You probably already know that having a blog is great, and that it can do wonderful things for your creative work and business, but you may not be sure if you're doing it “right”, or maybe you still haven't even started publishing your posts. If so, this post is for you.
It also happens to be the 100th blog post published on this website, so let's celebrate the occasion :)
You might be looking at what others are doing, and mimicking their templates.
“Oh, she's doing a weekly recap post, I should do that too. Oh, he's done a 20 things you don't know about me, I'll try that. Hmm, book reviews seem to be popular, perhaps I should write some.”
Or maybe you've bookmarked that “50 blog topics for creative bloggers” list and you keep coming back to it whenever you're stuck.
There's nothing wrong with these things – feel free to do that when you're in a time crunch or you want to mix things up, but that's not the way to attract loyal readers who love you for your unique point of view. If that's what you’re after, then you're going to have to do a bit of thinking in order to find what your unique point of view is.
Blogging is not just about marketing
Most people get into blogging for business because it's a great marketing tool, but blogging is also a platform for advancing your mission.
“Oh dear, like I didn't feel enough of a pressure, now I need to think about my mission?!”
No, you don't have to. Figuring out your mission is a process that takes time. Hell, it took me years to get even the faintest grasp of my own mission. You can start blogging right away, you'll figure it out later. But I want you to be thinking about your blog as a platform that serves a purpose beyond mere marketing.
Blogging is a platform for advancing your mission.
Posts written to attract clients are a dime a dozen. It’s easy to spot them – just do a quick scan over my blog post titles, and you’ll easily identify those that are designed to intrigue potential clients. On the other hand, this post is not designed to do that. Sure, it would be awesome if some blogger who needed a brand design and a website saw this and decided I would be a joy to work with, but that’s not what I had in mind when I was writing it.
The main reason I wrote it is because that’s what my friends keep asking me about. They want to start their own blogs, but it seems daunting – they’re not sure what kind of topics would be interesting to their readers, what would be boring, and what would be too controversial...
I get it, those are all the questions that were going on in my mind since I’ve started this thing. Blogging for business is a tricky thing. Even if you don’t consider your endeavor a “business”, you still might be wondering if there are any rules you should follow to make sure you do it properly.
I’m more of a rule breaker than follower, but if I had to distill my thoughts about blogging in simple words, I’d go for something like this.
- Marketing blog posts answer a specific question or concern your ideal client has
- Trust building blog posts demonstrate your expertise, your creative process, and your core values
- Loyalty building blog posts sound very different from others in your field, either because you express a different point of view, or your writing voice is so compelling, that it doesn’t matter if you’re saying the same things as others
Marketing pulls new people into your world. Trust building helps them get to know you better. Loyalty building transforms them from casual readers into a community.
You could combine more than one objective into a single post. Maybe a strong opinion piece that polarizes your audience is also a great marketing tool, because the title makes people want to click.
You can approach any of these objectives however you want – just make sure you have a healthy balance of all three. If all you ever write are marketing posts, your blog is going to sound shallow and one-dimensional.
That’s why trust and loyalty (or community) building are essential in any successful content marketing strategy. Give more than what others are willing to. Provide better than what others are providing. Think deeper than what others are thinking. Only then will you be able to prove how different and unique you are.
Here's how you do that:
Think about what you do, why you do it, and how you do it.
That's all you need to do: think.
We use derogatory terms “pixel pusher” and “code monkey” for those designers and developers who don't put any real thought in their work, but simply follow their bosses’ or clients’ instructions. The difference between a pixel pusher/code monkey and a professional is that the professional is consciously thinking about their process, and they know why they're making certain decisions. They know why each step of the process is in place, and they’re able to modify them to get even better results.
When I say “think about what you do”, I mean really pay attention to these things:
- What's going through your mind as you're doing your creative work
- What you're normally not thinking consciously about, because you know it so well
If you want to write about your creative process, the best way to do this is to take notes as you're going through one.
Next time you work on a project, decide in advance that you're going to use this project for your blogging research, and pay attention to all the thoughts, questions, actions and emotional responses come up during this project. You don't have to publish all your notes, but it will help you pick out different threads you can form your posts around.
If you’ve been wondering how to find your unique viewpoint, this is how.
- Deconstruct your own process and identify points of interest.
- Compare your process to that of other people and highlight your differences.
- Teach parts of your process that others can easily apply on their own
You don’t have to fear that people won’t need your services if you teach them for free. They will, and providing value is only going to convince them that you’re the right person to do the job.
Providing free value on your blog helps convince clients that you’re the right person for the job
With time, your note taking process will become natural. You’ll feel compelled to take notes so you can share your realizations with your readers. Sometimes you’ll lie awake in the middle of the night and start typing a blog post on your phone. Keep collecting your ideas, and with some editing, they’ll crystalize into pure value.
Now that you have all these notes...
How to decide which topics to write about
The easiest place to start is to answer the questions people ask you. Remember the conversations you’ve had with people around your work, and dig up old emails from past clients. That alone should provide plenty of topics to cover.
The easiest way to start blogging is to answer the questions people ask you.
Typically, blog posts aimed at marketing provide answers to questions your potential customers have. However, if all you ever do is respond to other people’s questions, you may lose the chance to say what you really want to say.
Some of the most profound and compelling writing comes from what you know, but your readers aren't even aware of – things that nobody asks you about, because it doesn't even cross their minds.
You'd be wise to answer your readers’ questions – it's great for building credibility, but don't stop there. Go beyond the questions. Think about what makes people ask them, and then blow their minds away by providing answers they didn’t even know they needed.
Feel free to experiment with your topics, and see how people respond. Their comments and emails might spark inspiration for even more topics.
You don’t have to cover the same topics as your competitors
It’s easy to assume that every web designer should be writing about the same things to provide value to their potential clients: why a website is better than a Facebook page, what is hosting, what’s a domain and how to pick a good name, how to choose between WordPress and Squarespace..?
I mean, these are the questions people ask, aren’t they?
I’d say, if you can’t be bothered to write about a certain topic everyone else writes about because it bores you, then don’t.
When I started writing things on the Internet around 2003, it was mostly Photoshop and HTML/CSS tutorials. I shared parts of my process that I knew well – the technical side – and a lot of people have found this very useful. That's what helped me get my first jobs in the design industry, and earn the street cred I still get to cash in on.
Nowadays, I have no interest in writing the technical how-to stuff. I'm over it. I prefer writing about the mental, emotional and strategic side of things – something I wasn't able to do when I was 17.
The kinds of blogs I read nowadays are like that, as well. They talk about the why this thing works or doesn't work, not how to implement it. I can easily google the how part, because that’s what 99% of the industry focuses on.
If you're happy writing about techniques, that's great. It's an awesome way to grow your readership and reputation. If you're bored with writing about techniques, don't force yourself. This just means you're going to have to focus on a more educated audience – one that's past the “how to” stage, and can find their way around to apply what you're sharing without needing you to hold their hand.
If you’re bored with blogging about the basic stuff, focus on a more educated audience instead.
Knowing which audience you want to write for helps you decide how to choose your topics. Of course, you can mix things up and do a bit of this for the beginners, and a bit of that for educated clients, but it's far more effective to focus on one of those audiences. Chances are, you'd probably prefer one over the other, you just need to put out a clear signal that your blog is the right place for them.
Don’t be afraid to be the different kind of designer, artist, developer, copywriter, coach. When you do the opposite of what is the norm, people take notice.
Blend in your Big Why
You can weave your mission into your posts in different ways:
- Write a mission statement or a manifesto, and refer back to it in your other posts
(example: This is the main reason behind everything I do)
- Demonstrate how your personal values affect your process and your decisions
(example: People over numbers (and why I'll never have pop-ups on my website))
- Write strong opinion pieces that don’t necessarily spell out your values, but that make a clear point on where you stand
(example: The right-brained lie and the false creative-logical divide)
- Examine each post you write, and think how you can subtly add more of your “big why” into it.
Whenever you write a post, ask yourself “How does this text align with my ‘big why’?”
Sometimes you may find that a post actually goes against your big why – that it perpetuates the very thing you oppose. That’s not a big deal, it means you were just a bit off your game for a moment there, and you allowed outside influences and trends to affect your writing. When this happens, I suggest taking a break from the online media to get in touch with what your work is really about.
If your post supports your mission, you might be able to make it even clearer and more powerful with some clever editing, choosing the exact wording that pulls the heartstrings of your ideal readers, and opens them up to the vision you hold for them.
This of course takes a lot of practice, so don’t put the pressure on yourself to be superb at writing immediately. Some people may be born writers, but the majority of us grow into that role.
The most important thing is to get started, and I hope that this guide will help you do that. For some more advanced tips on blogging, check out my post 6 Things I Learned From a Successful Blogger (And How I Applied Them).
Feel free to ask any questions you might have in the comments below, as this is a topic I look forward to covering more in the future.