10 things I’ve learnt from a year and a quarter of blogging!
Last January I set up this blog to help me shake up my finances. They’ve been given a shake, and I’m still at it, so what exactly have I learnt from shining a light on some of this finance-shaking via this blog?
# 1 – It takes time and commitment
The eagle-eyed among you will have noticed that it’s April, and this is just my 3rd post this year. Yes, it’s taken me 3 months to get around to writing about what I’ve learnt from my first year of blogging, hence the additional quarter of a year! But, that’s why this comment is # 1 on the list. It takes commitment. It’s not that writing a blog is hard work exactly (although see # 9 to follow!), but it requires dedication and is time consuming. Unless you’re lucky / talented / don’t care much, it’s probably going to take more time than you think to sit down and actually write something. Which means you’ll have less time to do other stuff. And you need to repeat that regularly.
Not only do you need to keep coming up with new ideas for what to write (back to # 9 below!), but you need to choose to prioritise it over other things in your life. If that’s watching TV, then maybe it’s an easy choice to make, but it’s probably also going to mean having less time for friends / family / other interests / going to the gym, etc. The irony for me is that the blog meant I was more motivated to crack on with sorting my finances, yet I wasn’t doing it as I was sitting there trying to write about it! Just so you know in advance!
# 2 – You’ll want someone to read it
This might sound weird, why else would you post something online? But initially I was quite happy that very few people were reading my blog. It gave me time to build up my confidence, learning as I went along, knowing that if I messed it up, very few people would see it. It took a couple of months before the realities of # 1 led me to think, “Why the hell am I spending all this time and effort writing if no-one is reading it?!!”
# 3 – You sort of need to treat it like a business
Which is all well and good if it is. But if it isn’t, the boundaries between your perceptions of what is ‘fun’ and what is ‘work’ might get blurred. So, you’ve discovered (or knew all along) that you want more people to read your blog. But then also maybe that friends and family aren’t that interested! Some of mine have shown an interest (thank you!), but most haven’t. (Blogging anonymously doesn’t help!) Strangers do not just miraculously find your blog. You need to actively do things to enable people find your site. You need to help Google to find you. There’s such a thing as Search Engine Optimisation. (I’ve yet to work it out, or even really look at it at all, if I’m honest). There is a lot of information out there, online courses, podcasts, do this, try that, and it can be overwhelming. Social media gets its own treatment in # 4 below! Use some of this information to help you out, but I’d be wary of getting sucked into a ‘business mentality’ as it can suck the fun out of it as well.
I started blogging because I wanted to write and turn around my finances. Yet in addition to marketing, there’s a whole supporting cast of creativity, about choosing a blog theme, layouts, images, so that what you’re writing looks good. It’s not all about the written content, not to mention the technical problems you’ll probably encounter at some point. It doesn’t necessarily all sit in the ‘fun’ category!
# 4 – Promoting your blog on social media
There’s a correlation between your social media activity and the number of people reading your blog. For me, I joined Twitter a few months into my blogging journey, and surprised myself by actually quite liking it! People definitely check out the blog via tweets. Yet I also don’t get it at all!
Public chat is something that might be second nature for many, for me it’s not! Skip this section if you’re looking for tips on how to best use social media, in fact if you have any tips then direct them in my direction please! I’m blogging anonymously, so have kept my Twitter feed focused on personal finance, and have reined in any inclinations to tweet about personal stuff. I joined with my blog in mind, using Twitter for a specific purpose, so when I tried to work out what on earth Twitter was all about, I was mostly reading about how to maximise traffic to my site.
I read how I needed to be following up to 200 people a day, unfollowing those that don’t follow me back, doing the same the next day, and so on. I needed to be re-tweeting my blog news multiple times to catch more readers. I followed people I was interested in, yet quickly found myself drowning in tweets I can’t read, missing ones I was interested in. How on earth do I cope with following even more people, or those who tweet every 2 hours? How on earth do people work with this in practice?!
# 5 – Are you enjoying yourself?
I set myself the challenge of blogging through my ‘year of thinking about money’. I read how you should post frequently, maybe 2-3 times a week, to keep people interested. I was hoping for every other week. Yet I still found it difficult to commit that amount of time. It led to thoughts such as “Oh! I need to do my blog at the weekend”, “What am I going to write?”, “I can’t face sitting down and writing it”, “I’d rather sit in the garden with a good book”, “Oh no! I didn’t write it last weekend, I really must do it tonight”. You get the picture. There was a lot of ‘need’, ‘must’, ‘should’ thinking going on. In short, it turned into a chore, with corresponding feelings of guilt.
Which is exactly what I didn’t want. I wanted to want to write it. I want it to be fun, enjoyable. I have enough other things to do in life that I don’t much fancy doing, I don’t want to add blogging to the list. So, this year, I haven’t set myself writing targets…and I haven’t written much! But, here’s the key thing, I’ve reached the point where I really want to! I’m in the mood again, which is a far better frame of mind to be in.
# 6 – Other bloggers are inspiring
A little over a year ago, I literally had no awareness of blogging. I’d never read a blog. I certainly had no idea of just how many bloggers there are, and how they can tackle personal finances in so many different ways. There are blogs focused on frugal living, paying off debt, saving, investing, retirement and, the one that blew me away, retiring VERY early. It was extraordinary to me that people were saving over 50% of their income, and were able to retire in their 30s or 40s from having done just that. It’s inspiring, and it’s hugely rewarding to discover that there are people out there doing exactly the same as you, going through the same struggles, and sharing their knowledge and experience.
Note though that while reading can be inspiring, it’s passive. With blogging you’re taking action, and it requires effort. Not just effort writing, but effort socially. It took me a few months of writing to myself to realise that the difference between just reading blogs and blogging yourself is interaction. It’s probably stating the obvious for many of you, but I was late to the party! Joining Twitter, commenting on other bloggers’ posts, and having other people actually comment on mine, is what stopped me from throwing in the towel.
# 7 – Blogging can make you feel bad
OK, this is the complete opposite of the above! The very same bloggers can make you feel bad. Not from anything they have done, but because sometimes you can’t help but compare and contrast your own situation. Imagine you’re desperately trying to save more, but feel you’re getting nowhere. Then, ping!, you get an email and read all about how someone else has had a great month, their investments have gone up, they’re only a year away from retiring at age 25 (OK, I exaggerate!). You don’t necessarily feel inspired at that moment, even though the cumulative effect of all of those emails is more motivational than not.
Also, you’re trying something new. That means you don’t know what you’re doing, and it’s going to take you a while to figure it out. I’ve learnt a lot this past year, but my confidence has also taken a few knocks. I’ll give you a couple of examples.
- I made the momentous decision to post my first ever comment on another blog…and they didn’t publish it! Now, having since successfully posted comments, I possibly didn’t properly click ‘send’, as I don’t actually recall receiving confirmation that my comment was pending. It took me a while before I tried again, had I said something I shouldn’t have said?
- I thought I could make some money from my blog (ha!). Other people do after all, and wouldn’t that be nice? So I read a few suggestions online, and decided to sign up for Skimlinks. This is affiliate marketing, where if readers of my blog click through to a product I’ve recommended, for example a book on amazon, and they go ahead and purchase a copy, then I get paid a small sum. I applied…and was rejected! They don’t tell you why, and of course I took it personally! I’m not sure if this is the reason, but I was still on a default WordPress theme at the time. I changed it, reapplied, and was accepted.
I’ve since earned nothing, instead my blog has cost me money to self-host. But this is story about confidence-knocking, not earning! These are small things, and possibly you are made of sterner stuff, but there’ll be things that frustrate you along the way.
# 8 – There’s not that much original thought!
Maybe you’re an amazingly original talent, with wonderful insight. In which case, you won’t struggle with any of this! However, I would start with the assumption that you probably don’t have much to say that someone hasn’t already heard before. That doesn’t mean I don’t want to hear it again, from your point of view. It doesn’t take too long once you start reading finance-related blogs to discover that the same topics come up time and time again, because they’re issues that affect us all. I’m not the only blogger writing about their retirement finances. Throw into the mix that personal finance lends itself more than most topics to being dry and dull, and that writing well is a skill that not everyone possesses, and it’s no wonder that I’ve clicked on plenty of blog posts where the title promised something insightful…and actually they were a bit of let down. I lay this criticism squarely at my own feet also – see # 10 below!
# 9 – It’s not going to be perfect
It took me a month to go from having the idea for a blog and launching. Not that long really, considering that I knew literally nothing about blogs before then. I found blogs that I liked, and ones that I didn’t, and it all seemed nice and easy. I was going to do it!
Then I actually did it, and guess what? Things are not as easy as they might seem when you’re looking at it from the outside in. There are plenty of things I don’t like about my blog. I’m proud of myself, that I got it off the ground, that I stuck at it throughout the year, and that I’m still interested enough to want to continue. But it’s definitely not perfect. It’s not even brilliant! Some of my writing has been a bit crap. Some of the blog posts are boring. I often find it difficult to sit down and write. I could carry on with this list but I won’t! There are a lot of things I know I could be doing better, but I now understand what this involves in a way that I couldn’t appreciate a year ago when I first started casually looking at other people’s blogs and deciding what I liked and didn’t like.
# 10 – Work out why you’re blogging
I was very clear why I started a blog. I suddenly realised that I didn’t have enough saved for retirement, I’d long wanted to write, and using a blog to motivate myself to turn around my finances seemed like a great idea. This has worked, so my blog has been a huge success, well done me!
It led to my light-bulb moment last year when I realised I wanted to retire at age 55. I keep a diary, and it’s no coincidence that the title of this blog is ‘themoneydiary’. I write to work things out, it’s probably why it can take me an age to write a blog post, I’m using it to help me work out my finances.
Once I realised that a blog needs readers though, I became confused about its purpose. Pondering why I’ve felt so conflicted over points # 3, # 4, and # 5 on my list, I feel I’ve had another light-bulb moment! I wanted to have fun blogging, and of course wanted it to be successful, yet I’ve been distracted by the stuff I’ve read online, about marketing my blog to gain readers, as I didn’t want to do what I was being told I had to do to attract them. I don’t want to post every few days, and I don’t want to tweet constantly. It’s taken me a year and a quarter to realise that what I want is to connect with a (probably quite small) group of other like-minded people. Lots of readers is not the end-game, not the goal, but rather the side-effect of having a successful blog. It’s a subtle shift in emphasis, but one that makes a big difference to my attitude and motivation to blog.
Let me know your thoughts and how my experience compares with yours! (I’d also be genuinely interested in any tips you have for handling Twitter!)