Lessons From Blogstock Plus A Few Other Things

So back in August (I can't believe how scarily long ago that now seems!) you may remember if you follow me on Twitter that I went along to the UK's first ever blogging festival Blogstock organised by Traverse Events.

It's taken me a little while to process the oodles and oodles of information that I took away from that slightly wet and rainy but very exciting weekend spent in a field in Hertfordshire but I thought today I would share a few interesting points that have really stuck with me.

Now I only started this blog back in March this year without any prior experience except for absolutely loving reading blogs myself and wishing that I could get involved and stuck into something of my own.

It took me a long time to pluck up the courage to go ahead as I can be pretty shy when it comes to putting myself out there plus I wasn't really someone who was active on social media being instead someone who just quietly followed, intrigued from the sidelines (that sounds a bit stalker-ish but I hope you get what I mean!) However now that I've started my confidence has grown immensely, I feel much more like the old me again by having this creative outlet - so that's lesson one I guess, unrelated to Blogstock but instead just me saying that if you have the desire to give something a go just do it, don't sit around thinking and daydreaming about it for ages like I did!

Anyway I digress, yet the reason I decided to tell you that little piece above about me is that it is relevant to how I found myself feeling at Blogstock.

Being quite a newbie I found it all a little bit overwhelming. Everyone was so friendly, willing to help, chat and share but to be honest a lot of the time I found myself getting a bit confused and furiously scribbling away notes that I didn't really understand!

When I got home that weekend I felt inspired and freaked out in equal measure. So much to take in, so much to learn, so much to do and can I really do it?! Is there really a place for me in this blogging world, am I good enough? All of these questions went through my mind. For a good week or two after I stayed away from my blog a little bit unsure where to go next or indeed what to do and where to start.

I only share this because I think it's a valuable lesson for me to have learnt and a great experience for me to have gone through and in turn I believe it can apply to many situations in work and life - not just the world of blogging.

I decided to step back for a bit and let everything sink in. Sure enough after a while I began to process everything I had learned and start to form an idea of what really and truly applied to me. I got my mojo back and I started to put some of the fantastic tips, tricks and lessons into practice. 

I suppose I wanted to share this because I hope it might resonate with other people as well. I'm a bit of a perfectionist which can be an asset and a curse all at the same time. In fact just starting this blog when I didn't really know how to make it exactly how I wanted it was a big push for me! I probably took the weekend thing far too seriously and in my head I was thinking I needed to come back and change everything I was doing straight away. 

Yet taking a step back, even focusing on something totally different for a week or so and switching off completely, meant I came back at it with full force and gusto instead of giving in to my inner psyche that was trying very hard to well and truly - well psyche me out!

So if you're facing a new challenge and you feel overwhelmed by everything you need to do or learn - all these new things that are stretching out in front of you - my message would be to give yourself a break. Don't panic. I often liken it to when you move somewhere new and you walk down a new street for the first time. Everything seems so alien, maybe you miss the comfort of the place that you've just moved from. Sure you're excited but you're also a little bit lost as well. Then before you know it its a few months later, you're walking down the same street and everything seems so familiar, so like home. Well that to me is what its like to be facing a new challenge. Alien at first but then suddenly its so familiar you wonder why on earth you ever felt nervous in the first place! Just be patient because that familiarity always comes eventually and with it you will realise how far you've come and just how much you've learnt in the process.

So that's my personal lesson from Blogstock. I thought I would share a few more interesting bits here as well - including a few pics (above) of some of the essentials that I took along for the camping experience (ok so lip butter isn't essential but hey!)

Some very useful tips that I picked up included:

The Power of Niche a fantastic talk given by the blogger Ree Ree Rockette focused on how important it really is to find you niche and stick to it.

Now this is something I guess I'm still playing with a little bit - I don't have a truly tightly defined niche although it's something I'm trying to refine every day. When I first started I pretty much wrote about everything and anything that I could think of but now I'm trying to keep it truer to the main aim of this blog which is to focus around maintaining a good work-life balance.

Saying that though I don't think the scattergun approach when you start out is a bad thing. It helps you define your style and work out what you're really into, what you really enjoy writing about or indeed what people reading your blog are engaging with the most. I certainly wouldn't say that not having a niche to start off with is a reason not to get started. Just bear it in mind - work towards refining what you're doing and finding your own voice within your chosen area as soon as possible.

Helen from Fuss Free Flavours imparted a lot of wisdom in her talk about taking your blog from a hobby blog to a pro blog. I have to admit some of this was a little further ahead than I am right now but I'm sure my notes will come to fruition eventually. For a new blogger like me the very simple advice of making sure you have a good site design, you are self hosted and have your own blog email came in very useful. It may seem obvious but sometimes when you just want to get up and running you don't think about the importance of these things and how they immediately help you to stand out as more professional. I have been working on these three points since August and am much happier with the set up that I have now.

I really enjoyed the talk by Mark Richards from The Best Dad I Can Be about blogger and subject. Brilliant tips such as knowing your audience and who you're writing for and developing a tone of voice for your blog really rang true as well as his advice to publish consistently (working on this), keep the quality high and most importantly but often overlooked - check your spelling and grammar are all important factors to remember when trying to create a polished blog. His son Alex also gave the most amazing talk about what it is like to be the son and ultimately the subject of a renowned blogging father - absolutely laugh out loud brilliant!

Finally Ree Ree Rockette also suggested a couple of applications that she uses to help her with blog design, social media etc and I have been giving a few of them a whirl. There are three in particular that I have found really helpful.

1. Peek User Testing so when I initially got back I knew one of the things I needed to work on was streamlining the design of my site. Peek Testing is brilliant because you can submit your website for free up to three times a month and someone, somewhere (usually in the US in my experience) will conduct a five minute 'peek' test on your webpage. You then get sent a video clip of their experience on your site - their initial thoughts, why they like, don't like etc. It can be hard and also quite amusing to listen too but it can really help you to understand exactly what people are seeing when they first click on your site and then you can make adjustments accordingly. 

2. Iconosquare (used to be Statigram) I find Instagram really hard to gain followers on - does anyone else?! It's something I desperately want to build but it just doesn't seem to be forthcoming. However Iconosquare has been very useful. It allows you to see all of your instagram pictures in one place and gives you statistics such as what type of posts have got the most likes, best times of day, best/most popular filters that you use etc. 

3. If This, Then That so I have to admit I haven't got around to actually using this as much as I'd like to have done just yet but it's high on my to do list! The idea behind this site is that you put the internet to work for you. From what I understand you can link it to your social media accounts then program it to do certain things in certain situations. For example 'If' it's sunny then post 'That' i.e Tweet something like 'Hello Twitter what a lovely sunny day.' So you can have an ongoing presence on your social media accounts even if you're too hectic to be posting yourself. I know that's not quite the point and that obviously you want the majority of your engagement to be natural but I can see how it could come in very helpful now and again.

So there we go - quite a long post for me but I hope that some of the information is useful. Blogstock was a fantastic event and I really hope it happens again next year as I will be first to sign up. Until then I will keep on pushing myself and learning new things!

Did you make it to Blogstock this year? What was your experience? Plus does any of the above sound useful for you - will you be trying out any of the apps or do you have any other ideas for things I should definitely try? Please don't hesitate to leave your comments below - I love to hear from you!