It’s hard to believe, but Running on Real Food just had it’s two year anniversary at the end of January! With two years of experience behind me, I wanted to share a bit of advice for new bloggers.
During the last 2 years blogging was very much a hobby that didn’t always receive priority in my life. That being said, I still made some money, had a lot of fun, learned a ton and met plenty of wonderful people. As I head into my third year, I’ve been applying all I’ve learned during the last two years and really started to focus on growing from a hobby to a business.
Moving in to 2015 I have many exciting goals for Running on Real Food and I know I can achieve them if I put my mind to it.
Looking back at my last two years and knowing what I know now, I wanted to share what I would have done a little differently. If you’re just starting out with your blog, lucky you! You’ve got a clean slate to charge ahead! Or maybe you’re like me and have been at it for a while but had it on the back-burner, well if you’re up for it, now’s the time to get to work! Let’s do this!
1. Keep a good record of your income and expenses.
Tax season has arrived and once again, I’m kicking myself for not keeping better records last year. I started out great, recording everything, keeping blog income in a separate account and tracking all my expenses, but then I spent some of the money and neglected to properly record expenses and now I’m in a scramble to get it all together.
The funny thing is, it only takes a few minutes each month to track your finances and those few minutes can save you a TON of time when the end of the year rolls around.
Since January, I’ve been on top of it and next year will be a breeze. I don’t do anything too complicated for tracking blog-related income and expenses. I use a Google Docs spreadsheet for money coming in and going out and I scan my receipts and save them in Evernote. I also have separate bank account where I keep all of the income generated from Running on Real Food. If you want to get a little more high-tech, Wave Accounting software is an excellent free option for bookkeeping.
Treat your blog like a business from early on and it will set you up for success down the road.
2. Develop consistent branding early on.
Even though I work in graphic design, I decided to ignore my own knowledge and experience when it came to work I was doing for myself. Before you launch your blog, take the time to develop your branding. It is so important. You’ll want to choose 2-3 fonts, blog colours, the theme and feel of your blog and of course, a logo. Develop this early on and stick to it as you grow your blog.
During my first two years, I was all over the place without any real consistent branding. Now I have to go back and update a ton of graphics to match the branding I’ve finally put in place after two years! Plus a ton of my content is already out there and none of it stands out as “Running on Real Food.”
It’s okay to makes small changes as you grow but try to be consistent as possible, not just in your site design but also your online voice and subject matter.
3. Re-invest in your business.
At the beginning when you’re making a little money but not a huge amount, re-invest it in your business, or at least set it aside. I spent almost all my blog income from 2014 on personal expenses, when I should have re-invested it in Running on Real Food. I’ve been wanting new photography equipment and I would have had more than enough money if I had have stuck to saving my blog income.
I now keep all my blog income in a separate account from my personal banking. This not only helps me track money coming in but prevents me from spending it on personal items.
4. Stop comparing your blog to others.
For the first year and well into the second, I constantly compared my blog to others. This caused me a lot of anxiety, self-doubt and indecisiveness. I would see a blog I liked and want to emulate it, but then I’d see another one, and another one, and another one! This will drive you crazy and you’ll never get anywhere on your own site.
What I’ve realized now is that no one can do what you do. Stop comparing yourself, your writing, your recipes, your success and your work to others and don’t try to be someone you’re not.
I have my favourite blogs but now I just appreciate and enjoy them and try to focus on doing my own thing. Taking inspiration from of bloggers is totally fine but try to be yourself and create something that says “you!”
5. Be brave.
I’m still struggling with this big time. Blogging is scary, writing is scary and putting yourself out there online is scary. You have to open yourself up to judgement and criticism, which is probably why I hold so much back. It’s such a fine line. How much of your personality to show? How casual to be? How much of yourself do you censor?
There are so many posts I want to write but still haven’t found the courage to write them. When I do tend to let more of myself show through in my writing, those posts always have more engagement than the ones where I hold back.
The world wide web is so jam packed that I think you have to be brave and different to get noticed. Now if I could only figure out just how to do that.
If you can find perfect line between self-censorship, honesty and your true self, you’re good to go.
6. Put your ideas into action.
It’s been said that success is 5% inspiration and 95% hard work. I have so many ideas for Running on Real Food and thus far, only a fraction of them come to fruition. Do whatever you have to do to just get started. Once you’ve started, the ball is rolling and it’s a lot easier to keep momentum than not moving at at all.
7. Be more decisive.
I wasted a lot of time in my first two years on decisions that should have taken minutes. I even put off starting Running on Real Food for two years because I couldn’t decide on a name! The faster you make decisions, big and small, the faster you’ll reach your goals. Don’t be afraid to fail either, the more you fail, the more success you’ll have.
Anyone at the top of their game will tell you they failed many, many times before finding success. It’s not that successful people don’t feel fear when it comes to taking risks, it’s that they jump in and get started despite of fear.
8. Organize and plan.
I was so disorganized during my first two years and I think it showed in my writing, recipes and photography. I blogged on a whim with no editorial calendar or real plan at all. I now try to plan out at least a few weeks worth of posts and get them done ahead of time. This has completely changed how I blog and I only wish I had implemented it sooner.
I now plan my recipes ahead of time and will make and shoot three or four in one day. This saves me time, money, stress and it’s just a whole lot easier! I also keep better recipe notes now, whereas I used to jot things down haphazardly on little scraps of paper that I would either a. lose, or b. not be able to read when I came back to it. When I have to try a recipe three or four times before posting, now I have the notes to adjust ingredients as needed, rather than trying to remember it all in my head, which never works!
10. Be more consistent with the little things.
I’ve really improved this aspect of my blogging in the last little while and putting in the extra work really does pay off. I’m talking about commenting on blogs, being consistent across all your social media accounts and all those other litlte things that add up to be big things.
All you need is about 5-10 minutes a day/platform to make a huge difference in both traffic to your blog and growing your social accounts. You can either work on this daily or set aside an hour on the weekend to schedule all your content for the week ahead.
I am absolutely in love with Co-Schedule for promoting my content and scheduling posts to my social media accounts. It integrates right into WordPress and is incredibly effective and easy to use. Plus, it’s very affordable and I find it to be completely worth the small investment.
11. Optimize every post for SEO from the beginning.
I was lazy with SEO when I first started blogging, even though it’s really quite simple to implement at least a basic SEO strategy to your site. If you’re on WordPress start with SEO Yoast plugin, then purchase SEO for Food Bloggers to really dig in and watch your traffic soar. Click here to purchase.
You don’t have to go crazy with writing for search engines but a little SEO work goes a long way in growing your organic search traffic. It’s something to always keep in mind when you’re planning a post. That being said, it’s okay to write your posts for people rather than robots, however, you should still follow SEO basics for each post you write. You work hard on your content so you want people to be able to find it, right?
Because I neglected this important piece of the puzzle, I’m having to go back and optimize posts from the good part of two years. It’s tedious work and not much fun. Get informed early on, optimize all your posts from day one and you’ll be much better off if you do decide you really want to make a go of this whole blogging as a business thing.
13. Build your email list from day one.
Oh, do I ever regret not doing this from day one. I only just implemented a mailing list when I know I should have done it years ago. Building your email list is the single most important thing you can do to build your online business. It’s your way to contact your readers, keep them coming back to your blog, provide value and when you’re ready to launch for your first product, you’ll be able to let your biggest fans know!
The best thing you can do from day one is develop a free product you can giveaway in exchange for an email sign-up. It could be content that’s already available on your blog, as long as it’s valuable information.
Once you start building your email list, it’s time to start actually start sending emails! It could be weekly, monthly or even quarterly update with exclusive content just for your readers. Your email list is the single most valuable aspect of your blog, so don’t ignore it for two year like I did. I’m currently using MailChimp for my list but AWeber is also a good option.
12. Don’t post just for the sake of posting.
I used to do this all the time, just to get something, anything, posted. I felt like I had to post 3, 4 or even 5 times a week but in all reality, I would have been much better off producing one quality post per week. Think about what you want your body of work to look like in 5 or 10 years, would you want that post you’re writing to be included?
Having said that, don’t get too obsessed with perfection either. Not everything can be 100% perfect, if it were, nothing would ever get done! Sometimes it’s okay to accept something as ‘enough’ and just get it done.
13. Never, ever stop learning and improving.
There is so much to learn and the industry moves fast, so listen to podcasts, read online marketing blogs, research, do tutorials, whatever you need to do to keep improving your site. This is a great way to not only improve your own work but become an expert in your field. If you feel like you don’t have time, I hear ya but there is time, if you make it. I listen to podcasts on my commute and lunch break, read just a few minutes every night and set aside a little time each week to check in on blogging and marketing sites to see what’s new.
If you’re just starting out with your blog and don’t have money to hire a designer or whatever it may be, guaranteed you can probably figure out how to do it yourself online. It depends on how much time you have ad what the project is of course, so at times it may be more efficient just to pay someone. You may need to hire someone to design your logo and any graphic elements but even that can be done with free software these days. Sites like Fiver and 99 Designs also offer cost effective solutions to any of your design or tech needs.
And chances are, if you get stuck in WordPress you’ll be able to figure it out yourself with just a little online research. If you need a big change to your website functionality, you’ll probably need to work with a developer but for the little stuff, it’s a great way to learn and save money!
14. Put photography first from the beginning.
When I started out, I didn’t fully understand just how important good imagery is to your site. Content is still the most important thing but having quality photos, especially if you’re a food blogger, will directly effect your success. Luckily, it’s not that hard to at least improve to an acceptable level of photography. I’m still learning but I’ve improved leaps and bounds from my first posts. I’d say moving from okay to great is the hard part when it comes to photography. I hope to really focus in this year and get my photos to a level that I’m really proud of.
For food bloggers, there are a lot of great resources out there to get you started if you’re new to all this. My favourites are Tasty Photography by Pinch of Yum and Food Photography School by Minimalist Baker. If you’re not going to be taking your own photos, visit my Blogging Resources page for a list of free stock photography sites. Whether you take your own photos or use stock photography, be sure to include at least one quality image in every post.
There you have it, I hope you guys enjoyed my 14 tips for new bloggers! Starting a blog is exciting and a lot of fun. If you’re still thinking about, read my How to Start a Blog in 3 Simple Steps page and get started today! Imagine where you could be in 2 years!