Want to start earning side income? Almost any gig you take on can benefit from an established online presence. When people want to find or know something, they fire up Google — and with time, best practices, and a little know-how, a Google search can lead straight to you.
(That’s why Googling financial writer for millennials is so fun for me, by the way.)
You can hang your digital shingle with a static website that covers the basics: about you, what you do, who you do it for, etc. But you can earn yourself a gold star if you take it one step further and start a blog.
A blog is a powerful tool for growing your reach, establishing your expertise, and allowing people to connect with you. It’s extremely simple to set up a blog on your website and start sharing your thoughts, tips, and tidbits with the world.
It’s also extremely easy to screw it up, too.
I’ve made my fair share of blogging mistakes — and I continue make them. There’s nothing like learning by doing, but if you’re interested in starting up a blog to help grow a side hustle, gig, or business, please feel free to learn from my errors.
Here are the 5 biggest blogging mistakes I made when I started, and, knowing them, you can now avoid with your own blog.
1. Starting Without a Plan
Many people ask why I started blogging, and I always struggle to answer this. I don’t have an inspiring, I paid off a gazillion dollars worth of debt while feeding my family of 8 and running a nonprofit to save the polar bears story. I’m not an investing guru (but that doesn’t mean I don’t know how to invest) and I don’t want to quit my job to become a full-time blogger.
I started a blog because I wanted to write. I decided to write about personal finance because money has always, in one way or another, fascinated me. Whether it’s not having enough of it, trying to figure out how to make it, wondering how to stretch it farther, curious about how to make it go to work on its own — I wanted to share what I knew about money and I wanted to learn more.
But I didn’t have a plan. I flew by the seat of my pants for a long, long time.
This might not have been such a problem if I was only interested in money — which I thought I was. As it turns out, I’m interested in just about everything. I’m totally guilty of that squirrel! mentality.
So every time something caught my attention, it showed on the blog in some form or fashion. I didn’t have a plan, and I didn’t have to tell anyone that for everyone to know. It was obvious.
Before starting a blog, take a few days to think. To brainstorm. To plan.
Think about what purpose your blog serves. Who will you write for and why? What do you want to achieve and what value do you want to provide?
You don’t need to create a full, formal business plan. But you shouldn’t crank things up and come out guns blazing if you haven’t given a single thought to what you’re going to write about in six months down the road.
Before you start, have a plan.
2. Working Without a Strategy
On a similar note, I meandered around without a strategy for far too long. I didn’t post on a regular basis and I didn’t keep an editorial calendar.
When I started, I posted whenever I felt like writing something. Sometimes I posted new content every day for three days straight — and then radio silence for three weeks.
Not only is this hard for you as a writer to keep up with, but it’s annoying as hell for anyone reading your blog. If someone is reading your blog and enjoying what you write, you have yourself a precious little snowflake there. That person is AMAZING! They like what you’re doing! Can it get any better than that?
No way. It doesn’t get any better than someone who previously existed as a perfect stranger coming across your blog and forming a connection via words you wrote. Holy cow! What a compliment.
So do that person a favor and create a strategy to keep your blog on the rails. This means:
- Choosing a posting schedule
- Creating an editorial calendar
- Determining content pillars, or 3 to 7 major topics that you blog about
Creating a strategy for your content means your readers know what to expect and when. It’s the least you can do for people who are kind enough to pay you an online visit to hear what you have to say.
3. Writing for Other Bloggers (Not Your Audience)
Of all the blogging mistakes I’ve made, this is one I corrected fairly quickly. But it’s a common one that seems hard to avoid for most people.
When you first start blogging, you want to grow your audience and get a foothold in a blogging community, right? You want your posts to be shared hundreds of times, you want a big loooong discussion thread in the comments, you want new traffic flocking to read your words.
And that’s why this is a hard mistake to steer completely clear of. You want to feel like you’re part of that inner circle of bloggers who always comment on each other’s posts or shares each other’s content. You want to be seen and heard!
But you can take it a step too far.
This happens when you start writing for other bloggers, and not for your real audience. (Of course, if you’re writing a blog for bloggers, that’s another story.)
When I wrote for other bloggers, I did link roundups as a way to try and say “thanks” when those same bloggers included me in a roundup. I wrote “monthly goals” posts because lots of other bloggers did and that content seemed to generate engagement in the blogging community. I wrote really generic, blah stuff because I saw other bloggers writing and sharing that kind of content.
I went through and deleted most of those misguided posts when I rolled my financial blog, Common Sense Millennial, into my new site here at KaliHawlk.com. They were that bad.
When I wrote for myself or for my audience, my writing made a statement about who I was and what I believed. It wasn’t concerned about what others in the community might think, or whether it would get shared by other bloggers X amount of times.
I went on a rant about why Dave Ramsey drives me crazy, I explained how Lord of the Rings could teach us a thing or two about money, I opened up about why I’m not interested in having kids, and I advocated for everyone to consider a go to hell fund.
Not everyone will like these posts when you write what you’d want to read, or when you write for your audience instead of other bloggers. That’s okay.
Remember who you’re writing for and why — and don’t be afraid to be a little different.
(Bonus: you could also add “blogging for Google” to this list of blogging mistakes. Same idea, different entity. Blogging for Google means you’re only writing with SEO practices in mind and not writing for people.)
4. Being Scared to Flop
Speaking of being different, going out on your own special limb is scary. You don’t know if anyone else is going to be out there waiting for you. What happens when no one picks up what you lay down?
I admit, I started letting this fear take over for me a while ago — and like all these other blogging mistakes, it showed! I started writing things that were dull, generic, and formulaic. The information was accurate, but it wasn’t compelling. It might have been educational, but it didn’t make anyone sit up and take action.
Being scared to write something that flops is natural. But if you fear hitting that “publish” button, you won’t write as often. You won’t share amazing stories and funny commentaries and life-changing ideas.
You’ll hide away all your best writing for fear that it will miss the mark and people won’t get it, or you.
The fact is, you will flop sometimes. You’ll pour a lot of energy and creativity and you-ness into a post and you’ll be met with cricket noises. You might even get a negative comment or two.
But you know what? You need to own your corner of the internet! It’s the only place you can write and not have your work edited or trimmed down or fundamentally changed before it’s published. Don’t waste that amazing opportunity to take a running leap into the ideas that you want to share.
5. Censoring Your True Voice and Tone
I saved the very worst of my blogging mistakes for last. It was only recently that I realized how big of a mistake this one was — that I realized just how much I had smothered my own voice and tone in my writing. Even on my own blog!
It started innocently enough. I increased my freelance writing work (a good thing) and found myself writing for more major outlets (another good thing). These major outlets and big clients came with professional editors. They had MAs in English and journalism and they knew the AP Style Guide, the MLA Style Guide, and the Chicago Manual of Style by heart.
And all their guides sniffed and turned up their noses in places where I tried to let a little sass shine through in my writing. They clucked at long, complicated sentences even when that long, complicated sentence was used to make a point. Or to tack on some humor. Or to change up the rhythm of a paragraph.
I started slashing adverbs in the pieces I submitted. I stuck to short, simple sentences. I cut out funny little rambling asides and attempted to shield my work from any form of the “be” verb.
(It always finds my writing, though, because sometimes you just need to say, “This is how things have always been, so if you could cut me some dang slack I would appreciate it.”)
In my effort to follow the rules and appease faceless editors, I whittled down my writing to the bare bones. When I threw out every last “bad habit,” I accidentally chucked my voice out too.
My writing was technically better, but emotionally? It sucked.
Something I should have been so incredibly proud of — the fact that you could pick out an article I wrote even when my name wasn’t on it, because of the humor, the sass, the snark, and the overall tone — disappeared before I realized what happened.
I’m working on correcting this mistake, but it’s a big one to recover from. The only fix: get inspired, get motivated, and write a whoooole lot just for yourself. Experiment with words, find new ways to get creative, and capture new ideas. Do a lot of free writing — and put away the computer from time to time. Write out something by hand.
These are good exercises to practice no matter what. They’ll help you fine, hone, or rediscover the voice and tone that is 100% YOU.
Avoid Blogging Mistakes and Get It Right the First Time
I’m a good writer. I’m not a good blogger. These are just some of the mistakes I’ve made (and continue to make)!
But that’s okay. They all provide learning experiences for me.
Hopefully, sharing my errors helps you avoid making the same missteps if you want to start a blog (or improve the one you’ve got).
If you want further tips from someone with more experience (and blogging success) than myself, Donna Freedman may have something for you. Donna has more than 18 years of experience working as a journalist, freelance writer, and blogger. She’s part of the FinCon community, which is where I got an opportunity to preview her new program called Write a Blog People Will Read.
Donna created Write a Blog People Will Read to help show people how to improve their writing in order to cultivate a bigger audience for their blogs.
“Currently the blogosphere is top-heavy with sites that are dull, wordy, badly organized or irrelevant,” Donna explains. “Why should someone take time out of his or her busy day to read this kind of thing? To be worth following, you’ve got to be worth reading.”
She allowed me to check out the first few lessons and I had so much fun reading through her advice and instructions. If you want to check it out for yourself, you can do so here. (Full disclosure: that is an affiliate link.)