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Luck is a Curse. How NOT to Relaunch and Rebrand Your Blog. There May Be Tears.

A Guest Post by Kelly Diels. Image by Cayusa

Part 1. Blogging, Before I Got the Bright Idea to Relaunch and Rebrand: What I Did Right. Maybe.

luck.jpgHere’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.

And then…

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:

  1. 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.)
  2. Compare real costs. I would have consciously evaluated whether it is a good idea to choose a hosting provider that does or does not have a toll-free number. The company I chose does NOT have a toll-free number. I saved money by choosing a low-cost hosting package but then paid the difference -and then some, over and over – in long-distance charges. This is false economy.
  3. Question everything. I should have scoped out my hosting questions, up front, as part of the project plan. Instead, I chose the path of (apparent) least resistance, which was to stay with my current provider. (Heads up, current provider.)
  4. Invite feedback. I would have invited my developer’s opinion about companies she’s used (and loved!) in the past. I would have asked questions and solicited advice from my friends in the know about this sort of thing before I started, instead of in the midst, from the trenches, whilst under fire and bleeding.
  5. Question everything. Again. I would have asked my lecherous friend’s evil genius questions (above) about every single detail and at every decision point. For example, because my developer told me to, I switched my hosting from Windows to Linux. I made this choice without hesitation or investigation. This switch is exactly what caused the problem and caused my site to go offline for four days (and counting – at the time of writing it is still down). I didn’t anticipate the consequences of my decision because I didn’t think through the decision in the first place.
  6. Cop tools. Whatever it is that you’re doing, you are not the first to do this, so learn from the mistakes and successes of others. Ask them for their tools. My friend, for example, sent me a change management log to track edits and decisions to my site. It is usefulness gone Excel. My body parts are still off-limits, though.
  7. Formalize. Undertake and scope your own projects as thoroughly as you would for a client. Scope it. Question it. Plan it. Record it. Measure it. MANAGE it.
  8. Own it. Lead it. You ARE the leader. I would have taken my own business advice about blogging and owned it. Yes, it is a wise business decision to outsource the stuff I’m not good at; but I didn’t need to give away my authority, too. I should have assumed a Project Manager role instead of a passive client role. I should have forced myself to understand every single step and hurdle instead of thinking someone else would handle it because that is her job and she knows what she is doing. (She did it and she does.) This doesn’t mean that I would force myself to be well-rounded – which is a waste of energy – but I should have understood the issues and approached this more strategically.
  9. Anticipate problems. In addition to my lucky, cursed Plan A, I should have had Plan B through Z. I should have anticipated and assumed SNAFUs and adverse conditions and strategized accordingly.
  10. Eat your mistakes whole and do it better, next time. Please.

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?

I said:
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.

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Comments

  1. Before you send luck on its way, I can provide it a nice home and promise I will take good care of it.

  2. scheng1 says:

    wow, sounds more interesting than the paperback thriller I’m currently reading. There’s a dead blog (dead body), and the diligence detective (you).

  3. I’m looking to go through a rebranding process for my blog so this article couldn’t have arrived at a better time. I particularly like the ’3rd child’ reference – it’s definitely food for thought.

    On a side note, I like your writing style, a little quirky but refreshing. Good stuff :)

  4. Annie says:

    Very much liked this article! So much truth in it! Been there, done that and I totally like how you wrote about it! I just wish I had half the luck you have LoL :-)

  5. deskofken says:

    Great advise! What would you say to someone who offers to host you for free – in return they will get more traffic because of the publicity of your blog?

  6. Showing what you did right as well as what you did wrong was inspirational. Thanks for being transparent and sharing.

    And thanks for using humor in sharing your story. It made me smile. Actually I was laughing my ass off!

  7. abrablog says:

    luck is curse? Emm…

  8. I have been here, done this. The hardest lessons are the best….so they say.

  9. Alex says:

    Luckily this post came out a couple of hours after relaunching my blog, the only different is that I didn’t re brand it, my server was just down for a while, I am however adding my blog to another project and hoping for the best.

    Bests,
    Alex (GuruOfSales)

  10. @donpower says:

    Hi Kelly!

    There’s no such thing as LUCK. I think you, like all of us, are subject to the slings, arrows and adulations of FORTUNE.

    I talk about the distinction between the two in my blog post:

    Never Wish an Irishman Good Luck

    http://donpower.me/great-ideas/never-wish-an-irishman-good-luck/

    Good Fortune to you!

  11. I ran into this one yesterday (again): “7. Formalize. Undertake and scope your own projects as thoroughly as you would for a client.”
    Someone asked me for advice on how to revamp their site, and as I was writing my brisk and insightful advice I realized I have some of the same issues I was explaining to them how to fix on *my* own site. Go figure.
    Thank you for sharing these lessons.

  12. Blommi says:

    How horrifying to have your blog “snuffed out”. I had a scare once, and that was enough.

    I think I need to have a few WTF moments soon, I am skitish about approaching anyone for requests, also. My parenta must have told me one too many times, not to ask for things and it sunk in a little too well.

  13. Kelly, you aren’t the first and certainly won’t be the last to find out what happens when well-meaning folks who don’t understand how search engines work “help”.

    Check out the post I’ve linked to this comment which I wrote the day I saw the damage that had already been done by that kind of assistance. And that was far from the first time I’ve been the person to discover what was done too late to restore the drops.

    I’m working on a new post now that can assist you in getting your site found by your target audience. I hope you’ll come by and read it. The title will be Are You Playing Hide and Seek With Your Market?

  14. George Angus says:

    Darren,

    I love most of the stuff here anyway, but in this instance, Kelly really hit it out of the park. Hit me right at home as I struggle to do virtually the same thing.

    George

  15. Jon Samsel says:

    Kelly-

    I cringe because I feel your pain. Something similar happened to me once when I lost my entire blog due to a server admin who inadvertently deleted all the content on a remote hosted server. I was devastated!

    LUCKILY, I had set up an RSS feed to my own blog via Google Reader, so I had an electronic copy of all my site content (plus images) of every blog post for the prior 18 months. I was able to export all my posts and import them back into my blog as soon as my new server was up and running. All I had to do was go in and reassign dates for each post, plus add back deleted hyperlinks. A pain, no doubt, but manageable.

    Who knew Google Reader and RSS feeds could be a super cheap blog archiving mechanism?!

    Best,
    -Jon
    http://www.jonsamsel.com

  16. D. Campbell says:

    Simply want to say your article is stunning. The lucidity in your post is simply spectacular and i can take for granted you are an expert on this subject. Well with your permission allow me to grab your rss feed to keep up to date with succeeding post. Thanks a million and please keep up the fabulous work.

  17. I’m glad I found this email just at the right time. I’m looking to rebranding my personal blog and you’ve just given me some very good advise and insights

    Thanks!

  18. deepak says:

    Nicely put.. must take care while redesigning your blog or even a static website.. lots of things need to be taken into account.

    I too m in the process of redesigning my blog – http://www.tuubol.com

  19. I admire the valuable information you offer in your articles.Just thought you’d be interested to know that I have added you to my bookmarks You make great points in a concise and pertinent fashion, I will read more of your stuff, many thanks to the author

  20. Finally!! I found a cool site with great information. Thanks Guys, I’ve already signed up for your feed….Thanks

  21. Great article and strangely timely for me. I’m undergoing another round of upgrades & changes & technical flatulations. Stressful, but needed in my case.

    I’ll drop a suggestion: staging server.

    It’s so easy to set up a LAMP or WAMP (Google those) webserver on your local machine, that there’s very little excuse to miss doing all the changes to a local development server before launching. The major benefit of this is that you’ll have a backup of everything too. Great stuff.

    …of course, I’m realizing many folks aren’t the techie and just do the writing. I guess my curse is that I’m both. Too much work.

    Aaanyway…

  22. james brown says:

    I would have asked my lecherous friend’s evil genius questions (above) about every single detail and at every decision point. For example, because my developer told me to, I switched my hosting from Windows to Linux. I made this choice without hesitation or investigation. This switch is exactly what caused the problem and caused my site to go offline for four days (and counting – at the time of writing it is still down). I didn’t anticipate the consequences of my decision because I didn’t think through the decision in the first place..

  23. Good luck isnt always good for you. Bad luck has helped me more dealing with problems in this world. I have grown up in a pretty hard life. I have been thrown problems that i couldnt do anything about. But that type of stuff makes you stronger.

  24. @Danwow haha thats pretty good. hopefully you have good luck with that. keep it up

  25. Dave Doolin says:

    I can hear your voice in your titles, which is how I landed here.

  26. Shira says:

    Kelly,

    I also had a nightmare with my Host when Tchochkes was hacked a while back – who did you switch to? Bc we’re looking for a different hosting provider… (also – who was it so I know who to avoid?)

    Thx!

    Shira