“If you want to learn something, read about it. If you want to understand something, write about it. If you want to master something, teach it.”
– Yogi Bhajan
There are plenty of blog posts out there under this same title. What I’m about to tell you has been told thousands of times over. (Google “how to start a blog” and count the 3,670,000,000 results). So why am I writing this?
Over the past few months, I’ve helped a handful of people build their own website, blog, or online portfolio, so it seems that people could still use the help. It’s easier to ask someone you trust (me) versus digging around the internet like a hungry little hamster. So if you’re considering creating a website soon, I hope this post will help you determine if you should, and help guide you through the next steps.
Less than a year ago I started this website. And while it was far from rocket science, it did take time and I’ve learned a lot. I’ll try to cut through the B.S., shoot you straight on my recommendations, and when appropriate, give you options to make an educated decision. I’ll also point you to some of the best blog posts on the topic.
Now before you roll your eyes, crying “Everybody has a blog…” hold the phone. I can probably count on two hands the number of people I know (like know-know, not internet-know) who have and maintain their own blog or website. Everyone has an email address. Almost everyone is on Facebook. Few people have an actual blog or website.
Which is fine, because a blog isn’t for everyone.
Should You Start a Blog or Website?
There are questions you can ask yourself when determining if you should start a blog or website:
- Are you trying to build your personal brand? Your company’s brand?
- Are you in the public eye (or want to be in the public eye) and need to manage your online reputation?
- Are you an artist, designer, photographer or writer and want to showcase your work and talent?
- Do you want to document a big event, a personal journey, or start a movement?
- Do you have something to sell? A story to share?
- Do you just want to start writing more?
If you answered ‘Yes’ to at least one of those, I wholeheartedly suggest starting a blog or website.
Why It’s Important
Connection & Credibility. Personally, GiveLiveExplore.com has continued to reap rewards and open doors for me, in ways I never anticipated. I’ve (virtually) met people from Brazil, India, Australia, and all over Europe through my website and my blog posts. I’ve physically met up with random readers (or friends of readers) in Riga, London, New York, and Chicago. I’ve even had a few dates through my website. It’s become part of my identity.
My website helped me connect with some of my favorite authors and entrepreneurs: Paulo Coelho, Guy Kawasaki, Susan Cain, Chris Guillebeau, and Gary Vaynerchuk, to name a few. It helped me secure a press pass for a horse race in Ireland and free concert tickets in Chicago. Most recently, I’ve been chosen to participate in Let’s Blog Abruzzo, a travel blogging conference in Italy in June (check out ‘Speakers’!). None of this could have been possible without GiveLiveExplore.com.
You could argue that Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn accomplish the same thing, but there’s something about directing people to YourName.com or YourCompany.com that offers social proof and credibility that social networks lack. They’re good add-ons, but can’t replace your own website. Something about having your own website says: I’m serious about this (whatever it is you’re doing). Comparing this to real estate, building your own website is like owning a house — it’s an asset that will appreciate and work for you if you put time into it. Relying on Facebook/Twitter/Social Media is like renting a house — you’re living comfortably, but you’re just helping Facebook/etc. build their own assets, not yours.
Keeping Your Parallel Identity in Check. Aside from all that fun stuff, let’s talk about our online identities. We all have an identity that exists in parallel (whether we admit it or not) on the internet. Google your name. It’s futile to deny it; it’s imperative to manage it. At the very least, a personal blog or website helps you manage your online identity. And at the very best, it can develop into your business card of sorts and a way for you to influence the world in a positive way.
Self-Realization. As I mentioned a couple months ago, the written word changed my life. In the years leading up to my recent trip through Europe, I started to notice that all of the people I admired, from Benjamin Franklin to Tim Ferriss to Albert Einstein to Viktor Frankl, all had something in common: all were/are writers. Yet none of them were writers by profession. They became writers by writing because they had something to share or wanted to understand something within themselves. I have to believe they subscribed to Yogi Bhajan’s philosophy “If you want to understand something, write about it.”
Writing allows your thoughts and beliefs (and in turn, you yourself) to live on and impact the world long after you’re physically gone. Writing helps you understand yourself and the world. Creating a website or blog is one way to accomplish this. Tying it back to my own journey through Europe, writing was the key facilitator in my personal growth.
Without Further Ado, Let’s Make Websites!
[Please note, some of the links below are affiliate links and if you click on them and purchase something, I’ll get a small percentage. A commission, if you will. Unfortunately it’s nothing big. But every bit helps fund my self-employed (see: unemployed) lifestyle.]
Step 0: To Self-Host or Not Self-Host?
When creating a website or blog, you have the option to create a self-hosted website, or let a site like Blogger or WordPress or Tumblr host your site. It’s the difference between MatthewTrinetti.com (self-hosted) and MatthewTrinetti.blogspot.com (not self-hosted, Blogger hosted). My answer: Self-Host. If you’re serious about creating a website and intend to direct friends/customers/clients/media to it, self-hosting is the answer. GiveLiveExplore.blogspot.com just doesn’t have the same ring to it.
Steps 1-10ish: Set Up Your Website (in 20 minutes?!?)
There are plenty of options, but long story short, I suggest self-hosting, using BlueHost to obtain your domain name and as your hosting provider, and installing WordPress to build your website. Each day, I become more and more impressed with WordPress’s capability. Unless you’re building the next Facebook or Twitter, WordPress will probably work just fine for your website.
It turns out super-blogger and platform builder Michael Hyatt suggests Bluehost and WordPress as well. What makes life infinitely easier is that he’s put together a quick and easy video that walks you through the process. Yahtzee!
I see no need to reinvent the wheel. Here’s the video:
Steps 11-Infinity. Maintaining Your Website & Sticking With It
What Michael Hyatt and these other blogging gurus can’t neatly package up into a single blog post is this: keeping up with a blog or website is a sonofabitch.
Comparing this to writing, I equate Steps 0-10 to deciding to write a book, buying the pen and paper (or the computer), and sitting down to do it. Yes, those are a huge mental steps — CONGRATULATIONS. But the real work, the hard work, has just begun. The hardest part isn’t starting a website. It’s maintaining it and sticking with it. So in other words, it’s just like anything else worth doing in life.
On the technical side, I think the key to maintaining a good website is having a good WordPress theme that you love to use and like the way it looks. Themes can cost money (usually $30 – $100), but they’re often worth the one-time fee. Take your time and look around theme websites. My favorite theme sites are:
However even with the best theme, a great deal of time will be spent massaging your site to get it the way you want it to look. Sometimes that involves digging into the html code and tweaking things. Sometimes it involves posting questions to WordPress forums. Sometimes it involves paying someone to help you.
So what’s the best way to learn the ins-and-outs of WordPress? Get your hands dirty. You may not like that answer, but I think you’ll learn best by poking around WordPress’s functionality. Learn by doing. I didn’t take any tutorials, I just sat down with an idea of a website in my mind and on paper, and got to work. It’ll take patience. But if you take pride in learning a new skill and the pain that comes with it, it won’t seem so bad.
If you are looking for WordPress tutorials, I suggest WP101.com. I haven’t used it, but it seems to come highly recommended.
On the tactical side, I have a few suggestions to help you mentally keep with it. But just keep in mind, it will be like maintaining a diet, breaking an old vice, or building a new habit: It’s gonna hurt, it ain’t gonna be fun, and you’ll want to pull your hair out every other minute.
- Keep a publishing schedule. I’m doing terribly at this now, but while I was traveling, I’d aim to publish a new post every Thursday. I missed some weeks, but it helped me hammer out 45 blog posts.
- Make someone (or multiple someones) hold you accountable. Start blogging or creating your business website while another friend is simultaneously creating theirs. You can hold each other accountable each week. Better yet, send an email to 100+ people announcing you’re starting a blog/website and ask them to sign up for an email list. That’s what I did. And boy was that scary. But it held my feet to the fire to keep writing, lest I risked looking like a flake and a fool. Even if no one cared, I felt an obligation to post regularly.
- Define your purpose (and make sure it’s one you really care about). This probably should be #1. But if there’s a grand purpose and a worthwhile reason for creating your site and writing, your follow-through probability increases to about 34.195%. If you can’t really define your purpose, I give your site about a 2% shot of making it past post #3.
- If you’re really serious about this, I highly recommend writer/traveler/entrepreneur Chris Guillebeau’s free manifesto 279 Days to Overnight Success. Chris goes into marketing and more. Frankly, it’s something I need to revisit myself.
But There Are Alternatives
I’ve given my suggestions, but there are alternatives out there. Here are a few.
Domain/Hosting Alternatives to BlueHost:
- 1and1.com – I haven’t used them for hosting yet, but I have purchased domain names from 1and1. They come highly recommended by some A-list bloggers, so I’ll include it here.
- Fatcow.com – I’m actually using FatCow for GiveLiveExplore right now. No major problems with it and the cost was competitive, but I’m going to switch this over to my BlueHost account when my contract ends.
- GoDaddy.com. – GoDaddy spends a lot of marketing dollars to make sure you know who they are, so they’re not usually the cheapest. I’ve used them, but I’m not likely to use them again in the future.
Website Building Alternatives to WordPress:
- SquareSpace – SquareSpace offers beautifully designed templates that are easy to use. My friend Sophia just built the site Orange Heart Fund in honor of our friend Shannon. I literally just found out about SquareSpace yesterday, so I plan on learning more.
- Weebly – Weebly is another platform that’s super easy to use. It’s not as robust as WordPress, but it may satisfy your simple website needs. Very little tech savviness is needed.
- Tumblr – I haven’t used Tumblr much, but for barebones blogging and sharing of words and media, this may be all you need.
To Sum It All Up
If you feel inclined to write publicly, to build a website, or to share a personal journey — do it. Creating a website can be easy. It can also be challenging, depending on your technical aptitude and patience. Either way, the hardest part is the mental aspect of sticking with it. But I guarantee if you do, you will not regret it. Self-investment is always worth the time and effort.
And if you need help along the way, let me know. I’m available for hire 🙂