6 Things I've Learned From a Successful Blogger (And How I've Applied Them)

Published by Nela Dunato on at 08:10 in Thoughts, Tips for creatives, Personal, Business

About a month ago I took part in a free CreativeLive workshop Build a Successful Creative Blog taught by April Bowles-Olin of Blacksburg Belle.

I've been blogging on and off for the past 10 years (and I know a fair bit about online marketing), so I already knew a lot of the information presented in the workshop. But it was still immensely helpful because there's always more to learn and improve, and those things I didn't know before make a world of difference.

Here are some of the lessons that really stood out for me, and how I went about implementing them in the past month.

6 Things I've Learned From a Successful Blogger (And How I've Applied Them)

1. Be more personal

Those of us who write a blog about our creative business (or hobby) tend to avoid sharing any personal information. We may think "Why would anyone care about this?" or "I don't want to bore my readers". I usually err on the safe side and choose not to share personal things.

April emphasized that your readers want to get to know you as a person. This is the first step of the "Know - Like - Trust" cycle of networking.

Your blog readers want to know you as a person. [Tweet this quote]

This means that you should let your personality show through your writing and other media, even though it may not be directly related to your work.

There are thousands of other artists, jewelry designers, writers or scrapbookers out there... but there's only one you. Being unique (by being yourself) is the only way you can stand out.

What I did

To mitigate the somber feeling I portray through my writing and my art, I decided I'll start showing the brighter side of my life through images (two flies with one swat). I wrote more about this below under the Images section. In short, I posted photos of my home office (which is pretty dang cheerful!), and shared some of my sketchbook entries that were not art but sort of "thinking on paper".

While I didn't necessarily share any more personal information than I usually do, I feel that photos and drawings help me express my personality.

Since I visit a lot of cultural events and festivals, I will share more of that on the blog in the future (starting with Witching Day and Wallpeople, and Freaky Friday!)

2. Edit your writing

I would often write an entire blog post in one sitting, then maybe give it a second pass to see if there are any mistakes my spelling checker didn't catch, and then I'd hit publish.

And those posts were loooong.

April's tip was to edit your posts heavily before publishing. Read your post out loud, and if you stumble over any words, replace them. Use a thesaurus to find a synonym that works the best in the context of your blog. Cut out everything that is confusing or doesn't help in bringing the message across.

Another bonus tip that goes well with this is to keep your posts shorter, and break up longer posts into a series of posts.

Long posts are not that bad per se. I read blogs with posts much longer than mine, and I think they're perfect. But obviously, I'm not writing for myself here. People have shorter and shorter attention spans these days, and the majority of my readers are visual artists. Some of those people gasp and run for the hills when they see my posts with a bunch of words and no pictures (see below).

What I did

I invested more time in editing and became more ruthless when it came to deciding whether something stays in the post.

This was especially true of guest posts (see below) because most of the guidelines had a cap at 800 words. None of my writings fit this requirement at first, so this meant a lot of cutting and reworking the sentences.

Most of the blog posts I published in the past month are much shorter than my usual ones, and I will try to keep the ratio down to something like 3:1 in favor of shorter posts.

3. Practice writing to develop your blogging voice

The workshop was intended for all kinds of creative people, and a lot of us don't consider ourselves "writers". So how does a non-writer learn to write good blog posts?

By practicing writing.

You need to write often in order to learn to write better. Your 10th post will be much better than your first, and your 20th will be much better than your 10th. But not all of the writing needs to happen on your blog.

April suggested regular journaling that has no other aim but to record your thoughts and practice writing. This is a very non-threatening way to test out things before you get brave enough to share them publicly.

I find this may be especially useful for me, since I'm writing in a foreign language, so at the moment I might be a bit limited in my vocabulary and writing style.

What I did

I still haven't started doing this on a regular basis, but I think I wrote way more words in May then ever before.

4. Add (even more) images

There are so many benefits to having images on your blog. It makes your blog pretty. It makes your content more shareable on social networks. It gives your readers something to rest their eyes on. It enables you to show things, instead of just describe them, which brings your point across more clearly.

I'm a visual artist, so it should go without saying that my blog posts should contain images, right? But often I would have only one graphic per post, and my longer posts looked like a wall of text.

It's easy to figure out what images to share when you blog about your art, crafts, design, photography and other visual work. But that's not all I blog about. Some of my posts tend to be more thought-provoking and less concerned with concrete things. It's a challenge for me to figure out visuals to share with those posts without going into the bland stock photo territory.

When in doubt, add more images to your blog post. [Tweet this quote]

What I did

If you've been on my blog in the past month, you may have noticed that I shared a few posts where images played an important role, more so than in my previous posts.

I shared photos of my studio which was pretty straightforward — it's a photo-based post. But there were several others where I usually wouldn't use any visuals beside the "cover image", but now I made an effort to create them.

For example, on the topic of being multi-passionate, I shared a sketch I made that inspired the blog post in the first place. People's response to that post was amazing, and I'm so glad I decided to experiment with this.

Another example is my recent post The Meaning of Failure. I posted some pinterest-friendly quote images to break up the text a bit, but I also created a graphic that illustrated my point (which is rather serious) in a fun way.

I used to do a lot of photography before, but these days I just can't be bothered with it. So I suggest you to use your strong points. If you take photos, share them. If you doodle, show your doodles. If you create art journal pages, use them in your posts even when your post is not about art journaling itself. People just love eye candy!

When in doubt, add more images to your blog post

5. Build relationships with other bloggers

April has demonstrated so well on her own example how building relationships helped her increase her readership and build her online business.

I have to admit that I am really bad at networking and building new relationships.

In both my personal and professional life I rarely ever make the first step in reaching out to someone. I like when things happen organically, and I've met many friends over the internet in the past 15-ish years, but it was more through happenstance than through my conscious effort.

But in order to create a blog that people care about, you need to be the one caring for other people. This means that your job doesn't stop with hitting the "Publish" button and sharing the post on half a dozen social networks.

You need to keep your eye on the other bloggers and interact with them through blog comments, Twitter, Facebook etc. Preferably it should be with a genuine intention of creating a mutually beneficial long-term relationship, not because you want their attention and access to their readers ASAP.

What I did

Since the workshop I've been more active on other people's blogs than before, and I started following some new people to expand beyond my tiny bubble.

This resulted in meeting some very interesting people whose work I love and whose message I totally resonate with. One of them even offered me an opportunity to be a guest on her upcoming podcast, which is amazing!

I also took part in the The Bravery Blogging Project, through which I got to know even more amazing bloggers (by the way, you still have 2 weeks left to jump in).

Not to mention this very workshop and the Facebook group where we continued to hang out, which resulted in this blog tour!

6. Be a guest blogger

April mentioned that she wrote 18 guest posts in a single month, and it helped her increase her traffic and newsletter sign-ups like nothing else.

After the workshop someone in the Facebook group posted an article that had many controversial points, but there was one that really stuck with me.

When you don't have a large readership, you're wasting your time writing only on your blog. In fact, the article makes a point of writing guest posts before you even have your own blog! That sounds completely counter-intuitive, but this approach enabled owners of Boost Blog Traffic to launch their blog with a huge readership, while the rest of us launch with zero readers.

I used to think that I need to keep my "diamonds" for my own blog, and post what doesn't fit here to other blogs, but I realized that if few people are going to see those "diamonds", they're aren't that valuable after all.

When you don't have a large readership, you're wasting your time writing only on your blog. [Tweet this quote]

What I did

I went through my drafts folder on Google Drive where I keep all my half-written and unedited posts, and started picking out ones that were suitable for sites I wanted to guest post on. (I keep a spreadsheet of the blogs, a link to their guidelines, and a list of topics for easy overview.)

Part of me really wanted to publish those on my own blog, but I needed to see it as an investment, not as a loss. If these posts brings more readers to this blog, that post is doing a much better job over there than it does over here.

After all, my brain is a limitless well of ideas and I will never run out of things to write about.

I identified posts that corresponded to the target blog's audience and ethos, and edited them to fit the guidelines.

I had pitched 3 posts to 3 different blogs. All of the bloggers who got my pitch responded that they got my submission and will review it when they get to it. For high-traffic blogs this can take a few weeks, so I had to be patient.

While I was waiting to hear back from the site owners, I was a little worried: Will they accept them? Are my writings good enough to be shared with thousands of people? What if they turn my posts down? Does it mean my posts suck?

Finally the owner of PickTheBrain wrote back to notify me my post 3 Steps to Stop Procrastinating and Start Working on Your Dream Project has gone up! I was so excited about this!

In terms of numbers, the post brought me about 130 visitors and around 20 newsletter subscribers in the first 2 days, which sounds fairly modest for a high-traffic blog like PTB. If this is qualified traffic, ie. people who genuinely care about the things I write about, that's awesome.

Quality-wise, several people have contacted me to contribute articles on their blogs and magazines, and the comments were very positive and insightful. Overall I see guest blogging as a great opportunity to share my message with more people and build my reputation.

Guest blogging is an investment. [Tweet this quote]

Final notes

I hope you learned something valuable through my examples, and if you want to get even more tips and insights, head on to other blogs participating in this tour!

Yes, there is a lot to learn about blogging. Yes, there are many things that you can do to make your blog better. But you don't need to do it all at once.

An intention to improve your website can quickly turn into a tweaking obsession that takes time away from all your other projects — projects that your blog is meant to support, not replace (I've been there, no judgment here).

So just take it easy.

Put the things on your to-do list, and take it one step at a time. One small change per week will amount to massive changes over the course of a year. And honestly? This blogging business takes time. Yes, there are some actions you can take to speed up the process, but you have to plan for the long run. Don't burn yourself out.

If you're eager to start improving your blog now, here are a few resources:

I hope you'll enjoy them!

Nela

This post is a part of the “What ‪#‎BelleLive‬ Taught Me” blog tour inspired by April Bowles-Olin. To continue your journey please visit:
Done is better than perfect by Laura Kuenzig
5 Things I Learned about Blogging from April Bowles Olin by Kathy Reilly

For a full list of participants check out Jo Cavagnis' website.

Nela Dunato

About Nela Dunato

I run a boutique design consultancy that helps creative businesses evolve into premium brands and connect with their dream clients, by crafting extraordinary visual experiences.

On this blog I write about art, design, creativity, business, productivity and marketing, and share my creative process and tips. Read more about me...



Your comments

  • Jo Cavagnis

    Jo Cavagnis
    2014-06-03 at 13:08

    Wow You have been busy! Love the amount of information you have included, I had forgotten part of what you had written so was great to be reminded! Also, thanks for the link to the Bravery Blogging project, think I'm going to try and join in!

  • Kris

    Kris
    2014-06-03 at 13:25

    I love how organized you are for your guest posting! That is on my list of things to do this summer; I'll take you experience as a learning process for me too!

    xo
    K

  • Amanda Sue

    Amanda Sue
    2014-06-03 at 23:20

    I love that you dove in so fully, and applied the information from April's course! You've applied so much of her advice, and I'm thrilled that the guest blogging is working for you. :)

    And yes!!! Visual people love pictures...I need to take a cue from April..she posts pictures of pretty things she's working on, or scrapbook papers that coordinate beautifully, or pictures of her doing something fun. I think to literally when it comes to my blog, and if the topic doesn't obviously present itself to a photo, I tend to forget them. lol

  • richelle

    richelle
    2014-06-04 at 00:23

    Excellent post! I like the way you shared how you applied the knowledge to your benefit.
    Wow, your art is AMAZING!! stunning! love it!

  • Nela

    Nela
    2014-06-04 at 12:08

    @Jo: Thank you!
    Yeah the way I understood this tour, we're all writing what stood out for us the most, and together we'll fill each other's gaps in memory and create a full picture :)
    So glad you're considering Bravery Blogging, it's a wonderful opportunity!

    @Kris: Thanks! Oh I'm totally using spreadsheets for everything, it makes things much easier to manage... I also note things like "post sent" and "published". As I'm writing this comment I also thought of adding stats like traffic and signups for each published article so I can see which blogs bring the most "value" so to speak :)
    I'm still new at this guest blogging thing, but I hope it helps! :)

    @Amanda Sue: Thanks! :D I really wanted to give it all I can and see if it will make a difference. So far it's working very well! :)
    I'm like that as well, thinking too literally. But one look at Pinterest reveals that bloggers who *are not artists or designers* are really trying hard to find images for their posts, so I'm thinking damn, why don't I think harder? :D

    @Richelle: Thank you very much!
    And I'm so thrilled you like my art, thank you!

  • Michael

    Michael
    2014-06-04 at 15:09

    I'm so inspired by all of the steps you have taken as a result of the blogging class! You have me all fired up to plan my posts and seek guest posting opportunities! Thank you for being so thorough and helpful!!!

  • Marcie Norton

    Marcie Norton
    2014-06-04 at 15:56

    I love how you show the personal side in your blog, especially showing your office. That is a great idea to allow your audience more inside your world. It also builds trust with you as a brand.

    I am coming from the New Blogger group on Facebook enjoying the Blog tour. There really is too much to share from April. She is amazing. I enjoyed reading your blog because it is so conversational. Great job! If you want, you can check my blog out at www.timecapsule.com/blog. We love to receive comments and shares about our decorative Baby and Wedding Time Capsules as well.

    Thank you for the reminder of the great tips learned from April. I learned a lot from April about ways to help our business through our blog, so my husband was very understanding that I was watching Creative Live for several hours, to help us advance our lives and business.

    Best of Luck to you,

    Marcie Norton
    @NewTimeCapsule
    www.timecapsule.com

  • Mickey

    Mickey
    2014-06-05 at 01:00

    I have not taken April's class yet, so I want to thank you for breaking down her main points and providing actionable steps.

  • Krystal

    Krystal
    2014-06-05 at 03:16

    Images are crucial to any blog post! With Pinterest and Instagram, everyone is going visual. Good tips!

  • Vicki Allwardt

    Vicki Allwardt
    2014-06-05 at 05:09

    Love your blog. You oFFer topics that artists are interested in. Good luck with your new plans. Love the daisy wheel! I have been Following April's blogs or some time, she's great. Sorry about the capital F's, my lower case isn't working on internet. Not good when your website name starts with an F!

  • Vivayne

    Vivayne
    2014-06-05 at 07:29

    WOW, I really love how you put everything to practice, well done!! I think I will come back here for a practical reminder in how to put it to use!! THX. p.s. great artwork, very thoughtful!

  • Lissy

    Lissy
    2014-06-05 at 18:00

    Wow! Great post! You definately put a lot of effort into your blogging and it shows. I'm so glad you showed us how you put the tips into action. I've read blogs with tips and quite often I get inspired but then it all ends up out the window. I think slowly adding little tips and changes to your blog makes it easier to change and apply these to writing. Thanks for the info!

  • Renay

    Renay
    2014-06-05 at 20:44

    I love that not only did you share the lessons you learned, but that you also shared what you did to apply the lessons. Great information!

  • Martina

    Martina
    2014-06-06 at 12:32

    Super post, puno ti hvala što si to podijelila s nama.

  • Jenn

    Jenn
    2014-06-08 at 07:36

    All really great points! I need to be far better about editing down my posts. I'm the same as you - write it, maybe give it a second pass and then post it.

  • laura gaffke

    laura gaffke
    2014-06-09 at 13:58

    Thank you so much for a great post. I loved how you shared what action you took with what you learned. It was great to learn how you edit and break up your posts as well. My blog is written in a letter format to my creative partner and can often be long. I think I may start breaking them up with photos and create shorter letters to her. Also, I loved seeing your photos and for sharing The Bravery Blogging Project. I think it would be good for Tina & I to try writing guest posts as well. All of your suggestions were wonderful. Cheery Smiles your way…Laura

  • Iris

    Iris
    2014-06-11 at 16:06

    Thank you for these really helpful tips! It's also awesome how you evaluated how you implemented the advice yourself, makes it much more real and believable. I'm going to look into guest posts more, it sounds like a really powerful way of getting content 'out there' and I think it's something I need to pursue to take my blog to the next level.

  • Nela

    Nela
    2014-06-11 at 20:29

    Thank you for such an overwhelmingly wonderful response! Sorry if I don't reply to each individual comment, I really need to get back to painting... :) but I appreciate each and every comment I get, and I make sure to go check out your work.

    @Michael: Awesome, I look forward to hearing what your guest posting efforts will bring to you!

    @Marcie: Thank you, I'm still working on this "personal side" thing, and a lot of time I may be too formal, but I'm embracing the conversational format more.
    I'm sure April's workshop will have a tremenduous effect on your business :)

    @Mickey, thank you, but this is by no means a comprehensive list of her main points! I just chose some that were important for me, but there's a ton of other info like "ideal reader portrait", e-mail marketing & social media tips etc. that's really useful if you don't already know that :)

    @Vicki: Thanks! Oh what a weird keyboard affliction, I hope you manage to fix it soon :)

    @Vivayne: Thank you for your kind words, so glad to hear you like my art! And I'm so happy the post is useful to you and worth coming back to!

    @Lissy: I'm totally with you on this - being inspired is one thing, but having an action plan to put into practice with small steps is something completely different.
    I'm aiming for a healthy balance. Inspiration is needed because people need to know their big picture "why", but that alone is not enough.

    @Jenn: I'm guilty of publishing an un-edited post just minutes ago :D but I'm really really busy, and wanted to get it out there ASAP, and pictures are more important. But I'm starting to take editing more seriously.

    @Laura: Your project sounds really interesting, I will check it out! I think long format is good, but not 100% of the time if your target audience are visual creatives.
    Thank you!

    @Iris: Thank you, I'm trying to practice what I preach here, and being authentic and real is important to me — including evaluating results I've gotten out of my experiments.
    Guest posting on a targeted blog can help you grow your readership and mailing list much quicker than anything I've tried.
    (Teleseminars are probably way better, but I haven't tried that yet, I'm a little intimidated)

  • Jeanine Byers @ The Faerietale Coach

    Jeanine Byers @ The Faerietale Coach
    2014-07-24 at 22:02

    Those were such great tips! My takeaways are to try to allow more of "me" into my posts, to edit carefully before posting and to add more pics. Thx!

  • Amethyst Mahoney

    Amethyst Mahoney
    2014-07-25 at 19:13

    Great tips! I think there needs to be some clarification in "be personal," though. Business has changed so much over the past decade that it's imperative to share who we are, especially for women (men are starting to catch up in this area a bit).

    However, this doesn't mean that I need to know what you had for breakfast, or every "cute" thing your baby does. :-)

  • Nela

    Nela
    2014-07-25 at 20:20

    @Jeanine, that's awesome! I'm so glad that the lessons we got out of this workshop are spreading wide :)

    @Amethyst: Haha that's true :D
    I haven't seen many people do this though (unless we're talking Instagram, there's a lot of food and babies there...) so I thought it goes without saying. I might be wrong!

    I would be concerned if someone posted their baby or food pictures on their business Facebook page, though!

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