Two people beavered away in two countries over several weeks to come up with a professional design for my very first blog - me and our Kiwi friend, graphic designer Kate Harwood.
Kate's been designing for the Internet for about 15 years working for advertising agencies and web design companies but she's a social media recluse which is equally eccentric and admirable.
She probably hadn't read a blog before I told her about mine and in the line of duty went on Twitter for the first time to see what was going on.
I needed a Twitter background. Now that's what I call a friend.
The first blog design was thrown together in about 30 minutes as an experiment in blogging.
14 months, and many thousands of subscribers and readers later, it was time to design the blog properly and create some unique branding.
My loyal readers were shocked by the huge changes.
The Branding and Web Site Brief
When it comes to web design I'm fussy, but at least I knew what I wanted. Here's part of the brief I wrote before Kate started work. It was a four page document which began like this:
Site Goals: To inspire and tell people on how to live their dream. To sell products such as e-books and courses.
Target Audience: 50/50 gender split. Over 50% of visitors come from the USA and Canada, almost 20% from Australia and NZ, only 5% from the UK.
Site Design: Futuristic, modern and sleek. Clean and simple without being boring.
I want to give people the feeling of excitement and passion and offer a website they'll look forward to visiting. I've visited a lot of blogs and there's a gap in the market for this type of design.
Many blogs look quite uniform and uninspiring. I want to create a design that's unique while also being user-friendly and achieving my goals. I want to make the blog easy to navigate and make the archives easy to explore for new readers because that's a common design flaw with blogs and a useful service for blog readers.
How Blogging Changed My Life
Successful Blogging has been a lifetime in the making.
Just 14 months before I wrote this I didn't even have a blog and had never read one myself. I started blogging as an experiment and to launch my writing career.
I love to travel, read, and walk. I try to take risks regularly and do something scary everyday. I've been blessed to travel quite a bit, having dedicated my adult life to achieving my goals of travel, writing, having a family and living near the water.
This blog is the accumulation of all that yet it exists for one reason ~ because of the readers who come here and everyone who leaves comments and tells other people about it by email, on Facebook or on Twitter.
It's a collaboration of people from all over the world, people who are determined to live the best life they can, achieve their goals and be surrounded by other positive-thinking and like-minded people.
Blogging has changed my life. A few years I was an unknown writer. Now I've got happy readers all over the world.
I set up my first blog to put myself in the hot spot, commit to my writing and create a hot spot for positive change. I've achieved that goal and more.
I've thrived in the hot spot and I hope you will too. Together we're a team that changes the world starting with ourselves. I'm delighted that you're part of the Successful Blogging team.
Blogging's a great way to launch a career or business, meet like-minded people, learn more about yourself, make a journal or give yourself a creative outlet.
Call me a zealot but I really think everyone should have a blog. There are so many potential benefits.
(NOTE: If you'd like a PDF of this list, check out the end of the blog post for a free checklist!)
51 Steps to Launch (or Relaunch) Your Hot Blog
Pick a topic. Decide what you want to blog about.
Make sure your topic isn't too narrow or you'll get bored with it.
Narrow the focus, too wide a focus will get people confused.
Come up with a great idea to showcase your skills and knowledge.
Work out your unique selling point, even if you're not actually selling anything.
Decide how to explain to other people what you do.
Define your goalsclearly.
Write them down in most two sentences.
Come up with a slogan that sums up in as few words as possible what people will find on your blog.
Brainstorm for sub-categories on your blog.
Divide the information you'll be sharing via blog posts into chunks of information to make it easier for readers to find what they're looking for.
Work out what static information you need on your blog ~ for example about, contact and legal.
Sort out what your values are and how you can share those with your readers ~ for example adventurous, caring and down to earth.
Brainstorm possible names for your blog.
Find a suitable domain name - not too long and easy to spell.
Buy the domain name.
Embrace branding. Branding has a bad reputation but it's unavoidable and strong branding is vital for online success. First impressions count. People will be judging you and your blog from the second they set eyes on your photo or website.
Decide how you want people to describe you ~ for example knowledgeable, off beat, stylish, witty.
Work out how you can convey that in your branding.
Choose a photo of you that you can use on your blog and all social media.
Be consistentwith your reputation and chose a photo that suits your branding reputation ~ for example friendly, trustworthy, professional and interesting.
Remain consistent in everything you do and say online. Inconsistency is confusing and will scare people away.
Check out some websites and work out what you like and dislike about them.
If you're creating an online business invest in it and outsource jobs you can't do. Unless you're an experienced project manager, Internet technician, writer, graphic designer, business planner, marketer and branding expert you'll need help in some of those areas if you want to get good results fast.
You may need a separate graphic designer who specializes in logos and branding as well as one to design the web interface.
Write a detailed brief for your graphic and web designers outlining your goals, target audience, site design guidelines, topic, categories, sub-categories and static pages in as much detail as possible.
Consider the page layout too. People read from top to bottom and left to right. Make sure the most important parts of your blog are immediately visible to people. For example, on my blog my main goal is to let new readers know what the blog's about and get them to subscribe. The first place people's eyes will fall is on the logo and slogan top left. The second place they'll look is top right.
Choose your web designer carefully, It's an unregulated industry. Try to pick someone who's qualified and experienced. Look at some of the sites they've designed and spend time exploring them. Do they look good? Are they easy to navigate? Do they have clear calls to action like contact us now, subscribe or buy now links?
Outsource jobs you can't do well. The best recommendation for choosing people to help you is often word of mouth. If you can't find a good recommendation ask for clients you can call to speak to for a reference.
Relationships are important too. Choose someone you like and trust. You should be working with them closely so it might as well be fun and rewarding.
Trust your gut. If you're not 100% sure find someone else. It may take time but that's better than spending money on something sub-standard that doesn't get you results.
Be ready to spend time on all of this. If could take months but it's worth planning it properly and avoiding costly mistakes and wasted time.
Hand over the job to your chosen experts and give them some creative freedom. You chose them carefully. Now you need to trust them.
Refine the first design until you're 100% happy with it. Keep testing and tweaking. No matter how carefully you plan there are always some elements that have been overlooked or need refining.
Develop the blog in a test area so you can play around with it before it goes live. Actually clicking on links and imagining you're a reader looking for certain information will help. For example, test how fast can people find your email address? Your best-selling product? Your Twitter page?
Watch your language and check the wording. Does the language you use show your branding and company values? Does it speak to your target audience? For example if my target audience was students I'd use different words than if I was trying to appeal to baby boomers.
Have a soft launch. There might be problems to begin with. Put the new site up and try it out. Ask some friends to test it for you on different computers and browsers. A good web designer should do this for you.
Make sure your blog isn't marked as private and submit it to the major search engines.
Get your technical expert to sort out the widgets and install the essential plug-ins like Akismet which will catch your spam comments and the tweet me so people can easily tweet your post.
Put up your first blog post. You can use your target goals, target audience and company values to get you started.
Work out a posting schedule of a minimum of once a week and stick to it. This will get you in the habit and make you commit to your blog.
Brainstorm for post topics and come up with some eye-catching headlines that will make people want to read them.
Start networking and find a blogging buddy who will keep you going when times get tough.
Commit to a time frame and set goals. I set myself the goal of 1000 subscribers after one year of blogging and got there even though I changed my domain name and topic three times which really set me back.
Interact with your readers- reply to their comments, read their reaction and show them you care.
Sign up for Twitter and Facebook. Make sure you keep your branding consistent across all platforms.
Network with other bloggers who are starting out, people who've been at it for a while and the top bloggers in your niche. Retweet their links, comment on their posts. Just let them know you're around and interested.
Be authentic. It shouldn't take practice but it does. Your confidence will grow as you learn to share confidences with your readers, trust each other and feel safe being yourself. That's the person people will love best.
Have fun with it.
Just start blogging, learn as you go. You've set up a strong foundation, the rest will happen naturally over time.
Celebrate. Have a launch party and invite all your new blogging friends.