Like a lot of people, I started blogging because I’d read about the marketing benefits it could give my business. And just like a lot of people, I had little clue about where to start or how to be successful. So I jumped straight in and just started writing. Inevitably I made mistakes along the way, mostly due to lack of planning.
But you don’t have to do that.
If you plan out your blog rather than dive straight in you can skip a lot of the ‘don’t really know what I’m doing but I’ll give this a try’ phase and get to the ‘hey, this is starting to pay off’ phase a lot quicker.
Here are four lessons I’ve learned about the importance of planning your blog, and how you can apply them to your own blog.
1. Plan out your categories
In WordPress you can sort your blog posts into categories and tags to help people find the content they’re interested in.
Categories are fairly broad topics that you write about, and tags are more targeted keywords. Think of it like a recipe book: the categories are the top level subjects, like soups, baking or desserts, that you’d find in the contents page of the cookbook. While tags are for the specific ingredients, like potatoes, bananas or cheese that you’d check for in the index. You can use either option to search for recipes depending on whether you’re in a ‘I want to make some cake, whatcha got for me?’ or a ‘I really need to use up these bananas’ mood.
I wish I’d given my categories more thought before I started my blog. I started with several, based on the things I thought I’d be writing about. Then a few more got added along the way. They all seemed like a good idea at the time, but now I look at them and they bug the hell out of me:
For example, I don’t need a ‘Blogging’ and ‘Websites’ category – posts about blogging could fit nicely within Websites. And Freelancing started out as advice for other freelancers. But my blog is one of the ways I promote my business and most of my clients aren’t other freelancers or designers. So should I really be writing about that? Probably not.
If I were to do it over, I’d use categories like Branding, Business Tips, Marketing etc instead. That makes much more sense as that’s the stuff I’m writing about and that’s what my clients can make use of.
So I’d definitely recommend planning out the categories you intend to write about. When deciding that you should definitely think about the things you:
- know enough about to write a lot of posts
- would enjoy writing about
But more importantly, choose the things that your readers are interested in. What is the purpose of your blog? Who is your target market and what do they need/want to know? That’s what you should be writing about.
Choose your top-level categories. Start with around 3-4 main topics you’ll write about so you can keep your focus quite narrow. That way you can concentrate on writing really well about a few things and start to build up a reputation as an expert. You can always add in extra categories later as you need them.
2. Have posts in reserve
When I started blogging I would write a post and publish it straight away. I wrote as and when I had something to write about. So my posts were pretty sporadic.
I could see that successful blogs published regularly so I set myself a goal to post weekly. But sometimes I simply couldn’t find time to write, or find things to write about every week.
Had I planned my blog better (or at all!) I would have written a stack of articles before starting my blog.
If I had written a stash of posts I could have set them to drip feed out over the first few weeks or months after launching my blog. That’d leave me time to write the next batch of posts, rather than doing the idea-write-publish scramble over and over.
Plus I could have kept a few posts in reserve, ready to publish on those weeks that I didn’t find time to write at all.
How often you intend to publish on your blog will determine how many posts you need to have ready, but I’d recommend having at least your first 2 months of content written before you start publishing. If you’re posting once a month, that means you need to write 2 posts now, if you’re posting weekly, that’d be 8 posts… you get the idea 🙂
Start by brainstorming as many post ideas as you can for each of the categories you picked in step 1. Then try to sort them into an order you’d like to publish them. Now you have a rough plan of what you need to work on so get writing!
3. Don’t start a series on a whim
Shortly after starting my blog I had a great idea to write a series of posts offering advice to new freelancers. This was inspired by a conversation I’d had with someone thinking of going freelance, and I quickly wrote two posts and put them online.
However, it was a long time before I wrote another post in the series, mainly due to my usual excuse of having no time to write. Yep, that old chestnut.
I’ve since written a few more posts for the series, but looking at the subjects they cover, I wish I’d planned the series more before starting. (Or thought about whether I needed to write them in the first place – see step 1!)
The posts give advice on a number of subjects that would be useful to new freelancers. But the subjects were chosen based on conversations I’d had or experiences I was having in my business at the time, so they haven’t been posted in a logical order. For example, the post on quoting for work comes before the one on ways of finding customers – but you need to find potential customers first in order to have work to quote for!
If I could start over the posts would be in a more logical sequence, one that could function as a step by step guide to starting out as a freelancer.
Sometimes writing a series of posts seems like a fab idea. But before you jump into it, ask yourself:
- What should this cover?
- How long should the series be?
- Do you actually have enough post ideas to make this a series?
- Which order should things be published in?
Try to work out a logical flow to release the content in, one that will make sense to your readers.
4. Stick to a schedule
This is advice I’m working hard to take myself, and I do believe it’s worth it: sticking to a writing schedule. After finding my early sporadic posting habit disappointing, these days I try to make a little time each week to write something (preferably more than one post to help with step 2, building a reserve of posts).
I find that when I’m writing regularly, it becomes easier, more fun, and the quality of my writing increases. But when I skip a week I’m more likely to get writer’s block when I restart my routine, and at moments like that blogging seems an awful lot like a chore.
I don’t have a strict writing schedule though. In theory I spend one morning a week working on my blog. That could include writing new a post or updating an older one, promoting content that’s just gone live older stuff, and so on.
And pretty much every week I spend at least some of that morning working on my blog. It may not be the whole morning if I have a client deadline or it’s really sunny and I want to fit in an extra walk outside. But it’s written in my calendar that I’m supposed to be working on the blog, so I do it. Mostly.
I’ve also learned not to beat myself up if I miss it. Or cut it short. The world won’t end just because I didn’t stick rigidly to the schedule. And if I have a choice between sticking to it 100% and working overtime to meet that client deadline, or cutting my blog time short and avoiding the overtime… Of course I’m not gonna make myself do overtime if I don’t have to 😀
Get out your calendar and block off some time to work on your blog. Make it a regular appointment – whether that’s weekly, fortnightly or monthly will depend on what you need – but I guarantee you, if you don’t put it in your calendar, it won’t happen.
Pick a time that works for you. For example, if your brain doesn’t function without a triple dose of morning caffeine, maybe scheduling a writing session for first thing isn’t the best idea. I usually start my blog time by doing the promotion side of things while I drink my coffee, then once the caffeine has kicked in, I’m good to go for the writing side of things.
Plan out a successful blog
Your blog can be a really great marketing tool for your business – once I got my act together it has really worked for me. But with a bit of planning the journey could have been shorter.
These 4 lessons are by no means the only things I’ve learned while growing my blog, but they are some of the most important ones. I hope they help you to take a shortcut to growing your own blog, and show you how you can plan out a successful blog for your own business.
This post was originally published in May 2012 and has been updated in May 2020 with new tips to help you plan out your own successful blog.
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