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Beyond Blogging: Facing Up to Your Long-term Future

This is a guest post by Tyler Tervooren of Advanced Riskology.

What happened to all the railroads? Have you ever pondered that question?

In the 1800s, the railroad industry in the U.S. was booming. New businesses were sprouting up every year, and inventors were creating newer and more efficient locomotives. First it was steam, then it was petrol, then it was diesel. Times were good, and America had a bright, rail-based future.

So what happened? Why isn’t the country blanketed in rail routes and why doesn’t everyone hop on the metro-line in front of their house each day to go to work? Today, the railroad companies are a shell of what they once were. Why? Because the automobile came along and ran them into the ground.

But did this have to happen?

No. There were things railroad companies could have done to cater to the people who made their businesses possible, but instead they dug in their heels and said, “We’re in the railroad business,” and they stayed the course.

You’re not in the blogging business

Compare this story to Apple, today’s holy grail of technology companies. They started 30 years ago as a personal computer company, but today you could hardly pigeonhole them with a title like that.

Truth is, Apple’s computer line never gained traction like the PC did, but what they’ve done better than any other tech company is pay attention to the trends of what consumers want, and they’ve never been afraid to experiment with other products.

Thanks to that, Apple is responsible for the world’s most popular personal music device, smart phone, and tablet computer.

The rail empires of days past said, “We’re in the railroad business!” when they should have been saying, “We’re in the transportation business.”

Apple got this right by saying, “We’re not a personal computer company, we’re a technology company.”

When it comes to blogging and setting yourself up for long-term success, it’s probably a good idea to heed these stories and ask yourself what the real purpose of your work is.

Are you in the blogging business, or are you in the information business? Are you a writer, or are you an idea spreader that just happens to be writing right now?

The way you answer these questions can have a profound effect on your future, so they’re worth thinking about.

This is especially important if you make a living from your blog. If you’ve ever tried to earn money blogging, you know very well that—despite what anyone tells you—there is no blogging business model that “just works.”

You have to put in a lot of effort to find a model that works for you, and every so often, you have to change it to make sure it keeps working. No business in any industry sets up shop one day and says, “Okay, we’ve figured it all out. We’re done now.” And any blogger who thinks so usually enjoys a short burst of tremendous success and then disappears.

Be your own research and development team

If you’re the type of blogger who likes the idea of having a long-term impact, then you also have to play a long-term game. You have to constantly look for ways to stay relevant and find new ways to evolve the work you’re doing because what works today is in no way guaranteed to work tomorrow.

Essentially, you need to invest in your own research and development.

As a full-time writer myself, here are four ways I try to stay a step ahead of the pack and improve my own game on a regular basis:

1. Pay attention and listen to reader preference

The reason someone decides to read your blog is because they think what you have to say is interesting or useful. After that, the only reason is because that’s the only way you present information. Just because you choose to write doesn’t mean that your readers prefer to read—they may prefer audio, video, or something else entirely, like small group lectures.

The way people consume information is constantly changing. To make it in the long haul, your job is to regularly ask yourself if the way you’re presenting it is the best solution.

  • Read between the lines when people leave comments.
  • Look at the way they interact with different kinds of posts.
  • Pay attention to how other people in completely different industries deliver information.

How can you update or change the way you operate to better cater to the people who are giving you their attention?

2. Devote a portion of your time each day to new outlets

When you’re just starting out in the blogosphere, you want nothing more than to build your audience, find a formula that works, and get to a comfortable place. This is a nice place to get to, but once you’re there, realize that it’s a very dangerous place to stay.

As soon as you find a formula that works for you, be sure to devote some time every single day to exploring and testing out new ones.

When Google Plus launched in 2011, the first thing I thought to myself was, “Great, another social network that’s going to fail. Why waste my time on this?”

But since I’d promised myself to spend time every day testing new platforms and ways of working, I signed up anyway. And I’m glad I did! Google Plus isn’t going away any time soon, and by being one of the early adopters, I was able to establish myself there relatively easily.

Don’t be afraid of a new technology that looks like a time suck. Instead, devote an hour every day to playing with something that may never work out, and don’t feel bad if it never does.

3.  Always think bigger than blogging

The success of your work over the long-term, I believe, depends much more on how you see yourself and the work that you produce than the format you put it in.

The cold hard truth that we’ve learned over centuries but conveniently ignore in our own lives is that entire industries can disappear quickly and violently. What never goes away, though, is the idea and intention behind the industry. Look no further than the recording industry and the movie business to see this happening right in front of our faces.

Someday, the “blog” will cease to have any importance in the daily lives of people, but the good ideas that they used to spread will never die.

If you see yourself only as a writer or a blogger, your work will eventually die and become irrelevant. But if you see yourself as something more, as a creator and distributor of ideas and information, then you’ll be naturally inclined to evolve as necessary to keep creating and distributing those ideas.

4. Build relationships outside your niche

Have you ever noticed how you have the simple answers to all your friends’ problems, but you have a hard time finding solutions to your own? It’s because you can see other people’s problems from an outside perspective, but not your own.

The same is true in blogging. It’s important to build relationships within your niche—that’s a great way to build an audience—but it’s just as important to build relationships outside of your niche.

If all of your friends are in the same position as you, you’ll have a hard time finding creative solutions to any of the problems you face.

But when you surround yourself with people who are doing things much differently, you begin to see new and interesting ways to apply the lessons they’ve learned to your own blog.

This is not the end of the world…

My point here is not to scare you into believing the entire blogosphere is about to crash and burn, and everything you ever worked for is about to be flushed down the toilet.

What I really want is to encourage you to think about your blog, the reason it exists, and the long-term game you’re going to play to make sure the important work you’re doing is still relevant a year from now, a decade from now, a century from now.

I want you to ask yourself:

  • What am I building?
  • Why am I building it?
  • Am I only a blogger, or is blogging just the outlet I’m working on right now?
  • How will my message survive if blogging becomes irrelevant?

Get out a piece of paper (another industry slowly on its way out…) and write this down, it’ll help a lot!

The sky isn’t falling, your blog isn’t in danger, and there’s nothing threatening your existence at the moment. And that’s what makes right now the best time to think about these questions.

Tyler Tervooren spreads scary and unpopular ideas about life, business, and adventure at his blog, Advanced Riskology. Follow his updates from around the world on Google+.

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Comments

  1. Ben Norman says:

    The rail road example is a great analogy, well done.

    It’s incredibly easy to get comfortable and stop experimenting, but for those that do keep it up tend to reap the rewards.

  2. Good stuff! These are the types of questions if you take blogging seriously you need to be asking. I am glad this was posted because its not something I had even thought about. Thanks again for the great read, got some homework to do now!

    Chris

  3. “If you see yourself only as a writer or a blogger, your work will eventually die and become irrelevant.”

    Well, the novel form will die when the printing press dies (and it is dying). But blogs will only die when the internet does, so I reckon we’re good for 500 years or so.

  4. Linda says:

    The part about not pigeon-holing yourself is so crucial. (ie transportation business vs railroad business).

    I’ve worked with small business owners for 20+ years and that’s the biggest mistake they make. Which also leads to incorrect profiling of their customer base, which leads to weak copy, which leads to lower sales, and the slide continues until they make themselves obsolete.

    I totally agree with your questions…. “what do I *really* sell?” is the biggest take home question of this article, IMHO. Hope everyone that read this asks themselves that question.

  5. Well you just keep popping up everywhere Tyler! And from my perspective that’s a good thing.

    I just asked myself two of your questions and here are the answers.

    Q: Are you in the blogging business, or are you in the information business?
    A: I’m in the information business but more specifically, I’m in the resource providing and management business. In the process of informing and creating awareness I’m trying to generate action for a number of communities.

    Q: Are you a writer, or are you an idea spreader that just happens to be writing right now?
    A: Definitely an idea spreader although this was a loaded question. :) I’m only writing at the moment because I haven’t started the audio and video outreach coming up soon. I think I communicate better and people get more usefulness from me when they hear and see me talk. I guess I’ll find out if that’s true soon.

    Thanks for another brilliant piece.

  6. Julie says:

    I think the information age is changing into the creativity age. Technology is enabling people to get paid for creatively expressing themselves. In the past we’ve had to ‘fit into the box’ of whatever “they” came up with. And in thinking about your post & writing this comment I’ve just come up with an idea for a blog post of my own. THANKS!

  7. Hi Tyler,

    I never thought of myself as a blogger, so this post resonates with me.

    A blog is a tool I use to connect with folks. Over time, the tools change, but the message can stay the same. Since I am a gifting coach I use blogging, articles, social networks and offline word of mouth to spread the word about my opportunity.

    I also write about personal develop and shoot videos too. The RR analogy is spot on, because the overall message should remain consistent, but the vehicle you use to convey the message might change over time. Quite literally, in terms of the RR.

    Speak your message but be nimble, and ready to change how you convey the message, at any time.

    Thanks for sharing Tyler!

    Ryan

    • Yes, that’s exactly what I was trying to say. Keep the message clear and consistent, but don’t fall into the trap of thinking that the technology you’re using now will always be the answer.

      Also, you’ve piqued my curiosity: What’s a gifting coach?

  8. Great questions!
    I’ve been blogging for about 3 years now and make it a point to stop and ask myself how my blog is helping me achieve my goals on a regular basis, but I could probably stand to improve my long-term planning and blogging goals as well.

    Asking myself how my message will survive if blogging becomes irrelevant? Wow, makes a girl stop and think! ; )
    But really, blogging is just another way, among many, to put a message out into the world, and if blogging didn’t exist, there would be another avenues to accomplish the same goal. Hope that doesn’t happen anytime soon though! : )

  9. I love this post! It is exactly what I try to teach my students when they decide that they want to be netpreneurs. Yes, blogging is a business but it isn’t THE business. It is only part of your business and that is an important thing to keep in mind. Your suggestions are so on point. Thank you Tyler for the unique way you presented this truth.

  10. Building relationships outside your niche takes conscious intentional effort. There is no instant relation formula out there, it takes work. Something that is becoming more foreign in the world of instant gratification that we live in.

    • Which, of course, gives you an advantage if you’re willing to put in the work now for the results later. When you’re the one that’s highly connected, you become even more valuable.

  11. I agree Craig, there is no instant relation formula out there, it takes work. Everyone wants instant success and it takes time and effort to see the results.

  12. Tony Fuentes says:

    Man, Craig, you really struck a cord here. Each tip makes perfect sense and you said it ever so awesomely.

    The one that stands out the most for me is #3. Always think bigger than blogging.

    I like thinking big.

    And seeing yourself as just a writer or blogger limits your potential in so many ways. We are humans. And humans can be whatever they want to be. We can choose to use whatever medium we want for spreading our message.

    The goal is to give your ideas wings. The route the decide to fly doesn’t matter as long as it reaches it’s target.

    Well done, sir!

  13. Morgan says:

    I LOVE these tips! These are fresh and things that people just generally do not think about. I especially love the tip about creating relationships outside of your niche. You have no idea who’s out there waiting to hear about what you do, so step outside of your niche and get to know others. We all have other passions and desires outside of what we do, so take the plunge and break out.

    Thanks for the great article!

    • Not to mention that things just get kind of stale if you never look beyond the horizon. There is so much to be learned in so many places about how to be a successful blogger that gets missed because it doesn’t say “blog” on it.

  14. Nikoya says:

    Beautiful. We should all think of ourselves as more than just bloggers. We use the blog as a platform to get our message out and solve problems. Its probaly a temporary tool.

    Like you said, it’s useful to look at ourselves as idea spreaders that will evolve into what we need in the future to grow. I like to call myself a digital drug dealer as a joke. I push the “red pill” in my articles through writing content that is burning in me, lol.

    Good message.

  15. Daniel says:

    The web, Is not only about blogs.

    There is so much that can be experienced by dipping back into our other non Blogging related interests.

    We only need to look at the things that we enjoy doing away from our blogs, as this can put everything into a much larger picture.

  16. Alissa says:

    Timely post. This is something I’ve been struggling with right now. Great food for thought.

  17. Richard Ng says:

    Hi Tyler,

    Nice post. Yup, I got it, always look at the big picture! Both railway vs transporation and PC vs technology analogies will be here to stay.

    Cheers!

  18. Richard Ng says:

    Hi Tyler,

    Nice post. Yup, I got it, always look at the big picture! Both railway vs transportation and PC vs technology analogies will be here to stay.

    Cheers!

  19. Robin says:

    I blogged from 2004-2006 back monetization was a pipedream or a dirty word, depending on where you stood. I attended what is now one of North America’s longest running meetings for bloggers “YULblog”, which is still going strong. I stopped because I spent so much time blogging and didn’t know where it was supposed to go and what I was supposed to do with the audience.

    Since then, “web 2.0″ is now replaced by the all encompassing term of “social media” to include podcasts, photographs, social networks and videos. The idea of “blogger” has similarly morphed but we’re as yet not sure what to call it partly because it’s so pervasive, it almost defies a name.

    Writing will never go out of fashion and will always be the blogger’s main tool but I’d argue that “curator” is now the best descriptor for the new social animal.

    If you want a look at my horrific looking and long defunct blog: http://thepublicineffectual.blogspot.com/ (Feel privileged because I almost never share it anymore!)

  20. Samantha says:

    I love the analogy! In the scheme of things I’m less than a speck of dust in terms of size and importance in the blogosphere, but I would like to grow. I definitely want to do that thinking bigger than blogs. Thanks for the reminder!

  21. kelli cooper says:

    Hi
    This was a great post and you gave some great advice here. At this point, my blog is relatively new and I really do not know what I am doing with it! But, as of late, I have been giving more thought to this as I would like to make money off it in some way, shape or form. Before reading this post, I probably would not have considered any of these issues, but you really gave me something to think about as I work on expanding whatever it is that I am doing now.

  22. One good thing is that to remember when you get started you can’t be in the transportation business, or the technology business. Trying to focus on one area to get you started and then expand is going to be much easier (and considerably less stressful) than trying to do it all at once. That said you have to keep the bigger picture in sight.
    I really enjoyed this post and the railroad analogy was great – especially because if you look at it globally you can see some countries where it really worked (more like cities though really), and those where it didn’t.

  23. I feel like this is pointing directly at me.The truth is that i honestly think bigger than blogging,but i find blogging easy and comfortable doing :)

  24. Interesting article with lots of my doubts cleared. Great to have a proofread writeup.

  25. Your second point is so important Tyler, since the beginning of this year I dedicate 20-25% of my time to just think of new ideas, new approaches and researching. It’s sometimes a challenge to fit all the new work this creates for me in the other 75-80% of my time, but it has already paid off.

  26. Michael says:

    I never thought of the points that you have listed here. But now, looking over them a second time, they actually make a lot sense. I think pigeonholing is good to some extent but sometimes branching out can be a very good thing as well!

  27. Glynis says:

    I’ve got me thinking. I’m starting out all over again and I don’t want to fall down the same hole I did last time. I need to do more brainstorming but your simple questions are going to be helpful.

  28. blogging is surely a way to creatively express oneself. The beauty of blogging is that those who were dedicated to turning their blogging tool full-time living understand that success will not happen overnight in their blogging efforts.additionally, bloggers who blog meaningfully and convey informative content to the Internet audience experience additional rewards such as better positions in search engine results pages, meaningful relationships with their blog readers, as well as their blog readers sharing their content without the blogger asking them to on social networks. Blogging is nothing but joy to the soul :-)

  29. Tim Layton says:

    Thanks for taking this article to the next level.

    After reading a few paragraphs, I was expecting the end to roll up from the bottom of my screen any second. I was pleased to find much more to this post than I first expected.

    I appreciate your tips and I’ll try and put them into practice.

    Tim Layton

  30. Warren says:

    Not only blogging but the internet in general is constantly changing and evolving into something new (and even sometimes more interesting).

    It’s scary watching the demise of some of the larger sites. (megaupload, scroogle, etc.) Shows you how fragile what your building really is.

  31. Your question, “Am a a writer or an idea spreader?” opened up a whole new horizon for me. I am an artist and always see myself as a creator of an idea. But I have never made a conscious decision when it comes to blogging. Now seeing myself as an idea spreader frees me up. Because “blogging” in itself feels like a constrain. But seeing blogging as one of the outlets to spread ideas, that’s liberating. Thanks for sharing!

  32. Awesome idea!

    But, the rail roads are still with us. In other words, the way to get a “Basic” success is unlikely to change. :)

    Of course, when you establish an audience you have to find new ways to entertain them. Which is why, I prefer to relate to this “problem” with the following approach: “Deal with the difficulties as they come”.

    Why to bother about your future tactic while your blog is still in the beginning? ;)

    [Written from the point of view of someone who opened a blog less than a month ago]

  33. Wonderful post! Being your research and development team and paying attention to readers preference and devoting to new outlets are a must for a blogger. Thinking bigger than blogging is also an important subject for a blogger. Thank you Tyler for such a creative thoughts.

  34. May says:

    Wow, so much content! so much value on this site.
    Great effort!
    Regards
    May

  35. So very true. My blogs really started taking off when I stopped focusing on blogging being my business. Blogging is my way to market my brand (me) and my business (Life’s Abundance).

    Once I got things untwisted, everything else fell into place for me. I now spend a good amount of time interacting with my followers and thinking of things that will appeal to them and myself.

  36. Well, I don’t really like to think of myself as an idea spreader who happens to be writing. I’m a writer. I enjoy expressing myself in writing whether it’s blogging or sales copy.

    I have been thinking about branching into a webcomic though. I’m also a cartoonist who happens to be writing right now.