My Blogging Journey
Way back in the stone ages of the internet (1998), I had this thing called a “WebTV” and I would surf the internet, participate in chat rooms and all sorts of basic internet fun – on my tv, right from my sofa with my wireless keyboard. It was a great fun and my introduction to the “interweb” as people in the south seem to like calling it.
One of the things that I did with the simple technology, was start my first “home page” on Truepath. It was a Christian based website host where people could have a free home page. Later I had one on Angelfire too. And while Angelfire and Truepath both still exist, I do believe that WebTV has gone the way of the dinosaurs.
During those early days, web pages had to be built from scratch. You had a blank window and all that existed, was what you wrote… in HTML. I spent many an afternoon studying code and taking notes while the kiddos took their afternoon naps.
I would share recipes, articles and stories for my online friends and family on my homepage. It was basic, rudimentary and had no photos. But it was my little corner of the web.
Then in 2006 I was introduced to this thing called “blogging.” Now, I had heard of blogging, but it had been explained to me as an online diary. I thought, “Um, no one needs to read my innermost thoughts and secrets!” so I dismissed the very idea. But then my friend Catherine Staat encouraged me to start one, and explained that it was just like a home page, but that you didn’t have to write the code….drumroll… It Did It For You!
Holey Socks! A whole new world was opened up to me!
I started my first “blog” on Xanga, called “Connimom.” Over time I became weary of Xanga’s questionable ads that would run all over the place. So I then moved my blog to blogspot (blogger.) For a little while, I had mirror sites on homestead blogger and homeschool blogger while I figured out where I really wanted to do my blogging. I ended up sticking with blogspot for several years, and purchased my first actual domain name in 2008. I was officially “MrsMamaHen.com!”
I had gotten the name from my kiddos. At the time, we lived in a farmhouse and had free-range chickens. I would go out and call “the girls” to give them kitchen scraps and they would come running from the woods to their “mama.” My kids said I was their “mama hen” and it stuck.
I blogged about all sorts of things – recipes, homeschooling adventures, geocaching adventures or whatever I felt like sharing a monologue about.
Part of the reason that I really got started with blogging tutorial style recipes, was because I had met so many people that said they couldn’t cook over the years. One school year I taught a homeschooling Home Ec class, which of course covered several subjects including cooking. I had a friend say to me that she wished there was Home Ec classes for adults. That was right around the time I started blogging, and stuck in my mind. Once I really got into my blogging “groove” I kept her words in mind. I try to write my recipes in such a way that anyone can understand them. I want to help families come back to the supper table and have that time together around a great meal. I see it as really a type of ministry, and have received so many wonderful messages from readers over the years. Readers who did just that. Family was scattered here and there – and now they have meal time together. One reader even said to me that her family never had meals together. And now her family looks at my website together to pick out meals – then they prepare and eat them together as a family. That is why I do what I do.
That e-mail came to me at a time when I was really questioning what I was doing, if it was worth it. Needless to say, it moved me to tears (not an easy feat) and motivated me to keep at it!
A couple years ago, I started thinking about changing the name of my website, and about taking the huge step of going self-hosted. I wrestled with that for some time. It was a scary step, because I had subscribers and followers and…I was afraid of losing a chunk of them. Finally I decided to just go for it, and The Foodie Army Wife was born, then re-branded as Cosmopolitan Cornbread a short time later.
Looking back I don’t know why I had been so worried. The wonderful readers who were subscribed to me, for the most part followed me right over to the new site and subscribed all over again. It took no time at all for my “numbers” to far exceed even my best days at MrsMamaHen.
They like me! They really like me!
Over the years, I have learned a few things and have often been asked about what advice I would give to new bloggers or those thinking about taking the step to get started. Here are the things that I would share.
If you are just getting started blogging, I don’t recommend jumping straight in to self-hosted. You will find yourself forking out a nice chunk of change right off the bat, and what if you do it for a month and change your mind? I would suggest starting your blog on a free host site such as Blogspot or WordPress and spend nothing more than the cost of a domain name (URL) – if you want one. Take blogging for a test drive before you sign the deal on self-hosting.
If you own the URL, and later decide to go self-hosted, it‘s no big deal to take the URL with you and simply direct it to the new site.
Naming Your Blog
There are a number of theories out there about the best and most successful ways to name a website. In my opinion, the name of a website should give the potential readers at least a glimmer of an idea of what the website is about. I think the exception to that is when you are using your own name as the URL. Of course, if you have no idea what you want to write about, maybe using your name as the name is a good idea, because then your blog can follow whatever path your typing fingers take it on.
When I spent all of that time struggling about the decision to go from MrsMamaHen to self-hosted, I spent way too much time thinking about that, and not enough time thinking about the name I was going to use. I launched the website as “The Foodie Army Wife.” I was an active duty army wife who loved to cook. But…we were nearing retirement, and living a military lifestyle wasn’t going to be in my future for much longer. I was often approached by military affiliated organizations to partner with them, but that really wasn’t the audience I had. It wasn’t a good fit. I knew I needed to re-brand, and this time I thought long and hard about what it was I actually wrote about, and what I wanted the name to represent. I have had zero regrets about re-branding to Cosmopolitan Cornbread, I only wish I had done it sooner. I continue to go back and edit photos, removing TFAW logos and watermarks, and changing them to CC. With hundreds of recipes and posts, that is a daunting task that doesn’t seem to ever end.
Keep it Real
I see people often talking about blog “tribes” or “niches” and what is better, what is popular, blah, blah blah.
May I suggest that you not worry about niches, tribes or trends?
Blog about your PASSIONS.
What do you love? What do you care about? What are your causes? What drives you?
THAT is what you should write about. Be real, and write about what you love to write about. I don’t care if it is fashion, politics, health or the ins and outs of spinning dog hair – whatever you revs your engine, that is what you should write about. Whatever the topic, there will be someone out there who loves those things too, and will subscribe because you are “their people.”
Don’t try to write about something that you think is popular – just to fit in. If it isn’t real, people will know. Your blog is your voice. Don’t try to be a soprano if you are a tenor! It won’t be pretty.
There is nothing worse than finding a link to a blog, and thinking, “What a cool site! I want to subscribe!” And then when you take another look, you realize the person has only posted 3 times in the past year. If you want people to be interested in what you are writing, you need to …well…write!
Work out a schedule and do your best to write as often and consistently as possible. Whether that means writing every day, or writing once a week – let your readers know that they can count on you.
There are tons of ways to be interactive with your readers via social media. I’m not going to tell you that you have to be on Twitter, Facebook, Google Plus, Stumble Upon, Linked-In and every other social media outlet that pops up. But I will say that whichever you do choose to use, engage with your followers. If people comment, respond. If they ask a question, answer!
This goes for social media, and of course on your blog itself.
Connect with Other Bloggers
I can’t tell you how nice it is to sit around and chat with other bloggers…sharing tips and swapping tales. I am part of a couple facebook groups for bloggers – a group for military bloggers, a couple for foodie bloggers and even a local blogging group. Learning from one another is priceless!
Write it Down!
I use a bullet journal for keeping track of my life in general. Towards the back, I have a section that is just for blog or vlog ideas. I might be walking through the grocery store when BAM! I have a great idea for a blog post! I whip out my book and write it down. Then later when I am at my computer I have all of these great ideas to turn to when writer’s block strikes.
Finally, I will say that when you are first starting out on your blogging journey, it is easy to look at other bloggers and think, ”Man, I will never have that many readers, followers, fans – fill in the blank.” Don’t compare yourself to other bloggers! It will only drive you batty.
Look – everyone starts somewhere! I’m sure that even people like The Pioneer Woman were tickled by their very first comment or their 30th subscriber! I know I was.
Don’t sell yourself short. Keep at it, be real, be consistent.
If you build it, they will come.