Six Things I Learned in My First Six Months as a Problogger

This is a Guest Post by John Saddington of TentBlogger.

Like many professional bloggers, my journey started years ago, as I dabbled in blogging for myself and for my friends. I’m not exactly sure when it happened, but it did—the date doesn’t matter much here. And, to be completely honest, I had really no idea of what I was doing at the time.

Nearly a decade later, I jumped into the deep end, going pro as a full time blogger. I decided that I’d try my hand as a professional blogger, “blogging for fun and for profit,” and seeing where it would take me.

So far it’s been everything that I had expected, but even moreso, it’s been extremely eye-opening, humbling, and down-right scary at times. I finally had the time to actually review that first half-year and here’s what I came up with. My hope is that I can pass these learnings on to you so that you can jump to that stage in your blogging (if you wish). Hopefully, you’ll be even more prepared for what lies ahead!

1. Count your pennies

Making the jump from a full-time job into professional blogging took a lot of patience, calculation, and financial management. Heck, I had mouths to feed (I already had one daughter, and a second on the way!) and I couldn’t afford to make a serious capital error on my finances. In other words, it just had to work and I had to stay ‘in the black’ as best as I could.

I was diligent, I was safe, and I was conservative as much as the next fiscally responsible person—and although I’d never call myself a professional financial accountant, I was confident in my ability to make the ends meet. But the importance of being on top of my finances kicked up a serious notch the moment my blogs became the number one source of income.

What I wish I’d done was to take into account every single penny that was going in and going out from the blog; yes, to that degree—pennies.

You see, I had general (and accurate) estimations of my earnings but without the exact penny figures I couldn’t completely optimize my earnings in the specific areas that needed to be optimized (like affiliate marketing, direct sales, etc).

I encourage you to start counting those pennies today, even if it is just pennies—you’ll be even more ready to make the jump when you do.

Practical application

  1. Make a list of your current costs, both from a week and month-to-month perspective. Start documenting today so that you’re aware of what’s coming in and what’s coming out.
  2. Share your list of expenses with those that know you best. Having accountability is one of your greatest weapons against over-spending.
  3. Always wait before purchasing—make a mental note and goal to never spend any money the same day that you feel like you need something.
  4. Share your list publicly! Your blog readers might actually enjoy walking with you through this neat part of your blogging journey.
  5. Set times for your to conduct monthly and quarterly reviews. You’ll find these times and activities very fascinating as you dive deep into your fiscal planning for your blog. You might even come away having learned some significant new lessons.

2. Go free or go home

I love the applications that I use for my work, and most of them have been paid applications. The challenge of being in the freelance world—and especially the problogging world—is that there are always newer and shinier programs out there that are constantly enticing me. Heck, some claim to make me money instantly so why not, right?

Wrong. My approach quickly changed to finding open-source or free alternatives to paid apps. Sure, there’s nothing wrong with paying for your apps, but every single dollar counts—especially in the beginning, as you work your way to a profitable blog. You need to save where you can save, and do it over and over again.

Take the time to find the right free apps. Develop a thick skin for those moments when you see advertisements for apps that say they’ll help your blogging more if you just buy them today (especially if it’s a “limited time only” offer). You can go pro without paying a dime—in fact, why not challenge yourself to do just that?

Practical applications

  1. Always do you your research. Find the best sites and blogs that cover open source apps and freeware. You can’t go wrong with being thoroughly equipped to make the right spending choices.
  2. Ask your network for solutions. Facebook and Twitter can provide valuable information and resources that may just end up saving you significant time and money.
  3. Blog about your apps and the way that you use them! I’ve found this to be not only a neat exercise, but also a great time for the commenters and community to share their thoughts on both use and other perhaps better alternatives.
  4. Think beyond apps: consider all the things you need to function properly as a blogger. For example, what about free wifi at your local hotspot and coffee shop? I know of many bloggers who go to the extreme in their attempts at saving, and they did it. Sure, they can afford wifi at home, but they still jump over to the free wireless often!
  5. This goes with the previous section on counting pennies but it’s worth mentioning again: never purchase on emotion or gut reaction to a felt need. Wait a few hours (days perhaps), ask a few people, and make the wisest decision you can.

3. Prepare for the emotional rollercoaster


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The first six months have been riddled with fear, anxiety, doubt, and depression—pretty sweet, right? It’s exactly what you want to hear from a professional blogger! One can get seriously beat up on that emotional rollercoaster ride!

The thing is that these are normal emotions for anyone who has experienced a job change. I just didn’t expect that they’d come on as strong in a job that I had been wanting to dive into for so long. It’s like getting to your dream job and realizing that it’s not like your dream at all—well, it’s still a “dream” job but it’s different, right?

There is no perfect job, and if you’re looking for it, then don’t be surprised when the kryptonite called reality arrives and you realize that you must still manage the stress and pressure of providing for yourself and your family. But it’s still worth it.

There’s no coaching or preparation that I can give you for making a jump into professional blogging but I can tell you that it will be emotional and that’s okay.

Practical applications

  1. Prepare today for the ups and downs of changing your job, and adopting a lifestyle that’s entirely different than the one that you had previously. Simply being aware of this transition can make you all the more prepared.
  2. Get your personal network in order so as to provide support during the transition. Broadcast and share where you’re headed and get people involved. It’s much more fun that way too!
  3. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. This is one of the healthiest emotional places to be: where you’re confident of your continued path, but humble enough to know that you’re not the first (nor the last) to travel that road and you might need some help here and there.
  4. Be completely okay with the expression of that emotion. I didn’t learn until much later in life that it was better to be completely honest with my emotions than to hide them, especially during tough life changes.
  5. Set up a schedule and a time to rejoice. Your career choices are exciting, but often we forget to simply celebrate and enjoy the ride, so to speak.

4. Remember: your environment is everything

Since I started my blogging as a hobby I didn’t really care about where I was when I wrote anything—the fact that I managed to get in front of the computer at all seemed like a feat, and there was no rhyme nor reason to my work environment or circumstance. This worked just fine.

As I moved closer to writing seriously, I still didn’t have the full appreciation for my environment: I was writing during my lunch breaks, at the kitchen table after a late-night meal, or early in the morning before the coffee finished brewing. I blogged where I was because that’s where I was when I had the free time to do so. Sure, I tried to find those “optimal” writing environments that I felt helped me stay productive effectively, but it was more of luxury than a necessity. I just wanted to write and I’d write anywhere.

Now, as a professional blogger, this is what I do and my environment is under my control—and it’s never been more important that I craft the right environment for optimal thinking, drafting, and publishing. I’m even sharing this experience publicly as I craft the perfect professional blogging office with my community.

The challenge, though, is that I wasn’t taking notes for all those years as I spent time in the many different places where I wrote. I wish that I’d been more aware of the places, circumstances, environments, and all of the related paraphernalia that came with those environments, so that I could more easily create that perfect problogging office today.

I’d encourage you to start taking notes today if you’re planning to head in the direction of professional blogging. Then, when you do get there, you’ll know exactly what you need to create that perfect writing environment.

Practical applications

  1. Obviously you’ll want to start documenting all that appears to help you be your most productive. Include the elements of the space, the artifacts, the tools, and anything else that just seems to “work.”
  2. Pay particularly close attention not only to the “where,” but also to the “who” in your environment—does a bunch of strangers help you feel motivated to write? Or are you always with people that you know intimately? This could be a critical part of your environment!
  3. Don’t just make a list of elements—begin to categorize and price them. This is exciting because it can give you an opportunity to set goals for yourself around when you’ll purchase them, and when you’ll get to use them.
  4. Share your ideas about your ideal work environment with your blog community and ask for their feedback, as well as their thoughts on particular environments and tools within those environments. They might even show you alternatives that can save you money. That’s a win-win in my book!
  5. Allow yourself to dream a little. There’s no perfect place for you to write until you get there and so a lot of the environment creation process will take place in your head. Just don’t let your head stay too close to the ground. without imagination, you won’t be able to craft the optimal environment.

5. Work smarter, not harder?

The well-known adage we hear from many gurus is that you should seek to work smarter, not harder. And I believe that is generally true … except that it’s often not, especially in the space of the professional blogger.

I’ve learned that I must do both, at the exact same time, at about the same pace, and with extreme prejudice. There are elements of writing full-time that require you to work a lot harder than you’ve ever worked previously when you were blogging as a side project or hobby. And you need to blog at the exact same time you’re developing new processes and workflows that allow you to work smarter as well.

For example, I’m not working fewer hours than I did before. I work about the same (if not more). But I’m also working smarter during those times, churning out blog posts while developing strategy for marketing, awareness, and social engagements that’ll increase traffic. I’m also bucketing time for building a business around the blog as well as doing the administrative tasks that are required of any small business owner.

If you make the jump to being a problogger don’t expect to sip pina coladas on a beach in Tahiti working two hours a day with your remote 4G external wifi connection. No, your head is down (in your awesome work environment) making as much progress as you possibly can. After all, there’s no guarantee that your community is coming back to your blog tomorrow.

Practical applications

  1. Start documenting your workflows so you can get to a place of good writing rhythm. Catalog them and spend time refining them.
  2. Invest in your existing toolkit, and master those tools. Even if you know certain applications well, I bet you could know them better if you spent the time learning such things as shortcut keys and optimal work patterns, for example.
  3. Act like you’re a problogger today, creating the exceptional content that your community deserves, and you’ll find the change of pace less disruptive.
  4. Become better at scheduling your time and batching your efforts. This is one of the most critical skills that I’ve learned: I had to become even better at time management and waste as little of it on things that wouldn’t bring value to my work.
  5. Remember that rest is a vital part of working “smarter,” and that you’ll need this every single day. Rest well and your work will be the best that it can be! Learn to do this today so that when you get to be a problogger, you’ll find rest just as natural as, well, sleeping!

6. It’s not about me: it’s about them

As I ramped up into full-time blogging as a career, I day-dreamed about what it would look like, what it would feel like, and how I’d wake up every morning with a feeling of intense personal satisfaction knowing that I’ve “done it.” It was all about me. What I quickly realized is that professional blogging is less about myself and more about the community that helped you get to this point.

And yes, we all know that already but it becomes even more apparent when you realize that your financial stability and generation depends on those that believe in what you write and what you have to say as important (or more important) than the many other voices out there. This truth brings humility and grace at the right time and reminds you that your blog is nothing more than a collection of passionate people that are headed in the same direction.

Practical applications

  1. Learn to appreciate your community even more today than you did yesterday. What this means is going to be different for each blogger!
  2. Dedicate time to engaging with your community. Most people don’t have a schedule around their community engagement and they end up doing it throughout the entire day. That ends up wasting a lot of time when you can learn to use a workflow and batch your efforts.
  3. Look into other ways to engage with your community, such as Facebook and Twitter. Even starting an email newsletter might be one way to reach a particular part of your community that you don’t typically engage with.
  4. Be explicit and thank them continually. Do this today and they’ll be with you tomorrow.
  5. Have fun with them—life’s better that way, and your blog will be better for it as well.

What have you learned?

Whether you’re a problogger, a blogging stalwart, a hobby blogger, or a newbie, you’ve probably learned a few lessons of your own. Share them with us in the comments.

Written exclusive for by John Saddington. He is a Professional Blogger who loves sharing his blogging tips, tricks, tools, and practical teaching covering SEO, WordPress and making money through your blog! You can follow him on Twitter too: @TentBlogger.

How to Be a Good Guest Post Host

This guest post is by LJ Earnest of

You often see articles about how to be a good guest poster: things you can do to make an impression and get your post published. But what about the flip-side of that? Do you have what it takes to be a good guest post host?

Guest posting is beneficial both to the writer and the publisher. It builds relationships, strengthens support, and generates publicity for the host while giving exposure to the writer. Here are eight things you can do to be a better guest post host.

Have an FAQ

FAQs are good ways to keep yourself from answering the same questions over again. For guest posting, have a FAQ that covers the questions you are asked, such as “How long do posts have to be?” and “What format should I use?” It should also cover things such as your blog topics and the frequency of posting, even though this should be apparent to those who have done their homework. Having a FAQ can save you a lot of extra work answering email, and gives a place to link to in response to general inquiries.

Even if you don’t accept guest posts, your general blog FAQ should say this outright. It will save the author a lot of trouble.

Make the FAQ easy to find

It does no one any good if you have a guest posting FAQ that no one can find. The link needs to be prominent and convey that it is about guest posting.

A great way to get your guest posting guidelines out is to put a link to it on each guest post you publish. A prospective author will find it more quickly if they are already looking at a guest post.

Respond when you say you will

The process of submitting a guest post is one where the poster submits an idea or article, and then it goes into a kind of freeze until the host blog accepts it or rejects it. The article can’t be submitted elsewhere, and it may possibly go out of relevance.

Part of the FAQ should be a timeframe when you will get back to your possible guest. Even then, you must honor what you say. If you say your timeframe is five days, make sure you respond in five days, even if it is a “I like the article, but I am swamped and need more time to look at it.” If you find yourself consistently missing your stated timeframe, change it in the FAQ to something you can meet.

Responding within a given timeframe builds credibility and makes people more likely to submit a post; after all, who wants to send a post knowingly into a black hole?

Have a clear way to submit a guest post

Having a separate email address or form for guest post submissions makes it easy for you to keep track of what is coming in. It also gives the author a feeling that his post will not be lost in other email. This information could be included as part of the FAQ.

Give some basic feedback

We all strive to improve at what we do. But without external feedback, it is very hard to figure out what we are doing right and wrong.

Who doesn’t like to have their work praised? If there was something that caught your attention in the article, tell the author. This form of community building will net you allies and readers.

On the flip-side, if you are rejecting the post, give some basic feedback why. If the post doesn’t meet the criteria set forth in your FAQ, let the author know (along with a link to the FAQ). Or if the post would require too much editing on your part, the author should know as well. This type of feedback will help them write better posts in the future, should they choose to use the information.

Be willing to negotiate

Sometimes a post doesn’t work on your blog because of timing or some other factor that has nothing to do with the article itself. In that case, ask the author to be flexible. I had a recent submission where the author did everything right—but the article was on the same subject as one due to go out the next week. I asked him if he would be willing to delay publication because of the timing, and he agreed. A possible rejection turned into a win-win.

Negotiating with the author can not only build relationships, but also a reputation for fairness.

Don’t compromise

It is your blog, after all, and you have the final say over content. If your blog is about widgets, and someone submits a post on elephants, don’t compromise your content quality by publishing it. Likewise, feel free to reject posts that don’t make the cut, even it they come from someone you know.

Be kind

Having creative work read by others can feel like having your skin removed. Remember that the person on the other end of the email is a person with feelings. Be as kind as you can.

Have you thought about what it takes to be a great guest post host? Share below.

LJ Earnest is a computer programmer by day, productivity geek all the time. Using the principles of productivity and simplicity at, she helps people get through the stuff they have to do so they can get to the stuff they want to do. She can also be found at Twitter and Facebook. Remember, a productive life doesn’t have to be complicated.

When’s the Right Time to Start Selling?

This guest post is by k out Brandon Yanofsk of B-List Marketing.

If you’ve ever asked another blogger, “When’s the right time to start selling on my blog?”, you’ll know you never get a solid answer.

Some say as soon as you get one person visiting your blog.

Some say never to start selling until you’ve got at least 100 subscribers.

And some say selling before you have 10,000 people on your email list is premature.

However, I’m here to set the record straight and give you a solid answer.

But before I give you that answer, I need to explain something.

Don’t sell: provide a solution to a problem

Everyone thinks of selling as something nasty—something you shouldn’t do. They think of shady car salesmen or the cliched snake-oil salesman. Basically, someone trying to rip them off.

It’s no wonder then that people don’t want to sell on their blogs.

Instead of calling it “selling,” let’s call it what it really is: Providing a Solution to a Problem.

Now, let’s rephrase the original question:

When’s the right time to provide a solution to a problem?


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If someone runs up to you and says, “Hey, I need your help”, would you reply with, “Sorry, I’m not selling right now.”?

Of course not. You’d jump right in and help.

So, the right time to start selling on your blog is:

As soon as you identify a problem and create a solution to that problem.

It doesn’t matter if you have one subscriber, or 100,000 subscribers. Once you’ve identified the problem your readers are facing, it’s time to create a solution to it.

I know of a blogger who has a very, very healthy following. Yet he can’t manage to make one sale. The reason is: he isn’t providing a solution to a problem his readers face. He’s just creating products and hoping someone buys them.

On the other hand, I’ve seen bloggers who have very few subscribers. Yet they have a very healthy business selling products. Why? Because they identified a problem their readers face, and created the solution.

So, don’t let people tell you there is a certain number of followers you need before selling products. It doesn’t exist.

Instead, ask yourself only two questions:

1) Have I identified the problem? and 2) Can I provide the solution?

Looking for more tips on creating a blogging business? Check out Brandon Yanofsky’s site B-List Marketing where he’ll show you how to create a blogging business your readers know, like, and trust.

Blogging for the Inspired Soul

This guest post is by Lori Meyer of

Ask any top blogger why they blog and they’ll tell you it’s because they’re passionate about what they do. It shows in their work. It shows through the number of blog followers they have. It shows through the multitude of comments they receive on their posts.

Blogging is not work. If you feel it is, perhaps blogging is not for you. Blogging is an opportunity to share your knowledge and experiences with your readers.

My blog is a retreat where I can post my thoughts, ideas and strategies with whomever visits, and then send them on their way. The quality and value of my posts is the open door for them to return.

Blogging is about sharing your knowledge, reaching out and helping others along on their journey, through your passion for writing. It is not about money although money is an eventual by-product of blogging. Your love for writing and sharing should be your motivation for blogging.

Your goal is to unveil new and fresh ideas that will empower your audience.

“Your blog is the vehicle through which you connect with your readers. To motivate and inspire them to take the next step in their own journey.”

With your writings, you have the opportunity to make a difference. That’s one of the reasons why blogging is so rewarding.

Quality over quantity

Write when you’re inspired to write. Write when you have something significant to share with your audience. Your content must flow through you naturally or your message will suffer for it. Write when the spirit moves you to express, that’s when the good stuff starts to flow!

Writing for one

The written word can motivate, inspire, encourage and empower.

“Regardless of how many readers you have, when you write, you have only one.”

Write as though you’re speaking to a close friend. Make your readers feel as though you wrote the post for them, and them alone. Be yourself and don’t think too much. Just allow the words to flow and keep the momentum going when inspiration hits. That the secret to composing quality content.

What a powerful way to connect with your audience on an emotional level!.

Encourage your audience through motivation and interaction. Ask them their thoughts regarding your post, ask them to share it if they feel it will make a difference for others. Inspire your readers to take action, but in any case, do inspire them.

“Writing for one” allows your readers to see that there is a real person behind the blog and not just someone who pumps out content to increase readership.

Comments—the great motivator

When you provide exceptional content for your readers, they’ll let you know about it by commenting on your posts. One of the most rewarding aspects of blogging is the wonderful feedback from visitors who appreciate your content.

And that’s where those comments come in handy.

There will be times when you find yourself at a loss for the inspiration to write. When that occurs, click on over to review the things your readers had to say. I guarantee you’ll get that warm and fuzzy feeling, and a jolt of writing mojo to keep on going!

“The key to successful blogging is to be yourself and write from the heart. Your readers will follow your every word.”

Visit the blogs of those who have inspired you. They are incredible resources for new ideas and renewed inspiration.


One of the most valuable ways to enhance your blog posts is to use images. You heard the saying: “A picture is worth a thousand words.” Allow colorful, relevant images to tell your story. Use them to bring your post to life and to blend in with your message.

Don’t use any old picture but choose photos that resonate with you. People connect visually with images and this is where you can make a great impact.

If you can’t decide what to write or which images to use, my advice is, if it feeds your soul, go with it. Blogging is about being proud of your work product and walking away with a sense of accomplishment.

Blogging is an unfolding. It’s a beautiful journey with no destination.

Lori Meyer is a spiritual teacher, motivational speaker, blogger and Reiki Master. Her purpose is to inspire and motivate others and help them along on their journey through her writings and teachings.

Visit her website at, a realm for personal development and spiritual growth, and become a part of a growing online family of like-minded individuals who are looking for daily inspiration and motivation.

Absolutely Everything You Need To Make Your Blog Outstanding

This guest post is by Ollin Morales of Courage 2 Create.

Nearly a year and a half ago, I was a complete mess. I had lost my job in the recession, my then boyfriend broke up with me, I didn’t get into grad school, and I had to guide a loved one through her very serious depression. I had never been under so much pain, turmoil, and stress in all my life.

To my surprise, in the midst of all of this, I had a mysterious calling to write a novel.

In order to keep myself accountable to this novel, I was encouraged to start a blog documenting the process. At the time, I only had the humble goal that in 5-10 years maybe someone, somewhere (other than my sister) would read it.

It turned out that writing the first draft of my first novel amid all the chaos in my life was a nearly insurmountable task. But, luckily, I was able to get through the process by inventing a series of tools. Every time I overcame an obstacle, I created a new tool, and I shared this tool with my readers.

Turns out that these tools not only helped me write and complete the first draft of my novel, but they were also becoming a lifeline for hundreds of readers who were also forging their way through life’s many challenges.

Miraculously, within LESS than year, the blog went from obscurity to Top Ten Blogger status; from 12 readers a day to up to 3,000 readers a day; from zero subscribers to four hundred and counting; to zero income, to earning money from clients who took my writing consultation service through my blog.

In retrospect, I realize that it was only with the help of blogs like Problogger that I didn’t have to wait five or ten years for hundreds of people to notice my blog—I only had to wait less than year.

So, today, in the tradition of great bloggers like Darren, instead of keeping all my best blogging secrets to myself, I wanted to help you by sharing my absolute best tips on how to make YOUR blog outstanding in less than a year.

The story of my good friend, his wise teacher, and the lake

Before I tell you how to make your blog outstanding, I would first like to share with you this story.

A friend of mine, who was facing many problems in his life, told me of a dream he had in which his teacher appeared to him. In this dream, my friend’s teacher led him to beautiful, pristine lake in the middle of a jungle.

The teacher pointed to this big, beautiful lake with its great, roaring waterfall and asked my friend to drink from it.

Having grown to trust his teacher, my friend reached into the lake, cupped his hands, and drank a cool, fresh gulp of the water.

After my friend was finished, the teacher said:

“Now, I want you to drink the entire lake.”

My friend turned pale, and was hesitant for moment.

But as he trusted his teacher, my friend did not question the instruction, and simply brought another handful of water to his mouth. Then, he brought another handful to his mouth. Then another. Then another. Then another.

My friend drank and drank and drank until the water was nearly up to his throat, and he had no choice but to spit it out.

My friend shook his head.

“Sorry,” he told his teacher, “but I can’t drink this whole lake. It’s impossible!”

The teacher gave a smirk, and then, with a twinkle in his knowing eye, said:

“Then why do you insist on drinking all of your problems, and all the world’s problems all at once?”

At this point, the teacher pointed to the roaring waterfall.

And that’s when my friend finally understood.

The lake represented all of the problems my friend was facing in his life; and the relentless waterfall represented the world’s problems that just kept coming and coming and never stopped.

It was clear that just as my friend could not swallow the entire lake and the entire rushing waterfall on his own, my friend also could not—no matter how hard he tried—swallow all of his problems and all of world’s problems all at once.

Finally, the teacher suggested that my friend only drink from the lake what he could, and leave the rest up to something bigger than him.

Absolutely everything you need to know to make your blog outstanding

Through this little story, we can learn that there are only two ways by which we can ever become an “outstanding” blogger.

1. Do your best

When blogging focus only on what you can “drink” from life’s “lake.” By that I mean, focus only on the responsibilities that you can carry out to the best of your abilities:

  • Don’t just write “good” posts—write posts you are madly in love with and trash anything you think is just “okay” or “great.”
  • Don’t just summarize what others are saying—“synergize” two different points of view to arrive at a completely new point of view.
  • Don’t just offer your readers inspiration, information, wisdom, and guidance they’ve come to expect—give them inspiration, information, wisdom, and guidance they never expected you’d give them.
  • Don’t limit yourself to only intellectual arguments or insights—allow yourself to share insights you have gathered using your physical, psychological, spiritual, social and emotional sensibilities as well.
  • Don’t just make your blog posts specific—make them universal by utilizing storytelling techniques like metaphor and simile to help drive your point forward.
  • Don’t just write well—learn how to write exceptionally.

2. Show up

My friend could not have possibly drunk anything from the lake if he was not at first present.

So make sure you “show up” to your blog every week, and put your best self out there so that new readers can discover you.

  • Don’t just guest post on other blogs, or feature guest bloggers—guest post on blogs, or feature guest bloggers that reflect the same level of excellence, thoughtfulness, open-mindedness, and care YOU have become known for.
  • Don’t only keep up a consistent schedule—inform your readers through Facebook, Twitter updates, and newsletters of what kind of content they should be expecting, and when it will be rolled out, so that they, too, can show up and support you when the content appears.
  • Don’t just blog—pay attention to other aspects of your life as well: your emotional, psychological, physical, and spiritual “selves” are just as important as your “blogging self.”

The bottom line

In the end, all you need to do to be outstanding at blogging is to show up and try your very best. Trust me, when you do this, people will start to notice you all on their own—and your readership will grow.

Oh, and by the way, that story about my friend? It was actually about me.

What I can say that, in that dream, when I learned that all I needed to do was drink what I could from the lake, I felt a tremendous wave of relief brush over me. I also felt that one day I would have to share this great lesson with others. Because to become an outstanding blogger you must not only show up and try your best—you must also be willing to share your greatest lessons, allowing them to expand throughout the world far wider than any lake, and far louder than any roaring waterfall.

Ollin Morales is a fiction writer whose blog, Courage 2 Create, chronicles his journey as he writes his first novel. His blog offers writing advice as well as self-help strategies to deal with life’s toughest challenges. You can also follow him on Twitter.

How to Build Community for Niche Site Success

This is a guest post by Jim Nelson of

Talk about a niche market!

When I first started blogging about my three legged dog Jerry back in 2006, never in my wildest dreams did I think helping those facing amputation for their dogs would be my full time job five years later. But then again, I never expected the little website I created to keep friends and family informed about Jerry’s progress to become the largest online community for canine amputees and their people either.

Jerry was the Chief Fun Officer of the design firm my wife Rene and I grew for nearly ten years. After his amputation we sold the business—and our home, along with most of our belongings—and bought an RV to travel the country making the most of our remaining time with Jerry, and searching for the next big thing. We considered a number of different ventures during our three years on the road, but that thing turned out to be right under our noses, and the Tripawds Blogs community was born.

We had been building Jerry’s dog blog all along, with lots of helpful canine cancer resources and loads of information about amputation for dogs. And we were doing our best to monetize the site with your typical affiliate programs, text link ads and PPC campaigns. For details about the fledgling Tripawds site, don’t miss my submission for the 2008 ProBlogger Video Mashup. My movie is the only one featuring a talking dog.

Canine Amputees Sprite, Wyatt, and Calpurnia, By Jim Nelson of

Tripawds has come a long way since then. Jerry is no longer with us, but his legacy lives on at which now hosts 650+ three legged dog blogs with more than 2,600 registerred members and more joining every day. It’s the club nobody ever wants to join; but a fun one nonetheless, where members commisserate, share their treatment plans and help each other cope with difficult decisions. And its success would not be possible without a few things that make the community what it has become: WordPress Multisite, discussion forums, and social networking.

Forums create discussion

In the early days of the Tripawds blog, we started to receive frequent requests from people for advice about their dogs. As much as we wanted to help, replying individually to all these emails got old, fast. We decided to create discussion forums so members could answer each other’s questions directly. This allowed people seeking advice to get more than just one opinion, increased traffic and user registrations, and added valuable content to the site.

Shortly after installing the Simple:Press Forums plugin for WordPress, our membership quickly grew from a handful of followers to hundreds of devoted individuals actively participating by welcoming new members, sharing advice and directing others to informative content. Now with more than 4,400 topics and 59,500 posts the Tripawds forums not only provide a helpful resource—and valuable search bot fodder—but they keep visitors on the site longer; as long as ten minutes per visit on average.

Tripawds provides dedicated forums for canine cancer care, nutritional advice, coping with loss and much more. And when the community demanded an “Anything Goes” forum we obliged, creating a place for members to discuss whatever they wanted. To boost sales through certain affiliate partners, and help our members save on pet supplies or supplements for their dogs, we started specific Anything Goes forum topics where we frequently post coupon codes, sale notices and other promotions we find through our affiliate advertisers.

The network creates community

In late 2009, with a discussion forum and live chat room, the next logical step for growing the Tripawds community was to offer members their own blogs. That’s when I discovered WordPress MU; now an optional core function of WordPress known as Multisite. Migrating from our plain vanilla WordPress installation to the multi-user blog network was no easy task, but now it is as easy as clicking Create a Network. Well almost, there are a few extra steps but not many. With a basic understanding WordPress, you too can make your own blog network.

We chose to use our Multisite network to offer free blogs to members, following the freemium model. We give users 25MB of upload space for their free blogs which display banner ads. For a nominal fee—payable by monthly, quarterly or annual PayPal subscriptions—these ads are automatically removed. Upgrading to a Tripawds Supporter Blog also automatically increases the user’s upload quota to 1GB and gives them access to additional premium themes and plugins.

With network-wide user avatars, searchable blog/user directories, and widgets throughout the main Tripawds site that display most recent blog posts and comments, a true sense of community has developed among our members. It is heartwarming to watch friendships develop, and recurring payments from auto-renewing Supporter subscriptions are nice too. We use various WordPress Multisite plugins from WPMU Dev to make this all possible.

You don’t have to host user’s blogs, however, to take advantage of the power WordPress Multisite offers, especially if you don’t want to deal with the demands a growing network will put on your server. Hint: shared hosting won’t cut it! You can use Multisite to host a number of your own sites from one WordPress installation. Using a Domain Mapping plugin, each site can even have its own URL. The first thing we did after creating our network was set up a number of Tripawds Featured Blogs. These are dedicated sites where we review various products ranging from the best gear for three legged dogs and recommended nutritional supplements, to books, downloads and Tripawds t-shirts.

Everyone is on Facebook

Jerry’s fan base first started to grow on the Tripawds YouTube channel, where one of his movies is quickly approaching 1.5 million views. We use Twitter to announce all new featured blogs posts, as well as for celebrating the triumphs of some amputee dogs and mourning the loss of others. As for Facebook, I was a holdout. I refused to be assimilated. Then I finally realized how many people were sharing news about their three0legged dogs, or asking for advice, and the Tripawds Facebook page was born. Jerry now has more than 2000 fans.

Facebook adds a whole new sense of community, with friends, photo sharing, and instant gratification. That’s why we use it primarily to drive traffic to Tripawds where people usually register right away to see if anyone is in the chat room, where we are usually waiting to welcome them to the community.

Realizing that most visitors on Facebook are seeking fast answers, we created a custom landing page to help them out. The tab anyone sees before “liking” the Tripawds page includes links to our most helpful resources and RSS feeds from the blogs and forums.

Ebooks, podcasts, and more

Social networking for three-legged dogs doesn’t end on Facebook. I frequently participate in various dog-centric group discussions on LinkedIn. And our latest endeavor is Tripawd Talk Radio using the free BlogTalkRadio broadcast tools. Rene and I co-host this program periodically to profile amazing survival stories or interview veterinary oncologists and rehab specialists. We use the Tripawds discussion forums to announce shows and solicit questions for guests. Then we make the podcasts available in our Downloads blog after each show.

Another download we now offer was more than three years in the making. For those who don’t care to spend time searching the vast amount of content in our blogs and forums, we published Three Legs and a Spare, the first in a series of canine amputation handbooks. This 108 page PDF includes hundreds of direct links to the most helpful blog posts, videos and forum topics Tripawds has to offer. While the majority of content in this ebook is available for free on our site, the primary value is in its consolidation and organization of information.

The last suggestion I have for anyone creating a community is t-shirts. Members like to feel like they belong, and they love to show their pride. Cafe Press makes that simple. We had a basic CP Shop for years, with limited product availability, and even fewer purchases. Not until we upgraded Jerry’s store to a Premium Shop did we start to see regular revenue from the vast selection of three legged dog t-shirts and gifts we now offer.

Building a community of support

Finally, if you have a cause website don’t be afraid to ask for money. We held a community support ChipIn campaign to compensate for our additional hosting costs the first year after outgrowing the capacity of our old shared account—a clear case of too much traffic and bandwidth usage being a good thing.

Running our own server isn’t cheap, but active community members understand that. Others wanted to know how they could help after the campaign so we created different PayPal subscription levels for ongoing contributions. We also created a Support page that lists the various ways members can help, from naming their own price for a dog bandanna to clicking numerous different affiliate banners for shopping online.

With an audience that is often distraught over caring for their dog, however, we do our best to steer clear of any blatant promotion. Instead, we only provide links to products we believe in and always provide full disclosure about affiliate partnerships.

So if you’re interested in building a community for something you’re passionate about, consider using WordPress Multisite, discussion forums, and social networking to build a following. And if you think your cause isn’t grand enough to make it worthwhile, think again. Did you ever think there was such a site for three legged dogs?

Do you have a niche blog? How has community-building helped your blog succeed?

Jim Nelson is co-founder and chief administrator of the Tripawds Blogs community and discussion forums. Together with his wife Rene, Jim published Three Legs and a Spare - A Canine Amputation Handbook, the first in a series of helpful ebooks from

10 Things You Can Do Right Now to Grow Your Email List

This guest post is by Ethan Waldman.

Everyone starts from zero.  Zero readers, zero subscribers, zero dollars.  I can tell you from experience that staring at that number on the screen is one of the most gut-wrenching things about building an online presence.

You’re staring that that big, fat, zero right now and you don’t know what to do about it. Sure, there are loads of people who sell or give away advice on how to rectify that situation, but no amount of reading twitter or buying flashy information products will change it without action on your part.

When I work with small, offline businesses on building a web presence, they usually start from zero.  In fact, they start from less than zero because they often don’t even understand what social media is or have never had a website.

In times of frustration and near defeat, one of the most satisfying things I’ve done is to take action. When you take action, you assume responsibility for whatever situation you’re in and attempt to change it.

Still, the first few weeks or months of building a web presence can be so lonely. One of the fastest ways to change that is through an email list. Having a quality email list is awesome because:

  • It’s sustainable way to drive traffic to your blog website.
  • It is something people opt-in to. These are people that want to hear from you.
  • You can use the list to figure out what your customers want.
  • It works immediately, regardless of the size.

Building a profitable and responsive email list takes time and effort. Sometimes, it can feel hopeless when you look at your subscriber numbers.  Over the course of my online journey, I’ve both learned from amazing mentors and used trial and error to learn how to grow. 

The following ten items are things that you can take action on that will help you build your email list faster. You can do them right now if you want to. If you’re not doing the following ten activities already, you’re struggling against that “zero” harder than you need to.

Add a Facebook Like button to your Thank You page

1. If you don’t have a custom Thank You page for your list subscribers, you are missing out on keeping that subscriber on your website. In Aweber, the options for a custom Thank You page are in Step 2 when you’re creating a web form.

2. Make sure your page has personality. A generic “Thank you for signing up” won’t cut it.  Use your voice, and thank your new subscriber the way you actually would thank them if you were writing a personal email or talking on the phone. This is also a great opportunity to remind folks that they’ll need to check their email inbox for an email to verify their subscription.

3. Finally, add the Facebook like button to your custom Thank You page.

Here’s the important part: even though subscribers will be clicking the Like button on your Thank You page, you can set it up to like any page on your website.

I would recommend having your Facebook Like button like your Signup page, rather than your Thank You page. Here’s how to configure it. First, go to Facebook’s developer page here.

Create two new web forms and split-test them

I improved opt-ins by 18% simply by trying out different sign-up boxes.  Aweber makes it simple to split-test different forms with one snippet of code.

Under Web Forms, scroll to the bottom of the page and choose Create A New Split Test. Give your split test a name, and choose which web forms to include by assigning them a percentage of how often they will be shown.

Back on the Web Forms page, choose Get HTML next to your newly created split test, and use that code in place of the single form on your site.

Check back on this page in a few days to view the stats. Once you find out what the best performing form is, use it all the time.  For even better opt-ins, do another split test with the winner of the first and two more new forms.

Thank your current subscribers

In his email list, Un-Stream, Jonathan Mead starts by thanking his new subscribers for the week. It’s a nice way of welcoming people into his community.  You can take this one step further: Send out a tweet or make a Facebook post: “Thank you to the awesome 68 new subscribers today to the Cloud Coach stream http://…”

This works on two levels. First, people like recognition. If you @ mention one or two of your new subscribers, there’s a good chance that they’ll re-tweet you (and the link to your signup page). Second, it builds curiosity for people who don’t currently subscribe. They’ll wonder what they are missing and click the link, especially if the number is impressive.

Try a site bar

Have you noticed the full-width bars that pop down from the top of the screen and “push” the whole website down with them? It seems like they are all over the web right now, and that’s because they work well. Visually, they break the flow of the eye as it scans down your page. The result is that they grab the readers’ attention for an extra second, while they read what the bar has to say.

HelloBar and ViperBar are just two of the options:

  • HelloBar boasts universal compatibility, a slick web interface with analytics (yes, you can split test your HelloBars), and easily customizable colors and fonts.
  • ViperBar is WordPress only and comes in plugin form, so there’s no code to install in your theme files. It also allows you to put a signup box for your mailing list right inside the bar.

Regardless of which you choose, your goal is to increase signups for your mailing list. Use the HelloBar to link to your signup page with a compelling headline. Or, use the ViperBar with the signup form built in so visitors don’t have to leave the page they’re on.

Sweeten the deal

Can you offer new subscribers some sort of giveaway for signing up? “Free Email Updates” is not a compelling reason to sign up.  You’ll be much more likely to get opt-ins if they come with something unique.

Not sure what to offer? You’ve probably already created content that you can use with your freebie. Just don’t recycle it! In their (excellent) book Content Rules, authors C.C. Chapman and Ann Handley explain that you should re-imagine your content, rather than recycle it.  For example, take five blog posts that are centered around a general topic, and reformat them into a PDF ebook using Pages or PowerPoint.  Here’s @C.C.Chapman with more:

Switch from personal email to a real email list provider

I can’t tell you how many small business people I know who do their business emailing from their personal email accounts! If you are committing this sin, most of the other tips in this article will be useless to you. Keeping an “email list” as a contact group in your Gmail account just doesn’t cut it.

Switch to a real provider so you can:

  • create web (signup) forms
  • find out which emails get opened
  • provide a safe way to unsubscribe
  • split test your forms and emails.

Not sure which service to look at? Mailchimp offers a free list for up to 500 subscribers. Be wary though, because Aweber is industry standard and once you hit 500 subscribers on Mailchimp, you may be hankering for the advanced features that Aweber offers. See this article for a more in-depth analysis

Create a warm welcome

Write a fun and engaging welcome message that asks your new subscribers to do something. Have them write back to you with the answer to a question, share something on twitter with a particular hashtag, or ask them to post something related on Facebook.

Dave Navarro has some excellent ideas around how to do this including, asking for a share on social media, asking for opinions, or even asking them to listen to an audio or video file. See this blog post for more on responsiveness.

The key is making your communication with your list from passive to active.  Instead of just reading your email, you’re asking your reader to take action. Dave does an excellent job of pointing out that if you start doing this now, it will be easier to ask your list to take action when you want them to buy from you.

Guest post

If you offer a freebie in exchange for signing up for your email list, write a relevant blog post on the topic and link it back to your signup page.  You guest post should provide the framework, and lead readers back to your website and email list in order to get the specific training or details.

How can you get a blog with higher traffic and reach to pick up your guest post? There are countless articles on how to do this all around the web.  The best way to start is just ask.

Increase your blog traffic

It’s a simple fact: the more people who see your blog, the more people see your form, and the more people who sign up for your list.  ProBlogger offers some excellent techniques that will help you achieve increased traffic with your blog.  Some of my favorites (and most successful) are:

Make your webform more visible

Is your signup form hiding at the bottom of your homepage or on another page all together?  Your opt-in should be in a prominent location and draw attention towards it. The top of the right sidebar is a commonly used location (because it works).

If you’re new to WordPress, you might have noticed that whatever you put in the sidebar appears on all of your pages.  You might want your mailing list signup to be at the top right of your homepage, but not all other pages. Luckily there’s a way to customize what you see in the sidebar of each page. To implement this, I would recommend using a plug-in called Per Page Sidebars. Here’s how:

  1. Install and activate the plugin through your WordPress Admin page. If you’re not sure how to install a plugin, see this tutorial.
  2. When you go to create or edit a page, you will see a new set of options below the body text. Check the Activate Custom Sidebar box and then choose which sidebar to replace with a new custom one. We’re working with customizing the sidebar, not the footer.
  3. Save your page and head over to the Widgets page.
  4. Before, you only had the option of placing widgets on “Sidebar” and “Footer” (which apply to the entire site). You now have an additional place to put Widgets. Any page you have enabled Per Page Sidebars on will be listed with “PPS – Name of Page”. Since I’ve just enabled Per Page Sidebars on my homepage, I see:
  5. Congratulations! Now you can add your mailing list sign-up form to the top right corner of your homepage without it applying to all of the other pages on your site.

Many of the actions above will only work for you once you have your website and email list in place. After all, you can’t build an email list if you haven’t at least created one yet.  Start with the ideas that are comfortable and the move to the ones that are more of a challenge.

The most important thing is to take action, and let me know how it works for you in the comments.

What could we add to this list? Share it so everyone can benefit from your ideas.

Ethan Waldman helps offline business owners create an online presence to get more customers. Right now, many people are using his free 4-day course, Pre-Sold & Hooked, to build a profitable and responsive email list for their businesses.

How to Promote Your Blog to the Media

This guest post is by Dan Kaufman of Mediasurvival.

Most bloggers don’t promote themselves to the mass media … and I can understand why. It’s daunting to put yourself out there by pitching to professionals who work in a cutthroat industry where they receive—and reject—pitches on a daily basis. And yet, having been a newspaper and magazine editor and journalist for over 17 years (and a proud blogger for three years), I know that it’s still worth trying.

Copyright Pavel Losevsky -

You see, even though your typical editor receives an avalanche of pitches a day, the reality is that most of these aren’t targeted toward the specific publication. When an editor receives an intelligent pitch from someone who understands and knows their publication well, however, they usually pay attention.

Furthermore, the mass media churns through a staggering amount of stories and perpetually needs more to feed the beast. With a 24/7 news cycle and multiple platforms (from online and the iPad to print) that all need content, editors need a lot of story ideas—which is where you come in. As such, I’m going to give some tips on how to get your blog mentioned in the media:

Look for an angle

You can pitch an idea to the media in one of two ways: either through a press release, where you mention a story idea that you think the publication’s journalists would be interested in writing about, or by writing a story for them yourself as a freelancer.

Regardless of which option you choose, you need to be flexible with story ideas and think about what forms a story can take. Don’t just send a press release saying that you have a blog. Instead, think about whhich angles are genuinely of interest to a reader.

For example, if you’re an accountant who, after a trip to Mexico, has become so passionate about tequila that you created a blog and ebook filled with cocktail recipes and started importing unusual brands of tequila, then that’s interesting. Contact the careers section of your local paper to see if they’d be interested in running a profile on you (many careers sections run profiles on people who have had a career change or have an interesting job).

Or you can pitch a feature to the travel section since your story isn’t one you see every day—and many travel sections run stories written by readers. Or you can pitch to the food section since the tequilas are unusual, or you can pitch to a small business magazine, some of which are desperate for profiles on unusual businesses and start-ups.

Remember that each story can be covered in many different ways and editors are usually interested in trends, human-interest stories, an unknown fact, something unusual or some research that hasn’t been previously published.

Do not spam

You need to choose your publications wisely. Instead of carpet-bombing a huge number of them with the same press release or pitch—and I realize this is tempting—focus on finding publications that would actually be receptive. After being an editor for so long I now only pitch carefully to individual publications that I’ve taken the time to read and understand. I know that it’s more effective in the long run.

For example, if you can find a local angle then pitch to your community paper. If there’s an emotive angle then maybe try a tabloid, or a magazine that publishes a lot of reader stories. Think about niche magazines and trade publications as well as the bigger names. The smaller the publication, the less staffed they are—and often the more in need of copy and ideas.

Labour over your words

If you’re a good enough writer then a freelance story can be a great way to get your blog mentioned in the media (for example, if you write an opinion piece for a paper then they’ll often write a short bio of who’s writing the story underneath).

However, nine out of ten freelance stories get rejected purely because they’re not well-written (from my experience of being the editor who had to do the rejecting!). As such, you have to put the effort in to write and rewrite the article until you think it’s perfect—if you’re not willing to put that effort in then be prepared for rejection. The nine out of ten stories that do get rejected are usually written by people who probably said to themselves “I’m a decent writer and this is good enough” (for more writing tips, you can check out this ProBlogger article, which I wrote).

Cut to the chase

If you do send a press release then cut the preamble and say immediately why your blog/project/campaign/idea is of interest. Editors are so time-poor and deal with so many pitches that it drives them nuts to have to read four paragraphs of small talk and fluff before coming to the heart of the matter.

You should also always leave your full contact details on the release.

Don’t expect a link back

Keep in mind that the mainstream media don’t understand the idea of linking back to you. They just don’t (at least for the most part). They may print your website address in print and on online but they often won’t activate the link.

While this isn’t great from an SEO point of view, you shouldn’t let it put you off too much—after all, you’re still getting great promotion to a different audience you wouldn’t normally reach. Hopefully more newspapers and magazines will eventually learn from us bloggers that active links are an important part of how the web works.

What are your stories?

If I had to pick the most important tip from this post, it’s that you need to find an angle—be it a trend, a human-interest story, something unusual or an unknown fact—to sell an idea to the media. As such, I’d be interested to know whether you’re going to pitch a story—and what your angle will be. And, if you’ve already pitched a story, tell us how you did it. We’d love to hear any of your experiences or tips in the comments below.

Dan Kaufman is the author of Dealing with Grumpy Editors, an ebook from that looks at how to write press releases and what the common mistakes are when pitching to editors. He worked at The Sydney Morning Herald for over 11 years, primarily as an editor, in addition to editing magazines prior to that. He now also runs Bar Zine.

From Blogging To ProBlogging in 6 Months

This guest post is by Ivan Walsh.

How long does it take to set up a profitable online business? One thing I learned since starting my first site in 1997 is that the more preparation you do, the more likely you are to succeed.

Something that made a big impression on me when I first starting reading ProBlogger was the
six-month challenge Darren’s wife gave him. This made me re-think what I was doing with my blogs. Instead of blogging as fast as I could, I sat down and developed a six-month plan with the specific aim of monetizing my

Let’s look at how I managed to monetize my technical writing blog in six months—along with some of the issues we had to overcome.

Month 1. Develop a monetization plan

What this means is before you start any coding, writing, or design work, ask yourself how the blog will make money. Try to be as honest with yourself as you can.

Earlier in my career, I worked with IBM. One exercise we’d do when starting new projects was to identify the costs, expenses, and net profit. Net profit is the real profit you make, for example, when you’ve taken away web hosting fees, software licenses, training, design work and, of course, your own time. You can do something similar for your blog.

Here’s what I did:

  • Identified Revenue Streams: I explored different ways to earn revenue for the site. The simplest way to do this is to analyze your competitors and record how they monetize their sites in an Excel spreadsheet. For tech writing blogs, this was mostly around services, education tools, direct advertising, Google Adsense, and books. Remember some areas are more lucrative then others, so factor this into your planning.
  • Establish goals: Identify different ways you could leverage these on your site. For example, how much traffic would you need to generate 100 USD per week? Or, how many books do you need to sell on Amazon to make $50?
  • Set baselines: If you’re starting from scratch, your baseline is zero. However, if you’re already selling some advertising, for example $30 per week, record this so it doesn’t influence your end of quarter reports.
  • Target dates: Give yourself specific targets for each month. Be realistic. I chose not to use Google Ads for example as technical writing is very niche and my target readers tended to ignore these. Also, I wanted to focus on ‘evergreen’ post posts rather than daily news updates, which attracts passing traffic.
  • Set up a budget: If you believe in your site’s business model, set aside some money (even $25 a week) to run Google Adwords / Facebook ad campaigns. The advantages of doing this are that you’ll learn how to run ad campaigns,you’ll raise your profile faster, and you’ll see very quickly if anyone is interested in your site. Look at it as a ‘pilot test’ for your blog. If they are interested, run more campaigns!

Tip: don’t link to your homepage in the ad campaigns, rather link to a specific landing page and tweak it based on the results.

While it’s tempting to run past this phase, take your time and do it right. Spend as much time as possible working out how you can make money from the blog. Don’t forget to explore avenues such as email listings, developing digital products, ebooks, and co-branding with other bloggers.

And ask a trusted friend—one who’s not afraid to tell you what you need to hear, if necessary—to look at the numbers and see if it makes sense. Remember, you’re going to commit to this for the next six months so check, verify, improve as much as possible.

Month 2. Implementation

You’ve now decided which products to add to your site.

Why not services? While I could have made money providing services (e.g. writing technical documents), I wanted to avoid this as it’s hard to scale services and I didn’t want to do more work in the evenings. In other words, while there are only x number of hours in the day to write, you can sell products online 24/7.

The implementation phase works as follows:

  • Partner Programs: Sign up to affiliate programs that match your readers’ interests and your areas of expertise, and have a good track record. I used to get started but then shifted to other more niche sites as I found them.
  • Cost/benefit analysis: Explore the pros and cons of different offerings, for example, while it’s easy to setup with Amazon and start offering books online, look at the profit margin (6-8%) and the number of books you’ll need to sell to earn $100 (it’s about $1,250). Also, look at the buying patterns of your target customers. I found that technical writers took a lot of time researching books before making a purchase and often left to competitor sites to check prices. Ideally, you want to target customers who are more likely to make “impulse buys” or offer products that are very hard to resist.
  • Focus on three products: One mistake when you start out is to offer all things to all people. Try to avoid this. Don’t be a generalist, be a specialist. Offer three products on the site and build your content, marketing and networking around these offerings. This also keeps people on the site longer and
    encourages them to sign up to newsletters. The other benefit is that you can tailor your ad campaigns to these three items and adjust the landing pages, content, and messages based on the results.
  • Offsite sales channels: There is an exception to what I said above. For example, I sell other products through my email list that never appear on the site. Why? Because, I segment the email lists and offer different products (usually special offers I run with co-partners) to each list. Email also allows me to upsell other products and migrate customers across different lists. With their permission, of course.

When starting out, don’t defeat yourself by taking on too much. When you work on the implementation phase, put other tasks on hold for a while and give this all your attention. It’s tempting to stretch yourself and do more than you can.

I’ve created a project plan in Google Docs that shows me what I need to do for each phase. I recommend developing something like this that works for you. Not only does it keep you on track but it helps prioritize what needs to be done today. The siren song of email can wait until tomorrow.

Month 3. Split test

What this means is that you test different pages against each other, see which performs best, and adjust accordingly.

You can also go one step further and test, for example, the layout of ads on different parts of the page, the color of the Buy Now buttons, and the size of your email subscription box.

You can also determine top performing revenue streams and pages with Google Analytics and other tools, such as CrazyEgg. Experiment and test different:

  • Designs: Where is the best place to put your products? Above or below the fold?
  • Layouts: Does two or three column work best? Examine ProBlogger very carefully and note where the search, social media icons, email subscription, products and Facebook fan page are placed.
  • Colors: Understand how colors influence customer behavior. Analyze sites like Amazon and see how they limit their color palette (e.g. to orange and blue).
  • Landing pages: If you sell products, test the pricing, Buy Now buttons (large vs. small, green vs. blue, Paypal vs. Clickbank etc.), sales copy, and incentives. Minor adjustments can have a considerable impact.
  • Popups: While this increased email subscriptions, I removed it as it frustrated my most loyal readers. Also most of those who subscribed, unsubscribed rather quickly. Why? They didn’t spent enough time getting to know the site before engaging. Now, I try to keep them on the site longer, which seems to work better.

After a few weeks split testing, orange worked best for the Buy Now buttons. Red signaled emergency/error/warning to readers (at least in the west) and green was too passive. Orange seems to get the balance just right. Your results will be different. Check out Paypal’s ecommerce resource site for ideas.

Month 4. Analyze results

We’re now at the mid-point of our six-month plan. If you’ve ever been on a diet, you’ll know that looking at the results shows what works… and what doesn’t. Once you’ve analyzed the results, you’re much better placed to refine your blog and capitalize on those areas that perform the best.

For example, I noticed that my video interviews had very few comments but ranked very high in the search engine results. Likewise, when I cross-posted them on YouTube, I got more traffic and increases in email sign-ups.

Be careful in the metrics you use to analyze your site. If I used comments to judge my success, I might think the site was failing but these turned out to be my top landing pages. So, I added more content and slowly began to get more comments.

  • Metrics: Examine what’s working against the goals you’d set earlier. Don’t get distracted by items outside the scope of your plan. Focus on a few key metrics and really zero in on these. Traffic is probably the weakest metric to use as numerous factors (often outside your control) can influence it.
  • Demand: Determine which products are viewed, queried and sold the most. Look at the traffic to these pages, the percentage of bounce-backs (i.e. signals lack of interest or poor web copy), percentage of shopping cart abandonments, and percentage of sales. Note any trends that may explain why they are performing so high/low and what you can do to resolve this, for example, change the price, content, call to actions or offer better incentives.
  • Sales vs. Profit: Look at the net profit for each sale. Sometimes you have to pay a commission to third parties or use expensive shopping cart software that eats into your profit margin. You also need to look into the ‘hidden cost’ of answering emails, dealing with support queries, re-shipping lost products, tracking goods via FedEx none of which add to your profit margin.
  • Upsell opportunities: In addition to selling your own products, look for ways to upsell other items at, or just after, the purchase. For example, when I sell items through eJunkie, it allows me to offer other items after a sale has been made. The advantage of building your own products is that you can offer these items are part of a bundle or at a discount.
  • Tools: One of the issues I had with previous sites was paying for the best ecommerce software ($75 per month) while trying to keep costs down. Ecommerce software such as are very powerful but probably out of most bloggers’ price range when starting. If you’re selling physical items, consider PayPal (which let’s you hold monies in different currencies) or eJunkie and Clickbank for digital downloads. Make sure to research all these products and identify potential issues with refunds, payments, commission rates, and other problems.
  • Financials: The final step in this phase is to review the financials, for example, check that you’re within budget. Examine where you spent your money, look at the cost of ad campaigns, and expenses such as graphic design work. This helps determine the net profit and see which areas you need to focus on.

Tip: if you are running ads, for example on Google Adsense, make sure to cap the maximum amount for each campaign, so it doesn’t keep running in the background. Also, remember to cancel recurring payments and subscriptions. I signed up for an online software tool, forgot about it, and got re-charged the next year without my permission. Getting the refund proved to be very difficult.

One thing I’ve noticed is that higher value goods tend to have less customer support issues, whereas goods under $10 often generate many nitty-gritty tech support queries. Another issue is refunds. If you’re selling ebooks (for example via Clickbank), you have to offer a 60 day return. What this means is that even if you make sales, some customers will demand the refund. Don’t take it personally.

Month 5. Refinement

At this point, you should have a good idea of what’s working on the site from a financial perspective. In addition, you should see trends and opportunities begin to emerge.

If so, consider adding these to your product offerings, possibly on a limited basis to gauge the potential interest. I use a combination of different Excel spreadsheets to track all financial activities.

Based on the results, do the following:

  • Change placement: Experiment by switching the products in different places on each page and rotating banner ads to different parts of the sites. For example, you can test to see if specific products sell better on different days of the week or even at different times of the day.
  • Mix: Another tactic is to see where you can combine different products that may not seem complimentary or create special offers for low-selling items. Sometimes it’s easier to sell “2 for 3” special offers rather than discounts. My interpretation is that the idea of getting something for free is stronger than getting a few dollars off. Or maybe that’s my customers!
  • Update marketing strategy: In the first three months, I tested different ways to get publicity, network with others, and find ways to increase my sphere of influence. For example, creating an online glossary of terms for the technical writing industry worked very well. I emailed this to others who then shared it to with other writers. In a low key way, it went viral and generated lots of backlinks. You can try something similar on your site. It just takes a little creativity. Keep your marketing strategy flexible and adjust it based on the results you’ve seen to date. Also, don’t blindly follow what others experts suggest you need to do. What works for them may not work on your site.
  • Email campaigns: You’ve probably heard the saying, “the money is in the list,” and it’s
    true. When I started out I used Google Feedburner, mostly as it was free. Feedburner is fine for emailing your blog to readers but is essentially a one-way email broadcast tool. Email marketing tools such as Aweber (or MailChimp) let you segment your list, send special offers, and create a stronger connection with readers. While Aweber is not inexpensive, learning to write and implement different email campaigns paid for itself within a few months. The trick is not to abuse the list (which are real people, remember!) and provide value above and beyond what they get on the site.
  • Buy advertising: Now that you understand your customers a little better, it’s easier to invest (not spend!) in more advertising. I took out small ads on other tech writing blogs which generated very good responses. Most of the bloggers I contacted were very open to the idea as it gave them some income, even if it paid for the hosting. Maybe you can identify 5 medium size blogs and run some ads on their sites or in their newsletters. Another alternative is to swap ads across each others site. Also remember to change the budget allotment for different ad campaigns, for example, on LinkedIn, Facebook, and Google.

During this phase, the emphasis is on refining the overall model without making any drastic changes. Resist the temptation to change too much at once. Why? When you examine the changes in a few weeks, it will be very hard to determine which adjustment had the most negative or positive reaction. Instead, make small incremental changes.

One of the problems with my technical writing blog was that most technical writers buy things thought their company, i.e. they don’t use their own credit cards. What this meant is that I had to give them enough information to persuade their line manager to buy the product. If you’re selling a product, one suggestion is to include a feature list or product matrix (with a PDF download) so others can print it out and share with the decision maker. If you’re selling a service, include endorsements, headshots of happy customers, and links to professional bodies, if possible. Don’t underestimate social proof.

Month 6. Track and optimize

We’ve now come full circle. We’ve defined the financial opportunities, implemented the products, tested the results, and made the adjustments. The final stage in the process is to track the different revenue streams and optimize where possible.

To do this, look at:

  • Statistics: You can link together different Excel spreadsheets (i.e. sales, returns, tax, goals, costs etc) so you can monitor sales at a high-level and also drill-down into more granular information. This doesn’t need to be complicated but I’d recommend having systems in place where you can see (and print out) your sales performance and see at a glance any warning signs or trends that need special attention.
  • Goals: In Google Analytics, setup different goals; for example, enter the date when an ad campaign starts, and track its performance for the campaign’s duration. This gives you a more objective view of your site’s performance and is more reliable than your subjective feelings about what’s working. You can export Google Analytics as a .csv file and import it into Excel.
  • Investment: Plough the sales profits back into the site. Everything I earned from the site in the first 6 months, I put back into it. This helped the site gain traction faster, build a larger audience, and establish itself as an authority, albeit in a very small niche.
  • Quality: If you plan to develop your own products, which I highly recommend, explore how you can improve the quality, not only of the product but for all associated activities. For example, how can you improve the design, boxshots, security, ecommerce software and customer service? Having a dedicated tech support email address gives customers more confidence in your business than a Hotmail or AOL account. Small things like this undermine your credibility very fast. Remember to include a phone number!
  • Monitoring: Create (low-tech) ways to monitor your product’s performance and adjust campaigns, marketing tactics, and campaigns as needed. Don’t defeat yourself by creating very complex systems. Instead spend a little time learning how to use Excel and analyze the data.

Tip: If you do decide to sell the website, having this data will put you in a much stronger position.

Six months to problogging

There’s a saying in sports: “fail to prepare, prepare to fail.” If I could share one thing with you regarding running a successful blog, it’s that the more planning you do, the more likely you are to succeed. Why? Regardless of how much you read, tweet, follow, or blog, unless you have a system in place, it’s hard to make real progress.

While you may have random traffic spikes and good sales days, unless you can pin-point what’s really working—and know why it’s working—it’s almost impossible to develop your blog into a real business. And that was the purpose of this post. If you want to move from a blogger to a problogger, see your blog as a business and give it every chance to succeed.

This is the framework that’s worked for me. What have I missed? What would you add?

Ivan Walsh has worked with IBM, Intel, Accenture, NEC, and the Dept of Justice in the US, UK, and China. Learn how to develop an internet business plan here and follow him on Twitter at IvanWalsh.