Four Things I Wish I’d Known When I Started Blogging
I started blogging – in fact, I started this very blog – back in 2006, when the blog world was very different. I’d be the first to admit that I basically just jumped right in when I discovered blogging: I didn’t stop to think about where it might take me, or what potential my blog could have, I just decided I wanted to blog, and within a few hours, I’d registered a Typepad account (Hey, remember Typepad?!) and published my first post. I’m like that, sometimes. I decide I want to do something, and I have to do it RIGHT NOW, THISVERYSECOND, or, preferably, yesterday.
Almost nine years later (gulp!), blogging is my full-time job, and the blogosphere, as we sniggeringly called it, is a completely different place. Here are a few of the things I wish I’d known about blogging, back when I first typed the words “Forever Amber” into an online form, and hoped that Kathleen Windsor’s relatives wouldn’t sue me…
That you don’t have to stick to one topic
Back in the early days of blogging, the received wisdom was that if you wanted to blog professionally, and to make money from it, you had to have a “niche” of some kind: so, if you wanted to write about shoes, say, you started a shoe blog, and if, down the line, you discovered that you ALSO wanted to write about makeup, why, you started a makeup blog, too!
You couldn’t write about makeup on your shoe blog, after all: that wasn’t why people were there, and it just wouldn’t work, so you picked your niche, and you either stuck to it, or you started a bunch of different blogs, to cover your various different interests.
That was then, though. Blogging, as we hear over and over again, is different now, and more than anything else, I think 2014 will go down as the year of the lifestyle blog. I’m not sure how or when the change happened, but all of a sudden it seemed that people got bored with those niche sites, and started looking for something more varied – and perhaps more personal.
Over the past year, I’ve seen tons of fashion and beauty bloggers start to widen the scope of their content, and to transition into the “lifestyle” blog – which, as far as I can tell, is just a fancy name for those “personal blogs” that used to be somewhat looked down on a few years ago. It could just be one of those blog trends that come and go, but as of right now, it’s no longer essential to pick one topic and stick to it – and, in fact, it might even be better to mix it up a bit from time to time.
Last year I decided to try to let go of the, “I can’t write about that – that’s not what this blog is about!” feeling, and just write about the things I WANT to write about, regardless of whether or not I think it’ll “work”. (Within reason, obviously: I’m not about to start writing about steam engines over on my shoe blog, for instance – or AT ALL, come to think of it – but here at Forever Amber, I’ve been worrying less about what type of content is “expected”…) I won’t say every single post has been a resounding success, but I do think that when you enjoy what you write about, it comes across in the writing, and (hopefully) results in a better blog post. And that’s all that matters, really.
That personal blogs can be profitable, too
Of course, this blog doesn’t have a niche (Er, unless you count ME as a “niche”…). That wasn’t because I looked into the future and foresaw a time when I wouldn’t really need one, though: it was because, back in 2006, I didn’t take Forever Amber remotely seriously. I mean, why would I? It was a DIARY, for God’s sake – basically just a continuation of my Livejournal, which had, itself, been a continuation of my old paper diaries. It didn’t even cross my mind that a personal blog could ever become a “thing”, and it didn’t really cross many other people’s minds either. That just wasn’t how the blogosphere was in 2006.
(Note: I hate that I’m using the word ‘blogosphere’ here – it makes me feel a bit like those older people who refer to the radio as “the wireless”, as opposed to “that app on my iPhone” – but it’s just easier than typing “the part of the internet that has blogs on it” over and over again, so bear with me?)
Don’t get me wrong: there were plenty of personal blogs back in 2006 – in fact, I think MOST blogs were “personal” to some degree. Those blogs weren’t the ones making money, though. Oh sure, there were a few lucky souls who’d managed to turn their online journal (snigger) into a full-time career, but they were the lucky ones. We looked at them and we thought, “I should be so lucky!” not “I wonder if I could do that, too?” Because you couldn’t, for the most part.
People liked to read personal blogs (or some people did), but they didn’t advertise on them, so there wasn’t a ton of money in writing them. If you wanted to “go pro” and turn blogging into a career, then, you’d basically just sideline your personal blog, which could only ever be a hobby, and start another, more commercial site, which was your “pro” blog.
So that’s what we did. Or, at least, that’s what I did. I kept Forever Amber going purely because I loved writing for it, but when I decided to start a business around blogging, I launched a bunch of other sites in order to do that. What I didn’t know was that, by the end of 2014, the personal blog would no longer be seen as the poor relation of the “pro” blog. It would no longer be “just a hobby” – or not if you didn’t want it to be.
These days, personal blogging is huge. I won’t go so far as to say it’s become cool, but it has certainly become a little more mainstream. Gone are the days when the only people who blogged were the introverts and the socially awkward: the people for whom blogging was a handy alternative to actually socialising. These days, people start blogs for all kinds of reasons, including making money, or launching a career, and even personal blogging has become a viable way to do that. It’s not an EASY way to earn money, of course: this site, for instance, doesn’t earn nearly enough on its own for me to live off, but that’s partly because, until very recently, it didn’t occur to me to even try.
I wish I’d known this would happen back in 2006, when I was registering my first domains and starting my blogging career, because here’s the other main thing I wish I’d known:
That one blog is enough for anyone
As some of you know, I currently have three different blogs, and used to have even more than that. It… seemed like a good idea at the time? Actually, I think the reason I started multiple blogs can be found in the paragraphs above: it was just what people did back then (yes, I’m aware I’m making myself sound ancient here. Please imagine me sitting in a rocking chair on my front porch as I write this, pausing occasionally to yell at the neighbourhood kids to get off my lawn…), if they wanted to blog professionally.
Back then, I was also writing for Shiny Media (which was a UK blog network, for those of you who haven’t heard of them…), and a lot of my own blogging was heavily influenced by what I’d learned from them. This was during that exciting stage when blogging was just starting to take off, and any time the Shiny Media staff came up with a new topic they wanted to write about, they’d just launch a whole new blog – and it would invariably be a success.
I followed suit with my own sites, because I thought that was what what you were “supposed” to do, but while there are lots of arguments in favour of niche blogging, and having different sites for different topics, the thing I was forgetting in all of this was that Shiny Media were a huge company, with dozens of writers, and I… well, I’m just me.
There’s only one of me, and while its probably a bit of a generalisation to say that one blog is enough for anyone, it’s definitely true to say that one blog would be enough for me. Last year I found it particularly tough to keep three separate sites – and their associated social media – running, and frequently found myself envying people who have just one blog, which they can pour all of their energy and creativity into. I really wish now that I’d stopped at just one, but, of course, hindsight is 20-20: I’ve considered (at length!) various ways of merging the sites, but none of them are really workable (for various boring reasons) without me potentially losing a lot of revenue, so I’m simply chalking this one up as my biggest blogging regret, and a lesson learned!
That blogging isn’t going anywhere – despite what everyone tells you
When I started blogging in 2006, people were already predicting the death of the medium, and saying the bubble had burst – much as they do now.
Well, guess what? Blogging is still here, and while 2014 has seen some big changes in the industry, I don’t think the “bubble” will burst anytime soon. In fact, I don’t even think there’s a “bubble”, to be completely honest. Blogging is no longer a fad: it’s a new form of media which may well be forced to adapt and change as time goes on, but which probably won’t “die” altogether.
It’s true that not all blogs will last the distance, and that those which do will have to change with the times if they want to survive, but when I hear people issue dire predictions of the death of an entire industry, I say the same thing I’ve always said, which is that while I can imagine people becoming tired of specific blogs, I can’t really imagine a time when people become tired of other people – of reading about their lives, and hearing what they have to say. I also can’t imagine a time when people are no longer interested in fashion, or beauty, or food, or any of those other topics bloggers like to write about. Will people just all of a sudden stop using the internet? Probably not.
So I think blogging is here for a while yet, and that, above all else, is the main thing I wish I’d known when I started my first blog. If I’d known that eight years later I’d still be writing it – and still enjoying writing it – and that an entire industry would have grown up around those silly little online diaries we were all a little bit embarrassed by, I might have done things differently.
Or, you know, maybe not.