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From Side Project to Sustainable Business … Using Social Media

Posted By Guest Blogger 18th of October 2010 Social Media 0 Comments

This guest post is by Clare Lancaster, of

Over the last 18 months I’ve built two profitable businesses with the help of social media. One business was a sure thing; the other was a side project. My side project was a blog: All of the important numbers (subscribers, page views and profits) are growing monthly and I’ve never paid a cent to promote it.

When I decided to drop out of corporate life, my first move was to open a consultancy. I had been working online since 2001 and by 2008 was confident I’d accumulated enough skills and experience that finding work wouldn’t be a problem.

Around about this time, Twitter was the next big thing. I realized if I wanted to offer my clients the best service I could, I’d better get to know what Twitter was, and work out it was going to be any good for business.

Little did I know that the answer would be a resounding ‘yes’—and that it would help me take my side project from an idea to a sustainable business in less than two years.

Ten steps to sustainability

1. Establish a personal blog.

I started blogging on before I launched my consultancy.

I had a clear objective for the blog—that was, to demonstrate my knowledge and start to build my online reputation. I wrote about social media case studies, the basics of online marketing, and my journey so far. I shared my knowledge with wild abandon and started to attract an audience.

Not only did this blog allow me to demonstrate my knowledge but it provided me with a home base to send people I’d connected with through social media.

2. Build a social network with purpose.

Twitter was (and still is) my social networking platform of choice. When I signed up, I spent months observing the conversations, getting to know the etiquette and slowly but surely growing my network strategically.

I sought out and connected with industry thought leaders and journalists, identified people with similar work backgrounds and ethics, and spent time chatting and sharing links not only to my blog posts but to articles that I was reading that I knew would benefit my network.

My patience and consistency paid off when I received a DM from the editor of Australia’s largest small business magazine. She’d been following my blog and invited me to write a five-page article about social media.

That article led to another DM, this time from the editor of Australia’s largest online business magazine. I was invited to write a column with the potential of becoming a monthly contributor. I’ve just filed my 14th column with them.

3. Connect with people who share your interests.

While much of my network building was strategic, I also enjoyed connecting with other people who shared my interests.

One day I was chatting with another woman involved in online business who was writing about similar topics. A few days later I woke up to find that I’d been listed on Forbes as one of 30 female entrepreneurs to follow on Twitter. It turned out that contact was a writer for Forbes, and the result of that coverage was 3000 new followers in three days.

Some might say it was luck. I say, you only get lucky when you put in the ground work.

4. Connect with your readers outside of your blog.

In addition to emailing a thank you to every commenter who interacted with my blog, I’d also visit their blogs and add them to my Twitter network. If they had a LinkedIn account promoted on their blog, I’d add them there too. This strengthened the relationships I built, and made a lasting impression. I still do this occasionally today.

5. Build anticipation for the launch of your business.

We all know that at the heart of social media is authenticity and transparency. As I was building my consultancy website, and deciding on my services and pricing, I chatted about it on Twitter. I asked for feedback on taglines and navigation text, and focused on involving my network in the journey to launch.

When the time came to open for business, I had a network that helped spread the word for me. They felt invested in the process and the journey I’d taken to get to that point.

6. Develop products based on your audience needs.

One of the first strategic networks that I built was focused around my industry peers—marketing and digital types. Six months after launching my I consultancy, I’d just experienced my first nightmare client and was looking into diversifying my income streams.

My first experiment was an ebook—a guide to using Twitter for business. I sold the majority of my guides to other marketing consultants and learned a valuable lesson: know your audience, listen to what they need, and create it. Then use social networking to spread the word. Don’t hesitate. If you spot a need, jump on it.

One of the reasons my ebook sold so well was because it was one of the first on the market. The reason it spread was because it told the reader what they needed to know, they got results, and they recommended it to their networks.

7. Rinse and repeat.

After I’d been writing on my personal blog for a while, I got the opportunity to acquire the domain. I snapped it up and have since used social media to build traffic to the site and foster community around its message, which is to help women create their own paths using online business.

As with any profitable blog, this site has a variety of revenue streams that are dependent on the trust, influence, and interest of my audience both on my blog and on the social networking platforms I use.

I used the same technique that I used for my consultancy to launch this business.

8. Monetize the trust you’ve earned.

I know there’s something icky about framing the idea this way, but it’s the cold hard truth. You’ve worked hard to provide (free) value on your blog and social networking platforms, and to keep the attention and trust of your audience. If you want to create a sustainable business, you’ll need to monetize their attention.

I do this by recommending affiliate products, selling my own products and services, and advertising.

I view the products I choose to be affiliated with as part of my overall product range. I only recommend products I’ve used and feel proud to associate with my name and the reputation I’ve worked hard to build.

A successful affiliate promotion should span your blog, social media platforms, and mailing list. A profitable one will perfectly match the needs of your audience. If it doesn’t, it’s better to find one that does, than to compromise that trust.

I recently launched my first premium product, a do-it-yourself online marketing ecourse. Twitter was a great platform to tell the story of this offering, and let people know about it in a natural way. In fact, the less salesy I was about the product, the more registrations I received.

9. Promote your meaningful transactions.

When you own an online publishing business there are two things you’ll be doing continuously: creating and promoting.

You’ll create content and you’ll need to promote it. Not only do you need to promote your content, you need to promote the meaningful transactions that affect your bottom line.

Meaningful transactions are the actions that turn a passive visitor or reader into an active part of your business. They’re the things that will make your business sustainable. As a blogger, an essential meaningful transaction occurs when a visitor subscribes via RSS or email. If you’re also an affiliate, a meaningful transaction would take place when a reader clicks on your affiliate link.

Write a list of your meaningful transactions and cycle through them, not forgetting the social media success ratio of one part promotion, one part sharing, one part conversation.

10. Keep a critical eye on your output.

Even though it’s important to promote your meaningful transactions, it’s more important to keep an eye on the quality of your output and the reaction that you’re getting from your social media audience.

When I first started kicking goals I would excitedly jump on Twitter and tell the world. After a while, I could tell that my excitement was coming across as self promotion. I scaled back and remembered the golden rule. In social media, it’s not about you. It’s about what you can do for others.

How are you using social media to grow your blog’s following and your business?

Clare Lancaster offers blog reviews to help improve the business performance of your blog. She is passionate about helping people make their own path in work and life and can be found on Twitter most days (@clarelancaster).

About Guest Blogger
This post was written by a guest contributor. Please see their details in the post above.
  1. Excellent take! One thing also my 13+ years online has taught me is to always keep the doors for future interactions open. A reader might not be happy TODAY…but that doesn’t mean that down the road, his or her opinions might change.

    Life is too short to take things personally – keeping an open mind can really help build your own personal network in ways are NOT immediately obvious.

  2. Thanks for this, it has reinforced my goals and really made me take a look at what I truly need to do to make my blogging efforts worthwhile to me but primarily my readers.

    Cheers now!

  3. I know all of these points intellectually, but this is a timely reminder for helping internalize and execute.

    Currently “rinsing and repeating” at the network building stage. Not a natural strength of mine, but a necessary skill to develop.

  4. I really like number 5, but the entire list offered sound, experienced advice. Having others feel involved in the process is a great way to promote a new venture or to strengthen the community around your blog.

    Thanks for the great post!

  5. Great info! I’m sure am going to use this advice to my own tech and media blog.

    You say to build connections to people, but what if you have a hard time finding connections?

    Also, I’ve integrated twitter to my page in a toolbar (look at my site to see what I mean) Can this help? Thanks a lot.

  6. Thanks for these great tips, being new online, you can easily get distracted and id say over whelmed, but this is a great refresher, to make sure you focus on your goals.


  7. Hi Clare,
    You clearly are a person who recognizes the power of focus and how to make goals that you achieve step by step.
    Bravo to you.
    In my own life I have only seen success when I have kept my focus and made the steps needed to achieve my goals – very little happens by change alone. This is something I like to frequently share with my readers.
    Truly, I am delighted to read about other peoples success through laser like focus and you have it.

    Continued success to you,

  8. […] picking myself up off the floor I started to write about how I’d built 2 businesses in under 2 years with the help of social media. You can read my story […]

  9. Wayne – good luck!
    David D – we all need reminders :)
    Jason – my pleasure.
    David – cheers, I can’t say I have it all the time, but when I do – it certainly helps make things happen.

  10. Nice post- I would say I’m somewhere between step 2 and 3, (some might even say I’m still at 1), but eager to work my way down your list!

    It is a good reminder that building a following takes time and a lot of passion for what you’re doing.

  11. Thank you for some very helpful tips Clare! I´m in the beginning of building my social media network and your tips came at just the right time.

  12. One sentence: I should keep this list!

    Thank you Clare for your great post.

  13. Hi Clare. Your article is so well-written and informative! I’m just planning a blog and am trying to learn from the best, so I’m happy to have found your article. My blog will not be related to the business and website you see here but a completely different business I am creating, and it will all begin with the blog. I plan to visit your website for more information. I have no experience with blogs or social media, so it’s good to know where to go for good information. Problogger is excellent, and I’m happy to have found it as well.

    Thanks for your good work.


  14. I’m struck by the serendipity of your conversation followed by the Forbes mention. It’s lovely when those surprises punctuate the hard work. I’m also intrigued that you initially thanked people who commented by email and then connected with them outside your blog. My blog draws very few comments, though it’s consistently read by a growing audience. Adding questions at the end did not draw out comments. Perhaps email thank yous and making other social media connections will grow my comment submitting readers.

  15. I don’t know what it is about Twitter, but I just can’t get into it. I did make a lot of new “friends” and discussed some interesting topics, but there’s just something about it that turns me off. I don’t know how ppl can make such a meaningful connection in 140 character???

  16. The articles at Problogger get close to my heart when I can learn something from the story of a blogger. Thanks for bringing it out so right Clare!

  17. Hi Clare, great input indeed :) I can add from my experience ” patience ” because this is the reason many blogs/websites fail. But again if you are passionate about what you blog about i am sure you will never stop coming with new interesting posts.


  18. wow i blog just to pass the time and to share knowledge. just all.
    no big idea to monetize

  19. I gave up on Twitter after a while, but then it did start getting big.

    There is a group for Twitter in every social networking site, so i figured I had better get back into the game.

    I have also integrated my facebook & Twitter accounts so that everytime I post to Facebook, it posts to my Twitter.

  20. BTW- I AM back on Twitter!


  21. I think you hit on the key here. Know your audience. Any type of freelance writing depends on a writer’s ability to figure out who they are writing/marketing to, and then following through. Too many people cater to the wrong audiences and then end up flopping. Great post!

  22. You have provides excellent tips, Clare. This blog was very helpful. I was tempted to try one of your blog reviews, but as a nonprofit, I couldn’t quite justify (or afford) the expense. Hopefully some day.
    I couldn’t tell by your post whether your twitter ebook was still available, but it sounds worthwhile.

  23. Clare, your article makes 100% clear sense to me from end to end. So darned good I made a post on Twitter.

    Appreciated the point “Build a social network with purpose” which in fact appears to apply to your whole approach.

    Good reminder for me.

    All the best


  24. So interesting Clare – you sound so professional! I have come to realise how accurately posts and blogs reflect state-of-mind. Doubts or gung-ho brashness will out! as well as all the stages in between, in fact I think one of the unsought sobering lessons in blogging is insight, along with building fellowship.

  25. Carol Haralson says: 10/19/2010 at 10:44 pm

    Awesome post! I’m currently working my “plan” to strike out on my own by the end of next year. Your clearly defined steps will keep me going in the right direction. Thank you!

    I’m not a techie and have been struggling with an issue – can you help please! I love, love, love Twitter…have learned so much, haven’t posted much and here’s the problem: the tiny.url – HOW is that used when I post a comment? I use my iphone so what do I need to do so that when I type “www.” it is shortened? I can’t seem to find the answer. Thank you so much! Look forward to learning more and growing (I’m 55 so have alot of catching up to do!)

  26. Very interesting !
    actually social network is getting more and more important these days and working with it does really improve work
    concerning blogs and communicating with people , i find this one of the benefits of Online working and let’s even say just writing on blogs or even commenting , that gives people the open way to share interests and if you write a lot , then articles have to parallel people’s needs as you said because it is all about being up to date !
    everything was clear at the end , Nice !:)

  27. As one of the previous commenters mentioned, I also gave up on Twitter and Facebook for a while as it wasn’t showing any results worth mentioning. But I had to get back to it because I was getting a bunch of followers and friend requests. This turned into a nice chunk of targeted traffic heading my site.
    So, never, ever give up. Start building and they will come… sooner or later.
    Thanks for the great post, it helped me set new goals for my biz.

  28. Well done Clare, you sure are an inspirational woman! And thanks to Darren for showcasing your talents.

    With regards to your first few points – as someone who has long worked with online communities I’ve been incredibly impressed with the community you’ve built. You did it in a truly genuine and authentic way (two words that are massively over-used but absolutely correct here).

    You now not only have an eager audience but you’ve surrounded yourself with talented & successful women who all support each other. That can only be viewed as a win-win!

  29. Hi Clare, thanks for sharing your experience and it helps me to understand how to promote my own blogs.

    Best regards,

  30. All the above social media strategies are important and well proven as SEO point of view. Most people don’t get results from social media campaign and result they lose their way. In this kind of campaign you must have the patience, First try to develop a community of your choice after that keep doing the above mentioned strategies in your mind and work on them one by one…..

  31. Another helpful article shared by Darren. I feel so lucky to have stumbled upon ProBlogger. I found it on the Facebook Networked Blogs list. So much ‘rich’ information in all of these articles he’s linked us to. It’s really making my wheels spin this morning and forcing me to look at the way I write and promote my design business. One question though… does Darren ever answer the questions that people ask in these comments?

  32. Thanks for the great article. You’ve confirmed my commitment to give Twitter another serious try.

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