How to build a business from a blog: our top tips
I may be showing my age here, but when I graduated from university and wanted to make money through writing, going it alone was never really an option. You joined the ever-growing pool of other graduates, fighting for entry-level positions with newspapers, ad agencies and the like. Blogging was a sideline, but never a serious business prospect.
In less than ten years, it’s all change, and there is a growing online community using blogging to mould a career a world away from the traditional nine to five. For TV producer Claire Travers-Smith, what started out as a light-hearted project has set her on a serious path to her dream career. Her blog, 52 First Dates, followed her search for love as she went on one date a week over the course of a year. It’s success has given her writing career a significant boost, and she is now over halfway through her first novel.
“It gained me a lot more readers, and even garnered the attention of an agent who I’m really grateful to have championing my work,” she says of her blog. “Taking on a year long blogging challenge and completing it not only gave me regular writing deadlines, which taught me discipline and helped me hone my skills, but it really gave me confidence to take on bigger challenges.”
For entrepreneur ReeRee Rockette, what started out as a blog has grown into a thriving beauty business – starting with a lipstick brand and branching out to a growing chain of hair salons. For her, blogging creates the centrepiece of her brand. The blog thrives both as a source of income in its own right and as a way to build a loyal customer base in a more personal way than traditional marketing allows.
“A blog is a great way to create a memorable narrative that can form the basis of a brand story,” she explains. “Narratives make it easy for people to follow you, and to care about what happens to you.I’m always amazed (in a good way) how much some of my readers remember about my journey.”
So far so good, but for a blogging rookie, starting out can be daunting. We asked successful bloggers to give us their top tips for success.
Content is king
First things first: choose your subject matter carefully. There are a lot of blogs out there, and if your theme is too general, its very easy to get lost in the noise. “A blog gives you a platform to become an expert in a niche, and to become a go-to person for certain topics. Don’t feel you should be everything to everyone. If you stand for everything, you often end up standing for nothing,” ReeRee advises. “The blogging space is pretty crammed these days, so be quite specific in your mind about why someone would remember yours, and why they would want to return.”
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Marianne Cantwell, whose inspiring blog Free Range Humans has grown into a book and a global brand, agrees that content is everything.
“Write something people want to share and will miss if it doesn’t show up in their lives that week. There is no substitute for this. A question I ask my clients is: are you writing something you would honestly click on and read above anything else that came your way today?”
Share the love
Another hugely important point is that the blogging world is a community, in a way that traditional media is not and as such, your success is largely dependent on tapping into this ethos. Cantwell stresses that “what sets successful blogs apart is that they rarely exist in isolation.”
“Connect with other people who have blogs and websites and see how you can contribute to them, and vice versa. The links from those sources can get people knowing about you and really boost your readership. You also need to make it really easy for people to share – have a social media share button at the top and the bottom of each post. I’ve seen so many people write pieces that are tough to share and it’s such a simple thing to fix.”
She believes that one of the biggest misconceptions about blogging is that “full time bloggers make their money by sticking some advertisements up on their website” – something that “couldn’t be further from reality.”
“I am yet to find a solid example of a blogger making a full time living from ads. Ten minutes looking at this shows that the number just don’t add up (and the ads cheapen your website).”
Instead, Cantwell advocates a different business model: “selling something directly, such as a product, a course or a “how to” guide that expands on the issues raised on the blog – or using the blog as a way for people to hear about your related services.”
Be your own publicity machine
“There are blogging awards you can enter which will help boost your credibility,” Travers-Smith says. “52 First Dates was the runner up in the Best Sex and Relationships category in the Cosmopolitan Blog Awards in 2011, which boosted my following exponentially.”
Using Twitter and Facebook to push your content is a no brainer, but take your time to interact, build the right audience and create relevant hashtags. “Never underestimate the power of a retweet, you never know where it will lead you,” she continues. “One retweet was all it took to bring 52 First Dates and one particular story that happened while writing it to the attention of one of the Guardian editors, and six months down the line it ended up the cover story of the Observer Magazine.”
Set boundaries for yourself
“52 First Dates was a very, very personal blog, and I think part of why it ended up doing so well is the readers got to know me personally and my journey through the quagmire of online dating,” Travers-Smith explains.
“It’s not always easy being so public about something so personal to you and I did feel the pressure towards the end as I knew I had to wrap it up somehow. When ultimately at the end of 52 First Dates I’d still failed to find love, it was still okay, because I’m only human, and I think that’s partly why readers enjoyed the whole experience.”
“I ended up putting the final date out to the internet to choose my final date and they chose to send me to Denmark. I’d like to think that was rewarding enough. Hollywood endings are overrated anyway.”