This guest post is by Ali Luke of Aliventures.
Where do you hope blogging will take you?
I’m thrilled that blogging’s got me to where I am today—with a successful full-time business, a bunch of ebooks, a membership site, guest posts on major blogs, two speaker appearances at BlogWorld, and a published book Publishing E-Books For Dummies).
To other bloggers, it might look like I’ve been successful.
And I have definitely had my share of success … but, like every single blogger you can think of,I’ve also had my share of failures.
Today, I’m going to tell you about my very first blog. It failed … but I learned a huge amount from the experience.
Here’s how it happened, and what you can learn from my mistakes.
Where I began
Like most new bloggers, I had a day job when I started out. I wasn’t too happy in my day job, and for a while, I’d been thinking about ways to make money doing something I loved—writing.
I came across the idea of “pro-blogging” online—and promptly devoured most of ProBlogger’s archives. I was fired up with the idea of becoming a blogger, and immediately pictured a book deal and a six-figure income.
But I made three big mistakes…
Mistake #1: Too much of a focus on money
Instead of thinking up a topic I could write on for years and years, I chose one that I was sure would make money: healthy eating and weight loss.
This was back in late 2007, when the conventional blogging advice was to choose a niche – as narrow a niche as possible.
I named my blog The Office Diet (if you’re really curious, it’s still online—www.theofficediet.com) and focused on writing about healthy living for office workers. For me, this was too narrow a niche: I was starting to lose interest after a few months.
Money matters—but so does love! Don’t just choose a blogging niche because you think it will be commercial … choose one that gives you room to grow.
You might even want to go for a blog title that gives you scope to shift and change your perspective, in case you start to lose interest in your initial topic.
Mistake #2: No real business plan
I was very keen to monetize my blog … but I didn’t have much idea of how to go about that. I’d been reading Steve Pavlina’s blog at the time, and he made most of his money through advertising, so I decided to go down the same route.
I signed up for Google AdSense, popped some ad units into my blog’s sidebar, and waited for the money to start coming in.
In the end, it took me eleven months of blogging—five times a week at first (I later dropped to three posts a week) before I got my very first check from Google.
Since then, I’ve become much more business-savvy. Instead of seeing my blog itself as something that will produce money, as if by magic, I’ve realised that I need to use my blog as a marketing tool to support my business.
Blogs are a wonderful way to market and grow your business—through writing great content that draws people to your products or services.
Advertising can bring in some extra cash, but it’s not going to be a big revenue stream unless you have a massive blog. For most of us, it’s much easier to build a successful small business than to build a blog with hundreds of thousands of subscribers.
Mistake #3: No interaction with readers
When I began my blog, I decided to switch comments off. I’d seen some big bloggers do this due to being overwhelmed with comments—and I figured I might as well do it at the start. I was convinced that before long, I would have tons of traffic, and hundreds of people commenting on every post.
Looking back, I can’t quite believe I was so big-headed! Of course, my blog didn’t take off overnight … and I lost out on a potentially very useful resource: reader feedback.
Believe it or not, I managed to take this mistake even further. By this point, I’d realized that I was making just pennies with Google AdSense (partly due to my niche – weight loss ads don’t pay well – and I hadn’t thought to research this before starting the blog).
So, I launched an ebook.
It didn’t occur to me to ask my readers what they might want to read. I just wrote the ebook that I thought they needed.
Of course, it went down like carrot sticks at a chocolate-lovers’ convention. I made a few sales, but nothing like what I’d hoped for (even after I cut the price from $10 to just $4).
Your readers are the lifeblood of your blog. Treasure their comments—especially in the early days of your blog. Seek their feedback when you’re deciding what to post about, and always survey them when you’re at the brainstorming stage of creating a product. You might well find that what they want is very different from what you thought they’d want!
As you can imagine, by this point, I’d become a bit disillusioned with my blog. I was struggling to come up with ideas for new posts, because I was losing interest in my topic.
I’d tried pitching a book idea, but (unsurprisingly) the publisher just wasn’t interested—my readership stats really weren’t impressive.
And, of course, I wasn’t making much money.
The blog had failed.
But … that’s not the full story. Because some very good things had come out of my blogging, despite all those mistakes I’d made.
This is what I’d managed to get right.
#1: Guest posting led to freelance blogging
I started guest posting very early in the life of my blog (about a month after launching it). By the luck of being in the right place at the right time, I landed two paid blogging gigs.
I managed to build on these to get more paying, regular writing work … and about nine months after launching that first blog, I quit my day job. My blog itself wasn’t making money, but my blogging for other people had resulted in a steady income.
While I had a bit of an advantage here over some bloggers – I have an English Literature degree, and I’ve always been a confident writer—I strongly believe that paid blogging is accessible to anyone with a good standard of English.
#2: Freelance blogging led to my first successful ebook
I found that people were very interested in how I got paid blogging work, so I wrote an ebook about that – and this one was much more successful. (I updated this ebook last year—if you’re interested, it’s The Blogger’s Guide to Freelancing.)
By this point, I was beginning to get a name for myself as someone who wrote about blogging and writing, which led to…
#3: My ebook led to my blog
In 2009, I launched a new blog, Aliventures. I already had the domain name, as Aliventures was the name of my business.
Of course, I made plenty of mistakes with that blog too – but I managed to apply all the things I’d learned from my first blog, The Office Diet, and from my second blog (that lasted all of a couple of months), which was called Alpha Student.
I was able to get readers much more quickly, plus I had lots of strong connections through guest posting and through Twitter.
Even better, I now write about topics that inspired me. To begin with, I focused on personal development, but then I switched my focus to writing, blogging and publishing. Because the blog had a brand-style name, Aliventures, rather than a keyword-rich name like The Office Diet, it was easy for me to make this shift.
And four years on from starting my very first “pro” blog, I finally got that book deal I’d been hoping for. My book Publishing E-Books For Dummies came out last month, and it’s wonderful to be an author for such a major brand.
What I want you to remember
This post has been very much about me, so I wanted to end with what’s important for you. If you don’t remember anything else from this post, remember this part:
It’s always frustrating when things don’t go as well as we’d like, and if you’re struggling to get more than a handful of readers, you might well be tempted to give up.
Even small successes count. If you only have ten people on your mailing list, or ten subscribers to your blog, that’s still ten people who are enjoying your writing. Imagine sitting at them with a table in a restaurant—it’s not such a small number!
And every time you step outside your comfort zone and try something new—from joining Twitter to writing your first guest post—you take a step that could lead to somewhere amazing.
Thomas Edison, who invented the lightbulb, didn’t get it right the first time. Or the tenth time, or even the hundredth time. But he didn’t give up. He said, “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”
Whether you’ve been blogging for a few days or a few years, you’ll have had some successes—even if, like many of mine, they were a bit unexpected! Even if you’ve made a few mistakes, you’ll have learned a huge amount.
Share your best blogging experiences with us in the comments, so we can all learn from one another, and celebrate our successes together.
Ali Luke is a writer and blogger from the UK. If you’d like to take your writing and blogging further, join her newsletter to access her library of free mini-ebooks, including Ten Powerful Ways to Make Your Blog Posts Stronger, Ten Easy Ways to Attract Readers to Your Blog … And Keep Them There and more!