I’ve been surprised, honoured and humbled recently to receive a number of emails and tweets from people wanting advice starting out in the blogging world. While I’ve been blogging for a number of years I certainly wouldn’t say I’m an expert, which is why I’ve been so surprised that I’ve been asked for advice. But, I am extremely honoured that I’ve been asked and I am only too happy to share my take on blogging.
As I’ve said I’m not a blogging expert, far from it in fact, and what I’m sharing is based on my opinion and experience, however I hope you will find it useful.
Settle on a topic
What will the theme or topic of your blog be? This may seem a fairly obvious question, but it’s important to spend some time thinking about what you want to blog about. Do you want to write about vegetarian food, gluten free food, asian food, baking, food in general, fashion, interior design or some other topic? I also think it’s important to ask yourself why you want to write about that particular topic. Is it because you are truly passionate about it or is it just because it’s popular at the moment? If you are passionate about your topic that will be evident to your readers. It will also make it easier to write about as it will come from your heart.
Selecting a theme will also help when it comes to choosing a name for your blog. Ideally you want a name that is easy to remember and catchy. If I started out again I certainly wouldn’t have chosen Delicieux as most people have trouble spelling it let alone pronouncing it. That is unless you are French of course! Choose a name that is easy to pronounce and easy to remember.
Once you’ve settled on a topic do your research. Have a look at other blogs on that topic. What do you admire about those blogs? Is it the writing, the photography, the design of the blog? What don’t you like? What would you do differently? Identifying what you do and don’t like will help you set the tone and style of your blog, and assist in differentiating you from the already crowded blogsphere. Most importantly, if you like someones blog DON’T steal. Find your own voice and style. Stealing in the blogging world, as with life in general, is a big no no! And don’t think you won’t get found out, because you will!
The other important research you need to undertake is into the name you plan to give your blog. The last thing you want to do is start your blog and find another blog with the same name. A great tool to check your name availability on Social Media Networks (note it will also check WordPress.com too) is Namechk. All you need to do is enter your preferred name into the field at the top of the page and this handy little tool will then run checks against each of the social networks and show you whether the name is available. Neat huh?
After this step I suggest Googling your preferred blog name (or names) and to double check no-one else is using the name for their blog. Once you are satisfied you are ready for the next step – creating your blog.
There are many blogging platforms out there – Blogger, Tumblr, WordPress.com, self hosted WordPress, Moveable Type, Expression Engine, Squarespace, and Typepad to name a few. I’ve dabbled in a few of these platforms and found a self hosted WordPress blog to be the best option for me. However, if you are just starting out in the blogging world I would strongly suggest starting with a WordPress.com blog. Why? Well, WordPress.com blogs are great place to get comfortable with blogging without getting too technical. In addition to that your blog will be hosted at WordPress meaning you don’t need to shell out hosting fees. Another important thing to consider when you are just getting started. The last thing you want to do is pay hosting fees and find blogging isn’t for you.
Importantly, don’t simply sign up for a WordPress blog because it’s what I suggest. Again, do your research. Check out a number of blogging platforms and find which one is right for you and your needs.
If you do choose to go with WordPress.com signing up is easy. Simply visit their site and click Sign Up and enter your blog name, email, your name and password and click create blog. One important point of difference to note between a WordPress.com and a self hosted WordPress blog is that with a WordPress.com blog you cannot run ads or install plugins. As you are starting out that shouldn’t really be an issue because as you’re blog grows you can easily transition to a self hosted WordPress blog at a later date.
Once you’ve signed up for your blog you will need to pick a theme. Luckily WordPress.com has a huge selection to choose from. Find a theme you like and start from there. If you select a theme and then find out later you don’t really like it, that’s fine because you can easily change your theme.
Write great content
This is probably one of the most common pieces of advice about starting a blog but what does it really mean? Essentially you want to write about something that will engage your reader. Engaging your reader will continually bring them back to your blog to read new posts.
How do you do this? Well, everyone has a different way of achieving this. Some do it with humorous writing, others with an in depth knowledge of their topic of choice, and others through their passion for the topic. You don’t need to be an expert to write a blog about a particular topic, but you do need to be passionate about your topic of choice. I’ve seen a number of blogs over the years where the author starts out wanting to know more about food and learn more about cooking, and that passion is engaging and keeps brining you back to read about their journey.
Whatever it is you choose to write about, be authentic with yourself and write honestly. Don’t try too hard to be funny when you’re not, don’t try too hard to be an expert, don’t try too hard full stop. Just be yourself. Writing will come easier to some than others, but keep at it. As with anything, the more you write the easier it will become. Practice makes perfect.
For more information on writing a food blog check out Diane Jacob’s great book Will Write for Food: The Complete Guide to Writing Cookbooks, Blogs, Reviews, Memoir, and More (Will Write for Food: The Complete Guide to Writing Blogs,).
Start out as you intend to continue
Think about how many posts you would feel comfortable writing on a weekly, fortnightly or even monthly basis going forward. Pick a number that is sustainable and stick to it, where possible. Blogging at regular intervals also helps in building up an audience. Don’t try to start out with daily posts only to find you can only manage one post per week. Personally I try to blog three times per week. Most weeks I manage it, but there are some weeks, that despite my best efforts I just don’t as real life, or other projects get in the way. If you aren’t able to keep to your schedule don’t stress, just continue on.
How personal do you want to get?
This is something I suggest you think about at the start. Do you want to put your name on your blog? What about the names of your family members or loved ones? Will you share details of your life or keep that quite private? Again, everyone is different in regard to what they feel comfortable sharing. I see a lot of bloggers who write about what is going on in their lives, while others don’t feel comfortable sharing that much, and others still don’t share because they don’t think their lives are that interesting. I probably fall into the latter group. That being said though, there are a number of successful bloggers out there who share their lives and readers love that because it’s yet another way they can engage with the author.
In the age of Google, remember if you do share your life via your blog your employer, or future employer, and anyone for that matter, can read all about it. Think about potential repercussions before you inadvertently share too much.
Blogging is hard work
Blogging is an emotional rollercoaster. You will feel immense highs when you see people visiting your website and your page views go up in addition to receiving comments, but you can also feel lows when your page views go down or aren’t climbing as quickly as you like. It’s hard not to get too emotional, or feel disappointed when you don’t receive a single comment on any of your posts. Just because you started a blog don’t expect it to become popular straight away.
Those popular bloggers you see out there have worked hard to get where they are today and, unless you are extremely lucky, you will have to work hard too. Speaking from personal experience I spend hours every single day working on Delicieux. This includes time spent cooking (not everything I cook makes it to the blog because I don’t believe in blogging about something I don’t personally enjoy), taking photos of my food, editing photos (and then perhaps taking more photos in the case I don’t like the first batch of images), responding to comments, responding to emails, checking stats, networking on social media, and researching new recipes. Personally I am in awe of people like Lorraine from Not Quite Nigella who manage to put out quality posts every single day. I don’t quite know how they do it all.
In addition to your investment of time, and again I am speaking as a food blogger, there is also a substantial monetary investment. Food, obviously, costs money, so testing recipes, especially recipes that fail and are only fit for the rubbish bin, is expensive. Photography equipment is expensive also, and as you invest more time in blogging it’s difficult not to want to invest more in better cameras and lenses to improve upon your work. Then there are also props for styling photos – plates, bowls, fabric, cutlery, glasses, etc. Finally, most importantly, there is time. As I mentioned previously, bloggers invest a great deal of time in their blog. There are ways to monetise your blog, and I will get to that in a future post, but regardless, that is unlikely to ever come close to compensating you for your actual investment. You can read more about how much time and money goes into food blogging here in a great post by Naomi of Bakers Royale.
Most importantly, don’t start blogging because you expect money and book deals to come rolling in. As I mentioned previously, those bloggers lucky enough to be offered book deals have worked hard, very hard, to get to that point. For some it’s taken years and years, and others it’s taken less time. If money and fame are your main motivations to blog, perhaps you need to rethink blogging…
Some bloggers, through a lot of hard work and determination, have managed to turn their blogs into successful careers becoming authors and television hosts in the process. Here are just a few inspiring bloggers to check out:
101 Cookbooks – If you are a foodie I have no doubt you’ve heard of 101 Cookbooks, and if you haven’t, well, go check it out. Heidi’s wonderful blog started out documenting her journey exploring her overflowing cookbook collection, and over the years, and through a lot of hard work and dedication has lead to multiple book deals.
Simply Recipes – Elise’s blog began documenting family recipes she grew up with, and over the years has blossomed into a wildly successful blog with over 200,000 visitors per day. Yes, 200,000!
David Lebovitz - Again, if you are a foodie, David Lebovitz needs no introduction, but in case you haven’t heard of him, he’s the former Executive Pastry Chef at Chez Panisse and the author of 6 books – including The Perfect Scoop, Room for Dessert and The Great Book of Chocolate.
Bakarella – The queen of the cake pops perhaps needs no introduction, but if you haven’t checked out her blog you should if only for her wonderfully beautiful and creative treats.
Joy The Baker – Joy’s passion for baking, infectious enthusiasm and conversational and fun filled writing have lead to a book deal and the creation of Homefries.com, specialising in high quality food, wine and lifestyle podcasts.
The Pioneer Woman - Ree Drummond is a wildly successful blogger who has published two books and has her own tv show on the Food Network.
Have a question? Fire away in the comments section below. Are you a blogger? What would be your one most important piece of advice you would give to someone starting a blog?