Evan Williams from Pyra Labs had an interesting post a few days back titled Ten Rules for Web Startups which has some interesting points – some of which might well by relevant to bloggers in start up mode. The bold points are Evan’s – the rest is my attempt to adapt it to blogging.
1: Be Narrow – Evan suggests focusing upon the smallest possible problem to solve – good advice for a start up blog as well as a company. I was asked in an interview today what my advice is to bloggers and one of the first things I said was to think carefully about the niche that you choose. While there are some successful blogs going around that don’t have tight niches, there are many more that choose a narrow niche and work hard at dominating it. It’s old advice that I rabbit on about a fair bit – but the adage of being a large fish in a small pond is probably one of the best pieces of advice I’ve ever been given in this business.
2: Be Different – In this point Evan talks a little about competition (something there is plenty of in blogging these days!). There is loads of useful advice here that’s totally relevant for blog start ups. Yes there is competition – deal with it. Don’t let it get you down because competition can actually be good for your blog. There is always a way to differentiate yourself from the ‘competition’. Find the gaps around the niche that others are missing, be creative, be outrageous, be extravagant – do whatever it takes to stick out of the crowd.
3: Be Casual – Key sentence in this point – ‘If you want to hit the really big home runs, create services that fit in with—and, indeed, help—people’s everyday lives without requiring lots of commitment or identity change.’ I think this is pretty true with blog start ups also – although not always. There are opportunities with blogging to become a natural part of people’s lives – to meet their needs in very simple ways. People naturally surf the web looking for information on all kinds of topics – bloggers have the opportunity to be on the other ends of these searches. Having said that there is also the opportunity with blogging to be outrageous, entertaining, shocking and out of the ordinary in ways that are not a part of natural everyday life.
4: Be Picky – It’s so tempting to try to make your blog all things to all people. I constantly get emails from people telling me that my blog should be this way or that. The fact is, I’ve chosen to make ProBlogger a blog about helping people to make money from blogging and it’s never going to stray too far from that. I know I could easily become distracted by all kinds of tangents and opportunities that come my way from this blog – but I’m slowly learning to pick my direction carefully.
5: Be User-Centric – I think this is pretty clearly an important part of blogging start ups. A blogger needs to put themselves in the shoes of their potential reader and build their blog from that position. Listen to your readers, respond to them and involve them wherever possible.
6: Be Self-Centered – “Great products almost always come from someone scratching their own itch. Create something you want to exist in the world. Be a user of your own product.” – Once again a good lesson for bloggers. While it is sometimes tempting to start a blog on a ‘money topic’ that you have little interest in – the blogs that I love to read are blogs where the blogger is totally obsessed and in love with what they are writing about. Pick a topic you’d write about for free if no one was ever going to read it and you’re probably going to attract others with a similar obsession to you.
7: Be Greedy – Interesting title for this one. I’m not sure I’d word it quite that way – but there is truth here. If you’re wanting to build a profitable blog, company, shop, lemonade stall…. you’ve got to start making some money from it at some point. I know of some bloggers whose model is to start up with completely free, ad free, give it all away strategies with the hope that they can add revenue streams later on and I always wonder if it’s a wise strategy. Business is business and there comes a point where you need to start adding some income streams to your blogs if you want turn a profit.
8: Be Tiny – Not sure if this is exactly where Evan was coming from but my advice to new bloggers has always been to start small and from the place they find themselves in. I quite often get IM’s from bloggers with massive plans to hire hundreds of bloggers and start thousands of blogs (I’m not exaggerating – it’s a monthly conversation I seem to have) – but when I dig a little into their plans I find they have little blogging experience, little understanding of the issues and no actual starting place. One of the keys to the business I’ve built is that it’s been a gradual and slow evolution over time. I started with one blog and built it up over a year. Then I added another and worked my butt off at it and overtime gradually was able to free up my time from other work to dedicate more time to blogging. It started tiny ( a guy in the spare bedroom with a 5 year old PC) and to this day it remains at most ‘small’ (a guy in a home office (I kicked out the bed) with a Mac….and a very nice screen :-) ).
9: Be Agile – This is probably Evan’s best point. Flexibility and the ability to jump onto the right opportunities as they come by is an absolute key. Keep in mind point 4 about not taking every opportunity – but know that your ability to change course/shape/direction very quickly can be key to the success of a blog. This happens on a daily basis with the posts you write – but also on a bigger picture level. I know there have been two or three crucial decisions that I’ve made (in each case very quickly) that have totally changed the way I earn an income.
10: Be Balanced – I read this part of Evan’s post and wondered if he’d been talking to my wife. Balance between work and life is key. Life’s too short to spend it all staring at your computer (as lovely as your screen might be)!
11 (bonus!): Be Wary – Every list of rules needs a disclaimer like this. I agree. There are NO rules. I know this from personal experience. Sometimes the things that shouldn’t work do work and the things that should don’t. The key is to experiment and track the results. Adapt as you go.
Read Evan’s original list of Ten Rules for Web Startups.