Lately I have been receiving quite a few emails with questions asking how to start a blog and how to work with businesses. I am incredibly humbled that anyone would seek out my opinion on the matter because truthfully I consider myself a complete amateur. I have been at pearls on a string for several years, yet am no where near the stratosphere of a “big time” blogger! However, I have learned several things along the way and I am happy to share for anyone looking into starting a blog; I hope this will help motivate you to start (it really just takes a few clicks to get going!) and help you avoid some of the mistakes I have made in the past.
Why do you want to start a blog?
I learned early on that you really have to love and be passionate about what you’re blogging about. If it is for money or online notoriety, well, that is incredibly difficult to come by and if you don’t love what you’re writing about or the community you are building then it is not worth the few dollars/month you may earn. Writing pearls on a string is my favorite hobby, but it is just that: a hobby that provides a creative and therapeutic outlet. I love writing about my trials and triumphs in motherhood, sharing my favorite things to do as I explore living in Alaska, using my professional “day job” as a pediatric OT to help other mothers, and show some of the outfits I wear. Writing pearls on a string is how I attempt to make the most out of a difficult situation.
Choose a domain name and host.
I use WordPress.org (self-hosted) and host through Bluehost. You can head over to Bluehost and play around to see if the domain name you want is available. This is the fun part! Bluehost is a great place to begin when starting a blog because there are different levels depending on expected traffic coming in. I suggest starting out with the Starter Plan, which is super inexpensive at just $4/month and lets you register a domain name for free. (The domain name, such as www.pearlsonastring.com, is basically like a house/apartment that you need to pay rent to live in.) I definitely recommend starting out on a self-hosted platform because switching it over later is a pain. If you have any desire to include affiliate links then you must use a self-hosted platform (i.e., not through the fully hosted version, WordPress.com).
Do you love sharing about your life, a specific area of professional expertise, your magic in the kitchen, or the maddening things your children do? All of the above? Then start writing this second! If you really want to start a blog, then start one! Don’t let all of the details overwhelm you. Start writing, putting things out there, and enmeshing yourself in the community. You will learn as you go. I love the quote: “You have to be willing to be BAD at it in order to get GOOD at it.” –Mary Going. You will get better, but you have to start somewhere! Just go take a peek at this post, this one, or this one for a good laugh of when I started. HA!
Blogging is such a multi-faceted industry. A blogger has to be knowledgeable about photography, HTML, SEO, WordPress, marketing, graphic design, social media, everything. None of these areas are in my natural skill set, so I have spent countless hours educating myself. I’ve taken online classes, gone to conferences, researched, hired out assistance, and practiced. Good photography is a great way to capture an audience. People respond to good imagery and are more inclined to share posts with pretty pictures. C’est la vie! I have taken a few online photography classes, read dozens of articles, rented various equipment, and saved up for the current repertoire of camera equipment I use (Canon Mark III, Sigma 35mm f/1.4, Canon 17-40mm f/4). The point is, everyone has their own strengths and weaknesses and it is important to educate yourself in all areas. Everything looks perfect and shiny online but there is a ton of work that goes on behind the scenes; do not let the misperception of perfection deter you from starting a blog!
Connect with brands and businesses.
This is what I am asked about most frequently. There is a lot that goes into working with brands and local businesses that is not apparent to others. Here are some hard-learned lessons and a peek into how I make it happen:
- Work on content and building a community/following first, then seek out opportunities to collaborate with brands and businesses. When prioritizing your time, focus on content first. Once the content is created, then use the remaining time to reach out to brands. Make sure you are promoting brands you genuinely love regardless if you are getting paid to or not.
- Work for free! Do not expect to be paid by brands (unless you have, like, 100K+ followers). You have to be able to show what you are capable of doing and what kind of post you will create prior to seeking sponsorships. For example, the first few small businesses I worked with in Alaska did not provide compensation (except for a free coffee and scone!). I spent hours working on those posts and earned absolutely nothing from them. However, once I created enough posts to assemble a “portfolio” I was able to show other small businesses what I could do for them and received payment (usually in the form of trading services).
- Start local. Not only do I love working with local businesses because I believe in supporting the local economy/promoting small businesses, it is also a great way to get started. Working with local businesses is a natural lead-in to opportunities with larger brands. Actually, my favorite part of writing pearls on a string is collaborating with local businesses. There is so much support among small business in Anchorage; we all want to see small businesses here succeed. Doing this has also helped me feel connected to the community which is something I desperately needed when I moved to Alaska. I’ve created many friendships by teaming up with small businesses here and this has completely changed my day-to-day life in Anchorage when I am out and about.
- Develop perseverance. For every 10 emails I send out to companies, about 4 respond and out of those 4 usually only 1-2 companies are interested in working with me. If I let myself get defeated by all of the “no’s” and lack of replies then pearls on a string would cease to exist. Just keep swimming!
- Craft your pitch. When I contact companies I hope to collaborate with, I write a completely new email to each one. I do not send out blanket marketing emails that are impersonal and vague. I explain who I am, why I love the company, and how I can benefit them. I rely heavily on two things that make me unique compared to other bloggers: I am a pediatric occupational therapist, which provides a level of expertise/professionalism, and I live in Alaska. Determine what sets you apart from the thousand other bloggers emailing them that day and center your (heartfelt, genuine) pitch around that. Again, be prepared to work for free while building up your blog and portfolio! Also, when emailing a company, do some digging and find out who is in charge of PR/Media Relations. Send a personal email to that person, addressed to their name, rather than a impersonal email to the PR department. Another great way to get a brand to notice you is to show them a post you’ve already done featuring their company, then ask to collaborate. This shows you genuinely like the brand and are not just trying to get free stuff.
- Treat blogging like your day job when working with brands and businesses. This means if there is a deadline– you need to meet it. Develop a reputation of professionalism and exceeding expectations which will help other companies want to collaborate with.
You guys, I have to be honest: I earn what basically equates to coffee money from pearls on a string. But, it’s a start! Here is how:
- Side bar ads: There are several different companies that act as the middleman to big brands. I work with LinkShare and ShareASale. Once you are accepted into the larger network, you must apply to represent each separate brand.
- Affiliate links
- ShopStyle Collective: Allows bloggers to create links and widgets of the 100s of products via the shopping search engine Shopstyle. Anyone can sign up!
- RewardStyle: One easy-to-use interface with most brands. One must apply and be accepted to become a member, yet once you are a member you have access to all brands. (Side note: I applied 3-4 times before I was accepted! #perseverance.)
- Sponsored posts
Whew! That was a lot of information yet I feel like I am just skimming the surface. If you have additional questions or comments, please leave them in the comment section below so others may benefit as well. Thank you for reading!