Recently this blog wandered into uncharted territory. I thought I knew something about blogging from a handful of earlier blogging failures. I had a plan and knew a lot about how to do things the right way, some of which I’ve implemented into Creativindie. But because it’s not my main business or a source of revenue, I’ve also been kind of lazy about it. In the back of my mind I’ve been posting things and thinking, “who’s really going to read it anyway?” But then I noticed that I’ve been getting over 1000 visitors a day. That’s a lot of traffic. People are on my blog, for whatever reason.
It’s like when your inlaws drop in unexpectedly. (This happened one time in Taiwan, suddenly my wife’s mom and grandmom stepped through the door, the house was a wreck, and wasn’t I prepared to play host – especially in Mandarin.)
So for the last week or so I’ve known I need to focus on fixing up my site and making it a truly awesome, helpful, organized, professional experience. I already had a few ideas about what I was doing wrong, but things because crystal clear when I attended the WDS 2014 ProBlogger Academy Hosted by Darren Rowse and Chris Garrett in Portland Oregon.
Not only are Darren and Chris the recognized experts of blogging (two people I’ve continued to learn from over the years), I also sat at the feet of wise masters such as
- Pat Flynn
- Tsh Oxenreider
- Jeff Goins
- Chris Ducker
- Pam Slim
I gobbled up pearls of wisdom and made a list of the things I need to work on – hopefully by the end of summer 2014 – so if you’re reading this later, the blog may already be much improved.
I’m a mid-sized blogger who’s already doing moderately well for myself online, and I’m still tragically f-ing it up.
There’s always room for improvement.
But if you avoid these mistakes and you’ll save two years of growth by starting strong and building quickly.
10 things I should have done better (that you still can)
#1. Start Early
I discovered Chris Guillebeau’s blog a couple years ago and got really excited – a kindred spirit, also from Portland, also traveling around the world and blogging.
But he was doing a lot of things really well. I had a few blogs at that point but nothing was really taking off (mostly because I was “me-centered” – focusing on my passions but not on providing value, which lead to the crisis moment that produced this blog). I analyzed what he as doing, and also read a lot of Darren Rowse’s articles on Problogger, and Chris Garrett’s work on www.chrisg.com.
On Mar 28, 2011 I registered “creativindie.com”… and then I did nothing at all with it for over a year.
I knew to launch it the right way I needed a bunch of stuff, and I didn’t have that stuff done so I figured there wasn’t a point in writing. I also didn’t really know (I mean truly, fully) who my audience was or what I had to offer them.
But blogs take time to grow. And mistakes must be made.
I wish I was at the point right now where I know I will be in 1 year (and I could be, if I’d started earlier.)
Don’t wait. Don’t get it all figured out.
Domains are cheap. WordPress is pretty easy.
Just put SOMETHING up and start blogging. Even if you write six months of crap and then start over, you’ll be so much further down the road! You can’t “skip over” that brutal learning period by avoiding it or waiting. Just hold your breath and dive in.
#2. No flagship content
Your “flagship content” is your remarkable work that you put into the world – it sums up who you are, what you’re doing and why people should care. It’s kind of like a mission statement. It’s usually some form of free ebook or PDF. It can be used as an opt-in offer but, taking Chris G’s example, I was going to put it in the sidebar for instant download without even asking for an email.
People download it, get to know you, like what you have to say, and then become a follower.
I mapped out my “Creativindie Manifesto” pretty early. But then I started researching. And I love to research (I’m also finishing my PhD in Literature… after I finish my thesis I’ll have written and published around 600,000 words). Flagship content should be short and clean and easy – mine was already getting pretty big, with lots of quotes and research, and I was learning more everyday.
I researched creativity, and work, and making money, and life – I have enough content to fill two books (The Creative Brain on Drugs and Not for Hire). Those are going to be in-depth, full length books about subjects I’m fascinated by. But I still don’t have my flagship content.
#3. The email list opt-in offer
I only recently added a decent opt-in offer to this blog (the last 2 books I published). But for most of the past 3 years I didn’t have much.
In January this year I got a big bump in subscribers because I launched my first product, but things dropped back down to an all-time low in June (only 22 for the whole month, truly dismal).
Your email list matters – but only if you get the right people and they are people who really care about what you’re doing. You should really have your offer ready right away. Think about what you’re trying to do, who you’re trying to help, and what problems they are probably having. Write a 5 page report or a list of 10 quick things they can do to X.
Something short, easy, fast, that you already know a lot about. Even a very simple PDF (well designed is always better – hire someone on Fiverr.com to style it a bit to match your brand).
That and a great About page and a few posts and you’ll start growing quickly.
#4. Is it a hobby or a business?
This is one of the big questions I’ve been struggling with recently. I’ve been resisting calling this blog “a business” because it’s not my main source of income. I’m using it to help people and grow my platform, not to sell stuff. And people often email me saying that’s exactly what they like about my blog – it’s not just empty content pushing some product.
But I realized today the “hobby or business” question is deeper than just monetization. In the same way that I think artists and writers should focus on the money – not to earn money, but because it means you’re providing valuable content that other people want or need – thinking about blogging as a business puts you in the right mind-frame.
Are you a professional, or an amateur?
Are you lazy, or committed?
Is your writing bold and purposeful, or meandering and without aim?
Pam Slim asks, “What should happen when people follow the advice on your blog?”
If you think of your blog as a business, you need to have a point. You need to know where you are going.
Darren Rowse says, “If you ask the right questions, people will assume you have the right answers.”
Part of the point of Creativindie is that you can creatively make stuff that people want to buy, to make a lot of money, so that you have more freedom and can be much more generous with your time and resources – the problem was that I hadn’t considered this blog as something that should fit within that same advice.
I’m not comfortable using my list to sell products, or developing products just for the sake of having some, but I am exploring more and more ways to add tremendous value to writers and artists who want to build businesses so they can focus on creating more work. As I fine tune strategies, it will eventually be pretty easy to put together some guides, or seminars, or training programs, or other things that will be far more helpful than any single blog post – those things will have value, and making them available to my followers helps them become more successful, and brings me some income that I can use to help them even more by developing even better stuff for them.
So while I’m still kind of on the fence on this issue, I also understand you can offer high class products that are a great value without being sleazy or ripping people off.
#5. Needs a worldview or a vision
I did already understand some of this – you need a polarizing issue, you need to stand for something, you need to draw a line, define where you stand and ask people to join you.
You need a movement, a call to action.
Part of this will relate to your “hero story” – the carefully told conversion point, which is important for your bio and brand. Mine was, basically:
I struggled for years to be a writer and an artist, but finally started focusing on helping others instead of promoting myself, and then things got so much easier.
But it’s a bit rambling, and not entirely clear. To really flesh out my whole philosophy I was waiting for my next two big books. But I need it now – for people who land on my site for the first time and aren’t ready to read a big book about the philosophy and practice of creative production.
Jeff Goins made the controversial claim (which is certainly true in blogging, if not literature) that there is no such thing as good writing.
There is only effective writing – and for that to happen you have to know what you want your writing to do.
And that’s tied into your mission or world view.
Jeff helped me boil it down to a much simpler formula:
“Every (blank) should (blank).”
As a researcher, it’s hard for me to make that kind of blanket claim (which of course can never really be true).
I’d rather weigh all sides of the position and make a reasoned, balanced argument. But that’s boring.
People want something simple and bold. You want to attract like-minded people. You need to take a stand.
This blog is about making money with creativity – but not really.
With Jeff’s formula, mine would probably be:
“All creators should make money.”
Not because it is owed to them (as in, they deserve it just for making something).
But because it is empowering. It’s a choice. It means creating value for other people, instead of just gratifying our own whims and ego.
And also because “with great power comes great responsibility” – if you can make money, then DO IT so that you can fix the world and help people.
If I turned that into the point of my manifesto, it would be something like:
- You are a creative genius (why not make something that matters)
- Creative people deserve success (but only if they provide value)
- You can create anything (why not create freedom?)
That last one is probably the essence of this site. Create freedom first – by focusing on making things that people value. You can create for yourself or do what you’re passionate about later when you have a lot of time and money. Or you can do what you’re passionate it about, but at least consider ways you can also help people, provide value, and earn money on the side.
Money + freedom = the ability to make a bigger impact on other people’s lives.
#6. Small Wins
This is mostly from Pat Flynn, but also affirmed by Darren Rowse.
“An epic blog is just a bunch of very useful actions.”
“If you want to change someone’s life, start by changing their day.”
This one is a big space where I can improve in.
Basically, solve lots and lots of little problems. Help people with one very specific solution to a problem.
Help them do something. I tend to spend my time on really long, total guides to doing things. But some people just want a quick fix – something they can do right now with little effort.
I could write “5 things you can do to market your book in 5 minutes” or something like that.
This helps you focus on people’s problems, but also that it’s OK not to try to solve every problem at once.
I don’t have to do everything, and it doesn’t have to be huge – small and useful posts can be extremely helpful as well; and it’s important to give people small, simple tasks they can do and feel good about.
Pat’s other big insight was “put more YOU into your blog” – people connect with you as a person. People visit blogs to learn more about the blogger.
You need to share the little details about your life to give people something to connect to: For example, both Pat Flynn and I played trumpet in the marching band. That’s a pretty specific set of shared experiences.
#7. More interaction
Another one I’m not so great at. I’ve done a few contests or events to promote books, but I don’t have any long term courses or things that can allow people to get involved and participate.
They’re really important, and not that hard to do. Also, as Pam Slim says, you should always use your platform to help other people get their break.
I’ve been planning some “21 days to a best-selling book” type programs for a while, and I’ll probably do one later this year (with videos, maybe an ebook, potentially an online seminar or something), but there should be more interesting things I could be doing to share my platform and generate involvement.
Today I thought of two:
Number One: I’m going to start “Short Story Saturdays” soon – on the first Saturday of each month I’ll post a theme or topic, writers can submit their short stories on the last Saturday of the month. They can post them on their blog and I’ll write a blog post linking to everybody’s blogs (good exposure for them). Plus, I’ll take 10 or so of the best and publish them in a professionally designed ebook – for even more exposure.
Number Two: Getting book reviews is so important to indie authors, but there aren’t many organized movements to help them get more reviews – so I’m going to start a “Indie Author Champion” program. Each month, anybody can read and review 7 indie published books (ideally in the same genre that they write in, to attract targeted readers to their own books); they’ll publish the reviews on Amazon/other online book stores but also in a blog post on their own blog – then they’ll send me the link to their blog post. At the end of each month, I’ll write a blog post linking to everybody who has participated and written their 7 reviews. They’ll get more traffic and exposure to their own blog and writing, and they’ve also earned a lot of positive social karma for the reviews they’ve written for other indie authors.
#8. Love the Face off your Community
This was a great line from Pam Slim. I care about my readers, I’m trying to serve them, help them, build them tools and websites they can use to be more successful, but I can be a little cold and practical.
On top of the skills they need to learn, they also need emotional support. They need someone who can inspire and motivate them, and someone who believes in them.
I’m pragmatic and I often tell people that their first book may not be very good. I can be a dream-killer because I tell them what they need to do to be successful (and it’s not just “follow your bliss.”)
But I need to work on being more empathetic.
I rarely use my email list and it’s often just to share BIG events like a new book or website – but I should check in more often, and make sure they are OK, and ask how their day went.
I need to be a little less of a soapbox/newspaper and a little more of a friendly neighbor dropping in for a chat and a cup of tea.
#9. Guest Posting
Easily one of the most powerful ways to grow your platform quickly. I’ve hardly done it, at all. I know it’s awesome, but I still feel like “more traffic? I don’t want more traffic – I still need to get my blog organized and add my flagship content, and rewrite my about page, and set up my email campaigns, and have some kind of course or product to sell.”
A lot of people have started much later than me and grown their platform much bigger by guest posting on other blogs with big audiences. I didn’t even do it much for book launches. Definitely something I need to get much better at.
#10. Repurpose content
Another along the same lines as #9 – putting out your content in other formats for other websites.
Video is the BIG one; you want videos on YouTube. It makes you more human and more approachable, and can bring a lot of new traffic to your blog. I plan to (finally) get into this later this year. It’s not something I’m comfortable with – I don’t like how my mouth moves when I talk, and my teeth aren’t gleaming and white – but I’ll deal.
Putting powerpoint summaries of your blog posts on SlideShare is another big one.
Putting out Podcasts has been a gamechanger for many bloggers in the past year or two (everybody is saying it’s the gold rush of podcasts – start a podcast! I probably won’t, but you should if you can).
One extra I didn’t mention is design – how your blog looks, how your brand is organized and represented, will also make a huge impact. It can be simple and minimal, but it can’t confusing or ugly.
Anyway, those are the major things I learned today. They were so motivating that, after getting home at 11:30pm after an amazing day in Portland, I stayed up till
2am 2:44am to finish writing this post.
And I’ve got to do Yoga early tomorrow morning. 🙂
I’m a philosophy dropout with a PhD in Literature. I covet a cabin full of cats, where I can write fantasy novels to pay for my cake addiction. Sometimes I live in castles.
The “in 5mins” and “21 days to a best-selling book” are great ideas. Good to see you have solid plans 🙂
Yup, thanks to you! I’ll keep plugging away, try to get my ducks in order this summer. I basically need to start proving my value, so when I ask people if they want to move into a French Chateau with me, they’ll say “yes”.
Found this post because someone shared it on Facebook.
I’ve studies literature and considered going for a PhD as well. However, the doubt was too big. I’m wondering what your subject is? Might have to check your about:)
My PhD is in Literature. I love research and study, but it’s a lot of work. It’s good for me because I want to write books. Most people study so they can teach – it’s a nice job but I’ll probably never do it. I prefer business, and that’s not anything I learned in the PhD program. A lot of PhD people are good at very precise, tiny picture research, but not so good at empowering their life, having control, starting businesses, etc. There are probably more fun and more profitable things to do with your time, unless you just love the research and maybe plan to publish a lot of books. The academic world is slow, stagnant, repressive and pedantic.
And that’s why I chose not to do a PhD:D
Love analyzing and researching though.
Thanks so much Derek, I really appreciate this list and I am going to take it to heart. I have been blogging for 8 years in total, and for the last 5 years trying to build my blog as a business — a creative business — and I have read and followed Brian and Darren etc. What’s great about your post is that it encapsulates so many big ideas.
My challenge is that my blog is a travel blog so my statement could be “Everyone should travel” or “All women should travel” but that just doesn’t feel right. I want to inspire people, especially women, to travel to get to know themselves and the world better. I think solo travel is potentially very empowering, again, especially for women. But mostly I want to tell travel tales that “Bring me face to face with myself, add to my sense of wonder.”
I love this game…. Selfless Wonder, MirroredSelf, Wonderfem, wondersense, empowerfem, SolitaryEmpowerment. SolitaryTrails, GoAlone, UntiedTravel, BaggageFree, 3rdWheelVoyages, FaceOutwards. The brand is tough, but pair it with a good tagline to get the whole ‘brand feeling’.
Solitary empowerment for solo travelers
Tales of wonder, empowerment and self-awareness.
Traveling the world to confront myself
Seeking self, wonder and empowerment
Haha, yes, I can see you are having fun 🙂 I blog as BreatheDreamGo and my tag line is Tales of travel and transformation. I think that’s fine for my current blog, but if I want to start a new site for my #WeGoSolo community (it’s a tweetchat I started for female solo travellers) there are some great ideas here, cheers.
Love this post – some really solid things I can do to improve my blog (i.e. things added to my “to-do once I return to the land of freely available WiFi” list). I completely agree with the “start early” as well. I learned a ton and got through a lot of rookie mistakes with a few free WP blogs I knew were just there for me to practice on before I launched my real blog. And I have whittled my statement down from “traveling out of my comfort zone and into adventure in order to unstick my life” to “Life is an adventure – get out and live it!” Lol
You need something a little more brandable and unique. Like “Unpinnable” or “FearlessFreedom” or “Adventures in Unpinnability” … something like that but shorter. “The Unstuck Adventure”. “Adventures in Deliberate Discomfort” – I quite like that one… it could be “ADD” for short. 🙂
Hey, I’m new to your site and loved this article. Your transparency is calming. In the sense that a professor who cares about his students is calming. I’ll sub to this blog and keep referring to this article as I expand my blog.
P.S. I’ve never seen your teeth but your hair is awesome!
Ha – I think I talk funny because I’m self-conscious about my teeth. I’ll get some flashy white ones in Mexico someday.
Derek – I love the Indie Author Champion review program you propose. Very cool – very needed. Also, best of luck buying your WDS Castle!
Thanks! I’ll got those organized soon and see if we can get the ball rolling. Castle castle castle… I can do it.
Fantastic download from the forum– really helpful insights– particularly #4 and #5. The point Jeff Goins makes about writing effectively– it’s a simple but powerful insight and it’s given me plenty of food for thought for how I’d like to help other indie authors as well as serve my readers. Thanks for taking the time to gather your thoughts and key learnings! And definitely count me in on the Indie Author Champion review– what a great way to “love the face off your community”!
Great post, Derek. Great lessons here… Best of luck to you! 🙂
I hardly have a cohesive tagline for the multiple genres I write (I’m not joking: mystery, sff, romance, YA, children’s, memoir, poetry), let alone my blog. Bob Meyer forced me to think it through, and I decided on “smart outsiders who win.”
My blog is where I mostly try and relax and write about random stuff, so it’s more like “Everyone should have fun and read.” Vague and not money-making, I know.
smart no longer wins, smarter wins.
I’ve earned more writing a book in a day and putting it on amazon than writing a blog for 6 moths. I will never ever blog again. Blogging is evil, now I have to deal with junk market and overcome every possible obstacle in a field, where people put out their junk.
I have to convince everyone now, that my brand is way more better than everyone else’s and this in theory is so fucking easy.
I’ve never made these mistakes you mention above – making a book is damn easy, you take those free blog posts you remix and rewrite the content and slap a cover with a title which makes people curious and vuala you have a best seller.
Also I’ve almost forgot to mention – you need to add a nude woman on a cover, because this is the best thing.
For my first cover I’ve just googled a woman and added on my book cover – she even doesn’t know and I don’t care. If she sells as a model – she’ll sell my book. That face. 🙂