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Leverage What You Have and Take Your Blog to the Next Level

This post continues my series exploring Principles of Successful Blogs.

snowball.jpgHave 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.

leverage.jpg

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. 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!

leverage.jpg

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
  • Skills
  • Experiences
  • Memberships in clubs/communities
  • Profile
  • 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.

Further Reading:

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. Sandeep says:

    Thanks for the wonderful tips, shall leverage what I already have and move ahead

  2. Debojyoti says:

    Good tips Darren
    The leverages I am using for my blog is my network on webmaster forums, related blogs and twitter profile.

  3. ITrush says:

    Wow, that’s really everyone’s dream, to be known and to make a decent income. Let’s see what I can list down on this one.. Very challenging post Darren, Thanks.

  4. Sudeep says:

    Dareen a very excellent post and interesting use of data to speak about leverage. I am very new blogger, but after reading this , I surly understood the use of all pointers that you have said in this post.
    I would try to work on your home work and let you know the results too..

  5. Jeffrey Tang says:

    I have a strong tendency to compare my existing leverage to that of other, more established bloggers, and then wonder how I’ll ever make progress. Thanks for reminding me to make use of what I already have, instead of worrying about what I might have had.

    One of the biggest challenges I face is not allowing my future plans interfere with what I can (and should) be doing right now. Sometimes I hold off on posting something because I want to establish some background first, then never get around to it.

    What I’m constantly relearning, however, is that finding your focus, voice, and leverage in blogging only comes from action, not from thinking and planning.

    Now if only my screwups weren’t sitting there in the archives for all to see …

  6. Ted Hessing says:

    Totally agree, Darren. I recently started focusing on the branding of my small busienss web development site. I maintained a blog there primarily for SEO purposes but over the years it provided a tremendous contact network. When I had a logo contest a few months ago, I realized I could leverage each of the people who had ever contacted me to help me select a logo. Those same people also ended up giving me several great business referals and helped breath new life into my business and website.

    For Act II I need to leverage those strengths to help combat my emerging blog’s weakness – consistency. Any ideas from the ProBlogger network?

  7. Mathew Day says:

    Very informational and inspiring post. One of the things I like about your blog is that you tell us personal experiences about your blogging career. It gives people like me (a newbie blogger) a very insightful look at what it took to become a Top Blogger, and that you are actually a human. :)

    I believe we need to visualize what we want to achieve with our blogging career, then piece by piece, gradually put things together towards that goal.

    Leveraging what we already have just makes sense, and is a great way to create something small and new, into something great and successful. I think many of us newbies or experienced, tend to forget to utilize what we already have.

    I like the idea of adding to the list things that we don’t have, but could have. That’s something I need to do right away.

    Great tip about planning ahead and building things that we think may help us in the future, but not necessary something we need at the present moment.

  8. BrianJUY says:

    Darren… As always, great information.

    We just launched our newest blog/ business 2 weeks ago… One thing we are doing is giving away our entire system for free (5 eBooks, etc.)… Our goal is to gain authority, credibility and a following so when we launch our video product in 6-8 months and put a price tag on it, our followers will jump all over it.

    What is your take on giving away your best information for free then following up with a paid product down the line?

  9. Great illustrations and advice. I have a decent leverage right now, I just need to know how to use it to bring my blog some exponential growth. I have been hearing a lot about e-books as good ways of promoting.

  10. scheng1 says:

    Those cartoons are cute! Much better than those science textbooks we used to study in school.
    Never thought that leverage, a concept in elementary schools, is needed for blogging.

  11. Oleg Mokhov says:

    Hey Darren,

    You made me laugh out loud with the first paragraph. “…Me neither.” :)

    Mr. Rowse is slowly becoming a funnier and funnier writer.

    It really is all about leverage. Use what you have to get you further.

    Since you can’t get what the bigger guys have, it’s a waste of time wishing or scheming to get it. Instead, use your time and energy to focus on what you DO have and HOW you can use it to grow.

    I love the visual imagery you showed about literally leveraging what you have. It really clears up how exactly you should use what you have as leverage to get your blog’s snowball rolling.

    Perhaps a new teaching method for blog building? Visual metaphors rock.

    Now I’m off to use what I have to keep building my site,
    Oleg

  12. CyrusYung says:

    I do agree that we are limited by what we have at first, that was what happen to me when I first blogged in June 2008.

    It was a blog on seminar reviews, I was working in Success Resources, a event organiser who bring in professional speakers.

    Then I decided to start blogging (using WordPress.com) about the seminar I attended while working. At first it did not really bring in a lot of traffic the first 2 months, but it was my consistency that brought a breakthrough.

    Suddenly there were people enquiring about the events and were getting leads from the blog only.

    In the 5th month, I got my first sale using the blog. That was the best time of my life!

    I did not have much back then, only some basic SEO and nuts about blogging, I was also bad in my English too.

    But all this did not stop me, and made me even better in blogging since.

  13. These are great tips Darren. My blog is relatively new, I’ve only gotten serious about it in the last 2 months. I think I already have quite a bit to leverage after reading this article. My subscriber list is growing daily and I have an already strong presence on Twitter. And, I think I have great content that is somewhat unique in my niche. The rest will come with time, but for now I’ll keep leveraging what I have. Thanks for pointing all of those things out to me!

  14. I think that it’s great to point out to everyone that it doesn’t happen overnight. Too many people give up to soon, thinking that they will achieve overnight success.

    Just look at the average business that has to operate for 2-3 years before it can even turn a profit. There is no get-rich-quick on-line, but the money is there for the people that are willing to keep pushing every day. Doing one small thing after another and soon enough, the snowball will grow.

  15. Julia Rymut says:

    Hi Darren,

    Thank you very much for this article. I think it is hard for beginners to imagine how they can make some headway into the huge, scary internet. Your idea about taking an inventory of your assets and leveraging those is right on.

    I think each one of the assets in your list could be a whole article in itself. Each asset can build your business–but you have to think outside the box.

    I’ve recently come to realize this in my own business. Because I’m building an internet business, I thought only of my internet related skills as my assets. Just recently I realized how much my offline relationships could be leveraged to build this online business. Once I saw this, it was so obvious I wondered what took me so long!

    Thank you very much for sharing this information.

    Julia

  16. VitaminCM says:

    Darren,
    This is a great collection of tips. I have been trying to build as many outposts as possible to pull people into my site.
    I’m looking forward to trying a few of the tips that I’m not currently using.
    Thanks,
    Chris

  17. akhlis says:

    Good heavens! You’re such a pure genius! I mean what I’m saying.
    As for me, I always focus on things that I don’t or can’t possess. I get too absorbed with that and your post just opened my eyes that I’ve been so foolish so far. Thanks!
    (I’ll blame you for turning me into a problogger.com addict..Your blog is so addictive, more addictive than nicotine. LOL)

  18. Great article Darren. I have been applying these principles and hope to grow my audience. It’s been a slow process, but I am always investigating ways to get that next push. Thanks for taking the time to educate us all.

  19. Thanks to share very informational and inspiring post.

  20. Tom says:

    Great post.
    I guess the difficulty is getting the first couple of readers and subscribers in order to use them as leverage!

  21. nick says:

    Those cartoons are cute! Much better than those science textbooks we used to study in school.
    Never thought that leverage, a concept in elementary schools, is needed for blogging.

  22. There was a lot of useful information in this post. But my question still is:

    What is a successful blog? How does one define success? What leverage are we striving for? and why?

    For one to call itself successful what qualifications would they have to have. Have a certain number of followers? And if so how many? Make a certain amount every month? If so how much?

    I guess in pool of all the numbers and statistics i get “lost” in what are good numbers and what should I be striving for.

    I just started my blog this month and have 41 followers as of right this second. Is that good? Should I have more? So I just wonder how more seasoned bloggers would actually define a successful blog.

    Of course we all know problogger is successful but what about other blogs of lesser known folks. What would be considered a successful blog and why.

    So I guess my question is when you use the word “successful” what does that mean?

    thanks and great post!

  23. Interesting point about the newsletter list. I had been disregarding a need for email addresses, but then I risk down the road actually needing them, and kicking myself for not having the foresight to work on that from the get-go.

    With that in mind, I think I’ll set up some kind of monthly give always for those who sign up. A free print or two of their favorite band I’ve shot or something. A minimal investment that could pay off down the road…

  24. That’s the thing about blogging. You”ll never know where it might take you. I never thought in a million years I’d be writing e-books…but alas…

    With that said taking your blog to the next level requires passion. Blogs cannot build momentum without passion cause its the motivation for many nights of late night writing, blogging, posting, searching, and not taking a bath…LOL!

    Focus and hunkering down are HUGE in the keys to Blog success. There are so many worthy online distractions that your drive can get deflated if you aren’t focused on your end goals…

    GT

  25. Andy Ptacek says:

    When I first started reading this post I thought to myself, “Oh no… what’s my leverage?!” …Until I got to the part “What do you have that you can leverage.” Your list made it easier for me to start to think about how those items can be used to leverage my blog better… something I never really considered beyond my social media networks! Thanks for the insight.

    -Andy
    @AndyLeigh

  26. hokya says:

    thanks there, you have interesting points with good demonstartion,

    nice, i will try this

  27. Thanks to share very informational and inspiring post.

  28. Bubba Trawl says:

    Darwin, once again I thank you for your great advices.

    I will now attempt to leverage and use all of the people in my life to ensure the further success of my blag.

    I was starting to wonder what the whole purpose of human interaction and relationships was since they in no way contributed to my website.

    Its good to know that others are good for something after all!

  29. Very good points. I used this tactic to start my very first website about 6 years ago.

    Basically I was a former professional Halo player, but during that time I created a montage (set of crazy gameplay videos set to music) and released it online. I used the montage to promote a video game forum I launched and it’s 1,000,000 plus views helped to kick start the community I was trying to get going. (Do a search of “thehalogod” or “untouchable halo 2″ and you’ll probably find the video).

    In any case, great tip.

    Chris Guthrie

  30. Leverage seems a must if we want to bring our blog to higher state of success. Leverage make us can reach more audience and area.

  31. I don’t know but as I was reading the post, I all the more got disappointed: “I’m too far from reality”. *sigh*

  32. This just reminds that I am going in the right direction. When I started out, I wanted to be like Steve Pavlina. Didn’t turn out so well, because …. it just was not me.

    Then I failed a couple more time when I would try and copy already successful bloggers and see what they did and try to replicate that. Did not work either.

    Blogging is not different than real life. You have to be yourself. Many of us are afraid to be ourselves and hide. We devalue ourselves and think we have nothing to offer.

    However, if we drop that mentality really leverage what we have, we will truly discover how awesome and unique we are and that there is no need to copy anybody else. Being yourself, learning abut yourself and creating and interesting life will attract people to you.

    Everybody can tell when somebody is being a fake or really just themselves. People like authenticity in the world filled with masked people.

    So thank you, Daren, for encouraging us all to take off our masks and show your true selves and celebrate it.

    Best,
    Tomas

  33. I really like the way you tell that how can we grow our blog step by step. I must say if some just read this post so the person will be able to know that how easily can they grow their blog if they follow this process step by step.

  34. ed hardy uk says:

    Blogs cannot build momentum without passion cause its the motivation for many nights of late night writing, blogging, posting, searching, and not taking a bath

  35. Aglo says:

    from the many blogs that provide tips, here I found little difference in how and what we think to move forward. This a best tips I’ve read! Many thanks!

  36. Hi Darren, Have just returned after a few months absense and have just read the most amazing and appropriate articel about blogging. Thanks for sharing your personal growth with us as this helps when you are beginning and feel at a lost to build a list and find friends.

  37. Long and nice read Darren. I agree, leveraging will give you more time to focus on things that will grow your blog more. Like marketing and link-building.

  38. Excellent post, leverage is what makes online business so great, getting that traffic to come to you…

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  40. Missy says:

    Thanks for the tips Darren,
    I’m completely knew to blogging and social media in general so its nice to hear other people’s stories and tips. You’re advice seems incredibly useful and I can’t wait to put them to the test on my own blogs. Thanks!
    -Missy

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  42. acekard ds says:

    Many of entrepreneurs try making it big, by focus on working hard in their business rather that changing the mindset and work on their business.

  43. Oluwole says:

    i really enjoyed the tips you gave on how to leverage what i have. Thanks. I am a young entrepreneur too willing to leverage on online marketing e.g ebook, kindly give me some tips and or link to read up. Cheers