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Blogging Success and the Law of Averages

Last week I read a very thoughtful—and thought-provoking—post on Corbett Barr’s blog, called You’re Going to Suck.

In it, Corbett makes the point that there’s no growth without failure. We’ve talked about criticism on ProBlogger before, and that’s something that Corbett makes mention of in his post, but failure encompasses so much more than this.

I know about failure—I’ve launched more than 20 blogs in my career as a blogger. How many am I running now? Two. And that career came only after I’d tried around 30 other jobs. When I started blogging, in my early 30s, I was holding down three jobs.

The point I’m making here isn’t that I’m some kind of superman—it’s the opposite! The lesson is that for every success, there are a lot of “failures.” This is true for me, and I think it’s true for many people.

Success isn’t easy

It’s an important point to think upon, especially in an online environment where so many people make success look so easy. I’m not just talking about the get-rich-quick guys; I’m talking even about something as simple as social media. I don’t know about your Facebook friends, for example, but often I look through my personal Facebook feed and think “wow, everyone’s living these amazing lives and having so much fun!”

It’s often the case, too, when we look at other bloggers, or even just other individuals or groups in our niche. We’re all presenting professional personas online. On the web, it’s an easy matter to create an ideal “you,” or an ideal of your blog or business. As we look at the online presences of peers or competitors, they can seem bulletproof, and far more skilled or capable than we are.

Don’t be fooled!

These online presences aren’t the full story. It’s important to remember that. Sometimes when we look at what others are doing, we can feel bad about the fact that we’re only human—that we can’t afford flashy advertising or a custom blog design or a PR agency to promote us an arrange interviews for us.

But as Corbett says in his post, “put aside the ego and start making mistakes.” Ego isn’t just about wanting to think of ourselves as invincible. Ego can also allow us to give ourselves excuses when, really, the truth is that we’re all human. You might not know about the personal challenges that your most admired blogger or peer is currently facing, even as they launch a new product or sell one of their businesses for six figures. It’s ego that can make us think we’re the only ones facing difficulty.

When Corbett says “start making mistakes,” I think of those 20 blogs I’ve started, and I think about the law of averages. It’s easy to say “we learn from our mistakes,” but I think our “education” isn’t often so dramatic that it happens as a result of one mistake. The same goes for failures—one dramatic failure needn’t be the end of you. It took me twenty blogs to get to the point I’m at now—and I’m hardly a media mogul or blogging empire boss!

Learning lakes time, and experimentation. A tactic that didn’t work with your last blog might work with this one. Who knows? You’ll probably have to give it another try to find out. Maybe that will lead you to another failure. But maybe not…

The more mistakes, the better

The more mistakes you make, the closer you get to finding a sustainable path forward—especially when it comes to the ever-changing world of blogging. The more failures you experience, the more likely you’ll be to narrow down a pathway to success, however you define that.

Have you failed at blogging? Have you made mistakes that have helped you grow as a blogger? Tell us about them in the comments, so that we can all benefit from your experiences.

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. I’m still holding my blogging sprit knowing i fall many times, the only thing stopping me is my desired to help and solve real problem by my reader.

  2. Ryan Scott says:

    I agree with this post 100%. My wife gets exhausted with each new venture, and blog, that I start. I always find a way that I’m doing something wrong and make moves to correct it or start again with a new perspective. This month we are getting our very first google check for $120.00. Not a problogger yet, but I’m working on it and, apparently, moving in the right direction. Thanks for this website, it’s an awesome help.

  3. Shayna says:

    Thank you for this post!

    When I started blogging, in my early 30s, I was holding down three jobs.

    I think this part is the most overlooked in all blogger success stories. Incidentally, I started out the exact same way – though I’m now down to two jobs :-)

    Also, I think there’s a huge difference between:

    1) People who started blogging for fun, started getting lots of visits/followers over time, and then realized it could become a business; and

    2) People who start blogging with the intent of making it a business.

    Group 2 people are going to experience a lot of frustration in the initial months, thinking “Why isn’t my blog taking off or at least STARTING to make money like so-and-so’s blog?” (in which “so-and-so” was probably a member of group 1) – often overlooking a crucial factor in the stories of group 1 people – the sheer length of time and amount of work, trial, and error that went into building those successes from the ground up.

  4. Great post, Darren. You can easily apply that theory to just about everything in life too. I know I apply to dozens of freelance writing jobs a day and if I hear back from 1 or 2 after a week, that’s a monstrous success. Failure is part of life, but it’s what you can learn from that failure that counts. Not just perseverance, but also figure out why it failed. Was it the way you presented yourself? Was it that you’re targeting the wrong audience? Take those lessons with you as you make a completely new attempt in the future.

  5. This is great Darren. I’ve failed thrice in my blogging career. But I knew success is a bye-product of failure. And as Corbett pointed out rightly, you should fail multiple times. It may not be a good advise on the surface, but deep within, it’s the best tip for building a professional blog. Thank you very much for giving me hope that something good will happen in my business. I’m your avid readers for life.

  6. I suppose “failure” depends on the perspective. If one allows oneself to learn from mistakes and move one, to accept regret but not nurture guilt, then there is no such thing as ‘pure failure’.

    But philosophy aside …

    My first blog wasn’t a blog as such, but I was using WordPress as CMS for my Stieg Larsson-fan site, sallysfriends.net. I just wanted to live out my passion and get a lot of traffic, but the project was fragile from the beginning since there won’t be any more books. Fan interest, and my interest, was therefore destined to slump and now it is just an archive site for me. But I learned a LOT about how to use WP, social media, etc. I wouldn’t have been without that.

    Next I have tried to use WP in a combination experiment of blogging and fiction writing: Writing short stories posted as blog (but not as ‘blog fiction’ – which is something else). This means you get selected short stories from the entire lifestory of my main character (and some from her friends and family), and can read about whatever period in her life you want. The blogging platform’s built-in ‘timeline features’ (such as the Calendar widget) provide for a nifty way of adding a sense of ‘realness’ to the stories, although many are written in 3rd person. Unfortunately, writing fiction is also harder, I find, than non-fiction and there is a greater demand for non-fiction topics on the net itself, and in the ‘market places’ for fiction, such as Amazon, you drown in the crowd – unless you are also very productive for that publishing place. After about 2 years I’ve only written 35 stories and my traffic is in the 100s – per month. However, those stories gave me valuable exercise in writing my first ebook, which is now out on Amazon.

    Lastly, I would like to mention that I have started more than a dozen of personal or topical blogs, but almost all of them I have abandoned or had very little time to update, because, I guess, I have not thought well enough about what I wanted to do with the blog. I guess this is a very common mistake, and there might only be one valuable lesson from those many years of irregular trying (since 2004) to build a regular, big topical non-fiction blog (which would also have been nice to monetize):

    Maybe I shouldn’t do a blog at all! For fiction, non-fiction or anything else.

    Hard as that pill has been to swallow, it is entirely bitter. My skills in using social media, software and writing have improved tremendously in those years.

    I hope that was of help to someone – and I’m definitely NOT saying you should give up blogging. I haven’t given up entirely yet.

    But my aspirations have definitely become more modest and focused.

    Thanks

    Chris

  7. Tim Barnes says:

    Darren, I could not agree with you more. The anonymity that the internet provides yields itself to people painting an unrealistic picture of themselves for others. To a degree that has been around for years. Cosmetic companies have made trillions of dollars selling “paint” to cover up perceived flaws. It’s as if our culture would not survive without scented soaps, deoderants and shampoos. All of us want to put show how good we could be rather than what we really are. Unfortunately, some trolls on the internet take things too far. An idea that you might want to use to build upon your thought in this blog is that there is a fine line between experimentation and being a troll. Bloggers need to know that it is acceptable to encourage conversation by being controversial. It is altogether a different thing to make personal attacks on others because of their beliefs or lifestyle.

  8. Some of the mistakes I’ve made have been technical (bad plugins, etc). Recently I found myself falling into the biggest mistake – complacency.

    I had some early success through commenting, which led to some nice referral traffic. I then took my traffic for granted and got lazy on networking. Luckily I realized my mistake and have redoubled my efforts on the basics.

  9. You share interesting thoughts, and I agree it is o.k. to fail (it is also inevitable). Two cautions: (1) you seem to generalize from your experience, which is a big leap of faith, as there are many others who have not followed your path, do not have your preferences or talents, and do not share your experience; and (2) random failure all over the place is not “the answer.” That is good advice only to someone paralyzed by inaction. Other important life ingredients might include: thinking about your purpose each time you try something out, imaging success and how you would know you were succeeding, being thoughtful and reflective about your experience, talking to mentors and friends who help you stay honest with yourself, etc. I enjoyed your post, because is is helpful for all of us to put “success” and “failure” and action vs. inaction into perspective for ourselves. Thank you. Tweeter name: tcatsambas

  10. Corbett Barr says:

    Hey Darren! Thanks for the thoughtful reply to my little post.

    I love that you shared how you’ve started 20 blogs over the years. That’s about a 10% success rate if my math is good.

    I’d say my success rate is around that as well. My first attempt at building an online business started back in 2003, and boy was I unprepared back then. Luckily I kept at it. Then I failed again, more spectacularly this time (even after raising $3M in venture capital).

    Then I started blogging. Since then I’ve launched maybe a dozen different online projects over the past three years. Most of them died a quick death. A few of them survive today.

    I can’t stand it when successful people say “failure is overrated” or anything along those lines. Yes, some people get lucky, and some people are fortunate to succeed at their first try, but they’re the exceptions to the rule.

    Most success stories I know about involved lots of stumbling and trial-and-error along the way.

    And that’s all part of the fun in my book. Plus it makes for a more interesting story :)

  11. Grace says:

    What perfect timing to be reading this post!

    If I had to pinpoint the real culprit for my lack of success online, it would have to be my ego. I was constantly comparing myself to the confident and much more experienced bloggers and marketers and I always fell way short. It was this thought process that held me back from taking action .

    And it doesn’t help when all the ‘gurus’ tell you to position yourself as an authority (fake it til you make it) when your not.

    Just recently I hired a new online marketing coach whose advice to me was to be honest with where I am with my experience and my success thus far… and to just grow from there.

    That simple piece of advice has set me free to finally take massive action on my business. Now I look forward to every failure as one step closer to success :)

  12. Good post, Darren.

    It’s came at a time when I’m looking at my blog closely. I’ve been falling into the trap of starting with a wide market instead of narrow niche, and gradually building it outwards.

    It’s why I’ve messed up previous blogs. Like you say, I’ll keep failing until I find my path.

    Jamie

  13. Robert says:

    Darren, from someone who’s had a tough week, this blog really, really connected with me (and isn’t that the point?).

    It reminds me of a movie quote, but forgive me for not remembering the movie:

    Dad: “What do you do when you get knocked down?”

    Son: “You get back up”

    Here’s the getting back up.

    Cheers,
    Robert

  14. Richard Ng says:

    Thanks Darren for this inspiraing post. It reminds me of the saying ” If you didn’t make any mistake, it means you have not tried hard enough”! I consider myself still newbie in the blogging world and not much experience to share yet. But I sure will try to make some mistakes along the way. ;)

    Cheers!

  15. J.D. Meier says:

    I was lucky that my blog started out well. I think it was the idea that people latched on to … the ideas of “standing on the shoulders of giants” and drawing from the best books, people, and quotes around the world.

    But it was the classic success trap. I had a good PR (PR 5) and I was afraid to break it. So I didn’t play around with some of the SEO practices that I should have been playing with.

    Luckily, for whatever reason, my PR dropped. When that happened, I no longer cared and I started to actually test some of the SEO ideas I had been putting off. Everything from playing with my tag line, to changing the body tags in my posts, to renaming some articles to better target demand.

    It paid off. My traffic over the last few months went to 101,000 unique visitors per month, and within a week, has gone closer to 111,000 uniqu visitors, and it’s climbing.

    It reminder me to keep experimenting. Sometimes taking a step back, is the best way to take two steps forward. It also reminded me to use the data as input, but also drive from a golden rule.

    My golden rule is … “Impress yourself first.”

    It’s the key to making it a sustainable journey while, setting a better bar for your readers.

  16. Tracy says:

    Thanks, Darren for the inspiration–couldn’t be more timely. I’m a new blogger and I’m certain I’m making mistakes as I type, but I won’t be deterred–they’re opportunities to learn. One lesson learned: never under estimate the amount of work and dedication that’s required to be a successful blogger.

  17. Gjivan says:

    Firstly i wanna thank Darren Rowse for this great motivating and truthful article. Well as being a learner kf personal development and self growth, i am totally in agree with each words you have mentioned in this post. I have read tons of books rating self dev and a biographies of various success legends and havent found anyone who had tasted the triumph before falling on ditch. We can even take instances from great scientists like Watt, Einstein, Mary Cury. They all have failed at least one time in their life. But, they kept moving and finally kissed the glory. Now, we ignore or just dont wanna see the failures and hard work behind their success. There is one saying ” Failure is the Pillar of success”. So, its not about how many times we failed, but its about how many times we woke up after being kicked. So, i say failure is the greatest mentor which fuels us to the next level, if we take it positively and learn from it and i dont think its different in online business too!!

  18. I was looking for exactly this information here to there but in your blog post I just fund some extra information about this field! really appreciated work you’ve done.

  19. I am totally agree with this post making mistakes teaches you lots of new lessons what you should do next time to over come to this mistakes its really important and I think success lies where you learned not to repeat the same mistakes again & again.

    I think the key point is that you should be bold & brave enough to take risks doing new think especially on social media marketing point of view where you want to promote your product or blog but there should be proper research behind that experiment.

  20. Be 1000% committed to trying daily. Experimenting. Forget the idea of making mistakes; you simply seize opportunities to learn over and over.

  21. Nikki Teller says:

    Darren,
    This article is absolute GOLD! No one knows (well, they will now), that I often write my own blogs on a Saturday morning in my PJ’s with bed hair, and my blog is a testament to how much I’ve grown. I remember a few years back going to a seminar on “blogging” because I didn’t even know what it was! (And your site was held up as an example of what a good blog looks like!).

    I now manage to blog for lots of different businesses, in a variety of different voices, on many interesting subjects and it’s always been my rule of thumb that a blog should always add value. So far so good.

    I also blog for another company I own and committed the mortal sin of starting the blog and then abandoning it. I’ve always struggled for content for that particular niche business so I do need to go back to the drawing board and come up with more of strategy, rather than just winging it.

    But my own blog will always be the real “me”, PJ’s, bed hair and all.

  22. Santel says:

    I think online business is hard to find the right thing that works for us. We need to try again and again. As you mentioned we need to experiment it, test it and learn from the outcome.

    I planted to start many blog as well, but at the end I decided to keep only one. I still believe less will allow us to do more.

  23. Hi, great article. It is amazing to hear you have launched 20+ blogs. That must have required a lot of patience and hard work. One thing I have learnt over time is, when ever you fail at something, you have learnt one way of how not to do it!

    At the same time we should not be content saying, by making a mistake I am going to learn from it, so why not mess up at the start. When starting a new venture we have to focus like there is no tomorrow. Of course the mistakes are unavoidable, at the same time we should not cry over a mistake and use it to learn from it.

  24. It’s amazing to me that people think those who are on top just sauntered up there. As a reporter, I remember early on feeling as though I hadn’t really made it until I was fired from at least one job — because most people who’ve been in the industry any respectable length of time had all been fired, and recovered! (and yes, eventually I did get fired!! – and recovered). Mistakes are just opportunities to learn – hopefully you can afford them!

    Thx for the reminder…

    Amy Parmenter
    The ParmFarm.

    p.s. I THINK THERE IS A SPAM COMMENT ABOVE — JUST FYI….

  25. Nothing is a failure if you learn something from it

    Here’s to failing and learning.

  26. I’ve had quite a few. I named my post ” Big Fat Business Blogging Failures” I was sharing with my community the cool things that had happened with my blog- Yahoo! , Top 25 Mom Tech and others and then I realized I didn’t share how I got there. And that I had a lot of flops before this happened. So I wanted to let them know so they could be encouraged that failure does not mean you’ve failed. To me it’s just a big flashing road sign that reads – ” Not this way try alternate route” And that’s what I did. I’ve tried businesses and realized, ” No thank you not for me” Or hoped something would be great and it bombed. I love listening to those who’ve paved the way before and like this post many have tried and it didn’t work out. But you don’t fail for trying, you fail when you quit. Great post!

    http://www.mompreneurmogul.com/2012/04/my-top-3-big-fat-business-blogging-failures.html

  27. Blogging is hard work. It’s impossible to avoid mistakes, but like you said it’s the mistakes that help us grow and improve our blog over time. Looking at analytics and comments can tell you which posts are “hits” and which are “misses” so that you know where to focus your content.

  28. I’m still holding my blogging sprit knowing i fall many times, the only thing stopping me is my desired to help and solve real problem by my reader.

  29. Cheryl says:

    Whether you are starting an online business or a brick and mortar one, it isn’t going to be easy. It takes work, it requires patience, determination and some skills – that being said, we are starting from little (and we don’t have a lot to lose) but we are enjoying every post of it and hopefully success is in the cards. If not, we will start all over again.

  30. Lucy says:

    My first blog did ok but I struggled to keep people reading and my numbers were awful. I worked so hard on that blog and oddly it was hard to let go. I started a new blog with my new job. I learned from all my mistakes at the first blog and so far 6 months in the new blog is doing well. Ive hit numbers in 6 months that it took me 2 years to get to with the old one and people are staying and reading. Very motivating post..

  31. You never know if something will work unless you try. And if it doesn’t, it’s a learning experience. There’s only so much you can learn from reading and studying, and so much more that you learn from actually doing.

    When people first graduate from college they still have a ton to learn. Why? Because they have only learned through reading, they haven’t really done anything yet.

    My friend Jacob Sokol of Sensophy just posted a video talking about something similar actually. He just stated that over the last two years, he has made more mistakes than he has ever made in his life. And that those two years have been the most rewarding.

    I guess one thing I would add is to have a strategy. A strategy allows you to measure your successes and failure and see where you went wrong. It allows you to hypothesize and test. Acting blindly will be a learning experience, sure, but not as an effective one.

  32. Michael M says:

    Hey, great post.
    I got to tell you… I just started my own blog and I was a bit scared of how good and perfect it has to be.
    I am glad to read that the more mistakes the better. I guess the mistakes make your blog more alive…I don’t know anything about blogging but I am trying to learn.
    I am going through the posts to learn more ;-)

  33. Stephanie says:

    I’ve had tons of failures when it comes to blogging. I think the biggest mistake I’ve made in the world of blogging is not giving a site enough time. Traffic was slowly growing but then it plateau’d and I was stuck. I started updating it more often with fresh content and replying to comments. Before the next rush of visitors hit (and a ton of Amazon affiliate sales), I had sold the site to a private buyer along with 2 other niche sites I owned. :(

    Ever since then, I decided to give sites time to breathe and live. I owned all the sites I sold during that period for over a year (and then some). If I owned them today, it would have grown more but now it sits there, very out of date. I still see trickles of Amazon sales coming in though.

  34. Pranjal says:

    Entirely agree with your words, and I had also read Corbett Barr’s post, he’s also good at his point. By far, I’ve given no of experiments, some were biggest failures, and some were just average and still I am going on with average one’s. But, my experiments, trials, won’t be stopped until I achieve what I want. So, keep on trying and a day will come that you’re really going to proud on yourself.

  35. Bruce Barker says:

    Thoughts that ring a bell[or more than one with me, Darren. I recently scrapped 4 affiliate site on which I had expended much effort over the last 3 years…and earned $2000 approx. I now have a mentor called Alex Jeffreys here in the UK whose philosophy is that you have to give copiously before you can receive. That is what I am now doing with my fledgling blog.

  36. My biggest mistake was writing about hot topics. It’s like being given a prompt in high school and you have to write about it, even when it doesn’t interest you in the least bit. If you’re going to write compelling original content, you have to be writing about something you’re passionate about!

  37. Great Post Very Useful Information

  38. Sarah says:

    Thank you for your words.

    It might be weird to say that they’re highly motivating .. You encourage us – with whatever happened or will happen and we don’t know anything about it – to go on and take action ..

    I’ve been there A LOT and yet!! We learn every day ..

    I learn how to write and how to express my thoughts and feelings with the right words ( As English is not my native language) and how to really help.

    I learn how to have faith in myself and my will because it’s so easy to find excuses to give up. So easy to turn around and quite. That way, you will be quitting your whole life and changing your thought of the life you wanted just not to jeopardize YOUR COMFORT ZONE!

    Just keep trying and never give up on anything because it has to be an end. You’ll know it when it’s time to understand more and you’ll never understand more unless you try to in the first pace!

    Good luck everybody!

  39. Amen to this, Darren. I read Corbett’s post as well and felt the same way. It’s really eye-opening to hear about your swarm of blog-attempts.

    I’m always reminded of Michael Jordan’s quote: “I’ve missed more than 9000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games. 26 times, I’ve been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.”

    I think bloggers somehow get the impression (I know I did), that it’s not necessary to go through a journey like Jordan’s, and I think *technically* it’s not, but in practice… it really kinda… IS.

    My story about failure is beyond intense — seriously, buckle in — and this is just a part of it I’d like to share: my guest post on Firepole Marketing — 8 failed businesses in 6 years.

    http://www.firepolemarketing.com/blog/2011/12/13/8-failed-businesses-in-6-years/

    And this post doesn’t even talk much about my months spent homeless lol.

  40. Rohit says:

    As am very new to the blogging word after reading this blog i maked promise from my self I will not leave blogging ever eigther I will fail or succed as i i have learnt from your this blog that every failure will become new lesson for your success…thnx for this wonder post

  41. ed says:

    Seriously….20 plus blogs. Man where do you get the patience from?