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The Team Behind My Blogs: From Solo Blogger to Business

One of the requests that I’ve received a fair bit lately from readers here at ProBlogger is for me to write a little more on the team I’ve put together to help me run and grow my blogs. So today I thought I’d tell a bit of that back story.

But first, let’s go back in time… (this full story can be found in ProBlogger the book).

Blogging: from hobby to job

  • November 2002: I started my first personal blog almost nine years ago, without even the faintest suspicion that it’d be anything more than a hobby. In fact, I half suspected I wouldn’t still be blogging by the end of 2002—I don’t really have a good history of sticking with most of my hobbies for more than a month or two (hence the collection of sporting equipment and gadgets in my attic).
  • December 2003:  By this point, I’d started to experiment with making money from my blogs (I had a couple by this point). By no means was it a “job” (not even a part-time one), but I was earning $6 a day and was starting to get an inkling that there could just be some potential if I could only keep the earnings from my AdSense ads trending up each month.
  • April 2004: I was now earning $20 per day from my blogs, having put extra effort into them over the last few months, and at this rate I started to consider my blogs as a part-time job. As a result my wife (V) and I decided I would dedicate a little more time to blogging to see what impact that would have.
  • June 2004: May and June continued to see the income grow and it passed $1000 in a month for the first time. The goal of being a full time blogger grew. We decided to give it a six-month deadline to get to a full-time level, or I’d have to “get a real job.” I began to slowly give up other work as the blogging income grew.
  • December 2004: We made a decision that things were at a level I could go full-time as a blogger. Income went up and down over the next year or so. but I was able to give up all other work and just focus upon blogging.
  • September 2005: I published a post here on ProBlogger talking about how I’d reached the “six-figure” level of income from blogging.

To this point, things had really just evolved. There were not too many months where there’d been spectacular growth or spikes in income. Rather, it was a very steady growth and I while I was working a lot of hours, the idea of hiring someone to help on an ongoing basis never really entered my mind.

I did hire blog designers once or twice in these early years, but that’s about as far as it went.

I look at this first phase of my blogging for income as blogging moving from a hobby to a part-time job, then to a full-time job.

Blogging: from job to business

The next phase involved moving to more of a “business” mindset.

I guess the transition of moving to more of a business model began with the starting of b5media—a blog network that I began with a small group of other bloggers in 2005. While I’m still a minor shareholder of the company, I am no longer actively involved. But the idea was that each of us founders realized we could probably achieve a lot more if we pooled out efforts and worked with an expanded team.

That business grew rapidly, and while we made mistakes, we also learned a lot about business, blogging, and working with teams. b5media took on a number of rounds of venture capital, which enabled us to grow, and I began to see the beauty of having a team working on the same projects rather than just doing everything myself.

While I didn’t focus all of my energies on b5media, I learned a lot in that period.

It was also at this time that I began to explore other partnerships and also began to toy with the idea of hiring staff and/or contractors to help me. I realized that in my own blogs, I was approaching a ceiling in terms of how much I could do each day. As a result, in this time I took a number of steps:

  • There was a period where I outsourced the writing of one of my old blogs (no longer active) to another blogger on a contract/revenue share basis.
  • I took on Lara Kulpa to help with the administrative load (Lara still contracts with me today to help with comment moderation and community management on ProBlogger.com).
  • I worked with others on a revenue share basis for a while on the ProBlogger Job Boards (I now maintain this myself).

Today: the team

dps problogger team.jpg

My blogs have grown beyond what I can really manage alone. Lara still is involved but the last year or so has seen a number of additions to the team. What follows is an attempt to give some insight into the different levels of involvement that others have on my sites—both voluntarily and in a paid capactity (I’m sure I’ll forget someone):

  • Guest writers: Gradually over the last few years I’ve involved others in the writing of content on my blogs. I did this first on my photography blog, where today almost all of our posts are either from guests or a small team of regular paid contributors.
  • Paid writers: Toda,y this is solely limited to the photography site (I did have a couple of paid contributors here on ProBlogger, but that never really panned out). These paid writers on dPS write between one and eight posts per month and are paid on a per-post basis. At times there were up to 10 paid writers on the team, but this has decreased a little as we’ve developed more of a guest writer team—as dPS has a considerable audience writers are mainly involved to help grow their profiles.
  • Editors: I’m currently working with a number of editors on different levels. The main editor that regulars of ProBlogger will know is Georgina Laidlaw, who edits ProBlogger and FeelGooder. Georgina works with guest writers on both blogs as well as creating content of her own. She is also involved in the creation of ebooks, writing sales copy, and other editorial tasks. We also have a couple of other editors who have helped with editing and proofreading ebooks.
  • Ebook authors: Over the last few years, I’ve expanded my focus to create more products to sell. These have largely been ebooks to this point. At this stage we’ve created six ebooks on Digital Photography School, three here on ProBlogger, and one on FeelGooder. I’ve written some of these myself, but have also partnered with other authors on some. Authors work with us on a revenue share arrangement where my company acts as a publisher and brings audience, marketing, customer service, and so on, and the author brings expertise. At this point, we have published ebooks with four other authors, but will release another four or five collaborative projects by the end of the year.
  • Product production: To help with this increased production I recently contracted with Jasmin Tragas, who heads up the production of new products. Jasmin works with authors, editors, designers, and marketing to get products to publication. It’s enabled us to increase product creation incredibly, and has allowed me to focus my attention on other activities.
  • Community management: As I mentioned above, Lara helps with community management at ProBlogger.com, but I’ve also got the involvement of Simon Pollock (my brother-in-law) to manage the community at dPS (among other roles).
  • Customer service: Simon is also involved in giving customer support on dPS. We’ve recently installed ZenDesk to funnel all incoming emails on that site into the one place, and Simon handles all of that.
  • Designers: Designers were perhaps the first people that I hired in the early days of my blogging, and I continue to work with a number of them (all on a contract basis). These come in on short-term basis to design/redesign our blogs but we also work with two designers on our ebook designs.
  • Social media: I do the bulk of my own social media marketing, but in the last month or so Simon has also become more involved in this for dPS.
  • Technology: Last year, I contracted someone to manage the servers and back end of my blogs. This had previously been handled by b5media for numerous years, but last year, we moved everything over to Amazon (and a variety of other technology partners).
  • Ad Sales: Gabrielle Green heads up ad sales on both ProBlogger and dPS. While we do use some more automated ad solutions (like AdSense) on dPS, we’re also growing the number of ads we are selling directly to advertisers—both banner ads and newsletter ads. It’s been great to have someone dedicated to this task.
  • Marketing: Lastly I’m fortunate to have the involvement of the Web Marketing Ninja (who has been a regular guest poster here on ProBlogger). The Ninja has helped sharpen sales pages and emails, and formulate strategy for product launches and promotions.

None of the above people work full-time just on my blogs, and none are “staff”—they all work on a contract basis. Interestingly, in the last 12 months the main additions to the team have all been local to me here in Melbourne, which has enabled more face-to-face interactions among my team (including the recent team lunch, where we took the above photo).

So … what do I do?

Having brought others in to take on different roles, one might wonder what it is that I do these days. Having an expanding team has certainly taken pressure off on some levels, but there is still plenty to do.

My main focus these days is on:

  • editing dPS (coordinating guest and paid writers, scheduling posts, writing email newsletters, etc.)
  • social media (mainly on ProBlogger)
  • team management—with more team members come more management tasks
  • writing and developing content, both for the blogs as well as products that we’re developing
  • strategy and partnership development—at present there are at least four other products/projects that I’m working on
  • administration—I’m amazed just how much admin there is, and while some of my email is now flowing through ZenDesk to Simon there’s still a tonne that needs to be done each day
  • speaking—this tends to come in fits and starts but it’s been nice to be able to allocate a bit more time to local speaking opportunities lately.

I realize that this post has been quite long, but I hope it answers some of those questions that I’ve been getting more and more of lately.

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. Fazreen says:

    Very interesting post. This can give some ideas for those who want to leverage their blog to the next level. Thanks Darren

    • Graham Lutz says:

      I think you need to get to a point where you HAVE to bring people on in order to continue before you start hiring.

  2. Pris says:

    You managed to build a business model, but at the same time your results still project that homelike aura essential to all great blogs. Congrats and keep up the good work!

  3. satish says:

    I personally like reading ‘about me’ page of every new blog I encounter, and even their monthly income reports. since this inspires to do more and more. and such a fabulous story[that too of a problogger] can take me too the sky…
    thx a lot Darren for making my day…

    you rock

    [PS- sorry, I couldn't express excitement thru exclamations, coz my my shift key isn't working ;p]

  4. Maaike Quinn says:

    Hey, thanks for sharing! Makes me wonder what I was doing in 2002. I’ve always been a nerd so I could have easily started a blog! But I guess I was stuck studying + playing computer games lol. But hey, you once wrote that you are a shy guy and that you liked working for yourself. But now you have a huge team? So you’re not shy anymore, I guess :)

  5. I have never seen a post broken down in this manner before. Really nice to see some thing like this presented in this form.

  6. Sam Beamond says:

    Thanks for the insight Darren, one thing I like about your blog is that you are so open with your success and are obviously interested in helping others become successful too!

    http://www.internetmarketingsource.net/2011/04/why-i-follow-darren-rowse/

  7. Rohan says:

    Inspiring!!!!

  8. Great post, interesting the number of people involved.

    Do you have any advice on attracting guest bloggers? I’m about to start a project that I hope to attract guest bloggers to, but I guess this is something that has to come with time?

    My difficulty will be I am looking at a niche where those people will not be ‘natural’ writers so will have to take on an editing role.

    Interesting stuff

    • Darren Rowse says:

      I think the biggest part of the challenge with guest bloggers is building an audience/traffic so that guest bloggers get something out of the experience (profile and traffic). Once you have that then its about building a culture of guest blogging on your blog so that the readers you have and bloggers in your niche begin to see you’re open to it.

      At first that might mean actually approaching other bloggers to see if they are interested – or even to do some interview type posts to feature other bloggers that way. In time though you end up with more guest post requests than you can handle – so then you start switching into a mode of editing content and unfortunatelly saying no to people.

  9. Doug says:

    It’s interesting to read… I run my main site outside of my day job and have a “staff” of 20+ freelance writers and editors and can relate to what you’re saying about all of it. Management, business development, etc. takes a lot of time for a mature site! And I hand coded my site as well, so there’s always adding new functionality on top of all that.

  10. Constantine says:

    I followed the link to your Sept. 2005 post and checked on blogs of readers who left comments back then and it was saddening to see most of the blogs no longer exist and those that exist are no longer updated.

    Although many readers back then claimed how your six figure earnings inspired them it is obvious many lacked the persistence, patience and ingenuity needed in this business.

    Dreaming is not enough, you have to fuel your dream with ACTION!

  11. Brad Dowdy says:

    Great post Darren! Georgina is nothing short of a pleasure to work with.

  12. Really interesting to learn what happens behind the scenes. Seriously. I’ve always wondered how you do it all. I somewhat doubt you had a bunch of hobbies you never stuck with. You seem to be laser focused and just intuitively understand how to implement your ideas well, which is obviously a skill a lot of people don’t have. Me, included. I’m just hoping that as my blog grows my management/implementing skills grow as well. But, good for you for outsourcing. Now you have more time to follow your heart and work on new projects. =)

    • Darren Rowse says:

      Oh the hobbies I never stuck with are a long long list :-) I guess this was one that I stuck with though because I enjoyed it so much and it gave me a lot of satisfaction :-)

  13. Great post.It helped a lot to know more about your blogging life.Thanks Darren

  14. Thanks for sharing, it’s always inspiring to read the nitty gritty of someone’s success – hard work! :)

  15. Your team looks quite happy :) I assume that you’re a good boss :)

    • Darren Rowse says:

      well we had just had a yummy dinner which I paid for – you should have seen them a couple of hours before when they were hungry!

  16. Thanks Darren, for taking the time to take us behind the scenes of your businesses. These kinds of expose from top bloggers, like you who many new and veteran bloggers look up to, would help us to start looking at the possibilities of developing strategies now, to slowly blogs to profits, from personal to business blogs.

    I also liked that you shared what your income from blogging looked over those early years – this should help some bloggers get realistic about getting’rich-quick with blogging.

    Thanks, once again. I learned some useful lessons from this post.

  17. Anne Wayman says:

    Hi Darren, of course I knew you when at b5 which is just plain fun to say. This is truly helpful and a peak into also the attitude of success you bring to things. Thanks.

    Anne, formerly with b5 as the writer of the golden pencil which now leads to some strange men’s site for reasons that are absolutely beyond me, but I don’t need to know.

  18. Darren,

    I find it very interest8ng to see how your business model has expanded over time. Hopefully someday….

  19. That was an awesome post Darren, I’ve always been curious about the full background of your site and how it runs and this really filled me in. It all just goes to show how many different doors and opportunities may open from blogging.. If we stay consistent and blog with intelligence, we may just end up in the same realm as your blog one day.

  20. Dharmesh says:

    Darren.. must tell ya. The post was looooooooong.. BUT very insightful on the growth and how you were open to expanding and comfortable with empowering others to handle your baby. Not an easy thing to do.

    What were the challenges you faced during your growth? If you decide to answer, I don’t mind it being a long post but a breakup of each year would be nice.

    Thanks.

  21. Good growth to Problogger company..

  22. I appreciate you sharing this Darren. I began a blog last year, and have visions of it beconing a business. It seems to be difficult to make that jump, so I appreciate you breaking down how it happened to you!
    Here’s to continued growth!
    Bernice
    What is Triberr and how does it work?

  23. Darren,
    I am sure you must be helping many people with this post by outlining a potential business path for future professional bloggers.

    The details you offer give a clear picture.

    I do believe that your generosity in sharing your experience is one reason why you have been rewarded abundantly for your work.

    Congrats,
    David

  24. Dudge OH says:

    I love it. A very informative entry. Makes one realize that to make it as a pro blogger, one must expand the endeavor…

  25. Daniel says:

    About time, Mr. Rouse.

    I was beginning to think you were a multitasking extraordinaire.

    To be honest, I am not quite sure why you need that number of people(No offense to any of your team). Though, if that’s what it takes, that’s what it takes.

    • Darren Rowse says:

      I did try to multitask it for a long time but in the end I would end most days feeling a feeling that I was not reaching my potential and that while my business was growing that it could have been growing faster.

      The problem I had was that every day there were opportunities presenting themselves – new partnerships, ideas for new projects that could build off existing ones etc – but as I tried to take more and more opportunities I realised I was doing everything ‘less well’ (is that even a word?).

      So while I could probably sustain most of what I do by myself – the quality would be suffering more and more. These days I can still improve some of what I do – but having a team allows me to focus upon the things that I do well and improves the quality of those things I’m not so great at.

      hope that makes sense :-)

      • Daniel says:

        Yep, makes a lot of sense, Darren.

        Thanks for the clear explanation.

        Oh, and as for that word(term) “Less Well” ? I actually here that expression replacing( worse) used quite a lot. So it is (A okay).

        Congrats on your successful implementing of your team, and the ensuing success achieved(And enjoyed by the whole team, I am sure) through your doing so.

  26. Long time reader here. Thanks for posting about how you do it. This is a fascinating look into how you manage it all.

    I love how you have created this amazing career and now mini-empire out of teaching your passion.

    Your transparency is totally appreciated and inspiring!

  27. Gayla Baer says:

    How fun to read this time-line. I recall writing my first blog post in May 2003, actually writing for someone else. When I began to look at blogging with more personal interest, I began reading Problogger in late September 2004. I followed this blog religiously and eventually went to work for b5media in November 2005. I always loved being that #21 in joining up with b5. I learned and grew so much with b5 too!

    It’s been quite an adventure – learning, growing, falling down, getting up and starting over. But with every turn, I have embraced the lessons that have been taught right here :)

    Congrats Darren. I’m so happy and proud to have experienced most of the journey of all that is Problogger :)

  28. barry says:

    That was a great blog, I never get tired of learning how to be good at something!

  29. Paul Swaney says:

    When I see stories like this, I am reminded that patience is such a huge key to success. Very few people are going to have instant success. Because my website covers sports stadiums around the world, I found out pretty early on that I would need some additional writers if I wanted to expand our content. My writers aren’t paid much, but it does help to offset some of the expenses. I began seriously recruiting writers about 14 months ago, and today I have 37 writers in 7 different countries. While it can be a challenge to manage and encourage the activity of that many people, it certainly allows for us to have a steady stream of content.

    Thanks for your back story Darren. It is certainly helpful when thinking about the future…

  30. Atish says:

    Guys are looking as cool as their writing. all the best.

  31. Darren, Your blogging journey very inspiring me. I started a job as a blogger since 3 years ago, so hopefully in ten years I could be like you now.:-)

    I think the more team you have it, more profits income will be obtained.

  32. Darren,

    Thank you for the timeline of your success. I know everyone has different results depending on what you put into it. But, having an example is very helpful.

    Your openness to share with others is appreciated…tremendously!

    Thank you again – Theresa