Wendy has written a heart felt post on her blog titled The Things That Get You Successful Won’t Necessarily Keep You That Way which is basically about the realization that her current blogging business model is not really scalable. Some of the areas she’s seeing this in:
- I cannot respond to the 30-50+ comments left every day anymore, which both saddens me and also decreases participation in the conversation on both sides
- I spend every Monday digging through 200-300 (or 400+!) emails from the previous week
- Writing for three blogs is very time consuming – and coming up with 3x more fresh ideas is at best a stretch and at worst downright stressful
- I have advertisers willing to pay for more impressions – but in my current business model, I do not have the time or resources to create more content
Wendy then shot me an email asking for any thoughts that I had. Here’s a few that come to mind as I read her post:
1. Building a Sustainable Business Out of Blogging is Hard
The realizations that Wendy is having now are ones that most bloggers come to at one point or another. While they are not easy questions to tackle – they are important ones to grapple with and the results of having done so will make any Blogger stronger (if they don’t lead them to give up – as often happens).
The hard reality is that for the majority of blogs – scaling them to a point where they’re able to sustain their authors is not easy. Some blogs are easier than others due to their topic (ie some topics have a direct commercial tie in in terms of selling advertising) but for most bloggers it’s bloody hard work.
2. It takes time
Another obvious thing (that still needs to be said) is that building a blog to a point where it’s able to earn an income from it takes significant time. Getting established in search engines, building an RSS subscriber or email newsletter list, getting active members and building up enough archives to generate significant long tail traffic all takes time.
Part of my advice to Wendy is simply ‘hang in there’.
Her blog has come a long way in the last 12 months – and the next 12 months will see it continue to steadily (if not exponentially) grow. I generally find that the second year of a blog’s life sees it grow faster and to greater heights than the first year.
3. Focus Upon Indirect Income Earners
One of the things that I think Wendy will find is that the key to monetizing her blog will not necessarily be through direct income via advertising or affiliate programs. While this might currently be the main focus of monetizing the blog – the real pay off will probably come through leveraging the profile that the blog gives her.
Wendy has been very active in participating in the blogosphere and her personal brand has grown as a result. She’s already having opportunities to speak at conferences, has experimented with different e-resources and with continued quality blogging and a little self promotion has the potential to open up bigger opportunities for speaking, writing books, selling resources etc.
The key with this is to continue to build her own personal brand and tie it closely to the blogs themselves.
One strategy that Wendy might explore to help keep the content levels up is to use more and more guest bloggers. While this is good in that it helps her to keep the content pumping out – the downside is that she also runs the risk of diluting her own profile on the blog. This is a bit of a tightrope to walk – but if I were Wendy I’d probably be a bit more intentional about selling herself more on her blog than selling other people’s products. Perhaps the blog could do with a little more ‘Wendyfying’? (from memory I think it used to have a picture of her on it for example).
4. Find Untapped Audiences
Most blogs hit plateaus in terms of traffic at one stage or another. This has happened to me on every blog I’ve written on and it can be quite frustrating. To some extent it’s pretty natural – however just because your traffic levels stall doesn’t mean your blog has reached its potential.
At these points a blogger can be tempted to increase the frequency of posts or start writing more and more linkbait type content. While these strategies may work – they are perhaps not the best strategy if you’re hoping to build a sustainable type of traffic. In fact increasing your frequency of posting could alienate loyal readers and set you up for blogger burnout – and writing more and more linkbait articles can also be frustrating for current readers and tends to only attract fleeting traffic.
A better strategy is to investigate ways of exposing your blog to new, and previously untapped, audiences.
‘Easier said than done Darren’ I can hear you say. You’re right. But it’s not impossible. A few ways come to mind:
- Translation – more and more blogs are getting their content translated into different languages. In doing so they can potentially reach a lot more readers with the same content.
- Write for Other Web Properties - this might sound like you’re adding to your workload (and it probably will) but one way to expose yourself to a new audience is to write for a site with an established audience and draw them back to your blog. This might be by writing guest posts or could even mean taking up a regular writing job. In fact this is something Wendy has done with her blog for Entrepreneur (smart move Wendy).
- Media Coverage – while I’ve had limited success with translating MSM coverage into new readers I have seen it work. Get the right story into the right paper or TV show and you could just expand your audience.
- Offline Promotion – one thing that I’ve been pondering more and more is how to draw traffic to blogs from offline non media sources. I won’t say too much about what I’m thinking of experimenting with but perhaps there are some possibilities here.
It strikes me that some bloggers ‘mine’ the same audiences over and over again. To do so will see a ceiling to your blog’s growth.
5. Smart Diversification/Add Ons
In my early days of blogging I probably would have advised Wendy to simply start more blogs if she wanted to build a larger income from blogging. The logic – if 1 blog earns $XXX a month from blogging wouldn’t 10 blogs earn $XXX x 10?
Of course the problem with this logic is that it’s not scalable (for the reasons Wendy has outlined).
However diversification can take other forms and need not mean starting more blogs. It will mean something different for every blog but perhaps there are some ways of adding income streams that don’t take a whole lot of work to existing blogs.
My own example of this was adding a Blogger Job Board to ProBlogger. While it’s not earned me millions it’s a fairly low maintenance tool that relates strongly to my topic that generates enough income to help sustain my business.
The key is to find something highly related to the topic you’re blogging about and to make it low maintenance.
6. Involve Others
Another thing that comes to mind is that a one person operation will always have a limit to the amount of time that they can devote to any business or job. However when you learn the power of outsourcing, delegation and building a team you can achieve a lot more.
There are many ways to involve others in a blogging business. None are ‘easy’ (be warned) but some might be worth exploring:
- Build a Network – this is obviously something I’ve explored with b5media. The logic was that I could only ever sustain the writing of a small number of quality blogs by myself but by drawing other bloggers together and managing them there was a greater potential for earnings. Of course managing others takes a lot of work – and this strategy won’t work for everyone. Having said that – a small number of related blogs on similar topics could be an option to explore.
- Introduce other Bloggers – I’ve already touched on the downside of this above – ie that it runs the risk of diluting your own personal brand. However there are some upsides (many of which I’ve touched on with this post on why guest bloggers are good for a blog). Whether you go for one off guest contributions or regular contributers there are some upsides – however it does take more ‘managing’ type work to keep it coordinated.
- Administrator Assistant - I’ve toyed with the idea of hiring an intern of admin assistant for a year or two now. The idea is to find someone to help run some of the logistical aspects of running the business. Filtering emails, moderating comments, letting you know of comment threads that need your personal attention, fielding interview requests, doing some basic marketing/promotion etc. I think this would be one ‘solution’ that many bloggers would benefit from – the hard part is finding the right person and being able to afford to pay them.
7. Build a Low Maintenance Blog Community
This one is still forming in my mind – but it strikes me that some blogs have readers that demand a lot more from their blogger than others.
One of the things that I’ve done quite unintentionally on my blogs is to build communities where readers feel empowered to help one another – rather than to just rely upon me as the blogger.
For example – if you wander through the ProBlogger comment threads you’ll find that there is a lot of activity – however many of the questions that get asked are actually answered by other readers rather than by me. My belief is that together as a community we know much more than any single one of us (including me as a blogger). In the early days of my blog I tried to communicate this over and over and perhaps in doing so have created a community that is less dependent upon me to have a good conversation.
The other tip I’d give when it comes to reader interaction is that many of the questions that you ask or conversations that you have with readers can easily be repurposed as actual posts.
Quite often instead of just responding to an email question with an email answer I’ll ask for permission to share it as a post. The asker of the question usually doesn’t mind it – in fact many like it because I give them a link for their troubles. The same can go for answering questions in comments. Quite often it can be better to take a comment of a reader and make it into a new post.
I’m not sure that I’ve really solved Wendy’s problems – but hopefully something here triggers something for her and others.
I’m sure she’d also appreciate anyone else’s thoughts on the issue – fee free to comment on her post or below as she’s a regular around here!