My blog recently celebrated its first birthday!
To say I’ve learned a few things in the last year would be an understatement. I had no idea what I was getting into, and although I continue to enjoy the blogging process, there are definitely some things I wish I’d known going in!
Here are the top 5 things I’ve learned this year. I hope this is helpful to anyone considering starting a blog and interesting to anyone wanting to know what goes on behind the scenes!
1. It Can Be Increasingly Time-Consuming.
Priorities – set them before you even begin.
Blogging can easily start out as “I’ll write a post here and there after the kids are in bed” and morph into an all-consuming, “I can’t go to bed because I have to get this newsletter written!!” sort of animal. It’s really one of those things that can keep pulling you in deeper, especially if you’re a perfectionist.
Writing your post, editing your photos, planning your next project – it all takes time and adds up. Decide up front how much time you can actually invest in blogging and set limits. Unless it is your full-time job, sometimes you just have to remind yourself that it’s a hobby and good enough is good enough.
My family and responsibilities come first, so my blogging and projects generally get squeezed in during nap times or after the kids are in bed. In order to be able to do more with the blog, however, I began staying up way too late night after night until I finally ran myself into the ground and was under the weather for days. I finally realized that I had put blogging and social media ahead of my physical and mental well-being. Please don’t make the same mistake!
2. You Can’t Please Everyone.
While this is true in all of life, the internet and social media have a way of magnifying it. Not everyone will like your content or like it all the time. Not everyone will like you and your personality. People may like you until you share one post in particular and then *poof* they’re gone. Someone may follow you for a while and then lose interest.
All of that is normal and okay. Even in real life we naturally gravitate towards certain people more than others because we “click” with them and share interests. Let the others go – would you really want people hanging around who didn’t want to be there?
If you stay true to your interests, your personality, and your areas of expertise, you will naturally attract people with similar interests who want to hear what you have to say and will support and encourage you.
Oh, and if you offer freebies for subscribing, just know that some people will subscribe, get the free stuff, and flee the scene. It’s just the nature of it. How do I know? I am shown stats for each subscriber – I can see when someone subscribes at 8:55pm, opens the welcome email (for the password), and unsubscribes at 9:00pm. It’s irritating, but to be expected when you offer free stuff.
3. “Build It and They’ll Come” Isn’t Necessarily the Case.
It’s true – content is king. You have to have good content to build a following and make people want to come back for more. However, they have to be able to find your blog in the first place!
This is where many factors come into play – everything from using “tags” (key search words) to being active on social media.
I highly recommend reading up on key words that search engines like Google use (just search for “key tag words blog” or similar – there is a ton of info out there). Use strategic words when tagging your blog posts to have a better chance of appearing in search results. Get on Instagram and/or Facebook and make your blog an official page. Use those social media platforms to direct people back to your blog. Pin your blog post images to Pinterest and use powerful descriptions to be found.
The more platforms you use to get yourself “out there,” the more opportunity you have to direct people back to your blog. Some people may stumble upon your blog naturally, but generally it takes effort on your part to be found, at least in the beginning.
4. You Need to Decide Your “Why”
Why are you doing this?
That is a question with which I still bumble around at times. It’s usually a mix of, “for fun,” “to be helpful to people,” “as a creative outlet,” etc. Somewhere in there, however, is a desire for my blog to succeed. Don’t we all want to succeed in what we do? I think that’s pretty normal and healthy to a point.
What does that mean, though? I have no idea. One person’s idea of success may be to have one million followers and have their YouTube videos go viral. Another person’s idea of success may be to have anyone subscribing at all.
You can’t focus on numbers. Use the analytics to see what is working for you and what isn’t, but don’t get hung up on the stats. It is tempting to focus on the number of Instagram followers you have, the number of email subscribers, or how many hits you have on your site every day, but it will drag you down and get you off course.
If you get caught up in having people follow/unfollow, subscribe/unsubscribe, you will begin to lose the enjoyment and spark that made you start blogging in the first place.
Certainly keep your audience in mind and take helpful cues from them about what is and isn’t working, but stay true to your purpose, your personality, and your goals for blogging. You have something unique to contribute – have fun with it!
5. Blogging Has “Hidden” Monetary Costs
Technically you can blog for free, but if you hope to have certain capabilities or reach a certain level of “professionalism,” it will cost you financially.
Let’s start with the website itself.
You can get a WordPress site for free, but your webpage will be [yourblogname].wordpress.com, and you will need to choose from standard design templates. If you’re okay with that, then you’re set! If you’re looking for a more professional website name (a regular .com), then you have to subscribe to at least a “personal” subscription level ($4 per month) and pay for domain hosting (I got mine free for the first year, but this year it is costing me $18 for the year). Not too bad – $48 last year and $66 this year for a hobby I enjoy. 🙂
More advanced WordPress subscriptions range from $8 – $45 per month. In a nutshell, the more you pay, the more custom you can make your site and the more you can analyze how your site is performing. WordPress is the only website builder I’ve used, but I know there are plenty of others out there – Squarespace, Wix, etc.
So you want to send an emailed newsletter…
I use Mailchimp for creating and sending my newsletters. It is free, but once again that comes with some “buts.” With the free version, you are limited to one audience list which cannot exceed 2000 subscribers, you cannot schedule your campaigns, and there is no personal support from Mailchimp (just the tutorials and FAQ). This is not a big deal if you have fewer than 2000 subscribers and don’t mind pushing the “send” button when it’s time to send your newsletter. I use the free version and it meets my needs fine. I do wish I could schedule my emails, but it’s easy enough to write them ahead of time and then push “send” from either my computer and the handy Mailchimp App on my phone (which is also free!). I’m honestly not sure what I’ll do once I reach 2000 subscribers (not there yet!), but I’m looking into other options as the first paid subscription level of Mailchimp only allows 500 contacts (weird, I know).
Paid plans range from $9.99 – $299 per month and add more features like scheduling your emails, 24/7 support, A/B testing (which is basically just comparing how your emails do based on different factors like day and time you send them, format, etc.), more analytics, etc.
Okay great, we have a free newsletter service, right?
First, U.S. law requires that every email you send to your email list (subscribers) contain a physical mailing address where you, the sender, can receive postal mail. This is part of the CAN-SPAM Act. I don’t know about you, but I wouldn’t send my home address to several hundred people I’ve never met. Just not a good idea. Thus, you need to find a real, valid mailing address to use (e.g. your brick and mortar store, a PO Box, your In-Laws’ house…ha, just kidding about that last one). I opted for the PO Box. Rental rates vary by location and box size, so you’ll need to check with your local post office to get a quote.
Second, emails are only good if people actually open them and read them. People can only open and read the emails if they are received and don’t get stuck in the spam box. I recently changed my email address from a free gmail account to a G Suite account.
Why? Because as I learned the hard way, mass emails sent from a generic gmail address are generally sent to spam boxes. Using a general gmail (or other) address will not necessarily guarantee that your newsletter will end up in spam, but it’s a lot more likely than if you have a personal site email like [myname]@hymnsandhome.com. In the “mind” of spam filters, this gives it more credibility (among other factors). Of course this costs money. A basic G Suite plan (which is all you need) is $6 per month. All in all, it’s one of those things that’s not absolutely necessary, but if you’re going to go to the trouble of writing newsletters and building an email following, it’s worth doing.
How about photo editing?
The Adobe Lightroom App is free for iPhone and works exceedingly well. I use it constantly. Again, however, if you want to be able to use it on your computer (like if you’re uploading photos from your DSLR or just want to easily access your edited photos on your laptop), you have to pay for a subscription. It will cost $9.99 per month (or $119.88 per year at the time of this post). You can get around this with the free version by air-dropping your photos between devices to be able to edit them on your phone, but I personally found it to be a pain after several months, so I gave in and subscribed.
Another spot you might find yourself investing is in the purchasing of photo editing presets. You can certainly edit your own photos and make your own presets (which I actually encourage you to try), but there are plenty of presets out there that can help, with varying costs. I’ve purchased a few of them, but find myself ditching them more and more to have better control over my editing. No two spaces are the same, so it’s really difficult for a preset to meet everyone’s needs and have all photos turn out well. If you are just delving into photo editing, though, they can be a helpful starting spot.
[This is not factoring in any equipment you might choose to purchase, such as lenses, tripods, etc.]
And graphic design?
I love Love LOVE Canva.com! It is awesome, even at the free level. I use it all the time to design everything from pieces of my website to Instagram stories. They offer so many great templates that are ready-to-go for social media, and even at the free level they offer a good number of fonts and stock graphics. So what does a paid plan get you? Things like high-resolution downloads (PDF print-ready quality), images with the background automatically removed for you, automatic resizing of your designs, and tons of free images, templates, and “extras.” I find it to be totally worth the cost, especially for creating my printables. If you’re new to this, however, definitely try the free version for a while and see if it meets your needs. They also have a free app (though I found it to be just a little buggy).
Though I have not tried it yet, I know you can also spend good deal of money advertising your blog, shop, or social media account.
Whew, that was long! In short, you can blog for free, but you can also invest some pretty serious money in it! It totally depends on the level you’re trying to achieve!
I hope you found this helpful or at least interesting, whether you’re considering starting a blog or you were just interested in what goes into the blogging process! My goal was to be as honest and transparent as possible.
Thank you to each and every one of you for your support and encouragement! I’m still learning and enjoying this blogging endeavor, and can’t wait to see what the next year has in store!
Have any questions? Leave me a comment below and I’ll try to help!