When I started blogging I remember seeing other people getting dozens of comments on their posts, making a living online from their blogs, and wondering “How can I get in on that??”
As bloggers and creatives who want to make a living online, to try to get to the answer we research, explore, try new things and try to figure out what resonates with the mysterious people who are reading our posts. And when you do find something that people respond to? We hold onto that, tight! We start trying to recreate that experience. We feel lucky, talented, and a little pressure to recreate that.
The problem is that it's easy to confuse attention with success and end up off track with a blog that doesn't make you a living.
When I started this blog it was all personal. I wrote about my life, recipes, craft projects, and shared lots of pictures about my life. I was (and still am) deeply passionate about storytelling, loved working with my hands, and experimenting with photography. That mix of skills made me feel like blogging was just right for me, and my craft project posts started to get some attention online. So I followed that momentum, and built a blog around those posts.
By building on what my audience responded to I built a craft and lifestyle blog that got 40-50 comments per post, around 2000 views a day, monthly advertisers, and was publishing five days a week.
Sounds successful, right? As a blog reader, I would have thought it was a booming, successful blog. At the time I was thrilled.
But was also never going to make me a living.
Why would I say that?
Certainly there were ways that I could have made it work better. But a blog that publishes daily is very hard to keep up on your own because, as all you dedicated bloggers know, you're doing much more than just writing posts. It's possible to sustain, even for a few years, but the pace and constant deadlines of content creation means that it becomes very hard to make decisions that support your growth.
Like most other bloggers, without a team to back me up, I skipped crucial strategies that could grow my blog into something sustainable, like basic SEO skills or learning about marketing. Similarly, creating projects that might have helped to support me through the blog, like online courses or working as a consultant, was made infinitely more difficult by attempting them while churning out a high volume of content.
(And that doesn't even touch on how you almost always end up sacrificing quality! Yeesh!)
While there are lots of brave bloggers who share their monthly earnings now (so fascinating!) before 2010 that level of disclosure wasn't common. I think if it was, I'd have had a much better idea of how a well rounded business runs behind a blog, so huge thanks to everyone who's showing that advertising on a blog isn't what most professional bloggers make their income on.
There was no one thing I read on any one blog that mislead me or tripped me up, but my my preconceived ideas that came from being a long time blog reader almost made me give up on working for myself. Now if you were less naive, more informed, and seamlessly created a sustainable blog and business without working 70 hours a week, I have nothing but respect and congratulations for you. But at the time, blogging conferences and posts were full of writers sharing this as a path to success. And I think that idea, that you just need to write harder and keep your head down, is still out there to some degree.
For myself, while I enjoyed crafting, I didn't feel fulfilled by the conversations I was having, or the work I was doing on that version of that site. I had followed the loudest voice in the room (my commenters) without considering if what I was building was realistic for me to maintain. Instead, I should have examined my strengths, planted my feet and attracted an audience that saw value in those strengths.
When I became a blogger, I brought my values as a blog reader with me, and they distorted my ability to see that success online really does come in a huge range of shapes and sizes.
As a consultant and web designer it's both comforting – and disheartening – to see that I'm not alone in making this mistake. Again and again, I see high traffic blogs that look successful and have harried bloggers behind them, who earn next to nothing for their effort. And on the flip side of that coin there's quieter websites that look less successful from the outside – by lifestyle blog standards – but do gangbusters by pouring their energy into what their clients are hungry for.
You have to be careful about what you measure your success by, because your comment count doesn't affect your balance sheet at the end of the month. Your Pinterest referrals don't care if you can support your family.
Caring about and prioritizing what makes you a living is up to you alone. (click to tweet it!)
When I started writing about blogging and sharing my work, my blog audience wasn't sure what to make of it, and that was hard to go through. But very quickly I started attracting people who were passionate about exploring the same questions that I was, and who were actually excited to pay me to help them!
I still have people tell me that they stopped reading my blog and miss my posts about my life and craft projects. I deeply appreciate that my blog has a special place in their heart, but the funny thing is that when I stopped focusing my blog on those things was when I started being able to really savour them, instead of frantically rushing through them so I could publish my next post. It's also when I started making a good living online, through offering services through my blog.
If the skills and beliefs that got you here could be what's keeping you from success, it's worth examining them.
If your heart is set on making a living online, you owe it to yourself to figure out what you're passionate about.
You owe it to yourself to actively question your ideas about what makes a blog or a website successful. To research, and test, and work with people who are actually doing that for themselves.
You owe it to yourself to change topics, strategies, and anything else you need to make sure your blog and work are aligned to focus on something that you love and fits with your goals.
You owe it to your future and big dreams to experiment, try new things, and ask big questions, until your intuition and direction is louder than the loudest voice in the room.