Anna K Gets A Grilling: Setting Up A Blog As A Business

A few weeks ago, following my post about what I’ve learnt in my first year of blogging, the lovely Hollie, the brains behind the brilliant blog Outside Office Hours (Go.  Read) emailed me to ask me about setting up a blog as a business.  ”Good God”, I thought.  ”What do I know?  I honestly feel like I’m fumbling way way through the dark half the time.”    And then it struck me that perhaps that’s half the point.  We have a super exciting announcement coming up next week on all things AOW business, but this post is about Hollie asking some fundamental questions about blogging and making blogging more than just a hobby, because it’s been her sanctuary through a particularly tough year. And my, has it been tough…and Hollie, I’m with you all the way on hating the term “housewife”.  Consider this an Official AOW Summons for that post on your challenging start to married life.  

So whilst I try to answer Hollie’s questions at the end of this post, this post goes wider than just my ramblings.  It’s about finding something that you love doing, that makes you a better person, that gives you something to own, and wanting it to grow bigger than you are, and asking questions about how you make that happen without compromising what your project (a book, a blog, anything) is about.  

Over to you, Hollie:

Nearly a year ago we made a pretty momentous decision. We decided to move to Northern Ireland for my husband’s job, which effectively meant I gave upon my dreams of having a career to support him. It was a bit of a curveball to say the least, but we’ve tried as best we can to take it in our stride and make it work.

To say it has been a challenging start to married life is a bit of an understatement (there’s a post in there somewhere Anna!) as I’ve found my new role as a ‘housewife’ – a term I despise – completely unsuited to my nature, my dreams and my ambitions. There are days where I feel like I left a part of myself on the mainland, but I try not to dwell on that too much.

Shortly after our wedding in January I started blogging at Outside Office Hours. The relief of having a place to communicate with others as well as something that was mine was immediate.  I no longer wake up each day wondering how I’m going to fill my time, but instead have a brain that is bubbling with ideas and the days pass infinitely quicker.

But while I love blogging, there’s no doubt that it has been a learning process.

The first thing I realised was that I jumped in too quickly. I just set up a free WordPress blog and away I went. At the time this was great, but the problem is that I’ve come to notice how many changes I would like to make to the layout as well as the content. I want to make more out of my blog, and in time would like to investigate the possibility of earning some kind of income from it.

How the hell I would go about all this though I had no idea.

I’d been mulling this all this for a few weeks and even paid a deposit to a website designer when Anna’s post about her year of blogging appeared on AOW.  If you believe in such things, this was a pretty clear sign that I needed to take a deep breath and ask the lovely AOW ladies for a little bit of help.

So a couple of very lovely and encouraging emails later here we are.

Anna came up with the idea of a joint post, whereby I try and squeeze as much blogging knowledge out of her as is physically possibly and we share the answers with you lovely lot.

Now, I’ve tried to include some questions that will still be interesting for the non-bloggers amongst you – an insight into what makes Mrs K tick if you will…

1)    What do you think makes a blog successful?

Excuse me whilst I screech.  CONTENT.  I don’t care how pretty your layout is, if you don’t produce well-written posts, with SPELLING, GRAMMAR, and all that intact, I’m not interested.  I would honestly rather read a well-written blog post about staplers than a post about feminism that was shoddy.  We try really hard at AOW to get the grammar right – sometimes it slips and we are mortified when that happens, and correct it in a flash.  If you blog, words and ideas are your trade.  The very least you can do for your readers is structure your posts properly and spell correctly.  They’ve bothered to come to your blog and open your post.  You can extend the same courtesy by taking two minutes to proofread.

The blogger has to have a passion about the subject matter.  When I started blogging, I used to have a list of subjects to cover and tick them off one by one.  That doesn’t make for great writing.  If you’re not feeling a subject when you sit down to write about it, you’ll do a decent job, but not a brilliant one.  You can spot a mile off when someone’s writing about something because they should, rather than because they sat down to write it because they had to, because something gripped them, because they couldn’t rest until the post was out there.  If someone’s writing about a subject they feel strongly about, that makes for truly engaging content, which, see above paragraph, is half the battle.

Then of course there’s increasing your readership, good use of SEO, wise marketing, strong networking, engaging with sponsors.  We’re still learning about all those things at AOW, and those things make a blog successful in the traditional sense, but will never, ever, replace the need for well-written, wise, diverse and engaging posts.

2)    Aside for AOW, what are your favourite blogs at the moment?

We have a list of our favourite blogs up on the Required Reading list (readers, we want your blogs up there…let us know if you have blogs we aren’t reading!).   It’s crucial to us that we keep up-to-date with what’s happening to our readers.  In addition to readers blogs, I tend to relax by reading cooking blogs (Smitten Kitchen and Joy The Baker are two favourites…just the sight of a recipe relaxes me, and my do these women love food), webcomics, particularly A Softer World, feminist news blogs (particularly Jezebel  and The F-Word and of course Awesome Women Of Twitter (tagline “because gin and cake deserve a friend”, oh YES THEY DO).  I have so many on my favourites page.   If I ever lack inspiration for a blog post and a deadline is looming, I trawl through my favourites page to find something that inspires or riles me.

3)    Which post that you’ve written are you most proud of?

The ones that didn’t come easily.  The ones I had to pull out of myself.  I do love a good drivel post, and I adore writing them, they help me take stock, but the ones I’m proudest of are the ones I really didn’t want to press Publish on.  I wrote a letter to London.  I wrote the story of my great aunty Barbara and how she thinks weddings today are all a load of faff.   I wrote about my fears that my marriage would end up just another divorce statistic, because why is our marriage any better than anyone else’s?  That was hard.  But it’s not my posts that make me proudest of this blog.  It’s the ones that people wrote for us that they wrote even if it was difficult for them to do so.  We may give our readers the platform to have their voices heard but those stories, opinions and experiences are 100% them.  Not us, but them.  I’ve not truly been through anything difficult in my life compared to some of our readers and I remain consistently humbled by their experiences.

I’m also inordinately proud of the posts we publish on International Women’s Day.  I wrote a post for IWD 2011 about gender roles in fairy tales before I joined the blog, which I spent weeks being immensely proud of, but they others we’ve published since have just trounced that piece.  We always go through IWD on a high, and end it believing women can change the world.

4)    Is there anything that you’ve regretting sharing on AOW?

No.  I set really clear boundaries for myself on what I will and won’t share on AOW.  Back in 2004-6 I wrote a blog where I had no concept of public and private boundaries and ended up upsetting people I cared about because I’d casually blurt out their secrets online, and how I’d reacted to them, because of course it was all about me.  It was an awful lesson but it’s served me really well for AOW.  Me, my thoughts, my experiences, fine.  I’ll put them out there, its only my neck on the line.  My family and friends?  Not a chance.  Not unless they write it themselves.

Having said that, there are things I’d love to write on here, but won’t because Mr K and my parents read the blog.  I don’t censor myself hugely but there’s a fine line between wanting to share a lesson learned and too much information.  I’m still learning how to balance that.

5)    Are there any parts of blogging that you don’t enjoy?

I love writing.  I love communicating with readers and sponsors.  I love the business side of the blog (although I’m still learning), the admin and the scheduling (I was a natural from day one).  What I don’t love is formatting posts, or the technical side of the blog – html and the like.  It takes a huge amount of time, and we aren’t even a blog that does huge elaborate picture collages to illustrate our posts. I’m really not a natural at coding and I know I need to learn, to make the blog better.  If I could just do the writing and send it off into the ether for a magical AOW fairy to format, I’d be a happy bunny.  But it’s a small price to pay for seeing your writing up there for the world to see with the fonts all correctly spaced.

I also don’t love the feeling I get when I’ve written a post, it does the job, it’s well-written, it ticks all the boxes, but my inner perfectionist is wailing in my ear “but if you just spent two more hours on it it would be EXTRAORDINARY”.   I’ve had to learn to ignore that voice, as long as I still have a full-time job and a life to live.  That’s another fine balance I’m still trying to strike.

6)    When you redesigned AOW which elements were most important to you?

To me personally (and this may differ from the rest of the team), I wanted it to be easy to use.  I wanted AOW to be a site people could come to visit as a resource – and pre -re-design, people only ever really came to view the latest post.  We wanted women to be able to come and be able to easily navigate the site and find articles about subjects that really matter to them – be that feminism, body image or wedding planning.  Our readers give up  their time to write us posts, posts that are sometimes difficult for them to write.  The least we can do is provide a platform where those posts are simple to find.    People spend lots of time navigating the site now, and that makes me happy.

The layout of the site was important, too.  I wanted drop-down menus, buttons that brought up random posts, and an interactive feel.  I wanted readers to genuinely enjoy spending time here, and a site that ‘s a pleasure to navigate is a  site where people will stick around.

The colours and fonts were less important to me, but I did really enjoy the process of choosing them.  Casa AOW looks beautiful and my heart still leaps in my chest whenever I look at the blog and thing “we did that!”.

7)    How did you choose your website host? Would you recommend it?

We started with Blogger and migrated to WordPress.  Blogger was very easy to use and perfect to get a blog started but in the end wasn’t a platform that could host all our ambitious ideas.  I did some research on different hosts and their capabilities but WordPress ticked all of the boxes.  Our blog re-design dream team Super Runaway helped us migrate and gave us a crash course in how to use WordPress.  Its easy to use and could probably rule the world – it does so much it blows my mind.  And I don’t even know the half of it.  It I could code, we could do lots more than we currently do – and that’s why I’m keen to learn. 

8)    You mentioned in your last post that you wrote a business plan, what was the purpose of this?

I spent most of last October to December panicking about where the blog was going and how we could get it there.  We’d committed to making AOW a business, we knew it was what we wanted, but I didn’t know anything about how to do that.  So we divvied up who did what and I elected to take on what I termed The Business Plan Of Doom.    

If there’s one thing my job has taught me, it’s that when you have no idea what to do, start writing things down and a picture will start to form.  And that’s what I did.  I knew I needed to understand what the blog was, what it did, what it stood for, what its basic principles were,  before I could have a clear vision for its future.  And this is the truth; I sat down with a blank Word document, put into Google “How to write a business plan” and wrote the whole thing from scratch.  

It’s not the most perfect business plan in the world, and we’re still improving it, but now we have a document that describes what the blog is about, why it exists, why it’s different to any other blog out there, what the point of it all is, and what we want to achieve within the next year and why.  It captured all my panicked, meandering thoughts and has set them all out clearly.  It made us realise that the team all having different strengths is a great thing for the blog, and that we could use that as its selling point.  It made us see the gaps in our vision for the blog and forced us to ask difficult questions about why we do what we do.  It’s perfect for when we lose our way a bit and want to get back to why we’re doing what we’re doing.  It’s excellent to read before meeting/talking to sponsors because it fires us up and means we have all our key statistics at our fingertips.

9)    How did you advertise the blog re-launch?

We had a key message that we kept at the forefront of our minds all the way up to re-launch; AOW is retaining what makes it unique, we are not “selling out”, but we want to grow with our readers, not at the expense of them.  We had to manage re-design carefully, the very last thing we want to do is give off the impression that with a fancy new website we were going to lose the authenticity that makes us special.  Whatever we did we wanted to do it with readers’ support, they are the essence of the blog and what makes what we do possible.

We let key bloggers know about the re-launch slightly ahead of time so they could blog about it on launch day.  We wrote to magazines that have a similar ethos to AOW to let them know about the launch, and we did a “drip feed” of information in the run up to the launch to get people excited but not give the game away.  We planned a whole week of amazing posts and giveaways to raise our profile and to welcome new readers and to say a huge thank you to our community.  It was a brilliant, brilliant week – we’re still so proud of it.

10) At what point did you decide you were ready to accept sponsors? How did you go about this?

Accepting sponsors has been an aim of ours since we decided we wanted to make the blog a business, however we’ve always wanted to do it in the right way.  The thought of accepting just anyone onto AOW makes me feel ill.  We’re just not interested in wasting anyone’s time with products and services that we don’t think will genuinely enhance our readers’ lives in some way.  Any company that sponsors us has to share our ethos, and all the better if it’s a small, up-and-coming company too.  We’ve discovered that is is incredibly tempting to say yes to some people because it’s easy money – and that’s where there being more than one person on the team is a great thing – because the others just bash them over the head with the reality stick and a reminder of what we stand for.  We love engaging in conversations with sponsors, finding out why they do what they do.  It’s about far far more than the product or the service. 

In terms of how we went about this, we thought long and hard about the kinds of sponsors AOW readers would be interested in.  We commissioned a reader survey in November 2011 asking questions about how our readers would feel about sponsorship and what kinds of products or services would get them excited.  Reading the results of that survey was one of the most rewarding things we’ve ever done.  The responses blew our minds.  We then matched up suitable sponsors with our findings and contacted them.  We’re still contacting them, and sometimes we get approached out of the blue by a sponsor who is PERFECT for us.  It’s a steep learning curve and one we remain hugely excited about.     

11) Do you ever edit reader submissions, or even decline to publish them?

We read all our submissions (and also do the patented AOW Submissions Dance, even Emmi has the moves).  If we decline to publish anything, it will be because it contains something that is either offensive, factually incorrect or legally too risky to publish.  We’re happy to publish posts about subjects and with opinions with which we disagree – if they are written sensitively – because everyone deserves their say and we know that AOW readers can and will engage in constructive debate without being judgemental or alienating.  However we won’t publish submissions that cause offence.  We value this blog and what we’ve created too much to do that.  It is a fine line and we’re still finding that balance.

We do sometimes edit submissions (always with the reader’s permission).  A lot of readers feel their writing isn’t great but still have a story to tell, or an opinion to share, and so ask us to structure their post in a way that makes more sense  - which we’re more than happy to do.

12) What is your vision for the future of AOW?

I want the blog to continue to be a place where people can share  their stories.  I want it to reach more people, I want our readership to grow and I want to be able to publish more posts and encourage more discussion.  I want to work with more and more sponsors that we care about and believe in.  I want our community to build and more friendships to be made.  I want our Facebook page and Twitter accounts to grow and become mini-AOWs in their own rights, where readers can interact and chat with us and carry on discussions we started on the blog.  Essentially, I want more of the same, but on a bigger scale.  I don’t think sharing stories should be confined to one country or one time zone.  But no matter how big AOW gets, I want it to retain that feeling of having come home and taken your shoes off and are snuggled up on the sofa in the warm with a good book, or chatting to your best friend, or eating cake.

Categories: Ask Anna, Ant and AOW, Behind the Scenes at AOW, Life Experience, Written By Anna
16 interesting thoughts on this

16 Comments

  1. Steff
    Posted June 14, 2012 at 1:32 pm | Permalink

    AOW Code Formatting Fairy reporting for duty :)

    Interesting reading, I’ve been meaning to properly start blogging for ages but can’t seem to get started… maybe one day.

    Smitten Kitchen AMAZING!! I could sit and drool over it all day.

  2. Posted June 14, 2012 at 1:50 pm | Permalink

    “I want it to retain that feeling of having come home and taken your shoes off and are snuggled up on the sofa in the warm with a good book, or chatting to your best friend, or eating cake.”

    Adore this description.

    • Posted June 14, 2012 at 7:24 pm | Permalink

      Yes! Exactly my thoughts as well.

      Really interesting reading, Anna and Holly – thanks!

      (Any chance The Honeymoon Project could be added to your required reading section? It’s not a blog, but still…)

  3. Posted June 14, 2012 at 2:34 pm | Permalink

    I’m hopeless at regular blogging, I could do with being part of a team so that I’ve got someone to kick my ass when I’m avoiding writing because I’m having another crisis of confidence! I have no idea where I’m going with my writing, I could do with sitting down and writing not so much a business plan as a general life and career plan. Anyone want me help me do that?!

    Such an interesting read, and Hollie I had never read your blog before and I just spent my lunch hour discovering it (and drooling over cheese scones… omnomnom)

    K x

    • Posted June 14, 2012 at 4:40 pm | Permalink

      Thanks for stopping by over there Katie.

      I know what you mean about the benefit of being part of a blogging team – there are some days when I could do with Anna going all drill sergeant on me! I started off doing really well with having things scheduled in and then we went away for a few days and I lost writing time so it kind of slipped. Have just spent this afternoon writing thanks to Anna’s inspirational answers to hopefully there will be more things appearing regularly again!

      xx

      • Posted June 14, 2012 at 5:20 pm | Permalink

        Maybe we need to start AOW writing club, where we all get drill sergeant on each other’s asses when we need motivation?!

        K x

        • Posted June 15, 2012 at 10:38 am | Permalink

          Katie, this is an ace idea. I’m brilliant at blogging for about a fortnight and then something happens and I miss a day and then I just never get back into it.

    • Posted June 15, 2012 at 11:58 am | Permalink

      Team science geeks/lazy bloggers?? I’m in!

  4. Posted June 14, 2012 at 3:08 pm | Permalink

    This is so interesting – thanks both! It’s fascinating to peek behind the Wizard of Oz curtain and see how it all works (although much more impressive than the Wizard, obvs). I’m also seriously impressed by your business plan skillz, Anna.

    I have a blog myself (she says, blushing furiously) and although it’s a tiny minnow compared to AOW, I’ve been surprised at how much I enjoy it. I started when I was seriously bored at work, and thought I’d give it a go for 3 months and see how it went . Over a year later, through getting married and moving house and moving in with my in-laws while we waited for our house, and changing jobs, and getting promoted, and huge newlywed happiness and cataclysmic family traumas, I’ve somehow kept on cooking and writing. And when I look back at those posts now, it’s like time travel – I can feel so strongly how sad or angry or content or thrilled I was at that exact moment. I can’t imagine stopping any time soon.

    Thanks for the insight, AOW – loving your work!

    ps – Anna, I love Smitten Kitchen too – can’t wait for her book…

    • Steff
      Posted June 14, 2012 at 3:49 pm | Permalink

      There’s a smitten kitchen BOOK!? Best. News. EVAR!

    • Posted June 14, 2012 at 4:38 pm | Permalink

      Just been over to your blog and there are SO MANY things I want/need to eat. A few have been bookmarked for future cooking :)

      • Posted June 14, 2012 at 5:23 pm | Permalink

        I’ve just been over there too and I had to leave again because my tummy started rumbling audibly. The person next to me actually asked if that noise was me and I had to pretend it was the lab equipment. So. Much. Yum.

        K x

    • Posted June 14, 2012 at 7:23 pm | Permalink

      I love that you call your blog a minnow. I haven’t heard that word for an age!! X

      • Posted June 14, 2012 at 8:32 pm | Permalink

        Aw thanks you three! You made my day. Now checking out yours in return!

  5. Posted June 14, 2012 at 4:41 pm | Permalink

    Anna, thanks so much for answering all my (slightly nosey) questions! It’s great to find out how you all make it work and I suspect I’m not alone that I now think AOW could take over the world ;)

    xx

    • Posted June 14, 2012 at 7:27 pm | Permalink

      AOW is taking over the world. True. Story. I am inspired on a daily basis by what you have achieved and will go on to do. I gush, yes. But with goosebumps and tears in my eyes so I think that’s ok, yes?

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Hello! We're Clare, Aisling and Anna and welcome to a corner of the world where smart, flawed, real women talk about the bigger picture; about their experiences, stories and opinions on all aspects of being a woman today, from marriage to feminism to pretty, too.

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