As digital professionals we should be blogging. Yet regularly blogging is tough. But after 10 years of blogging almost every week, I have discovered a few tips that will help you find your blogging rhythm.
This blog has made my career. If I hadn't started publishing it I would be sitting in a cubicle somewhere hating my job. When I started blogging, few were doing it and it gave me a competitive advantage. Today, there is a lot more competition. But a blog can still be a boost to your career. That is because many start a blog, but few keep going. The web is full of abandoned blogs.
If you can find your blogging rhythm and keep at it for a sustained length of time, I guarantee you will see great results. Just some of the benefits I have experienced from blogging include:
- A huge boost to my personal profile.
- Prospective clients approaching me after reading my posts.
- Better informed clients who feel I provide valuable insights.
- More repeat work from clients who want to apply what I write about to their business.
But a blog doesn't just benefit consultants like me. They are great for those of you who work in house too. They:
- Increase your profile in the company.
- Educate colleagues.
- Improve your reputation as an expert.
- Help justify your decisions.
So, how do you keep going when so many give up? To start with you need some focus.
Do you know your audience and goals?
Too many start a blog because that is what they feel they should do. But few know why they are doing it. What is their goal for the site? What do they want their readers to do? For that matter, who is their ideal reader?
Knowing these basic things about your blog will make life so much easier. Having goals will keep you motivated. It will also provide focus to your writing, because you will post on topics related to the action you want people to complete.
Now I know what you are thinking. This post isn't about either of those topics. But this post does support the mentorship services I offer. I spend a lot of time helping my mentorship clients improve their comms strategies.
As for audiences, once you know who those are, coming up with topics to write about will be much easier. You can focus on answering the questions they have or educating them on subjects where you know they are weak. This is so important, because coming up with topics is one of the many challenges bloggers face.
How to keep thinking of great topics
One reason so many bloggers stop posting is that they can't think of what to write about after the initial flurry of ideas. But this is kind of ridiculous when you think about it.
As digital professionals we are learning all the time. A blog is a great place to record what you have learned in your own words. Also, as I have already said, there are no shortage of questions your audience wants answers to. Let alone the questions they don't even know they should be asking!
The problem is that your mind can go blank when you sit down to write. Instead we need to keep a list of potential topics that we are always adding to. For example I was writing a post months back and it occurred to me a post on blogging might be a good topic. Now you are reading the result of that fleeting idea.
That said, I almost didn't write this post. That is because it struck me there must be thousands of posts on this topic already. But you have to let go of that. You are never going to write something that somebody somewhere hasn't already covered. The trick is to bring your own take on it. To express your approach or your opinion.
The problem is that many of us are afraid to express our opinions online because we fear criticism.
How to defeat your fear of criticism
I can promise you that to begin with nobody is going to criticise a word you write. The reason I can make this outrageous claim is because to begin with nobody is going to read what you write! But in time, this will change and sooner or later somebody will tell you how wrong you are.
I won't lie to you. People can be horrible about your posts. People don't just criticise what you write, they will attack you as a human being. It hurts, but in time you learn to ignore it. You learn to value the opinion of a few regular readers and spot the trolls a mile off. That said, there are some things you can do to lesson the chance of criticism.
First, make it clear that you are expressing a personal opinion and not suggesting your approach is the only one. This will prevent people getting hot under the collar if they approach the subject in a different way.
Next, tell stories of your own experiences. People cannot argue with what happened to you. You are just repeating your personal experience and not suggesting things are the same for them.
Finally, ask your audience their opinion. If there is a subject you lack confidence in, write your thoughts and then ask the reader for theirs. This makes it clear you are not establishing yourself as an expert, but rather speaking as an equal.
Hopefully now you are feeling a bit more confident about writing. You know who you are writing for, what you want to achieve and have a list of potential topics. But what about that moment when you sit down and write?
A fantastic blogging workflow in a nutshell
First of all, don't feel like you need to write a blog post in a single sitting. I rarely do. Instead I pass through six stages over a period of time that leads to my finished posts.
1. Create the outline
I begin by creating an outline. This is often just a few notes or bullet points I add when I first come up with the idea. Later I tend to flesh these out a little into a more structured outline.
2. Write the initial draft
With an outline in place I sit down and write an initial draft. But I do this in a particular way. I just write, and I don't stop until I reach the end. I never edit. The moment I stop to fix typos or restructure the post I loose momentum and struggle to finish it.
Ernest Hemingway put it well when he said:
Write drunk, edit sober.
In other words you want to be free in your writing. It wants to be a stream of consciousness, unencumbered by the need for quality. I must admit, I sometimes take Hemingway's words a bit too far and have a glass of wine next to me as I write.
3. Edit the post
Once I have sobered up and the initial draft is complete I turn to editing. Ironically I use an app called Hemingway to do this. This app highlights ways I could tighten up my text. Things such as simplifying complex sentences, losing adjectives and removing passive tone of voice.
This is also a chance to read through the post for the first time and make sure I am making sense. But one read through is never enough.
4. Read back and review
With the edit complete, I now read the post one more time. I tend to get my Mac to read the post out loud. I used to read it out loud myself, but I tended to read what I thought I had written, rather than what I did. A computer isn't that forgiving and so any errors jump out immediately.
This is an important stage in a world of autocorrect. Too often I type one word and my Mac substitutes another. A spell checker won't help with that.
Despite all this, errors will get through. Whatever you do, don't get hung up on these. People will tell you they look unprofessional and criticise you for the mistakes. But the minute you obsess over these mistakes is the minute you stop posting as often. It is better to post regular thoughts with a few errors in, than dry up because posting has become too much work.
5. Make it sexy!
With my copy finished, it is time to make it more… sexy. Okay, sexy might not be the right word but I cannot think of a better one. The aim now is to encourage people to read the post.
I start with the title. The working title of this post is "Finding your blogging rhythm" but I can pretty much guarantee that won't be the one you see. I need something more engaging than that. I use a tool called the Coschedule Headline optimiser to help me write a better title. I also use this tool for section titles.
Like Hemingway App, this tool isn't perfect by any means. But it ensures I take the time to think about better headlines.
With that done I look at the post itself. I always start a post with a short summary. This serves two purposes. First it gives the reader an overview of the entire post. Second it acts as a teaser to draw them in.
Finally I pepper the post with images and pull-out quotes. This breaks up the text and helps the reader scan the page better.
6. Publish and share
The last step in the process is to publish the post and share it on social media. Most posts I write get shared five times:
- On publish.
- Later the same day (to reach other timezones).
- The next day.
- The following week.
- After one month.
Also, if the post is not likely to become out of date then it goes into a list of what I call evergreen posts. One post from this list gets shared every week on a rotation basis.
This all seems like a lot of work I know. In fact the number one reason people give for stopping blogging is a lack of time. But finding the time isn't as hard as you think.
How to find the time for better blogging
It now only takes me 2 hours to publish a blog post. The more you write, the easier it becomes. But in the early days it did take me longer.
In fact I started blogging in the evenings. I just didn't have time in the workday to dedicate to the job. At least that is what I thought. But as I saw the value of blogging, I seemed to find the time. It was worth my time because I saw tangible returns.
But you might not be in that place yet and that is fair enough. I would encourage you to keep your posts short. That way it won't take as long. I also want to share another counter intuitive piece of advice. Don't worry about quality.
Remember that to begin with few people are going to read your content anyway. It is more important to form the habit and if that means you cut corners to save time then fair enough. Posting on a regular schedule is far more important than creating a perfectly crafted piece.
Also, the more you write the better you will become. The quality will improve through simple practice. You don't need to agonise over every word.
If you try and make every blog post perfect you will soon join the legion of people who give up on blogging before they see the rewards.
There is no doubt that the first few months of blogging can be hard. You struggle to write and see little return. But it is worth it and I would encourage you to keep going. If you are demoralised, take a moment to share your frustrations in the comments and I will do my best to help.