This post is based on episode 100 of the ProBlogger podcast.
As you probably know, when I first started blogging I was very much a novice. I knew nothing about design, domains, or setting up a website. (I didn’t even know to ‘bold’ a piece of text.)
But in the 18-odd years I’ve been blogging I’ve learned a lot. And today I’d like to share 10 things that would have saved me a lot of time, effort and anguish if I’d known them from day one.
1. Treat blogging as a business
If you want your blog to be a business, then you need to treat it like one.
From the moment I started making money on one of my blogs I dreamed about making a career out of it. Even though I was making only a few dollars a week, I still thought that if I could increase my traffic and learn how to use monetization strategies a bit better then it could become a full-time thing.
And I slowly turned that dream into reality.
And when I say slowly, I mean it. I managed to increase my earnings by 10% each month, which sounds great until you realize that equates to around 30 cents. But looking at one of the many spreadsheets I created, I could see that if I kept it up for another six or seven years I’d be making enough to do it full-time.
At some point I told my wife Vanessa about it. She humored me at first, but one day she replied to me pointing at my spreadsheet with “In seven years’ time we’ll both be 37 years old and have kids. If you really want to be a full-time blogger, you need to escalate this.”
And that’s when I got really serious and started creating deadlines for things. At that point I wasn’t quite earning enough to do it full-time, and so I get myself a six-month deadline. And if I wasn’t doing it full-time by then I had to get a full-time job doing something else.
I started cold-calling business owners and asking if they wanted to advertise on my blog. After a lot of knockbacks I got my first advertiser, who paid me $20 a month to advertise his business on my blog. And over time that figure slowly rose to a couple of hundred dollars a month – not enough to live on by any means, but an important step towards my goal.
I also started working on strategies to bring more traffic to my blog, which led to more advertising opportunities, as well as other ways to monetize my blog (which I’ll talk about soon).
Today I’m living the dream of being a full-time blogger. But it never would have happened if I didn’t start treating it like business.
2. Identify who you want reading your blog
One of my strategies for increasing my traffic was working out who I was writing it for. And that meant working out who I wanted to be reading it in the first place.
The more you know about who’s reading your blog, the better you’ll be at engaging with them and creating content that meets their needs.
When I started Digital Photography School I began to think about reader profiles. And over time I came up with a number of personas for the kinds of people I wanted reading my blog. For example, I created a reader named Grace who was a ‘mamarazzo’ and loved taking photos of her kids. And having her as one of my ‘ideal’ readers instantly gave me ideas on what I could write about to engage her and meet her needs. Here’s more about how to create your own reader profiles.
If you’ve been blogging for a while you may already have a number of people reading your blog regularly. And that gives you the perfect opportunity to find out more about them and how you can serve them better on your blog. You could send them an email asking about the kind of content they’d like to read on your blog. You could create surveys to find out more about them. You could even arrange to meet some of them (face to face or virtually) and get to know them even better.
3. Don’t ignore email
One of the best decisions I ever made was to start a newsletter for Digital Photography School (and later ProBlogger).
When blogs first became a thing, most of them asked people to subscribe to the RSS feed by having a big orange “Subscribe to my blog” button they could click on. But unless you a) knew what an RSS feed was and b) had an RSS reader such as Google Reader to read it with, it wasn’t much use.
And so I created a simple newsletter so the readers who understood email could receive a weekly newsletter from us. And soon it became the most popular way for people to subscribe to our content. Even in 2010 we had 80% of our readers subscribing by email and only 20% by the RSS feed.
And while email is great for our readers, it’s also a great way for us to:
- drive traffic to the two blogs
- drive sales of our products
- build our community.
Social media can be a great way to communicate with your readers and bring in traffic. But you can’t control it, and so you’ll always be at the mercy of the platforms and their algorithms. With email you have total control, and while not everyone will read your newsletter at least it will be their choice rather than someone else’s.
If you haven’t set up an email list, stop reading right now and set one up. Yes, it’s that important. Here’s a podcast which tells you everything you need to know about getting started with email.
4. Try different ways to monetize your blog
One of my early forays into monetizing my blog was setting myself up as an Amazon affiliate. At the time I was already promoting books, and becoming an affiliate meant I could earn 8% commission on any book someone bought through me promoting it. I wasn’t getting a lot of money, but having that second income stream diversified and increased my income.
These days there are plenty of ways you can monetize your blog – advertising, affiliate marketing, continuity programs, memberships, selling products and services, and so on. And you don’t have to choose one over all the others. There’s nothing stopping you from creating multiple revenue streams by using different monetization methods. Here’s an article that covers all the basics of making money blogging.
5. Create something to sell
Speaking of monetization, one great way to earn money from your blog is to create something to sell.
Another one of my dreams was to sell ebooks on my blog. Both ProBlogger and Digital Photography School are teaching blogs, and so it seemed logical to try and monetize what I was teaching my readers in some way.
After putting it off time and time again, I eventually created my first ebook – The Essential Guide to Portrait Photography. It was basically a collection of my best articles about the topic from the blog (which I disclosed very clearly from the outset), along with some interviews with portrait photographers.
I had no idea if anyone would spend $15 on content they could pretty much read on the blog for free, but I put my ebook on the site anyway.
Within 24 hours we’d sold 1,100 copies and made $15,000. And by the end of the week that number grew to 4,000 copies.
This is why it’s worth creating something you can sell, especially if you have a loyal audience. It also demonstrates why building trust and rapport with your readers is so important.
What could you create to sell on your blog? For some ideas this article talks about how to create products and sell them on your blog.
6. Create content that informs, inspires or interacts
If you’ve ever heard me speak then you’ll know I’m a big fan of creating content that informs, inspires and interacts.
Most of the content on my blogs fits into the ‘information’ category. Our bread and butter is teaching people, and 90% of our content is tutorials and how-to articles. And it helps us sell that information in the form of products and courses), and recommend other people’s products as an affiliate.
But occasionally I sprinkle in in some inspirational content to go along with our information. On Digital Photography School we have an article titled Eight Tips for Long Exposure Photography, which explains how to take cool photographs using this technique. And the article was quite popular. But the following I week I published Long-Exposure Photography: 15 Stunning Examples, which showed the results you could get from using the long exposure technique.
And the readership of that first article went through the roof.
So try experimenting with content that informs, inspires or interacts with your readers, and see if you can find the perfect combination for your blog. This article explains how.
7. Look for ‘sparks’
When you’ve been blogging for a while, there’s a good change that your energy and enthusiasm will start to wane. Which is why it’s important to look for ‘sparks’ that reignite them and keep you going.
At the end of the day I ask myself two questions:
- “What gave me energy today?”
- “What gave those around me energy today?”
For me, it could be a post, a tweet, or a reader’s reaction to something I’d said or done. But whatever it is, I make a note of it so I can repeat it when I need to get that energy back.
Whether you’re a blogger, a podcaster, a YouTuber or something else, pay attention to what gives you and those around you energy. They’ll not only keep your energy levels up, but could also help you become more profitable by exciting your readers and listeners.
8. Be active
For years I’ve had a question printed out and sitting next to my computer: “What action will I take today that will grow my blog?”
It’s all too easy to become passive and reactive. Think of the time you spend reading and responding to emails. While it’s important to interact with your readers, the best entrepreneurs are out there taking action by creating new things rather than reacting to what other people are creating.
Think about how you use your time. Are you being reactive, or are you being constructive?
When I decided to create my Essential Guide to Portrait Photography ebook, I got up early every morning and worked on it for 15 minutes. And once it was done I spent that 15 minutes on other things – collating it, finding a designer, learning how to get it online, researching shopping carts, and creating my sales page and emails.
All up it took me three or four months. But as I said earlier, we sold 1,100 copies in the first day. And as the sales racked up all I could think was, “Why didn’t I do this sooner?”
Be an action taker.
9. Let your worlds collide
One thing I’ve learned over the years is that it’s okay to share your passions with your readers, even if they fall outside your niche
In 2011 I was approached by CBM, a not-for-profit that helps people with disability, to go to Tanzania and see the work they were doing . They work in a hospital with people who have a range of issues – women with maternal health issues and fistulas, people with cataracts and blindness, kids born with clubbed feet and orthopedic issues.
I was excited about going, and seeing what they were doing. (I’m passionate about disability, and giving those who are marginalized a voice.) But they wanted me to blog about it and share what I saw, and I wasn’t sure how my readers would react.
As it turned out, they responded really well. In fact, it strengthened my relationship with them. I got a lot of emails saying things along the lines of, “I’d never seen that side of you before and I suddenly feel like I can relate to you a lot more”.
It also gave me the opportunity to use my influence to do something that really mattered to me, and to bring some attention to the good work CBM was doing.
If you’re passionate about things that matter and are meaningful, let your worlds collide a little and use your influence to not only benefit you and your readers, but also to make the world a better place in some way.
10. Don’t forget the readers you already have
Finally, you need to look after your readers.
Some bloggers are so obsessed with getting new readers that they seem to forget about the readers they already have. Yes, it’s important to grow your readership. But the readers you have now can play a big part in making that happen.
For a start, they can help you spread the word about your blog. If they like it, then chances are they’ll tell other people about it, and encourage them to take a look.
They’re also more likely to buy your products, respond to your affiliate messages, and otherwise help you monetize your blog. And the more you can earn from your blog, the more likely you can keep it growing and attracting new readers.
What have you learned about blogging?
As I said, I’ve learned a lot about blogging over the years. And I’ve probably learned a lot more than what I’ve listed here. But what have you learned about blogging since you started? We’d love to hear about it.
Photo by Charlein Gracia on Unsplash