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Want More Readers? Read More Blogs

This guest post is by Jeremy Myers of www.tillhecomes.org/blog.

Every blogger wants to be read. While some of the keys to attracting readers include writing valuable content, having error-free text, and using a clean blog layout, one of the most overlooked elements in getting people to read your blog is being a good blog reader.

Here are five tips to make this happen.

1. Read your own blog

Just because you’ve written a post doesn’t mean you’re done with it. After you post, you should read and respond to people who make comments on your blog.

One of the reasons people comment about your posts is because they want to interact with you, the author. If you do not reply, they feel ignored, and will likely not comment again. People will not continue to read what you write if you ignore what they write. The best bloggers out there try to respond to nearly every comment, even if they get dozens of comments per post.

2. Read your readers’ blogs

Another way to encourage your readers to keep coming back and commenting is to reward them by reading and commenting on their blogs. People like to be loved, and those whom you love will love you in return. Also, it helps to know what your blog audience is writing about. This enables you to write more targeted posts.

3. Comment on other people’s blogs

You should comment on at least five other blogs per day—more if you have the time. You should chose “target” blogs that you want to comment on frequently, ideally those that have similar content as your own. This gets the attention of the blog author and other blog readers, and some of them will come over to see what your blog is about. Also, if you comment enough, the writer of that blog may eventually add you to his or her blogroll, which will generate even more readers for your blog.

4. Repost excerpts from the blogs of others

When you read a good blog post, repost an excerpt of it on your own blog, providing a link back to the author’s blog. Don’t repost an entire entry—that’s plagiarism, and is illegal. But reposting a brief excerpt and linking back to the original is an easy way to get big-time bloggers to “guest” on your site, and if you use trackbacks, to get them to notice your blog.

Occasionally, they will even make a post on their own blog that you have reposted some of their content on your site, and that also sends traffic to your blog. Maybe that other blog author will eventually return the favor, and quote you on their blog, thus generating even more visits.

5. Repost the comments of others

Write an occasional post about the best discussion or blog comments you read that week. Include some of the comments people made on your own blog, as well as some from other blogs you read. If there is good interaction and dialogue taking place on a blog, either yours or some other blog, write a blog post about it. This gets more of your own readers involved in the discussion elsewhere, and frequently, they will mention that they found the discussion on your blog, which causes many of those involved in the discussion to come check out your blog.

Again, one of the reasons readers comment is because they want to be read. Nobody writes comments hoping they will be ignored. So show them you’re reading by replying and reposting.

A better blogger…

In today’s blogosphere, it is not enough to just write a great blog. You also need to read great blogs and interact with their bloggers in a meaningful way. This is the Golden Rule applied to blogging: Do unto other bloggers as you would have them
do unto your blog.

Do you read others’ blogs? Do you think it makes you a better blogger?

Jeremy Myers left the established church to follow Jesus into the world. Though he has advanced degrees in Bible and Theology, and over a decade of pastoral experience, he left all that behind to hang out with people who generally aren’t found in church. Jeremy writes about his ongoing journey at www.tillhecomes.org/blog. He also contributes Scriptural research at www.gracecommentary.com.

He’s a Rogue … that’s Why He Blogs so Well

This guest post is by Graham Phoenix of Male eXperience.

Okay, let’s be clear about this: I am a man and I am a blogger. In fact I’ve turned it back on itself—I blog about men!

Now, some men are rogues. We all know rogues: they are focused, calculating, dedicated, and only want one thing. These are the qualities of a real rogue—and the qualities of a successful blogger.

Look at what Chris Guillebeau, at Art of Non-Conformity, said:

“The reality that I need to work more than I thought has required some sacrifices I did not expect in the beginning, and it took me a while to become comfortable with this.”

I’m not surprised! Surely we all came into blogging because it was an easy source of income that we could work at from home.

Corbett Barr, at Think Traffic, really blew the whistle when he said:

“I’m saying you have to look fear in the eye, realize that fear is hiding some of your richest potential material, punch fear in the face and take whatever it was hiding from you and put that in your writing.”

What a rogue! Where are his good manners?

Darren Rowse, here at ProBlogger, really made it sound easy when he said:

“I’ve had my fair share of luck, I worked insane hours, and I started out at a time that was a lot less competitive than it is now—all of these things have contributed to any success I might have had.”

There it is in black and white: they are all men, and had to be rogues to succeed as bloggers. None of them had an easy ride—or not one they will admit to, anyway! So they took every chance they could get, and stomped on the competition, as they strove to make their harsh journey to the top that little bit easier.

What is the secret to blogging well? Why do you need to be a rogue?

You need to be focused

Any successful blog dominates a niche. Most blogs fail because they wander around the mind of the writer. They often start as musings and end as a no-show. We all have a few good posts in us, but we need to sustain that over a significant period of time.

“One reason so few of us achieve what we truly want is that we never direct our focus; we never concentrate our power. Most people dabble their way through life, never deciding to master anything in particular.”
—Tony Robbins

You need to be mad

Really: why else would you do it? As a blogger, you expose yourself, day after day, to an unforgiving world only to have people knock you down in the comments. You spend all your time on it and earn precious little.

“Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”
—Albert Einstein

You need to kill the competition

At the very least, you need to kill them with kindness. Supporting your competition is a great way to get noticed out there. You do, nevertheless, need to dominate: readers need to see yours as the blog to read, the one that’s hot.

“Kill the competition is the only way to think about your business and especially your competition. Most people do not desire competition in business but then do little or nothing to eliminate it.”
—Grant Cardone

You need to be opinionated

How many blogs have you read, and returned to, that don’t have anything to say? Blogs are about opinion. In the world of men’s issues, the blogs that stand out are the ones that are most outrageous, such as Citizen Renegade. They may not be the best, but they get the visitors.

“Great spirits have always encountered violent opposition from mediocre minds. The mediocre mind is incapable of understanding the man who refuses to bow blindly to conventional prejudices and chooses instead to express his opinions courageously and honestly.”
—Albert Einstein

You need to be like a man

You need the qualities of a man. You need to dominate, be tough, and be true to yourself and what you believe. Being compassionate, open, and receptive are great qualities but in blogging, like in business, you need to shine and stand above the rest.

“Do not pray for easy lives. Pray to be stronger men.”
—John F. Kennedy

In talking to men about men, as I do, I’ve realized that I need to hit them between the eyes to get them to listen. I think the same applies to all blogging niches.

What do you think?

Graham Phoenix writes about the Male eXperience of Men, Women, and Relationships. He has created a sizeable following in the area of men’s issues and men’s groups and while doing so has learned a lot about the art of blogging. Get his feed here.

Chocolate to WordPress: 6 Lessons Learned Blogging for Dollars

This guest post is by Jules Clancy of Stonesoup.

Ever dreamed of tasting chocolate for a living?

Image is author's own

Well I’ve been lucky enough to live that dream, and while is was hard to beat as far as jobs go, it doesn’t hold a patch on blogging for dollars.

Last year, I quit my day job designing chocolate biscuit—cookies—for Australia’s most loved biscuit company because I knew it was holding me back from my dream of writing cookbooks and blogging professionally.

Twelve months on, I can’t begin to tell you how glad I am I made the leap. Waking up every day to do what I love—cook, take photographs, and write, is the biggest motivator ever. Sometimes I can’t believe I’m living this life.

My business is blossoming and I’ve learned a few things along the way. It will be a while before I start getting phone calls from my accountant asking if I’d robbed a bank, like Darren. I’m still on a huge learning curve but I wanted to share the six most important lessons I’ve learned so far.

6 lessons learned

1. People are willing to pay to learn new skills online but not for information

Think about your own online browsing and spending habits. With so much free information, there’s no need to pay. But learning new skills is a whole different situation. As Martyn Chamberlin wrote recently on ProBlogger, you need to teach, or your blog will die.

While my ecookbook sales have been okay, the response to my Virtual Cookery School, where people take cooking classes from the comfort of their own homes, has been way beyond my expectations.

2. Publishing a print book without a clear benefit statement and target market is a bad idea

The year before I left my job, I self-published a cookbook of my mum’s recipes. I knew it would appeal to some people, but it didn’t have a strong reason for being. While the thrill of becoming a published author was wonderful, having a stack of books in the garage isn’t a great outcome. Even though I have more than broken even, I’m really hesitant to jump into a print book again.

3. It’s a great idea to offer a super-premium product as an anchor

People aren’t rational when it comes to spending money. Having a premium product will make your standard offering seem much more affordable. And from my experience, you’ll still sell a few units of the premium product, which is a nice cash injection. For more on this I highly recommend reading Predictably Irrational by Dan Ariely.

4. Pricing is complex and cutting price isn’t necessarily going to drive sales.

When I launched my ecookbook last year for $37, I got quite a bit of feedback that the pricing was too high. So a few months later, I repackaged it and launched a premium video version for $77, the standard book still at $37, and individual chapters for $4.50 each. Surprisingly I sold more units of the standard book after that launch than I sold of the much cheaper individual chapters.

We’re all on a learning curve when it comes to pricing. Don’t be afraid to back yourself and charge for quality.

5. It’s much easier to sell people a subscription than a large one-off fee.

Since January, I’ve moved to a subscription-based model for my online cooking school. People can still pay for individual classes if they like, but most people opt for the $20/month membership. Making the membership brilliant value, with access to all the previous classes that have been run at the school, also helps. And the regular income is certainly a bonus.

6. Being a full-time blogger is the best fun.

I feel so blessed to be making a living doing what I love. Sure, it isn’t always easy, and there are times I’ve doubted my ability to make it work. But I keep asking myself, what’s the worst that can happen?

How about you? Any lessons you’d like to share from the business of blogging?

Jules Clancy is a qualified Food Scientist, the creator of The Stonesoup Virtual Cookery School. She blogs about her commitment to only cooking recipes with no more than five ingredients over at Stonesoup.

How to Blog, Muppet Show-Style

This guest post is by Marjorie Clayman of Clayman Advertising.

There are a lot of things that shows like Friends didn’t warn teens and twenty-somethings about. For example, you seldom saw, on any episode, scenes where the characters’ bodies randomly decided to become overweight or broken down. Monica and Chandler never said, “Yippee! A Saturday! More time to do work!” They certainly didn’t hint that sitting down to watch The Muppet Show for nostalgia’s sake would inspire a blog post. Life is full of surprises!

A lot of people, just like me, have been revisiting the original Muppet Show, which is available on DVD now. What is most interesting about checking back with Kermit, Miss Piggy, Fozzie, and the rest of the muppets is that you discover that the show has an entirely new but equally brilliant meaning when you watch it as an adult. Somehow, Jim Henson was able to create a show that works as well for toddlers as it does for adults.

This kind of nuanced, multi-level storytelling can also convert a good blog into a great one. Here are some ideas on how to blog Muppet Show-style.

Begin on the surface

How did The Muppet Show work for kids? Well, as a kid, how could you not fall in love with the-ultra cute Fozzie Bear and Rowlf the dog? How could you not admire Kermit’s tiny flailing arms and Miss Piggy’s penchant for punching everyone out?

As a blogger, cuteness will probably not work for you unless your target audience is kids. However, what you can concentrate on is the group of people who pass by your blog by chance. They don’t know you, they aren’t connected with you on Twitter or Facebook, but they end up at your blog anyway. How can you entice these people to stick around? You could try:

  • using a conversational tone so that they feel welcome right away
  • using strong images that help emphasize key points in your blogs
  • using a highly legible font and enough spacing so that your blog is easy to read.

Just as adults are not turned off by the cuteness of the muppets (I still melt when I see Kermit’s nephew Robin), your regular readers will not be turned away by efforts like these.

Be conscious of your audience

One of the most masterful aspects of The Muppet Show is that Henson and his team were able to write jokes that were horrible, and then they made fun of their own jokes in their script. The horrible jokes probably are hilarious to kids, and adults appreciate the fact that the writers aren’t huffing and puffing as if they’re sending out the best comedy sketches ever.

When writing a blog, the challenge is not entertaining kids and adults; rather, it is making sure that people familiar and unfamiliar with your subject matter find your blog valuable. How can you accomplish this goal?

  • Use your blog to spark conversation rather than using your blog as a soapbox.
  • Write so that you can invite knowledgeable readers to participate while educating readers unfamiliar with your topic.
  • Invite comments and questions at the end of your post so that everyone feels welcome to contribute to the conversation.

Create variations on a theme

You’ll see a lot of advice about how to pick the mission of your blog. There is no doubt that this is essential. However, you also need to be able to venture into new ways of bringing those objectives into reality while maintaining your readership.

The Muppet Show accomplished this primarily through the guests that they brought on every week. You’d be hard-pressed to find two people more dissimilar than Alice Cooper and Raquel Welch, but both were guests on the show. In both episodes, the show maintained its core integrity—The Muppet Show was still The Muppet Show. How did Henson do that? The infrastructure of the show didn’t change. The main characters didn’t change. Only the details were altered.

How can you do this on your blog?

  • Invite people to guest-post on your site.
  • Stretch the range of topics you write about.
  • If you gravitate towards list posts, try a story instead.

What stays the same is your tonality, your promise of quality, and your voice. But like The Muppet Show, the details can vary.

What do you think?

What other lessons can you learn from watching The Muppet Show? How else can you bring that nuanced storytelling to your blog? I’d love to talk about it with you in the comments.

Marjorie Clayman is Director of Client Development at Clayman Advertising, a full service marketing communications firm located in Akron, OH.

Launch Your Product Without Losing Your Mind

This guest post is by Krizia of the Blog Income for Women Blueprint.

At the end of August 2010, my business partner and I made the decision to document the steps I had taken to turn a blog that was earning $20 per month in AdSense money into a $500-$5000-per-month blog (all from natural traffic). Our goal was to show other female bloggers that there was a way of earning income with a review blog.

The journey from idea to actually launching our product was a long road and I’ll admit that some days, I thought I was going to lose my mind in all the details required to execute a proper product launch.

Now that the product has officially launched, I’ve had a chance to sit down and take note of the lessons I learned during the process, so I could share them with other bloggers, and also learn from other bloggers who might use a better process.

It’s no secret that most bloggers who earn six-figure incomes do so by launching their own digital products or services. This means that learning the ins and outs of product launches is a natural progression in any blogger’s career.

I don’t know about you, but I’ve received a string of emails from different gurus claiming that I can launch a product in 48 hours and start living the Internet marketer’s dream life by end of the month. Trust me: the last few months of hard work have proven that’s just not happening unless you have an army of virtual assistants helping you.

The process of launching your own product is very hard work and it can be both challenging and stressful at times, but the end result is simply magical. I don’t think that up to now in my blogging career, I’ve been this proud. So let me explain the lessons I’ve learned along the way.

Lessons in ecourse content creation

  • In general, people will tend to be more willing to buy a video course than a 400-page document that they have to download, print, and read. If you’ve ever bought a multi-media course online, then you’ll know that it’s a lot more engaging than a simple ebook.
  • Creating a multi-media course is no more complicated than creating a solid presentation on PowerPoint. Then, use a screen capture tool like Camtasia (for PC) or Screenflow (for Mac) to record each module and convert those files into flash files (for PC) or Quicktime files (for Mac). It’s not so hard after all!
  • Once you’ve recorded all of your modules, you’ll just need to host your videos on Amazon s3. If you have not yet discovered Amazon s3, you’ll be happy to know that you can store video and audio files at a very affordable price, and the whole process is very easy.
  • The end results of a multimedia course is quite impressive. After all, you’re allowing buyers to learn in three ways (audio, video, and text—if you offer a PowerPoint presentation, buyers can download and print that too).

Lessons in building a brand

Building a brand that stands out from the crowd is really and Internet marketing basic. That said, when you first launch a product, funds can be tight and it’s not always obvious how you can find talented graphic designers you can actually afford.

I really cannot say enough about Fiverr.com. We’ve successfully used Fiverr.com to create the following graphical elements to brand our products:

  • logo:
  • ebook covers and DVD covers: the designer also created the group shot (showing all the elements of the product in one shot) for us for $5! We would have paid at least $25 per ebook or DVD cover had we hired someone from Elance or Odesk. Here’s an example:
  • banners for our affiliates to use to promote our product: although banners don’t convert nearly as well as text or video, we still had banners created in four different sizes for our affiliates
  • Facebook fan page: We actually had a Fiverr.com vendor create a video welcome page that looks amazing.

Each job you promote on Fiverr.com will cost you $5 (hence the name). I’ll admit that originally, my expectations were fairly low, but I’ve been proven wrong time and time again. It’s possible to find great talent on Fiverr.com. Our experience with Fiverr.com has been very positive, and the vendors have turned the work around very quickly.

That said, I would advise that you need to be crystal clear on what you are looking for when submitting a job, and it’s worth spending the time time to surf the ‘net to find examples of what you like so you can show them to the person you hire. You should also expect that you might have to spend $10-15 in jobs that don’t suit your requirements before landing on a few really great vendors. I’ve found Fiverr.com to be a good way to get a brand for my product at an incredible price.

Lessons in teamwork

Unless you are super-talented and possess all the different skills needed to put out a product, you’ll have to create a solid team that can help you successfully launch.

To give you an idea of what’s involved, here’s a list of the team members who helped us create our product and launch it:

  • a virtual assistant: she uploaded all the videos on Amazon s3 and checked a lot of the work and links that had already been checked. She’s also been instrumental in helping us get traffic to the blog as we were building out the product.
  • webmaster: he designed each page of the site and each sales video page.
  • graphic designer: we outsourced all this work to different Fiverr.com vendors.
  • Facebook fan page designer: again, we outsourced this to a Fiverr.com vendor.
  • copywriter: I wrote most of the copy.
  • editor/proofreader: we had the copy revised by a few editors.
  • PowerPoint creator: one of those editors also set the entire project out in PowerPoint.
  • customer service: this task is a collective effort between my business partner, our virtual assistant and myself.
  • affiliate marketer: because of my background as an affiliate manager, I took on this role and managed all activities surrounding affiliates.
  • video marketer: I’m the one creating videos, but our virtual assistant is the one publishing them to video sharing sites for maximum exposure.

When you are first starting out, you might not have a budget to outsource all the functions needed to launch a product, but I’d highly recommend you outsource any kind of technical work that’s not your strength—otherwise, you’ll end up wasting a lot of time.

Furthermore, having a site that works perfectly is essential for a product launch and you’ll surely want to hire qualified people to do the job.

Lessons in copywriting

There is far more copy to write for a launch than you expect. Throughout the launch, you’ll also be writing quite a lot of copy. Here’s a list of all the copy we needed to support our product launch:

  • copy for the PowerPoint presentation (aka the course)
  • copy for the video sales page (some stats show that video converts 12% better than a text-only sales page—there are some experts who say it’s up to 25%)
  • copy for the text-base sales page
  • copy for the affiliate toolkit (this is the copy affiliates will use to promote your product)
  • copy for the affiliate auto-responder (to keep affiliates abreast of what’s happening)
  • copy for the buyers (weekly emails to walk the buyers through the course)
  • copy for the leads (people who opt-in to our list, but don’t buy … you’ll need to keep building a relationship with them)
  • value-added messages (after reading a number of sites, I decided to add a string of value-added messages in my auto-responder for both buyers and leads)
  • copy for guests posts (to get the word out on this product, I’ve written a lot of guests posts!)

As you can see, if you don’t like to write, or you’re not comfortable writing, you’ll have to hire a copywriter because there is quite a lot of copy needed to properly launch a product—and that’s not taking into account the work you’ll do writing the product itself.

Lessons in marketing

To help market our product to the largest possible audience, we’re using the following strategies:

  • affiliate marketing: we’ve formed alliances with a number of marketers who will help us promote our product to their lists
  • video marketing: we’re using video marketing to reach a wider audience with less effort
  • article marketing: our virtual assistant is posting articles to article directories to get us back links and additional traffic
  • forum marketing: because our product targets women, our virtual assistant has been commenting on a number of forums and because our URL is in her signature, we’re able to attract new leads.

Do you still want to launch your own product?

I know this list must seem endless—when you are in the middle of it all, it really does seem endless! But it is doable. If you are able to chunk things down and keep working towards your goals, you’ll succeed.

I’ve found two aspects to be key in moving your concept from an idea to a final product: persistence and seeking advice and guidance.

Without persistence, you won’t make it because there are so many challenges along the way and the work often seems like it will never end. You’ll have to have a strong vision of the finished product that you keep in mind at all times in order to help you keep moving forward. Otherwise, you may abandon your dreams of launching your own product online.

I’m lucky to have had a large pool of experts who were willing to offer me help and advice. My years as an affiliate manager have paid off really well. If you don’t have access to those kinds of contacts, I’d suggest you ask friends and other bloggers for help. If you’re part of Darren’s ProBlogger.com Community, that’s another great place to get support, feedback, and ideas.

Launching your own product online is hard work. You are probably going to have to sacrifice a lot of things in order to make this happen, but the end result is spectacular! After all, you’ll have accomplished something that most people will never do.

If you’ve launched your own product and have more tips to share, I’d love to heard about them—share them in the comments so we can all learn from them.

Krizia is the co-creator of The Blog Income for Women Blueprint which teaches women how to turn their blogging efforts into blog income. You can watch a free video tutorial and download a free report here.

7 Good Things that Blogging Brings

This guest post is by Arsene Hodali of The Good Life? | dancePROOF.

Why should you blog? I can’t tell you. I don’t like telling people what to do, or why they should do something.

Instead, I want to show you a couple of things that, through my own experiences and research, I’ve deducted happen to the majority of people once they start to blog.

1. You become a better researcher

Trust me, I’m the last person I’d expect to find doing proper research. Yet for this post alone I spent an hour on ProBlogger purely researching. I researched past posts to see which did well, which didn’t, and why. I researched to see which topic I could bring a little more clarity to. I researched the comments and archives to see how people responded to each post. And I looked at at least 35+ posts on 20+ other blogs to narrow down the few unspoken benefits that each of them have gained over time.

Basically, I did my homework.

The current me is drastically different from the person I was a year ago. Back then, when I started blogging, I disliked research. In fact, dislike is too soft a word. It reminded me too much of college essays and citations.

But as I got more skilled at blogging, I noticed that in my quest to provide better content, I was spending less time writing than I was researching. And soon research became the back-bone of all my posts, the edge I had over others who were unwilling to put in the time. And in all unlikeliness, I became that which I once hated: a researcher.

2. You become less pushy and more helpful

I reached a point about six months ago where I stopped blogging completely. I stopped because I started getting more traffic and thus started connecting with more people on a personal level. And this scared me.

What gave me the right to tell someone what to do? Nothing. But, over time, I realized that my breakdown was actually a break-through. I realized that although I have no right to tell someone what to do, I do have an obligation to inform others of what I believe is the best solution available, and to let them take it from there. I have no right to tell you what to do. But I do have an obligation to share information that’s been instrumental to me bettering my life, in hopes that you’ll be able to use it to better yours.

The changes become noticeable once you learn that blogging is less the hand of the strict teacher, than of the helpful friend. The teacher force-feeds knowledge, expecting people to learn everything they teach (and quickly), while the helpful friend offers a guiding hand, one which shows the correct path without laying a hand on the peoples’ backs.

That’s why good bloggers learn how to improve the user experience of their sites, why they increase their site’s searchability and navigation, why they spend an inordinate amount of time coming up with the best headlines, why they learn SEO, and why they obsess about all the methods of content delivery. Because the teacher expects you to come to them to learn, while the helping friend seeks you out. Because the friend doesn’t necessarily want to teach, but help with information (there’s a subtle difference).

3. You become a better speaker

I’ve always been a sucker for skills that help us in more than one aspect of life.

Blogging has helped people understand the importance of good communication. It’s shown the ignorant that yes, content is key, but content without voice might as well be non-existent.

It’s shown the geniuses of the world that if they spoke as they thought (non-linear and chaotic), they’d forever be misunderstood. It’s shown them that taking out a piece of paper and jotting down the main points of a concept is not something the stupid and forgetful do, but an act reserved for the wise.

Blogging has shown the world that clarification and simple words matter most. That big words don’t necessarily impress; they confuse. And that taking pride in someone else’s confusion about your message is shameful.

It’s taught the world that a good, clear, strong voice is something to be desired and worked towards.

4. You get your ideas in order

Half the time I blog, I don’t blog for others, but for myself. I blog to find out what my beliefs and standings on a particular topic are.

To publish a decent blog post, you have to go through the research and clarification phases I mentioned above. Once that’s done, and you hit Publish, you get to see how people react to your ideas, whether they agree or not, and why.

Through research, I’m finding information that supports and goes against my ideas and notions, and I’m bettering my understanding of current topics even more. Through revision and proofreading I’m clarifying the ideas, making them less abstract and more concrete. Through blog comments I’m seeing how my ideas and notions vibe with others. And through my replies to those comments I’m seeing my own standing on an issue more clearly.

This is the main reason why I blog. I don’t see myself as truly grasping a concept until I’ve blogged about it.

5. You find yourself

It’s always fascinating to see how blogging and personal development are so strongly intertwined.

I think it’s because blogging forces you to take sides. It forces you to niche if you want to succeed. And thus you go through the journey of finding what your personal interests are, what you’re passionate about, and what makes you the person you are.

When I started blogging I wrote posts that angered or excited people—posts that made people take a side. I blogged with a strong and demanding voice. But in finding my niche, and thus myself, I turned my act around 180 degrees.

I realized that I’m more inclined towards the calm and personal approach. I found that I’m much more at peace talking with a gentler voice, showing people my ideas and why I think they’re whorthwile rather than forcing them upon others. And I found that I disliked separating my career from my personal life. I don’t separate them in real-life (one feeds the other), so why should I separate them on a blog?

Blogging makes you be specific, and take sides. And in doing so, it makes you learn about yourself.

6. You become your own motivator when you’re down

Face it: we all have those days (sometimes weeks) when we’re down. We stop trusting our own skills, our own judgments, and our own ideas. Guess what helps you keep the gloom at bay? Blogging.

Using myself as an example, whenever I feel I’m no good at writing, I open the browser, visit my blog, and read some of my past posts. You wouldn’t believe the power this simple act has on my mood. In reading my past blog posts I realize that I’m not in fact as horrible a blogger as I think I am.

Sometimes your best motivator is yourself, and your past actions. But you can’t start motivating yourself until you start recording your good work—until you start blogging.

7. You become a better writer

This is quite obvious, but so often overlooked. I think it’s because being a good writer in itself has so many titles.

A good writer could be a good conveyor of resourceful information, so that those seeking specific resources find them. A good writer could be someone who abbreviates large amounts of text into one tiny paragraph without losing any content, so that people who are too busy to read get the gist of it. A good writer could be someone who tells a story with emotion—one who connects with the audience on a emotional level. And a good writer can be someone who takes the reader on a journey up the valley of the rising plot, over the hill that is the climax, and finally to the destination that is the denouement.

Every writer has each of the above traits in different amounts. And thus being a good writer is different for everyone because what you believe makes a good writer could be entirely different from what I believe. All the points I’ve mentioned above are what I believe make a good writer, and a good blogger.

What good things have happened to you since you started blogging?

About the Author: Arsene Hodali examines life through whimsical thoughts, questions, and actions over at The Good Life? | dancePROOF. From surviving the Rwandan Genocide to living on two hours of sleep a day, he’s experienced some pretty wild things. To quote a certain hippy, “He’s seen things man.” Outside of whimsical ponderings, you can find him running “Quotes” Clothing. He asks you to ponder life’s mysteries with him.

Blogging: It’s All In the Family

This guest post is by Salman of CompuWorld.

It was the second year of my graduation studies when my dad arranged for an always-on Internet connection at our place and I plunged into online chatting like never before. While I was busy living my fantasies online, my dad was busy scolding me for misusing my time. My frustration level grew exponentially as a result of my family’s reaction towards my style of socializing online. I started a blog on blogspot just to prove that I wasn’t fooling around.

What started as a result of ego has today become the most confusing and alluring career option of my life.

I assumed that my family would be proud of me as I was the only one to have a website of his own in my college. But their reaction was unbelievable. Nobody approved of the writer inside me, as it brought no monetary benefits.

The struggle

I continued to blog on daily basis for the next two years while I was completing my graduation. My first two years’ work brought enough money into my Paypal account that I could start a self-hosted blog on my own. Still nobody approved of my blogging as all that I had earned was already invested back online. Blogging for two years with no earnings whatsoever to show needs patience, and a willingness to ignore the heart-breaking comments from those around me. I became pretty good at that.

With two years of experience and graduation under my belt it was time to join a MNC as a software engineer and give up blogging … but recession came to my rescue! My company delayed my joining for over a year and I was gifted with the necessary time to earn some quick bucks online. I started my career as a freelancer and my earnings touched my current yearly salary in half the time period. Money flowed in and so did the writing contracts from various websites.

Showing an interest

Sometimes money can buy satisfaction, and it did buy my dad’s satisfaction with my alternative career as blogger, which happens to be the default term that my family uses even for freelance writers. Slowly my dad’s interest grew in a business where I was earning loads of money from the comfort of my home and ultimately I registered a domain for him.

I taught him few basic rules for a successful blog:

  • Be patient. Your blog will be successful sooner or later.
  • Don’t assume that you will be a millionaire straight away. You might earn nothing during your first six months of blogging.
  • Use basic terms and never sound overly complex.

My tech blog was two years old when my dad’s blog on stock market tips was launched. Today, his two-year-old blog’s traffic is five times that of mine. His subscribers are double mine. And his earnings per day are four times mine—and all these numbers are growing quickly.

My Dad’s blogging secrets

What did my dad do with his blog that I didn’t do with mine? He invested time into his blog. Dad is a stock market investor and has no boss above him to report to. He shares the stock market news and tips that come by during his regular surfing hours with his blog’s readers. He gives huge amount of time to his blog.

Meanwhile, I hardly get any free time to blog after my day job as software engineer and freelance writing contracts. Also, he is content enough with the trickles that AdSense sends him every day. His motto is to continue blogging as long as he can as he loves to do so.

Today, with over four years of experience as freelance writer, tech tips on my blog might not be generating much traffic but my dad is slowing cruising towards a successful blogging career after learning from my mistakes. Usually it is the son who works hard to fulfill his dad’s dream. In my case, it is my dad working hard and patiently to live my dream.

Salman is a software engineer by profession and blogger at CompuWorld while his dad blogs at BellTheBull and is a full-time investor in share market.

Blog for Foreigners Without Getting Lost in Translation

This guest post is by Regina Scharf of Deep Brazil.

Have you ever considered blogging in a language other than your own? You definitely should.

One year ago, when I started Deep Brazil, a blog that shows aspects of my country that are seldom in the media, I had a problem: there was no point in publishing it in my native language, Portuguese. A foreigner who can read Portuguese has access to millions of websites, magazines, and books about the country, right? So, it had to be in English.

Why not French, my other native language? Or Spanish, a language I’m fluent in? Because half a billion internet users—one in every 14 people in the planet—utilize English to surf the Web. It would be silly not target the biggest crowd.

The logic was good, but writing in English was a drag. Portuguese is my main professional tool, since I have been a journalist for over 25 years. I could do a killer job in Portuguese. Now, even if I am proficient in English, I definitely cannot write with the same spark in this language.

Despite this challenge, my decision proved right: exchanging Portuguese for English allowed me to stand out from the crowd and occupy a niche that was under-explored.

Should you considered blogging in any other language than English? Why would you even bother to talk to those who don’t read in your own language? I will give you four good reasons:

  • They will rule: English is the dominant language of the Internet, but it will be beaten by Chinese in the next few years. Today, around 537 million people have English as their primary language for web navigation and 444 million internet users prefer Chinese. But, according to recent forecasts by The Next Web, the Internet is growing so fast in China that that country’s users will soon overtake the English-speaking community.
  • It is less crowded: There is an overwhelming volume of information published in English. Because of that, several blogging niches are close to saturation. If you decide to start a blog on technology or food, for instance, your chances of succeeding are fairly small. Now, this is not true for most of the other languages of the wide, wide Web. Take my native Portuguese as an example. It is the fifth most popular language on the web, ahead of German, Arab, French, and Russian. It is the language favored by over 82 million Internet users. Despite being so widespread, its presence in the Web is somewhat shy. Let’s analyze, for instance, the websites listed on Google for the hottest keyword of last year: iPad.  There are 767 million websites in English that mention the tablet computer—and only 9 million sites in Portuguese. See my point?
  • It is easier to find a good domain: All the good domains in English seem to be already taken, while lots of good domains in other languages and countries are still waiting for some clever blogger to acquire them.
  • It is challenging: Blogging is about testing your own limits, your capacity for uncovering amazing facts or feelings, creating beautiful style, and captivating the masses. What’s more challenging than trying to seduce an audience with different language, background, and values than yours?

Now, the key word here is challenge. Don’t let me fool you: blogging in a foreign language is not piece of cake. But it is definitely worth the effort.

Here I gathered a few tips and tactics that can help you succeed when writing for foreigners:

  • Know yourself: Do some serious self-examination to evaluate your knowledge of the language you are going to write in. Remember: you can go a long way with translation software, but the final product will still be imperfect. You don’t have to be a native speaker, but you have to be fluent to deliver a decent content.  If that’s not the case…
  • Consider hiring a translator or proofreader: If your budget allows it, hire professional help. If that’s not possible…
  • Consider having a native partner: Building an alliance with someone from the group you want to speak to can be a clever move. Suppose you are building a blog about Japan-Britain relations. It would be considerably enriched if a Japanese counterpart could write replica posts from the Japanese point of view of the matters. Your partner could also polish your writing, to make it more palatable to native Japanese speakers.
  • Know your public: Who’s the audience you intend to reach? If you are building a high-quality news blog targeting Arabs, you should know that it might be a good idea to use green in your design, because the color is widely associated with Islam. On the other hand, you might want to avoid an all-white design in a blog that targets Chinese, Koreans, and other Eastern communities that see this color as a reminder of death.
  • Be respectful: Humans are prone to defend their own clans. It is easy to fall in the trap of favoring your own culture and values and disrespecting those of your audience. Remember: readers won’t respect you if you don’t respect them first.
  • Be universal: Spanish is spoken by some 500 million people in 20 countries where it is the official language, and in dozens of other countries where there are considerable Hispanic populations. If you want to dialog with this crowd you will have to choose carefully your vocabulary and your topics in order to make your blog as universal as possible. After all, some words that are totally innocent in Spain can be very offensive in Mexico. And vice-versa.

Anybody out there have a similar experience to share? Do you have any tips to add?

Regina Scharf is a Brazilian journalist who blogs about her country at Deep Brazil. You can follow her on Twitter.

A Blogging State of Mind

This guest post is by Ashley Ambirge of themiddlefingerproject.org.

Blogging. Successful blogging. My own. Yours. If I could sum it up in three little words, they would be:

Magazine
Advertising
Sales

Wait, what? Magazine advertising sales?

Yes—magazine advertising sales.

You see, (insert voice of the narrator from The Princess Bride), once upon a time I sold advertising for a national print and online magazine, when the only writing I did involved contracts and thank-you letters. Day after day, I proudly won over the hearts of marketing directors everywhere. For my efforts, I became recognized as one of the top account executives in the nation—and, well, ev’body likes a nice plaque, right?

So, what do magazine sales have to do with blogging success?

The short answer: everything.

The long(er) answer: At the end of the day, when it comes down to it, every aspect of blogging is, in fact, a form of sales.

There—I said it! Please don’t shoot!

Ah, sales. If you haven’t thrown up yet, your first reaction is likely to be one of the following:

It is not. Blogging is about providing useful content.
It is not. Blogging is about authenticity.
It is not. Blogging is about building community.
It is not. I hate you and your stupid blog, so go away and leave me alone.

All perfectly valid responses, indeed.

But if you operate on those grounds alone, your would-be-profit-making blog might face the eternal destiny of … (deep, soothing breath) … Personal Journal Land. And if you’re just starting out, it’s a tempting place to visit. But if you’ve got any type of business-related purposes in mind for your blog, you’re gonna wanna take a big, fat detour.

Let me be clear for a second: creating insanely useful content, for example, is really important. But that’s kind of a no-brainer, right? You want people to read your stuff? Make it worth reading. No magic tricks there.

Yet despite the no-brainer value of useful content, traditional wisdom for blogging success continues to be trumpeted as more of the same: create useful content, create useful content, create useful content.

But there’s more to it than that.

The problem with relying on useful content alone is that what’s useful is isn’t always obvious. In your opinion, you might have the world’s most useful content, but if no one else perceives it as such, then you’ve just purchased a one-way ticket to Personal Journal Land.

Perception is everything. Right out of the gate is everything. If new visitors don’t perceive your post titles, your blog—or, more importantly, you—as useful, right off the bat as soon as they land on your site, then your stellar content might as well not exist, because no one’s going to take the time to read it—whether it’s actually useful or not.

And then you’ll grow frustrated. You might throw a series of mini temper-tantrums. You’ll lose motivation. You’ll curse your keyboard. And then curse it some more. You’ll want to ditch the whole blogging thing, and send hate mail to WordPress. And you will want to give up. It will be a sad, sad day. Especially for the poor chap opening mail over at WordPress.

Enter: Sales. The good, non-icky kind. (There is such a thing, you know.)

In the good ol’ days, when I would walk into a sales meeting, I had approximately eight seconds to make a good impression. During those eight seconds, prospects basically made a decision as to whether, a) They liked me, b) They thought I had something valuable to bring to the table, c) They were going to buy it.

Fortunately for me, I can do some pretty amazing things in eight seconds. (Not open to interpretation. Well, maybe.)

But here’s the thing: Your blog? It works exactly the same way. Except you’ve only got eight seconds or less. (If you’re lucky.)

In that (incredibly short and unforgiving) time frame, a new visitor decides as to whether, a) They like you, b) They think you have something valuable to bring to the table, c) They’re going to buy it.

In this case, however, “buying it” doesn’t mean your ebook, your product, your service, or your pet hippopotamus; it means buying you, which is the very first step. No other transactions can occur until they’re sold on you. And how, exactly, do they buy you? They buy you with their time and attention. Time and attention are the currencies du jour of the blogging world. It’s whatcha want.

You better do some pretty amazing things in eight seconds.

I guarantee that no matter how useful your content is, no human being in the world will be able to discern its usefulness in such a short time frame unless you can convince them first that they should give you their time and attention. That’s half the battle.

And that’s precisely why sales just went from being the smelly kid on the playground, to being your best friend.

When new visitors land on your site, it’s your job to have things organized in a way that’s compelling At the end of the day, that’s all that sales is—presenting things in a compelling fashion.

Yes, your site design plays a large role in this, but there are other factors that are just as important. From your tagline (you do have a tagline, don’t you?) to the photo you have displayed of yourself, to the content in your sidebar that shows above the fold, to your About page, to your post titles, to the way you present your content, and more.

It isn’t just about being useful; it’s about presenting what’s useful in a way that’s compelling.

During my magazine ad sales days, our product, frankly, was very useful. By far, it was the best product on the market. But that didn’t mean I could just walk into a sales meeting, nonchalantly slap a magazine down on the table, and expect them to magically understand exactly how useful it was. I had to take them by the hand, and not just talk about how great my product was, but demonstrate how great they’d be because of it. I had to make it compelling. I had to make it about them.

Same goes for your blog.

Your blog is insanely useful. It might be the best blog out there on your topic. But that doesn’t mean you can just show up, nonchalantly slap up a post, and expect them to magically understand how useful it is. You’ve got to take them by the hand, and not just produce great content, but demonstrate how great they’ll be because of it. You have to make it compelling. You have to make it about them.

Only then will it actually be perceived as useful in their eyes.  And only then will it get read. And only then can you escape Personal Journal Land.

So, how can you make your blog more compelling right out of the gate?

1. First impressions really count. A lot. Even more than on a first date, because at least your date is stuck with you for the night; new visitors aren’t.

Enough talk about dating; we’re still talking shop here. So, back to the ad sales analogy: you wouldn’t walk into a sales meeting wearing a tee shirt drenched in ketchup and mustard, unless you were selling a fabric cleaning product … or you happen to be rushing back from feeding orphans at your neighborhood homeless shelter. (Nice try.)

Same goes for your blog. Keep it clean. Keep it simple. Make it easy on the eye, so the visitor can focus on the message, not the 30,000 widgets you’ve got blinking in your sidebar. Or the ode to every other blogger you’ve ever exchanged an email with, a.k.a. the blogroll. Or that schizophrenic cloud of alleged keywords that induces more seizures than searches. Remember: you have eight seconds or less. In those eight seconds, you need to engage, not distract.

2. Talk less about yourself.

You wouldn’t walk into a sales meeting, ignore the client, and spend the entire hour giving your esteemed opinion on [insert unrelated topic]. Why? Because the client doesn’t care about your opinion; at this point, he only cares about how you can wave your magic wand and help a brother out. That’s why, in sales, you go in asking questions, you make it all about the prospect, and then you offer a logical solution that addresses the pain points that the prospect himself just finished identifying. This way, you aren’t selling; you’re offering a solution. You know the drill.

How does this apply to your blog? On first visit, a reader doesn’t care about you; at this point, he only cares about how you can wave your magic wand and help a brother out. Therefore, you should be presenting your blog in a way that makes it all about the reader, addressing their pain points, and then presenting your blog as the solution.

Where do you do this? Your About page is a good place to start. Try putting the readers first, and explaining how your blog is going to blow their minds. Give them a reason not to X out. Get them engaged. Get them fired up. Make them think, “This is what I’ve been looking for!”

And then talk about yourself.

Another way to talk more about them is right in your headlines. You know, the titles of your blog posts. Any copywriter will tell you with their eyes closed that headlines should translate into a benefit for a reader; otherwise, why click on it? Yet, “benefit for the reader” doesn’t necessarily mean spelling it out verbatim “this is what you will get if you read this.” More often, it means “subtle implications of what you’ll get if you read this.”

Whether you’re offering to solve a problem (e.g. Top 10 Ways to Cure Yourself of Writer’s Block), hooking them up with insider knowledge (e.g. The Secret to Making Thirty-Seven Zillion Trillion Dollars By Blogging—No Yellow Highlighter Required), tapping into their insecurities (e.g. The Hairy Mistake You’re Probably Making, But Have No Idea), arousing their curiosity (e.g. What Everyone Needs to Know About Darren Rowse), promising them something desirable (e.g. Drink Beer, Lose Weight), or saving them time (e.g. The Quickest Way to Make Her Fall In Love With You & Have Your Babies), for example, all of these translate into some benefit for the person who clicks on them. And benefits are all about them. And when it’s all about them, they’ll give you their time and attention. And then you win. The first part of the battle, anyway.

3. Talk more about yourself. Wait, didn’t I just say to talk less about yourself?

It’s all about the stories, baby. A good storyteller knows the difference between stories that have a greater purpose and message, and stories that don’t. You want the former. And when you tell stories in a way that ensures they have a greater purpose and message, on the surface it may feel like you’re talking about yourself, but you’re not. You might be telling your particular story, but you’re also telling the greater story of many. And in that respect, you’re indirectly talking about them. So I guess this bullet point doesn’t even count, because when it comes down to it, we’re still talking about them. Sorry—our moment in the spotlight is over.

By telling stories with a greater purpose and message, you’re guiding them through their own past experiences, when they’ll start feeling like they really relate to what you’re saying. If you can end your story with a solution (i.e. how you’ve come out ahead, how you finally sold your pet hippopotamus online, etc.), they’ll start to envision themselves having the same success if they stick with you. And then, by golly, you’ve got yourself a sale, in which case, again, the sale = their time + attention. Boo-yah. What you do with their time and attention thereafter is a whole other post.

4. Be a rebel. Skull tattoos and all. And do the opposite.

I’ve just written about why a sales mentality can be useful in order to grow a successful blog. But by the same token, one of the reasons I was so successful in sales is because I wasn’t sales-y. Being a salesperson and being sales-y are two very different things. Instead of tried and true sales-y approaches (that were also tired and trite), I remixed things to create a fresh approach. While many of my colleagues were sending out letters with their business cards attached, I was sending Fed-Ex packages containing rooftop shingles. (The magazine was specifically targeted toward the new-home construction industry.) One client with whom I had zero luck with for months, finally called and agreed to an appointment after receiving a rooftop shingle I had purchased at Home Depot. On the back, I wrote in silver marker: “[Their Company's Name] + [My Company's Name] = Sales Through the Roof.” She then became one of my best clients.

The point?

Tried and true doesn’t always mean better and best. And most of the time, people are bored with tried and true. Their eyes glaze over. They want you to make the effort to stand out from the crowd—they want you to earn their time and attention before they willingly give it. And you can (and should) absolutely apply this to blogging. Sometimes it’s a matter of reading up on other blogs in your niche and, every time you come across something that makes you cringe, go ahead and do, say, or be the opposite. Chances are good that if you’re cringing, so are others. Be the fresh breath of air that they want (and need). This, too, is a form of sales, because you’re deliberately and intentionally picking an angle and attempting to present yourself in a way that’s more compelling.

And like I said, at the end of the day, being compelling is all that sales really is.

And if compelling = sales, and sales = a key element of early-stage blogging success, whatdya say we throw a little deductive reasoning into the hat, and uncover the real answer to early-stage blogging success?

Simply
Being
Compelling.

Perhaps that’s easier said than done, but if you remember to treat your blog as a product—not just a blog—and your reader as a prospect—not just a reader—the sales mentality will begin to naturally unfold, you’ll navigate yourself out of Personal Journal Land, no (bitter and unfortunate) hate mail will be sent to the folks at WordPress … and the best part?

You can brag to everyone you know that you can do amazing things in eight seconds. Whether you leave it open to interpretation or not is your call.

Ashley Ambirge is the sassiest freelance writer, entrepreneur and digital strategist on the block. She authors books on leveraging the internet to make a business out of your passions, runs her semi-insane but lovable blog (click here to subscribe), and does one on one strategy sessions with new bloggers, entrepreneurs & small businesses looking to¬†rock their online space with the brilliance of a diamond (and finally make some damn money). She’ll also kill you at beer pong without batting an eyelash. Just the facts, Jack.