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Sourcebench – a ProBlogger Community Blog Consulting Project

It’s time for the first ProBlogger Community Blog Consulting Session. I’ve explained what this is in my last post and would ask you to read it before you leave a comment below.

Problogger-Consulting-Sourcebench

The blog that we’re going to look at this week is Sourcebench. Thorsten is the blogger behind this blog and his email asking for help said this:

My latest addition to the blogosphere is http://www.sourcebench.com. I invested a lot of time and money in this blog – into its content and the design but somehow i cannot get it reach that I want. I am stuck with around 300 visitors per day. Could you give me a clue what i am doing wrong or how I could improve?

As I’ve written in my previous post – I now want to invite you, the ProBlogger community, to offer your advice, suggestions and constructive critique into the mix. I’ll then attempt to summarize our collective advice early next week.

Sourcebench-Screencap

To help you in your feedback – here are a few questions you might want to answer and some areas you might want to focus upon:

  • What do you like about this blog?
  • What could it do better?

Particularly – you might want to comment in these areas:

  • Design – navigation, usability etc
  • Content – including ideas for posts that might be worth writing that could go viral
  • Promotion – what tips would you give this blogger for getting the word out there about this specific blog?
  • SEO – could it be improved
  • Monetization – what techniques might work better?

Try to keep your suggestions as constructive, practical and as specific to this blog as possible.

Looking forward to seeing your advice.

Your first 10,000 Blog Posts are Always the Worst

Practice“Your first 10,000 photographs are your worst.”

Henri Cartier-Bresson – Photographer

I came across this great quote today and as a photography nut it rang true.

However I quickly realized that the quote could easily be applied to the medium of blogging.

“Your first 10,000 blog posts are your worst”

Like anything – blogging is something that the majority of us are not brilliant at in our early days. I look back at some of the posts I wrote in my first year of blogging and shudder with embarrassment. The mistakes were spectacular and frequent.

However with each mistake and failure comes a lesson, with every post comes comes a new skill and with each experiment comes a discovery of a technique that works (or doesn’t work).

If you’re a new blogger – don’t be discouraged if it doesn’t ‘click’ for you straight away.

Practice, Practice and Practice some more.

The Blog Tool that Has Saved Me Months of Work

The biggest single time saver in my blogging is a plugin that many of us take for granted – but which has literally saved me days and days of time.

What it’s done for me can be summed up in this little screen capture taken from the back end of ProBlogger:

Picture 2-10

Yes – last night the amount of spam comments that Akismet has filtered here at ProBlogger passed the ‘magical’ 2 million mark.

That’s a frightening statistic on numerous levels.

For starters it shows just how big the problem of comment spam is (I think I started using this about 18 months ago).

Also frightening is the thought of life without Akismet.

Lets do a little arithmetic and see what using it has done for my life:

Let’s assume that if I had to moderate spam comments manually here at ProBlogger that it would take around 2 seconds to do each one (I think it could be more than that as it can take a while to track them all down – I know this because when Akismet’s server has gone down for an hour or so it takes forever).

  • 2,000,000 comment spams X 2 seconds = 4,000,000 seconds needed for moderating comments.
  • 4,000,000 seconds = 66666.666667 minutes
  • 66666.666667 minutes = 1111.111111 hours
  • 1111.111111 hours = 46.2962 days

Akismet has saved me 46.29 days in the last 18 months. That’s 1.5 months (working non stop 24 hours a day).

Considering that I don’t work 24 hours a day – if I worked 8 hour days it would have taken me 138.88 days (4.6 months) to moderate all those comments manually – more if I took time off for weekends and holidays.

Do you think that I’m happy that I installed Akismet? You bet your life I am!

Update – as has been suggested in comments below – I would strongly encourage you to sign up as a commercial or ‘pro blogging’ users of Akismet if you’re making money from your blog. As part of b5media – ProBlogger uses a license that we pay for. This enables Akismet to keep improving.

How Old Are You? POLL

Time for this week’s poll. This week I’m asking a pretty basic demographic question:

How Old Are You?

I’m asking this because I’ve heard a number of people recently speak about blogging as a young person’s thing – however in talking to many ProBlogger readers I’ve found that the age range is quite broad.

How spread are the ages of ProBlogger readers? We’ll soon find out.

If you’re reading this in RSS you’ll need to come on over and vote here.

How Old are You?
View Results



Looking forward to seeing the results on this one!

How to Advertise for a Blogger

Blogger-JobsHaving run the ProBlogger Job Boards for over a year now and having seen hundreds of jobs advertised in that time – there are a number of tips that I’d give to advertisers looking to fill job positions via our blogger job boards (note – if you’re a blogger looking for a job then I wrote a post previously on How to Apply for a Blog Job).

1. Headlines are Vital

Most bloggers who follow our job boards are tracking new ads via RSS in news aggregators. I find that many of them scan these feeds and therefore your headline needs to stand out and be specific as to what you’re looking for. In a similar way to the way I advise bloggers to carefully consider titles of posts you should do the same for the ads you post on our job boards.

2. Specific Ads Work Best

Ads for specific jobs tend to get a higher quality of applicant. Advertise for a ‘tech blogger’ or ‘entertainment blogger’ and you’ll filter out bloggers who are not interested in these topics. You’ll also attract bloggers who have more experience in these areas. Advertise for something general like ‘bloggers’ or ‘writers’ and you’ll attract a less focussed applicant and possible miss out on exactly what you’re looking for. Be specific in your headline and the body of the ad itself.

3. Advertise Actual Jobs

Some advertisers put up more general ads as they are looking for more than one blogger. While this is ok by us and I find that these advertisers do get results – it is those ads that are for one specific position that tend to be filled fastest and which get higher quality applicants. This enables you to be specific with your ad and the applicant to respond more specifically. Advertise for more than one position in an ad and you risk confusing your potential applicants.

4. Clearly Outline what You’re looking for from a Blogger

The more information you’re able to give potential applicants the better the applications will be and the more targeted they will be to your particular needs. Give information on:

  • what the job entails (topic, posting levels, other roles you expect them to perform)
  • payment (if applicable share either how much you’ll pay or what type of payment you go with – ie is it revenue share, flat fee per month, payment per post etc)
  • how you want bloggers to apply (give information on what you want in an application – ie do you want a resume, examples of previous work, links to other blogs, an answer to a specific question etc)

5. Be Concise

Clearly written ads that don’t overwhelm prospective bloggers tend to do better than longer and more complex ads. Tell people what you want and how you want to be approached in the ad and leave it at that. It doesn’t hurt to proof read your ads also – nothing puts off a potential blogger more than an ad with mistakes. We can edit an ad for you after it goes live – but this can take up to 24 hours on weekends and depending upon what time your request comes in – this can be after bloggers have already seen your ad (ie too late).

6. Acknowledge Job Applications

Jobs advertised on ProBlogger get a varying number of applicants. Some advertisers literally get hundreds of applications while others get a handful (often depending upon the above factors). Whether you get a few or a lot of applicants – I’d advise you to have an email response ready for applicants that:

  • acts as a receipt for the job application
  • outlines the process from here on in (including a time line for the decision)
  • gives any follow up information or questions that you want applicants to respond to

Having spoken to many applicants from the job boards – there’s nothing that frustrates them more than putting together a response to an advertisement (which can take some time) and then never hearing anything back from the advertiser. Even just a short an generic email back to applicants can help them a lot and will help your reputation as an employee.

7. If you Fill the Job Email Me to Mark it as ‘Filled’

If you manage to find a blogger to fill your blogging job shoot me an email and I’ll mark it as filled so that bloggers stop sending you applications. This will not only relieve the strain on your inbox but will save bloggers the time of applying for a job that’s not even open. Just email me via my contact form with this request and I’ll close the job off quickly.

46 Tax Deductions that Bloggers Often Overlook

Tax-Deductions-Bloggers-1This guest post on Tax Deductions for Bloggers is by Kelly Phillips Erb from Tax Girl.

Want to learn more about how to make money blogging? Subscribe to ProBlogger today for free.

The most popular question in response to my guest post on Problogger last time was invariably some form of “Can I deduct…?” It makes sense. Figuring out what constitutes income in the blogging world is pretty easy. But what constitutes a proper deduction is another story – and bloggers usually err on the side of not deducting enough (and not the other way around).

Don’t get caught leaving money on the table. Here’s a list of potential deductions that you might have overlooked. Consider:

  1. Monthly Hosting Fees
  2. Annual Domain Costs
  3. Design/Logo Fees
  4. Internet access fees – this clearly includes DSL and dial-up, but don’t forget charges that you might pay away from your home or office such as wi-fi charges in Internet cafes
  5. Paid blogging platform charges (such as Typepad monthly charges or “add ons” through WordPress)
  6. Cell phone usage
  7. Long distance usage related to your blog – remember that the IRS will not allow you to deduct the cost of your primary land line but you may deduct long distance charges
  8. Second phone line for business or fax
  9. Design or word processing software – this includes Photoshop, Illustrator, Word and similar programs for business use
  10. Computers
  11. Keyboards, mice and other periphery
  12. Web cameras
  13. Digital cameras – and memory cards
  14. Film processing for traditional cameras
  15. Costs paid to use or reproduce images
  16. Downloaded music or other audio
  17. Blackberry, Treo, iPhone charges
  18. Business cards
  19. Headshots for web site or promotional materials
  20. Letterhead – remember that printed materials not be professionally printed to be deductible!
  21. Promotional stickers and items – Frisbees, magnets, etc.
  22. Web advertising – text and banner ads
  23. SEO services
  24. Paid site submissions
  25. Prizes for giveaways and contests
  26. Postage – it’s impossible to keep track of every single stamp that you use in your business, so buy a sheet or two and keep them in a folder just for business use
  27. Post box fees – I recommend this if you’re working from home, it looks professional, it’s inexpensive and it keeps sales people from showing up on your doorstep late at night (trust me, MCI has seen me in my pajamas)
  28. Transportation – this includes mileage for car transportation, train and bus fare for public transit, cab fare, airline tickets
  29. Dining while away on business
  30. Hotel charges for overnight conventions and business travel
  31. Entertainment for clients
  32. Professional advice (from lawyers, accountants and tax preparers)
  33. Tax software
  34. Accounting software
  35. Copy paper, memo pads, photo paper
  36. Office supplies – pens, folders and post-its can add up!
  37. Books, magazines and subscriptions
  38. Professional affiliation and membership dues
  39. Professional informational sites (like imdbPro)
  40. Paid research sites (like LEXIS/NEXIS)
  41. Trademark fees and related costs
  42. Conference fees – such as for BlogHer and BlogExpo
  43. Promotional sponsorships – golf holes at tournaments, that sort of thing
  44. Charitable donations – limited to the cost of the production, not the FMV of the final product (in other words, if you blog about quilts and you donate a quilt, your deduction is limited to the cost of the quilt materials, not the FMV of the quilt)
  45. Backup tapes
  46. Zip drives

It is by no means an exhaustive list – you make think of more (feel free to add them below). The key is to make sure that the expenses are related to your business. They should also be both “ordinary” and “necessary” (a wide screen TV might feel necessary for your sports blog, but likely isn’t according to the IRS) for your business – if you’re not sure, ask other similar bloggers what they do. You can get some good advice and make great contacts at the same time!

Like any good lawyer, I need to add a disclaimer: Unfortunately, it is impossible to give comprehensive tax advice over the internet, no matter how well researched or written. Before relying on any information given on this site, contact a tax professional to discuss your particular situation. If you have a question, ask the taxgirl.

Building Your Blog With StumbleUpon

Skellie AvatarThis guest-post on Building Your Blog With StumbleUpon is by Skellie. She gives away big and little ideas like these to bloggers, webmasters and web workers at her blog, Skelliewag.org.

If you think this is another post about voting up your own articles on StumbleUpon, you’re mistaken.

Every blogger should have a StumbleUpon account. Regardless of which social media service you prefer, StumbleUpon is by far the easiest and least time-consuming to use.

How StumbleUpon works

When you come across something you like online you can vote for it with a button on your toolbar. The page is then shared with others who have similar interests.

When you’re bored, or looking for inspiration, click ‘Stumble!’ and great pages others have liked will be shared with you.

It’s really that simple.

As with most things that seem simple, however, there’s much more to it beneath the surface.

This post doesn’t intend to be comprehensive overview of StumbleUpon. What it does intend to do is show you how you can build your blog and your blogger profile by participating in the StumbleUpon community — while having plenty of fun at the same time!

Getting started with StumbleUpon

If you already have an account, great. If not, sign up here. Don’t put it off — the process is worth it.

One tip: make sure your username and profile picture are branded in line with your blog. Use your blogging name for your profile, and a photo or logo your readers will be familiar with.

Once you have your account and StumbleUpon homepage, make sure you customize your interests to suit your tastes. You can ‘manage your interests’ via the sidebar. This is important, as it will effect what kinds of pages you get when you Stumble. It will also change the kinds of people who take an interest in your votes.

There are plenty of other things you can customize, but we’ll stick with the basics for now. Let’s get started building your blog and your blogger profile with your new account.

1. Connect with other bloggers

To start connecting with other bloggers through StumbleUpon, all you need to do is vote up their content (when it’s good). The more traffic you send them, the more likely they are to go and investigate the source, or even add you as a friend. StumbleUpon can be a great networking tool.

On top of that, supporting blogs you like is just good karma. What more could you ask for?

2. Drive traffic back to your blog with great stumbles

When you vote up a site that hasn’t been voted up before, you ‘Discover’ it. This means that you write its first review and your profile information appears in the sidebar of the reviews page for that item.

Great content can drive a lot of (influential) stumblers to the page profiling you, as they rush to vote and review it. Some of them will be drawn into visiting your profile, simply because you have such great taste. But how can we encourage these visitors to check out our blog?

3. Highlight your blog in your StumbleUpon profile

This is easy. Enter your blog URL as your website address, and this will be displayed above your image on the main page of your profile. You can also write a bit about yourself and add a link to your blog in your About blurb.

4. Connect with your readers

When you start to see traffic coming from StumbleUpon, take the time to visit the reviews page for the blog post readers have voted up.

The stumblers on this page have been enthusiastic enough about your content to want to Stumble it. If they’re not already loyal readers, this makes them great candidates for becoming one.

Take the time to thank them for their Stumble, and add them as a friend. Little acts of generosity like these leave an impression and may encourage the Stumbler to see what other types of great content you’re capable of.

5. Make friends for a more powerful profile

The StumbleUpon algorithm is a mysterious thing, but evidence seems to suggest that the most active and popular stumblers are rewarded with the ability to control large traffic-flows. The ‘active’ part is up to you — how much time are you willing to put in? The ‘popular’ part of the equation, however, depends on how many fans you have. Fans are those stumblers who’ve added you as a friend in order to see the pages you stumble.

How do you get fans? Great, properly labeled stumbles will do it. Another successful strategy is to add those who vote up your content. If they took the time to explore your blog they might recognize you as the author of the content they liked and add you in return. The friendship will enhance both of your profiles and you’ll be connecting with another potential reader.

6. To submit or not to submit?

Some bloggers believe that repeatedly stumbling the same domain will see the benefits of your stumbles at that domain peter down to nothing. Others believe it’s absolutely necessary to submit your own articles to ensure they’re placed in the category best-suited to them. I’d be interested to hear which approach you think is best in the comments section of this post.

7. Send great content to your friends

StumbleUpon users have the ability to send pages to specific friends, or all of them. If you’ve written something you’re really confident is worthy of a stumble then you might consider sending it out to your friendship network. They’re much more likely to vote up your content than the strangers who routinely find themselves at your blog.

Moderation is key when using this tool. If you overuse it there is a chance your friends will tire of you. An alternative to a wide-ranging send-out might be to send an article to one or two friends you know will be particularly interested in the content.

8. Create a profile people will visit for its own sake

Treat your profile like another blog. If you make it a place people will want to visit for its own sake, the chance of visitors engaging with it and following the link back to your blog increases.

Take the time to play with the colors, add images to your reviews, and explore the functions on offer to create your ‘blog’ (StumbleUpon actually refers to it as such). Fill your profile with votes and reviews for great content your friends will want to visit, and tell others about. A great profile will naturally attract interested and admiring visitors, and raise your profile in the StumbleUpon community.

9. Use it for inspiration

When StumbleUpon is at its best, it serves up a long line of great content suited to your tastes. A stumbling session can be a great source of inspiration when your well of ideas runs dry.

A tip: don’t stumble only within the topic you blog about. Sometimes the best (and most original) post ideas are found by trying to relate radically different content to your niche.

10. Have fun!

I hope this post has convincingly argued that the secret to building your blog with StumbleUpon is to participate actively, genuinely and enthusiastically in the community there. The rewards are sure to filter back to you and your blog.

How to Get Your First Freelance Blogging Gig

Chris-GarretttThis post on getting your first freelance blogging gig was submitted by Chris Garrett.

People often ask me how they can get freelance blogging work so when Darren asked me for a guest post I thought this was the perfect opportunity. Anyone who follows my writing on my own blog and copyblogger will know I do freelance blogging myself and it makes up a good percentage of my income.

Freelance blogging is a great way to earn money from blogging. While it isn’t a passive income, it does earn reasonably well, predictably, and is itself a form of marketing, so doing a good job often leads to more work. When starting out you might have to start at the lower end of the pay scale, $10 a post is quite common, but as you build a reputation you can earn over ten times that amount.

It’s not just about the money, it is also a lot of fun, especially if you enjoy writing and variety. While I started out very much in the technical and geeky topics, now I find myself writing about all sorts of things, from clients as diverse as a micro stock photography company to a software company with a product that allows you to convert PDF to Excel. I am in a lucky position that these jobs now come to me, in the past it was not always the case.

Start With Your Own Audience

The first place to start looking for writing jobs is with your own blog and your own audience. Put up a page saying you are available for hire and refer to it in your sidebar and posts. Those people who read your writing regularly are the most likely to want to hire you because they already know and like your work and there is some trust built up. You are a known quantity.

By extension any guest posting to do has the same potential. While readers will not see you as often, putting a small reference to your freelance available in your attribution line could garner some leads. See if you can get some guest post spots on likely blogs and try.

Next, Ask Around

Work outwards from your blog to people who know you. Put the word out that you are looking for writing work. This isn’t begging, you can really help someone else with your writing skills or just by saving them time. Friends of friends and word of mouth is where I get half my work so this is a really effective method. When you are down it is hard to sell yourself so it really helps if someone is doing it for you. I would mention one lady in particular here who instantly comes to mind as a friend everybody should have but I don’t want her inundating with appeals for referrals, heh.

Work the Forums

Your writing doesn’t have to only appear on blogs to get noticed, blogging forums are also a good place to get your name out there. Good forum posts and a friendly, helpful nature, could be all you need to get either paid or guest spots that lead to paid work. As before, mention in your profile your availability.

Apply For Jobs

ProBlogger has a job board, then there are places like performancing and others out there. Also look on freelancer classifieds sites and craigslist.

Summary

Once you get word out and really start looking you will see there are writing opportunities all over for a hard working blogger. All it could take is one or two jobs well done to really start the ball rolling. Happy freelancing!

How to Climb Mountains

CollisThis guest post was submitted by Collis Ta’eed of Eden.cc, who blogs about blogging over at NorthxEast.com.

No matter who you are, there is something you’d like to achieve that you probably don’t think you can.

Maybe it’s a subscriber number, maybe it’s earning enough blogging to turn professional, maybe it’s breaking into the top 100 on Technorati. It doesn’t matter, you know what you want and you think you know that it’s not possible.

For today however, you are not to think about what is or isn’t possible. Instead lets just take your goal and figure out how to climb up and get it.

What is your goal

So first of all, make sure you have clear what it is you want to achieve.

Find yourself a simple sentence that sums it up. Nothing wishy-washy allowed here. What you want is something measurable, after all you have to know when you’re at the top of the mountain.

For me, my goal has been to get a blog into the top 100 this year. Given that I only started blogging in February, this is no mean feat to achieve. But that’s perfect. This exercise is not about looking at a mound and deciding to stand on top of it. If you’re going to climb something, it may as well be something worth climbing. So set your sights high.

When we first started the blog FreelanceSwitch, I asked my wife Cyan – who is the site’s editor – what we should aim to achieve in the first month. She said ‘3000 subscribers’. I laughed because I knew that was impossible. After all it had taken me three months to get to 250 readers on the blog I’d been writing on up until then. But once it was said, there was no turning back. 3000 was the goal and a month later it was left in the dust. This is how we did it.

What would it be like if…

Once you have your goal, take a moment and think about what it would be like once you’d achieved that goal. To take our mountain analogy, imagine you are standing at the top looking out. What does the view look like, how do you feel and what did you do to get there?

When I did this exercise some months back and thought about what it would be like to have a top 100 blog I thought about what it would be like approving so many comments each day. I thought about seeing my blog listed on the popular page and I thought about what blogs might be above and below it in the list. I thought about how exciting it would be to be able to think to myself on the way to work that I wrote for a top 100 blog. It sounded rather grand, and stupid as it sounds I would swish the words around in my mouth, getting comfortable with the idea.

Then I thought about what it would be like day-day. If I was running a top 100 blog, there’d be lots of readers and they’d need a lot of good content to keep them coming back. And the blog would have to be better than others like it, and it would need to be different too. And so on I would think, about all the things, from how we’d need to pay for things, and where traffic might come from, and who would write and who would edit and on it went.

So ask yourself what things would be like if you achieved your goal. Take some time and picture it from the broad strokes to the details to the feelings you’d have after you achieved it.

Working backwards

So you’ve got a good idea of where you’re going. You’ve seen what the top of the mountain looks like, now we work backwards.

Think through everything you’d need to have done to be at that point, and then think through what you’d need to do to achieve those things. Then think another step back, what do you need to do to achieve those things.

Make a plan for what points you’d need to achieve to get there. If your goal is to be earning a sum of money every month, say $4000, then think, where exactly would that money be coming from. Say $1000 was from affiliate sales and $2000 was from advertising and $1000 was from freelance blogging. OK, then what affiliate programs would you need, how many would you need, how would they need to be worked into your blog? Now what about advertising, what forms would you use, how would they be used? And if you’re taking freelance blogging jobs, which day will you do the writing for those? Where will you find those jobs? What experience do you need to get those jobs? What do you need to do to get that experience?

Work backwards from your goal to where you are now and think through all the things you need to do.

Strategy

Now instead of one gigantic mountainous goal, you have a series of goals. From basecamp to foothills, to slopes to summit, you have a series of things you need to achieve.

So now you strategize.

Come up with a bunch of strategies to achieve those goals. When you think you have enough strategies, think up another set. Cyan and I would often sit over cups of tea writing out dozens of ideas to get traffic, to get links, to find writers, to get dugg, for articles that would be popular, for things to set us apart from other blogs and so on. Pages of strategies, ranging from the obvious to the out-of-the-box. All are needed.

Execute

Now you execute. Go through your strategies, one by one and execute them. Don’t do them half-heardtedly, don’t deviate, don’t get distracted, don’t second guess. You know what you need to do, do it. You won’t know the outcome until you have.

Reevaluate

Do you think mountain climbers climb the exact path they had thought out? I doubt it. At intervals you have to stop and reevaluate how things are going. Make new strategies, make new plans and then execute again.

And whenever you waiver, think back to the view when you get to the top, the taste of the air in your mouth, the feel of the ground beneath your feet. Climbing mountains isn’t easy. It takes time and effort. But if it didn’t, would it really be worth doing?