This guest post is by Michael Alexis, producer of WriterViews.com.
Trent Hamm’s personal finance blog, The Simple Dollar attracts over 1.2 million page views every month. When I interviewed Trent earlier this year, he shared the top strategies he used to build his audience. This post includes five of the strategies Trent used to take his blog from zero to one million, and his best practices now that he is achieving his dreams. How does that feel? Trent describes when it first started happening: “it was a little scary, to know that I was reaching so many people,” he says, but adds that now it feels good since he has become comfortable with it.
1. Get lucky by thinking strategically
Within a month or two of launch, The Simple Dollar had a few hundred thousand views every month. Trent says, “I was very lucky to get a few popular sites to link to me early on, and I didn’t expect that.” However, when pressed, Trent admits there was strategy involved. Trent started by looking “at a few very popular blogs at the time— Lifehacker and a few others” and then “tried to think a little bit about what kind of posts would be useful to their readers.” Trent then intentionally wrote a few early posts with that in mind.
Action Points: 1) Find a popular blog in your niche, 2) Study their style, 3) Write for their audience.
2. Quit your job and commit to your dreams
Trent’s impetus for starting his blog was a major financial meltdown. Married and with a newborn, Trent realized, “I was digging a debt hole and following a career path that would get me nowhere near writing.” So, he committed to change. Trent started by sitting down for two to three hours a day to focus on writing. A few years later The Simple Dollar generated enough income that he could quit his job.
Trent remembers “it was very scary” to quit, but needed to be done because it was a “gigantic time sink.”
How can you do what Trent did? He says it will not be instant, but it isn’t impossible either – the reality is somewhere in between. First, he says, “I didn’t leave my job until I knew that the day I walked out the door my income would be enough to cover expenses.” Once that is the case, Trent says you gain time freedom, and you can work on projects of your liking. In order to reach that point, Trent says, “I devoted a lot of my free time to getting a platform ready, so that I could jump.” He spent over two years writing every day, and putting his goals before doing things like watching TV.
Action Points: 1) Build your platform, 2) Earn enough to cover expenses, 3) Take the leap.
3. Set the rules
Some bloggers use a “start here” widget to welcome new readers to their blog. With The Simple Dollar, Trent gives an overview of content with his 14 Money Rules. “These,” says Trent, “are an essential set of things that people visiting the site can read and get the basics of.” Trent thinks hard about his rules, and says, “they’ve evolved over time.” Even though some of these rules had been highlighted in earlier posts, Trent says, “I kind of sat down and solidified the things I had written about over the years.”
You need to believe in your rules, and it is okay to rank them. Trent’s favorite is rule #6—Stop Trying to Impress Other People, which developed after he realized that his after work “social events” weren’t really important to him, and were a major expense as well. By making sure your rules reflect your values, you give people an honest introduction to your writing.
Action Points: 1. Think about what matters to you, 2. Write about it, 3. Solidify your rules in a list.
4. Be your own ethical filter
Trent believes “when I read other peoples sites, it’s a relationship of trust; I’m letting their advice come in the door of my life.” So, if that writer is advertising something Trent doesn’t feel right about, he doesn’t trust that person as much anymore. When writing for The Simple Dollar, Trent will “look at decisions” by viewing them “from the perspective of the reader.” That means Trent doesn’t sell information to his readers, and isn’t serving up posts that are paid for by someone else. “Basically,” says Trent, “if it’s something I don’t want to see from someone I read, I’m not going to do it to my readers.”
By applying a strict ethical filter you will build a stronger relationship with your readers, and keep them coming back. “People may not agree with everything I say,” says Trent, “but at least they know I’m coming from a genuine background.”
Action Points: 1. Consider your writing from a reader’s perspective, 2. Be true to yourself, 3. Build trust with your readers.
5. Collect ideas
Trent’s blogging started off by chronicling tips from the changes he was making in his financial life. Trent remembers that these were just “two, three, four paragraphs” and that he would “write several a day, jotting those out in 15 minutes, then boom—they were ready to go.” Now, Trent posts twice a day with longer, more thoughtful posts, and he attributes this, in part, to his philosophy background.
Throughout his journey, Trent has kept track of his thoughts in an Idea Book. He says that by doing this, once you have all your ideas in once place, you can go ahead and start acting on them.
Action Points: 1. Generate ideas, 2. Track them in your own version of an Idea Book, 3. Use them.
Those are just five of the many strategies Trent used to launch his writing career. Do you use any of these strategies in your writing?
Michael Alexis is the co-founder and producer of WriterViews, a daily video series where accomplished writers share their tips, strategies and stories. Learn more about him here and follow him on Twitter at @writerviews.