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.