Goins, Writer

On Writing, Ideas, and Making a Difference

Starting from Scratch: A Writer’s Guide to Blogging

Yesterday, I did an interview with Corbett Barr for his website Think Traffic and told him my biggest fear when I launched this blog: starting over.

Starting from Scratch

Photo credit: yellowcloud (Creative Commons)

I was so afraid of beginning again, of quitting and starting something new from scratch. I knew how long it had taken me (four years) to build a decent blog before. I just didn’t want go through all that again. What if I failed?

Fortunately, I didn’t fail. I saw success much more quickly than I expected. But it wasn’t by accident. I was intentional (and a little lucky).

Do you know what I did that made all the difference?

It has little to do with technology and everything to do with people.

It should be no surprise by now that I think blogging is important for the modern writer. In fact, it’s essential to building a platform and creating an engaged audience. It can help you land a publishing contract, get speaking gigs, and even make money.

When I started this blog less than a year ago, I did a few things that really set me up for success. And you can, too — if you want.

This is a longer-than-usual post, but an important one. I don’t go too in-depth about the technicalities of blogging (but I include some helpful links at the end). What I do share are the disciplines I learned that helped me succeed. Here they are:

1. Narrow your topic to broaden your audience

This publishing adage is true in the blogging world, too. The more you focus on a particular topic, the more specialized you become and the more you attract an engaged audience.

I focused on writing and much to my bewilderment found a whole tribe of writers on the Internet who were eager to learn and grow.

2. Connect with the right people

It’s not what you know, it’s who you know. Or, as one reader pointed out: it’s who knows you.

Building relationships is important to making a dent in the universe with your blog. You need to network and guest post and serve your way into influence.

  • Take people out to coffee.
  • Buy someone lunch.
  • Use social media to reach out to leaders and influencers in your niche and make friends.

But don’t expect a breakthrough over breakfast. This is just the introduction. The real work is done through email and phone calls months, even years, later. Follow up, follow up, follow up. If you persevere, you win.

3. Do your best possible work

Show up every day (or as often as you commit to show up), and give it your best. Work ahead, don’t make room for excuses, and ship.

For me, this meant writing two-hour articles instead of 20-minute ones. It meant making time to write and not taking my audience for granted. Give it your all. Leave nothing on the table. Do work you are proud of.

4. Emulate experts

Watch the pros. But don’t just do what they say. Do what they do. Pay attention to how they communicate with their tribe. Watch them on Twitter and see how they spend their time and with whom they spend it. Take note of their disciplines, their habits, and how they reach their audience.

5. Be generous to earn attention and trust

Help people. This is the best way to get permission to share your message.

When I talk about “permission,” here’s what I mean: Give away knowledge, experience, and valuable products, for free. This will earn you attention and trust and help you attract a tribe that will support your work.

6. Use the right tools

If you want to build something meaningful, be prepared to invest a little time, effort, and money (not much) into using what works.

I’ve used most of the popular blogging platforms out there, and WordPress is simply the best I’ve seen. I heartily recommend it to anyone wanting to start a blog or even take theirs to the next level.

Get a self-hosted WordPress blog, a custom design (this can be as simple as a branded header), a good email newsletter provider, and a few important plugins to build a blog that works.

7. Create conversations

People don’t just want the answers. They want to ask questions; they want to be heard. This is leadership: providing a forum for people to voice their opinions, struggles, and ideas.

And this is the secret to building a community: don’t just talk at people, but invite them into an ongoing discussion about a topic that interests them.

8. Write for an audience

Lastly, you need to learn to not just write for yourself anymore. You need to understand that blogging is, essentially, copywriting. That may sound contradictory to my manifesto, which urges you to stop writing to be published, but it’s not.

Yes, you need to write for the love of it — on your own watch. But if you’re going to publish a blog and want people to read it, you need to think about your audience every step of the way.

For me, this means writing some things offline and never sharing them. And it means intentionally thinking through each post I write before I share it, making sure it will be of use to people. (A great book that has helped with this is Darren Rowse’s 31 Days to Build a Better Blog.)

Take the next step

This is the part where I tell you to kill your excuses and do the work. But you already knew that was coming, didn’t you? So get on with it already. Build something you believe in, something that will make a difference.

If you are struggling, sign up for my free blogging course: Intentional Blogging. This is a 12-part course that delivers one lesson in your inbox to help you improve your craft.

Click here to sign up.

Also, if you’re struggling with some of the technical aspects of blogging, I’m working on something that should help you. Stay tuned for more on that.

How would you build a blog or community from scratch? Share in the comments.

About Jeff Goins

I write books and help writers get their work out into the world. I am the best-selling author of four books, including The Art of Work. Each week, I send out a newsletter with free tips on writing and creativity.

Ever Wonder If Your Blog Post Is Good Enough?

We built a free tool so you don’t have to worry about that ever again.

1. Pick your goal of the post
2. Answer 5 basic questions
3. It tells you if it’s good enough and how to make it better

Click here to use the tool.

  • Jeff,  you are amazing at this stuff.  This blog is one of my daily reads.  I feel like I should pay you for the amount of content I read on this site. 🙂  I’m hoping for a Kindle this Christmas… If all goes as planned I’ll pay to subscribe through Amazon. Are you set up for that?

  • Anonymous

    Great advice, Jeff. Thanks for sharing this. It’s amazing what “starting over” can do for a person.

  • Thanks again, Jeff. I’d “blogged” since 2006, but finally realized that it just wasn’t working. I boldly took the leap and created my new site in October. I’m so glad I read this because I was starting to think I was a little crazy. Thanks for all of your great advice and inspiration! 

    • thanks, Leanne. we seem to have a lot in common!

  • All great advice, Jeff. I was at an event last night with a few other Chicago bloggers, and these ideas are exactly the ones we all found most helpful in our growth. (You and Joe Bunting were mentioned as good writing blog examples more than once in that conversation!)

    • Wow! That’s really cool. Thanks for sharing, Bethany.

  • Cindy Herd

    Thanks for the advice Jeff. I have just started a new blog 2 months ago, we sell digestive health supplements, i did not want people to think that we are just trying to write about our product so i have been writting about everything and anything that has to do about digestion: diet, drinking enough water, how much should a person go on a daily basis, and than on some posts i will relate our product. I have noticed with this on my stats i get views, but no comments. I am going to try out what you said on this blog, thanks again for the advice!

  • Well, I am starting from scratch.  A new URL (though I tucked my old archives in there for future ideas) and new focus.  I have been doing much of what you said.  Emulating experts and narrowing my focus have been extremely important to new-found influence and growth.

    But probably the most important thing that I have done is work ahead.  I didn’t always do this and my content showed it.  But now, working about 2 weeks ahead, has allowed me the freedom to create things that move me and hopefully move my audience.

  • Jamie Schulz

    I continually feel like the novice when it comes to blogging. But I am so thankful for your site and the ability to keep learning and growing as a writer and communicator. I have this thought so often when I read your blog or your blogging lessons through email, so I just wanted to make sure and say it today. Thank you, Jeff, for helping me become a better writer. 

  • I’m new to your blog so I’m sorry if you’ve talked about this before, but can you tell me why you like WordPress over other blogging platforms?  I’ve been using Blogspot for four years and have considered moving to WordPress, but I’ve heard that WP can be difficult to navigate if you want to do any more than the basics.  Thank you. 

  • Reading your posts has made me a more generous writer.
    Thanks for encouraging us to give to the reader.  So many blogs are just writer’s therapy sessions- boring.
    Still thinking about switching to WordPress, but don’t have the time to devote to excellent writing AND learning a new format.
    It’s a goal I need to plan for 2012.

  • Such great information, Jeff – I’m loving reading your blog every day and your recent post about the true meaning of Christmas just about smacked me in the face! Love it!!!!

  • Jeff –
    what a great post to start off my day! You are such a generous person/blogger/writer and I am inspired by your work. Thank you for the links, very valuable. I am a multipotentalite, to use Emilie Wapnick’s word, and am working on my overarching theme, so your advice arrives very timely.

    Thanks. 🙂 And now off to Do the Work!

  • Anonymous

    Thank you for this great post! I think “Give away knowledge, experience, and valuable products, for FREE” is the key.

  • How did I miss the intentional blogging course? Oh well.. signed up now. Thanks for the great info!

  • Thanks for this list and the inspiration. After two years for blogging, etc., I love that there’s seemingly no end to the learning and innovation.   

  • Good tips.  Especially about building relationships.  I’m looking forward to the Killer Tribes Conference in March.

    Just curious-  What topics did you write about in your first blog?  Was it not centered around writing as well?

  • The bad news is, I have no idea how to build a community. 

    The good news is, I’ve already discovered a great way of how not to build one, namely my way. 

    And no, I haven’t switched to Geico yet.

  • I seem to have a knack for niches (or at least I seem to have very specialized interests). So creating a niche blog was natural for me. In August of 2010 I started a blog on Louisa May Alcott because I had just read 2 new books about her (one a bio, the other a fiction account) and I longed to find other fans so we could talk about it. I searched all over and was quite surprised that such a community didn’t already exist considering her popularity. So I started one myself on WordPress. I call it Louisa May Alcott is My Passion and it really is a passion for me. All my reading is dedicated to reading and studying Alcott and her writings, plus those around her. I’ve learned to take notes and am still learning how to sift through the pages and pages that I write to produce concise and readable posts.

    I am proud to say that several Alcott authors (and even some scholars) follow my blog regularly. This along with librarians and just plain fans. I was invited by one to participate in an American Library Association/NEH workshop on their 2011 Louisa May Alcott initiative. I’ve become friends with and met 2 of the authors who follow my blog. My numbers have steadily grown and although they wouldn’t be considered “impressive”, the quality of my audience is.

    I wanted to create a place where enthusiasts could come, join in the community, and find out more about Louisa May Alcott. So far, all of these goals have been met. And I love it just as much as I did the day I started. Life is good!

    Jeff, your blog has been very helpful to me in writing your blog. Thank you, and I’m so pleased at your success. It is definitely earned!

  • I think the thing we overlook or just are afraid of is guest posting. It only makes sense that if you’re exposed to a larger auidence that you’ll get more traffic. Write the post and let the content speak for itself, right?

  • Brent Carnduff

    Great article Jeff – it is incredibly helpful for us newbie bloggers to hear the advice, encouragement and words of wisdom! New to your blog in the past couple of weeks, but wanted to tell you that I find it very inspirational! Thanks!

  • I’ve been using Blogger for the last 3 years, but am thinking of switching to WordPress with a new overhaul of my blog.  I’m not entirely HTML-savvy, so some friends say I should stick with Blogger.  What are your thoughts?  Why do you love WordPress so much?

    • I’m with Blogger, too, and have been for the last two years. I’m interested in your answers too, Jeff.

  • For me, the most important decision was to just jump in!  I did some research with one of my students.  We talked to some other bloggers and set a date to launch my blog.  I am learning and growing as a blogger all the time.  I may at some point switch over to a self-hosted Word Press site.  For now, I am thankful for an easy-to-use site where I can show up and write on a regular basis.  Thanks for all the great tips.  You have been a very helpful resource on this journey! 

  • Pingback: Criticism is a Compliment | The Handwritten()

  • Grace Peterson

    The rewards are definitely worth all the effort! 

  • Delesslyn Kennebrew

    Greetings!  THANKS for the pointers!  I just launched my blog on December 8 and it has been a great beginning AFTER a not so great one three years ago.  I am writing with a different motivation and that has made all of the difference.  THANK YOU for shairing and I will take heed.  @AudraSunshine:twitter 

  • Well, I don’t know if you could any more helpful if you tried!    I am grateful for people  like you who are not only gifted, but who generously share their gifts to help others succeed. Because succeeding without helping?   Not really success, in my book.  Thank you for modeling true success.  

  • Hi Jeff,

    Great article, awesome advice. Congrats on becoming an expectant father (I read this somewhere I think!). We’ve just had our first and it is amazing, really inspiring me to be a better man.

    One thing I would also add, which maybe controversial is that I recommend a first time blogger do some basic SEO work up front, to make sure that their site/niche is easy to find via search.

    I say this because I am re-doing my own and it is like most things a pain in the bum to fix what could have been done right in the first place. I couldn’t ever spell SEO when I started but now it is one of my biggest and best sources of traffic.

    Thanks again for all your inspiration.

    Read Words Of Encouragement here

  • These are great pieces of advice. I’m in the throes of starting a blog. I have a great deal of trepidation, but I’m committed to moving forward with it.

    Thanks for your assistance and encouragement.

  • ErikaTheEncourager

    Thanks so much! This is so helpful! I just launched my blog about 2 weeks ago and I’m struggling to get my FB followers to become my Blog followers.

  • Lis

    Just signed up for your Intentional Blogging course and I’m already hooked. Been poking around the site and reading all I can. I really appreciate your cut-and-dry presentation of advice – there are just so many sites with so many tips these days… It can be overwhelming. I feel much more confident that I can get this blog overhaul done now that I’ve found your site. So thanks!

  • JP

    Great job! I just started overhauling my blog yesterday–the timing is eerie. Very helpful right when I needed it. Thanks

  • Fiona Tarr

    What is your old blog Jeff, would love to see the evolution of how you worked out what subject (voice) was the right one for you.

  • Vicki Cato

    I am starting a blog through WordPress. Before I launch, I am creating about 6-8 weeks of posts. My plan is to post once a week until I become more familiar with blogging. Thank you for the encouragement.

  • Cindra

    This is a very well written blog post thanks for all the tips and advice! I especially like the one about reaching the right people. That is key to any blog where the right people coming to your site makes it a success.
    Just because you build a site does not mean they will come! You need traffic too. Getting the right traffic to your blog will increase your authority in Google’s eyes and Google will start sending you more traffic!
    If you want to learn more about getting traffic check out https://www.startblogging.website
    I also like Do your best work possible. Content is king with google and writing quality, valuable content like this article will keep readers coming back time and again!
    Thanks for a great post!

  • Cindra

    For those of you that are new or looking to increase traffic to your site check out

    https://www.startblogging.website 23 video tutorials showing you step by step how to get traffic to your site. The author of this post stated she started from scratch but the owner has built a beautiful blog and has a good amount of traffic coming in too.

    If they can do it, so can you! Like the owner said start a email list and offer good content, products and free stuff to, and keep your customer’s happy!
    They are happy, you are happy!
    Thanks for a great post,

  • Susan Thiem

    Thanks SO much Jeff. I am a Senior Citizen publishing my first blog about Awesome Attitudes 2 D-Stress and have been preparing for years but you have been my BLOG COACH for the past couple of months to teach me as I am a true novice!!! I hope to be be up and running this week on WordPress…all because of your “free” wisdom. I so appreciate YOU! Awesome love and gratitude to you.