Things People Ask Me About Blogging Part 1: Getting Started
One of the side-effects of blogging for a living is that, after a while, people start to assume that you know what you’re talking about, and they send you emails and tweets asking for advice on how they can blog for a living, too.
I get quite a lot of these requests, and honestly, I never really know how to answer them: not just because I always feel like I’m making it up as I go along, and that one day someone will go, “Wait! This woman isn’t a REAL pro-blogger! This woman is an IMPOSTOR!” and my professional-blogger card will be revoked or something, but also because it’s such a huge subject that there’s no easy answer. I mean, entire books have been written on the subject of blogging: how can I expect to dispense nuggets of wisdom in the space of a 140-character tweet, or in a few paragraphs of an email? Just in case you haven’t noticed, I’m wordy. I sometimes have to use several tweets, just to talk about my breakfast*, so I’ve NO hope of being able to give you blogging tips over Twitter.
(*Not true. I never tweet about my breakfast.)
Rather than writing lengthy emails or multiple tweets, then, I thought I’d put together a lengthy blog post instead, which I can point people to in the event of their asking my advice. And here it is!
Important note for new readers: most of these questions are geared towards blogging for money, and as you can see, I don’t do that here, so if you’re curious to see examples of what I’m talking about, you might want to check out my commercial sites, The Fashion Police, Shoeperwoman and Hey, Dollface! I should probably stress, before I get started, that I don’t have all of the answers. I attribute a lot of the success of my blogs to dumb luck, and being in the right place at the right time, so I’m not writing this as an “expert”, but simply as an easy way to answer some of the questions I’m asked most frequently. Starting off with…
How on earth can you make money from blogging?
This is by far the most frequent question I get asked. (Well, actually, no it isn’t: “Do redheads have souls?” is the most frequent question I get asked. But the less said about that, the better…). Most people understand WHAT I do – I post photos of shoes, dresses, and sometimes myself on the Internet every day. They just don’t understand how I can possibly be getting paid for it. Which is fair enough, really: I mean, it’s a kinda weird thing to be getting paid for, isn’t it? If I were to go back in time and tell my younger self, “Amber, one day there will be a thing called the Internet, and you will get paid to put pictures of shoes on it,” my younger self would be AMAZED. Not least because she totally expected she would grow up to be a famous showjumper, and be in the Olympics and stuff. It’s funny how things work out, isn’t it?
On the other hand, though, it’s actually not THAT strange, when you really think about it. I mean, a blog is just another form of media, like a newspaper, or magazine, or TV show. And if you can create something – ANYTHING, really – that enough people want to look at every day, then there’s going to be some way to make money out of it. If enough people look at your blog, then there are actually lots of different ways you can monetise it. I do it by charging for advertising space on the sites: basically, the more popular a site is, the more people are willing to pay to have their advert displayed on it, and there are lots of different types of adverts you can use, which I’ll talk about some other time. Or, you know, maybe I won’t.
Some bloggers also use the popularity of their blogs to help establish themselves as experts in their fields, and that allows them to charge for other services: public speaking, consultancy, freelancing, etc. I don’t do any of that, so if you’re looking for tips on those things, sorry, nothing to see here..
What should I write about?
The answer to this is limited only by your imagination, so my best advice is to write about something you are genuinely passionate about, and which there’s a good chance you’ll be able to CONTINUE to write about, over and over again, for a very long time. You could, of course, pick some random subject which you think will be profitable, but trust me: it’s hard enough to find something to say about the things you ARE interested in after a while, without trying to write about something you don’t really care about. I mean, there are days when even I think, “Jesus, they’re JUST SHOES.” Seriously.
So, first of all, pick a subject you have some knowledge of, and which you know you’ll be able to generate lots of content about, for the foreseeable future. Pick a subject you have something to say about – and, ideally, which you have something UNIQUE to say about. If there are a hundred blogs about cheese, say, you better have something different to say about cheese, or people will have no reason to read your blog rather than all of the other cheese-lovin’ blogs. God, I love cheese.
Finally, pick something that other people are interested in, too. You could be the world’s leading expert on the mating habits of the electric catfish, for instance, but if you also happen to be the only person in the world interested in the mating habits of the electric catfish, your blog probably won’t be attracting readers in their thousands. Just you and the electric catfish, really.
(No offence to electric catfish.)
Do I really need to have a “niche”? Can’t I just write about ME, wonderful ME?
Well, you can, obviously. You can write about anything you like. But you’ll find it much more difficult to make money out of blogging if you don’t have a focus. Take this site, for instance. It’s the blog I’ve had longest, and it’s the one I have the biggest emotional connection to, but it’s by far the least successful of all of my sites. Even Hey, Dollface! which is updated infrequently, and always the first site to be neglected if I’m busy, gets more than twice the traffic this site does. There could be – and probably are – lots of reasons for that, obviously, but the most obvious one is that this site doesn’t have any particular focus, and the others all do. People like to know what they’re getting. They tend to like blogs which are about SOMETHING, as opposed to blogs which are about EVERYTHING. There are some very notable exceptions to that, obviously – I’m thinking of people like Dooce, here – but they’re few and far between, and tend to have a) gotten into blogging just at the right time or b) had something really dramatic happen to them (in Dooce’s case, getting fired because of her blog) which catapulted them into the public eye. So while I’m not saying it’s impossible to have a commercially successful blog with no particular focus, I am saying you’ll be making it much harder on yourself.
Which blogging platform should I use?
Obviously personal preference will come into play here, but I’ve used Blogger, Typepad, Moveable Type and WordPress, and for what it’s worth, WordPress kicks them all to the kerb. In my humble opinion, anyway. As well as being self-hosted (you’ll want to be self-hosted if you plan on making a business out of blogging), it’s totally customisable, very user-friendly, and is constantly being updated, and having new plugins, etc developed for it. Whichever platform you decide to go with, though, the most important thing is to think very carefully about it BEFORE you start your blog. Don’t just get impatient and sign up for Blogger because it’s free, and all the other kids are using it, because
Blogger sucks ass if you change your mind down the line (and trust me, you will) you’ll find that moving platforms can be an absolute bitch – especially if you have a blog with a large amount of posts. Trust one who has been there and done it, although thankfully not with Blogger, which I’ve only ever used for brief periods of time.
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So, when I started writing this, I thought I could answer all of the questions in one, and have a neat little post I could point people to when they ask me for blogging advice. I must have been delirious or something, though, because, like I say, I’M WORDY. And it turns out that I have a LOT to say about not having a lot to say on this subject, and as I’ve just hit the 1,500 word mark (First rule of blogging: KEEP IT SHORT. No one reads long posts!) on this, I’ve decided to split this up into a few different posts. So, yay, that’s something for you all to look forward to, no? And you thought this week would be boring, too!
I’m joking. I won’t do them all in one week. I may not do them all AT ALL, actually. We’ll see…