One and a half years into blogging more seriously and I think it's high time I sat down and got typing up my tips, tricks and experience of blogging. I'm going to cover everything (or as much as I can in one post) from setting up, to getting brand collaborations and what it really means to be a blogger, sharing information about the community itself and what to expect when you first start. I know when I began blogging it was all just for fun, fast forwarding five years and two different blogs later, it's a business and a brand that represents you, which makes things a little more complicated but exciting at the same time. This will definitely be a long one and so I recommend you get comfortable and grab yourself a cuppa before even attempting to read this.

| Blog name, Platform choosing and style of blog |

Before doing anything else, you should spend some time with a notepad and pen in hand focusing on what you want to name your blog, which platform you're going to go with, WordPress or Blogger and what exactly it is you want to write about. Once you've done that you're good to get creating your layouts and blog banners. I personally waited two full years before I made mine into what it is now and the reason for that is because I didn't know if I wanted to really invest in it, or keep it as a hobby. I bought my blog design from Kotryna Bass designs and I created my own LankyLaurasWay header after teaching myself and working on it weeks at a time until I had something I felt really was my style. It's definitely worth learning a little coding and getting acquainted with editing software and free apps online as they will benefit the overall look and presentation of every post you create, but we'll talk pictures more later on, for now, setting up and getting your profile and blog name on the go is top priority. In the beginning the fancy stuff doesn't really matter but I understand the desire to have everything looking perfect from the off, just remember, it's not a necessity!

| Layouts, Alignment & CSS coding |

I'm not the best when it comes to coding but when I spend time studying it, it becomes much easier to do, especially with the help of other experienced bloggers and web designers. When I first started, my blog was all over the place and I just didn't know anything, except for the fact that I wanted to centre everything on my page and so I went on Google to see if there was anything I could do. A few searches later and I discovered tutorials and free coding to use via CSS on Blogger which cuts out all the HTML nonsense that I hate messing with. Of course you can pay someone to do it all for you, which I did after a few years, but when you're just starting out going it alone is actually quite fun, tricky, but fun. The site that helped me a lot with my blog design and alignment was http://xomisse.com/ as she makes everything very easy and talks you through the steps with lots of images. I would've really struggled to get my blog going and looking half decent without her fabulous advice.

Frequency, Scheduling & Editing |

The first thing you should know is that Blogger itself is American and so scheduling and even spelling can become a bit tricky. Words you type in English UK will be underlined a lot of times in the spell checker but if you're unsure of anything throw your work into Microsoft word and use their Spelling and grammar checker instead for accuracy. The time is also based on PDT (Pacific Daylight Time) instead of our GMT (Greenwich Mean Time) so I use  http://www.worldtimebuddy.com/ to get the times just right.

As for how often you should post, I can't really decide that for you. For a long time I kept to a schedule but when time was short and I had to get a post up for that particular day, my standards and quality of work dropped big time! Nowadays, I'm posting more spontaneously and that means I could post once a month or three times a week, I want my blog to succeed by my standards and to do that I need lots of time and absolutely no pressure. On the otherhand what I can tell you is to post regularly in the beginning and always plan ahead. Once you know what it is you want to write about e.g. Beauty, make a list of post ideas and get to working on them with any free time you have. Make them interesting, keep your personality in your words and don't give up, even when it seems to be going nowhere. It is a lot of hard work and very time consuming but if you really love it, your motivation will take over and you'll always be writing about something. The more posts you fire out when you start, the more views and attention you'll get, at least that's how I've found things.

| The Importance of it, creating Icons for your blog & Blogger Chats |

Getting your blog out there and grabbing people's attention can be difficult but it's definitely easier with a few social media platforms promoting it. I set up a fresh Twitter account for mine and an Instagram and although they both serve me well enough, Twitter is the breadwinner for my blog. With regular tweets and post scheduling with the app Buffer, I can gain an extra few hundred reads per day and all from a few words with a picture attached. Find one you love and use it as often as possible to promote the crap out of every new post you create. 

TIP: When setting up any social media try and keep all of your profile pictures the same and with short but direct bios. Tell them where to find your blog, what it's about and always leave a business email in case someone wants to work with you, or know more about your brand.
Creating icons that link to your social media can be just as equally important as having them in my experience. Before I purchased my blog design I got my icons from http://www.carrieloves.com/ she was the only one at the time that offered them for free and in so many different colours. She'll talk you through how to set them up easily as well. Pretty blog social media icons makes all the difference for your readers to find you and your work!

Last but not least let's talk about the blogger chats. These are discussions on twitter that can happen several times a week for certain groups of bloggers. There's a chat for beauty, fashion, food and lifestyle writers and getting involved in the chat gains you more recognition and exposure. I personally don't always join these chats as I'm usually too busy, or more truthfully- can't be bothered but when I do the followings go up, I discover new and talented bloggers and I learn a lot more about the blogging community, including brands that are extremely and genuinely supportive of our work (which is a rarity in this business) Try one out and see how it goes, you've got nothing to lose, just remember to use one of these hashtags according to the chats!


| Equipment & Editing |

When I first started years ago I used the little 5MP camera on my phone and for the past year I used a digital compact 11MP (MP = megapixel) camera from Fujifilm. However, I'm saving to purchase a new camera with a higher quality picture resolution and yet is still basic for me to handle. I don't see myself ever needing an £500+ camera but then again my blog isn't my career (yet!) and I'm still in the beginner level of this game with few followers. It all depends on what you want, but what you actually need in reality is a lot less than you think, believe me!

To create my pictures I've used chopping boards, bowls and lids of storage boxes, as well as bedding as backdrops. I've used the bathtub, my small chest of drawers, mirrors and lots of other crazy things to add something different to the picture and create an illusion of a bright and different background for my pictures, I get so creative and I love it. I buy lots of fake flowers and small trinkets from charity shops to add a little something extra to my pictures too. Use whatever you have and never forget that back garden for plenty of light to improve picture quality. Shoving furniture under your bedroom window to get as much light as possible never fails and arranging your products in certain ways can be sometimes better than anything else. Play around with your angles and get to know what you like and what you want from your pictures. Just have fun and don't take it too seriously.

Taking pictures can be ridiculously time consuming and then adding on the hours of editing, but with the right software and practice, the editing time can become next to nothing. I adore editing anything, videos and pictures included, I just love spending time creating content altogether and seeing my vision come to fruition. But I haven't got the time or money to faff around with Photoshop so I use the online sites Fotor and Picmonkey to increase brightness or add an effect to my images. They are the best two I've found for easiness. I highly recommend Fotor, as it comes with the little curves tool that you only get with Photoshop, which really brighten photos on a dull day. Overall, both of these sites are incredible for editing.

| PR & Getting Work |

Working with brands and receiving PR packages can be an exciting thing, especially when it's a well-known company that offers products you genuinely like. However, one thing that is most important to remember is that they are not gifts or presents, they are a job and most of the time, long hours of work and you should be paid for it. After all, you wouldn't turn up and do a day's work in the office and refuse payment in exchange for a bottle of fake tan or a voucher, would you? I'm not saying you should constantly ask for money or charge ridiculous amounts for that matter but just remember that if a brand has reached out to you and wants to work with you, you are obviously of value to them, so don't be shy in telling them you charge a fee for the workload. After all they're getting free advertisement that they know they wouldn't get anywhere else and would have to pay hundreds of pounds for magazines and newspapers. The hours of photography and brainstorming ideas for the writing all add up and a little pocket money for that work is better than nothing. It's all business whether or not you choose to charge money for the work you do and you should always keep that in mind, as there are only too many brands who will use and abuse your blog if you let them.

TIP: Take care of your readers and be honest with them about everything, tell them if the product has been sent for review or if the post is sponsored. Always tell them at either the beginning of the post or at the bottom so they know, after all, it is legally required of you to tell people if you've been paid to review something on your blog now anyway so keep yourself right and your readers and everything will be grand!

When sending an email to a company who you'd like to collaborate with, I think it's best to be professional in your mannerisms with a hint of your own personality. Tell them why you would make a great collaboration and be willing to provide them with the necessary information such as your blog stats. Be sure to mail them with gratitude if you get the job, again when your products arrive and once your post is live on your website too, always keep them in the loop as to what's going on. If you get a reply that isn't what you had hoped for handle it with maturity and move on to the next group of brands you want to contact.

TIP: Be friendly, be professional but be honest and set the ground rules with brands wanting to collaborate before reviewing or writing anything.

Another amazing thing to do is to get a media pack set up and attach it to every email you send or get from companies who want to work with you. This should contains a little bio about you and your blog, where you're based, your statistics and perhaps a few of your best pictures attached to show what you can do. I read an awesome post on how to create one from http://www.kotrynabass.com/ the same girl who designed my blog and I've gained more work by just adding this to my emails. Brands like numbers, big numbers for the exposure, so when you're just starting out, be patient with the disappointing replies. It all takes time but you'll soon see the value of having a media pack over time and as the numbers go up, so will the amount of brands who will want to collaborate with you.

The Blogger Programme and The Bloggers Hangout are excellent places to get started with brand collaborating. Although The Blogger Programme has changed lately and brands are now looking bloggers with 1,000's of views and followers, which makes it harder to get work. However, The Bloggers Hangout is in my opinion much better. When I first started I had over 6 brand collaborations within 3 months, with incredible brands who I'm still rather fond off today. With The Blogger Programme I had 3 collaborations in one year but I'm so grateful for all the opportunities I was given and this blog of mine would be nothing without any of the wonderful brands, big and small that I've collaborated with in the past year and a half. Try them and let me know how you get on.

| Deciding if it's a business or a hobby |

A few last points I would like to make before I end this rather long post is that it's really important for you to decide whether or not your blog is going to become a business or be just a fun little hobby for you, expressing your passions in life. If you want to make it your job, then you've got to be prepared to put in a lot of hours and spare time to create a place people want to come to, that brands will want to advertise and where you will enjoy doing all that hard work. Having a clear definition of what it is you want from it all will benefit you in the long run. When I started I had no intention or even the idea that I could make my blog my full-time job, now I know that it's a possibility I find myself working harder just in case but I do what I do first and foremost because I adore writing and photography and sharing my passions with the online world is strangely exciting and so much fun to do. For me, right now my blog is a small business that's constantly growing but my love of just doing a simple post for myself hasn't left me either, so I like to think I have the best of both worlds and the two sides I make into one because I enjoy it so much either with lots of collaborations or few.

Whilst I'm certainly not a top blogger and don't have massive followings, I have had a lot of experiences with brands and blogging and these few points are literally just scraping the surface of what it's all about.

Once you start, you'll learn so much more about it, the good - meeting new brands, attending events, getting your blog recognised and making friends with other bloggers and brand creators. The bad - the demands crashing codes, crappy picture days, battling dull weather and the seriously ugly side of it - jealously from other bloggers, theft, blackmail, dodgy emails, aggressive reproaches for not saying certain things about a product and losing all your hard work, but it's all so much fun and that's why I do it.

For me the good far outways the bad and the second it's the other way around I won't do it anymore because I don't need that kind of negativity in my life. I love my blog so much and although I'm so critical of it, it's taught me so much, brought me amazing opportunities, brand collabs and a whole lot of support. I choose to see the good and I deal with negativity as and when it comes.

I hope you find this guide helpful and I know I haven't covered absolutely everything but I've covered the things I would've found useful when I first started because I literally didn't have a clue about anything. I spent hours researching and days learning about coding (which I still don't understand) to the point where I couldn't physically sit any longer I was in that much pain lol (we had such a crappy computer chair it felt like you were broke in two after a few hours in it)

Feel free to ask if you have any questions about anything involving blogging, brand collaborations or photography, as I'm only too happy to share what I've learnt with anyone starting out. I'm on Twitter quite a lot, so give me a shout over there, if not here. I wish you every success with your new blog and I hope you love it as much as I do.

Laura x 


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