5 Things I Learned In My First (Almost) Two Years Of (Almost) Full Time Blogging
Last Monday, I posted a list of recommendations for small bloggers looking to monetize. The recommendations I made prompted a few questions regarding timelines and what kind of results to expect, and as I began to answer I realized that perhaps it would be better to just write a post on the topic. In July, it will be two years since I first launched ABDPBT, and though the blog has since grown into four different sections, I have learned quite a bit since then about what it means to approach blogging as a business. Though there are countless other people who have been doing this for far longer than I have been, I am one of only a handful of people who started blogging as a business endeavor from day one and who have worked at it full time since then. Below are some observations and advice based on those two unusual characteristics of my blogging experience.
- It takes almost two years really gain traction.
People want to start blogging and hit it big yesterday. There is no one-size-fits-all answer for how long it take to hit it big, but look at it this way: Dooce was blogging for five years before her husband quit his job, and Ree Drummond published her cookbook after about three years of full-time blogging. Those are the two meteoric success stories of the mommyblogging world, and they are hardly overnight success stories, so you shouldn’t expect to be any different. In fact, you should expect it to take longer, if anything.
I think it is something like two years before anything tangible is likely to start happening.
This doesn’t mean that magically after two years, you are huge or an “A-lister” or that everybody loves you and you’re being invited to speak at conferences, represented by Federated Media, and have a book deal. But if you are working very hard and consistently, beating down every doorstep and not taking no for an answer, over and over again, for two years, you will have gained some traction and have a readership in that time.
At almost two years, there are many people who, maybe they don’t actually read my blog, but they at least know this blog exists by now, they are aware enough of its existence to be annoyed by its name. That’s with updates of not every section of this blog every day, but at least a few times per week, going to two or more conferences per year (even though these sometimes give me anxiety), keeping up with tons of other blogs (commenting when I can), returning emails (always), returning comments on my site (nearly always), returning @-replies and DMs on Twitter (very often), responding to PR solicitations (often), offering to help PR people when I think I can help them find people who fit their products better than I do (occasionally).
I consider this my career and treat it that way, even when I don’t want to — like the past few weeks, when I’ve kind of wanted to escape it. I have faced it. And even then, success isn’t handed to you overnight. It takes a ton of work. I rarely think about how long it is going to take, perhaps that is because of my background. But people who think that bloggers who are fabulously successful like Heather Armstrong and Ree Drummond are just lucky are sorely mistaken: it takes a ton of hard work and time to get where they are. You will probably have to work even harder.
- You have to bring something new to the table.
It’s really easy on the outside to see a blogger who is successful and think, “I can do that.” Maybe you can. But they did it first. What are you going to do that is different? Because they’re already doing it. We don’t need another one of them. We don’t even need a better one of them, necessarily. We need a different something.
The easiest thing to do is to just figure out whatever it is that makes you you and make that your thing. Like for me, maybe being a pain in the ass critic is not necessarily something that you would consider an asset, but look, nobody can do that like I can. So that’s my thing, and that’s what I built this site around, different aspects of that, and my life. And all of the parts of the site feed into that. Nobody else is doing it because, well, nobody else can do it — and would they want to? And there’s a purpose to it, and there’s a market for it, and it allows me to do what I do best, and I can go through the web and be me, even if I have to take heat for it sometimes, I never have to hide who I really am, or worry that somebody will figure out that the way I present myself doesn’t really match my personality.
If I have one piece of advice to give a new blogger it is this: try to make you “online brand” match your real identity as much as possible — to the extent that you can control this. They don’t have to be the same thing, necessarily, but try to keep them from totally clashing. Discrepancies between the two can really cause problems down the line. This might not make sense to you now, but later on it will — you need to have a brand that allows you to be true to yourself, or else you won’t want to stick with it for as long as blogging takes to turn into a money making endeavor.
- Very few can make it on display ads alone.
Very, very few bloggers can make a living solely on display ads. There are some who do: Dooce, Pioneer Woman, MckMama, and some others (Nie Nie?) I believe. But even those ones are plagued by the problems we have seen with ad networks being able to meet their ad inventory demands in a down market. You have to have crazy traffic to do so: I’m going to estimate that the point at which it becomes a full time income (when using an ad network, that is) is somewhere over a million pageviews per month, though this would depend upon where you live. If you live in Los Angeles, it would probably be several million pageviews per month, but elsewhere in the country, perhaps only 750K would be enough. If you sell private ads on your own, you might be able to make a full time living before that point, and if you broker your own placement deals, you definitely could make it long before that. The point is: display ads, at present, are only an option for full time income for a small portion of bloggers with very high traffic levels. You might be one of those people some day, but you have to be in it for the long haul and you have to really put in your time and be willing to sacrifice to get there. It is not going to happen in a year. It might not happen in five years. It might not ever happen.
- There must be some kind of EVENT (over which you have no control) that brings you to the next traffic level.
This is the very cynical part of my analysis that is going to make everyone cringe, but when has this ever stopped me from doing anything in my life? If you look at the few people who have reached the very very high traffic levels, the ones who have a full time income from display ads, they all have some kind of EVENT that got them there with one very notable exception. That EVENT includes a firing for writing about a job on the internet that was covered extensively in mainstream media (Dooce), the heartwrenching struggle with sickness of child (MckMama), a horrific near-death accident that was covered by mainstream media and subsequent triumph of the human spirit recovery that was covered by Oprah (Nie Nie). The exception to this is Ree Drummond, who I think bypassed these through masterful use of marketing to get the word out about her site, and kept people around because the content was good and everything spread through word of mouth until mainstream media finally caught on within the past year. My point is not to lessen the merit of these bloggers but rather to call attention to the importance of these EVENTs in bringing up their traffic to income-generating levels. Without those EVENTs — over which a blogger cannot have any control — the blogger’s traffic might not ever have reached the traffic at which it currently resides. (And yes, I know I will be attacked as “heartless” for saying this.)
- You must be an entrepreneur first, writer second. At some point in the history of the blogosphere, it might have been the case that you could end up finding yourself at the helm of a very profitable blog without a plan, but this is not the case anymore. Do I consider myself to be a writer? Yes. I always have been. When I was a child, I wanted to be a writer. But if you want to turn a blog into a money-making endeavor you need to think of yourself as an entrepreneur first and a writer second. Hopefully you have skills in both areas, and about eighteen other areas as well, because you are going to need them. Being a good writer is not enough. In fact, it’s not even necessarily required. There are tons of good writers, and not all successful bloggers are necessarily the best writers. If what is most important to you is to write, then just write. If you want to find a market for your writing, then blogging is a good way of doing that, but you will have to be willing put your artistic needs in the backseat on occasion to get stuff done. This does not mean it’s not important. It just means that there are many ways of being creative. The great thing about building a blog is that you never know which way you’re going to be able to express your creativity next.