By David Masters
Launching a blog is beset with pitfalls. I should know.
I poured my heart and soul into launching my first blog, and despite my best efforts and intentions, it flopped.
I launched Be Playful in 2008. I did many things right: I chose a niche I felt passionate about, I bought my own domain name and I created a self-hosted WordPress website.
I wrote solid content. I listened to my readers. I learned all about social networking and I plunged myself into Twitter.
But I made some serious mistakes. Big mistakes that punched me in the face and left me reeling in the dust.
Eventually, I tossed out the blog and left it to die. But, inadvertently, I’d planted a seed. That seed sprouted and grew into a full-time writing career.
My Six Blogging Mistakes
Each mistake I made caused me to lose more faith in my blog. Here’s how I goofed up:
1. I expected instant cash
I set up my blog expecting to make a quick buck. Everywhere I looked, other bloggers promised blogging=$$$ (though they rarely provided figures). I believed the money would magically start rolling in within a few weeks.
Three months down the line, my blog had cost me over $100, and hadn’t made a single cent.
Truth is, it takes a serious business plan and months (if not years) of hard work to earn a living from a blog. And to earn a living, you have to sell stuff. Whether that’s ad space on your blog, ebooks or courses, to make money you must have products for sale.
The main reason my blog made no money was my second mistake:
2. My niche was difficult to monetize
The best way to create products your readers are itching to buy is to solve a pressing problem. For example:
- How do I make money writing?
- How do I potty train my kid?
- How do I fix my punctured bike tire?
These problems are all pressing because your readers want quick, practical solutions. Provide those solutions, and your readers will keep coming back for more, and in some cases even pay for what they want.
My blog, Be Playful, solved the problem “How can I be more playful in everyday life?”
Sure, it’s an interesting problem. It’s fun to write about. And some people want to know the answer. But it’s not a pressing problem.
I’d chosen a niche with no simple way of monetizing the blog, and that disheartened me.
3. I obsessed over stats
Every day, before I did anything else, I’d head to Feedburner and check out my subscriber stats. I’d stare at them for hours, sometimes delighting in a recent spurt of growth, but more often beating myself up because my subscriber count wasn’t growing fast enough.
At the blog’s height, after three month’s solid, obsessive work, I had 105 subscribers.
I felt pathetic and stupid.
I battled with myself every day to keep writing, and it was a battle I eventually lost.
4. I spent more time fiddling with WordPress than writing
With my blog, I’d try anything to avoid writing, especially tweaking WordPress. From adjusting themes to trying (and failing) to learn how to use CSS, it became a massive time drain.
Yet without killer content, a good-looking theme is meaningless.
I’ve learned my lesson now: content first, design second. And always pay someone else to do your website design if you can afford it.
5. I ignored my posting schedule
Wasting my blogging time staring at my stats and feeling discouraged by the lack of growth, I started to skip my twice weekly posting schedule.
I reduced my posts to once a week, then once every two weeks, then once a month.
This became a downward spiral. The less often I posted, the more subscribers dropped off my list. The more subscribers dropped off my list, the less I wanted to post.
Finally, I gave up entirely.
6. I let the URL go
After a year I decided my blog was a failed experiment. I let the URL expire, and archived the content on WordPress.com.
I thought I could buy the domain back in the future, but of course a domain parking service snatched it up, and it’s never been available since.
That’s my biggest regret, as it would have only cost me $10 a year to hold onto it.
How My Failed Blog Created My Writing Career
Though I didn’t make money directly from my blog, and despite the fact that I gave up on it, the blog became the foundation on which I’ve built a full time freelance writing business.
Here’s how my blog, which I could hardly have treated more badly, helped to launch me as a writer:
- I learned to write in a niche. Though I chose the wrong niche for making money, I realized the value of choosing a niche in building readership. Stick to a niche, produce quality content, use basic promotion tactics, and readers will come. Choose a clear niche to write in as a freelancer and the clients are more likely to come.
- I landed guest posts on big blogs. My blog provided a platform to show I could write. To grow my blog, I pitched guest posts to other blogs. Guest posts on top blogs raise your profile as a freelance writer, and provide you with the gravitas you need to land bigger gigs.
- Friends offered me writing work. I didn’t promote my blog among my friends and family, but they found out about it. One friend, a freelance youth work consultant, knew his main client was looking for a writer. He asked if I’d be interested in the job, then hooked me up. This provided me with a steady flow of part-time writing work for over a year.
- I landed small writing gigs. Having a blog acted as a portfolio to help me land small writing gigs from bidding sites and online ads. One of these gigs turned into a regular client. Every new gig helped build my confidence in earning my bread as a writer.
- I networked with other bloggers (and found my dream job). When I launched my blog, I got to know other bloggers by commenting on their blogs, following them on Twitter, and signing up to their email lists. This networking eventually landed me my dream job, a gig co-writing ebooks with Sean Platt.
The lesson I learned from my failed blog is simple. Whatever you’re doing now to further your writing dreams, keep going.
If you’re determined to be a writer, you know you can write, and you grip your dreams tighter than a clamshell, you will make it.
I’m sure you’ll make mistakes along the way, just like I did. But when you come to the end of the road, your dreams might turn out bigger than anything you can imagine right now.
David Masters is a freelance writer and author of 52 Ways to Get More Freelance Clients (Fewer Headaches, Greater Profits). His new blogging home is Social Caffeine, where he teaches small businesses (including freelance writers) how to buzz up their social media marketing. Come on over and join the party.