The name “Katie 180” was gaining traction in Australian blogging circles before Katie Rainbird’s site was even launched. Two short months after she first pressed “publish”, Eden Riley, one of Australia’s best bloggers, pointed her out in the crowd of a Digital Parents conference. “If you want to know how to start a blog,” she said, “just go and read Katie180”. This caught the attention of one Darren Rowse in the audience, who quickly secured her to speak at his own conference later that year.
So how did someone who had only a handful of posts to her name get the attention of the Aussie big guns – something we all would have loved in our early days?
Well, let’s find out.
With a long-held dream of writing, Katie believed she could seamlessly marry her newfound nutrition knowledge with her love of prose. Eschewing the more traditional route of diet advice private practice, Katie took to the internet with her smarts and a burning ambition: Write. Be seen.
“Whilst studying nutrition I started planning to take my knowledge and put it to paper, so to speak,” she says. “Originally I thought about freelancing, but once I discovered blogging it was a real ‘ah-ha’ moment for me and I just KNEW that was the way for me to go!”
Without wanting to rush into things, Katie ensured her site was properly designed and she was finished her studies before launching. A far cry from some of us who blog first and ask questions later!
“Well I didn’t really wait long when you consider that I only decided upon blogging in my final year of college (two years ago),” she says. “I wanted to be qualified before I started blogging about nutrition, and I wanted it to be perfect – ha! But I set my mind to a New Year launch, and even though my blog design wasn’t up to my perfect standards, I hit publish on my first post on January 10th, 2013.
With all that time to tinker before birthing her blog baby, she did a lot of behind-the-scenes preparation. A list that looks a little something like this:
- Firstly I applied to a call out for guest bloggers on an American based raw food blog, which was accepted and I posted for them with strict deadlines, word counts and of course, content – although I was a nutritionist I wasn’t a raw foodie so it tested my skills.
- I attended writing and blogging courses held at the Australian Writers’ Centre.
- I “collected” other nutrition or healthy/foodie types of blogs (even those I didn’t really like or align with) to get a feel for what was going on in this genre and I would take note of which posts received the most commentary or interaction.
- I tested the waters with a Facebook group on my personal Facebook page, which was also called Katie180 and I would post there a couple of times a week: recipes, photos of food, summaries of nutrient actions and fast facts kind of stuff. It was quite well received and gave me a lot of confidence that so too would my real blog once I started it. It also provided me with an audience ready to follow me over.
- I also did this with Instagram, I built up a following and a fair few people asked after my blog before it was even launched so I knew that I’d have readers there too.
- I outsourced my blog design to a professional team and spent many months working with them on my logo, header, colour scheme, format etc.
- Once I was blogging I quickly joined Twitter and set up a professional Facebook page and I’d plug every post across these two platforms plus my original Katie180 Facebook group and Instagram (even though that’s a bit cheeky but I wanted to catch readers any way I could!)
But with all that preparation and forward-thinking, Katie was still plagued with the concerns that any new blogger has: that no-one would read her blog. “That I’d put all this effort in and it would just be sitting there, sad and alone!” she says.
As usually happens, the excitement of starting a blog soon overshadowed those early-days concerns. Katie says it was a relief to have her voice heard, as was “breaking with convention insofar as my study path was concerned, not going into practice, not waiting around for people to come and find me, rather putting myself out there loud and proud!”
Before the Blog: What did she learn?
“The most important things I learned were from other bloggers (just from reading their blogs): to write in my own voice – be authentic, brave and passionate. To connect – respond, reply, interact across social media because that makes readers feel important and promotes loyal readership (and word of mouth.) To blog regularly – keep in their faces, keep relevant, be out there!”
Early Days: what did she learn?
“The number-one thing I learned was that it takes SO much more time than you think,” she says. “Imagine being asked at 5pm to submit an essay by 9am the next day – one that would entertain and inspire people and if possible include artistically styled photographs and full references to all sources of information. That’s kind of what writing my blog feels like considering I have young children and most of my writing is done after hours.
“Then there’s recipe sourcing, tweaking or inventing plus All the cooking, photographing etc.
“I work on my blog every day, even the days I don’t post – I’m replying to comments, emails and connecting via Facebook and Instagram,” she says.
“Another important point is that my target audience changed from who I imagined them to be to who they actually are and I began to write for them rather than bang my head on my desk wondering why my posts weren’t being received the way I wanted them to (the heavier reading/educational posts.) I don’t see this as a bad move because I have more readers now and, as such a bigger audience for when I do choose to publish longer articles.”
The basics: Design, Hosting, Content, oh my!
With an overwhelming amount of advice out there on how to get started, Katie cherry-picked the pieces that would work for her pie.
“I had read a number of blogs with posts focused on ‘What I learned this year’, or ‘How to start a blog’, and so on, and I knew that WordPress was preferred,” she said. “I wanted to give my money to an Australian company so I typed “blog design Australia” into Google and found The Blog Designers (clever name guys!) who were very friendly at my first phone call and had a set price of $500 for the entire job so that was that!” (theblogdesigners.com)
“I bought a domain name, I couldn’t get a .com so I went with .au. The team at The Blog Designers recommended a host so all of that techie/design stuff wasn’t in my hands, which took a major load off because that ‘aint my bag!
“My husband and I set up a company, Rainbird Media because he works for himself and via my blog I hope to also, so all these kind of costs can be factored in as expenses.
The next step: being seen
Blogging is never ‘build it and they will come’, more ‘get out there and be a part of the blogosphere’. How did Katie manage that in her early days? “Follow, ‘like’, comment, share, recommend, email directly, stalk – ha ha! It’s no different than how you connect offline,” she says. “You start hanging around and then you make small talk and if you hit it off then you have new friends.”
Looking back – what worked, what didn’t?
Hindsight is super-useful, and it’s no different with blogging. Looking back, Katie says the things she learned that she would do differently this time was to: “Write three months worth of posts and keep them in my drafts folder for rainy days. Do much more planning, recipe testing and photographing in advance. Learn about how to use WordPress, my camera and all the other gadgety bits that make blogs sexier for readers.”
Katie’s Top Takeaways for newbie bloggers
1. Know your specialty, you won’t be able to write with oomph unless you personally dig it.
2. Pay attention to formatting and punctuation. Take a writing course if you can afford to.
3. Hang out at other blogs, get a feel for how you’d like your blog to function and look like. Whilst you’re at it, make friends with the bloggers and regular readers/commentors because these are your people now!
4. Outsource design and tech support if you can afford it.
5. Allow time for it, because it’s going to take time, even if it’s “just” a hobby blog. But if your plans are to use it as a platform to earn money then treat it with the same respect you would an internship at the best job you could ever imagine!
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