Here’s how most blogs start. After reading advice from other bloggers about how to start and run successful blogs, you spend a few hours in a burst of activity and inspiration giving birth to your blog that’s going to teach people a new way to look at the world. You then spend a ton of time writing posts that nobody reads and then you get depressed and give up. You compare yourself to bloggers that have huge followings and grow bitter because you feel like you’re a better writer than they are and have more interesting things to say. You stay disillusioned for about six months until you start working again to learn the secret to building a successful blog.
Creating a valuable blog is much like planting trees. Each post is like planting a seed in the ground. You don’t see much happen at first. (which is usually a good thing because of the tremendously poor quality of early blog posts) Over time however, the value and helpfulness of the posts start (hopefully) increasing and more people start coming to your blog. Once the people start coming, all you have to do is figure out a way to add even more value to some of the readers and you can start earning an income for your efforts.
I’ve come up with 6 steps that I think will really help you start a blog on the right footing.
1. Figure out how your blog can help people. This is the only way to start. If you start a blog by obsessing about how you are going to monetize your blog, it will probably fail. Focus on how you are going to help people and add value to their lives. When I started this blog it was mostly because there was no other blog out there dedicated to helping people make money on Craigslist. I was having to learn everything the hard way and I figured that I could start writing about my experiences and the lessons I had learned. A successful blog must add value.
2. Pick something you are passionate about. If you aren’t passionate about your blog niche, the blog will probably fail. If you start a blog about how to train your dog, because that’s what you were doing the day your burst of inspiration came, what’s going to happen when you are done training your dog? Can you see yourself writing about that in a year or two? That doesn’t mean that you can’t pivot or change the direction of your blog over time. Many bloggers will start writing on topics very near to the niche they began writing about, and it usually offers a great balance to the blog. But if you start a blog dedicated to dog training and all of a sudden get bored and want to start writing about computer programming, the audience isn’t going to transfer. My advice is to pick a topic that you can see yourself writing about for at least 3-5 years. This will give the blog time to mature and start yielding you a decent amount of fruit.
3. Write consistently. Having a giant burst of inspiration and writing a post a day for a few weeks isn’t very helpful or sustainable. Good blog posts can take hours to write and finding the time to write multiple times a week, especially in the beginning when you aren’t making any money, is a recipe for burnout. Try writing once a week. (I’ve done a terrible job at this)
4. Be a good friend to your readers. Find out how you can help your readers. Teach people how to do things. Show them better ways of doing things. Make them laugh. Challenge them. Encourage them to dream. Tell interesting stories. Admit your failures and be transparent. The key is to focus on how each post can add value to the lives of your readers. It’s like a friendship. Be a good friend to your readers and they are more likely to come back and even tell their friends about your blog.
5. Keep advertising to a minimum. Starting a blog and filling it with advertising is like becoming friends with someone and a few days later asking them to give you money. It casts doubt on the relationship and causes people to question your real motives. Instead, focus on putting out good content and giving to your readers as much as possible. Eventually, once a relationship has been built up with your readers, you will start to notice ways to add even more value.
I’m not saying all ads are bad. I just put up a link to Republic Wireless on my sidebar last night because they offer the cheapest cell phone plans on the planet. Not only that, but I have actually been testing out their service and I’m very impressed. If you advertise anything to your readers, vet the ads to make sure that they really add value first. Value the trust of your readers.
6. Start making money by helping people even more. After writing for your blog and seeking to help your readers over a period of time (usually years), you will start to notice ways that you can help them even more. After a few years have passed, you will have built up a good amount of trust with your readers and hopefully have identified more ways to add value. When you are at the point where you have a pretty big readership and are wrestling with what your next step should be, that’s a good time to get some advice from a blogger you look up to.
About a year ago, I was at that crossroads trying to figure out what the next step for my blog was. After getting some advice from Penelope Trunk, I put up a coaching page for people that might be interested in one on one help starting a Craigslist business. That enabled me to start helping individuals all over the country and Canada start various Craigslist businesses. After that, I started ApplianceSchool.com to teach people how to start and run a used appliance business. Both methods have been profitable, and both have come from finding a deeper way to help readers of this blog.
Is blogging worth the effort?
I think it is. I’ve had the privilege of getting to know some amazing people all over the world during the past three years. I’ve been given the opportunity to help start new careers for a pretty large number of people, which has been an incredible experience. I’ve been able to make a good amount of extra income. And it’s given me an outlet to write, which I really enjoy.
I wrote this post as a blogger that has learned a few things over the past three years that I think might be helpful to others. I still have a lot to learn and there are many ways that I could improve this blog. In fact, I would love to hear your thoughts and suggestions for the site and for post topics going forward. You can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org
Thoughts, questions? Are you thinking about starting a blog? Have you already? Funny stories of short lived blogs? Let me know if you have any questions or there is anything I can do to help.
The pictures in this post were from a family hike out the Columbia River gorge this past weekend.