In college, I started a small Etsy shop and blog from the storage closet in my sorority house. A few years later, and through a very non-linear journey, that small Etsy shop grew into an internationally recognized sweatshirt brand & that little blog led to bestselling books and a publishing career. Now, I'm obsessed about helping other women uncover what they're made to do and take steps to make it happen, too.
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When I was on book tour, one of the women I met during meet and greet told me that she has a HUGE heart for women (same 🙌🏻) and for Jesus (also same 🙌🏻), and that she was super multi-passionate (do we have the same brain?)… and she was struggling.
Why was she struggling, you ask?
Because she had been blogging to help women in their life and faith, but it wasn’t growing…
Then, she said, “J, I have rent to pay. And I want to do this… but I need to figure out how to support it financially or I can’t keep putting this much time into it. I feel bad saying it but it’s the truth…”
She’s not the only one to have asked me something like this.
I’ve had so many women reach out and say something like, “J, I’ve been running a lifestyle blog for over a year and it’s just NOT growing…”
When I ask them what their blog-business strategy is, they look at me like I have three eyeballs.
And I’m not surprised when they do.
It can be hard for us big-hearted babes to remember that business strategy is paramount to ANYTHING we do (yes, including writing about our families or our health journeys or our faith) if we want to see it succeed.
Anyway, then, I usually end up explaining what I mean (and what I had to learn the hard way after several years of navigating my own blogging waters). That said. before we get into the steps to launching your blog, I want to make sure you don’t jump over the foundational step of STRATEGIZING your blog.
STEP 01. DETERMINE YOUR BBS (BLOG BUSINESS STRATEGY)
In other words, determine what your viable vehicle will be. Instead of trying to grow a blog so big that it supports you off affiliate links and brand deals (aka this requires building a relatively big audience and that can take years), begin by using a skill you have and offer it as a service. Although I didn’t realize I was doing it at the time, this is kind of how I started out at first.
My blog supported/directly related to my Etsy shop. But then after awhile, I took on other freelance businesses (such as photography and social media marketing in the wedding industry) that were basically 100% unrelated to my blog — and I just burned out trying to do it all separately.
My blog was full of life and faith advice but my businesses were in the wedding industry and there was virtually no strategy connecting the two, and therefore, virtually no way to leverage either one with the other.
And it was EXHAUSTING.
Had someone explained to me what I’m explaining to you when I first started, I would have saved myself a lot of exhaustion and wasted time trying to figure it out via trial and error.
So, step 1 is to determine your viable vehicle, or in other words, the offering (product or service) your blog supports and essentially serves as a marketing tool for instead of making the blog the offering itself.
So, business strategy 1 is what I like to call the Blog to Offer Strategy. This strategy is to have a clear offering (such as photography services or financial coaching or pre-designed templates) and use the blog to educate, inspire, and funnel traffic to that offer.
Think of the destination wedding photographer. If she’s smart, she has a blog and shares her clients’ photoshoots. If she’s really smart, she has a blog that also touches on a few other categories such as personal life, education for other photographers or advice for soon-to-be brides, and travel tips.
This creates benefits to the viewer in that her blog isn’t 100% “Sarah and Blake” and “Lauren and David” and so forth. It offers an interesting variety of content, value, and personal connection. But you’ll notice her blog isn’t FULL of affiliate links and brand partnerships because she’s selling her own expertise instead.
Let’s compare this to the alternative strategy, which I call The Popularity Strategy. In other words, this is the strategy where sponsorships and affiliate marketing are the main funding of the blog (aka the business model).
I call this the Popularity Strategy because it requires more eyeballs on your stuff.
Here’s what I mean: You could work for two years, try with all your might to go viral, and eventually build up to, say, 5,000 subscribers.
Great. Now you’ve got 5,000 subscribers after maybe 2 years of work.
Now, let’s say a lifestyle brand is willing to sponsor you. The requirements are that you try the product, publish 2-3 photos on your social profiles (instagram, feed, etc.) and write a blog post with links and review of the product.
With 5,000 sets of eyeballs on your site, they may be willing to pay you $250-500 for everything. You could push for more but that’s a safe bet.
Now think about strategy 1. How much faster could you make $250-500 if you created one offering of your own?
You could make the same amount of money by selling two to five $100 strategy calls, or mini photoshoots, or template packages, or whatever it is you offer. You see how this works? You only need to make 2 to 5 sales to make the same amount of money (in a lot less time) as you would with 5,000 eyeballs on your site promoting a brand you may or may not care about (which could take years to build to).
Don’t get me wrong, a brand deal here or there can be a great cash infusion from time to time. And there’s nothing wrong with them! But to make them your entire business model (especially when you’re just starting out but honestly, at whatever stage of the blogging game you’re in) is risky and very unpredictable.
Take companies such as Cohley and Heartbeat for example. They provide brand deals for influencers at all stages, basically like talent agents, but the income just isn’t realistic to make a living off of. Oftentimes when you start out with these companies, they simply offer free product and $20 max for an Instagram post and story.
When you set yourself up with the Blog to Offer Strategy, the blog (or podcast or youtube channel) can still include other things you’re passionate about sharing now and then (faith, family, etc) AND revolve around that service/expertise to serve two purposes:
1) It funnel / drive people to the offer that actually puts food on the table
2) It adds FREE value to your community WITHOUT annoying them with a million links or pop ups.
Plus, you don’t have to feel the pressure to grow a huge audience this way. You can start with a small audience, stand out in a specific space, grow at a sustainable pace, and make a living without depending on how popular your blog is.
Now, to clarify, you don’t have to have the offer READY once you start your blog. You just need to generally know what it’s going to be when starting your blog so you can write with a goal, or trajectory, in mind. When you know your end game or where you’re ultimately leading people, your blog will speak MUCH clearer to the ones your offer will ultimately be irresistible to.
STEP 02. PICK A VERY SPECIFIC NICHE TO SERVE
When I started my first blog, it was suuuuper niche. As I mentioned, it complimented my hand lettering Etsy store where I lettered scripture prints, signage for weddings, and t-shirt designs for faith based companies.
So, my blog content mainly pivoted around that (kind of like the photographer example I shared).
Then, as the brand grew, I focused on the niche of Christian college women. My content has been able to become much broader since then but began very niche.
Do the same. What are you an authority on? What 2-3 problems can you provide solutions to or answers can you provide questions to within that niche?
They say the ‘riches are in the niches.’
Maybe your goal isn’t to get rich from your blog. Neither was mine.
But I’d be willing to bet that you’d like to make some decent money from what you’re about to pour a ton of time and energy into, right?
Then, start with a niche. And make sure the majority of your content serves those in that niche. Content that serves inspires, educates, informs, entertains, or evokes action.
And if you have any plans of using the blog to make sales on your offering with the Blog to Offer Model, then make sure you have a solid amount of educational content as well as content that showcases your work.
In other words, if it’s only inspiration and stories about your life, it’s going to be a hard time getting strangers to pay you for anything, let alone to pay attention to what you have to say.
Sorry, it’s just the truth. However, the more value you provide a certain niche when it comes to what they care about, and then strategically sprinkle in personal posts and passions of your own, the more they’ll begin to care about your personal life and passions you share.
PS. Not sure what your niche could be? What you might POSSIBLY be an expert at? Check out the Kickstart course here.
STEP 03. ONCE YOU PICK YOUR BLOG BUSINESS STRATEGY AND NICHE, PICK YOUR PLATFORM
If you’re new to blogging and don’t have a massive design budget, I suggest starting on Squarespace. It’s clean, user friendly, and easy to get up and running. If you’re ready for something more robust, WordPress is your best bet, click here to get started.
If you do choose WordPress, it’s best to opt for WordPress.org instead of WordPress.com. It’s definitely more complex. I’ve included an article that explains the difference here.
However, I highly recommend Squarespace to keep it simple when you’re starting out — especially if you’re digging the Blog to Offer Model.
STEP 04. SET UP SQUARESPACE
If it applies, follow the steps below to get Squarespace set up from start to finish! If you’re not planning to use Squarespace, skip to step 5!
STEP 05. POPULATE YOUR BLOG WITH 3-5 BINGE WORTHY POSTS BEFORE LAUNCHING IT
Give them something to binge — seriously! It’s that simple. Once you know your niche, pick 3 sub-categories of that niche and write a super informative and helpful post on that sub-category.
For example, if your niche is fitness for moms, your subcategories might be Keto recipes, at home workouts, and training apparel. Write a post with information or ideas in each one of these sub-categories. Perhaps include a personal post with your story in this area as well.
Wait, wait wait, what the heck is a binge-worthy post?
To clarify, binge-worthy posts 1) captivate or connect 2) educate or inform and 3) activate.
They add value to people’s lives in a specific area they care about and need advice or education in. In other words, don’t just have one post titled “Why I Started a Blog.”
Like, good for you, sister, but that’s boring and doesn’t tell me how you can help me or why I should stick around.
Packing it with tons of relevant, juicy content on a subject related to what you can help them with (such as wedding photos or getting out of debt) before ever announcing it into Social Media Land, or driving traffic on Pinterest, helps your ideal reader know what they’re signing up for (and why they should subscribe!), as well as gives people something to dig into, get lost finding value in (aka ‘binging’), fall in love with, and share with all their friends!
STEP 06. SET UP AND CONNECT GOOGLE ANALYTICS
STEP 07. USE EFFECTIVE IMAGERY AND CREATIVE VISUALS
Can you use stock images from the internet? Sure. Now and then it’s not a bad idea, especially if you’re tight on time.
Should you make this your visuals plan? Abso-freakin-lutely-not.
Again, an occasional cover image from somewhere like Unsplash is totally fine. But don’t build your brand with stock images.
If you want to build connection and brand loyalty, people need to see YOU. Your face, your workspace, your BTS moments, etc.
Pick a few tones you want to include in your brand look (such as neutrals or greens) and schedule a stinkin’ brand shoot.
If you can’t afford that, have your husband or best friend snap some images of you on an iPhone (the cameras on those babies are WAY nicer than when I started!).
Make sure you include elements of those chosen brand colors in many of them and start there.
It doesn’t have to be perfect. It just needs to be YOU.
STEP 08. START WRITING AND USE SPACING OFTEN (AVOID REALLY LONG PARAGRAPHS WITH NO BREAKS)
The more white space, sub-headings (great in step-by-step articles like this one), and visuals breaking up the texts in your articles (especially the long ones), the better.
Keep your articles straight-forward and to the point if you want people to actually finish them, and make sure to include GIFs, memes, and imagery where it’s relevant.
This makes it easy to read AND connect with you as a writer. It makes you fun and keeps a human element to it — even if you’re writing about something more serious like law or finance.
There you have it! My Top 7 Steps to creating a strategy and setting up your blog for success without the stress!
Now, tell me: Which Business model and blogging platform are you going to choose? Do you know your niche? Drop your thoughts or questions in the comments below!