Monday, 28 September 2009

How to Start a Student Blog, Part One

Image thanks clockwise from left 1,2,3,4

Why do I blog?

There are several reasons, the main one being that I love, love, love writing, but there is something I love almost as much, and that’s getting honest, constructive feedback on my writing, and blogging makes that too easy. I also love the prospects that come beautifully bundled with blogging; I like to believe that it just takes one bigwig to stumble on Charade and take a keen shine to my writing, and its all gravy from there. What reality there is in that, I don’t know, but it keeps me coming back, that’s for damn sure.

Initially, I’ll admit I had big money making plans for the blog, and I wouldn’t say they’ve since been dashed, but they’ve certainly diminished, and although I’ve made a few pennies here and there, for more than a year’s worth of work, it ain’t much. So I’ll say right now: if money is your only or main aim, try stocks and shares, not the humble world of the common blogger.

What to Think About: Why Start a Blog?

I’ve already covered the main points in my Benefits of Blogging as a Student post, so I won’t repeat myself, all I’ll say is: start a blog because the subject gets you goose-pimpled with excitement; because you’re a dreamer; because you have aspirations higher than the 9-5; because you could write on a topic with enough zeal to inspire millions (even if the subject is yourself... hey, there’s no shame!) If you’re not sure, try it on for size, like I’ve said before, blogging is what you make it, so it can be as simple or as complex as you choose.

Three key traits which I personally think blogging requires are:

Initiative. You can’t have a sudden brainwave, email your favourite blogger to ask for help, and then sit on it because they never reply. Although collaborations are rife in the blogosphere, ultimately your blogging experience comes down to you and you alone, and you need to be prepared to take charge of your own experience. The internet gives you the opportunity to learn about anything and everything connected with blogging, so go out there and learn it, it may be as simple as a Google search.

A Thirst for Knowledge. You have to want to learn all that there is to know about blogging, it shouldn’t feel like a chore. Of course there are some things that will be tedious and tiresome, but the outcome should be in your sight enough to soldier on nonetheless. HTML code isn’t and never will be my favourite subject, but I’ve had to become familiar with it in order to realise certain aims with Charade. Being a blogger does not have to mean being a technological whiz kid. Being a blogger does have to mean you are willing to learn.

Self-belief. All that I’m saying should not be putting you off, you should be thinking ‘sure thing! I can do this!’ or else you may be set up for failure. Blogging takes guts and passion, it will throw things at you that you didn’t see coming, you’ll often feel unworthy and defeatist unless you truly believe beyond doubt that you’re set for success.

Making Time

In my opinion, there really is little reason to start a blog if you’re not waiting to cram every last minute of your free time planning, writing and improving it – this may not be realistic, but it should be how you feel at the start or else when the 6 month slump hits, you’ll have little mental ammunition to break through it.

It works in different ways for different bloggers, depending on your character; you may thrive on a tightly strict schedule, or blossom when you go with the muse, but either way, you should be aware of the kind of time that can and should go into making your blog live up to your vision.

First Steps

What do we have so far?

• A subject that excites and inspires us and that we could natter on about endlessly.
• Initiative, a thirst for knowledge and self-belief.
• Time which we are more than willing to devote.

Now it’s time to get practical. What do we need?

1. A Place to build your blog

There are numerous platforms upon which your seedling blog can grow, but there are three main and obvious choices: Blogger, Wordpress or Tumblr. All are free and easy to use even for a beginner, and all have scope to develop. If you want ultimate control there is the option of self-hosting, and although it requires money and a little expertise, if you think that's where you're headed, start that way from the beginning and save yourself the headache later.

I am no authority whatsoever on Wordpress, but I’ve heard great things. As a general rule, it seems to me that Wordpress accommodates the more serious of bloggers, whilst Blogger is a home for the artier types. This is not exclusive of course, and Blogger has so many ‘hacks’ and is constantly improving, that I couldn’t really be happier with it (and I consider myself semi-serious!) I like the look of Tumblr blogs, but have zero knowledge on it as a platform. Do your research as to which is best for you, because it’s a pain in the neck to change your mind later.

2. Custom Domain Name

A custom domain is:

rather than

If you want to be taken seriously and make any sort of business impact with your blog, it is recommended to do this from day one. I was given this advice early on, and ignored it, and now although I own a custom domain, I’ve been putting off making the swap because I know I’ll lose traffic. Take my advice and get it sorted NOW.

3. A Workable Design that Lets You Focus on What’s Important

Widgets & design tweaks & colour schemes etc. are not what count in blogging. As much as a well-designed site looks nice for the reader, it’s not their top priority, they want content they can care about. If you’re not a web designer, find a clear, crisp, easy to navigate layout with some pretty touches that you can be proud of, and stick with it.

4. Goals

If you want your blog to develop and grow, you must have goals. From the start of Charade I’ve had a big notebook in which I’ve recorded my aspirations and tracked my progress, and that simple support of pen and paper has proved truly invaluable.

5. Content!

Now you have the basics covered, it’s time to forget about everything else except great quality content for the next few months. After all, it’s all your blog amounts to, it’s the lifeblood, and it’s what people will come back for. I like to think of 'pillar articles' that really sum up and support your blog's message, once you get to about 20 or so of these, you can start to branch out and develop what you have.

Hopefully these tips will help you take your first leaps into the Blogosphere. Tomorrow I will continue with Part Two of How to Start a Student Blog where I'll discuss Making Your Mark in a Niche, Building Relationships & Guest Posting, Making Money, Developing a Brand and Free Stuff and Competitions. On Thursday I will provide 50 Helpful Links for Starting Any Blog which will help you to find folllow up reading on all the points I'm raising.


Amelia M said...

I myself am a newcomer to the world of blogging (though I've been reading blogs for quite some time, and have had a couple of half-hearted experiments) and I think your post has really hit the nail on the head - and it was presented in a helpful format to boot. I think success in the blogging world really does come down to your first point - initiative. It takes motivation to get started, and more motivation to keep going.
One thing that I think is consistently down-played by guides to blogging success (I've been reading a lot of them lately!) is the importance of good spelling, punctuation and grammar. I often leave sites that haven't taken the time to check that their site makes sense. I'm sure I'm not the only one!

Anonymous said...

Hi...I started reading your blog for the fashion articles, and i grew to love it too for the articles about productivity and fulfilling your goals. While I appreciate that some of your readers may enjoy posts on blogging,it is not why I came to your blog. Your last two significant posts have been about blogging, and you skipped the Saturday Salute, which is one of my favorite segments you do. Please don't tell me this is becoming a blog about blogging.

Rosie Unknown said...

Great post!

.:*aMbAr*:. said...

I already have my blog, and I'm soooo looking forward to this. Great job. =)

Voila Megan said...

Amelia - Yes! It's a real pet peeve of mine to see bad spelling and grammar on any blog. When I find mistakes of my own I cringe like mad!

Anon - Sorry you feel that way, it was never my plan to write on the subject of blogging but I've had several emails asking for advice and I didn't want to be answering the same questions again so now I'll be able to direct them to this series! Apologies about missing my Salute, I went to a wedding and imagined I'd have time in the evening but got back too late, I'll give an extra big version this Saturday to make up for it. Next week we'll be back to normal topics but I do like to mix things up on the blog and can't be everyone's cup of tea all the time. Thanks for the constructive feedback, it helps me to know all opinions!

Marie said...

I'm sorry, I had to laugh at Anon's comment, purely because they were anonymous.

I really liked this, and can't wait for the rest of the series. It's interesting to see how different people think which is the best way to blog.

Just Another Blogger said...

Great post, I just started my own blog a few days ago and these tips are going to be helpful. Keep up the good work!

Visit my blog if you have a few spare minutes

Ella said...

I think this is a really good series and doing a couple of posts on a particular topic by no means turns a blog into something else. you are simply addressing a need as expressed by your readers. I myself am enjoying the series very much and while i do have a blog am no where near as knowledgeable as you. I have also got a few requests for blogging tips from my readers. In my opinion the articles fit in with your overall theme as they are student related. Good job, I love reading your articles. Keep it up :)

halfpastafreckle said...

This is a wonderful post! I have been thinking about starting one of my own and needed this wonderful advice!
Thank you!!!

ariela♥ said...

I must first start off by saying - wow - you are an excellent writer. Your writing style flows so nicely and is so enjoyable to read. I recently stubbled on your blog and fell in love with it. I could not agree more with all of your tips on starting out as a blogger. However, I would like to ask you, I have considered buying a domain but I feel that I am still barely getting started and barely have a group of followers. Should I wait until I have a stronger fan base to get a domain?

Megan said...

Ariela - Get your own domain a.s.a.p. if you ask me (and probably buy it through google - it looks easiest). It makes you look more professional and you don't want your ideal domain name snapped up by someone else!

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