DOSSIER: Launching Your First Website/Blog

Here we are in February! SNOWCOYOTE the Website launched at the start of the new year and though SNOWCOYOTE the Concept has been around a little while, maintaining a blog and a social media routine is a whole new hustle. This is my first time being serious about establishing a continuous project with no end planned. I predict it will be the thing that requires the most amount of discipline in my life, for now anyway. And even getting here, only four weeks in, wasn't easy.

A few days before the site launched I lost my job. I've got a blog post about that planned- in fact I'm going back and forth between writing that one and this one right now. I think I'll hold off on it for another week or so because I'm not sure how to end it yet. Right now, on the job front, I've got a lot of potential irons in the fire, but for the most part, I'm still right in the middle of that story. Life is uncertain but at least I have you, Dear Reader. [winks at you] [you get uncomfortable]

Here's a peek at some of the metrics for the first 30 days of SNOWCOYOTE.

Maybe you're a bit baffled at how many people are crazy about making custom Funko dolls. That jump was due to boosting the Facebook post with that link, meaning a couple thousand people who had never heard of SNOWCOYOTE had that sponsored post dropped into their news feed. Thus, I got a few extra views. Facebook post boosts are actually a pretty cost-efficient advertising method. I think I spent $10 on that post.

Like I said, this is my first time really having full control over a brand, its mission, its content, its marketing strategy, its future projections, and all that good jazz. Since I mostly figured it out on my own, that proves you can too, and I want to share how I did it. This isn't so much a tutorial as it is a list of things I did when I launched, so take whatever might be useful to you. 

HOW TO LAUNCH A SNOWCOYOTE

It started when I heard a coworker mention a new phrase that sounded so intriguing to me: "passive income." Smart Passive Income to be more specific- the podcast by Pat Flynn. His story was that he'd been laid off in 2008 and since then he's devoted himself to finding ways to support his family, working for himself, from home, just a few days a week. From there began my new obsession with independent entrepreneurship, made so easy now by this wonderful invention called The Internet.

Decide on your unique offering. Don't fake it.

After all my listening to various podcasts and studying, it boiled down to this for me: First, you need a following. And you need to do right by them, because people always know when they're being manipulated. What should develop is a symbiotic kind of relationship between you and your followers: Create valuable content, and they will support you to keep making it. There isn't really a get-rich-quick trick to it. Do you have a unique perspective on any topic, due to your culture, your experiences, your skills? Maybe you're just super into something. Maybe you just really freaking love owning pet chinchillas. So tell everyone everything you know about owning a pet chinchilla, and people who own chinchillas will eventually come to you for your advice and enthusiasm.

All my life I've been met with the classic artist's struggle of wanting to make cool stuff but also get paid for it. And all my life I've been trying out small ways to do that. I decided that my website will be a place people can go to see what I've learned, and share their experiences as well, since that's the kind of site I'd want to visit.

Buy your domain, host your site.

On what platform will the content be? Common choices are a podcast, a YouTube channel, a blog. Try to keep as much control over the delivery system as possible, because when it comes time to monetize, you won't want to split that with a service or be limited by its offerings. So you should probably start with a website.

I bought my domain with iPage. Mostly because I got my portfolio site's domain with them on a whim one late night in college, hours before a portfolio review. They're pretty inexpensive, have discounts for first-time buyers, and I haven't had any issues with them. Now, I have designed for web, but: I am not a developer. I've used Adobe Muse before but I feel it's more ideal for a brochure kind of site (won't be edited very often.) I needed to be able to update my site quickly and easily, preferably in-browser. Since, as I mentioned, I am a podcast aficionado, I have heard ads for Squarespace almost daily. While their templates aren't totally customizable (unless you buy the developer plan), they are flexible. Someone who has never even heard of HTML/CSS could get a grasp on the interface easily in a couple days. And the template designs are overall very clean and minimal, which is my natural inclination. For $10 a month, I am on board with that.

Start small, but always think of your potential.

Consider your future goals and make sure your platform will accommodate your growth. I want there to be a SNOWCOYOTE store someday. Squarespace offers a business plan for a few dollars more which includes a store hosted by Stripe. A basic Squarespace plan will let you sell one item in a store, so you can try it out before switching to Business. As I built my site, I looked into Stripe, poked around and pretended I was preparing to open my store, just to make sure things would transition smoothly when I got there. I also hope to incorporate some kind of ad revenue source in the future (just enough to help out!), so I made sure there were ways to do that on a Squarespace template.

A quick note on ads: Google AdSense won't approve your site for their program until you have a substantial amount of content already. They want to make sure you're not just going to make a revenue farm (because you shouldn't be!). I've read that 15-20 posts of at least 500 words each is a good minimum for a blog. Focus on creating good content, and don't expect to have ads on your launch day.

I'm always taking notes in my phone, in my sketchbook, in a blog draft, for ideas I want to bring into play down the line. I'm strategizing how I can build a foundation now that will make followers of SNOWCOYOTE excited for what's to come. Like the designs I did for the wallpapers? Maybe those will be in t-shirt form one day. Or stickers. Who doesn't love stickers?

Build your email list. Reward followers who put in extra effort.

Here's one I'm still working on, but I'm told it's essential: build an email list. I wonder sometimes if this is a little more Old School and on its way to being phased out by social media, but the experts still swear by it. If you can get people to sign up for a newsletter, you have them. In the privacy of their inbox, for however brief amount of time, you and your reader will have a one-on-one conversation during which you can tell them anything. So I thought, if Pat Flynn says so, I might as well. MailChimp was another service I heard about through my podcasts and it's free to use its basic features, so I signed up. 

Since I know my own feelings about newsletters aren't enthusiastic (most of my subscriptions are the result of me being too awkward to tell a mall cashier "no" when they ask for my email address), I knew I had to sweeten the sign up deal. I'd already wanted to make wallpapers for people to download, so I made it an incentive for subscribing to the newsletter. I include a download link in the confirmation email after someone signs up, so they get their little reward. Fun!

I send out a newsletter every other week, since I only update once a week. In the email, I include a link to the two most recent posts (in case they missed the last one), and sometimes I'll promote one of my social media profiles. I'm still experimenting with the newsletter format, so I'll report on that again when the numbers come in.

Refine your pitch and mission statement. You'll sound like you know what you're doing.

This might seem like an obvious one, but it might be harder than you expect: Know how to describe what your project is, in one or two concise sentences. I had an idea of the kind of content I wanted to provide, and the kinds of people I wanted to be my audience, but if someone asked, "What kind of website?" would I be able to put it into words? Very quickly I got better at it as I reached out to potential interview subjects, told my friends and family, and of course, started filling out social media profiles. You want to be on Twitter right? Gotta be concise.

When I started out, my pitch was more of a list. "I want it to be a place where you can read reviews, or maybe find a tutorial, or I could interview people who have interesting advice, and maybe there will be cool downloads to use. Oh, and also a store eventually." I'm sure people heard that and wondered if I even knew. I found the words that sounded the best to me. "SNOWCOYOTE is a resource for indie creators." Find those words. It will make small talk a lot easier too.

Hype! Plan out a pre-launch schedule.

As you're building your site, start hyping it up a little. Don't give everyone a play-by-play, but tease things every once in a while. Tell all your friends and family about your social media and ask them to follow. Plan a pre-launch. I decided that a couple weeks before launch I'd open newsletter signups and try and push the wallpapers. If you tell people ahead of time when to look for your project to go live, chances are there will be more eyes on it than if you just sprang it on them suddenly. Stuff goes by fast in a news feed.

Keep up on all your social media. Make a schedule and stick to it. 

Follow through with your launch! Have some items ready to go, like a blog post or two, and try to start fairly strong. Give your followers something to taste when you announce that the doors have opened, but not too much (you want them to come back craving more!). 

Have a social media update schedule. You should be everywhere your demographic will be. And each platform has a different strategy behind it. It will take time to get the hang of them, but keep researching it and it will pay off. There are people who make their careers out of being popular on Instagram because they know exactly what their demographic wants to see. Other online personas' strengths lie in constantly being present on Facebook, posting interesting links or graphics. The reason why I doubt newsletters is because I'm checking my social networks so much more than my email- they're where I expect to be notified of updates.

Here's my routine:

I try to post a new blog entry every week, on Thursday, around noon- no particular reason, it just happened that way. In a world where people are constantly connected online, I think there's less of a need to choose a certain time of day (though maybe not early morning or late at night.) I try to cycle through different types of posts so people don't get bored with any one topic. After publishing, I immediately post a link on Facebook, since I have the most followers there. I have the blog auto-post to Twitter, since it just tweets a title and link, and I don't need to write any special description for it. Then I make a pin on Pinterest, making sure it includes a nice picture, the title, and an excerpt, linking to the blog. While I'm there I'll repin a few things myself since Pinterest users are typically more likely to interact with an account that doesn't look "corporate/official."  Then I make a post on Tumblr with a title, a picture, and an excerpt, linking to the blog post. Lastly, I do Instagram, since it's easiest to do on my phone. The picture you choose is the most important here, but so are your hashtags. I know they're ugly, but they're the single most efficient way to get eyes on your posts there. Even if the Likes and Follows you're getting are from other accounts trying to network their own presence- the numbers will make you look good! And eventually, if things go well, that will help to draw in your true fans. A site like Websta.me will show you the most popular tags for your topic. 

This all takes me about an hour to do. To be honest, I could probably stand to do more! One of my goals is to work up to posting on Instagram at least once a day.

Stay strong!

Just keep doing it. Even when nobody's looking at it. Put yourself in a mindset that it will be big someday, and when those future fans go back into your archives looking for more, you'll have plenty for them to find.  Make your project fun for you. The best thing about doing this on your own? You can do whatever the heck you want. 

This was all a fairly brief look at what goes into starting a website- I could and probably will do a separate, comprehensive post on each of these topics. I hope it was helpful though! There's so much more I'll be learning and perfecting in the coming years.

Do you have any questions about something I talked about here? Any social media strategies you'd like to share? Do you want to school me on newsletters? Leave your thoughts in the comments!