Building a Blog You Love: Start With Heart

I’ve been blogging since June 2011 and along the way, and through my full-time job in PR/ digital communications, I’ve learnt plenty. This series is about sharing everything I know.

Born out of requests from you guys, over the next month I’ll be posting on what’s worked for me along with a collection of wise words from an incredible group of guest interviewees who’ll discuss design essentials, working with brands and PR’s, creating and launching a product, mastering Instagram and more. I’ll also share the key takeaways from the Problogger event in Melbourne next week.

I’m so pumped to show you how to build a blog you truly love, so before we start – are you ready for an onslaught of blogging how-to’s? Yes? Ok, let’s do this!

In Spaces Between is the manifestation of two simple desires:

1 // To be creatively fulfilled. I needed a outlet separate to my full-time job and the blogging platform allowed me to carve out that sacred space beautifully.

2 // To connect and be of service. I wanted to start a conversation, share useful resources, join the dots with like-minded souls and spread the message that living from a place of empowerment and creating a magnificent life is something available to us all.

A third, more hopeful reason for starting this blog was that eventually it would become the backbone of a future business – probably not the primary money spinner, but an essential piece of the pie.

One look at my sidebar will show you that over the past year I’ve approached blogging from a broad perspective, covering a range of topics that interest me rather than a super tight, super defined niche. I chose this path originally because, to be perfectly honest, I’m a multi-passionate creature and I saw blogging as a freaking excellent opportunity to express all sides of my personality – the creative side, my inner personal development-lovin’ word-nerd, the parts of me that love styling and decorating, the health lover and for a while there, my journey as a bride-to-be (more on this approach in later posts).

I wasn’t really sure what to expect. I just knew I wanted to start. And so I did.

A nostalgic wander through my Google Analytics shows that back in June 2011, there were 1925 visits to In Spaces Between (755 unique visitors) and by the second month that had more than doubled to 4650 visits (1905 uniques).

I’m not entirely sure where the traffic came from in the first instance – I suspect friends telling their friends and the word spreading that way – but from the outset there were definitely three essential elements in play: (1) A helluva lot of passion (or should that be obsession?) (2) an optimistic view that my blog would reach the right people at the right time and (3) a commitment to being authentically me.

I certainly haven’t followed traditional blogging advice to the letter but if I had to sum up everything that’s worked for me in short form, those key principles would be it. While the first post was the hardest one to write (you know it!) since then, I’ve posted 337 times… and counting. Blogging has, quite literally, changed my life.

There’s one question I’ve always asked myself when it comes to writing here and I’ll continue to do so as the site evolves. It’s profound in its simplicity.

How can I be useful? 

I’m hugely passionate about you guys and the desire to be generous, add value and make your lives better! brighter! happier! has always underpinned everything I do on In Spaces Between. The spin off has been that you can’t impart wisdom without learning something new yourself (or about yourself), and I think my favourite thing about this blog is that we’re all progressively growing, moving forward and embracing change together.

So with the ‘Why I blog’ bits covered, let’s dive headfirst into the foundations of building a blog that makes your heart sing, shall we?

3 quick questions to discover if blogging right for you:

1. Do you like to write – or alternatively, communicate your message through visuals or by speaking on camera?

2. Are you disciplined and self-motivated?

3. Are you willing to put yourself and your work “out there?”

If you answered yes, we’re golden. Let me just quickly interrupt programming here to say that – in case you’re feeling doubtful – there’s more than enough space in the blogosphere for you and your soulful wisdom. There’s a tribe waiting out there, just for you.

I truly believe the world is a better place when we’re out there unleashing our passions, so if you’re on the precipice and looking for a nudge in the right direction to go out and shine your light, this is it!

Take a look at the blogs you read. 

+ What sort of content are you drawn to?

+ If you’re reading several blogs covering similar areas of interest, which one do you seem to visit first, and why?

+ Is it the design? The author’s writing style, or swagger, or they way they throw together a vintage outfit like nobody’s business? Is there a weekly feature you always hang out for? The fact the blogger also happens to be an amazing photographer? Are you stoked that they update often, or love that they don’t update too much?

Just like there’s a reason you bought the books on your bookshelf and the songs on your iPod,  there’s a reason you continue to go back and read the blogs you do. Trawl through your Google Reader, grab and pen and a notepad and start scribbling. Bookmark inspiration a-plenty. Get to the bottom of what makes these blogs ‘sticky’ for you and let that guide you as you come up with a topic/ topics of your own.

+ What are your short and long term goals with blogging?

+ Who’s your “ideal reader” (or customer if you plan on selling products or services?) Can you describe the type of person you plan on writing for/ selling to in detail?

+ What image do you want to portray?

+ How do you want people to feel after they leave your site?

+ Who will you align yourself with? (list the top bloggers in your category and start thinking about how you can make contact in completely un-douchey, genuine way)

Your answers to these questions will no doubt change as your blog grows and changes form, but knowing why you’re blogging and who you’re blogging for is insanely useful – especially when it comes to dealing with brands down the track and evaluating whether a product is the correct fit for your audience.

The final step in the pre-planning process is deciding how to hone and own YOUR unique perspective.

Cast your eyes back to the first point and consider:

+ What can you add to the conversation that your counterparts may have missed?

+ What do you “know some things about” that you’d be willing to share?

+ Instead of following the standard formula, how can you buck the trend, ever-so-slightly or completely, and infuse your blog with ‘you’ – your experience, opinions, personal taste, mad skills?

A personal example: 

I’ve always enjoyed link roundup posts on other blogs because I’m an information sponge and love the expansive feeling of discovering something new.

In my experience, most link roundups seem to be done the same way – a numbered list with a short description and a link through to the article. It’s a tried and true format but because I love a good visual, it wasn’t The Perfect Format for me so when I was developing my plan for In Spaces Between I knew that, yes, there would be a regular feature pimping out cool cats, but I wanted to present it in a way I wished it was done elsewhere (also known as “identifying an unfulfilled need.”)

The decision was that not only would I link to five blogs I was digging each week – the whole blog, not an individual post, although I do that underneath as well – but I’d include a screen capture so readers could get an idea straight away of the look and feel of the sites I was recommending.

I hadn’t seen link roundups done like that anywhere else, so analysing what was been done by other bloggers and then presenting it a little differently on my own blog was my way of adding a new dimension to an existing formula.

Question: How can you do the same on your site?

I’m going to be honest with you: the techy, back-end stuff is not really my area of expertise (or interest). I know enough to get by so I’ll provide you with an overview on setting up a WordPress blog here but I suggest you do some research for a comprehensive, step-by-step guide to setting up your site if you choose to do it yourself.

If you’re like me and go down the path of setting up a self-hosted WordPress blog and want to keep things as stress-free as possible, I can’t speak highly enough about paying a developer to do the full setup for you.

STEP 1: CHOOSE A PLATFORM

You can set up a free blog with Blogger or WordPress.com in no time or go straight to a self-hosted WordPress (wordpress.org) blog (my recommendation), which will allow you more flexibility and more freedom to customise as you please.

Choosing a platform definitely requires further reading so check out thisthis and this.

STEP 2: DEFINE YOUR DOMAIN NAME 

Decide what you’re going to call your blog and check the availability/ register it on a site like Crazy Domains or Go Daddy. For more, Amy Andrews has some great advice on choosing a domain name.

STEP 3: SET UP HOSTING

Blue Host are a reputable hosting company but when I was hosted with them I had quite a few problems with my site loading slowly or not at all (I assume because they’re based in the U.S) so I changed to a local host 123host earlier this year and haven’t had a problem since (they also sell domains). Do some research to find the best option for you depending on where you’re based and what the plan looks like. An important step! 

STEP 4: DOWNLOAD AND INSTALL WORDPRESS 

Download WordPress and install the software yourself using this easy guide or have a web developer do it for you.

* This is also the part where you can install your theme (the way your blog looks). Blog Milk sell stunning themes, as do Theme Forest

STEP 5: INSTALL GOOGLE ANALYTICS

Once you start getting traffic to your site, you’ll want to know where it’s coming from, how often people and checking in and what content they’re digging, and Google Analytics will deliver all that valuable information in spades. The ‘Real Time’ feature is pretty sweet too. Follow the steps to set your account up here.

STEP 6: SET UP A MAILING LIST 

This one is a definitely case of “do as I say, not as I do” because I only set up my mailing list a month ago! While it might seem like just another thing you have to worry about at the start (I know that was the reason for me) building your list is super important if you want to eventually create a business from your blog. Mail Chimp – who I use – are free up to 2000 subscribers or you can set up a paid account with Aweber.

* Note: I had my newsletter template professionally designed and my designer tells me Mail Chimp offers greater flexibility when it comes to templates.  

STEP 7: GET SOCIAL 

If you haven’t already, jump on board with Twitter, set up a Facebook fan page (this is different to your personal profile), create a Pinterest account and if it’s of interest, hop on Instagram. I don’t personally use Google + but by all means, set yourself up there as well if you think you’ll use it.

I’m all about doing more with less and given Facebook is the number one referrer of traffic to my blog, it’s where I spend most of my time “socialising,” followed closely by Twitter.

So there you have it – the nuts and bolts of planning and setting up a brand spankin’ new blog. This is just the beginning and in the next week I’ll be sharing oodles of tips on design and the essential functionalities for a successful blog.

I’d love to hear from you so if you have any questions about today’s post or future topics, please leave ’em below!

PS: If you found this post useful, use the buttons below to share or tweet it out. Huge thanks for your support! 

Images: A Merry Mishap via Design Love Fest | Cygne NoirTrendenser

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38 Comments to “Building a Blog You Love: Start With Heart”

  1. Love the idea of this series Rach! Ah if only I could have my time again and do some research at the start, instead of just treating my first blogger blog like an online journal that I really didn’t want anyone to find (haha needless to say it is long deleted).

    I feel like I have learned so much along the way, particularly in the transition from blogger to wordpress to self-hosted, and as my style and taste has matured I have tried to update the appearance of my blog (learning a bit of the techy stuff behind the scenes). I only wish I could have read some posts from a series like this to get the ball rolling a little faster!

    You have done so well creating a niche that covers a variety of topics, and you are the perfect example of not having to choose a narrow niche to attract readers. I think being yourself entirely is the way to attract readers. I know that I love your blog because I read a variety of stuff covering a huge range of niches (food, interior design, positivity, wedding, fashion) so your blog hits all my interests in one place :)

    Hmm the newsletter thing is a tough one, I think you have done a fabulous job of attracting sign-ups via your e-book and I must say that having only received one email means I will be subscribed for a long time (as opposed to receiving weekly emails that I will likely get sick of).
    I personally haven’t bothered as I feel that it will just give me more work to do (particularly when I haven’t got plans to monetise in the immediate future).

    Great tips! This is an incredibly useful post (and I hope you can put all of your posts together at the end as an e-book or similar).

  2. Thanks Rach – I am in the process of building up a blog and love how you explained it step by step. I am daunted by the technology side of things, e.g. hosting and WordPress.org. though.

  3. Thank you for that awesome advice! I’ve been blogging for a little while now, and I love it but sometimes question how I should be blogging. You’re amazing at it, so I truly value your advice! Xx

  4. Great info Rachel, thank you. I was wondering, did you get a designer to design up your blog when you started? Did you get design help along the way? I am struggling with the look of my blog and some of the designers out there are very good, but very expensive for someone like me who wants a pretty space but has a blog as a hobby, not an income (and has no idea how to customise a template).

  5. I love this post – very handy to come back to and read. I only started blogging last year as well and have struggled a little with my direction as my previous blog was quite a personal one (more of an online diary). So coming back, it’s been quite overwhelming to figure it out a bit and manage it with a fulltime job (I’d love to blog full-time but alas, kinda need moolah to survive atm :P)

    I only just got my domain name a few months back and am toying with the idea of self-hosting as well.

    Thanks for the tips – I do love your blog :)

  6. Jas: Hey, at least you started the wheels moving. Gotta dive in somewhere right? ;) Your techny knowledge is impressive lovely, I need to take a leaf out of your book for sure (and your Dad has been a godsend on the hosting front). Thank you for your sweet words about In Spaces Between too, always appreciated.

    RE: newsletters, I know exactly what you mean but delving deeper into B-School and learning everything I have about online entrepreneurship has taught me how crucial building your list is from a business perspective. You mentioned that you’re not looking to monetise so it’s probably not a concern right now, but if you did want to dip your toes in perhaps you could set one up as a “very occasional love letter from Jas” so that if you ever do go down the path of monetising, you’re able to jump straight in to the inboxes of an audience that have already subscribed to your content?

    Food for through anyway, especially as only 10 – 16% posts are ever seen on Facebook and the volume of blogs these days means many people visit a site and forget to ever come back. If you’re in their inbox, they can’t forget!

    And yes, I have thought about creating an ebook with all the info! Great minds. xx

    Jasmin: What steps are tripping you up honey? Xx

    Kate: Thanks so much for the feedback, thrilled you found it useful. xx

    Linda: I did a rough layout of the design I wanted in Photoshop and designed my logo (next year In Spaces Between will have a brand new look by the way!) and had a developer code it up for me. I’ve also had help from a designer on freshening up my sidebar and creating the opt-in box for my newsletter.

    My advice? Look at it as a small investment in something you’re passionate about. I figure if you’re taking the time to show up and funnel your energy into a space of your own, you’ll feel so much more inspired and proud of what you’re doing if the design reflects your style (and the magical part is that it will then inspire more people because design does matter!) Themes are pretty inexpensive – starting around $30. Have you looked into something like that before? xx

  7. I’ve been thinking when your blog series would come out, clearly I have been looking forward to it and so excited that it is here. I have been looking at your blog for inspiration because I think you have done one amazing successful job in the last year and a bit! X

  8. Sig: Ahh yes, the old balancing act! When you look at hosting over a year or 2 years, it’s so inexpensive (and as you know, domain names are super cheap) Would love to hear what you decide. xx

  9. Thanks Maddison, I’ve been doing some behind-the-scenes work lining up interviews and I’m so glad I can finally share it all! Hope you love the rest of the installments – there’s some really juicy, actionable info ahead xx

  10. Hi (again). Thank you for your advice it’s very helpful. Yes, I’ve looked into templates. They’re … okay, I guess. However, I do like the idea of bespoke. I agree with your approach of seeing it as an investment… soooo my next question is, how do you find designers and developers? Can you recommend?

  11. Hi Rachael

    It’s Meredith again.

    I just read your post and I seriously can’t believe you have only been blogging a little over a year! What you have created in that space of time is incredible!

    Ainslie and I are still building (slowly) our blog and we seriously can’t wait for it to happen. We have been going back and forth figuring out what is the best way to plan for our blog, when to post, what to post and how it is all going to work. Your post has giving us a nice blue print and some direction of where we should be headed!

    But I do have one lingering concern in the back of my mind – what if we lose our mojo and struggle to publish posts on designated days or what if inspiration doesn’t strike us that week?! How do you get past these feelings and what brings your mojo back if you get bogged down with work and other commitments….assuming that happens for you!

    Looking forward to hearing how your time in Melbourne goes at the Problogger event! Ainslie and I will be following but online!

    Cheers

    Meredith

    P.S I came across these ladies a few days ago and have heard nothing but rave reviews about their workshops on using video in blogs http://blogshopla.wordpress.com/ sadly we have missed their Australian tour, but I thought this would be a handy resource to keep in mind if you haven’t come across them already!

  12. Hey Rach, the whole hosting and WordPress.org frightens me totally. So I am thinking of using WordPress.com, find a template is lovely and just start writing and go from there. On the other hand, I want the layout of the blog to be perfect (in my view) and to be my theme. You know what I mean?
    I have already asked around my friends if anyone knows how to use WordPress.org but unfortunately no one has. They all work in the corporate & financial & legal type roles. Anyhow, your post inspired me to start on the weekend (since the hubby is out of town).

  13. Linda: I love Jo from The Darling Tree, Sian from Fresh By Sian and Ana from Blog Milk. As for developers, Jo recommended David from http://clickwp.com/wp-clickstart to me so he might be worth checking out. Xx

    Meredith: Thank you beautiful, those kind words mean a lot. Thrilled this will help you as you navigate the (sometimes) crazy, murky waters of setting up a blog!

    Mojo is an ebb and flow, and yep, there will be the inevitable days where you won’t feel like posting – and it’s worth mentioning here that you don’t have to. It’s your blog, your life, your health, your mojo – you call the shots girl, and you’ll know when you need to pull back and get reinspired.

    When those days come along a few things I recommend are: stepping away from the computer for a while and taking a mini break (never fails to refill the tank), trying something new like making a video instead of writing a full post, posting a round up of things you’re loving or – and sometimes, this is called for – trying to just get something out anyway.

    Fear sometimes shows up in the form of procrastination and trips us up by convincing us we’re uninspired… when really, we’re just worried that what we’re producing isn’t good enough, that it’s all been said before etc etc. Over time, you’ll learn the difference between procrastination and being completely and utterly uninspired/ spent/ out of ideas (did I mention blogging is GREAT for teaching you a lot about yourself?!)

    I often prepare for the lower energy times in advance by putting the bare bones of a few posts down when I’m super inspired – you know the weeks where you feel like you can get double the amount of work done? The great thing is you guys can bounce ideas off each other as well, which should keep the rhythm flowing beautifully.

    Most of all, know that once you get momentum and get blogging, inspiration has a lovely way of finding its way into your every day and I’ve got a feeling you’ll find the opposite to be true – there’ll be SO MANY things you want to write about!

    And finally (phew – novel!) I adore those girls. Would love to do one of their workshops in the U.S someday. Thanks for your comment lovely. xx

    Jasmin: I know, it can be a hard one but just remember you can definitely keep tweaking along the way. Go with what feels best for you and if you get into it and realise you want to swap over, you can do that too! Best of luck with whatever avenue you decide to go down, can’t wait to see your site. xx

    Sandra: Pleasure! xx

  14. This is a truly awesome series (already!) Having been a HUGE supporter and follower of your site from the begining, it is so great to have all your information & wisdom beautifully wrapped up and presented in a very easy to understand format (I’ve not seen this anywhere else on the web)
    I’ve been ‘re-designing’ for ages now. And I just haven’t quite hit the nail on the head as to where the next step should take me, but I will be coming to In Spaces Between University for all my blogging tips.

    Thanks so much again Rach. Mega gratitude by the bucket load xx

  15. Ahh yes Jenn, a redesign is on the cards for me too! I can’t wait to see what you brew up babe.

    And In Spaces Between University – I love the sound of that. Look out for plenty more to come, there are some awesome contributors coming up xx

  16. Brilliant wrap-up lovely! So wish this post was out there when I started my blog as its still early days, I am so looking forward to the rest of the series. Would especially love to hear your thoughts around sharing your wedding planning & details on here.

    For the gorgeous individuals who have commented about affording a designer, I knew little to nothing regarding blogging, web design graphics etc when I started about 2 months ago on WordPress.org & I created & built everything on my site myself with the help of many you-tube clips & blog forums (it’s not amazing but I’m proud of the result all the same). The experience really made me appreciate the work that goes into this process & while I initially was a little shocked at some of the prices I was told graphic & web design would cost, I can wholeheartedly see the value in making that investment. The flip side of that is it wasn’t possible for me to spare that cash so if this goes for you too don’t be afraid to launch & learn as you go along there are many resources out there which it’s looking like Rach will be summing up beautifully & plenty of people willing to help when you’re not sure what to do next.

    xx Cara

  17. This is wonderful information! I’ve been using Jetpack on WP, but I just signed up for Google Analyitcs–going to need a night to go over that! I’ve also never considered a mailing list, but I’m looking into it now! Thank you, I look forward to more posts. :)

  18. Cara: Thanks lady! I’m equal parts an open book and a curious kitten so had no problem sharing my wedding on here, and when I did, I thought “What are the things I’ve been Googling and have been desperate to find?” – and filled the gap. The bonus for me personally is that it’s a beautiful record of the whole process.

    You’re an amazing + talented little spark, good on you for doing such a brilliant job of it. I was in the same boat at the start with
    the design, which is why I did that myself and had someone code it for me (very cheaply – think it was about $300 or so). Now that I’m a year in and have proven to myself that I can commit to this blogging caper, I’m now willing to invest completely in a comprehensive brand… but agree wholeheartedly with you on making the leap and tweaking as you go. Xx

    Mayette: My pleasure, hope you find it all useful. Let me know how you go with setting up your mailing list etc. xx

  19. Thank you so much for this post!!!
    I have a blog, as well, which i really enjoy writing and it is slowly growing and taking a more definite direction!
    Your tips will definitely be useful and can’t wait for the rest of the series!

  20. Rachel, you’re a star! I’m already in love with this series!

    This how-to info is priceless… I wish I’d had something as succinctly and beautifully considered and articulated as this when I was freaking out abut all the behind-the-scences nuts and bolts involved with this blogging business.

    Thanks and congratulations for putting together this ridiculously USEFUL series – I can’t wait for the next instalment! K xo

  21. Wow! This rings so true for me! I started blogging for personal reasons over three years ago, and it has been a passion of mine since the first day. I love reading and following great blogs as a source of inspiration and have tried to re-brand myself several times now. I recently moved from blogger to WP and am loving it! I used to blog on separate blogs about different topics, because like you I couldn’t devote my blog to just one facet of my life or interests. I started blogging to stay in touch with out of town family and friends when I became pregnant with twins, and it has evolved into a platform to share what I love with people I know and people I don’t. I blog about my family, decorating, inspiration boards, baking, and whatever else strikes my fancy.

    I am also launching a new blog to promote a new business I’m starting soon, since I know that today the online presence is the first impression and I’m trying to develop a beautiful blog with great content so that my future customers can see me as a source of great knowledge and fall in love with me and my services before we even meet.

    I’m currently taking Your Darling Blog’s Workshop to focus on the design and branding of my blogs. Jo is great, and was kind of enough to share your post with our class.

    Thank you for this inspiring feature, that reminds me of why I blog and makes me grateful each day for other great bloggers like you.

    {happy blogging}

    xo

    Haydee

  22. Hi there,

    Great post. I’m feeling very inspired. I’m still finding my feet in the very FUN world of blogging. Loving it. We also seem to have a very similar blog name..hmmmm…it is a good name with lots of meaning. A quick question that I can’t seem to work out- can you point me in the right direction of knowing how to acknowledge photos that I source from other sources, I note some blogs say where the image is from whilst others don’t. Something to do with copyright but I can’t find the answers!

    thanks nat x

  23. Oh dear! I started my new Blog in late October on Blogger. I wish I had read this prior to that & I would have created it on Word Press. :( Being that my blog is not for business or monetary purposes, I guess it doesn’t matter.

  24. Amazing! I’m truly enjoying the layout of your weblog. Are you using a custom template or is this freely available to all individuals? If you don’t want to say the name of it out in the
    public, please contact me at: kristenlynch@yahoo.
    com. I’d really enjoy to get my hands on this theme! Kudos.

  25. Hi there would you mind stating which blog platform you’re working with? I’m looking to
    start my own blog in the near future but I’m having a difficult time making a decision between BlogEngine/Wordpress/B2evolution and Drupal. The reason I ask is because your design and style seems different then most blogs and I’m looking for something completely unique.
    P.S Sorry for being off-topic but I had to ask!

  26. I really like your blog.. very nice colors & theme. Did you make this website yourself or did you hire someone to do it for
    you? Plz reply as I’m looking to create my own blog
    and would like to know where u got this from.

    cheers

    Feel free to visit my page Check This Out

  27. Rachael thank you SO SO SO much for putting this series together! I am over the moon with happiness i could cry and am grateful for the universe alligning for me to find you only at the beginning of the week! The timing is just amazing! I am right at the beginning of creating my blog (huge ideas but overwhelmed with where to start and bit of self doubt creeping in ). Thank you so much:) I will now dive into this head first and when I have a clear picture I would love to work with you ( if your still blog coaching) to bring this to fruition. Yay yay, thank you so much again, your warmth, support and encouragement to your readers just leap out of your words. One word- inspirational! Simone :)

  28. I loved reading your blog, it was very useful for me since I’m just starting out my blog. My blog is more for my family and friends to keep track of what I’m doing for a year since I’ll be going on a trip around the world. The first thing I read was your post about how to write a good About page, because I was in the middle of writing my own. I’m still moving things around on it, changing it as I feel more comfortable with the program. For now I am just doing this for a year, I haven’t thought beyond that, I just want to share with my family and friends all over the world my experiences.
    kind regards,
    Debbie

  29. All the contents you mentioned in post are too good and can be very useful. I will keep it in mind, thanks for sharing the information keep updating, looking forward for more posts.

  30. Looking at your website day by day makes me wanna work harder T.T because I love these design~~~ I want to bring them home T.T Thank you for sharing. sooo many great design.

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