If you think your blogging equipment is a bit on the sparse side (comprising not much more than your laptop and phone), you may want to think about investing a little money into your baby. I often read about blogs being "just a hobby" so there's no need to spend anything on them, but there's a perfectly logical argument as to why there are some essentials for your blog that are worth spending money on.
If you think about most hobbies (cooking, theatre going, woodworking, sailing, bird watching, fishing, coin collecting, golf, scuba diving, hangliding, cosplaying, bowling, cycling, astronomy...), they do cost some, or a lot, of money. Equipment, tickets, consumables, memberships, subscriptions - the list goes on and on.
Professional bloggers aside, why should blogging be any different to other hobbies when it comes to spending money on something you do for the pure enjoyment of it?
Blogging's a bit like fishing: For most it's a hobby, but to catch the best fish you need to spend a bit of money on a proper fishing rod and bait rather than relying on a piece of string tied to a stick and your sandwich crusts.
BLOGGING'S A BIT LIKE FISHING: FOR MOST IT'S A HOBBY, BUT TO CATCH THE BEST FISH YOU NEED TO SPEND A BIT OF MONEY ON A PROPER FISHING ROD AND BAIT RATHER THAN RELYING ON A PIECE OF STRING TIED TO A STICK AND SANDWICH CRUSTS.Astronomy? You need a telescope. Theatre going? You have to buy tickets. Cooking? Food. Golf? Clubs. Cycling? A bike. People splash out on all these things for their hobbies because it enriches the experience (and some hobbies are impossible to do without spending money - theatre going, for example).
In other words, if you want to get the best out of blogging and do it in the best way you can, you need to invest both time and some money. It's no less worthy a pastime than skydiving, sailing, or cosplay. Think how much money comic book collectors spend on their hobby (I should know, I married one).
There are some very simple, very cheap essentials that I think all bloggers should be spending a little money on to make themselves look more professional. I, too, was a hobby blogger once - and I had no intention of becoming a professional blogger because I didn't know such a thing existed. But I always wanted to invest in my blog, and I knew that meant spending some money on it. I was happy to do that because I was proud of my blog and wanted it to be the best it could be.
I HAD NO INTENTION OF BECOMING A PROFESSIONAL BLOGGER BECAUSE I DIDN'T KNOW SUCH A THING EXISTED. I ALWAYS WANTED TO INVEST IN MY BLOG. I WAS HAPPY TO DO THAT BECAUSE I WAS PROUD OF MY BLOG AND WANTED IT TO BE THE BEST IT COULD BE.
The list of essentials is not exhaustive - there are many more things that would be relevant for some blogging niches and not for others. But this should give you a guide as to how and where your money is best spent.
So in case you think you can't afford some of things, I've put an average or starting price of each thing I've suggested... They may be more affordable than you think. Here are the 9:
1. A custom domain for your blogThis is one of the easiest, cheapest things to get your blog, but so many bloggers don't do it. It's like making your cat eat straight out the tin... Just buy him a nice food bowl! It doesn't cost that much and will last quite a while. It'll show visitors to your house that you care about your cat, plus it looks so much nicer and your cat will love you for it.
Buying a custom domain for your blog is as much of a no-brainer as buying a bowl for your cat. They're cheaper than you might think: A dot com starts at just over a tenner a year. That's just £1 a month...! I have read that as Blogspot is a free platform it's often targeted by spammers, so using a custom name for your Blogspot blog might help eliminating that.
Any blog URL with blogspot, wordpress or tumblr in them look amateurish and will obviously make your URL much longer - it doesn't look great on a business card (see point 8).
Two of the most popular sites to buy domains from are godaddy.com and 123-reg.com. I use the latter, and their tutorial on how to get your custom domain to point to your blog is very straightforward (I've done it successfully on three different blogs now and I hate doing things like that).
Think to yourself: Did I really need to buy that MAC lipstick this month when I could have bought a custom domain for my blog for a lot less...?
Price: £7-12 per year depending on the TLD (top-level domain, e.g. com, co.uk, org) you choose.
2. The best DSLR you can affordI read this all the time: You don't need a fancy camera to take good blog photos. You can get great shots with a smartphone or a point-and-shoot camera. While this is true to some extent, you're limiting yourself to the settings available on those cameras and desperately seeking out the very best conditions every time you shoot anything. Hand on heart, I can honestly say once you switch to a DSLR with the right lens, you will wonder why you never got one earlier and how on earth you coped without one before.
Your options will open up and make shooting in lower light conditions, or dealing with strange colour casts, or achieving bokeh (a blurry background) and get a really sharp, crisp image so, so, SO much easier. You can avoid a distorted bobble-head body with short legs you get in outfit shots (though there is a way to avoid it with a point and shoot camera as well). With a basic understanding of a DSLR's settings and a few photographic principles, your photos will go from acceptable to WOW.
I know people may try and dispute this, but you simply cannot get those beautiful, large, sharp, bright images without a DSLR - not on a regular basis, anyway. This is especially true for anyone who lives in a gloomy country - only a lucky few live in California with guaranteed sunshine all year round. Light is your best friend in photography!
I've taken some of my most stunning photos with my DSLR on a dark, rainy, cloudy day when the sun has long since set - the type of shoot where you finish and then go inside, look outside, and realise it's really dark. Those days.
EASY WAYS TO PAY FOR A DSLR
Many retailers like Amazon and Jessops offer 0% credit for large items, so you can spread the cost over several months (usually six) without being charged any interest.
Or get yourself a credit card* with an offer of 0% interest for 12 months to spread the payments even more BUT - for goodness sake don't use the card for anything else unless you're adept at using credit cards. (If you're not, learn: Understanding finance - not ignoring it - is so important... But that's a whole other topic). Take the total cost of your purchase, divide by 12 and set up a fixed payment to pay that off each month. You'll have cleared the balance before they start charging interest.
Go to a finance/money saving website like Money Saving Expert [UK] for advice on which one to apply for and what you should look out for.
*Please note I am not a financial expert - I recommend you seek advice before going ahead with any of these suggestions. I have, however, had a great deal of experience of being in a lot of debt, getting myself out of it, and then using credit cards and balance transfers the sensible way to borrow money without being charged interest. I learnt the hard way.
Cost: £41 per month for a year for a £500 DSLR paid for with a 0% interest card.
3. Tripod or lights (or both)These two pieces of equipment could make your desperate need for some more daylight a thing of the past. Lack of light is a photographer's no.1 enemy: It causes camera shake, grainier photos, and flat, grey images. A tripod and/or light (depending on whether you shoot more indoors or outdoors) will change everything for you.
The beauty of a tripod is that it eliminates camera shake. Therefore, when you're outside and losing light, the shutter speed has to slow right down (meaning the lens has to open longer to let in more light), so you inevitably can't keep the camera still enough in your hands not to move it while the shutter is open. A DSLR with a fast lens (one that can cope in lower light conditions) can take pictures when there's almost no light. These beautiful images were taken in the rain, in almost-dark conditions, with a tripod. They would have been impossible without it.
Buy the best you can afford: I wouldn't recommend paying less than about £50 otherwise it'll be so lightweight you'll put your camera at risk. I recommend Manfrotto (the Aston Martin of tripods): I paid about £100 for my Manfrotto beast in 1992 and it's still as good as new.
For indoor photography there are a few types you can buy, from a tiny selfie ring light for your phone to soft box studio lights. Again, they're not as expensive you might think: If you buy a pair of soft box studio lights, split them with a blogging friend (you may only need one) and you can have a professional studio light for just £30.
I invested in a dimmable ring flash light (about £82) and it is fantastic for head shots, beauty shots and vlogging - it's incredibly flattering (see this beauty post I did with the ring light). Don't forget you need to buy a light stand as well (they're about £15).
4. A professional blog designUntil a couple of years ago, I thought that all the tinkering I was doing on my blog's design was enough - I'm reasonably confident when it comes to designing things so thought I didn't need to get my blog redesigned. However, I eventually realised that compared to other blogs it just didn't cut it in the ever-growing blogosphere, but I thought that a designer would set me back several hundred pounds.
So I started saving up.
But if someone had told me that I could get a new blog design - a really, really professional, modern one - for £50, I probably would have laughed at them. I've worked for a digital agency that designed websites, and they started charging at about £1,000 minimum. But here's the thing: You can get a multi-functional, modern and professional blog design from just £29 (mine cost £49 + optional extras). This is becoming less of a secret, but the blog template designer whose name you may have seen at the bottom of a lot of sleek blogs? Pipdig.
HERE'S THE THING: YOU CAN GET A MULTI-FUNCTIONAL, MODERN AND PROFESSIONAL BLOG DESIGN FROM JUST £29.
Pipdig sells ready made templates for Blogger and Wordpress, and they are exactly the sort of sleek, modern designs that make the cut these days. There are a lot of places you can go to get a new blog design (Etsy sellers have them for example), and if you want a bespoke design it will cost in the hundreds of pounds. But if that's an impossibility, and if you want a new design within a few days, then it's possible with Pipdig. (This post isn't sponsored in any way - I've just had such a great experience that I want to share this information with you.) I've pointed several bloggers in their direction and they've all ended up with amazing new designs and been super impressed with the service.
Plus two great bonuses: You can have the design installed for free within a couple of days as standard, or you can install it yourself within 20 minutes of buying the template you chose; secondly, the post-sales service is nothing short of spectacular.
Without a modern layout, template and a properly branded "look" to your blog, it may give the impression of an amateurish approach. Even if you don't want to work with brands now you may in the future, so looking professional from the outset is vital.
Plus so many niggling things will be sorted using a properly designed template: Images will automatically fill the width of the post so they're all the same width. You can have drop down menus. You can have post sliders and a full screen page splash (like mine that you see on the desktop version). You can't get those things unless you know some serious coding.
Finally, unless you are a graphic designer or have a background/experience in art and design, I'd get a designer (or artistic friend) to design your blog logo. A poor choice of font for a blog header can make all the difference to a blog looking modern, fresh and professional - or old-fashioned and amateurish. Trends in fonts change as often as trends in jeans, and if you're not design-minded you may not be aware that your blog header font/design is outdated.
5. Photoshop for editing photosPeople always think they can't afford Photoshop. I'm talking about getting Photoshop Elements (PSE) that costs about £50, not the full PS software that designers use that costs in the region of £600. So you can buy Photoshop for the price of a pair of shoes, effectively. PSE does everything that a blogger needs, whereas PS does everything that a designer needs - and bloggers don't need most of it.
I use Photoshop Elements to edit all my photos, and I'm entirely self-taught (apart from my husband telling me about three key things when I first started, but I know ten times as much as him now through practice, trial and error). As well as optimising photos you can use it for consistent text layouts - like the second image in this post.
And out of interest did you notice anything about the lead image?
That's not my desk in the picture. That's not my laptop. I used PSE to superimpose a screenshot of my blog onto the image of a laptop screen on a desk (the image was from a royalty-free image bank).
So although you can get free editing software online, it'll never be as extensive as using your own software that you can add fonts to and use a lot quicker. Believe me, I've tried: Yes you can do the same online but it's really slow (and frustrating!) by comparison, and you won't want to go back once you've used PSE.
6. Tickets to blogging conferencesI cannot stress enough the importance of attending blogging conferences - it will totally change the way you approach blogging and connect you to so many amazing people and so much valuable information and inspiration. Yes, all of that can be found on the internet but once you've made a real-life connection with someone, your online connection becomes so much stronger (or has the opportunity to start from scratch), plus you only find the information you seek online. Conferences give you information you didn't know you needed. Some of my best blogging pals are those I've met in real life, and they're now not just blogging pals but real life BFFs.
The Blognix Retreat in February this year was truly one of the best I've been to: Two days at a country hotel, with amazing food, amazing company and inspiring speakers. If you're a UK blogger and they have one next year, I cannot recommend it enough. You can subscribe to Blognix here to get details about the next event.
For this reason I've been planning an event (or two) for older bloggers myself for quite a while now - it's finally happening with a meet up next month in London. The more you attend, the more you'll want to attend.
7. Courses (on or offline) such as photography, SEO, InstagramIf you wish you could take better photos, book yourself on a course. Ask for it as a group birthday present from your family if you can't take the hit in one go. Jessops run photography courses in the UK that start from £119.00. But YouTube is a treasure trove of information: If you want to know the odd thing about how to the settings on your camera, you're bound to find a tutorial on YouTube that someone's made.
On the other end of the (cost) spectrum you can sign up to online courses on various sites and blogs for as little as $10. Some mini courses are free. Some that I've subscribed to are the Makelight photography courses (I may have a photography degree but you should never stop learning), the 10 day IFB Instagram course (they also do an SEO course) and a 7 day blogger bootcamp hosted by Dana of The Wonderforest (free to new subscribers). Another blogger whose courses I think are probably amazing would be Sarah of Yes and Yes - I subscribe to her emails and her advice is absolutely spot-on. If I needed to invest in a blogging course with knobs on, it would be hers.
Cost: £0 to £500+
8. Business cardsBusiness cards are something that bloggers often forget to get made up if they're going to events. It may seem old fashioned in a world where people do everything on their phones, but giving someone a business card will ensure you're remembered more than if they just look you up on Twitter and click "Follow". Even if you're a hobby blogger, get business cards made up if there's any chance of you running into brands or other bloggers at events. Which you will, of course, after having read point 6...!
I always use Moo, and so do a lot of other bloggers. Their website is fun and easy to use, and they have hundreds of ready-made designs that you can just drop your details into.
Cost: £15+ (for the minimum quantity, usually 50 cards)
9. Extras that value to your blogFinally, there are lots of things that would be either valuable to your blogging niche or valuable to the way you like to work that are worth investing in. Iconosquare is great for Instagram and giving you detailed analytics. You can use InLinkz or Linky Tools to host regular link ups and increase traffic to and interaction on your blog. CoSchedule helps you plan your social media to save time. Mailchimp is a free service for sending out newsletters, but only up to 2,000 subscribers - after that it's a paid service. But if you've built up that many subscribers they're worth paying for.
Cost: Varies depending on service. For example, Iconosquare is $4.90 a month. InLinkz is $2.99 a month if you want visible thumbnails (which you do).
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Finally, I've thought about doing a second post to accompany this one: Essentials for your blog that are free or cost next-to-nothing. Let me know if you think this is a good idea!
WHAT DO YOU THINK ARE THE ESSENTIALS FOR YOUR BLOG? AND HAVE I PERSUADED YOU TO INVEST IN ANY OF THESE THINGS YOURSELF...? COMMENT BELOW, OR TAKE IT TO TWITTER @NOTLAMB!
P.S. LIKE THIS POST? YOU MIGHT ALSO WANT TO CHECK OUT ALL MY OTHER BLOGGING TIPS POSTS, LIKE:
- 7 INSANELY HELPFUL TOOLS AND RESOURCES WEBSITES YOU DIDN'T KNOW YOU NEEDED
- 6 IMPORTANT THINGS TO INCLUDE ON YOUR BLOG
- BRANDING FOR YOUR BLOG IN 5 QUICK, EASY STEPS
Linking up to: Let It Shine, Fitness Tuesday, Brilliant Blog Posts, Friday's Fab Favourites