Category Archives: Blogging

Blog Log #12: Is Your About Page Living Up To Its Purpose?

Nubby Twiglet | Blog Log: About Page

Is your about page conveying the story that you want it to? And more importantly, is it resonating with your readers? Mine wasn’t.

Up until a year ago, I never realized the power an about page held. Mine was decent on the surface but internally, I knew it was lacking across the board. For many of us, talking about ourselves and playing up our strengths in tidy little paragraphs can seem downright weird. Instead of coming across as proud and well-earned, it can feel more like flat-out boasting. And for the most part, none of us want to be that person. Yet, I knew that after launching Branch in September, it was time to own who I was and get over the awkwardness of talking about myself. I carefully tightened up my bio once again, mostly outlining my professional accomplishments.

Then, something happened — eerily similar emails kept popping into my inbox from new readers. A large chunk of my blog’s traffic is from creatives who are in college or entering their first professional jobs and they were essentially asking me, “How’d you do it?” They wanted to know how I’d gotten to where I am now but when I read back through my newly slick bio, it was leaving a lot out. It may have focused heavily on my accomplishments and been high on aspiration but the details of how I got from point A to B had been cut.

When it comes to your about page, there’s nothing wrong with being polished and professional but looking back, I feel like I’d fallen victim to the the marketing and PR machine — I am constantly absorbing the stories of people I admire in magazines and the intros usually focus on the present and how wonderful their existence is right now. Very rarely do they pull back the curtain and share their ups and downs, their personal struggles and their biggest failures along the way. And if we’re being honest, this missing piece is what we want to hear most because it’s what makes them human and relatable.

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As I sat with my bio a little longer, I realized how many misconceptions I’d built up. In a way, I took it for granted that most of my readers had been with me for the long haul, since way back in 2007 when I launched this incarnation of my blog. Every few months, I’d been polishing up my about page to reflect the current me but not talking about any of the details of how I evolved and became who I am. I was stripping out the old and slipping in the new. I was missing the big picture: we don’t just become who we want to be overnight; a whole lot happens in between. Our past heavily influences our present and we shouldn’t discount that.

Think about your own About page: if a reader is dropping in now and just discovering you, they’ll see something very different than if they’ve been following you for a few years. We all have to start somewhere and I am guilty of clicking into a fabulous about page or portfolio and thinking, “I’ll never be good as them.” But then, sometimes I unearth glimpses of a creative’s past and realize that they’re just like me. They had to start somewhere.

About pages are incredibly powerful and if you don’t take the time to tell your own story, chances are that no one else will, either. It’s up to us as bloggers to own our stories and to get comfortable with sharing them. After all, our personal experiences are what differentiate us from everyone else. I’m still reworking my about page to be the best it can possibly be but in the meantime, it’s already an improvement from where it was. Baby steps.

How do you feel about your about page? Is it conveying what you want it to? Is it resonating with your readers?


Photos: Made U Look Photography.
View more Blog Log columns here.

Blog Log #11: Why Are You Blogging?

Why Are You Blogging

This summer, as I scanned through my RSS reader, I noticed some of my favorite blogs being overtaken by a sense of malaise. In part, it may have been a case of wanting to escape from the screen to enjoy the nice weather but I sensed something more than that under the surface.

At this point, we’ve collectively reached a moment where blogging has been around long enough that there’s a bit of a “been there, done that” mentality. And because of that, there’s a natural shift taking place.

When I first started blogging, Twitter, Instagram, Facebook and Pinterest didn’t exist yet — blogs were the place for breaking news and new discoveries. Now, all that information hits social media at a dizzying speed. Photo shoots are sneak peeked and teased up sometimes weeks before their big blog debuts. Some of that magic of settling into a new corner of the web and soaking up something you’ve never been seen before has been lost. Where does that leave blogging?

I’m all for embracing the new, especially when it comes to social media platforms. But at the same time, I still believe that blogs have their place and always will.

I’ve always thought of social media and blogging in these terms: Social media is meant for sharing snippets of your work and life while blogs are the place to showcase the full story. In a way, interacting on social media is the equivalent of a quick coffee date. You’re making small talk, feeling things out and getting glimpses inside a person’s world. But with blogging, you’re taking it to the next level. Blogging is about inviting someone into your living room for a deeper conversation. They have the opportunity to dig in and really find out what you’re all about.

Creatives and business owners email me all the time, asking me if they should have a blog. My response is always an enthusiastic yes, definitely! Especially if you’re just starting out, blogs are the ideal vehicle to build trust when it comes to your brand. They are the space where you can open up and share your work and life on a deeper level. While that’s just my opinion, social media trends come and go. And if you choose to put all of your eggs in one basket, especially when it comes to getting the word out about your business, you run the risk of hitting some rough patches. I’ve always felt that having a blog to anchor your brand for the long haul as people move on and explore new social media platforms is a safe bet.

When it comes to blogging, I still do so regularly because I genuinely love it and besides that, blogging indirectly supports my design business. It’s as simple as that. But, feelings and focuses do shift. It’s always good to occasionally step back and ask yourself if the effort you’re putting into your blog, business and hobbies are worth it and decide if it’s time to make some changes.

I want to know: Why do you choose to blog? Is it as a creative outlet, to promote your business or for some other reason?

Blog Log #10: How Often Should You Post?

Blog Log

One of the questions we get asked every time at The Blogcademy is, “How often should I post?” And, I’m not surprised that it gets brought up so often because it’s an important one. But there’s a lot more that comes into play before you can land on that magic number. So today, we’re going to cover the ins and outs of determining a posting schedule that works for you.


Set Attainable Goals

When it comes to setting goals, a lot of us (including myself) tend to set the bar so high that it’s nearly impossible to reach. And when we don’t reach it, we feel like we’ve let ourselves (and our readers) down. Remember, it’s much easier to start out slowly and build your blogging empire in small but achievable increments than the alternative, which is to post so frequently that burnout sets in.

Think of it this way: how would you feel if you fell in love with a new blog that posted once a day and a month after your discovery, it suddenly dropped down to once a week with no explanation? Even if the content was still really high quality-wise, you’d probably wonder what happened. But, if your favorite blog that consistently posted once a week announced that it was growing and would now be posting once a day, you’d probably be over the moon.

The mistake a lot of bloggers make in the beginning is to set goals that they’ll never have the time for. It’s better to just dive in with a schedule that you can manage now (even if it isn’t that often) and roll with it — as you grow and are able to carve out more time for your blog, you’ll already have a solid foundation to build on.

Also remember, posting too much can be as bad as posting too little! If your frequency is too often, it can leave your readers feeling overwhelmed. So finding that balance is key.


Define Your Blog’s Purpose

Some people blog strictly as a creative outlet while others blog for income. Still, others like me blog to support our businesses. A lot of business consultants claim that blogging once a week is enough for a business to post and then, when it comes to personality-based blogging, it’s common to post much more often (3 to 5 times per week). The more often you post, the more potential “doorways” people have to discover your site — but frequency depends heavily on your goals and niche.


Be Aware But Don’t Obsess

A lot of bloggers observe peers in their niche posting every day (sometimes twice) and consistently making the rounds on their social media accounts. Competitiveness starts to sink in and they think that they have to do the same to climb the ladder.

But when it comes to blogging, you need to step back and remember it’s not about them, it’s about you. If your current schedule allows you to post three times a week, that’s perfectly fine. If it only allows you to post once a week at the moment, that’s fine, too. The point is work at a pace that fits into your life and not dig yourself into an obsessive, friendless, lifeless hole in the process!

Some of my friends including Kat post twice daily and sometimes even on the weekends. I usually only have time to post once every weekday. But instead of beating myself up for not posting more, I remind myself that full-time blogging is her job whereas I’m a full time graphic designer (and most of my day is dedicated to my clients). I’m aware that some bloggers post much more than I do. And others post less. I just do the best I can, when I can and focus on keeping my routine steady.


Create Regular Features

While some bloggers feel that setting a regular rotation of features is creatively stifling, think of them instead as a framework to give your ideas structure and cut back on stress. What are you already posting a lot of or really interested in? Define it and create a column. For instance, in 2008 I realized I was taking a lot of photos of my projects, surroundings and daily life but most of them went unused. I thought, why not round them up every Friday and share my Week in Pictures? Now, it’s one of my most popular columns and I never have to scramble to come up with a post idea for that day of the week. If you post multiple times a week, it’s easy to start feeling the drain of ideas a few years in — but those staple columns keep your regular readers coming back and allow you the opportunity to fill in your other days with exciting, unique content.


Stay Consistent

If you announce that you’re going to post three days a week, do everything in your power to hold up your end of the deal. If your posting becomes too spotty, your diehard readers will probably stick around but the influx of new readers will probably move on. Building an audience for your blog is based on trust. Just like you’d show up to school or work, show up to your blog. Of course, sometimes life’s circumstances get in the way and we’re all human — some things are just out of our control. But if you do have to take an extended absence, make an announcement so your readers don’t think you fell off the face of the earth!


In Closing

As a blogger, there is no right answer when it comes to your posting frequency — it comes down to what works for your lifestyle. It’s much more important to stay consistent. It takes time to build an audience and brand you believe in and there’s no one posting schedule that will work for everyone. Make blogging work for your lifestyle — not the other way around.

I want to know: How often do you post new content and how did you determine that number for yourself?

Blog Log #9: Activity Breeds Activity

Blog Log: Activity Breeds Activity


Photo: Made U Look


If you’ve ever hit a roadblock and wondered why you should keep blogging, if you’ve ever been overwhelmed with life and pushed your blog off to the side, if you’ve ever wondered why you should continue blogging when there are so many other great blogs out there, the answer is simple:

Activity breeds activity.

In a way, I’d been trying to explain this for years every time I got asked by someone why they should keep blogging when they weren’t getting the results they sought. But, as hard as I tried, the words never tumbled out as eloquently. Then, I was sitting in an entrepreneurship class two weeks ago when Stephanie Lynn said those three words: when it comes to reaching your goals, activity breeds activity. It was as simple as that.

Following that class, it quickly became my new mantra. I’ll be honest, there are plenty of days that I feel overextended, plenty of times I am tapped out of energy, unable to even scratch the surface of my to-do list and the last thing I feel like doing is blogging. But I know that the more time I take off from anything (eating right, working on personal projects and yes, blogging), the harder it is to get back into the swing of things.

So even when I have those feelings, I now remind myself that activity does in fact breed activity and the more of myself I put out into the world (via blogging, social media and responding to emails), the more I’ll get back. We should always give without expectations but it is a nice feeling when we receive something of value in return.

The more you dedicate yourself to your blog and the more regularly you put thoughtful, high quality content out into the world, the faster you’ll see results. If you want to get more out of your blog, give more.

There is no secret to getting to where you want to go. It takes a whole lot of work, perseverance by the boatload and a willingness to give it everything you’ve got. And, practice. I’ve said that it took me 500 posts before I hit my stride and really found my voice. Blogging takes time but that activity you put in now will pay off later.

Blog because you love it but also blog about topics that resonate with you (and in return, your readers). Blog because you can’t imagine not having it in your life. And blog with consistency. Because when it comes to blogging, activity breeds activity.


View more of the Blog Log series here.

Blog Log #8: Are Comparisons The Root Of All Evil?

Blog Log

Blog Log Comparisons


Source: You Can’t Be Serious Blog by Natala


Whether you already have a blog or you’re just thinking about starting one, do you look at the top bloggers in your niche and wonder, “How will I ever get there?” Because I still occasionally have those days, 11 years into blogging.

Oscar Wilde famously proclaimed, “Be yourself; everyone else is already taken.” And when I find myself getting caught up in self-imposed comparisons, I try to take solace in that. While comparisons can be a helpful benchmark to see if I’m on track (and I do follow a lot of blogs to keep up on market research and trends) if I check in too often, I start feeling low instead of inspired. How about you?

Maybe it’s just me but I feel like comparisons are harder to shake off now and it’s a sign of the times. I’ve been blogging since 2001 and I sometimes still get caught up in asking myself if my blog and work measure up. Part of this comes from a distorted reality a lot of blogs present (mine included sometimes), especially now. Back when blogging was a great big unknown and I was on Live Journal, we all did it for fun. Sure, there were really popular people but the overall playing field was much more balanced. Digital cameras weren’t that sophisticated yet and I don’t think any of us ever posted a photo larger than 500 pixels wide. I didn’t even know what an action was in Photoshop! We documented everything in a more “This is what I did today” way. There was less of a format or a formula. Our journals were often little more than personal diaries that happened to be outward-facing.


The Proof Is In The Picture

In the last few years (and especially now with Instagram), I feel like the proof is in the picture. Before, people were trying to explain how great their lives were and it was easy for us to write it off as being boastful or insecure. But now that we have visual proof, it really hits home. I’m a designer and by nature, I’m always rearranging my belongings and surroundings. Part of that no doubt comes from being in the advertising industry where the aim is to curate the best image possible on a client’s behalf. Companies pay big for that polish and it’s understandable because competition is stiff.

But what happens when that seeps into our daily lives? The lines between online and real life have been so blurred that it’s hard to separate fantasy from reality. If we see imagery in an ad campaign, it’s obvious that there’s a team behind it. But when we see it on blogs, it’s harder to tell.

When we’re comparing our blogs to everyone elses’ we only know part of the story. Contrary to what anyone says, none of us should be expected to share every little piece of our lives online. We all have different comfort zones. And we should respect that when it comes to everyone else, too. When we only see bits of a story (usually the best parts) it’s natural to fill in the blanks. I’ve met a lot of bloggers I admire (after following some for years before ever having that real life interaction) and I can tell you that I’m always blown away by how approachable, vulnerable and normal they actually seem. It’s a good reminder that we all have struggles.


Standing Out Is More Obvious Than You Think

When it comes to blogging, if you’re wondering why what you’re doing even matters, the answer is simpler than you think: We each have something within us that makes us unique. You have a distinct voice and perspective from everyone else in the world. Only you have the ability share, define and curate your experiences. Instead of comparing yourself to everyone else, you will actually stand out more by just being yourself.

If you’re familiar with differentiation when it comes to marketing, standing apart from the competition is a usually viewed as a major competitive advantage (and we go into a lot more detail on the subject at The Blogcademy). Your differences from every other blogger are what will actually make you the most memorable. If someone visits a dozen blogs in your niche, chances are that they’ll remember the one that is the most unique.


In Closing

At the end of the day, I try to remember that blog posts are just a snapshot into someone’s life. They don’t necessarily reflect a current moment. A blog post is a recollection of a point someone’s life that was memorable to them. It’s a learning experience. Instead of focusing on everyone else, focus on what you do best. The rest will come naturally. If the pieces haven’t fallen into place yet, it’s okay. It takes time. Just don’t lose sight of what makes you unique.


Do you fight self-imposed comparisons when it comes to blogging?
Any tips on how to stay focused?

View more of the Blog Log series here.

Blog Log #7: Balancing Blogging, Advertising and Ethics

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Blog Log Tools Of The Trade


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I have always felt that as bloggers, we deserve to be fairly compensated for our work just like any other profession.

Chances are that after you’ve been blogging for awhile, when you check your inbox in the morning, half of your emails are pitches from PR companies and text link inquiries. In the beginning, this can be incredibly flattering. After all, a lot of us put a huge chunk of time and effort into creating original content for our blogs and it feels great to finally receive some recognition.

But, it starts to become tricky when we sit down and actually sift through these offers. What’s legit and what’s garbage? How much of this content is actually a good fit for our blogs?

Here’s where I stand on advertising that’s not as straightforward as a banner ad (because there are a lot of other ways to collaborate with companies in exchange for payment these days):


Text Links

At this time, I turn down all text link offers. A text link is composed of words in an article that links to another page, usually that of a business. The business will usually pay you a flat rate to insert text links into articles they deem SEO-friendly. So for instance, if I’ve posted an article about how I keep my clothing organized, a closet organization company might approach me after the article has gone live and offer $50.00 to link to their business in the body copy.

My personal feelings regarding text links is that if you aren’t a fan of the site you’re linking to and are just doing it for the money, it’s misleading for your readers to click on those links. If I don’t believe in a product or service, I sure don’t want my readers to think I do. It’s not worth trading in your ethics for a quick 50 bucks.

The one time I did do a text link deal was about four years ago and I felt okay at that time because I was able to try out the product I was recommending beforehand. Basically, I reviewed a straightening iron and felt that it was fantastic quality and ran a sponsored post along with a link to a new page on my site that advertised the straightening iron. These days, I wouldn’t put a subpage on my site but at the time, it felt fine since I knew that what I was promoting was a quality product.

As a sidenote, if you’re running text links that are clearly labeled in your sidebar as advertising, while they aren’t pretty, this is a lot more straightforward.


Affiliate Links

I do believe in using affiliate links. With affiliate links, you place code into the product link within your blog post that allows you to earn a commission on items you recommend. And most importantly, it doesn’t cost the person clicking on the link any extra money. I use these links to share products I already own or would like to own. I occasionally recommend books that I’ve read and loved, camera equipment I own and clothing that I’m wearing in my posts. Simple as that. I try to use affiliate links sparingly because there’s nothing worse than overdoing it and feeling spammy.


Sponsored Posts

These days, sponsored posts seem to be more prevalent than standard banner advertising when it comes to big name bloggers. When done right, sponsored posts can be tasteful, creative and bring together bloggers with brands they believe in. I am a fan of sponsored posts when they feel like a natural expansion of a blogger’s brand.

My most successful sponsored post collaboration to date has been working with Scotch Blue Painter’s Tape. This relationship worked well for me because I already use the product in home remodeling projects and I’d also been interested in producing original DIY projects for my readers. This collaboration was particularly exciting because I was given free reign to think up any project I wanted with the only stipulation being that I used the tape. My two outcomes from this partnership included a custom skateboard deck and Christmas ornaments.

My advice in these situations is to only agree to partnerships that allow some creative freedom and also allow you to produce your own body copy. Chances are, your readers will be turned off by a cut-and-paste PR statement so really dig in and add your personal spin.


Freebies

Who doesn’t love free merchandise?! When I first started blogging seriously in 2007, I was a full-time college student balancing both a full-time job along with an internship. I didn’t have a whole lot of money and it was always flattering when companies offered to send clothing my way to include in outfit posts. It was a simple exchange: If I receive an item that I loved, I’d link to their site in a style post. I wanted new clothes I couldn’t afford otherwise, they wanted traffic and we both walked away happy.

But these days, things are a little bit different. When I am approached with an offer, I always remember what Kat of Rock n Roll Bride says: “A free handbag doesn’t pay my mortgage.” And, she’s right. I consider these partnerships a lot more carefully now and though I very occasionally accept products in exchange for a blog post, I only do so if it’s an item I feel strongly enough about that I would purchase it anyway. Which is at most, a few times per year.

It’s the law to disclose when an item was gifted so I’m very clear in my description when an item was provided for review by adding a ℅ (care of).


Brand Collaborations

If you have a solid following but aren’t being approached by the brands you’re interested in collaborating with, why not approach them? To date, all of my brand collaborations have happened by being approached by other companies but I am hearing of more bloggers writing up their own pitches these days. If you want more information on the subject, the best article I’ve seen to date on this topic is by Bri of Designlovefest.

Blog Log Tools Of The Trade


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Shifting Perceptions

While it’s always flattering to get noticed by companies, my most basic advice is that if something doesn’t feel right, don’t do it. It’s never worth compromising your brand in exchange for payment. Money comes and goes but regaining your footing after a bad deal is an uphill battle.

In the beginning, some of you may include paid text links in articles or work out special deals with brands and that’s okay if you feel good about it — you have to weigh the pros and cons and work out what’s best for you. But at the same time, it’s okay to change your mind as your ethics and business principles shift. As our awareness increases, a deal that felt like a good fit just a few years earlier may feel completely wrong now.

If you’re not at the point where you’re being approached for advertising and promotions yet, that’s okay too. I always say to myself that, “Slow and steady wins the race.” It’s always better to take your time and build a blog that you and your readers believe in versus rushing it and making bad business decisions.

It’s good to be aware of opportunities but at the same time, be razor sharp about what you’re delivering in return. Never sell yourself or your readers short.


Now, it’s your turn: What kinds of offers have you taken in exchange for payment and promotion? Are there some offers that you accepted and later regretted?

View more of the Blog Log series here.

Blog Log #6: Tools Of The Trade

Blog Log

Blog Log Tools Of The Trade


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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.


Blog Design

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.

Blog Log Tools Of The Trade


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.

Blog Platform

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.

Hosting

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.

Camera

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.

Photoshop Actions

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.

Notebooks

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.