When a group of friends and I turned 50-ish, one bought a second pit bull, one redid her house, one came out of the closet and divorced her husband (in that order, I think), and I…I started a blog.
Little did I know it would turn out to be an adventure-in-progress; the most difficult thing I’ve ever done as well as the most exhilarating. Well, sort of.
Many of us fifty-somethings are distinguishable from regular bloggers by our total and cultivated lack of technical know-how. We are at a disadvantage because we did not grow up with computers and the Internet, and thus lack the knowledge that X-gens, Y-gens, and millennials absorbed with their baby formula.
On the other hand, we did not grow up with the instant electronic gratification they experienced, which means that we have more tenacity to stick it out until we finally get it.
Moreover, some of you in the younger set are just as technologically clueless, whether by fate or by conscious decision (how many of you have a B.A. in English?).
To those of you I say: Fear not, fainthearted ones; I am here to dispense advice and describe what to expect when you — technologically challenged as you are — embark on the blogger’s journey.
What’s A Blog?
How many of you were afraid to ask this question? Don’t all raise your hands at once. Simply put, a blog is
You can write a vanity blog, which is like a public diary, or you can start a blog in order to provide value to others in a field about which you know more than they do. Unsurprisingly, we are going to focus on the latter.
The Essential Tools And A Few Big Words
You need just seven things to start a blog:
- A domain name. This is the name of your website, like www.IAmClueless.com. There is a whole debate going on about which last name to choose, e.g., “.com”, “.org”, “.co”, etc. My anecdotal recommendation? Go for the most memorable and intuitive first name, and get something with “.com”. You buy a domain name from
- A domain host. This will cost you anywhere from nothing to hundreds of thousands of dollars. Aim for paying a one-time fee of between $1 and $25, or a yearly fee of about $13.
- A website creation tool. Basically, everyone uses WordPress, so just do that and don’t fuss. It’s free. WordPress is like a blog’s word processor, but it’s just a shell. Therefore, you will need
- A website host. This is what breathes the breath of life into WordPress. It’s the Dr. Frankenstein part of the monster. I pay $5 a month to my web host, which includes extra security, but there are hosts that charge around $30 a month even for beginners. Some web hosts also offer free or cheap domain names and dedicated email addresses (see below), and will even help you install WordPress.
- A dedicated email address. This is like [email protected]. I did mine through Google, and it costs me $4 a month. You can also get one through your domain (or web) host, but to be honest, it looked too complicated and I didn’t understand all the big words. Sometimes paying $50 a year is better than another few weeks in suspended animation, unable to launch because of one little piece of technology. Believe me, you will be so exhausted from dealing with issues 1 through 4 that you will happily slap down the extra cash.
- An email collection service. Once you have a domain name you will want to start collecting subscribers to your blog and sending them blogs to their inboxes. For that, you need an email collection service. When subscribers go to your site, fill in their email address, and click “submit,” their information is sent automatically to your email collection service, which adds it to your growing list. When you write a blog post and upload it to the service, the latter takes care of emailing it to your list.
The best free email service is MailChimp, and it’s good enough. I don’t find it terribly intuitive, but I hear their nearest competitor (which doesn’t have a free version) is worse. Paid versions of these services start at $20 per month, and in my opinion you don’t need one until you have at least 1,000 subscribers. Not everyone will agree with me about this, but I’m sure they’ve been wrong before.
- A burning
passionreason to succeed. I saved the most important for last. Unless you are 100 percent committed, your blog is absolutely not sustainable. You must write in big, block letters exactly why you are doing this. Tape it near your computer where you can see it when you work, and never, ever, give up. Passion is a platitude, and won’t help you monetize. Inspiration is even worse. You need to glue your tush to the chair and work, and that’s all there is to it. Sorry.
You will make a lot of mistakes and you will fail sometimes. You will get egg on your face in front of other bloggers. You will want to give up. You will be slower than regular people; you must be doing this for a specific reason. Keep this reason in front of you at all times, literally and figuratively.
In the end you will master all the technology, and because you went through fire to gain the knowledge, you will own it. I promise.
Don’t Read Any How-To Posts, Guides, or eBooks EXCEPT Sue’s
Our very own Sue Anne Dunlevie of Successful Blogging has put together what in my mind is the very best how-to guide for building your website using WordPress as your “platform” (a cool word that will make you sound technologically unchallenged). Go to https://www.successfulblogging.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/04/WP-Crash-Course.pdf. You will not regret it.
In the unlikely event that you do not avail yourself of Sue Anne’s Crash Course, you can try www.WPBeginner.com, which will build your site for free if you sign up for a web host via their site. They give you a lot of great host options to choose from. The disadvantage is that you might never learn how to use WordPress, and you will stay in WordPress hell forever.
Avail Yourself Of Your Vendors’ Support Desk With Semi-Impunity
That’s what they’re there for. Especially if you paid for the product. I’m telling you up front: “pointing” your domain name to your domain host, and then to your web host, is complicated, and I’m not going to even explain what all that means. There are lots of other terms you will not want to learn either, such as DNS, Nameserver, Cname, and “@”. With the exception of WordPress and MailChimp, you are better off paying for the tools I described above instead of getting the barebones, free version. Here’s why:
Many of the freebies have neither live nor email/chat support. You have to go to their forums and (non-)help pages, which for the most part, are useless. The poorly written articles and high-tech language will make your eyes cross; even the glossary of terms, if there is one, can be difficult if not impossible to understand. (Please send all the people who write these things to www.BulletproofWriting.com.)
Obviously, offering support only to those who pay for the pro versions of these tools is savvy on the part of the vendor, but when I am totally stuck and just lost twenty subscribers because I forgot to unclick one box, I couldn’t care less about their marketing strategy.
Sometimes there is a way to get around this, however, but don’t tell anyone.
Uncovering The Support Desk When There Supposedly Isn’t One
If it doesn’t, you will have to get a bit more creative.
Check the top and/or bottom of the website’s home page. (You might have to completely exit the site and type www.[name of company].com into your browser. Sometimes this must be done on another computer that hasn’t saved your details to the site you need support from.) Look for a tab or link that says “Contact us,” “Support,” “Help,” “Help/Support Desk,” etc. Click on it; you might be directed to a contact page or to an email template all ready for you to fill out.
If the “technical support” option won’t let you submit a question, look for other options such as “billing” or “account information,” and submit your question. Chances are it will be transferred to the right place.
I used these techniques with MailChimp and I got all the help I needed. An embarrassing confession: I wrote a dramatic email, complaining that I was over 50 and their platform was unintuitive and it’s unfair that free customers get chastised and they were ruining my business before it even got off the ground – well, that’s how I felt after being stuck for a week. They fell all over themselves to help me, and now I have the email address of their support team.
If enough people complain to these companies that it’s unfair to deny human support to bloggers with free versions of their product, they will start offering it.
Extras That You Will Probably Need: The Good, The Bad, And The Ugly
Once I completed steps 1 through 6, above (7 is ongoing), I sat staring at my website with absolutely no idea how to set it up and make it pretty, let alone work. Fortunately, I found the following little helpers:
- Fiverr. WordPress runs on “themes,” which are templates into which you plug your logo, site name, blog posts, pages, etc. Some themes are free and some are not. Once you download WordPress you will have to choose a theme in order to build your website. Fiverr is a place where for $5 and up you can hire people for just about anything: logo design, website setup, voiceover, writing, editing…the list is, literally, endless. In modern parlance, these are called “micro jobs.”
Fiverr vendors (called “sellers”) are a mixed bag. Reading their reviews won’t always paint you an accurate picture, because sellers bully buyers into giving them five stars, telling them that if they get even four stars they’ll lose their business. (Competition is fierce, I’ll grant them that.)
Stay away from sellers who pressure you to make a quick decision whether to hire them or not, claiming that they won’t be able to deliver on time unless you commit this second. Do not let them intimidate you.
I paid someone $5 to create a logo for me, and someone else $50 to install my theme and create order out of all the chaos. I was thrilled with the logo, but the $50 guy gave me a theme nobody ever heard of (I think he designed it himself) and is difficult to use. He was also difficult to use, and at the end was downright abusive.
The bottom line, however, is that my site looks great; okay, good enough. And by the way, good enough is good enough; you don’t need great until you start pulling in some serious money. Keep your site clean and easy to use.
- Other bloggers’ recommendations. If I had to do it all over again, I’d use Sue Ann’s website designer. He was willing to set up the site for only a bit more than the Fiverr guy, and he was super-nice and no-pressure. Instead, I was penny-wise and pound-foolish.
Takeaway: insist that your website builder use a known theme – in my opinion, a free one from WordPress, or if you want to spend $60, the Genesis theme from StudioPress.com. Tell him or her that it must be easy and intuitive to use, and something you can maintain yourself after the initial setup, without having to pay someone to update it every time you have a new blog post.
- SumoMe. Simply put, SumoMe helps bloggers grow their email list. It takes less than half a minute to download their free tools (called “applications” or “apps”), and to date I have never used a more intuitive product. Their apps allow you to design and add to your website all sorts of doohickeys people can fill in to subscribe to your blog: bars you can put on top of your pages, opt-in boxes, a “welcome mat” people see as soon as they enter your site, pop-ups that pop up when people are about to leave the site, etc.
SumoMe also offers, inter alia, Google Analytics, and Heat Maps, which keep track of who’s using your site, how they’re using it, how frequently they’re using it, etc.
SumoMe’s support is not bad; I’d give it a 6.5 for the free version. If you upgrade to Pro your questions get answered faster, but at least we freebies get answered. The support team is uneven: a bit too glib and superficial for my taste, and follow-through could be better. Still, you are doing yourself a gigantic disservice if you don’t download their free version.
- My brother-in-law Nathan. I know that you have at least one relative who is a computer genius; now is the time to ask him or her for help. Feeling guilty? Ask yourself how many times you have given free advice/assistance to a friend or family member. We all pay it forward, so suck it up and make that call.
Okay fine, you’re a special snowflake and you have no friends or relatives. Shoot Nathan an email.
Some Final Clichés
I’d be lying if I told you that blogging is easy at the beginning. It does get easier with time, but at first you will be spending loads of time and energy just getting the bare essentials and learning the ropes. You will want to forge ahead before you build your foundation of knowledge; don’t do this. Taking the long way with a steep learning curve will be the shortest way to achieving success in the end.
Acknowledge your self-doubt and bear the discomfort of being way out of your comfort zone, but let neither your doubts nor your discomfort paralyze you.
Reach out to other bloggers in your niche, and even a few not in your niche. Read and comment on their blogs, and contact them with on-topic questions. Start building relationships.
Find blogs that focus on what you’re not yet good at, whether it’s building an email list, writing well, how to make money from a blog, etc. If you choose to take an online course, make sure it includes live help and handholding, not just a Facebook group made up of other students; that’s just the blind leading the blind.
You too can start, maintain, and monetize a blog – even if you’re over forty, you majored in English, or you’ve just crawled out from under a rock. All it takes is a personal goal, a few bucks, and a little moxie.
Deena Nataf is a magazine and book editor with thirty years of experience. She received her B.A. in English about a hundred years ago. Besides her editing, book mentoring, and manuscript evaluation business, she runs www.BulletproofWriting.com, a website and blog that helps writers make their mark on the world through posts on writing techniques, “comedy grammar,” and tips for the writing life. Click here to download her free ebook, “The Completely Biased and Anecdotal Guide to Tools and Vendors for the Technologically Challenged Blogger.”