Should you start a blog? A beginner’s guide

I spoke at a secondary school earlier this summer as part of a”Girls Can Do” day and one of the most common questions I was asked, as founder of the Young Money Blog, was: “how do you start a blog?”

It’s a very pertinent question. After all, starting a blog has never been easier but keeping it going and growing? That’s the tricky part.

Whether you should start a blog is entirely down to your circumstances. But whether you’re a business owner looking to raise your profile or a young journalist hoping to expose serious stories, don’t write off the career-changing potential of a blog just yet. Or at least not till you’ve read my beginner’s guide!

The word ‘blog’ polarises people, particularly along age and generational lines. The older generations tend to view the concept of blogging with a combination of awe, bewilderment and downright scepticism. Many can’t quite believe that you can make a living from publishing your written work on the internet – “seriously, someone will pay you because you write a blog?!” Some also suspect (quite rightly) that a huge amount of blogging is absolute merit-free tosh. On the other hand, great bloggers attract the endless admiration of an older generation that understands you’ve got to create your own opportunities in this world – now more than ever.

Whereas younger people, on the hand, can either be overly dismissive of blogs (particularly those of the more traditional variety) or positively Panglossian about what they can do for your career. Some think regular blogging is dead – long live vlogging. Many also think Instagram is where it’s at – understandable given the mega bucks that can be earned simply from well-shot, consistent selfies. Why write stuff and, like, think? Just FaceTune your mug and watch the money roll in!

That said, many young people are still coming into the field of blogging with the unrealistic intention of becoming a known influencer – talk about putting the cart before the horse!

If you’re wondering whether to start a blog, there are only three things to consider:

– Are you good at writing?

– Do you enjoy it?

– Have you got things to write about?

That’s it. Because blog writing itself is not actually that hard (oh god, I’ve just undermined the basis of my whole career!)

No, seriously, let me explain why those three questions are all that matter when thinking about whether to start a blog.

1. You should be a competent writer: flair is the mere cherry on top.

You don’t need to have writing skills on a par with (the late, great) Maya Angelou. Most beginner bloggers are daunted because they feel the pressure to produce works of astounding force and originality on their first go. If you look back to my early blogs in 2011, I dare say there is a lot to criticise (though I am very proud of pretty much everything I’ve written on this blog, mistakes and all).

I’ve learned a huge amount about what makes a good read but I was working with decent foundations: I have a good grasp of English and I read a lot to try and expand my thinking (and vocabulary).

But most bloggers aren’t necessarily looking to showcase their writing per se. What really matters is showcasing your ideas. And in order to do that, you’ve got to deploy various tricks to keep your readers on side:

– make it punchy: shorter sentences work best for most subjects

– make it visual: I’ve always put a huge emphasis on fun and attractive photos/GIFs throughout my blogs to break up the prose

– make it enjoyable to read: inject some interesting metaphors, pop culture references or jokes into your blogs so they’re not a total snooze fest (come on, how do you think I’ve managed to make a blog about PERSONAL FINANCE successful!?)

– and finally…make sure each blog has a clear purpose. What’s the point of the blog you’re writing? Is it a helpful Q’n’A, a fun but focused rant, a whimsical but profound meditation on something? What you decide depends on what you REALLY want to get out of your blog – but you need to have direction and focus.

I really recommend picking up a book about how to write better, such as “Do I Make Myself Clear?” by the legendary newspaper editor Harold Evans.

2. You’ve got to start a blog because you love it – enjoyment is (initially) the only reward you’ll get

People who actually enjoy writing blogs are far more likely to be successful in the long run. It isn’t hard to figure out why. You’ll spend more time doing it and you’ll get to know how you can improve. You’ll inject far more creativity, originality and passion into the blogs themselves – all major pluses. And you’re far less likely to give up in the early stages when you’re making no money and have no readers.

The truth is that making money full-time from blogging is not only extremely difficult, it’s arguably very undesirable too. Monetising your blog means optimising your blog for search engines, which often wrecks the enjoyment factor of blogging, both for the blogger AND the reader. It means courting all kinds of commercial partners and having your content dictated to you. Your blogs become stiff corporate mouthpieces, shorn of any independent (and thus TRULY valuable) insight. You just become a second-rate version of someone else, rather than a first-rate version of you (Marilyn Monroe came up with that one. Good, innit?)

Yes, it’s difficult to make a blog work when it isn’t fully monetised. Yes, you have to work harder at other parts of your career. But trust me, full-time bloggers looking to monetise all their output aren’t exactly sat around counting their banknotes. They work non-stop to upload posts to clients’ demanding schedules and exacting requirements, and often the pay cheque is the only consolation prize for a rather soul-destroying existence.

Plus, truly great blogs have a habit of cutting through a sea of mediocrity. If you have good and original ideas, you convey them well and you keep at it, direct monetisation won’t matter: you’ll soon be in a happy place of being paid to talk or write about what you love.

3. You’ve got to have things to say – or even just one BRILLIANT thing you can say many times, in many different ways!

To start a blog about young personal finance was – for me – a no brainer. It had the rare distinction of being an under-explored niche that was also really important AND vast in itself. Not every subject can hit all three of those ideals, but having at least two of them will help you find enough to write about and motivate you to keep returning to the subject over and over again.

The most difficult thing about blogging is finding the time and ideas. You could try blogging about your daily professional or personal life or focus more on your areas of expertise. It depends what you feel most comfortable with – some people prefer to keep a distance between themselves and what they write about and would rather become known for their industry knowledge and insights.

For them, writing a blog is purely about becoming a respected authority in their field and driving traffic (and potential clients) to their sites. Others are happy to open up and be more personal to try and create a more intimate connection with readers, a community perhaps, with the aim of becoming an influencer or personality. Others switch between the two, but doing that requires a lot of skill and more frequent posts so it doesn’t seem too jarring. Blend both approaches coherently, however, and you can create a powerful combination of the personal and the professional that will take you far.

How often should you blog? I’m tempted to say: only do it when you have something to say. We can all spot an overly-contrived blog a mile off. “You’ve only written that because it’s International Flamingo Day and doing a post about how amazing flamingos are will send loads of traffic your way! YOU CHARLATAN!”

But if you wait until you have a fully formed blog post in your head, you’ll never publish anything. You HAVE to set yourself a challenge to write x number of blogs per week or month. Try to think through the subjects and make sure they are relevant to your expertise and strategy, and ideally topical and informative. But ultimately, practise really does make perfect. Well, not perfect, but good enough!

To sum up…

Blogging has given me some fabulous opportunities. But these have been an unexpected bonus. I do the Young Money Blog because I love it. Okay, even the most ardent writers can find it hard to motivate themselves to write for no pay. But if you carry on doing something you believe in – and do it well – your reward will come in recognition, respect and a readership. My blog hit a six figure readership for the first time in 2019 – but it languished in the low four digits for years. Reaching a wider audience hasn’t been easy, and it was certainly helped by my presence in a couple of a high profile financial stories. But it just goes to show that there’s no predicting when your moment in the sun might come.

You’ll know better than me if a similar level of opportunities are available in your field. But you can massively increase your chances of success by following these last few tips:

  1. Find a niche that isn’t well-mined (and one that you’re incredibly interested in) – then try to make your blog’s style and focus as original as possible. If there isn’t anybody else writing a blog like yours and it starts getting visitors, genuine comments and general interest within 6 months, then you’re really onto something.
  2. Ask your professional contacts and colleagues to lend whatever support they can in the initial period to drive interest. Send them a personalised email, asking them to tell you what you think. People like being asked for feedback and if they’re acting in good faith (and not a jealous rival!), you might find their suggestions really useful.
  3. Depending on how seriously you want to blog, I would advise doing at least one blog a week if you can and maybe setting up a newsletter through a system like Mailchimp to let your followers or peer group know that you’re live and blogging!
  4. Promoting the posts through your social media is such a bloody obvious point but nonetheless, it needs to be made. Concentrate on the best social media feeds for your niche – Instagram is generally suited to more aesthetic content, LinkedIn is better for thought leadership and business-focused pieces, Twitter is (still) great for budding journalists (just IGNORE THE NUTTERS!)
  5. Finally, get to know all the really good free photo sharing sites out there or try to take as many photos as you can – good visuals are really important. I have just invested in a camera so Young Money Blog can start featuring more original photos. Watch this space!

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