Recently, I've had a lot of people email me, asking for advice about starting their blog. For those who are new to Quirky, Brown Love, I don't blog about blogging; however, I am humbled to have received so much success in these past two years. In order to help out those who are lost when it comes to how to start a blog, as well as those who have had a blog for a while but want to level up, I have create this resource.
Before we get started, just know that I have no agenda with writing this post other than to offer an ultimate resource for those wanting to start a blog. It's not an ad for some hosting service or riddled with infinite affiliate links (not trying to knock anyone's hustle). It's honest blogging tips that I have acquired over the past two years. Well, I'm done blabbing. Let's get to the info! I've broken it down into sections so that you can scroll down to different topics that interest you. Trust me, any inspiring blogger or blogger of any expertise can benefit from this information.
What Blogging Platform To Use
The main three blogging platforms that bloggers who want to monetize are using are Wordpress, Blogger and Squarespace. If you are just blogging for fun, Tumblr is a good site. I've also seen people use sites like Wix and Weebly, but they aren't really that popular.
So which one do I recommend? Almost every blogger is going to encourage you to use Wordpress or Squarespace; however, I actually use Blogger! So many people are surprised when I say that and it is because I have modified it so much using HTML/CSS code.
I chose Blogger because it is free (I only pay $12/year for domain), I don't have to pay for additional hosting or worrying about my server going down if I get too much traffic, it was super easy to set up because it connects with my Gmail account, it is run by Google, and I like being able to easily modify my code. There is, however, more background work for SEO (search engine optimization).
Since most people use Worpress, I'll give a quick rundown on it. First, know that there is Wordpress.com and Wordpress.org. If you want to run ads on your site, you will have to use Wordpress.org. Here is an article that explains the difference between the two. Wordpress is also popular because of all of the easy plug-ins and nice mobile-friendly versions. The SEO plug-in, Yoast, is also a cool feature.
Didn't feel like reading those 4 paragraphs? Here's the quick and dirty on what blogging platform is best for you:
- Blogger: best if you want a quick and inexpensive platform, as well as the ability to use Google Adsense and other networks easily.
- WordPress: most popular. Almost every site on the web is a WordPress site to some caliber. The plug-ins will help you with some of the behind-the-scenes work. It will cost more upfront if you want to own your domain (I think $99). You will also have to buy your domain and hosting from a site like BlueHost or GoDaddy.
- Squarespace: the most modern. These sites are very mobile-friendly and probably look the best. This site will cost the most upfront. Most bloggers that use this platform have worked their way up to this point and are also monetizing their blogs.
So I will admit that my blog has a lot of tabs, but it's because I'm hoping to display it more as a media outlet. For standard bloggers, your navigation bar should have an About/Contact/Start Here type of page or two, as well as your overall blog categories (i.e. beauty, fashion, lifestyle, travel, entertainment, music, relationships, news). I suggest not getting too creative with the names of your tabs or people won't know what they are getting into.
Also, if you are a business owner with a blog, I find it okay to add a blog tab to your website, as long as it is well designed.
How To Make Your Blog Look Good
Out of everything that I am going to tell you, this is definitely top 5 for importance. Think about what types of online content you like to consume, whether it be from your Instagram feed or your favorite media publication. One thing that I'm sure they have in common is that the platforms all look professional and clean. Below, I'll give you some tips on how to make your blog look awesome:
- Change your favicon to your logo. A favicon is the little graphic that shows up on your page's tab. For instance, if you look in the tabs that you have open now, my favicon is my pink heart, Facebook is the white F in the blue square and Google is the colorful G. If your blog still has the orange blogger B, the WordPress W or a blank page box, you should change it!
- Pay for a blogging template. If you are not good at coding and don't like the selection of free templates available on Google, you can easily by and install a template. I would use a site like Etsy to find a template or just look for one on your favorite search engine.
- Make your sidebar look awesome and helpful. Here is a cool article if you prefer a visual. Also, if you use Blogger, I use Photobucket to get the HTML code for my images.
- Use stock images. I honestly hate walls of text (except for in informative posts like these...hehe). As a visual person, I like when people put pictures in between every few paragraphs.
- Have a standard size and position for all of your photos. This is a pet peeve of mine! I hate when people put horizontal pictures and vertical pictures in the same post. I'm a strong believer that your pictures should be about the same width as your blog post.
I literally get asked this question almost every week and I feel like I disappoint people with how simple my answer is. I use PicMonkey Royale, as well as stock images, images from people that I am featuring or images that my photographer takes. Let's break down one of my images:
1. I sized my image to a square that matches the size of my blog content
2. I chose a non-blurry, clear photograph
3. I added my signature style: a transparent black box, a white box for text and my signature font.
4. I added my logo
One cool thing that someone said to me online was that they could tell when something online was mine based solely on the feature graphic. Another person told me that they associate squares in images with my brand. It just shows that brand consistency is key. Take some time to figure out what you want your feature images to look like, make sure that it incorporates an easy-to-read non-cheesy font and then don't stray away from it.
Need stock photos? Here are 13 free stock image websites you can use.
Need stock photos of people of color? You can find some on createherstock.com, picnoi.com, 50shadesofblackstock.com or getcolorstock.com.
Need a specific high quality photo? I was recently introduced to Stocksy.com, a pay-per-photo site and love that you are able to get so specific about the parameters of a photo you are searching for.
How To Build Traffic
About a year ago, I wrote this post about how I grew my blog to over 350,000 pageviews each month in less than a year.
I would also add in the importance of good SEO practices. For example, have you submitted your sitemap to both Google and Bing, and other search engines? Do your pictures include "title text" and "alt text" that describe the images so that they can be found on search engines? When you save your pictures, are you thinking about the name of the files? Are you including optimized search description for your posts? Are you writing based on longtail keyword research? Have you customized your permalink (url name)?
I'm honestly not doing a lot of these things perfectly, but at least I know that I'm supposed to be doing it! Basically, you have to think like a search engine. For instance, instead of naming this post "Everything I Know About Blogging" I started off with "How To Start A Blog" because that is what people are searching for.
Read Also: The Honest To Goodness Truth of How My Blog Reached 350,000 Page views/Month in a Year
Also, who links to your blog, as well as who you link to matters for your search ranking (the algorithm does change, but I'm sure that this is still the case). With this information comes the importance of knowing the difference between a "do follow" link and a "no follow" link. Here is a link that explains the difference between a "do follow" link and a "no follow" link, but basically, you want "do follow" links from sites that are ranking high in Google/Bing.
For example, if a site like Wall Street Journal links to your site with a "do follow" link, it allows the Google search bots to find your website through Wall Street Journal and because WSJ has a high page rank, your site will also get a boost from this backlink. On the other hand, if you are posting "do follow" links for websites with low rankings, I've heard that it can also bring down your ranking. Not sure if it's true, but I'm not taking the risk. You can easily check a website's ranking by downloading the Alexa Toolbar. All links are defaulted as "do follow" so definitely make sure to modify this as needed. There are also rules about "do follow" links for brand partnerships, so read up on that.
How To Blog Consistently
I wrote this post on how to make a blogging schedule and a lot of people have found it helpful.
Free Tools Every Blogger Should Be Using
- I've already mentioned the Alexa Toolbar (I used this everyday)
- Either Google Drive or Evernote (whatever floats your boat)
- Streak for Gmail so that you can schedule emails and see when people read your emails. I feel like I just shot myself in the foot, as I am bad for looking at an email and taking days to respond.
Hands down, MeetEdgar is my favorite automation tool for social media posting. As an introvert, I always feel weird sharing my post in real time. I also don't like having to upload posts every week to other social media schedulers. With MeetEdgar, the content is save in a library that plays on repeat in a queue. Therefore, I only have to open MeetEdgar whenever I have a new post and want to add it to my library.
Want a free 30 day trial of MeetEdgar? Go to MeetEdgar.com and use the code "QUIRKY" (all caps) to try the best automation tool for free!
II. Building Your Network
How To Build A Social Media Following
First thing, you really need to set monthly goals if you really want to increase your social media following. This will keep you motivated to actually post and engage on your platforms as well. As with everything, consistency is key. If you are not posting regularly on social media, no one is looking out for you and therefore you are not going to build a following.
Twitter- Every tweet has a short few second lifespan on someone's timeline, so you can tweet often. I grew my audience by participating in Twitter chats and following/engaging with a certain amount of people each day. It is also paramount to my growth that I use an autoscheduler for Twitter because I feel so weird posting in real time. Also, it can take so much time.
In my autoscheduler (MeetEdgar, or Hootsuite if you are on a free.99 budget), I have my blog posts, quotes and other people's blog posts. I also make sure to tweet in real time during big events like TV show premieres, or popular hashtags. Everybody hates Twitter at first, but once you find your crowd, it is a pretty fun platform.
Instagram- I hopped on this one late, but I suggest always having the clearest images you can, using a repost app that allows you to put the attribution in the caption instead of watermarking the photo, using thoughtful or motivating captions, and researching 15-30 hashtags that target your audience (I usually Google things like "best hashtag for fashion", etc.). Also, engage with others by liking, following and commenting.
*Want more actionable advice? Try to find an Instagram comment pod in a blogging group or form one yourself. It's basically a group of bloggers that comment and like each other's pictures. Also, try to figure out the best time to post for your audience (i.e. a busy time for Instagram-morning, lunch time, late at night).
Facebook- This one is still a struggle for me because they continue to change the algorithm. First, uploading video will get you more engagement. Also, scheduling using Facebook instead of an external scheduler (like Hootsuite or MeetEdgar) apparently gets more engagement. Also, if you have some budget (which I suggest you do), pay for some Facebook ads AFTER you figure out keywords that are SUPER targeted to your audience.
Pinterest: treat it like a search engine! It has taken me forever to figure this out. Always edit your captions to include keywords that people might search for. Also, download rich pins, pin consistently and get on a few group boards. Most importantly, have a "pin it" button on your site and make sure that you have nice vertical, pinnable images ( you can make these on PicMonkey.com or Canva.com). Also try using Tailwind for scheduling pins.
How To Network Online
As of right now, the best places for bloggers to network online is in Facebook groups. Just use the search button on Facebook to find blogging groups or ask your favorite bloggers what Facebook groups they are in (trust me, they are all in at least 5).
My favorite are Black Bloggers United, BLM Girls, The Blog Tribe and That Pitch Life. If you are Black or Latinx, there are blogging networks online specifically for you. Also, your state most likely has an online blogging network, so just look up "Your State" Bloggers (i.e. NC Bloggers) and you should find something. Also, Twitter chats for bloggers are the best.
What Is A Blogging Tribe and How To Build One
|Yes Kel, I really did photoshop you in...|
I built my tribe, by targeting a few bloggers that had similar followings online to me and that talked about similar subjects to me. Then I sent out an email explaining my goals for a tribe, the commitment, the benefits and asked if they wanted to join. This tribe has allowed us to collaborate on guest posts, as well as offer advice on our goals.
When we first started, we would meet every week or every other week on Google Hangout and have an agenda of what to talk about (i.e. catching up on everyone's week, last week's blog goals, updates on meeting goals, making new goals, social media following updates, big projects that people are working on, advice on possible blog collaborations, requests for guest posts, request for engagement on social media).
How To Talk To Other Bloggers, Photographers, Graphic Designers and Creative Entrepreneurs
I might have to do a separate article on this one because it is so important! Sorry to keep it frank, but a lot new creative entrepreneurs really don't know how to approach people online. Like, I feel that everyone should go take an email etiquette course before they try to collaborate with or hire anyone online. Anyways, I'll knock out some basics and then talk about some specifics.
- Use their name and spell it right. I can't tell you how many people have emailed me saying, "Hey Quirky" or "Hey Brenda/Brittany/Breyanda. If you want a response, please take the time to get their name right.
- Don't treat them like a homegirl/homeboy. Always err on the side of professionalism, even if you feel like you know them a little bit online. Did I tell you guys about that time I got a business inquiry from a girl that was cursing and quoting Rihanna lyrics to me and I had never met her a day in my life? Oh she got a response...but it was not pretty.
- Find out how they want you to contact them. I'm sorry for being an old lady, but I hate when I get business inquiries in my DMs on Twitter or Instagram. I am not paying Google Apps $5/month to just respond to you about business/collaboration on social media. Some people don't mind; however if they fit their email address into their short social media descriptions, they expect you to use it.
- Know the purpose of your email. If you are emailing them, there is a good chance that a lot of other people are emailing them and they don't have time to go back and forth. If emailing a blogger or creative, ask them specific questions instead of asking to pick their brain.
- If trying to hire a photographer or graphic designer, please look at their online portfolio and contact page before you reach out to them. Also, don't reach out if you don't have a budget. It is kind of insulting. If they are paying to have an online portfolio and do good work, don't expect that they will do work to "build their portfolio" or do cheap logos or $100 photo shoots.
- If emailing a photographer or graphic designer, have in mind the services that you want, as well as the time frame and purpose (i.e. are you looking for photos that represent your brand that you can use in a media kit or just Instagram photos? Will the photos be used online or for print? How many outfit changes and locations are you hoping for?)
Different Ways To Monetize
- Join an Ad Network: Google Adsense is popular; however once you start getting more traffic, you should be striving to get on Mediavine, AdThrive, BlogHer and Gourmet Ads (if you blog about food). At first, this will only pay a few dollars every month, though it can really pay off when you build your traffic (here's an example).
- Join a Blog Network: this is how most bloggers get their sponsored post opportunities. Here is a list of different paid blogging networks, but I get the most opportunities from Clever.
- Affiliate marketing- Here is a cool post on affiliate marketing opportunities and here is another post on how to incorporate affiliate marketing into your blog. If you feel like listening to a podcast, Pat Flynn has a great podcast on affiliate marketing.
- Selling a product/service: now that you have built an audience, you can try your hand at selling an e-book or print book, a magazine, an online course, merchandise (mugs, shirts, art, etc.), offering coaching/counseling (though you might need external experience for this), stock photography, membership to a service, etc.
- Pitching For Sponsored Posts and Ambassadorships: if you have an idea for a brand that you want to work with, you can pitch their marketing team directly.
The important thing is to have an idea of a story before you pitch. This helps the brand visualize how you fit into their brand's mission. Joining the That Pitch Life Facebook group has also helped me know who to pitch.
Before you try to work with brands, make sure that your blog is set up to work with brands. A brand should be able to look at your website and see exactly how sponsored post could fit it. Some of the 'easier' blog topics for integrating sponsored posts are blogs about parenting, food, fitness and beauty. If you write about a "not as common" blog topic (like mine), you have to get more creative with your approach. Below, I'll brainstorm some types of brands that you could be pitching for sponsored posts based on your niche.
- Parenting: lunch snack companies, online babysitting services, anything back-to-school, car companies, voluntary insurance companies (like Aflac), office supplies, subscription services, shoe companies, beauty brands.
- Food: cooking appliances, anything food company that you could include into a recipe, online grocery services.
- Fitness: water bottle companies, athleisure wear, outdoor companies, backpack companies, supplements, fitness trackers, healthy online grocery services, shoe companies.
- Travel: luggage companies, backpack companies, concierge services, electronic/tech companies, laptop companies (especially for thin, portal laptops), comfy shoe companies, cell phone services (to show that you have service anywhere), credit card companies, anything that makes travel easier.
- Random niches: remember that no matter what your niche is, you are still living the entrepreneur life. Capitalize on that by showing your readers how you are managing your life as an entrepreneur. You can work with any company that makes your life easier as an entrepreneur. Laptop brands, comfy shoe companies, accounting management services (like Quickbooks), car companies, office supply brands, luggage companies (if you travel), subscription services.
I suggest you making a list of brands that you want to work with, figuring out their marketing contact information, follow the brands on all social media and coming up with the story that you would tell if given the opportunity. After that, make an email template and start firing out pitches.
I've gotten the most responses back when I sent emails on Tuesdays or Wednesdays around 9:30-10am, but see what works best for you (I figure that people are too overwhelmed on Mondays and are thinking about the weekend on Thursday and Friday).
While there is not industry standard yet, most beginner bloggers are making about $250-$500 per sponsored post, while more advances are making 4-5 figures. You can charge more if you know your worth and know how to sell yourself to brand reps. Make sure to factor in not only your monthly page views and social media following, but also factor in the time it will take you for the post, as well as the deck of photos that you can offer them (if you take high quality photos).
Because of your sponsored post and social media amplifications and high quality photos, the brand gets eyes on their brand from their targeted audience, and they don't have to pay for a model or studio time. If you are still struggling to figure out an exact sponsored post rate, I found this post helpful.
How To Travel For Free
To get started, find their press or PR contact on the hotel website and pitch them the reason why you are traveling, when you are traveling and what online engagement you can offer in exchange. It's best to pitch places in their off season.
- Here is a helpful guideline that I found on pitching for your first trip.
- Here is an example of a complimentary stay that I got at Aloft. Notice how I told a story? You should try to do the same.
- Here is a good pitch letter template (though I don't think it's necessary to ask if they work with bloggers on Twitter first, as the article suggests).
Read Also: How To Blog Consistently: The No BS Guide
Once you have gotten some experience under your belt and have a bit of a travel portfolio, you can start pitching tourism boards and taking press trips and familiarization trips.
Once you have gotten some experience under your belt and have a bit of a travel portfolio, you can start pitching tourism boards and taking press trips and familiarization trips.
- Tourism boards: not every city's tourism board work with bloggers, but many do. You should Google "visit [city name]" and see what options pop up (ie. VisitPhilly.com). I suggest pitching tourism boards because they usually include things like tourism activities and food/entertainment. Here is a good article on working with tourism boards.
- Press Trips/Familiarization"FAM" trips: These are usually put on by tourism companies, cruise lines and sometimes by large brands. I'm still learning about how to find these opportunities, but I know that MediaKitty.com is a well-known source. Also stalk your favorite bloggers and see who is sponsoring their trips! Here is a trip that everyone's favorite blogger, Mattieologie did.
Making Your Blog A Business
You can use a site like Legal Zoom to official get your LLC for your blog. This is important if you start making money for your blog because of taxes. I'm not an expert in this field, but here are some steps to turning your blog into a business:
- Make a creative business plan- not absolutely necessary as you will be the only one who sees it, but heavily suggested. It should include your mission, your target audience, your goals and how you ideally want to make money. This blog business plan and creative action plan found on ByRegina are the absolute bee's knees.
- Get your EIN Tax ID Number and LLC (limited-liability corporation)
- Document all of your blog expenses for taxes. I'm new to this tax world, so I didn't know that I could write off my gas for travel, coffee, camera and even "home office" aka my bedroom ($5 per square foot) as deductions for my taxes. Most bloggers also do quarterly taxes instead of once a year. I would get a separate bank account or use Paypal, and use a monthly Excel sheet if you are just getting started. After you start bringing in more money, I would invest in something like Quickbooks or Freshbooks and even hire a CPA. I found this podcast episode from Patt Flynn's Smart Passive Income extremely helpful in this category.
- Get staff to fill out W9 forms if you are paying them over a certain amount each month (it may vary from state to state, but I think it is $600).
- A good website design
- A photographer- working with one photographer instead several makes sure that your images are consistent.
- Google Apps for you @website.com email address
- Facebook and Pinterest Ads- just make sure that they are targeted so that you don't waste your money.
- A nice wardrobe that screams your style a personality
- Blog conferences and tech conferences
- If you are struggling in a certain area of your blog, you could also invest in a blog coach
- Staff writers or virtual assistants- if you want to turn your blog into a brand, you can't just be focusing on the grunt work. As you can tell by the length of this post, blogging is not as simple as writing a post.
If you are making money from your blog and want to start building your team, here is some advice:
- Figure out what help you actually need. I did this by writing down all of the task that I did and circling the ones that I didn't want to do and the ones that took up too much time.
- Come up with job descriptions and guidelines. Also come up with a schedule of when you want things done.
- Figure out pay. If you are looking for staff writer, figure out their per article rate (most beginner freelancers have rates between $15-$50 depending on word count). Some may do it for free, but don't expect it. If you are looking for a virtual assistant, you can find one either through virtual assistant Facebook groups or on Upwork.com. When I was a VA, I charged $18/hour and did 2-5 hours of work each week.
- If you are worried about someone stealing your ideas, make them sign a non-compete form.
- You can find interns on internships.com or by making a Google Form application and posting it on social media.
- First go-round with hiring staff, have a start and end date (I suggest 60 days or 90 days), just in case things don't work out.
- Use tools like Slack and Asana for better communication and to keep up with deadlines.
|Me and my photographer goofing around and doing some B&E|
When you contact a photographer, either on their contact page or through email (seriously, stop DMing creative entrepreneurs asking for their services), you should have an ideal in your mind for how you want your photo shoot to work out. Also, make sure that they actually work with bloggers. You shouldn't be emailing wedding photographers about taking pictures for your social media or blog. Take a look at their portfolio first.
Another very important thing is budget. If you know that you can only afford $150 for a photo shoot, then you are not yet ready to work with a professional photographer, so I would wait to inquire. Most good photographers that I know charge anywhere from $300-$800, and a lot charge more depending on the quality of equipment they have, as well as the number of outfit changes and locations you want. Just something to keep in mind. I would try to work out a deal with your photographer so that you pay them a set rate to take all of your pictures each month.
Lastly, make sure that your photographer has an awesome personality. They are capturing your essence, so you want to build a friendship so that they know who you really are.
Awesome Blog Coaches and Infopreneurs
There are several out there, but I'll just list the family favorites:
- Maya Elious
- Melyssa Griffin
- Jen Carrington
- Caitlin Bacher
- Elle & Co
- Mattieologie- I would just get on her mailing list to see when she is offering a blogging course.
How To Write For Larger Publications
Come up with your story ideas and pitch them to the editors. So many prefer that you write the story first. Either way, it's not as hard as it may seem, as long as you have good writing skills. First, do all of the research that you can on the types of posts they are looking for and how they like for people to send their submissions. Also, if you end up joining a
Cool Blogging Conferences To Attend
- Here is an ultimate list of blogging conferences
- Also, Black Bloggers United is having a conference in 2017.
Cool Non-Blogging Conferences/Experiences/Festivals
- South by Southwest
- Yellow Conference
- Create & Cultivate
- Darling Magazine Retreats
- Essence Music Festival
- Dream In Drive: Check out my podcast episode!
- Behind The Brilliance
- My Taught You
- Make It Happen
- Side Hustle Pro
- Hashtags and Stilettos
- The Smart Passive Income Podcast
- You really can be yourself online. If you try to be someone else and are different in person, it is super obvious and very off-putting
- Follow up with people through email! Many of my pitches that I have landed have come from me following up 2-3 times.
- Don't take on opportunities that stray away from your mission
- The best things take time. You don't need to be a microwave popcorn blogger (that's my way of describing instant success).
- When in doubt, always be professional (especially through email)
VII. How To Stay Sane
No one really talks about how anxious and depressed you can become when you are starting a business or putting your life up for display on your blog. I think that it would be a good idea to invest in a therapist and/or life coach to help you find clarity in your thoughts. I also have listed a few go-to articles for dealing with anxiety and depression.
Welp, there you have it. Everything that I know thus far about blogging. Those that know me will know that I really had no agenda writing this post other than providing a resource for the people who truly want to know how to run a blog successfully. Most people would make sure pay for this information, but since I'm not trying to be anyone's blogging coach, I am fine with giving away this information for free.
If you have any additional questions, feel free to leave them in the comments. Also, please share this post on Pinterest so that other people can get this guide!