Note: you can listen to this episode above or load it up in iTunes.

How to Keep Growing a Successful Blog When It All Seems Too Hard

Today’s episode is about how to face the things that you are struggling with on your blog and how to make it successful despite the challenges. There are many hurdles to building a successful blog. Every blogger encounters their own unique combination of challenges. I share 9 of the major hurdles I’ve faced with my blogging and how I’ve got over them.

Piggy bank and maze by Lemon Tree Images on

In This Episode

You can listen to today’s episode above or in iTunes or Stitcher (where we’d also LOVE to get your reviews on those platforms if you have a moment). In today’s episode:

  • How I managed to start a blog without even knowing how to make text bold!
  • Why you need to make peace with the fact that you will never know it all
  • How you can get other people to help you with your blog, even when it’s not making any money yet
  • Why being willing to learn new things will help you, even if you decide to pay other people to do the things you can’t do
  • How to keep blogging when you’re scared of looking stupid
  • How to find a focus for your blog
  • How to get new ideas when you can’t think of anything
  • How to keep blogging when you feel burnt out
  • Why taking care of your wellbeing and physical
  • How to deal with personal attacks or criticism
  • How to build your blog readership
  • How to build a profitable blog (how to choose which monetization model is right for you)
  • Why relying too much on advertising can hurt your blog
  • How to find time to blog even when you’re working other jobs and have a young family

Further Reading and Resources for How to Keep Growing a Successful Blog When It All Seems Too Hard

Full Transcript Expand to view full transcript Compress to smaller transcript view
Hi there and welcome to episode 57 of the ProBlogger podcast. My name is Darren Rowse. Today, I want to talk about some of the hurdles that I’ve faced as a blogger and how I got over them. It strikes me that many bloggers who listen to this podcast are at different stages in their journey. Because we’re all at different stages, we’re all facing different challenges right now. 

Today, I sat down for a good couple of hours and thought back over the last 13 years of my own blogging and some of the major hurdles that I’ve faced along the way. I want to share them with you today because many times when I talk to people, people see the end result of what I’ve built and what other bloggers have built. I’ve got ProBlogger, I’ve got Digital Photography School, but the reality is that those two blogs, well, ProBlogger started in 2004 and Digital Photography School in 2007. Whilst you see the finished result or the result of 2015 today, you haven’t seen the journey along the way. I’m really aware that perhaps it’s useful to share some of the challenges that I faced along the way because I know many of them are similar to what you’re facing today too.

Today, I want to present to you nine hurdles that I’ve faced as a blogger and how I got over them. You can find today’s show notes at where I’ve got a stack of further reading for you. I’m not going to go into great depth into each of the nine hurdles. I do have some practical things to say about each one, but I want to give you further reading so that you can go away and dig into them more, particularly the ones that relate to you. Let’s get into today’s nine hurdles.

The first hurdle that I struck up against when I first started blogging back in 2002 on my first personal blog was that I was a complete technological Luddite. I often tell the story about how for three months after I started that first blog, I didn’t know how to make text bold on my first blog. I just had no experience previously in anything to do with creating content online or setting up a blog particularly. The only thing I’d really done online up until that point was to use email, do a little bit of search, Google wasn’t even around back then it was Netscape, and I had used some IRC chat. None of it was really particularly technical. I had certainly never coded anything. I’d never had to register a domain, or set up a server, or design any kind of website.

When I started out, I started out on a free blog platform. Back then, it was called Blogger or Blogspot, which is now Blogger today and owned by Google. Back then it wasn’t even owned by Google. A lot of what you had to do, even with Blogger back then, whilst it was all templated and all hosted for you, you didn’t need to know some code. That’s why I didn’t know how to make text bold because you needed to know the HTML back then. There was no what you see is what you can get. I didn’t need to learn a lot. 

As I look back, I realize that whilst it felt overwhelming at the time, I never really needed to know everything when I first started out. This is I guess one of the things I’d encourage you with if you’re feeling overwhelmed with the technological side of blogging, is that you don’t need to know every single thing about that tech side. There will be times where you do need to be intentional about your learning and learn a new skill, but you don’t need to learn it all at once.

The key is to be a learner, even if you’re going to eventually outsource some of this stuff, which is what I did. It’s good to get a grasp of the basics; to be able to understand the basics of HTML, to be able to understand the basics of servers, to understand the basics of how to set up a WordPress blog. Even if you don’t use that over and over again, it does help you when you’re talking with people who you outsource to. 

Another thing is that you need to almost make peace with the fact that there’s always going to be something else to learn. Almost making peace with that that you don’t know it all and you don’t have to know it all can actually be something that helps you. Take it one step at a time. The other thing for me is the realization that whilst you don’t know it all, and whilst I don’t know it all, together we do know it all. There are plenty of helpful people around on the internet. I remember a month or so into my first blog, beginning to network with other bloggers and realize that some of those other bloggers did know more than me. Many of them were willing to share what they learned.

For the first year or so of my blogging, I interacted with a couple over in New Zealand, Rachel and Regan Cunliffe. They helped me to learn some of the basics, and then eventually Rachel designed my blog. At first, we bartered services, not that I really had much to offer her at the time. Later on, we actually became collaborators on a project as well. You never quite know where those relationships will go. In the early days, you may not be able to afford to hire someone, but there are plenty of Facebook groups and other groups of helpful people out there who will help you.

As you do begin to earn something from your blog, I would encourage you though to begin to outsource what you can and what you can afford because that will certainly help you to focus on the things that you do know how to do, which is really important. Challenge number one for me is technological know-how. I can barely even say that let alone do a lot of the tech stuff on my blog. Really today, to this day, I’m still not that technologically-minded. I’m a testament to the fact that you can build a relatively successful blog and still not know it all on this front. Again, I got some further reading in today’s show notes on some of the tech side of setting up a blog. You might want to check that reading out too.

Hurdle number two I want to talk about briefly today is the fear of looking stupid. This is probably another one of those really early challenges that is probably quite tied to the first hurdle that I’ve talked about. As a result of being challenged in the area of the technological side of my blogs, I did always worry that I was looking a little bit stupid. I have really distinct memories of those first few months of blogging where I would compare my horribly designed blog. What I thought was a pretty badly written blog, I never had training in writing, with other bloggers who seemed to know what they were doing. I fell for the comparison game that many of us fall into. 

Luckily, I got past this fear of looking stupid and kept working on developing my blogging voice and skill set. Over time, some of that fear of looking stupid began to subside. For me, one of the keys to getting past this was to focus not so much on what I didn’t know and how I looked but to focus on creating content with my blog that really attempted to solve tangible problems that I knew people have. People will get past the fact that your blog may not look pretty, or that you may not know everything there is to know about blogging if you are helping them in some way. If you are being constructive and you are creating content that does tangibly help people, then they’ll look past how you might look, and see your heart, and see that you are a helpful person, you’re a useful person. 

Also, if you’re struggling with fear, you might want to check out episode 54 of this podcast. Just a couple of episodes ago now where I did give some other suggestions on facing fear.

Hurdle number three that I’ve come up against many times, I have to say, is finding a focus for my blogging. Particularly in the early days of my blog, my first blog was quite general, it was a personal blog. I might describe it as today, although I didn’t use that term back then. It was just what everyone did with blogging back in 2002 where I write about all kinds of stuff. 

Previous to blogging, I’ve been working as a minister. I used to talk a lot on my first blog about churches, theology, and spirituality. But in time, I broadened that to talk about other interests that I had including movies, politics, photography, life in Australia, and then later on, talking about blogging itself. What I found is that the more topics that I wrote about, the more I enjoyed blogging, but the more pushback I got from my readers who didn’t always share that eclectic mix of interests that I had.

I decided to start niching down. I began to start blogs on different topics and different niches. My first one was a photography one, then I started ProBlogger. I then started a whole heap of other blogs. I’ve had about 30 over the years. That was my approach, I guess, to finding focus. Whilst not every blogger does that, not every blogger has a single focus for their blogs, I do find that most successful blogs at least have some way of focusing their blog. Whether it be the topic or niche, or whether it be the demographic of their reader, or whether it be some sort of a fight or cause that they’re on about. I’ve got some further reading on how to find some focus with your blog that I’ll share in the show notes today. 

I would encourage you to try and give that some thought. If you do have quite a general blog, it can be easier to monetize a blog that has some kind of focus to it. Also, it can be easier to find a readership for it. There are, of course, bloggers who are exceptions to this. There are a few general kinds of blogs out there, but most of them do have some focus in one way or another.

Hurdle number four that I want to talk about today is blogger’s block. It was about a few years into my own blogging that I had my first bout of blogger’s block. I found that it was soul-destroying. I’d been working on my blog for at least two or three years I guess by this stage and things had been relatively easy. I kind of went into this period where the creative juices just stopped flowing. I would just sit there at the computer staring at an empty draft of a post and wonder if I’d ever, ever come up with an idea to write about again. It was soul-destroying stuff. The first time for me I think it lasted about a week or so, but I’ve had numerous bouts of blogger’s block since.

One of the keys I think to overcome blogger’s block is to work out what kind of blogger’s block you have. As I look back over the last 13 years of my own blogging, I realized that the blogger’s block that I’ve had has actually been different at different times. At times, the block is around what should I write about? It’s almost ideas block. Other times, it’s the writing process that seems to be the problem. It’s the writer’s block I guess, or the creation block. Then other times, still, I’ve had a lot of ideas and I’ve written a lot, but I’ve not completed what I’ve written. I look at my drafts and I have 40 or 50 unpublished drafts. It’s almost completion block. Then I guess, even just to work out what type of blogger’s block you might be suffering can help you to move towards breaking through that.

For me, it’s about trying to work out where is the blockage and how I can allocate more time, more creativity, and more energy to that particular area. If I’m struggling with ideas block, I find rather than sitting at my computer as I sit down to write a new post, if I have already brainstormed a whole heap of ideas, then that can help me to combat that ideas block. Just work out which one it is and then begin to allocate some extra time to that particular activity. Again, I’ve got further reading in today’s show notes on battling with blogger’s block. Particularly a post that I wrote, which gives you 11 tips to breaking through that blogger’s block.

Hurdle number five I want to talk about today is kind of related in some ways. It is a blogger’s burnout. There were times, particularly in the early days of my blogging probably about year three, year four, where I went through times where I almost burnt myself out with the amount of work I was putting into my blogging. This is just after I’d gone full time, and I was really excited about blogging. I became quite obsessed with them in many ways, but I also began to work on lots and lots and lots of projects. 

There was one time when I was running 20 blogs at the one time, and I was trying to publish content to them every day. It was a recipe for disaster because the quality of my blogging suffered, but so too did my health. The solution really was I had to scale back. In order to be able to sustain my blogging, I had to pull right back, just do a couple of blogs. They’re the two blogs that I still have today, ProBlogger and Digital Photography School. By doing that, I raised the quality of what I was able to produce. I was also able to sustain that and to sustain my own life in many ways as well. My health improved as a result.

The realization is that you don’t need to have a whole heap of projects on the go at the same time. There’s a realization that came to me that you don’t even need to publish daily. This is a myth that a lot of bloggers buy into is that you need to be producing new content every single day. Whilst that is a successful model for many bloggers, it’s not the only model. There are plenty of blogs around that may only publish three or four times a week. My wife only publishes three times a week. On ProBlogger, at the moment, we publish four or five posts a week. I know other bloggers who only publish once a week, one really great article. This idea of slow blogging rather than fast blogging is really something that can be sustainable. It’s about quality over quantity.

Another realization for me over the years is that I need to take breaks. Even from the early days of my own blogging, we always took an annual holiday as a family, which was time away from blogging. Lastly, paying attention to your own health, your own mental health, and your own well-being is really important. Those of you who’ve been listening to the ProBlogger podcast will remember episode 38 where I talk about my biggest lesson of building a profitable blog and really had nothing to do with blogging itself. It had all to do with finding myself, finding my why, and getting back in touch with my own well-being. Go and listen to episode 38 if you want to hear my own story of humiliation, which turned that around for me.

Hurdle number six that I want to talk about today is dealing with personal attack. Blogging is one of those mediums where you just have to keep putting yourself out there. Your ideas, your experiences, your story, sometimes your photo, your video, and your voice if you’re podcasting. When you do that, from time to time, you will get people critiquing what you do. You’ll get a lot of feedback as they like to call it, but many times it can be critique. In the main, I’ve not had a lot of nasty attacks. I actually find that if you take a relatively positive, constructive approach to your blogging, that 99.9% of people will have a positive and constructive reaction to you. On the flip side to that, if you take a kind of a snarky aggressive tone to your blogging, you might get that kind of feedback back as well.

Even if you are constructive and positive, you will occasionally get attacks. Some people seem to attract more negative attacks and personal attacks than other people, but I find in the main, if you’re positive, it will only be the minority of people who do that. In some ways, this is just all part of blogging and putting yourself out there. There have been a couple of instances over the last 13 years where the critique of other people began to feel more like a personal attack than constructive and genuine dialogue. 

This really can take its toll. I do actually remember a couple of times over the 13 years where I actually began to wonder whether it was worth continuing with blogging. It’s kind of weird that it only really sometimes takes one or two people really going in hard at you to make you consider whether you should give up, even though there are tens of thousands of other people who are very positive towards you. It’s very easy to dwell upon that negative stuff.

I remember particularly on one occasion, this was really tough when the attack not only became personal but it became physical. The person actually tracked me down here in Melbourne. It ended up being a very not nice situation. Thankfully, one that where things worked out in the end after a bit of a frightening encounter. I guess it was a realization to me that you really need to pay attention to your own well-being and how you’re going to put yourself out there in this way. 

There’s no real solution to this. We probably should and could do a whole episode on this particular topic. I actually will try and get some other bloggers to give some input on this. A few of my own tips on dealing with this feedback, critique, personal attack of other people; it partly is about trying to get a thicker skin and not react in some ways. I know that’s not the easiest thing to hear, but over time, you do become a little bit more used to that. Sometimes there is a place to try and listen to the critique and to learn from it if there’s something valid in it. Many times, when it gets nasty, it’s probably more about trying to put some distance between you and the critique.

Certainly don’t seek out the negative stuff. If you do go looking for negatives, you’ll probably find it. Don’t go seeking it. Secondly, surround yourself with positive people, this is both online and offline. It’s really important to have offline people that you can find positivity in those relationships and to find support in the offline, but also online. Get your online cheer squad around you as well. It might be a matter of getting a Facebook group around you of other bloggers who are in your niche that you can support each other through those tougher times. 

Remember that many times the nastiness is more about the circumstances of the other person than anything to do with you at all. There’s been many times where I’ve been on the receiving ends of really nasty stuff and then hear a few days later that that person is actually really sorry that they did that and they were having a really rough day. Remember that it’s many times nothing to do with you at all and more about what the person’s going through.

There are certainly times where you can turn the other person around with a kind response or a generous response, but there are also many times where you need to ignore, and sometimes when you either need to block or delete that person’s comments, or block them on social media. There are also times where you need to seek the help and intervention of other people in this whole process as well. 

I don’t really feel like I’ve brilliantly covered some how-tos on this. I know there are many different approaches to dealing with critique, and particularly attack. It’s certainly something that I want to return to and get some expertise on this podcast in a future episode.

The seventh hurdle that I’ve faced is one that I know almost every blogger has faced. Maybe 1% of bloggers have never faced this, but it’s around building readership. When it comes to building a profitable blog, there’s no escaping the fact that you do need to build your readership. You don’t need to have millions of readers to be a full-time blogger. There are some monetization models where you won’t need as many readers, but every blog monetization strategy that I can think of relies upon having some people read your blog. In most cases, the more people we have, the easier it is to make money from your blog. This is really frustrating and is a massive hurdle for most bloggers as I say.

I remember times in the early days of my own blogging where I almost lost hope after hours and hours of writing great content every week and then looking at the stats and realizing that really nobody was reading it at all. I don’t want to give you a whole heap of practical tips on this particular topic here because over the last 56 episodes, we’ve probably done about 10 podcasts on this topic already. I will link back to those episodes in today’s show notes. There’s a whole finding readers category of this podcast. It’s probably the category that has the most podcast episodes in it already. 

I would encourage you to take a long term view of that. It does take time to build that readership; it does snowball and build momentum over time. Particularly pay attention though in the early days of your blog to growing your readership one by one and looking after the readers that you have. Don’t become so obsessed with finding new readers that you ignore the current ones you already have. 

Only two more hurdles to go here. Hurdle number eight is finding the right monetization model. Again, this is another thing I’ve talked about in previous episodes. There is some further reading and some further listening in the show notes. Having readers is not enough if you want to build a profitable blog. You also need to pay attention to how to monetize that. That can take a little bit of time to work out what model is right for you. 

For me, I’ve actually constantly experimented with this. In the early days for me, it was putting some AdSense ads on my blog and experimenting with Amazon’s affiliate program. Whilst I still do those two things even today 13 years later, there have been 12 or so income streams that I’ve experimented with over the years. It’s actually probably more like 15 now. There’s a post in the further reading of today’s show notes where I do go through the first 12 income streams that I added to my own blogs. It’s really important to realize that those 12 income streams didn’t all appear on day one. They came over about 10 years of experimentation.

It’s really key to always be thinking ahead on this particular area as well. Even when you might have an income stream that’s working really well for you, be thinking about the next steps. For me it was AdSense, that was my one thing that was working brilliantly. This is probably about six or seven years ago now. 

I was making really good money from AdSense, but the economy was changing. I began to realize that the advertising model wasn’t going to last forever. That was around the time I began to experiment with different types of affiliate promotions, but also creating my own products. I’m really glad I did that because even though the advertising model didn’t completely go away, it certainly has changed. By adding these other income streams, I not only had a defensive approach to if things did change, I found new income streams from my blog as well. It’s really important to be thinking ahead and experimenting with new models.

The other thing to remember is don’t over-promote. You don’t really want to go too hard on the monetization as well. You really need to balance the need of your readers with your need to sustain your blog. It’s really important to get that balance right and it can tip one way or the other. You can look after your readers’ needs so much that you forget about looking after yourself and that’s not sustainable. If you truly want to serve your readers, you need to sustain yourself. On the other side, you can become so obsessed with making money from your blog that you forget the needs of your readers. Really try and get that balance right. As I look back over the last 13 years, there’s been times where I’ve gone one way or the other and have needed to readjust. 

Be really wary of relying too much upon advertising. It does need a lot of readers and it is dependent upon the economy. When the economy goes up, there tends to be more money going into the advertising from marketers. When the economy goes down, that’s an area that can suffer. Whilst it’s not something to ignore, I would encourage you to experiment with other models. Play with affiliate marketing. It’s a really great learning model to go down. It’s low investment, it means you don’t have to develop any products of your own, but you’ll learn so much by promoting other people’s products and earning your commission. You’ll learn about how to sell, you’ll learn about what type of products work well with your readership, you’ll learn about pricing, and you’ll learn about marketing practices and sales copy. It can also be a really great stepping stone to creating something of your own to sell through those learnings.

Then, I’ll also be thinking about what you can make to sell of your own? This means you don’t need to be promoting other people’s stuff all the time. You can keep people on your own site. This is certainly going to help you to build a more robust business. If you have something of your own to sell, that then becomes a business, having your own product or whether it be your own service. Again, there’s heaps of further reading on today’s show notes on this particular topic and there’s a whole category of this podcast dedicated to making money from your blogs. In recent times, we’ve done podcast episodes particularly on affiliate marketing. There’s a couple there, one on general interaction to affiliate marketing and one on using Amazon’s affiliate program.

The last hurdle that I want to briefly touch on today is time management. This is something which I’ve struggled with from day one. When I started blogging, I was working three part-time jobs and studying part-time as well. I was newly married and kind of getting used to life as a newly married, trying to keep my social life going as well and some voluntary stuff that I was doing. My life was very full. 

Then I became a full-time blogger. I was able to dedicate more time to it and gave up some of those part-time jobs. I finished my part-time study, but you know what, it still was a juggle. Even though I wasn’t juggling all the jobs, I was juggling all the different pressures of having full-time blogs. I have multiple blogs, and different income streams, and lots of reader requests.

Then in more recent times, I’ve had a family, I’ve gotten our three kids. Again, I’m trying to juggle two relatively successful businesses and a team of people that I outsource to. There’s a whole heap of pressures there. It doesn’t really matter what stage of blogging you’re at, time management is so important. There’s a lot to juggle even just in the blogging part of your life. Coming up with topics to write about, writing the content, editing the content, promoting the content, answering comments, engaging in social media, and commenting on other blogs. The list goes on, and on, and on, and on. Then, of course, there’s real-life to manage as well. 

This is something that you just need to constantly be working on. For me, it’s about trying to work out what are my goals, what are my priorities, what do I need to do to get towards those things, and then get organized, be disciplined about how to do that. Also for me, over the last few years about being able to develop a team and outsource some of that as well. Again, I recently did a podcast on this where I gave you seven different tips for being more productive as a blog owner. Outline seven different things that I did at the beginning of this year and late last year in trying to become more productive in my own way. That was episode 40 of the podcast. We’ve also got an e-book on the topic as well, which again, I’ll share with you in today’s show notes.

Today, I’ve just gone through nine different hurdles that I’ve faced over the last 13 years as a blogger. You know what, I realize as I’ve been talking to you today, that I could have probably listed another nine different hurdles. There’s a whole heap of things that we face as bloggers. Whilst I hope that some of the hurdles kind of relate to you and hopefully I’ve said something that’s helped you in the hurdles that you face, the other thing I really wanted to get across today is that we all face these challenges. It can sometimes feel like you’re the only one like you are the only one facing particular challenges. I hope today, in addition to anything practical you’ve got out of this, that you realize you’re not alone in facing this kind of stuff.

I’d love it if you would come to the show notes today, as I’ve mentioned many times, there is a whole heap of further reading on today’s show notes. Also, I’d love to hear about the hurdles that you faced and any practical tips that you can give me and how you face those as well because I’d love to learn from you. I’m sure our other listeners would love to learn from you as well in either any of these nine hurdles that I’ve touched on or anything else that you’ve been facing as well. 

I’m also particularly really looking for stories of bloggers who overcome some of this kind of stuff who might, at some point, come on as a guest for our future podcasts. If you’ve got a story to tell about some hurdle that you’ve overcome that you think might be useful for others, leave a comment in today’s show notes. You can find them at

I’ve been talking for too long today. I have lost control of my tongue, so I might sign off. I really do look forward to reading your comments but also talking with you in episode 58 of the ProBlogger podcast.

How did you go with today’s episode?

What did you learn from today’s episode? What other hurdles are you facing? Do you have any other practical tips that you can share with me and other listeners that have worked for you? What will you try next?

I’d love to hear from you in the comments below.

Finally, if you have a moment we’d love to get your feedback on the ProBlogger Podcast with this short survey which will help us plan future episodes.


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