As always, I continue to be blown away by the generosity and kind spirit of my readers. Last week I asked for your advice for new bloggers in preparation for a conference where Christine Martell and I are presenting. Not surprisingly, I got back an amazing set of answers--in fact, so many great answers I need to divide this into a few posts!
In this post I'm going to share what readers had to say about getting started with blogging. Tomorrow we'll talk about your advice on how to keep things going.
Deciding to Blog
On the subject of deciding to blog in the first place, the consensus seems to be to start a blog when you find something you feel strongly about and that you feel personally connected to. This is true for both personal and professional blogging.
Cathy Moore sums it up this way:"A good sign that it's time to start your own blog is when you leave long comments on other people's blogs and still want to say more."
And Harold Jarche says,"Write for yourself and on something that you're passionate about."
New blogger Lance echoes this with his advice:
I’m in two minds here; it’s either don’t, unless you have something to say, or jump in the deep end and see where it takes you. I think I’m leaning to the “don’t” theory. My reasoning here is that unless you feel that there is some value in what you write, that will generally show through. (”What is written without effort is in general read without pleasure.” Samuel Johnson). Additionally without some purpose, disillusionment will not be far behind. I jumped in, thinking it was something that I should try. Thankfully, I had some very supportive people to help me.
Learn the Terrain
Before you leap into blogging, many readers suggest getting comfortable with the genre. As Maya Norton points out in her excellent follow-up post, you need to study the craft of blogging and learn from the experts, even if you're a great writer in other venues. The blogosphere is a distinctly different animal and it will pay for you to get acquainted with it first.
To learn from the experts, Glen Ross suggests checking out blogs like Copyblogger and Problogger. I'd add Skelliwag to the list. Also look within your niche to see who everyone else seems to link to. For example in nonprofit technology, Beth Kanter is a legend and I've learned a ton about blogging from her. Through Beth I've found some other great bloggers, too--a chain of best practices to follow and experience.
Finally, study this list of 101 Essential Blogging Skills, provided by Robin Reagler. It's a great set of skills every blogger should have. But don't let this list stop you from starting to blog. It's only through the actual experience of blogging that you'll be able to develop most of these skills. Reading and commenting on other blogs will only give you a brief warm-up for the real activity that lies ahead.
Build It And They Will Come?
Many bloggers get online because they want to reach an audience. But as Lance points out, building a blog doesn't mean instant readership. Says Lance, "Be realistic - you are not going to have a huge reader base when you start. Tenacity is required. Keep at it and write as if the world were reading it."
This is something I wrote about earlier this year in Preaching to Empty Pews, recalling the first months of The Bamboo Project. Feeling like you're writing into the void can be disheartening and keeps many people from getting started, but remember there are advantages to not having an instant reader base. You get some time to practice alone before having to blog with an audience.
The point here is to not get so worried about having readers that you never start blogging. If you're passionate about your topic and are willing to stick with it, you can begin to develop an audience. Don't quit before you even try.
Getting Started With Your Blog
Once you've made the decision to start a blog:
- Get together a week's worth of posts-- Bronwyn Mauldin suggests that you be sure to have a week's worth of posts in hand before launching your blog. She says, "instead of posting them all in one week, space them out at one per week. It's easy to go crazy when you start, then burn out quickly. Pace yourself. This is a marathon, not a sprint." She's most definitely right about that!
- Don't get too hung up on tweaking your design--Cathy Moore warns:
"One challenge I faced: I'm a design and control freak, so I spent too long tweaking my WordPress design. I'd recommend that a new WP blogger get a recent design that supports widgets and simply accept that it won't ever look exactly right."
This is good advice no matter what platform you're using, especially when so many people will be using a feed reader to read your posts.
- Don't freak about blogging platforms, either--Related to Cathy's comment, I'd suggest not getting too worked up about blogging platforms, either. If you just want to try things out, Blogger or Vox may be your best bets. I think that they're probably the easiest to get up and running, especially if you're in the experimental stages. You can also try Wordpress, which many, many bloggers swear by. I use Typepad myself, but there is a monthly fee, unlike the other three I've mentioned here.
- Read these tips from other bloggers--From Problogger Darren Rowse, learn what his readers wish they'd known when they started blogging. Some good info here.
So that's what we have on getting started with blogging. If you have other thoughts on the beginning phases, I'd love to hear from you.
Tomorrow, we'll take a look at what readers had to say about keeping the blogging habit going. From personal experience I can say that keeping a blog going is a lot harder than getting one started!