Friday, July 20, 2012

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V202: Small Biz Betties: Starting and Maintaining a Blog


Hello again, and welcome to Small Biz Betties, where I share my experience in setting up a small, online costuming/crafting business.  This week let's talk about setting up and maintaining your most important internet presence - your blog.

Blogs are brilliant for so many reasons.  They allow you to share with the world news about your business, yourself, projects, anything, and offer great ways to build your brand as well as your audience and potential customer base.

Before you start a blog, think about how it will fit into your business.  Think about...

  • What will I write? Am I able to or comfortable with sharing my in-progress and/or finished projects online?
  • How often will I post? You don't need a set schedule, but regular blogging builds audience quickly.  Commit to at least once a week.

There are several platforms you can choose when starting your blog, but the two easiest to use are Wordpress and Blogger.  I personally recommend Blogger because it is extremely easy to set up and maintain, and comes with a built in traffic network, "The Blogosphere," provided by Google.  It's important to note that all Google properties (such as Blogger, Google +, etc) are favored by Google, and rank highly in search engine results, so if you want to start off with good visibility, Blogger is the way to go.

Alternatively, for those of you integrating a blog into an existing website, Wordpress offers far more powerful tools than Blogger, and in fact, you can build entire web stores, portfolios, all kinds of scarily powerful websites, on Wordpress.  If you have web programming skills, Wordpress is a good one for you.

After you've decided what platform to use, you get to customize to your hearts content.  It can be a lot of fun, and I encourage you to make custom background images, pretty buttons, side bar imagery, and a smashin' cool header.  Here are some things to keep in mind about your blog design:

  • Show your personality, taste, and style through your blog design
  • Be sure your text is easy to read (in all search engines) - no smaller than 12 pt., and a dark color on a light ground.
  • You can find swish blog backgrounds at ShabbyBlogs.com and HotBliggityBlog.com, or make your own in a paint program - find the dimensions needed in Blogger's template tools.
  • There is such a thing as blog TMI - too much information.  You don't want too much going on in your side bars.  Keep the most important information near the top - this may be your profile information, or blog article tags, a link to your website or Etsy store, or a newsletter opt-in.
  • Consider using tabs/pages to help your readers navigate your blog - for instance "About Me," "Shop," or "Portfolio" are great to put on their own, permanent pages.  Tabs appear right under your header, so they are easy to find.

These are just a few ideas.  Tweak and move things around to your heart's content, until you have your blog looking super fly, just as you want it.

Then it's time to start posting.  The first post is always the hardest!  It's good to introduce yourself like you would at a social mixer - "Hi, my name is {your name}, and I love costuming/sewing/knitting/painting/eating cake."  Then go from there.  Remember to include at least one big picture in every post.  Here are some things to remember when blogging:

  • Be yourself, but don't over-share.  Keep it positive and focused on your main goal.
  • Link your blog up to a supporting Facebook page, and your web store, if you already have one.  Be sure to link back to your blog from every online presence you maintain.
  • Introduce yourself in your blogger community by visiting other costume/crafting/vintage blogs, leaving comments (legit ones), and signing your name/handle and a link to your snazzy new blog.
  • Provide good content - useful, on-topic information, and plenty of pictures.

So are you ready to get started?  Go for it!  This is just a small cross-section of "blogger theory," so if you have questions, please feel free to leave a comment, and we'll discuss. :-)

If you have questions you'd like answered, or are a small business owner and would like to guest post for SBB, drop me a line - lauren@american-duchess.com .
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9 comments:

  1. This is great information, thank you! I've been thinking about starting a blog for a while but I don't know where to begin or if I could commit to a schedule. Your blog is awesome so I know that any blogging advice from you is good advice.
    I'm also glad that you mentioned having dark text on a light background. I have come across several blogs that have great content but are written in white text on a black background and it hurts my eyes if I read for more than a few minutes. I hope they read this post and decide to change that.

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    1. Hi Anon - thank you! Blogging seems to be one of these things that you either love doing, or hate doing. It can be a joy or a chore, but the hardest part is getting started, and getting "used to" and comfortable with blogging on a regular basis. It doesn't have to be an every day thing, nor a personal thing, but can be a good way to update every once in awhile about your business. :-)

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  2. I know (if either consciously or the opposite) this was written for me!

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  3. Lauren, this is great. As you know I have a blog already on Blogger. The Tabs you, mentioned. Do those come with the 'free templates'? Your blog is so very customized and wonderful to check in on, can I be so bold as to ask, are you using a fee based template through blogger to have so many varied things on your blog or is it just a matter of learning to play with the various options they have for the free templates. Also, the variety of back grounds that you have used I don't see in the 'free templates' in the blogger program, can I assume you got these from another free or fee site? Lastly, I have no html experience nor photoshop, is that going to be a problem down the line? Thanks so much for Small Biz Betty!

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    1. Hi Angela - Yep, everything on this blog is free. I hate paying for stuff! The tabs in Blogger are created when you make "pages." You can arrange them in any order you like, although the first tab is always "Home."

      Most of the backgrounds I've used over the years were from ShabbyBlogs.com, and were very easy to install. Shabbyblogs.com walks you through how to do it, and it really adds a customized look. The background I'm using now is one I created myself in a paint program. As for the template, I find that the best one to use for custom or Shabbyblog backgrounds is "picture window," and I adjust the width over the blog to accommodate large pictures. It does take some fiddling, but is kindof fun :-) and gives your blog a unique look.

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    2. Thank you Lauren. I really appreciate you taking the time to answer my questions. Also, I double appreciate you providing this focus on your blog. There are so many books out there and blogs and websites, it is actually nice to chat with someone you know - albeit on cyber space - who shares the same interests and is supportive. Thanks again. One day we will meet!

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  4. I can't say my blog is for my business (I'm still in the process of getting a PhD... not much time for business starting) BUT I did just start on my first sewing blog (http://theparticipatingspectator.wordpress.com/). I've been sewing and costuming from years, but I just began reading your blog and others in the past year and I was inspired. I love that there are so many women who have successful, professional careers and still have time to sew and blog and inspire. (yes, I'm a bit of a fan)

    I'm wondering how you stay inspired to keep up with the blogging part? I love sewing, and I love writing about it... but it has been hard to be consistent about doing both! I tend to get in a rut where I just want to keep sewing... or just keep writing, and I know I need to do both to be successful at wither.

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    1. Hi Participating Spectator,
      How to stay motivated to blog? It might help to schedule it, like every Monday and Friday, or every Wednesday, and load it onto your calendar. That will give you time to let the creative juices flow, or get some sewing done, so you have something to share. If you've not done any sewing, think about what you've learned in the past couple of days, what has interested you in the costuming/history/sewing world, and write about that. If you can't think of anything at all, try going to your Pinterest boards or Tumblrs, etc., and look for inspiring images to share. It's normal to not want to stop while sewing, to take pictures - I almost never do, but instead I take pictures when I've finished for the day/night, and then share the progress the next day.

      Your blog is lovely, and you're off to a great start. Thank you for sharing. :-) I will add you to the blog roll.

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  5. Hi Ren,

    I first started following your blog when I sent you that Marie Antoinette wig (That was at my old job, which I won't mention here, but you can probably figure it out!) Anyway, I always find myself so inspired when I visit.

    My question is this: when you started blogging, did you have the business in mind? I mean, I remember when you started selling your shoes - you had been blogging for awhile at that point. Did you always know you wanted to develop your blog into a business or did that come after? Also, how did your vision change and/or grow as you blogged?

    I want to start blogging on my own and I keep finding myself in the mindset that I have to have everything nailed down before I begin. I know that it would be almost better to just start writing and see what develops over time... but it's hard to start without a perfect vision.

    How did that work out for you? What advice would you give in that realm?

    Thanks and congratulations on all of your success!
    Stephanie

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