This month, I celebrate one year as a personal finance blogger. Last night, I was thinking: I’ve made a lot of mistakes in a year, but still things are coming along. Here’s a list of my blogging mistakes, and what you can learn from them (even if you don’t have a blog!)
Blogging Mistake 1: Poor Due Diligence
I admit I jumped on the personal finance blogging bandwagon rather blindly. I knew my way around running a website and enough about personal finance from my reporting gig at SmartMoney, but I knew little about building a good blog. In fact, I wasn’t even a regular blog reader. I figured, how hard could it be? I’ll write a few articles, people will read and love them, and I’ll be in business!
Thinking back, I would’ve never started a business this way, or even gone to work for a new company knowing so little about the job and how the company worked. Why did I start a website not knowing those things?
What should I have learned? For starters: Who are the top players in my field, and what are they doing right? Where are there holes in what the competition provides? What will it take (time, money, resources) to do this really well? What are my priorities for the project?
Of course now I’m learning as I go – much from ProBlogger and by reading favorite finance blogs – but it costs me. Even if I delayed the launch of my blog by a month or two, I would probably have twice the content and readership today if I had done my homework.
Blogging Mistake 2: Overestimating My Time
Blogging is very, very time-consuming. I take that back. Quality blogging is very, very time-consuming. I suppose anybody can spew a few hundred words of daily drivel pretty quickly.
Though I have made some exceptions, I try only to post articles that I believe will be useful or entertaining to readers, that are written and researched well enough (few blogs will ever reach print editorial standards by which I was trained), and that feature information that cannot be found in a billion other places online.
Sometimes, just finding topics can be daunting – finding the time to write them, even more so. For much of the last year I worked about 80 hours a week between two jobs. So I have never followed the regular posting schedule that blogs really need to acquire frequent readers, but I have managed to write a good deal and even get a few hits.
I’ve learned it’s important not to over-commit yourself, even if it’s just to a hobby. There’s no enjoyment in doing something you feel guilty you have too little time to do.
Blogging Mistake 3: Not Holding Conversations
In blogging, as in life, it’s twice as hard to accomplish anything alone.
One thing I still haven’t mastered today is making time to be active in forums and other blog’s comment sections because in the beginning, I didn’t make it a priority.
I was used to writing magazine articles which were meant to read on an airplane and most likely forgotten in a few days. Good blogs, however, are conversation starters. And, thanks to search engines, those conversations can last indefinitely. So now I’m learning to incorporate more questions in my posts, and hopefully I’ll set aside some time to begin debating on some other blogs.
As for conversations in life, I’m working on that one too. As an intellectual, I know that conversations start relationships and relationships drive both success and happiness. As an introvert, I can think of a million things I’d rather do than start a conversation.
Blogging Mistake 4: Monetizing Immediately
Monetizing blogs is a controversial topic. The ease of adding contextual advertising like Adsense to any new website makes it tempting to do so right off the bat. As most seasoned bloggers know, however, it’s not the best strategy.
Don’t get me wrong, I think bloggers that provide quality content should monetize their sites in whatever way works best so they can be compensated just as professional publishers earn profits from advertising. Brand new sites, however, need to build readerships and credibility, and that’s easier done without ads.
It’s not that a new site can’t be credible with advertising, it’s just that there are so many spammy sites and blogs out there that post mostly worthless content just to support ads or affiliate links. These sites aren’t going for a real audience other than hapless searchers that happen to stumble upon the site’s content.
My recommendation? Get yourself to 1,000 unique readers or so a month, then think about monetizing. Any income you earn with less than 1,000 unique readers is going to be trivial anyway. And whatever business you’re in, never appear to others as too eager to make a buck. Few things are less attractive.
Blogging Mistake 5: Flip Flopping Design
If you have read Money Under 30 more than a few times over the last year, you’ll have the many designs I’ve gone through. The site now looks nothing like it once did.
When I was starting out I went for the simplest design possible that highlighted the content and nothing else. Now that I have more to share I opted for a professional-looking design that could display a combination of navigation, content and advertising. Some things still aren’t perfect (like I want to ditch the contrasting black header), but it’s almost there.
In hindsight, constantly playing with the design took away from the more important tasks of writing content and publicity, and probably irked a visitor or two along the way. I should’ve considered my long term needs more carefully early on to implement a design that could endure my growth.
Blogging Mistake 6: Lack of Publicity
To this day, I haven’t done a lot of publicity other than participating in a couple carnivals each month. I should be dedicating as much time to publicity as I do to content and design.
Whatever you do in life, it will not matter if you’re the best there is if nobody knows who you are. Self-promotion should be done tactfully, but frequently.
Press releases, emails to webmasters, link submissions to directories make small ripples in the Internet pond, but they add up. In your career, regular phone calls to contacts, attending networking events, and thank you notes after meeting new people should all be part of your routine.
Are you a blogger too? What have you learned from your mistakes?