Last week at Blog World Expo, I had conversations with literally hundreds of bloggers about their blogging.
It was interesting to see some of the themes that emerged as bloggers shared their challenges, problems and fears.
One of the recurring conversations that I had revolved around bloggers’ fear of being seen as sell-outs by readers when they started to monetize their blogs.
On numerous occasions this past week I’ve chatted with bloggers who’ve been so scared of the potential reader reaction that it stopped them from adding any form of monetization to their blogs. In some cases, this meant the bloggers were no longer able to sustain what they do financially.
Here’s a summary of some of the reflections I had to those expressing this fear.
1. Be clear about your goals and values.
Perhaps one of the best things a blogger can do in this area is to know where it is they’re headed—or at least where they want to move to with their blogs. Just as important is to have a clear understanding of your values.
Give some thought to these factors, and you’ll be in a strong position to make some good decisions about the strategies and methods you’ll use to reach your goals. You’ll also be in a good place to do some self-monitoring to keep yourself from selling out.
Filter people’s reactions through the framework of your own values and goals, and you’ll hopefully be able to tell whether there’s truth in what they’re saying.
2. Provide value to readers.
I remember the first time I released an ebook on Digital Photography School. I was very nervous about launching it, because I didn’t know how readers would react. I remember hitting the Publish button on the launch post, and expecting a backlash from readers emailing to express how insulted that they were that I’d try to sell them anything.
But the backlash didn’t come.
Instead, I started receiving emails from readers thanking me for the ebook. The lesson I learned was that if you provide something of value to people—something that will matter to them, and help them overcome a problem—they’re often only too happy to buy it.
Not only should your product be valuable, but the interaction you have with your readers in the lead-up to its launch should be valuable too. Among the emails I received that day were messages from readers saying that they’d never bought anything online before. Yet, based on the past interactions that I’d had with them and helped them, they’d felt compelled to buy my ebook.
3. Communicate your reasoning for the charge.
I hope I’m not sounding like I’ve never had negative feedback about releasing a product. At times there have been readers who’ve expressed feelings of resentment or disappointment when I’ve released products.
In these instances, my main approach is to attempt to share my backstory of the product’s release. For example, I remember the first time I put ads on my first blog. By no means was this a play to become rich; I was just trying to make my blog break even.
One particular reader started a campaign against me, and accused me of selling out. My response was simply to email him with my story. I communicated how my blog was costing me money each month and that as a newly married guy working numerous part time jobs and trying to provide free valuable information to readers, I needed to find a way for the site to break even. On hearing the story the reader’s attitude was turned around.
Similarly, when I launched the 31 Days to Build a Better Blog ebook, I told the story of how my readers had pretty much demanded that I turn the original series of blog posts into a PDF, and indicated that they’d pay for the content in that format. In doing so I was able to communicate how the idea wasn’t even mine—in fact, it came from reader need.
I also think sometimes people need to be reminded that behind a blog is a real person who needs to find a way to sustain it. In most cases, when you share that information, I think people understand your need to monetize your blog.
4. Monitor your own motivations.
Being in any kind of business will undoubtedly lead you into situations where you’re presented with opportunities to sell out. The reality is that it can be tempting at times.
I remember an instance two years back where I was offered a five-figure sum for a series of tweets promoting a product—a product I’d never used and never would have recommended myself. The catch was that the tweets had to be positive, they’d be written by someone else, and I couldn’t include a disclaimer stating that I was being paid to tweet them.
The situation was certainly tempting on some levels: over $10,000 for a few Tweets!? I could have paid for a new car, or a year or two of my kids’ education with those tweets. But ultimately I knew that it was just a quick cash grab. I wasn’t willing to go there because it didn’t fit with my values, and the motivations I felt for doing it weren’t healthy ones.
5. Be accountable to others.
The last thing I’d add on this topic is that it can be worthwhile to have others who you can bounce these issues off. Sometimes, as individuals, we can lose a little perspective on the realities of monetization, and the voices of others can draw us back to good decisions.
I regularly bounce the opportunities that I’m offered off a small group of people—family, friends, and fellow bloggers. In a sense it’s a little advisory board (although it’s certainly not that formal!) that I give permission to ask me tough questions, and help me stay on course to achieving the goals and values I mentioned above.
There have been a number of instances over the years when these people have pulled me back from making decisions that, upon reflection, would have seen me sell out.
In a similar way. I think it’s also wise to listen to what a wider group of people are saying to you. And that wider group is your readers. While there will almost always be someone who has a negative reaction to your approach (you can’t please everyone), there’ll be times when there’s a wider feeling among your readers that you really need to hear. At these times, it’s worth going back to your core motivations, and seeing if the wisdom of the crowd is something you need to pay attention to.
How do you stop yourself from selling out on your blog?