Darren’s recent poll on How Long Have You Been Blogging suggests that over half ProBlogger’s readers have been blogging for under a year (and of those, a sizeable proportion have yet to launch their blog).
It’s a difficult stage to be at – and I know, because I’m there with a new blog at the moment. Checking stats daily (or hourly), getting over-excited about every comment, wondering how on earth to figure out what your readers want when you don’t have many of them … and that’s if you even manage to overcome your desire for perfectionism, or your nerves, long enough to get your blog off the ground!
So what can new bloggers do to make the early stages a bit easier? Three things that can help are:
- 1. Looking at the experiences and early posts of current big names in the blogosphere
- 2. Making a checklist of what really needs to be done before your launch, your revamp or your big promotional push
- 3. Slowly turning the focus of your blog from “me the blogger” to “you the reader”
Even Big Names Started Out Small
In blogging, very few people start off with a ready-made audience or with the financial backing to make an instant splash (socialites like Arianna Huffington excepted). The majority of bloggers on the “A list” today started off with zero readers, and grew gradually.
Perhaps one of the best-known examples is Leo Babauta of Zen Habits. Leo’s first post was in February 2007; he now has 125,000 subscribers, and has just released an ebook about Zen Habits’ success. In the ebook, he admits that in the early days, “I asked a few friends to leave some comments, just so that the blog wouldn’t look so empty.”
However amazing the bloggers you look up to are now, there was a point in time when none of them had ever written a blog post – or even heard of a blog. So if you had some blogging mis-steps to begin with, take heart: Yaro Starak, of Entrepreneur’s Journey writes in part five of his business timeline about how “although I had installed a blog on BetterEdit.com as early as November 2004 I had rarely made new posts.”
Your Voice Develops With Time
I often feel that I lack a strong “blogging voice” – partly because I write for several different blogs as a freelancer, so tend to adapt my style a lot to the needs of various audiences. There are many bloggers whose voice I admire, and even feel a bit intimidated by; it seems to come so easily to them.
It was only when I started digging right back into some great blog-writers’ archives that I realised everyone starts out sounding a bit stilted. Here’s a quote from a very early post by James Chartland, of Men with Pens fame:
- Tell potential clients what you will do. Be exact and concise. Cover everything and provide all the details.
- Ask a question about the project. Show interest and that you have paid attention to what the client needs.
(from How to Be a Professional Freelancer)
There’s nothing wrong with the language used there (James is a copywriter, after all), but it’s … a bit bland and ordinary. Frankly, if you’re a current Men with Pens reader, you probably wouldn’t recognise it as James – just compare it with this:
The train trip there was great. I love trains. The city was great, too. (Though I was heard to often mumble, “There’s a lot of people,” throughout the week.) The hotel was okay (I’ve seen better), the sights were amazing and the attractions were fun. Oh, and I went shoe shopping with Naomi. (For sneakers. Please.)
This shows several hallmarks of James’ style: use of dialogue, chatty but zingy language, and a certain willingness to bend the rules of grammar (“For sneakers. Please.” probably aren’t sentences that your crusty English teacher would approve of.) Even the title of the post is much more engaging and personable.
So don’t spend hours writing posts and deleting them – just start getting content out there. The more you write, and the more you share your writing with an audience, the closer you’ll come to finding your true blogging voice.
What Actions Do You REALLY Need to Take?
If you’re currently planning a blog, or waiting to relaunch or restart an existing one, don’t keep waiting for the perfect moment. You’ll always wish you had more time, more knowledge, and more support, and frankly the only way you’re likely to get them is by getting started! In his ebook on the Zen Habits story, Leo talks about his situation when he started out:
Maybe you think you haven’t got what it takes? That’s what I thought when I first started Zen Habits. In fact, I started off without goals, without money, and with no time. Now Zen Habits (http://zenhabits.net) has more than 100,000 subscribers—and a thousand more are joining each week.
(from The Zen Habits Story)
And even those who have made it know there’ll never be a perfect moment: here are Darren’s words about the launch of TwiTip:
“Late last week I realized that if I was waiting to ‘have time’ to start it that I never would – so I bit the bullet and got it going.”
Try making a check list of the absolute essentials that you need to get done before the next step. Can those design tweaks wait? Is anyone really going to notice if the font isn’t perfect? Focus on:
- Creating compelling content
- Any major usability issues (eg. your RSS feed not working!)
- Getting the word out about your blog – using social media sites and contacts
You could also take a goal-focused approach, and concentrate on trying to meet some small, immediate goals, rather than day-dreaming of your future fame and fortune (not that there’s anything wrong with that, it’s what keeps me going too…)
Don’t worry if you have the feeling that you’re writing into a vacuum. It can seem like a chicken-and-egg situation to begin with: you want to create content that readers will love, but until you actually have enough readers to give you some feedback, you won’t know what they want. Just keep going – once you start getting traffic, you’ll start learning what people want to read. It worked pretty darn well for Naomi Dunford of IttyBiz fame:
“I managed to get my hands on a boatload of traffic and asked them what they wanted in a small business and marketing blog. Because they were nice, they told me.”
Turning the Focus from “Me” to “You”
Once you begin to build up your readership, you might need to start changing your focus. Many bloggers start out by writing about their own struggles or goals. For example, Leo started Zen Habits as a way to keep himself accountable and to write about his own self improvement (as well as to share his experiences).
Another good example is Trent Hamm, who started The Simple Dollar to work through his own financial difficulties, and again to share what he learnt. You can see this in his early posts, where his focus is primarily on lessons drawn from his own personal story:
“It was very intimidating to look at my finances in this way, and it made it clear to me that I needed to make some major changes in my spending and saving habits.”
As Trent’s readership grew, he began focusing much more on readers’ questions and problems, and this is reflected in the voice of more recent posts – notice how he uses “you” and “your” here:
As long as you’re subscribing to the overall principle of spending less than you earn – and either way you choose, you’re not spending much money here – either choice is healthy because it expands on your existing non-financial values. Frugality or career-building both trump idleness.
If you’re trying to develop a blog from the early stages, consider shifting the focus onto “you” the audience: see what people are asking about in comments, or read other blogs in your area for ideas. Keep your personal touch, but make sure the content is relevant, valuable and useful to the reader.
You don’t have to rule out a personal blog altogether, though: it might not shoot you into the Technorati Top 100, but it could be a valuable outlet. There can be a bit of a gulf in the blogging world between would-be ProBloggers and diarist bloggers, but Darren has a personal blog, and there’s no reason why you shouldn’t too.
The Take-Home Message
Don’t worry about writing the “perfect” next post: just start writing. Don’t fret about your blog’s design being perfect. Don’t feel depressed because your subscribers haven’t even reached three figures. You’ll develop your voice and style, and your audience, as you go along.
With its focus on stats and instant feedback, blogging can bring out the perfectionist in all of us. Remember that everyone started somewhere – and the success stories of 2009 and 2010 are still waiting to be written.
About the Author: Ali Hale has recently launched Aliventures, a blog that explores how to get more from life. She’s also a professional writer and blogger, and has written a guide to making money from freelance blogging.