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Help ProBlogger Find a Business Model

I’m hesitant to post this but its something I’ve been pondering for a while now and I’d appreciate your thoughts and ideas.

You see I love writing on this blog – it is the blog I’m most proud of and that I put most time into. I get more feedback and interaction with readers here via comments, IM and email than any other blog in my stable. However for the time I put in its the least rewarding financially. Ads for blogging services pay next to nothing and my readership is not really big enough to attract any big private sponsorships. I’d be lucky if this site pays for my morning coffee most days (and I go to a cheap cafe).

Now before anyone worries that I’m about to either can this blog, or start charging people to read it, or that I’m going to ask for donation – please don’t worry – this is a free blog and I intend to keep it that way. In actual fact I don’t write this blog for the money but because I’m genuinely passionate about blogging as a medium, want to connect with and help others who are also and because I enjoy writing on these topics.

So what am I hesitant about? Let me cut to the chase.

Looking at my email inbox and the logs of my IM client for the past 3 days I’ve just counted up 20 requests from readers to ‘take a look’ at their blogs or to ‘offer advice’ on everything from SEO, to Adsense optimization, to design, to overall vision etc.

I enjoy these requests, I love to help others (otherwise I wouldn’t make my contact details public) but it is now starting to get to the point where I could dedicate a few hours each day to the task which whilst an enjoyable task is one which takes me away from my other business. I do try to accommodate all requests, but as the readership of this blog rises (as it steadily is) I can see that the day is coming where I’m either going to have to say no to such requests or find a way to either make it pay for my time or decrease the time needed to do it.

So here is what I’m asking you my blogging buddies – what do I do?

I’ve asked a few of you already in one on one chats and some of your (and my) ideas include:

  1. Charge a consultancy/coaching fee per 10 minute block (or some other amount of time).
  2. Open a free discussion forums where bloggers workshop their ideas together rather than relying upon me to give advice.
  3. Run a short course in ProBlogging (which people pay for) that takes people through the basics
  4. Write an Ebook on the topic and sell it (offer an hour consulting with each book)
  5. Do case studies on the blog which the recipient of the case study pays for the time of but everyone else learns from
  6. Do consulting in return for non financial reimbursement including links to my blogs from those that I help or even by them placing adsense ads with my publisher code on their blog for an agreed time frame.
  7. Try to put a figure on what the increases in earnings are for the blog in question and take an agreed cut of these profits (10-20%) for an agreed time (six months).
  8. Charge people by them writing one article for one of your blogs per ten minutes of time that you give them (ie if you consult for an hour they owe you 6 posts on one of your blogs).

I’m not sure on any of these options. There are things about some that I like but disadvantages of each one.

My main desire is to keep this blog at ProBlogger free and running as it is – but I’m finding that many of your want more individual attention. I actually think my archives are full of the answers to most of the questions that people ask me – but I guess to sift through them all takes time and its quicker just to come straight to me.

The other issue to consider is that many readers of this blog can’t afford to really pay much at all for my time because they are just starting out and often have either no blog or a blog with tiny readership that could take a substantial amount of time to build into something that is profitable. On the other hand others are already earning decent money from their blogs. Is it fair to charge both the same for my time? For example, a few days ago I helped two people within an hour of each other. Today I found out that my advice helped one of them increase their daily earnings from $1 to $1.30 and the other one increased their earnings by $40 per day. I spent the same time on both of them but obviously one is in a better position to pay than the other simply because their blog has been going longer and has a larger economy of scale.

I hope that this post doesn’t put people off making contact with me – I love the interactions that I have and learn a lot from you too – I’m just thinking out loud about how to make our interactions as mutually beneficial as possible.

I’d appreciate your thoughts – please share your ideas on what business model (if any) you can see me moving towards here at ProBlogger. Would you be willing to pay for some of the above services (or others) – if so how much is reasonable – if not how else might I structure things so we all come out of this better off as bloggers? Please be honest – I won’t be offended by your ideas, feedback and thoughts and value your time and energy.

About Darren Rowse

Darren Rowse is the founder and editor of ProBlogger Blog Tips and Digital Photography School. Learn more about him here and connect with him on Twitter, Facebook, Google+ and LinkedIn.

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Comments

  1. Victor says:

    I would make sure everyone you help at least has a link to your blog (or at least one of them) on their blog and I’d also suggest either a $10 per 15 minutes type arrangement or some sort of advice for content approach. Maybe you give people two or three options with some combination of the different options above.

    I think you should charge something because otherwise people will take advantage of you. People value things that they pay for more than free things. Even if they are not yet earning anything I think they should pay something (money or time) because otherwise they won’t take your advice as seriously as they should.

  2. Scrivs says:

    To be honest I think you shouldn’t offer any of those services. I am not sure how big of a role the money that you bring in from consulting plays, but why dig into your blogging time? I know helping people is fun and all, but you can probably help them more by continue to write.

    I see if you follow any of those options you are just making life harder on yourself. I to have been in the same boat of offering services through Work Boxers, but to be honest I rather dedicated my time to other things. That sounds selfish of me, but it’s a balance that you must maintain between helping out and making a couple of bucks or investing your time into long-term investments.

  3. Scrivs says:

    Sorry for the horrible grammar and misspellings above, its 3:30am here and my eyes wouldn’t allow me to proofread :-P

  4. Duncan says:

    Firstly its great that you enjoy writing this blog, it shows in your writing style and thats a positive, but your points are valid, particuarly as the blog is dedicated to some extent to giving advice, the downside is the expectation that you will provide in on request, and for free. Any one of the options you’ve listed could work, and I’ll comment on a few of them
    1. Charging for advice
    Strong idea, and as long as its fairly low cost I’d suggest that it would be easy pocket money and an interesting niche market. Google Answers works on a similar system, so maybe you could implement something similar?
    2. Short course is best left into the ebook, lets face it your market is on the other side of the pacific, the airfair alone would gobble up your profits, and the top end of the market (corporate/ PR) is already full of high charging seminars and experts.
    3. Consulting plans: interesting, although I think the non-financial returns would be difficult to administer and I’m always sceptical about essentially buying links myself, I take much greater delight in earning them, and without being an SEO expert I think Google likes them that way too.
    4. If your swapping posts your expanding your personal network to a weblogsinc meets Bartercard setup!!

    Here’s an idea though, why don’t you sell the blog? Positioning is already ok, throw in 6 months worth of writing then an option to continue after this, someone else can then work on improving advertising and the like and you can continue to enjoy posting whilst perhaps having enough money to add a pool to the “House that blogging bought” (please don’t tell my wife though, she wants a pool and she thinks my blog could deliver it). It worked for Jeremy Wright and the publicity would be big, particuarly here in Australia, but I’d insist on getting the scoop for The Blog Herald!

  5. Darren, I suggest the forum approach where your readership takes over the primary responsibility of analyzing blogs. Here are my reasons:

    1. Folks around here have shown themselves to be pretty blog savvy or at least there are those of us who have picked up a couple of things.
    2. An open group effort would allow for a more thorough consideration of the blogs in question as well as give a diverse range of opinions. You’d still be the most listened-to voice in the bunch so there’s no worry that the advice will be lower quality.
    3. An archive full of discussions on blog strengths and weaknesses would permanently make ProBlogger.net the expert on blogging. This will be doubly significant if blogging gets as big as we all expect it to.
    4. If your visitors didn’t like to write and comment on stuff, they wouldn’t own blogs ;-)
    5. Finally, every generous person has to come to terms with their own limitations; it makes humility and community at the same time. Even without single-handedly saving the blogging world you’re still our guru.

    Danger’s $0.02

  6. Rob.s says:

    darren,

    I was one who emailed asking for a litle advice, adnd I ask because i respect you, and the way you blog.

    I wouldn’t have asked if i didn’t need the advice, as I am being made homeless in 7 weks, thats the only reason I asked.
    You posted a pic a while ago about the house that blogging bought… so.. you are doing good.

    If I was you and in thae position you are in.. a forum I feel would be a good way to go.. ;-)

    So… can I have some advice mate? ;-)

    Take care, keep it up..

    Great blog..

    Rob

  7. Rob.s says:

    Sorry about typos.. Am In a rush.. :-)

  8. Darren says:

    Always happy to help Rob – thanks for your comment and thanks everyone for your comments so far – plenty to ponder. Keep your ideas coming.

  9. Mark Jones says:

    Hey Darren. An e-book would sell, and you might get a few people to turn up to a short course but I’m not sure the effort/time in prep would be covered by the small cost you would be able to charge. If I was you, I’d be targeting the corporate market and offering consulting services.
    Chrs,
    Mark

  10. Jarkko says:

    Hi Darren,

    I say that you should set up a forum and offer hour based consulting. This will cut non-performing calls for help and leave possibly big(ger)-money company clients.

    You should start a forum and it should have a subcategory that focuses on brief consultation (review my site). Provide tiny motivational perk for those people who answer the requests, and you suddenly offer even better service for your readers. You could also step in at any moment you wish and give personal advice, without the guilt that you are not answering all the requests.

    ebook, like Duncan said, is a good idea.

    I do not recommend any service exchange activities as the quality will not scale evenly. Use money or community and hop on the drivers seat, and quit being a horse, you will help us more by enabling us to share more/better.

  11. Randall says:

    I think you are a very greedy man.

  12. If by ‘greedy’ you mean ‘blog-a-rific’ – then you’re right!

  13. Rob.s says:

    Randall.would YOU swap places with Darren?

    I thought so… :)

  14. Darren, if you want to chat about this privately later this week I have quite a few ideas on this (as I’m sure you can imagine). Consider it payback for the help you gave me :)

  15. Brian N. Burridge says:

    I agree with the forum idea, and I believe you could make quite a lot of money with an ebook. I just took a course on making money with ebooks, and there are some people out there doing quite well with them. There are a lot of aspiring bloggers who would pay for an ebook to help them get started, and once you’ve written the book, your time investment in it won’t be more than a few hours a week. Then when you get requests for help, you can suggest that they first purchase your book, and after that join the forum where others, including yourself, will answer questions.

  16. Glen says:

    I have enjoyed your blog since the first day I came across it and the business model ideas that you have are sound in my opinion. Its something you can do to generate income and still keep Pro Blogger the way that it is. Go with your first thought on the matter more than likely it is the best of all the ideas that you have.

  17. Captian says:

    Just a piling on comment to say:

    1. I agree totally with Duncan.

    2. Ignore the greedy comment. Has this person never heard of free enterprise?

    3. I think there will be more businesses looking to develop blogs in the future. Businesses have money to spend (in order to make money) and the people best positioned as blog “experts” at that time will do well financially.

    4. Keep up the good work. We all appreciate you.

    TC

  18. Scrivs says:

    I don’t think some of you realize how much time it takes to moderate a forum, especially one that over time can blow up quickly. Sure it would be nice to have some great moderators, but that alone becomes a job. Just something to think about.

  19. Ray says:

    Keep it simple. Have contact details for a column where you answer a set amount of submitted questions per day, week, etc., for free. Make it clear that you are unable to respond to every question personally, and if the submitted question isn’t chosen for your blog column, you also offer a consulting service for hire.

    There is a reason you have seen this type of solution before. It’s simple and works.

  20. Jack Swift says:

    Not only are forums big time eaters, I have found it hard to earn coin from them. But it would be a big service. I would put the eBook at the top of your list. You already have a ton of good information here on your site. The combination of the 2 should be just about all the info people need. Then if you still want to consult, charge a half-hour fee.

    But in the long run, for you personally, you are going to benefit more from your blogs and the eBook. The time you invest in those will continue to benefit you while with consulting, you only earn once.

  21. Allen Park says:

    For those of us who are interested only in personal blogs a forum would be great. But when it grows (and it will) there will be a need for administrators and moderators.

    As you know, there are pros and cons to any venture. Pick (forums) the one you are most comfortable with and work it.

  22. This is *supposed* to be a free market, so our motto should be “In Darwin We Trust”. Sink or swim. If you feel that you need “help”, learn to use Google to find your own answers.

    That said, I think anybody with a visible blog is fair game for advice queries and that if anybody feels overwhelmed by incoming “Hey, how about some free advice?” messages, the answer should be simple and quite honest: “Sorry, but I’m really overwhelmed right now”, and then pick from the more interesting queries to use as topics for your own future posts.

    Anybody want to start a “Blogs That Suck” blog where people can email in their “creation” and the blogmaster(s) (or blogmistress(es)) will then hold up your blog as an example and detail how sucky your blog really is? People will learn real fast that way. The other upside is that “No PR is bad PR”, meaning that if your blog has ANY redeeming value, people will take note of it regardless of how much advice you need from “the experts”.

    Maybe that should be another one of the rules for successful blogging: There are no rules.

    Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to get back to my own sucky blogs. The key advantage of writing a sucky blog is that few people bother you asking for advice.

    – Jack Krupansky

  23. Gonzalo says:

    Hi Darren,

    Thanks for sharing with us what youre going thru. I tried to place myself in your shoes (its never easy to do) and came up with the following:
    - Answer free questions when you have time (when??) and post it as a column in your blog
    - Bloggers needing personalized advice (or in a hurry), just have to pay for it. Ill break it into 15 minutes or 30 minutes minimum.
    - Ebook. Absolutely! Youve got tons of info (good stuff!) that you can package and sell it for $49.95 (I personally would prefer to do consultancy instead of an ebook, but mayb thats just me, assuming more or less same cost)

    I hope it helps. Thanks,

    P.S. Id also consider into your consultancy service some PR.

  24. Ayana says:

    Why don’t you combine the idea of the e-book and the course and make it an e-course? You have lots of fans that would help you promote it as well within their blogs.

  25. Rob.s says:

    Turn the BEST stuff from this blog into a free ebook for giveaways to generate your list, then write your REAL best tips, for a ebook to sell….. to your list. ;-)

    Rob.

  26. I really like the idea of the case studies. They’d make for great post series’ and the material could be used for a book/e-book down the road. Combine them with revenue-sharing for compensation.

    I also like the idea of bartering blog posts for simpler consulting situations.

  27. Will Pate says:

    Wrote this last night, internet went down and it’s back up so here you go:

    Well, I think long term you want to enable as many people as you can. If you do that, you’ll be able to leverage your status (rightfully so) as an expert for continued work. As you said, if one is just starting out, sifting through the archives might be too big a hurdle – that sounds like a need looking for a fix.

    The benefit of a course would be that it provides structure and a formula people can follow as they start out. Same goes for an ebook. Heck, you could even offer a paper copy through lulu.com for those that want a desk reference.

    So, my advice? Offer a book (e or print) and discount on the course which compliments it. If they take the course, they get the book for free. Now your customer can benefit either way and they both sell each other.

    If people want individual consulting after (or before if they’re eager beavers), they can either
    a) pay you a decent rate for your time or
    b) agree to give you a percentage of their increase in ad revenue for a specific time after
    In return you give them a case study, which you share with your readers (more with the selling your expertise) which also of course is a post about them and hopefully lots of discussion around their blog.

    Just my two pennies. Hope it works out for you man, you should be earning more for the great work you do here.

  28. Mark says:

    Darren, If you speak with Jeremy “offline” later this week; I hope you’re able to share some highlights of your discussion :) !!

  29. Paul Short says:

    Hi Darren, I’m sort of a throwback from the Internet Marketing industry, and one of the things these guys do is membership sites.

    You could offer up a private members forum where people can discuss things amongst themselves, a private members blog updated once a week – kind of like writing a newsletter but post on the blog, etc. There are lots of people out there who would sign up for $10 a month. 100 people and your mortgage is paid, you haven’t sold-out and everyone gets what they want.

    Another idea: You mentioned people having to sift through your archives to find the info they need. How about publishing your archives every 3 – 6 months in the form of an ebook? No extra writing involved, your info and links are all live in the book… heck, lemme know if you decide to do that and you’ve already got a customer.

    Your reputation sparkles enough right now that word would get out fast. You’d be swamped with sales in no time.

    The key is residual income – a product that regularly renews itself – and is easy to produce.

    Hope I gave you a few ideas.

  30. Jim Kukral says:

    I’m willing to discuss an idea I have had but not enough time to implement, with you if you want to chat about it.

    Here’s my advice though. Think hard about what is fun for you…what you have passion for? Is it writing tips and tricks? Is it being the hero and helping someone else learn how to earn more? Is it…whatever.

    What’s makes you excited and you find enjoyable to do?

    Once you know what that is, you’ll know what to do. Trying to build a business model off of an idea you have no passion for is pointless.

    The hard part is if the thing you find to be the most passionate about is simply just nothing that is worth anything, then you have to start compromising.

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  2. Spinneyhead says:

    You got a revenue plan?
    Problogger is looking for a business plan and so am I. Tomorrow I have an interview set up by New Deal that may get me some support to go self employed so I’m looking at ways to make Spinneyhead a realistic (rather than pocket) money making concern.