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Six Things I Learned in My First Six Months as a Problogger

This is a Guest Post by John Saddington of TentBlogger.

Like many professional bloggers, my journey started years ago, as I dabbled in blogging for myself and for my friends. I’m not exactly sure when it happened, but it did—the date doesn’t matter much here. And, to be completely honest, I had really no idea of what I was doing at the time.

Nearly a decade later, I jumped into the deep end, going pro as a full time blogger. I decided that I’d try my hand as a professional blogger, “blogging for fun and for profit,” and seeing where it would take me.

So far it’s been everything that I had expected, but even moreso, it’s been extremely eye-opening, humbling, and down-right scary at times. I finally had the time to actually review that first half-year and here’s what I came up with. My hope is that I can pass these learnings on to you so that you can jump to that stage in your blogging (if you wish). Hopefully, you’ll be even more prepared for what lies ahead!

1. Count your pennies

Making the jump from a full-time job into professional blogging took a lot of patience, calculation, and financial management. Heck, I had mouths to feed (I already had one daughter, and a second on the way!) and I couldn’t afford to make a serious capital error on my finances. In other words, it just had to work and I had to stay ‘in the black’ as best as I could.

I was diligent, I was safe, and I was conservative as much as the next fiscally responsible person—and although I’d never call myself a professional financial accountant, I was confident in my ability to make the ends meet. But the importance of being on top of my finances kicked up a serious notch the moment my blogs became the number one source of income.

What I wish I’d done was to take into account every single penny that was going in and going out from the blog; yes, to that degree—pennies.

You see, I had general (and accurate) estimations of my earnings but without the exact penny figures I couldn’t completely optimize my earnings in the specific areas that needed to be optimized (like affiliate marketing, direct sales, etc).

I encourage you to start counting those pennies today, even if it is just pennies—you’ll be even more ready to make the jump when you do.

Practical application

  1. Make a list of your current costs, both from a week and month-to-month perspective. Start documenting today so that you’re aware of what’s coming in and what’s coming out.
  2. Share your list of expenses with those that know you best. Having accountability is one of your greatest weapons against over-spending.
  3. Always wait before purchasing—make a mental note and goal to never spend any money the same day that you feel like you need something.
  4. Share your list publicly! Your blog readers might actually enjoy walking with you through this neat part of your blogging journey.
  5. Set times for your to conduct monthly and quarterly reviews. You’ll find these times and activities very fascinating as you dive deep into your fiscal planning for your blog. You might even come away having learned some significant new lessons.

2. Go free or go home

I love the applications that I use for my work, and most of them have been paid applications. The challenge of being in the freelance world—and especially the problogging world—is that there are always newer and shinier programs out there that are constantly enticing me. Heck, some claim to make me money instantly so why not, right?

Wrong. My approach quickly changed to finding open-source or free alternatives to paid apps. Sure, there’s nothing wrong with paying for your apps, but every single dollar counts—especially in the beginning, as you work your way to a profitable blog. You need to save where you can save, and do it over and over again.

Take the time to find the right free apps. Develop a thick skin for those moments when you see advertisements for apps that say they’ll help your blogging more if you just buy them today (especially if it’s a “limited time only” offer). You can go pro without paying a dime—in fact, why not challenge yourself to do just that?

Practical applications

  1. Always do you your research. Find the best sites and blogs that cover open source apps and freeware. You can’t go wrong with being thoroughly equipped to make the right spending choices.
  2. Ask your network for solutions. Facebook and Twitter can provide valuable information and resources that may just end up saving you significant time and money.
  3. Blog about your apps and the way that you use them! I’ve found this to be not only a neat exercise, but also a great time for the commenters and community to share their thoughts on both use and other perhaps better alternatives.
  4. Think beyond apps: consider all the things you need to function properly as a blogger. For example, what about free wifi at your local hotspot and coffee shop? I know of many bloggers who go to the extreme in their attempts at saving, and they did it. Sure, they can afford wifi at home, but they still jump over to the free wireless often!
  5. This goes with the previous section on counting pennies but it’s worth mentioning again: never purchase on emotion or gut reaction to a felt need. Wait a few hours (days perhaps), ask a few people, and make the wisest decision you can.

3. Prepare for the emotional rollercoaster

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The first six months have been riddled with fear, anxiety, doubt, and depression—pretty sweet, right? It’s exactly what you want to hear from a professional blogger! One can get seriously beat up on that emotional rollercoaster ride!

The thing is that these are normal emotions for anyone who has experienced a job change. I just didn’t expect that they’d come on as strong in a job that I had been wanting to dive into for so long. It’s like getting to your dream job and realizing that it’s not like your dream at all—well, it’s still a “dream” job but it’s different, right?

There is no perfect job, and if you’re looking for it, then don’t be surprised when the kryptonite called reality arrives and you realize that you must still manage the stress and pressure of providing for yourself and your family. But it’s still worth it.

There’s no coaching or preparation that I can give you for making a jump into professional blogging but I can tell you that it will be emotional and that’s okay.

Practical applications

  1. Prepare today for the ups and downs of changing your job, and adopting a lifestyle that’s entirely different than the one that you had previously. Simply being aware of this transition can make you all the more prepared.
  2. Get your personal network in order so as to provide support during the transition. Broadcast and share where you’re headed and get people involved. It’s much more fun that way too!
  3. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. This is one of the healthiest emotional places to be: where you’re confident of your continued path, but humble enough to know that you’re not the first (nor the last) to travel that road and you might need some help here and there.
  4. Be completely okay with the expression of that emotion. I didn’t learn until much later in life that it was better to be completely honest with my emotions than to hide them, especially during tough life changes.
  5. Set up a schedule and a time to rejoice. Your career choices are exciting, but often we forget to simply celebrate and enjoy the ride, so to speak.

4. Remember: your environment is everything

Since I started my blogging as a hobby I didn’t really care about where I was when I wrote anything—the fact that I managed to get in front of the computer at all seemed like a feat, and there was no rhyme nor reason to my work environment or circumstance. This worked just fine.

As I moved closer to writing seriously, I still didn’t have the full appreciation for my environment: I was writing during my lunch breaks, at the kitchen table after a late-night meal, or early in the morning before the coffee finished brewing. I blogged where I was because that’s where I was when I had the free time to do so. Sure, I tried to find those “optimal” writing environments that I felt helped me stay productive effectively, but it was more of luxury than a necessity. I just wanted to write and I’d write anywhere.

Now, as a professional blogger, this is what I do and my environment is under my control—and it’s never been more important that I craft the right environment for optimal thinking, drafting, and publishing. I’m even sharing this experience publicly as I craft the perfect professional blogging office with my community.

The challenge, though, is that I wasn’t taking notes for all those years as I spent time in the many different places where I wrote. I wish that I’d been more aware of the places, circumstances, environments, and all of the related paraphernalia that came with those environments, so that I could more easily create that perfect problogging office today.

I’d encourage you to start taking notes today if you’re planning to head in the direction of professional blogging. Then, when you do get there, you’ll know exactly what you need to create that perfect writing environment.

Practical applications

  1. Obviously you’ll want to start documenting all that appears to help you be your most productive. Include the elements of the space, the artifacts, the tools, and anything else that just seems to “work.”
  2. Pay particularly close attention not only to the “where,” but also to the “who” in your environment—does a bunch of strangers help you feel motivated to write? Or are you always with people that you know intimately? This could be a critical part of your environment!
  3. Don’t just make a list of elements—begin to categorize and price them. This is exciting because it can give you an opportunity to set goals for yourself around when you’ll purchase them, and when you’ll get to use them.
  4. Share your ideas about your ideal work environment with your blog community and ask for their feedback, as well as their thoughts on particular environments and tools within those environments. They might even show you alternatives that can save you money. That’s a win-win in my book!
  5. Allow yourself to dream a little. There’s no perfect place for you to write until you get there and so a lot of the environment creation process will take place in your head. Just don’t let your head stay too close to the ground. without imagination, you won’t be able to craft the optimal environment.

5. Work smarter, not harder?

The well-known adage we hear from many gurus is that you should seek to work smarter, not harder. And I believe that is generally true … except that it’s often not, especially in the space of the professional blogger.

I’ve learned that I must do both, at the exact same time, at about the same pace, and with extreme prejudice. There are elements of writing full-time that require you to work a lot harder than you’ve ever worked previously when you were blogging as a side project or hobby. And you need to blog at the exact same time you’re developing new processes and workflows that allow you to work smarter as well.

For example, I’m not working fewer hours than I did before. I work about the same (if not more). But I’m also working smarter during those times, churning out blog posts while developing strategy for marketing, awareness, and social engagements that’ll increase traffic. I’m also bucketing time for building a business around the blog as well as doing the administrative tasks that are required of any small business owner.

If you make the jump to being a problogger don’t expect to sip pina coladas on a beach in Tahiti working two hours a day with your remote 4G external wifi connection. No, your head is down (in your awesome work environment) making as much progress as you possibly can. After all, there’s no guarantee that your community is coming back to your blog tomorrow.

Practical applications

  1. Start documenting your workflows so you can get to a place of good writing rhythm. Catalog them and spend time refining them.
  2. Invest in your existing toolkit, and master those tools. Even if you know certain applications well, I bet you could know them better if you spent the time learning such things as shortcut keys and optimal work patterns, for example.
  3. Act like you’re a problogger today, creating the exceptional content that your community deserves, and you’ll find the change of pace less disruptive.
  4. Become better at scheduling your time and batching your efforts. This is one of the most critical skills that I’ve learned: I had to become even better at time management and waste as little of it on things that wouldn’t bring value to my work.
  5. Remember that rest is a vital part of working “smarter,” and that you’ll need this every single day. Rest well and your work will be the best that it can be! Learn to do this today so that when you get to be a problogger, you’ll find rest just as natural as, well, sleeping!

6. It’s not about me: it’s about them

As I ramped up into full-time blogging as a career, I day-dreamed about what it would look like, what it would feel like, and how I’d wake up every morning with a feeling of intense personal satisfaction knowing that I’ve “done it.” It was all about me. What I quickly realized is that professional blogging is less about myself and more about the community that helped you get to this point.

And yes, we all know that already but it becomes even more apparent when you realize that your financial stability and generation depends on those that believe in what you write and what you have to say as important (or more important) than the many other voices out there. This truth brings humility and grace at the right time and reminds you that your blog is nothing more than a collection of passionate people that are headed in the same direction.

Practical applications

  1. Learn to appreciate your community even more today than you did yesterday. What this means is going to be different for each blogger!
  2. Dedicate time to engaging with your community. Most people don’t have a schedule around their community engagement and they end up doing it throughout the entire day. That ends up wasting a lot of time when you can learn to use a workflow and batch your efforts.
  3. Look into other ways to engage with your community, such as Facebook and Twitter. Even starting an email newsletter might be one way to reach a particular part of your community that you don’t typically engage with.
  4. Be explicit and thank them continually. Do this today and they’ll be with you tomorrow.
  5. Have fun with them—life’s better that way, and your blog will be better for it as well.

What have you learned?

Whether you’re a problogger, a blogging stalwart, a hobby blogger, or a newbie, you’ve probably learned a few lessons of your own. Share them with us in the comments.

Written exclusive for ProBlogger.net by John Saddington. He is a Professional Blogger who loves sharing his blogging tips, tricks, tools, and practical teaching covering SEO, WordPress and making money through your blog! You can follow him on Twitter too: @TentBlogger.

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Comments

  1. I’m pretty big on coaches, so starting out it’s good to get a traffic coach, then a business coach and finally a sales coach. The sky is the limit with coaches, and you never know where you’ll discover them!…

    Keep your eyes open and mix things up…

    David Edwards

    • only if you can afford them, right? when you start out though I think there’s enough “free” coaching via blogs and other resources so you don’t to hire one, right?

  2. Jacob says:

    You’re definitely right about working smarter rather than harder. When there are so many things to get done in a day, the mentality might be to just slam through it all day in and day out. But, if you’re wasting an hour a day doing meaningless things such as checking e-mail seven times a day, then you’re wasting 5 hours a week. If you only check e-mail in the morning, at noon and at the end of the day, then you’re saving 5 hours that you can dedicate to resting or doing OTHER work.

    • jacob,

      i LOVE batching my processes and is one particular application of working smarter and not harder! you, sir, are on your way!

    • Yingjie says:

      You are right. But in the past I cannot help checking my email. I know there is a gap between rationality and emotion. Then I trained myself to check the email reguarly, not randomly. It works. Checking email is time wasting. Smarter rather than harder!!

  3. I’m still in the beginning stages but I’ve learned that I need a set schedule. Things tend to pop up and I go with the flow but that can be stressful. I need structure and guidelines to follow. My mind can’t take too much freedom haha.

  4. Excellent advice! At this point in my experience I don’t know if “Going Pro” is in my future, but this post certainly gives plenty of mental munchie goodness!

    • michael,

      thanks bro! i never thought i would “go pro” but it happened… and i think this is one of the better ways in which it happens… you love what you do and you end up doing what you love!

  5. Chris Moon says:

    Great article – I especially like the importance that you placed on tracking every outflow, and setting yourself up with the proper work environment.

    Well done – Chris

    • chris,

      thanks for the encouragement! it’s been a struggle, at times, to find the right environment and the right metrics to track but it’s definitely worth it long-term!

  6. Wow, John, loved this post. I especially liked your tip on preparing for the emotional roller-coaster. It was more than simply just knowing it was going to happen, it was actually preparing an infrastructure to deal with it when it did happen. I think that ties heavily into your #6 point about remembering other people as well. Remembering your true mission can help you weather the emotional storms.

    • thanks loren!

      i think you’re right – the community has always been able to spur me on to get through some of the emotional challenges (although they’ve definitely contributed to it!).

      the simpler the mission and goal the easier it is to evaluate and that’s really important.

  7. Megan says:

    I can’t really describe myself as a pro-blogger, however I am a pro-freelance writer and have made a pretty good living doing this for a few years now. I agree with almost everything you say. However the importance of having a writing space or office cannot be underestimated.

    I am sitting in my office which has bee squeezed into our loft space. it is hot outside and even hotter inside. the fan is going but I am still sweating. (even in a UK summer!) Needless to say I am feeling like I would prefer to be downstairs where the heat is less intense. I know I cannot work well in these circumstances and wish I could find the space in our house for a better office. Maybe one day.

    But the point is very clear. You need to be properly set up. The dining room table, the kitchen worktop or the local cafe just isn’t good enough. you need a place to go where you work and you need set times when you do this work.

    • megan,

      ah, i feel your pain! right now i’m NOT in the ideal environment as it’s still being setup and so I have to make do with what i can and where i can go.

      i feel your pain!

    • Almost all of my writing is either done in my reclining chair (with my laptop correctly placed in my lap) or tapping away on the iPod in the playground area at McDonalds while my kids make new friends the old fashioned way. I really want to set up an office at the house, but that will have to wait.

  8. Go Free or Go Home is a big. I always want the latest and greatest and on a shoestring budget I still over spend. I would need a blogging accountant if I ever quit the day job.

    • my wife is one of my “accountants” and it really does work!

      good to see you here matthew!

      • So many people across the wide range of blog categories I read have issues keeping the budget in check! I seriously think exercising self discipline (like a muscle it will be weak without consistent use) needs to be brought back into fashion! Best old saying I’ve come across recently: “Use it up, wear it out, make it do or do without.”

  9. Eric Dye says:

    I love how practical this is.

    It’s so refreshing compared to the hype that I usually see.

    Love it!

  10. Nice tips I think in the first six months you need to work smarter and harder as there is so much to do when starting. Do not exchange hrs for money try to build something sustainable remember subscribers are very valuable to your blogs long term success so treat them well.

    • phil,

      but what i was trying to argue was that in the beginning you will more than likely be working a lot of hours on top of working smart! it’s a startup, right?

  11. Brad says:

    My work environment (home office) doubles as my kids playroom. It’s hard to find a creative flow when Buzz Light Year is being thrown at your head. I need to figure out a better situation.

    Good post Mr. Tent guy..

  12. Anand says:

    Nice article and very informative….thanks

  13. I’m still trying to work out how to work smarter, not harder. After four and a half years.

  14. Excellent post, John. I’m glad you revealed the financial aspects of going pro upfront at number one, because it seems to be something most overlook … whether they overlook it so they can experience the idea and rush of excitement of going pro without worrying themselves about the stressful risks involved or maybe because they still think the internet is a cash machine, who knows?

    Looking forward to your next post! :)

    • sure thing chris!

      it’s one of the most important… i can’t imagine why anyone would make the jump without seriously walking through the financial impact, right?

  15. “Go Free or Go Home” – I love this line. When I first started playing with WordPress I decided that I wouldn’t buy any plugins. After the cost of the theme and the server space, I felt like it was time to draw the line. That was a great choice because I’ve been able to find everything I needed through free plugins. There’s some really great stuff available out there.

  16. Great post, I’m thinking about making the jump from part-time to full time in the next year or so, and accountability is a great thing, like you, my wife keeps me in line for spending, and I really like your “rule” of not spending on the same day, I’m going to try that.

    Also one point that you made that i’ve been using, is the open source/free versus paid applications, I don’t pay for any apps anymore, I’ve found free alternatives for everything.

  17. Some good advice, open source it a good place to start and keeps the cost down. I also like your advice about become pro for free just don’t think problogger would agree :)

    • well, i think it’s possible to do some seriously great stuff without having to pay much money for apps. it might not be very easy to do but i believe it to be possible (outside of hosting, etc).

  18. ThatGuyKC says:

    The biggest lesson I learned was also the first.

    EXECUTE.

    You can only plan so much and the perfect starting point is a myth. There will always be reasons to procrastinate and put off launching. Just do it.

    Congrats on being a guest poster on ProBlogger. I’ve been a faithful reader since you went pro.

  19. Your story is very inspiring. Thank you for your lessons!

    I don’t know when I will be able to follow your example, but I can see that the more I care about providing better content to my readers, more people subscribe to my blog’s RSS feed. I understood that I had to improve my articles and give more information to my readers after reading a few blog posts here at Problogger. Now I’m writing longer and more substantial articles.

  20. This is a great article – thank you so much for writing it – and to Darren for posting. The entire list is great, but #4 – the Environment has had me thinking in the past.

    Should I work at home in my cave in front of three monitors to get the most done, or should I take my laptop out to places with more inspirations?

    Suggestions?

  21. jim says:

    I’m just getting into the early stages of my blog and this really helps put some of what I thought I needed to do in perspective. Appreciate the breakdown you have done.

  22. drsuzyyhall says:

    Thanks for your info!
    I’m a Gynecologist planning an fun/whitty/though educational blog on topics in women’s health. ( So many of the medical/health blogs lack any personality ). I’ve started with a twitter account to get going. Any tips on increasing twitter followers?
    S. Hall, MD

    • drsuzyyhall,

      I’m not a twitter expert but what I do know is that providing relevant information beyond just your blog will gather a wider and more attractive audience in the long-run.

      provide as much value as you do through your blog as you’ll be in a good place!

  23. “The first six months have been riddled with fear, anxiety, doubt, and depression—pretty sweet, right?”

    Lol spot on man!

    I find that in the blogging world you are either on top of the world or at the very bottom. Sometimes I think I’m bipolar haha

    • it’s quite possible!

      but that’s the life that we’ve chosen, right? it’s one of excitement as well!

      and i wouldn’t trade it for anything in the world!

  24. Hi John,

    I like your tips.

    As for #3, it need not be an emotional roller coaster. Sure, you will have ups and downs, but by pulling back from your work as a blogger you become less attached to the work, making things feel more level instead of peaks and valleys.

    Make personal development your best friend. Spend at least 1 hour a day working on yourself. Step away from everything, sit in quiet or read a self help book, or listen to an inspirational CD.

    As for #5 the more intelligently I work, the less I work. The more clicks I get, the more my presence expands, and it all comes from effective acts, acts I thought through before moving into action.

    Thanks for sharing your insight John.

    Ryan

    • ryan,

      sure, that might work for you but for some people you’re just that emotionally invested in the things that you do and your community!

      you’re right though that we could all use a little more leveling out at times!

  25. James Greg says:

    Remember: your environment is everything- I personally feel this also has a lot to do with the quality of work. If there are too many distractions then the blog is really expected to waver a bit off coast and the deadline might not be met. When I want to write something I make sure there is no T.V and I also turn off the internet . I have been severely distracted by the internet as one search leads to another link and in the end I see 2 hrs passed with no creativity. So I tend to block the internet while I’m working.

  26. Hi John,
    Thank you so much for sharing these practical tips that came from your personal experience. It is good to know that you learned these things by trial and error! I am working to make my blog/business a full-time gig, the tips you have here will definitely help!
    I missed a recent meetup you were at in ATL, hopefully I will get to meet you another time!
    Bernice

  27. Yingjie says:

    Go free!!
    Thank you for helping me make final decision that I will not use not-free wordpress theme. Although I think not all the profitable blogs are using premium wordpress theme, I will be eager to buy a theme if someone says he makes six digit money per year. Now, I see this problem as a challenge.
    In addition, when I search for and use free wordpress theme, it is a good chance to learn something about wordpress and programming using HTML because I must modify the theme to meet my need.

  28. Jay says:

    Great Article John. Very reassuring and inspiring.

  29. Glynis Jolly says:

    I still need to work on your number 4 and 5. My environment is appalling. I’m be getting to work smarter but I’m still having struggles.

    This was a great practical post. Thank you.

  30. Great post John! I’m not a professional blogger, but you’ve provided a wealth of information to consider as I continue to blog for fun.

  31. “Professional blogging is less about myself and more about the community that helped you get to this point.”
    Amen to that. That’s today’s blogworld needs – less of me and more of them. Thanks for a great reminder.

  32. You need to take the right desicions at the right time if you are planning to take blogging full time ! Informative post mate.

  33. Jeff Goins says:

    But I like pina coladas…