This is part one of a three part tutorial on how to start writing a blog, this part will cover learning to 'get over' any issues which may be standing in your way, part two covers the technical approach to blogging (i.e. Which tools you should use, how to submit a site to Google etc...) and part 3 will offer some general tips that I've discovered on my travels.
Who am I to give you this information you ask? Good question, although this is a brand new blog, I'm actually an experience blogger, I used to run digitalfusionmag.com until my co-writer and I became too busy to be able to consistently write articles and abandoned it, I've also written articles for Lifehacker.com and have had several moderately successful blogs/forums in the past.
I'm attempting to help my little sister, Sally (@sallyward86) get herself started in the world of blogging, as most of my clients in the past, Sally's first concern was 'what if my readers don't like what I write?'. This is a common concern of clients when they first enter into the 'social interaction' side of digital marketing and I said to her what I said to all of them. "It may well be rubbish at the start, but I assure you, none of your readers are reading it".
A common misconception of creating a website is the 'If you build it, they will come' mentality. Websites do not work that way, they are not the digital equivalent of you stood in the middle of Hyde Park shouting 'Extra, extra, read all about it', it's the digital equivalent of you stood in a room with no windows and doors whispering 'is there anybody out there'. Eventually, given time and considerable effort, you will add windows and doors, and signs, and a path to your door and if you are very lucky, you will eventually be able to tear those walls down to discover that your room was in the middle of Times Square, of course, whilst that is not the reality for most websites it doesn't hurt to believe that you will get there.
Here are a few considerations to make when first building a blog:
1) It doesn't matter if you are rubbish
This is the primary concern of a new blogger, a lot of people - particularly those in marketing - feel like they should have a blog. This is a fairly accurate statement, having a blog is a great tool to market yourself, even if marketing isn't your concern there are many reasons to start a blog, sharing a hobby, talking about books or films, it can even make a good tool for therapy. The point is though, if you are not a natural writer, starting one may seem difficult. Take my sister for example, she believes she is a terrible writer (she isn't by the way) and that she has nothing of interest to say to the world. However neither of those things really matter, the first one doesn't matter as (apart from a gifted few) nobody starts out as a great writer, becoming a wordsmith is no different than becoming a blacksmith, you can't just pick up a pen or a keyboard (although why you would pick up a keyboard is a mystery to me) and start writing beautiful prose, as with anything worth doing in this world; it takes practice. You will write a lot of terrible blogs before you start writing a lot of good ones.
2) I don't have anything interesting to say
First of all, allow me to reply to this question in a slightly crude manner:
Everyone on this planet is unique in some way (apart from me), which means that everyone has their own perspective on things. If you don't believe you have a specialist subject to write about (which isn't actually required of a personal blog anyway) then start with reviewing films or books, talk about your opinions on books or simply use your blog to share things you find with the world. I bet that the majority of you who believe that you have nothing interesting to say are on Facebook or Twitter, if you post more than one update to either of those sites a week then evidentially you DO have things of interest to say, put the effort into making those updates a bit longer and voilà! You have a blog post!
3) I don't want to start my blog until I'm good at writing
Well that is a very noble sentiment, if this were the 80's and you were considering approaching the Daily Mail to ask to be a columnist then I would say that this is a great approach, however we've not lived in the 80's for a long time (in fact, some of you have never lived in the 80's!) the world has changed and one of the things that has changed the most is the publishing industry. It is now easier than ever to make a noise and harder than ever to make someone listen.
The 2nd part of that slightly depressing sentence is the point here, don't wait until you are good to start writing a blog, when you first start out, you are only talking to yourself anyway, nobody reads a brand new blog. In fact I recommend making 4-5 posts before you even share the link with anyone. You can use blogging to become great (or at least proficient) and then when your blog actually starts to get some readership (which it will eventually if you follow this guide) you can look at your own posts, marvel at how far you have come and then (if you want to) delete the crap ones.
The point is, you can't develop a skill without doing the thing you want to develop.
4) Market, market, market.
Think of a web address as a phone number, the reason why you don't get 100's of beautiful women/dishy men ringing you all the time is because your phone number is not public record, neither is your web address. There are ways for it to be found of course but it is not out there for the world to see. For this reason, you need to start marketing your blog, once you have 4-5 posts on your website start plastering your URL wherever you can. Put it on your facebook and twitter profiles and on any website you frequent which has a 'your website' entry for your profile. Add it to your email signature and tell all your friends and family about it, make sure you ask for honest feedback from your friends and family as getting the opinion of others is a great way to improve, of course make sure you don't take their criticisms to heart.
If you are serious about getting a strong readership from your blog you need to look into SEO, writing an SEO guide is way out of the scope for this article, however I can tell you that the basics you need to do is submit your site to google and get it on any blog lists you can find (a google search should find some of the good ones). If you do decide to specialise then search for other websites within your field and email them the link. Some websites will offer a link swap with you which can help. SEO can be free but as always, the best stuff costs money, if you are looking to turn your blog into a living then paying for high quality SEO is definitely a good investment.
5) Content is king.
Remember that the posts you write ARE your blog and that it only takes one good post to get you a lot of visits, for example a few years ago a wrote an article on how to integrate a media application called XBMC with a program called Eventghost for my old magazine site 'Digital Fusion' up to that point, we'd not had a great deal of interest, in fact we hadn't had any but this article was very popular, it was featured on LifeHacker (a very popular website) and even now years later, if you type 'EventGhost' into google, my article is the first result after the EventGhost site itself.
Not every article has to be golden, eventually though one of them could be.
Good look in your writing endeavours! I have no doubt that you'll make it :)