I am a firm believer that there is a blogging renaissance happening. This might be surprising to hear, given the fact that some well-known bloggers are calling it quits this year. Truth be told, you will probably see a few more bloggers either scaling way back or throwing in the towel. What you might not know is that there are two very distinct types of creative blogs out there. There are those that have monetized via affiliate-based content and corporate sponsorships. This blogging model has proliferated for the past decade and has reached a crescendo in recent years. The other side of the coin are independent blogs. These are the type of blogs that either support the editor’s primary business and hence don’t monetize blog content or that monetize with carefully selected sponsors or advertisers. The latter create blog content that is not funded or directly influenced by their monetizing efforts.
For most makers, artists and creatives, the best blogging model, the one that offers the greatest creative freedom is option two. That’s where the resurgence of great blogs is coming from and, as you can see on The List, there are a ton of great blogs to follow out there. I suspect that there are more to come. But if you’re new to blogging or haven’t blogged in a while, getting started can seem like a Herculean feat.
You’ve probably also seen a fresh proliferation of online classes and courses being offered by influencers, bloggers and other new media ‘gurus’ on the topic of blogging, brand building and social media. Should you take a course? I’ve wanted to talk about this for a while now and I feel that today is a great time to discuss it. Here’s a few reasons why you should think twice before tossing your hard earned funds into that ever-growing bucket.
1) The Lightning Strikes Twice Deception
Simply put, many of these so-called experts are selling the idea that what worked for them will work for you. Unless your business model is exactly the same, and for makers, designers and artists this is highly unlikely, most of the advice simply is useless. There might be some areas of overlap, but it’s imperative for you to know what those specific areas are BEFORE you sign up for a course or consultation. Most of the methods that have helped some of these influencers and so-called blogging gurus grow to their current ‘stature’ have changed considerably over the years. What worked so well for them before, for you probably just won’t do.
For instance: The Hallowed World of Pinterest. Having millions of Pinterest followers today is not the same as it was just a few years ago. In its heyday, Pinterest had some interesting ways to lure bloggers to the platform, like its Pin It Forward campaign.( Interestingly, if you ask Pinterest they’ll tell you that follower counts don’t matter nearly as much as the content you share.)
The point is this: the path to internet success is not cookie cutter. Before taking a course, do this instead: make a list of the areas that you’d like to improve in and then DO YOUR OWN RESEARCH FIRST. Almost every detail you’ll learn in a consultation with a so-called expert is already out there, without the fluff or the high price tag. The proliferation of courses and classed devalues real and insightful marketing assistance.
I’m not saying that you might not need assistance and that there aren’t pros out there with real insight for you. Just remember that money spent on consultations should not exceed their actual value or their ability to help you grow. And for the love of cheesecake, if the class costs half a mortgage payment, skip it. That money could go into other more valuable endeavors, like building a great website or brand identity.
There is no substitute or shortcut for hard work, creativity and imagination. If you want lightning to strike, get your own rod. Here’s another question to ask before taking a course from any online influencer: “Are you willing to tell me what made you successful so that I can become your competitor?” We might see the word ‘competitor’ and think adversary, but really, the best teachers give you the tools to replace them. That’s if the motive and the motivation is right. Don’t worry though, I’m not advocating cut throat competition; there’s plenty of room for all of us. A great teacher or mentor will not hold back from telling you what worked for them and what didn’t.
2) Be A Wave Reader
Before taking a course or consultation, here’s a question to ask: “What value will this have for me in 6 months? 1 year?” Trends on the web change quickly and publicly. For instance, as mentioned, many bloggers have relied on affiliate-based posting, corporate partnerships and the like to grow their influence and reach. This has now spilled over into the crazy world of the social media influencer. Beware: this practice is starting to show its ugly side and the cracks are nasty. What came before that? Banner ads. What to know how that worked out for many? Read this and this.
Again, here’s where doing a little research helps. I like to call it Wave Reading. Being a Wave Reader means that you can look at a trend and see where it began (like my previous point about Pinterest), see where it is right now and where it’s going. Trends come and go, but real creative content is hard to devalue. It lasts. Here is yet another area where talking to an expert OUTSIDE of the affiliate/corporate blogging universe is helpful. There are pros out there, who can help you discover how to build a blog based on more than sponsored content. Mark my words: the paid-to-blog format will eventually claim more victims. I don’t care how many bloggers say they only post what they love, even if they’re getting paid to do it. It’s nonsense and readers see right through it. (For a fascinating look at sponsored posts, check out issue #17 of Offscreen Magazine for the Heather B. Armstrong interview. It will blow you away.)
Being a Wave Reader offers another benefit: you’re not in the water, you’re on the shore. You see, independent blogging puts you in a great position to create your own path. You are not beholden to sponsors and you are less likely to drown when the wave crashes. I can’t express this enough: if you want to know how to be a blogger with longevity, talk to someone who’s done it. My first choice is the best one: Jessica Colaluca of Design Seeds. No single entity on the web has created a business that celebrates independent creativity while building a robust blogging experience that is like no other.
How To Become A Successful Blogger in 5 Easy Steps
Step 1: Stop believing that there is an easy way to be a successful blogger. Just stop it! It takes time, effort, creativity and dedication to be a successful indie blogger. Blogging is a great medium and is worth the work. Like any other creative endeavor, there are no short cuts, no easy path. Be prepared to do the work. The rewards can be great.
Step 2: Create a blogging schedule. This is one of the single most important things you can do to become a successful blogger. It’s not complicated, just don’t overdue it at the start. Start with one day, like Monday at 9:00 am. Spend the week before gathering materials, writing and editing your content. Once you get comfortable with the process, you can add more days.
Step 3: Pick a platform. You have a few choices here. Squarespace, which offers ready-to-use themes and is pretty user friendly, is a great place to start. My personal favorite is a self-hosted blog via WordPress.org. There’s so much you can do with the right WordPress theme and I’ll share some details on how to get started with self-hosting and my 3 favorite WordPress theme makers to shop with in a future post.
Step 4: Create Content. Creating content that showcases your work, that inspires you and motivates you creatively. Posts that shine the light into your creative process are a great way to increase your ability to get your work into the right hands and brains. Interviews with those you admire or sharing the inspiring work of others works too. We’ll talk about the how-to of this in our next Art of Business post.
Step 5: Be Patient. This is where blogging to support your business as a creative is an advantage. It takes time to grow a blogging audience, but if you are a maker and have a social presence, you probably already have an audience at your fingertips. Even so, be sure you have the right expectations for blogging. If you’re sharing what you love, if you do it independent of sponsored content and you stay consistent, you’ve already succeeded. Don’t do it for the likes, don’t do it for the comments, do it for the pure joy of sharing. The audience will eventually grow.