Part 1. Blogging, Before I Got the Bright Idea to Relaunch and Rebrand: What I Did Right. Maybe.
Here’s my curse: I’m lucky. Things always seem to work out for me and even when they go wrong, they’re never actually as bad as they ought to be. I’ve never had a white knight ride into my life on a unicorn but things have never been so bad that I wished for one. Lucky, lucky me.
Why is that a curse? Because, when planning (ahem. I use the word loosely) to rebrand and relaunch my site using WordPress and a professionally designed theme, I counted on Plan A working.
That was my first mistake.
My second mistake: When scoping (hahahahahahaha. sure. THAT’s what you call it) out the conversion, I expected Plan A to take place in a miraculous, lucky context.
The planets and stars would align in the House of Luck and the wind would be at my back and I am remorselessly killing the English language one mixed metaphor at a time.
Because I’m lucky, after all.
Lucky Blogging. The Beginning. It is Seductive.
Fortunately, when it comes to blogging, I didn’t do EVERYTHING wrong.
Here’s what I did right.
I started blogging because I needed to write. Luckily, I’m a half-way decent wordsmith so that part came easily.
Then I got lucky and people started reading my blog. More people than I know. Friends of friends. Strangers. You. I can’t believe my luck.
Then I started trying to figure out how to properly blog. I found ProBlogger and it’s archive of awesomeness.
Google and luck were on my side and also gave me White Hot Truth and I went to a fire starter and it lit me up. I thought, yes, I CAN do this. I can live like an artist, baby. I will.
Then, by sheer, random dumb luck, I found the World’s Strongest Librarian and he pushed me to start guest-posting.
(First I mulled on it for, oh, three months because although I’m sassy in text, I am ridiculously timid about making requests. My askus requestus muscle is highly underdeveloped. Offer to write something, for free, for someone else? THE NERVE. Case in point: I wrote a piece I intended for ProBlogger and then was far too scared to actually submit it. So I didn’t. I sat on the completed, undeniably awesome essay for ten days until I had a WTF moment and sent it. Luckily, Darren liked it and used it. WTF moments are important.)
So I started guest posting. More people came to read my site and said nice things and started following me on Twitter. I love Twitter, maybe even more than Facebook.
And I love Facebook something fierce and unholy because my future website developer/designer friended me there.
Lucky Blogging Makes You Uppity and Think You Can Change The World Or At Least Your Site.
My facebook designer friend and I became real, offline friends. IM conversations, cupcakes and a festival were involved and then it turned into a business relationship.
It was time to redesign my site. (I say redesign, but “design” is an overstatement for what I originally slapped together, so the “re” is a hairy lie.)
Now, luckily, thanks to the genius of The Internet and Facebook, I had a designer/friend whose work ethic and aesthetic I trusted. I could say bad words and be anxious and require handholding – while toggling back and forth between states of extreme control freakiness and childlike need for reassurance – and as a friend/vendor she’d be obliged to provide it. Lucky, lucky me.
So, in my blogging journey this is what I did right:
- When I started, I just started. I started somewhere/anywhere and figured out my focus and my mission as I went. This took six months
- I wrote good stuff
- People liked it
- I sought out expertise and experts and handholders
- I made friends. (If I was an internet marketer, I’d say I ‘networked’ but really I’m too socially awkward to network. It is juju love and cupcakes or nothing, baby.)
- I grew my blog organically until it – and I – needed a focus, a brand, a name, and a proper design
- Then, because I had friends, and had been following in their illustrious footsteps, I knew how to undertake the focus/name/brand/proper site challenge. I thought.
I was lucky. In the first six months of blogging, I did just enough right to think that wings and prayers and hot content were enough. Curses.
Still Lucky-Blogging. Tragedy Looms.
My luck held. My brain was on. I researched the design process. I researched sites I liked for inspiration. I thought about architecture. I thought about aesthetics. I thought about branding. I chose a developer with whom I actually wanted to work. I wrote a design brief, which forced me to clarify my vision, articulate it and map out the objectives for the site. My design brief gave my designer targets to hit and a guide for decision-making. She liked it and referred to it often. She told me so.
I invited feedback on the design and made changes. We tested the site. It was ready. It was time.
Part 2. My Blog Relaunch/Rebrand/Redesign: What I Did Wrong. No Doubt About It.
Luck was my lady. I had been blogging for six months and everything I tried, worked, and worked easily.
Then I made some quick, on-the-fly, hosting-related decisions and it all came crashing down.
Literally. There was an FTP error and internal permissions problem and what my hosting provider described to me in confidence-inspiring, technical language as a “zit”.
My new, pretty site? Nowhere to be found. My old ugly site? Also missing.
My sanity? See above. The same answers apply.
My Luck Runs Out. My Hosting Company Hates Me. Worse, It Is Indifferent.
In the midst of the bleeding and the bullets and grievous wounds inflicted upon me and my blog by my apparently uncaring service provider, I had a talk with a friend who manages huge communications projects with fancy, schmancy interactive sites. It went like this:
Friend: Can I suggest something?
Kelly Diels: Please.
Friend: Look at your site as your third child and guard it accordingly. Anytime someone is going to touch it, ask the following four questions:
A. Is it necessary?
B. What is the change?
C. What is the impact of that change?
D. What is the implementation/reversion plan? If the change goes to poop [KD note: he said a bad word here, but I'm prettying it up for you], how do I get back to my original state?
Your site must be up 24/7 as you never know who might be trying to access it. You probably have this in-hand but just my thoughts.
Kelly Diels: That was good. A little structure would have been useful…and preventative. I did not scope out the conversion process at all.
Friend: See your site as priority #1 and question and approve any changes made to it. Own it. It is not a toy. It is your business.
Kelly Diels: That is good advice.
Friend (pressing his luck): Thank you. Can I feel your breasts?
Kelly Diels: No.
Luckily, Boot-straps Are Good For Self-Flagellation, Too. Indulge Me.
You see what kind of emergency state I was in? I was soliciting advice (wise, as it turns out) from a very, very bad man.
I blame the trickster luck for my dilemma. If I wasn’t so lucky, all the time, I probably would have been more cautious. Maybe I would have done my research and made a plan. I certainly would have done things differently.
What I would do differently:
- Research service standards and guarantees.
- I should have researched service standards for hosting and compared them. If something is wrong, how fast does it get fixed?
- I should have researched the internal business processes for hosts. If something is wrong, do I call and it gets resolved right now? Or does a queue ticket get issued and the techies get to it when they get to it?
- I also should have researched what my current host would need from me to expedite transferring my domain to another hosting company. (Heads up, service provider.)
This is all basic project management stuff – which I know, and actually DO in my day job – applied to a context with which I’m not familiar (hosting, databases, technical details, design). I should have applied the skills and rigour of my “real” job to my own business. I’m still amazed that I didn’t.
I know why I didn’t. It was luck and freedom. They’re villains.
Part of the appeal of having your own business is the freedom to plot your own path and not be beholden by externally prescribed rules and processes. But some processes – like project scoping and management – are essential, and just because they feel work-like and bureaucratic doesn’t mean you should dismiss them. I will never, ever not scope a personal project again.
Luck and the Lady-Blogger. Not a Love Story.
Recently, I was interviewed as an “up and coming” blogger by another blogger. Srinivas Rao asked me how I figured out how to blog. Did I take a course, seek out resources and guides? Or am I making it up as I go along?
Oh, I am tap-dancing in the wind and the wind has no rhythm.
Until this week, that was both a flippant and a true answer. That’s freedom talking. And that was stupid.
The interview was for Srini’s blog called Skool of Life, which is very appropriate because the lessons I learned this week about how NOT to relaunch your blog are definitely school of life-ish stuff.
The best lessons usually are. I heard this on Twitter, so it must be true.
Luckily, I will do better next time. Because next time I won’t rely on luck.
Kelly Diels is a freelance writer and creator of the blog Cleavage (about sex, money and meaning, what’s not to love?) which has caused her to sob deep and wide rivers of tears this week. The blog is now fixed and prettier than ever. Please go look.