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A Blogging State of Mind

This guest post is by Ashley Ambirge of themiddlefingerproject.org.

Blogging. Successful blogging. My own. Yours. If I could sum it up in three little words, they would be:

Magazine
Advertising
Sales

Wait, what? Magazine advertising sales?

Yes—magazine advertising sales.

You see, (insert voice of the narrator from The Princess Bride), once upon a time I sold advertising for a national print and online magazine, when the only writing I did involved contracts and thank-you letters. Day after day, I proudly won over the hearts of marketing directors everywhere. For my efforts, I became recognized as one of the top account executives in the nation—and, well, ev’body likes a nice plaque, right?

So, what do magazine sales have to do with blogging success?

The short answer: everything.

The long(er) answer: At the end of the day, when it comes down to it, every aspect of blogging is, in fact, a form of sales.

There—I said it! Please don’t shoot!

Ah, sales. If you haven’t thrown up yet, your first reaction is likely to be one of the following:

It is not. Blogging is about providing useful content.
It is not. Blogging is about authenticity.
It is not. Blogging is about building community.
It is not. I hate you and your stupid blog, so go away and leave me alone.

All perfectly valid responses, indeed.

But if you operate on those grounds alone, your would-be-profit-making blog might face the eternal destiny of … (deep, soothing breath) … Personal Journal Land. And if you’re just starting out, it’s a tempting place to visit. But if you’ve got any type of business-related purposes in mind for your blog, you’re gonna wanna take a big, fat detour.

Let me be clear for a second: creating insanely useful content, for example, is really important. But that’s kind of a no-brainer, right? You want people to read your stuff? Make it worth reading. No magic tricks there.

Yet despite the no-brainer value of useful content, traditional wisdom for blogging success continues to be trumpeted as more of the same: create useful content, create useful content, create useful content.

But there’s more to it than that.

The problem with relying on useful content alone is that what’s useful is isn’t always obvious. In your opinion, you might have the world’s most useful content, but if no one else perceives it as such, then you’ve just purchased a one-way ticket to Personal Journal Land.

Perception is everything. Right out of the gate is everything. If new visitors don’t perceive your post titles, your blog—or, more importantly, you—as useful, right off the bat as soon as they land on your site, then your stellar content might as well not exist, because no one’s going to take the time to read it—whether it’s actually useful or not.

And then you’ll grow frustrated. You might throw a series of mini temper-tantrums. You’ll lose motivation. You’ll curse your keyboard. And then curse it some more. You’ll want to ditch the whole blogging thing, and send hate mail to WordPress. And you will want to give up. It will be a sad, sad day. Especially for the poor chap opening mail over at WordPress.

Enter: Sales. The good, non-icky kind. (There is such a thing, you know.)

In the good ol’ days, when I would walk into a sales meeting, I had approximately eight seconds to make a good impression. During those eight seconds, prospects basically made a decision as to whether, a) They liked me, b) They thought I had something valuable to bring to the table, c) They were going to buy it.

Fortunately for me, I can do some pretty amazing things in eight seconds. (Not open to interpretation. Well, maybe.)

But here’s the thing: Your blog? It works exactly the same way. Except you’ve only got eight seconds or less. (If you’re lucky.)

In that (incredibly short and unforgiving) time frame, a new visitor decides as to whether, a) They like you, b) They think you have something valuable to bring to the table, c) They’re going to buy it.

In this case, however, “buying it” doesn’t mean your ebook, your product, your service, or your pet hippopotamus; it means buying you, which is the very first step. No other transactions can occur until they’re sold on you. And how, exactly, do they buy you? They buy you with their time and attention. Time and attention are the currencies du jour of the blogging world. It’s whatcha want.

You better do some pretty amazing things in eight seconds.

I guarantee that no matter how useful your content is, no human being in the world will be able to discern its usefulness in such a short time frame unless you can convince them first that they should give you their time and attention. That’s half the battle.

And that’s precisely why sales just went from being the smelly kid on the playground, to being your best friend.

When new visitors land on your site, it’s your job to have things organized in a way that’s compelling At the end of the day, that’s all that sales is—presenting things in a compelling fashion.

Yes, your site design plays a large role in this, but there are other factors that are just as important. From your tagline (you do have a tagline, don’t you?) to the photo you have displayed of yourself, to the content in your sidebar that shows above the fold, to your About page, to your post titles, to the way you present your content, and more.

It isn’t just about being useful; it’s about presenting what’s useful in a way that’s compelling.

During my magazine ad sales days, our product, frankly, was very useful. By far, it was the best product on the market. But that didn’t mean I could just walk into a sales meeting, nonchalantly slap a magazine down on the table, and expect them to magically understand exactly how useful it was. I had to take them by the hand, and not just talk about how great my product was, but demonstrate how great they’d be because of it. I had to make it compelling. I had to make it about them.

Same goes for your blog.

Your blog is insanely useful. It might be the best blog out there on your topic. But that doesn’t mean you can just show up, nonchalantly slap up a post, and expect them to magically understand how useful it is. You’ve got to take them by the hand, and not just produce great content, but demonstrate how great they’ll be because of it. You have to make it compelling. You have to make it about them.

Only then will it actually be perceived as useful in their eyes.  And only then will it get read. And only then can you escape Personal Journal Land.

So, how can you make your blog more compelling right out of the gate?

1. First impressions really count. A lot. Even more than on a first date, because at least your date is stuck with you for the night; new visitors aren’t.

Enough talk about dating; we’re still talking shop here. So, back to the ad sales analogy: you wouldn’t walk into a sales meeting wearing a tee shirt drenched in ketchup and mustard, unless you were selling a fabric cleaning product … or you happen to be rushing back from feeding orphans at your neighborhood homeless shelter. (Nice try.)

Same goes for your blog. Keep it clean. Keep it simple. Make it easy on the eye, so the visitor can focus on the message, not the 30,000 widgets you’ve got blinking in your sidebar. Or the ode to every other blogger you’ve ever exchanged an email with, a.k.a. the blogroll. Or that schizophrenic cloud of alleged keywords that induces more seizures than searches. Remember: you have eight seconds or less. In those eight seconds, you need to engage, not distract.

2. Talk less about yourself.

You wouldn’t walk into a sales meeting, ignore the client, and spend the entire hour giving your esteemed opinion on [insert unrelated topic]. Why? Because the client doesn’t care about your opinion; at this point, he only cares about how you can wave your magic wand and help a brother out. That’s why, in sales, you go in asking questions, you make it all about the prospect, and then you offer a logical solution that addresses the pain points that the prospect himself just finished identifying. This way, you aren’t selling; you’re offering a solution. You know the drill.

How does this apply to your blog? On first visit, a reader doesn’t care about you; at this point, he only cares about how you can wave your magic wand and help a brother out. Therefore, you should be presenting your blog in a way that makes it all about the reader, addressing their pain points, and then presenting your blog as the solution.

Where do you do this? Your About page is a good place to start. Try putting the readers first, and explaining how your blog is going to blow their minds. Give them a reason not to X out. Get them engaged. Get them fired up. Make them think, “This is what I’ve been looking for!”

And then talk about yourself.

Another way to talk more about them is right in your headlines. You know, the titles of your blog posts. Any copywriter will tell you with their eyes closed that headlines should translate into a benefit for a reader; otherwise, why click on it? Yet, “benefit for the reader” doesn’t necessarily mean spelling it out verbatim “this is what you will get if you read this.” More often, it means “subtle implications of what you’ll get if you read this.”

Whether you’re offering to solve a problem (e.g. Top 10 Ways to Cure Yourself of Writer’s Block), hooking them up with insider knowledge (e.g. The Secret to Making Thirty-Seven Zillion Trillion Dollars By Blogging—No Yellow Highlighter Required), tapping into their insecurities (e.g. The Hairy Mistake You’re Probably Making, But Have No Idea), arousing their curiosity (e.g. What Everyone Needs to Know About Darren Rowse), promising them something desirable (e.g. Drink Beer, Lose Weight), or saving them time (e.g. The Quickest Way to Make Her Fall In Love With You & Have Your Babies), for example, all of these translate into some benefit for the person who clicks on them. And benefits are all about them. And when it’s all about them, they’ll give you their time and attention. And then you win. The first part of the battle, anyway.

3. Talk more about yourself. Wait, didn’t I just say to talk less about yourself?

It’s all about the stories, baby. A good storyteller knows the difference between stories that have a greater purpose and message, and stories that don’t. You want the former. And when you tell stories in a way that ensures they have a greater purpose and message, on the surface it may feel like you’re talking about yourself, but you’re not. You might be telling your particular story, but you’re also telling the greater story of many. And in that respect, you’re indirectly talking about them. So I guess this bullet point doesn’t even count, because when it comes down to it, we’re still talking about them. Sorry—our moment in the spotlight is over.

By telling stories with a greater purpose and message, you’re guiding them through their own past experiences, when they’ll start feeling like they really relate to what you’re saying. If you can end your story with a solution (i.e. how you’ve come out ahead, how you finally sold your pet hippopotamus online, etc.), they’ll start to envision themselves having the same success if they stick with you. And then, by golly, you’ve got yourself a sale, in which case, again, the sale = their time + attention. Boo-yah. What you do with their time and attention thereafter is a whole other post.

4. Be a rebel. Skull tattoos and all. And do the opposite.

I’ve just written about why a sales mentality can be useful in order to grow a successful blog. But by the same token, one of the reasons I was so successful in sales is because I wasn’t sales-y. Being a salesperson and being sales-y are two very different things. Instead of tried and true sales-y approaches (that were also tired and trite), I remixed things to create a fresh approach. While many of my colleagues were sending out letters with their business cards attached, I was sending Fed-Ex packages containing rooftop shingles. (The magazine was specifically targeted toward the new-home construction industry.) One client with whom I had zero luck with for months, finally called and agreed to an appointment after receiving a rooftop shingle I had purchased at Home Depot. On the back, I wrote in silver marker: “[Their Company's Name] + [My Company's Name] = Sales Through the Roof.” She then became one of my best clients.

The point?

Tried and true doesn’t always mean better and best. And most of the time, people are bored with tried and true. Their eyes glaze over. They want you to make the effort to stand out from the crowd—they want you to earn their time and attention before they willingly give it. And you can (and should) absolutely apply this to blogging. Sometimes it’s a matter of reading up on other blogs in your niche and, every time you come across something that makes you cringe, go ahead and do, say, or be the opposite. Chances are good that if you’re cringing, so are others. Be the fresh breath of air that they want (and need). This, too, is a form of sales, because you’re deliberately and intentionally picking an angle and attempting to present yourself in a way that’s more compelling.

And like I said, at the end of the day, being compelling is all that sales really is.

And if compelling = sales, and sales = a key element of early-stage blogging success, whatdya say we throw a little deductive reasoning into the hat, and uncover the real answer to early-stage blogging success?

Simply
Being
Compelling.

Perhaps that’s easier said than done, but if you remember to treat your blog as a product—not just a blog—and your reader as a prospect—not just a reader—the sales mentality will begin to naturally unfold, you’ll navigate yourself out of Personal Journal Land, no (bitter and unfortunate) hate mail will be sent to the folks at WordPress … and the best part?

You can brag to everyone you know that you can do amazing things in eight seconds. Whether you leave it open to interpretation or not is your call.

Ashley Ambirge is the sassiest freelance writer, entrepreneur and digital strategist on the block. She authors books on leveraging the internet to make a business out of your passions, runs her semi-insane but lovable blog (click here to subscribe), and does one on one strategy sessions with new bloggers, entrepreneurs & small businesses looking to¬†rock their online space with the brilliance of a diamond (and finally make some damn money). She’ll also kill you at beer pong without batting an eyelash. Just the facts, Jack.

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Comments

  1. Surely, these are great tips to note Ashley. I really like the “First impressions really count. A lot. Even more than on a first date, because at least your date is stuck with you for the night; new visitors aren’t.” because if you create a bad impression, readers would NEVER come back.

    Thanks for sharing.

    • Kirk Taylor says:

      How many dates have you gone on and left a good impression yet the woman wasn’t interested? Then think about all the great women that go for the guy that gives a bad impression?

      How many bad blogs get tons of traffic that convert into sales? I’m sure you can identify many of them.

      The real drive is creating a passion or desire to continue reading what the blogger has to say. Sometimes that means controversy, other times that means dangling the carrot and then pulling it away, keeping your audience coming back.

  2. dj says:

    a friend recommended me this site because I just started blogging, really appreciate all the tips and hopefully my blog will get better

  3. Tom Jamieson says:

    Love the Princess Bride reference!

  4. barbara says:

    LOVE this! I feel like such a dunce… I spent most of my career in sales, being non-sales y, and didn’t put it together with my blog. You are absolutely right, and I’m going to make a few changes right now.
    Thanks very much!

  5. This along with UnMarketing’s book are just what I needed this week to get me thinking about my blog as a brand and sales worthy.

  6. Fantastic post! I immediately started working on my blog site again taking in all the suggestions. Thanks for sharing!!!

  7. Awesome post! It is about sales, but not in a salesy sort of way. It’s about engaging the reader. That’s the word I keep hearing. Be engaging!
    Bernice
    Begin again, each and every day

  8. Sales! Yikes, but wait a second my Dad has always said the best sales job he ever did was to get my Mum to marry him. The truth is as many of us know in our hearts we are constantly selling something: our opinion to friends etc …but we never call it selling we call it sharing. The truth is the best selling is simply the sharing of quality information.

    Hey, thanks for sharing Ashley,

    David

  9. Susan says:

    Hi Ashley,

    As an escapee from the publishing industry myself (15 years on the marketing side supporting sales), your perspective is really spot on. I currently guest blog on HealthyBitchDaily.com, but will soon be launching my own blog, and I will definitely incorporate your advise.

    Thanks!

  10. Patrick Ross says:

    This is a timely and informative post. My readers and I have been debating on my blog this week the merits/demerits of blogging. The consensus is it’s worthwhile, but you have to do it right. Here’s some advice on how!

    Patrick

  11. Maaike Quinn says:

    Be a rebel. Yes please :)

  12. I like the part about talking less about yourself. The most successful Internet marketers and bloggers I have profiled have succeeded because they give out a lot of value FIRST without trying to promote their products (or agenda). Then people are more willing to give back to them because of they are grateful for the valuable information.

  13. Great article. Thank you Ashley for your insights.

  14. Chris Alta says:

    Touche!

    You were killing it in this guest post, great job yo! I recently starting focusing more on my readers and using catchy titles to grab their attention. Now although I’m only 2 months into my blogging I’ve seen a 3x’s increase in my traffic. I actually wrote a post about our boy Darren Rowse that got a ton of hits!

    http://chrisalta.com/darren-rowse-traffic

    funny but true stuff that you’ll definitely enjoy and can benefit from

    I haven’t yet tapped into the sales side of my website again because I’m still new but by reading posts like yours and other bloggers around the web I’m definitely soaking in a ton of great information. Sometimes it’s hard to balance ying and yang but I’m hanging in there.

    I have to call you out! We exchanged Skype’s and were set for an interview and we never made it happen! What’s up with that man?! Haha it’s all good you’re a busy bee..seeing as how you’re writing guest posts for ProBlogger now! SICK

    Any who loved the post, great stuff ONCE AGAIN. We’ll be talking soon yo!

    cheers!

    -Chris Alta

  15. Sean says:

    Gotta love Ash’s writing style, I also loved the princess bride reference! :)

    I really liked #4, great post Ash!

  16. Becky says:

    I love this!

  17. anthonynlee says:

    this was an amazing post….only what i’d expect from you.
    so, here’s my 2 cents.
    the list of objections, these descriptors for a blog…
    Blogging is about providing useful content..
    Blogging is about authenticity.
    Blogging is about building community.
    I truly feel, in today’s age of social networking and crowd input, that you could effectively replace the word “Blogging” with “Sales” and have a powerful and true statement.
    Just a thought.

    P.S., i absoFRIKKENlutely love that shingle idea. you are effin awesome.

  18. Michael Real says:

    This is so real! This post is one of the best posts I’ve ever read in your blog. Thanks for sharing your thoughts on this matter, I will certainly take all of your advices. Thanks a lot.

  19. Lea Sadler says:

    I would take your thoughts here a step farther to point out that blogging is about sales, period. Not simply magazine sales. Selling your idea to your visitors–selling them on the idea that your blog really is the One For Them. Selling them the belief that you are a trusted and valuable source of information and ideas–and they should continue to come back to you, time and time again.

  20. Jenny Foss says:

    For me, it’s all about the two-foot cherry blossom emblazoned across my back, not the skull.

    A now-hilarious (and permanent) “fix” to this teeny-tiny (and stupid) tat I got in my early 20s (and looked like I’d done it myself, in prison)… I’m now a giant-tattoo-sporting blogger. A blogger who also sells stuff online and happens to LOVE this post.

    * Talk about telling a story! *

    Divine, work. Divine blog. My tattoo-y self is high-fiving you from Portland.

    Cheers.

  21. Wasim Ismail says:

    Its about setting the correct mindset, and what your looking to achieve from your blog, If you can provide a solution to users problem, something that need help with, and your site offers the answers to these, than you will always attract your readers attention. As when they come to your blog they will see the answers that they have been look for, just like you said “help the brother out” :)

    Also using the sales technique such as asking questions is good, you could may use a poll on your site, and see what responses you get back, to help you create new content for the site related to what your audience what’s to read.

  22. One of the best articles I’ve read during the last 6 months (and I read daily). The best articles aren’t written by copyblogger and problogger anymore. :-) Funny, huh?

    I love your attitude Ashley!

  23. Killer says:

    Thank you for pointing this out. What amazes me most is the tenacity with which purists hang on to their positions.Publishing, whether a blog or a book, is about sales. Authors make nothing if the book doesn’t sell. Product reviews are themselves a product that bloggers sell to advertisers.

    Most people on the web are starting to accept the concept of “free” is really free as more developers offer free software with more advanced “pro” versions or free services for the average user and paid versions for professionals. It makes it much easer to have the discussion with your reader about what you provide, how you fund the costs of running your blog, etc. Most people are no longer turned off by you trying to make a buck, so long as you do it openly, honestly and fairly.

  24. Guy Hogan says:

    You have put a lot of thought into this. And what you say makes sense. Thank you. It’s a wonderful checklist.

  25. Liz says:

    Excellent Ashley, There’s a wake-up to call to all of us bloggers.

    What you’re pointing out is becoming more of an issue every day, especially with all the sites ‘on the air’ today. It’s a lot easier to fall in with the ‘average ‘ crowd.

    People ARE bored with the same things they see everywhere and it’s getting harder and harder to stand out, but you’ve offered some very specific things to help with that, specifically being compelling.

    Compelling can be hard but your method of treating your blog as a product and your reader as a prospect is something worth really examining and using.

    P.S …and yes, perception IS everything. I tell my kids that all the time. Not sure it’s sunk in yet though ;-)

  26. Ashley, You got me within the 8 second mark this morning! I am currently taking an MBA class about personal branding and I found your post to be more helpful than many others I have read. Thanks for the great post, Miriam

  27. illana Burk says:

    Ash! Brilliant as always darling!

    It’s so nice to hear someone of your stature discussing breaking the ‘rules’ in a compelling and well-thought-out way. So often we hear people discussing this topic from the standpoint of, “Rules are for suckers! Do your own thing!” But there’s so much more to it than that. I love how you seamlessly blend good salesmanship with rebellious originality. Good salespeople know that if are respectful of of the people you’re selling to, and honor their needs, you’ll find a much more receptive audience.

    Luv ya darling!

    illana

  28. You are fan-friggen-tastic. This further solidifies that fact by showing just how much you know (and how much mojo you have to back it up). Brilliant work, lovely.

  29. Sachi says:

    Thank you for pointing this out.

  30. Aurelius Tjin says:

    Very informative post!
    Thanks for your insights!

  31. Kimmie says:

    Sounds like anyone who is interested in having a successful blog would be wise to take some type of course in sales. I have tried sales before and it’s not that easy for me, not really a salesman type. My blog is all about issues that most everyone deals with in life on a daily basis and most of my posts give the reader a story on my own personal experiences with those issues and how I overcame them, I offer them solutions.
    This article was very informative and has created motivation in me to learn more about the art of sales. Thanks!

  32. Cinz says:

    Absolutely brilliant post Ashley… This leaves much room for thought as this seems to be the main advice being given by successful bloggers and marketers. Be compelling…. I can do that! ;)