Today’s post is about sharing the tools and resources I use when it comes to blogging (and I’d love to hear yours in the comments as well!)
When you’re taking the leap into blogging, it can feel daunting, especially when you’re surrounded by polished pros that seemingly have everything figured out. I’m here to tell you to never use that as an excuse to hold off on your dreams. Most bloggers I know started out with inexpensive point-and-shoot cameras (or no cameras at all) and a free blogging platform. The point is that you shouldn’t let any self-perceived shortcomings get in your way because when it comes to blogging, I can honestly say that it takes upwards of a few hundred posts before you really find your voice and hit your stride. In my case, I would say I found my flow after about the 500th post and that seems to be really common. If I’d waited until everything was perfect, I probably would have held off until I was finished with college and had more free time to develop my design and writing style. Instead, I got moving and figured it out as I went.
When it comes to the design of my blog, I’ve had a custom theme since 2007 when I launched on WordPress. When I was first starting out (and had a much smaller budget), I hired Star St. Germain to customize a free WordPress theme for me and I used that for three years. In 2010, I hired her again to do a complete redesign and then, she developed the current design from scratch in time for my five year anniversary in 2012. It’s been a constant progression. I’ve always designed my own sites and hired a developer because I like a lot of subtle bells and whistles.
My blog in 2007 (above) and 2013
If you’re just getting started and not quite ready for WordPress, Blogger works great as well. Katrina of Pugly Pixel has an awesome set of CSS tutorials geared towards Blogger and they teach you how to customize your theme.
And, while hiring a designer to develop a custom identity and blog layout is ideal, a great resource for free WordPress themes is Smashing Magazine (they always pull together the best collections). Or, you can stop by the WordPress site for over 1,700 options.
As we all know, the subtle, customized details including font choices are what really make your blog stand out. Designer Breanna Rose has compiled the best free options out there in a three part series.
I highly recommend WordPress because not only do they do constant security updates, the selection of plugins is the best around. You can download the software for free here and install it own your own domain. As a business owner, it’s always been important to me to have complete control over my content and assets and WordPress allows me that.
After some completely disastrous results with a previous host, I migrated my server to Dreamhost in 2010. Yes, there have occasionally been some spotty moments but overall, I’m very pleased with the service I’ve gotten. Any time I’ve had an issue, I’ve filed a claim ticket and had a response in less than 15 minutes. They’re also super WordPress friendly and have a great wiki full of helpful hosting information.
A lot of bloggers seem to think they need a fancy photo setup but I’m here to tell you that you definitely can get by on a budget. For nearly all the photos you see on my blog, I use a Nikon D40 which I purchased used on Amazon three years ago for around $300.00 (a newer model with more megpixels is the Nikon D3000). The lens I use for all my shots is a Nikon 35mm f/1.8G AF-S DX and was another $200.00. I use this camera and lens combo nearly daily and yes, there are much nicer setups out there but it gets the job done. I’m not a professional photographer but I still want nice, crisp shots and a DSLR that fits comfortably in my purse. This is it.
Adobe CS6 Suite
I wouldn’t be able to do my job without the Adobe Creative Suite. For years, it was unattainable to a lot of folks based on the sheer cost (even if you’re a student, it’s still a sizable chunk of change) but in the last year, that’s shifted with their introduction of the Adobe Creative Cloud which allows you access to the latest software as a subscription. Now you can essentially rent the software on a month-to-month basis and even better, you get to upgrade as they come out with new versions. Never again will you be stuck without all the newest features! Current Creative Suite users, click here for a reduced rate.
I use actions on a of my photos to create a consistent look. Having original, consistent photography is going to be one of the fastest routes to getting your blog to stand out. I personally love Totally Rad Actions but I always customize the settings and add them to my own mix. It’s about finding a looks that appeals to you and it takes some practice. If you scroll through my blog, you’ll notice that I like my photos to be bright and airy with cool undertones and a hint of saturation. If you’d like to ready more about actions, I did a more in-depth post discussing them last year. If you’re just getting into actions, this is my favorite free option.
Why do the best ideas always come to us on the run, when we’re away from our computers?! It’s probably because that’s when life really happens. To live an interesting life, you’ve got to leave your house! While I’m a total technology fiend and never far from my iPhone / iPad / MacBook / iMac, I always keep a notebook in my purse. Writing things out jogs my mind in a completely different way and sometimes, ideas for my blog just flow better.
There you go! Sure, blogging might take a little bit of an investment to take to the next level but most of us started out on a shoestring and worked our way up very slowly over a number of years.
Now, it’s your turn: What tools and resources do you turn to for making your blog run smoothly?
View more of the Blog Log series here.