5 Blog-Building Lessons from Model Planes

5 Blog-Building Lessons from Model Planes

I had a crush on the F-16 Fighting Falcon.

Looking back, the obsession may be attributed to attending Blue Angels air shows as a child. Or, perhaps a more practical reason was the cause – the jet looked really, really fast.

And like any obsessed seven-year-old boy, F-16 posters hung above my bed and I’d mastered the sound of the afterburner at full blast.

It wasn’t enough.

After mowing enough lawns and walking enough dogs, I finally saved enough cash to walk into the hobby shop and buy my own F-16 model plane kit. And back home with the model box cover propped upright, glue tubes ready for use, and a host of paint brushes and colors nearby, I was eager to transform the boring plastic pieces into the beautiful airplane seen on the box.

I learned many lessons while building that F-16, and they served me well when I began writing online. Building a blog is very much like building a model plane – and here are the top 5 lessons I’d like to share with you.

1. Use the kit made for you

In the hobby shop, I walked up and down the aisles searching for my precious F-16 Fighting Falcon. I quickly browsed each kit box for the name of the model, its scale, and the skill level required for assembly.

  • Skill Level 1 was the easiest — no painting or glue necessary; just pieces engineered to snap together.
  • At Skill Level 2, paint and glue were introduced — as were smaller parts, greater detail and waterslide-type decals.
  • Skill Level 3 kits were the most advanced — they were complex, there were extra parts, and each required elaborate assembly.

At the uber-confident age of seven, it was ridiculous to consider buying a Skill Level 3 kit. But Skill Level 2? Now that’s a reasonable challenge.

When you set up your blog, you’ll face a similar array of options for various skill levels. You’ll want to challenge yourself beyond the easiest one.

But be honest with yourself and don’t exceed your actual skills. Do you really know HTML or just enough to insert a line break? Are you better off customizing a generic, free design, or is it wise to consider a premium theme? Is it a better investment to outsource your blog design and SEO so you can use your free time to focus on your core aptitudes?

By going beyond your comfort zone without asking so much of yourself that you’ll get frustrated and angry when tasks turn out difficult, you’ll get a great blog set up that you can be proud of.

And the next time you want to redesign your blog, it’ll be an opportunity to challenge your skills just a little bit more.

2. The structure’s there for a reason

In any kit, hidden behind the glossy painted exterior, there’s an interior structure that you can’t see. And yet, it’s perhaps the most important part of the model.

The structure supports the model. It compensates for the weight of airplane wings or the curved tension in a car’s windshield.

It’s easy to get tempted into skipping the boring supports and move on to the sexier kit pieces (see Step #3), but that’s the quickest path to destruction.

Without structure, the sexy stuff collapses.

And the same goes for your blog.

The SEO, the keywords, the tags, the post categories, the descriptive headlines and subheads, the reliable hosting, the clean code — that’s the structure of your glossy blog.

Without a strong structure supporting your site, all the lens flares, dancing lights and link bait in the world won’t do a thing.

3. Don’t skip steps

In my seven-year-old mind, the quickest way to go from pile-of-random-plastic-pieces to inspirational model airplane meant skipping the boring stuff.

I didn’t care about the jet’s wheel supports, I wanted to put the decals on the wings. Screw the cockpit flight control panel – I was more interested in attaching the bombs.

And over two decades later, I still have that same problem every time the wife brings home an Ikea box. Surely I don’t need to follow all 47 steps to put the bookcase together. I’ll wing it after the first three and go from there.

I need a conscious reminder to go back to basics – to remove myself from the “I know everything” mentality, put on the virgin contact lenses, and start anew.

Because those boring steps exist for a reason. They’re building blocks for future success and sustainability.

How does this relate to your blog? Here are three examples:

  • Own your brand: There are a lot of free blog tools and publishing platforms — Blogger, WordPress, Tumblr, Posterous, TypePad… the list goes on and on. But there are a few potential problems with these tools. What’s easier to remember — http://mynewblog.wordpress.com or www.mynewblog.com? Don’t you think it’s worth $10 to purchase a formal domain? It’s easy to remember and show your prospects that you’re serious, you mean business, and you don’t need a free publishing platform to get by. If you truly believe in your brand, invest in it. This isn’t a hobby anymore.
  • Edit: Doesn’t matter how urgent you think your post is, you must go through the editing process, preferably with somebody other than yourself. Edits aren’t criticisms, they’re clarifications and enhancements. I’m embarrassed — sometimes shocked — to sleep on a blog post only to read it the next morning and think “Sweet baby Jesus, to think I was actually going to publish with these mistakes.” Nothing erodes authority faster than spelling and grammatical errors. Take time to fix those. Oh, and while you’re at it, edit yourself, because if you’re like me, you’re a wordy writer.
  • Spend time on your headline: Two years ago, I wrote the headline “Valvoline, Yaz and Captain Crunch Walk Into a Bar” for a blog post on the value of targeted marketing. Horrible headline. It makes you cock your head and wonder, “Whaaa?”. It’s not promising, it’s not enticing, and it doesn’t allude to anything in the article. The only reason you’d click to read is because you’re curious about what kind of mess that headline would offer. If you’re rushing to create a headline so you can press “publish” on your post, step back, breathe, and come back to it when you’re ready to give it the attention it deserves.

4. Be patient

My impatience is my legacy. Unfortunate, but true.

Sitting at my parent’s kitchen table — a paint-stained, floral tablecloth upon it — I looked back and forth between the inspirational photo on the box and the dull grey plastic pieces in front of me.

Before the glue dried, I was already painting. Before the paint dried, I’d already picked up the model and was flying the jet around the living room.

Instead of a solid, crisp-looking model, I had a sloppy, flimsy hunk of plastic with smudged paint.

I had rushed the process. And wound up with a lot of remorse.

Have you ever had that feeling with your blog?

Launching your blog, a new promotion, or a new product is exciting event, but resist the urge to rush through it. You have a great idea — a new idea. Give it the attention it deserves.

I’ve rushed into a randomly-inspired, voluntary blog redesign at 4:00 p.m. only to see midnight roll around with a half-assed theme published, blog posts mislabeled, comment forms not functioning, and general anxiety in full force.

A simple calendar plan with day-by-day objectives for a blog redesign could have prevented all that strife. And that same type of patience and proactive planning is warranted for your blog launch too.

5. Show it off

As a kid, there was no greater joy than showing off my bedroom. It featured all my models hung with my mother’s sewing thread from the ceiling at a diving, banking, or climbing angle.

But after a week, the thread unraveled and the pins loosened. The child in me had opted for a quick method of showing off rather than going to the store for secure fishing line and ceiling hooks.

It’s easy to set up a link between your RSS feed and your Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn accounts.

But the easy way isn’t the best way of showing off.

Your blog shouldn’t be blindly blasted to your fans and followers. If you take the time and effort to give your blog more powerful, lasting ways of showing off, you’ll be more likely to earn new readers’ admiration.

A product, a business, a blog — they’re not overnight projects. They take a lot of time, dedication, and patience; they deserve a lot of time, dedication and patience.

What do you think? Did I miss any steps that have proved valuable to you? Take a minute to share your thoughts in the comments below.

Post by Ryan Barton

Ryan Barton is the author of "Smart Marketing" and he writes at The Smart Marketing Blog for Small Business Success; you can follow him on Twitter, where he shares entirely too much information.

He wrote "Smart Marketing" to give small businesses insightful information and tangible marketing strategies to compete competitively with industry giants.

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  1. How many times have I thought I could “customize” code in WP and cut a few corners…only to find myself stuck in the middle of a programming mess hours later. Or gotten super inspired to change a design, jumped in for a 10-hour session and…yep, ended up with a mess. These points are great reminders. One thing I would add to the #5 would be to ask mentors to take a look and offer feedback. Social media is one thing; asking for critical feedback from respected mentors is another. I feel like every time I’ve done that, my project has only benefited. Thanks for the post!

    • Hi Chelsea — thanks for reading.

      You’re right — feedback is a huge step. Too many times I get too deep in a redesign and think it’s wonderful only to ask for feedback too late.

      Getting others’ thoughts is a great point.

  2. I like the ‘be patient’ and ‘step by step’ mantra of this post. Very good advice.
    Point #2 in this post (The structure’s there for a reason) resonated the most for me. I’ve found that if there’s a structural element in the design I don’t understand why it should be there doesn’t necessarily mean it doesn’t belong. It just means I don’t understand. 🙂

  3. I agree–patience is the key. Important, worth while things don’t happen in a hurry, and they’re rarely easy. All you can do is show a little patience and perseverance, and that’s when great things happen!

    Thanks for the post. I really enjoyed it!

  4. Great advice, but dang patience, I do want to skip steps.

    • Hey Mary, thanks for reading.

      I agree, in the heat of excitement, it’s far too easy to skip steps.

      But at the same time, I’ve never looked back at a project I’ve shortcutted and not regretted doing so.

  5. Hey Ryan,

    Gobs of great info in here! I like the title part my best.

    Titles are so important. Once I titled a post, Strip! It got a lot of clicks/comments as you can imagine. Make it intriguing in some way and folks will want to click on the link to read more.

    Thanks, Giulietta

  6. Great job. So many of life’s lessons can be found in the misadventures of youth. We just need to pay attention.

    I remember my father telling me, at some moment of frenzied teenage panic, “If you don’t know where you are going, any road will do.” He was right of course although I doubt I paid any attention at the time.

  7. The best thing I did for my site was a week after launch I got someone who hadn’t previously been involved in the design process to go over the site.

    The design is just the first step – you need to also get opinions on how people are actually using the design, or reading the copy once it’s done.

  8. So, I suppose the good news and the bad news is that I’m not alone in my misadventures of blogging.

    My father used to tell me: if you don’t have the time to do it right, how will you find the time to do it over?

    I’m making a conscious effort to pay more attention to blog headlines, even Twitter posts, to determine what intrigues me enough to click. Titles with steps, especially ones like yours that tells me five, let me know whatever it is, i can handle five…even ten. Beyond that, not so much.

    Appreciate the information!

  9. Oh I get caught with be patient something. I’ve learned being patient more on blogging where I really don’t expect for anything or else I’ll be hurt.

    I agree with the most points you have here. I’m sure these tips gonna work out for everybody.

  10. I totally agree, blogging is needs a a lot of patience, and writing needs talent, some people blog for fun it is okay to see some typing errors but if you are blogging for money you should consider the ideas above and make sure that you have everything perfect. I love your article it is really helpful

  11. Captivating title complimented by a great visual = interesting metaphor.

    I was intrigued and certainly compelled (or maybe propelled? Like in using your model plane) to read more.

    Ryan, you’ve shared some really valuable advice. Relating to moi in particular because I am a bright-eyed-and bushy-tailed new … information-overload new … to-blog-or-not-to-blog new “convert” to the overwhelming world of blogging.


    Anyway, kudos and thanks for sharing.

  12. So many good points to comment on. I agree with you on the levels. Sometimes we get so tied up in trying to create a level 3 blog that we never complete it or we don’t consistently blog. Consistently putting out level 2 blogs with the occasional 3 is a great way to be successful. I also find a lot of blogs that look like they could have good content but they just didn’t invest any time on the site. Slow loading, bad presentation, hard to find information. I agree in getting it all put together.

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