Newbie Landmines how to Avoid (a few) of them
When I first started blogging, I didn’t see myself as much of a writer, but I had something to say. I don’t really think most bloggers really consider themselves writers, who are on their way to their first best seller. When I started out, I thought it would be easy…it’s not. I have, however met some awesome people and learned a great deal about writing and myself along the way.
There are a number of things I wish someone had shared with me at the beginning, and even though I am not an expert by any means, I can help you pass over a few of the newbie pitfalls. Many of these are inter-related.
1. Be yourself
This sounds simple enough. Before you sit to write your first blog, it is important to decide why you are writing. Your style will change as you grow, as your audience grows and as your interests change, but remember that you are taking your readers on this journey along with you.
Reasons to write can include, but not limited to:
- To teach
- To write a journal
- To improve your writing skills
- To vent or to express a specific opinion
- To bring attention to and help cure a social ill
- To demonstrate and share a particular skill-set or passion, like leadership, teaching, Bible study, recipes, quilting
- For profit
You are writing to an audience. Blogs, at least in my mind, are not meant to be monologues, but conversations. In order to start that conversation, you must have something interesting to say. Once you have pinned this down, the next question you’ll need to ask yourself is, “What is unique about what I want to say?” Or, perhaps the uniqueness lies in the way you plan to present it; or the platform you wish to use.
There is a ton of competition out there, so know why you’ve come. It is difficult to get a handle on good statistics, but there are over 20 million blogs on Google alone. Don’t be discouraged. Get out there, write and write well.
What’s different about your blog? That’s what your potential readers want to know.
2. Find your voice
Okay, so we know that what we want to say needs to be meaningful and add value to the reader. What’s next? How we say it is just as important. This is called communication. We hope to speak or write so that our reader will understand, be enlightened, be fulfilled, be amused, is given pause to think, be transformed….
What’s your goal? Why are you out here in the blogosphere?
There are many different philosophies about length, and blogs come in every length imaginable. Some people limit themselves to a few hundred words, some a few bullet points, while others will write a veritable tomes. This you’ll work out as you go. I started writing post about 1,000 words in length, but have since determined that my readers are “good” for about 5-600 words at a shot.
A important factor to keep in mind is that our reader’s time, like our own, is valuable and limited. If we can try to conjure up a “typical reader,” they will in all probability read several blogs and news items daily. They want to get in, get out, leave a comment (if you make it easy), and move on. We live in an age in which we are bombarded with an excessive amount of information, and we have precious little time to process it.
As bloggers, we have seconds to grab people’s attention. We want to capture their attention for their first read, and keep them coming back for more.
3. It won’t make you rich
We all have childhood dreams in which everything we touch turns to gold, we can then leave our day-job and never look back. Sorry, but this probably won’t be that “thing.” And, no matter how many of times you send your $49.00 to some teenager pictured sitting in a rented Porsche, or get-rich ads to maximize profits and boost your SEO, none of these is likely to be your magic bullet. It takes work to understand your craft and perform it well; just like anything else in life.
As a beginner, your first job is to produce a good, readable product with good content.
Good content is King!
You will hear this time and again. And, it is true. If your posts are poorly written, use poor grammar, are replete with spelling errors, or just plain boring, the only people who will ever read it are your aunt and maybe a couple of people at church. And those, not for long.
There are several legitimate texts to help you get better at your craft, learn about SEO (search engine optimization), how to properly monetize, etc. Just reach out. There are people who can educate you better about these things than I can. There are also many affiliate links to legitimately maximize your blog, financially.
In its essence, the community of bloggers, is just that…a community. We are a community, and most people inside the community are more than happy to offer some type of help. It is a grievous error to treat the “others” as competition.
No matter what we are trying to sell, shoes, books, washing machines, computers, or the next big “thing”- we must first be in the business of selling ourselves! I certainly don’t mean selling-out, or selling our souls, but demonstrating that we (and our writing) are a product worth investing time in.
4. Remember, this is a ministry, and your vision!
Don’t let envy cloud your judgment. It is human nature to look at someone else’s work or someone else’s numbers and get sidetracked. But the world isn’t looking for and certainly doesn’t need a copy of someone else’s site. Don’t plagiarize. Don’t steal material. Get appropriate permission. Most people will gladly share their material, with no strings attached if you ask, and give proper attribution. This includes photos.
This is a ministry! This is the flock that has been entrusted to your care. That may mean 1, 100 or 1000 readers. Tend it well; be faithful over the small things.
There are several blogs that I subscribe to and write comment to on a regular basis. There are many that merely scan the title. I do, after all still have a day-job; and a life.
Commenting on other people’s blogs comes with many benefits, and a few pitfalls:
- It can provide an opportunity to improve your writing. Even though it’s a comment, use it wisely. Express your idea clearly, coherently and succinctly.
- Give you exposure to prospective audience; get your name “out”
- It is an opportunity to meet with and engage some great people, many of whom are willing to help you with an issue
- It demonstrates your ability to think deeply and critically
- Caveat: Be sure to read the whole blog if you are going to comment. There is nothing more damaging to you than to come across as a loose cannon, especially when you’re totally off-topic.
- If you disagree, say so and explain why. Most bloggers are open to honest commentary, both positive and negative. However, stay on-point. This is not a place to promote your blog, promote yourself, or launch a personal attack. If you cannot contribute to what’s being discussed, stay out.
Share the blogs you enjoy with your readers.
6. Invite comments to your own blog
- Encourage comments
- Encourage people to disagree, and explain different viewpoints. Who knows, you may even learn something.
- Acknowledge every comment and view. This is particularly important in the beginning. There is a blog that I read regularly which garners over 100 comments, and the author makes a point to address each comment. Not just some “cut and paste” nonsense, but a thoughtful note, which without asking, serves as an open invitation for me to return.
- People want to be noticed, they want to be engaged; but mostly they want to be noticed.
7. This is a relationship first and foremost!!!!!
Almost everything we do in life will either add value to or detract from our relationships with others. This is even more of a challenge as we engage in social media. Decisions about your writing, and your character are made very quickly. You don’t have face time to try to recover, like in real life.
The challenge is to cultivate and cherish your readers; and you have precious few seconds to grab their attention.
If you do sell, don’t oversell, don’t be pushy, and don’t try to sell too early in the “relationship.” There is nothing that is more of a turn-off than feeling that you have been pulled into a faux-relationship, only to find out you are just there for the sale; you are just a number. I have unsubscribed from several blogs that I have otherwise enjoyed, because the focus shifted from engaging and enlightening to selling. In fact, just this past week, one of the leadership blogs that I particularly enjoy started pumping out emails about the great opportunity I was obviously not smart enough to purchase. I put up with the first 2 or 3. Then…..Click, and UnSub.
This is a relationship, and you should treat it as such.
Are you here to engage or just to sell?
Is this your mission and ministry, or are you just looking to make money?
It’s a relationship. Show up on time, and show up prepared. Set your schedule and stick to it. If you’re going to be off, or changing your schedule for posting, let your readers know. If you’re going to stop, say so. Like any relationship, if you disappoint them too many times, they will leave you.
8. Enjoy it!
This is the single most piece of advice I can give. If your blog becomes a drudgery, I can guarantee you that you will stop.
Bring your A-game every time out of respect for yourself and your readers. Bring your A-game because you should never bring anything less to your work, especially your ministry work. Bring your A-game every time, because you never know who is checking you out.
Bring you’re A-game every time, and enjoy the ride!
- What would you add to this list to help new bloggers?
- What have you found to be a good reference text or article that would be helpful to a newbie?
[image by The Italian Voice]