Beginners guide to starting a blog. Click through to read.

Ok, so, your business doesn't have a blog. For whatever reason, you just haven't gotten around to setting one up, and now you feel a little bit embarrassed of not knowing where to start. Does this sound like you?

First of all, there's definitely no law that says you need to have a blog! If you are getting enough business through word of mouth and via other marketing avenues, it might not be the best use of your time to start blogging. However, if you feel like you need another marketing method, want to strengthen your brand, or want to feel more connected with your clients, there are a few more effective ways to do that than having a blog. However, a blog that fails to engage, provide value, or doesn't get updated, might do more damage to your brand than good, so do weigh in carefully whether you think you will have the time and persistence required.

Ok, let's dig in. I'm going to treat you as a complete blog virgin, and run through the basic decisions and processes involved in setting up your blog.

Choose your platform

The first decision you need to make is whether your blog will live on a hosted service, such as Typepad, the ever-popular Squarespace, or the hosted version of WordPress, or whether you host your blog on your own server, in which case you would need to install the software, such as the self-hosted version of WordPress yourself. Here are some pros and cons on both options.

Hosted blog pros:

  • you don't need any technical know-how to set up a hosted blog
  • it's very quick to set up
  • you can choose from ready-made templates

Hosted blog cons:

  • you can't use your own domain, the address of your blog will have the name typepad, blogspot or wordpress etc. attached to it
  • you don't have as many options to customise your blog
  • it can look a bit amateurish to have a hosted professional blog

Self-hosted blog pros:

  • you can use your own domain, which looks more professional
  • you have the freedom to customise your design as much as you wish
  • you can add a wide variety of plugins to enhance your blog

Self-hosted blog cons:

  • you need a little bit more technical know-how (check out the HostGator Case Study at the end of this article)
  • you'll need to back up your blog regularly (but there are plugins that do this automatically)
  • you'll need to pay for your domain and hosting (which you would do anyways if you have a website)

Decide on a name

If you already have a website, it would make sense to install your blog into a yoururl/blog directory, so you don't really need to think about a name as such. But if you want your blog to be a standalone blog you'll need to go through the process of brainstorming names, and checking if the domains for your ideas are taken, which can be quite a long-winded process. (Scroll to the bottom of this article to read a Case Study that shows you how to do all this fairly simply with HostGator.)

P.S. It's important to write your planned name down in an url format so that you can spot whether it might read in an unfortunate way once all the words run together!

Come up with a design

As said, on a hosted platform you are slightly more limited with your design choices, but if you have a self-hosted blog the sky's the limit. The easiest way is to use a template, you can find loads through sites such as Themeforest and Elegant Themes, or you can opt for an all-in-one solution such as ProPhoto. Likewise, if you already work with a web designer you can have them integrate your blog design with your main website, and thus have an entirely individual blog design. Conversely, you can also build your whole website in a platform such as WordPress, which will ease the maintenance of all your site elements.

Choose a focus

The tighter the focus of your blog is, the more interesting it will be to your readers. Even if you are blogging as a marketing exercise for your business, you should think about what your focus will be, is it showcasing the work you've done, giving advice to your readers or covering news about your industry for example. There are many ways to approach your blog content. Whatever you decide to focus on, make sure you are not trying to be everything for everyone, as that will lead to not exciting anyone.

Create useful content

Good blog content is always somehow useful to your readers. Whether it's inspiring others with the work you produce, or giving advice that relates to your field, make sure you are always writing with your reader mind. In a busy world people are mostly interested in how they can benefit from the content they consume, and if you think of how you yourself read blogs you'll probably agree.

Decide on a structure for your content

It makes it more engaging to the reader if you divide your content into different categories, and you will thank yourself later if you plan this structure in advance. Having specific categories for, say, ‘styled shoots', ‘tutorials' and ‘press', makes your blog a lot more user-friendly. You can also do regular series that run for either a specified time, such as a 10 part series on summer makeup trends for 2015, or you can have series that run indefinitely, for example ‘Lipstick Tuesday' or some such, where every Tuesday you review a new lipstick shade. Having series is a great way to get your readers to come back to your blog, and build anticipation for future posts.

Have an editorial plan & be consistent

In order to ensure you won't end up with a ‘dead blog', make an editorial plan, even if it's a loose plan of how often you'll post, and perhaps a theme for each post. Having a plan will help to keep you on track. If you leave blogging to ‘when you feel like it' you will quickly end up feeling like it's a chore you keep pushing off. There is no rule about how often you should post, especially if your blog is about your business, some blog daily, some weekly, some perhaps monthly. Whichever schedule you'll decide on, just try to keep to it consistently.

Have fun!

Remember to create content that is genuinely exciting to you. Blogging is an endurance sport and the only way to stay in the game is to talk about things you are truly passionate about. So, always remember to have fun with your blog!

Case Study: self-hosting a blog with HostGator

In order to make self-hosting a little bit less scary I’ve teamed up with HostGator to run through a little Case Study on how to start your self-hosted blog with them. They have also kindly offered all Her Lovely Heart readers a whopping 25% discount on all new hosting plans when you sign up through this link and use the code HLH25.

(Yes, this is one of those affiliate dealios I mention in the side menu, the kind that keeps this website ticking over. In my book it’s a win-win, you get some money off and advice to make things more simple, and I could kiss you on both cheeks for helping with the upkeep of Her Lovely Heart!).

1. Choosing a hosting package

Self-hosting is made up of two parts: your domain name (i.e. herlovelyheart.com) and your hosting package (the host where your domain lives and who handles all the traffic). It feels confusing, to begin with, but once you’ve bought your first domain name and see it go live with your host, I promise you it will become a whole lot clearer. If you get a hosting package that allows for multiple domain names, such as the HostGator Baby Plan, you might at some point find yourself getting addicted to collecting domains and starting more websites! But, let’s not run before we can walk eh….

So, first of all, HostGator has plenty of affordable plans that are perfect for starting your blog. The genuinely great thing about HostGator is that they provide unlimited storage and email addresses (yes, it’s super easy to look professional and have an email address that matches your domain/url!). You can view these on their shared hosting plans page here.

Once you select a plan, click the bright yellow Get Started Now! button to add the hosting package to your cart.

2. Domain name

Now for the fun part, choosing your domain name! The obvious place to start is to check whether your business name is available. That’s not always the case, but make sure to check whether it would be free with any other extension than just the basic .com one. You can find a handy list of top level domains here. New ones are added all the time, for example now you can have a website with the .biz extension which would give cool options for a business website. You can check to see what domains are available using HostGator’s Domain Registration tool.

Once you find an available domain that works for you, make sure to secure it as soon as you can. There are way too many ‘if only I’d snapped it up earlier!’ regrets floating around the world as it is.

3. Checkout

You can register a new domain name at the beginning of the checkout proceed, or if you already own a domain, you can click the second tab ‘I Already Own This Domain’ and just buy the hosting.

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Make sure you keep Domain Privacy Protection checked, this maintains your privacy online. In the next step, you’ll need to enter a username and password that you’ll use to manage your hosting account with HostGator. Steps 3 and 4 are pretty self-explanatory, you'll need to enter your billing address and choose any additional services you'd like to add.

In step 5, make sure to enter coupon code HLH25. (As promised, if you go to HostGator by clicking my affiliate link, you’ll receive an extra 25% off.) Finally, click that you agree to the Terms and Conditions, then the big yellow Checkout Now! button.
Congratulations! You’re now the proud owner of your very own website.

4. Installing WordPress

The job step is installing WordPress, and HostGator makes this really easy! Once you've completed your purchase, you should have received an email from HostGator with your cPanel username and password. cPanel is the portal you’ll use to manage your web hosting. The cPanel link is unique to you, so be sure to bookmark it for future reference.

Log into cPanel and click on the Quick Install icon. From there, you’ll see an option to Install WordPress for free.

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Click the Install WordPress button and then complete the form accordingly.

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1. The Base Domain for your installation.
2. The sub directory you would like the site to load from, if desired. You can leave this blank. Example: Should you wish your WordPress URL to be mydomain.com/site instead of just mydomain.com. Your site will always display this extension if you enter one.
3. For Admin Email, enter an email address where you want the admin password emailed to. Make sure this is a working email address.
4. For Blog Title, enter the name of the website. This is what will appear in the header as the name of your site.
5. For Admin Username, enter your preferred username.
6. Your first name.
7. Your last name.
8. Click Install WordPress when you're ready to proceed.

A progress bar at the top of the page will let you know when installation is complete. Once complete, you will be able to start working on your WordPress site. Check your email for your WordPress username and password as well as a link to your WordPress dashboard.

And that's it! You now have your own domain and a blog you can start customising!

START YOUR BLOG RIGHT NOW

Author: Marianne Taylor

Her Lovely Heart founder Marianne Taylor is a photographer, an educator, and a lover of colour & light. Her work has been published in blogs and magazines the world over and her personal photography has been part of an exhibition at Tate Britain. To work with Marianne, see the mentoring services she offers. Or, if you like the photography on HLH, you might want to check out her Product & Lifestyle photography services to see whether you could work together to help your brand grow. She is also slightly obsessed with her two cats, Astrid & Sofia, and loves Instagram.

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