2010 is a year of milestones. It marks my tenth year as a freelance writer and professional blogger, and the 5th anniversary of Freelance Writing Jobs: the blog. Unlike other jobs, blogging and this network are where my passion lies.
As much as I love what I do, I also learn something new every day. I’d love to share some of those lessons with you today. Most of these apply to bloggers with their own blogs. However, you can also apply many of these lessons to blogs you write for others.
40 Lessons Learned Over Five Years of Blogging
- If you have no passion for the subject, your blog won’t succeed: Straight up – if you don’t love your topic enough to talk about it every day, sometimes two or three times a day, you’ll burn out quickly and your blog will fizzle. There are reasons bloggers succeed and the main reason is passion for what they do.
- Blogging takes time: Blogging doesn’t happen over night. It takes months, sometimes years, of daily content building, traffic analysis, promotion, community discussion and more. Only the passionate, patient and diligent survive.
- Revenue takes time: You won’t see money roll in your first day, week or even month. As traffic and community grows, so will your revenue. It may not seem worth it sometimes, but eventually your hard work will pay off and you will see you did everything right.
- Negativity breeds negativity: The Freelance Writing Jobs network has seen it’s fair shares of squabbles, trolls, negativity and pettiness. I’m not claiming innocence in any of it, but I did take a vow to knock it off. All that negative stuff just creates more negativity. Your blog takes a hit, your reputation takes a hit, your traffic takes a hit and your revenue takes a hit. Not worth it, as far as I’m concerned.
- You get what you give: Blogging takes hours of work. If you only come around once in a while offering lackluster content, you’ll get a lackluster response. Give it your all and you’ll get it back in spades.
- There’s room for everyone: I never considered other bloggers my competition, and still don’t. However, there was a time when I felt the freelance writing blog niche was saturated. I was concerned, but not for long. I soon realized everyone in this niche has a different experience and freelance writers wishing to learn will benefit from each different point of view. Moreover, when you’re on good terms with other bloggers there are so many opportunities for cross promotion.
- Readers don’t have to be married to one particular blog: Drawing on the point above, I used to believe blog readers have to be loyal to only one blog or community. I’ve since changed my mind as this doesn’t have to be the case at all. We can read and visit as many blogs as we like while still being loyal to our favorites. Saying you should only read one blog is like saying you should only read one book or magazine or watch one television show.
- Train wreck traffic is short lived: Every now and then a topic comes up *cough* content sites *cough* and everyone jumps on the bandwagon to benefit from the traffic. The thing is, that type of traffic is short lived. No one comes back to visit the tracks after the train wreck is cleared.
- Ditto linkbait: This one is difficult for me to write. Not because I love to write linkbait, but because I love to write lists. Sometimes lists are the gift that keeps giving, most of the time, linkbait is short lived. The traffic spikes for a few days and then life returns to normal. My traffic shows a better growth organically using evergreen content over linkbait.
- Listen to what people are saying about you and your blog: All feedback is good feedback, even the stuff that hurts. I may not always be able to personally respond to everything but I read every single email and comment. I also take regular surveys to find out what others think of this blog network and what we can do to improve. There are no haters, only opportunity and I take every bit of feedback into consideration.
- Blog readers are fickle: People change their minds. Good bloggers continuously evolve with their community. The “my way or the highway approach” rarely works.
- Blog readers remember: Be careful when contradicting yourself or changing your point of view because your blog readers will remember and call you out on stuff. That isn’t to say you can’t change your mind, however, if you’re going to change your tune be prepared to have some stuff thrown back in your face.
- The same people reading your blog today might not be reading it five years from now: Blog readers are transient. A few faithful readers stick around but many of them, especially for “how to” or job listings blogs such as this one, stick around to get what they want and move on. Each year shows a new crop of “regulars.”
- Get by with a little help from your friends: It’s good to ask for help. Blogging friends link to each other and collaborate on projects together. They visit each other’s blogs and participate in the comments.
- You won’t become famous blogging for someone else: I don’t mean “A-list blogger” famous but it’s been my experience blog readers who visit network blogs associate the blog with the brand rather than the name of the blogger. It’s the bloggers who build the blogs and implement traffic and monetization strategies who get the most glory and respect.
- It’s important to take the time to get to know your community: Simply put, without your community you are nothing. Not only is communication on blogs important, but so is reaching out to to your readers via the social networks. Take time to banter on Twitter and Facebook and let them know they’re appreciated. Knowing the people who visit FWJ every day allows me to bring them the content they’re clamoring for and tips they can use.
- It’s OK to advertise on blogs: For about four years I felt guilty for posting ads. As a freelancer I needed to justify the time spent blogging for myself, and I also need to pay those who blog for me. I don’t know why some folks equate blog ads with poor content, but I’m over it. This year I went all out with the ads and my revenue exploded. My content didn’t change and most of my community stuck with me. A few left after I partnered with a particular sponsor, but most of my community remained loyal. Many say the ads don’t bother them at all and they understand the need to monetize. So there you have it.
- It’s OK to disagree: One of my blogging pet peeves is when I disagree with a blogger and everyone jumps on my case as if I’m being hostile. Disagreeing is fine as long as we’re all respectful. There’s a big difference between respectful disagreement and downright abuse. Personally, I welcome it. I’d much rather have a blog where people disagreed with me (and were nice about it) than to have the same people agree on everything just for the sake of agreeing. Two sides of the story makes for more interesting discussion.
- Content truly is king: It’s the content that will keep readers coming back and it’s content that will bring new writers in. Not the design, not the giveaways, not the bloggers, but the content.
- Content may be king but it has to be relevant, evergreen, and engaging: Not just any content, mind you. It has to apply to the subject and folks have to want to read it. My community doesn’t care about my cats or how I spent my summer vacation but they do care about how I landed my first freelance writing job. They want tips and tools they can put to good use. Not only do readers care about the content, they want to be able to participate in the discussion. The best blog content invites comments from the community.
- Content may be king, and the ability to engage is wonderful, but you have to say something different than the other bloggers in your niche: People aren’t coming to my blog to read the same stuff other bloggers are writing. They want a unique point of view and not echoes of the blogosphere.
- The community wants to get involved: The FWJ community is amazing. They’re always there for us. I’m so amazed at how supportive they are of FWJ here and on the social networks and other blogs. They want to get involved, they want to be a part of FWJ. They’re part of the team.
- Share don’t preach: I don’t know how many self-proclaimed experts are truly experts. Sure there are a few who pontificate and talk about how great their way is, but the bloggers who do the best are the ones who share rather than lecture.
- The bigger your blog, the thicker your skin: When you own a popular blog, everything is open for scrutiny. Sometimes people aren’t so positive in their assessment of you or your blog. Realize your blog isn’t for everyone and don’t take it to heart. You can’t please everyone.
- Link love is a two way street: All bloggers enjoy the link love, but we have to give back in return. If you want other bloggers to link to you, you have to add something to the exchange. Besides the warm fuzziness and good karma associated with showing someone the love, it also draws attention to your own blog. Plus, our communities enjoy when we share new blogs and blog posts.
- Social networking works: Chatting with folks on other blogs, forums Twitter and Facebook, and building community via the social networks really works. When you begin building relationships, folks want to learn about you and what else you do.
- Offline networking works: All of your social media tools: blogs, social networks, online communities – they’re all important for building your brand and your community but so is good, old-fashioned face to face networking. The online stuff is fun, but it’s my experience people would rather chat in person. Step out of your element and attend conferences and meetups. You may end up with new blog readers and even a few collaborators and people with whom you can swap guest blog posts.
- Some blog readers would rather read a weekly newsletter than commit to daily blog reading: I wasn’t sure if I should introduce a newsletter at all. I use to see newsletter sign up forms at other blogs and wondered why someone would sign up if they can read blog posts here. There are two reasons – the first is that a newsletter can offer stuff not found on the blog. The second reason is because there are some readers who don’t visit this blog every day. A newsletter allows them to receive topics in their mailbox and they can click to visit the posts they most want to read without having to commit to a daily visit.
- Controversy gets the comments: Want to see your comments skyrocket? Post a controversial topic. Controversy brings out trolls, loonies, and many thought-provoking comments. I try not to do this often because I don’t want my blog associated with negativity. Once you’re back to normal posting, the amount of comments will go back the average.
- You can’t hire someone to match your passion: I love the FWJ bloggers and I wouldn’t trade any of them for all the tea in China, but I’m also realistic. I’ve also been a blogger for hire. I can tell you that paid bloggers don’t always match your enthusiasm for your own blogs. For most bloggers for hire, blogging is a job. They do what they’re paid for which is exactly what is laid out in their agreements and don’t generally go beyond the call of duty. That’s not a swipe at paid bloggers (again, I’m one), but the truth is, paid bloggers don’t want to put ten hours a day into someone else’s blog.
- I earn more money with my own blogs than blogging for others: I blogged for About.com, b5Media, Know More Media, Oxygen Media, Performancing and so many others. Combined they didn’t bring in as much money as I earn in revenue blogging for myself. For me, it’s more worth it to put the time and effort into this blog than for so many others.
- Never stop learning: I don’t think I’ll ever know everything there is to know about my niche – or others. The key to good blogging is to never stop learning and never stop sharing what I learn.
- You have to know your community in order to truly monetize your blog: You have to know your readers wants, needs and likes before you can successfully monetize your blogs. How else will you know if they’re clickers or buyers? How will you know what kind of affiliates they respond to? You can’t properly plan a revenue strategy unless you know the market.
- Traffic first, than money: My biggest monetization mistake was in thinking that money would come long before the traffic. I can assure you that if no one is visiting your blog, no one will respond to the advertising. When you first begin blogging advertising should be the least of your worries. Rock the traffic first, the rest will fall into place.
- Engaging in blog wars only makes matters worse: My biggest mistake is probably engaging in a lot of negative back and forth and tit for tat with other bloggers. This only turns off my community and chases people away. People are supportive but no one wants to visit a blog where there’s constant bickering or bad vibes. Trust me. It pays to avoid blog wars.
- Always be prepared to back up your facts: If you’re going to state something as a fact, you have to be able to back it up. The people who read blogs are smart cookies. Speculation and opinion is one thing. Facts need proof.
- What you put out there is out there forever: Different bloggers have different policies. Mine is not to do anything my son can read years from now and cause him to lose faith in me. He keeps me in check. Everything on the Internet is there forever, at least until someone finds a way to erase stuff for good. Before I go off on a rant, call someone out or begin with the foul language, I ask myself if it’s going to come back and butt me on the butt later.
- Stats are where it’s at: My stats, a combination of Performancing Metrics and Google Analytics, are sort of the “command central” for this blog network. From my stats I learn how and why people visit my blog each day. In fact, I can even pinpoint what specific people do during each visit. I know the content they respond to the most, the most often used keywords and who is linking to me. Never underestimate the importance of stats.
- Blog posting frequency matters: Once or twice a week posting didn’t work for me. When I posted everyday, preferably twice a day, magic happened. My traffic doubled, and then tripled. Some bloggers believe posting frequency doesn’t matter. I believe otherwise.
- Once I started treating my blog as a business everything came into place: Just about a year ago I decided not to treat this network as a blog with occasional income. I was hiring bloggers and I was earning a little money, why not treat it like a business? I worked at it full time and made it my job. I set up meetings with advertisers and attended networking events. I even began seeking sponsors on my own. After I began treating FWJ as my business instead of my blog, it exploded.
Bonus: Inspiration happens when you least expect it. As I wrote this list, I started taking notes. I was inspired with several ideas for new blog posts. Always keep pen and paper or some way to take notes handy. I promise, you’ll need it.
Bonus tip #2 – There are always two sides to every story. Self explanatory, no?
Do you agree? Disagree? What are some blogging lessons you learned?
This is far and away one of the better posts on blogging lessons learned that I have read. In particular, people rarely tell you that a) this can take more than a year to really get going b) you are going to need a thick skin. The general tone of blogging advice must be designed to drive traffic itself, because there’s a lot of You Too Can Make Millions and 12 Steps To 500,000 Subscribers, and Insanely Useful Ways To Improve Your Blog out there. I appreciate the tone of your voice – one doesn’t always want to be exhorted.
.-= LPC´s last blog ..What To Wear To A Garden Party? Because Winter Will End Some Day. =-.
Deb Ng says
Thank you, LPC. I really do think the difference is the passion. I don’t blog as a marketing vehicle to sell my stuff (though I do have stuff to sell), I don’t blog as an online portfolio, I blog because it’s my favorite thing to do in the world. The best bloggers (mind you, not necessarily the most popular bloggers) are the ones who put their passion behind what they do. Nothing beats a passion-fueled blog.
Thank you so much for sharing tips for writers. So many of the blogging tips I see are geared towards business blogging only. I believe at the end of the day, a blog should be entertaining as well as informational. There should be some transparency on every blog and I really love how you reference your own experiences with your tips vs. preaching as some experts do (the ones you mentioned in #23). It is also evident that you love what you. Unfortunately many bloggers are not gifted writers and find it challenging to effectively communicate in words what they are trying to say (which is why we need freelance writers :)) I love to write as well and use my blog as a form of therapy (a public diary if you will) in the hopes that others can relate and maybe find comfort in knowing they are no alone. Thanks for what you do. Look forward to reading more of your posts.
Deb Ng says
Indeed, blogs are therapeutic. One thing I keep coming back to – when I have to maintain blogs for other people, there are times I’m just not feeling it. I remember my most lucrative blogging gig – $500 per month for 4 100 word posts per month. Yet, I dreaded the writing as it wasn’t fun for me. I’m afraid that probably showed through to my readers. If you don’t love the writing and love the blogging – and love the brand – the true passion get you through the daily writing.
Dave Doolin says
Deb, I don’t comment here much, and your articles are so… bulletproof…? it’s hard for me think of anything I could add.
So I’ll add this instead: You’re an inspiration to people you never heard and never will.
Except for one, yeah you, Mr. or Ms Lurker who never wrote a comment here before. Now’s your chance! Just a little note saying “Thanks, Deb.”
.-= Dave Doolin´s last blog ..Pre-Writing Is Your Friend – With Benefits (Part 2) =-.
Deb Ng says
Thank you Dave, I want you to know your comment made my morning and will get me through the day. Please don’t be a stranger.
Great tips and good to hear of your experiences over the years. Thanks Deb.
Deb Ng says
You’re very welcome, Jen. Thanks for stopping by and taking the time to comment.
Tom Mellor says
Just a quick note to say thanks for the thought provoking article. I’ve been blogging for around 4 months and currently I have no plans to try to earn money from my blog. Nevertheless, your comments on the importance of passion certainly strikes a chord. I set out to write my blog on topics where I have some authority – the day job. Over time, I started to write on things that interest me, mainly around managing information on the move. Guess which categories seem to attract the most traffic?
As you said, “Content is king” and your content has the hallmark of hard-won experience.
.-= Tom Mellor´s last blog ..Send Back Pictures to OneNote =-.
Deb Ng says
Thank you, Tom – and I’m also so happy to see your passion is paying off as well.
Daniel Watson says
Hi Deb, Great article. Appreciate the time you took to put it together. Thanks to a retweet from @activeingreds it found its way to me. I write a weekly business blog and have not considered monetising it, but with 30 articles written for business owners, most of which should stand the test of time, you have inspired me to at least think about going down that path.
Deb Ng says
It’s a personal choice, whether or not to monetize a blog. However, I decided I didn’t want to be a slave to my clients or a full time job and this was a good solution. As I introduce more ebooks and courses into the mix, I’ll probably dial down the ads some. For now, they work out beyond my dreams.
Hi Brooks says
Great tips and advice. In the corporate world they say the ‘analytical expressive’ types who make lists like this are the most difficult employees to manage (re. control) but when they inevitably make the move, they make the most successful owners. I would be curious to know how many of us out there with blog sites are business owners?
On the business of writing with passion…in my own business, writing about topics I am passionate about outside ‘the shop’ has in turn led to many new business opportunities in the shop. In this business (yes, it is a business) you truly get back what you put in.
Thanks again for keeping it real!
Deb Ng says
Thanks, Hi, and thanks for sharing that. Passion is what drives winners, no?
Laura @ Bananga.com says
Thanks for the tips! It’s hard to stay persistent on a posting schedule…especially when running after two little girls 24/7. This is my goal this month…to become consistent so that I can get the traffic I need to start looking for advertisers.
Deb Ng says
Laura, I think remaining consistent is the hardest part. Even more difficult is posting about the same topic two to three times each day without sounding stale or saying the same thing over and over again. I think this is why I hire other bloggers to help out and accept guest contributions.
you are writing great article. Appreciate the time you took to put it together.you have inspired me to go on this path.
Deb Ng says
Apparently it also inspired you to drop a link to your PLR service too.
Crystal Jigsaw says
As a keen and frequent blogger I found this information to be extremely useful. I blog passionately, about subjects mainly associated with my family and my home. I’ve managed to build up a large following, have worked my way into various circles and wouldn’t dream of just hiding in one circle; blogging means too much to me. The comments are important to me also because I look at it as feedback, engaging in conversation, meeting bloggers from all over the world, making new friends. I also get new ideas from other blogs and this is helpful obviously to my own, in a slightly selfish way!
I’ve been blogging nearly 3 years and have enjoyed every moment. It’s changed my life. Not in a sad way, but in a way that I’ve made hundreds of new friends, of whom I’ll never meet I know, but who are supportive, loyal, funny, interesting. I imagine being a professional blogger would be a wonderful job.
Deb Ng says
I hear ya, Crystal. I’m a shy person actually and blogging helped me to be a little more social both online and off. I hope to see you here more often!
Very useful! Thank you.
Great post, Deb! It’s so interesting to see how five years have shaped your opinions and experiences.
Amazing advice–so helpful. I think it’s important that people use blogging as a constructive tool towards building their community and thus their biz! No Negativity! Thank you.
Bob Bessette says
Hi, this is really good information. Obviously you have the history and are giving us your take on blogging, monetizing, etc. I am happy to hear that when you monetized, that your audience stayed with you. I have yet to really monetize my blog and would be interested if you had a certain amount of readers or some type of milestone you felt that you had reached before you monetized? I think that is the hard part for some of us. Also, can you suggest the best methods to use for monetizing? Maybe this could be a future post?
.-= Bob Bessette´s last blog ..A Glimpse into 3 Time Management Frameworks =-.
my own business, writing about topics I am passionate about outside ‘the shop’ has in turn led to many new business opportunities in the shop. In this business (yes, it is a business) you truly get back what you put in.
Heather ~ Acting Balanced Mom says
I’m a new blogger and found your article from another blog that I found on a blog networking site, so, insofar as working the network, I guess I’ve started that… I’m not really worried about the financial aspect of making my blog work, that may come later, but I do love writing and sharing my stories with others, so I blog. Thanks for the great post and the talking points to remember!
.-= Heather ~ Acting Balanced Mom´s last blog ..Sunday Family Stories – the valentine’s day edition =-.
Once again, great post. I’ve encountered some of these in my blogging adventures the last few months. Others I’m taking notes. Thanks again for the great content.
.-= Christopher´s last blog ..Happy Valentine’s: Make a Difference =-.
Ava Roxanne Stritt says
Thanks so much for sharing and taking the time to make this list for us! I love lists too! Take a look at my last blog post concerning “The Bucket List” & by my own design “The Goblet List” !!!
Fabulous list. I have only been freelancing for 3 years, but most of those on your list slap you in the face rather quickly. 🙂
Sandra Madeira says
I’ve just started taking blogging seriously this year and have found this post very helpful. Thank you for sharing your many years of experience. I may approach you to hire me one day!
Derek Thompson says
A great list and till relevant four years on!