blank'/> A LITTLE BIT OF LACQUER: How to Start a (Successful) Blog

August 3, 2015

How to Start a (Successful) Blog



Just the other day it hit me - my blog just had its 4 year birthday last week! I thought now would be as good a time as any to talk about starting and maintaining a successful blog! It's something I get asked all the time and honestly something I feel is still a "I-don't-know-anything-about-this-topic" matter. Half of the time I feel like I know nothing about blogging, but when you all ask me questions about blogging or I'm talking with friends or family about it I've realized I do have a few things to share that may be valuable to some of you. Or maybe not. But we'll go ahead anyway! I'll share this as more of a "how I started my blog" post with some tips thrown in since I really am no expert.


Know your purpose
I'd say first and foremost, know why you want to start a blog. If it's to make money, I'd highly recommend pursuing a different hobby, as making money through a blog really does take a huge time (and money) investment. Unless of course you already have a high quality DSLR camera, laptop, photographer, affiliate marketer, and large community of followers, etc. (which most of us don't for quite some time). So, other than the unrealistic expectation of making money quickly, you still want to start a blog? Figure out why. Is it because you love to cook and want to share recipes? Is it because you've overcome some obstacle and want to share your story with others who may be going through the same right now? Is it because you love fashion or DIY projects? Whatever it is, try and get a good grasp on it, as this will also help not only focus your posts in the beginning but will also help identify your blogging community. 

Find a platform that works for you
I run my blog using Blogger (hence the .blogspot bit at the end of my web address). I did purchase the actual domain name for my website (alittlebitoflacquer.com) but have yet to transfer things over. I thought it was a necessary part of having a successful blog, but it turns out it's really not. So I haven't really gotten around to it yet. I decided on Blogger mostly because there were no upfront costs, it was relatively easy to figure out how to create posts, and at the time when I started, there was a great community using Blogger. I still think it's a great platform and will likely continue using it because I don't really have time to switch to something else, but one platform that's gaining a lot of traction lately and really makes beautiful websites is Squarespace. I love Elle's blog for her tips on Squarespace, I've certainly toyed with the idea of switching over thanks to her! Wordpress is the other huge name when it comes to creating your own blog, and most big time bloggers will swear by it. It has a ton of power and plug ins for everything you could imagine (basically allowing you to truly design your blog the way you want it) - but for me it was just too overwhelming. Some people like Tumblr, but Tumblr "blogs" are a whole different breed of blog (more like microblog) - essentially all photo based, and not necessarily the type of blog I'm talking about in this post. I think honestly if I were starting a blog now I would go with Squarespace (it didn't exist when I started).

Invest in a clean web design and good photos
As far as my actual web design, I've always purchased pre-made templates from etsy shops (here and here are some favorites - the shop that made my current blog design is unfortunately now closed). Although I didn't want to spend too much money upfront on something that was just a hobby, templates can be super inexpensive and really change the entire feel of your blog. As the blog has evolved I've moved to cleaner and cleaner designs which I love. Other things to look for when purchasing a template? I like a floating header - when you scroll down on my blog the menu at the top comes down with it. Make sure they also include customized social media buttons (most do now) and instructions for installation. For my first couple of templates I had the designer I purchased them from install them for me, for my most recent one I chose one that I could install myself (with awesome instructions of course) that allowed me to customize my menu and other things using a bit of html. As you get more comfortable with blogging and a few pieces of html here and there you'll really appreciate being able to tweak things on your own as you need to!

Photos are a huge part of blogging, and learning some good photography and developing an eye for good photos will help you develop a strong following! About a year and a half into blogging I finally asked for a DSLR for Christmas and was so happy to be able to step my photo game up (I use this camera). Regardless of your camera, try taking nice, crisp pictures with natural lighting (always the best). Many bloggers use Photoshop for editing which has tons of functions and capabilities, eventually I'd love to learn how to use it, but for the last 4 years I've used Picasa which is a free download and allows for simple edits and creating collages (like the one I created here). 

Find your voice
Ok, so you've signed up for a blog and even installed a gorgeous new blog design. Now what do you actually post? In the beginning, it will depend on the purpose of your blog. For me, I started with fashion, interior design, and recipes (overall lifestyle blog). Write posts as if you've got a huge audience reading even if you don't. Once you start building a community (see below) and getting feedback from them and your stats, you'll start to learn what people like and how they find your blog most useful. With this blog, although I still categorize it as a lifestyle blog and still include fashion and recipes, it now includes much more "med school" than I ever thought it would, and that's because of you all and this amazing community! I have found that my blog can be most helpful when I include bits of me enjoying my life but more importantly when I show that I'm doing this while pursuing the rigorous training involved in becoming a physician, and helping those of you who want to pursue something similar along the way. This blog has become something much more powerful that I ever imagined and I have you all to thank for helping me find my voice. 

Build a community
One of the best parts of blogging (and why most of us start in the first place) is to connect with people who have similar interests or are going through similar life experiences. Whatever it may be, I can almost guarantee that you will find a community on the internet! Sometimes this can be a bad thing (ie internet trolls), but for the most part finding a community online is amazing! So how do you find it? Search online for blogs that interest you - chances are if you started a blog you may already be following a few - comment on those blogs! And please, don't just write "great post" or "come check out my blog," write something that actually means something, that shows the blogger your piece really resonated with them! It doesn't hurt to include your website at the bottom so they can find you, but just make sure to leave a genuine comment! Do this for as many blogs as you like, as often as you like, and soon you'll find people commenting on your blog as well. Many blogs also host link ups, which is another great way to get to know other bloggers - some for fashion, food, DIY ideas, you name it! Once you find the interaction that appeals to you the most stick with it! Earlier in the life of my blog I did a lot of commenting on blogs, but now finding other bloggers through Instagram is actually easier for me, just find what works for you!

Pay attention to your stats
Early on, you likely won't have much to look at as far as stats. I remember looking at my stats page on Blogspot and seeing I had 12 page views and then remembering I was probably 10 of them. And my mom was probably the other 2. But then I'd start getting page views from Virginia or New York, and get so so excited! Once the excitement wears off a bit, start paying attention to what your viewers are doing on your website, and what brings them there. I certainly got more visits when I participated in link ups on other blogs, but this didn't always gain me new followers. I started realizing that my most popular posts were life/advice posts, so although I didn't initially plan on it, I started including more of those posts on the blog. Instagram is currently my biggest traffic source (other than Google), so I make sure to keep that social media outlet most up-to-date. Pinterest is another huge traffic generator, but because it's all image based, it will only bring traffic if you have quality images! Another reason to try your best to start taking good photographs.

Listen to your readers
Along the same lines, when you start getting followers and comments from readers, listen to them! Hopefully you will see them as a community and not as a "following," and treat them as such! This doesn't mean you have to write each post based on what they say (there are still plenty of things I've been asked that have never made it to the blog!) but it does mean to pay attention to what they're curious about. If you're a budget fashion blogger and people are always asking how you find your deals, it'd probably make a great post! If you're a mom blogger and a couple of other bloggers have asked how you're coping with transitioning from a crib to a bed, it'd probably help out a few (a ton) of other mamas too! Although blogging isn't necessarily like running a store, I like to think of it this way - if you're offering apples and oranges for sale, and people are buying all of the apples, you'd offer more apples, right? And if you had something similar to apples you might start offering that too and seeing what people thought, maybe they'd be interested in that too! Ok probably a horribly analogy, but hopefully you get my point! 

Try to post regularly
Early on, this is easy, but as life gets hectic and things get busy it's all too easy to stop posting all together and let your blog shrivel up and turn to dust. This is the fate of most blogs. I definitely cannot preach the gospel of a regular posting schedule, because I don't follow one, but I can say that's it's a really great idea. I think 1-2 posts a week is perfect for someone just starting out. If you have more ideas, that's great, write them up! But then save them as drafts for later, it's always nice to have a stockpile of posts for times when you are too busy to take photos or come up with something to write. At the moment I try to hold myself accountable for 2-3 posts a month, which is definitely less than when I started, but it's a good balance for now! It also depends on what you're posting - a daily outfit post might take 10-15 minutes to throw together, a collage of gift ideas might take 1-2 hours, and a longer post like this one might take a few days to put together! So keep that in mind as well when you're thinking about how regularly you want to post.

Enjoy it
I think this goes without saying, but make sure to enjoy it. Once you've found your voice and your niche in blogging it really is a wonderful hobby. When it stops feeling fun or you no longer feel like sharing online, think about why, and what you can change if anything, but if it's time to hang up the blogging hat it may just be time to hang up the blogging hat! There's nothing wrong with that either.

I hope if you're interested in starting a blog this post may have helped you a bit! Feel free to ask any questions in the comment section below!  

29 comments:

  1. Thanks for the tips Laura! I'm just starting out with my blog and still trying to find my footing. I was inspired by you and a few other med school/doctor bloggers, and am looking forward to becoming a part of that community!

    hannah-ever-after.blogspot.com

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  2. Thank you Laura for your insiteful tips! I have a blog up and running but haven't promoted myself due to not having enough content as of yet and fear of not gaining an audience that will be interested. Thanks to you I feel confident enough to just do it and see where it takes me and my followers. Thank you once again :)

    www.treasuroustrash.com

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  3. We've all got to start somewhere, right? Building a community and posting regularly are my two biggest hang ups. I agree that Instagram is the best way to find other bloggers. Thanks for this!

    www.SecularSass.com

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  4. Definitely a day I'm glad to be a procrastinator. Hubby and I have been wanting to start a blog (have been writing and taking pictures for months) but never got around to it because it seems so overwhelming. Your tips are extremely helpful and couldn't have come at a better time. Thank you!

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  5. My Monday has officially been made when one of my favorite bloggers posts this and it is what I see first thing in the morning on Instagram! Thank you for these tips, I have been reading a lot of tips for begginer bloggers and yours are straight forward and realistic. I started a blog recently and almost used Wordpress but so glad I went with blogger, I find it easier to use. Thanks again ��

    Livingwithleley.blogspot.com

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  6. So happy to have woken up by this type of post by one of my favorite bloggers! I'm currently thinking about starting a lifestyle blog sprinkled with some of my life as a psychology student and you've been a huge source of inspiration! Thanks so much for this post.

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  7. I love the idea of having my blog on square space, I just want to make sure before I switch I have saved enough to invest in it. I also am in the process of finding a more professional template. I love your blog however. I look up to you and other bloggers because you're pretty much a pro at it, and although I've been here for 4 years, I'm still learning. :D

    Darianne | Morning Brew blog | Instagram | Bloglovin'

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  8. Thank you so much for your tips Laura. Starting out can be overwhelming and discouraging at times, but your tips gave me the little pick me up that I needed. I will definitely apply these to my own blog. Your post has been absolutely helpful as always. :)
    http://www.surroundedbycrowns.com

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  9. Thank You so much for these tips! I've been writing for a couple of months, and the hardest part is putting up a post regularly! :( luckily enough, content isn't such a big issue :) I put up what I bake.


    Thegirlwitharecipe.blogspot.in

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  10. Thank You so much for these tips! I've been writing for a couple of months, and the hardest part is putting up a post regularly! :( luckily enough, content isn't such a big issue :) I put up what I bake.


    Thegirlwitharecipe.blogspot.in

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  11. This helped a lot. I have been following you since I saw your picture come across my instagram feed. I always look to your blog for insight on the blog I just started. I wondered if it was important to have a domain since I noticed you didn't its good to hear you still can gain followers without it. If you have time I would love your feedback on my blog www.mommymanuscript.com

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  13. Hi, Laura! I'm so glad to have found your blog accidentally while seeing your comment underneath the photo collage that is circulating of your family on Facebook! I am even more delighted that you just published this post and I just started a blog! I absolutely love how down to Earth you are (I've poked around a bit). You've definitely gained a new reader ;)

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  14. as always, great tips laura!
    i must admit that when i started my blog, i didn't realize how time-consuming it really was.
    i have months and months worth of photos just piling up and my poor blog hasn't been updated in over a month but this post has just inspired me to get back to it.

    :)
    vanessa
    grace-and-gratitude.blogspot.com

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  15. Thank you for this blog. All the blogs i am reading at the moment are advice on bettering my blog. I think I am doing ok so far, in that i know what I want to write about. There are days when it feels like i don't have a voice, but generally something inspires me during the day to write about. Most of all, like your last comment suggests, I am enjoying it. My blog is about my journey to fearlessness and battles with depression, and every time I post, I feel so much better. it makes me feel good. so even if no-one reads mine, at least its doing something for me! congrats on blogging for 4 years!

    www.journeytofearlessness.com

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  16. Thank you so much for sharing all of your blogging knowledge with us! The tip for the Etsy layout designs was especially helpful. I've been hearing a great deal about Squarespace as well and I, too, have been considering changing over. I've been on Blogger for 3+ years now and lately I've just been wanting to spruce things up a bit. I also really liked your idea for composing several post drafts when you have the time and "saving" them to post later when life gets hectic. This is an awesome way to make sure you maintain a regular posting schedule. I've pre-written posts a time or two, but I really want to get serious about it. Plus, one really nice thing about Blogger? If you do write a few drafts and aren't ready to publish them yet, you can schedule them to be posted on a certain day in the future, in case you forget in the midst of life's chaos when your desired posting day arrives.

    Anyway, I really enjoyed this post! Thanks again, and keep up the amazing work!

    Jen
    www.lifeisforlivingblog.com

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  17. What a great, helpful post! I remember emailing you a couple of years ago now about wanting to start my own blog and you so kindly replied with tips and information. I've figured out many of the details you wrote to me and mentioned here but am completely stuck finding the right name for it. Pretty important little detail... I guess I've put too much pressure into finding the perfect name for my blog that it's been holding me back. I have so many ideas and have my own little niche of life as a med student here in Puerto Rico but I can't seem to come up with a name that makes me go "AHA! That's it! It's perfect Coño al fin! (haha)!" One of the many qualities we as medical professionals often have, perfectionism to a fault. Hopefully I'll either find one soon or get over it and start blogging! Whichever the case, as soon as it's up it will make me extremely happy to share it with you!

    Un abrazo y mucho cariño
    Maria Eugenia

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  18. Thank you for this post Laura! I have been following your blog for a couple of years, and I'm so happy to see your success. I was super excited when you grad pic went viral. Your point of view seems so relatable and down to earth. I really appreciate that and find it very refreshing.

    I have been starting blogs since 2007. Unfortunately, I only post a few times and give up. I think I got really caught up in producing the perfect blog instantly. I also got caught up in the comparison trap. I'm expecting my first baby in December, and I hope to start my blog up again to document this new exciting adventure!

    Thank you again!

    Melissa

    http://domesticglamblog.blogspot.com/

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  19. I'm so impressed by your blog! I love finding other MD bloggers; most of the time we are so busy with our day jobs that we can't find time for outside hobbies. Definitely going to follow along! Would love to hear any feedback or tips you have on my beauty and health blog too. Maybe we can do a collaboration sometime on sun safety or basic skincare :)

    Xo
    Joyce
    Www.teawithmd.com
    A dermatologist's guide to health and beauty

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  20. Really great post! I like that you’ve compared several platforms) I plan to start my own blog an I totally brand new to it. I wrote articles for https://www.ozessay.com.au/, but didn’t do all that backstage work, just cared about the content. And now I understand that blogging is not about writing nice content (at least not JUST about it). Tremendous work is being done behind the curtain – SEO, design, pictures, html, etc… I’m not sure that I’m capable of managing all that

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  23. This post was a great help in my process of revamping my blog. I did have a question for you regarding your personal privacy. Is there anything you would recommend for safety or family protection in regards to sharing information and pictures on your blog? Thanks!

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  24. Since you purchased a domain name for your blog but you still you this site, which do you put on your business cards? And how do you keep from having your work stolen from this site?

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  27. Aloha Laura! I am just filled with the utmost gratitude that God has led me to your blog (it first began with seeing your posts in IG with Sarah Jenkins gave you a shout out on her IG). I really resonate with what you have to share on your blog soooo much, connecting with what you have to share has been nothing but a blessing to me. My heart and spirit are filled with joy because I feel that deep down inside that I should not give up on my dream of becoming a doctor and serving in the military. Your life's testimony thus far has made me realize that I can continue towards my doctorate and be in a meaningful relationship...that I don't need to wait until I am done with my education. I just signed up for your course yesterday and I can't wait to start it! Thank you for writing on this particular topic of creating a blog because your blog has inspired me to want to create one as well. To somehow connect with my community of Kaua'i. Mahalo for your authentic and transparency in all of your posts. Sending you and your Ohara blessings from Kaua'i, Mægs

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  29. Thank you so much for these tips, Laura!

    I have always established and eventually outgrow blogs but now that I came across your Instagram page and started idolizing you (sounds really fan girl but what the heck, might as well go for it!), I have finally committed to a blog! You have inspired me in so many ways--one of them is choosing med school after I graduate my Master's degree. And reading your blog entries from the past of you juggling everything pumps me up to handle everything that comes with my job, my studies, and the small venture businesses I'm running.

    More power to you, Laura! :)

    -Basha
    http://threadandthimbleph.wixsite.com/bashagee

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