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!