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What You Can Learn About Blogging Business Models from a Hip-Hop Artist Who Used to Hustle on the Corner Just to Put Food in His Daughter’s Mouth. An Ode To Biggie, Small Business and Making Money. It’s Juicy.

A Guest Post by Kelly Diels.

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First, Mom, I don’t even know what Mr. Smalls was selling on the corner but I’m pretty sure it is not smiled upon by the authorities and I have never ever tried it nor will I. Swear.

Second, bloggers-in-arms, as you might have suspected (seemingly insane titles are great foreshadowing devices, yes?) I’m going to go all things white people like and cite old-school hip-hop from a dead artist.

Don’t start composing your irate comments just yet – I haven’t earned the right to say The Word used by the late great Biggie Smalls, so I’m offering the radio-friendly version of Juicy.

Here’s the cleaned-up version of today’s musical call-to-arms:

Yeah, this album is dedicated to all the teachers that told me I’d never amount to nothin’,

to all the people that lived above the buildings that I was hustlin’ in front of that called the police on me when I was just tryin’ to make some money to feed my daughters,

and all the people in the struggle, you know what I’m sayin’?

That’s you and me, baby. We’re in the struggle. We’re trying to make a living at blogging, which, if you haven’t noticed, a whole lot of people are doing and doing badly (or well) mostly for very little money.

That’s why we’re all here hanging out in the ProBlogger salon/saloon. We’re trying to make meaning and money. So we’re not exactly gangsta – although some of our outlaw blackhat brethren think they’re sooooo badass ‘cuz they get their meaningless, money-making sites banned – but it is a struggle.

You might really, really, really be in the struggle but I’m middling away at a mediocre job in middle class land. I’ve got a pretty cute suburban townhouse and some pretty cute suburban kids. Poor, poor me.

That’s why I had to use a gritty, kinda romantic, dramatically up-and-coming lyric for inspiration. My boring life won’t inspire you or a really great rags-to-riches magazine profile. We all have our burdens and Biggie’s were so much sexier and before-and-after than mine.

(Sort of: before he dropped out of school, Biggie was a brilliant, scholarship-winning student. Artists are storytellers and storysellers and sometimes stories we’re selling are more revealing than the truths we’re not telling.)

Call it the suburban curse of the mundane. Call it a paradox. Call it luxury. Birthdays aren’t the worst days but like all the other days they’re kinda boring and meaningless. And so I blog.

You can also call it not-terribly-unique: most of the big-name bloggers didn’t start out blogging for dollars either. There are other rewards. The trouble with these other, non-lucrative rewards is that they plant a dangerous seed.You start humming Biggie and thinking I AM BIGGIE and then the trouble begins.

You think: I’m getting so many accolades. I’m figuring things out. I’m creating something useful. People like it and maybe even need it. Maybe I should believe the do-what-you-love-and-the-money-will-follow lie.

Hence the grand existential web dilemma: how do blogs (and bloggers) make money?

Well, they don’t. Blogs don’t make money. Businesses make money.

When we talk about blogging for money, we’re getting it all wrong. It is not really possible to ‘blog for money’ unless you develop a business model around it. And unless you’ve got a head for business – or are willing to get one, and who needs two heads? – and are willing to put in the time figuring out the unsexy mechanics of this seductive vehicle, blogging might never make you money.

So don’t quit your day job. Hang on to your corner. Keep practicing your craft. Stay true to your vision, feed your passions, and start thinking about the back-end, business side of it.

Here’s what I think about my own imaginary blog empire. In a sense, I’ve gone about it backwards. I started blogging just because. I didn’t worry about money or how to earn it. I still don’t have a single advertisement on my site and I have never, ever made a direct cent from my blog. But I like to write, I’m sticking with it, and people seem to like it, and all of this, I think, is a good foundation from whence to build my blogging castle.

Speaking of fairytales, once upon a time I owned a coffee house. I wrote a business plan, secured financing, bought equipment, designed a process, created a look, implemented a marketing strategy, hired people, trained people, maintained the books, and made coffee.

A blog is coffee. It is what you create, what you give your customers, but it is not the business.A revenue-generating, transactional blog is the end result, or the center, of an infrastructure put in place to create and deliver the content.

But a blog, in and of itself, is not a business. If you want it to act like a business (ie generate income), then you have to think about it and treat it like a business.

So that’s my insight of the day: if you want to make blogging a business, you need to make it a business.

And that’s what I’m doing now. I’m matching my inspirational red shoes to my small business hat and thinking systematically about how to assemble a revenue-generating outfit.

How do you transform your blog into a business? (And by you, I mean me.)

You start by think systematically (not magically, not field-of-dreams-y, not the universe will deliver because You Are Entitled-y) about it. Analyze it. Strategize about it. Focus. Figure out what tools you need. Learn them. Figure out what you can sell, organically, as a result of what need you are resolving for people who land at your blog and (hopefully) like what they read.

In other words, get thee a business model. Pour your passion and inspiration and tap-dancing red shoe love through that juicy model so that it will let you sip champagne when you’re thirsty. (And do not mix metaphors the way I just did. It makes poor, dead George Orwell want to off himself.)

Leo Babauta did it. He writes that the reason he was so successful, so soon, was because he treated his blog as a product. He branded it. He promoted it. He was consistent with his message. But most of all, he crafted a solution to the hurly burly of daily life: Zen Habits. Simplicity. Respite from the hamster wheel of work and over-scheduled family and materialism and conventional thinking.

Sonia Simone at Copyblogger gets it right when she writes that blogging is like high school and the white hat/black hat cliques could learn from each other – that, in essence, the marriage of vision and tactics makes for a power couple. (What she really meant was Kelly get your idealistic, semi-lazy red shoes to stepping and learn SEO already.)

Sonia Simone also writes that “blogs are not television” and it is tough to monetize even a high-traffic blog if you readers are not coming to your site “to solve any kind of real-world problem, other than how can I kill 10 minutes before my boss gets back from lunch?

And all of this made me realize that how (and why) your readers end up on your doorstep might predict what they are willing to buy from you. How you cultivate your traffic informs how you feed your bank account. And since I’m such a graphic wizard, I made a chart to show you what I mean:

Your traffic source: 

Search Engines

Social media (relationships, reputation, word-of-blog)

Your clients’/readers’/worshippers’ buy motivation:

Looking for (maybe to buy) a solution to a problem (the question typed into Google…) 

Looking to buy some (possibly useful) shine. 

You offer:

SOLUTIONS in the form of:

Products
Advertising

ebooks
things by affiliates

Services
Consulting
Speaking
Offline gigs 

You MUST have:

The ability to put SEO on a leash and walk it, baby. 

Relationships. Brand. Authenticity. Evangelical Fans. Love. Minor stalking. Pixie dust. 

Your business model: 

Direct Income

Indirect Income

How people find your blog predicts their motivation to buy which determines what you can successfully sell them which tells you what skills you need to hone and, in fact, the shape of your business model.

If your blog and your appeal and your traffic are about relationship, and shine, and magic, then that’s what people want from you. To paraphrase the late great Britney Spears (ahem), they want a piece of you. Probably in person and most definitely offline.

If your blog and your traffic are a result of search engine queries, then people want solutions from you and that is what they will buy from you online in the form of clicking on a related advertisement, buying an e-book or a course, paying for membership in a forum, or purchasing a product. And if you’re selling solutions in a niche that requires keyword breadcrumbs then maybe you need to have more than one blog to really make money your captive.

And so far, that’s about all I know about blogging for dollars – that how you court your people determines the source of your coffers and the shape of your kingdom. So now you know, bloggers.

Was it juicy?

Kelly Diels bakes cupcakes, rages against the machine and writes about the lines that shape us. Her blog Cleavage does not have a focus, business model or revenue. Yet.

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  2. Biche says:

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