The blogging journey often starts simple enough.
You have an idea that you want to share and you start writing. With the availability of blogging tools, the process can almost seem effortless and easy.
However, I’ve now been blogging for a long time and I can tell you without a doubt, that even though starting a blog is super easy, building a blog that lasts for years is extremely difficult.
I’ve personally been blogging now for over 10 years. I’m both a failed blogger and a successful blogger.
I started my first blog in 2006 in the personal finance space and I quickly felt over my head and had no idea how to get traffic, how to make money, and realized “blogging” was not something that was easy.
I had quite the journey between 2006 and 2011, creating hundreds of niche sites as I experimented with just about everything possible to rank in Google, make money from affiliate offers, and so much more.
I found success!
In early 2011, I quit my job and have been a full-time online entrepreneur ever since.
In 2011, I created NichePursuits.com to document much of what I had learned in my journey that led me to quit my job.
In the past 10 years, I’ve built several successful businesses, including a couple of software companies, an Amazon FBA business, lots of niche sites, and one very successful blog (NichePursuits.com).
However, as I look back at my journey, there are several lessons that I wished I had learned before I started blogging.
Today, I want to share some of my experience that I’ve accumulated as I’ve been in the blogging “trenches” for the past decade.
1. Delay gratification
You remember the classic experiment where an authority figure places a marshmallow on a plate and tells a small child they can eat it now, or if they wait a few minutes, they can have 2 marshmallows?
They found that the children that waited to get more marshmallows were the ones that ended up being more successful in life (yes, they followed them long term).
The same is generally true for bloggers. If you are expecting to make a bunch of money in your first 3 or 6 months, you are in for a surprise.
You often don’t get the marshmallow for a year or two after consistent effort and hustle.
If you are someone that can’t delay the gratification of getting paid for a long period of time in order to make a more significant income down the road, you should probably just go get a job.
I was one of those in the early days that started a blog and then stopped because I wasn’t making money or seeing traction.
I wished I had fully grasped that it can take a long time to start making money when I first started blogging.
Fortunately, I started again and have stuck with it for over 10 years now and the rewards are well worth the wait.
2. Being social goes a long way
When I first got started blogging, social media wasn’t really a big deal. But the most successful bloggers were still the ones connecting with other bloggers by commenting on their blog posts and emailing each other.
Nowadays, there is no shortage of opportunities to connect with other bloggers and your audience on social platforms.
Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram, and so many other platforms offer the opportunity to really connect and grow your audience.
I know many people think of just building a niche site, ranking in Google, and never really connecting with the people that read their site.
I’ve sometimes fallen into this trap myself.
But once I learned that connecting with your audience to build a real relationship is more important than ranking higher in Google, I increased my income quite a bit.
I now have a Facebook group with over 23,000 members and an active community that I enjoy being a part of.
I was able to truly understand my audience’s needs and create tools that they were interested in (like Long Tail Pro, or Link Whisper) or to produce content that was more impactful in their educational journey.
3. Don’t write about whatever you feel like
When I first started my blog, most of my content was simply updates about how my niche sites were doing, income reports, or other meandering thoughts that I had for the day.
While this did help build a connection with my audience (so they could truly understand what I was all about), it also left me with hundreds of posts down the road that were no longer getting traffic and not helping my site at all.
Instead of writing about whatever you feel like for the day, do keyword research.
Write about topics that your audience is searching for. And if you must throw in the occasional income report, that’s okay.
But spend most of your time finding keywords that you can rank in Google for and create content that is appealing to both your readers and the great Google traffic machine.
This way, 5 years down the road, you will have lots of evergreen content that people are still searching for and that is getting traffic.
4. Connection is more important than great writing
As a blogger, writing is certainly important.
However, readers want to feel something. They want to connect with the author behind the words.
How can you truly connect with readers? Often this means being vulnerable or brutally honest.
For example, I’ve conducted 4 public case studies where I build a niche site from scratch.
At MANY points throughout these case studies, I experienced failure. My public case study sites that I was blogging about sometimes lost traffic, or were a target of a negative SEO attack.
Rather than run from these failures, I was very open and honest and shared the truth (which did hurt my ego a little).
My fear was that people would see me as a failure and decide to stop following me and instead follow the guy making $1 Bajillion after 6 months.
Instead, the opposite happened…to my dismay!
People felt like they could relate to me. They felt a real connection with me and my failures, since they had also experienced the mishaps that come with building sites.
This deeper connection that happens through the genuine desire to help your audience is worth much more than “great writing”.
I’m not a literary genius, but I can at least tell it like it is.
And that’s what people appreciate more than a well placed metaphor.
5. Expand your vision
No doubt, these monetization strategies can be a great way to make a living from your blog.
However, you can significantly increase your income if you expand your vision beyond just writing words and getting paid for ads or affiliate links.
As you truly connect with your audience, you will find that they have products they want or need and would love to buy from someone that they trust (you!).
I realized early on that if I expand my vision from “blogger” to “software company”, I could create and sell a software tool that my audience would value.
I first did this with Long Tail Pro, a keyword research tool, that I built and grew for 5 years.
After 5 years, I was able to sell that business for a life changing amount of money.
But I still got to keep NichePursuits.com (my blog) and continue blogging and growing my audience.
I have since continued to focus on growing my email list, social media following, and more to help expand beyond just my blog.
Recently, I was able to launch Link Whisper, a new software tool that helps bloggers and niche website creators build internal links much faster and easier.
If I never expanded my vision beyond blogger, to software company or product creator, I would have missed out on the most lucrative part of my business.
Bottom line, think of the products you can create and sell to your audience as a way to grow your income significantly beyond what display ads and affiliate links can provide.
6. Get Help
I honestly liked blogging initially because I enjoyed working by myself, secluded in a little corner of my house.
I wished I had known that while blogging can be a solitary venture, there is more help out there than I had realized.
When you come across a roadblock, a technical question, or have a new strategy idea, there are lots of people that are happy and willing to help out.
The sooner you can tap into a community that is willing to help, the easier your life will become as a blogger.
Lots of communities exist for bloggers and entrepreneurs.
You might be surprised that your “competitors” that are trying to rank in Google for the same terms as you, are usually not hostile competitors.
I’ve found that these are fellow bloggers that LOVE to connect with others in the same industry.
And as you build trust with each other, you can build a working business relationship that might involve mentorship calls, mastermind groups, or just good old fashion friendships.
I’ve connected with many online entrepreneurs in my industry that I would now consider good friends.
Also, I would advise that you don’t be afraid to hire help!
You don’t have to do every single task on your blog or even write every single word. As you grow, be willing to hire employees so that you can expand your business beyond what you can do yourself.
Hire employees and get tips and advice from other bloggers in your industry in order to help relieve stress and give you fresh ideas.
7. Enjoy the journey
My final piece of advice that I wish I had known when I started blogger was simply to enjoy the journey.
At the end of the day, your online business is likely going to take up a significant portion of your time. You could be doing other things.
But if you can find a way to actually enjoy the process of helping others through your blog, then you will have achieved more than many people ever achieve through their careers.
Without getting too deep here, two of the keys to happiness is strong positive relationships and finding a cause that helps others.
Blogging can potentially help you achieve both of those things in order to have a more fulfilling life. If you can build truly positive relationships with either a small handful of readers or fellow bloggers, you’ll find your experiences much more enjoyable.
If you feel like you are truly helping your audience with a bigger cause, then you can check off another box towards happiness.
For example, my goal with my blog goes beyond just my own financial goals. I truly want to be able to help individuals learn how to build a niche site or other online business that allows them to leave their corporate jobs and enjoy the freedom of working on their own.
So, find a deeper purpose of your blog and try to enjoy the journey from the very beginning.
Overall, I’ll be the first to admit that I’ve made a lot of mistakes in my blogging journey over the last 10 years.
And perhaps that’s why I’m qualified to share some things that I wish I had known before I started my first blog.
I truly believe that taking some of the steps and ideas that I’ve laid out will help you get started blogging with the right attitude, but will also set you on a path to long term success.
Spencer Haws can be found blogging and podcasting at NichePursuits.com where he shares what he learns about building niche sites, SEO, and much more. After successfully quitting his corporate job in 2011 because his niche sites were making more than his day job, he has expanded his business to include software tools like LinkWhisper.com, which helps bloggers and content site creators build internal links much faster and easier.