad or start thinking that they're cliquey for only interacting with other "big" bloggers.  Often, the appearance of a clique is usually just the result of what I was talking about earlier... bloggers interacting with other blogs of similar sized readerships with similar content.  They probably started interacting and sharing in projects when their blogs were much smaller, but because they've shared readers, their subscribers have grown together.  I found that this article discussed this quite well, and is a great read!

Be yourself.

A lot of bloggers who are just starting out often think that they have to do things how other bloggers do them, or make their blog just like this other successful blogger they know.  While it's probably true that a successful blogger has figured out ways of growing readership/creating great content, how they do things isn't always going to make your blog great.  You might end up losing some of your own personality in the efforts to make your blog a success, just like so-and-so's blog.  The best thing that you bring to the blogosphere (which is enormous), is YOU.  Your unique perspective and experiences.  You can bring something to the blogosphere that no one else can, simply by being you.  It seems so obvious when you think about it.  And don't let this make you feel bad about yourself if you don't get a ton of readers.  Some people are just way more accessible or are interested in things that are popular right now, but that doesn't mean they're better than you.  If you don't like vintage clothes and mason jars, then don't pretend you like them just because it's the hip thing to do in the blogosphere right now. Maybe your blog doesn't have mass appeal, but it will have appeal to the people who find it and love it.   Not everyone wants the same thing in a blog, which is why your unique voice is important!

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