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Define Successful Blogging for You

At the recent ProBlogger training day in Melbourne, surprise guest Tim Ferris said something that resonated with many attendees (if the number of tweets it got was anything to go by). His message was simple: define what success means to you.

Many bloggers that I meet start out with a goal of having a successful blog, but have little idea what that actually means.

Success

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They want “opportunities to open up,” they desire “influence,” they want “lots of readers,” they want to be seen as “authorities”…

None of this is bad—but it’s also quite vague and I wonder if it could be a contributing factor to wishy-washy results.

Good things do sometimes just happen to people, but more often than not, the people who achieve most with their blogs have in mind some goals that they’re looking to achieve.

My story of defining success

When I started blogging in 2002, I didn’t have any idea that blogging would last beyond a few weeks (I had a history of not sticking at things) and as a result, I had few goals. However, over the coming couple of years I began to see the potential of blogging to be more than just a hobby, and to even become a way of earning an income.

The problem was that my dreams remained very vague. While I hoped one day my income would grow, I never got specific with what I was aiming for and as a result, I never really gave it the effort that I should have.

It was only when I sat down with V (my wife) one day and we set a specific goal that things began to really take off. The goal was to be working full-time as a blogger within six months (note that I’d already been blogging for some time—the full story is here).

For the first time, I had a definition of what success was for me. I wanted to be a full-time blogger. I also had a timeframe in mind—six months to achieve my goal.

  • Suddenly I started to take my blog more seriously, treating it as a business and doing the things I always knew I needed to do (but had always put off).
  • Suddenly I had a concrete target to aim for—and motivation like I’d not had before.
  • Suddenly I had consequences to face if I didn’t meet my target (I decided I’d have to go get a “real job” if I didn’t succeed).
  • Suddenly I had something with which to filter the opportunities that came my way. when invited to do something, I was able to ask, “Will this take me closer to my goal, or is it a distraction?”

Defining what success meant for me drove me to action and sped up my blog’s growth. A few months later I needed to come up with a new definition of “success,” as I’d already achieved the full-time goal.

Define success… and then…

Recently I came across an old Moleskine notebook from the period after I’d defined success for the first time (2004). In it, I’d dedicated a number of pages to goal-setting and planning how I’d act on those goals.

  1. 5-year plan: The way I did it at the time was to set a five-year plan. I had a full page of notes of things that I had wanted to achieve by 2009.

    In it, I had some pretty lofty goals. i wanted to have written a book, I wanted to have started another photography blog, I wanted to be doing public speaking regularly, and more. Much of what I wrote back then I’ve actually achieved (some of it was way off track), but at the time I couldn’t have been further away from much of what I was dreaming of.

  2. 1-year plan: With that five-year plan or dream in place, I then created a 1-year plan. At the top of that page I’d written “what do I need to do this year to take me closer to my goals for 2009?”

    That page then contained my goals for 2005. They were smaller goals, and each of them was a stepping stone to the big dream.

  3. 1-month plan: The next pages broke down my 2005 plan into monthly action items—things I’d need to do to achieve my one-year plan.

    The key was to start with the goal (a definition of success) and then break it down into achievable steps.

This may all sound highly organized, but these plans were all hand-written and took up a total of five pages in a small notebook. I’d probably put it together in a few hours, yet these decisions gave me a powerful plan to move towards my definition of success.

What is your definition of success?

Your definition of success is likely to be a little different from mine. We all blog with different motivations and goals, and that’s totally fine. The key is to have something to aim for.

So what does success look like for you?

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. ashok says:

    Totally agreeing about getting solid goals early. I should say that one needs an openness to change the plan as one goes along.

    I never thought, for example, that I’d be eager to give interviews. Now getting interviewed by other blogs is a priority. After it happened once, I realized that it was an accessible, engaging way to bring people to content. I do wonder about projects like public speaking and a book.

    Also: if you’re aiming to be the authority in a niche, that might be something to completely scrap. That happened to me. Philosophical and academic blogs should be the “niche” I work with, but their refusal to write for more general audiences has me sticking even closer to the original goal of bringing more thoughtful posts to a busy, working audience.

    I don’t measure success by the numbers strictly. I measure it by audience response and engagement. Facebook likes, RT’s, stumbles are important because they tell me people care to share my work. Comments and posts in response are critical. The more of them I get – the more serious responses, that is – the more I know the project is going somewhere. Ultimately, I do want more concrete goals, but I also want to see what opportunities open themselves up. The fun is in seeing what other people do with my scribblings.

    • Ardorm says:

      Ashok, this was an interesting answer to read. :)

      I agree with you the most on the need in “…an openness to change the plan as one goes along”. I have had problems with that in the past, and the results were painful. The readiness to change is essential for every person who dreams about becoming successful one day.

      The most annoying thing is the fear to change the initial course. :(

  2. Andy says:

    Blogging is dead. Might as well hang crayon drawings on your refrigerator since the only ones who will read your blog(s), and give “good” feedback, are friends and family. Write publishable stories, poems, and non-fiction. Or serve me French fries. If you think blogging is relevant, you’re living in 1998. If you attend seminars where people tell you blogging is relevant, you need new people to make rich.

    • Thanks for the laugh.

    • Yes, I’m sure the internet is dead as well. Personally, I wish those monks would start producing hand-wriiten books again.

    • Jupiter Jim says:

      Andy,

      You are 100% correct! You are sharing the excruciating details of the experiences of one who knows nothing about blogging! What you describe is exactly what will happen to the novice who refuses to learn and improve their knowledge of blogging every single time!

      p.s. just out of curiosity. if blogs are dead, why are you reading and commenting on this one? :-)

      p.p.s. Have an absolutely wonderful day! Oh and by the way, make that a medium fries. LOL

  3. Tim Huntley says:

    Hi Darren,

    First, thanks for you site and for your 31 Days book (just purchased and will start the process post-Thanksgiving holiday).

    I do have concrete goals for measuring my “success,” including generating income. However my real motivation for having my site is to use it as a vehicle to connect with interesting people who have goals of elite athletic achievement. I am sharing their stories with joe-average athletes like myself who find their dedication inspiring.

    All the best,

    …Tim

  4. Haley says:

    I love this post. I’ve read the “4-Hour Workweek”, and have started really trying to define my goals for my blog, in increments like you mentioned. I didn’t realize how vague I was being with my goals. Now I have specific goals in mind, and I’m more motivated to work towards them. Before, I just blogged for fun, or to SEE if I could made any income with it. Now I know I CAN, it just takes work. Great post! Thanks for sharing!

    • Drewry says:

      the four hour workweek is the part of the beauty of working online. Yes, blogging is work, but is also a beautiful labor of love, while earning and continually building passive income online :-)

  5. Nick Thacker says:

    Darren, this post is perfect–our definitions of success need to be very evident, focused, and specific when we start an endeavor.

    I’ve always had a struggle with this concept, as it’s easy to watch others (like you!) and their success (like yours!) and use that as the “benchmark” for what’s successful in our own work.

    But as I’ve grown and figured out which streams of income are the easiest to build, develop, and provide the most benefit, it’s been much easier to define what’s “successful” for each of them.

    Thanks for the post, and for the hard work!
    Nick

  6. Barbara says:

    I guess my goals aren’t that lofty at present. I’d like 100+ subscribers in 6 months, sure. I’d like to make money with advertising some day, in the future, when I have more time to blog. For now, as a SAHM, I simply wanted to get it started so I can find my voice and build a foundation in my spare time.

  7. Torkona says:

    I’d define success as receiving a monthly pay cheque, but success is different for all.

    Defining a goal prior to starting blogging, then succedding upon that goal would be success. My goal is to get monthly cheques, but im no where near that happening, even with following all guidelines from pro bloggers liek yourself unfortunately.

    Glogging is a tough unfortunately, but one I am not giving into!

    - tork

  8. When I started Anglotopia almost 5 years ago now, the goal for the website was for it to get us back to Britain somehow on vacation (we’d not been able to go for several years). It did that within 2 years, once that happened, we started with loftier goals – creating more income, getting another free trip etc.

    About a year ago I set the goal to finally take the website full time – it was earning more and more and I estimated within a year – it would replace my salary plus the extra income I was bringing in.

    About halfway through that year plan I was laid-off (made redundant for Aussies and Brits) and was faced with a choice, find another job or take Anglotopia full time now – with the wife’s blessing I did the latter and have been working on my website(s) full time since.

    9 Months on I can’t imagine doing anything else – long term plans are now to keep income where it is and grow it so we can live a nice life while also continuing to travel to Britain whenever we want.

  9. Drewry says:

    successful blogging also comes from learning from others, as well as sitting back and looking at your own writings as time goes by. When you sit back and compare your writing style from the past compared to today, that adds to anyone’s “blogging success” :-)

  10. Cyberquill says:

    My goal is to receive at least one comment per post. So far, I’ve always met my goal (except once).

  11. James says:

    I have been saying that same thing for over 3 years. Some people get it and some people don’t. Great job on setting your own goals and seeing them through Darren. One thing I would say is to make them even more well defined. For some people, being self employeed is different than others. I would set a specific dollar ammount that you need to make to achieve that goal. Make sure you leave room for taxes, investing in your business, etc…., gross revenue and net profit are not usually the same thing.

  12. Burl says:

    Enjoyed your post. I blog simply to make myself write every day. I have two, and honestly don’t care if people read them or not. The only advertising on them doesn’t pay me anything. (It is the ads for the e-mail subscribers.) Surprisingly the other day I was in a city not far from where I live and ran into a guy who said, “Oh, I really like your startstuff blog.” It kind of surprised me because I didn’t really think anyone read it. I may be wrong, but I think there are many bloggers in my category. We write because we like to, not to make money or have influence or change the world, but just to have an excuse to write…and just maybe someone will read it.

    • Ben says:

      Same here. I love music and that what got me in learning guitar but then I reached that certain peak where you realize, I won’t be a professional at this. That didn’t kill my love of music but with writing, it’s a growing creative endeavor I’ll share. The stage doesn’t make me nervous even if I am writing to an audience of no one. It’s a personal leap.

  13. Rosli says:

    Agreed with you and as for me I am into blogging part-time only and not full-time. I have my own conventional business to run. But blogging do help me in knowing more people, sharing ideas, etc. Also a best method to express your feelings or thoughts via a blog. But for me it will surely take my time to blog. Anyway as you said in whatever we are doing we need to have GOAL or AIM or TARGET. Certainly this will motivates your further. Success could be in many forms, may it be in monetary form, self-satisfaction or in any things that we could define as “success”.

  14. Faizan Elahi says:

    I have two long-term goals. The first is to cover nearly all great wordpress themes and plugins on my blog making my blog a must-visit for every WordPress user. The second goal is to make a decent income off the blog, so that I don’t have to work a day job.

  15. naijadotcom says:

    A successful blog to me will not just be attracting traffic to my site but also being able to meet the needs of my guest and keep them visiting,most importantly to have positive impact on their lives via my site.

  16. I agree. Concrete, specific goals with a realistic time frame is the key. One month – build recognition, build subscriber base, push the platform for promoting what I’m doing off line. One year – make it so you can’t tell the difference between on and off line. 5 year – be doing the new gig full time.

  17. zeus says:

    I use to have a problem sticking to stuff also but these tips about treating your blog as a business and doing the stuff necesary to make it successful are very true.

  18. AstroGremlin says:

    My definition of success is having enough readers to make writing meaningful. It’s starting to happen. When I see somebody spent 8 minutes reading a post or a comment from a reader who says what I wrote is actually funny, or hear that I really helped somebody with a WP problem . . . that’s success. Becoming a guru, building a list of thousands, selling tons of product, making wads of cash from ads? Well, I can dream can’t I? I’ve been told that you have to pay your dues. Just getting my stuff read and having fun experimenting are enough for now.

  19. Daniel says:

    Very nice post, Darren.

    Setting goals and making the required changes along the way, are of the utmost importance.

    I do not consider my own blog anywhere near a success, and that is what drives me onwards.

    What has been quite distracting of late, is when I visited certain sites that boasted massive traffic stats, that did not match the site in any possible way.
    The sites were average at best, so like many sites they draw in visitors with bogus stats(And people keep falling for it……….this seems to be a common practice.

    I also visited a few sites known to be regarded as somewhat Authority sites(Big name bloggers were guest posters) and again I was struck with a lot of contradictory information).

    These sites have the stats, though the quality is missing.

    On one particular so called Authority site(Which has a high PR very low Alexa and everything else good, the quality of some of the posts(Including guest posts, was very bad….I thought the articles would improve as I moved through(Kept reading. ) yet, from start to finish, some of the posts were a disgrace…….

    If that is how people are getting their Blogs and websites to the top(And that second site in my examples was near the top) then I may need to throw out all the usual Blogging must do Mantras.

  20. Ardorm says:

    This is a good question, Darren!

    My goal is simple – improve my writing technique. I am passionate about writing my own book, scripts for films and the “Ability to transform actions&ideas into words” is essential. Which is why I have a blog where I can practice.

    Of course, I also would like to have comments on my posts and I use Social Marketing&SEO to promote my work. But I don’t really care about becoming a “Full time Blogger”…

    • Drewry says:

      looking for to hearing about your book someday. I’ll tell you from firsthand experience that becoming a full-time blogger is definitely a beautiful thing. Full-time blogging frees up your time so that not only do you earn a solid passive income, but you also earn enough $ gUaP $ to invest in your own book writing venture, so that not only are you able to use your blogging $ gUaP $ as a full-time blogger to pay your rent or mortgage, plus utility bills, and more, including putting gas in your car and still having money left in your pocket from the blogging “$ gUaP $” you’ve made, but making money in a full-time living as a online dedicated blogger will also help you to him through your writing technique “as you mentioned” in overall as a blogger and a book writer. To transform actions and ideas into words is definitely a beautiful thing as you mentioned. Keep in touch and let me know how things go with your book :-)

  21. Jo Castro says:

    Thank you Darren for a post that jogs. Hands up how many bloggers are sitting surrounded by notes, bits of paper, books of interest, pens (you can never find), a camera and probably three different web sites on their browser (for research only you understand) cranking out various blog posts as well as filing away ‘new possible ideas’. Great from a creativity point of view. But with absolutely no strategy. Firing blanks really. I agree, the year I wrote down my goals as a freelance writer I achieved and exceeded them – without consciously trying. It wasn’t luck, I was positioned like a guided missile to achieve what I set out to do. It’s time to re-think goals from a blogging point of view, both short and long term. How about compiling a helpful ‘list’ post or guide for this Darren?

  22. Trung Nguyen says:

    Well, I think that (define successful blogging for ourselves) is the first tip for every blogger when start the blog if we want to succeed. Just thinking, If you dont know how is success to you, so how can you get the success?

  23. James Greg says:

    I like the question “what success means to you” I’ve really met many people who wish to be successful in their relevant fields but infact were not sure what would they consider as being successful. Most of the people just wanted to be everyone’s boss and would term it as successful, commanding all those employees who give them a hard time was what I gathered from their talk.

    I think people can never be satisfied, we have many goals and aims in life some of are achieved and some remains desires. Success on the whole can never be achieved because man never stops dreaming.

  24. Sandra Jones says:

    Successful blogging is when you post a paragraph and 500+ people do the publicity on your behalf. :)

    Well, when interaction becomes continues and rises, we can safely presume, the blog is tasting its moment of glory.

  25. Josh Sarz says:

    You must have experienced a lot Darren.

  26. Amanda says:

    This post ties in very nicely with what has been on my mind of late. So many people seem to measure their success by the numbers of follows/subscribers/comments/RT’s/Likes etc they get and can get really caught up in the whole numbers game without any clear vision of what it really is that they are trying to achieve. It is in human nature to check out the competition, but in the end we each have our own definition of success and I guess that is what we should be aiming for. Personally, I’m pleased when I post a piece of writing that I’m particularly proud of and extra pleased when others like it too.

  27. DChetty says:

    Thoughtful post.

    I blog to learn about how the web works. When I started, I knew nothing about SEO, conversions, SEM, good publishing habits, etc. I’ve spent my time reading blogs like this & others and taught myself most of what I know about the web and its workings. Today, I’ve been nominated as one of the Top 3 bloggers for Science & Technology in South Africa. That to me, is success.

  28. Mark says:

    Darren thanks so much (and thank you for 31 Days which I’m following religiously).

    As a new blogger, this message is very inspirational. I compare this to a long car trip, say, from my New Jersey home to Los Angeles. Two principles:

    1. The shortest route is not necessarily a straight line. Highways twist and turn, and I will probably need to take some detours along the way. Sometimes I will need to stop and rest. As long as I keep driving, I will eventually reach my destination.

    2. If I want, I can change my destination. If, along they way, I decide that Seattle would be a better place to go, I can always drive there instead.

    Without setting a destination, however, it would be very difficult to get anywhere.

  29. Thanks, Newton Law 3rd law – Every action has equal and opp reaction, you give your best shot for success and in return get best shot from success

  30. swen says:

    Hello Darren,

    I am really glad to see this post since you have done a lot of things to blogging world, i am also a blogger who is trying to adopt your strategy towards blogging in a planned way i don’t get enough time for posting on to my blog,but after reading this post i am confident that i can improve much better and can find a lot of time for blogging thanks for the post

  31. joel says:

    sad but true most people do it for the money,which isnt such a bad thing,but most bloggers would gauge thier success by the number of zeroes on thier adsense checks!

  32. Jupiter Jim says:

    Darren,

    This post is absolutely right on. Too many people set vague goals like “I want to lose weight” (ok, how much and by when?), or I want to get physically fit (ok, what exercises will you do and how often?).

    I have some very specific goals that I want to achieve in 2012 about how many visitors I want to my blog every month, How many subscribers I want to have, and how much of a monthly income I expect to generate from selling my products and affilaite products (only the high quality stuff that I use myself).

    Right now I am supporting my dream by building WordPress blogs for people using the Thesis Theme. I do enjoy many aspects of that business. However, when I don’t NEED to build blogs but am doing it strictly because I want to help people, that’s when I know my blog is truly a success.

    I plan on writing you next year and letting you know how the plan succeeded!

    Thanks again!

    Jupiter Jim

    p.s. BTW you are on a short list of blogs I promote on my site: http://jupiterjimsmarketingteam.com/list-of-blogs-check-daily/

  33. Tom Parker says:

    When I first started my blog I was the same as Darren. I didn’t really have any clear goals or plans and it took me quite a few years before I did. I’ve yet to do a 5 year plan but have done a 1 year plan which breaks down into a 1 month plan and then for each month I do a daily plan which details exactly what I need to do each day of that month to hit my target.

  34. Zia says:

    Hi Darren
    To me success is a stairway. When a person achieves his first goal (no matter how small it is). the feeling of success encourages him to set another goal. This time a little more tough. If he achieves it he is on for another one. That is success. The more goals you achieve the more successful you are.
    The key is to set your goals. No goals….no success..
    Oh….I think that’s what you said

  35. Really motivating article.You have shown smooth path to define goal for successful blogging.I will make my goal for 2012.