This is a guest post by Tyler Tervooren of Advanced Riskology.
What happened to all the railroads? Have you ever pondered that question?
In the 1800s, the railroad industry in the U.S. was booming. New businesses were sprouting up every year, and inventors were creating newer and more efficient locomotives. First it was steam, then it was petrol, then it was diesel. Times were good, and America had a bright, rail-based future.
So what happened? Why isn’t the country blanketed in rail routes and why doesn’t everyone hop on the metro-line in front of their house each day to go to work? Today, the railroad companies are a shell of what they once were. Why? Because the automobile came along and ran them into the ground.
But did this have to happen?
No. There were things railroad companies could have done to cater to the people who made their businesses possible, but instead they dug in their heels and said, “We’re in the railroad business,” and they stayed the course.
You’re not in the blogging business
Compare this story to Apple, today’s holy grail of technology companies. They started 30 years ago as a personal computer company, but today you could hardly pigeonhole them with a title like that.
Truth is, Apple’s computer line never gained traction like the PC did, but what they’ve done better than any other tech company is pay attention to the trends of what consumers want, and they’ve never been afraid to experiment with other products.
Thanks to that, Apple is responsible for the world’s most popular personal music device, smart phone, and tablet computer.
The rail empires of days past said, “We’re in the railroad business!” when they should have been saying, “We’re in the transportation business.”
Apple got this right by saying, “We’re not a personal computer company, we’re a technology company.”
When it comes to blogging and setting yourself up for long-term success, it’s probably a good idea to heed these stories and ask yourself what the real purpose of your work is.
Are you in the blogging business, or are you in the information business? Are you a writer, or are you an idea spreader that just happens to be writing right now?
The way you answer these questions can have a profound effect on your future, so they’re worth thinking about.
This is especially important if you make a living from your blog. If you’ve ever tried to earn money blogging, you know very well that—despite what anyone tells you—there is no blogging business model that “just works.”
You have to put in a lot of effort to find a model that works for you, and every so often, you have to change it to make sure it keeps working. No business in any industry sets up shop one day and says, “Okay, we’ve figured it all out. We’re done now.” And any blogger who thinks so usually enjoys a short burst of tremendous success and then disappears.
Be your own research and development team
If you’re the type of blogger who likes the idea of having a long-term impact, then you also have to play a long-term game. You have to constantly look for ways to stay relevant and find new ways to evolve the work you’re doing because what works today is in no way guaranteed to work tomorrow.
Essentially, you need to invest in your own research and development.
As a full-time writer myself, here are four ways I try to stay a step ahead of the pack and improve my own game on a regular basis:
1. Pay attention and listen to reader preference
The reason someone decides to read your blog is because they think what you have to say is interesting or useful. After that, the only reason is because that’s the only way you present information. Just because you choose to write doesn’t mean that your readers prefer to read—they may prefer audio, video, or something else entirely, like small group lectures.
The way people consume information is constantly changing. To make it in the long haul, your job is to regularly ask yourself if the way you’re presenting it is the best solution.
- Read between the lines when people leave comments.
- Look at the way they interact with different kinds of posts.
- Pay attention to how other people in completely different industries deliver information.
How can you update or change the way you operate to better cater to the people who are giving you their attention?
2. Devote a portion of your time each day to new outlets
When you’re just starting out in the blogosphere, you want nothing more than to build your audience, find a formula that works, and get to a comfortable place. This is a nice place to get to, but once you’re there, realize that it’s a very dangerous place to stay.
As soon as you find a formula that works for you, be sure to devote some time every single day to exploring and testing out new ones.
When Google Plus launched in 2011, the first thing I thought to myself was, “Great, another social network that’s going to fail. Why waste my time on this?”
But since I’d promised myself to spend time every day testing new platforms and ways of working, I signed up anyway. And I’m glad I did! Google Plus isn’t going away any time soon, and by being one of the early adopters, I was able to establish myself there relatively easily.
Don’t be afraid of a new technology that looks like a time suck. Instead, devote an hour every day to playing with something that may never work out, and don’t feel bad if it never does.
3. Always think bigger than blogging
The success of your work over the long-term, I believe, depends much more on how you see yourself and the work that you produce than the format you put it in.
The cold hard truth that we’ve learned over centuries but conveniently ignore in our own lives is that entire industries can disappear quickly and violently. What never goes away, though, is the idea and intention behind the industry. Look no further than the recording industry and the movie business to see this happening right in front of our faces.
Someday, the “blog” will cease to have any importance in the daily lives of people, but the good ideas that they used to spread will never die.
If you see yourself only as a writer or a blogger, your work will eventually die and become irrelevant. But if you see yourself as something more, as a creator and distributor of ideas and information, then you’ll be naturally inclined to evolve as necessary to keep creating and distributing those ideas.
4. Build relationships outside your niche
Have you ever noticed how you have the simple answers to all your friends’ problems, but you have a hard time finding solutions to your own? It’s because you can see other people’s problems from an outside perspective, but not your own.
The same is true in blogging. It’s important to build relationships within your niche—that’s a great way to build an audience—but it’s just as important to build relationships outside of your niche.
If all of your friends are in the same position as you, you’ll have a hard time finding creative solutions to any of the problems you face.
But when you surround yourself with people who are doing things much differently, you begin to see new and interesting ways to apply the lessons they’ve learned to your own blog.
This is not the end of the world…
My point here is not to scare you into believing the entire blogosphere is about to crash and burn, and everything you ever worked for is about to be flushed down the toilet.
What I really want is to encourage you to think about your blog, the reason it exists, and the long-term game you’re going to play to make sure the important work you’re doing is still relevant a year from now, a decade from now, a century from now.
I want you to ask yourself:
- What am I building?
- Why am I building it?
- Am I only a blogger, or is blogging just the outlet I’m working on right now?
- How will my message survive if blogging becomes irrelevant?
Get out a piece of paper (another industry slowly on its way out…) and write this down, it’ll help a lot!
The sky isn’t falling, your blog isn’t in danger, and there’s nothing threatening your existence at the moment. And that’s what makes right now the best time to think about these questions.