Blogging: A Demanding Task with Few Rewards?
Last week, a reader named Matt sent me an article from Chicago Business about how bloggers are quitting what they call a demanding task with few rewards. It's a fascinating story that explores some of the problems with blogging as a money-making enterprise.
The article suggests several reasons that blogs and bloggers fail:
- Blogging isn't as lucrative as people imagine.
- Blogging takes too much time.
- Bloggers aren't willing to share their personal lives.
- Bloggers run out of material.
- It's easier to reach people via Facebook or Twitter.
Leaving aside Twitter and Facebook, all of these are valid concerns.
As part of my job, I talk to bloggers all the time. I speak to groups of bloggers at conferences, and I meet them one-on-one for lunch all year round.
From my experience, novice bloggers have no idea how much time and effort it takes to build and maintain a successful site. Yes, you can start a blog in just an hour or two. Yes, you can run a blog as a hobby, and you can even make a little money at it. But for a blog to be a full-time business it has to be, well, a full-time business. Blogging is no easy path to riches.
Based on conversations with hundreds of bloggers, my best guess is that the average blog makes maybe $50-$100 per month. (Well, the average blog makes nothing. The average blog that's trying to make money earns about $50 to $100 per month.) A very successful blog might make $1000 per month. And some, like Get Rich Slowly, make enough for folks to earn a full-time living.
Blogging can be lucrative if you're willing to invest the time and effort needed to make a go of it. But successful bloggers don't just sit on the beach sipping piña coladas and eating mangoes. The full-time bloggers I know treat this just like work. Because it is work. (To be honest, the best bloggers I know are obsessive workaholics. They spend too much time on their blogs.)
One reader wrote recently for advice on starting a blog. To paraphrase:
One of my 2011 Resolutions was to start a blog. The blog is up and running, but it's quite discouraging that people aren't visiting it. Do you have any ideas on how to get people to visit the blog?
My reply? “Building an audience for a blog takes years, not days.” Blogs don't just spring fully-formed into existence, like Athena from Zeus' head. Building a successful blog takes hundreds or thousands of hours of work.
Even then, many things have to happen right in order for a blog to grow to the size of Get Rich Slowly.
- You need to work hard.
- You need to write well.
- You need to cover a subject that interests people.
- You need to spread the word.
- You need to get lucky.
And, if you want to make money at it, you have to have a subject that can be monetized. (That is, a topic for which advertisers are willing to spend, or from which you can otherwise earn an income, like with e-books.)
All of this takes time — and lots of it.
But time isn't enough. Your blog has to be interesting, and one of the best ways to make it so is to be sure it tells a compelling story. Most blogs fail to find an audience because they're just too generic. They're bland. They could be written by anyone.
The blogs I like have personality. Why do I love Mimi Smartypants? Because she's so damn funny. What sets Progressive Ruin apart from other comic-book blogs? Mike makes the site personal. (He loves Swamp Thing, for goodness sake.) And what am I always telling the staff writers here at GRS? Write with personality — share your life.
A blog on any subject can be compelling if there's a story behind it. Sure, readers come to a blog for information. But they also come to be entertained. They come to be part of a community. For these things to happen, they have to feel like they're sharing your story. If you're not telling a story, what is there to keep a reader around?
Last July, I spoke to a group of deal-bloggers. I was dismayed at how lifeless their sites were. “To set yourself apart, you have to let your readers identify with you,” I told them. But a lot of people are scared to share too much on the internet. That makes it tough for a blog to succeed.
One final challenge bloggers face is a lack of material. If you're writing a personal blog, this isn't an issue. I mean, I can write about cats and comic books for a hundred years and never run out of stories. But there are only so many people who want to read about how much weight I lifted at the gym this morning or look at the latest video I found on YouTube.
If you want to keep an audience, you have to write about a specific topic. And once you've narrowed your focus to just one topic, you've limited your pool of potential posts. Unless you only write once a week or don't mind repeating yourself, this is a problem.
To maintain a successful blog, you need to provide a constant flow of new and interesting material. This is much more difficult than you might think. In fact, I'd argue that it's the fundamental problem that bloggers have to solve. How do you keep covering your subject's core material without sounding like a broken record?
Solving the Problem
You know what? I've faced all of the problems outlined in the Chicago Business article. But instead of quitting, whenever I've faced a challenge, I've looked for a way to solve the problem. As a result, Get Rich Slowly is not the same blog it was when it started nearly five years ago. This site has evolved, and will continue to do so.
Some of the changes have been obvious. Get Rich Slowly is now a multi-author blog, for example. Plus, there's a team of social-media elves who take care of Twitter and Facebook so I can focus on my strength — which is writing.
Other changes are less obvious because they're behind the scenes. (I've taken steps to smooth the business side of things, for example. And I switched offices. And GRS may switch publishing platforms. And so on.)
Not every change at Get Rich Slowly pleases every reader. That's fine. But the bottom line is I have to look out for myself, too. I have to strike a balance between providing what readers want and getting what I need. It's only by achieving this balance that Get Rich Slowly will survive going forward.
When this balance is achieved, something magical happens. Blogging remains a demanding task, it's true, but you know what? It's a demanding task with abundant rewards for everyone.