If we had a penny for every time we got asked, “what’s your biggest advice for newbie bloggers”…We’d have ONE MILLLION pennies! (Hehe).
But really. It’s a LOADED question, but a common question, and over the years, I feel like I’ve really narrowed down a few key things that really make the biggest difference in setting yourself up for success.
Here’s what they are:
Develop a strong brand identity
Developing a strong brand identity is really hard when you’re first starting out, because just putting yourself out there and writing ANYTHING is daunting. Am I right?
You’re still trying to figure out what you want your blog to be about and what you actually want to do with it, so you just wing it for awhile. Before you know it, a year has gone by and you’re still “winging it” with your content, and wondering why you haven’t really grown.
Just like any good business, your blog also needs a brand identity and a well-defined target audience. You need to figure out what topics are on brand and what topics are off-brand–more importantly, what topics within those topics you’ll be writing about.
Think about human psychology. People take comfort in things they can process easily. If someone has to sit there and look at your blog and wonder what the heck your blog is actually about and what kind of content they can expect from you, they’re going to leave.
You want your target audience to immediately land on your site and think “oh wow! This is all so relevant to me!”
Bottom line: Figure out who your target audience is, and make sure every single thing you post caters to that audience. How do I know this? Because this precise thing is what has made the biggest difference in my blog growth!
A personal example: I know my target audience is a 25-34 year old career-driven woman who lives in the city. She likes to do yoga and try fun new workouts and go to brunch brunch with her girlfriends on the weekends, enjoys reading and loves to travel whenever she can, but doesn’t have an endless amount of funds to do so. When she goes shopping, she typically doesn’t like to spend more than $100 on the average item. She wants to be stylish and on-trend but not “trendy” and wants more ideas on how to get more creative with her wardrobe. She comes to my site for everyday inspiration and hopefully a laugh or two.
What my brand voice is: lighthearted, cheerful, uplifting, inspirational (but not aspirational), attainable, relatable, conversational (but still professional), personal style (not high-fashion)-focused.
I take this into consideration for every. Single. Thing. I post. That means that I won’t wear a $350 sweater on my blog, even if I absolutely ADORE it. I don’t wear those “cool girl” pointed toe patent leather booties that are hot right now, or wear pink faux fur jackets. Is it on trend? Yes. Is it attainable? No. It’s not on brand for me. Is it on brand for someone else? Of course it is, but that’s not what my audience comes to me for.
It means that if I have to chose between a grey dress and a bubblegum pink one, I pick the grey one one, because that is the most versatile and can be worn for several different occasions.
For the first few years, I would post a really trendy outfit one day, and then a really preppy outfit the next. There was no consistency–I just wore whatever I felt like at the time. I wasn’t gaining much traction and I certainly wasn’t making very much affiliate commission.
Then, I decided to dig really deep into figuring out who my audience was and how to really cater to them. (I did this with a reader survey, but you can also do it by simply talking to friends and family members who are members of the target audience you want to have!) That’s the beauty of just starting out–you don’t have an audience yet, so you can write for whomever you want–just make sure you’re writing to a specific audience, and not just “anyone who wants to listen.” If you do the latter, you’ll end up like me and have a “lightbulb” moment years later, like “why wasn’t I doing this the whole time?!”
Anyway, doing this not only helped guide me in creating my content, (“guide rails” so to speak–or like the bumper lanes in bowling!) but it allowed me to better serve my audience, attract more audience members who were interested in everything I was posting, instead of only liking SOME of the content I was posting–therefore, I didn’t just grow a lot more quickly, but that’s when I really started seeing the affiliate sales come in.
A couple years ago, I would say affiliate sales made up less than 10% of my total earnings. Now they’re closer to 50% or more. I am confident that this change in fine-tuning my brand and being hyper-focused in catering to my audience is the reason for that.
Does this mean that you have to only write about one thing forever? Of course not! Once you build a strong audience base, you can always expand, but it’s much easier to start specific and then go more broad, rather than the opposite.
Which brings me to my second point…
The biggest mistake we see bloggers make (we know this because we also made it ourselves!) is trying to be all over the place with their brand. This is really tempting because you WANT to write about all different kinds of things, because, well–it’s fun! Plus, you want to appeal to a wide range of people, right? That’s how you’ll grow?
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve talked to someone who said “I want to start a blog and write about all my passions–style, cooking, travel tips, and interior design.” And that’s really great! But, if you want to actually start a blog and make it go anywhere, that’s the opposite of what you should be doing.
I understand if you’re opposed to this, because every time I’d hear it, I would resist it too. “But what about my favorite lifestyle bloggers and websites!?” I would argue. “Cup of Jo? The Everygirl? Glitter Guide? Those are lifestyle sites, and they are wildly successful!”
Of course they are, because they started a long time ago where there was FAR less competition, AND, believe it or not, although they have diverse lifestyle content, they still are very niche specific when it comes to how they approach those different topics.
So, you really want to grow, pick a very specific subject that will be the common thread throughout your posts, and ONLY write about that. That ensures that every SINGLE person who comes to your site is going to be interested in everything that you write about, rather than say, clicking through a recipe post of yours on Pinterest only to come to a site that has beauty tips and a fashion post on the home page. That content isn’t relevant to them–they wanted food posts! So they leave.
We wrote a whole post about why narrowing your niche is the key to growth–so make sure to give it a read to see more of what I’m talking about.
Another huge mistake every new blogger makes is “starting with the free version and seeing how it goes.” or “taking photos with an iPhone because they don’t want to invest in a camera if they aren’t going to keep blogging”–you get the picture, right?
In blogging, you can’t grow without investing in yourself. Just like would be the case in any other endeavor or hobby. Would you expect to take up figure skating successfully without paying for lessons? Or good skates? Would you expect to get on the right track to be the first 35 year old woman CEO of your company if you refused to buy any new, tasteful work clothes? Or attend important workshops or get certifications that were going to set you apart from the other 100 people competing for your job?
So, why in the world do we think that we can just “start a blog” and expect it to go somewhere with virtually no upfront investment? It doesn’t work that way. Changing this mindset is absolutely imperative in setting yourself up for success. (Again, I’m speaking from experience here).
It doesn’t take a ton of money to get started, but it does take some!
For starters: you need to invest in a good WordPress theme. (It should set you back less than $100, nothing crazy!) If you’re going to be taking your own photos, you need to invest in a good camera and a good lens! (Consider buying used equipment too, which can save you a lot of cash!)
Additionally–there’s time investment, too. Blogging takes a lot of time. It takes discipline to find that time, too! But if you commit yourself to it, you’ll find the hours–I promise! Again, it’s all about the mindset.
Focus on Pinterest
All we ever hear is about instagram, instagram, instagram! Am I right? One glance at your feed and it’s enough to want to make you want to cry sometimes. Why is your friend growing faster than you? How does she have so many more comments? Why did nobody like the photo you thought was going to do so well?
Let’s be honest, it’s a toxic rabbit hole if you don’t keep your wits about you. But there’s some good news.
Instagram isn’t your biggest key to growth. Pinterest is.
Yes, you need to be posting on Instagram. Post at least once a day if you can, of course, and regularly engage with your audience. But stop wasting SO much time on Instagram when your time is so much better spent on Pinterest!
It is by far the most lucrative social platform and will result in farrrr more traffic than Instagram ever will. Your blog is the most important, and it always will be! The internet isn’t going anywhere, and the content you produce on your blog lives on forever. But Instagram? It’s going to be the next MySpace one day, and then what?
If you’re one of those smart bloggers who didn’t get lost in the Instagram comparison game and instead focused on a few, super smart strategies with Pinterest and SEO, for example, to grow your blog, in a few years, you’ll be laughing all the way to the bank when Instagram goes *POOF!*
Make sure to read this article for our most recent tips on Pinterest!
Make friends with peers on your level
This one is so important!
Goodness, I mean, if Blair and I hadn’t become good friends–A. You wouldn’t even be reading this site right now (it wouldn’t exist!) and B. I have no idea where I would be as a blogger. Blair has taught me so much about WordPress, about graphic design, about photography. We learn so much from each other on a daily basis. Being able to send a text to our group text with Blair, Shaheen and Kelly about something I need help with, asking advice, or even just venting about something I’m frustrated about, has been absolutely vital!
When I first started out, I would reach out to huge bloggers–seriously this is embarrassing but I actually emailed Cupcakes and Cashmere asking if she had any blogging tips. (Was I HIGH?!)
My biggest piece of advice–seek out those who are in the same spot on their blogging journey as you are. People who are in your niche and similar to you in size. You not only learn so much more from one another and help each other grow so much faster than you would do on your own, but they might just become some of your very best friends, too 🙂 You can see our article on Networking for Bloggers right over here!