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