The right way to start and grow a successful blog

So you want to start a mom blog (or any blog)? You aren’t alone! It seems like every other mom wants to start a blog or an “influencer” Instagram account these days. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t throw your hat in the ring, but you should know that way more work goes into a successful blog than most people think. It is very unlikely that you’ll be successfully bringing home money to pay the bills right out of the gate. In fact, many make no money at all. Part of that is due to the oversaturation of mom blogs and part is because you have no audience (influence) yet. Because of that you get sucked in to the “work for free” trap. Brands reach out, or you might reach out to them, and offer very little in trade in order to get your free marketing. I’m going to share why doing this actually devalues you and the entire blogging community and is one of the biggest mistake new bloggers make. There are also legal and ethical rules surrounding blogging and influencer marketing that many are simply unaware of. I’ve seen so many new bloggers make costly mistakes (to both their reputation and wallet) that could have been avoided if they educated themselves before they started their blog. I’m sharing my 10+ years of blogging experience and my 15+ years of legal experience to help you start a successful blog and avoid all of those new blogger traps and costly mistakes.

the right way to start a successful blogI started my blog almost 10 years ago just as a creative outlet after I got married and no longer had a wedding to plan. As a lawyer, I wasn’t getting to flex my creative muscles (well, as a criminal defense lawyer I guess I got to be a little creative 🙂 ). It started as a lifestyle blog with a bit of a wedding focus, then the wedding aspects of my blog got super popular. But when I became a mom the following year I slowly started sharing little bits of my mom life as well. Because I started my blog without the mindset of it being a business (I never considered I would earn an income from it) I had no expectations and just let my following grow in an organic way. This was good and bad: I didn’t start out running it like a business, which means it got a lot harder for me to grow my following, keep track of the financials, and set goals for myself. But I also had no expectations, so any growth was surprising in the best way.

If I were doing it all over again, these are the bits of advice I would follow in order to make it a bit more successful, plus tips to help some of the mistakes I see newer bloggers make because they just don’t know any better.

celebrating oh lovely day | gilded paper maché heart from paloma's nest | photo by amy stone

What do you have to say that isn’t already being said?

You want to start a mom blog, probably so you can stay home with your kids and maybe earn a bit of income, right? But with the one billion mom bloggers (and influencers that don’t have blogs) out there, how will your blog not get lost in an already overpopulated sea? What is your voice? What do you have to share that isn’t already being talked about ad naseum? When I started writing more family-focused content, I already had a pretty good following and steady blog traffic. There was interest in my motherhood experience just because my readers already knew me. As I have grown I’ve contributed to the motherhood conversation by sharing my experiences with PPD/anxiety, health issues, being the mom of three boys, being the mom of three boys living in Los Angeles, and then being the mom of three boys living in Los Angeles who move to a suburban area in Ohio.  I’ve contributed content to sites like Momtastic, BabyList, The Everymom, and The Land of Nod’s old blog. All of this growth has been natural and I’ve worked very hard for it.

But if you are just starting out and want to talk about what car seat you like or what baby gate you use, you aren’t likely to grow your following. Because frankly, why would anyone care? I don’t mean that to sound harsh but you can find tons of bloggers already sharing that information and they have years of experience and lots of loyal followers. When I see new bloggers these days growing at a really fast rate I suspect one of two things is happening: you are paying for that following or you are engaged in engagement pods and are probably spending a ton of time to get that engagement momentum going. What is frustrating about both of these things are that you are looking for fast results (bigger following, sponsorships, etc.) without putting in the work. You have to pay your dues, you have to grow authentically, and you have to find your voice.

Most importantly, you need to think of what you have to share that is of value that your readers won’t get from 25 other blogs they already follow. Do you have a child with food allergies or special needs? Are you a teacher that is raising your child in a homeschool environment with lots of advice and experience for other homeschooling families? Maybe you foster or adopted a child and have that experience to share. Perhaps you have a strong focus on philanthropy or on local adventures. Each of these experiences sets you apart, and everyone has their own unique motherhood experience. Follow and use your own voice and experience, don’t just add to the generic conversation. Don’t just be a blogger that writes posts to include affiliate links; don’t just be a Reward Style instagrammer.

the right way to start a successful blog

What is your goal with blogging?

If you are starting a blog to gain a large social media following or make money right away, you’re in it for the wrong reasons. Remember, a blog is a lot of work. It is a commitment of resources if you want it to be successful. It takes time, money to start and set up, and energy and focus that are hard to come by as a mom. If your goal is to connect with a community of like-minded mothers, share a personal experience that you feel might help others, heal from a traumatic experience by sharing, etc. then blogging is going to feel rewarding even when you don’t have the followers, traffic, or income you dream of. Those things might come and to have them as one of your goals is great, but if it is only about followers or likes or money then you might not enjoy it until you get those payoffs.

What is your technical knowledge with things like social media, blogging platforms, coding, graphic design, marketing, photography and IT?

If you have no idea how to build a website, how to draft blog posts, how to share posts on social media channels or connect social media channels to your site, how to design elements for your site, or how to figure out why your site is down, then you are going to need to hire someone to do all of those things for you. Just know that going in and budget for it, or take classes and learn WordPress and Photoshop and social media marketing and web design. Educate yourself before you throw a site together and start putting it out there.

Learn the rules and ethics that govern blogging and social media influencing. Use best practices when it comes to growth, sponsorships, and followers.

There are laws that govern advertising, marketing, and blogging. Micro-influencing is a fast growing industry that many figure out as they go. But there are FTC guidelines that must be followed — they are the law and failure to properly disclose partnerships or affiliate links are violations and you could be fined (it has happened!)

There are also best practices regarding giving proper credit to the work of others: photographer, stylist, model, website, etc. Don’t ever post something that you did not create yourself in order to receive value (money or follower growth or engagement) even if you do properly credit, unless you have received express written permission. Never post something that you did not create unless you give proper credit (name and link to creator). Never credit “pinterest” for a photo. Let me repeat that: NEVER CREDIT PINTEREST FOR A PHOTO. That’s a sign of laziness and a disregard for the artist/creator. If you can’t find the source with a reverse google image search, find a new image to use. Did you know there are some websites that will come after you for using their images, even with credit? Martha Stewart is a good example. If you post a photo from Martha Stewart Weddings and give proper credit, they can (and this has happened to bloggers I know personally) and will send you a letter with an invoice for the licensing fee owed for using their image. And it is not cheap.

It is best practice to give credit to the inspiration of your work/craft/art/post/idea. If you are adapting a recipe to be paleo but got the original idea from another blog or site, give credit to that site. Say the recipe is adapted from the one you found on _______.com. If you reproduce an idea, even if you put your own spin on it, you need to credit the original idea. I once saw a cute idea at a baby shower in person (it was an initial string art piece that was decorating the shower and could be hung in the nursery). I posted a photo of it on my Instagram and credited the person who made it (who also had a blog). A friend saw and loved it and a year later when she got pregnant I made one for her. It was different, but it was inspired by the original idea I had seen. I ended up blogging the DIY for it 6 months later and I failed to credit the original inspiration for the idea. It was an accident — an oversight on my part and something I just forgot to do before I published the post (mostly because I do posts little bits at a time while I work at home with littles). That blogger saw my post and my failure to credit and it hurt her. I felt terrible. I made it right, but I still feel bad about it and it was years ago. It was wrong and even though it wasn’t intentional negligence on my part, I still failed to credit properly. Just do it, every time, as a matter of practice.

When you are trying to think of a blog name do a simple google search to make sure it isn’t already being used. I just recently had to send a Cease & Desist letter to another blogger who recently started a blog, called it Oh Lovely Day Mag and all of the branding was “Oh Lovely Day.” I trademarked Oh Lovely Day years ago and if you do a google search I’m the first few results to pop up. Had that blogger done a google search before she invested in a domain, branding, and months of blogging, she could have saved herself a lot of time and money. Instead, she had to change her name because she was infringing on my trademark. And even if I hadn’t trademarked it, I have been using the name in the blogging world since 2010 — she should have known better.

the right way to start a successful blog

I thought I would enlist some advice and the blogging pet peeves from some of my fellow veteran mom bloggers and influencers. These girls are out there doing it right, so follow along and take note:

From Cyd of The Sweetest Occasion:

After nearly 11 years of blogging, I’m still insanely passionate about this industry – maybe even more so! Things have changed so much in the last decade, but I think the same basic truths have held true even for all the changes and the ever evolving roster of social media platforms to manage. I’m sharing my top 3 tips for those just starting a blog, but most of all I encourage you to just give it a go! Jump in, put your heart out there and see where the universe brings you.

Focus on what you’re passionate about! (And lean toward the things you’re naturally good at.

I love watching makeup tutorials on YouTube, but frankly I still suck at makeup and I’m the last person you want teaching you how to do a cat eye. On the other hand, I know I host a party and put out a killer spread of food better than most people. It’s also something I love doing and never ever grow sick of talking about in my personal life or my online life. My joy for entertaining is real and enduring, so my ability to brainstorm new content ideas is nearly limitless. Find the thing that lights you up, take pride in the thing or things you do well, and share those things online. Anything else will burn you out and wear you down, which sucks all the fun out of blogging.

Avoid focusing on what everyone else is doing.

This is so cliche, but it’s sound advice. Even though I know that the comparison trap is an endless downward spiral, I spent too much of the last few years worrying about how I was stacking up compared to my friends and “competitors.” Really reaching back to what I’m good at and owning that has released me and I’m feeling more energized now to create newer, better, more unique content than I have in a long time. You do you, boo.

Just start. But then learn everything you can about SEO and photography.

Don’t let a checklist of imaginary requisites keep you from jumping into the saddle. Just get started! Most of us OG bloggers learned without training wheels, long before there were e-courses and blog posts like this one sharing advice from veterans. That said, once you’re rolling, spending time really learning about SEO and developing a few photography tricks will help you take things to the next level. It’s time you’ll never regret investing in yourself and your passion!

the right way to start a successful blog

From Karla Reed

Know your “WHY?”

Passion should be what drives you to create content for others. Anything other than passion (like money or fame) will leave you disillusioned and burnt out. Knowing WHY you want to build a platform is key. What do you have to say that is unique to you? Are there others who would benefit from hearing what I have to say? That’s where it starts and you build from there.

If you are going to grow an authentic platform with loyal followers they have to trust you. Every company you work with communicates something about the platform you are building and who you are as the builder. Choose wisely. And when you make a mistake (partnering with a brand you wish you wouldn’t have or you realize they aren’t as great as you thought) learn from it and do better next time! People make mistakes but influencers who continually work with brands they don’t actually use or care about are communicating to their audience they are just in it for the money. 

It’s all been a learning experience for me and I’m grateful for a lot of the mistakes I’ve made because they help me know more fully what I want out of Instagram. I think the one thing I do regret especially in those early years of building my following was not taking enough breaks. It’s very important to the creative process to rest. I now build in times of rest in my day, week and year. I wish I would’ve started that years ago. It would’ve been much healthier for me and my family.

Keys to success: Time, hard work, consistency

Those aren’t sexy but they’re true. You have to keep showing up over and over again sharing what you’re passionate about not expecting anything other than sharing your unique self with the world and knowing you are being as true to yourself as possible. Keep showing up, working smart and hard and eventually (years usually) you will look back and see you built something that people care about. It might not ever be millions of people…but that’s not what it’s about, right?

the right way to start a successful blog

From Chelsea of Two Twenty One:

My biggest piece of advice for new bloggers?

Don’t start a blog solely for money and/or fame. Start a blog because you think you have something valuable to share with others. It also helps if you like to write and take photos.

What is your biggest pet peeve about fellow bloggers?

I’m not a big fan of paying for Instagram followers and likes. It’s smarmy. And what happens when Instagram’s algorithm changes or IG discovers there’s 20,000 bots following someone and deletes them? I’m also not a fan of essentially stealing other bloggers’ photos to push affiliate links or products. Take your own photos, Becky!

What, if anything, do you wish you had done differently?

I wish I had learned and adapted SEO best practices earlier on. And there’s a lot of things, business-wise I wish I had done differently from the get-go. But when I started blogging almost 9 years ago, there wasn’t much money being made in blogging. And I saw my blog as more of a hobby back then, not the full-time job/small business that it has evolved into over time.

What do you think has been the key to your success?

I think it’s because I’ve always been myself and kept it real with my readers. I try to let my voice and sense of humor come through in my writing as much as I can. But Instagram Stories has allowed my readers to get a better understanding of who I am. I think readers appreciate honesty. They also seem to value real life experiences– not just pretty pictures and all that unicorns and rainbows type of stuff. And some of it has been luck. I got in the blogging game when it wasn’t as extremely saturated as it is today.

the right way to start a successful blog

From Alison of 600 Square Feet and a Baby

What would I tell someone considering starting a blog?

I started my blog with the goal of helping people by being open and vulnerable about the good and the bad of living small in the city with kids. It was also a creative outlet for me when I felt my day job didn’t involve much creativity. If you are looking for a creativity outlet and building a community then I would say Do It!  

But don’t do it for attention or money or because someone else said you should do it. Because you may not make any money and you may get attention you don’t want. Do it for the right reasons and then the other things will hopefully fall into place.

Biggest Piece of Advice?

Remember why you started to share on the internet or social media in the first place. Whenever I have felt a bit lost or overwhelmed or am comparing myself to others, I go back to that focus. Am I helping people? If I’m not helping other moms or parents feel supported and less alone in this small living intentional parenting journey then I’m probably not writing the right post. 

What do I wish I had done differently?

I wish I had learned more about how to profit from the blog in the early days. Instead I am now trying to figure that out. Once you build a space on the internet like a blog you need to maintain it and it’s quite a bit of work. So I wish I had factored this in to ensure some money was coming in for my time. But I wouldn’t change that I have always been unwilling to compromise my morals or integrity by partnering with brands that I don’t use myself or believe in to make some extra money. I may not profit much from my blog but I am proud of the partnerships and relationships I have made from it. And I’m really grateful that in today’s overwhelm of information anyone takes the time to read my little corner of the internet. 

The right way to start and grow a blog

From Jacquie of The Sweeter Side of Mommyhood

My advice to anyone wanting to start a blog is publish a post 3-4 times a week in the beginning. It may seem like a lot but this will push you to develop content and a voice that you can feel confident in. It will also help you build a steady content library quickly! Commit to that schedule and don’t quit. I’d also have to say photography is important. Learn how to capture a great shot, compose a good photo, and edit for bright clear content. Obviously keep to your own style but learn some photography skills if you can!

My biggest pet peeve in blogging is when people don’t site their inspiration! Sometimes it’s so so obvious when one blogger gets an idea (for content, photos, writing prompts or otherwise) from another blogger. When they don’t tag/call out/link to that inspiration if feels disingenuous and makes me not want to follow them or read their work.

I wish I had ignored the numbers from the beginning. So many doors have opened to me once I stopped placing my value on numbers and metrics out of my immediate control. Focus on what you have to say and the things you care about. The opportunities will follow!

Think you still want to start a blog? 😉

I didn’t share any of this to scare you off or discourage you not to start a blog. In fact, just the opposite! I want you all to start one and have it be as successful as possible. There is enough room for all of us in the blogosphere, but we’re only as strong as our weakest link. When new bloggers do things unethically, promote stuff for free or for product trade that is of little value, rip off the ideas of others, etc. they delegitimize the industry as a whole and they water down our value. If brands think they can find people to work for free, they pay all of us less. Start a blog! Just do it right, ok?

Need help starting your own blog? I am taking on clients for consulting services on starting your blog and doing it right — ethically, legally, beautifully, and successfully. I have a couple of slots open for this summer — so email me at chandra[at]ohlovelyday[dot]com if you want in! You’ll get my blogging experience, my advice on sponsorships and partnerships, and my legal guidance on how to do it all above board.

I’m also launching an e-course in a couple of months. Sign up here to be notified when it goes on pre-sale. All subscribers will get an exclusive discount.

I hope you all find this post helpful as you start or grow your blog. Share it in your pod groups, pin it, and spread the word. We are all stronger and more successful  if we’re all doing this blogging thing the right way.

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