When I first began blogging, almost 8 years ago, I had no clue it would ever have become a full-fledged career, one that brings in a good income and has given me opportunities I never dreamed of.
Though I have days where my “job” frustrates me as much as anything else, most of the time I’m grateful for it and the freedom and fulfillment that comes with it.
It’s not an easy road, however. When I see articles promising would-be bloggers the secrets of success – the 12 steps to creating a profitable blog or 5 ways to make a post go viral – I get frustrated because I wonder a) how many of the authors behind these articles have really done this thing for the long haul and b) why they’re insistent on making blogging out to be simpler than it is.
Yes, there are definitely dos and don’ts. There are strategies that are smarter and others that won’t get you very far.
But what they rarely talk about is what it takes to stick around, create a blog with genuine value and longevity, and not become another flash in the pan blogger.
I’m no expert. I’ve had my fair share of failures over my years of blogging.
There have been times when it felt like I was on a roll, that everything I typed turned to gold, and I began to get pretty darn impressed with myself.
Then there were the other times — when I couldn’t seem to make the traffic or the earnings budge, no matter how hard I worked. Times when my numbers went backwards instead of forwards. Times when I was greatly humbled and realized that continued success was not guaranteed, that there would always be others doing better than myself, and that being overlooked, misunderstood and criticized was par for the course.
I’m not giving you a post with the next 8 things you should be doing to achieve blogging success, or the 15 blogging secrets you need to know. I figure there are already enough of those out there.
Instead, I’m bringing you a list of very real, hard-earned, dog-eared, vulnerable and sometimes raw lessons that have come out of my time in this field. I hope this realistic look into the blogosphere proves ultimately more helpful than any rah-rah post I could write.
(And I will definitely write more strategic, how-to type blogging posts in the future, but this particular 2-part post is what’s on my heart to share first, before getting into the minutia.)
16 lessons I’ve learned in almost 8 years of blogging
1. I will never “make it”.
I know now that I will never reach the pinnacle or be able to pat myself on the back because golly gee, I’ve really made something of myself or my blog.
Blogging changes too fast. What’s successful one year (or one month, for that matter) won’t be the next year. Just when you think you’ve “made it”, you haven’t. Blogging is so much better once you accept this truth.
2. Change is the name of the game in the fast-moving online world.
There aren’t many work spaces like the online world where things change quite so rapidly. Back when I began, blogs hadn’t really caught on yet. Most were simple Blogspot or Typepad communities where posts were rambling, paragraphs long, pictures small or non-existent, and comments plentiful.
A couple years in and we were getting a little fancier. Most of us had given our design a makeover, gotten friendly on Twitter and Facebook, switched to larger and higher quality images, and decided that we ought to use the return button more liberally.
Fast forward another year or two, and it was like someone had thrown in some gas and a match, because it all exploded. Suddenly the norm was uber-professional posts on self-hosted WordPress sites with custom-designed child themes, Pinterest-perfect photos, strategic social media sharing that often took hours upon hours each week, wowzer headlines and more of a focus on traffic than audience engagement. With the increased time and effort it took to keep up such elaborate processes, every blog worth its salt hired on a Virtual Assistant (or two) and many began to have an entire team behind what went out to the world each week (mine included).
And even in the midst of all this, I see more change around the bend… I sense a growing desire for more storytelling, less know-it-alls, more imperfection, less “expert” how-tos, more real life, more conversation, less email newsletters, more authenticity, less 5 step solutions. And so it shall continue.
3. Blogging requires constant re-invention.
As a result of the ever-changing and fluid nature of blogging, it’s not good enough to stay as you are. Sometimes the speed at which things change feels mind boggling.
It’s like white water rafting. One minute you’re floating serenely down the river enjoying the scenery, but the next you’re battling to stay upright as you go head-to-head with rapids.
If you want your blog to continue to grow or maintain its traffic, to keep the income coming in, to satisfy the changing desires of readers, and just to stay in the game at all, you have to resolve to always be willing to evaluate what you’re doing and overhaul things when necessary. There’s no such thing as resting on your laurels.
(And this is a bit of a sidenote, but this re-invention isn’t only for the sake of the blog… sometimes it’s for the sake of the blogger. Continuing to run and write for a site, month after month, year after year, sometimes requires changing up how you do things to keep it fresh and interesting enough to want to keep doing at all.)
4. There’s always more to learn.
These past 8 years have NOT made me a blogging expert. In fact, I would say that all of these aspects of blogging (the changes, the need for reinvention, the impossibility of “arriving”) have only made me humbler.
About 3, 4, 5 years ago, when I began to hit my stride and see some impressive results, I started thinking I was really something special. Long story short = I wasn’t and I’m not.
I know today just how much I don’t know, and I firmly believe I’m a better blogger because of that realization. The very best bloggers I know are perpetual students and haven’t let whatever level of success they’ve achieved give them a big head.
5. Haters gonna hate.
You will always displease people. Someone will always disagree with you. Sometimes many people will disagree with you. I’ve even had posts on my site that went viral because they were passed around by members of a particular profession with scorn (ie. “Can you believe what this stupid website is saying?!”).
It’s inevitable. Part of blogging is learning to roll with it. Develop a back like a duck. Try hard not to listen to the critics and focus on those who are blessed by your work instead.
That doesn’t mean it doesn’t sting. Sometimes it really does. But to blog long term, you have to learn to care a whole lot less about the critics, and focus on your inner compass instead.
6. More isn’t always better.
One common refrain in the pro blogging world the last few years has been more. More social media posts. More images. Publishing more often. More ads on your site. More freebies to get people to sign up for your list. More plugins to manage it all. More elaborate blog designs.
I won’t say that more hasn’t worked for some bloggers. It has. But more is not necessarily the right answer for everyone and ultimately, it depends on what your goals are and how you measure success.
I know many bloggers with a more minimalistic approach – less social media, a simpler blog design, less calls to action, less emails to their list, less ads. And you know what? They’re staying true to their convictions and their own way of doing things, and they’re making a living doing it.
… to be continued next Monday. I suppose we can add to the list that 8 years of blogging has made me verbose and opinionated, as well. 🙂
Update: Part 2 is now up and you can read it here.