PODCAST S2/E7: 5 Things to Think About Before Starting a Blog

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In this week’s episode we talk about blogging – something many people ask me about.

Many people think the first thing to do is “get a website,” but there are a number of factors you should carefully consider long before that. In this podcast we explore them in detail. 

Please note that there’s an expanded version of this podcast exclusively available to my blogging group on Patreon – you can find out about it and join here

Included in this podcast:

  • Decide if you’re committed enough (2:00)
  • Understanding what’s really involved (4:34)
  • Check out the competition (9:46)
  • Be prepared to spend some money (13:22)
  • Decide on your niche (15:57)
  • Introducing our Patreon group (18:23)
  • Recap (19:49)

Supplementary Links and Information

Full Transcription

We have edited some repeat words and unclear passages to enhance readability.

ALEX: Welcome to the HomeWorkingClub podcast. I’m Alex and with me as ever is Ben. Hi, Ben.

BEN: Hello Alex. How are you today?

ALEX: I’m not too bad. How are you?

BEN: I’m doing well. Thanks. Yeah, it’s quite nice and sunny… I’m doing the weather again! Yes. It’s nice and sunny here in the UK. It’s been a nice change because it’s been a bit grim recently.

ALEX: An absolutely lovely sunrise this morning. I mean, part of me would rather not have been up to see it.

BEN: I was going to say I slept right through it today.

ALEX: No, it’s good stuff. Welcome to the HomeWorkingClub weather report, as is tradition. So today we’re not going to be talking about the weather. We’re going to be talking about the five things to do before you start a blog.

This is something that you’ve talked about a little bit before, Ben, in various areas. But this is really that kind of thing… if you are in the mindset that you want to start a blog, either for pleasure or for money… What are the five things that you need to do before you kick-off?

BEN: Yes. A lot of people think, “What’s the first thing to do?” when they start a blog and they think, “Well, it’s to get some web hosting and to choose a theme and to do the design.” And that’s actually very, very much not the first thing that you should do. And I think you stand to lose a lot of your time if that’s the first thing that you do.

There’s a lot of planning and a lot of thinking. And I think even if that planning and thinking take a prolonged amount of time, there are still things that you should do first to save you… as one of my coaching clients once said, I saved them “wasting a lot of time down unproductive avenues.”

I think that’s why these are things that you should do and you should think about before you even put your hands to the keyboard and start to create anything.

ALEX: Absolutely. So the first thing is: decide if you’re committed enough to the project.

BEN: Yes, blogging is a long game. It’s not “Build it and they will come.” You have to do a lot of work to build up an audience.

A blog is a long-term project. It’s not something you just set and forget. And so if you’re going to blog, you’re going to spend a lot of time on it. You’re going to do a lot of work on it before you can even hope to earn any money, most importantly.

I do think people out there… a lot of internet marketers sort of sell blogging almost like a get rich quick scheme. But it is so not!

So, yeah, if you’re not prepared to put at least a year of work into it without any guarantee of a financial payoff at the end, you really need to think very carefully about whether it’s something you want to do. You have got to have passion for it. You’ve got to be very interested in your subject. You’ve got to really look forward to the work that you’re going to put into it.

ALEX: I can sense your catchphrase striding towards this conversation: You’ve got to pay your dues. I just did your catchphrase, sorry.

BEN: You did. And I’m sorry, but you really do.

You’re going to be putting up dozens, if not hundreds of posts. You’re going to have to accept that probably quite a large proportion of those posts are posts that very few people are ever going to read.

What tends to happen with a blog is that you have a “top 10 posts”. They’re not always the best ones. They’re not always the ones you thought were really going to fly.

It’s very much the case with HomeWorkingClub. There are certain reviews I’ve written, certain articles I have written that get absolutely tons of traffic and then other articles that I really poured my heart and soul into that have just died a death and no one’s remotely interested in. That’s really where commitment comes in.

You have to accept that that’s the way that it’s going to go. Some of the posts are going to get successful. Others aren’t. And there’s often not any rhyme or reason to why which ones succeeded and which ones don’t.

ALEX: I always think it’s slightly mean when you start off with WordPress and it has the default post which says “Hello world.” Whereas actually what it means is “Hello Auntie Mabel and perhaps two or three people I went to school with.”

BEN: Yeah, absolutely. You know, even the friends and family… sadly, a lot of friends and family pay absolutely no attention to a blog even when you really hope they are going to.

ALEX: Yeah. I mean, I get that with this podcast. It’s like, “Oh, you do a podcast?” Yeah. I mean, I put it on my Facebook.

BEN: Yeah.

ALEX: So deciding if you’re committed enough. Which leads us on to the second point… and actually, in deciding if you’re committed enough, is you’ve got to know what’s involved. Go into it with your eyes open.

BEN: Yes. I think a lot of people think of blogging as writing stuff and people reading it, and obviously, that’s part of it. But it’s probably 50% of it at most. One of the main things for a blog to get any momentum, you need people to obviously read your posts and so marketing… obviously Alex is a marketing person… but marketing plays a huge part.

You’ve got to master certain social media channels to drive traffic. You’ve got to reach out to other websites and bloggers and people in the industry that you’re talking about. Most importantly, get them to link to your blog so that other people find you and so that Google finds you.

Then there’s all the day to day admin. Once you start to make money, you’ve got to start to think about keeping accurate logs, paying the tax on the money that you earn. You’ve got to do the admin. You’ve got to do the security updates. You’ve got to optimise images and things like that.

When I’ve coached people who want to start blogging, this is something that’s actually come up a few times. You know, I’ve done a coaching session and I think all I’ve really succeeded in doing is putting people off blogging completely.

But I don’t think that’s necessarily a bad thing, because I think people think, “Oh, blogging is writing.” And of course, yes, blogging is writing, but it’s a whole bunch of other stuff besides that as well.

ALEX: It is checking that commitment, as well. I heard a brilliant interview with Gene Wilder on one of my all-time favourite films, is “Young Frankenstein” with Mel Brooks. And there’s the scene in that where he dances to “Puttin’ on the Ritz” with the monster. And he wrote that and apparently Mel Brooks came round to his house and he went, “Are you sure you want to do an Irving Berlin number with Frankenstein’s monster? Puttin’ on the Ritz?”

And they argued about it. One of the few times… great friends… they argued in years. And they argued and argued and argued for about 20 minutes. And then Mel Brooks went, “Fine. It’s in.” He’s like, “But you seemed dead against it.” He goes, “Oh, I was about 75% sure. But I saw how much you fought for it and if you think it’s that good, then it’s going in.”

I think that’s a really good test. If you can try and do that with yourself. Do you really, really want to do it? Are you still committed to it? And if somebody like Ben comes along and tries to dissuade you from it through coaching… will you still want to do it at the end of that? I think it’s a good test.

BEN: I should probably make clear that my coaching services aren’t entirely based around dissuading people from starting on passion projects! But that kind of proves the point, really. It does need to be a passion project. And not a, “I’m going to start blogging because I want to make money from it.”

“I really, really want to start blogging, and I hope to make money from it” is probably a much better approach.

ALEX: Yeah. I think your point on knowing what’s involved in the marketing side of things, as well. You’re going to start with 4 or 5, maybe 10 or 20 people if you’re lucky. And actually, when you do the first thing… because friends and family will read it… you might get 40-50 people reading the first one, and then you find the second one… you actually get two or three people reading it because suddenly the friends and family who were reading it just to see what you were up to aren’t so keen and they feel they’ve done their bit.

BEN: Yeah.

ALEX: You will start from two or three people and you need to understand that it’s a slow build. You’re not going to suddenly go viral and millions of people are going to read it. That might happen. You might be lucky. You never know. You might hit on something that’s amazing. But actually, what you’re going to be looking to do is build those two or three people into 20 or 30 people. Then those 20 or 30 people into 200 or 300.

It goes from there and it can take years. It could take weeks. Who knows?

BEN: That also rings true once you do start to build momentum because it’s not usually a straight upward trajectory. HomeWorkingClub is an example, as well.

Fairly quickly, I’d say in the space of about a year, I got up to 100,000 page views a month. Which is obviously a very significant number. I’m not as high as that now, because it goes up and down as well. So you’ve got to be committed enough to weather those peaks and troughs.

All kinds of external factors can mean that you don’t… very few websites just keep building and building. They have ups and downs.

ALEX: Yeah. The other thing, as well, is don’t take it personally. If you suddenly see you are building and then suddenly there’s a drop.

We were talking about the fact that traffic is down everywhere because everybody’s glued to a certain political event going on in the United States at the moment. You know, everybody’s spending their free time looking at that and not reading perhaps the websites that they ordinarily would. So there are all sorts of things that can affect that.

BEN: Yeah. We are recording this a couple of days after… well, the US election is still happening as we speak…

ALEX: A bit overconfident to say a couple of days after at the moment.

BEN: Yeah. But yes, so the last couple of days my traffic’s been down about 20% for HomeWorkingClub. I’m on various groups, website owners groups, and it turns out it is exactly the same for everybody. Regardless of what niche they’re in. Because everyone’s attention is elsewhere at the moment.

ALEX: So I think the other thing is.. while we’re talking about various other websites… is point 3… that leads us on nicely… is to check the competition.

BEN: Yes.

ALEX: If you’re going to be doing something you don’t necessarily want to wade into an area where there are already hundreds and hundreds of people talking about the same thing and doing it with a much larger audience already.

BEN: Yeah, not only a much larger audience but a much larger budget. I mean, there are certain subjects that you can blog about that are very lucrative. Things like web hosting, and software, and stuff like that. But there are big, big players going into those kinds of subject areas.

Yes, to an extent, you could say, “Well, my USP is going to be that I’m going to do it better than them” but the reality is that there are certain niches in the blogging world that people are putting hundreds of thousands of dollars into their new projects.

It’s a question of, once you’ve decided what you’re going to be blogging about… we’re going to talk a little more about that in a moment… actually having a really good look. Googling the kind of stuff you’re going to talk about thinking, “All right, well, who is it at the top?” Because they are your competition.

With blogging, especially as a beginner blogger, it is much better to be a big fish in a tiny little pond than to really just go out there and play with the sharks.

I guess I’ll do another little reference to HomeWorkingClub on this. When the pandemic happened and everyone started talking about home working, I think everyone thought, “Well, surely you’re in an incredible position having a home working blog.” Well, I used to rank very first on Google for home working. Now I’m fighting against The New York Times and Forbes.

Obviously that’s a slightly… a global pandemic is a slightly extreme situation, but you do need to know who you’re competing with. And to try and choose a subject where you’re competing with people you may actually be able to compete with.

ALEX: I think there’s something with competition. You know the old marketing position on this, which is you look at the competition… Are you doing something different? Are you doing it better? Are you doing it more cheaply? You know, those are the things. Do you have a unique selling point in marketing terminology? But is it different? Is it better? Or, is it cheaper than the competition?

Obviously, with blogging, cheaper isn’t necessarily one of those things. But you don’t necessarily have to do something completely different to everybody else’s. I mean, as we all know from the internet, it’s very unlikely that you will be the first person to start a blog on whatever topic it is that you’re talking about.

But looking at the competition, the first thing is… Am I going to bring something new to this? Am I doing something different to the competition? Or, am I going to do the same thing as them, but a great deal better?

BEN: Yeah, absolutely.

ALEX: And that goes back to the first point, your commitment to the whole thing. If you think you’re going to do it better then absolutely go for it and make sure you do.

BEN: Yeah, I certainly wouldn’t want to discourage people from going after more crowded and more competitive niches because those niches are crowded and competitive because there’s big money to be made in them.

ALEX: Yeah.

BEN: But obviously there is a balance to be struck. This is why this is one of the things that we talk about that you should do before you start a blog. Rather than, “Well, I’m going to write about X” and then you discover that you are just swimming with sharks and that even by working incredibly hard on it for a year you are still going to be playing catch up… even twelve months down the line.

ALEX: Yes. And of course, obviously, if you don’t go through the time and trouble to set up a blog before you know what it is that you’re going to write about… then that gets us on to point number four, which is: be prepared to spend some money.

BEN: Yeah. I mean, blogging is a very, very inexpensive business to start. You could start a blog for next to nothing. You just need to spend a few dollars a month on some basic web hosting. WordPress is free.

But, if you do have some money to spend, you’re going to find lots of things out there competing for that money. Because there are all kinds of tools to make the presentation of your posts look better. There are search engine optimisation tools that help you research the competition and find content gaps where you might start to rank more quickly with a kind of fledgeling blog.

So, even if you’re only talking about a couple of hundred dollars in the first year, you want to be prepared to spend some money. Yes, you could do it completely on the cheap, but you’ll quickly run into areas where you’re almost holding yourself back through inability or unwillingness to just put $9 a month into something.

ALEX: Yeah. I always like a little real-world analogy. If you’re selling a product… say you’re selling candles or something… you can set up in the front room of your house and sell them to everybody that walks past you in the street. But it might make sense to pay for the bus fare to go into town and set up a market stall in the High Street.

BEN: Nice analogy.

ALEX: Thank you. I’ve been doing this for a living you know.

BEN: What, coming up with analogies?

ALEX: Pretty much.

BEN: Marketing in a nutshell.

ALEX: Don’t give away all of my secrets!

That’s absolutely the thing… that commitment. If it is a business and if it is going to be your main source of income at some point in the future, you’ve got to put some money into it to realise those big returns in the long term.

BEN: Exactly the same as that… and I’m going to stretch the analogy a little here… that candle maker would make a decision on whether to buy the cheapest wax or whether to buy… I don’t know what kinds of wax there are, maybe it’s all the same… but what I’m saying is…

ALEX: Ben’s wading massively into an area where he’s going to be…

BEN: But you would make a decision, if you were creating crafts of any kind, what raw materials you’re going to use and therefore where you’re going to pitch yourself in the market. Whether you’re going to be trying to sell something bargain basement or something more artisan and more high end. And yeah, the analogy is getting weaker by the moment here.

ALEX: This is useful because point 5, the final point, is: decide on your niche. I think we’ve established that neither of us knows about candle making.

BEN: Yes.

ALEX: Perhaps the most important point is deciding on what it is that you want to blog about.

BEN: Yeah. You’ve got to find somewhere where various things intersect. So something that you’re really passionate about and something that you are going to be happy to still be creating content about years down the line.

The thing I always say is: open a Word document and write down the titles of the first 30 posts you are going to write. And it’s very telling whether you find that process easy or difficult.

If you find it difficult, you’re probably not looking at the right niche. You don’t want to be scratching around for what your articles are going to be about. So, yeah. The passion for it, the fact that there’s actually enough material to create, and then where there’s money-making potential as well.

Generally with a blog, you either need to have products of your own that you’re going to sell, you need to have products by other people that you could be an affiliate for, or a lot of blogs make money from advertising… HomeWorkingClub does. But to make money from just display advertising… the ads that show up in the middle of your content, down your sidebar, places like that… you need a lot of traffic to really make any meaningful money from that.

Choosing a niche is a huge thing. And I honestly think it’s worth spending weeks or months thinking about your niche rather than just, “I want a blog and I’m going to rush into it and not think that through.”

ALEX: I think sometimes that thought process can lead you into different areas. We’re going to go into a little bit more detail on niches in another area in a moment.

But if you’re doing that process and you’re going through all of those different things that you’re going to discover… you might find, actually, there’s a particularly rich area that you want to go in. Then you go back and do that process again. Look at the competition: Is this niche an area which isn’t being massively exploited elsewhere?

That could be something where you go, “Okay, I’m starting a blog on candle making, but there’s a particular”… I’m going to struggle into this analogy again… “I’m starting this blog on candle making but actually there’s a particular type of candle that isn’t really covered hugely, but is incredibly popular.” Or, is it a trend that’s going to be the coming thing? Or something along those lines. And if that’s an area that you’re really committed to, an area you have some expertise in… the more you go through that process, the more it will hone what your product is at the end of the day.

BEN: Absolutely. So they are the five things.

Now, what I would like to just do is mention something that some listeners and readers may already be aware of. I’ve recently launched a Patreon group for people who are very keen to start blogs and ready to get started on it. It costs a very small monthly subscription. I’m putting out exclusive tutorial videos and we’ve got a Slack community where we can all share our plans. People can actually live chat with me and discuss plans as they progress, and things like that.

If you want to check that out… I would emphasise that the Patreon group is a community, it is not a step by step blogging course so I don’t want to suggest that it is. I think it is best suited to people who are willing and ready to put in the time and the commitment that we discussed in the first point. But, if you’d like to check it out, it’s on patreon.com/homeworkingclub.

ALEX: We’re going to go into a little bit more detail on the Patreon into selecting your niche and some of the things around that as well. Using some examples from one of the Patreon members and talking in a bit more detail around that kind of thing. So if that’s where you’re at at the moment in looking to start a blog, I think that’d be a really useful community to get involved in and maybe chat to some other people.

But, in terms of the podcast itself, just a quick recap.

If you’re looking to start a blog, it doesn’t really matter what stage you’re at at the moment, but make sure you’re committed enough. Really examine the fact that… Are you going to commit to this? And do think in terms of time scales of years rather than weeks in terms of how committed you are.

Know what’s involved. Look at all of the technical aspects of it, the financial aspects, all of the bits. You are effectively starting a small business so it is an undertaking.

Have a look at the competition. See what else is out there. Is your idea going to stand up to the competition? Is it going to stand up to your own commitment as well as the competition?

Be prepared to spend some money if you’re going to make a success of it as well. You have got to speculate to accumulate, as the old saying goes.

BEN: Although, if I may butt in, I would emphasise it is not a huge amount.

ALEX: Not a huge amount.

The final thing is: decide on your niche… we are saying niche because we’re quite close to France but you might call it a niche if you’re listening from elsewhere… so decide on your niche. Have a look at that.

And then go through those steps again once you’ve decided on it. Have a look at the competition and test that idea. See if you’ve got the commitment to it. And through that process, you’ll evolve and hopefully end up with a really compelling blog that not only makes you some money but is really rewarding to do.

BEN: Yeah, absolutely. So, we’re going to end the podcast here. We are actually going to continue recording, exclusively for the members of the Patreon group. So, if you would like to join it’s patreon.com/homeworkingclub. If you’ve got any questions about whether the Patreon group is suitable for you, I’m more than happy to answer them. You can email me direct.

ALEX: Excellent stuff. And by all means, feel free to email Ben with anything else that you’d like to talk about. Perhaps some ideas for feature podcast areas, not just on blogging, but any areas of freelancing or home working that you’d like to talk about. Always happy to hear from you and always happy to enter into a discussion. Perhaps even come and talk to us at one point on the podcast in the future, you never know.

BEN: Yes.

ALEX: Thank you very much for listening. Do please like, subscribe, and share the podcast with other people. It does help people find the podcast and it also makes us feel warm and fuzzy as well.

BEN: Okay, thanks for listening.

ALEX: Thank you. Bye.

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