The "Dumb Real Estate Agent" is me. The "It" is Brad Caroll's wonderful new ActiveRain Blog Customizer. (To get started, just click on that link or on the graphic.)
Brad is right - it's not our job to know how to do this stuff because our expertise is real estate matters. That's why we need technology experts like Brad and why he made it really really easy for real estate agents, stagers and mortgage lenders on ActiveRain to customize their blogs.
Many ActiveRainers are going online with their custom look in just minutes. Yet, it took dumb me over six hours to get mine online - and that's waaaaaaaaaaaay too long. Fortunately, I'm an empty-nester without a lot of other responsibilities besides real estate (and we all know how that's going). Of course, I was encouraged by the fact that other real estate
dummies agents figured it out even before Brad simplified the process with this 3rd generation of blog customizer in less than a week.
Well, I'm going to break it down for you as to MY experience... Maybe I can save someone out there from spending so much time on this. I'm sure others will write about their experiences, too, and together maybe we can help Brad with material for a Custom Blog Builder Wiki (from the perspective of real estate
dummies agents like me).
FIVE THINGS YOU SIMPLY MUST KNOW (OR DO) TO CUSTOMIZE YOUR BLOG:
Brad made this so easy that even I figured it out. It's really self-explanatory; this post will re-assure you that it's not too good to be true. It IS simple. Thanks Brad!
1. There are three elements:
- Background (1920 x 1150 pixels)
- Header (950 x 115 pixels)
- Menu (that little bar at the top of your blog with SEARCH - REFERRALS - Q&A - GROUPS - BLOGS - MY HOME - LOGOUT)
Those sizes are important ONLY if you plan to use custom images. You won't need them if you select standard colors for the header and background.
2. Select standard colors for each of these elements, including a font color for the menu. This is the easiest way to customize your blog appearance, and you'll be able to preview your choices right there on the screen. (Several color options are provided.) Even a real estate agent can do this.
NOTE: If you plan to use a custom background or header image, skip to Numbers 6-10 and then come back.
3. Enter your ActiveRain user name where it says PROFILE.
4. Click on SAVE SETTINGS.
When I clicked on SAVE SETTINGS, I got kicked out of the ActiveRain Blog Customizer, so maybe that step wasn't necessary. If Brad weighs in and addresses that in the comments, I'll edit this accordingly. Anyway, when I logged back in, YES, my settings were still there.
5. Look for the orange header at the top of your page that says "Click here to select your code snippet" Follow the instructions provided.
If you're a real estate
dummyagent, like me, you may not have touched your ActiveRain settings since Day One - or at least a long time ago. Just to save you unnecessary trial and error, let me point out that there is a "description" box on both your ActiveRain Profile (NOT the one for entering the snippet) and on your Settings page (YES, that's the right one).
DONE! Your blog is now customized!
The most difficult step in this process may be choosing the perfect standard color! In the comments to this post, Jennifer Martin says it took her just a few minutes to create her custom blog INCLUDING an image with text for her header.
EDIT 4/13/08: Someone raised the question, how do I tell if it worked and how do I get rid of my new custom blog if I don't like it. Here's the answer: You can tell if it worked by returning to your blog after you complete these steps. If it worked, you'll see your new custom blog. If it didn't work, you may want to walk through the steps again. If you don't like something about it, return to the ActiveRain blog customizer to make your changes, and follow Steps 3, 4 and 5 again. If you want to go back to the basic ActiveRain blog, simply erase the snippet of code from the Description box on your Settings Page (and save).
But what if you're like me and have to be "unique" or at least "different"... Okay, read on. Figuring out the "how to" of going custom is what took me so long because the ActiveRain Custom Blog Builder assumed I knew some basic stuff, like how to size my photos or add text to my header - which I didn't. Here are the things I learned through trial and error, with a
little lot of help from Jeff Turner.
6. Select standard menu and menu text colors, even if you plan to use a customized background and/or header image(s).
7. Choose photos or graphics from one of these sources:
- Photos you have taken yourself, stored under "my pictures" on your own computer; OR
- Photos you have previously purchased or licensed, probably stored under "my pictures" on your own computer. (The Black-eyed Susan photo I used here is the same one I provided to Real Estate Tomato for my "outside" blog - FocusOnCrofton, since I wanted my custom ActiveRain blog to be consistent with that look.) OR
- Stock photo(s) available online. I use istockphoto most of the time, but you can just do a google search to identify others sources; (Remember, don't use copyright photos - that includes photos your find in a google image search.) OR
- Create a custom image (or two). Many people will add text to their header, for example.
I created a custom image for both my background and header (which is one of the reasons this took so long for me). The steps I followed are outlined at the bottom of this post.
8. Upload your image file to picnik (or another photo editor) for editing your image to the right size.
- Follow the steps in Jeff Turner's video to end up with a 1920 x 1150 background image and/or 950 x 115 header image. See Editing Images For Your Customized ActiveRain Blog,
Jeff's video even shows you how to add text to your Header image.
I opened his video in one window, and worked in another window. That enabled me to watch his demo, pause, and then go the other window to do that step. Then I could go back to resume the video to watch the next step, pause, and return to the window where I was working. I repeated this 'til done. How many ways can I say "thank you" to Jeff...
9. Save the finished background and/or header image(s) to a file in "my pictures" on your own computer.
P.S. Jeff's video apparently was made before Brad simplified his customizing tool, and you no longer need to have your photo hosted on Flickr or anywhere else. You can skip that step.
(If, however, you do continue watching the video to see what he says about using Flickr, you need the pro-version in order to download the "original" size, as he does in his demonstration. The free version does not allow that. It's about a $25 one-time charge, so that probably won't break your bank.)
10. Upload your photos.
Simply browse your computer for your saved header and background images. It couldn't be any easier!
Brad created this neat little tool (picture at right) to make it super easy for people like you and me.
The hardest part of this whole process was probably the initial decision-making as to which image(s) to use.
Now you can slip back into that space between Numbers 2 and 3 to continue.
CREATING MY OWN HEADER AND BACKGROUND IMAGES:
I wanted to maintain some elements from Focus On Crofton on my ActiveRain custom blog. None of the standard colors satisfied me, so I had to take matters into my own hands. This is what made the project so time consuming for me.
NOTE: You may never choose to do anything like this. It is over-the-top optional.
My background image:
First I tried some background graphics from my old friend, istockphoto. They didn't satisfy me either. I really wanted the same blue gradient as the background on my outside blog, so here's what I finally did:
- Using a 30-day free trial for Snagit, I screen-captured my FocusOnCrofton website;
- Cropped off the bottom of the capture (way too long);
- Cut out the center (actual blog), then copied/pasted the background on the left repeatedly to fill in the gap so it went completely across;
- Cropped off the top contrasting section so that only the blue gradient remained;
- Saved the image to a file in "My Pictures"
- Uploaded the file to picnik and followed Jeff's video to created a custom-sized crop (1920 x 1150).
- Saved the cropped image (over the previous un-cropped version) as a jpg file in "My Pictures" on my computer;
- Went back to Step #9, and continued from there.
My header image:
Again, I wanted this to be consistent with my "outside" blog, and my initial plan was to keep the blue background. However, I couldn't seem to blend the Black-eyed Susan photo seamlessly with blue, so I decided to use white. Here are the steps I followed:
- Uploaded the licensed stock photo to picnik;
- Created a mirror image of the photo, so open area is on the right (for the ActiveRain logo);
- Cropped the photo to match the cropping for my FocusOnCroftoon header;
- Followed the steps in Jeff Turner's video to reduce the photo to 115 pixels tall;
- Created the "faded" edge effect on the right side of the photo (using picnik);
- Extended the header to the right a lot;
- Created a custom crop to 950 x 115 (again, per Jeff's video) to get rid of the excess area I added on the right;
- Added a fine white border so there would be a crisp edge on the left (where the photo is);
- Inserted text (again, per Jeff's video);
- Saved the finished header to a file in "my pictures" on my computer;
- Went back to Step #9, and continued from there.
Jennifer Martin says in the comments to this post that it took only 10 minutes for her to create a custom header.
P.S. Thank you, ActiveRain, for making your logo in the colors of my "outside" blog so it fits so nicely into my custom header. That was very thoughtful of you.
Now, if someone would please tell me how to insert all those cool widgets on the right navigation bar....