I get emails from readers all the time asking for advice about starting a blog. Usually, I jot down a jumble of thoughts and throw in a few links to other blogs who have written similar posts and call it a day, but today I want to share a more in depth and real answer. 
I created Merrick’s Art six and a half years ago, and during the last two years I’ve made it into my career, so with a bit of experience under my belt (and a lot of trial and error), I want to share with you what I think are six things you need as a blogger to become successful long term.

1. Choose a focus

When you’re starting a blog, the most important thing to think about is what do I want to write about? Most people are passionate about something, so start there. If you pick something you’re good at and passionate about, you’ll have long term content.

I’ve found that most successful blogs have a focus, and they stick to it — DIY, Style, Parenting, Cooking, etc. This doesn’t mean you’re limited to only this kind of content, but it gives you an umbrella under which your content should fall, which gives your blog a clear direction, and your readers a more specific purpose for finding and sticking around on your blog. If you try to fit every topic into one blog, or you change your direction often, it’s confusing for your readers, hard for your blog to be easily searchable on the web, and hard to keep all the different content cohesive.

For me, my umbrella is Fashion Blogging, under which falls style, shopping, sewing, kids style, and some DIY, and I try really hard to keep all my content very focused on these topics.

2. Be true to yourself

Here’s the reality: I’m a mom of two little boys and I buy a lot of my clothes at Target. That’s who I am, and I’m not going to put on a facade about it. I write about everyday kind of style and projects because I’m an everyday type of girl.

If you want your readers to trust you and relate to you, be yourself, whomever that may be. There’s a place for every kind of person and every kind of blogger in this world, so don’t try to be someone you’re not, just to try to fit in. As a blogger, it’s easy to look at other bloggers and want what they have, or want your blog to be exactly like theirs, but if that kind of blog is not who you are, it’s not going to work and you’ll spend all your time comparing and never measuring up.

There’s absolutely nothing wrong with looking to other bloggers and women as inspiration — in fact, I think it’s fantastic and strengthening to have role models — but make sure those women you are trying to emulate are bringing out your honest true self. That’s what really matters.

3. Set Realistic Goals
Setting goals for your blog is a great idea as you’re starting out, as well as through your blogging career. It’s easy to get caught up in the day to day work and forget what you’re trying to achieve long-term, so write your goals out and review them often.

However, make sure your goals are realistic. There are a lot of bloggers out there who make a living off of their blogs, so I know a lot of people who start a blog expecting to make their millions any minute. But the reality is that most bloggers don’t make any money on their blogs for quite a while. There are the occasional blogs that take off very quickly, but for the most part most blogs (including my own) don’t make more than a few pennies per hour for a long time. Choose something you love to do, because you’ll be doing it for free for a while.

Same for your followers — don’t get frustrated when your growth is slow. Make sure you’re doing everything you can to get yourself out there (share your content on social media, pin your posts on Pinterest, collaborate with other bloggers and companies who will share your content on their platforms, etc), and as long as your growth is steadily growing, count that as an accomplishment. Don’t be too hard on yourself — just do the best you can.

4. Aesthetic is everything.

invitations from the summer floral affair I co-hosted this summer // photo by sara walk

When I started blogging, everyone was starting a blog and was experimenting. Blog designs were sub-par and photo quality was horrible, but no one really knew the difference. Now it’s a whole different world — aesthetic is everything. The reality is that you cannot have a successful blog anymore unless you have beautiful aesthetic. I mean, just take one look at pinterest and my point is proven — people pin and love to look at beautiful things. Yes OF COURSE, what’s inside is so important, but it’s the surface beauty of your blog that helps them take that second glance 😉

Learn how to use your camera (or hire a photographer), do some research on staging, posing, or design. Make your blog design beautiful and aesthetically pleasing. Your time and research will be worth your time because when people find your blog they will be instantly attracted and want to see more.

5. Connect

from Alt Summit, January 2014

Making connections with companies and other bloggers is, in my experience, the number one way to grow your blog.  A few years ago I made a list of companies I wanted to work with, and one by one I reached out, either searching for their PR person’s contact online, or by calling the company directly and asking for it, then emailing them with my media kit and asking if they’d be interested in working together. Nine times out of ten I heard back and got a yes.

Make a media kit —  include images from your blog that represent what you do, mention companies you’ve worked with, include your statistics (monthly page views, unique visitors, age range of your readers, social media followers, etc), and tell a little about yourself. Mine is a 6 page PDF, and it’s easy to send out, or print into a little booklet to give out at events. Business cards are always a great thing to have to pass out when needed — include on them your blog URL, your name, your email, and your social media handle.

Which leads to…go to events. Stepping from my computer to create real, tangible relationships (and strengthen existing ones) has been invaluable in my success.  Yes, social media is great for making connections, but the times when I really learn and gain blog-changing advice is when I have face to face interactions. Go to events, conferences, parties, and get togethers with other bloggers. I honestly learn more just from spending time with other bloggers than I could from any class. We share stories about working with companies, share tips on what has worked for us (everything from balancing work and home life to what hashtags drive the most traffic to your social media), we swap company contacts, and we relish in having friends who do the same crazy work that we do. It’s empowering!
One of my favorite blogger event memories was a night at Alt Summit at the beginning of this year when my three roommates and I sat with Hilary from Dean Street Society in our fancy party attire on the floor in the lobby of the Grand America and talked til two in the morning. I learned a ton in those few hours, and it was a crazy night that I’ll always remember.  Don’t feel like you have to go to every event or conference or party out there — because you don’t. But going to a couple of events (small and large) every year will make a big difference. You could read a million posts about how to grow your blog, gain exposure, and be successful on the internet, but it’s not until you have real connections and real conversations that you really, truly learn.
6. Support System
And my final piece of advice to long term success is to have a support system. For me, blogging is incredibly fun and rewarding, and I feel incredibly blessed to be able to make a living from it and do it mostly from my home, but balancing my work life with my life as a wife, mom, and homemaker is currently my biggest challenge. It’s a lot of late nights, and a lot of stressful deadlines, and a fair amount of guilt that I’m not managing it all as well as I should. There are moments of frustration, loneliness, and feeling overwhelmed — moments of comparison and feelings of inadequacy.  There are also cruel people who crawl the internet who try to tear people down with hurtful words, and without a strong support system it’s easy to crumble under the weight of all of it.
Starting a blog can be a really personal thing, and sitting behind a computer typing away is very individual, but I truly believe that in order to have long term success, you have to have a support system. Not just someone who reads your blog, or gives you a pat on the back and a thumbs up every once in a while, but a true supporter. For me, it’s my husband. Six years ago, neither of us knew anything about blogging, let alone that you could make a career out of it, but we’ve grown together in this and he puts almost as much research, work, and thought into as I do. He is genuinely excited about my projects and ideas and goals — he pushes me to work harder and pursue my passions, and believes in me even when I don’t believe in myself. That’s a real support system, and it’s honestly crucial to my success. Find someone (even if it’s just one person!) who believes in you and will help you reach your goals.

I hope these tips help as you start your blog! There are a lot of elements that go into a successful blog, but thinking about these things at the beginning will help you have long term success and make your blog the best it can be for you. If you have any other questions, feel free to leave them in the comments!