Note: this episode is available to listen to in the player above, on iTunes and Stitcher.
What I Have Learned About Blogging
Welcome to episode 100. Today I would like to take a look back, not over the last 100 podcast episodes, but back to when I first started blogging 13 ½ years ago.
I’m going to talk about some important lessons, and identify ten things that I wish that I had known when I first started blogging in 2002. I hope to share some of the things that will help you get over the bumps in your blogging venture.
My blogging journey began when my friend Steve sent me an email with these four simple words, “check out this blog” and a link to TallSkinnyKiwi.com. I had never heard of blogging before, and I was curious about who the tall skinny kiwi was.
I clicked the link and loved the content that Andrew Jones had created, but I also fell in love with blogging. I was intrigued with the idea of building a community around a blog, and I dove in with no experience or credentials.
In Today’s Episode
- My introduction to blogging and different jobs I tried before blogging
- My first blog called Living Room and how I just got started
- People found my blog by me commenting on other blogs
- I met some bloggers that taught me some HTML and how to make things bold
- Rachel Cunliffe from New Zealand helped me redesign my first blog
- I learned a lot just by starting and reaching out to others
- Over time the blog evolved and I became addicted to it
- A year later I started a blog about digital cameras
- I made a little money with AdSense and the Amazon Affiliate program
- A few dollars a week, grew to a few dollars a day, to a part-time income
- After about a year, I realized I was going to be a full-time blogger and really ramped things up
- I started ProBlogger in 2004 and went full time with blogging
- In 2007, I transitioned my digital camera blog into Digital Photography School
The 10 Things I Wish I’d Known When I Started In 2002
- If you want your blog to be a business, you need to treat it as a business
- Identify who you want to read your blog – Spend time to understand your reader
- An email newsletter is a very powerful thing – Build a list – Popups increase conversions
- There are so many ways to make money from blogging – Diversify your income
- Create something to sell – My first ebook The Essential Guide To Portrait Photography
- Content – Create content that informs, inspires, and interacts
- Look for Sparks – Most big things start as small things (glimmering sparks)
- To be active – What action will I take today that will grow my blog?
- Let your worlds collide – It’s OK to let your readers see what you are passionate about beyond your niche
- Aim to have a big impact upon the readers you already have – I am incredibly grateful to you for listening to these podcasts and for the emails I get from you.
Further Resources on 10 Things I Wish I’d Known About Blogging
- Episode 64: Content Marketing – Secrets From an Entrepreneur Who Has Used It to Build a Successful Business
- Episode 37: How to Grow Traffic to Your Blog Through Guest Posting and Creating Content for Other Blogs, Forums, Media and Events
- Episode 67: Why You Should Create a Product to Sell On Your Blog (and Tips on How to Do It)
- Talk at World Domination Summit in Portland Oregon – Paying Attention to Sparks
Darren Rowse from Chris Guillebeau on Vimeo.
Hi there and welcome to episode 100 of the ProBlogger Podcast. My name is Darren Rowse. Today, I want to look back. Not over the last 100 episodes (although that was tempting to do), but over the last 13 ½ years of my blogging. I want to pull out some of the important lessons from that time. I want to identify 10 things that I’d wish I had known when I was starting out back in 2002.
Not all of them will be relevant to every single listener of this podcast, and some of them do pick up some themes from previous podcasts, but I hope that over the next 30 or 40 minutes, I’ll share some things that will help you to get over some of the bumps in your own journey as a blogger, whether you are just starting out or whether you’ve been blogging for a while.
You can find today’s show notes and I’m going to link in the show notes to some further reading on each of the 10 points that I’m going to talk about, and link back to some of the episodes we’ve done in our first 100 episodes that are relevant to these points. You can find the show notes at problogger.com/podcast/100.
My blogging journey all started with four simple words from a friend who shot me an email one day back in November of 2002. The email simply said from my friend Steve, “Check out this blog.” After those words was a link to a blog called tallskinnykiwi.com. Many of you have heard me tell this story before about how those four words literally changed the direction of my life, and I often wonder what would have happened if I’ve not got the email or not taken any notice of them.
There was something about those four words and that link Tall Skinny Kiwi that got me a little bit curious. I wanted to find out who the Tall Skinny Kiwi was and what this blog thing was. I’d never seen or heard of that word before. I clicked the link and long story short, I really enjoyed that blog, the content on it. But more than that, I fell in love with this medium, this tool that Andrew Jones, the Tall Skinny Kiwi, was using to communicate, to amplify his voice and to build a community around his ideas. That really intrigued me a lot.
Within an hour or so, I decided to start my first blog without having any of the credentials that a good blogger needs. I’d had a whole heap of jobs over the last 20 years, I’d been working as a youth worker, as a minister of a church, I’d been working in warehouses, I’d been working in in-flight catering, kitchen. I’d been doing a whole heap of things, none of which really had a whole heap to do with the web. The only one that slightly did was that I was working in the warehouse of an online gift store.
I saw the results of the web in the sales that went through my hands and the products that went through my hands, but they never really let me touch the computers because I was a technological Luddite. I didn’t really have any qualifications at all. I was halfway through a Bachelor of Theology, I’d been a drop out in the Bachelor of Marketing, and I wasn’t really a great writer, so there was a whole heap of reasons why.
I probably shouldn’t have started that blog back in 2002, but I did, and that’s probably one of the best things that I ever did. If I’d thought too much more about it, I probably wouldn’t have. If there’s any advice I can give you if you’re just starting out, just start. Even if it’s not perfect because as a little back up, my first blog, which was called Living Room, was an extension of what was going inside my mind.
It was a personal blog—we might call it today—where I talk about all kinds of things. As I look at that first blog and screen shots of it—that’s all I have, it’s not online anymore—I see an ugly blog. I see someone who didn’t really write very well, who didn’t really know what they were doing. It was pretty obvious, but you know what, it didn’t matter. People found it. That was mainly through me commenting on other blogs that they found mine. There was something on my blog that they enjoyed, so they came back. That readership (gradually) over time grew.
Now, I did meet some people who knew a little bit more about blogging than me. They taught me how to do things, like make text bold on my blogs. You had to know some HTML back then. One of them, Rachel Cunliffe from New Zealand, helped me to redesign that first blog. I learned a whole heap by starting and by reaching out to other bloggers.
Gradually, over time, I became incredibly addicted to it and that blog evolved. I added new topics, I added new ideas, I got it redesigned, and gradually, over time, began to think about starting other blogs. The first commercial blog I started was about a year later. It was a blog about digital cameras, where I wrote about my camera, one of the early-ish digital cameras, and then began to aggregate reviews from other people around the web.
That was the first blog I started to make a little bit of money from. I started out doing that through putting AdSense ads on my blog and recommending some products on Amazon through their affiliate program. Gradually, it began to earn a few dollars. A few dollars a week at first, it wasn’t too great. It was small, but it was a few dollars. The whole goal (of course) was to try and pay for my server and to maybe one day get off dial up internet onto broadband and maybe upgrade my computer down the track. I thought that it would probably take several years to get to that point, but I realized very quickly that it was a reality. It was something that I could do.
I already did have some readers at this stage, so that process was a bit quicker than if I was just starting out. At first, I’m putting ads on my blog from day one, but those few dollars a week gradually grew into a few dollars a day and then it grew to a point where it was a part-time job, a day, a week of income. And then two days a week of income. And then three days a week of income.
Around a year after I started to experiment with monetizing that first blog, I realized that I was going to be a full-time blogger if things continue to grow as they did. That’s when I really ramped things up. I convinced my wife that I was going to be a full-time blogger. She humored me at first, but caught […] side of the fact that there was potential there.
We gave ourselves six months to be full-time as a blogger and that’s when things really escalated. In 2004, I started ProBlogger, and that was around the time (I think it was September in that year) that I was about to go full-time with my blog. That was an attempt to share this story because I realized that people around the world had a potential to make a living from this medium, to not only share information that change the world and help their readers, but that information that they shared had the potential to help them to earn an income, that they can build a sustainable and a profitable blog.
That was the whole point behind ProBlogger. It was also a bit selfish, I wanted to try and meet other bloggers who might be on the same journey. No one was really writing about how they make their blogs sustainable.
In 2007, I transitioned that first camera blog into a photography blog, Digital Photography School, which regular listeners of this podcast have heard me talk about many times. It’s the main blog that I have today. It has between three and five million readers per month, which blows my mind. I could share a whole heap of stats that blow my mind. There’s almost a million social media followers. The fact that now, we have around 30 or so people write for my blogs, and I have a core team of 5 or 6 people who work part-time, some of them full-time on the things that I’d built.
These sorts of numbers blow me away, but you know what really blows me away? It’s the emails I get from total strangers, telling me stories about how something I’ve written or something that I’ve published from one of my writers has helped them. That’s really the exciting part about this. Not the money, not the stats. It’s that I’m doing something that’s sustainable and profitable, but it’s also making the world a little bit better. That’s the thing I love most about what I’m doing at the moment.
That’s my story. I wanted to share that to give a bit of context to these lessons that I’m going to share now. I want to share 10 things that I wish I’d known when I started back in 2002. The first one comes straight out of that story.
Lesson number one, if you want your blog to be a business, you need to treat it as business. This is something that took me a little while to get my head around. For a long time, I thought my blogs could one day be a full-time thing. Even when I started to make a few dollars a week, I thought, “If I could just increase my traffic, if I could just learn who to use these monetization strategies a bit better, maybe it could become a full-time thing.”
I had this grand dream that one day, it would be a full-time business. Gradually, over time, it started to move towards that. At first, it was pretty slow. It was a 10% increase from one month to the next month. 10% sounds pretty good, but when you’re earning $3 or $4 a week, 10% increase isn’t that much. But I could see that there was growth. I began to create these spreadsheets. What happens if it continues to grow 10% or 20% each month. I could see that in five, six, or seven years, that if it kept growing at that rate, I’d be a full-time blogger. This dream remained in my head.
Gradually, I began to share the dream with Vanessa, my wife. I remember going out to her after things have grown. It was a day, a week of income. I remember saying to her, “If things continue to grow the way they’re growing, in seven years time, I’m going to be a full-time blogger.” At this stage I was 30 years of age. She humored me for a while, but I remember one day, bringing out the spreadsheet again, and saying that same line, “If things keep going like this in seven years, I’ll be full-time.”
One day, she looked back at me and said, “In seven years’ time, we’re going to be 37 years old, you have kids, and you probably should have a full-time job by then.” You need to escalate this, it needs to grow a bit faster than what it is if you want to be a full-time blogger.
That was around the time that we started to put some deadlines on things. There was one day when we put a six-month deadline on things. At that time, I wasn’t full-time. I was still a little way off being full-time, but we decided six months was the time. You know what? That day when we decided that if I wasn’t full-time in six months, I had to go away and get a real job, that was the day when it put a firecracker underneath me. It really forced me to think about what I was doing in a more strategic way as a business rather than as a dream of business.
That was the first that I picked up to find or rang a potential advertiser, and talk to them face-to-face or voice-to-voice. They said no. That first advertiser said “No, we don’t want to advertise on your blog.” I rang another one, and I rang another one, and that was the first day I ever landed my first direct deal with an advertiser. It was only $20 a month. It wasn’t really that much, but that $20 a month turned into $20 every month.
Gradually, over time, the advertiser began to pay $30, $40, $50, and they ended up paying a couple of hundred dollars per month to have their advertising spot. While that $200 in and off itself didn’t take me to be a full-time blogger. It was an important step towards that goal.
Sometimes giving yourself that deadlines and forcing yourself to think about what you’re doing is business is enough to really take you to the next level. That day, when I gave myself that deadline and Vanessa helped me to get that deadline going, that was the first time I began to think I need to increase my traffic here. It wasn’t just a hope, I’d love to have more traffic. I need more traffic here, and I began to think more strategically about how I am going to get more traffic. I began to diversify the way that I’ve got traffic to my site. I needed to think more strategically about who is reading my blog. I needed to think more strategically about the editorial calendar and the content that I was producing.
So, lesson number one, if you want your blog to be business—not everyone needs to have a business as their blog, and not everyone should—if you do want that, if you dream of that, then treat it as a business today. Begin to think strategically about what you’re doing today. You want to be able to map out the exact journey that you’re going to take. But set yourself some goals. Treat it as a business today. That’s lesson number one.
Lesson number two, it flows out of that first lesson. One of the things that I did when I started to treat my blog as a business was to pay real attention to who was reading my blog. Lesson number two is to identify who you want to read your blog. The more you understand about who you want to read your blog or who is reading your blog, the better informed you’ll be to create content that meets their needs.
Knowing who you want to reach really informs that content strategy. It will inform how you promote your blog. By knowing who you want to read your blog, you’ll be in a better position to identify. You know they’re hanging out on Facebook, or they are the type of person who hangs out on Instagram. I need to develop a presence in those places. By knowing who you want to read your blog, you’ll be in a much better position to understand how to engage those readers when they do come. How do I get them hooked into the community? What questions do I need to ask that trigger them to leave a comment? By knowing who you want to read your blog, you’ll begin to see ways to monetize your blog.
One of the things that I started to do back when I started Digital Photography School (and even a little bit before that) I began to think about reader profiles. I began to think about creating these avatars (as many people call them today) or personas. I just opened up with documents and I described who I wanted to read my blog, simply by taking that guess coming up with this hypothetical person.
The first person I came out with was a reader called Grace. Grace was a mamarazzo photographer, she was a parent who is taking photos of her kids and simply by saying, “This is who I want to read my blog.” I suddenly had all these content ideas, suddenly, I started to think about writing in a more personal way, I started thinking about her needs.
You might already have readers and it might not be a hypothetical thing. It might not be about who you want to read your blog. It might be who is reading your blog. You need to dig into that by creating some surveys, by maybe emailing those readers, and maybe even meeting some of your readers. The more you know about who is reading or who you want to read, the better position you’re going to be in to make a difference in their lives and to create something that has an impact upon them.
Lesson number two is to really spend time every day, every week, every month, put time aside to understand your reader and do anything you can to get inside their heads. One of the best ways you can do this today is live streaming, do Periscopes, Facebook Live updates, or use a tool like Anchor, which enables you to speak in a very personal way to your readers, but also hear their voice and to see their face if you use a tool like Blab. Anything that puts you into that conversation with your readers is a very powerful thing. It helps you understand who’s reading your blog. That was lesson number two.
Lesson number three is one that sounds a bit old-fashioned, but is very powerful. That is the email is a very powerful thing. One of the best things I ever did was start a newsletter for Digital Photography School, and then in more recent times, ProBlogger. When I started Digital Photography School back in 2007 (almost 9 years ago now), the way that bloggers were trying to get their readers to subscribe was through their RSS feeds
All blogs have a feed. Back in 2007, everyone had these huge orange buttons on their blog. “Subscribe to my blog,” and it subscribed their readers to a feed which they would then use a tool like Google Reader, Bloglines, or some other RSS reader. That was what was going to kill email as a way of subscribing. But I realized in 2007, that my people like my dad, my wife, my friends, had no idea what an RSS was, and they were unlikely to ever subscribe to an RSS feed knowingly.
I decided to start a very simple email newsletter, to enable my readers who did understand email to get a weekly newsletter from us. This is the best thing I ever did. I remember looking at the stats of who was subscribing via RSS and who was subscribing via email back in 2010.
I realized that over 80% of my subscribers were subscribing via email and less than 20% was subscribing via RSS. I would say that number has gone even narrower on RSS. I don’t really know too many people who use it anymore. I’m sure some of my listeners do. But we’re bloggers. We’re a little bit more technological perhaps than the normal person out there.
Email for me, was really important. I discovered very quickly that it was a great way of driving traffic. It was a great way of driving sales of my products. It was a great way of building community when you’re communicating with your subscribers on a weekly basis through a medium like email. They begin to feel like they know you, and that helps to build your brand.
Every Thursday night, when I send out the newsletter for the Digital Photography School—one of my team does it now—I know that brings us a spike in traffic, but it also brings a spike in sales of our ebooks as well.
Email is really important. If you haven’t set up an email list, can I just suggest that you pause this podcast right now and go away and do and then come back because it’s so important. There are some previous podcasts on this topic as well. One of the best ways that I ever built my email list (and this may turn some of you off a little bit) was to start using pop-ups. Pop-ups subscribing opt-in forms.
Back in the day, most bloggers who didn’t have an email list just had a little “Sign up to my email list” in their sidebar. That (for me) was converting at about 20 or so sign ups per day. It may be slightly more on a good day, but I remember the day when I summoned up the courage to put a pop-up on Digital Photography School.
Now, we’ve all seen them and most of us don’t really like them. They are interruptive, but you know what? They work. I was worried about putting it on Digital Photography School when I first did it. I thought I would get a whole heap of nasty emails, I thought people would stop reading my blog, and I didn’t really know how many people use it. But you know what? The day I put that pop-up on my blog, my subscribers went from 20 or 30 a day, up to between 300 and 400 confirmed subscribers every day. It went up tenfold.
You might think that the complaints that I got went up tenfold as well, they didn’t. I didn’t get hardly any. One or two every six months, someone would email me and say, “I don’t like your pop-up.” Now, I set my pop-ups so that they only ever show once ever. If you come to the site, you shouldn’t ever see the pop up again. Mine aren’t as aggressive as some are. I go to some blogs and every time I load a new page there is a new pop-up there. To me, that is (perhaps) a little bit too intrusive, but it would work as well, and I understand why people do it. You want to think about experimenting with that.
I think it was episode 64, we talked about different types of serving that form. This is something we’ve been using on ProBlogger and Digital Photography School in the last 12 months, and that is the welcome match. It’s like a massive pop-up, it covers the whole screen. It’s even more aggressive in some ways, but I think they are a little bit more elegant as well. They slide in, you can put a beautiful picture, you can have a nice big call to action. To me, there are a little bit gentler even though they take up the whole page. If you want to listen to our results with those, they even increased their subscriber numbers even further than a pop-up. You can go back and listen to episode 64 on that.
My point three of this talk is that email is a very powerful thing, and while we’re talking about Facebook all the time, we’re talking about Twitter and all these different social networks (which certainly weren’t around back when I started blogging), they are important as a way to hook people in. Even those social networks don’t give you complete access to people who want to follow you. Most of us, as bloggers know, people don’t see all of our messages on our Facebook pages. The same thing is beginning to happen on Twitter now. We’re also seeing it in the last week or so. Instagram have announced that there’s an algorithm now that’s going to determine whether people see our images and our videos on Instagram. It’s frustrating.
Not everyone opens every email we send, but it is your reader who makes that decision. The only real change that’s happened in the last few years with email is really Google (through Gmail) is now giving people their little folders, promotional, or updates. That does decrease the effectiveness of email in some ways, but I haven’t seen it massively decrease the effectiveness. I still think today that email is the number one way that most of us should be getting subscribers to our blog.
Lesson number three was email is so powerful. Lesson number four is that there are so many ways to make money from blogging. When I started out, I said before, I started out by putting some AdSense ads on my blog. That was the first way I started to make a few dollars.
I began to experiment with some Amazon affiliate promotions. I was already promoting books, so I was earning 8% commission on a book. It wasn’t really a massive amount of income. Simply by adding a second income stream, that diversified my income and it increased my income. Many bloggers soon start out, and they look around at all the blogs in the nation, they might see everyone monetizing with sponsored posts. But I want to encourage you to open your eyes to the fact that there are probably hundreds of different ways that you can monetize your blog.
If you go and listen to episode 37 and check out the show notes there, you’ll see a money map that I created, that has 30 or 40 different ways of monetizing a blog listed. You can do it through a variety of different types of advertising, affiliate marketing, continuity programs, having a membership area, selling all kinds of virtual products like ebooks, courses, or reports. You can sell your services as a coach, as a speaker. You could write a book. There’s a whole heap of different ways in monetizing your blog. Go and check out episode 37 for a variety of different ways that you can do that.
Just be aware that there’s not just one available to you. There’s a whole heap of different options. At different stages of your blog, you may actually find that some of these different options work better than other times. As you get a bigger readership, it opens up different avenues to make money from your blog. Really, it varies from niche to niche as well, and the style of blog that you have.
For me, I have a teaching blog. Digital Photography School teaches people how-to, same with ProBlogger, really. Using advertising like AdSense doesn’t really convert as well as selling a teaching product like an ebook or a course. Depending on the style of the blog that you have, you want to experiment with different styles of monetization.
There’s always new ways of monetizing that are popping up as well. In the last year or two, we have started to sell things like printables on Digital Photography School. We started to sell software presets for Adobe Lightroom. These are things I would not ever even imagined selling off my blog in the early days.
Lesson number four is there’s a whole heap of different ways to monetize your blog. Lesson number five is also about monetization. That is to create something to sell. I’ve already mentioned numerous times, I’d started off predominantly making my money in blogging through advertising, running ad networks like AdSense. Another one is called Chitika, which I used in the early days. I experimented with another one that Yahoo! used to run. Ad networks and then selling ads directly to advertisers. These worked really well for me. But I always had this dream that I wanted to sell ebooks on my blog. I just explained why because I have a teaching blog. I wanted to teach people, and I thought I could probably monetize for that.
I put off creating that ebook for a long, long time. I may tell you that story a little bit later on in this podcast. Eventually I did and I decided to create my first ebook and it was called The Essential Guide to Portrait Photography.
Essentially, it was me taking some of the best articles that are written and published on the topic of portraiture and putting them into an ebook, a PDF. I was really clear to my readers that all this content, most of these content was already available on the blog for free. I did add in a little bit of original content by doing some interviews with portrait photographers.
I wasn’t sure whether that was going to sell or not, but I put it out there, I put the work in, and I created this ebook. We sold it on the first day. At $15 a pop, we sold 1100 ebooks. Over $15,000 in a day. That launch of that ebook lasted about 10 days. It dipped off a bit, and the last day I sent out another email saying, “Hey, The introductory offer’s discount is ending today.” On the last day we sold another 1200 or so ebooks. Over the week we sold 4000 copies of this ebook.
It illustrated to me that it’s a very powerful thing to have something of your own to sell, particularly if you’ve got a loyal audience. The reason that ebook sold well is that I had already worked for a couple of years on really building trust with my audience, providing value to my audience, and showing them that I cared about them, and building community with my audience.
When you build a blog and you do that, you are useful to people, you change their lives in some way, and then you offer them something to buy of yours, not just something you’re recommending on someone else that you’re getting a commission on, but something of yours, that’s a very powerful thing. Some of your audience will buy whatever you sell just simply to say thank you. I found that quite amazing. I got emails from people saying, “I know this is all on the blog already, but I just wanted to say thank you because my photography has improved.”
Other people ordered because it was more useful to them to have it all in one spot. It was logically arranged for them. Even though they had read all those articles, they wanted to dig back into them again and again. And then new readers came to the blog, and they couldn’t be bothered surfing around the whole blog finding all these scattered articles. They just wanted them all under one place. For whatever reason, it was a very powerful thing.
The other thing I realized about having something to sell is that it brought a bit of legitimacy to the side as well. To be able to say, “We’re not just a blog, we have published this thing. We’ve created this thing for you.” And people paid attention to that. I noticed the same thing happened when I became a book author as well. Wiley approached us to write the ProBlogger book. That brought some legitimacy, some credibility to the site as well. Creating a product to sell has a whole heap of different tangible benefits.
Back in 2009, before I created that book, I think my income was about 60% from advertising, it may have been even 70%, and about 30% from affiliate commissions. In February 2011, after I launched that first ebook, I doubled my income essentially that month because my advertising revenue didn’t go away. I just had this extra income from this product. It’s an easier way to grow your income as well.
For those of you who have been listening to ProBlogger and seeing Digital Photography School, you know that we didn’t just stop at one ebook. I created a whole series of them. I think we’ve published something like 35 ebooks now and a number of courses. As I’ve mentioned before, we’ve sold presets for Lightroom, printables, and a variety of other products as well. Advertising is a small part of our revenue. Even though it didn’t go away, that revenue is still about the same of what it used to be, but we’ve added these other streams in as well.
If you want to learn a little bit more about creating products, I encourage you to go back and listen to episode 67. That was part of a series I did called Today, Not Someday. It was a series of 10 things that you can do today that will pay off for the long-term of your blog.
Go back and listen to episode 66, that was the start of that Today, Not Someday series. It gives you 10 really practical things to do today that would pay off forever. Episode 67 is where I talk about creating a product for your blog. Very powerful lesson. It’s something that completely changed by business and my whole approach to blogging.
Lesson number six is a bit different. I’m not going to talk about monetization here. I want to talk about content. Those of you who have heard me speak have probably heard me talk about this particular one. I’m very big on creating content that informs, inspires, and interacts.
If you look at most of the content on my blogs, I fit into the information category. We teach people. We produce a lot of tutorials, how-to articles. This is our bread and butter. Probably 90% of the content that I publish is how-to. It’s good. It lends itself to selling information products and how-to content as a product, whether it be an ebook or a course, and also to recommend other people’s products as an affiliate.
It’s a good model to have, but you know what? I’ve noticed that people read my how-to content a whole heap more if I also sprinkled in some inspirational content. Most of my articles, I’m just looking at one now on Digital Photography School, it’s Eight Tips for Long Exposure Photography. It’s about how to use this technique, a long shutter speed and take and a cool photo using this technique.
But do you know what? That article (and I remember publishing that article) did pretty well. The next week I published a collection of images that used that technique. I think we called it Long-Exposure Photography: 15 Stunning Examples. When I published that inspirational piece of content that shows the results that you could achieve if you use this informational tutorial, the numbers of people who read that first information post exponentially increased.
I did this by accident the first time. I was like, “I’ve written this tutorial. What can I post today? Let’s just post some cool images that used that sort of technique.” I linked back to that first article and do you know what? People went and read that article like crazy that day. It illustrated the power for me of inspiration. Your inspirational content has the power to drive people to your informational content.
Then what we started to do is something different. This is probably about a year later. I’d already discovered the power of information and inspiration together. I then started at the end of the week, once we’ve done a tutorial, and then an image collection. At the end of the week, I started to challenge my readers to do something with that information. It became an interactional piece of content. We would issue our readers a challenge. The challenge might be long-exposure photography. Go away, read that article, have a look at the inspirational images, practice it, and come back and show us your best photo using the technique that you’ve learned, having been inspired by those photos.
What I found is that by doing these three pieces of content every week and linking them together, it increased page views which was nice, helped with stats. But you know what it really did? It actually made our readers learn something because I had information, I had inspiration to take on that information, and then they had the opportunity to do something. We all know that we learn so much more not just when we’re taught but when we do.
Experiment with those types of content. You will also find that by doing those three different types of content, you will hit different personality types. Some people don’t like a whole heap of information. They just want to be inspired and that’s okay. Some people are more social. They like to interact around the topic. Experiment with information, inspiration, interaction. That’s lesson number six.
Lesson number seven is a little bit more entrepreneurial and it sounds a little bit more new-age in some ways. It is to look for sparks. Look for sparks. What I realized is that most of the big things that I’ve done over the last 13 years actually started as tiny little things. Little glimmering sparks that made me curious or that gave me energy.
When I told you that story earlier about how I started blogging, I got an email with four words in it that made me curious. That was a spark, and because I paid attention to that spark, followed my curiosity, and then acted upon it, I experimented with something, it changed my life. It literally changed the direction of my life. Pay attention to those little things that give you energy, those little things that keep you awake at night. You never know, those little things just might become your next big thing.
I’ve said this in a number of talks and I’m going to link in the show notes today to a talk I gave at the World Domination Summit. It’s quite a long talk. It almost goes for an hour and I talk in more detail about this idea of paying attention to sparks of energy. One of the things that I mentioned in that talk is that at the end of every day, I ask myself as part of our meditation (usually as I fall asleep), “What gave me energy today?” I make note of those things that gave me energy.
Then I ask myself a second question, “What gave those around me energy today?” Particularly, things that were in reaction to something that I had done. Did I write a post? Did I tweet? Did I put out an Instagram image? Did I release a podcast? It gave energy back. Did people resonate with those things? Pay attention to those sparks.
I’ve told the story many times of when I just created 31 Days to Build a Better Blog. The first time I did that, it really started as a very impulsive thing. I was lying awake in bed at night, 2:00 AM, and I just had this idea to do a month-long series of posts on ProBlogger. I didn’t know what to call it. I didn’t know what the 31 posts would be but the idea was that every day, I’d give people a little bit of teaching, then an activity to go away and do, and then people would come back and share what they learned and what they’d done during the day.
This idea gave me a bit of energy. I got a bit excited. I couldn’t sleep. I got up, out of bed at 2:00 AM and I wrote this post saying, “Tomorrow, I’m starting this thing. It’s called…” and I came up with the name on the spot, “31 Days to Build a Better Blog. If you’re interested, leave a comment.” Then I went to bed. I forgot about it. I slept easy. Woke up the next morning and it was a vague memory in my mind. Did I really do that? Did I really publish that? Went and checked out the post and there were more comments on that post than I would normally get in a week. This idea that gave me energy, made me excited, I put it out there and it gave other people energy. It made them excited.
I had to quickly work out what day 1 of this 31-day series was going to be because I promised I was going to start it the next day. That began this series of posts that became the biggest month of traffic on the blog to that point. When I did it again two years later, again it was the biggest month of traffic. Then two years later, I did it again and then it turned into an ebook. Those of you who have been listening to this podcast since the beginning know that I launched this podcast with 31 episodes, which were basically a rewrite and an update of 31 Days to Build a Better Blog. If you’re new to the podcast, go back to episode 1, work yourself through those 31 episodes.
That all started because I paid attention to something that gave me energy, something that gave me a bit of excitement, that made me curious and I put out there. I experimented with it. I allowed it to get some oxygen and I watched to see what people would do, how people would react to it. This is a pattern that you need to build into your life whether you’re a blogger or an entrepreneur in some other way.
Whether you’re a podcaster, whether you have an online store, pay attention to what gives you energy. Experiment and watch what gives other people energy. Pay attention to those things because they’re the golden things. They are things that you will be able to sustain because they excite you. But they’re also things that have the potential to be profitable because they excite other people as well.
Lesson number eight. I took longer on that one than I was going to, but I do go into it in more depth in that World Domination Summit Talk. The other thing about that talk is you will see me dressed in tights during it, in a superman costume so you want to watch right to the end of that one. That hopefully makes you a little bit curious. Don’t look too close at it though.
Lesson number eight is to be active. Just to say really quickly, one of my mantras, one of the things that I’ve had printed out next to my computer for many years is a question. The question is, “What action will I take today that will grow my blog?” What action are you going to take today that will grow your blog? I get distracted so easily. I find that it’s so easy to get to the end of the day and just think, “What did I do today and did it take me towards my goals?”
It’s very easy to be passive and reactive. It’s so easy to become reactive. First thing we often do in the morning is look at our emails, and then we answer our emails. That’s just reactive stuff. There’s nothing wrong with being reactive but the best entrepreneurs are creators. They’re initiators. They build stuff. They don’t just spend their life reacting. They take action.
Constantly assess how you’re using your time. Are you being reactive or are you being constructive? Be someone who is taking action as much as possible. One of the best things I ever did when I created that first ebook, Essential Guide to Portrait Photography, I had this dream of creating that ebook but I didn’t know how to get it done because my life was too full. I didn’t have time to create, to construct, to build that project.
So I decided the only way I was going to get it done is to take 15 minutes every day and to build it 15 minutes at a time. I got up early every morning and I wrote that ebook. I created it. I spent my time initially planning it, then I spent my time writing and then collating it. Then I spent my time finding a designer for it, researching how to get it up online, and which shopping cart to use. Then I spent my 15 minutes a day doing the sales copy for it, and researching how other people did their sales pages. Then I spent my 15 minutes a day getting the email ready, and getting all the technical parts of it ready. Then I put it out there.
It was 15 minutes a day over 3 or 4 months. It took a long time, but 15 minutes a day of action. I told you what happened before. We sold 4000–5000 copies of that thing in the first 9 days. During those nine days as I watched those sales roll in, the thing that kept going through my mind was, “Why didn’t I do this earlier?” Be an action taker.
Lesson number nine is simply to let your worlds collide a little. When I had previously gone through these 10 things, I used to say, “Do good.” I think that could be another way of saying it. One of the things I’ve realized over the last 13 or so years now doing this is that it’s okay to let your readers see what you are passionate about that’s beyond the niche that you’re writing about. For me, as I started blogging and as I started ProBlogger in 2004, I was really aware that I had to blog about blogging, yet I also had a whole heap of other passions in my life.
I used to keep those things separate. I used to think, “You know, yeah. I’m passionate about issues in developing countries and this world, I’m passionate about disability, and I’m passionate about giving people a voice who are marginalized and some of these types of things.” This is stuff that I’m passionate about in my own personal life. I don’t want to shove those things down people’s throats, but I used to think if I talk about those things in the context of ProBlogger, people are going to react against that. They didn’t come to ProBlogger to hear about those types of things, so I never mention them, at all.
A few years ago, I think it was in 2011, I was approached by a not-for-profit to go to Tanzania to witness some work that they were doing. It was an organization, it was called CBM, and they were doing a lot of work in Tanzania with people with disability. They’re working in a hospital there with people who ran a whole heap of different issues. There was a women’s maternal health issues and fistula. There were issues around cataracts and blindness. There were issues of kids born with clubbed feet and orthopedic issues.
This was the stuff that really excited me to go and look at this place, but the whole thing they wanted me to do was to write about it and to blog about it and to share what I saw. I was really nervous about doing that project. I didn’t really know how my readers on ProBlogger or Digital Photography School were going to react when I started talking about these sorts of issues. But you know what? My readers really responded really well. I didn’t get a complaint. I didn’t do heaps of posts about it, but I certainly shared what I was doing on my social media and I did write a few blog posts about it.
You know what? It was one of the best things that I ever did. One, because I was able to use the influence that I built to do something that really mattered and that made a difference (I hope), to be able to put the microphone in social media and blogging in front of these kids that I met in that hospital in Tanzania. It was a powerful thing, and it brought some attention to the good work that was being done there.
It actually made me more personal to my readers. I got a lot of my readers say, “I’d never seen that side of you before and I suddenly feel like I can relate to you a lot more.” I hesitated to talk about this one today in these 10 lessons, but I think it’s really important. There are ways to let your worlds collide a little bit, to talk about the other things that you’re passionate about.
You don’t want your blogging blog to become overrun with you writing about disability, for instance but I think it’s okay to allow your readers to see there’s this other side of you. It may simply be by talking about your family a little bit or by talking about where you’ve been on a holiday or vacation. Those types of things, they can be important, too, in personalizing what you do and showing you’re not just this robot who talks 100% about the topic of whatever it is that you write about but that you are a person, too. I think that can personalize your blog.
If you’re passionate about things that do matter and that are meaningful, that makes the world a better place. I guess I encourage you to let your worlds collide a little and use your influence not only for your benefit, not only for your readers’ benefit, but to make the world a better place in some way. If you can find a way to do that, I encourage you to do that, to explore that, to at least wrestle with it because you never know what you might find. It may actually become your thing. That intersection between your two worlds, that may become what makes you distinct and that may become your big thing, the way that you make a difference.
All right. I’ve talked for a long time here, and this is probably the longest podcast I’ve ever done in my 100, but I’m really passionate about all these 10 things. The last one is I think really important, too. This is lesson number 10. Aim to have a big impact upon the readers you already have.
I put this one in because just fresh in my mind is a couple of conversations with bloggers who seem so obsessed with finding new readers for their blog, that they almost seem blind to the fact that they already had some readers. I’ve seen this many times over the years that as bloggers, we often fall into the trap of always looking for the new traffic and always looking for the new reader. Most that’s important (and we talked a lot), there’s a whole category of podcasts that we talked about finding readers, tactics to do that.
I’m a really strong believer in not losing sight of the readers that you already have. The readers you already have can help you find new readers. They’re the ones who are much more likely to buy your products, to respond to your affiliate messages, to help you to monetize your blog. The readers you already have, have already been on the journey with you. They feel most connected to you. They trust you. They like you, hopefully. They know you. These are very powerful things.
Don’t lose sight of the fact that you already have readers. Don’t just chase after the new ones. Look after the ones that you already have. The reason I wanted to include this is one is that I am incredibly grateful for you listening to this podcast that I’ve done over the last 8–9 months and my first 100 episodes.
I have kept at this for 100 episodes now because of the emails that I get from you, the comments that I see from you, the tweets that you send me, and the fact that I know that on the other sides of the almost 900,000 downloads of my episodes so far, I know that there are people. There are people who (by the sounds of things) are benefiting from what I’m doing. I just want to acknowledge you and I want to thank you at this time for listening for this amount of time, for investing in this episode, listening to this episode, but also for many of you investing in, listening to 100 episodes and committing to listen to more.
I want to thank you and I want to commit to continuing to podcast going forward. I have no end date in mind. I have at least another 100 ideas of other episodes, but I really wanted you to know that I value you and look forward to continuing this journey together.
There are my 10 lessons. You know what? As I was putting this particular podcast together, I realized there’s probably another 10 things that I could talk about. So maybe, I’ll put that together as an episode at some point as well. I wanted to put this one out there partly just to thank you and share some of my story. I know this podcast at times can get a little technical, and we can talk very topical. I kind of wanted to take a step back and talk about some of the big picture stuff as well.
I’d love to hear some of the lessons you’ve learned. You can go to today’s show notes at problogger.com/podcast/100. Share the lessons you’ve learned. I’d also love to hear which of the 10 things I’ve talked about resonate most with you, which of them are things that are going to stimulate change for you. What have you learned in the first 100 episodes of the ProBlogger podcast? That’ll be the other thing I’m interested to hear. If you’ve got suggestions on what you like to hear in the next 100, you can leave those comments, too.
Lastly, I want to thank my team. I have an amazing team. Laney, Grove, and Stacy who work really hard on ProBlogger. There’s a whole team of others who work at Digital Photography School. I want to acknowledge Rose who was a big part of editing so many of the first 100 episodes. The more recent times, I want to acknowledge podcastmotor.com who have become the editors and producers of our podcast here at ProBlogger. They are an amazing service and you can check them out at podcastmotor.com.
Thanks, everyone for listening and I’ll chat with you in the coming days on episode 101.
You’ve been listening to ProBlogger. If you’d like to comment on any of today’s topics or subscribe to the series, find us at problogger.com/podcast. Tweet us at @problogger. Find us at facebook.com/problogger or search ProBlogger on iTunes.
How did you go with today’s episode?
I value my listeners, and I look forward to continuing this journey together. Thank you for listening and, I hope you enjoyed my story.
I’d also like to thank my team on ProBlogger and Digital Photography School, and Rose who edited most of the last 100 ProBlogger podcast episodes, and our new podcast editors and producers, PodcastMotor.
I’d love to hear some of the lessons that you have learned and what lessons resonated most with you. Leave your comments or suggestions for the future 100 shows below.
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