Beginner's guide to blogging tools and resources

Here's a list of all the tools and resources you need to get your personal blog off the ground

These days it seems like everyone ― and their mother ― has a blog. So perhaps it’s time for you to start one up, too! As a companion to our beginner’s guide to parent blogging, we’ve compiled this list of all the resources you need (and more) to make the experience of having your own personal blog fun, simple and perhaps even a little adventurous.

Photo sources
While it’s best to use your own photos as much as possible, since they’ll engage your readers most, sometimes you’ve got to borrow. And it’s really important to borrow responsibly. Here are some of our favourite sources for free blog photos:

Microsoft Clipart: This is a great resource if you need simple illustrations and images.

Flickr: Go into the advanced search area of Flickr, check the “Creative Commons-licensed content” box, and search away for free photos. We love giving amateur photographers the chance to shine on our site!

CreativeCommons.org: This is a one-stop image resource that lets you search for useable photos among various sites ― the best of which are Flickr, Google and Wikimedia Commons.

Note: Make sure you mind your photos’ attribution rules. Always credit the photographer and source, and (unless otherwise indicated in the attribution rules) don’t edit or manipulate photos unless they’re your own.

Editing your photos: Want to edit your photos? The following sites let you resize them, crop them, distort them, add text  and more: Pixlr, Picnik, PicResize and Photobucket.

Blogging platforms
For personal blogs, you really can’t beat Blogger and WordPress. Both are easy to use, and they offer lots of fun tools, learning and support resources, and a wealth of attractive themes and design options.

Designs
Both Blogger and WordPress have beautiful templates from which to choose for your blog design. Or, cruise around some of your favourite blogs and find out who designed them (usually by scrolling down to the bottom of their homepage and/or sidebar). Be sure to go to several designers to compare prices, take a look at their portfolios, and to see how well you jive with them by contacting them and asking questions. You may even want to contact your favourite bloggers to ask about their experience with the designer.

Conferences
Ready to get the word out about your blog, or simply to meet other bloggers and learn about the craft straight from the experts? Here are some of the blogging conferences you should know about: Blissdom Canada; BlogHer; Mom 2.0; Dad 2.0; Type-A Parent; Casecamp; PodCamp.

 

Taking it to the next level
Once you’ve created a significant amount of content and you’re comfortable in your blogging platform (you may even know some HTML code by now!), it may be time to take things to the next level.

Monetize: Ready to make some money from your blog? Check out some of the well-monetized blogs you frequent to get a sense of what your ad fees should be, based on your own readership and what you have to offer, and block out some space on your sidebar for ad boxes, if you’d like to go that route. If you don’t want to manage ads or advertisers on your own, explore such popular ad networks as BlogHer, Google Adsense, or B5.

You may even want to get your blog (or parts of your blog) sponsored. Let sites like Mom Central Canada or She’s Connected connect you with the brands that suit you best. To learn more about how brands and mom bloggers are working together, check out Shanda Deziel’s “Guide to mom bloggers and marketing.”

And don’t forget your audience in all this. Remember who you are as a blogger and what your “brand” is all about, and try to ensure that the ads you choose reflect the values your audience has come to love you for — or at least that they don’t conflict with one another.

Note: Most bloggers only make enough to cover their hosting fees. But don’t despair! Treat your blog as a portfolio, and use it to sell your talent. Some bloggers are getting sweet salaries for what they do, securing paid freelance writing gigs, and getting free products and vacation spots to review.

Buying your own domain: Once you’ve established your blog, it’s a good idea to buy your own domain ― first, to reserve your site name (so no one else takes it!), and ultimately to use the domain. You can begin using the domain by easily creating what’s called a “redirect” to your Blogger or WordPress blog.

Indeed, there’s nothing better than finally, for example, omitting the ole “.wordpress.com” from your blog’s site address (URL). Having a straight “dot com” URL also gives visitors the impression that you mean business and, perhaps, that you’re ready to do business. Buying your own domain involves a small annual fee ($20-$30). Check out a site like register.com, see if your domain name is available, and grab it!

Securing a host: Had enough of the URL redirecting and want to take your blog even further? Host your blog yourself. (Hosting refers to the server your website data will be stored on.)

Again, go to some of your favourite blogs. Scroll down to the very bottom and see whom their blogs are “hosted by.” Compare some prices, talk to other bloggers, research the best hosts online ― and, decide, for example, do you want a big hosting company (which may have a great track record and unbeatable prices) or a smaller local one (which may offer the best security and support)? See what works for you.

Blogging Canon
Looking for some inspiration from top mom bloggers? Here are just a few of the most well-known, “canonical” mom bloggers out there to help get you in the know, pump you up and show you how it’s done:

Dooce Heather Armstrong famously lost her job because of her blog, and she went on to make a lucrative career out it. Dooce is one of the most famous blogs on the Internet.

Mom 101 In addition to sharing her experience of motherhood, and famously wagging a finger at what she’s dubbed “The Sanctimommy,” Liz Gumbinner is the expert on how blogs and brands intersect, and how they should intersect.

Her Bad Mother When you think of Canadian mom bloggers, Catherine Connors is typically at the top of the list. A self-proclaimed “recovering academic,” she’s funny, witty and intelligent, and she refuses to hold back on the most controversial of topics (despite notorious run-ins with trolls).

PHD in Parenting Annie Urban is an extremely well-researched breastfeeding, parent and baby advocate, a feminist, and an activist who isn’t afraid to stand up against large corporations. In addition to all that serious stuff, she shares her own experience of motherhood in often funny and heartwarming ways.

The Redneck Mommy Tanis Miller is Canada’s blogging sweetheart. She writes candidly about her life, unbearable loss, adoption, special needs (or children who are “differently-abled“), parenting, marriage and more. Somehow, she manages to both make us cry big crocodile tears and, at other times, laugh out loud.

The Bloggess The most wildly funny mom blogger on the Internet, Jenny Lawson’s been making us laugh for years.

Of course, do check out our own fabulous Today’s Parent blogs!