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Ten Rules for Profitable Blog Startups

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.

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. escante says:

    Does are some cool tips there thanks.
    Coche Insurance

  2. RC says:

    Very interesting read! Btw.”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”. I would love to hear an example(or two:-).

  3. Cary says:

    Excellent: and I would add to number 8 that if you plan on using advertising it may be best to use it from the beginning…many readers can get turned-off if your blog suddenly becomes commercial. If you have ads up from the start you will usually hear no complaints :)

    It’s always best not to alienate your readers!

  4. markku says:

    Darren, I think you mean “Evan,” not “Eric” as you’ve written in several parts of the entry. :)

    Nice work on explaining these ideas in relation to the parallel world of blog startups.

  5. Brad says:

    Darren, thanks for the post. Good one!

  6. john says:

    So, Darren, how much money did you make with Chitika in October? How much did you lose in the audit? I mean after pushing the program so hard and now hearing others who lost 90% of their money in the audit, how can you remain silent?

    Jenstar is thinking about ditching Chitika after she lost 50% of her referral money because of the audit, how about you?
    How much referral money did you lose? Are you ditching them?

  7. IO ERROR says:

    I added AdSense to my first blog two weeks after I started it, when nobody was reading. I got my first check seven months later. But it’s always been an integral part of the site.

    I talk to people all the time who are looking into adding AdSense to their blogs, and the common thread is they either never considered monetizing their blogs, or they did, but never got around to it. It usually turns out to be a fairly significant project to retrofit ads into a site.

    There’s also something to be said for getting away from the computer for a while. Go read a book, have dinner with your girlfriend/SO, whatever. It’ll greatly improve your life. Besides, who did you think was going to spend all that money, anyway? :)

  8. Stuart says:

    “…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.”

    But don’t attack other bloggers in some desperate hope to get page views. It only reflects poorly on you and any new readers you do get won’t stay long.

    Personally I would also suggest that you don’t try to ride to fame and fortune on the coat tails of others. Using the names of well-known bloggers, like Darren, in your Technorati tags is just a sign of desperation.

    If you can’t make it on your own merits then you shouldn’t be there at all.

  9. Cary says:

    john, I don’t know about Darren, but I only lost about 10% during the audit, which is what I’ve been told to expect.

  10. Andy Merrett says:

    OT, John, way OT. But hey, we commenters are good at that. Your tone sounds a little antagonistic though, as if it’s Darren’s fault somehow…

    FWIW I barely lost anything on October’s – less than 10% though I haven’t worked it out precisely. Of course figures vary. I don’t think 90% or 50% are average loss figures.

  11. Darren Rowse says:

    John – refer to my most recent post. To be honest my audit figures were not too surprising or different from my previous audit figures. I’ll not be ditching them – even after the audit they’ll earn me well over double what Adsense makes made me in October.

    Yep they have some problems to work out but I think as a company they’re pushing new boundaries and are making a great product that in the long term will be one of the better options going around.

  12. ChrisH says:

    #10 Be Balanced

    I can’t say I’m sticking to that one even though I know how important it is. It’s the old truth, it doesn’t matter what you do – job, blog, business etc – if you haven’t got time for exercise and relaxation, you’re doing it wrong.

  13. Alec says:

    I especially like ideas 2 & 3, if one wants to create separation and independent popularity, creativity is the means of pursuit. I think if anything, a lot of us are involved in blogging for a mix bag of reasons — personal, professional, and monetary, and we are pursuing this disconnected from the 9-5 workplace or our normal professions, which makes it unique (though not unique to Internet commerce).

  14. Peter Mount says:

    I would’ve thought that competition is good because it’s existance will show if there is a market for what you want to do. In my business module at TAFE we were taught that at least a 10 percent growth rate of businesses in a certain field is a good indicator that there is a good market for that field of business. I should think it would be no different for blogs

    Which reminds me, I’d better get off my “proverbial” and get some coding done :-)

  15. Jason says:

    Great post. The part that helped me the most was thinking through your niche. And you’re right, it is tempting to start blogging about something profitable just because it’s profitable, even if you don’t get a great sense of joy from it.

    Cheers,

    JP

  16. thanks, i started my own website few months ago, and even it isnt a blog these hints&tips you wrote were very usefull FULL credits to you man.

  17. random ranter says:

    hey i was thinking of starting a blog just 2 vent bcoz i had some free time on my hands and your site rele made me consider trying 2 make some money out of this….ive never written a blog before so i hav next to no idea what im doing, but im opinionated and i have faith in my writing abilities if i get a good topic.
    the real problem is i live in sri lanka (….yes il give u a min 2 google it ) and i was wondering if its rele possible to receive money 4 my blog while being here? i find a lot of thing ppl take 4 granted in more popular counties cant be done here…
    any advice u can spare will be much appreciated :) tahnks

  18. As a brand new blogger I have found this list very interesting, Most of it I already assumed, but it is good to see it on screen and learn that it is mostly just common sense and not some black magic that only a boffinn can understand, keep up the good work! Cheers Max

Trackbacks

  1. [...] That means that successful bloggers often have a lot to teach small business people. That is certainly the case with Ten Rules for Profitable Blog Startups. A lot of what Darren has to say there is very applicable to any small business person who is trying to get their business (whatever it might be) off the ground. Technorati Tags: small business [...]

  2. [...] As these points can easily apply to starting a profitable blog, ProBlogger, Darren Rowse has reworked these same ten rules, but this time applying them to blogging. The outcome is a valuable set of 10 blogging tips that will be of interest regardless of whether you are a Pro Blogger or an aspiring Pro Blogger. [...]

  3. [...] Darren Rowse has a piece on rules for blog start-ups. Most of it I’d agree completely with (he says as someone who doesn’t have much interest in sticking advertising on his sites!). It is, after all, about defining and developing a niche, taking advantage of revenue opportunities when they arise, and being flexible. [...]

  4. [...] Darren Rowse has posted Ten Rules for Profitable Blog Startups – which is in turn an adapted version of a post by Evan Williams also called Ten Rules for Web Startups. [...]