If you’re planning to launch a blog, you can take either of two routes to get there. One is to pay someone to start it for you. The other is to be a skinflint like me and do it yourself. The do-it-yourself route is surprisingly easy and can result in a blog every bit as professional as the toll route.
If you’re not a do-it-yourselfer, there are several very good companies that specialize in creating blogs for lawyers, including LexBlog and Justia Legal Marketing. They will design your blog, help you come up with a theme and title, give you tips on getting started, and help you publicize it. For many lawyers, this is money well spent.
If you’d rather do it yourself, let me offer five tips to get you started.
1. Use WordPress. There are several blogging platforms to choose from. Take my advice: Ignore the others and pick WordPress. WordPress is a versatile publishing platform that you can use to create a simple blog or even a complete website. It is ridiculously easy to use. It allows you to choose from thousands of themes to customize the design of your blog and thousands of plug-ins to customize the functionality of your blog.
Note that WordPress comes in two flavors – WordPress.org and WordPress.com. The former is the home of the WordPress software, which is open source software that you are free to use without paying a licensing fee. The latter is a commercial, hosted version of the WordPress software, offering both free and paid plans.
Because WordPress.com hosts the software, it makes it easy for a new blogger to get started. However, it restricts the full functionality of the WordPress software and does not allow third-party plug-ins, which add even greater functionality. For this reason, I recommend WordPress.org. You will have to have it installed on your own web host, but most web hosting companies will automatically install WordPress for you. The WordPress.org site lists hosting companies it recommends.
(Recently, I reviewed Ernie Svenson’s book, Blogging in One Hour for Lawyers, in which he focuses on an alternative platform, Typepad. As I noted in my review, far more blogs use WordPress and, having used both, I recommend WordPress over Typepad.)
2. Develop your theme. Give some thought to what you want to focus on in your blog. If you’re blogging as a lawyer, you’ll probably want to pick a topic that relates to your area of practice. Don’t be put off by the fact that someone else – or several someone elses – is already blogging about your topic. Your goal is to find a topic about which you’re passionate and knowledgeable. If you write with those ingredients, others will pick up on your passion and knowledge and your blog will build a readership.
3. Practice before you publish. Do not make the mistake of announcing your blog to the world with your first post. Many bloggers do this, only to embarrass themselves by never writing a second post. Before going public with your blog, take some time to settle into the routine and make sure it is comfortable for you. Write several posts. Figure out where and how you’ll get your topic ideas. Find a good time in your day or week to research and write your posts. If you can stick with it for a month or two, then you can confidently announce your arrival in the blawgosphere.
4. Develop your voice. Writing a blog is not like writing a brief. With a blog, you want your own voice to come through. You want at least a degree of informality in your words. You want to write as if you’re having a conversation with your readers, not as if you’re lecturing them about law. Some lawyers find it hard to break out of the rigidity of legal writing. Trust me, as you begin to blog and do it regularly, you will find your voice. In fact, that process of finding your voice is one of the rewards of writing a blog.
5. It’s not about you. We call it “social” media for a reason. Blogging is part of a continuum of various forms of online conversations that extend through Twitter and Facebook and beyond. Don’t start a blog purely for SEO. Don’t start a blog just to boast about your accomplishments. If you’re going to blog, do it because you believe you have something useful to contribute to your readers.
And then engage with those readers. If they comment on your blog, reply. Visit other blogs and post comments. Read other blogs and cite them on yours. Give credit to others’ good ideas, even if that other person is a potential competitor. If you treat blogging as a conversation, and contribute to the conversation in a meaningful way, your blog will develop an audience.