In today’s post Tim and I talk blogging. I ask him about some of the lessons he’s learned about driving traffic, posting frequency and being a productive blogger.
Darren – Why did you choose to add a blog to your strategy for promoting your book?
Tim – Good question, but I’ll reword it for you: why did I start a blog? It actually wasn’t solely to promote the book, though that’s a side-effect. There are a few reasons. First, a number of authors-cum-bloggers told me that they wasted thousands of dollars on book sites when a free blog ended up being the best PR tool. I believe that a good book site is important (www.fourhourworkweek.com), but the blog is much more.
The blog is how I build a “platform”. In publisher-speak, that means a fan base. Once you have a fan base — and I think my blog, forums, and other communities can be much bigger than the book — you have tons of options. Those options could be for monetizing (advertising, products, speaking, consulting, etc.) or simply extending your influence. There is power in numbers. Once I have enough clout with subscribers and fan base, I’ll be lobbying in Silicon Valley to establish an official “E-mail Detox Day” under law, for example! Lots of fun things coming.
Darren – What have you learnt about blogging since starting yours a month ago? Teach us oh wise one!
Tim – LOL… I don’t claim to have all of the answers, of course. Not even most of them, but I’m a pretty good “reductionist”. That just means that I question what everyone is doing and ask myself: if I ignore what’s popular, what everyone says you “have to do,” what actually works? I cut out all the fat and look at just the highest-impact variables.
For example, I’ve been told I need to post everyday, but when I really looked at the facts, a different picture emerged.
i’ve found that if i post less often, my blog has a sine wave sign-up curve. in other words: if i post just infrequently enough (for me, once every 4-6 days), the comments add up on each post, making the site look very popular, and rss subscriptions spike. if i post too often, it doesn’t look popular (since posts get pushed down and comment-count is low), so it is actually better for my site to post less often! love it when that happens…
The most important thing I’ve learned? Blogging is underestimated by many, but it’s overestimated by even more. It’s not a panacea or a silver bullet. It is a tool you should pay a ton of attention to, but it’s still just one tool.
Here’s another odd one.
I pay more attention to decreases in subscribers than increases. There are too many variables that could account for increases, and the easily identified reasons (a link from a prominent blogger) are often outside your control, and thus hard to repeat. Unsubscribes, on the other hand — defection — is due to one of two things, in my opinion, TOO MANY POSTS or POOR CONTENT. Whenever I get a dip, I look at the characteristics of the post — How was the headline different? How long was it? Did it have too many photos? Was it too about me without how-to information?
Paying attention to unsubscribes has allowed me to avoid problem posts and build my base not just quickly, but faster and faster.
Darren – What about getting Traffic for your blog – how are you building that?
Tim – One: guest post on other blogs as often as possible, and be creative. For example, I asked for ideas for book promotion at Ok Dork and got a great response. Not only did it give me great ideas for promotion, it got me a lot of new traffic. I just had my first post on the homepage on Huffington Post this morning, and it’s around Alexa 2,500.
Two: look at the blogrolls of prominent bloggers and look for names you don’t recognize. These are often thought leaders who are well-respected but perhaps not hard-core bloggers. A friend at SXSW told me I had to meet a guy named Brian Oberkirch, so I tracked him down at the event. Super cool guy, and we hit it off. He recently interviewed me for his blog, which is high quality and popular but not huge, and — unbenowst to me — he is friends with Merlin Mann of 43Folders. Brian’s post, and thus my book, then ended up on 43Folders. Moral of the story? Don’t be a traffic bigot. Seek out smart, original thinkers and look for lateral degrees of separation.
Darren – Many of the bloggers that I interact with have anything but a 4 hour work week – how can we make ourselves more productive in the day to day of blogging?
Tim – Just remember: you don’t HAVE TO do anything. Set the rules of the game so that you can win and have a life at the same time. If you set the expectation that you’ll post 12 times a day, it’s going to overwhelm you. Focus on quality over quantity and the critical few vs. the trivial many. How do you do that? You first define precisely what you want yourself and others to get out of the blog — why are you doing it, and what are you doing it for? It is vain to do with more what can be done with less (that’s quoting William of Occam, originator of “Occam’s Razor”), so if you can get your readers to where they need to be with one post a day, or one post per week, establish that as your rule.
Other things you can do:
“Batch” email and check it only once or twice per day. Use an autoresponder and other tools to help you do this. One of my most popular blog posts gives examples of this: http://www.fourhourworkweek.com/blog/2007/03/22/how-to-check-e-mail-twice-a-day-or-once-every-10-days/
Invite guest bloggers to create content for you, write posts in batches, repurpose material from multiple sources (you can bet I’ll be linking to this interview in a post on my blog!), and also unsubscribe from nearly every RSS feed you have consuming your attention and time.
Darren – Many bloggers have big dreams for their online businesses but many seem to hit a ceiling of how much they can achieve – how can they scale up what they do without becoming slaves to their blogs?
Tim – Before you ask yourself how to scale (the brief answer is designing a process-driven instead of founder-driven business model), you need to ask yourself — what am I scaling for? What is your goal with the blog? Let’s assume you want to “make money”.
I encourage you to define your ideal lifestyle in terms of having, being, and doing, then calculate the average monthly cost. If you want a Lamborghini Gallardo, yearly trips to Fiji, and to take cooking classes with a professional chef, great. Determine what all of that averages out to on a monthly basis: this is your TMI — Target Monthly Income — and your goal for your business.
IPOs and acquisitions are fine, but they shouldn’t be your top priority. It’s too easy to defer life if you become myopically fixated on an often elusive exit. Besides, building a business that you can be removed from, and focusing on profitability, are all ingredients for getting a good price when selling your business.
Bigger and more often is not necessarily better, and almost never is from a lifestyle standpoint. Focus on being the best rather the biggest, and focus on hitting your TMI — and most important, living your dreams instead of working for work’s sake — and you’ll be able to enjoy yourself without feeling like you’re shoveling coal into the furnace 24/7 with a monster you have to feed.
Darren – You talk quite a bit in your book about outsourcing – do you outsource any aspects of your blogging?
Tim – I outsourced a good portion of design implementation (I designed the look and architecture with sketches first), as well as SEO work. I haven’t outsourced any writing, but I will be adding guest posters as traffic builds and becomes attractive to good writers. I’ll be training and hiring people to help with responding to comments once volume gets high, as I will with the forums. The secret to keeping my blog low-stress is still a relatively low frequency of posting. All of the time-consumers and stress producers multiply with the number of your posts.
Darren – Where do you find people to outsource different aspects of your businesses to? Do you ever have issues of unreliability? Any tips for finding quality people?
1) Hire groups of people or companies, not single people. If you become dependent on a single person and they get sick, for example, you have a single point of failure. Hire companies or groups where there are checks and balances, and where people can replace each other in emergencies.
2) If you narrow it down to, say, five potential groups on Elance, as them all to perform a simple 20-minute task by a specific time. Ask for a report afterwards indicating what worked well, what didn’t, and what they’d change about the process. If they miss the deadline or don’t follow directions perfectly, don’t hire them.
3) If you have a project that you anticipate will take 20 hours, ask for them to confirm understaning first, then ask for a status update after 3 hours. If not, you could end up with something you didn’t even ask for in the end, and it will be too late to correct misinterpretation.
GetFriday offers a 7-day trial for their services, and they are really good. Very experienced with processes in place.
Darren – cool – I think that’s my main questions covered – did you have anything else to add?
Tim – It might be interesting for people to know that I don’t even use an RSS reader. I visit a handful of sites once or twice per week. RSS readers are too easy to abuse and let consume your entire day.
Darren – Interesting – do you have any ‘watch lists’ or ‘alerts’ for your name or your book’s name to help you track what people are saying about you so that you can engage in those conversations?
Tim – Good question. I use GoogleAlerts for news and blogs, and I also check incoming links from within WordPress.
Darren – Thats about all I’ve got. Thanks for your time Tim – as usual, it’s been great chatting with you!
Tim – No problem, it’s been great.
Get a Copy of Tim’s book – The 4-Hour Workweek