A Look Ahead into My 10th Year of Blogging

A word of THANKS, some reflections and more to come in 2018!

First of all, I want to thank each and every one of you for your readership and support for the past nine years. It feels like a long time since I’ve started this blog, and I can’t believe it that I’m heading into my tenth year of blogging. Truly, this is the first time I can sustain an interest for so long. Hah!  😉

Round-up of 2017

2017 was an important year for us as we’ve travelled quite a bit and spent lots of beautiful family times together. Here’s a quick round-up of 2017:

➡ Dec: We spent 3 days at the gorgeous 5-star Montigo Resorts in Nongsa and 10 days in Bangkok + Chiangmai (will blog about it soon).

➡ Nov: We visited the Sand & Sandals Desaru Resort and Spa, visited Batam for the first time (why are we so slow? LOL) and stayed at Radisson Golf and Convention Center. We also staycated at the new YOTEL Singapore to celebrate the end of SA2. We’re so glad to be invited to review the Business Suite at Grand Mercure Singapore Roxy.

➡ Oct: This month, we visited LEGOLAND Theme Park twice and stayed at Somerset Medini Serviced Apartment for the first time.

➡ Sep: This was Edison’s birthday month and we celebrated his big day with a fantastic staycation at The Fullerton Hotel and Holiday Inn Singapore Atrium. We’re delighted to be invited to stay at the new Park Hotel Farrer Park

➡ Aug: We checked-out the Premier Suite at D’Resort Downtown East – the integrated water theme park that we’ve always loved.

➡ Jul: We visited Puteri Harbour Family Theme Park and stayed at the Hello Kitty Themed Room at Hotel Jen. We were also invited to experience the kid-themed room at Furama Riverfront Hotel.

➡ Jun: During the mid-year school holiday, we made a trip to Ipoh to visit my parents. We stayed 4 nights at the beautiful Haven Resort Hotel Ipoh. I highly recommend this 5-star resort if you’re visiting Ipoh. For all Bintan lovers out there, you’ll be excited to know that The Haven Bintan Hotel and Resort is coming up soon.

➡ Mar: During the Mar term break, we indulged in a 8D7N cruise on Royal Caribbean Mariner of the Seas to Laem Chabang (Thailand) and Phu My (Ho Chi Minh Vietnam). We also visited Pattaya.

➡ Feb: I attended Park Bogum Fan Meeting in Singapore, this was a very memorable event for me as it’s my first time (also paid >$200 for a Cat A ticket!).

We’re very thankful to be invited for some of these hotel stays (sponsored stays are clearly marked as such in the disclosure clause). However, we paid for the vast majority of our trips, tours and hotel stays. There’s nothing here that my family and I don’t absolutely love. I choose not to blog about it if I don’t like it – mainly because I don’t like writing negative reviews.

A Brand New Look

a-brand-new-look

First of all, do you like my blog’s new look? I hope you do. This is what I do whenever I’m feeling a bit meh about blogging, and when I don’t have any brain juice to write. I change my blog’s theme. This way, I feel that I’m still doing something for the blog even though I’m not writing. And the new look motivates me to continue blogging.

Prior to starting Our Little Smarties in 2009, I had a personal blog that I was blogging for 2 years. I wrote everything about Edison’s growing up on that personal blog. People who read it were mainly my family members and friends. It has been discontinued after I started this blog.

Our Little Smarties was originally started as a parenting blog where I shared my personal motherhood experiences along with growing up stories of Edison. Over the years, it has evolved from parenting stories alone to lifestyle, home, food, travel, beauty, and so on. Even though my blog name is still the same, my writing style and direction have changed.

When I started this blog, I knew that one day, I’d want Edison to read it. I hope that it will bring him all his fond childhood memories. It also allows me to reflect on the precious moments that have gone but not forgotten. This blog is an amazing collection of words and pictures to look back on, and be thankful for not only the big things in life, but also for the small things we have.

But now that Edison is older, I need to respect his privacy, and there are often issues going on that are far too personal to be shared on this blog. Therefore, you don’t get to read much about him in recent years as compared to the older days. I prefer to keep his school and academic issues offline.

As a result, I find that this blog is all over the place now, and I’m seriously lacking focus. Should I stick to being a parenting blogger, or should I broaden my niche? Can I just blog about anything that I like? These are the questions that keep popping up in my mind whenever I want to start a post. What should I write?

This got me thinking.

My Blogging Process – A Behind the Scenes Sneak Peek

Blogging Process

Have you ever wondered how the blogging process is like? Being a blogger myself, I’m often curious to know how other bloggers do their works, how they find their inspirations, how they create different contents, and what their blogging process is like.

I’ve been blogging for eight years now. Although it may seems easy, it’s actually quite a bit of hard works. On some days, I type only three or four sentences. It’s hard to get the ideas and thoughts to be translated into words and sent to my keyboard.

On some days, I’ve so many ideas flowing through my head that I don’t know where to start. On the good days (though not many), I find equilibrium where my mind and fingers operate at the same speed, and ideas are translated into words seamlessly.

Be it a good day or a bad day, I’m going to give you a sneak peek into my blogging process. It could be similar to yours, or it could be completely different too. So, let’s go!

Pink bulletStep 1: Finding Inspirations for Blog Posts

Whether you’re a seasoned blogger or a complete newbie, you may find yourself stuck for inspirations sometimes.

My blogging inspirations come from many directions. It may come from my own experiences that are worth sharing, blogs that I enjoy reading, my own blog archives, and beautiful pictures. Sometimes, I’m inspired by someone else’s words, a good movie, an incredible event, or just free flow to allow whatever in my thoughts to bubble up and out.

More often than not, inspirations hit me when I’m out and about. Therefore, I always carry a small notebook in my bag so that I can quickly write them down before they are completely forgotten.

Pink bulletStep 2: Translating Ideas into Words

Step 1 is the most tedious, but once I’ve the ideas clearly captured in my notebook, I can translate them into a proper blog post easily.

Instead of writing directly onto my WordPress, I use Microsoft Word to do all my writing using my laptop. It’s easy because I get all my grammar, thesaurus and spelling tools here. Once the blog post is completed, I will re-read it at least once to make sure that everything is correct.

Pink bullet

Step 3: Finding and Editing Pictures

This step is the most time-consuming – especially for travel posts that often come with lots of pictures. As you may have noticed, I rarely post a blog post without any pictures. In my opinion, every blog post should have at least one relevant picture.

How do I decide what pictures to be used in a blog post?

It largely depends on the post content. For a product review post, I’ll take pictures of the products in different angles and set-up. For travel posts, they contain the most number of pictures. I usually make them into collages so that I’ve shorter upload times, and my blog post can load faster. It’s also easier for the readers to view more pictures without having to keep strolling the page.

I’m a big fan of photo-editing softwares. Most of the pictures on my blog are edited for colours, sharpness and effects prior publishing. I have Adobe Lightroom, but I rarely use it now. The two photo-editing softwares that I use more often are PicMonkey and Pixlr. They are very easy to use. For creating panoramic images, I use Microsoft ICE – a very smart software that combines multiple pictures with just a few clicks!

Before-edit
Before | A raw picture
After-edit
After | Edited with PicMonkey
Panoramic - edited
A panoramic image created using Microsoft ICE by combining a few pictures that I “anyhow” took using my smartphone camera

Albeit time-consuming, pictures that are edited for colours and effects look more pleasing to the eyes. Besides the basic operations like cropping and rotation, I usually enhance the colours by changing its hue and saturation, as well as optimizing its colour temperature. I also use the ‘Sharpness’ tool to gently enhance the image sharpness.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Before | A completely raw picture
Rasa1
After | An enhanced picture using PicMonkey (Now you know why I’m a big fan of this Monkey, LOL)

Recently, I’m also using a lot of styled stock images on my blog, and they are purchased from Etsy (the first picture at the top is an example). They may be expensive but I don’t mind splurging on beautiful images. Simply put, I like all things pretty, and they make me happy. A beautiful image captures attention, and not everyone (including myself!) can take beautiful pictures. So, the easiest way is to buy them.

But let’s face it; it’s not budget-friendly to buy stock images all the times. Is there any free good quality images that we can use without worrying about copyright issues? YES, there is! *cheers*

Unsplash is the perfect example of a truly quality free photo site. They are real and honest photos contributed by talented people. Truly beautiful and high-resolution photos that are completely free to do anything you want with. I can hear your excitement!

Here’s one sample picture I took from Unsplash. They don’t even require attribution from users if they don’t want to (but I still prefer to credit the photographer).

Behind the scenes
© Aleksi Tappura

Pink bulletStep 4: Publishing on Blog and Social Medias

Voila! We’re finally at the last step – Publishing! This is the easiest step. I upload all the images to my Flickr account, just to save storage space on my blog. You can get 1000GB of free storage, that’s enough space for more than 500,000 photos on Flickr.

Then, I copy and paste the post content from Microsoft Word onto my WordPress blog, insert all the appropriate photos from Flickr, add categories, tags and keywords, and double-check the preview before hitting the “publish” button.

I’m using Jetpack Publicize plug-in to automatically publish my posts on several social media platforms. It saves me a great amount of time as I don’t need to post them separately.

I can’t tell you how long I usually take to complete a blog post. It all depends on the topic, number of pictures and length of the post. A short post may take about 30 minutes, but a long post may take up to 6 hours (spread across a few days).

Every time I hit the “publish” button, I heaved a sigh of relief. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t dread writing a blog post. But somehow, after all the hard works from writing, editing to publishing, I feel a great sense of satisfaction whenever a blog post is published. And then, I’ll take a short break before the whole process starts again.

All in all, blogging gives me a lot of opportunity to learn new skills. I’m glad to be able to learn at my own pace and am enjoying every part of it. After all, learning is a lifelong process, isn’t it?

I hope you enjoy reading the “behind the scenes” post on how a blog post on Our Little Smarties is being created. If you’re a blogger, what your blogging process is like? I love to hear from you too! 

8 Reasons Why You Should Be Blogging

Blogging

I always encourage my husband to blog. I even offer to set-up a blog, or create a sub-domain from my hosting account for him. The reason is simple – I’ve been blogging for 8 years now, and the benefits that I get from blogging have been incredible, both in my personal life and income opportunities.

If you’re wondering whether blogging is worth your time and effort, I’ll say it’s definitely worth it. Throughout my life, I’ve had a number of different hobbies but none of them have ever impacted my life or brought me such a great feeling of satisfaction as blogging.

As you may remember, this blog started as a “personal blog” where I documented my son’s childhood and developmental milestones. As years went by, my blog readership increased and I’ve also re-positioned my blog’s theme to parenting and lifestyle of a working mother.

Frankly, I’m not an expert in parenting. I’m just sharing my genuine parenting experiences that many parents can relate to. And I’ve also broaden my blogging topics to include food, travel, beauty, blogging, etc. Gradually, blogging has become a therapy to me. Every time I read my old posts, they remind me of where I am now, fuel me to continue blogging, and motivate me to get to where I want to go.

Why You Should Be Blogging?

In my personal realization, here are EIGHT reasons why I think everyone should be blogging.

1. Blogging makes you a better writer and thinker

This doesn’t happen instantly, but over a period of time as you do it. Blogging is an on-going process of recording your thoughts that takes a lot of maturity and courage to follow through with. It helps you to improve your writing style and grammar, it helps you to think and constantly flesh out new ideas, it encourages you to think deeper into certain aspects of life, and it enhances your creativity too.

2. Blogging leads you to healthier lifestyle habits

It’s true that blogging requires time, determination, commitment, and self-discipline. Blogging helps you to develop healthier lifestyle habits over time. Most bloggers spend their time like anyone else – working, spending time with family, cooking a good meal, and doing all kinds of activities. But on top of that, they manage their time effectively and squeeze the most potential out of each day so that they can still spend time to blog.

3. Blogging allows you to meet new and interesting people

The blogging community as a whole is welcoming, friendly, and supportive. So, you’re going to meet a lot of new and wonderful people – bloggers, PR people, readers, advertisers, etc. I’m referring to real networking connections and friendships that can greatly benefit everyone involved.

So, in my blogging journey, I’m thankful to meet blogger friends like Summer, Angeline, Susan, Rachel, Dominique – just to name a few. And of course, wonderful readers like you. Thank you for being a part of my blogging journey.

4. Blogging makes you learn new skills

For many people, once they get out of university and start working a stable job, they stop learning new skills. It applies to me too. Being in the workforce for more than 10 years, I realized that my skills have become stagnant. When I started blogging, I find myself continuously learning new skills again – which make me very happy.

As a blogger, here are some skills that you’ll learn over time: HTML and CSS, SEO, writing, graphics design, networking, business planning, photography, photo-editing, PR, marketing, videography, communications, etc. Thus, blogging helps to diversity your skills set.

5. Blogging is your best personal journal

A blog keeps your important memories alive forever. A picture may worth a thousand words, but when you pen it down in a blog, you can flesh out exactly how you were feeling, why you were feeling it, and how that particular occasion means to you.

This is more significant if you’re a new parent, newly married, getting a new home, etc. If I don’t have a blog, there’s no way I can remember how I gave birth to Edison, how he started his first day of school, how his kindergarten graduation was like, how we celebrated his 6th birthday, etc. Not forgetting all the great places I’ve been to, all the happy memories that I had, and all the beautiful things that I’ve experienced in life.

That’s why I always say – blogging is my best personal journal. When I read my old posts and look back on the happy times in my life, I have beautiful positive feelings that no words can describe. Thus, every single effort that I poured out on this blog is worthwhile.

6. Blogging opens new opportunities and makes you money

The more you blog and gain followers, the more you become a respected voice in your field. The opportunity to promote yourself and showcase your skills through blogging is better than any resume could provide.

When your blog readership increases, you may find advertisers approaching you for collaborations. You may even get paid by companies for writing advertorials, endorsing a product or service, appearing in TV commercials, and not forgetting the traditional web banner advertising.

But of course, you can choose not to monetize your blog if you don’t want to.

7. Blogging is free after all

You can start blogging today without investing a single cent. Yes, blogging is completely free! I’m on WordPress, and I highly recommend it. You can create a free account on WordPress or Blogspot to start your blog. You can also find free beautiful blog themes from the internet. And if you prefer to have your own domain, just invest a few dollars a month. I’ve written a simple guide to starting a blog, you can read it HERE.

8. Above all, blogging gives you satisfactions

Don’t think that your voice doesn’t matter. It does, and whatever you post on your blog will have an impact on others. That’s where blogging ethics come into the picture. Blog responsibly and with passion. If you’re able to inspire others through your writing, you gain satisfactions and it’s priceless.

Appreciative e-mails and positive feedback from readers, social shares of your writing on Facebook or Twitter, and encouragement from family and friends are your biggest motivation to stay committed with your blog.

Remember, writing a blog is like running a marathon. You’ve got to have grit, determination, willingness to write for free, and have faith in what you’re doing. Admittedly, it’s not an easy task.

But what really makes it worth, you may ask.

Knowing that no matter who reads my blog, and how many visitors or page views that I get, I can rest my head on my pillow because I’ve given all my contents truthfully. It may not be the best as compared to the others, but it’s certainly “my best”.

Enjoy blogging without worrying about my blog statistics, never be discouraged with the success of others, and firmly believe that readers will find inspirations in my writing – that’s what truly matters to me, and makes blogging worth for me.

Do you blog too? If yes, why do you do it and what makes you think it’s worth it? If you’re planning to start a blog, please do not hesitate. Do it now, and good luck to you.

How to Start a Blog – A Beginner’s Guide

How to Start a Blog

One question I always get from readers is: “How to start a blog?” It’s not easy to explain everything in an e-mail, so I thought I’d share it on my blog with all my readers.

I used to be a newbie blogger too. I started my first blog on Blogspot eight years ago, and I knew nothing much about it. After months of trials and errors, I’d finally learnt what a blog was all about, and the process of setting-up and maintaining it.

I don’t consider myself to be an expert, but I certainly know the basics from my eight years of experience and self-learning. So, this guide will be written in a simple and easy-to-understand manner – that’s why I call it a beginner’s guide.

Now, let’s get it started.

A Beginner’s Guide to Starting a Blog

I summarized this process into FIVE main steps:

  1. Choose your blogging platform
  2. Choose between free-hosting and self-hosting
  3. Choose a name for your blog
  4. Design and set-up your blog
  5. Launch your blog

It’s going to be simple and fun. So, let’s start with Step 1 now.

Pink bulletStep 1: Choose your blogging platform

There are few decisions you need to make in the process of starting your blog. The first and most crucial one is to choose your blogging platform. There are more than ten blogging platforms available in the market today. WordPress and Blogger are by far the most popular ones.

I started blogging with Blogspot on Blogger. It’s very easy to set-up and it has everything you need on a blog. Most importantly, Blogger hosts it for you, so you have zero set-up and hosting cost, which is great if you don’t want to spend any money to start your blog.

You can also purchase your own domain name through Blogger. With your own domain, your blog will appear as ourlittlesmarties.com (for example), instead of ourlittlesmarties.blogspot.com. It sounds more professional to have your own dot com. Here’s a great tutorial to help you set up your domain name with Blogger.

WordPress is the platform that I’m currently using. It’s the biggest blogging platform with countless plug-ins and add-ons, and almost infinite ways to design and lay-out your blog.

Note that there are two different WordPress – the fully-hosted WordPress.com, and the self-hosted version at WordPress.org. You can read about their differences here. For the latter, it takes a bit of knowledge in coding and design, but you have more flexibility to do what you want with your site.

Here’s a quick comparison table covering some important points:

Description WORDPRESS.ORG WORDPRESS.COM BLOGGER
Cost Free software but you need to pay for your own domain and hosting fees. FREE FREE
Level of customization allowed FULL: You have full flexibility and freedom with your site. You can install your custom theme or build your own with PHP and CSS. MEDIUM: You can choose from the hundreds of themes available on WordPress. You can customize the CSS file by purchasing an upgrade at $30 per year. You cannot run a custom theme. FULL: You can transform your site to look like a webpage or blog but the capabilities are more limited.
Advertising No limitation. Image ads or third-party advertising networks such as Nuffnang Ads and Google AdSense are not allowed. You can run almost all kinds of advertising as long as you abide to their Content Policy. The easiest way is to use Google AdSense.
Software Updates You have to manually update the software and plug-ins. You’ll get a notification on the dashboard when an update is available. It’s very easy to update. Automatic updates for the software but no plug-ins are allowed. Automatic updates – usually you’ll be notified on the dashboard when new features are added.
Support Widgets Yes No. Does not support 3rd party scripts or most html codes. Yes
Custom Domain Yes. You must have your custom domain. www.domainname.com Yes. You can link your domain (www.domainname.com) to your blog with a SMALL FEE. Your default URL is something like this: www.yourblog.wordpress.com Yes. You can link your domain (www.domainname.com) to your blog for FREE. Your default link is something like this: www.yourblog.blogspot.com
Suitable for 1. Advanced bloggers who want more control and flexibility on their sites. 2. Individuals who want to build their personal brands or blogging for profits. 3. Small companies. 1. New bloggers who are not too interested in tweaking their blogs. 2. Bloggers without the resources to manage a custom installed blog. 3. Hobby bloggers with no plan of monetization in the long run. 1. New bloggers who are not too interested in tweaking their blogs. 2. Starter businesses that require a web presence but without the resources for a hosting plan. 3. Hobby bloggers with no plan of monetization in the long run.

I hope you’re still with me. It’s a lengthy description here because this is the most important decision you have to make before we go to Step 2. So, please take your time to consider.

To wrap things up: 1) If you’re considering to start a blog with serious aspirations and plans of monetization in the long run, I would recommend you to go for a self-hosted WordPress.org. 2) If you’re a hobby blogger with no plans of monetization and very little knowledge in coding, I would recommend you to go for Blogger or WordPress.com.

Pink bulletStep 2: Choose between free-hosting and self-hosting

You’re ready to go to Step 2 once the biggest decision in Step 1 has been made. I’ve mentioned about web hosting in previous step. If you’re still confused, I’ll explain in details now.

Web hosting is basically a business of providing the storage, connectivity, and services necessary to serve files for a website. A company that provides web hosting services is called a web host, and their detailed offers of storage, connectivity, and services are called web hosting plans.

Now, you need to decide whether to pay for your blog or grab one for free. Free-hosting is just like it sounds – FREE, and your web address looks something like this – www.myblog.blogspot.com or www.myblog.wordpress.com. Too long? Don’t like it? I know.

There are also some other limitations with free-hosting such as you can’t fully monetize your blog; you have a limited amount of bandwidth, video time, and memory space; and you have less control over your blog.

Basically, you don’t own your blog because it’s hosted on someone else’s web property and they can delete it if they want to. This means all your hard works on your blog might be vanished within seconds.

On the other hand, with a self-hosted blog and your own domain name – you are the REAL owner of your blog. You’re able to name your blog whatever you want, as long as the domain is still available. You can also end it with .com, .net, .org, or virtually any other web suffix that you like.

Of course all these benefits come with a fee. But the good news is – hosting can cost at just SGD5.99 per month! It’s really a small fee to pay for a more professional look (no more wordpress or blogspot on your web address), security, and more functionalities.

In short: 1) If you’re just blogging for fun, then by all means start with a free blog! 2) If you want to make money with your blog, then you’ll definitely want to do self-hosting.

Pink bulletStep 3: Choose a name for your blog

After all the tough decision makings, it’s time for some FUN now – let’s choose a domain name for your blog! It doesn’t matter what you choose as long as you have a clear idea of the content you want and how it will relate to your blog’s name.

Once you decide, you can register that domain at a registrar such as godaddy.com. Domain names cost roughly SGD10 – SGD20 per year. You can also purchase your domain with your hosting company.

Most bloggers nowadays link their social media accounts with their blogs. It doesn’t matter if you think you might not use Facebook or Instagram or whatever else right now, do register for them anyway. Otherwise, someone else might have taken your blog’s name in the future.

The top social media sites that I suggest are Facebook Page, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube and Pinterest. Having the same name across all your platforms enhances your brand presence, and it will also make it easier for people to find and follow you.

Pink bulletStep 4: Design and set-up your blog

This step begins right after you’ve registered your blogging platform (for free-hosting), and purchase your web-hosting and domain name (for self-hosting). The blog design is always my favourite part!

If you’re starting out with Blogger, they have lots of pre-made templates that you can choose from. You can also buy beautiful pre-made templates with customized blog headers and social media icons on sites like Etsy.

If you’re on self-hosted WordPress, your design possibilities are limitless. You can either use a free theme on WordPress, or upload your own premium or custom theme. WordPress also has this awesome feature that allows you to change themes with just a few easy clicks. You can conveniently switch to a new theme without losing any precious content or images.

Most importantly, your blog design should reflect your blog’s content and your personality. There’s no point having a food-orientated theme if your blog is all about automotive. Get what I mean?

Good design is subjective and always in the eye of the beholder – it means everyone likes different things. Clean lay-out, big images, focus on content, or a responsive theme – it’s really up to you. Ideally, it should be easy to navigate if you want your readers to stick around.

Pink bulletStep 5: Launch your blog

Once everything is ready to go, you can launch your beautiful new blog for the world to see. Spread the news on social medias too! Good luck and enjoy your new blog!

Remember – bloggers come to the blogging arena from different background and experiences, but all of us started as a newbie and made mistakes. There’s always room for improvement and continuous learning, whether you’re a beginner or a veteran. That’s what I like about being a BLOGGER.

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In my next post, I’ll share with you 10 reasons why I blog and why you should too. To download a printable version of this tutorial, click HERE.