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Review: How to Start a Blog that Matters

I put Corbett Barr on this year’s list of bloggers to watch because he is brilliant. He knows how to draw a lot of attention to a new blog and sustain that interest over a long period of time.

That’s something that a lot of people struggle, including myself, so I was really excited when I heard he was developing a course on starting a blog that matters (aff. link). I was so impressed that I decided to write about it.

What is it?

How to Start A Blog That Matters is a course that will guide you through starting a blog that matters over 90 days.

You’ll start with choosing a great topic and setting up your blog and end with building your audience and spreading your influence.

Each of the 13 lessons contains a specific action plan for you to follow each week.

In addition to the lessons and videos, you’ll also get direct access to ask Corbett questions. This is a great way to pick an experts brain during the launch process.

Who is it for?

I believe that this product is for people who are in a position to leverage a launch beyond just attention. To get the most out it I would recommend:

  • That you have a rough business plan for your blog. The techniques will result in extra traffic, but it may not lead to extra income unless you have distinct monetization goals.
  • That you have done some basic branding exercises so you target the right audience.

Other types of bloggers, including new ones, will get a lot out of this. However, if you are in the experimenting stage of blogging you may not get a financial ROI.

Do I recommend it?

I sure do.

However, at $97, this may not be an option for a lot of you. That’s cool.

If you can’t afford this product, and you are unfamiliar with Corbett’s work, then I highly recommend you check out Think Traffic. It has enough resources to help you grow your blog and earn a modest income. You can also undertake the million dollar blog project.

If you are in a position to take advantage of his teachings then check out How To Start A Blog That Matters.

Overwhelmed? Put Some Boundaries on Your Blogging

This week we’ve been looking at some of the numerous issues that bloggers have to deal with on a daily basis—particularly those who are just starting out.

It’s little wonder that so many bloggers wind up their blogs so quickly after they start. It’s easy to run out of steam when you’re trying to work on so many challenges at once. Even experienced bloggers tend to focus upon certain aspects of blogging, to the detriment of others—I know I do.

Over the years, we’ve dealt with issues like blogger burnout, or “blogger’s malaise” several times, and looked at burnout in terms of specific issues, like social media.

The one thing I’ve found really helpful as my blog has grown, and required more and more (and more!) of my time, has been to put boundaries around what I do. I explained some of those boundaries in the post How to Be a Ruthless Blogger and Become More Productive and Focussed, so I won’t go over them again here.

What I do believe is that if you’re feeling overwhelmed by all the things your blog requires of you—all the things you “need” to do, a good place to start digging yourself out of that hole is to set some boundaries. Today. Right now.

You can’t do everything

Accepting that you can’t do everything is the first step toward overcoming that sense of being overwhelmed. The next is to realise that there is no “best” way to do anything in blogging. Don’t worry about what you “should” be doing, and instead look at where you’d like your blog to go in the short- to medium-term.

Then, of all the things you could do to work toward that goal, choose one or two to focus on today, and tomorrow, and perhaps for the week or month. If you keep at those tasks, and track the results you achieve over the week (or month), you’ll probably learn something that you can apply to improve those results next month.

Perhaps one of the tasks you choose to focus on won’t work well at all. That’s fine: if something doesn’t work after you’ve put in a decent effort over a reasonable period of time, cross it off your list and try something else. Forget about that tactic that didn’t work—at least for the moment. You may find that it’s something you come back to down the track. But if you’re feeling overwhelmed, cut your losses where you can, and focus on what works for you and your blog.

By doing this you’ll free up more time to dedicate yourself to particular tactics, and give them the energy they deserve. You’ll also be less likely to spread yourself and your efforts too thin.

Starting points for longer term solutions

While putting boundaries on what you need to do—and what you expect of yourself—today can help you move past those feelings of being overwhelmed right now, as you continue blogging you might find yourself facing other challenges around getting things done.

The Productivity Problem Solver that we put together to accompany our latest ebook, Blog Wise, was designed specifically to address those challenges. It has specific questions around motivation, making time, keeping track of ideas and goals, blogger’s block, and so on, and it provides solutions that our panel of 9 pro bloggers use themselves, to overcome those issues.

The thinking behind that tool is simply that I found that it’s good to have a repertoire of solutions to the most common types of blogging fatigue. If you have a grab-bag of solutions to blogger’s block, for example, you don’t have to waste time worrying about how you’ll solve that productivity problem: you can just reach into the bag and pull out a solution.

Whether or not you pick up a copy of the ebook, I definitely encourage you to develop your own repertoire of solutions to productivity problems, starting today, with solutions for feeling overwhelmed. If you have a trick you use to get past feelings of being bogged down by all you have to do on your blog, please add it in the comments, and help others in the same situation.

Blog Wise Tip 7: Use the Right Tools

You might think that, with blogging being a digital pursuit, the bloggers we interviewed for Blog Wise would be right up with the latest and greatest productivity gadgets, philosophies, and software.

They’re not.

Physical tools

Interestingly, almost every one of the bloggers we spoke with relies on physical productivity tools to some degree—pen and paper, wall calendars, and whiteboards.

“I actually have to have something visual to look at deadlines on a calendar,” says Amy Porterfield. “So what I have is on my wall in my office I actually have a yearly calendar, but it’s month by month, and I’ll put my deadlines in there.”

It seems that for many of us, there’s a sort of psychological benefit in having our to do list, for example, at our elbows, and separate from the computer in front of us.

Software

In terms of digital tools, these bloggers stuck with the mainstream software options: Google Apps like Calendars and Docs, Basecamp, and Evernote.

“I write whenever ideas come to mind,” Jeff Goins comments. “I use Evernote a lot, whether it’s on my phone or on my laptop, and I’ll just write some ideas down or a quote or whatever, and a lot of that turns into articles later.”

Many bloggers simply used the apps that came with their computers—iCal, Notepad, or Word, for example.

“I use a lot of text documents,” Darren problogger.net reveals. “I have about ten open on my computer at the moment. They’re just plain text documents, and that’s where I put my to-do lists and half-written posts and that kind of thing.”

Email, clearly, plays a massive role in productive communications between bloggers and their teams; Skype does too, but to a lesser degree.

Hardware

Though it wasn’t talked about in detail, the interviews conveyed the impression that smartphones have been a boon for most pro bloggers’ productivity.

As a storeplace for diary and appointment information, email access tool, alarm, and cache of contact details, the smartphone’s invaluable. It also makes working on the go achievable even in locations that don’t have wifi—and at times when you’re nowhere near your computer (or, for that matter, a notepad).

In particular, bloggers with families relied heavily on their phones. Heather Armstrong uses Google calendars on her phone. “I can make a change, my husband can make a change, and it immediately updates on my phone so that I know what to be prepared for the rest of the day.”

In his interview, Darren revealed, “My wife, she’s out for a walk at the moment—I texted her and said, “Please don’t let the boys in my room. I’m doing an interview now.’” Communication, he says, is critical to his productivity.

The other piece of hardware that got the thumbs-up? The tablet PC. “If anything pops into my head I have a tablet next to me [where] I just write it down so that I can forget about it in that moment and stay focused,” Amy explained.

What’s your favorite productivity tool? Let us know in the comments. And if you’ve downloaded your copy of Blog Wise and you’d like to share your thoughts on it, we’d love to hear them, too!

Understanding the Hype Cycle of a Blog

This guest post is by Nischala Murthy Kaushik.

It’s the start of a new year—the time when organizations work on their business strategies. And when you work on strategy, the one thing you definitely do is get a perspective of two facets of your operation:

  1. internal aspects of your organization
  2. what the external world is saying: your customers, your competitors, your partners, and of course independent analysts.

One thing that I definitely read this time of the year are analysts’ reports by (Gartner, Forrester, IDC, and so on.

I’m always looking for ways to learn, apply, adapt, and leverage new ideas, thoughts, and insights into my blogs. During one such pensive moment, I was mulling over whether there was any evidence of Gatner’s Hype Cycle on blogs. And yes, I believe there is!

What is the Hype Cycle?

The Gartner Hype Cycle is a methodology that’s been used effectively by Gartner since 1995. The Hype Cycle provides a graphic representation of the maturity and adoption of technologies and applications, and how they are potentially relevant to solving real business problems and exploiting new opportunities.

The Gartner Hype Cycle methodology gives you a view of how a technology or application will evolve over time, providing insight into managing its deployment within the context of your specific business goals.

The key phases in Gartner’s Hype Cycle

Each Hype Cycle drills down into the five key phases of a technology’s life cycle.

  1. Technology trigger: A potential technology breakthrough kicks things off. Early proof-of-concept stories and media interest trigger significant publicity. Often no usable products exist and commercial viability is unproven.
  2. Peak of inflated expectations: Early publicity produces a number of success stories—often accompanied by scores of failures. Some companies take action; many do not.
  3. Trough of disillusionment: Interest wanes as experiments and implementations fail to deliver. Producers of the technology shake out or fail. Investments continue only if the surviving providers improve their products to the satisfaction of early adopters.
  4. Slope of enlightenment: More instances of how the technology can benefit the enterprise start to crystallize and become more widely understood. Second- and third-generation products appear from technology providers. More enterprises fund pilots; conservative companies remain cautious.
  5. Plateau of productivity: Mainstream adoption starts to take off. Criteria for assessing provider viability are more clearly defined. The technology’s broad market applicability and relevance are clearly paying off.

(Check the source of this information for more details.)

The hype cycle of a blog

If you’ve been blogging, or watching the blogosphere for any length of time, you can likely see how the hype cycle applies to blogging. Let’s step through it in detail.

The trigger of a blog

Every blog is triggered by something. Technology may not always be the trigger, but it is a definite enabler. Had technology not evolved to where it is, blogging may not have existed as it does today. The trigger for a blog could be:

  • a personal need to express, to capture, to consolidate, to be heard, to create a brand, to share, to learn, to connect, to belong to a community, to leave a legacy
  • a business need for new customer acquisition, marketing, branding, customer servicing, customer engagement, or revenue generation.

The key questions you need to answer when you start a blog are:

  • Why I am starting this blog?
  • Who are my target readers?
  • What do I really want to achieve by blogging?

It’s good to have some degree of clarity on these issues at the outset. Of course, they will change and evolve with time, but you need to have baseline answers in place if you are to move forward and start your blog.

In this phase, the blogger is usually unsure about many things:

  • Will there be any reader interest in my blog?
  • How do I reach my potential readers?
  • Will I be able to generate meaningful content over a period of time?

The best piece of advice for this phase of the Hype Cycle of a Blog is to test the waters by creating a blog. Keep at blogging, read about blogging, experiment, learn, and evolve. Along the way, you will discover your own commitment and interest towards blogging.

The peak of inflated expectations for a blog

This is the phase in which one of the following happens to your blog:

  • One or more of your blog posts generates interest, a good amount of readers, shares, and comments. You almost feel like a mini-celebrity in select circles and begin to enjoy the elevated status you’ve achieved.
  • One of more of your blogs is criticized, and you receive negative feedback and comments on your thoughts, and hence the content itself, or the way you’ve presented or written the information.
  • Hardly anyone reads your blogs or ever leaves a comment.

The best piece of advice for bloggers experiencing this phase of the Hype Cycle of a Blog is:

  • Study, observe, and analyze the blogs you wish your blog was more like.
  • Re-think these questions:
    1. Why I am starting this blog?
    2. Who are my target readers?
    3. What do I really want to achieve by blogging?
    4. How should I market my blog to ensure that I reach the right audience?
  • Don’t assume that the past precedents are indications of how the future will pan out in your journey as a blogger.
  • Keep a check on your future expectations of the blog.

The trough of disillusionment of a blog

This next phase in the Hype Cycle of a Blog is probably the most crucial as it will determine how long you will continue blogging. This is the phase when most bloggers are somewhat disenchanted with the results of their blogging efforts, either due to their own lack of interest in blogging, lack of a reader base, lack of interest from the blogosphere, limited shares and comments…

The best piece of advice for this phase of the hype cycle of a blog is:

  • Don’t let one or two highs or lows determine the future of your blog. Blogging is here to stay, and the way you leverage the power of this medium in your personal or professional context is completely your choice.
  • Re-visit your own reasons for starting your blog and make any course corrections that are required. Following are the key areas that you need to critically evaluate and plan:
    • quality of content
    • frequency of posting
    • identification of your target readers
    • blog marketing.

The reality is that many bloggers quit at this stage, disillusioned by their own capabilities at blogging as well as all the hype that surrounds blogging.

Slope of enlightenment of a blog

This is the best phase in the Hype Cycle of a Blog—it’s at this point that a blogger has his or her “Eureka” moment and feels that:

  • they have found their niche in the blogosphere
  • their creative juices flow incessantly—there’s no dearth of ideas and, most importantly, they can convert anything and everything they see, hear, think, and feel into blog content
  • they have found target readers
  • most importantly, they begin to enjoy blogging.

If you have reached this point, consider yourself lucky. Many congratulations to you!

The sky is the limit for what you can achieve here. You can sell products (like books), personal services (like consulting and advisory services), your own ideas, and other’s products services and ideas. You have the potential to become a cyber-celebrity and most importantly you have the opportunity to create an impact on those who read your blogs.

The only advice for this phase of the hype cycle of a blog is this:

  • Keep a self-check on your intent for blogging. It may have evolved along the way, but don’t lose sight of your answer to the question, “Why are you blogging?”
  • Value your readers as they complete your blog. Any creative piece of work has a creator and a consumer and their mutual to co-existence is a necessity and reality. A movie has limited value till it is viewed by an audience. In the same light, the blogs you create have limited value till they are consumed by readers.

The plateau of productivity of a blog

This is the phase when you mature as a blogger, and your blog matures too—both go to a new elevated level. Your blog has a brand of its own and you have a presence in the blogosphere. Not many bloggers get here simply because they don’t spend enough time asking and answering the key questions from the start of their blogging journey.

If you’re in this phase, you don’t need any advice: you know where to go and how to get there!

Which phase of the hype cycle is your blog in? Leave a comment to let me know.

Nischala currently works at Wipro. She blogs at Nischala’s Space, Thoughts & Expressions and VERVE: The Quintessence of my Life – both of which have been added to the List of Best Indian Blogs @ http://indianbloggers.org/. In addition, she writes guest posts at sites like Problogger, FamousBloggers, The Change Blog and 12Most.com. For the full list of her guest posts, refer to the My Guest Posts Section on her blog. Nischala has completed her MBA from Indian Institute Management Bangalore [IIMB] ,one of the premier Business schools in India. She takes pride in being a Mother, Philosopher, Writer, Scholar & Guru of Life for Life and most importantly, the Chief Happiness Officer (CHO) of her LIFE J. You can follow her on Twitter @ nimu9

Have You Set up Timeline on Your Facebook ‘Page’ Yet?

In the last day Facebook have rolled out Timeline for Facebook Brand pages. There’s been a lot of talk about whether people like them or not, but the reality is that they are here, and in a month they’ll be rolled out on your Brand page whether you like it or not.

facebook-timeline-brands-page.png

I’ve just pushed out version 1 of my own ProBlogger Facebook page here (I’m sure I’ll be tweaking it in the coming days but it is live), and I’d love to see what others are doing.

Have you activated Timeline on your Brand Page yet? If so, share a link with us in comments below so we can get a little inspiration for what you’ve done.

Blog Wise Tip 6: Build a Productive Team

“Have you ever merged together four different companies with four different partners, and employees from one company and another company?” asks Brian Clark of Copyblogger.net. “Oh my goodness, it was quite stressful.”

But, he adds, now that the transition’s complete, “It’s amazing to me, what we can do.”

All of the bloggers we spoke to as we researched Blog Wise extolled the virtues of team work—even when the team is your readership, as in the case of solo blogger Leo Babauta’s collaborative writing project, The Effortless Life.

But all of them emphasize the importance of clear communications within the team.

Brian explains that before his group’s merger, “I had all these smart people that were partners, and they were in separate companies and they weren’t allowed to talk to each other, if you will, because there was no profit motivation.

“I saw that the only way I was going to get to where I saw as a possible future vision, was to put all these smart people together so that they all had a stake in each others’ future.”

Our bloggers point out, though, that a philosophy of team collaboration needs to be underpinned by the right tools.

Like many, Darren finds digital collaboration tools helpful. “Every ebook [we produce] has its own folder in Basecamp, and I can tap into that and get pretty much any document I want along the way,” he explains.

Bloggers like Abby Larson of stylemepretty.com and Heather Armstrong of Dooce, whose spouses also work on their blogs, use tools like Google Calendar, and clear, close communication, to ensure that their husband-business partners know what’s going on at all times.

When you add shared responsibilities like children to the shared responsibility of a blog, communication is critical. As Abby says, “because the site is so dependent on both of us … we realize that we both need to commit equally to our family.”

Do you work with others on your blog? What approaches do you use to make your team as productive as possible?

Tomorrow: bloggers’ favorite productivity tools and systems.

Looking Good: Simple Ways to Create Sensational Blog Images

This guest post is by Jo Gifford of Cherry Sorbet Creative.

Blogs that look great attract the attention of the reader, it’s as easy as that. Your content might be amazing but if your blog has a terrible aesthetic you are missing out on a slice of magic to make people enjoy their stay.

In 2011 visual social media platforms like Pinterest and insta.gram exploded in use, signalling a trend towards lifecasting in a more visual way, which applies to the blogosphere too; readers want your pages to look interesting. The more they stay on your site and engage, the prettier those stats look too.

This post gives some simple and easy ways to create and generate original and eyecatching imagery for blogs, without needing to be a designer. So, let’s get looking good:

1. instagr.am

Love it or hate it, instagr.am is a fantastic way to create eyecatching imagery for use on a blog, all from your mobile. I use inkstagram, which uses my instagram sign in to produce an easily scrollable stream (instagram itself is a little limited in image access). From there, I click on an image and copy the URL to add into the blog post. At this stage, the SEO savvy among you will want to make sure your image title and alternative text is changed to something relevant.

2. Screen grabs

Screen grabs of images or text can make an easy collage tool. If your screen is full of images, text, maybe a mindmap of work in progress, consider capturing the screen and taking it into an image editor for a vibrant and personal illustration for your blog.

3. Picnik

I love to use Picnik, an online image editor which is currently free in premium form until April when it is fully taken over by Google Creative kit. Both Picnik and the new Creative Kit in Google + allow images to be re-sized, effects added (including saturated and lomo effects), the inclusion of frames such as polaroids, and the addition of text too. This makes them great alternatives to Photoshop and are free resources online, so are easily accessible.

By editing and creating your own images you can have a fabulous looking blog post without worrying about Creative Commons licences or the dreaded copyright, and you needn’t be a designer!

4. Polyvore

Polyvore is a website used mainly by the fashion blogging world, but has useful features for all bloggers. Simply create an account, and go to “create a set”. You can then literally drag and drop a multitude of images including useful things like notebooks, post it notes, coffee stain and paint splash effects, alongside all sorts of images. Add text in some great fonts too by dragging and dropping text.

Once the set is finished you can click the “publish to WordPress” section; before you go ahead with it, simply copy and paste the code and add to your html section in your post.  Polyvore automatically includes links to the products in the set, but you can deselect the check boxes to have code without the links. Voilà, original, fabulous imagery with a footprint on another site to boot!

5. Collages

There are some great apps available to help you make collages for post inclusion. I currently use Picframe for iPhone and iPad which allows photos from your library to be added into collages. You can drag and drop, re-size and alter frame edges and effects, and also export to instagr.am to add a filter and share in your stream or on Flikr.

I also use a desktop application collage maker for larger and more complex collages—there are myriad options available and a quick google search will provide some free collage resources for you. I happen to use an Apple App store called Collage Maker, and I find it to be really handy and effective.

6. Camera

It’s great to take a camera put and about with you if you have one. I use a Nikon D40 to snap away at places, signs, buildings and all sorts of interest. You never know what might appear that has relevance to a blog post you are writing, and you can always crop in, edit the images and form as part of a collage. Using a digital SLR allows a igher resolution to zoom in and crops parts of images not so easily done with iPhonography.

7. Creative Commons search

Creative commons images are images licensed by the creators to be used with a attribution link. You can search for images using the Creative Commons search tool, which may produce some exciting work you have permission to include on your site. Remember to attribute where necessary though.

8. iStock

iStock is a fantastic and inexpensive library of images that are perfect for bloggers. Images and illustrations are purchased in block of credits, and web friendly images can be very cost effective indeed for the odd post here and there.

So, go forth and get creative! Your readers will love you, I promise.

Jo Gifford is a designer, writer, blogger and founder of Cherry Sorbet Creative. Working primarily in the beauty, fashion and lifestyle industries her work spans graphic design for print and web, social media management and training, copywriting and editorial for on and offline publications. You will find her blogging as Dexterous Diva, on Twitter both as Dexterous Diva and Cherry Sorbet, and on Linked In.

Blog Wise Tip 5: Manage Distractions

Given their productivity levels, you might think that A-list bloggers don’t get distracted. The truth, as the interviews in Blog Wise show, is that they’ve learned to deal with distractions so that they don’t rule the day.

Distraction #1: Social media

Is social media sucking up your time? Give yourself permission to spend a few minutes there, says Amy Porterfield.

“I give myself permission, I get in there, I do it, there’s no guilt associated with it, there’s no hurry to it, and then I go on with my work,” she says, adding that for her, less stress means greater productivity.

Distraction #2: Family

For work-from-home bloggers, family can be very distracting. For this reason, Darren has agreed with his wife on certain times when he’s unavailable—“work time”—so that work and home responsibilities can stay fairly separate.

He adds that his family is understanding. “Having a business is a very high priority for me as well, and so we, as a family … acknowledge that I need to work long hours, and put aside time for that and plan for that as well.”

Distraction #3: Work

Darren and Jeff both handle work-related distractions by asking themselves whether the distraction is taking them closer to their goals.

Jeff, too, reminds himself that his purpose is to create, not react, which can help him avoid dedicating time to less productive tasks.

“If I have a choice, and often I do, between reacting or responding to what somebody else has said, and creating something new, I want to create something new,” he says. “So in terms of getting things done, that’s … a question that really helps me guide a lot of decisions.”

Top tip for killing distractions

Some of the bloggers we interviewed commented that they way they handled distractions was to physically remove themselves from the distraction itself.

Matt Kepnes, whose distractions are also his blog topic, shuts himself away from the world when he needs to catch up on work and really focus. For this reason, he finds air travel time to be really productive.

Gretchen Rubin also changes her physical location depending on the work she’s doing. This helps her feel that the time she has for any given task is finite, and helps her to stay focused as she tackles each of the tasks she needs to do.

Among Gretchen’s catalog of working locations, besides her office, are cafes and the library. The walk to get to those places is a bonus.

“I get outside I get a little breath of fresh air, a little hit of sunlight in my face (which is good for alertness and energy, I know from my research), and then I work there,” she says. “And then when I feel I can’t take that anymore … I move someplace else.”

How do you handle blogging distractions? Share your tips in the comments.

Tomorrow: Building a productive blogging team.

Top-of-mind Topics for Bloggers: Digging Deeper

Yesterday’s infographic covered a lot of topics, which I guess goes to show just how much we bloggers have on our minds!

I thought I’d follow it up with links to more information on each of the topics it covered, so that anyone who’s feeling overwhelmed can access and work through these ideas at their own pace.

While each of us might have all these topics in mind at any time, we’re naturally going to focus on those that interest us, or those we find easier, or feel less challenged by. Perhaps yesterday’s infographic and this list will prompt you to give some attention to one or two of the areas that you might usually neglect.

  1. Choosing a blog theme, topic, or niche: How to Choose a Niche for Your Blog
  2. Selecting a URL: Which Domain is Right for You?
  3. Search Engine Optimization: 25 Reasons Why Google Hates You (and don’t forget to check out our SEO article archive for more specific help).
  4. Creating blog content: How to Blog When You’re Not a Writer, also listed in our Writing Content archives.
  5. Creating and using graphics: Why You Should Create Your Own Graphics for Your Blog—plus look out for a post on creating and using imagery in posts on the blog tomorrow.
  6. Choosing and using a blog template: Recommended Blogging Resources, along with our articles on Blog Networks.
  7. Sharing content: 9 Practical Ways to Start Attracting an Audience to Your New Social Media Account.
  8. Blog monetization: 7-Point Checklist for Bloggers Who Want to Create a Profitable Blog.
  9. Traffic generation: The Unsexy Truth About Finding Traffic for Your Blog.
  10. About pages: How Your About Page Can Make or Break Your Blog.

Also, later this week, we’ll take a closer look at three of the areas mentioned in the infographic: the phases in a blog’s lifecycle, creating blog graphics quickly and easily, and avoiding blogging burnout.