I’ve been blogging now since 2011. Seven years?! Wow!
I was shocked when that little nugget of reality struck me. Where did that time go? So, I thought about that…
Since 2011, I have built six websites. Three exist now, two are live. (This one has been live since mid-2015.)
I’ve created products and sold them to people who loved what I had to offer. I’ve offered advice to people who have taken it to heart and taken steps of their own in response to my words. I’ve inspired people to assess their lives and take the leap toward their dream life.
That’s rewarding. Very rewarding.
When I do acknowledge what I have done and what I continue to do, I know it is not for nought. Perhaps more importantly, in reviewing the last seven years, I am surprised to realize just how much I’ve learned in that time.
Over the years, many have expressed to me the desire to start a blog. They ask for advice on the best way to do that.
My first question is always this: Is the purpose of your blog meant to be a hobby or a business?
It’s an important question because the path is completely different for each.
I thought my first blog was a business. I took a writing course, threw up a website, and posted a new article each week. Then I waited for the money to come rolling in. That’s all you had to do… right?!
Looking back, I was a hobbyist. I didn’t think so at the time, but after seven years of experience, I know that now.
Don’t get me wrong, having a blog as a hobby is a great way to get your feet wet. It allows you to play around with blogging, understand what works for you and just as importantly, what doesn’t. I learned a LOT in that time.
But if you want to start a blog as a business, I’m here to offer some sage advice.
Here are the lessons I’ve learned going from a hobby site into a viable business.
Lesson #1: Know WHY you want to start this business.
Unless you know that, and I’m talking about digging in and really understanding why you want to have this as a business, you’ll never make it. It’s a hard fact to swallow. I struggled with this. My initial response to that question was ‘because I have so much knowledge to share.’
When I dug in, I thought about what made my site unique. I thought about how I travelled. About what I had learned about regarding my travel style. I thought about what kind of traveller I was.
But the key part of my ‘ah-ha’ in working out my niche was, was this: What questions were often asked about my life, my travels etc…? What did people want to really know?
It wasn’t just about my travel experiences. It wasn’t just about my travel style. It was how can I deliver enticing travel guides to make their travels smoother. And, for those who were living vicariously through my website, who dreamed to live their lives as I do, how could I help them do that?
I am an empty nester who travels full time and, of that, solo most of that time. I am ‘living the dream’.
So, how do I bring that to my readers and help them live their dream life too? How do I show how to travel well within a budget but also show the realism of this life?
That’s how I worked out my niche – through my own digging.
You need to be clear about your own unique niche. What do you have that no one else has? Or, as in my case, few have.
If you don’t know these answers, you’ll be burned out by the end of a year and frustrated as hell. It takes a lot of time and effort to develop a viable strategy to reach your audience. Patience and a lot of work are required to grow a business.
And to be honest, I’m still working this out. I will always be tweaking and changing direction because life changes, travel styles change, audiences change. EVERY blogger I know and have followed for the last ten years have changed their strategy at least once. Most, more than that. You have to be flexible in this game.
Lesson #2. Expect to work harder than any other job you’ve ever had.
Be sure to do something you love to do. It’s cliché, but it’s true. This goes back to understanding your WHY. You have to really believe in what you’re doing for it to be a success.
Lesson #3. Know your audience.
If you don’t know who you’re writing for, you’re journaling. Once you know your audience, you’ll understand how to create the strategy to deliver what they need.
To understand who your audience is, think about who would benefit most from your content and create what that ‘customer’ looks like. Create this persona either in your mind or on paper. Be specific. Understand what his or her challenges are and create toward meeting those needs.
Lesson #4. Determine up front how much you want to earn a year through your business, then plan to that.
The idea of building a website and waiting for the money to come just doesn’t work. Have a plan. Build a strategy. Then, work the hell out of it.
Lesson #5. Content is 20%, Marketing is 80%.
I heard this about Year Three. It’s so damn true. You have to write good quality content and then market the shit out of it. It’s great to have a lot of content, but it has to be quality content and it has to be shared.
Lesson #6. SEO is important.
More than you realize. SEO brings the readers to you. Learn as much as you can, before you start writing. Then use what you’ve learned to bring in that audience.
I recommend Sharon Gourley’s Digital Nomad Wannabe for SEO help. Sign up for Sharon’s Facebook group as a minimum because she offers a lot of free content, tips and a great community, along with online courses she offers on her website for more detailed content. There is a LOT of information out there, but Sharon is the queen when it comes to SEO – see Lesson #10. (And no, I’m not being paid to say that. Sharon has helped my strategy immensely.)
Lesson #7. Don’t chase the numbers.
Oh, you will want to, believe me. But my advice is to look at the numbers on Google Analytics once in a while but don’t become obsessed with them. Just get to work on your strategy. As they say: “If you build it, they will come.” I have a different spin on that: “If you build it correctly from the start, they will come.”
Lesson #8. Invest in the right tools from the beginning.
Don’t stuff around trying to find what may work. Look at what the ‘old timers’ use and learn from that. I’ve narrowed mine down after a lot of experimentation to a handful of really great tools that I could not run my business without. But you have to invest in great tools. There are cheap tools out there that will do half the job, but it’s usually the jobs you don’t need help with. You need tools that will save you time and earn you money.
(If you want to know what tools I use, sign up for my weekly newsletter and I’ll be happy to send you that list.)
Lesson #9. Don’t get sucked into the social media app of the month.
Remember Periscope? Yeah, me either. But many bloggers used it and claimed it to be king.
Once you know your audience, know what they use. Narrow it down to three social media outlets that your audience uses, then stick with those. I use Facebook, Instagram and Pinterest. I have a Twitter account but get no traffic. It’s wasted effort for me, so I dropped it.
Lesson #10: Know which sources to listen to.
Don’t sign up for every blogging group on Facebook. Don’t sign up for any quick fix/newsletter that every blogger has ever published. It just clogs your email and you spend more time unsubscribing when you get the one thing you wanted and then continue to get what I consider crappy spam. If they continue giving you quality information that you can use, great.
Just because someone says: ‘do this, install this, buy this, attend this webinar’ doesn’t mean they are experts and they’re probably just trying to sell something you probably don’t need. They may even be learning the ropes. Follow those who have done the gig a while, who have learned (and admit) their mistakes, and most importantly, who are willing to give as much as they receive. Follow the ones who are invested in their business and the relationship with their readers.
Word of Warning: Do your homework before you invest any money. I got majorly burned by two ‘old timers’. One who seemed legit but it turned out that she had been scamming people for years. The other was just in it for the money and sucked at follow through.
Lesson #11: You won’t make money from blogging alone.
Blogging is only a piece of running an online business. I’m not a blogger, I’m a business owner. I run an online business. Blogging is the part of my online business where I share free information with my readers. Understanding that I couldn’t just write something on my website with a few affiliate links sprinkled in to provide an income was one of the hardest lessons for me to learn.
I had to ignore all the crap I’d read on the internet about how easy it is to make money by having a blog. Truly, it’s snake-oil salesman kind of stuff. Having an online business is not that simple.
Every digital business owner I know has multiple income sources.
You have to diversify your income.
To be completely transparent, here are my income sources:
- Currently, my main income is from investments I made before I quit my corporate job. I planned well when I worked in Corporate and this income allows me to live the lifestyle I love. I could live without this income, but this income offers me a buffer to live comfortably and support my family in the process.
- My website brings in money through products I’ve created (currently my Housesitting 101 eBook and my Simplify Your Life in 30 Days online course) and via affiliate sales.
- I supplement travel costs through sponsorship and partnerships where I exchange accommodation, transportation, experiences, and products, for publishing and marketing posts about my experiences.Notice I did not use the word ‘free’ in any of those descriptions. I do not get ‘free’ accommodation. I do not get ‘free’ products. I work on reviews for those and write about them on my website, through my social media sites and through collaboration sites. And then I market the hell out of them. You will hear the word ‘influencer’ thrown around. I’m part of the mix.
- Currently, I am working on another course, seven itineraries and a second eBook.
- I am also working on the final draft of my first fiction novel. It’s currently with an editor. I have the outline of two more books created.
- I have a website that’s ready to launch when I have more bandwidth, which will focus on fictional writing.
Lesson #12: Have a product to sell and ready for when you launch.
Without a product or service you are selling, you have a hobby site. So, create what you will be selling, whether it is a product of a service before you launch. If this is a business, you have to offer something to your customers, along with all of the great free stuff you will provide. Have it in the background if you like, when you launch, but be clear that you are offering that product or service up front.
Lesson #13. Understand the value of your time.
Running an online business takes a lot of time. The backend stuff, what the customers DON’T see, takes considerable time. Understand how much time you spend on these efforts and then invest in assistance.
For example, I hate dealing with the tracking and analytics of my business, so I have a ‘finance guy’ for that. For the 10 + hours a week needed for my Pinterest strategy and graphic designs needed for posts and social media sharing, I have outsourced that to a Virtual Assistant.
Lesson #14: Acknowledge your efforts.
Mike Irving at Advanced Business Abilities once told me how acknowledgement is a cornerstone for any successful business. Acknowledging my accomplishments is imperative to my business.
When I take a moment to acknowledge what I’ve learned and how much I’ve grown professionally in seven years, I am blown away. Truly, I’m shocked. It’s easy to just go-go-go. But, for all the effort put into creating a website (or six), writing great content people want to read, creating images that inspire people, and creating detailed products that my readers want to buy, those are efforts that need be to be acknowledged.
So when you get that first sale, acknowledge everything you did to get to that point because you did that. All those little details you sweated over to get your ideas out and then sold? You did that. All that.
You are a business owner, not ‘just a blogger’. Own that title.