This post continues my series exploring Principles of Successful Blogs.
Have you ever seen a snowball rolling down a hill, gathering speed and momentum and growing in size as it rolls until it gets to a size that will destroy anything and anyone in its path???
Me neither…. not outside of cartoons anyway….
While the image may not be one too many of us have seen in reality – it is a great metaphor for what seems to happen to many successful blogs.
They start small (like any other blog) but gradually (at first) grow (a reader at a time) into blogs with more and more loyal readers. Along the way events (some lucky and some strategic) happen that make the blog grow and roll faster down the slope.
In time momentum grows and it seems that the blog can’t help but grow as it rolls on and gathers new readers, builds its brand, expands with new features…. in time people start referring to it as an A-List blog and what was once a simple blog with no readers has ‘made it’.
How do successful blogs grow?
There are many reasons that successful blogs grow bigger and bigger over time but one principle that I observe in many such blogs is that they use the power of leverage to grow what they have to the next level.
The principle is simple yet it can be applied in many different ways and levels to blogging. It revolves around this question:
“what do you have now that you can use to help you get a step closer to where you want to be?”
Leverage: “the mechanical advantage gained by being in a position to use a lever” (source).
Another way to ask the question – what ‘lever’ do you have at your disposal that might help you to lift your blog to its next level.
Illustrating Leverage – an Example
Most readers of ProBlogger will pretty familiar with my photography site. I call it a site and not a blog because today it has a forum, 3 blog areas, strong Twitter and Facebook presence, 2 E-Books (portraits and Photo Nuts and Bolts) and continues to expand. It is read by 3 million or so visitors a month and generates some decent income.
However it wasn’t always what you see today. In fact when I started it in April 2006 it was a simple blog with a free template design that had 3-4 new posts a week and that made less than a few cents a day.
The last 4 years of building dPS have seen many many points of leverage. Let me highlight a few:
- My previous photography blog – before dPS I had a small photography blog (now inactive) that aggregated camera reviews from around the web. The traffic wasn’t massive but it was enough that I had a nice little community of readers (mainly Australians as it was on a .au domain). When I launched dPS I was able to kick start it by letting my current readers of my original photography blog know about it. It didn’t generate a rush of traffic, but it meant that in week 1 it had some readers. Similarly i promoted dPS here on ProBlogger in that first week. I don’t think it drove too many new readers directly but know quite a few ProBlogger readers recommended dPS to family and friends. Point of Leverage: traffic/brand from a previous blog to launch a new one.
- Profile/Network – because I had been blogging in the niche for a while I knew a number of other photography bloggers. I was able to pull in a few favours and get some promotion from these blogs to help drive a little more traffic (the links would have helped with SEO also). Point of Leverage: relationships from credible people in the industry to help launch the blog.
- Flickr – I had a very basic presence on Flickr when I started dPS. I used it purely to share photos with my family and friends and to host the occasional image for my blog. As a result I had a network of 40-50 people on Flickr that I was able to promote dPS to. I also started a Flickr ‘group’ on at that time and promoted it to my network of 40-50 people. Point of Leverage: using a presence on a social media site to drive traffic to a new blog.
- Flickr Group – the Flickr group grew quite organically. I did promote it to a few people but they invited their friends who invited theirs… it had a life of its own (today it has over 10,000 members). After 6 months I took the energy of that Flickr group and started a forum on the dPS domain. I exclusively invited members of the Flickr group to join the forum. Point of Leverage: using a presence on a social media site to launch a new feature on a site.
- Social Media – traffic to the blog and forum continued to grow. I had never really done anything on Twitter or Facebook with dPS until about 18 months ago but decided to test what would happen if we started to promote our Twitter and Facebook pages from the dPS site. Doing so helped us to grow solid followings on those networks. Point of Leverage: using established traffic on a site to recruit followers on social media.
- Expansion of Topics – when I first started dPS I dreamed of a site that not only did tips on how to use cameras but one that was wider in terms of topics and covered cameras and post production (and more). However I decided not to launch with this wide focus but rather just to focus upon beginner tips. Last year we rolled out two new areas (cameras/gear and post production). I’m glad I waited – having an established audience on related topics enabled us to kick start these new areas. Point of Leverage: using established traffic to launch new areas of the site.
- E-Books – having built an audience, brand and community I was able to launch E-Books that were guaranteed of at least some level of success. We had traffic (and more importantly credibility, goodwill and trust with our readers), community, multiple ways of connecting with our audience and relationships with other sites – all of this was leveraged to help launch our E-Books. After we had launched the first we also had a database of buyers which helped launch the 2nd E-Book.
Of course there are many other small points of leverage along the way but hopefully you get the point. Each time I’ve launched or grown the site I’ve looked at the arsenal of what I already have and pooled those resources to help build what comes next.
Points of leverage can come in all shapes and sizes. Some might not seem that big but they can lead to things that are. For example my initial Flickr network of 40-50 people led to a Flickr group of over 10,000 which led to a forum of over 80,000!
What do You Have that You Can Leverage?
I’ve raised this topic in a number of presentations over the years and the reaction of many is ‘I don’t have anything to leverage’.
I can relate to that feeling – in 2002 when I started my very first blog I didn’t really have much either. I’d not done much online beyond using hotmail, IRC chat and an occasional search on Netscape. I didn’t have an online network, knew virtually nobody who did and had no idea where to start. I’d not had any experience in building a website or writing copy for the web – I’d only seen my first blog hours before I started my own.
So I started with what I did have – my friends and family. They were my first readers.
Interestingly one of my friends had another friend who was a blogger on a similar topic to me. That generated my first link which generated my first comment from someone I wasn’t related to (a momentous moment in the life of any blogger)!
Homework – Make an Inventory of What You Have
Here’s an exercise that could be helpful. Grab something to write/type with and start making a list of what you have at your disposal. Thing broadly – it could include almost anything:
- Current blogs/sites that you own or are involved in
- Newsletter lists
- Social Media Accounts/Presence
- Real life Relationships and Networks
- Memberships in clubs/communities
- Customer databases
- Financial resources
This list only scratches the surface – what you have will be unique to you.
Another thing you might like to add to your list is things that you don’t have but that you have the ability to have. Next step goals if you like.
- For example many bloggers have the ability to write content and could potentially guest post on other blogs. Guest posting on another blog might not be your ultimate goal as a blogger – but it could take you a step closer.
- Another example might be that you might want to get to know someone that you don’t yet know. I know one blogger who told me that they felt that they didn’t know anyone in the blogosphere so they made a list of 10 bloggers that they wanted to get to know and meet in person over 2009. They achieved their goal and now have a decent relationship with 10 pretty influential people when they need it down the track.
One Last Tip – Build It Before You Need It
As I wrote my 7 point list of points of leverage that I’ve had at dPS above it struck me that what I was writing sounded pretty strategic and as though I knew what I was doing.
The reality is that I’d say that about 20% of that was strategic and 80% of it was not. When I started out I knew I wanted to build a site that helped people grow in their photography and that would hopefully make me a decent income – but I didn’t have much idea of where it was headed. I didn’t see a forum, I had no idea about E-Books and certainly had not considered Twitter or Facebook (I’m not even sure if they existed back then).
My approach instead was to grow the site organically – to try new things and see where there was energy and to keep building upon what worked. I wanted to build a presence in any way that I could and that was relevant to my potential audience and then to see what opportunities opened up to grow things further both in terms of size and financially.
I didn’t really need to have a way to email readers in the early days because I wasn’t selling anything – but I built a newsletter list from day 1. I didn’t really have much to say on Twitter or Facebook when I started with that but decided to build that network early because I knew one day I would.
In a sense a lot of what I did in the early days was to build a network/community knowing that one day I’d need it to do more than make a few dollars from ad revenue. This of course came to be true when I launched our E-books in the last 6 months. I’m glad I didn’t wait until I needed the network to build it but instead built it well in advance.