Not too long ago I was asked to give a presentation to a small group of cake decorators about starting a business and the basics of promoting it online via social media. I’m by no means an expert in this field, but I may have some useful advice for those who are totally new to blogging and social media, so I decided to do a series of posts covering the basics.
Good blogging practices are good blogging practices, regardless of your niche topic. But I’m going on the assumption that since you’re here instead of visiting a more general how-to-blog website like Copyblogger, that cakes are your thing. Whether you’re just getting started making cakes for people, already have a thriving customer base, or just want a way to showcase your cake decorating hobby, starting a website and incorporating social media is not difficult, and it’s a fantastic way to promote your talents.
Yes, it may seem overwhelming at first, and there will be a learning curve involved, but you don’t have to pay somebody loads of money to get it set up for you. There are plenty of free hosting services that allow domain redirects, so you can still have a custom URL without worrying about hosting. This is the route most people start off with, and that’s how I blogged for several years, so this post will outline how to set up your website using one of the more popular free blogging services with a custom domain redirect.
Before you do anything, come up with a name for your business/website/blog. This is where I went wrong back in 2008. I put no thought whatsoever in my blog name because at the time it was just a way for me to post my Wilton Method cake decorating class schedule in a central place where I could refer potential students. I don’t have any screen shots of what it used to look like, thank goodness, but the title was actually “Darla’s WMI Blog” or something similar, I don’t remember exactly, and it was hideous. I started it on Blogger, because it was free. I didn’t consider the possiblilty that I would one day have a stand-alone website or my own domain name, so I just used cakedarla because somebody had already claimed Cake Diva. I’m no diva anyway as those who know me in real life will tell you.
As I soon realized, the trouble with setting up a website on free hosting services like Blogger, WordPress, Tumblr, etc. is that unless you redirect it to your own domain, the URL will be www.whatever.blogspot.com (www.whatever.wordpress.com, www.whatever.tumblr.com, etc.) which is rather long, and if you’re trying to tell people about your website, having to use a subdomain just makes it harder to remember and more likely that people will have trouble finding it or mistype the URL. This is why I strongly recommend securing a custom domain through one of the many domain name registrars. Depending on where you’re blogging, setting up the redirect may involve several steps, but don’t be shy about asking for assistance if you need it. That’s what the tech support/help desk department is for.
Don’t be surprised if your first choice for a domain name is already taken and have several other options in mind as backups. Ideally, your website address should be as close to your business name as possible, but avoid using crazy spellings or hyphens. Remember, it needs to be simple and easy to remember so that people can readily find it. Try to get a .com URL, and if possible register other variations of your domain like .net and .us and have them all point to your website/blog. I myself haven’t done this because you must pay for each domain you register, and that’s just not in my budget right now. Also, I highly recommend opting for private registration, which will cost you an additional $10 or so per domain, but it protects your personal contact information.
To keep business-related communications separate from personal emails, as well as make things easier to manage all around, I advise people to set up a dedicated email address for their business. This will be the email address you use to register for an account on whichever free blogging platform(s) you choose, as well as any social media accounts you intend to use to promote your website. Many people use an email address tied to their domain registration, assuming that’s included (email@example.com), but I prefer Gmail because I’m a big user of Google services, and this way all my stuff is in one place.
Okay, so you have a catchy, easy-to-remember business name, a similar domain registered, and a dedicated email address. Now you need to build your website. But where? There’s no harm in signing up for accounts on multiple free blogging platforms at first to see which one you like best. You may even end up using more than one, as I do with my Tumblr, but your custom domain should point to your main website. While you’re in this experimentation and learning stage, don’t worry about setting up the redirect or even actively promoting your website. Once you decide where you’ll be blogging, are happy with the theme/layout of your website, and have a decent amount of content posted, then you can start driving traffic to it.
Blogger is is where many people get started. It’s part of Google, so if you already have a Google account or use Gmail then you have the benefit of a common login across all Google services, including YouTube if you post videos. This is a very user-friendly platform, and you are allowed to run affiliate ads if you plan to monetize your blog. You can customize the themes as well as write blog posts and static pages without having to know CSS or HTML, which is ideal for blogging beginners, and it’s easy to add pictures, videos, etc.
Tumblr is more of a micro-blogging platform. It’s similar to Twitter, but without the 140 character limit so you can publish more lengthy text posts. It is super easy to set up and use, plus there’s a great mobile app that enables you to blog on the go. It does have limitations, but I really like it for what it is and use it to post mini-updates, coupon codes and sales, non-cake related pictures, etc. I call my Tumblr “Filling” because it’s made up of content that doesn’t end up posted here–it’s what’s “between the layers” of Darla’s Cake Blog, so to speak.
WordPress is awesome, because it has more functionality and is just a better platform overall, but unless you go the self-hosted route affiliate links and other types of advertising are not allowed. If you plan to make money from your website or blog, then free WordPress isn’t a practical option. Another downside is that you’ll have to pay an annual fee (I think it’s $12) for a domain redirect. Blogger lets you redirect for free.
Once you’ve picked a platform and registered for an account, spend a few minutes completing your profile, including a brief bio, a description of your business/services, and contact information. You don’t have to share your life story, but it helps for people to know a little bit more about you and adds some credibility. Also allow yourself time to become familiar with whichever platform you choose. It might not be instantly obvious how to add photos or format your posts, so please try not to get frustrated. If you can’t figure something out, there’s usually a help article or forum post explaining how to do it. Google is a wonderful resource for finding stuff like that.
Next, you’ll want to select a template or theme. This is what gives your blog its look and determines the layout. Most themes and templates have customization options, and you may need to be play around with different configurations and settings to see what works best for you. Go for something that’s clean, professional, and matches your logo (if you have one). Usually you can upload a logo or header image to further customize your website.
Your blog posts can be about whatever you want, as long as they’re relevant to your business, like pictures of recent cake projects, tutorials, industry news, customer testimonials, upcoming special events, etc. The purpose of posting these updates is to help build an online presence for your business. This improves the likelihood that your business will show up in local online searches, which helps potential customers find you.
If you don’t like the idea of having to regularly post blog updates, most platforms allow you to build static pages, and you can set one of those as your home page. These are great for information that needs to be easily accessible and isn’t likely to change, like your business information, services, price list, operating hours, etc. For example, on classycakesandcookies.com I have the “About and Contact” page set as the landing/home page. Since that website in general isn’t complete and the associated blog for it isn’t updated on a regular basis (yet), there’s little point in having the URL go there.
I hope I’ve given you enough information to get started. If not, please let me know by asking any questions you may have in the comments section, and I will do my best to answer them. In my next Cake Blogging 101 post, I’ll cover how to set up a Facebook page, which is a great place to start promoting your services online if the thought of creating a website seems too overwhelming.