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My “Methods” for Building a Successful Online Business

Today I received an email from someone asking what my “methods” are for building an online business. That’s always a tough question—particularly because I got the sense that it was asked by someone looking for an easy and quick answer.

Here’s my response. I’d love to hear what you’d have added or said.

Thanks for the email.

It’s difficult to sum it all up in an email (I’ve published over 6,000 posts on ProBlogger on the topic as well as written a book), but really, if I had to summarize what I do, it’d be:

  1. Blog on topics you know about and enjoy (I’d blog about the topics I blog about for free).
  2. Try to blog something interesting and useful to others every day, for a very long time (I’ve been doing it for nine years).
  3. Engage with other bloggers and on other sites where people engage around the topics you write on (like social media, forums, etc.). Put yourself “out there” on a daily basis to find new readers for your blog.
  4. Build community around your blogs. Answer reader questions, stimulate discussions, make your readers feel engaged and involved. Love them to death!
  5. Experiment with different ways to make money from (and because of) your blog. There’s no single way to do this—it could be by a combination of methods including selling advertising, doing affiliate promotions, writing sponsored posts, creating and selling your own products, etc.

A few last thoughts

  • None of this is easy or quick. It takes time and daily work over the long term.
  • There is no blueprint for guaranteed success in this space.
  • Ultimately it’s about being persistently useful to people and building a relationship with them. A by-product of that is that they will keep coming back, bring their friends, and respond to your calls to action.

Thanks for your email—I hope something in this helps.

Darren Rowse

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. Brad says:

    Good article, Darren. Community is key, and that includes treating your readers with the uttmost respect and care. Honesty is absolutely crucial in all apsects of blogging too. If you come off as phony and/or a jerk, your blog isn’t going anywhere because your readers will never be engaged and you’ll never build that essential trust that organically grows a site when author and reader connect.

  2. Great response and as a new blogger, this summary is quite useful. Thanks!

  3. Mike Avon says:

    It’s sound simple but very hard to do. I am struggling myself to build interactive relationship with my readers and your posts in this blog are very helpful, thanks.

  4. Dang, Darren, 6k posts and a book … to this? That has to be the ultimate Strunk and White’s “Omit Needless Words!” Oh, wait. I’m not saying that your other words are needless now!! (remove foot.)

    But really, your summary is appreciated. And I think that it’s freeing to have you say, “There is no blueprint for guaranteed success in this space.”

    We’re still exploring a constantly changing model, although we’re so frequently inundated with info by those who say they’ve found the formula. I believe that here’ll be other options for “success” of which we’re not even yet aware.

    • Darren Rowse says:

      thanks Garry. There will be plenty of people telling you that they have a guaranteed method… and there will even be value in those (I love learning from people when they present their systems) – but I guess the key is to take what you can from them and then ‘You-ify’ them.

      appreciate the comment.

  5. Christin says:

    I’d say that very last point, under “A few last thoughts” is so vital. Being useful, active, and relational. People sometimes have a hard time shifting the angle of their content to be more useful and less about them. Don’t get me wrong, we certainly need to hear their experiences…but not JUST their experiences. How can you help someone apply what you’ve learned to their life? How can it help them?

    I also thing the time factor needs to be emphasized. It takes time. If it’s been a long time, then something needs to change. Maybe one needs to quit and start over like Jeff Goins did?

    Good stuff, Darren. Thanks!

    • Darren Rowse says:

      It can be hard Christin – blogging can be so personal (one of its strengths) that it can become a little too much about one-self and less about the reader and their needs. I guess it comes down a bit to goals and personal style.

      • Christin says:

        Yes, I think finding that balance can be a bit tricky and having goals and personal style help a great deal.

        Something I learned from Michael Hyatt was the anatomy of a blog post. This helps me keep everything into perspective when I write. I share a bit of a personal story than go on to talk about what I learned from it in a way that can help the reader.
        Having the “how to’s” without sharing failures, experiences, successes, etc. is very impersonal and makes it hard for the reader to relate in anyway–zapping any chance of making a connection.

        Thanks so much for your reply, Darren!

  6. James says:

    awesome reply Daren. I get emails like that all the time. I think you are right, so many people are out for a quick solution toall of their problems. it took over 2 years to really see a decent income from my blog consistently, although I had a few really good months before that.

    I always tell people something similar to what you said in the reply. If you wouldn’t be working in that niche for free, because you enjoy doing it, you are in the wrong niche!

  7. #6. Constantly keep up with the blogging/Internet trends.
    I notice that you and all the other superstar bloggers are all over every huge new wave of Internet/blogging trends.

    *I have implemented only some of what you’ve suggested over the years (since 2006) and have made money ever since. Only part time but can definitely see potential of full time if I put in more work.

  8. Tom Durkin says:

    Amazing that you can sum this up so quickly. I enjoy the quick tips the best! thanks for sharing Darren.

  9. Roger says:

    Fame is elusive and success is when preparation meets opportunity.

    • Roger says:

      Awesome post Darren. Great advice for us struggling bloggers. Hey, really enjoyed your book also. Inspiring!

  10. Yes to all of these pointers. Committing yourself for the long haul is important, and not always easy to envisage when you’re starting out.

    Blogging about what you truly enjoy makes it all worthwhile.

  11. Ron Pereira says:

    The secret, to me, can be summed up in one word – hustle.

    Without it you cannot succeed long term.

    • Darren Rowse says:

      good word…. although here in Aus at least it sometimes has connotations of hustling other people…. scamming them… so its one I don’t use a lot. I know what you mean though.

      • Darren,
        Hustling has had a negative connotation in the past in the US as well, but many are beginning to use the term as so many are unemployed. Those who can hustle will make it through!
        Bernice

  12. Andrew says:

    Darren,
    Your post is certainly self explanatory that there really is no one single method that will work for everyone. Everyone blogs in a slightly varying niche from everyone else, and that makes it difficult to determine the one true success that will work for everyone.

    I did like the point about blogging on a topic that you would be willing to share for free is a big thing, however how did you know what that topic was for you? I’ve had various blogs over the past 5 years, and nothing has really come through for me on a topic that I am passionate about to write about for anything longer than about 6 months.

    • Darren Rowse says:

      Good question Andrew. I think for me looking back the key was that I started on a personal multi-topic blog. On that blog I talked about everything from my photography, my church, the movies I was seeing, to blogging (and more) – many of the topics became categories..

      In time some of the categories grew and developed something of a life of their own so I split them off onto blogs. I guess the reality was that I was writing about them for free before I started blogging about them on any kind of commercial level.

      • Andrew says:

        Just so I am clear what you are saying.

        Is your story to becoming a Problogger, that you started writing about everything on a single blog, and once you had sufficient posts, you broke off the categories with the most blog posts into their own blogs?

        Now that I think about it, it makes sense trying to work out what you write about easily.

        • Andrew, its a good question. Sometimes it may happen that your interests evolve, and what you want to blog about will evolve, too. It sounds like that’s been your experience.

          Whether you create a new blog to cater for your change in direction, or shift gears in your existing blog(s), depends on you, the nature of the blog and your readers.

          And maybe in time you’ll get a renewed passion for something you started blogging about a while back. Who knows?

  13. Grace Miles says:

    I agree that none of this is quick– it’s a hard road, but it’s definitely rewarding for those who endure!

  14. Great article Darren! Thanks for the tips, I’m putting them to god use on my next blog! God bless ya!

    • Kate says:

      Good post. Thanks. All my articles are conversational and to the point. They mostly have a call to action too which drives sales to my ecommerce site but I’m only just starting on a new blog that’s hosted by me. This will take longer so my extra points would be:

      Keep the language simple and conversational
      Host your own blog so you own it and can’t get shut down
      Love your readers, keep on loving them and they will love you back.

  15. I agree with you Darren. It takes to have the interest on ones topic and to be willing to keep blogging, without getting paid. I had to blog ‘consistently’ for one long year b4 I received my 1st earning.
    Just like the last post I shared on my personal blog, it takes the ‘passion’ to blog and the ‘desire’ to succeed.

  16. that is true, and there is no quick and easy method to get the online business well. Must do it daily.

  17. Tom O'Leary says:

    Great stuff Darren. The only thing I would add to your valuable list is to “be as narrow minded as possible.”

    Find something specific and unique that you can present and, over time, become an ultimate authority on — perhaps even THE ultimate authority on. This will separate you from the crowd and give you a better chance to drive targeted organic traffic with highly focused content and related keywords.

    This is especially important for those of us who simply aren’t ever going to be known as an authority on “computers” or “software” or “websites” because we don’t have either the fortune required or the name that is worth a fortune. But I (or anyone else) could very well become an authority on something like “software or website button design theory”

    Here’s a giveaway blog business for someone. Free to anyone in Darren Rowse G+ Circles and here on http://www.problogger.net/archives/2011/09/01/my-methods-for-building-a-successful-online-business/

    Create an authority blog about software or website button designs — write about topics comparing the effectiveness of different button designs, the role that psychology plays in selecting the best color for different buttons; why button size matters, etc.

    Each day, and I’m brainstorming here, so forgive me if I miss a button, present the “button of the day” that visitors have to click (of course, that button would be sponsored by whoever wants their brand on the other side of that button!) to get to that day’s post…. blah, blah, blah

    Thanks Darren!

  18. Cesar says:

    Hi Darren,

    I completely agree with you, but some times it’s really hard to engage people and make them to participate in every single post. I have hundreds of readers but it seems that they are ashamed to ask.

    Thanks to integrate facebook comments I got more comments and questions, but not as much as I would like to.

    Awasome posts Darren. You cannot imagine how much you help me.

    Thanks -;)

    César

  19. Hi Darren,

    Simple AND powerful tips!

    Persistence is a biggie. Follow these steps day in and day out. Eventually, people see you as being “all over the place.” This type of visibility plays a key part in the trust building process.

    People might see my comment on your blog and say to themselves, “that RB guy ALWAYS seems to leave an insightful comment on Darren’s blog, as well as a ton of other online business/blogging sites…let’s see what he’s up to”….then a click, then the person becomes formally introduced to me through one of my blogs.

    The beauty of it all is that as you give of yourself and help others, people come to you for help in increasing numbers. As the numbers increase, some of these folks will buy what you’re selling or join your online team, be it gifting, MLM, whatever. It all came from trusting you, from seeing you on high profile sites adding value, connecting with other leaders, and seeing you on a consistent basis.

    Thanks for sharing your keen insight Darren!

    RB

  20. Lately I microblog more than blog but am on a ‘different’ path. I believe passion for what you do is paramount.

  21. I’ve only been blogging for about 5 months, so there is still so much that I don’t know. But what has surprised me—and given me the most reward—has been the relationships I have developed. A few months ago, your list would have sounded completely foreign to me, but now it reads like the absolute truth.

  22. MsKatrina says:

    To paraphrase a quote that I once read…To educate, tell me of your success. To inspire, tell me of your failures. Opening up oneself to public scrutiny is one of my biggest struggles as a blogger.

  23. Jean Gogolin says:

    Interesting discussion and responses.

    Darren, you didn’t mention guest posting as a technique, although it was implicit. What do you think of guest posting?

  24. Jeanne Marie says:

    I’m going to keep this list on my desktop. I love how straightforward it is. I recently started blogging for myself and was surprised when others found my blog and appreciated what I had to share. I am blogging for free on a topic I love. My plan is to follow your advice to become a part of the online community and conversation that surrounds my topic. If money comes — bonus!

  25. Another way I look at trying to determine what topic one would be interested in and have enough passion about is this: what magazines do you pick up to read? what articles do you turn to? what are your favorite sites to visit, just for fun? what topic could you talk about for hours with others who were interested? These are the topics one should start a blog with!
    Great succinct post Darren!
    Bernice
    Is your life a roller coaster ride?

  26. Phil Taylor says:

    Thanks Darren for this succinct post. I think the best point you make is when you write “There is no blueprint for guaranteed success in this space.” Blogging has to be done first for the love of communication and expression, and only then for money. Too many people reverse these goals. Content and traffic is king.

  27. Atish says:

    I am also getting benefit by making community around my blog and keep engaging with other bloggers. I got business offers on my blog just because of good visits and keep on enagage with other bloggers. Consistency is needed everywhere, specially in online business its a key to success.
    Thanks Darren sir,
    For writing such a short but wonderful answer.

  28. Cindee says:

    Oh my I just started blogging not so long ago. Took months before any thought made it to computer.I have your book and will get into it this fall. I agree with Erin relationships and help from everyone is fantastic. So excited to see you were a part of our group last night. I enjoy them so. Money would be lovely but the confidence I am gaining I’d gold.

  29. Hi Darren,

    Could you or somebody of your writers post information how to fight with spammers who steal content of your blog? Problogger.net may be it is not a problem, as it it has big authority, but for smaller blogs it can be big issues as spammers sites get higher positions in search results on google or etc.

  30. Oh what, you mean it takes work… Better get to it then ;-)

    Cathy

  31. Andrew Owens says:

    I have come to realize that networking, just like in real life, is key to get attention for a business or a blog. When you connect with people you generate buzz for them and they in turn will generally create buzz for you. I am just starting my online business and hope to have it officially launched by the beginning of December. I had decided that I would start a blog for my website to talk about my business and give updates as well as talk through the journey of starting an online business and include tips and advice in hopes to create a buzz about my business before it launched.