Close
Close

7 Tips for Busy Bloggers on Finding Time to Blog

Last week I tweeted a question asking my Problogger followers to share the biggest challenge that they face as a blogger.

Around 50 replies came back and a couple of themes emerged – the biggest one centred around ‘Time’.

Time to blog

Finding time to blog is something that all bloggers struggle with. Whether you are just starting out and blogging as a hobby, blogging as a part time job while juggling work, home, and a social life or even blogging as a full time business amidst other demands such as up-keeping of social media accounts, responding to comments and emails etc. – finding time to write is a consistent challenge.

This issue is so prevalent, we actually published an eBook on the topic last year – BlogWise: How to Do More with Less (featuring 9 busy but productive bloggers such as Leo Babauta, Gretchen Rubin, Brian Clark, Heather Armstrong and more).

7 Tips for Busy Bloggers on Finding Time to Blog

I’m someone who periodically struggles with the challenges of being productive in limited timeframes. Over the last 10 years of blogging, I guess I’ve settled into something of a workflow and routine. What follows is a collection of reflections on what I’m learning.

I hope something in it connects with where you’re at!

1. It Starts with Life Priorities

I feel a bit like a parent saying this but the truth is, time management is a lot to do with priorities. 

It’s important to take time out to identify what is truly important to you, as this is a starting point for working out how you should spend your time.

If blogging is important to you, the first step in finding time to do it is to name it as a priority.

Of course ‘naming’ it as important is only half the battle. For many people there is a HUGE gap between what they say is important and how they actually spend their time.

One of the most confronting exercises I’ve ever done, when it comes to time management, was when (as a young adult) I was challenged write a list of my priorities. I then had to track how I used each 15 minute block of time over a week.

At the end of the week I tallied up the different activities and was amazed to discover how much time I was spending on things that did not feature in my priorities list, and how little I spent on the things I’d named as my priorities.

My list of priorities included things like studying, career, relationships etc.

My actual use of time was dominated by TV, computer games, time in the pub etc.

Of course, at the time I was young and reckless… but I suspect if I did the exercise again today there would probably be a bit of a disconnect between my priorities and how I spent my time. The activities I ‘waste’ time on and my priorities today might be different but the pattern would probably remain.

One of the keys to finding time to blog is working out whether blogging is actually important to you and arranging your life so that time is allocated for it!

I know it’s sounds obvious but it is easier said than done… and needs to be said.

2. Name Your Blogging Priorities

In the section above I talk about ‘life priorities’ but now I want to hone in on your blogging priorities.

The challenge many bloggers face is that they feel overwhelmed and often distracted by the many elements of blogging that they feel they need to do to have success.

Writing blog posts, reading and commenting on others blogs, responding to readers comments, guest posting on others blogs, being active on Twitter, Facebook, Youtube, LinkedIn, Pinterest (and more), working on your blog design, writing an eBook, finding advertisers, creating a media kit…. the list goes on and on.

I’ve had periods in my own blogging where this list overwhelmed me – to the point it almost paralysed me.

When I felt overwhelmed, I tried to strip my blogging back to the core tasks I knew I needed to do to keep my blog moving forward. Again it was really about priorities.

What do you need to do to grow your blog and make it sustainable?

For me, I strip my focus back to these areas:

  • Writing Content
  • Finding Readers
  • Building Community
  • Monetizing

These are the non-essential priorities I have with my blogging. Simply by naming them simplifies things a little for me so I’m not looking at a long, crazy list of little things that I need to do.

With this list in mind I’m can set myself some achievable goals in each area.

For example, when it comes to ‘Writing Content’ I’m set myself some goals with how many posts per week or month. Then I start to think about the types of posts I want each week.

So here on ProBlogger, my current goal is 5 posts per week as a minimum with 3-4 of those posts written by me and at least one of them to be a longer form piece of content (like my recent Guide to the Amazon Affiliate Program).

Within each of these areas I would normally have at least a couple of goals/priorities at any one time.

Simply having this list of things I want to achieve suddenly gives me direction on how to spend my time, which makes me much more effective when I do blog. Instead of sitting down at the computer to blog and then working out what to do, I have a list of things I need to get done – and I find myself just knocking them off.

3. Batch Process Your Main Tasks

I won’t go into great detail on this as I’ve written about it before but a number of years ago I changed the way that I do my weekly tasks and it significantly boosted my productivity levels.

Before making this switch, I would sit down to blog and find myself going through a whole day flitting from one thing to another…. but not really getting much done. I’d write an intro to a blog post, then jump onto Twitter, then talk to another blogger about a collaboration, then go back to the blog post, then moderate some comments, then jump on Facebook and then…. well you get the picture.

So I began to carve out longer chunks of time to do the most important tasks in ‘batches’.

For example, one of my weekly rhythms is to use Monday and Wednesday mornings to write. On those mornings, I will often set myself up in a cafe and work offline for 2-3 hours. This enables me to write as much content as possible for the days and week ahead. It is not unusual for me to write 4-5 blog posts that I’m then able to schedule onto the blog for the coming days.

By silo’ing off time to do the most important tasks, and removing other distractions, I found I churn through a lot more work than I had previously been able to do.

I now ‘batch’ process many tasks. I’ll often set aside half an hour to do social media for example (instead of popping into Twitter 20 times a day, I might spend a longer period once a day). Email is similarly something I try to do in batches, similarly I tend to read other blogs via RSS in batches etc.

Read more about ‘batch processing in my post ‘How Batch Processing Made Me 10 Times More Productive‘.

Mental Blogging

In the early days of my blogging I had very very limited times to blog. I was working 3-4 part time jobs at any one time while also studying in the evenings. As a result I often would only have half and hour here or there during a lunch break, late at night or early in the morning to write content.

In order to be more effective at those times, I began to do what I now call ‘mental blogging’.

So while I was working in one of my jobs in a warehouse packing parcels, I would begin to write my blog posts in my mind. I would come up with a topic, decide upon a title and then begin to map out my main points – all in my head.

I sometimes would use a small notebook to jot a few words down to remind me what I wanted to write but after a shift in the warehouse, I would often be ready to sit down and quickly write out a pretty decent blog post (sometimes more than one) because I’d effectively written it already in my head.

Since that time I’ve come across countless other bloggers who do a similar thing during their own daily activities.

Later on I did a similar thing by jotting down my notes on my iPhone or even speaking blog posts into an audio recording app on my iPhone while I was out on a walk.

4. Idea Generation and Editorial Calendars

In my early days of blogging one of my biggest time sucks was coming up with ideas. I would sit, staring at my computer screen for hours on end, trying to work out what to write about on my blog that day.

I discovered that a much more effective strategy is to put aside batches of time specifically to come up with post ideas.

Instead of deciding what to write about each day, I began to create times to brainstorm and mind map blog ideas. I would then developed a file for each post topic so that on any given day I could sit down and within seconds I’d have something to write about

Mind Mapping is my favourite technique for generating potentially hundreds of ideas (read Discover Hundreds of Post Ideas for Your Blog with Mind Mapping).

Just having the ideas ready to go when you need them will save you a lot of time. You can take this a step further and consider creating an Editorial Calendar where you actually slot the ideas into a calendar over the coming week, month (or longer) and map out where you’ll be going with the blog in that period of time.

Editorial calendars may not suit everyone but I know of numerous bloggers who plan their blogs content well over a month in advance. This not only gives them an idea of where their blog is headed but they also find it useful to monetize their blogs as they’re able to share their calendar with advertisers who may wish to sponsor a relevant series of posts that might be coming up.

5. Break Down Big Jobs into Small Bites

Late last year, I recorded a free webinar where I shared 10 things I wish I’d known about blogging when I started 10 years before. In that webinar I shared the story of creating the first eBook that I developed over at Digital Photography School.

The idea of creating an eBook was something that I’d been meaning to do for at least a year or two but I’d always put off doing it because I didn’t have the time for such a big project. I’d never done something like that before and I felt overwhelmed by it.

In the end, to get the eBook created and launched, I decided that the only way I’d find the time to write it was to get up 15 minutes earlier every morning to work on the project.

15 minutes a day isn’t much (although we had a newborn at the time so 15 minutes sleep was precious) but I was amazed how much I could get done in that short period of time, on a daily basis. Over the coming 2-3 months I completed writing the eBook, had had it designed, had worked out how to market it, had researched how to sell it (shopping carts etc) and was ready to launch.

I effectively broke down a big job into little bite sized chunks until it was complete. That eBook went on to sell thousands of copies and became the template for 19 other eBooks that I’ve now launched (the main source of income to my blogs today).

I often wonder what would have happened if I’d never found that extra 15 minutes per day!

6. Slow Blogging is OK

“I have to post something today!”

Sometimes, as bloggers, I think we create monsters for ourselves for no good reason when it comes to posting deadlines and frequency.

I’m very guilty of this and it’s been something of a relief to realise that I can slow down my blogging a little and not see it ‘hurt’ my blog.

Here on ProBlogger you may have noticed a bit of a change lately. I’ve gone from posting 7-10 posts per week to posting 5-6 times a week.

For many years here at ProBlogger I felt the need to publish daily posts and at times, even aimed for 2-3 posts per day. While there were some benefits of doing so (more posts can mean more traffic) there were also costs in terms of the quality but also personally (it’s hard to sustain that kind of publishing for years on end).

Since slowing down, I’ve been fascinated to see that our traffic has remained steady (in fact some days it has been higher). The other impact has been a rise in comment levels, in positive feedback but also in my own energy and passion levels.

While deadlines and targets for posting frequency can be motivating – there may be periods of time when slowing down has some big benefits.

7. Make Space for Preparation, Creating and Rest

I recently came across this great video from Aussie blogger Kemi Nekvapil

What I particularly loved about it was at around the 1.30 minute mark Kemi talks about the structure of her week and how she has 3 different types of days during her week. They are ‘preparation days’, ‘success days’ and ‘inspiration days’.

Note: I think this originally comes from Jack Canfield who talks about creating days for ‘preparation’, ‘success’ and ‘rest’.

So for Kemi, her Mondays are preparation days when she is getting ready to have a creative ‘success’ day, Tuesdays are successful days, Wednesdays are preparation days and Thursdays are successful days. Fridays are her inspiration days where she gets to do whatever she wants to do for herself.

By giving herself days with a different focus, Kemi says she’s able to keep her creativity up and to sustain herself.

It makes sense really – if every day is a day where you have to produce something and you never have time to prepare or to have a break the quality of what you produce will suffer (as will your energy levels).

I love this idea and almost intuitively have done something a little similar of late. My wife (V) works on a Wednesday, so on those days I’ve had a bit more to do with the kids (drop offs, pick ups and a shorter working day). I’ve decided to go with it not being quite as a productive day and make Wednesdays a little less hands on with work, giving me a little more space to just ‘be’.

I’ve been doing a little work but also am trying to put time aside on Wednesdays to read, walk and have a siesta. It might sound a little like a lazy day on some levels but I’m noticing that having a quieter day in the middle of my week certainly makes me more productive on the following days.

What Are Your Tips for Finding Time to Blog?

What I’ve written above just scratches the surface. I am by no means an expert on this and am keen to learn from your experience.

Update: Check out this post where I ask a number of other bloggers about their tips and blogging routines.

3 Simple ways You can get your Blog Engagement Rockin

A Guest Contribution by Shaun McCarthy from Twitter, or visit Training Outcomes

When was the last time you learned something new? It could have been anything, from customising your blog template or setting up your social media to fixing your leaky tap. I want you to think about how you were taught. Did you just sit down and read a manual?

I’m guessing you didn’t. I bet you did a whole combination of things in order to perfect your new skill. It might have included reading, but it probably also included watching how someone else does it, listening as they explained it to you and almost definitely trying it yourself.

Why is this important to you as a blogger and content creator? Because in order to get your audience to do what you want them to do, you first need them to fully comprehend your message.

In this post I’m going to show you three basic ways that people learn and what you can do to ensure your blog content gets them excited.

Three key learning types

Did you know that more than half of the population (around 65%) are visual learners? What that means is they need to be able to see a concept in order to process, remember and use it.

Everyone has a preferred way to consume information, a learning style. Visual learners want to see how to do something. Auditory learners like to hear an explanation and talk things through. Kinaesthetic people need to get their hands dirty and feel how something is done.

If you understand the way your audience likes to learn, then communicating with them becomes a whole lot easier.

1. Visual learners

Visual learners prefer to watch demonstration and will often get more out of video, rather than written instructions. Aside from the sheer entertainment value, this is one of the main reasons why YouTube works so well.

Video works well because it is very engaging, but you can also use simple visual alternatives such as diagrams and images that help to communicate, or better demonstrate the outcome you are trying to achieve. Photos, cartoons, tables and charts all work well as reinforcement tools for visual learners.

The good news is that you can create videos yourself using a decent camera with movie mode, or even with an iPhone if you are starting out. Practice makes perfect, but it is likely that your audience will value any effort you make to show them what you are talking about.

Well renowned blogger, Ramsay the Blog Tyrant, has used video to great effect in his article about Google authorship. Not only did he write a really detailed ‘how to’ and inject plenty of his own thoughts, he also included a video to show his audience exactly how it can be done using screen capture software.

Videos aren’t the only visual learning tools available. Infographics visually communicate ideas and sometimes, quite complex data. They are so popular because they resonate so well with visual learners.

2. Auditory learners

Hearing and speaking are closely related so you’ll often find auditory learners combining the two when they are introduced to new concepts. Maybe you have even found yourself repeating something out aloud in order to remember it.

Auditory learners remember complex information through song or rhyme; in fact we all do it from an early age – who doesn’t know the alphabet song?

A good way to engage people that like to learn by listening is through podcasts. Podcasts are a really popular way to deliver online interviews and once you are up and running, podcasts are pretty easy to offer to your audience. Check out Pat Flynn’s great resource about setting up podcasts for a great step by step (funnily enough it actually contains a lot of video).

Video can also be a good way to engage auditory learners. It can really help develop a stronger connection when your audience can see the person behind the voice. Someone that does this extremely well is Derek Halpern from Social Triggers. Derek has stacks of energy and gets right to the point, leaving you with a clear and actionable takeaway message every time.

As surprising as it might sound, you can also engage auditory learners through text by getting them to repeat something (like a desired action) aloud to themselves. Try suggesting to your reader that they read a word or sentence using a well-known voice (like a celebrity), or tell them how it should sound (sexy, angry, crazy). You will be amazed how well this works at getting someone to recall a certain piece of information.

3. Kinaesthetic learners

While kinaesthetic learners make up the smallest group, many of us use this type of learning at some point. This is the process of performing the intended action, which is naturally more suited to physical activities.

Although this can pose some challenges in an online setting, there are ways to incorporate this learning style into your blog. Try to be very descriptive about the way in which something should feel to the learner and ask them to action it out themselves.

You can also try setting specific homework related to your desired action. On your blog you could do this by:

  • For a photography blog, you could ask your reader to take a specific photo in a particular way and have them post a link to it in the comments;
  • For a personal development blog you could challenging readers to interact with a specific number of new people in a given amount of time, then ask them to report back;
  • For a marketing/writing blog you could offer subscribers a reward in the form of a link from your site, for a specific piece of content they create.

Aside from helping people put their learning into practice, another benefit in doing this is that it often promotes community interaction. Your audience will not only share and learn from you, but also with each other, which is really cool to see happen.

Adding the additional reward element through recognition makes it all the more enticing.

Combining learning styles

Research has show that combining different learning styles is the most effective way to engage learners, independent of the way they best learn.

The key is making your blog a hot house of interaction is to understand that most people use a mixture of learning styles. Some have one dominant style, and use small amounts of the other styles, while other people will use different styles in different situations.

What this all boils down to is that the best way to create a hot house of reader engagement on blog, is to incorporate all three learning styles whenever practical. Look for ways to inject this into your online content and experiment with different communication media like audio and video, I guarantee it will result in better engagement and greater success with your target audience.

Do you usually create one style of content over another? How could you tailor your content to better suit each of these learning styles?

Shaun McCarthy helps people create fantastic learning experiences that anyone can relate to. He also likes to make wild claims about guaranteed success using a training based approach. Feel free to take this up with him on Twitter, or visit Training Outcomes to see how a simple approach to online training can help you get more from your online business.

How NOT to Send an Email: A Day We’d Rather Forget But a Story We Need to Tell

In this post Shayne and I share the back story how we mistakenly sent an email to almost a million people that should have gone to a few thousand – (and we then share what we did about it).

From Shayne: Wednesday the 10th of April 2013 was a day I will never forget – for all the wrong reasons.

It was a brain draining day for me.  A huge business decision was made in the morning, followed by spirited discussions, followed by lots of work and climaxed in dramatic style.

A new deal had just been loaded on SnapnDeals and it was time to let our several thousand subscribers know about it via email.  The email was written, loaded, tested and good to go — so I thought.

I clicked send at around 7:30PM and headed for dinner.

About 30 minutes later I popped back into the office to finish up some work and immediately realised something wasn’t right.  I had over 400 out of office emails to an inbox that normally had only a handful.

With haste I jumped into our Aweber account and my heart sank.

I had sent the SnapnDeals email to ALL our lists. dPS, feelgooder and Problogger.  Almost a million people!

Not good. Not good at all.

Now that I have that admission out of my system (you can stop blaming Darren now) I wanted to share our actions and response to this no so happy moment so we can all learn from my mistake.

Step 1: Tell Darren

I didn’t really know what to expect from Darren because the situation wasn’t good. He was on holiday and this was the last thing he wanted to happen.  

I find you always really get to know someone at times like this and what I can share with you is that the perception that he’s the one nicest bloggers on the planet – when push comes to shove it is 100% true. 

His response… “It happens… let’s fix it”.  

From Darren: I was just settling down to watch some TV on our second last night of our vacation when my iPhone began to buzz incessantly with incoming emails – I knew something was up and on checking my inbox I knew pretty quickly what had happened.

The incoming emails were a mixture of direct emails from subscribers complaining of spam and unsubscribe notices from Aweber – mainly from ProBlogger readers – with comments that indicated they were not happy.

I was just logging into Aweber to see how many people had been emailed when Shayne’s text message came through.

My reaction: the first reaction was panic – seeing people quickly unsubscribe from a list you’ve put years into building up will do that – but I quickly realised we needed to react quickly and that panic and negative feelings wouldn’t get us anywhere.

Step 2: Evaluate Quickly

From Shayne: Every moment we waited to act was hurting us that little bit more. Together we quickly explored options.

  1. Hold our nerve and respond to anyone that contacts us directly
  2. Broadcast through social media and other channels about the issue
  3. Email people we mistakenly emailed, explain the situation and deal with the consequences.

We decided to do all three.

From Darren: Time was of the essence. Luckily for us this happened early in the evening here in Australia and most of our subscribers were asleep in the US – but the stream of negative emails and unsubscribes was constant and I wanted to react fast.

Even as I chatted with Shayne I drafted an email that I began to send in response to every person who was emailing me to complain or who had unsubscribed and left a comment via Aweber.

The email was short, apologised and briefly explained the situation.

I also tweeted about it pretty quickly to the ProBlogger account and also added updates to Facebook and Google+.

I was also pretty sure I wanted to email those who shouldn’t have received the email – however my reservation was that in doing so we may be accused of pulling the old ‘we made a mistake’ trick that some email marketers do by making a self serving mistake in their marketing.

While being seen to use that tactic wasn’t something I wanted to happen I could also see that by NOT emailing we’d do even more damage.

Step 3: Act

From Shayne: Darren immediately shared the news on social media as we set about writing a follow up email explaining what had happened.  About 20 minutes later that email was on its way. Nerves were high – and yes, I had to get Darren to hit the send button!  But it was also a relief to be clearing things up.

From Darren: Everything as though it was going in slow motion at this point – I couldn’t hit send on that email fast enough and as Shayne says – it was a relief to get it out!

Step 4: Watch

From Shayne: As the email was being delivered we both monitored all inboxes to understand the response our follow up email was having.  For the most part our pro-activity and transparency achieved the response we had hoped.

such as…

“I LOVED this message! I’ll take it as a benchmark of what to do when something wrong happens – because it often does, to all of us ;)

When I received the SnapnDeals email I was puzzled, but I wouldn’t have known it had a connection with you – we receive so much spam, anyway… so I didn’t pay much attention to it.

Receiving this apology, on the other hand, immediately caught my attention and had a very positive impact. It showed how a company or a consultant that cares for their contacts should behave, and made me not only sympathize with you all, but also admire your professionalism on a new level.

I learned a lot, thank you and congratulations!”

There were a few that assumed we were strategically manipulating the situation.

“And by sending this ‘mistake’ out you inadvertently introduce your readers to your SnapnDeals site. Tisk tisk – shame on you Darren. A transparent marketing effort and a unprofessional marketing effort. “

Which we knew was going to happen.

We did lose some subscribers but we minimised the damage and being open an honest about what had happened.  

From Darren: the reaction from subscribers was pretty amazing. Within seconds of the email and social media updates going out we began to see reactions. They were overwhelmingly positive.

I’ve had hundreds of emails come in from those who received the Apology email and 99% of them were positive including some common themes:

  • Don’t be too harsh on the person who made the mistake
  • It’s good to see that even ‘ProBloggers’ make mistakes
  • Thanks for your transparency and admitting the mistake

Of course it wasn’t all positive – as Shayne mentioned, some did see this as a marketing ploy. I responded to each person personally when they reacted this way. My response was to explain there is no way I would risk a brand as important to me as ProBlogger to drive a little traffic over to a side project on a completely irrelevant topic to ProBlogger readers.

The costs of this saga were certainly higher than any unintentional benefits we may have received.

Thankfully though, while we continued to have some unsubscribes they slowed down a lot immediately.

Step 5: Share

From Shayne: Darren and I both like to share our experiences so without even having to say it, we knew this had to be written about on ProBlogger.  Not only to show you how not to run an email campaign, but also share that when something goes wrong, getting on the front foot and owning the issue, in the long run, is going to minimise the harm.  

It’s a story that I’m sure Darren and I will chuckle about in years to come, but also a story I hope we all can remember just before we hit that send button.

From Darren: There was never a question of not sharing this story. For starters we told many of you already with our apology but interestingly another of the common responses from subscribers was them telling their own mistakes (it seems we’re not the only ones to make this mistake).

Step 6: Learn

From Shayne: Now that we know what’s possible Darren and I will look as way’s we can make sure this doesn’t happen in the future. We might look at separating out the accounts on Aweber or putting a few extra checks in place before we send out emails.  

Either way we need to adjust what we do as I hope you’ll all forgive me this once, but should it happen again you have my complete permission to get angry.

So that’s my wonderful 10th of April.  I’m sure there’s a few more email catastrophe stories out there waiting to be shared!  

It’ll make me feel better if you do :)

From Darren: The thought of this happening again sends shivers down my spine. I’ve been at this long enough to know that honest mistakes do get made (I’ve made plenty) however the keys in this are to:

  • Learn from those mistakes
  • Own the mistakes and to get on the front foot in responding
  • Look for ways to turn the mistakes into postives

The last thing I’d say is that the mistakes you make – and how you respond to them – in many ways define you.

As I look back over the years at the times I’ve messed up it is often these moments that drive me most to improve, to change and to better what I do.

These are also the moments that others remember most – so how you move through these times is a really important part of building your brand (and character).

What does it take to Succeed?

This guest post is by Tommy Walker of Inside The Mind

We often look outside of ourselves when we ask “What does it take to succeed?”

Surely, others know more about success than you, so following their advice will lead to success.

I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately, and while I think it’s true that you have to at some point seek outside mentorship, to really be successful, it comes down to a three things.

Consistency, Practice & Routine.

But first, watch this video.

Now you may wonder what the heck beatboxing has to do with blogging, and on the surface the answer is very little.

But watch this video a little closer.

This is a guy, on a stage, making sounds with his mouth… and people are cheering him on.

Technically, you could beatbox. If you’re reading this, I’m assuming you have a mouth and you make sounds with it.

But what this guy has done that you haven’t is practiced. Constantly.

How many hours years do you think he’s spent in the mirror practicing his patterns.

When he’s got nothing to do, what do you think he does?

The same as you might stare at tabloids in the grocery line, or playing a song in your head, he’s probably making beats under his breath.

I don’t know if this guy won the competition but I know he was good enough to compete.

And I know the only way he could compete was by practicing his skill more than anyone who didn’t take the stage, or make this far in the competition.

And I know that he’s got the same tools as you. What sets him apart is his willingness to practice, consistently, on a routine.   

…something to think about next time you sit down to write.

Tommy Walker is an online marketing strategist and the host of Inside The Mind and The Mindfire Chats, fresh and entertaining shows that aim to shake up online and content marketing.

A Key to Building a Sustainable Online Personal Brand

Recently I was part of a panel to launch a new book by Trevor Young called ‘Micro Domination‘.

In the book Trevor identifies a number of what he calls ‘Micro Mavens‘ – including people like Chris Brogan, Jonathan Fields, Marie Forleo, Chris Guillebeau, Trey Ratcliff, Pamela Slim, Gary Vaynerchuk (and he generously includes me too) and goes onto describe their characteristics and how they’ve built businesses around their personal brands.

The book is a good read – particularly for those starting out and wanting to get their head around the idea of building an online personal brand.

As I read through the list of Micro Mavens that Trevor identified it struck me that he’s actually put together a group of people who have a number of very common traits (many of which he outlines in the book).

The Power of Being Constructive

The most obvious trait to me is that the above group of people are a very ‘constructive’ group of individuals.

I’ve been fortunate enough to have had both online and face to face meetings with most of the above group and many others listed in the book and in each case I’ve interacted with them I’ve been struct by how positive they are as people.

There’s a certain uplifting vibe about each of them in meeting them but when you look at what they’ve built online over the years you can see the trait again and again.

Day in and day out they use their time to build something that is useful for their networks, readers and followers.

  • The books and blogs that they’ve written have been positive and full of constructive advice.
  • Their tweets are largely positive and the communities that they form are largely positive and constructive too.
  • When they speak at conferences their messages almost always contain inspirational and useful ideas.

While from time to time they probably all have had a rant or have complained about something and they all are quite capable of bringing critical thought to what they write about…

  • They spend a lot more time constructing than being destructive.
  • They build more than they tear down.
  • They focus more upon the positives than the negatives.
  • They focus their energy upon helping those who interact with them to have positive outcomes

My suspicion is that this ‘constructive’ approach is probably a large part of their success over many years.

Destructive Personal Branding

This may all seem quite obvious – however as I pondered the group of people Trevor has written about I found my mind going back through the years to another group of people who took quite a different approach.

Many of those that came to mind rose to prominence in their niches quite quickly through using a more ‘destructive’ tactic.

They often burst onto the scene in their niches in a flurry of controversy, snark and personal attack – tactics that do often cause a stir and get the person behind them lots of attention very quickly.

The problem with this negative or destructive approach is that it is much more difficult to sustain over the long term for a couple of reasons:

Firstly for most people it is particularly draining to be constantly being negative. Controversy, snark and attack doesn’t really bring anyone life and isn’t something most of us can do on a day by day basis without it taking a personal toll.

Secondly creating a brand on the build of a more destructive approach makes it difficult to build a business model around it. While it is possible to build a following with such tactics I find it difficult to think of too many ways to build a profitable long term business on that. What advertiser would want to associate their brand with it? What product could you create that people would want to buy with such negativity?

In the long run these ‘destructive’ online personalities tend to attract others like them and something of a cesspool of negativity emerges around them.

Build Something Positive!

Building something ‘constructive’ is probably not the quickest way to build an online profile but what I find is that it is the key to building a more long term and sustainable online brand.

The rise to prominence may be a little slower but in time what you build is much better. In fact in my observation of the people mentioned above (and many many others) is that in time real momentum can grow when you’ve built something positive over time.

The accumulation of generously helping people over years and years can have a massive return in a business sense but on a personal level it is much more life giving back to you too!

The key lesson to me is to think about how you can build something that gives hope, that solves problems and that genuinely and generously serves others.

I’d LOVE to hear your thoughts on this. I’m sure there are a few examples of ‘negative’ brands that have managed to succeed despite their approach and I’m happy to hear about them but I’d also love to hear other positive examples and hear about your experience of this.

The Only Real Way to Learn About Blogging

… is to start a blog and use it.

Start

The barriers to entry into blogging are low – you can start a blog in minutes using a tool like WordPress.com.

In setting it up and hitting publish on your first blog post you’ll learn so much. In your first week of blogging you’ll develop skills and habits that could change your life.

Your first post won’t be perfect but it’ll be a step closer to perfect than never publishing one!

The only real way to learn about blogging is to start one!

15 Years Blogging And Still Learning

A Guest Post by Chris Brogan from Human Business Works

I started my first blog back in 1998, when it was called journaling. It was on some Geocities site whose name I no longer remember. From there, I moved to Tripod, and then to Blogger, a quick side-step into another platform or two, and then WordPress. Along the way, it went from being a place to share my fiction, and then my self-improvement efforts, and there were a lot of other iterations, too.

Maybe more of interest to you: it took me 8 years to get my first 100 subscribers, and I can say without a doubt that blogging was what made me most every dollar I earned from 2006 until present, in one way or another. It also landed me a New York Times Bestselling Book. Want to hear more?

My First Biggest Discovery

In the beginning, I wrote for myself. I wrote about myself, too. And I gave my opinions on this or that. Guess who cared? Only me.

My first big discovery was to be helpful. The more I could create material that was useful to others, the more it would be rewarded by people visiting more, interacting more, and checking in more often to see if I had anything more to help with.

That same process of learning how to be helpful led to my course, Blog Topics: The Master Class, which was a much more structured and premium version of what I had accumulated for skills. In fact, learning how to help gave me the idea to create courses that would add value to professionals in lots of different subject areas. Which, of course, led to even more success.

How To Get More Readers

The predominant advice out there is to guest post (like I’m doing now!) and that’s not wrong. But what I’ve come to learn is this: the more you interact with people on their sites and where they are, the more people will flow back to interact with you. Not the “big names.” Connect with the up and comers. That’s part one. The second part is that you have to practice the “B Strategy.”

  • Be Helpful (already told you that).
  • Be Human
  • Be Interesting
  • Be Everywhere

The sketch is this: most blog posts I’m sent to read end up being boring, too short, not especially helpful, and feel like they were written as a chore. Does that sound like the way to attract readers? I think not.

Build the Newsletter Subscriber List Early

I’ll tell you the most surprising (and depressing) revelation of all my years of blogging. Though my blog has attracted a lot of opportunities, if I intend to sell something, my blog isn’t actually very effective. My beloved newsletter has only about 29,000 subscribers on it. Compare that to my 200K unique monthly visits. Now, get this: I get 10x more sales activity (by volume, not %) from my newsletter. So, 10x less people get my newsletter, and I sell 10x more there than via my blog.

If I could go back and change one thing early, it would be to create a valuable newsletter earlier. Get mine to see what I do to make it valuable.

The Best Part of Blogging

When I met Darren Rowse for the first time, it was in the presence of Brian Clark (Copyblogger) at the first BlogWorld Expo in Las Vegas. It felt like magic, because the three of us had been writing successful blogs for a little while. Both Darren and Brian were more successful than me (still are), but we had very different approaches. Here’s the list of what I love most about blogging:

  • It lets me build business my way.
  • It empowered me to meet smart people.
  • It lets me help others in a scalable way.
  • It affords me a place to earn leads based on my thoughts.
  • It enables a campfire around which a community can gather.

I won’t be closing down my blog any time soon, even if it’s supposedly dead. Again.

Some Lessons For You

Here’s some advice on the way out the door:

  • Never write super long posts like this one.
  • Never write self-referential posts like this one.
  • Don’t approach guest posting as an opportunity to stuff your links into someone else’s blog, like I did.
  • Don’t lecture people on what to do like I am doing.

Oh, and break the “rules.” Do whatever serves your community best. That’s what got me this far (15 years and counting), and that’s what will get me to my next level. See you there?

Chris Brogan is the president and CEO of Human Business Works, a publishing and media company providing courses, books, and live education to professionals like you. He wishes he were Darren Rowse.

4 Key Stats to Monitor the Health of Your Blog

As a blogger spare time can be pretty hard to come by. Your focus, as it should be, is about creating great content and engaging with your community — leaving little capacity for the ‘other’ things that need to be done. Add the fact that a lot of us prefer to leave the numbers and bean counting to the accountants and statisticians, it’s no surprise that a lot of the bloggers I speak with have little or no idea about the statistical health of their blog.

Personally, I’ve always been a bit of a numbers guy. As the son of a maths teacher its been built into how I think. But I even as a bit of a number nerd, I don’t immerse myself in statistically breaking down all the facts and figures of a blog unless I have to. I instead identify key metrics that I measure and track over time allowing me to have  indicators that tell me if I need to dig any deeper or not.

If they’re all pointing in the right direction, it allows me  to focus on the fun things knowing everything is in good health.

You might have slightly different indicators on your own blog buy here’s my go to 4 measures I use for all the blogs I’m involved with:

1. Traffic

I’m looking here simply at unique visitors, visitors and page views. You can track and easily access the stats using Google Analytics. If all three are pointing in the right direction (increasing) then things are good. If traffic is dropping or even flat then it’s something I need to focus on.

2. Costs

The barriers to entry for blogging are extremely low, a couple of bucks and you’re up and going. However as your blog grows, costs can blow out pretty quickly. Keeping track of what you’re spending on your blog (hosting, premium services, stock images) will ensure that you can keep it under control. One cost I always measure that most don’t is my own time. I keep track of my hours and allocate a real hourly rate, as though I was a paid employee. Your investment in yourself can be pretty scary when you start tracking it.

3. Revenue

Even with small revenue it’s important to make sure it’s pointing in the right direction — increasing. I like to split revenue down into each stream of income. Affiliate, product sales, advertising and ensure that success in one area is not overshadowing poor performance in another.

4. Subscribers

Subscribers are a collection of your email subscribers, your social media following, your RSS subscribers or anyone that has connected to you in some way. Like revenue, I like to track each of these subscriber channels independently.

How I’m tracking.

Some of the metrics, in particular revenue, I’ll track daily. Most I’ll update and review once a month. It’s all done in a very simple spreadsheet, but most important of all it’s tracked over time allowing for comparison of the result. It takes less than an hour in total per month to do.

What I’m looking for.

When I’m looking through these 4 key metrics, I’m using them as traffic light indicators. If traffic is up, green light & onwards we go, if it’s flat, amber light & something to worry about if the trend continues, if it’s down, red light — time to dig a little deeper so as to understand why.

If everything is green, well you’re just awesome and I’m envious, but for the rest of us using key indicators, you can be confident that the little extra time you have, is spent where it’s most needed.

For those that do – I’d love to hear how you’re measuring the health of your own blog.

7 Strategies for Growing Community on Your Blog

This week on ProBlogger we’ve been looking at the topic of building community on a blog. We started by identifying 9 benefits and 3 costs of community on a blog and then looked at 5 stages of building community on a blog. Today I want to dig deeper into some specific things to DO to build community on your blog.

Across a Crowd

1. Write in a Conversational Voice

This tip fits into the ‘it’s not rocket science’ category of blogging tips (as do many blog tips) – however as simple as it sounds I regularly see bloggers falling into the trap of talking ‘AT’ readers rather than blogging in a conversational voice.

The art of good conversation is as much as being ‘interested’ as it is about being ‘interesting’. Good conversationalists ask questions, pause to allow others to speak and listen to others when they are speaking.

ships, night, passing and all that...

Good bloggers similarly often write in a more conversational way and in doing so invite readers to respond.

Every bloggers needs to find their own style and voice but I’ve found a number of things have been helpful in writing more ‘conversationally’:

I write like I speak

y best blog posts often start out as me writing an email to a reader answering a question. Alternatively I will often imagine I’m talking to someone as I’m writing – which leads to a post written in a more personal way.

I tell stories

I don’t do this in every post but I find that when I weave some kind of personal angle into a post that it seems to draw readers into recounting their own stories. The story need not be long or highly personal story – it could simply be sharing how you did something in your business (you’ll see me do this below when I talk about how on dPS we added a Flickr Group to dPS as an intermediate step on the way to starting a forum).

I use personal language

When you talk to another person it is common to use words like ‘I’, ‘you’ and ‘we’. Conversely when you write in a theoretical language these words often disappear. Check out the top 20 posts on ProBlogger in 2012 and notice that over 50% of the most read posts this year had personal words in their titles.

Share Opinions

One of the most powerful ways to get some kind of a reaction from readers is to share you opinion. Doing so will automatically trigger your readers to think about their own opinions and whether they agree with you – and more often than not you’ll find at least a few of them will let you know if they do! Tread a little carefully here – opinion pieces can cause debate and depending on the tone of your writing and the topic can lead to heated conversation!

2. Invite Interaction

Part of writing in a conversational tone is to invite others to participate in the conversation. While some of your readers will comment without any kind of interaction you’ll be surprised how many more will interact with you with a simple call to do so!

Individual Protection

Inviting your readers to interact with you can include numerous things such as:

  • asking readers to comment (and not just at the end of posts… you can signal right at the beginning that you’re interested in other people’s thoughts on a topic (as I did several paragraphs above).
  • asking specific questions – I find the more specific your questions are the better better responses you get (i.e. instead of ending a post with a general ‘what do you think?’ guide your readers with a more specific question about your topic or give them some alternatives or examples to help them make that first comment.
  • write posts that are purely questions – one of the best ways to get responses is simply to write a post that is little more than the question itself. These ‘discussion’ posts can be gold (for example recently to wrap up a week of content on the topic of Pinterest we finished the series with a discussion post on the topic.
  • Setting a Challenge – on dPS we do a weekly themed challenge for readers to go away and take a photo on a theme and then to come back and share what they did (here’s an example of one we did on the theme of ‘Nature’). This not only gets a good number of comments – it gets readers DOING something quite involved which is a sign of real reader engagement. Another recent example would be our recent Group Writing Project here on ProBlogger.
  • Polls – perhaps the simplest method of getting a first time reader out of passivity and doing a little something is to run a poll on your blog. Having them simply choose from a couple of multiple choice options and clicking ‘vote’ may not seem like much but it signals to your readers that you’re interested in their opinion or experience and takes them a tiny step down the road to engagement and community. The other thing you can do with polls is once they’ve voted ask them to tell you why they voted as they did. For example on dPS we asked readers if they’d ever taken a photography class and then at the end of the post invited them to tell us what class it was and how they found it. 161 people added a comment. While this was a small % of those who’ve voted in the poll it was a higher number of comments than an average post on the site.
  • Tell Readers about the Community - while we’re talking about polls, the other thing I’ve found useful is to not only run a poll but to post the final results of a poll too. For example in this post we shared how many of our dPS readers are looking to buy a new camera. In doing this readers see where they fit in to the diverse membership of your community and you remind them that they participated. The other good thing about showing results is that you signal to your whole readership that others are engaging with you. In that example above we mentioned that 28,000 people responded to the poll – great social proof!
  • Invite Interactions OFF your blog – community does not just need to happen ON your blog for it to be worthwhile. In fact some of the best community discussions I’ve seen among my readers have happened on our dPS Facebook page or on my personal Google+ page. People are trained by these social networks to interact – so it can be a great place to begin conversations and relationships that may lead to ongoing community.

Regular invitations to your readership to interact will gradually draw more and more of your readers out of passivity and into an interaction with you. Even a small first step towards community could lead to a passive reader becoming super engaged which as we’ve seen previously can have many positive benefits.

Further Reading:

3. Consider a Dedicated Community Area

Blogs have community built into them to some degree by allowing comments to be made on any post. Many blogging tools now not only allow comments but allow threaded comments which enhance the experience and allow mini-conversations to happen in an easy to follow way.

However if there may come a time on your blog where you want to give readers the ability to not only respond to what you or your writers have to say – but also to start threads of new conversation.

To do this you’ll want to consider some kind of dedicated community area.

There are a number of ways to do this. On dPS I first did this by starting a ‘Flickr Group‘ where I invited readers to share photos and start conversations. dPS being a photography site and Flickr being full of photographers this not only gave our readers a place to interact but also helped us to find new readers.

For dPS the Flickr group also gave our readers a taste of community and whet their appetite for it to the point that they began to ask if I would consider starting an actual forum area – something I did (see the dPS Photography Forum here) after I saw that there was enough demand to kick it off with enough active members.

Blog to foum

A forum comes with its own advantages and challenges.

In short forums benefits are:

  • Increasing Reader Engagement
  • Builds User Generated Content
  • Increases Page Views per Visit
  • Appeals to different types of readers

However the challenges of forums include:

  • The challenge of moderation (they can take a lot of work and are often targets of spammers)
  • The challenge of having enough critical mass to make the forum active enough to be attractive
  • The technical challenges – as with most self hosted blogging platforms forum platforms need maintenance and upgrades and can be a challenge to manage.

Further Reading on Forums: check out 10 Mistakes that Will KILL a Forum (or blog) and 6 Tips on Adding a Forum to your Blog.

Other options for community areas on a blog include setting up off site community areas such as:

Of course with all of these options you’re really at the mercy of other companies who have control over the hosting and upkeep of your community. You also lose some control over features etc.

Add to the conversation: If you’ve had experience with other types of community areas on your blog (or other people’s) I’d love to hear about them in comments below.

4. Use Interactive and Accessible Mediums

While we’re talking about using different types of social media lets touch on a range of other tools that you can use to help build community on and around your blog.

A number of years ago I experimented over with using Ustream to connect with my readers. I set up a ProBlogger channel and on a fairly regular but impulsive basis used to jump onto it to do Q&A sessions with readers.

It has been a year since I ran a Ustream chat but the times I did it I got a lot of positive feedback from readers as it allowed them to not only interact with me by asking questions but allowed them to see and hear my responses live.

Today there are a number of other such options available to you – perhaps the most popular of which is what Google+ offers with their hangouts.

I’ve not run a hangout myself yet (there are only so many hours in the day) but have attended many as a viewer and think that they’d be a great way to give readers a more engaging experience of you – particularly now that they can be live streamed and synced with your Youtube channel.

One of the best people I’ve seen doing hangouts is Trey Ratcliff who is brilliant at it!

The other option on this front is to experiment with running webinars – something I’ve done more and more over the last year.

Webinars

I use GoToWebinar (to which I am an affiliate) to run ProBlogger webinars and while mine have only been me talking to slides or me interviewing guests (audio only) I’ve had more positive feedback about our webinars than I have about most other things I’ve done in the past couple of years here on ProBlogger.

GotoWebinar have also just introduced Video conferencing also for 100-attendee webinars (soon to be adding it for larger plans too) so that those attending can see you live.

5. Run Projects and Challenges

I’m often asked what the ‘tipping point’ for ProBlogger was – the moment that the blog really took off. There were a number of these but one was the first time I ran the 31 Days to Build a Better Blog (31DBBB) challenge.

31 Days to Build a Better Blog is today our best selling eBook but it didn’t start out that way. It actually began as a series of blog posts that I put together over a month in 2005.

The idea started as a joke with a fried but was one that wouldn’t go away and so on the spur of the moment in the early hours of a night when I couldn’t sleep I posted that we were going to run this challenge where I’d give readers a little teaching/theory on an aspect of blogging every day for 31 days and would also give them a challenge to complete that related to the challenge.

I didn’t really expect it to take off too much but the next morning I awoke to a lot of comments on that post and people emailing to say that they were excited. The following 31 days not only saw increased traffic on the blog but readers engaging in a deeper way than they had before.

I ran 31DBBB over the next two years again and each time we saw readers becoming more and more engaged with the site.

What I realised through these projects is that giving people a common task to work on over a period of time gives them a shared experience that draws them closer together.

Since 2005 there have been many such projects run around the blogosphere. In fact inspired by 31DBBB Nester from Nesting place runs an annual ’31 Days of Change’ project on her blog in which bloggers are invited to run a ’31 Days’ series on their blogs.

Last year Nester saw over 1200 bloggers run 31 Days Challenges over the month of October (just a few pictured below)! That project is growing every year and I suspect it is because bloggers who join are discovering the power of running such a project on their blog.

There are many other challenges you can run. Check out FatMumSlim’s Photo a Day Instagram challenge for example which is participated in by many thousands of people. Similarly Fox in Flats runs a Style Dare a Day challenge that is always popular.

Add to the conversation: If you’ve run a challenge like this – please tell us about it in the comments below so we can learn about it!

6. Real Life Events

One of the most powerful ways of building community with your readers is to actually meet them – face to face.

I know this is full of all kinds of logistical challenges but IF you can meet your readers – take the opportunity because face to face interactions and a real life shared experience certainly seems to speed up the building of community.

I first experimented with this in the early days of my first blog when I didn’t have a heap of readers but when I posted that I would be in London on a holiday and asked readers if they wanted to meet up for a drink. I had 3 people show up for a beer – not a large crowd but the first time I’d met readers face to face.

Now almost any time I’m in a new city I’ll try to tweet/post out a time and place to have a meet up. Sometimes we get a good turnout and other times it is small – but every time it gives me an amazing opportunity to meet readers and build relationships with them (and for them to meet one another).

The other way I put myself out there to meet readers was to attend events that I thought my readers might be attending. In the early days for me this was about buying a ticket for popular events just like everyone else but in time it meant accepting speaking invitations when they came for the events I knew my readers were attending.

Over the last 4 years I’ve of course had opportunity to not only attend other people’s events but to run my own ProBlogger Training Events here in Australia. This started relatively small with a hastily arranged 100 person event but each year it has grown – to the point that our September Gold Coast event sold 200 Early bird tickets in a couple of hours.

The added bonus of our real life event is that a virtual event runs alongside it both in the selling of virtual tickets but also through the hashtag for the event. While not all ProBlogger readers are able to get to Australia in person the event hashtag last year saw a lot of readers engaging with one another and the ProBlogger brand and created a real buzz.

What I notice after running an event or meeting people face to face is that in the days and weeks after we meet in person I’m much more likely to see that person engaging with me on social media and on the blog. It’s one of the fastest ways to build deeper engagement.

The perfect example of someone who has run hundreds of real life events around the world is Chris Guillebeau who when launching his books has done meetups in every state in the US and for his recent book every continent around the globe. I was fortunate to go with him to one of these events in Melbourne and was amazed at the enthusiasm his readers turned out to the event with – it’s no wonder Chris has had such a massive impact upon so many.

7. Put Your Readers in the Spotlight

Newsign

Way back in 2006 I wrote a very short post encouraging bloggers to ‘Make Your Readers Famous‘.

At the time it was a bit of a throw away idea and not something I’d pondered too much but in the last 7 years it has been something that I’ve seen the power of many times.

The idea is simple – put your readers in the limelight on your blog. Most blogs keep the blogger on the stage with the microphone and the readers inn the audience – but what would happen if you allowed your readers onto the stage?

The answer to that question is that readers will take real ownership over your blog and become a lot more loyal to it if you allow them opportunity to share the limelight.

Most bloggers use their blogs to build their own profile – but when you use your blog to help your readers to build their profile and achieve their own goals something special can happen.

Here are a few ways that you can make your reader famous that I’ve previous published (updated for 2013):

  • Promote a comment to a Post – sometimes readers make incredibly insightful and wise observations and tips in the comments of your blog. While they will be read by a handful of people in the comment thread – why not pull it out and use it as the basis for one of your post – highlighting the wisdom in it and the person who made the comment.
  • Write a Post about a Reader’s Blog – visit the blogs of those leaving comments on your blog and pick one that you resonate and that is relevant to your readers. Write a link post linking to that blog highlighting the best posts and what you like about it.
  • Send Your Readers to Comment on Someone Else’s Blog – write a post that links to someone else’s great blog post and instead of asking your readers what they think about it on your own blog ask them to head over and comment on it on the other person’s blog. Shutting down the comments in your own post and saying that you’ve left a comment on their blog already can help make this more effective.
  • Give Readers an Opportunity to Promote Themselves – run a project or write a post that gives readers an opportunity to promote themselves in some way. For example on dPS I wrote a post asking readers – do you have a photoblog?‘ As I wrote the post I thought I’d add a line inviting readers to share a link to their photoblogs. I didn’t think much of it until the next morning when I woke up to 250 comments on the post and a whole heap of emails thanking me for giving readers the opportunity to highlight their work.
  • Run a Reader Poll and Highlight Answers in a followup post – have a post one weekend where you pose a question to your readers. Then in the week that follows do a followup post where you add some of your own thoughts on the question and pull out some of the best comments left by readers. Alternatively you could survey your twitter followers on a topic relevant to your blog and then highlight their responses as a blog post (example of this).
  • Invite Guest Posts – often ‘guest posting’ is talked about solely as a way to get free content for your blog. While this is nice – one of the things I love about it most is that it puts the microphone in the hand of someone else and lets someone who would normally be constrained by the comments section have a little more power and influence on the direction of your community for a moment in time. This can have a real impact upon the person doing the post – but also upon your readership as they see someone like themselves featured on your blog.
  • Invite your Readers to Promote their Social Networks – a fun project I ran here on ProBlogger a number of years ago was to have a ‘social media love in‘ where I invited readers to share their social media accounts with us here on the blog. Readers left comments sharing their Twitter, Facebook, Youtube, StumbleUpon (and more) accounts and we compiled all the submissions (over 700) into lists so readers could all follow one another. It was a massive amount of work but helped our readers grow their profiles.

There are many more ways to put your readers into the spotlight and help them out with their own online projects and goals. Please let us know below how you’ve done this type of thing on your own blog!