Thriving on change
Your greatest risk isn’t that you’ll make mistakes that will cost you. Your greatest risk is that you’ll miss opportunities. You need an entrepreneurial mindset, not an employee mindset. Don’t be too concerned with the risk of loss — be more concerned with the risk of missed gains. It’s what you don’t know and what you don’t do that will hurt you the worst. Blogging is cheap. Your expenses and financial risk should be minimal. Your real concern should be missing opportunities that would have made you money very easily. You need to develop antennae that can listen out for new opportunities. I highly recommend subscribing to Darren Rowse’s Problogger blog — Darren is great at uncovering new income-generating opportunities for bloggers.
The blogosphere changes rapidly, and change creates opportunity. It takes some brains to decipher these opportunities and to take advantage of them before they disappear. If you hesitate to capitalize on something new and exciting, you may simply miss out. Many opportunities are temporary. And every day you don’t implement them, you’re losing money you could have earned. And you’re also missing opportunities to build traffic, grow your audience, and benefit more people.
I used to get annoyed by the rapid rate of change of web technologies. It’s even more rapid than what I saw when I worked in the computer gaming industry. And the rate of change is accelerating. Almost every week now I learn about some fascinating new web service or idea that could potentially lead to big changes down the road. Making sense of them is a full-time job in itself. But I learned to love this insane pace. If I’m confused then everyone else is probably confused too. And people who only do this part-time will be very confused. If they aren’t confused, then they aren’t keeping up. So if I can be just a little bit faster and understand these technologies just a little bit sooner, then I can capitalize on some serious opportunities before the barriers to entry become too high. Even though confusion is uncomfortable, it’s really a good thing for a web entrepreneur. This is what creates the space for a college student to earn $1,000,000 online in just a few months with a clever idea. Remember this isn’t a zero-sum game. Don’t let someone else’s success make you feel diminished or jealous. Let it inspire you instead.
What’s your overall income-generation strategy?
I don’t want to insult anyone, but most people are utterly clueless when it comes to generating income from their blogs. They slap things together haphazardly with no rhyme or reason and hope to generate lots of money. While I’m a strong advocate of the ready-fire-aim approach, that strategy does require that you eventually aim. Ready-fire-fire-fire-fire will just create a mess.
Take a moment to articulate a basic income-generating strategy for your site. If you aren’t good at strategy, then just come up with a general philosophy for how you’re going to generate income. You don’t need a full business plan, just a description of how you plan to get from $0 per month to whatever your income goal is. An initial target goal I used when I first started this site was $3000 per month. It’s a somewhat arbitrary figure, but I knew if I could reach $3000 per month, I could certainly push it higher, and $3000 is enough income that it’s going to make a meaningful difference in my finances. I reached that level 15 months after launching the site (in December 2005). And since then it’s continued to increase nicely. Blogging income is actually quite easy to maintain. It’s a lot more secure than a regular job. No one can fire me, and if one source of income dries up, I can always add new ones. We’ll address multiple streams of income soon…
Are you going to generate income from advertising, affiliate commissions, product sales, donations, or something else? Maybe you want a combination of these things. However you decide to generate income, put your basic strategy down in writing. I took 15 minutes to create a half-page summary of my monetization strategy. I only update it about once a year and review it once a month. This isn’t difficult, but it helps me stay focused on where I’m headed. It also allows me to say no to opportunities that are inconsistent with my plan.
Refer to your monetization strategy (or philosophy) when you need to make design decisions for your web site. Although you may have multiple streams of income, decide which type of income will be your primary source, and design your site around that. Do you need to funnel people towards an order form, or will you place ads all over the site? Different monetization strategies suggest different design approaches. Think about what specific action you want your visitors to eventually take that will generate income for you, and design your site accordingly.
When devising your income strategy, feel free to cheat. Don’t re-invent the wheel. Copy someone else’s strategy that you’re convinced would work for you too. Do NOT copy anyone’s content or site layout (that’s copyright infringement), but take note of how they’re making money. I decided to monetize this site with advertising and affiliate income after researching how various successful bloggers generated income. Later I added donations as well. This is an effective combo.
Traffic, traffic, traffic
Assuming you feel qualified to take on the challenge of generating income from blogging (and I haven’t scared you away yet), the three most important things you need to monetize your blog are traffic, traffic, and traffic.
Just to throw out some figures, last month (April 2006), this site received over 1.1 million visitors and over 2.4 million page views. That’s almost triple what it was just six months ago.
Why is traffic so important? Because for most methods of online income generation, your income is a function of traffic. If you double your traffic, you’ll probably double your income (assuming your visitor demographics remain fairly consistent). You can screw almost everything else up, but if you can generate serious traffic, it’s really hard to fail. With sufficient traffic the realistic worst case is that you’ll eventually be able to monetize your web site via trial and error (as long as you keep those visitors coming).
When I first launched this blog, I knew that traffic building was going to be my biggest challenge. All of my plans hinged on my ability to build traffic. If I couldn’t build traffic, it was going to be very difficult to succeed. So I didn’t even try to monetize my site for the first several months. I just focused on traffic building. Even after 19 months, traffic building is still the most important part of my monetization plan. For my current traffic levels, I know I’m undermonetizing my site, but that’s OK. Right now it’s more important to me to keep growing the site, and I’m optimizing the income generation as I go along.
Traffic is the primary fuel of online income generation. More visitors means more ad clicks, more product sales, more affiliate sales, more donations, more consulting leads, and more of whatever else that generates income for you. And it also means you’re helping more and more people.
With respect to traffic, you should know that in many respects, the rich do get richer. High traffic leads to even more traffic-building opportunities that just aren’t accessible for low-traffic sites. On average at least 20 bloggers add new links to my site every day, my articles can easily surge to the top of social bookmarking sites like del.icio.us, and I’m getting more frequent requests for radio interviews. Earlier this year I was featured in USA Today and in Self Magazine, which collectively have millions of readers. Journalists are finding me by doing Google searches on topics I’ve written about. These opportunities were not available to me when I was first starting out. Popular sites have a serious advantage. The more traffic you have, the more you can attract.
If you’re intelligent and web savvy, you should also be able to eventually build a high-traffic web site. And you’ll be able to leverage that traffic to build even more traffic.
How to build traffic
Now if traffic is so crucial, how do you build it up to significant levels if you’re starting from rock bottom?
I’ve already written a lengthy article on this topic, so I’ll refer you there: How to Build a High Traffic Web Site (or Blog). If you don’t have time to read it now, feel free to bookmark it or print it out for later. That article covers my general philosophy of traffic-building, which centers on creating content that provides genuine value to your visitors. No games or gimmicks.
There is one other important traffic-building tip I’ll provide here though.
Blog Carnivals. Take full advantage of blog carnivals when you’re just starting out (click the previous link and read the FAQ there to learn what carnivals are if you don’t already know). Periodically submit your best blog posts to the appropriate carnivals for your niche. Carnivals are easy ways to get links and traffic, and best of all, they’re free. Submitting only takes minutes if you use a multi-carnvival submission form. Do NOT spam the carnivals with irrelevant material — only submit to the carnivals that are a match for your content.
In my early traffic-building days, I’d do carnivals submissions once a week, and it helped a great deal in going from nothing to about 50,000 visitors per month. You still have to produce great content, but carnivals give you a free shot at marketing your unknown blog. Free marketing is precisely the kind of opportunity you don’t want to miss. Carnivals are like an open-mic night at a comedy club — they give amateurs a chance to show off their stuff. I still submit to certain carnivals every once in a while, but now my traffic is so high that relatively speaking, they don’t make much difference anymore. Just to increase my traffic by 1% in a month, I need 11,000 new visitors, and even the best carnivals don’t push that much traffic. But you can pick up dozens or even hundreds of new subscribers from each round of carnival submissions, so it’s a great place to start. Plus it’s very easy.
If your traffic isn’t growing month after month, does it mean you’re doing something wrong? Most likely you aren’t doing enough things right. Again, making mistakes is not the issue. Missing opportunities is.