After I sold my company, 2 years ago, I knew there will be some inactive time for me. I mean, once you’re an important player and you sell your part of the territory, expect that you’ll be asked to take a break for a while. After all, it’s not ok to start to compete against your buyers the next day after the selling. I won’t go into the technical details of what a “non-compete” agreement should contain, because this is not the main point of the article. The main point of this article is to share what I’ve learned by playing the game of blogging.
The only thing I was able to grow and maintain on the online field, after I sold my business, was my personal blog. No more markets, contracts, niche strategies or online alliances. No more online business: just a personal blog. Although I did blog every now and then even before I sold the company, I never did “professionally”. All of a sudden, the selling of my company became a great opportunity to begin something completely new. With all the associated risks of starting something from scratch: not knowing the right tools, making mistakes, not being a native English speaker and so on.
This blog, as you know it now, was started in October 2008, under a Romanian domain dragosroua.com. In July 2009 I changed the domain to dragosroua.com. That was one of the lessons I had to learn the hard way: if you blog in English, keeping your blog under a localized domain name is not ok. You do need a .com, otherwise you’ll end up in a secondary index of Google.
A few months ago, the blog was moved to another hosting facility, outside Romania (in United States, I’m happily using the cloud hosting package of RackSpace). That was another lesson I had to learn the hard way: the physical location of your hosting company influences your ranking in search engines (at least Google).
As of January 2009 I started to actively promote the blog, becoming active (some say that I become even too active 🙂 ) in social media outlets like Twitter, FaceBook and StumbleUpon. Until then I was under the firm impression that “if you write it, they will come”. Another huge mistake. You gotta promote your blog, otherwise you’ll never reach to your audience. Why? Because blogging is like any other publishing business, only it’s taking place in an incredibly crowded market. There are literally hundreds of millions of blogs out there. I can hardly imagine another business on this Earth where you have such an incredible number of competitors. So, if you want to really make your voice heard, you gotta work for it.
Many of these lessons, mistakes and other interesting things, like monetization and promotion, were described in two milestone series: The First 6 Months Of Blogging and The First Year Of Blogging. Feel free to read them at your leisure if you’re interested in some historical data about my blog. Now, let’s get to the meat: how to play the game of blogging?
Know Your Availability
If you’re into blogging, you gotta know beforehand how much time are you willing to allocate to it. All those stories about how a stay at home mom become instantly famous after she published a blog are bullshit. Pardon my French.
Don’t get me wrong, you can get lucky pretty early and get featured on some of the largest social media sites like Digg and Delicious, and get enormous amounts of traffic in a very short time. It can get up to several dozens of thousands unique users in a week interval.
But that’s not success. You may have 5 minutes of fame and then you’re out in the cloud. Nobody will know your name anymore. Being successful as a blogger means to control your exposure, to predict the impact of your work and to constantly measure and influence the results. And that requires time. It requires discipline and commitment.
Starting a blog “only to see how it works” will never work. You gotta commit to it at least one year – in my persona experience, at least – before jumping to conclusions. Blogging is not a part time job. Unless you want a part time job that will pay you nothing.
So, the most important thing about playing the game of blogging is to know your availability.
Know Your Expertise
The second thing that’s very important after your physical availability is your expertise. You gotta be good at something. Even if you’re a stay at home mom, you gotta be good at this: being a stay at home mom. If you’re a programmer, you gotta be good at programming. If you write about self-improvement, be honest about what it takes to be in the self-improvement field.
Why is that so important? Again, because of the competition. When you compete against dozens of millions of blogs, you can’t fake it. You can’t pretend you’re a guru in some field and then just copy and paste other people articles. It won’t take you far.
On the contrary, it will take you down pretty fast. One of the most subtle mechanisms of blogging is what I call “reputation”. It’s a very special mix of expertise, trust and persistence. If you’re good at what you do, if you’re honest and you’re writing on your blog for a reasonable amount of time, you’ll get reputation.
And, believe it or not, reputation is the cornerstone of a blogging business. Not traffic. Not AdSense. Not affiliate deals. All of these are just tools or metrics. The core of the business is reputation. That will make your audience buy the products you create or refer. Keep this word in mind: reputation.
And, without, expertise, reputation is literally impossible to be created.
Know Your Audience
The third important thing in the blogging game is your audience. The fundamental difference between the traditional publishing and blogging is the interactive part of it. Blogging is not unidirectional, like a printed magazine. It’s open and alive. You get in touch with your readers instantly, via comments. And they want to talk to you, the real person behind the blog. They don’t want a corporation, they want a regular guy who’s honestly sharing his life. That’s what gives them inspiration, motivation, hope.
At some point during your blogging activity you’ll make a great discovery: you’re not writing for yourself, you’re writing for your readers. As simple and stupid this discovery may seem, it’s an incredible attitude shifter. The moment you’ll realize you’re sharing for other people, you’ll change the way you blog.
You’ll become interested in their needs, rather than in yours. You’ll become interested in their reactions and their attitudes and those reactions and attitudes will become triggers for your next blog posts. You’ll create a multidirectional, alive and useful product. You’ll create a real, significant change in the world. And that’s the only thing that really counts at the end of the day, when all the traffic and revenue stories are told and forgot.
By knowing your audience, you can evaluate your real impact to the world.
Identify Partners, You Can’t Do It Without Them
The fourth most important thing at playing the blogging game is about partnerships. You won’t get far without partnerships. Why? Again, the main answer is competition.
The blogs ecosystem is an incredibly complex web of interactions, links, authority and trends. This web is changing constantly and the chances that you will survive as an isolated blogger are incredibly small. You need a solid team of partners who will support you. Partners that you will support too, enforcing the power of your links in the blogging ecosystem.
But there’s another reason besides competition for partnerships and that’s also about reputation. Many times you’re evaluated by the friends you have rather than by your own deeds. And in such a very complex web like the blogging web, when time is extremely precious, you simply take for granted some references without verifying them. And that’s where your partners are starting to matter big time. They will extend your authority and reputation onto you. And of course, you will extend your own authority and reputation onto them.
The way you’re choosing your partners is also a statement of your own values and sometimes tells more about yourself than what you’re actually doing.
Hydrate Yourself: It’s A Marathon, Not A Sprint
I can’t emphasize enough on this one. Although if you took the time to actually read all the first 4 principles of the blogging game, you should have understand this by now, I’ll say it again anyway: it’s a long, long journey. Whenever you get tired, demotivated, hopeless or just sad, remember you’re not at the end of the journey yet.
Just keep playing the game.