Over the past year I’ve been meeting with a business coach who has been helping me to look at my blogging as a business rather than just a job. One of the things that has become evident to me is that good sustainable businesses don’t usually just happen by accident.
Instead they take planning, strategy and intentionality.
Thinking through some of the “big picture” issues that underpin your blogging does take some time and brain-power, but (especially if you’re feeling a little bit lost) could be the difference between a good and a great blog.
I know that for some this type of talk will be frustrating – words like mission, vision, values and strategy are not where you’re at – but humor me please. You see I believe that if you get these things right you’ll find many of the next steps that I share later in this article to be much more powerful as you’ll be able to use them in much more focused and effective ways.
This mega-post combines a series I wrote to lead you through a strategic plan process that a friend of mine gave me to think through another (non blogging) project that I’m working on – I think it’s highly relevant for ProBlogging and hope you find it helpful. Here are the steps of the strategic blogging process we are going to follow:
- Present Position
- Future Direction
- Action Plan
Each step of the process gives some homework – a few questions to ask that hopefully will help you to think through the issues at hand. Feel free to answer them in private or to even think out loud in comments of this post.
13 years ago when I started studying my Marketing degree the focus of many of my first year lectures was ‘Mission Statements’. I remember writing mission statement after statement – to the point where I started to dream about them. It was obvious that my lecturers through they were a pretty important starting place for any good business venture.
Whilst perhaps ‘mission statements’ are not quite as much of a buzz phrase as they were in the early 1990s I still see asking questions around mission as a worthwhile task – especially when it comes to blogging.
‘Why do you exist?’
This is the key question that my friend’s strategic process asks in the area of ‘mission’. I don’t think it’s asking us to ponder the meaning of life – it’s not quite that deep – but it does ask a business (blog) owner to try to get back to the basics of what they are on about.
‘Why do you blog?’
Take a few minutes (or better still a few hours or even days) to ponder this question. What is it that you blog for? What are your core motivations? Be honest as you answer this question because it’s important to nail it down as much as you can as everything else comes from this.
Some blogging ‘missions’ might include:
- ‘I blog to make a living’
- ‘I blog for recreational purposes – to help me relax’
- ‘I blog as part of my plan for world domination’
- ‘I blog to keep a record of the life and times of me’
- ‘I blog because I want to help others’
- ‘I blog to because I’m lonely and want to connect with others’
- ‘I blog to pick up cute girls/guys’
- ‘I blog because it’s fun’
- ‘I blog because I want to build profile – I want to be known’
These are just a few examples that come to mind off the top of my head. Some of us will have simple sentences, for others our reasons for blogging might be a little more complex and combine a number of things.
One person’s blogging mission will be different from another’s – there is really no right or wrong here – behind each blogger there is some sort of mission whether it’s deep, shallow, silly, smart, selfish or altruistic. The task now is to name yours.
To identify these missions is very helpful because knowing why we blog then helps us to work out how we should blog to best reach our mission.
So what is your mission? Why do you blog?
This is not a question about measurable goals or strategies and your answer probably shouldn’t be too blog specific yet (ie don’t write one for each of your blogs if you have more than one) – rather get at your motivations and big picture hopes for your blogging.
Having thought about our mission (or why we blog) it’s time now to turn our attention to the values that we have that help to shape how we’ll achieve our overall mission.
There are many means to an end and many ways of achieving a mission. For instance if your mission is to make a living from blogging you could do so in many different ways ranging from blogs that rip off the content of others, to blogs that are purely original in content, to blogs that explore topics of purely a ‘family nature’ to blogs that are quite explicit and ‘adult’ in their nature etc.
These decisions come out of our values as a blogger.
What values determine our behavior?
Our values will come out of many different places including our family, culture, experiences and perhaps even personality type. They are worth naming in the early days of our blogging as there comes times in the life of any Blogger when the temptation to step outside the boundaries of behavior that we believe in comes a knocking. Having previously named (privately or even more powerfully – publicly) these values helps us to resist the temptation in the heat of the moment. Values are also important in helping others understand how or what we blog.
So what are the values that shape your blogging behavior? What are the boundaries that you’d be not willing to cross? What are the topics you’d be not willing to blog about? How will you treat those around you (other bloggers, your readers, suppliers of information etc)? Take a few minutes to write a list of the values that you want to shape your blogging. These might include things like:
- I value the work of others and when I build upon it I acknowledge them
- I don’t blog about anything sexually explicit, gambling, drugs or concerning Harry Potter
- I create an environment where everyone can have their say without fear of censorship
- I respect the privacy of others in my blogging and don’t reveal private conversations or contact details
- I only publish fact and will state if I’m speculating
- If I make a mistake I publicly acknowledge this and correct it
- I will always make it clear if I’m benefiting from something that I write
- I value people and will not blog about them in degrading ways
Of course such a list will always cause discussion and debate simply because one person’s values will vary from another person’s values. In a sense we’re talking ethics here.
Perhaps it would be appropriate to write up a set of values like these as a public blogging value statement of manifesto to promote the type of blog/s you’re keeping and to give your readers permission to keep you accountable to what you’re on about.
With your mission and values in place you’ll be ready for the next stages of actually mapping out how you’re going to move forward in your blogging.
Having answered questions about why we blog (mission) and setting some boundaries for our behavior in doing so Values) it’s now time to be a little more concrete in our big picture thinking. Where are you headed with your blogging? More specifically:
What is your objective for your blogging in the next three years?
Now three years might seem a long way away (and perhaps one or two years might be a better time frame to set objectives for in the ever changing field of blogging) but look beyond the near future and ask yourself questions about vision.
We’re now narrowing down the mission that we have into some more measurable and specific things to aim for in the long term. Don’t get too specific (we’ll get there) but make it concrete.
For example – your mission might be to make a living from blogging but your vision for three years time might be to be a full time blogger that need not do any other work.
Make your objective/s (don’t come up with too many) big enough to be inspiring but realistic enough to be achievable. They should probably come out of or at least relate to your mission.
Take some time to plot some longer term objectives for your blogging.
For each objective that you’ve mentioned you now should be breaking things down into smaller achievable goals. Perhaps this strategic plan is a little pedantic here and adds too many steps (hence I’ve added Vision and Goals together) but the basics of what we’re doing with goal setting is breaking down the big picture into smaller achievable parts.
In setting goals you might like to ask:
How will we know we have achieved our objective (vision)?
For each objective there will probably be multiple goals that signal it has been reached. For example if the vision is to be working full time in blogging in 3 years the goals might be to ‘quit from current job’ (once a certain earning level from blogging is reached), be earning $XXXX per month regularly by a certain time.
In a sense we’re breaking down our objectives into bite sized parts that can be ticked off one at a time as they are reached as stepping stones to a larger vision.
If we want to design a strategy to help us reach our goals we need to identify the areas in which we need to work. At this point in the strategic plan we take time to break down the task of blogging into activities or issues that we face.
What are your main activities?
The answer to this question will vary from blogger to blogger depending upon their focus and current approach to blogging – but they will probably include some of the following:
- finding content
- writing content
- blog design
- marketing and publicity
- administration (monitoring comments, processing cheques, book keeping)
- finding and managing advertisers
- managing other authors
- search engine optimization
In a sense what you’re describing here are the areas that you need to achieve in to make your blog successful (the above list is only partial). The list may include tasks that you already do well, don’t do well or don’t yet do at all.
In identifying these issues or activities you define areas that you’ll need to consider some strategy in.
Having identified each activity that you need to engage in to be successful in achieving your objectives and goals you now do a little analysis of how you’re currently performing in each activity. The question you want to answer with each are is:
Where are we?
What am I doing well in this area? What am I neglecting? What is working and what isn’t working? These are all good questions to ask. You may want to do a ‘SWOT’ analysis here (look at your Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats) and assess the current reality. Be honest with yourself – if you’re anything like me there are some things that you’re doing very well and other things that you’re ignoring.
Whilst it may not be pleasant to acknowledge current short fallings it’s vitally important as your blog will only ever go as far as your weakest area allows you to.
Now you’ve described the current reality you again should look in to the future in each of the activities that you’ve identified and ask yourself:
Where do I want to be in this specific activity in a year?
You know where you are now but what are you going to work towards? For example you might have identified marketing as one of your ‘activities’ an in analyzing it find that you’re great at marketing to other blogs in your niche but that blogs outside your niche and non bloggers have never heard of your blog. As a result you might say that in a year you want to be known outside your niche and be getting exposure in the wider media.
In a sense you’re again setting mini goals, breaking down your overall ‘vision’ into specific areas of your blogging.
Go through each of the activities that you’ve identified already and come up with some future direction. Be specific enough in each one that you can measure your success in each area. Don’t write how you’ll achieve this direction yet (that comes next) – rather try to paint a picture of the future in each of the areas of your blogging.
Below you’ll see a table that illustrates how each of the above three steps might look if you put them into some sort of spread sheet. Of course I’ve completely oversimplified the process here in order to illustrate the point. Each ‘issue’ is likely to have a multifaceted description of the present position and may in fact have a number of ‘future directions’ for each.
You’ve analyzed your current position and have looked into the future to how you want your blog to be in each of the activities of your blogging – now you basically need to compare one with the other. How does your current reality and future vision compare? Do they match up? If they do you’re either a brilliant blogger, you’re lying or you’re not aiming high enough.
For most of us the current reality doesn’t match what we want to achieve.
What major changes do you need to make to get to your future vision?
Albert Einstein defined insanity as ‘doing the same old things the same old ways and expecting to get different results’ (paraphrased). The only way you’ll see changes in your blogging is if you change your approach. Which of your ‘activities’ needs to change? How?
You might find that some of your activities are doing well and don’t need too much changing – but the reality will be that we can all improve in all areas – and that in some areas more than others we might need a complete overhaul if we want to really achieve something. Make a list of the changes you need to make.
Once again I’ve included a diagram that hopefully illustrates how this might look (in a very over simplified form).
We’ve reached the last step of the strategic plan and now we finally get to a time of planning (and doing) some action.
In each of the ‘activities’ break down your strategy into achievable tasks. You might like to break it down into some sort of a timeline.
- what will you do in the next month?
- what will you do in the next 3 months?
- what will you do in the next 6 months?
- what will you do in the next 12 months?
Your action plan should contain very specific tasks.
Some might be ongoing tasks like:
- ‘post 10 posts per day every day for the next month’
- ‘start 1 new blog every month until October’
- ‘add 3 new affiliate links to my blog every day this month’
- ‘write 1 press release to promote my blog each month’
Others might be one off tasks like:
- ‘apply for Adsense program and integrate into blog’
- ‘get to know blogger X’
- ‘do survey of my readers to find out who they are’
- ‘write a series of posts on <insert topic here>’
Once again these tasks need to be specific, measurable (you need to know when they’re complete) and achievable. In doing this you’re achieving the very big picture dreams and objectives that you’ve previously set one step at a time.
You’ll see once again below that I’ve filled in (in a very simplified way) how some of the strategic plan might build as you add your action plan. In reality each ‘issue’ could have multiple strategies – each of which could have multiple actions assigned to them. By this point you should be left with a larger list of ‘things to do’ that you need to prioritise for and then begin to work through. Once again these actions should be broken down into small enough parts so as not to overwhelm you. Make them measurable and achievable so you can begin to tick them off and create some momentum to your blogging.