One year into blogging and 150 posts later, I’ve learned a lot. And you know what?
The biggest lessons I’ve learned have come from personal experience, not from the countless blog posts I’ve read trying to figure out what I was “supposed to be doing” with a blog.
That being said, this essay will help you avoid some of the major things I wasted time on and give you a jumpstart towards writing a blog that matters.
Beyond blogging, many of these lessons go into the disciplines of entrepreneurship, perseverance, and building relationships.
And don’t worry, none of them have anything to do with hipster glasses or fancy mustaches.
1. Relationships Mean Everything
If you want to get your first readers, fans, or heck, anyone other than your mom to just look at your site for 10 seconds, you need to connect with real people. No amount of linking to yourself on Twitter is going to build a thriving audience for your site.
You need to email, chat on Skype, or talk in person to as many “bloggers” as you can. Find the people you most connect with, make a massive list, and start reaching out to them.
2. Continuously Pushing Publish is Half the Battle
After launching my blog at the end of 2010 I published a post every single day (including weekends) for 50 straight days. I’ve since scaled back to two or three times a week, but I committed to the first 50 days because I wanted to make publishing a habit.
Some of those 50 posts are super short, but I published them. Sometimes you need to push publish even if you think your blog post will suck. If you don’t keep pushing publish, you cease to have a blog.
3. It’s Smarter To Earn Income First, Then Start a Blog
If I needed extra income a year ago I wouldn’t have started blogging. I would have tried to freelance using skills I already had (such as web or graphic design), gotten a second job, or offered to do things on Fiverr. Luckily, I wasn’t in dire need of side income when I started this site.
Think of it this way: if Pat Flynn started Smart Passive Income when he was making zero dollars a month, no one would have cared. Instead, when he started writing on SPI he was already making almost $8,000 a month selling e-books online. People instantly had a reason to listen to him because he was already successful.
I didn’t start this blog to make money. I started Pocket Changed to help people positively change their lives. I have accomplished this on a small scale, but I also changed my own life a ton too.
4. Make Sure People Know What Makes You Different
It isn’t easy to “stand out” online, but there are a few surefire ways to do so. Some of them include:
- Do something no one else is blogging about (e.g. visit every country in the world like Chris Guillebeau or walk across America like Nate Damm)
- Create a kick-ass video with the potential for going viral.
- Put hours into your about page explaining why you and your site are different from the rest.
5. Money Doesn’t Just Appear, You Have to Earn It
Before I started blogging I just assumed you could put ads up on any site and as long as you got enough traffic, you could make money from it. It wasn’t until I actually started to research the way ads work that you need a serious volume of traffic to make a living off ads.
On top of that, websites with a ton of ads are usually both annoying to visit and ugly to look at.
If you want to make money online you either have to offer tangible goods, services that people need, or provide them with actionable guidance. If you can’t deliver any of these things, rethink your business model.
6. Create & Follow a Plan
Whether you lay out your own plan to follow or you invest in a step-by-step plan like Chris Guillebeau’s Empire Building Kit, make a plan and stick to it. Without a plan in place, you won’t know which direction to head in.
Your plan can be fluid and change occasionally, but it needs to be detailed and consistently followed for you to be successful.
7. Celebrate Milestones
On my 50th post I published a big “what I learned” post. On my 100th post I wrote a popular essay after attending the World Domination Summit. My 150th post was the “Best of 2011” post from earlier this week. At each milestone I reflected back at the progress I had made and the lessons I had learned.
Do things that celebrate your progress. It will remind you how much work you’ve put in.
8. Start Your Social Media Outposts Early
Oh yeah, and make it easy for people to connect with you by including things like this:
9. Focus Your Social Media Efforts
There are too many social networks. Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Google+, Instagram, Tumblr, Digg, StumbleUpon, Flickr, Foursquare, MySpace, Orkut, Friendster (okay, maybe not Friendster).
Just pick one or two social media networks and focus your attention on them. If you spend too much time updating 10 other sites, you want have enough time to create epic content.
10. Contribute Your Best Content to Other Sites
Speaking of great content, when you are just getting started with blogging it can be hard to get other people to notice you. Even if what you are publishing is mind-blowingly awesome, no one may see it.
This is the reason why you need to give your best content to other sites to run for free. Not only will people be more likely to check out your site in the bio, you’ll also make a good impression on the people that featured your work.
11. Email is The Best Way to Connect With Your Fans
A person’s email inbox is a very personal connection. Someone can easily ignore what you post on Facebook or Twitter, but most people start their day doing one thing: checking their email.
Use a simple sign-up form. No pop-ups. No tricks. Just a simple box that says: “If you’re interested, we’d love to consider you a part of our community” and then a box like this:
12. Put Way More Effort Into Things Than Others Do
Sometimes you might put in a ton of work into a post and it only gets a single comment (like the post I did about financial lessons you can learn from Jack Sparrow). Other times you’ll just write without much planning at all and people will love it.
When in doubt, put ten times as much work into content as other people do. Until you’ve put in 18 hours into a guest post like Ramit, don’t dial back on the effort.
13. Stats & Metrics Matter, But Not Until You Forget to Check Them
You should be tracking your progress on a regular basis (I do it monthly), but that doesn’t mean that you should always be looking at how much traffic, social media shares, and comments you are getting.
Metrics don’t matter until you are so busy that you forget to check them. Once your audience grows to a level that has you scrambling to connect with all of them in a day it is time to look at how you can optimize and maximize the results you’re getting from your readers.
14. Meet Your Online Friends in Person
I’m starting and ending this list with the same key theme: build real relationships with your friends online.
I don’t care if they are a long drive or plane ride away. If you really want to connect with someone, do the work. Go to conferences that people you want to meet attend and make the conference worthwhile. Relationships are more easily built in person then in 140 characters.
If you blog, what are the biggest lessons have you learned from blogging?
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