Four bloggers share their best tips and advice. Here are our guests:
Laura Caldentey (LC): Runs a blog about illustrations, lifestyle and photography.
Thom Chambers (TC): Runs an online magazine project showing “you how to make a living with words by being your own publishing house”.
Park Howell (PH): Calls himself sustainable storyteller.
Annika Ruohonen (AR): A fine art photographer based in Finland.
How and why did you start your blog?
LC: I started to blog because I was very inspired by other bloggers on the internet. I wanted to share my work and my experiences with others.
TC: My blog goes behind the scenes at the micropublishing house, showing my approach to the work I do. I started the site because it’s the best form of promotion I can imagine. It’s valuable to the business because it spreads the ideas in the magazines, it’s valuable to readers (hopefully) because it offers ideas and does so for free, and it’s valuable to me because it forces me to become a better, more concise writer. Not a bad combination, all in all.
PH: I started to post about green marketing and sustainability to further define our ad agency’s position in this growing niche. When the recession hit, I realized that we needed to do a better job of communicating our unique strategy and creative capabilities relative to sustainability. Blogging and using online social media was one of the best ways to share our agency with the world.
AR: I have always been into writing but I haven’t found the right way to express myself. Seven years ago I tried to blog in my native language, Finnish. I wrote about being a full time mum at home, my only occupation at that time. Somehow writing in English turned out to be more satisfying to me. My present blog I started mainly to show my photos and share the impressions coming up in my mind when I shoot and look at images.
How much time do you spend working on it?
LC: I write in Spanish and in English so that takes more time to blog. I think I spend more or less about 3-4 hours per week on taking pictures and writing. But then I also spend more time reading other blogs, commenting on other blogs and promoting my blog. Also I spent a lot of hours that I can’t count with the site design. The usual tasks are taking good pictures, editing, posting and promoting.
TC: Over the years I’ve been terrible at sticking to this, but at the moment I’m blogging every day. Magazines are, by their nature, slow media. They come out every few weeks or so, and online a week is a long time. It’s nice to have the site as a more regular form of content running alongside them. I try to include an image from my world with each post. It gives that visual insight without me having to maintain an account on Flickr or Instagram. Nothing against social media, but I prefer to focus on doing a few platforms well rather than trying to be everywhere. With the photo and the post, I’d say it’s about an hour’s work a day.
PH: When I first began over three years ago, I spent between 15 and 20 hours per week listening online, researching, writing and promoting my posts. My goal was to reach 50 posts as quick as possible, because it seems the search engines start taking you seriously after 50 posts. This meant three to four articles per week, and I believe I wrote nearly 200 in my first year. It still is a ton of work, but your knowledge of your niche, social media and the world at large compounds itself through your efforts.
AR: I write whenever I have free time, mostly during the weekends and holidays. I wander in the wilderness of a forest, take pictures and pick up the most interesting ones. I always feel connected to my images throughout the process, from shooting to publishing. My blog allows me to write about this connection.
What is your best lesson learned?
LC: Be yourself and make your blog unique. Be inspired by other bloggers but don’t try to be exactly as them.
TC: Know why you want to start blogging. Blogs are fantastic ways to build a reputation, to spread ideas, and to connect with people. If that’s your goal, go for it. But if you want to make money, don’t start with a site. Start with a business, then use a site as the best possible means of promotion for that business. There are far too many bloggers out there who are starting blogs and trying to tack a business on to them. Can you see how absurdly backwards that is? Start with the business, then tack the site on to that.
PH: Despite popular belief, blogging is not a popularity contest. If you fixate on the numbers of your followers and feel like a loser if they’re not growing as quickly as you like, then the whole process becomes a psychological train wreck. I focus on writing about industry information I find interesting, and to help others see a different point-of-view, whether they agree with it or not. Sometimes writing is just therapeutic, and I don’t care if the post gets a bunch of hits. Sometimes you can be a mad scientist and test your followers’ paradigms. Sometimes you can just be jovial, or pissed off, or obtuse and simply let it fly. But all of the time, be you.
AR: I avoid getting too personally involved with my writing or revealing my personal life in details. For me straight-forward “this is how I feel today’” posts are not so interesting. My main challenge is to improve my writing, to convey a useful message by using the link between the words and the images. I would be happy if people could take something out of my words and images, if I would be able to bring forth new ideas and thoughts in others.
What is your best advice on how to grow a blog?
LC: I think that the quality is more important than quantity. I prefer to read only one or two good posts with great pictures than a bunch of posts which have been written quickly. So I think that creating good content for your blog is the most important thing. Spend time on it!
TC: Create something remarkable. Publish it in a way that’s enjoyable to read and easy to share. Encourage people to share it. Repeat, relentlessly. If you’re getting no traction and if nobody’s listening, then something’s going wrong with one of these three steps (here’s a hint: it’s probably the first one). You won’t get them all right every time – nobody does. But when you do, people share your work and slowly but surely your audience grows.
PH: Write with a unique voice. Don’t regurgitate existing content unless you make it WAY more interesting than the original. Test, poke and prod your readers’ mindsets, and try to nudge the world in whatever direction you choose.
AR: Tags. My students have blogs as well and they get lots of readers by adding interesting tags. Getting followers requires interesting content. Publishing high quality photos helps too. Moreover you also have to be interested in what other people write. WordPress is also a social media, if you comment on someone’s post they will most likely comment on yours.
What is your biggest mistake or mistake to avoid?
LC: Taking bad photos or having a bad blog design is a big mistake when making a blog. A blog has to be visually attractive. For example, I hate when I open a blog and it starts to play music or has a lot of blinking gifs and stuff like that, I close it instantly, even though its content might have been good.
TC: I should have committed to blogging far sooner than I did. Now that I’m using it to support the magazines, things work better than ever.
PH: My biggest mistake was listening to the so-called social media experts. There are really only about three or four. Unfortunately, I initially bought into the need to have massive amounts of followers and be loved by all. That just lead to superficial drama in my social media life, and I quickly abandoned the hedonistic practice.
AR: I don’t think I have made any big mistake yet, but it would be a nightmare for me to hurt someone’s feelings unintentionally, so I’m trying to be very careful not to do that.
What is your biggest success as a blogger?
LC: I’ve met new friends all around the world. The internet is magical in that way. It also gave me the opportunity of sharing my illustrations and finally starting and growing an online shop.
TC: I’d say my biggest achievement is actually in building an audience without a site. In my first 18 months online I built a subscriber list of over 2,000 while publishing fewer than 50 posts. The subscribers came from the magazine rather than the site, and it’s gratifying to know that it’s possible to experiment with different ways of publishing and still build an audience.
PH: I enjoy writing so much more now, and my followers are more authentic in their interest of my work. I just realized that my biggest mistake has become my greatest success: Be at peace with your blogging, and your audience will find you.
AR: One of my posts was featured on WordPress front page and due to that I have now more than 250 followers. That post has been read more than 4000 times and it has more than 300 likes. It is pretty amazing.