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Every Blogger Starts From Zero – You Could Be On the A-List Next Year

Today Ali Hale from Aliventures shares some thoughts that build upon a recent post I wrote on finding your blogging voice.

Darren’s recent poll on How Long Have You Been Blogging suggests that over half ProBlogger’s readers have been blogging for under a year (and of those, a sizeable proportion have yet to launch their blog).
 
It’s a difficult stage to be at – and I know, because I’m there with a new blog at the moment. Checking stats daily (or hourly), getting over-excited about every comment, wondering how on earth to figure out what your readers want when you don’t have many of them … and that’s if you even manage to overcome your desire for perfectionism, or your nerves, long enough to get your blog off the ground!
 
So what can new bloggers do to make the early stages a bit easier? Three things that can help are:

  • 1. Looking at the experiences and early posts of current big names in the blogosphere
  • 2. Making a checklist of what really needs to be done before your launch, your revamp or your big promotional push
  • 3. Slowly turning the focus of your blog from “me the blogger” to “you the reader”

 

Even Big Names Started Out Small

 
In blogging, very few people start off with a ready-made audience or with the financial backing to make an instant splash (socialites like Arianna Huffington excepted). The majority of bloggers on the “A list” today started off with zero readers, and grew gradually.
 
Perhaps one of the best-known examples is Leo Babauta of Zen Habits. Leo’s first post was in February 2007; he now has 125,000 subscribers, and has just released an ebook about Zen Habits’ success. In the ebook, he admits that in the early days, “I asked a few friends to leave some comments, just so that the blog wouldn’t look so empty.”
 
However amazing the bloggers you look up to are now, there was a point in time when none of them had ever written a blog post – or even heard of a blog. So if you had some blogging mis-steps to begin with, take heart: Yaro Starak, of Entrepreneur’s Journey writes in part five of his business timeline about how “although I had installed a blog on BetterEdit.com as early as November 2004 I had rarely made new posts.”
 

Your Voice Develops With Time

I often feel that I lack a strong “blogging voice” – partly because I write for several different blogs as a freelancer, so tend to adapt my style a lot to the needs of various audiences. There are many bloggers whose voice I admire, and even feel a bit intimidated by; it seems to come so easily to them.
 
It was only when I started digging right back into some great blog-writers’ archives that I realised everyone starts out sounding a bit stilted. Here’s a quote from a very early post by James Chartland, of Men with Pens fame:
 

  • Tell potential clients what you will do. Be exact and concise. Cover everything and provide all the details.
  • Ask a question about the project. Show interest and that you have paid attention to what the client needs.

              (from How to Be a Professional Freelancer)
 
There’s nothing wrong with the language used there (James is a copywriter, after all), but it’s … a bit bland and ordinary. Frankly, if you’re a current Men with Pens reader, you probably wouldn’t recognise it as James – just compare it with this:
 

The train trip there was great. I love trains. The city was great, too. (Though I was heard to often mumble, “There’s a lot of people,” throughout the week.) The hotel was okay (I’ve seen better), the sights were amazing and the attractions were fun. Oh, and I went shoe shopping with Naomi. (For sneakers. Please.)

(from What James Did This Summer and Where He Got the Money)

 
This shows several hallmarks of James’ style: use of dialogue, chatty but zingy language, and a certain willingness to bend the rules of grammar (“For sneakers. Please.” probably aren’t sentences that your crusty English teacher would approve of.) Even the title of the post is much more engaging and personable.
 
So don’t spend hours writing posts and deleting them – just start getting content out there. The more you write, and the more you share your writing with an audience, the closer you’ll come to finding your true blogging voice.
 

What Actions Do You REALLY Need to Take?

If you’re currently planning a blog, or waiting to relaunch or restart an existing one, don’t keep waiting for the perfect moment. You’ll always wish you had more time, more knowledge, and more support, and frankly the only way you’re likely to get them is by getting started! In his ebook on the Zen Habits story, Leo talks about his situation when he started out:
 

Maybe you think you haven’t got what it takes? That’s what I thought when I first started Zen Habits. In fact, I started off without goals, without money, and with no time. Now Zen Habits (http://zenhabits.net) has more than 100,000 subscribers—and a thousand more are joining each week.

(from The Zen Habits Story)

 
And even those who have made it know there’ll never be a perfect moment: here are Darren’s words about the launch of TwiTip:
 

“Late last week I realized that if I was waiting to ‘have time’ to start it that I never would – so I bit the bullet and got it going.”

 
Try making a check list of the absolute essentials that you need to get done before the next step. Can those design tweaks wait? Is anyone really going to notice if the font isn’t perfect? Focus on:

  • Creating compelling content
  • Any major usability issues (eg. your RSS feed not working!)
  • Getting the word out about your blog – using social media sites and contacts

 
You could also take a goal-focused approach, and concentrate on trying to meet some small, immediate goals, rather than day-dreaming of your future fame and fortune (not that there’s anything wrong with that, it’s what keeps me going too…)
 
Don’t worry if you have the feeling that you’re writing into a vacuum. It can seem like a chicken-and-egg situation to begin with: you want to create content that readers will love, but until you actually have enough readers to give you some feedback, you won’t know what they want. Just keep going – once you start getting traffic, you’ll start learning what people want to read. It worked pretty darn well for Naomi Dunford of IttyBiz fame:
 

“I managed to get my hands on a boatload of traffic and asked them what they wanted in a small business and marketing blog. Because they were nice, they told me.”

(from Saving You From Bankruptcy and Public Humiliation Since October 2007)

Turning the Focus from “Me” to “You”

Once you begin to build up your readership, you might need to start changing your focus. Many bloggers start out by writing about their own struggles or goals. For example, Leo started Zen Habits as a way to keep himself accountable and to write about his own self improvement (as well as to share his experiences).
 
Another good example is Trent Hamm, who started The Simple Dollar to work through his own financial difficulties, and again to share what he learnt. You can see this in his early posts, where his focus is primarily on lessons drawn from his own personal story:
 

“It was very intimidating to look at my finances in this way, and it made it clear to me that I needed to make some major changes in my spending and saving habits.”

(from I’m In Big Financial Trouble – Where Do I Start?)

            
As Trent’s readership grew, he began focusing much more on readers’ questions and problems, and this is reflected in the voice of more recent posts – notice how he uses “you” and “your” here:
 

As long as you’re subscribing to the overall principle of spending less than you earn – and either way you choose, you’re not spending much money here – either choice is healthy because it expands on your existing non-financial values. Frugality or career-building both trump idleness.

(from Does Earning More Trump Frugality?)

 
If you’re trying to develop a blog from the early stages, consider shifting the focus onto “you” the audience: see what people are asking about in comments, or read other blogs in your area for ideas. Keep your personal touch, but make sure the content is relevant, valuable and useful to the reader.
 
You don’t have to rule out a personal blog altogether, though: it might not shoot you into the Technorati Top 100, but it could be a valuable outlet. There can be a bit of a gulf in the blogging world between would-be ProBloggers and diarist bloggers, but Darren has a personal blog, and there’s no reason why you shouldn’t too.
 

The Take-Home Message

 
Don’t worry about writing the “perfect” next post: just start writing. Don’t fret about your blog’s design being perfect. Don’t feel depressed because your subscribers haven’t even reached three figures. You’ll develop your voice and style, and your audience, as you go along.
 
With its focus on stats and instant feedback, blogging can bring out the perfectionist in all of us. Remember that everyone started somewhere – and the success stories of 2009 and 2010 are still waiting to be written.
 
About the Author: Ali Hale has recently launched Aliventures, a blog that explores how to get more from life. She’s also a professional writer and blogger, and has written a guide to making money from freelance blogging.

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. gemal says:

    I especially liked the observations on how style and author’s voice are so significant in defining a blog’s audience. Being new to the blogging world, I will follow the advice of the “Take-Home Message” and just get lots of content out, letting my style develop along the way.

  2. shahzaib says:

    Its nice to read about your problems, what you discussed above is looks like my personal thoughts and problems regarding my blog.

  3. Very inspirational!

    When I get famous, I’ll always remember you Problogger! :P

  4. Every great blogger does start from creating an experimental blog. The skill in blogging grows with experience, from observing others, from getting tips from experts, and from bravely trying it out yourself. Persistence, hard work and the humility to be taught are important keys to succeed, even in blogging.

  5. Thanks for the great post, Ali. How I wished your article was published earlier.

    Instead of waiting for the right moment, one should “just do it”, as far as blogging is concerned. Over time, things that you worry about: language, style, content and readers will be taken care of along the way as you write persistently and consistently.

  6. Blogging is a mindset and discipline that pays dividends in time.

    If a blogger is pitching for fame, they’ve already lost the aim, which is to create something of worth for your reader.

    Catherine
    http://www.twitter.com/divinemisswhite

  7. Asif says:

    After 2 years of blogging, I think I have Imporved allot as a blogger.

  8. Asif says:

    After 2 years of blogging, I think I have Improved allot as a blogger.

  9. Tote Bags says:

    We own and operate a http://www.simply-bags.com and just started our blog last week.

    The reason for starting the blog was to promote our business. After reading your post, I will focus more on the reader.

    Any suggestions on some starter posts

    Thanks

  10. Ya, my blog is less than a year old too. I have not given up, and now the traffic is coming in.

  11. Shit! You are right! I was fault in blogging, but you change my mind, is there anything I can do for you?

  12. I really love this post! It’s down on earth and so realistic. Very touching!

    Btw Leo asked his friends to comment when his blog was brand new? That’s interesting. My blog is one month old. Should I ask my friend to comment? That could work. But why don’t I ask Darren Rowse to comment on my blog? :D

    Darren?

  13. fas says:

    Everyone starts from scratch, its where you reach that matters. Hard work and dedication is of prime importance.

  14. Kat Eden says:

    This message was really brought home to me a couple of months ago. I’d all but stopped writing for my blog, for no reason other than that it all just seemed like too much. I was overwhelmed at all the possible failures that lay ahead.

    Fortunately I received some very good advice relating to weekly content production and to building relationships with other bloggers, and this was just the inspiration I needed.

    I’ve since kept my eye on all the possible wins ahead, and seen my subscriber numbers more than double!

  15. Great Post!

    The point about realizing that the big names didn’t start out with their “blogging voices” is something I have to keep reminding myself.

    I’ve been reading a lot about finding out what your readers want. But for some reason it never stuck until I read this post! I’m going to be doing that for sure today. Thanks so much!

  16. Casey says:

    Great words! Now if only I had readers to cater to… Still at that stage where my comments are empty.

    Lierally I have had 1 single comment and that was a little over a week ago!

  17. Ellen Allard says:

    I think it’s important to read the comments on your blog. They offer significant insight into what your readers are looking for and are a great blogging tool for helping you provide content that is tailored specifically to your readers.

    ~Ellen
    http://www.Iamglutenfree.blogspot.com

  18. PraShawn says:

    Great post thanks for sharing. I just checked out the e-book of Zenhabits on how to get 100 000 readers. It contains some great information . You give us hope.

  19. JenniferG says:

    I feel like this post was written specifically for ME. :) I am working on converting to a more “you” focused blog now.

    Thanks so much for the terrific ideas and straightforward delivery. Much, much appreciated!

  20. turisuna says:

    I agree that there’ll never be a perfect moment. before I made my blog, I always waited until I was good enough in English, but then I realized that I won’t be able to write English perfectly because I’m not English native speaker. Then I tried to make English blog, and of course I got criticism from here and there. Well yes it felt hurt sometimes but didn’t mean I should give up that easy. Till now I keep trying to improve my English, I know I still make many mistakes, but at least I have made little step forward, so I won’t regret anything.

  21. Ali Hale says:

    se7en, I love your point that “not every post has to be pure shining excellence” — as well as blogging, I write the occasional magazine article, and it’s MUCH scarier! I’m also attempting a novel…

    Duncan, I take your point, and I agree: I didn’t intend to imply that “the A-list” should be a measure of success. For one thing, all of us will have slightly different aims with our blogs (some are blogging to promote services, others want to create, build and sell blogs, etc). And for another, simply being “big” doesn’t constitute success. I guess I intended “A-list” as a slightly clunky shorthand for “bloggers you admire and aspire to be like”.

    Thanks to all those who’ve commented, it’s really wonderful to read how this post encouraged and motivated you. I think blogging can be really tough and quite lonely in the early stages, and sometimes we need to be reminded that this is just part of the blogging growth curve that pretty much everyone goes through.

  22. Just as in many situations in life, the majority of soon-to-be successful bloggers lack action.

    People procrastinate too much and get caught up in thinking and learning instead of taking massive action and adjusting in the process.

    That’s the way to make it big-take action on daily, hourly, basis and you will see results.

    Great Post!

    ~Igor

  23. BloggerDaily says:

    It makes me remember the day I start blogging.

    Yeah, everybody start from zero and it’s not impossible for everyone to gain success in blogging =D

  24. S.K Sharma says:

    I love your content as a Guru(Teacher).Absolutely correct,
    We should not frustrate and give up blogging.
    “Rome was not built in a Day” .Like Google,Yahoo or other major brands struggled a lot in starting stage…..

  25. I think that it is also important to include the “me” as well as the “you” in the blog. A lot of readers are drawn to the personal aspects of the blog’s content.

  26. KB says:

    Very inspiring. I’m in the early stages of blogging and it’s nice to know that some of the big leaguers were once exactly where I’m at right now. Thank you!

  27. Naeem Congo says:

    This article is what all new bloggers need to hear and see. Just keep writing, and don’t force your writing. They article is right. Your true voice will eventually emerge.

    And most importantly, just keep writing and writing and writing.

  28. I tried to reply last night but had some errors, I hope this doesn’t come through numerous times. The thing i always have to remind myself is to write about what the reader wants to hear. It’s not always about me.:) I mean it is about me but not really. Great point.

  29. wiseinvestor says:

    When starting out, do not concern too much about the perfectness of writings since not many people is going to read it anyway and in addition, need some blog posts to make the meat of the content.

    But as time goes by, if want to increase the conversion of readers from organic traffic into long time readers, definitely need solid content.

    For the case of blogging, it is not much the writings or expression of ideas but the quality of ideas in blog posts.

  30. Anatoly says:

    This post is very inspiring.It’s very hard to convince yourself to write and write when the results are not impressive yet.
    But, like I wrote in my Blog “Every long journey begins from the single step”.
    That’s why, no choice! We have to keep doing!
    Thank you for such positive message!

  31. You mentioned something about checking stats hourly and I can relate. I wrote a recent article on How-to: Stop Wasting Your Time Checking Your Website Stats to try to counter that. But in my case, I only picked up another addiction instead: Digg.

  32. Deidre says:

    Thanks for the post. It’s very encouraging, just started my blog approximately 3 weeks ago and well it’s not the easiest of roads…but perseverance is the key and we all need to start somewhere.
    Needed the boost today…Thanks again

  33. This post came as exactly the right time for me as I just started my own blog, a thousand thoughts running my each day thinking of what to write, are the posts good enough, will visitors come back and so on but there is nothing better than to just start your blog and start writing.

    I think you should “always be doing”, always strive to do better and give as much value as you can each day. If you can focus on doing your best in the short term with clarity of your long term goals, then things will start to fall into place.

    I find starting my blog like is like getting a plane off the ground, I have to go full power to get off the ground but hopefully once I get higher and a good readership base, I can pull back and less effort is needed but focus on the more important parts of the blog.

    It’s so true to stop waiting for the perfect moment to start your blog or publish a post. Also about having a check list, an overall view of what needs to be done is important and is something I personally have and use everyday to remind me and show me what I need to get done.

    My favorite point though of the whole post was change your thinking and focus that the blog is about ME to thinking that it’s about my readers and how can I help and give something of value to them.

    Blaine

  34. Sean says:

    Great article.. I just re-launched my blog a couple of weeks ago, looking forward to see just where I can take my blog in the future..

  35. Lee says:

    Hey Ali,
    Really, really great post!!! You bring-up a good point that Alex Jeffreys keeps pounding into my head…it is not about me the writer, it is about the reader!! While it is easy enough to say, it is more difficult to remember when writing! :) Will have to work on this…
    Looking forward to your next post!
    Best Regards
    Lee

  36. ITrush says:

    Very challenging and encouraging.. thanks for mentioning the checklist it’ll surely help us guide our way straight up.

  37. Justin says:

    Ali, I completely agree with what you’ve written. However I do think these things are certainly easier said than done. Its very difficult for a new blogger with no connections (like myself) to follow these guidelines.

    I find that social bookmarking sites are simply too overcrowded for anyone to notice your new posts. I think the blogosphere is hugely saturated with what probably are good quality blogs and I wonder what the actual reader story is. Are these readers bloggers themselves?

    It saddens me to say this, but I think the day of launching the new blog is long gone.

  38. great analysis and good point. but from idea to success from words to the real stuff it’s always a long way to walk.

  39. Knowing that every successful blogger has to start somewhere is extremely motivating. We have to eventually find our voice and learn to write for our readers. Reading the early experiences and posts of top bloggers is also a great tip for beginning bloggers.

  40. John says:

    Good advice. This definitely helps when starting a new blog. It has been frustrating for me at times but this column helps to keep me motivated knowing that even the best blogs struggled in the beginning.

  41. Very motivational and encouraging for a new blogger to read. Blogging is definitely not a form on instant-gratification. I think it takes everyone a little while to realize that.

  42. Syed Akram says:

    Every Business is a people business.

    No matter what busines you’re in, your success depends on your ability to communicate with people…listen to people…atrract people…help people…sell to people…teach and train people…inspire people…share with people…and love people.

    The internet is a powerful tool, but we must never lose sight of the fact that it’s still tool to enrich the lives of other people.

  43. Very inspiring post! Thanks.

    As a budding blogger myself, it really energized me.

  44. dvd says:

    So true. I thought about my list of categories a few months back and thought “this is too many. how is this usable for my readers?” so I drastically cut back the numbers, and recategorized many posts. It feels so much cleaner now.

  45. Sonia Simone says:

    This is such a great point, Ali! It’s hard to believe, but it really is true. Every blogger you admired started pretty much in the same spot. The wall seems impossible to scale, but it isn’t.

  46. Sonia Simone says:

    Oops, I also thought of one more point. You don’t have to get into the Technorati Top 100 to have a wonderfully successful blog.

    Some of the most successful (making plenty of money, great connection with their audience, great reputation around the web, good search engine traffic, etc.) bloggers I know have well under 10K subscribers. (And I know that sounds like a lot at first, but it’s really very doable.) Many have fewer than 5K subscribers. It’s not about getting Darren-level numbers, although that’s nice too. :)