Since launching this blog in the last few weeks of 2011, everything has been perfect. No mistakes. Nothing I would have done differently. Everything went exactly as planned.
How I wish!
As a first-time blogger, also new to Twitter, I’ve learned a lot from the experience. If you’re thinking of starting a blog, here are some ideas for you to consider. I hope these ideas save you some time, money, and aggravation.
1. Define your purpose. Like all successful endeavors, you should be clear about your purpose. You’ve heard the saying, “If you don’t know where you’re going, any path will do.” That’s true. What are you trying to do? What will you write about? What’s your goal?
I’ve had some people email me and say that their blogging goal is to make a lot of money. Since that was never my goal, I don’t relate to it. What I do think is that financial rewards may be an outcome of a successful blog, but that is not the purpose. Ditto for becoming a media personality, selling the blog to some huge company, or seeking fame.
2. Find a mentor. Whenever you start a new activity, you can take a shortcut to success by finding someone who has done it well already. It helps if you want to ride a bike and you’re friends with Lance Armstrong. I’m lucky. Michael Hyatt is a hugely successful blogger and a good friend of mine. (His soon to be released book Platform includes specific tips on how to build your own platform. I’ve read the manuscript and know it will help a lot of people. And, no, he didn’t ask me or pay me to promote it.) One of my blogging mistakes was not asking him for advice soon enough, which would have helped me tremendously. I didn’t want to bother him about what I thought was trivial. (I felt a bit like asking Lance Armstrong how to clip into the bike pedals.) Now that I think about it, I didn’t actually “find a mentor.” He found me. Michael is a friend, and when we had lunch after the blog launched, he offered some candid advice. It was what I needed.
I try never to waste his time. I don’t ask him questions he has already answered on his blog. In fact, I’ve not “used” much of his time, but the time I’ve had with him has been invaluable.
If you’re saying, “I don’t know a successful blogger,” I still think you should find someone who has done what you want to do. It is an invaluable shortcut to success. Just remember one important point: You need a relationship with your mentor before you have a need.
3. Study blogs. This may seem obvious, but trust me, it’s important. When you’re starting a blog, you start reading blogs differently. You’re looking for ideas you want to incorporate. What colors do you like? What don’t you like? Do you allow comments? Do you sign up for email? What do you enjoy reading? Are you going to allow advertising? You want to look at blogs in numerous categories, not just in your blogging niche.
4. Choose your blogging platform with care. There are many options. You should look at all of them and make your own decision. I personally would recommend WordPress and upgrade to the premium version. The first firm helping me recommended I use Drupal, and that’s what I did. For me, that was a mistake. I’m still not sure whether it was the firm assisting me or Drupal itself, but I couldn’t do everything I needed to do. I couldn’t use plug-ins like MailChimp (to manage email subscriptions) or Disqus (to manage comments). I was frequently told that there were options, but they were elusive, difficult and nowhere near as easy to implement. A success principle I believe in is the need to succeed by failing quickly. That’s what I did. I dropped Drupal, moved to WordPress and the results were better than I anticipated. (If you’re a Drupal fan, and I know there are many, this is only my experience.)
5. Pick an experienced firm. You may not want to hire a firm at all to build a blog. You may want to start smaller, or you may only have a small budget. That’s perfectly okay and it will not stop your progress. I felt like I needed some help to get started. Yet another mistake: The firm I first picked was experienced and savvy at some things, but they hadn’t built blogs like the one I wanted to build. After much frustration, I switched firms and moved to WordPress. This wasn’t easy, but it was definitely necessary. I have respect for the first firm, and still think highly of them, but what I was doing wasn’t a good fit.
6. Pick a domain name aligned with your purpose. This can be fun. You can be creative and find a unique brand. There are numerous options. I was reluctant to choose my own name because I didn’t want the blog to be about me. After some advice from several people, I decided to just blog under my own name. I wanted to showcase ideas, insight, and inspiration from others and share my own thoughts. This was one time that I needed to get out of my comfort zone and just move on.
7. Choose a design to reinforce your brand. Yes, this is fun if you are at all creative. This is where you choose the look and feel of your blog. You may be picking your WordPress theme. Pick your color scheme. Do you want your blog to be visual? How big do you want the pictures? What type of font? How big do you want it? I’ve been involved with digital content and publishing for most of my career, so I am familiar with typography, and this is all part of the process. One thing I did learn was the need to let your text “breathe” with plenty of space around it. It makes it much more readable.
8. Invite conversation. Most blogs allow comments. You have to be comfortable with the fact that some comments will be positive and others critical. The point of a blog is to start a conversation. I haven’t quite figured out how to get people to comment as often as I’d like on this blog. I have had lots of email, comments on LinkedIn, and many comments via Twitter. Adding Disqus was an important first step because now it is much easier to leave a comment. (And don’t worry, your email address is not posted if you leave a comment on this blog!) It really helps the blogger if you make a comment and give feedback.
9. Commit. For several years, I’ve had friends say I should start a blog. I didn’t know if I could do it. Did I have anything worthwhile to say? Did I have the time? Would I like it? Finally, I started writing posts without a blog. I did it for weeks. That way I would see if I could do it and if I would like it. Turns out, I thought I could do it and that I would enjoy it. Most bloggers stop in the first year. Could that happen to me? It sure could. But at least I realized what the commitment was before I launched. It’s a good way to minimize surprises.
10. Be yourself. Whatever you do, don’t try to be someone else. That’s what makes it uniquely you. When I first launched the blog, I included an “About Skip” section like most other blogs. Some thoughtful friends wrote to me to say that I really hadn’t said anything “About Skip” in the section. Nearly everything I wrote was about the company I work for. I’m so proud of the company, and I was uncomfortable writing about myself. What did I do? I listened to the advice, and wrote a new About Skip section. Check it out and you will see what I mean.
11. Experiment. You won’t know what works and what doesn’t until you start. Some posts include video interviews. I have written posts accompanying a video. Obviously, some posts are pure text. Others have more visual appeal and include several pictures. I’ve also tried writing a post, then later including a video linked to that post. The point is that you have to see what you enjoy and what works for your readers and your message. I’ve never been shy in asking for help and feedback. That doesn’t mean I write people I barely know with a list of questions and have a selfish expectation of help. But, I do ask. What am I doing well? What could I improve?
12. Ignore the numbers. I’m a CEO of a large business, so I tend to be analytical. Measuring success by numbers has always been part of my professional life. In this case, I completely ignore the numbers. I don’t look at stats every week to see how many hits I have. I don’t need complicated charts. When you first start, I don’t think it matters much. I know that there will be a time when this will change. For me, right now, if I were worried about the numbers, it wouldn’t be as much fun.
13. Feel the fear and do it anyway. As Nike commercials say, “Just do it!” You can’t prepare for everything. You will make mistakes. You won’t be perfect. In the end, you need to just go for it.