What follows is a guest post by my friend Celestine Chua, @celestinechua.

This is a great opportunity to be writing a guest post at DragosRoua.com. I’ve known Dragos for over a year now, back when we first started actively growing our blogs. It’s amazing to see how everything has evolved since then. In just a year, DragosRoua.com has grown from a less than 1,000 subscriber blog to a 4,000+ strong subscriber base. It has also evolved from a blog into a proper business, with multiple products (books, audio) and services (workshops).

For me, my blog, The Personal Excellence Blog, has grown from 0 to over 2,500 subscribers today. It now has over 150 free personal excellence articles and free ebooks, chocked full of content and value. I started my personal development school late last year, giving workshops and 1-1 coaching. My blog has also been featured on CNN.com and other prominent local media outlets.

All these didn’t happen by chance though. They came as a result of conscious strategies and actions. Before I pursued my passion to help people grow 1.5 years ago, I was working in a regular, corporate job. I didn’t know exactly what to expect when I ditched my full-time career to pursue my passion. It has certain been a journey of trial and error, and it continues to be today. Along the way, I tried many different strategies, learning from others and trying different things on my own. There were things which helped me, and then there were things which didn’t.

Looking back, there were 14 essential steps which have been critical in my path. If you are planning to pursue your passion, they are definite essential steps in your journey. If you are already pursuing your passion, these strategies will certainly give you a big boost. I know following these 14 strategies in the upcoming years will continue to help my passion and business grow.

Throughout the article, I’ll be using mainly blogging as an example to bring out the points since my blog is closely tied to my passion, but bear in mind these strategies are applicable no matter what you do. Many of these strategies may be intuitive, but they work and they are precisely what have helped me in my path. Here they are :) :

1. Know what you want to do

So you know you have a passion in something. How do you want to pursue this passion? What are the key channels you want to use to express your message? Choose the channels you are most passionate and build your business around them. These will become the foundations of your business. You don’t need to be limited with just 1 medium.

For example, my passion is in personal development. I love helping others achieve their personal best in life. There are many ways I can do this, such as via being a counselor, a teacher, a coach, a trainer, and so on. I decided to start off with The Personal Excellence Blog, as the internet as a medium has the low barriers to entry and allows me to instantly reach out to large audiences. From there, I write articles and share my best learnings and advice. It has since become the key channel where people know about what I do.

After 4 months of blogging, I started to give 1-1 coaching for readers who want personalized attention on their goals. I also began to branch out to speaking and training via workshops. Most recently, I started writing a book to reach out to more people. All these channels help me express the same message to help others.

There is no limit to the number of channels you can use to express your passion. The most important thing is you need to know what exactly you want to do first and how you want to do it. The clarity will give you focus in your path.

2. Identify your target audience

Every venture has an audience it is reaching out to, and the same goes for yours. Who do you want to reach out to? How old are they? What are they doing in life? How can you help them?

Knowing your target audience is important because they will become central to your plans. For example, what product you want to sell (step #3), how you are going to reach them (step #4) and the pricing you are going to adopt (step #9). You can only answer these questions if you know who exactly you are reaching out to. There is no one size fits all solution. The more you know who your audience is, the better you can cater to them.

Don’t just think you know your audience too – really get down to understand them. Research if you need to. Do a survey. Talk to them. Get up close and personal. The degree you understand your audience determines how well you can meet their needs.

For example, I’m currently writing a book on Passion & Money (how to pursue your passion and earn money doing it). To ensure I’m writing in line with my readers’ needs, I wrote a blog post to ask my readers to share with me the questions they want to have on the topic. Some were questions I anticipated and quite a few were new angles I did not consider before! It was a pleasant surprise and I’m really glad I had sought for their opinions. If I hadn’t asked, I would be writing a book which I thought will be valuable for them, but wouldn’t be. I would have wasted all that time writing the book! Their replies helped me to write a book that will be valuable to those who want to pursue their passion successfully.

Further reading:

3. Create your products/services

I’ve been to many blogs where the bloggers yearn to make a living out of their blogs, but I’m not entirely sure what they are selling. There are 1-2 ad channels here and there, a free ebook gets readers to sign up for their feed, 2-3 affiliate products and a bunch of amazon links. It seems more like a random “try any method that earns me money” rather than a clear product/service selling strategy. Unfortunately, as random as this is, the earnings you get will be random too.

Get clear on what you are selling. What are your key revenue streams for your business? Is it through products? Through services? What products? What services? With the 80/20 rule, typically we can expect 20% of the items we are selling to generate about 80% of our revenue. Get clear on those 2-3 key items that will help you generate the bulk of your revenue. Then, ensure you create these items with the highest value possible (step #12).

4. Have a marketing plan

No one is going to know about your business if you don’t market it out. You have to create a marketing plan to get people to know about you. There are different ways to do this. One way is to study how other businesses in your niche get the word out. Another way is to imagine yourself as the target audience and think about how you will seek out information on the topic. Then, tap into those channels as your marketing plan.

When I first started The Personal Excellence Blog, I did a sizable amount of research on how to market and promote my site. I found out there were many different methods like as (1) social media like Digg, Reddit, StumbleUpon, Twitter (2) posting comments on other blogs/forums (3) posting articles on popular article directories like Ezine and Hubpages. A lot of time was spent in the first few year on getting the word out. Some worked very well (such as hitting the front page of Digg, Delicious and SU), while others were not so effective. The key is to experiment and choose what works best for you. Even today, a key part of my blog development plans includes marketing, primarily through guest posting. If you want to grow your business to a larger scale, you need to have a plan to market it out.

Further reading:

5. Have clear goals and stick to them

When working in an employee in a company, there are structures in place and clear list of responsibilities for your role. There are expectations from top management and targets to fulfill for your appraisals. However, when you are working for yourself, you are the person who calls the shots. When you don’t have to account to someone else, it can be easy to slip and stagnate. Form clear goals and hold yourself accountable to them.

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6. Create your business guidebook

For every project I do, I have a guidebook where I write my goals, strategies, plans and learnings.It’s like a success roadmap. I use excel workbook because it’s so easy to organize information. Similarly, for my personal development business, I have a guidebook which guides me through the running of my personal development business. In it, there’s my business purpose, values, strategies, plans, long-term and short-term goals, administrative information, etc. I started this book since the early days I started my business, and it’s been with me ever since. Over time, I built on it to include more information, such as my learnings from rolling out my plans and what to do differently. The objective is to have a guidebook that contains the essential information to bring your business to success. This is a document you will refer to every step of the way. It is meant to be work-in-progress, meaning to be updated every step of the way as you acquire new learnings.

Further reading:

7. Do things for free at first

As part of your marketing drive (#4), you might want to consider giving value away for free to drive quick awareness. This is a strategy I’ve used and it has worked really great for me.

For example, I give away many of my best advice and learnings for free at my blog, through my articles. Not only that, I also invest many hours writing these articles. Every article takes me about at least 5-6 hours to craft, write and revise. I’ve written many series that took days and a lot of hard work to write, such as how to discover your purpose, how to overcome procrastination and how to move on from relationships. Giving so much value away for free has undoubtedly help to drive quick awareness of my work. Many readers have since passed my site on to their friends, family, and through Facebook/Twitter. If I had made my blog a subscription only channel, it would not have the awareness it has today. Even for my coaching and workshops, I initially offered them for free to get the word out, though I never got to do that for long as the demand quickly soared.

8. Have monetization plans in place

Your business may have high awareness among your audience, but if you don’t have monetization plans in place, you aren’t going to earn money. Your traffic isn’t going to automatically convert into money by itself. Get clear on how you are going to earn money. Are you going to monetize through products, services, or both? What is your anchor product/service going to be? What are the ancillary products/services?

One of the reasons that makes DragosRoua.com a business, and not just a blog, is that Dragos has a clear portfolio of products and services he’s selling. He sells ebooks/books, audio podcasts and he runs workshops, and there are probably more to come in the future.

Further reading:

9. Know your pricing strategies

If you are not careful, it’s possible you can price yourself out of the market. In one of the workshops I just did last month, I had priced myself significantly out of the market range. I had set the full-day workshop for 15 people to be $180 USD. I came up with the pricing as it was an affordable pricing for corporate training. The value that was packed in the workshop was also definitely worth more than that. However, as the workshop was direct to the public and not corporates, pricing was an immediate barrier. As I observed the competitor strategies, I realized a better method would be lower pricing ($30 USD) but to a large audience of about 100pax. Overall revenue is consistent due to the higher volume of people.

Do your research first before you design your pricing strategy. Understand how the other companies in your niche are pricing their products/services. Compare your product offering with theirs, then decide the pricing strategy that you are most comfortable with.

10. Get your accounting straight

Keep clear accounting of how much you are earning and spending. In business terms, earnings are referred to as revenue, or top-line. Some people only look at their top-line and neglect to keep tabs on their expenditures, which results in high revenue earned but little to no profits. Some others are so obsessed about reducing costs that they just hold back on spending until they earn money.

The important principle is not to spend excessively, while at the same time not scrimping on necessary costs. The question I usually ask myself is this – Does this affect the value I can deliver to my audience? If it gives a significant positive effect, I’ll spend it. If it doesn’t affect that much and cashflow is tight, I wouldn’t go ahead with the spending.

11. Learn from your competitors (allies)

I always see my competitors as allies because they want to achieve same objective as I do, but I’ll just use competitors to make it simple. Your competitors have been in the industry and have acquired their own experience. Hence, chances are there is a good reason behind the strategies they are using now. Identify your biggest competitors, look at what they are doing, and learn from them. In establishing my blog, I’ve picked up different tips from bloggers such as Darren Rowse, Steve Pavlina, Leo Babauta, Glen Allsopp, Dragos, and an array of many other blogs. I analyze what are the things they did that moved them to success, and then I adapt those steps to fit me. It has worked great so far and I intend to continue doing so.

12. Focus on value creation

Ultimately people pay for your products or services because they see value in them. So the most important thing is to focus on value creation – creating the most value to your audience. How can you make sure what you are doing provides the highest possible value for your audience?

For my articles, coaching and workshops, I spend a lot of time on them to ensure the audience gets the most value possible. I’ve spent countless late nights working because I wanted my audience to get more value for the experience. On my blog, I’ve trashed a number of articles because I didn’t think they were of good value to readers. Because of that, my audience knows the quality standard with what I produce and they keep coming back for more.

When your audience knows they can expect the best from you, they will regard you as a credible opinion leader, or authority in the field. They will trust your recommendations and your perspectives. This trust is only built through spending a lot of hard work and time to generate genuine value. There is no quick short cut to it.

Further reading:

13. Have regular reviews

Review is essential to know how you are doing. In the first 6 months of starting out, it’s especially important to review, especially since you are just starting out and there are many things subjected to change.

I have a weekly review with myself every Saturday morning, where I review my progress in my goals the week before. This helps me know if I’m on track in meeting my targets or off track. If I meet my targets, it’s a sign that I’m doing the right things :D. If I don’t meet my targets, I’ll understand what went wrong and what I could do better next time. Then from there, I plan out my action plan for the next week to achieve next week’s goals. These weekly goals ladder up to the monthly goals at the end of the month, where I do a monthly review.

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14. Believe In Yourself

Last but not least, believe in yourself. Believe in your dreams, your passion, your goals, your abilities. Believe that if anyone is able to bring these to life, it’s you and no one else. If you don’t have the power to bring them to life, you wouldn’t be able to given the ability to conceive them in your mind. As Napoleon Hill puts it: ìWhat the mind can conceive, it can achieveî. In my journey, I have never once doubted that my dreams would come true. I knew that as long as I put in all my heart and soul into it, it’s a matter of time before things come to fruition.

So move forward with great vigor and belief. As long as you keep at it, you will bring your dreams to life.

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Celes writes Personal Excellence Blog, where she gives her best advice on achieving personal excellence. If you like this article, you might enjoy her reader favorites like 101 Things To Do Before You Die and Are You Sleepwalking Your Life Away?. Get her RSS feed directly here and add her on Twitter @celestinechua.