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From Terrible to Okay in 90 Days
Step 1: Just Start
Time and again, I hear the advice "just begin."
It makes sense. When faced with a new challenge, especially when it is not clear how to get from A to B, people have a tendency to over-prepare.
I was an active options trader for over five years. Most platforms allow you to do "paper trading" first, which is using fake money to get the hang of trading. I took advantage of this system when starting out, but it didn't help me as much as I'd hoped.
Practice is valuable, but I learned more from my first trade than I did in 6 months of "fake" trading. As soon as my hard-earned money was on the line, I found myself behaving differently. I broke previously-established rules. I acted impulsively, emotionally. Emotion is the enemy of investing, and I took my share of losses early on.
As painful as the lesson was, it was also potent. Parallels certainly exist between my trading experience and my blog.
I spent hours upon hours investigating every website builder out there. I tried them all, finally settling on one that balanced ease of use, cost, and domain structure for their free service (Wix free subdomain was in the format yourusername.wixsite.com/yoursite, which is clunky and unfriendly for sharing).
In reality, that last one should have been left out of my consideration since I bought my own domain just a few weeks in, but you live and learn.
In retrospect, I lost a lot of time trying to determine "the best" way to start a website. Nothing prepared me as well as when I purchased the domain. Suddenly with money on the line, I learned quite a bit more about the benefits and drawbacks of my chosen builder.
My recommendation would be to just pick one and move on. Weebly is great as a drag & drop, and WordPress is the most-used builder for a reason. Pick one of the two and migrate as needed later.
Step 2: Create Content
The early days were about creating as much content as I could. My goal was to produce quality articles and tools that could help my readership (not that I knew who my readership was).
Despite my attempts, my earliest articles were terrible. They were extremely short, lacked focus, and are altogether embarrassing for me to read today. Not that I'm going to win a Pulitzer now, but seriously, these articles stunk!
Slowly I got better at producing longer-format blog posts with more information and better flow. I began to understand my ideal customer avatar (ICA), a concept I learned from Amy Porterfield - this is essentially who I am writing to.
I imagine them as a real person, and I seek to learn as much about that person as I can. When I write, I write to them. My products are those that my ICA already wants. Statistically, there will be real people out there that match my ICA, which is how I can hope to develop an audience.
To get better at writing...I just wrote. Each day I tried to write a small amount, even if it did not result in a posted article. Practice, practice, practice.
I also learned that writing a blog post is not the same as business or creative writing. On blog posts, you can break the rules more often. End a sentence in a preposition? Go for it! Begin a sentence with "and" or "but?" Do it!
Blog posting is conversational, so you have much more freedom in what is permissible.
Step 3: Grow Traffic
Just having a website doesn't mean anyone will find it. So, with a few articles under my belt, I set my sights on getting the word out. I began by signing up for most every major social media platform I could.
Canva is an amazing image creation website that allows you to choose from templates for social media posts, flyers, and basically any other design you can imagine.
Best of all, it's free to use.
Canva also has functionality to post directly to your social media accounts, which is very handy.
Tailwind is focused on scheduling posts to Pinterest, but options exist to also post to Facebook and Instagram. Twitter functionality was sadly removed.
Tailwind is free to start, but you may need a paid account for additional pins at a certain time.
I will return to these two apps a bit later.
I'm also exploring options for the future including YouTube. Because I am anonymous, YouTube presents logistical challenges (do I appear on video? provide voice over only? try for something more artistic like "whiteboard drawing animation?"). If it makes sense, I'll figure something out.
Another way to get your name out there is advertising. I've started doing this very selectively with social media sites like Facebook.
While the cost can be limited to any budget, I fundamentally do not like spending money without any revenue. As I begin to monetize the site, however, this will probably be one of the first areas I invest a small amount.
Step 4: Establish Credibility
And I don't mean in a "fake it 'til you make it" sort of way. Establish credibility by being credible.
I began to establish credibility by reaching out to specific groups. I became very involved in my local ChooseFI Facebook group, for example. Anytime I have posts related to travel rewards, I post my article specifically in that group in addition to any other social media posting / marketing I might do.
I also try to answer questions and generally be part of the community. The purpose is to provide a free resource and help before seeking anything in return.
Next, I contacted a few people in the financial independence space that I respected - the one that contacted me back was J from Millennial Boss. She let me do a guest-post on her site, helping me to get my feet wet and drive traffic to both our brands. This type of win-win can make a huge difference and has given me the confidence to keep going despite impostor syndrome.
Networking does not have to be awkward or sleezy, and I will continue to reach out to respected members of the community to see if I can provide value. I don't see these people as my competition. They're my inspiration.
Step 5: Learn to Work Smarter
When starting a business, there is no shortage of things to do. Time and money are interchangeable at this point - you can spend your time on the business, learning and doing as much as possible, or you can spend money to get some of that time back.
If you're just starting out, chances are your business will not immediately make money. I sure know mine hasn't.
Since this website is not yet an income generator, but just a drain, I constantly look for the most cost-effective ways to work smarter. Let's return for a moment to Canva.
As I mentioned, Canva allows you to create images for blog posts, social media shares, coupons, and pretty much anything you can imagine. It has saved me a lot of time in creating media for my site, and it is 100% to use.
They do offer a premium service that I'm seriously considering for the future, which allows you to switch formats while maintaining the same content on the image. This is especially valuable for using the same content to post to multiple social media accounts in each proper format.
What about stock photos like the ones you see on this post? Pixabay and similar sites let you download free stock photos to add to your site. In the early days, it makes much more sense to utilize a free service to quicken the process. All the sites I mention have paid options for when you get to the "people know me" stage.
Another consideration is how to produce content in the most efficient way.
When to Work
I learned that I produce my best articles around lunch. I can shut my door and lose myself in the creative process uninterrupted.
Trying to write in the evenings is difficult since distractions are more common. Your most productive time my be completely different than mine, so it is worth the effort to try out a few schedules and see what sticks.
Early on, I came across the idea of batching. Instead of producing only one blog post every few days, I sometimes bang out two or three posts during one long session. This creates a few benefits:
1. You can batch when you're feeling the most creative.
This helps address writer's block and prevents you from forcing a post just for the sake of content.
2. You can group content in a way that makes sense.
Batching allows you to put out posts that lead into other topics. Posting without a plan can lead to posts feeling haphazard.
3. Leave your audience wanting more.
Because you know which posts are coming out next, you can insert teasers at the end of your posts for the next post. So far I have not used this technique because my readership is rather low, and I often update old content to combine posts or expand ideas.
4. You have the flexibility to change gears.
If a particularly relevant or timely topic comes about, you can interrupt your normal posting plan. Having posts in the queue takes the pressure off to work on relevant content immediately.
Step 6: Diversify Revenue Streams
There are plenty of articles detailing how to make money blogging, but most do not mention that there are restrictions making it more difficult to strike it rich right out of the gate.
After all, if it were that easy, everyone would have a blog.
No, making money with my site has been difficult. At the risk of losing credibility (maybe I should re-read Step 4 above?), here is my honest share for the day.
To date, I have earned exactly nothing from blogging. It's true that I'm very early in my business, so I hope to at least make enough to pay for my hosting in the near future.
Blogging, like most businesses, can benefit from diversified revenue streams. If your revenue is highly dependent on site traffic, a down month can sink the ship. If you have alternate forms of income (for instance, a subscription-based system), one negative dip will not end the business.
With that in mind, here are the main revenue streams I've set up:
Advertisements and I have a rocky relationship.
I have a long history of using ad-blockers because of intrusive ads, but the fact is that most sites will need ads to generate income.
My goal is to only utilize ads that are not overly-intrusive. I'll sometimes place relevant ads in key locations on the site, but I generally do not want to hold my content hostage while you scroll past ads.
The vast majority of my "suggested content" advertising comes at the bottom of my posts. I figure that users who read that far can either choose to ignore those ads since they're finished, or click through if something actually seems relevant.
The main difficulty I've had with ads is getting accepted by an ad service. Most of the big players (Google Adsense, Mediavine, etc.) will not look at you unless you have reasonable traffic to your site. In many cases, you'll need 100,000 unique visits per month or more.
I qualify for very few advertising groups, and the value per click is much lower. Hopefully this will change as my site grows, but you should keep this in mind when beginning.
Affiliate marketing is essentially selling someone else's product. In contrast to advertisements, I use affiliate marketing throughout my pages. My logic is this.
My affiliate relationships are for products that I'm currently using or have used in the past. I endorse these products, and I'm including them in my writing because I honestly believe you will find use with them.
If I mention a book, I always include an Amazon text link and search widget for you to find it easier. A tool like that should not be hidden at the end of a post where you need to search for it.
A nice thing about affiliate marketing is how easy it is to get accepted into the programs. There is only one that rejected me outright. I pick and choose from the other programs to find affiliates that I actually believe in.
This is one I'm considering for the future.
One of my passions is teaching, so it might be a good fit to produce an online course to sell to my customers.
Creating a course can take a long time, but it is another evergreen revenue source.
Nowadays, it is incredibly easy to create your own website. Free drag & drop builders make it possible to set up a personal site in almost no time.
Making that site into a full-fledged business is considerably more time-consuming and difficult. However, if you follow my guidance above, you too can go from bad to less-bad in just a few short months!
Have you ever created your own website or started your own business? How did it go and what did you learn? What is your favorite productivity or time-saving tool? Let me know in the comments below!