Tag Archives: blog log

Blog Log #6: Tools Of The Trade

Blog Log

Blog Log Tools Of The Trade


Source


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.

Blog Log #5: What Is An Editorial Calendar and Why Do I Need One?

Blog Log

Advice


Source.


When it comes to blogging, everywhere I look these days I see discussions popping up around editorial calendars. Now that we’re firmly planted in the era of professional bloggers, it seems like everyone’s openly discussing theirs. What is an editorial calendar? In a nutshell, it boils down to having your blogging schedule planned out in a calendar format. That’s it!

When I first started blogging, long before I even had a niche figured out (or cared if people were reading!), an editorial calendar wasn’t on my mind at all. I posted what I wanted when I wanted. If I was feeling particularly inspired and wanted to post twice a day, I would. If I wanted to take four days off, I would. That’s the life, right?

On the contrary, I found that it could be incredibly stressful. I’m a creature of habit and thrive on routines and structure. As the years went by and I became a lot more serious about blogging, any time I woke up and didn’t know what I was going to be posting that day, it stressed me out! I know that sounds ridiculous but fellow bloggers, you know exactly what I mean — it’s that same feeling of not getting your homework done and winging it. As we all know, posts that are cobbled together in the moment are not always the tightest. In my case, visuals come easily but words don’t always flow out as readily. Though I enjoy writing, I’m not a professional and stringing together words doesn’t just happen — columns like this take some serious forethought and many read-throughs before I’m comfortable posting. Having these topics outlined in advance gives me time to think through my drafts and rewrite sections before they go live. If I was writing this content off the cuff, I know for a fact I wouldn’t be putting my best work forward.


Slot in Specific Columns

I’d blogged on Live Journal for six years just for fun. But, by the end of 2007, I was getting a lot more serious about blogging. Plotting out my editorial calendar is actually the reason why I developed columns to fit in slots for specific days. When I looked out over the next month, knowing I had certain days of the week already covered took away a lot of the stress and allowed me to really get creative and explore those “free” days, whether it was diving into sharing sharing business tips, peeks inside recent travels or pulling back the curtain and showing my adventures in home renovation.

If you’re a regular reader, you already know this but my weekly schedule currently looks something like this:

Monday: Style Post or Client Project
Tuesday: In The Mood or Typofiles
Wednesday: Advice or Blog Log
Thursday: Link Love
Friday: Week In Pictures

And then, I’ll sprinkle in the occasional post that doesn’t fit into these slots to mix things up.

Contrary to what it may seem at first glance, what I’ve found is that having an editorial calendar doesn’t confine me at all — instead, it gives me the spark I need to produce certain kinds of content. It holds me accountable to my blog and deadlines. If I didn’t have a calendar, I might slip away more often. It’s wonderful to be a blogging free spirit and I admire the folks that live their lives with wild abandon. But, having some structure is good for all of us. And if I was staring out over a blank month, I would be back to where I was when I started: posting a hodgepodge of everything with some hits, a lot of misses and very little consistency. I’ll leave that for my personal journal!


Tracking Your Editorial Calendar

Some people like Gala hand write their blogging plans out by hand. Others use Google Docs. I keep it simple and put together a text document that I keep on my desktop. There’s no surefire way to keep yours. I find that the more basic I keep these documents, the more likely I am to check in and follow my plan.


In Closing

As your blog becomes more established, whether you like it or not, readers begin to expect a sense of consistency. Regular columns coupled with an editorial calendar will make your life run a whole lot smoother and as a bonus, if you can work ahead, it’s always nice to pre-schedule posts and take a few days off!

View more of the Blog Log series here.

It’s your turn: Do you keep an editorial calendar?

Blog Log #4: 8 Keys To Making Lasting Online Connections

Blog Log

Advice


Pay attention, be genuine and be engaging. In return, your connections will soar. Photo by Shell de Mar.


Dale Carnegie, author of the wildly popular book How To Win Friends and Influence People once said, “You can make more friends in two months by becoming interested in other people than you can in two years by trying to get other people interested in you.” Though he proclaimed this in 1936, the sentiment is as true today as it was then. I know it’s easy to make excuses with so many social media platforms to keep up with, let alone blogs. And we all have so much going on. But those 30 seconds you spend leaving a positive, insightful comment can really make someone’s day and make a lasting impression.

We all have different reasons for wanting to make connections. Sometimes, we come across a blog that’s incredibly cool and clever and think, “I want to befriend whoever’s behind that.” Other times, we notice someone in our industry that’s beyond insightful, not to mention hugely successful on their own terms and we want advice. Or, perhaps we need a favor or a recommendation. Our reasons for wanting to form online connections are different but no matter what our motives are, they should always come across as genuine and welcoming.

So, how do you make lasting online connections?

1. Help others through your content

This is going to sound like common sense but hear me out. If you’re a blogger and your content is all about you all the time, you will have a set amount of admirers. But, if your blog is about you but also aims to help people in a genuine way, whether that’s offering them advice or teaching them something new, your audience will be a lot more varied, and your reach more widespread. Do you have an area of expertise? Create a weekly or monthly series around it. The more you’re able to help people, the more they’ll be drawn to what you’re doing and in turn, keep you in mind when opportunities arise.

2. Put yourself out there

If you’re cowering in your bedroom and afraid to make that first that first move (even if it’s leaving a comment on someone’s blog or twitter), if you’re terrified to send that first introduction email, nothing’s going to happen. If you want change in your life, you have to create it. If you want friends, you have to open up. If you want industry connections, you have to find them. A big portion of my closest friends were made directly through blogging (you can read about that here) and starting a blog is a great way to share more about yourself (and draw in like-minded people) without sounding braggy. With blogs, you can create articles around a general theme instead of boasting on Facebook, “Hey, look what I did today!” which is almost always a turn-off.

And when it comes to email introductions, just hit send already! The worst possible thing that can possibly happen is no response at all. And that’s what you have now. So put yourself out there!

3. Contribute to the conversation

If you regularly leave comments on blogs and social media platforms that are genuinely adding to a conversation, it might take some consistency but they will get noticed. Likewise, if you get mentioned in an article, leave a quick comment of thanks and recognition. Use your manners and be gracious! These little tokens of appreciation do add up — create a memorable trail across the internet.

4. Help those who seek help

If someone writes a blog post or tweets about their quest for a specific item, send them some options (Kat is a total pro at this). If someone tweets looking for shops and restaurants to visit on vacation in a new city, offer up some recommendations. You can never go wrong by being helpful.

5. Link to content you love

Every week, I link to articles I find valuable and get the word out. Sending a chunk of traffic bloggers’ way is one of my small ways of giving back to those I respect and admire. I’ve actually become friends certain bloggers through regularly linking to them. A lot of the articles that you’re reading (including this one) might only take five minutes to get through but probably took the blogger a few hours to write. Link back to content you find valuable and show bloggers some love!

6. Attend every industry events

It’s not easy putting yourself out there but you’ll make valuable connections by showing up to industry events with an open mind (and a stack of business cards). Even the biggest bloggers can appear supremely confident on-screen and still be total wallflowers in person. If someone is standing around by themselves, make that first move. Talk to bloggers in the same the way you’d talk to a friend — always remember to play it cool! The second you start flailing your arms around and proclaiming, “Oh my god! I’m you’re biggest fan!” and smothering them, it becomes incredibly uncomfortable and you’ve just moved yourself down a level.

Think of it this way: If you were to run into a celebrity at the bar and casually strike up a conversation, they may engage you. If you squeal, try to hug them, snap a million photos and go on and on about their biggest accomplishments, you’re treating them as less than human. Would you treat your closest friends this way? Playing it cool takes practice but I promise, it will get you a lot further with the people you admire!

7. Stay consistent but not creepy

If you’d like to connect with someone, take it easy. Kat once said, “If it would be weird in real life, it’s weird on the internet” and she had a point! Comment regularly, show an interest and interact with the tweets of the people you’d like to connect with but don’t come on too strong. I know this is vague but if you have to ask how much is too much, you’re probably crossing the line! When interacting for the first time, think of how you’d act on a coffee date when meeting a new friend. Keep your interactions light, casual and conversational in the beginning.

8. If you’re asking for something, follow the golden rule

If you ever need a favor (and we all do at some point), always, always, always offer something in return! People will remember that small token of appreciation forever. I’ve sent Amazon digital gift certificates, bought dinner, coffee, offered design discounts, written testimonials and more in exchange for a favor. Everyone loves to feel appreciated. Even a simple “thank you” or a handwritten card can mean the world on a bad day. I have stack of handwritten thank you cards from past Blogcademy graduates sitting on my desk and each showcases their personalities beautifully. It’s inspired me to upgrade my thank you card arsenal as well. Sometimes giving thanks takes a budget no larger than a stamp.

In closing

Always be genuine, charming and humble. Above all, be yourself and doors will open.


If you’re searching for even more advice, these articles are extremely helpful:

1. Modern Etiquette by Grace Bonney of Design Sponge
2. Collaborations That Work… by Kat Williams
3. Email Etiquette for the Super Busy by 99U
4. The Best Goal is No Goal by Zen Habits (because sometimes, the best connections happen naturally)


View more of the Blog Log series here.

It’s your turn: How do you go about making connections in an authentic, non-slimy way? What’s been the best thing that’s come about from you taking that chance and reaching out?

Blog Log #3: How Blogging Has Opened Doors to Friendship and Career Opportunities

Blog Log

Advice


Blogging has opened doors that I never expected. Photo by Shell de Mar.


Last week, I shared the one thing I wish that someone would have told me when I first started blogging. This week has a slightly different twist — I’m focusing on the ways blogging has affected my life, mostly in areas I couldn’t have predicted. I really had no idea at the time just how many doors blogging would open.

As I mentioned last week, when I launched my blog on my own domain in August 2007, I was still in college. I wasn’t yet a full-time designer and I honestly didn’t know what purpose my blog would serve besides sharing snippets of my life and travels. I didn’t have a big, beautiful blogging plan and maybe that was for the best because I didn’t overanalyze what I was doing. I just posted what I loved on a daily basis, simple as that. The niche and the themed columns came later and because of that, there was a lot less pressure to live up to some preconceived standards.

Having a blog didn’t feel that revolutionary to me. Even at the time, I just made it part of my everyday routine. I’ve always heard that if you love something enough, you’ll find a way to make time for it. Blogging is the same way. Even though I didn’t have a master plan mapped out, slowly, I did start to notice doors opening in part because I had a blog. The more I blogged, the more my focus sharpened and the more opportunities can my way.

If you’ve ever felt disillusioned or burnt out or wondered why you keep your blog going, perhaps these stories I’m sharing today will inspire you to keep moving forward.


PROFESSIONAL DOORS

In 2007, I applied for an internship at Nemo Design. I had just finished my first year of community college and knew that’s where I wanted to be. I came in for an informational interview and along with sharing my portfolio, I mentioned my blog. Dave Allen was in charge of digital strategy at the time and also way ahead of the curve when it came to blogging and social media. I got the internship and the best part was that at Nemo, blogging was encouraged alongside design. Designers with blogs weren’t as common then and having that nurturing, encouraging atmosphere really helped me hone in on what I was doing — I still remember our meeting with a professional consultant who critiqued our blogs and walking away afterwards going wow, all those little details do matter.

The wave of change was slow but I remember walking into agencies for interviews over the next few years and getting recognized before I’d introduced myself. Portland’s design community is very tight-knit but it still felt surreal to get that instant recognition at studios I admired.

In 2010, I was freelancing at Nike and on my third day, I got called into a meeting with the head of the department. Of course my stomach dropped, wondering if I’d done something terribly wrong! They barely knew me, what could they possibly want? Was I getting fired?! Instead, I had an hour long conversation with the creative director, who’d recognized me from my blog — this was a guy who’d worked alongside Oprah in a past life! I got offered an interview.

Last Fall, as I was obsessing over the new Computer Arts Collection series and reviewing the issues on my blog, the magazine’s creative director caught wind of the posts and tweets. I was sitting in an airport when an email came in, offering me an 8 page feature. Once again, blogging was opening doors that I didn’t realize were there.

I am positive that these three opportunities would have never transpired without my passion for blogging.


PERSONAL DOORS

Beyond anything that’s transpired professionally, the friendships I’ve made through blogging are the most important. I met my friend Pam one day after she read my blog and sent me an email. We went out to dinner and became fast friends. I’d known Gala from Live Journal — we finally met up during the summer of 2008 in New York and my life was never the same — we now travel the world together with Kat (who we also met through blogging) with our workshop, The Blogcademy. I met Anna through Live Journal a decade ago and though we don’t get to see each other that often, I adore her design sense from afar. Meeting Star through blogging really impacted me — she became my close friend and web developer (she’s coded all my blogs!). Bianca is another friend I made — when I first met up with her on a street corner in New York, I had no idea she’d be photographing my wedding a decade later!

Last summer, I got on a plane and flew to Palm Springs to meet 20 other female designers for a retreat called Design Life. The key bond we all shared is that we ran blogs. Though I’d been reading many of their blogs for a really long time, seeing them in person for the first time was overwhelmingly positive and we’re still in contact, tweeting, commenting on each other’s blogs and sharing insights. Thanks to blogging, I now have a network of 20 amazing women across the country that share the same passion for design that I do.


TAKING THE BAD WITH THE GOOD

Blogging isn’t all a bed of roses, though. On the flip side of all these amazing opportunities, there have been people who haven’t felt the same way about blogging as I do.

Two years ago, I was sitting next to a freelancer at a design studio and we hit it off. One thing led to another and I shared my blog with him. He quickly scrolled through, soaking in all the details and then spent the next five minutes critiquing me in a condescending tone. “Your site should just be a portfolio. Why do you post all these personal photos? That stuff belongs on Facebook…your site should be dedicated to your work.” I was being torn down for letting people know who lived beyond the work. Even after all those years of blogging, I remember wondering if he was right. And then I remembered that not everyone is supposed to get what we do as bloggers. And that’s okay. Once you accept that, it’s easier to let go and set out with what YOU feel you’re supposed to do. It’s up to you to set your own boundaries and share as little or as much of yourself as you’d like.

When people come along and wonder why we share what we do on our blogs, I always go back to the mindset that we are so much more than our work. I mentioned this in the first Blog Log, but if all I did was share my design work, it would get really dull really fast for a lot of you. Yes, it’s scary putting yourself out there and there are going to be those people that don’t get it. But I promise, the payoffs far outweigh the bad. If I could start over, I’d do it all over again. I am a firm believer that people are interested in more than what you do, they’re interested in you. And the more they feel like they know you, the more opportunities will come your way.

Blogging is not always easy but to me, it is worth it.


View more of the Blog Log series here.

Your turn: What’s been the biggest door that’s opened for you because of blogging?

Blog Log #2: The One Thing I Wish Someone Had Told Me When I Started Blogging

Blog Log

Advice


Get comfortable, it’s gonna be a really long haul. Photo by Shell de Mar.


More blogging-related questions have been rolling in (if you have one of your own, drop me a line at: advice @ nubbytwiglet.com) and this week, the question I’m addressing is:

“If there was something that you wish somebody told had you when you first started blogging, what would it have been?”


The cold, hard truth is that here’s no such thing as a shortcut when it comes to blogging. We all want that magic bullet to cut through the other estimated 200 million blogs out there and get ours front and center. I wish I’d known what a long haul I was in for.

When I started blogging in 2001, it was strictly for fun. Blogs weren’t businesses back then and nearly all the bloggers I knew at the time were personality bloggers, meaning that they blogged about their lives, surroundings and personal anecdotes. I blogged regularly for five years just for fun and since it wasn’t business-related, there was no pressure to perform. It wasn’t until 2007 that I started noticing things in the blogosphere heating up.

Slowly, the tight-knit community on Live Journal I’d been lucky to be a part of began to jump ship for self-hosted blogs. And with that, advertising spots began opening up on those said blogs, which meant that blogging was quickly becoming a business all its own. When I decided to take the leap in August 2007, I was following a long line of personality bloggers that were doing the same. I really don’t think most of us had set game plans — I know I didn’t. I was in college full-time and felt that no matter what happened with blogging, I wanted a solid career to fall back on that wasn’t directly tied to how popular (or unpopular) I was on the internet.

As I worked my way through school and entered the world of ad agencies while balancing freelancing, I steadily built a solid and loyal following on my blog. No matter where I had to be on any given weekday, I pulled myself out of bed at 6 am and put a fresh post up on the blog. Not every day was earth shattering and magical, but I was consistent.

When you first start out blogging, you’re hungry. You’re excited. You have a million ideas. But nobody talks about how you’ll feel five years in. Five years is a long time out and once you’ve gone on that long, you’re in the minority because a sizable portion of your peers will have given up by then. After five years, ideas don’t always come in as quickly. The inspiration doesn’t always hit as swiftly. Or, it comes in waves. For instance, I hadn’t introduced a new column in close to a year and now in the last two weeks, I’ve launched two. Move fast when you’re inspired!

Once you know the blogging ropes, you look out and wonder, “Is this all there is?” If you’re blogging for the right reasons, you won’t throw in the towel. If you’re blogging for the wrong reasons, you just might.

Blogging for fame and fortune usually leads to burnout. Blogging as a creative outlet or to support a business usually has longevity. Part of the reason I’m still able to get out of bed and blog nearly every weekday is because I do it out of a love of the craft and I also do it to support my businesses, a blogging workshop and a design studio. I have defined a purpose and niche for my blog. I am constantly surrounded by a network of friends that love blogging as much as I do. All of these things keep me going.

If you’re feeling sluggish with your blogging routine, its okay. Nobody wants to admit it but we all hit those plateaus. Ask yourself why you’re blogging in the first place. Ask yourself what you’re getting out of it. Ask yourself what others are getting out of it. We’re all going to have different answers.

Even if everyone around us seems to be moving faster and their blogs are taking off more quickly than ours, that’s not always the best. It’s all about perception. I’ll let you in on a secret: when I began blogging more consistently in 2007, I could get maybe one post live per day. I saw a lot of others blogging about fabulous lives and parties and posting beautiful outfit photos. I didn’t have close to enough time or resources to keep up with that lifestyle. I was in school full time. I worked in a shoe store. I had an internship. Just that one post a day was a lot for me to keep up with. The only thing that kept me going was consistently repeating to myself, “Slow and steady wins the race.” I knew I couldn’t “pass up” the competition, I just had to stay consistent. That consistency was the key to everything, whether it was a degree, a job or blogging success.

Remember, there is no shortcut. Do what you do because you love it but also have a goal. Eventually, you will get to where you’re trying to go and it doesn’t matter if someone else gets there first. All that matters is that you get there on your own terms.


View more of the Blog Log series here.