A record of my journey as a new blogger
When I get it in my head to do something, I’m pretty pigheaded and will do whatever it takes to do the thing that I’ve decided I need to do. I will conduct extensive research, read whatever I can get my hands on about the topic, and immerse myself in learning everything I can about it.
And so it has been for this blog. A few weeks ago I thought to myself, “I think I have a lot of great ideas and things to share with people. I think I should start a blog.” Within a couple of days, I had one up and running. Within a couple more days, I published my first post. I didn’t take my time with this blog thing. I went all in, full bore.
I quickly discovered that it isn’t anywhere near as cut and dried as I thought it would be. There is so much to think about and take into consideration and put into place. I’m finding that I really need to keep track of all the steps I’m taking as I go–the things that have worked, the things that haven’t, the lessons learned, the successes, the frustrations. This blog diary is going to be my way of keeping track, and by making it public, maybe other newbie bloggers can benefit from my experiences.
The First Month
I honestly had no idea how to go about setting up a blog. Fortunately, one of the bloggers that I subscribe to, Leslie Lambert of Lamberts Lately has an incredibly comprehensive step-by-step on how to set up a self-hosted blog using WordPress. I followed her instructions to the letter and before I knew it, I was up and running. As I tweaked and made changes and added plugins, I continually clicked back to reference her instructions. I am so grateful for Leslie–I couldn’t have done this without her!
At first, I went a little plugin crazy, but soon discovered that it’s hard as a blogger newbie to have a dashboard so cluttered with plugins. Going through them, I got rid of the ones I hadn’t felt the need to use, decided that as I’m more proficient with using WordPress and blogging in general, I can always get them back if I change my mind. There were also some that I tried and didn’t really like, such as Elementor and JetPack, so I got rid of them, too. Now my plug-in list is much more manageable and they’re all ones I use.
As I’ve built my blog, I’ve been frustrated with things that just haven’t worked. I started with Avant theme by Kaira, but I’m very easily dazzled by things which easily pull my focus away (squirrel!) and so I joined Elegant Themes because I love, love, loved one I found there. Sadly, it didn’t work. I made the switch to it, but when I looked at a preview it was a jumble of nothing. I went back and tried to figure out what I was doing wrong, but I really think I was doing everything right.
I tried another of their themes and the same thing happened. I’m using Chrome. Maybe it works better with another browser? I don’t know, but at this point, I was so frustrated that I went back to tried and true Avant and asked for a refund of my membership cost, which Elegant Themes quickly and easily gave me. I had to reformat everything in Avant and by the end of the evening, I really felt like I had wasted a lot of time on that whole fiasco. I should have just stuck with what was working.
My intent with this blog isn’t simply to jot down my thoughts for a handful of friends and some family members to read. I think that I have a lot to share and I want to share it with everyone who will listen and join in! So I started a Facebook page for my blog and opened accounts for it on Pinterest and Instagram. Initially, I really focused on my Facebook page, promoting my blog and each new post. It’s disappointing to get a report after a week that you only got 7 clicks and 3 likes. After promoting my burlesque post, I looked at the insights and analytics for it and discovered that 75% of the clicks were men. Naturally. Lesson learned! LOL
Email lists and opt-in forms
I opened an account with MailChimp and figured out how to make a really pretty opt-in form using the Elegant Themes forms plugin, Bloom, but I was having trouble making MailChimp work for me. I needed something more intuitive. On one of the podcasts that I’d listened to, I’d heard a blogger singing the praises of ConvertKit, so I made the switch. It was super easy since I didn’t have any subscribers yet. So far I’ve really liked it and have been able to figure out how to make automations and sequences. Today I even sent out my first broadcast, the maiden voyage of the Tales of a Midlife Crisis newsletter. To all four subscribers (one of whom is me. LOL). Unfortunately, I couldn’t figure out how to use my Bloom form with ConvertKit. That’s okay–the form I made with ConvertKit is perfectly suitable.
More social media
I read that Pinterest is the way to go if you want to successfully market your blog and your brand. I started watching videos on Skill Share but that has sort of stalled. I’m feeling like I’m doing too much at one time. I need to focus first on getting to know WordPress (which is actually incredibly easy and intuitive to use) and getting some posts published so people have something to read when they get here. I’m still making Pinterest graphics (I use Canva for all my graphics and I LOVE it) for each of my posts and using them on Pinterest and Facebook, but that’s really as far as I’m going with marketing on social media for the moment. Don’t get me wrong, I know how incredibly important social media is, but I’m really overwhelmed right now.
SEO (search engine optimization) is tricky for a newbie. I have the Yoast plugin and it has been incredibly helpful in pointing out what and where I need to optimize. With each post I write, I think I’m really starting to get a hang of all the ways to optimize for the search engines. I also worked out how to make an account with Google Analytics and link it to my WordPress account. You know, the thing about learning new things in the 21st century is that you can find whatever information and help you need online. I don’t know how many times I’ve gone to YouTube during this whole adventure and found exactly the help I needed.
Valentine’s Day post idea
I decided to do a Valentine’s Day post on a dinner menu for two. I thought, “Oh, I’ll just cook it all up real quick, take some pictures as I go, write a little something up, and I’ll be good to go!” Well, no. That’s not exactly how it worked out. Yes, I cooked, and yes, I took pictures as I went, but even that was just way more work that I had anticipated. For one thing, I found that I had to move all kinds of stuff around in my kitchen so that I wouldn’t have stuff cluttering up my photos. Things sitting on windowsills, for example. I never realized how much junk we have just sitting on windowsills in our kitchen. So I had a pile of stuff that I had to move from surface to surface as I used spaces in my kitchen for the photos.
Photos and fonts
A couple of days before, I downloaded the Adobe Creative Cloud bundle of Lightroom and Photoshop (my student discount comes in really handy sometimes!). I spent time adjusting the photos, but I realized that I really should put a watermark on them. I found a great tutorial about how to do this and it is the coolest thing! You are basically making a brush of your logo, but when you use it, it’s like you’re just rubber stamping your photo. So spiffy! Her tutorial also inspired me to brand my logo a little more (squirrel!) so I spent some time on MyFonts drooling over fonts. I finally decided on a bundle of three that was on sale. I love them! I made a watermark using my new font (remember to read your license carefully so you know exactly how you are allowed to use your fonts) and went to work on my photos.
The plugin that I had decided on for my Magic Mushroom Powder post was Zip Recipes and it was great for that one recipe, but when it came to doing more than one and wanting to insert photos for each step, it wasn’t working. Another frustrating evening was spent spinning my wheels trying to get it to work, giving up, getting rid of it, getting a new plugin (WP Recipe Maker), and redoing my recipes. And oh, jeez, I’m just now realizing that now my Magic Mushroom Powder post no longer has a recipe in it because I got rid of that plugin. Crap. Oh, well, I’ll go in and fix that after I finish this post. In the end, I wound up publishing my Valentine’s Day post two days after I intended to and at 11:00 at night.
Today I wrote and sent out my first newsletter (woo hoo!). I even made it pretty by making an email banner using my new fonts. Once I’ve finished this post I’ll go over and redo that recipe in the Magic Mushroom post. Believe it or not, though, I have other things in my life that need to be done. School work for one. So I’m going to set blogging aside as much as I’d love to go onto Skill Share or read blogs about blogging.
The things I really want to work on are how best to use Pinterest and other social media to market myself. I need to learn how to continue to build my “brand” and to figure out how to really hone in on what it is I can give to you, my readers that is most important to you. I need to do some market research, clearly, but I need to educate myself on the best way to go about doing that. I worry constantly about how to make myself known, how to get myself to people who will want to join Tales of a Midlife Crisis and to stick with me. I’ve got my work cut out for me, that’s for sure.