So, you’re starting your online business and getting ready to set up your blog, but you’re not quite sure where to begin. There’s a plethora of information on the internet, but you find it overwhelming. That’s why I put together this start-up guide; it’s what I wish was available when I was first starting out.
A LITTLE BACKGROUND
I’ve been an online business owner since 1998 and a blogger since 2009 (having maintained multiple blogs in different niches), and while blogging wasn’t always a part of my online business ventures, it has quickly become a fundamental part of my business plan.
My current blog/business, Inspiring Creative Minds, was born out of my desire to help people build the online business they’ve always dreamed of, and to share all that I’ve learned about the blogging and online business world since I started way back when. While still in the planning stage, the first thing I did was to create a list of reasons why I was building it. It’s super important to understand the why of anything you do before learning how.
Take a minute to consider the reasons you’re starting your blog and how it will help your business as you move forward. Write them down in a notebook or a Google Docs file (or wherever you keep your business notes). Here’s what my list looks like:
9 REASONS TO START A BLOG
- To share ideas and knowledge.
- To personalize my brand and let my clients and readers get to know me.
- To connect with other bloggers and online business owners.
- To build authority in my niche.
- To passively market my products and services (I never want to come across as salesy!)
- To give readers a reason to return to my site on a regular basis.
- To build trust with potential clients.
- To improve SEO.
- To receive feedback on my content and product/service offerings so that I can constantly improve them.
Now that you have a firm grasp on the why, it’s time to move on to the fun stuff - how to create a blog.
5 STEPS TO STARTING YOUR BLOG
1 | CHOOSE YOUR PLATFORM
A blogging platform is a place where you will put your content on the internet. There are a few different options, including Wordpress.com, Wordpress.org, Blogger.com, and my favorite - Squarespace.com.
While Wordpress is a very popular blogging platform, and one that many people recommend, I found it wasn’t the most user-friendly platform out there. There was a pretty big learning curve and I ran into a lot of frustration with design, plug-ins, etc. (I’m sure a lot of it was user-error on my part, but nevertheless, it was still a headache more often than not).
NOTE: There is a difference between Wordpress.org and Wordpress.com. With Wordpress.org you have a full domain whereas on Wordpress.com you have a sub-domain. This means that if you go with Wordpress.com, your URL will look like this: YourBlog.wordpress.com. But when you go with the self-hosted option, Wordpress.org, your URL will look like this: YourBlog.com. The other difference — and this is a biggie — is that you own your content on Wordpress.org whereas you don’t on Wordpress.com. This means they can shut it down at any time. Wordpress.org will end up costing money, but if you can manage it, it’s worth it just to own your content and have more flexibility and options. Costs will include domain name and hosting (hostgator.com and bluehost.com are just a couple of options), which are a few dollars a month, and any upgrades you wish to include to your Wordpress package (basic package is free, but premium package is $99/year) as well as any paid plug-ins you’ll want to use.
I’ve also used Blogger.com, and while it was relatively user-friendly, I wouldn’t recommend it. It’s a service provided by Google, and while it’s free, you don’t own it. What does that mean for you? It means Google can shut it off or revoke access to your content at any time. Not something I’m comfortable with.
Squarespace.com, on the other hand, has been my favorite blogging platform to date. It has a clean, streamlined appearance. It provides beautiful, classy templates. It’s super user-friendly and compatible on all platforms. It doesn’t require the use or updating of plug-ins, and there’s no need to understand code or HTML. The themes are very easy to edit. And it’s an all-inclusive service, meaning hosting, domain, and themes are provided in one convenient fee (about $16 per month).
Take some time to look at the different platforms available and decide which one is the best fit for you. If you decide to move forward with Squarespace, keep an eye out for my upcoming article about making the switch to Squarespace and complementary tutorial. You can sign up here to receive it right in your inbox once it’s available.
2 | CHOOSE A DOMAIN NAME
Choosing a domain name is important because once you have chosen it, you’ll want to stick with it for the long term. Trust me. I made the mistake of rebranding not once, but four times. Please learn from my mistake and don’t do this. It created tons of extra work for me, and set my progress back by at least a year.
A lot of people are using their personal names as their domain. If you have a fairly unique name, this is a great idea. But if you have a very common name as I do (I tried every single variation I could think of and they were all taken!), then this may not be an option. So here are a few things to consider when choosing a domain name for your site.
- Make sure it’s easy to read, say, and remember.
- Make sure it’s unique to you. It should reflect your personality and what you do.
- Consider using one of your keywords in your domain name. For instance, if you provide editing services, you might want to consider using the word editing or some variation of the word in your name.
Do keyword research for your niche and choose words that might be a good fit in your domain name. If you choose to use your own name, then simply move on to step 3.
3 | DESIGN YOUR BRAND
Now, here’s the fun part - designing your brand. Your brand design is going to be the first impression your audience and potential clients have of you, so you want to be sure it stands out, reflects your personality, and provides the experience your ideal readers are looking for. Choosing a color palette is going to be a very important part of your design. Colors evoke emotions, feelings, and past experiences. You’ll want to keep this in mind as you choose the colors for your brand so that you’re appealing to your ideal audience.
To begin, ask yourself questions such as:
- What are my personal values and beliefs? You want to communicate your values and beliefs in your design. For instance, I chose green as my main color, not only because it’s my favorite color, but because it’s associated with calmness (my nature), growth (my blog’s purpose - helping people grow and build their online businesses), and freshness (I share fresh strategies and ideas). Understanding color psychology will help guide you as you choose the colors for your blog.
- What problem do I solve for my reader? For example, if you’re a food blogger, then you might want to consider greens, as green is associated with balance, healing, nature. You’ll also want to use outdoor or kitchen themes/images.
- What would my ideal reader be drawn to? Or more importantly, who is my ideal reader?
- What does my brand feel like, smell like, sound like, taste like. (Yes! Use your senses. Remember, you’re providing an experience.) Do you want your brand to feel laid back - think lying on a beach in the hot sun, waves crashing in the background, the scent of salty sea air (blues, grays, greens come to mind). Or intense and full of action? (Reds and oranges come to mind.) Be creative!
Answer the questions above, then choose colors and a design that provide a specific experience for your reader.
NOTE: This is a very brief section that really requires a post/guide all it’s own, so I would recommend visiting elleandcompanydesign.com for lots of great resources on design and branding!
4 | CREATE A CONTENT CALENDAR
Creating a content calendar will save you time and help you to intentionally plan your blog post subjects and timely publication schedule. I currently use Google Sheets for organizing my blog posts. Here’s a snapshot of the headings I use:
Under each heading, I list the relative information. This provides easy access for future re-posting, back linking, etc. It also allows me to see the big picture, including how much time I’m spending on each subject, where I need to spend more time, and so on.
You could use a regular notebook for this step, too.
Create a spreadsheet for your blog content. Make a list of at least 10-20 posts to start.
PRO TIP: To create content, I use Scrivener (more on that coming soon!).
5 | BLOG POST CHECK LIST
For every blog post I publish, I have a checklist of tasks that need to completed. The items on this checklist are crucial, and having a check list ensures that I don’t forget any of the steps.
Click here to download a copy of my handy blog post check list.
6 | RECAP
Here’s a quick recap on the steps to starting your very own blog:
• Choose your platform.
• Choose a domain name.
• Design your brand.
• Create content calendar.
• Utilize blog post check list.
Now it’s your turn to get started. How will a blog help you build your online business? Feel free to share a link to your new blog in the comments below.