Why Every Blogging Course Ever Is Not Worth It

ToBlog

I like being a blogger. It affords me several opportunities without many of the conditions that used to be tied up with them. Being a blogger, you get to exercise your creativity as a writer. You get to choose any subject matter you’d like. You get to play the roles of critic if you’d like. You can cast yourself in the position of restaurant reviewer. You can tackle any editorial opinion piece you would care too. You can write fiction if you’d like. Or surrealist commentary. Or high literature.

All of this without the constraints of a boss telling you what to write, or an editor to get your pieces past. You don’t have to risk losing your job to say what’s on your mind.

This freedom and flexibility are a double edged sword. You also have no one to focus your attention, and no one to help craft your pieces into a more refined form.

However, since you don’t have a schedule to adhere too, you can write as much as you’d like to get the experience needed for producing well crafted pieces. Plus, you can find your own voice more easily since no one else has a say about how you say things.

Not every blogger makes money, nor do they all get a big audience. That’s okay though, because the real reasons that will drive anyone to be insistent enough to gather income, and an audience, will be passion about the subjects they take on. If your not passionate about writing, and some subjects you can drill into, then you can still blog to get all the creative benefits. However achieving fame and fortune (or a side income and some frequent followers) is probably not in the cards for you.

In my time as a blogger I have invested in a couple of courses from some highly successful bloggers. Training materials on how to blog, and how to be successful at it.

Let me tell you; I don’t think their worth it.

Don’t get me wrong. They offer some good advice. My problem with them is two fold.

One, the advice they offer is mostly the same and pretty basic. I’ll post those as bullet points at the end of this piece.

First though, let’s deal with my second issue. Namely they fit you into a course of doing what the course provider does. Not exactly the name, and it’s not like going through a cookie cutter process, but in the end what they have to teach is what they do. That, my friends, is the evil opposite of what those self same successful bloggers have done. Namely, be unique.

In order to stand out, you have to stand out. It’s no good wrapping every piece you do in as much advertising as possible. Someone already does that. It’s no use being sardonic about everything. Someone already does that. It’s no use including a numbered list in every post. Someone already does that.

If you do the same as what someone else does, then what you will inevitably face is comparisons. People will see your blog and immediately think of the one you are emulating. Mostly what you end up doing is providing that other person with free advertising. You bring their site to mind and suddenly attention is drifting away from yours.

That’s not really what you want.

What you want is people coming to your space and immediately knowing where they are. You want to stand out., and be recognizable.

Blogging, in and of itself, is a place where people want to see the real and different you. If you get followers, it will be because they like you and what you do. Not because they like how you copy what someone else does. Followers want to get to know you. It’s followers that you want. Not only readers. The difference is followers are fans. The will be consistent and they will rave about your blog.

So, treat theses people like the gold they are. Any truly successful blog is built, not on the strength of the writing, but rather on the strength of its followers and fans. Respect these people, engage with them, and you will reap success.

This is probably a good point to list the things you’ll learn from every blogging course out there.

  • Get some ideas. I mean a big list of blog post ideas. Here’s my favorite way to do this: Get a pad and pen. Do a brainstorming session. Come up with seeds for 50 posts. If you can’t come up with 50 interesting post ideas, you may not be as passionate about your chosen subjects as you thought. Or, you may have some kind of hidden block to your creativity on this subject. Either way, once you have this list of 50 you’ll be set for the life of your blog. Inevitably you will come up with more ideas as you go on about your blogging. This list will become a fall back resource for those days when you are not sure what to write about. It will also become the place you dump cool post seeds as they occur to you.
  • Don’t expect anyone to find your blog just because it’s there. One of the things about being a solo writer/journalist/food critic/whatever is that you have no publicity machine behind you. You must hustle and get the word out there on your own. Family members, email contacts, Twitter buddies, Facebook friends. Leverage every connection you have. Let then now what your are blogging about. Ask them to check out your site, but don’t push it. You are not trying to convert all these folks. Their initial reading and support will get the ball rolling. Some may even become actual fans.
  • In the name of the Buddha, get an email list going!! People who want to hear from you want to hear from you! Make it easy for them. In the age of great list managing services like MailChimp, or Aweber, or TinyLetter there is no excuse not to do this. You can start for free with MailChimp. Don’t over think this. You don’t have to start a newsletter. A simple email letting people know you’ve posted is more than enough. Get a subscribe form up on your site, and ping your list whenever you put up something new.
  • Don’t think about advertising until you have a solid following, a good rate of comments, and a few thousand hits per month. I am talking about you advertising things on your site to make money. You won’t be able to pull this off until you have a consistent stream of people who want to visit. There are some exceptions here. If you are doing book reviews on your blog, then it’s okay to pop in an affiliate link to amazon.com, or wherever. Just lay off the Google adwords, and the banners, and widgets until you’ve got decent traffic and interaction.
  • Interaction trumps traffic. Hands down. Having a successful blog comes from getting interested and engaged readers, not from nameless eyes that glance at your site for a moment and move on. Interaction allows you to know what people are thinking, and can provide excellent feedback for improving your craft.
  • Be the most frequent commenter on your blog. What I mean by this is that (especially in the early stages) you should reply to each and every single comment you get. Sometimes this will be a simple thanks. Sometimes this will be a more involved answer to a question, or clarification of a point. The point here is to let people who bother commenting on your site know that you are bothering to read their comments. This kind of mutual acknowledgment goes a long way. A person who comments is much more likely to do so again if they have gotten a response. Everyone enjoys knowing they are being listened too, not just us bloggers. ;)
  • Make your site nice looking! Not too busy. And don’t keep any default layout for the platform you choose to blog on! Stand out, but don’t be loud. This is blogging, not MySpace. It’s not a bad idea to spend a little money here and buy a designed blog theme, but there are plenty of great options for all of the platforms out there.
  • Put yourself on a schedule! Consistency is a great thing for blogging and building an audience. Make a decision about how frequently you want to blog, and try to stick to it. This can (and should) change over time, so don’t feel like you are stuck with a post frequency, but try to develop some schedule you can stick to.

These are the bulk of what you will get in most courses. The golden rule, which I don’t see mentioned much, is to simply do it. Blog. Put some stuff out there, and see where it goes.

All of that being said, I reiterate my earlier point. None of the above are hard and fast rules. They are all suggestions. None of the very successful bloggers follow what other people do. The big girls and boys blogging out there have put in enough time to stand on their own feet and shine.

Some turn off comments. Some don’t do email lists. Some don’t use any blogging platform and simply code their posts in html/css as they put them up. There is no one right way to do this, other than the way that’s right for you!

So, go out there. Wander around the blogosphere and check out what’s out there. Try a couple of platforms. See what clicks for you, and go for it! You just might be the next Maddox!

Got questions? Thoughts? Rebuttals? Things I missed? Let me hear them in the comments below, and thanks for reading!

Carving Out What Is Not Needed

Here is the prompt from December 11th in the fabulous #reverb10 challenge.  This one comes from Sam Davidson:

11 Things. What are 11 things your life doesn’t need in 2011? How will you go about eliminating them? How will getting rid of these 11 things change your life?

Okay, here’s my list –

  1. Shelves full of unread books
  2. Clutter
  3. Illness
  4. Regret
  5. T-shirts I never wear
  6. A broken A/C fan in my car
  7. Stagnant items on my to do list
  8. Yet another draft of my book (Hah!)
  9. An antiquated tracking system for the students at my dojo
  10. Frequent migraines
  11. Mindless Spite

Whew!  That was a tough list to come up with.  Looking at it I get very excited about having those things out of my life.  How would I go about eliminating them?

For the books I would like to spend more time actually reading them.  There are a whole lot though on my shelves that fall into the broad, “would be good to read someday” category.  Those I should put onto a list (I already have an app on my iPhone for doing just that) and getting rid of them in the meantime.  I can always visit the library…

Clutter is a constant battle for me.  I am a pack-rat by nature.  Luckily for me I am also mostly an organized mess type of person.  I know what piles contain what scraps of information.  Still, after having read a book or two, and a few dozen blog posts on the subject I recognize the drain on my energy these piles cause.  I need to carve out time to carry through with the plan I have had for a while: drag out all the piles and sort through them, filing actually important information and trashing the rest.  I could also scan in any old documents I might need some day and shred and recycle the paper.

For the last few years I have been caught in a cycle of persistent illness.  I suspect that the cause is systemic and I have an appointment with my doctor to explore some possibilities.  I need to keep my eye on the prize and keep up with testing until the question is resolved.

Regret.  That is a big one.  I don’t tend to have many major regrets, but the few big ones and the plethora of small ones really stick in my craw.  The truth is that the past is no more.  In my opinion being rid of regret is a dual process of both accepting, and moving on from past miss-steps as well as developing a watchful eye on myself and my actions to lower the chance of the formation of future regrets.  Reportedly one of Miyomoto Musahsi’s epiphanies was when he wrote the admonition in his journal to do nothing he would then regret.  He knew that the level of vigilance needed to live such a life was nearly superhuman, but that such a life would be well worth living.  I happen to agree.

T-Shirts!!! I have waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaay too many.  Here’s an idea: Keep a separate shelf of the ones that come back from the laundry for two weeks and then dump the rest.  That would leave me with a maximum of 14 t-shirts.  More than enough!

A broken A/C fan in my car.  For the past year the fan settings on my car have steadily stopped working.  It now only works on 4, the maximum setting.  I drive in a wind tunnel.  The solution here is simple – take it to the shop!

Stagnant to do items. Another biggie for me!  The solution is simple enough; I need to drill in and actually get the existing items done and be better about saying no when my plate is full.

Yet another draft of my book. I’m up to 3 so far…. Aieee!  The easy answer is – finish it.  I have recently re-acquired a friend who is very enthusiastic about the work and has volunteered to be a proof-reader, editor and transcriptionist.  So cool!  I hope that will do the trick!

An antiquated tracking system for the students at my dojo. I manage the dojo I attend, Suginami Aikikai SF.  It’s a great place to train!  One of the issues we have been grappling with is the old system we have cobbled together to track our students.  It works, but it produces a lot of work that could be automated.  This year we have begun the process of transferring to a new system that our sister dojo in Seattle uses.  Exciting stuff.  All that needs doing is the doing.  That is going along fairly well, with some lag due to the season.  Still, it’s coming together!

Frequent migraines. I have been afflicted with migraines since I was 6. I am told that I am very lucky that they only recently gotten much worse and much more frequent.  I used to get them once or twice a year.  Now it’s about four times a month.  I am running through various treatments, so far not much has helped except for Migra-profen, an herbal remedy which abates a good chunk of the pain.

Mindless Spite.  ‘Nuff said.  ;)

Hmmm, how would getting rid of those 11 things effect my life?

Well, in a nuthsell it would be –

Frickin’ Awesome!!!!

Hiveminder – A Great Oranizational Tool

Lately I have re-dug into my (seemingly) eternal quest to be more organized, and keep myself on track for my various personal projects and goals.  Years ago I came across David Allen’s Getting Things Done, and had some level of success incorporating the principle of the GTD system into my life.  My “devotion” to the system (read: consistent use) waked and waned fairly chaotically.  The issue was finding a good online solution that answered my needs.  One of the core principles of GTD is keeping your next-actions and ticklers (GTDese for to-dos and reminders) in a place you can trust.

A couple of months back I came across Hiveminder.  It seems to be doing the trick quite nicely.

First, it’s free.  Hard to beat that.  There is a pro account upgrade for $30 a year, but the features offered are more geared to group management endeavors.  That’s something I do not currently need.  If in the future I get a group blog running, or something like that, I may explore the pro account as a task/project management system.  For now though, the freebie level is more than enough.

Second, along with functionality to support the GTD system, it also has some of the points I love about the Bit Literacy school of thought by Mark Hurst. Namely, Hiveminder incorporates the idea of hiding tasks from view until a later date so that you get the task out of your head until it’s time to take action on it.

Hiveminder also incorporates a very painless review process.  Clicking the “task review” button takes you to a cheery page which reads:

Buckle up, because you’re about to head into the “Review” process.

We’re going to show you every task in this list. All 15 of them. We’ll start with the newest stuff – things you haven’t even looked at yet – then we’ll go through everything that’s due soon or that you haven’t looked at in a while. To make sure things get done, we’re going to give you very few options:

  • Comment on the task
  • Say you’re already done
  • Say you want somebody else to do it (and pick [on] them).
  • Say you’ll do it today
  • Ask not to see it until Saturday, until Monday, or for a month.

Once you start the review, it’s a bit like a broken VCR – you can’t stop, fast-forward, or rewind. You have to work through the review, one task at a time, until you’re done. When you’re done though, the pain stops, and you’re that much closer to being an effective human bee-ing.

This process goes fairly quickly, and painlessly.  Like it says, there’s no turning back.   Once done you will have a much shorter list of just the things you would like to do today.

Hiveminder also handles projects and next actions brilliantly.  In GTD the idea is to take a look at any outstanding to-do item, or project, and see what the next possible action you could do is to advance the item.  In the case of a single to-do the next action may be the completion.  In the case of a project the next action will likely lead to another next action.

For me this was one of the sticking points when I originally learned the GTD methodology.  It was simple enough to determine what the next action for something might be, but I sort of felt that I had to know what all the “next” actions were going to be before diving in.  Hiveminder handles that silly assumption for me.  I can create a task which is a project completion, like “Publish book X.”  Then I open up the edit screen for that item and at the bottom is a handy “but first…” section.  I pop the next action in there (say, “Write an outline”) and the dependent item (“Publish book X”) is hidden from view until I complete the next action.  When the project action (“Publish book X”) reappears I can go back in and add another dependent next action.  I can also start in the middle of a project with an action.  Then I can add a “but first..” item and a “and then…” item to start creating an easy to manage logical thread of steps.  This particular aspect is pretty much the single reason for me take a look back at GTD.

Hiveminder also has all the bells and whistles of current hot to-do managers out there.  You can email in tasks, and you can prep a variety of different email addresses with filters for incoming actions.  You can set tags for project specific (or for GTD context specific) tasks.  You can also set “hide until” dates, as well as a host of other functions.

Hiveminder’s primary thrust though is managing groups engaged jointly in a project.  As I mentioned previously I don’t have much use for that at the moment.  But, if anyone reading this has given that side of Hiveminder a try I would love to hear about it in the comment section.

To wrap up: I heartedly recommend Hiveminder as a task/project management tool.

Cheers!

(And, now I can mark that to do off. ;) )