New Years is an especially reflective time for me. It may be cliche’, but I find myself getting caught up in evaluating my experiences from the previous year and in setting goals for the coming one.
2010 has been an especially interesting time in my life. It’s the year I finally realized my dream of launching my own online blog and while thinking back on that experience, I realized that I have learned 10 key things which I would like to share with you, not just because they are important things, but because I want to share my own personal perspective on each.
1. Follow Your Passion
This was a tough one for me.
It may sound easy to figure out your passion. There have been dozens if not hundreds of posts written on the subject. They tend to ask questions such as: What do you like to do? What are you good at doing?
My problem is that I’m one of those people who has a lot of interests. In fact, it’s pretty hard to find anything in which I am not interested once it comes to my attention.
Some might say that’s OK, but in the world of online blogging, if you want to eventually make a business of it by selling one or more products (as I plan to do), then you need to assure your branding is clear so your readers understand who you are and what you have to offer to them. Focusing on many topics (i.e. not focusing at all) was not the best method for me based on my planned offerings. Therefore, my first challenge was to narrow down the choices to one clear passion on which I could focus.
Finally, after much angst and talks with family, friends, acquaintances and strangers on the bus, I decided to focus on online software, a subject that, believe it or not, holds great interest for me in as much as I get to play with a lot of different tools and sites (read, “toys”).
I was happy with the decision, but that was not to last.
2. Do Not Be Afraid of Change
This does not mean that you should change whenever the mood hits you. If that were the case, I would be changing my blog’s focus all the time! However, when change is warranted, you need to pay attention and plan accordingly.
That said, this was an unusual thing for me to stumble over. Usually, I am as open to change as anyone (which fits my multiple-interest personality well).
But it was different when the change was about something as important to me as my blog.
You see, my blog was not attracting the readers whom I wanted to attract. I spoke about this in detail in my post, “Brand issues – when your brand goes ‘Old Yeller’“, but suffice it to say it was time to rebrand and I was scared.
I was worried about losing what I had already gained: brand name recognition, followers, search engine position and Alexa rating. I didn’t know if the change was the right step or not; what if I was wrong and it ruined everything?!
I used to run into this back when I was in tech support. I could take any computer apart and put it back together, but was terrified to touch my own pc.
In the end, I changed my brand and by accepting change, saved my blog.
3. But Change Quickly and Explain Why
Once I made the decision to cut-over with the new brand, I moved fast. In this case, I believed speed was critical – a slow transition would have confused my audience, my brand and likely myself (I was initially worried about supporting two blogs during the transition, but then I had a flash of the obvious which said, “Just stop writing on the old blog”.)
I also believe that getting the word out was a successful tactic as well. At first, I was afraid to let anyone know what I was planning because I thought I would be exposed as the newbie I was by changing my blog and branding after such a short time. Luckily, the need to avoid the confusion I mentioned in the previous paragraph outweighed my uncertainties.
I let my followers, friends and mailing list know exactly why I was making the change and when it was going to happen. This led to a flood of ideas, offers of help and well-wishes which was truly gratifying and demonstrated to me just how many people I had touched with my blog.
4. Don’t Go It Alone
They say no person is an island and nowhere is this as true as in the online world.
I have met some great people online; friends and mentors and fellow bloggers and business folks. Each has contributed to my success thus far and I am more thankful for their support and advice than I can say.
When it came to meeting these people, the most crucial step for me was finding The Third Tribe, a community of like-minded people who were on the same journey as I. I would suggest this approach to anyone; find a community, participate and contribute and the people will follow.
Final word on this: don’t be a lurker! Reach out to people both in the communities you find and on Twitter, Facebook and on their own sites. Don’t be a pest, but if you don’t reach out and ask questions or suggest opportunities, then nothing will ever come of your relationship-building efforts.
5. Make Yourself Useful
This was a big lesson for me in 2010: make yourself useful and give and they will come.
People are funny. They want to buy from those they trust, but need to make a leap of faith and buy from each person the first time without knowing if that trust is valid.
Making yourself useful by helping others for free is a great way to earn their trust in your skills before they buy from you. Time-and-time again, I have heard stories where someone helped someone for free and then that person turned-around and bought the whole package.
I like helping other folks by answering their questions online. I use targeted twitter search feeds (e.g. software recommendations) to find folks looking for the type of help I can give and then answer those questions using the research I have done over the past 10 years.
In turn, this has lead to an exponential growth in the number of people following me and engaging with me on Twitter, Facebook and on my site. You cannot buy this kind of engagement with “auto following tools” – this is targeted stuff which has lead to mailing list sign-ups, course sales and consulting gigs.
One word of warning however: there’s a fine-line to walk here. Some folks will try to take advantage of your useful and giving nature and try to get everything you offer for free. It’s OK to say, “No” after a while or to send along a link to your services and products page.
Remember, you don’t want to give-away the company, but you do want to demonstrate that you are an active part serving a particular audience and that is the key.
6. Buy Experience
A lot is made of the fact that starting a blog and/or a business online is cheap and for the most part, that’s true.
However, there are times when spending some money is worth the return.
During 2010, I paid for two consulting sessions with separate online “experts” and have hired a marketing consultant who will be with me through 2011 helping me to launch my new product (hi Laura!).
The consulting sessions paid off for me in two ways:
- I got some great ideas and direction.
- I received validation for my ideas which helped assure me that I was at least moving in the right direction. This last was helpful because the life of a blogger can be a lonely one without validation that your work is on target and sometimes it really helps to pay someone to analyze your approach and then tell you the unadulterated truth.
Laura, my marketing consultant, is helping me fill-in the skill sets that are not my strongest.
She brings ideas and approaches to the table which are forged from her years of experience and about which I would have never thought.
Each time I paid for experience, I made sure I set expectations with the source ahead of time. Managing expectations is, at least to me, the cornerstone of any business relationship, no matter how brief, and assured that each time I got exactly what I needed.
7. Buy Information Products
There are a lot of people out there who want to sell you information products, such as ebooks and courses, aimed at teaching you to be a success online.
I am an info junkie so sometimes I have a hard time saying no to these. However, there are three issues with buying too many of these products:
- You will spend all your time reading and watching and not enough time building your blog and/or business.
- You will become paralyzed because you have so many opinions and options on how to move forward and you will not be able to choose just one and will spend your time trying to reconcile them all.
- You will inevitably wind-up with stuff on which you should not have spent your money because the product is crap.
However, some of these products are great to pick-up and read (I bought 5 in 2010 and do not regret any) so here are some tips I learned on my journey:
- Research each product carefully before buying, no matter how attractive the price.
- Go to the search engine of your choice and enter, “<product name> review” and see what other folks thought of the product.
- If you are not clear on what the product offers or includes, write the author and ask questions.
- Do not buy a product that does not pertain to what you are, or plan to be, doing with your blog and/or business. At least, that’s just a waste of time and at worst, it’s a distraction.
- If you can, wait for a sale! There is always a sale or a deal or a better price. Internet marketers are geniuses at building sales tension making you want to buy NOW, but you do not have to fall for that.
8. Trust Your Gut
This is an important one.
No matter how much experience you hire or how many information products you buy, the person in charge at the end of the day is you.
If a sales tactic you read about does not feel right, don’t use that sales tactic. If a consultant suggest an approach you don’t like during a session, don’t take that suggestion.
Sure, they are successful doing what they do, but this is your blog and/or business. You need to trust yourself; you need to listen to that voice inside when it talks up.
Note that this is NOT an excuse to avoid going out of your comfort zone. You do need to stretch when you are starting a business whether that means video-taping yourself for a YouTube video or joining a conversation thread on a community forum.
But make sure you do not do anything you will regret. Stay true to yourself, your values and your goals.
9. Just Do It
Borrowing a line from Nike here, but it is true nonetheless.
If you are reading this and wondering if you should take the plunge into creating an blog online, I don’t have an answer for you. You need to work this one out on your own based on your goals and resources.
As I mentioned in number 9, the bottom line is trusting your gut. If your gut says that this is the right move then get started!
My one warning though is to set your own expectations before you take the plunge. Whether you are blogging for fun or profit, it takes a long time to build an audience. There will be a long period where you will get little to no traffic or comments; no validation that what the blog on which you are spending a lot of time (and you will spend a lot of time) is having any impact on anyone or anything.
But if you take the long view and spend the time to find your audience and build a relationship, then there is nothing more satisfying than blogging.
10. Be Thankful
Your blog is going to take up a lot of your time and thus you need to be very thankful to the folks who this will impact. In other words, remember to live in the real world, too!
I want to thank my family, friends, acquaintances and all those folks I have bothered on the bus for being patient as I fostered this new idea and passion!
What Do You Think?
You’ve reached the end of this long post. I hope I’ve helped shed some light on creating a blog online by sharing my experiences from the past year.
If you have had similar experiences in 2010, please share them below.
What are your plans for the 2011? Are you ready to start a blog of your own? Have any questions? You can let us know below in the comments.