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How to Become more Popular (and Grow your Income) by Making your Topic Stupidly Easy

This guest post is by Johnny B Truant from Learn to Be Your Own V.A. and The Economy Isn’t Happening.

Back in early April, partially at the suggestion of Naomi Dunford of IttyBiz, I wrote a free e-book intended to make launching a standalone blog easy, fast, and cheap. It was a short book, comprised of screenshots and simple written instructions. All anyone had to do was read, point, and click.

Nearly four hundred people downloaded the e-book in the first few days, but in the following month, only three actually completed the process. People said that sure, it was easy, but there were still too many steps. So I announced that if they’d just get the hosting, I’d do the rest of the process for them for $39.

That did it.

I launched 40 blogs the following week, and was flooded with emails thanking me for making this complicated subject easy — and that brought me to an interesting realization. If I could be the guy who made things simple, people would love it and even pay me for it. Psychologists call this “Removing barriers to action.” I think of it as “making things stupidly easy.”

Know your topic. Make it simple. Profit.

What this means for you

Most blogs — especially those that try to make a profit — are about something. They’re about meditation, or custom window framing, or knitting, or blogging itself. They have a lesson to impart. Readers are there because they want to understand a topic they don’t know as well as the blog’s author does. The extent to which you are able to teach them will, in large part, determine whether they continue to read, tell their friends, link to you, and so on.

Sounds obvious, right? The sticking point is that not all teaching is created equal. It’s not always in line with what readers actually want and need.

How readers learn best

In early May, I conducted a survey among IttyBiz readers to see how they preferred to learn online. Throughout the survey, I asked participants to pretend that they were trying to learn a skill online that 1) they were not already an expert at, 2) didn’t involve a lot of creativity and hence was amenable to step-by-step explanation, and 3) was a sort of “middle of the road” skill — i.e., closer to “changing spark plugs” than “rebuilding an engine from scratch.”

Here’s what I found:

1. Readers really do want simplicity.

Only six percent of respondents said that “a vague sketch of how to do it” would be sufficient. Two thirds said that simple instructions were “important,” and thirty percent said it was “essential.” Nearly a third of the audience said that “Ideally, I’d like someone to show me exactly what to do each step of the way.” What’s more, 79% said that on a scale of 1-10, “simplicity and easy-to-follow instructions” are at least an eight when learning a new skill online. 23% of respondents ranked it as a ten.

2. Detailed tutorials and detailed text descriptions with photos are the best learning tools.

The learning tool that respondents thought would be most helpful when learning a new skill online was “Doing detailed step-by-step tutorials (Step one: Do this (with photo). Step two: Do this (with photo). Etc.).” 83% chose this option, following it at 79% with “Reading text, like blog posts, with accompanying photos” (Text without photos ranked at half that.) Surprisingly, the third-ranking medium — video — ranked at only 51%, followed by detailed e-books, Q&A, wikis, and interactive phone calls or web meetings.

3. People are willing to pay for easy-to-follow instruction.

50% of respondents said they’d be willing to pay for instructions that could make the process easier and faster than the alternatives, even if those more complicated alternatives were free. Another 20% said “Maybe.” (Caveat: Some respondents felt that their answers to this one would depend highly on the skill at hand.)

4. People are willing to pay up to $50 for info products that could make the process simpler.

Of the people who said they’d pay to make learning a skill easier, 44% said the maximum they’d pay for an info product would be $20, and another 32% said they’d pay up to $50. Only 5% were willing to pay more.

5. “Simple-making” is worth up to $50 per hour.

For bloggers who run a service business teaching people how to do things, your skills seem to be worth between $25 and $50 per hour. 40% indicated they would pay this much, with 37% indicating they’d only pay up to $25/hr, and 17% willing to go as high as $75/hr. (And again, respondents indicated what they’d pay would depend on the skill being taught.)

6. More than half of the respondents would pay someone to just do it for them.

I asked people to consider a “middle of the road” skill that they didn’t know well, that could be outsourced, and that had to be done (as opposed to a hobby they wanted to learn how to do themselves) and asked if they would pay someone to just do it for them. 52% said they would, with another 18% responding with “Maybe.” Of the “Yes” responses, 44% said they would pay up to $100 total. Another 16% said they’d go up to $200, and 9% would pay up to $500.

What this means to the average blogger

Assuming your blog centers on a specific topic (rather than being a personal journal) this all means that there is money in being the person who makes your topic simple. Do you write about construction? If you made a simple, step-by-step online tutorial with plenty of pictures about how to install recessed lighting, readers might pay $20-$50 to access it. Do you blog about computer networking? That’s an insanely complex topic. If you could boil some of your best tips down into really, really easy step-by-step instructions (as video, e-books, or just an informative blog), you could likely sell that information. Or for local readers, you could easily charge $50/hr to teach them personally, or even more to set up networks for them.

Now: You may think you already make your topic easy, but keep in mind just how highly simplicity ranked in the survey. A third of people wanted to see every little step along the way. 23% said simplicity was important to the tune of 10 out of 10. Detailed step-by-step tutorials ranked at the very top of the methods readers prefer to use when learning. Sure, you’re explaining your topic. But are you making it stupidly easy?

The Net is a complicated place, full of free instruction that is often still confusing and hard to follow. Try being the person who can explain your topic to the layman in very, very, very easy-to-follow ways. If you can use your knowledge to distill the essence of what you know and put it across in a “stupidly easy” way, you may discover a huge market right at your fingertips.

In addition to being a weekly contributor to IttyBiz, Johnny writes Learn to Be Your Own V.A. (which is informative but not funny) and The Economy Isn’t Happening (which is funny but not at all informative). You can pick up his free blog launch e-book at the former.

17 Statistics to Monitor on Your Blog [Day 30 - 31DBBB]

blog-statistics.pngToday your task in the 31 Days to Build a Better Blog Challenge is to spend some time looking at your blog’s statistics/metrics package to see what you can learn from it.

I encouraged participants in 31DBBB to make sure they had a metrics package installed on their blog before they started so I hope you have at least a month’s worth of stats to look at. If you’ve not got a stats package installed yet you should get one on your blog ASAP as it’ll help you track how it is performing.

Take some time out today to do a little analysis of your blog’s statistics. There is a wealth of information in them that can be incredibly useful.

Important Note: this exercise tends to become more useful over time. If this is the first time you do it then hopefully it’ll be illuminating – but the longer you have been collecting metrics on your blog the more useful it can become as you track trends and see patterns over time. As a result – this type of exercise should be something you build into your regular blogging routine (I try to do an in depth review each month).

Some of you will be used to doing this type of analysis so you won’t need a lot of help in doing it – but if you’re new to this here are a few metrics to pay particular attention to:

  1. Overall Visitors – this is the metric most of us probably look at the most so I’ll start with it. Are visitor numbers on the increase or decrease? What might be the reasons for these changes (ie could it be tied to frequency of posting, topics, other sites links etc).
  2. Most Popular Posts – what posts are being read more than other posts? Knowing this is important for a couple of reasons. For starters it gives you a hint of what topics you could write more on – but secondly it gives you some key pages on your site to optimize (ie think about how you can drive people from these posts deeper into your blog).
  3. Referral Stats – what sites are sending you the most traffic? If it’s another blog or site, perhaps you could develop a relationship with them to see this increase. If it’s Search Engines, how can you adapt the posts to see it rise even more using on page SEO techniques).
  4. What Questions are being asked? – what questions are readers typing into search engines to find your blog? These could make great future posts (learn more about how to do this here).
  5. What Keywords are sending traffic? – knowing the keywords that people search for to find your site is very useful. It helps you to know how to optimize your blog for SEO even better and can give hints on what content to write more of.
  6. What seasonal traffic is there? – are there any seasonal trends that you should be aware of and could use to capture more traffic? What caused the bumps in traffic and how can you prepare yourself better for next time those conditions might happen again (read more on seasonal traffic and how to capture it).
  7. Daily/Weekly Trends – another trend to watch is what traffic does over different periods of time. What are the most popular times of day? What days of the week are most popular? Knowing this gives you ammunition in planning when to release new posts.
  8. What’s Your Bounce Rate? – metrics packages like Google Analytics provide you with a ‘bounce rate’ stat which measures how many people arrive at your site and then leave again without viewing any extra pages. I find this a key metric to watch and attempt to change. Set yourself some goals to get this rate down and the page views viewed per visitor up by making your blog sticky.
  9. Page Views Per Visit – Similarly to ‘Bounce Rate’ – This is a good one to watch over time as it shows you whether those coming to your blog are going deep into your blog’s content or simply looking at the page they arrive on. My goal on my blogs is to see this number increase over time. For tips on how to increase page views also check out 4 Quick and Simple Ways to Increase Page Views on Your Blog.
  10. Time on Site – Another stat that can give you a sense on whether readers are engaging with your content is to look at how long they stay on your blog. The longer they are staying the more likely it is that they’re reading, commenting and interacting (or that they forgot to close their browser).
  11. New vs Returning Visitors – This one gives you a sense of whether you’re succeeding in converting people to loyal visitors.
  12. RSS Stats – If you’re using a tool like Feedburner to manage your RSS feeds you’ll have access to more useful information. Feedburner provides you with the number of subscribers but also what posts people are reading most of (again showing you what content people are engaging with most which gives you some good information on what type of content is working best).
  13. Outbound Clicks – Not every metrics package will give you this type of information but if you have access to it knowing what links on your blog people are clicking to leave it can be very useful. It’s not that you want to stop people clicking links – but knowing what links they click on can give you some useful information on what motivates your readers to click a link and what type of information they want more of.
  14. Where are People Clicking on Your Page – not all stats packages track this but some like Google Analytics or packages specifically for it like CrazyEgg will create heatmaps or visual pictures of what people click on when they visit your blog. I find CrazyEgg’s heatmaps better than Google Analytics but you do need to set it up on specific pages of your blog to be able to see them. This is very useful information when thinking about the design and layout of your blog but also can help you test how to layout posts to see where people click.
  15. Exit Pages – A similar metric is knowing what page on your blog people are leaving from. A couple of years ago I checked my stats and noticed that the % of people leaving a particular page on my blog was triple other pages. When I investigated I found that the page had some very bad formatting issues on it that made the page almost unreadable – I was able to fix the problem and keep more readers engaged as a result.
  16. Monetization Stats – many of you are looking to make money from your blogs so it’s also important to pay attention to any stats you have at your disposal on how your blog is performing in this way. The metrics you have at your disposal will vary from income stream to income stream but if possible try to work out where on your blog the income is coming from specifically. For example if you use Google Analytics and AdSense you’ll be able to see what specific pages are earning more than others. Otherwise – use what ever channel or tracking options your ad network or affiliate program gives you to help you work out which posts are performing.
  17. Other Stats – There are plenty of other stats that can be revealing when you dig into them. Knowing the Geographic regions of your readers can be helpful as you think about content but also is useful if you’re dealing with advertisers, knowing the screen resolution and browsers people are using to view your site is good from a design perspective etc. Also worth doing from time to time is looking at other stats like how many posts you’ve done over time (post frequency can help you monitor how you’re performing personally) and how many comments you’ve had on your blog over a period of time and on which posts (which can be a great indicator of what kind of posts are working best on your blog and how reader engagement is going).

What Would You Add?

There are many other types of metrics that most statistics packages will provide you with. Feel free to share the metrics that you check most often and how you use them to improve your blog in comments below. Also let us know what tools you are using to check your blog’s metrics.

Warning: Don’t become a stats addict. Most new bloggers go through a period where they are checking their stats every hour. This is pretty normal but over time can add up to a lot of wasted time.

I personally try to do a quick check of stats throughout the day 2-3 times (just looking at traffic numbers mainly to see if there’s any spike in traffic that I need to know about) and then month put aside an hour or two to go deeper and look at some of the above statistics.

Further Reading: Using Google Analytics to Compare Traffic from Different Periods of Time – in this post I use the ‘compare’ feature on Google Analytics to track how my blog is going over time by comparing it to other periods.

Want More?

This task is a sample of one of the tasks in the 31 Days to Build a Better Blog Workbook – a downloadable resource designed to reinvigorate and revitalize blogs.

Join over 14,000 other bloggers and Get your Copy Today.

How to Use a Magazine to Improve Your Blog [Day 24: 31DBBB]

Are you looking for some fresh design, marketing and even story or headline ideas for your blog? Today’s task in the 31 Days to Build a Better Blog challenge that might just help with this.

This is an off line activity – all you need to complete it is a pack of sticky notes, a notebook, pen, a magazine (or a newspaper) and an hour of time.

Magazine-Analysis

Your Task for Today

It’s simple really – take some time out to analyze/review a magazine with the view of learning something about how you might improve your own blog.

Which magazine do you need? Really almost any one would do – however if there’s a magazine covering the topic that your blog is on then it’s probably worth choosing it.

hint: many public libraries have back copies of magazines so you can do this for free and with lots of magazines at once there.

I do this process on a regular basis and find that it helps me in a number of ways:

  • Marketing ideas – the way the magazine markets and pitches itself to readers can teach a lot – particularly what they do on the front cover which is all about convincing people to buy the magazine.
  • Design ideas – some magazines do layout better than others and the web is definitely a different medium than print – but you can still learn a lot about design from reading a good magazine. Good magazines will give you an indication of what types of design/colors/layout are in vogue at the moment.
  • Post Ideas – whether I choose a magazine on my blog’s topic or not – I almost always come away from this with a story for a new post. Sometimes the inspiration comes from a completely unrelated topic but an article that has a headline/title that could be applied to my niche.
  • Learning about my Niche – if you choose a magazine on your topic it’ll keep you across the latest news and developments in it.
  • Writing Tips – a good article on almost any topic can teach you a lot about effective communication.
  • Monetization Lessons – mainstream media have been monetizing content for a long time – while the web is different some principles still apply.
  • Reader Engagement – while a very different medium magazines are increasingly trying to get more interactive with readers by running competitions, setting up online areas, using reader contributions etc – I often find myself with sparks of inspiration from watching how magazines reach out to readers.

Why Analyze ‘Old Media’

I can hear a few blogging evangelists asking what the point of this exercise is. Isn’t blogging ‘new’ media and why would we look to ‘old’ media like magazines to learn how to do it?

While I agree that blogging is a very different medium to magazine publishing – I don’t think that we need to throw everything that’s been learned by mainstream media out – to me that’s arrogant.

Sure we should be innovating and working with the strengths of the medium of blogging – but there are also lessons to be learned by looking at what others are doing in different mediums also. A lot has been learned over decades of magazine publishing that we as bloggers could take on board and build upon.

The Process that I Use

When I conduct this magazine review exercise I generally do it like this:

Set aside at least an hour and head to a place where you won’t be disturbed (I tend to go to a cafe)

Take with you the magazine (or more than one), a notebook, pen and a pack of sticky notes

Starting with the front cover – quickly skim through the magazine – put a sticky note on any page that catches your attention. Don’t pause to read anything yet – just take a quick flick through it to see what leaps out at you.

Once you’ve had a quick look through the magazine – make a note at what grabbed you on this first pass through. Was it a headline, picture, color, opening line of an article or something else? Attention grabbers are so important in creating an engaging blog so it’s worth noting what got your attention.

Now take a second slower read of the magazine. Start at the front cover and work your way through. As you read – ask yourself some of the following questions:

  • Who is the target audience of this publication?
  • What techniques are used on the front page to draw people into the magazine?
  • What makes you pause to read an article? Why do you skip over other articles?
  • What type of headlines are they using? How effective are they?
  • How are pictures used?
  • What colors are in at the moment?
  • How are articles formatted (use of sub headings, bold, lists etc)?
  • How does the magazine sell itself (looking forward to future issues, subscription pages etc)
  • What can you learn from ad placement and design in the magazine?
  • What level is this magazine pitched at? (beginners, advanced etc)
  • What is the magazine doing well at – what are they not doing well at? How would you improve it?
  • What are the limitations of the medium of magazines that you don’t have with a blog and how could you sell your blog on these things?

As you read through the magazine also make note of story ideas, design techniques, headline structures and other techniques that you might want to try on your blog.

I’m not saying you should copy everything you see happening in the magazine – but rather that you use it as an opportunity to learn and think about your own blog. Some of what you see will naturally lend itself to your blog – other things will not.

The value of this is in stepping away from your own blog for a little while and getting some fresh ideas and perspectives.

I’m keen to hear how you go with this exercise – feel free to share your experiences of it in comments below.

One more Tip

If you choose a magazine on a similar topic to your blog – it can sometimes be worth keeping an eye out for opportunities to directly improve your blog from it.

Pitch yourself as a contributor to the magazine – I’ve done this a number of times with mixed success – but if the magazine strongly relates to your blog – why not contact the editor to suggest that you do something together? For example you might offer to write an article or even a regular column. I’ve seen a number of bloggers do this with some success. Alternatively you might want to pitch yourself or your blog as a potential subject for an interview or article in their magazine.

Enjoy this exercise? – this is just one of thirty one exercises in the 31 Days to Build a Better Blog project. Sign up for it here today.

Discuss this article in our Forum here.

Want More?

This task is a sample of one of the tasks in the 31 Days to Build a Better Blog Workbook – a downloadable resource designed to reinvigorate and revitalize blogs.

Join over 14,000 other bloggers and Get your Copy Today.

Pay Special Attention to a Reader [Day 22: 31DBBB]

Today your task in the 31 Days to Build a Better blog is to Make a Reader Famous.

The Task – Choose one (or more than one) of your current readers and do something out of the blue that acknowledges them, shows them that you see them as valuable and highlights them to your other readers.

Why This is Important

While many blog tips going around focus upon techniques to help make bloggers and their blogs more famous and well known one of the paradoxical keys to blogging success is that many bloggers who build great blogs actually go out of their way to make their readers more famous and well known.

When you create space on your blog to highlight readers in some way the impact can be quite profound (particularly when you do it regularly). Two groups of people tend to be impacted:

1. Those you make famous benefit - the first and most obvious people to benefit from your efforts are those who you highlight. Having someone go out of their way to talk about you on their blog certainly makes an impression on them. It gives them a feeling of being valuable, gives a sense of belonging to and participation in the blog and can help them to achieve their own goals if you send other readers to learn more about them on their own site/blog etc.

2. Other Readers are Impacted – one of the lessons I learned early in blogging is that when you publicly value one reader others often feel valued also. It shows you have an interest in and that you value all of your readers even when you just highlight a few.

How to Make Readers Famous

There are many ways to highlight your readers on your blog. Let me share a few that I’ve done over the years.

  • Promote a comment to a Post - sometimes readers make 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 their Blog – visit the blogs of those leaving comments on your blog and pick one that you resonate with to post about. Write an ‘unpaid review’ of the 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 – one of the things I’ve done on DPS is give readers a chance to show off their photography. One time I did this was asking them ‘do you have a photoblog?‘ where I asked readers to share a link to their photoblog. Hundreds of readers left links to their blogs and many emailed me later to thank me for sending them traffic (another similar example was when i asked readers to share their best ever shot).
  • Reader of the Week – I’ve seen a few blogs do this over the years – they simply choose one reader each week to highlight in a post.
  • Projects/Memes/Competitions – long term readers of ProBlogger will be familiar with the ‘group writing projects’ that I run here every 6 months or so where I invite readers to all write posts on their blogs and then share the link with each other. These projects always generate a lot of traffic to other blogs. Similarly you can run competitions, Blog Carnivals, memes etc which give readers an opportunity to highlight their own online presence/blog/twitter account etc. (another example of this is my social media love-in that I ran last year inviting readers to tell us what social media accounts they had). Hundreds of people participated and those that did got a lot of followers on twitter and new contacts on other networks.
  • 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.
  • 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.

Don’t Have Readers to Make Famous?

Of course this exercise is easier for blogs that have been around for a while and that have developed a readership – those just starting out will find it tougher (there is only so many times you can make your mother, wife or best friend famous on your blog without looking a little desperate).

If you’re a new blogger or don’t have readers leaving comments yet to help you know who they are – try making another blogger famous today by writing a post that links up to them and highlights them to your readers.

Make Someone Famous

The blogosphere was built on principles of promoting others, conversation, celebrating diversity, open source knowledge etc. One of the things that first attracted me to blogging was the way that bloggers celebrated their readers and other bloggers – today attempt to recapture some of that ethos by making others famous today on your blog.

Share How You Do it

In the spirit of this post – I invite you to share how you make your readers famous in comments below. Share a link to the place you’re doing it so we can learn from you! Also stop by the forums thread for today to share your progress.

Want More?

This task is a sample of one of the tasks in the 31 Days to Build a Better Blog Workbook – a downloadable resource designed to reinvigorate and revitalize blogs.

Join over 14,000 other bloggers and Get your Copy Today.

Get Your Free Membership Site Masterplan Report

Click here to watch The Conversion Blogging VideoRegular readers of ProBlogger will be familiar with Yaro Starak. He’s been a guest blogger here and I’ve linked up to his work many times. Many hundreds (it could be thousands by now actually) of you have also have also been a part of Blog Mastermind (a fantastic course for bloggers) and Become a Blogger (closed to new members).

In the coming days Yaro is releasing another free resource – this one for those of you looking to start a membership site. It’s called

Membership Site Mastermind and it is a 72 page report that teaches you how to create successful membership sites from the planning stage and right through the launch and growth stages and even on to selling your site when you’re ready to do something else.

As usual with Yaro’s work – this report is well worth the read. Yaro makes a six figure income from membership sites (he made $250,000 of just one of them) so he has authority, credibility and a wealth of experience to share.

The report is free and will be released on Monday but you can signup to get your copy on release today here.

If you’re thinking of launching a membership site or have always wondered whether it’s a good model to make money online then this report is well worth the read.

PS: if you’re not looking at membership sites check out one of Yaro’s previously published free reports – The Blog Profits Blueprint which has also been helpful to many thousands of bloggers over the last couple of years.

How Sports Teach me to be a Better Blogger

This post was written by Seth Waite, an avid blogger who currently writes for Blogging Agenda.

It’s my favorite month of the year as college basketball is in full swing and “March Madness” has got me thinking. I love sports and many of my best experiences have come from what I learn playing them. Realizing the many lessons I have learned from participating in sporting events I recently asked myself, “How has sports taught me to be a better blogger?”

sports-blogging.jpg

I will answer this question with the 4 most important elements of successful championship teams. I know every team is different and provides a unique way of accomplishing their goals, but each I feel do so by following these 4 simple elements of success.

Teamwork

Sports teach valuable lessons about working together to accomplish a goal. Teams meet daily to learn to play together, trust each other and win. All of us have probably seen a sporting event where no one worked together and the team, although talented, lost the game. Just like sports, blogging successfully requires teamwork.

Bloggers develop teamwork through inviting their readers to participate and work with them to develop targeted content relating to their topic. Teamwork also increases from networking with other bloggers on forums, leaving comments and visiting other blogs in your niche. You can also develop trust by agreeing to help or collaborate with other bloggers on your same niche. Teamwork will help to decrease the competitiveness of your niche and allow you to both succeed. Working together, bloggers can achieve more than they ever thought possible on their own. So, be open to building a team of bloggers who work and succeed online together.

Everyone has a position

In context of the team it is important to understand everyone has a position. In basketball there are guards, forwards and centers. Each position requires different skills and attributes. The blogosphere is the exact same way. Your niche competition should be viewed more as a team of bloggers looking to succeed online. So play your position. Use your unique skills and attributes to play your niche role. To do this, stick to your topic and emphasize your strengths. When you play your position well, competing with the top blogs in your topic becomes much easier.

Practice

Running track and field taught me valuable lessons about discipline and determination. It required daily efforts to improve my endurance and speed. Basketball also required constant practice to perfect my shooting and dribbling. This simple concept of practicing is essential to becoming a better athlete or blogger. Constant practice through writing content, developing relationships and customizing your blog’s design will train you to better your blogging skills and find your unique talents.

The 4 keys to practicing effectively are:

  1. Practice regularly
  2. Evaluate your performance often
  3. Set measurable goals
  4. Experiment with new techniques

Everyone needs a Coach

Along with practicing, effective progression and eventual success comes from proper coaching. Great teams are prepared by great coaches, so find a mentor in your niche or topic. For me, I look to blogs like Problogger to teach me great skills, help me evaluate my performance and increase my motivation to continue blogging.

To find a good coach, I look for a few important traits:

  1. Knowledge – The most important factor is whether they know what they are talking about. Authority and credibility are important in finding a mentor that really can help you. So, look for expertise in choosing a mentor.
  2. Access – Ask yourself “How much time do they have to help me perfect my blogging?” I feel it is sometimes better to work with a mentor who has the time to give me precise coaching then a busy expert. This being said, I think coaching can come from multiple sources to more effectively train you. I have also found most bloggers to be extremely accessible and always willing to share their knowledge. Each coach you find will bring unique strengths and encourage important growth if you are willing to learn.

Once you have found great mentors, subscribe to their feeds or get their newsletter. You will find invaluable information from their subscriptions. Don’t be afraid to follow it. Also, do not be afraid to contact them with questions through email or other social networking platforms. Avoid being pesky, but do not avoid asking others for help. If they do not have the time to address your questions, they are generally courteous enough to tell you so and then just ask someone else.

Remember, championship teams all possess the 4 attributes we have discussed in their formula for success. Your blogging will be greatly increased by following these factors too. Champions work together, know their positions, practice hard and get great coaching.

If Your Blog Died Today…. What Would It Be Remembered For?

If your blog were to die today – how would it be remembered?

funeral.jpg

Here’s a little 2 part exercise that might be fun (although slightly morbid) – and hopefully insightful. You’ll need half an hour or so to do it properly.

1. Write an obituary for your blog 10 years in the future

Project yourself forward 10 years, imagine that at that point you decide to end your blog having achieved everything that you want to achieve with it and write a short obituary about your blog as you’d like other people to have seen it to that point.

Keep in mind that your blog has been as successful as it can be and you’re ending it at the peak of its game.

  • What do you want people to say about your blog?
  • How do you hope it will have been perceived?
  • What will people miss about it the most?
  • What ground has it broken?
  • What has it achieved?
  • How has it helped people?

Take 10 minutes to write this obituary and dare to dream big.

2. Write an obituary for your blog as it stands today

OK – back to the present. Lets just say that you blog ended today. Perhaps it was hacked, perhaps you just decided to delete it or perhaps your server died and you didn’t have a backup – the reason doesn’t matter – the exercise remains the same.

Write an obituary for your blog as you think others see it now.

  • What would they say about it?
  • What would people miss about it?
  • What has it achieved?
  • How has it fulfilled a need or service in people’s lives.
  • What ground has it broken?

This exercise is one I did a few years back in another context and it was a powerful and motivating exercise. The key to it is to look at the two obituaries (the one you want people to write in the future and the one that people would write now – and to compare them and to sit with the differences.

The reality is that most of us have not yet achieved what we want to achieve with our blogs – however the question is, are we moving in the right direction to make our dreams a reality?

Many bloggers that I talk with have grand dreams and hopes – but their day to day blogging doesn’t take them closer to them.

Once you’ve compared your two obituaries – the next step is to start to put together some concrete steps that will enable you to move from the present reality to the dream for your future. These sorts of dreams don’t just happen – rather they are the result of taking daily steps towards your goals.

If you’d like to share your obituaries (or at least what you discovered in writing them) in comments below I’d be interested to see what you come up with.

Learning From Free Content… And why it’s Not Always Enough

Recently Sheryl Schuff contacted me to thank me for referring her to a paid course here on ProBlogger. Her email came a few minutes after I read a comment from another reader saying that they’d ‘never pay for information online’ because ‘everything is available for free already’. I thought that the striking difference between the comment and the email called for a little unpacking so I emailed Sheryl back and asked if she’d be interested in writing about her decision of paying for the course and to talk about why she felt it was worthwhile. Here’s what she came back with.

I’m a big advocate of learning as much as you can from free content, especially when you venture into a new area, particularly in business. I say this both as a producer of free content (articles, reports, blog posts) who encourages entrepreneurs to bootstrap their businesses using free software and services and also as a consumer of free content.

I usually have three or four dozen library books checked out at any one time (almost entirely non-fiction) and I currently have 60 RSS feeds flowing into my Google Reader. I subscribe to (and regularly read) several dozen blogs and ezines.

Every year, I meet some of the continuing professional education requirements for my CPA license by attending free on-line seminars. As helpful as I have found all the varied sources of free information to be, they’re not always enough.

Most of the free on-line resources I’ve used have done a good job of discussing what needs to be done in a specific subject area. Many have also included explanations of why certain things need to be done.

But let’s face it. We can’t expect the authors and consultants to give away all the specific details of how to do things. For one thing, if technology is involved, the how changes pretty rapidly these days. The experts spend a lot of time on research to keep themselves current and competent. They explore the vast amount of information available in their topic area, aggregate it, evaluate it, filter it, and package it in ways that make it easy for others to actually use it. They transform raw data into knowledge.

I know firsthand how much effort is involved to keep current in my field (business startup and taxes), so I’m willing to pay other experts to bring me up to speed in their niches.

It was a no-brainer for me to join the Teaching Sells program when Darren emailed his list to tell them about the launch in October 2007. In 2008, I extended my charter membership and then jumped at the offer to turn it into a lifetime membership.

Brian Clark and Tony Clark developed some amazing courses to teach folks how to create interactive learning environments and membership sites. They shared philosophy, strategy, business models, and methods of content creation. They produced text, audio, and video showing their students in great detail how to use various software and services to develop their new sites.

I learned a lot about educational psychology and the tools available to me to build membership sites. And I also became part of the Teaching Sells community by participating in the forums that were part of the program. The information shared there and the other students I met were every bit as valuable as the course material.

Just to give you an example of how one thing leads to another (and another)…someone at Teaching Sells mentioned the forums at StartUpNation as a place for me to hang out to see what new entrepreneurs were talking about…which lead me to information about HARO…which led to my being interviewed by Donna Amos…which led to my being asked to participate as the tax expert for the International Association of Entrepreneurs…which led me back to Twitter and all sorts of new connections…and a reconnection with Darren…and, well, you get the idea.

I’ve used what I learned at Teaching Sells to develop a couple of membership programs, the first of which I’ll be launching very soon. I’m also discussing two other possibilities with two different potential partners. And late last year I joined Brian Clark & Jon Morrow’s Partnering Profits program, an investment that I know will help take my business to the next level.

As you plan for your personal and professional development this year, I encourage you to think about what motivates you to take action and stay focused.

Are you the type that pays more attention to something you’ve paid for than something that’s given to you for free? Do you stick to your fitness resolutions better when you prepay for ten sessions with a personal trainer than when you try to do it alone? I know I concentrate more on the material in tax training courses that I pay several hundred dollars for than the ones I get for free.

Do you understand how much time you save when you invest in training courses from experts in their fields? And how much more likely you are to get current, credible information from paid programs than from free sources?

Someone who wrote a free report last year on how to use WordPress, for example, doesn’t have much incentive to update the report every time a new WordPress upgrade comes out. Premium content producers like Brian Clark and Tony Clark listen to feedback from their students and spend months revising and reorganizing their courses to keep current and provide superior customer satisfaction.

Read their free report. If you’re interested in creating information products or any type of continuity program, consider joining Teaching Sells when it reopens (update: it just has reopened for the next day or two to take new members).

5 Ways Blogging Can Make You a Better Writer

Today freelance writer Jenny Cromie shares 5 areas in which blogging can help you to improve your writing.

Several years back, a friend of mine started a blog and e-mailed the link to me and a bunch of her other friends. I didn’t *get* her blog or anyone else’s. In fact at the time, I thought most blogs were self-indulgent, boring, and poorly written. And as someone who puts a high premium on privacy, I couldn’t get past the idea that my friend was willingly broadcasting intimate details about her life into cyberspace. It was as mystifying to me as the people who go on the Jerry Springer Show and spill all.

Another turnoff was the fact that every blog I encountered seemed like the electronic version of a hard copy diary that should have remained tucked away in a box in the back of an out-of-the-way closet—embarrassing content, poor writing, and all. Why were people spending all kinds of time writing online drivel that no one really cared about? And furthermore, why were people spending all that time writing blog posts that they’d never even get paid for?

I could only come up with one explanation. In my mind, blogging was just a socially acceptable way for bad, wannabe writers to go mainstream with their poorly written rants and diatribes about things that made no difference to anyone else but the writer, a handful of family members, and other poor captive souls who loved the bloggers enough to read all their bad prose. In fact, if someone mentioned that they had a blog, my mind would click into sleep mode like my MacBook does after 10 minutes of inactivity. I’d think: Oh, one of those self-indulgent wannabe writer types. Where’s the nearest exit?

In short, blogging just seemed like a waste of time and effort. And I guess I had a snobbish writer attitude too—the idea that real writers didn’t need to blog because their writing was good enough to get published through more legitimate, mainstream ways. In my mind, push-button publishing was for the wannabes, not the real McCoys.

Fast-forward a few years. Now, everyone who is someone seems to have a blog these days. And if you’re a freelancer and you don’t have a blog, people sometimes wonder how you can bill yourself as a professional writer. Blogs aren’t just popular among individuals anymore either. Big companies have blogs. Mothers with babies have blogs. Teenagers with pimples and braces have blogs. And I wouldn’t be surprised to find out if some dogs have blogs too.

So this past year, I finally succumbed to this thing called blogging. I decided that since I was billing myself as a serious writer and freelancer, I needed to join the blogosphere. I started writing my own blog about freelance writing. And then one thing led to another and I eventually became the editor of The Golden Pencil, a b5media blog about freelance writing and how to build a successful freelance business.

The transformation from non-blogger to full-fledged blogging enthusiast was short—less than a year, in fact.

Now, I wonder what took me so long. I write a lot of things on a daily basis, but it’s the blogging that I enjoy most. That said, I’m not getting rich or pulling in six figures (yet anyway). But I’ve learned a few great things along the way.

My most surprising discovery? Blogging has made me a better writer. It has helped me:

1. Discover my voice

I know this sounds odd coming from someone who has written for most of her life, but you have to understand that up until this blogging thing, most of my writing was been functional. What I mean is that I write business and HR stories for various online and print publications. Throughout my career, I’ve also written newspaper articles, technical training manuals, employee handbooks, policies and procedures, press releases, and marketing materials. But what I stopped writing a long time ago was anything in my own “voice.” Blogging has helped me find that voice again, the one that got lost in between all the same assignments, projects, and stories that have thankfully paid the bills and kept the lights on month after month. See, when you blog, you’re writing about a particular topic, armed with all the facts that you’d be including in a typical news story. But I’ve learned that good blogging also means that you toss in your own observations, experiences, feelings, and unique perspectives. You create dialogues with your readers and make the consumption of information more personal—something that often makes what you have to say more relevant to the reader than just a straight here’s-the-facts-and-nothing-more news story. And I’m happy to report that since discovering my writing voice, I’ve also started to write other things. Things like that novel that I’ve continued to transfer from one New Year’s resolution list to the next for the past several years. More importantly, I’m starting to write for the pure joy of writing again—something I attribute largely to blogging.

2. Connect with readers

If you’re like me, sometimes you write stories and you think,“Gee, I wonder if this is going to help anyone?” And one of the main reasons I started writing for a living was because I wanted to help other people. I love writing service-oriented articles that help readers. But the problem is, if you write straight news stories, magazine articles, or service-oriented pieces for online outlets, you sometimes never find out whether you’ve really helped anyone or not. But for me, one of the most satisfying and gratifying parts about blogging is having the opportunity to find out when I’ve really helped someone. I love it when I write a post and then later find comments from readers who tell me that they’ve learned something or that I’ve helped them in some way. I really enjoy it when a dialogue starts between my readers and I. And it’s that potential for dialogue with readers that distinguishes blogging from any other type of writing.

3. Get feedback

I just wrote a big piece for a business trade publication, and while the magazine has a large circulation, I won’t ever know what readers thought of the article or whether it helped them or not. Like most freelancers, I like to get feedback every once in awhile. And I have to say there’s nothing more gratifying to me than getting a “Good job” “Funny article!” or “Great read!” from the people who matter most—my readers. I remember after my second or third post over on The Golden Pencil, I received a nice compliment from one of my readers. It was completely unexpected, it came at the right time, and it literally made my day.

4. Get disciplined

Blogging is a commitment, and the daily discipline of posting every day during the week over on The Golden Pencil has really helped my writing. Granted, I was writing every day before that. But blogging is much different than simply reporting on a story—it’s a more creative process. And what I’ve learned or relearned through the daily discipline of writing blog posts is that inspiration doesn’t always precede good writing. To be honest, some days I don’t feel very inspired at all when I first start writing a post. But I know that I am accountable to my readers who depend on me for fresh content every day during the week. And regardless of how sluggish I feel some mornings, inspiration always seems to meet me somewhere in the middle as my writing picks up momentum. So here’s the lesson: if you’re a professional writer or full-time freelancer you can’t afford to wait for inspiration to show up before you start writing. Otherwise, you’ll go broke. And speaking for this writer, blogging helps me make creative writing a part of my daily schedule.

5. Write faster

Many times, I write my blog posts a day or two in advance. But there are some mornings when I don’t have anything in the hopper and I have to start from scratch after fueling up with a triple expresso skim milk latté. And while no one on b5media tells me when or how often to post, I impose a daily deadline on myself. I’ve missed the mark a couple times, but I try to have a new post up by noon Eastern Standard Time every day during the workweek—no matter what else is on my schedule. My blog posts vary in length, but generally I write between 750 and 1,500 words per post. So that usually means there’s no time for slow thinking or writing. It’s amazing how much your writing process speeds up when it has to! And as someone who can sometimes get stuck in that perfectionism trap, the need for speed helps silence my inner editor so that my cursor continues to move forward instead of the write-four-words-delete-three problem that sometimes crops up.

So how have you improved your writing through blogging? Comment below or drop by The Golden Pencil and tell me all about it!

Written by Jenny Cromie, a full-time HR/business freelance writer, editor, Twitter convert, and recent author of “8 Sure-Fire Ways To Tick Off the Twitterverse” on TwiTip. Jenny also is editor of The Golden Pencil, a b5media blog about freelance writing and how to build a successful freelance writing business. Please feel free to say hello on Twitter too: @JennyCromie.