Can you believe that Bitz & Giggles is celebrating its one-year blogiversary this month? The time has absolutely flown by, it’s true.
And today, I’m feeling a bit like this:
I didn’t bake myself a cake or buy myself any gifts for this special occasion, but I am taking time today to reminisce and share with you what I’ve learned over the past 12 months. I’ve made some mistakes, I’ve claimed some victories – all in all, I’ve discovered that blogging is something that I truly have a passion for and it’s been a combination of hard work and luck that has gotten me where I am today (wherever that truly is). I have a lot yet to learn (I learn new things every day!) and am excited about the months ahead. Every day is a new adventure! Here are 10 Lessons Learned My First Year Blogging!
So, first thing’s first. How did I even think to start a blog?
The concept for my blog was born in a fishing boat out on a lake when my husband and I were celebrating our 12-year wedding anniversary at our cabin up north last year. I was looking for a hobby outside of my professional career in Marketing. Something to focus on and enjoy in the evenings when my husband was traveling for work and the kids were in bed. What I knew of blogs came from my B2B marketing experience in my professional career, but beyond that, I knew nothing. My interest in starting my own blog grew out of my love and addiction to Pinterest.
And since it’s my birthday (well, my blog’s birthday) I have no shame putting a plug in here about following my boards! I’d love to share with you what I find on Pinterest! I’m on there ALL THE TIME! So. . .
My entire life up until 12 months ago was spent writing in journals, trying to come up with new activities for the kids, dabbling in photography, thumbing through magazines, surfing the internet, and watching more than my fair share of HGTV and cooking shows. Little did I know I was already doing many of the things necessary to become a successful blogger.
Start blogging for the RIGHT reasons.
If you’re looking to get into blogging to make money, just stop right there. Can you make money blogging? Yes, absolutely. But you know what? When I started blogging, I had no idea you could make money off of it. And I’m so happy I went into blogging with that mindset. I started blogging because of all of those things I had listed above that I enjoyed before I started Bitz & Giggles. Once I got my blog off the ground, I knew it was the right fit for me. It was challenging, it played off of many of my passions like photography, creativity, marketing, entrepreneurship. It was the start of something really important to me and something I never dreamed would turn into what it has.
My advice to anyone looking to start a blog is be prepared. Be prepared to invest some money (it’s not cheap to start and grow a blog), research and learn daily, work HARD, push yourself, surround yourself with positivity and pick yourself back up after you’ve fallen. Because you WILL fall and you WILL fail – but there’s always room for redemption. That’s how you will grow to be the best that you can be.
If you are very serious about blogging, start your blog on WordPress.
Anyone wanting to get into blogging needs to make a decision on which platform to start out on. After purchasing my domain and researching several different platforms, I narrowed down my list to Blogger and WordPress. I KNEW that WordPress was the Cadillac of blogging.
I read about the hosting expenses and the fact that it was a bit less user-friendly than the Blogger platform. I also read that it was more powerful, would offer me more options and put ME in control of my blog (not Google). I weighed the pros and cons. I was still on-the-fence regarding jumping in with two feet right away. I didn’t want to make a big investment up-front and I wasn’t completely sure I would love blogging. I wanted to. . . try it out. Thankfully, in my research I also found out that I could transfer my Blogger blog to WordPress later on if I wanted to. That was a big deal to me, and it was that fact that pushed me down what I deemed to be the “safer” path with Blogger.
I stayed on Blogger for 7 months. In my 8th month I started feeling the pressure to move off of Blogger onto WordPress. I can’t describe it any better than it just being a “feeling.” The number of visitors to my blog was growing every day, my posts were popping up on bigger bloggers’ feature boards, I had started networking with other bloggers and I had published over 100 posts. I felt like I needed to move. I knew the blog was something I wanted to continue and I knew I needed to get on the WordPress train.
If you’re not a total tech whiz, ask for help.
When it came time to move from Blogger to WordPress I asked myself whether or not I should attempt it on my own. The answer was an easy one. I needed help. Between my full-time job, my family at home and now this little blog, I was running out of free-time and, although I have functioned on a few hours of sleep, I don’t prefer doing it regularly. One day when I was doing my link-ups (more explanation on this later) I came across Ellie from Creative Geekery and saw that she helps set up hosting for you when you switch from Blogger to WordPress. I contacted her (holding my breath) and we hit it off right away. She set up my hosting for me and then introduced me to Janine from Confessions of a Mommyaholic who also owns J9 Designs.
Janine took things from there and worked with me to get me switched over to WordPress. Would I recommend her? Absolutely! And I do! Check out her page of testimonials – you’ll see one from me in there, too! She transitioned me in a matter of days and successfully kept my existing Blogger blog up and running until I transitioned fully. I still go to Janine with technical questions today (just talked to her yesterday!) as well as small projects I don’t have time to tackle on my own. Her rates are fair, she is super responsive, and I consider her a part of the Bitz & Giggles team.
Set up Google Analytics right away.
Here’s where I messed up. Learn from me so you don’t make the same mistake. Most blogging platforms have a dashboard built right in that includes performance analytics of your site – how many visitors are coming to your site, how long do they stay, where are they coming from, etc. You NEED to pay attention. Well, I was paying attention. I was looking at my analytics every day. The problem was, I shouldn’t have relied on the dashboard in Blogger.
As soon as you set up your blogging domain, I HIGHLY recommend you connect Google Analytics to your blog immediately. I finally set up Google Analytics when I switched from Blogger to WordPress. In doing so, I lost all of the analytics I had for the past 7 months because they were housed in a platform I was moving away from. And as far as myself or anyone I talked to knows, those analytics can’t be moved out of Blogger into Google Analytics. They were gone forever.
I also had to wait almost a full month before I was able to place any Google ads on my site because they require a view into your Google Analytics. Affiliate companies that connect bloggers with brands (more about this later) also require you to hook your Google Analytics up to your accounts with them before they’ll begin working with you. This was a set-back and one that made me go, “Oh, crap.”
Start monetizing your blog in the first few months.
As I said before, I didn’t start my blog to make money, but there is expense involved in keeping a blog up and running. So, it’s better to think about this sooner rather than later. There are several ways to make money off of your blog: ads, sponsored posts, product reviews, e-books, freelance writing, selling services/products, etc. I started monetizing with Google AdSense and Amazon Affiliates about 8 months in. They’re easy to sign up with and it’s a good way to get your feet wet at the beginning. About a month later I partnered with an actual ad network.
I also started signing up with sponsored post companies like Pollinate, IZEA and others. You can start doing this about 3-4 months in. Many companies require you to have been blogging for at least three months before applying. Companies like Weave will accept submissions from bloggers who have at least 7,500 page views per month on their blog. This list of sponsored post companies from Britni at Play. Party. Pin is a great resource if you’re looking for more information!
Link parties are a great way to socialize in Blogland.
Link parties are an opportunity to keep a pulse on the blogging community and share your posts for the week with others. You don’t NEED to participate in link parties, but I would highly recommend it as you’re working to grow your blog. While I don’t have a specific list of the link parties I attend each week (I link up to between 30-40 link parties each week), I will offer you some best practices around linking up:
Participate in link parties where the hosts feature bloggers’ posts
- Link up your best posts with beautiful photos and catchy headlines
- Comment often and thank the hosts for the party
- Find the parties that you enjoy the most and return to those each week
- Just link and run – make sure to visit a few other posts in the link-up
- Link up old posts that you’ve linked up previously unless if the host is asking for specific recipes, etc.
- Get so caught up in link parties that you don’t have time to create new content – manage your time wisely!
When it comes to social media, diversify – but then focus on 2-3 channels you really love.
One of the mistakes I made when I started blogging is that I poured my heart and soul into Pinterest and Pinterest only. I realized when I wanted to start monetizing my blog that I needed to be active in multiple social networks in order for brands to begin working with me. So, while I got a slower start on the other platforms, today I’m on Facebook, Twitter, Google+ and Instagram, in addition to Pinterest.
Signing up is the easy part. Working each platform is difficult and can get quite overwhelming. While you should be signed up on multiple platforms, you’ll probably find yourself gravitating towards 2 or 3. I spend most of my time on Pinterest, Facebook and Google+. I use Twitter mostly to connect with brands and share my sponsored content and I use Instagram as more of a “behind the scenes” view into Bitz & Giggles as well as my personal life.
Invest in a high-quality DSLR camera, if you can.
Before I started blogging, I had a passion for photography so I already did have a pretty nice DSLR camera. That didn’t mean I knew how to use it. I didn’t.
In the past 12 months I’ve read more photography tutorials than you would believe and I’ve had my camera in my hand almost every day whether it’s for my blog or just taking pictures of my family. I moved from shooting in Auto to Manual and it made all the difference in the world. I ended up purchasing a macro lens and filters for my camera which also contributed to better pictures. For food blogging, photos are EVERYTHING, so is editing. For editing my photos I use a combination of Photoshop and Picmonkey. All I can say is practice, practice, practice, research and read! It is definitely paying off for me.
Below you can see a photo I had taken back in August 2013.
I’m happy to say I’ve learned a thing or two since then.
Build a support network comprised of other bloggers.
Why? Because they’re the only ones who will understand what you’re going through whether it’s happiness or frustration. Early on I began reaching out to other bloggers with questions or just to say hello. Surrounding yourself with other bloggers who are positive and supportive is SO important. I highly recommend you become part of a blogging tribe or join a blogging Facebook group for additional motivation and support.
Don’t be afraid to reach out to those who inspire you, but at the same time, make sure you’re not being a nuisance. Sometimes it’s a fine line you’ll need to walk. There are so many WONDERFUL bloggers out there. Get out there and say hello, otherwise Blogland is going to be a very lonely place for you. One other VERY important thing to keep in mind:
Every blogger has a different story, a different journey. Don’t compare yourself to someone who has been blogging for three years and has thousands of social followers. Focus on your blog and your work. Don’t worry about comparing numbers. The success will come, but it takes a lot of heads down hard work AND lots of support from other bloggers. So get networking!
Your blog can easily consume you and drive your family nuts.
I work full-time during the day so I have specific times throughout the day and evening where I focus on my blog. Weekends are key for my photography. I have to plan ahead and will often shoot all of my photos over the weekend and work on writing my posts and sharing on social media in the evenings. All in all, I probably put 20-30 hours into my blog in addition to my full-time marketing career. Let’s just say I’ve learned to get by with less sleep. 🙂
Once you get into blogging, you get “sucked” in. My blog drives my family nuts. They follow me around the house chanting, “Blog, blog, blog, blog, pin, pin, tweet, like.” My 2-year-old daughter often knocks over props in my photo shoots on purpose, I won’t lie. You will need to devote many, many hours to your blog in the beginning to get things up and running. Content is king so you need to continue to create and post each and every week.
Have I ever been concerned that my blog is taking over my life? Yes. And that’s when I stepped back and started recognizing what was really happening. It’s SO very important to keep a healthy work/life balance. It’s also very important that your family supports your blog. It doesn’t mean they need to like it, but they need to support your efforts. Today, even though I try to still sneak my photography in, I limit the amount of time I work on my blog on the weekends (especially in the summer) and try to do most of my work in the evenings after everyone else is asleep. I do this because I love it. There’s a fire inside that just keeps pushing me forward. There’s no pressure that my family will starve if I were to walk away from my blog tomorrow. . . but I won’t walk away. Because. . .
“I don’t blog for the money,
I blog because I want to.”
CONNECT WITH ME HERE: