What are the 5 time-tested things I wish I’d done from the beginning on my blog? Hindsight is often a dangerous game. We can’t change the past, so focusing and dwelling on the road not taken can lead to a paralysis of a sort. Instead of moving forward, we end up playing the game of “what if”. What if we’d done this? What if we’d done that? What if this had happened instead of that?
As a blogger for more than five and a half years now, I too catch myself up in the game of “what if.” If I’d done something on my blog earlier in my blogging career, would I be closer to reaching my goals? Probably.
But, if you are just starting your own blogging journey, you are probably wallowing in the mire of a thousand things you need to learn, a thousand things you’ve never heard of before, a thousand things that seem overwhelming and time-consuming; and, if you are anything like me, many, many of these things will include a substantial learning curve. Things like:
- WordPress vs Blogger – what does that even mean?
- Plugins? Widgets? Themes? Permalinks? Catagories? Tags? – what is all this stuff and why do I need to know about them?
- SEO – what is it and why is it important?
The list above is just the tip of the iceberg. I could go on (and on and on), but instead, I’ll just jump right in and tell you the 5 Time-Tested Things I Wish I’d Done from the Beginning of my blogging journey.
5 Things I Wish I’d Done from the Beginning
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Number One – Develop and Nurture My Email List
For me, even after more than 5 years of blogging, this is still a work in progress. But, in hindsight, I wish I’d focused on this right from the very beginning. Your email subscribers are your true fans. They have chosen you to show up in their inbox on a regular basis. And, because they have chosen to subscribe to your email list, they deserve to be nurtured. I don’t mean that you reach out to your email subscribers on a one-on-one basis, but rather that you create an email newsletter that you send out on a regular basis, whether weekly, bi-monthly or monthly. That way your regular blog readers never miss a post!
Why are your email subscribers so important? Because they are your subscribers and won’t disappear in a blink of an eye by a change in algorithms or policy practices. For example, a few days ago Facebook announced a major overhaul in the way they promote posts in their news feed. Over the next several months, the plan is to shift the focus to friends and family and away from business posts from publishers and brands. And, Mark Zuckerberg hopes you’ll spend less time on Facebook. “Now, I want to be clear: by making these changes, I expect the time people spend on Facebook and some measures of engagement will go down. But, I also expect the time you do spend on Facebook will be more valuable,” he shared. If you, as a blogger, are reliant on Facebook driving traffic to your blog, this change in focus is sure to have a huge impact on traffic to your site.
Another example is Pinterest. Since opening up to the general population in 2012, Pinterest has changed almost everything about how it works and has morphed into a search engine they call “Guided Search.” I’ve had bloggers tell me that they’ve lost more than half their traffic due to these changes.
And, that’s just two examples. Search engines like Google are always changing things up along with all the different social media platforms out there, so your email subscribers become even more important.
So, grow and nurture your blog email subscribers. Make it a priority. Don’t wait 5 years down the road, like I have, to understand that this is the number one thing you can do to grow your blog!
But, developing an email subscriber list is not an easy task. Yes, you can have an area on your blog that says “Subscribe to Me” and hope that readers will follow through by signing up. But, chances are that your list will grow ever so slowly. Mine has.
Rather than rely on readers to hunt around for my “Subscribe to Me” area, I’ve decided to make that choice more easily available by leaving an open invitation at the end of every post plus place a widget on my sidebar. In addition, I’m offering readers an “incentive” to subscribe, by giving them a free 23-page ebook, 650+ Kitchen Essentials, A Comprehensive Checklist for a Well-stocked Kitchen.
To make this happen, I’m using an email provider called ConvertKit. After dawdling with an RSS feed subscription through Feedburner (very old school), followed by several years with MailChimp (they are free to use up to a certain number of subscribers), I’ve decided to invest in my business by signing up with and paying for ConvertKit. While not free, their monthly fee is very reasonable for the first 1,000 subscribers (currently $29 a month).
However, learning how to develop an email subscriber list is daunting, so I found a course that takes you step-by-step through the process from beginning to end that has become an invaluable resource to me. That course is List Building Academy develop by Laura from I Heart Planners and is geared towards using ConvertKit as your email provider. For a one-time fee, Laura gives you lifetime access to her course. So, as you learn to implement a successful email marketing strategy, you can refer back to her course over-and-over again for a refresher as your list grows.
Here’s what I wish: I wish that ConvertKit was available earlier in my blogging journey and I wish Laura had created her course sooner. I see unicorns and rainbows in my future!
Number Two – Create a Product to Sell
There are lots of ways to make money from your blog: advertising revenue, affiliate income, sponsored posts, brand ambassador, etc. And, while each of these has its merits, each has its disadvantages, too.
For example, in order to write a sponsored post for your blog, you have to have a sponsor (usually a brand-name product) pay you to write the post. And, in order for the sponsor to want you to write that post on their behalf, you usually have to have a significant readership. As an “influencer,” the sponsor wants to make sure that you actually have readers to influence!
One of the best at this is my friend and fellow blogger Heather Reese, on her blog It’s a Lovely Life. Heather and her husband Pete have created a powerhouse blog, sharing their travel adventures, parenting tips and more. Heather and her family have over 537,000+ fans across the various social media platforms. Obviously, they are considered top “influencers” to the brands that work with them.
However, building a blog such as Heather and Pete have built takes time and lots of hard work. My point is that most blogs are not overnight sensations. And, as more and more people become bloggers, the money-making opportunities for new bloggers from outside resources become less and less.
But, if you create your own product to sell, your income is not contingent on others. I’ve been working on my own product for over a year now. I’m not saying it will take you a year to create your product; I’m just saying that it’s never too late to start. I spent 3 years thinking about my product before I had my epiphany. And, now, it is taking me way longer to create it than I ever imagined. But, when it’s done, it’s mine. Forever. I’m excited about that!
What kind of product could you sell? Well, that depends on where your interest lie and/or what you blog about. Here are several examples of products sold by bloggers:
If you are a food blogger, this route is a natural. Here are some of my favorites:
Yes, that’s right – all of the above cookbook authors are bloggers! There are many, many more, but I don’t want to overwhelm you!
But, if you aren’t a food blogger, what else is there? What can you create to sell as a blogger? How about a course? Here are some of my favorites (all of which I have taken and recommend):
Food Blogger Pro by Bjork and Lindsay Ostrom – okay, okay; this is “food-related,” too! This is a comprehensive, soup-to-nuts (no pun intended; well, maybe it was!) course for beginners, intermediate and established bloggers. Open to new members once-a-year, get on their waiting list by signing up now!
List Building Academy by Laura Smith from I Heart Planners – as I mentioned above in Number One, Laura teaches you how to build your email list. Her course is comprehensive and she takes you step-by-step through her time-tested process.
Building a Framework: 10 Day Blogging Quickstart by Abby Lawson from Just a Girl and Her Blog – Abby shows you, step-by-step, how to start a blog. Not only does she offer that course, but several more: Choosing YOUR Perfect Niche and Boost Blog Traffic Guide.
Sticky Blogging by Kelly from Happy You, Happy Family – Kelly teaches you how to convert readers to loyal fans. Her course, too, is only open for registration a couple of times a year, but she has a free course available all the time to get you started.
Blog Boost Bundle – five amazing bloggers have combined resources and created a 6-part course bundled together. Each one of these bloggers (Angie, Gina, Lesley, Tasha, and Bre) cover topics highlighting their unique expertise. Covering social media, email marketing, SEO, and affiliate marketing, this in-depth course will turn you from a novice to pro in no time.
Does a course seem too daunting to create? Write an ebook instead. Here’s are some great examples:
How to Start a Blog by Tana Nelson from Your Marketing BFF. Tana is not only a friend of mine but my blog’s designer. An exceptionally talented person, Tana is extremely knowledgeable about all phases of blogging. So, she put that knowledge in writing and wrote her ebook; a great value at only $29.
Building a Framework by Abby Lawson from Just a Girl and Her Blog – Abby originally launched this as her first book. Now, she has taken her ebook to the next level by converting it to a course. Genius!
Simplify and The Intentional Life Planner also by Abby Lawson – Abby has created 35+ printables to help organize your life and has bundled them together and is selling them for $24.
Rosemarie Groner at The Busy Budgeter has created several ebooks that she sells on her blog focusing on budgeting and blogging. They range in price from $3 up to $64. Check them out here: The Busy Budgeter Shop.
Okay, I admit it – Ree Drummond is an anomaly! But, hey, who says you, too, can’t dream big? Here are the other books she’s written, all because one day she decided to start a blog:
Joy, by the way, has a line of products now sold at Target. And, Ruth sells other things on her site as well as her books (plus she’s the mastermind behind Elite Blog Academy (a course I haven’t taken, yet).
If you’ve created your own brand, for example, you can create and sell your own T-shirts or drink coozies like Jenna LaFevor from Rain on a Tin Roof. Her “Be a Freak” T-shirts are a hoot. She created this brand and promotes it throughout her site.
What do all these bloggers have in common? They are selling their own stuff. No algorithm can take that away. Yes, creating your own product, no matter what it is, is a daunting task. So, my recommendation: from the day that you start dreaming about blogging, you start dreaming about your product. And, as you go down your blogging road, look for opportunities to craft, create and hone that product.
Number Three – Engage in Social Media
While I’d like to think that as bloggers we can succeed without social media, there’s really not a chance in this world of that happening. But, as I pointed out in Number One, we bloggers are at the mercy of changing algorithms or policy practices at a moment’s notice.
I’m probably the worse person, ever, to talk about engaging in social media as something that new bloggers should do, because I’m terrible at this! But, here’s my advice: do as I say and not as I do!
Why am I so bad at social media? Because I’m a baby boomer (read over 60! Yikes!) and I don’t have kids. Therefore, I think I never have anything interesting to share. But, to gain success as a blogger, share you must!
Unless you are a whiz kid that has grown up in this world (the world where social media is a constant part of life and you don’t know a world without it), mastering all of the different social media platforms can be overwhelming. At last count, there were more than 60 social networking sites and these are just the most popular!
So, what’s a blogger to do?
Pick two. That’s right – pick two and use them religiously. Keep up with changes and flow with the change. But, keep the others “in your back pocket,” too. In other words, don’t forget about the others, especially the ones that lead the pack, but don’t stress out about keeping up with 5 or 6 or 10.
Even better, if you have the funds to burn, use a social media scheduler like Tailwind, Boardbooster, Buffer, Meet Edgar, CoSchedule, and Hootsuite. Using one of these sites to help manage your social media will make your blogging life easier.
I’ve tried to keep up with the five I consider the main social media platforms for bloggers (Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Google+, Instagram) and because I’ve tried to manage all five, I’ve been a miserable failure. But, something magical happened when I started using Boardbooster – one of my pins went viral!
This recipe, Easy Cream of Mushroom Pork Chops, has driven more than 350,000 visitors from Pinterest since I hit the publish button! Imagine what that number would be IF I narrowed my focus down to Pinterest and one other social media platform and really worked those two!
Need help learning the ends-and-outs of social media and how to use it as a blogger? There are courses out there, of course, created by bloggers for bloggers! In the Blog Boost Bundle I mentioned in Number Two, they teach you how to maximize Facebook, Google+ and Instagram as a blogger. Also, this course, Pinning Perfect, from Blog Clarity is a great and comprehensive course on how to use Pinterest as a blogger.5 Time-Tested Things I Wish I'd Done from the Beginning on my blog - can you guess what they are? #blogging Click To Tweet
Number Four – Narrow the Focus of Your Blog
Toot Sweet 4 Two does not have a narrow focus. So, again, this is one of those “do as I say and not as I do” things! When I started this blog in July 2012 with my niece, Tiffany, we didn’t know what we wanted to focus on, so we narrowed it down to eight categories:
- Sweet Eats – recipes
- Sweet Home – homemaking, emergency planning
- Sweet Ideas – crafts, parties, and tablescapes
- Sweet Life – family, memories, and pets
- Sweet Nothings – anything that doesn’t fit anywhere else
- Sweet On – blogging, photography, reviews and others that inspire us
- Sweet Spot – travel, adventures, nature
- Sweet Talk – motivational and inspirational quotes
- Sweet Things – things we like and want to share
Anyway, you can see that Toot Sweet 4 Two does NOT have a “focus.” But, here’s what happened along the way: Google and Pinterest decided our focus for us. Our focus morphed into recipes because that’s what drives readers to our site. So, now I like to tell people (when asked) that Toot Sweet 4 Two is a lifestyle blog with a heavy emphasis on food and recipes.
Here’s what else has happened: our growth has been slow. Painstakingly slow. Too many categories. But, now I’m stuck. I’m stuck because I love the categories around the word “sweet” and don’t want to give them up! So, I’m sure my growth will continue slowly and I’m okay with that. But, if we had narrowed our focus early on, I probably wouldn’t be reluctant to give up any of these categories now because I’d only have, for example, maybe 3 instead of 8!
Number Five – Photography Matters
Yep, photography matters. If you aren’t the least bit interested in photography, run for the hills. NOW. Just kidding! But, the truth of the matter is that we (humans) are very visual. And, while a headline might capture our attention and we click because we are curious, a compelling photograph attached to that headline makes it even more irresistible.
But, if you aren’t interested in learning and honing your photography skills, you will need to purchase stock photography for your blog posts. And, that’s okay, too. You just have to accept that you will need to budget in purchasing photos as a business expense. There are numerous stock photo websites out there, but I decided early on that I would be my own photographer. That learning curve, too, was and is steep (I still have lots to learn), but I enjoy it and sharing photos that I’m proud of makes me happy.
For example, I love this post that I did a few years ago, about photography: Capturing Truth in the Moment. I took a Christmas event that I attended with my family and used the photographs to illustrate my points. I’m proud of many, many photos in the post, but one that I really like is completely out of focus! I like it because it shows movement, spontaneity and captures my great-niece’s total absorption in her “moment” on a pile of snow (manufactured snow; we live in Southern California). Plus, the colors and lighting are magical. I got lucky, but also I have a good camera. Check it out for yourself:
This next one I love, too. It’s of Princess Sweetie Pie’s (above) older sister, Princess P (below), making a snowball. It is in focus, but it captures her pride in the simple task of making a small snowball in 75-degree weather.
I could go on-and-on with photos that I’m proud of and completely overwhelm you, but instead, I’ll include a few more at the bottom of this post so you can check them out if you are interested.
So, now back to the topic at hand – photography. There are sites, too, that provide access to “free” stock photos, but you really need to carefully read what “free” means on each of them and not get caught in the quagmire that is copyright infringement. Here’s a link to a blog post that provides links to many of these “free” sites: 21 Amazing Sites with Breathtaking Free Stock Photos. This post is on a site called Snappa, which is an online graphics creation site. This is another great option for bloggers – creating awesome graphics using their pre-made templates and free high-res stock photos.
But, if you decide to go the route I did – become your blog’s photographer – you will need some help. Food Blogger Pro has a whole section of videos devoted to food photography – a treasure trove of tutorials. Also, Creative Live has a plethora of online photography classes for every aspect of photography that you want to explore; some are free.
So, there you have it – my 5 time-tested things that I wish I’d done from the beginning on my blog. I hope that my experience of my inexperience will inspire you to take your blog higher faster! I love blogging and even though I’m not an overnight success, I intend to keep going!
Materials and Supplies Needed
Well, if you are, indeed, going to join the blogging journey, you will need a few things to get you started (besides a blog theme, blog host, etc. – another post for the future). Here are some of the tools you’ll need:
Computer || Printer || Keyboard || Vari-Desk || Camera || Tripod || Camera Lens || Camera Bag || Camera Memory Card || Camera Battery and Charger || Blogging Books || Food Photography Books || Other Photography Books
Other Posts from Toot Sweet 4 Two’s Archives
Here are some food photos that I’m particularly proud of (plus, the recipes are really, really good!):
I love this close-up of my cutie pies! The raspberry and mint on top make them really beautiful and I got lucky with the light from the window.
I got lucky – the light streaming through our dining room window on the day I cooked this turkey was amazing; trust me – that doesn’t always happen!
I set this up overlooking our pool – love the blue water with the pink geraniums and dark chocolate cookies!
I think for raw meat, I did a pretty good job of making this photo appealing!
I took this picture in my very early days of learning to use my new camera. So, I’m giving all the credit to the camera and not to myself!
Here are some tablescape photos I’m really proud of:
A beautiful green goblet tied with a polka-dot ribbon on a lavender tablecloth – so pretty! This was a party for a good friend, so I photographed the finished table and shared it in a blog post.
My house does not have white walls. They are a creamy beige; not the best for indoor photography, but when we built our house, I wasn’t a blogger so white walls weren’t a consideration. Anyway, it’s difficult photographing our dining room (or any room, for that matter). The fact that this cute little bird came out the right color is a fluke!
I love the bright colors of this tablescape and my non-white walls and non-white dinnerware turned out okay!
I love this open red tulip leaning into the red tablecloth with the red glasses in the background.
And, I love my adorable leprechaun and my St. Patrick’s Day tablescape.
Here are several random posts that I’m proud of for the photography:
Okay, that’s enough! See…I told you I had too many categories! Thanks for stopping by!
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