Technology

What I’ve Learned in 5 Years of Blogging

woman writing in journal for blog

I started blogging five, almost six, years ago.

Not sure what prompted my interest in online publishing. A suppressed photojournalism interest? Compounding frustration from an unfruitful post-grad job hunt? My millennial-attempt at trying to find a solution to the whole Great-Recession-killed-our-careers? Who knows.

My first blog post was a 2,500-word essay on job interviews (APA-style referencing included). Ew.

I wish I could say the next post was better, but that’s probably a stretch. Blogging, like most new skills, took awhile to get the hang of. Writing styles, SEO, images –  were all new concepts to a fresh academic. I watched a lot of YouTube videos, joined some Facebook groups, and read everything the Content Marketing Institute put out on blogging.

Over time, and a few dozen courses, I began to feel more comfortable with sharing my journey online.

I made a lot of friends through The Motivated Millennial – other disillusioned professionals working in a variety of industries all around the world. We’d meet-up at conferences, schedule Skype-assisted coffee chats, and even vacationed together. Blogging helped me connect with others and actually led to some pretty interesting opportunities, like Contributing to Arianna Huffington’s Thrive Global and speaking at conferences across the United States.

Reflecting on my blogging experience, here are five things I’ve learned in five years of posting:

Think about your target audience.

Blogging is more than sharing your pregnancy dets and chronicling your #adulting struggles. While those fascinating (and not-so-fascinating) insights help you connect with readers in an authentic way, it’s important for bloggers to identify their target audience prior to posting and keep their sector of readers in mind when creating content.

In business, we call refer to this segment as a brand’s “target market”, which is just a B-school term for the people that will buy your stuff.

In the blogging world, we use “target audience”, which is just the digi-pub word for people (beyond your mom and her three college-era besties) that will read your stuff.

You could be the best writer, er, blogger, in the world, and not everyone is going to find your posts interesting or relevant (Faulkner, anyone?). And that’s totally cool because everyone liking your blog is totally NOT a requirement for running a successful blog; you just need your target audience to like it.

While you always want to be responsive to market changes and development opportunities, it’s easier to start your blog with a target audience in mind than to post a bunch of stuff, run off a bunch of would-be-readers with off the way content, and then get on the target audience train (trust me…pretty sure I earned a School of Hard Knox certificate on this around Year 2 of blogging).

Thinking about your target audience in the early stretch of your blogging journey will help you create more effective branding (domain name, social handles, blog logos, etc.), build a consistent following, and land sponsored content opportunities (more on that later…).

Consider adding sponsored content for blog monetization.

I’ve been doing sponsored content, also known as influencer marketing, on my blog for going on three years. It’s been a great way to showcase some of my favorite organizations, along with monetizing my blog and scoring some free vacations.

The first sponsored content strategies found me – a Public Relations Director from a software company reached out to see if I was interested in reviewing a new program they were rolling out for solopreneurs like myself. I was pretty excited, albeit really unsure of how this influencer stuff worked. It ended up being a good experience. I was hooked.

In 2015, I started working with public relations agencies that matched millennial-friendly brands with 20-something bloggers. I have some pretty narrow specs regarding what I’ll promote on my blog and social channels, and these agencies work closely with large organizations offering services or programs within this niche.

Quick takeaway from my influencer marketing experience:

  • Don’t work for free stuff. Build a digital community and charge market value for brand exposure on your channels. You wouldn’t walk around carrying a signboard for your cell-phone provider for free – don’t do it on your blog!
  • Be SURE to get signed contracts before doing any work. Make sure you have everything in writing with the sponsoring organization. One of the benefits of working with agencies is they will provide MOU’s that include negotiated customization and payment schedules.
  • Don’t promote everything. Come up with a narrow range of markets that you’ll work with. Mine’s: business, career, and higher education resources. Also, keep your non-commissioned to sponsored content ratio low; I shoot for a 12:1.

Focus on developing a blogging brand.

When you first start a blog, it’s easy to get caught up in a posting whirlwind and write about just about anything that makes an impression – your dog’s latest neighborhood adventure, that oh-so-annoying coworker, your best friend’s beach wedding, the dishwasher flooding your newly remodeled kitchen, your mid-Soul Cycle career revelation, plans for your dream vacation, and so on.

I get it; you’re excited, people are reading your stuff, the “Likes” and comments keep adding up.

You must be doing something right, right?

Developing a unique brand for your blog and corresponding social media channels can be key to securing a profitable future for your online entity. Part of blog brand development is coming up with a list of stuff you will write about, and stuff you won’t. Even lifestyle bloggers don’t (successfully) blog about everything in life – they have a pretty narrow scope of interests, such that, they communicate expertise in everything they put out, and good opportunities (seeking invites, book deals, sponsored content, contributor invites, etc.) follow.

For example, I don’t blog specifically about fitness, my fur babies, cooking, or my spiritual journey. These topics may get a sprinkling mention in work-related or politically-geared posts, but never their own feature. Instead, my online presence stays pretty focused on business, career, and higher education interests, with a few travel notes and economic advocacy elements interspersed.

By building a brand for my blog, and keeping my content fairly consistent, I build rapport with digital audiences and connect with readers that are more likely to remain loyal patrons. Think about your blog’s brand – write it out – and start streamlining your content to suit.

Treat your blog as the business it can be.

Contrary to what those always-IG-ing, #yesIwokeuplikethis, blog celebs would like you to believe, making money off your blog doesn’t just happen.

It takes strategized effort. No build it – or post it – and they will come. Monetizing your blog beyond a couple hundred bucks and closet of free stuff you rarely use requires a blogging business plan. Developing a brand, coordinating with reps, creating and publishing content, and building an online community takes a lot of time, and sometimes, even money (PR Consultants, professional photography sessions, and web design overhauls are not cheap).

A successful (aka profitable) blog has a lot of moving parts. It goes through periods of growth, stagnation, and reinvestment, just like a business entity. Having a blog-based business plan can help clarify your mission and connect you with worthwhile opportunities.

I recommend new bloggers start by tracking their time investment on their blog and associated social channels. Use a time tracking app or just keep an Excel sheet. Figure out how much money you need to be making per hour to make your blog a worthwhile adventure, and compare this number to the amount of time you average per month and market value for sponsored content in your associated markets.

Once you’ve got an idea of how much time you’re spending on your blog each month, plus how much money you can (reasonably) expect to make per ad/affiliate traffic and sponsored content opportunities, you’ve got the first part of your blogging business plan (see, it’s not that hard!).

Next step: Clarify your growth goals. For bloggers, growth goals mean more than just how much money you hope you rake in each quarter; it’s site traffic, social media followings, and email lists (brands interested in collaborating are going to want all of these numbers as well). Some of this growth will cost you money, like Facebook ads or newsletter signup plugins. Be sure to include any additional operating costs in your blogging business plan.  

So, you’ve got an idea of how much money and time your blog requires and some sort of an idea around where you’re heading with the whole blogging thing. Congrats! You’ve got a baby blogging business plan! Next step? Work the plan!

A successful blogging strategy is more than just good writing.

To blog successfully, you need more than catchy post titles and interesting prose; you’ve got to have basic web development skills, a social media strategy, and some sort of focus or schedule for consistent content.

There’s a lot of easy-to-use blogging platforms and tools available for new bloggers needing some assistance with the “beyond-writing” part of blogging.

Here are a few of my favorite blogger resources:

While your blog, like mine, may start with random ramblings read solely by your great-aunt in Toledo, developing a content strategy and executing it with the help of third-party apps and programs can really expand your reach. The more readers you have, the more opportunities you’ll get. The more opportunities you get, the more money you’ll make off your blog. The more money you make off your blog…, well, you get the picture.

Just like any side hustle, starting and running a profitable blog takes a focused strategy and the right tools.

Overall (mistakes included), my blogging journey has been really rewarding. It’s been fun to develop new skills in the communications space, and it’s always a joy to connect with others from all over the world. If you’ve already started a blog, or are just thinking about it, I’d really encourage you to explore blogging opportunities and available resources and make it your own.

Happy blogging!

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