Joy Cho hosted in New York City's West Elm for her new book Blog, Inc. The handbook, which contains advice on starting and growing your blog, finding your voice, design tips, attracting readership, and interviews with established bloggers, is good for both newbies and those who want to take their site to the next level. I only wish I had this book when I started out five years ago, but have already gleaned ideas from the first few chapters.
At the book party, we were not only treated to hors d'oeuvres, fizzy cocktails, and chats with fellow (and future) bloggers, but Joy also had a question and answer session to address some of our blogging concerns. I have to say she gave so much thought to each question and is such a doll in person that you can't help but admire her. So from nailing down a topic and beating writer's block to turning your blog into a full-fledged career, here are some of the tips she shared with us.
How do I find my authentic voice and know what subject to blog on?
I think this is the thing the intimidates people about starting a blog because you feel like there are millions and lots of them are so awesome that you wonder well what am I going to add to this awesomeness that's out in the Internet? Well I feel everybody has something to say, everybody has something to contribute. There's something that you're interested in whether it's something that you do for a living or maybe it's something that you do on the side as a hobby or maybe something you wish you did on the side as a hobby and those are things that drive the content of a blog. It's something that you're really interested in, that you're passionate about, and that you can think of something within that topic that you can blog about regularly.
Now what ends up happening is a lot of people have 10 things they're interested in and they're like okay, so how do I narrow it down? Basically you narrow it down by the things you think you can talk about most often, the things you're most interested in, and also the two or three things that can work well together.
In my blog there's a combination. There's food, fashion, a little décor, and a little of my personal life and that's pretty much how I started. I've stuck to that along the way, but now I think it's a little bit different. If you're starting a blog now when there is so much out there, I would really try and focus on a niche if you can, if there's one specific thing that you absolutely love and that you absolutely have to talk about at length every day or every other day. But if you really do love a mix of things as long as they can kind of live together and they feel like a cohesive lifestyle, there's still a story that can still be told in that.
There's no rules. If anything, when people are just starting out, I say just blog a bunch. If you like a few different things, blog that, see what continues to feel good for you, what feels easy, what feels natural and it'll start to evolve from there.
How do you balance your life as a mother, wife, and entrepreneur?
For me it's about getting help because you look at people online, people on TV, you look at celebrities who are moms and you just think that everybody's doing everything so perfectly. You think that everybody's wearing heels while they're sweeping the carpet and while they're cooking a beautiful chicken for their husband and nobody's doing all that. I certainly am not and for me it really is about getting help, choosing your battles and choosing what's most important. Certainly once I had my daughter a year ago there were a lot things that I was like you know what? Those things are not going to happen. Luckily, people in your life are understanding as well, but it's about choosing what's most important and it's also about getting help.
I have an amazing part-time nanny who helps watch my daughter so I can work focused part-time during the week and other times I'm with her I work during naps. I basically use that time knowing that my life has changed to really focus on quality over quantity and I wish that was something that I learned sooner even before I had kids, but this has really helped me to prioritize things in my life.
I actually do a few other things in addition to blogging. There are a lot of bloggers who blog full-time and that is their thing, but I think I'm one of those people that likes to do a lot of different things and I don't see myself just yet only doing blogging. I'm a graphic designer and for a while I had a lot of design clients. I design various products with licensers. I also write books, of course, and I do consulting so for me I like to have my head in a lot of things. As a self-employed person and as a blogger, for me it took a few years to click. I started my blog and my business in 2005 and the first year or two I'll be honest, I was struggling. My husband was in med school, I was just starting my business, we were totally racking up credit card debt because neither of us gained that much money, we'd moved to a new city, and it was one of those times in your early 20s when you're really figuring things out. I love that I went through that time because I can appreciate this time more when we got through that hurdle. It's much better.
I think for me it took probably about three years for my business as whole before I went oh my gosh, this thing can really work. Within the first six months to a year is when I decided to do it and I saw the potential. Because I don't have a job where someone's giving me a paycheck every two weeks and I don't have health insurance from a job and so you really want to feel like things are going pretty well to feel confident about it. And to be honest, it's one of those things where you can never rest in laurels. Tomorrow people could stop reading my blog, people could stop hiring me to do consulting or freelance work so you always want to be pushing.
So there's a lot of them and I'm sure everybody's so overwhelmed with all the social media that there is. For me, it's about choosing my favorites. So in addition to my blog, I love Twitter. Twitter is one of those things where I can just say something, it can be an image, it can be about a thought, and those are the things that do best because it's something I can do quick. I don't have to think about it too much. Some other bloggers prefer Facebook because that's a way they can communicate with their audience in a different way. They can show outtakes from a style blog or they can show behind the scenes from some other type of post.
If you're pretty new at blogging and you need to choose one other thing, choose which one just feels most comfortable to you. I think people feel a lot of pressure to have their hands in everything. Don't feel like you need to start all those things all at once. Slowly add in what feels comfortable. I would join all of those and if you just came up with your blog name, I would reserve that name for all of those different social media portals, but I would use them freely and see which ones stick.
Would you say that you're an extrovert and is that important as a blogger?
I would actually say that I am not. I think that people view a lot of bloggers as being extroverts because you are like, "Hey, look at my outfit! Look at my life!" The funny thing is a lot of bloggers are actually not like that in person. It's easier for us to type things out, take pictures from the comfort of our own families or our friends and put that out there, but I do understand that people that are a little more introverted are probably a little bit shy about it. A lot of people say to me, "I want to blog, but I know that it's good to show your life, but I'm really shy and I don't really want to show myself." And so I think you show what you're comfortable with. If you don't feel comfortable showing yourself at all, then don't, but I do feel like these days people do like to connect with the person.
For the first couple years of my site, I didn't show any photos of myself. Nobody really knew what I looked like unless they went to my About page, but now I'm there pretty regularly, at least once a week, and I found that people really do want to connect. It's kind of like watching reality TV and even though you know it's so bad for you or you know that your life is not like theirs, you connect with these people and you watch it because all of a sudden you start to know their life, know their personality, you know their good sides and their bad sides, and everything in between. So the thing that in a more positive and less trashy way you want to bring to your site is that connection because people really enjoy that.
It's a catch-22. I think the nature of the Internet is such that somebody who's a little-known artist could become super well-known in a matter of a month or a couple clicks. It could catapult somebody into a huge career because somebody discovered them online. You could be the next whomever because you put your artwork on a blog and somebody finds it. So it's sort of that risk that you take. Now can you copyright your artwork? Sure, there's plenty of legal things you can do and there's a section in book where I talk about the various ways that you can copyright, but on same side sometimes people are super protective. Photographers especially is an example where people will want to watermark their photos and you understand why they do it, but it does take away from the image. So it's one of those things where I feel like the risk is worth it.
I know that for me the things that I've put out there I've certainly seen some of my images or even my posts on other sites. Most of the times it doesn't happen. It will happen from time to time, but usually I find that the risk of the exposure is worth the potential small percentage of somebody copying from you.
Has blogging ever become a chore and if so, how do you get excited about it again?
Honestly just like any job, I'm sure there's nobody here who's had a job and said oh my gosh, I love my job every single day of my entire life and if you do then you're like the luckiest person ever. I feel lucky that I do love my job 95 percent of the time, but certainly there are times when I wake up the next day and maybe just haven't gotten my post done in advance. I try and do them at least a day or two in advance and some days I don't get to it. Maybe I'm too busy or maybe I'm just tired or something in life just pulled me away and it happens. Sometimes I feel bad because I'm like "Ahh! People are waiting for whatever I'm going to post that day."
For me it's really about thinking outside the box, going outside of my comfort zone, and doing something different. I say in the day-to-day life if you need a change, if you're feeling burned out, step outside your comfort zone and do something different. I sit at my computer all day long and I'm so used to it, but you know sometimes I cannot sit in front of that computer anymore. I need to go outside. I need to go look at things. I need to remember there are libraries out there. There are museums and there are places where you can go for inspiration that are not in front of your computer and I have to remind myself of that, too. So within those times I do that and it's not necessarily always art-based or creative-based. Maybe I just have to go to the gym or do something that takes my mind completely away from what it is that I'm struggling with or what it is that I'm trying to do. Usually something like that or a series of things like that helps to bring me back.
I use Typepad, but there are a plethora of ones. There are so many of them that are similar in so many ways and based on what you need there are usually two or three that might serve your needs and I usually recommend doing a trial period. You can kind of test it out, you can see okay, how does this work? How do I upload images? How do I insert text? Does it feel intuitive or is it something where I need to know HTML? And depending on your HTML knowledge or not various ones are better for you.
Typically I recommend Typepad or Squarespace or WordPress. I think that those are three of the strongest ones unless you're going to build your own site from scratch, of course. I think that Blogger is one of those sites that is a default site for a lot of people because it's free and is one that most people know about, but I find that people tend to switch later on because they get frustrated with HTML or they don't necessarily know coding and they find it harder to navigate. Also, Tumblr is really great for image driven sites. So there's probably about five or six that are the most common ones and so within the book I talk about it in more detail and you just have to see what's right for you.
When you started your blog in 2005 social media wasn't what it is today so how did you go about growing your blog?
Well at the time I didn't think about growing my blog. I wasn't purposely trying to grow it because I didn't know what it could become and I think now it's a little different because people know the potential of blogs so I always recommend you start small. Think about it as having a new business. How would you tell people about your business? You would tell your coworkers, you would tell your friends on Facebook, you start to tell everybody that you know. And then with blogging you reach out to bloggers. I know that it sounds like one of those things where people feel intimidated to write to blogs they think are so well established and be like oh, those people won't read my site, but you never know. It's worth it to send a short, sweet, and polite email to other bloggers you think would like your blog and just have them check it out.
So start small, reach out to other bloggers, and also via Twitter, Instagram and various social media networks you'll find other people who are also trying to grow their sites. A lot of times you guys can support each other and link to each other. You're all finding other sites that you really like and then you support and help to grow each other.