My advice to potential bloggers: Don’t ‘Just Do It’
I have been blogging for more than three years, and I have normally kept my personal life, well personal. However, I alerted you when I applied for Nicholas Kristof’s contest, I updated everyone when I was accepted into UNC’s MBA program and I blogged when I finished my thesis. I think it’s important that bloggers add a personal touch every once and awhile. Recently an II reader asked me to blog about my thoughts on blogging and why I spend so much time doing it. So, for the first time, here is my take on blogging and why I would actually caution others from doing it.
1. Don’t ‘just do it’
Yep, you heard me right. I am probably one of the only bloggers who will openly tell you that blogging is not meant for everyone. It is time consuming and draining. But it’s also incredibly rewarding and exhilarating.
Is blogging life-changing? No, not necessarily. But, it has enabled me to prioritize my life to focus on my continued education, passion for multimedia and personal brand – all extremely important in this digital age and flailing job market. Before I started my blog in 2007 I spent my nights watching shows like Wife Swap and The Bachelor. For hours each night I did what most Americans do – sit in front of their TV and turn off their brains. It was depressing to think how little I was learning the minute I left the office each day. Finally bored of reality shows one night I started “Tracy Boyer’s blog” on Blogger and here we are today – without cable and with a blog.
But let’s crunch some numbers to give you an idea what the life of a blogger is like. I spend roughly five hours a week writing posts and another five hours interacting with readers, fixing stuff on the site, and researching future posts. Three years at 10 hours a week is roughly 1,500 hours. Say I value my time at $50/hour. That is $75,000 of opportunity cost that I have devoted to II.
You might point out that I have advertising on the site so I’m making up part of that money. To be frankly honest, I am in the hole approximately $100 after paying for hosting and technical support. So don’t think you’ll make a quick buck on your blog. Unless you are Jeff Jarvis, Michael Arrington, or Pete Cashmore, of course.
OK ok, but here’s the kicker. I have made digital connections with hundreds of people I never would have “met” otherwise. I have been asked to give talks and judge contests that never would have happened had I not made a name for myself here. This is all largely unquantifiable, but it is pretty spectacular and something I would never give up.
That being said, I have seen several blogs rise and fall over the years due to priority changes. Angela Grant’s “News Videographer” was a gold mine for several years, yet now it remains largely deserted. The same is unfortunately true of Colin Mulvany’s “Mastering Multimedia.”
As Charles Apple wrote, “New blogs are being created all the time, all over the world. Most, however, donâ€™t make them into their second or third month before theyâ€™re abandoned and left to die. The bloggers simply run out of steam.”
2. Start by reading blogs – and lots of them
I started my blog before I even knew what an RSS feed was. Today, I subscribe to nearly 130 blogs and almost always garner inspiration for my posts from another blogger. If I could do it over, I would have started by just passively listening to these bloggers. Note how they write – observe how they interact with their readers – watch how readers react to their content.
Over time, I would have engaged with the bloggers I particularly liked by leaving comments on posts and emailing them content ideas. Forging these relationships with bloggers is both rewarding for the bloggers and helpful for you if you ever see yourself needing advice from them down the road. Ask to write a guest post – most bloggers welcome free, high-quality content so they can take a night off!
Then, and only then, would I recommend that you consider starting your own blog. And not on Blogger! Go big or go home. Buy a domain, use WordPress.org so you don’t have the crappy wordpress.com extension, and spend quality time finding a template that is fitting for your personality and future content.
3. Find a niche and stay there!
Many people say that they want to start blogging but they don’t know what to write about. OK, I tell them. Go read my prior point. If you start reading tons of blogs, you will learn what others are already talking about and where the holes are. My niche is intermediate level interactive multimedia development. That being said, of course I still blog about passive multimedia, beginner Flash concepts, and topics ranging from journalism to academia to marketing. As long as the majority of your content falls within a particular niche, your readers will normally forgive you for stretching that barrier to hopefully teach them something new.
Let’s look at a couple of niches out there in the multimedia genre:
10,000Words: Beginner level advice for print journalists transitioning to online
Adam Westbrook: The business side of journalism and media entrepreneurship
Teaching Online Journalism: Academia-focused on how best to teach journalism to undergraduate students
FlowingData: Tutorials and inspiration for data lovers, including mathematicians, programmers, architects, journalists, etc.
Obviously the larger niche you target, the larger your potential audience. Nieman Journalism Lab targets journalism (go figure), so their audience is significantly larger than the smaller niche of print or online journalism, or even more micro level of videography, for example. If you want a huge audience, go for something like social media. If you want an intimate, more refined following, pick your niche carefully.
4. Don’t get too invested in it
I should practice what I preach. Honestly I haven’t mastered this one yet, and I doubt I will ever be able to. I’m getting better when people unsubscribe from my blog, or don’t participate in my give-aways. I have learned that blog readers are takers and not givers (myself included). I read countless posts each day yet it takes a lot for me to comment on one of them in particular. However, it is easy to get swept up in the numbers of pageviews, subscribers, Twitter followers, Facebook friends, etc.
As a blogger, you always want to improve your numbers (especially if you are interested in securing advertising) so when you have a down month you’ll spend way too long analyzing trends to try to figure out why people liked certain posts more than others. Trust me, it can consume you, but don’t let it. I used to look at my traffic numbers daily but now I try to only look at them at the end of each month to write the “Best of” posts.
From past experience, don’t cry when your site crashes … it will be fixed. Don’t blog when you have an exam the next day or when you are sick or when you should be spending quality time with your significant other … your readers will wait for you. And most importantly, don’t take it personally when you spend hours on a post and nobody comments. Remember the takers-not-givers principle.
5. Inject personality and passion into each post
If you aren’t passionate about what you are blogging about then quit before you even start. I can always tell if the writer is passionate about what he/she is writing about. If the enthusiasm is there, it makes me keep reading. If it’s super stale and obvious that the person felt forced to write, I am mad that they wasted my time.
Have fun with the titles like “Holy Flying Duckrabbits, Two Multimedia Studios doing it the Right Way” by Richard Koci Hernandez on his site “Multimedia Shooter.” Or, create a light-hearted series highlighting your readers like Charles Apple does with his birthday posts.
On that note, I will leave you with Charles’ post “Everything Iâ€™ve learned the hard way, here in the blog: 10 tips for bloggers.” I thoroughly agree with all of his advice, which is a must-read for potential future bloggers or those re-evaluating the blogging lifestyle.
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Tags: advice, blog, Blogger, blogging, blogosphere, continued education, personal brand, Wordpress