This week marks the 6-month anniversary of the day I launched Man Vs. Debt! Yippee!
It’s been a freaky journey up to this point. I feel like I swallowed both the red and blue pills in one big gulp. I rarely try to blog about blogging, however I thought it would be fun to reflect on what I’ve learned in these first 6 months.
Before we get started, let me make something very clear. I didn’t title this post ‘How to be an awesome blogger’ on ‘Blog your way to success’. First of all, those titles aren’t me. Second, I don’t think I have the knowledge or authority to tackle the subject from that angle.
I don’t claim to be an expert, however I have been able to build what many would consider a thriving community within a relatively short amount of time (in blogging terms). So, while you may debate it, I honesty feel I’m somewhere between sucking and success. In other words, I feel I’ve crossed over the sucking hump.
And yes… I just coined the phrase ‘sucking hump’. It’s mine. Don’t touch it.
As with any post I do, this will be based completely on my own experience and perspective. I’m not charging you for it and it’ll be worth what you pay for it. I’ll be reviewing the big picture stuff that inspires me, as well as trying to reveal some specific, tangible nuggets you may or may not already know. And here we go…
If you aren’t 100% passionate, you will fail miserably.
Every successful blogger I’ve talked to has said the same thing. Every. Single. One. If you aren’t completely passionate (borderline obsessive) about your topic, there is no way you will put forth the enormous amount of effort it takes to succeed.
All the resources provided throughout the rest of this post come back to this one point. Look for it in each one. It’s there. If your number one reason for blogging is income generation… well… everything I’ve experienced and everyone I’ve talked to indicates that you are destined for catastrophic failure. I’m sure there is an exception, however you’re probably not it.
So what’s the solution? Work all this out before you start. And DON’T start until you are convinced beyond any doubt that you absolutely adore your topic/business model. If you only do one thing in this whole post, watch the following video:
I’m not embarrassed to admit that I’ve watched this Gary Vaynerchuk video once a week since I found it back in late April. Most of you have probably already watched it. Watch it again, anyway. Here are some of the parts/topic that continue to inspire me:
- No non-sense follow your passion.
- Giving a shit about your readers.
- Stop crying. Keep Hustling.
- Legacy is greater than currency.
- The nature of the game is changing. [still is]
- “Stop watching f***ing Lost”
I can’t say enough about the impact this video had on Man Vs. Debt, so I’m going to stop trying.
After you are done watching the video, download Chris Guillebeau’s 279 Days to Overnight Success. For me, it was the print version of the video above. I stumbled into it sometime during my second month and it has been my blogging bible ever since. Here are the parts of it that most affected Man Vs. Debt so far:
- Shattered my model of what blogging could be (especially within my niche)
- How to be remarkable and leverage your personal story
- Building Flagship content (which I call ‘pillar’ content)
- Balancing being authentic with “fake-it-until-you-make-it” (super important)
- Chris’ Adsense perspective (on page 43) confirmed what I thought, but was afraid to say
When I launched Man Vs. Debt, I was set-up for failure from the beginning. Luckily, within the first two months I was able to find and latch onto these two resources early. I was very lucky. If you haven’t watched or read both of these recently, your blog NEEDS you to.
Realize that you will not make any money (maybe ever)
Seriously, let go. I’ve seen so many new bloggers poison themselves with a constant quest to monetize. They are so addicted to tweaking Adsense or finding ways to pitch affiliates that they end up doing nothing else. They have no time to create stuff that inspires. They have no time to really connect with their readership or find their voice.
Do you know anyone who has been monetarily successful in the first 6 months of blogging (without a pre-existing platform, etc…)? I don’t. Not a single one. If you do, I’d really like to know. In fact, I can count the number of people who I know who made full-time money in the first year on two fingers.
I don’t know everyone, but I know a decent amount of bloggers now. Their stories are all the same. They worked their ass off with very little money and very little reward for a very long time. They lived and breathed their blogs for months and months before they made any significant money.
I honestly believe one of the keys to Man Vs. Debt’s early growth was that I never got trapped in the monetizing loophole. I tried to trap myself many times, but luckily I surrounded myself with people who would pull me out of it and inspire me to focus on much higher-leverage activities.
I’m not saying you should not plan ahead. Plan out and work towards how you will eventually feed your family through you blogging endeavors. When you are just getting started, though, stop trying to actually do it now. You’ll just be discouraged, frustrated, and distracted.
Expose yourself to ALL the possibilities of blogging.
There is no one way to blog. Heck, there is no right way to blog. It depends on the topic, niche, community, and individual blogger. But don’t let yourself be pigeon-holed into only one business plan or one method of blogging. Here are a couple examples:
- Several of my pf-blogging friends make fantastic income with Adsense.
- Chris Guillebeau primarily supports himself on his own information products.
- Ramit Sethi leveraged his blog to catapult his book launch and solidify his personal brand.
- Leo from Zen Habits had public success accepting donations to help him become a full-time writer.
- Pinyo from Moolanomy was offered a killer job based on his success with his blog.
- Clay Collins trains people on how to build and market very specific niche products.
- Other bloggers end up selling their sites to pursue other passions.
- Jonathan Mead coaches individuals on how to ‘get paid to exist’ based off his own story.
The moral of the story? The possibilities that come from blogging are endless. I truly believe there is something for everyone. There is a model out there (or combination of models) that is perfect for you, but you got to be able to expose yourself in the first place. For me, this search is a continual project. I suspect it’ll always be that way.
Be the “something”-guy (or gal)
Brand yourself intentionally. This is yet another area that I’m still figuring out. My theory is that you start by trying to attach your name to certain “somethings.” For example, early on I tried to be the “debt”-guy. I quickly realized that wasn’t me. I didn’t want that role, nor am I fit for that role. So I’ve tested out being some other things.
Honestly, I want to be known as the “transparency”-guy. Or the “authenticity-and-passion”-guy. That’s a lot of hyphens. You get the point. Your branding will be a million times more effective if you are pumping out a consistent message. I haven’t found my sweet spot, yet, but that doesn’t keep me from knowing this will be essential moving forward.
The step after that? Is to flip the scenario. When people lead with the term you want them to think of you. Search engine? Google. Anti-credit card? Dave Ramsey. Social Media news? Mashable. This is the where you should always be headed in my opinion.
Don’t squander 6-months in this area like I have. Experiment early on. When you find a “something” that feels right… drive it home.
Be as transparent as possible
This has been HUGE for me. Now, I know not everyone is able or willing to be as transparent as I have been with this blog. That’s the “as possible” part. Set your limits early on and then reveal as much as possible up to those limits. I only follow a couple blogs that I don’t feel like I personally know the author. That doesn’t mean I’ve met them, but rather I feel like we’ve met.
The blogosphere is crowded. You will be very hard pressed to find a niche that isn’t already saturated. The only way you can stand out is with your personal story and your personality. That’s the only reason I start following new blogs. What about you? Do you stumble across a newer blog and add it just because it has a cool design? I don’t. A cool design might catch my eye, but only for long enough for me to search for the About page.
I’m an awesome fan to have on your side. I’m super loyal and super loving. If you hook me, I’ll follow you to the ends of the earth and sing along the way. To be honest, I’m the type of fan I want. Are you still with me? I want raving fans. And raving fans are tough to inspire if you aren’t letting your personality and/or your story lead the way.
Stop f***ing with your design and your plug-ins
Hammer out your design and blog set-up early and then leave it alone. I wasted so much time on this crap early I actually don’t even want to think about it. I constantly see newer and/or smaller bloggers shoot themselves in the foot by focusing WAY too much time and energy on this stuff.
When in doubt, go with the simple option. Use WordPress. Unless you have previous background in programing or web design, buy a theme. I bought Thesis within the first two weeks and it was one of the smartest things I did for the blog. I’ve been able to do most of the minor changes myself by searching the support forums. When in doubt, I’ve asked one of the other 102988512319 bloggers that use it.
For less than $100 bucks you can have your pick of the 3-4 most popular themes. Get your design all pretty and set-up your plug-ins. Search the three sites and tap into the resources below to get a feel for whats going on.
Once you get to the point you are 80% satisfied… LEAVE IT ALONE. Seriously. That last 20% is the biggest waste of your time. Once again, I don’t want to think about this anymore. Gives me nightmares.
Resources to help you in this area:
You only need to subscribe to three ‘blogging’ blogs. But, in my opinion, all three are essential because they focus on different areas. I never miss a post from:
Unfortunately, I don’t personally know these three guys. They aren’t my friends. They are simply the best at what they do. Each has been ridiculously valuable to my development in different areas of my blogging. Using all three sites you can find the answer to ANY question you have about blogging.
This next resource is a long one. It’s roughly an hour, but it’s a good one to get out of the way as soon as possible. This video came at perfect timing for me, because I really was about to give up. Tim Ferriss packs this full of useful tidbits. Some of my favorites include:
- Why do you blog?
- Income is not the only currency
- Only measure what matters
- Passion over polling
- Creating a writing system, set of habits, or ‘zone’
- How to handle comments
- Tons of Q&A about random, specific topics
This isn’t a video I watch every week like the first one. Doing that will only cause you to obsess over the details of your blog (which I’ve ranted 500 words about above). This is one of those that you make a big cup of coffee, click play, and take notes. At the end, spend one big burst of time adjusting your blog and then LEAVE IT ALONE again.
If you’re really new to the blogging scene, I suggest you also download Erica Douglass’ new free e-book. Erica’s book does a great job of providing small, actionable tips to help you get the details ironed out. Since this was just released, I had already figured the majority of it out the hard way. If you’re just starting to get your feet wet, though, this will save a ton of time.
Once set-up, focus 80% of effort on creating content
Content is king. That’s all I got. Nothing I can say here will help you. Write passionately. Make creating a priority. There, I tried. This part is up to you.
Build relationships BEFORE you need them
Spend the other 20% connecting with your peers. By the way, genuinely connecting with others IS marketing. My experience is that they are not separate activities. It seems to be the nature of the blogging beast. I’ll dig much more into the details of this below in the ‘Getting On The Map’ section.
Seek out mentors (whether they are willing or not)
Early on I had several mentors. Some knew it and some didn’t. Some saw something in me early and stepped up to the plate. Some are taking chances on me now. While I won’t name them all, I want to point out a couple.
- First, there was Leo. Zen Habits was the first major blog I passionately followed. Before I was interested in personal finance, before I had an obsession with simplicity, and before I knew what Twitter was. For a long time Zen Habits was the only blog I followed. And it was his journey out of debt that led me to research other bloggers that discussed personal finance. It was all downhill from there. Thanks, Leo… I think.
- Once I had started the blog, there was one A-list personal finance blogger who reached out before any other. His name was Wang… Jim Wang. For some reason, Jim thought it was worth his time to answer all my retarded questions early on. He made himself unusually accessible and I’m still looking forward to the day I can return the favor. This was a huge benefit to me early. If someone with experience and success makes themselves available. Don’t let it slip by.
- As I mentioned earlier, sometime towards the end of the first month, I stumbled upon Chris Guillebeau’s 279 Days manifesto. It really rocked my world. I remember going back and reading nearly every page in the archives of the Art of Non-Conformity. At this point in time, Chris had no idea he was a mentor. Regardless, he was shaping my approaches to marketing, community, and transparency. He continues to inspire the direction of Man Vs. Debt, although these days he knows it.
- Lastly, I have to mention Jonathan Mead who was the first non-personal-finance blogger to actively reach out to help me. Jonathan has literally spent hours talking with and helping me work through blogging-related issues. He’s constantly pushing me to pursue the highest-leverage activities and cut out all the rest. He single handily convinced me that the world would not stop revolving if I didn’t post everyday and has talked me down from quitting more than once.
Search out people like the ones above in your own blogging endeavors. If you are desperate enough, search out me. That’s an open invitation. If I can pass on any help that I’ve been given, nothing would make me happier.
Find a Blogging Buddy
This is another specific area that has been invaluable to me so far. I think it’s important to find someone that has similar goals, is at a similar point in there journey, and who you can trust to be honest. While I have many blogging friends in the community, the one I trust more than any others is Matt Jabs.
Matt and I talk frequently (not always productively!) about a wide variety of topics. We help keep each other in check by bouncing ideas of each others, allowing the other person to rant privately, or helping each other define our goals. Matt’s support has been a huge motivation for me to stay committed. Next to Courtney, Matt has been the single most supportive influence for my blogging so far.
Darren Rowse of Problogger had a great post on the benefits of a blogging buddy earlier in the year. Check it out and go find a buddy!
Getting on ‘The Map’
So you are inspired. You’ve set-up the blog. Your new blogging buddy says your content is awesome. How do you get it out to people?
Simple… put it in front of influential people. There are several ways to do this. But I can tell you from experience that a relative link from a major blog in your niche will do more for your growth than anything else. I’d rather have a link from Trent at The Simple Dollar then hit the front page of Digg. I’ve had both and it’s not even close. One gives me exposure to a highly-receptive, pre-targeted, and passionate group of followers. The other crashes my site, leaves a ton of negative comments, and averages .0324 seconds per visit.
That’s nice, but how do you actually get it in front of people? Here were the top things I did:
- Leave Passionate Comments. No matter how big the blogger, I’ve never heard of one that doesn’t read his/her comments. It’s just sort of a given. I feel this has been the #1 way I’ve connected with influential bloggers. My suggestions for comments:
- Only comment when you can genuinely be passionate. Don’t fake comments.
- Pick a single part of the post that you connected with and relate it to your life.
- Don’t be afraid to disagree, especially with a specific part of the article.
- As a side benefit, you can get some serious traffic from these. On several occasions, I’ve received over 100 referrals from a single passionate comment on larger sites. Good comments benefit everyone.
- Focus Your Guest Posting. This might not go over well with some bloggers, but I would advise you NOT to guest post on small to medium size blogs. For example, it’s rare that you’ll receive a big benefit from guest posting for me. I’m just being honest. Rather than use a shotgun approach, try a laser. Focus on guest posting for a major A-list blog at a time. Investing the time to make one GREAT post for an A-list blog, outweighs creating 20 GOOD posts for C-list blogs.
- Support influential blogger’s pet projects. Even the big guys have side projects they do. Support them. When Jim Wang and J.D. Roth started the Personal Finance Hour, I thought it was a dream come true. I was just getting started and here I had the chance to call in and talk to two of the top pf-bloggers. Early on, it turns out, other bloggers were just too busy or too scared to call-in and support the show. For the first few weeks, I was the only personal to call-in. Supporting that show put me on the radar of both Jim and J.D. and both relationships have proven extremely valuable to me in these first 6 months. This is only one example of several relationships I built through side projects like this.
- Submit to Blog Carnivals. Some niches have more of these than others, but seriously, it’s not hard. There are at least 15 in the personal finance community alone. Not only are these good for incoming links, but they are a great way to get in front of other bloggers and bigger audiences. Take the time to check who is hosting the bigger carnivals. Submit your best posts on the weeks the carnival is hosted by a large blog. Several months ago, I saw that WiseBread was hosting a personal finance carnival the next week. I saved my best article at the time to submit to them and left a detailed message. It ended up getting chosen as and editor’s pick and then picked up by LifeHacker. Think LifeHacker would have saw it on my blog? Think again. Check out the link, they even mentioned seeing it on WiseBread. If you are too lazy to submit to blog carnivals, scroll up and watch the first video again.
- Create extensive link round-ups. Feature blogs you want a better relationship with in cool link round-ups. I can’t imagine a better example then the recent, Top 25 Badass Personal Finance Blogs. Simply brilliant what they did. Early on, I did exhaustive link round-ups, sometimes featuring over 25+ links where I commented a little on each link. It was genuine, though. At one point I was following and reading over 150+ RSS feeds. This was a great way to initiate relationships and get my own writing in front of the bloggers I was targeting.
- Tweet. Twitter was one of my top referrals for the first 2-3 months. I used twitter directories to find anyone who was related to personal finance and followed all of them. I looked forward to Follow Friday and spent hours finding out who was active and respected on Twitter. I interacted with bloggers I wanted to follow me and supported people with detailed (not just generic RTs). It was a ton of work, but I was able to deepen the connection with a lot of influential bloggers using this medium. As many of you know, I’m still super-active on Twitter and it continues to be of amazing benefit in building relationships.
That’s it as far as specifics go. The last thing I’ll add on the topic of reaching out to influential bloggers is… The answer is always ‘NO’ if you never ask. Take initiative and put yourself out there. Give them all the information they need in one spot (don’t make them click through). If you are genuine, people will respond. That’s what has worked for me.
Last bit of random crap…
- Delete negative comments. If you get a comment that isn’t constructive or is abusive, just delete it. Don’t respond. Don’t even finish reading it. Don’t waste another second with hate-mongering trolls. Leave a constructive comment on this site and I’ll love you. I appreciate people who expand the discussion and help me grow. Leave a whiny rant and I will delete you. It’s my blog. Deal with it. [Learned this the hard way]
- Use good pictures. I’ve received a lot of feedback on the fact that I generally have great pictures. It’s surprising because it’s not hard. I forgot where I first read it, but here’s what I do. Use this link to search FlickR, type very specific keywords, and sort by most interesting. Don’t say I didn’t provide anything tangible.
- Thank first-time commenters. I’ve done this from day one and the results are amazing. I’m utterly convinced it drastically increases the number of repeat commenters. Either way, the conversations that it has started over e-mail with some of my readers have been fabulous. I don’t e-mail everyone on every comment, of course. Just the first one people leave (the ones that need to be approved the first time).
This was a more recent find, so I can’t say that it inspired Man Vs. Debt over that last 6-months. However, I think it’s valuable, especially for the sections on ‘thrashing’ things out at the beginning. [The first couple of minutes are slow... it picks up quickly.]
Hopefully, at least a couple of these 4,000 words (or videos) have been helpful. Most importantly, I’d love if you’d add your own tips and suggestions on not sucking below. I’d like to continue to build on my momentum and make the jump to “successful” blogger (whatever that means) and will be looking for your best tips to help me!
Please take the time to share your thoughts below! (At least congratulate me for surviving for 6 months)
photo by Jason Gulledge