This really is a job.
Having spent eighteen months now running 25before25, it quickly became apparent that being a blogger was one of the most time-consuming parts of the whole project. From designing, creating and maintaining the site, to writing content and building an audience through social media and the press, it took up a big proportion of time and taught me a whole range of new skills. It also exposed me to the blogging community and to those who do this as their professional career.
It was never part of the plan to include blogger as one of the 25 careers, but as the year progressed, I realised that whenever anyone asked what I did for a living, I would explain that I was a blogger. It then seemed strange that I would never actually discuss what has become a distinct part of my career, and the platform that has opened so many doors.
One of the questions that I get asked fairly frequently is how do you start blogging. So, to give you an idea of what’s involved behind the scenes – this is a breakdown of what was and still is involved.
This is my office in Bali - one of the definite positives of being a blogger, you can work ANYWHERE.
Learn to Design and Build a Website - June, July and August 2016
This is something I knew absolutely nothing about in any capacity prior to deciding that I wanted to do it, except for copy and pasting html code into MySpace, aged 13. Please do not look that up.
I tried a few platforms like WordPress and SquareSpace, and even though they had beautifully designed templates, they didn’t give a large enough degree of autonomy to create what I wanted without paying for a web designer, which was certainly something that did not feature in my non-existent budget.
Several weeks and three or four terrible designs in, I discovered Wix and finally managed to create the first version of the current site. The hosting, domain name and lower tier level accounts came in at about £60 per year, which didn’t break the bank. Whilst of course, the website would look substantially better if I’d handed it over to a professional, figuring it out myself was all part of the learning experience and kept costs down!
It was all the tiny details which took the most time, things like the little icon to the left of each internet tab you have open, or how to create a subscriber form pop-up box that isn’t going to annoy your users. Then there are things like logos, colour schemes and images, making sure your pages don’t take 5 entire minutes to load, and ensuring the whole thing works well across different operating systems and on mobile phones.
After I’d gotten all of that nailed, there was then the question ‘how does anyone find my website!?’ to answer. I had no idea beforehand that you have to actually physically list it on Google – I had just assumed that was an automatic thing. Turns out no.
After you’ve figured that out, you then need it to be listed high enough under your keywords so that someone is likely to click on it. When was the last time you looked at a website on page 7 of Google’s listings?
All of this took over three months’ work in evenings and on weekends.
The First Post – August 2016
This was the hardest part of the entire project. I wrote and re-wrote that first blog post approximately thirty-seven times and asked at least nine friends to read through the final draft.
Finally pressing ‘publish’ and putting it on social media for some 1,000 people to see was both terrifying and liberating. Acceptance from your peers is, oddly, far more nerve-wracking than that of abstract newspaper readers.
It took several more months of writing posts before I had the confidence to stop asking a friend or two for their thoughts on everything.
Social Media and Subscribers – August 2016 Onwards
Someone in their mid-twenties should know how to ‘do’ social media, it should be almost second nature, in theory. I’ve found this to be true for running your own, personal social feeds (of which I only had one prior to the blog), but not so much for when it’s more ‘business’ focused. This is because, quite simply, running a blog has been more like running a business than I’d ever realised. Social media needs a dedicated amount of time spent in planning and in content creation. Consideration needs to be given to what time of day you’re posting, which hashtags will have the most impact and if there are any other influencers you can collaborate with, for example. Whilst professional Instagrammers may make it look like they just decided to spontaneously upload that perfect photo – I assure you that it was likely planned days, if not weeks in advance in a content schedule with sixty other versions of that one image.
I found it a difficult balance to strike and have often got a little frustrated when my blog’s success was only measured through how many Facebook likes it got. Especially due to recent changes in Facebook’s algorithms, any content I posted was only visible to a tiny fraction of those who actually followed my page. This led me to experiment with sponsored posts and promoting the page through advertising on Facebook. Whilst this did give a boost in the number of likes and followers, it sometimes didn’t feel right that this was the only realistic way to grow my following on Facebook. It was all a bit of an uphill battle.
In social trends these days, it’s all about Instagram. Twitter comes in second, whilst Facebook is a distant third. This is something I’ve certainly not cracked quite yet, and still needs quite a bit of work. It is also part of the reason I’m trying to build up my subscribers list, as it’s (hopefully!) a less fickle way to communicate with people interested in the blog.
Increasing Reach – November 2017 Onwards
One of the best ways I’ve found to get ideas out there and grow my blog is through the press, both print and online.
For the most part, this means writing a ‘pitch’ email, with either an outline, or the fully completed article attached. I spend time researching the most relevant editors across a range of publications which I can submit my work to. This is something I go through phases with, and only spend time on when I have time to spend, as it is not usually a quick process. When an article is accepted, for example with Cosmopolitan, it took eight months of work to go from pitch to publication.
After initially being accepted as a contributor, there are now some publications which I can submit articles directly to without writing the accompanying pitch. Huffington Post is the biggest platform for this, though they reserve the right to decline articles.
Then there is collaborating with other bloggers and relevant online businesses like graduate recruitment site Milkround. This I found much easier to do, as it is mutually beneficial to both parties so a much easier sell.
The Biggest Obstacle
Almost none of the above actually included writing posts or articles, and finding the time to do this whilst juggling everything else has been tricky, despite it being the most enjoyable. It’s a bit of a cycle – the more you grow a platform, the more work it takes to maintain it, which leaves less time for actually creating the content. But when you do, it helps to grow the platform even more. All of the above could quite easily have been a full-time job in itself, without working in the 25 jobs throughout the year. This means it’s something which frustratingly always ends up getting a little de-prioritised in favour of doing the actual work.
Do I want to be a blogger? Blogging in its purest sense, yes, because I’ve loved having the freedom to write what I want and to be as innovative and creative with it as I can be. You can shape it into whatever way you want as running a blog has value, so it can include travel and non-desk based work - I am writing this from a co-working space in Bali, for example, where I am testing out the rising trend of the "digital nomad". But more on that later.
I find the dependency on social media frustrating, as managing that successfully is a career in itself. There is plenty to suggest that blogging is on its way out after fifteen years in the sun, and is being replaced entirely by the likes of Instagram and YouTube.
So all in all, if I want to make blogging work, I need to find a way to make it work with social media, rather than against it, as I can’t do one without the other.