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Beginner Week – Discussion: What Did You Find Hardest as a New Blogger?

Theme Week

With all the chat around new blog tips, mistakes made, and resources used, we’ve got to thinking – what were the biggest obstacles to you all when you first started out blogging? Was it finding readers, tech stuff, or design? Perhaps it was navigating social media, or even finding content to write? I do know a lot of the people I’ve spoken to have all wondered how much of “themselves” they should put in their posts. And where’s the line of overshare?

Feel free to have a conversation about what stumped you and perhaps how you overcame it. I’m willing to bet it’s going to be so useful to other readers. Your tip might be the one thing they need to read today!

Today is the last day to get 50% off ProBlogger’s Guide to Your First Week of Blogging – hop to it!

Beginner Week – Resource Roundup: 10 Links you Can’t Live Without

Theme WeekBeginner Week has been jam-packed with tales from the trenches  - from how to set up a blog, to a newbie success story, Darren’s Beginner Dos and Don’ts; and 31 mistakes established bloggers made way back in the early days of their blog.

Today we’re back with even more goodies to take away: our 10 most popular (and useful!) posts for beginner bloggers. Get ready to Pin, bookmark, save to Evernote, or however you keep interesting posts for future reference – you won’t want to leave this one behind!

1. Five First-Year Posts that Led to Over 6 Million Views: Darren tells the story of the five posts on Digital Photography School that managed to attract a huge readership in its first year, and why he thinks they were so successful at driving traffic.

2. Webinar: 10 Things I Wish I Knew About Blogging: For Darren’s 10th blogging anniversary, he celebrated by sharing a recording and slides about what he would loved to have known when first starting out.

3. Crawl Before You Walk: 6 Step-by-Step Instructions for Starting Your Own Blog: A guest contributor leaves nothing to chance and explains the six things you NEED to know.

4. Recommended Blogging Resources: Things Darren uses in everyday blogging that you might find useful.

5. Guest Post: 10 Things I Wish I Knew When I Started: A guest contributor narrows early blogging down into 10 useful and productive key items for success.

6. How I Make Money Blogging: Darren lays all his cards on the table and explains exactly how it works behind the scenes.

7. 9 First-step Goals for New Bloggers: So much to do, so little time. The nine goals Darren believes beginners should aim for if they’re looking for a bit of direction. Then the sky is the limit!

8. What My  Wife Has Taught Me About Blogging After Just Three Months: Darren’s wife Vanessa’s blog was an instant hit – and it made Darren pause and reflect on what she had done differently to his blogger beginnings that made it such a success.

9. How Much Content Should I Have Ready to Go When I Launch a Blog?Darren sits down with a group of bloggers yet to start a blog and explains how much content should be published on a brand-new blog, versus how much content he actually had when starting. A great lesson to learn!

10. What Mistakes Did You Make When You First Started Blogging? What Would You Do Differently?: A reader asks Darren to share his top three mistakes made in the early days. The comments from other bloggers about their beginner blogger mistakes are also eye-opening.

Over to you – what resources did you find as a beginner that you found super-useful? (I always find new things at Amy Lynn Andrews‘ site. It’s a goldmine!)

Don’t forget, we also have 50% off ProBlogger’s Guide to Your First Week of Blogging right here! Use the code BEGINNERWEEK.

Beginner Week: We Asked Veteran Bloggers to Reflect on Mistakes Made in Their Early Days

Theme WeekThe early days of blogging (for most of us) are filled with detours, roadblocks, and just plain slip-ups that we can make in the privacy of our own small readerships. As our blogs and their communities grow, so too do the lessons we’ve learned from the early mistakes that we’ve made. During Beginner Week, we checked back in with some bloggers who blundered with the best of us, only to come out the other side stronger and smarter than ever. They were kind enough to share their nuggets of wisdom with you.

We begin with some of Australia’s best bloggers:

Add textCaitlin – Mother Down Under // Nikki – Styling You // Christina – Hair Romance // Sarah – A Beach Cottage // Matt – Dad Down Under

Mistakes most mentioned

There seemed to be a few recurring themes in the answers of the bloggers we asked – topics like being authentic, writing in your own voice, focusing on your readers, and being useful.

Kelley at Magnetoboldtoo: “You need to decide at the start whether you are going to use real names and if not what their monikers will be. And try not to use something that everyone else is using.”

Carly at Smaggle:  “I got told really early on to always make sure that your reader is getting something out of everything that you post. I ask myself every time I’m about to post something ‘What is my reader getting out of this?’ – It’s stops you being self indulgent and helps you to edit effectively.”

Kylah at Intrepid Monkeys: “I tried too hard to write educational / information rich content all the time. Like I was writing essays for uni. Over time I’ve come to trust my own voice and open up a lot more which seems to resonate better with my readers.”

Chantelle at Fat Mum Slim: “I think the biggest mistake I made in the beginning was writing for myself, like I was writing in a journal… and not engaging an audience at all – which mainly was because I didn’t have an audience! But when I realised I could engage and create community-based stuff, I loved it. And what I learned from it? Engaging an audience is awesome, and it makes it easier for a shy blogger like me to turn the attention on to someone else. It’s a more comfortable way to blog.”

Emily at You Learn Something New Every Day: “Being too nervous to comment on the blogs of people I was in awe of. Panicking if I didn’t post EVERY SINGLE DAY. And not asking questions/engaging the reader. And plenty more mistakes to come, no doubt!”

Mrs Woog at Woogsworld: “I write very broadly, [and] my old stuff was quite beige. Also read a lot, not just blogs. Read books and see whether there is a pattern in what you are attracted to. It is ok to be influenced by people, but develop your own style. Also do it every day, even if you do not feel like it. It was become a pleasurable habit in the end.”

Carly at Carly Findlay: “One of my mistakes i made – though not early on – was to use an argument I had with someone as inspiration for a blog post – without permission. The argument was about parental one-upmanship – I was discussing something with a friend on FB and their friend jumped in and told me that because I am not a parent, I just don’t understand responsibilities or something like that. While I used more than one example of parental oneupmanship experienced in my blog post, my friend saw that I used the argument I had with her friend as an example on my blog, she got extremely upset and we are no longer friends. I pride myself on asking permission to use names and pictures of friends on my blog, so I dont know why I just didn’t check with my former friend before I used this example. Am wistful on that experience, but I’ve learnt from that. Always ask before posting.”

Deborah at Diet Schmiet: “Finding a good balance is important. I see a lot of newbies get all keen and blog daily (or more) but fizzle out after a while as they can’t sustain it. Having said that – I was a bit ad hoc for a while… however my blogging was all about ‘writing’ so I was really only doing it for me and didn’t promote or share with readers at all.”

The back end

And of course, for the non-techies among us, some of the behind-the-scenes stuff stumped us:

Melissa – Camper Trailer Travels: “The name of my blog….when I started it was just something to do in my spare time but then I started getting comments and likes and I thought maybe I can do more with it but I’m still not sure about the name – Camper Trailer Travels but we won’t always own a camper trailer.”

Andrea at Fox in Flats: “I designed and built the first version of my site myself, and because I have no background in this it took quite a long time, with lots of trial and error. Eventually I found a great ready-made theme that I purchased for $80 and was able to customise it. Happily, all my tinkering before that meant that that wasnt so challenging. And having forced myself to learn a bunch of the back end stuff, I’m now able to update aspects of my current design, without having to pay my designer to to everything for me. That said, if you can afford it, and worried about time it’s worth getting a pro to build your site for you.”

Rachel at Redcliffe Style: “Use your own images or giving the correct credit for the images used.”

Corrie at RetroMummy: “I wish I’d moved to wordpress and had my website designed earlier than I did – been talking about it for years before I actually did it and only did it in 2013! And learn to take better photos early on – again I only learnt to take photos in manual in 2013 and wish I’d done it earlier.”

Lisa at Mrs BC’s House of Chaos: “The one mistake I made that I would go back in time and change if I could would be not starting on WP. Now 4 years later I’m still on Blogger because migrating seems like such a big drama.”

Katrina at The Organised Housewife: “I wish I started self hosted from the beginning and I always tell people it’s important to protect your brand no matter how small by purchasing your .com and .com.au.”

Kelly at A Life Less Frantic: “My major early mistake was thinking my blog posts should be about me,  i.e. … there was nothing in them for my readers.”

Amanda at Cooker and a Looker: “I had little understanding of SEO when I started and called my posts obscure names. No one will ever find my kick-arse okonomiyaki recipe because I named it “(almost) banged up abroad and a recipe for what you want”. Whoops!”

Glenda at Healthy Stories: “Wasting my time with a free wordpress theme. We all want to save money when we start out since we aren’t making any money from the blog yet, but free themes can only do so much and I spent heaps of time tweaking the theme and never being satisfied. There are lots of cheap themes out there that cost only $40-50 that are really well built and will save you loads of time that you can then use to write, promote and start earning money.”

Cate at Cate Bolt: “get a good foundation from the start. Even if it’s bigger than what’s actually needed. It’s nice to say ‘start small and expand if you want to’ but if you don’t have the framework in place, it makes changing things really difficult. Check out the more popular blogs and see what plugins etc they’re using and implement them from the very beginning so you don’t have to try to migrate to something bigger and better when you’re rich and famous.”

Making money

Either too much, too little, or not knowing how to value ourselves and our time…

Lara at This Charming Mum: “Saying yes to every offer of guest blogs or product promotions in case they didn’t ask me again. I got myself over committed writing about things that didn’t really have much to do with the central aims of my blog. I promoted irrelevant products I wasn’t that interested in because I was excited about a bit of free stuff!”

Kimberley at Kimberley Magain: “The mistake I made was to ignore monetising it! I started my first blog in 2003 in Japan, as an ex-pat travel blog, before blogging was a “thing”. When I started to get unsolicited people wanting to advertise on my blog I fobbed them off with a curt message of, “Why would you want to advertise on a BLOG!” Famous last words. I was in an amazing position and didn’t take advantage of it.”

Feeling inferior

And the rise of the green-eyed monster. Very rarely useful!

Ros at Sew Delicious: “Don’t underestimate others. There are a lot of quiet achievers out there doing amazing things.”

Beth at BabyMac: “Definitely don’t compare yourself as it’s impossible to create your own style if you are trying to emulate someone else.”

Trudie at My Vintage Childhood: “No one wants to read epic long posts with no pics. Blogging becomes so much more fun and enjoyable when you stop worrying about what others are doing and the opportunities they appear to be having, and just concentrate on engaging with your audience and have fun. Stop over thinking posts, just hit publish and have fun.”

And spreading the word: life on social media

Network, network, network – some of us were doing it alllll wrong.

Kate at Drop Dead Gorgeous Daily: “I spent a fair bit of money on Facebook ads to increase our page likes, which is completely wasted now FB make it so hard to even be seen by your likers. Never pay for something you can’t own!!”

Dorothy at Dorothy K: “Not reading other blogs and commenting on them. But that was early days when commenting was worthwhile and created conversation and return visits.”

Kirsten at Kirsten and Co: “While starting out with blogger was a really easy way to start blogging, I wish I’d just jumped straight into things with a decent WP theme. I also wish I’d commented/networked a bit more with other blogs and bloggers when I first started out.”

We’d love to hear if any of these mistakes have resonated with you – have you learned something new from these stories today?

If not, you can learn lots of things new with 50% off the ProBlogger Guide to Your First Week of Blogging in honour of Beginner Blogger week. Use the code BEGINNERWEEK at the checkout and revel in your newfound knowledge!

Beginner Week – Katie180′s success story

Theme WeekKATIE180 (2)

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.

The Beginning

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.

And now?

“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!

You can read Katie at her blog Katie180 (including her post on how she started blogging), join her (very supportive and informative!) Facebook page here, tweet her here, or follow in Instagram here.

*We are also offering 50% off the ProBlogger Guide to Your First Week of Blogging for this week only! Enter the code BEGINNERWEEK at the checkout.

How to Blog Effectively When You’re Feeling Overwhelmed

Outtake - Nooo! [Overwhelmed]
This post is from ProBlogger Managing Editor Stacey Roberts.

Blogging is a voracious beast, and there is literally always something you could be doing to improve your traffic, find new readers, interact with other bloggers, and make some cash. The more you put in, the more you get out – but how do you cut through the (almost) infinite internet and create a manageable blog environment? Well, like anything, it takes trial and error. FOMO (Fear of Missing Out) is alive and well, but soon we all get to a point where it can all get too much to keep up with, and something’s gotta give.

These tips could work with anything that you find overwhelming, not just blogging. Just started a new job? Want to start your own business? Want to write the Great American Novel? Well, don’t panic – let’s get some perspective.

Break it down

Once you realise the magnitude of what you’re about to do, hyperventilation is only a moment away. Get back on top by sitting down for a minute and taking the task apart. Once you see it in sequence, it can be much easier to achieve. Yes you might need to blog, then tweet, then share on Facebook, then read six articles on blogging, then respond to comments, then find something to write for the next day, but it doesn’t all need to be done at once. Break it down and spread it out.

Don’t let your head run away with you

Sometimes we are our own worst enemy. Our brains conjure up worst-case scenarios, which in turn scares us and makes us think it’s not possible to succeed. Recognise when you’re about to board the Paranoia Train, and get some facts straight. You can survive (and thrive!) with just doing a little every day. Don’t just assume it’s too much and you won’t ever make it so you shouldn’t even try. Get out there and do what you can, for something is always better than nothing. Even one tweet can be useful.

Get some perspective

Often when you write down your tasks and responsibilities, you can see that they’re not so overwhelming. A list of things you need to do is a tangible thing to help you get your head around the job at hand. It’s common to then realise it’s not as crazy as you thought, and in fact is actually quite do-able. Identify the parts that aren’t important, or not viable at this time, and focus on the things you can actually do. An overview is incredibly useful when you’re liable to get carried away.

Find five things you can do right now

This helps make everything seem even more manageable, and gives you that perspective you need. Once you’ve got five easy things done, you feel much more productive, which inspires and motivates you to do more. Maybe it’s just one extra tweet, editing some photos, or even writing a couple of post intros. Each journey begins with a single step, as they say, and you’ve just taken five.

Set mini deadlines

Want to write brilliant posts, but don’t know where to start? Time is of the essence, and you’ve got none? Set yourself a deadline and get stuck in. It might be a post a day, it might be two posts in the next hour, but give yourself a time to have achieved at least one thing on your list. If there’s an even bigger deadline (guests post submission cut-off date or something), then set mini deadlines before then so you’re not frantically scribbling something at the last minute. Have your post ideas sorted by Monday, a rough draft by Wednesday, and a well-thought-out, well-written post and image by Friday. It might only take five minutes a day, and that’s infinitely more do-able.

Ask for help

You might need someone to watch the kids while you write. You might need someone to show you how to create good video content. You might even need to ask a blogging veteran to share a tip or two – don’t be afraid and think that your questions are silly, or that you should know this stuff by now. Or that blogging isn’t important. If you need help, reach out – you might even make a new friend in the process.

Spend some time getting acquainted

The first thing I do when asked to write for a publication is spend some time hanging out in the archives to see what’s been covered, where’s a knowledge gap I can plug, and what the vibe is. That can work for anything – if you’ve been asked to guest post, or if you want to see what is the trend in your blogging niche. What are people looking for? What can you provide that’s missing at the moment? What are other people Tweeting? What’s getting engagement on Facebook? Getting a feel for what you will be doing is essential for toning down panic and turning up productivity.

Just do it

Stop talking yourself out of it. Stop reading this! Go and kick some blogging goals.

But come back to ProBlogger when your’e done! What’s one thing you can do today to cross off your overwhelming to-do list?

Stacey Roberts is the Managing Editor at ProBlogger.net, and the blogger behind Veggie Mama. Can be found making play-dough, reading The Cat in the Hat for the eleventh time, and avoiding the laundry. See evidence on Instagram here, on Facebook here, and twitter @veggie_mama.

Do Something Different Today to Help Grow Your Blog

DIFFERENTIt is a truth universally acknowledged that if one has a blog, one is in want of readers. We want people to stop by and read our stories, hear our messages, see our videos, listen to our podcasts. We want to connect, we want to share, and we want to engage.

But sometimes we get stuck in a rut marketing ourselves to our audiences. It might be from a lack of time to spare, it might be from fear of the unknown – but it happens more often than we think. It’s usually always a good idea to give yourself a bit of a shake-up and move out of your comfort zone, (even if you’re only taking baby steps) but it can be another thing entirely actually doing it.

Proven traffic-drivers and ways to engage your readership are talked about a lot. There are tons of articles on what social media platform might be best for you, how to write a great comment so you get noticed on other people’s blogs, and how to be seen. Why not take a tip you’ve never used before and give it a go?

Think Outside the Box

Different things work for different people, but some of us also are guilty of sticking to our old favourites. What I’m suggesting is we look outside our usual channels and see if something might be useful. What are new bloggers doing that we aren’t? (Darren’s post on reviewing blogs as part of your research is a great start). What are bloggers in different niches doing? Is Instagram worth a shot to broaden your brand? Are we neglecting what Facebook can offer? Should we get started on Pinterest? Have we forgotten about Twitter? (I have!).

Let’s do a little experiment. Let’s take a new tactic that’s working well for someone else and give it our best shot. It might be successful and we have a new trick in our arsenal. It might get lost in the arctic wasteland of the internet. But we’ll have learned something, and will have more of an understanding of where our readers are and where new ones could be.

Stacey Roberts is the content ninja at ProBlogger.net, and the blogger behind Veggie Mama. Can be found making play-dough, reading The Cat in the Hat for the eleventh time, and avoiding the laundry. See evidence on Instagram here, on Facebook here, and twitter @veggie_mama.

Content Week: A bit of homework to inspire you – come and get involved!

Theme WeekAfter the week we’ve had immersing ourselves in the wild and wonderful world of sourcing blog content, there shouldn’t be any one of you who hasn’t come up with at least one idea for a post. But in order to blog better this year, I’m encouraging you to push even further – spend some time this week (why not right now?!) writing 25 blog post ideas to get started. You don’t need to use all 25, just find some space in your brain to dig them all out and get them all down in hard copy. Have even more than 25? Go for it! Really, it’s just an exercise to put everything we’ve learned this week into practice. If nothing else, you’ll have a handy list to refer to next time you’re struggling for ideas.

As always, let us know how you go in the comments – you’re bound to find a friend in the same boat as you!

Content Week: Let’s Chat! Where do you get your blog ideas from?

Theme WeekThis past week, we’ve been talking about all things content – where can we get it? What inspires us? What works with our audience? What are some out-of-the-box ideas that will set us apart from the regular blogging crowd? We spoke with Chantelle Ellem, of Fat Mum Slim, who encouraged us to write what we love, and Carly Heitlinger of The College Prepster, who told us to take a topic and make it personal. We wrote a mega-list of places to go when we’re fresh out of ideas to inspire us again, and we heard from Darren on the topic.

Now it’s over to you – where do you find your ideas? Do you have any sure-fire sources of inspiration? What do you do when you’re hit hard with blogger’s block? We’ll also be chatting about this over on Darren’s Facebook page - we’d love to hear from you all.

Content Week Case Study: Carly Heitlinger of The College Prepster

Theme Weekcarly for pb theme weekIn 2008, Cartly Heitlinger was a freshman in college doing what most of us do in her situation – studying a subject they don’t like in order to get a degree they do. So she started a blog as part distraction, part creative outlet, writing about things she was interested in – study breaks and bows on shoes, to name a few.

Now, six years later, Carly writes a wide variety of posts on The College Prepster that revolve around fashion, lifestyle, shopping, her life in New York, and snippets about what she’s learned about blogging. Almost 2000 posts later, it appears she’s never been stuck for an idea.

For those of us who are dying to know how to keep our blogs interesting and fresh, I asked Carly to spill her secrets on how she found her groove, how she realised what her readers wanted most, and what are the kind of posts she won’t go near with a ten-foot pole. What she shares with us today are valuable tips she’s learned through trial and error – tips we can all use to inspire us to create useful and entertaining content no matter what our blog niche is.

carly in the beginningIn 2008 when The College Prepster began, it was Carly’s “little escape” that she could focus her energy on in between school stress, exams, and crew practice. She says the culture of blogging at the time was “actually pretty ideal”.

“There was NO pressure,” she says.

“No followers? No problem. Personal branding wasn’t a buzzword. Twitter wasn’t mainstream. Marketing dollars were still being spent in the traditional sense. The community of bloggers, (there were a handful in the same “niche” as me) was a lot closer and not competitive at all.”

So while there was no pressure, no competition, and no real need to be unique and stand out from the blogging crowd, Carly experimented with content she enjoyed writing and watched how it resonated with her growing audience.

“I really was just desperate for an outlet when I started; what I was writing about just sort of happened,” she says.

“For a while, I would blog about fashion (mainly products I liked) and quick little updates about my life. I was really young and quite busy with school, so I didn’t have that much to contribute. My content continued to evolve as both I and social media matured. I was able to share experiences and provide advice and work more closely with brands to produce exclusive content through the “College Prepster” voice.”

carly the evolutionThere are few blogs in existence that are exactly the same as what they were when they began. Over time, as we get more comfortable, more bold, more understanding of what works and what doesn’t, it’s natural to progress into new areas, to cut others, and find the winning balance. The best part of blogging is its flexibility, the ability of the author to test new things, to learn from their mistakes, and for their blog to evolve as they do.

The College Prepster has grown and evolved just as Carly has over the years, and while it stays true to its roots, it’s a much slicker operation these days, with a little more forethought into its content.

“I consider my blog to be a combination of ‘life and style’,” she says.

“So you might find anything from a recap of a fun weekend I had, new books or movies I loved, a personal style outfit, new arrivals or must haves from a favorite retailer, advice from a life experience, or simply just something interesting!”

The topics Carly features sit seamlessly alongside brands keen to reach her engaged and interested audience. From sharing fashion finds for the love of it, to collaborating with big-name partners, Carly ensures her posts are not just readable, but useful too.

“I always post products that I personally love and endorse. Some are paid features and I often make a commission off of the products, but it’s always things that I love!,” she says.

So what has the blog evolved into? And what resonates with her readers the most?

“I want my blog to be a place where people feel like they’re my friend and reading something they can’t find anywhere else,” she says.

“A blog entirely with only fashion photos seems too impersonal and a diary of just my life would be boring. I like to have a diversified content mix.”

carly what content“The real key is posting things that I find interesting or that I like. The right readers will follow,” Carly says.

“Writing about things that I think my readers will respond well to, versus listening to my intuition of what I want to post, actually has the opposite effect. You end up attracting the wrong audience!”

Right. so: diversify, go with your instinct, and stay true to yourself. What else?

“Readers who come back day after day respond very well to my “life event” updates. Whether I’m sharing a lesson I’ve learned or a fun day I had, they like following that plotline of my life. I get lots of new readers from Pinterest from fashion photos, organizational posts, and DIY/how-tos.”

Got it: Let people peek behind the curtain – they love connecting with the human experience. How has Carly seen that affect on her readers when she posts about personal stories?

“I think [writing more personal posts] is the key differentiator,” she says.

“It comes with costs (mainly a loss of privacy as readership has grown), but the value it adds to my blog is notable. Someone recently sent me an article about how blogs are dead and I almost had to agree. The market is saturated, the content is copied, and attention spans have gotten smaller! However, personal stories I think are getting lost or dramatized. (How many five minute Youtube videos have you watched about an inspirational video… only to move onto the next story next week?) There’s something to be said about a storyline that continues over the years. The College Prepster isn’t perfect, is relatable, and fails and succeeds. She has become a friend to the reader over the years! (It doesn’t stop at just the blog though, using other social media platforms to build out a more robust character is necessary).

“I love blogging about books I’ve read and movies I’ve watched. I love getting recommendations from other people, so those types of posts are generally great “conversation starters.”

But creating fresh, new, interesting content day after day, year after year can be difficult. What serves as Carly’s inspiration, considering she posts nearly every day (and sometimes twice a day!)?

“I find inspiration everywhere,” she says.

“But mostly I draw from my life experiences. I think this has actually allowed my blog to stand out amongst a rather saturated market and gain a loyal, very tuned-in audience. I’m not just showing a pair of new shoes, but instead talking about where I went in the shoes and what kinds of experiences I had.

Bingo.

Another of Carly’s hot tips is to step away from the mainstream ideas of what makes “blog content”.

“I think video, imagery, and writing all go hand and hand,” she says.

“I mean, look at Instagram. It’s really a mini blog (and should be treated as such!). It’s also important, from a business development perspective, to see where marketing dollars are being spent from a corporate level, namely Pinterest (photos) and YouTube (video). Writing certainly will continue to have its place, but it’s important to keep content fresh and “current.” If a photo or a video does the trick, then it does the trick. Content is content.”

So keep it personal, step outside the box, but also know what doesn’t work. What has Carly found doesn’t work for The College Prepster?

“As a rule, I don’t blog about politics or religion. That’s not to say that I don’t have opinions on these topics (I certainly do!), The College Prepster is just not the place. I used also lump personal relationships/my dating life into the off-limits category over time… but I’ve slowly relaxed a bit on that. I have a boyfriend, and while we share certain elements of our relationship online (mostly in the context of fashion and/or events we went to together), we keep it primarily ‘offline’.”

carly's advice“Write about what you’d want to read. (And don’t blog about something you’ve already read. There’s nothing more boring than reading blog posts consisting of photos I’ve already seen on another website!) I write as if i’m writing to my best friend!”

If you’ve found this case study as inspiring as I have, you might like to read more of Carly’s blog at The College Prepster, watch her (super-useful!) YouTube videos here, chat with her on Facebook, or Tweet her here.