Your FREE Comprehensive Guide to Starting a Blog and Being Successful in 2021

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Welcome to TheCraftMills.com where we talk about how to craft a life you love and build a creative business you can be proud of.

Today we’re talking about blogging and how you can start a successful blog in 2020.

Now, fair warning, this is a long post, so buckle up and enjoy the ride.

Starting a blog from nothing is hard. It takes dedication, and more than that, it takes passion.

So be ready to fight through the writer’s block, and fight through the days where you’re not motivated because this business has the potential to give you everything you ever wanted if you give it your all, so go for it!

And if you need help along the way, reach out to me at info@thecraftmills.com and I’ll be happy to help you.

In the meantime, here’s a list of things that you can do to start building a successful blog on your own.

1. Think About What Kind of Blog You Want to Start

AKA. Pick a Niche - or Don't, That's Okay Too

For a lot of bloggers, they’ll jump right in and tell you to it’s time to start naming your blog, but I’m going to be real with you - you could have the most awesome blog name known to human creation, but if the content on your blog drives readers away, your totally awesome name will become synonymous with the back button, and nobody wants that.

Now, you may be thinking, “but Marissa, I already think I know what I want to blog about” and that’s great, but consider this… You think you know. You think you can write great content about building a home, or what it takes to make denim on denim look good. You think you can create those really simple graphics you see on social media.

Now, in case my font didn’t come across in the way that I hoped on your device, I’m going to say it one more time; you THINK, you do not KNOW. You will only know if you try and write that awesome blog about “The 8 neat things you HAVE to do when building your 1st home”.

So go on, give it a go. Pick a topic and start writing right now… I’ll be right here waiting when you’re ready.

 

Did you write your sample post? Yes? Awesome!! Now let’s talk about it a little bit.

  • Was it easy to come up with a topic or did you struggle?

  • What about the writing, did it come naturally to you or did you wind up stopping before you finished and you ended up back here anyway?

  • When you look at your writing are there sentences you’re particularly fond of that you would use to advertise the blog or would you have to draft additional text?

  • What about a header? Can you come up with a header that tells your target audience why they need to click into your content?

Now last, but not least, did you enjoy writing about this topic? If you did, you may have just found your niche, and you can move on to learning how to do all of the above things.

If you didn’t like your topic, don’t give up, just try again. I know you have something important to say, it’s just about finding the right opportunities for your voice to shine.

And if you need a little help, you can check out this post where I give you 10 different topic ideas for 6 different niches, totaling 60 FREE blog topic ideas, and see if you can’t rock out an article or two.

2. Do Your Research

Now, I don’t know about you, but I’m a planner. I plan, and I plan, and I plan, until that moment where my whole body protests to the idea of planning anymore and my brain says it’s either time to get on with it or it’s time to drop the idea all together. This planning almost always pays off, and it all comes down to the research.


Research gives you a foothold into the world you want to be a part of, and obviously you know this if you’re reading this post, so I’m not going to dive into a whole lot of specifics here, but if you want to know how to blog the right way, the best material out there is for you to read about how other bloggers manage their own business.


Read their most recent income reports and read their past income reports. Are you seeing an increase or a decrease in their revenue? What are they doing to get there? What can you do better?


Read about their business goals for this year, and then go back to their first year or first month. How do they compare? Are they goals you think you’d set for yourself? If they are, check out the content in the middle and figure out how you can apply these techniques in your own way to your blog. If what they’re doing isn’t your style, make a note and move on.


Do you find yourself pinning a particular looking set of Pins? Think about what makes you click on them.


Do you follow anyone? If you do, what makes you follow them?


Do you ever click through certain Pins to read the content? If you do, compare it to the ones you didn’t click through and make a note about what triggered your brain to click the graphic.


The last thing here that I want to talk about specifically, though we’ve touched on it briefly, is marketing. Marketing research is key because you could have that stellar blog name with really awesome content hiding out on your website, but if no one knows about it, your blog will fail.


So pay attention to what kind of readers are on the blogs you’re visiting and trying to emulate. Pay attention to what you have searched, or are currently searching for. Use this information to build your arsenal of marketing weaponry and make the systems work for you.


Now, I could go on and on about marketing, but for the purposes of this blog post, I’ll leave it at that.

3. Come Up with a Business Name

Now for the fun - and kind of scary - part! We’re going to talk about how to come up with the perfect name for your blog/business. To start, think about what kind of blog you’re building. Is it fashion related? Lifestyle related? Are you building an entire brand? Are you focusing on homes and interior design? What about food? Think about how you can make your readers realize what kind of blog you are just by reading your business name. For instance, are you a lifestyle blog writing about the milestones in life? Did you grow up in the south? What about CharmandFlourish.com? Charm drives home those southern roots, and flourish relates to the growth you go through in life. P.S. CharmandFlourish.com was the name of my first failed blog back in 2014 so don’t feel like this will make or break your blog. You can always change a name, but maybe try and get it right the first time so you don’t have to worry about changes down the road. Or maybe you’re a kick-butt baker who specializes in all things decadent. How about DecadentDaily.com, a blog showcasing all the beautiful and rich cakes that you teach others how to make? Either way, no matter your niche, you need to make sure that first and foremost your name is something you can be proud of and happy with because you’ll be saying it a lot. In your head, out loud, writing it down... If you’re serious, it will be everywhere. Make sure it represents YOU. And when you’ve picked your name, you may need to do a few things:

  • Register it with your state

  • Trademark it if you don’t want anyone else to be able to use it in the same capacity in your state

  • Purchase your domain name - I used Google Domains to do this

Now, if you want a few more tips and tricks to creating a great name that stands out and drives home your value to the consumer, you’re not going to want to miss this post where we take an in depth look at successful naming techniques so you can create a blog/business name you that you won’t regret later.

4. Get Your Legal Ducks in a Row

So lovelies, this is the part we all dread - the law - but stick with me because I promise you that this is the most important part about running a business. If you want to run a successful AND legitimate business, you need to get your legal ducks in a row so that you, your assets, and your business are protected. If you decide to run a business and you don’t get your legal ducks in a row just because you’re too intimidated to figure out what those are, I can almost guarantee you’ll wind up in some kind of legal trouble.


So let’s be smart, and let’s get started talking about what you need to do to protect your livelihood.

First, if you are running a blog and you plan on making money with that blog, you need to realize that you are a business and businesses must operate by following the standards set forth by the governing body of the location they are operating within.

If you live in the U.S. I highly recommend talking to your local representative from the Small Business Administration (SBA) before getting started. Their services are free, and they can generally guide you in the right direction about what type of business entity you should be and what the process will be once you file. Plus, some of your tax dollars go to supporting the SBA, so since you’re putting your money here anyway, you may as well reap the benefits.

Additionally, they can recommend certain tools and connections to help you grow your business, including a network of people who may be able to help you on your journey, such as attorneys, accountants, web designers, other fellows in your industry, etc.

I know that without speaking to the SBA, I probably never would have started my business because I was too afraid of failure, so I cannot say enough good things about the support they can offer you. You can check them out here.

Now, the next bit of advice I have is to get an accountant if you’re not comfortable with taxes because as a business, you are responsible for paying taxes. And it all depends on the type of business entity you are as to when and how much you pay.

And don’t think that because you’re just a small blog this doesn’t apply to you. The moment you make money blogging, you need to start accounting for it.

Now, in this last section, we’re going to talk about the things you need to legally have on your website.


First, the Privacy Policy -

This policy is legally required by state and federal law if you are collecting information from visitors to your website (and almost all sites are). The reason for this, is that the information you are collecting belongs to the visitor, so they have every right to know how and why you are collecting this information and what you are using it for.

They also have every right to ask you to remove their information from your site and this is the place you need to tell them how they may do so.

*Note, if you have users on your site from the EU, you need to give them the opportunity to opt-in to the cookies your website uses. Most people do this with a pop-up and use the basic information from their privacy policy to build it.


Next is the Disclaimer -


The disclaimer serves as notice to your readers that you are providing them with educational services, and none of what you say is to be taken as professional advice of any kind.

Additionally a disclaimer indicates up front if you have third party links on your site and if you are making money through these links.

It also serves to indicate what the users of your website can and cannot do with your intellectual property and protects you from potential lawsuits regarding earnings, product results, and a plethora of other things.


Third are the Terms and Conditions -

These may also be known as Terms of Service or Terms of Use.

No matter how they’re named though, they all do the same thing.

They dictate to your users the rules you have set for your blog, such as intended age restrictions, how your content may be used to prevent copyright infringement, what your refund policies and exchange policies are, and so many other things that are based on how you want to run your site and protect your business.

My favorite thing about the Terms and Conditions though, is that it limits your liability should you make any errors or omit information on your website.

It also takes care of ironing out how disputes must be resolved which can be helpful. It is especially helpful as it should state that resolutions must be taken care of in the state in which you reside; which can both deter legal action, and save money in travel expenses if someone does decide to pursue legal action.


Now, I know what you’re thinking. This seems like a lot, and if you’re anything like me, you probably can’t afford an attorney who can draft these for you right out of the gate. But don’t worry, there are other options.

You can attempt to write in legalese yourself, but I do not recommend this. Especially if you are not a lawyer or other legal professional as you will ultimately have no idea whether what you’re writing encompasses everything you need, or if how you wrote it will legally protect you in court. And do you really want to start questioning whether you’re covered when it matters?

Another option is to use free template generators. But the problem with these is that you have no idea if they were written by a lawyer or a 16 year old who just likes to do his research and makes it look legitimate. Additionally, a lot of these free template generators do not encompass what you need to fully comply with the law such as the GDPR compliance. Most of the time you’re going to need to pay for these upgrades. And if you do pay for the upgrades, you won’t know if it was money well spent, so why risk your money on something that’s not a sure thing?

The last option, and my personal favorite, is to purchase your legal templates from lawyers who run their own blogs. The reason I prefer this method is because these lawyers had to make their own website legal, meaning they’re familiar with the process and you can compare what they provide you with, to what they use. They also have a more in-depth knowledge of the industry than say your mom and dad or grandma and grandpa’s attorney.

I personally recommend Amira from aselfguru.com as hers are the templates we use here on The Craft Mills.

Amira has been a lawyer for more than 9 years, and she has a passion for the industry that stems from wanting to help others. Because of her drive, she’s been able to produce more than 16 comprehensive legal templates to help you protect and navigate your blog from the start. And what’s better is she actually makes the templates affordable and easy to use!

I was able to install the privacy policy, the disclaimer, and the terms and conditions using her legal starter bundle (available here) and it only took me 30 minutes!

And if you’re still questioning it and want to learn more, check out Amira’s website here.

Oh, and one last thing.

There are no safety nets for those who are negligent, so I say it one more time, be smart and protect yourself before you need it, not after.

5. Build Your Brand

Next up is a discussion about branding… If you’re artistically inclined, this might be your favorite part. If you’re a perfectionist, this might be your least favorite part. So, first, what is branding? Personally, I like to think of branding as the personality your blog/business takes on as you build it. It encompasses everything from your customer service, to your tone of voice in content, to frequently used colors, fonts, and image styles (including your logo). And honestly, it’s a whole plethora of other things, too. A good place to start, though, is by defining your target customer. You can do this by thinking about who you will be talking to while you write your blog...

  • What gender do they identify with?

  • How old are they?

  • What level is their education?

  • Are they casual or professional?

  • Are they married or single?

  • Do they have kids?

  • Are they spiritual or religious?

  • What are they interested in?

  • What kind of residence do they live in?

  • How do they stay informed?

  • What questions does this person have?

  • What are they drawn to aesthetically?

  • And any other question you think will help you nail down your customer.

Once you’ve identified your ideal customer, think about how you can be helpful to them and how you can differentiate yourself from your fellow bloggers. After that, it’s time to start working on your aesthetic. A lot of people like to create mood boards in order to do this. They cut out colors, fonts, looks and quotes from magazines, photo albums, and definitely from Pinterest, and they use this board to get inspiration for how they want their brand to come across to their customer. If this is something that speaks to you, definitely give it a go. Personally though, I forego the actual board and just use Pinterest for my mood boards. After you have an idea of what you want, it’s time to get started building your brand.

I also have one more tip for you before I give you a bunch of tools to help you build your brand: When it comes to your brand, it has to be inherently you with no outside factors influencing you. You do not want to copy another blogger’s brand for several reasons:

  1. It’s uncool. You’re both unique and you have unique views. Show yours off and be proud.

  2. It could be illegal based on what and how much you’re copying.

  3. These other bloggers are your people, you don’t want to insult them by stealing their hard work.

And now that we’ve covered that, here are a few helpful tools for you to build your ideal brand. Canva Pro - This is the best tool I can recommend for you. It is a great graphic design software that you can use to easily create your logo and other media such as social posts, business cards, letterhead, etc. It uses a simple drag and drop platform and it’s great for beginners. The Chrome extension called Eye Dropper - I used this tool to pick colors on images that I really liked to see what I wanted to use for my brand colors. For fonts, it’s less of a tool and more of a tip - make sure they’re easy to read and if you use more than one, make sure the font types compliment one another. 99 Designs Color Theory - If you’re considering using colors in your logo, make sure you reference color theories to see what reactions the colors incite in readers. My last nugget of wisdom for you here, is to be timeless. Use simple designs that can integrate well with all the hopes and goals you have for the future of your business. Don’t follow a design trend that will fly out the window in a month. For example, for our logo, I tried to follow the timelessness


6. Create Business Accounts on Social Media

This one is pretty self explanatory. We all know we need to be on social media nowadays to get the word out there about our blogs/businesses, but it’s also important to utilize these tools before you’re even up and running to create a hype around what you’re doing. You’ll also want to make sure you focus on a few platforms at a time. This is important because you want to get the most out of each platform. You do not want to split your focus across multiple platforms too soon or else you may not realize the full potential of what each platform has to offer because you’re spreading yourself too thin. I personally recommend Pinterest, Instagram and Facebook because they tend to have the best exposure rates. Additionally, this will be your first opportunity to introduce your brand, so make sure you’re addressing everything professionally. And if you need help putting together a content plan, check out this FREE 30 Day Content Planner.

7. Building Your Website

After you’ve finished all of the above, it’s time to get busy working on your actual website, and for this, I recommend Wix.


Wix is an easy to use website building platform that allows you to create a professional and stunning website with just a few simple clicks of the mouse.


To get started blogging today, you can sign up for Wix here.


Now something important to note here is that Wix offers you the ability to start and host a blog as well as purchase your domain, so if you like to keep things simple, Wix is one of the few platforms that allows you to do all these things in one place.


And in case you’re wondering what any of these things are, here’s a quick run down.


A web host owns space on the world wide web and in turn you rent this space from them to house your website. If you’re unsure of what I mean here, think about it in terms of renting a home. The person who owns the home maintains it, but you get to live there and make cosmetic changes for a fee. If you’re a bit more familiar with technology, a web host is the company you rent server space from.


Now, in order to have a place on the web, you need a domain. This domain will act as your address on the web and will help people to find you.


There are two options for domains:


The least ideal option: You can use a free domain assigned to you within your website building platform, (think www.sitename.business name.com) but this will mean you do not own any of the content on your blog and all your hard work can disappear at the drop of a hat if the website building platform deems it so.


The best option: You can buy your domain and this will give you the ability to protect your copyrights as well as provide you with a source of credibility among your readers and search engines.


A building platform is the software you use to make the cosmetic changes and make your domain function as a live website.


Knowing this information, it is crucial to pick a company you’re comfortable with as you may have to troubleshoot your website from time to time.

Personally, I love Wix because they host my website, operate a drag and drop website building platform, have wonderful and timely customer service, and they provide a SSL certificate which lets people know your website is safe. Most other websites make you pay extra for a SSL certificate.

And in case you’re wondering, I have used other platforms, including the more popular ones that a lot of other bloggers will recommend, but the learning curve for most of these sites are quite large and unless you know how to code, you can’t customize it. Instead you’re stuck with generic templates or purchasing custom templates that a lot of other bloggers are using. Or the even more expensive option, paying for a designer to customize your website and then paying them again when you want edits.

Wix, however, affords you the opportunity to create a completely custom design without having to know code, pay for a designer, or pay someone to maintain it, so your site is completely your own.

If you’d like to get started building your website, check out what Wix has to offer here.

No matter what website builder or host you choose though, as you build, you’ll want to keep in mind this one very important question: What’s In It For Me, or WIIFM for short.

This question is what people are looking for the answer to when they visit your website, so make sure you hook them in less than 8 seconds.

And if you’re wondering why 8 seconds, fun fact, it’s because the average human attention span is now less than that of a goldfish, which is 8 seconds.

So be smart, and start off on the right foot by drawing the reader in and hooking them with a beautiful and functioning website.

To start, you’ll need several basic pages, and you want to make sure they’re functional, clean, professional, and 100% a representation of your unique brand.

The Homepage

The homepage, if they click into it, should sell them on clicking around the rest of the site, not tell them your whole life story.