Risk-taking bloggers make more money

Yesterday I talked about competence and excellence – it’s a theme you’ll be hearing a lot in the next dozen or so articles from me. The basic idea is that “good enough” is never satisfactory – to be successful and to keep moving forward, you have to give it your best shot every single time.

Sometimes you might find it difficult to show up with your “A” game – however, if something is difficult it isn’t an excuse for not making it happen. If you find it difficult it just means that you either need to find a shortcut (work smarter) or dig deep and push through (work harder).

Today I want to talk about something related to competence – risk-taking.

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If you’re stuck for blogging ideas, write the (killer) headline first

When faced with blogger’s block, the only way to beat it is to buckle down, force yourself to write and push through the rough patches (actions produce motivation). However when you run out of ideas (or if your ideas aren’t clear enough), then here’s an effective technique to focus your mind and let your blog post write itself.

Simply put, craft your killer headline first. Simply writing any ordinary headline won’t cut it – you need to dig deep, hit the headline swipe files and spend time creating a gem of a headline.

How this helps bloggers:

  • Forces you to focus on the main idea behind your post, which in turn helps the internal monologue run clearer.
  • Guides you towards the type of post you can / should write. If the headline is designed to create a discussion, then you can write a conversational post. On the other hand, a list headline can help you focus on creating a list and perhaps fleshing it out to create cool linkbait.
  • Allows you to get off a good start – a great headline with an average article will do better than a great article with an average headline in terms of social media. You might think it’s unfair but that’s how our minds work especially in an attention-starved economy. The headline is king, and everything else leads from there.
  • If you find the basic idea not interesting enough, you’ll be able to stop there and not waste time writing a long post only to find out later that it doesn’t get a good response from readers.
  • You may end up with several headlines, leading to several concrete post ideas instead of a jumbled up bunch in your head.

The next time you’re stuck for ideas, try this approach – write the headline first, and shape the article accordingly. If it works for sales copywriting (where success is measured in hard numbers), it works for blogging as well.

Further reading:
101 Great Posting Ideas That Will Make Your Blog Sizzle
Posting Tactics for a Well Rounded Blog
10 Killer Post Ideas

This article was originally written on 8 Sep 2007 for Performancing.com.

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21 ways to build a better blogger

21ways.thumbnail 21 ways to build a better bloggerWhen we talk about ‘creating’ better blogs, there’s an underlying assumption that it’s only the blog that needs improving.

The reality is, us bloggers could use a huge kick up the ass once in a while as well. We get sloppy, we sometimes let our standards slide and worst of all, when it comes to making improvements we look at external factors, not ourselves.

Last month I started compiling a list of ’strategies’ to improve my own blogging – I’m sharing that list here. We can’t become better bloggers overnight – it takes a lot of hard work, just like a blog – but like working on a blog, the best results are achieved when you stick to it and work at it for a long time.

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Three steps for writing good blog posts

Thord (he of Swedish descent and bearing a reputation for ‘crack’ design skills) writes about the two most important skills a blogger can have.

#2 is knowing how to blow your own horn (‘toot’ is so politically correct it gives me a shiver). Thord discusses it in some detail, and I like this part best:

Some of us have some kind of roadblock built in that stops us from promoting ourselves. Get over it. Or get run over.

The #1 skill Thord talks about is knowing how to write good blog posts. Seeing as how T left the door open there, here’s my two (or three) cents on how one may go about writing ‘good’ blog posts.

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Ten networking tips for non-US bloggers

As a blogger residing in a third world country, networking opportunities are limited for me. Logistical problems mean that it is bloody hard to hop over to the US for conferences – and in many cases, us non-US bloggers are at a disadvantage in terms of real networking opportunities.

However, if you’re a non-US blogger (or a non-US/UK blogger), there are several other networking opportunities available for you. Let’s start with the easiest, managing online networking.

It goes without saying that for maximum success, you need to set goals, figure out the best way to achieve them and then get busy moving from point A to point B. It’s the same with networking.

A. ONLINE NETWORKING

Harness the power of email, instant messaging, forums, blogging, Skype, LinkedIn and social networks like Facebook and Twitter. Embrace the online medium and learn how everything works and how you can use it to your benefit.

Some tips:

1. Write Effective Emails

There’s great advice on this subject by Merlin Mann, Guy Kawasaki and the Seton Hill University.

While you should practice the Tim Ferriss formula for dealing with email, it also helps that when you actually do read and reply to your email you do it in a manner that gleans maximum results AND doesn’t require you to go back and forth like you would in an informal IM session.

2. Treat IM conversations as ‘Deadline’ Meetings

Set an agenda before you start, deal with all issues and come out with a plan of action by the end of the conversation. In fact, you should adopt this mindset for every business-related discussion you have, not just IMs.

Like I’ve said earlier, there are times when IM becomes a necessity. However in 99% of the cases, IM is a means to an end. When you’re networking, you have limited time and more importantly you want to deliver value, not just waste the other person’s time.

There is one exception – beyond initial contact, there is always a time when you need to build a good rapport with your contacts, and sometimes the least time-consuming method to do so is IM (I can hold 6 conversations on IM at the same time, I can’t do that on the phone).

3. Master Online Social Networks

The rewards are amazing (and I’m not talking about being a Digg power user). The contacts and relationships you build by participating in forums and social networks are invaluable plus the sheer speed of the social web makes it possible for you to find out about breaking news in real time (if your work depends on being first with the news or acting quickly on new information, this is again critical).

4. Online is NOT Everything

Despite our reliance on the Internet, nothing beats a face-to-face meet or a talk on the phone in terms of building trust. I remember how I had introduced myself to Liz at the beginning and she refused to help me until we’d talked and she could confirm that I was a real person (I think the charming voice helped as well ).

The point is, contact and relationship building is incomplete without the human element. In the absence of a physical meeting, use Skype or Google Talk to talk to your contacts and build strong relationships.

B. DEVELOP A LOCAL NETWORK

Living online is a major obstacle if you want to build a network of business contacts in the real world where you live. Most people will still prefer doing business face-to-face if they can make it happen, and that leaves you with no excuse to not pursue building a local network of contacts in your city / country.

Some suggestions:

5. Use Online Networks To Find Local Contacts

I’ve used my blogging, forums and LinkedIn to attract local business and contacts, and I wasn’t even trying to do that at the time.
Use LinkedIn, Facebook, the blogging interweb and forums (as well as any / all contacts you have) to discover local contacts. You might be pleasantly surprised at what you find.

6. Meet Recruiters

Recently I had the opportunity to meet a local recruiter. Usually I’d shun such contacts at first thought, because the last thing on my mind is to work for a ‘boss’. However, recruiting companies also offer you the chance to build your assets – that is, acquire access to a resource pool that you can later use as leverage for your own projects or any outsourcing project that you happen to snag as a consultant.

Yesterday I was talking to an entrepreneur who wants to take over the world (not literally) and he asked me if I knew any good programmers – I told him I had access to a recruiting company and his eyes lit up (I’m assuming, of course, since he was sitting in the US).

Don’t pass up opportunities to build your assets. Not only will they help you in your projects in the future but they will also make you more valuable as a contact, which will eventually mean that people will come to you instead of the other way around.

7. Meet Local Reps

Have you met folks working for Google in your country? I suggest you seek them out and do so at the first opportunity. While the setup is different depending on which country you’re living in, chances are that you’ll be able to network with people from Google / Yahoo / Microsoft / etc etc at local conferences, seminars and trade shows.

From my (very limited) experience, local reps are almost always evangelists and as a result have a vast array of contacts and opportunities themselves. Get in, make yourself useful and nurture the relationship.

C. THE ART OF SUCCESSFUL NETWORKING

For all the tips and advice, the important bits are foundational and have little to do with networking itself – I’m not here to preach how you should conduct yourself, on the other hand these traits will amplify your networking efforts.

8. Actions Speak Louder Than Words

Have you ever met a person who talks a big game but at the end of the day they rarely have anything to show for it? Would you recommend such a person as a business contact to your network?

Talking a good game is important, but it’s even more important to have the track record to back you up.

9. Be Open and Available

The Internet is a blessing and a curse – it gives us instant access to everything but it also makes us anonymous (some might say that’s a blessing in disguise). It also hits your social life quite hard, so you’ll have to make an extra effort to get your butt out of your chair and move out of your house to meet people.

When it comes to networking, especially when you’re starting out, you need to make it as easy as possible for people to contact you and be ready to meet / talk to new people whenever the opportunity arises. It’s more of a mindset than a habit.

Of course, there’s the obvious exception – if you’re as busy as Matt Cutts or Brad Callen and you’re getting more than 5 emails a minute, you probably need several filters (read: assistants) in between you and people wanting to talk to you (with the odd IM / separate email account for ‘urgent / private’ stuff).

10. Understand How People Tick

You’re in the peoples’ business, so you need to know how people think, act and react and modify your approach accordingly. This is one of those cases where reading that self-help stuff works (make friends, influence people and all that). Learn it, practice it and use this knowledge to your advantage.

So there you have it – solid, actionable advice to improve your networking even if you can’t attend those cool conferences that all the big boys seem to be going to. If you’re looking for a shortcut, here’s the best bet (even better than attending local meets, which was so obvious that I refuse to mention it in the 10 points above): hitch a ride as a consultant with a local firm who will send you to such a conference. Alternatively, sign up as a consultant / contractor to a US-based firm who would (cross your fingers) eventually call you to a meet / training seminar / etc.

What is your #1 networking tip?

This article was originally written on 16 Nov 2007 on Performancing.com.

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Blogging on the move

If you’re a problogger and you travel more than once every 3 months, you need some sort of ‘living on the road’ solution to keep you plugging in and functioning (work-wise, of course). It may be a romantic (and healthy) notion that you should ditch all things work and Net when taking a break, but that’s for those rare once or twice an year vacations.

If, like, me, you’re on the road for a week a month (even car accidents don’t stop me anymore), you don’t only need the right setup (read gadgets and software) but also the right routine – simply put, nothing fracks up your work like an uncertain, unplanned work schedule.

The Tools

If you’re expecting a Internet Tablet / Pocket PC a la Nick and Chris, you’ll be disappointed. I’m packing the Nokia E61i which is light-weight but remarkably effective for blogging on the move (I was sold after this comparison, although to be honest the iPhone and W950 aren’t serious competitors to the E61i).

Thanks to cheap (but annoyingly slow) cellular data plans here, Internet access is rarely a problem. Combine that with the E61i’s WiFi capabilities, you’ve got a working laptop replacement for your travels.

Of course there’s a laptop in the mix as well (a Dell Inspiron 6400 running XP, no exploding batteries though), but when I’m traveling I tend to work light and instead of carrying the laptop, I rely on other people have computers with working Internet connections and carry a Kingston 2GB USB drive packed with portable apps.

You can literally take a whole week off and work from your smartphone and your usb drive – talk about traveling light, eh? There’s a second phone (Nokia 6233) that I use for regular voice calls and old-fashioned networking. Both phones work as decent cameras and there’s the customary iPod nano (with the 6233 an able music backup) to help me stay focused.

The Methods

This is where it gets more interesting. It’s almost impossible for me to work on a regular schedule at home; traveling makes it that much harder. As I discussed earlier this week in my piece on time management, it’s ultra-important to reduce unnecessary activities and especially remove distractions when you’re doing heavy lifting (work that requires a lot of concentration.

Obviously you’re not going to get much done if all you do is read feeds and emails, especially when you have less time in the first place. The big secret – it’s not so much a secret as a changing your mindset, which is not easy to do – is to delegate your blog management. In fact, here are 3 easy strategies you can use to lessen your blogging / working load:

  • Outsource – either temporarily or permanently
  • Arrange for guest bloggers
  • Write articles in advance and set them to publish in the future – this doesn’t work so well for newsy niches, so you might have to hire and train people you can rely on.

It’s imperative that you set aside time every day to work – usually I find that it’s a lot easier find plenty of spare time late afternoon / early evening as opposed to morning, but that’s probably a side-effect of my night-time routine – your mileage may vary. In any case, one big block of work time is easier to manage while traveling, and while working / blogging off your SmartPhone / PDA / Blackberry means you’re usually ‘offline’, it helps if you can find some space to yourself as well. And if you’re not used to working in such surroundings, the music always helps.

What’s Your Secret?

How do you manage the demands of working on the move?

This article was originally written on 9 Nov 2007 for Performancing.com.

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Poaching writers and blog network ethics

One of the big plusses of the Internet is the ability to hire people from across the globe and have them work for you remotely. As a blog (and blog network) owner, I tend to take it for granted that I can, at any point in time, contact any of my bloggers and get them to write something on a particular topic without leaving the comfort of my office (or indeed, home).

The downside is that in the absence of any physical connections (they don’t come to the office to work for you every day), it’s a lot easier for other blog owners and blog networks to approach them. I’m not saying that it makes it easier for bloggers to leave – not at all, loyalty extends beyond borders and physical proximity – but with the access there’s a much greater chance of:

  • You not finding out about the exchange until its too late.
  • The poacher finding out the details of the arrangement from your writer and offering them a better package, perhaps something you can’t offer at the time.

Recently, a blog owner in my network forwarded an email conversation he’d had with a major retailer in our niche. They were interested in having him come on-board as one of their columnists. He’s saying no, but when you start discussing pay packages and everything the only thing a blog owner / network owner can count on is loyalty.

Which brings us to the question for the day: What do you do to keep your employees / network members loyal to you / the network?

This article was originally written on 24 Oct 2007 for Performancing.com.

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News blogging vs ‘Real’ journalism

The default approach bloggers use when ‘reporting news’ is to follow the same pattern as journalists do in their newspaper columns.

Sara Christensen, from Pajama Professional, puts it best:

Breaking news on your blog is great, but that doesn’t mean your posts have to sound like news. If readers want news, they will head to CNN.com. They are at your blog because they want your original viewpoint. The fastest way to lose readers is to start regurgitating news content in a really boring fashion.

For my news blog, I often get contributions from writers who try extremely hard to copy the style of reporting shown on BBC / Times / Guardian. That’s not why readers are coming to my blog, and chances are, that’s not why readers are going towards blogs in the first place.

If you want your readers to stick around, to become a part of the community, and most of all, if you want your blog to stand out and actually build a fan base, you need to infuse your blog (and blogging) with:

  • An original viewpoint (no regurgitated news, ever)
  • A personality

More from Sara’s article:

The thing to remember is, popular blogs become popular because of the blogger. A good blogger shows personality even when he/she is writing about an impersonal topic. Regular readers start to feel like they know the blogger personally. Once this happens, readers form attachments and loyalties that are achievable only in a venue like blogging that highlights a writer’s personality.

Don’t make the same mistake that 99% of the other ‘news’ bloggers are making. If you’re hiring people to write for your news blog, make sure they read Sara’s article and learn that the success of the blog depends on your writing style and content – if you’re going to go down the ’safe’ (bland) route of traditional reporting, you’ll miss out on creating a community and on building a strong, loyal readership.

This article was originally written on 12 Oct 2007 for Performancing.com.

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When serving your readers can sabotage your blog

Serve your readers.

Or so goes the popular blogging mantra. In theory, you should always keep the reader first in your mind, because just like the consumer is always right, your blog is nothing if it doesn’t serve the desires of your much-valued readers.

In practice, there’s such a thing as bending over backwards too far to accommodate your readers at the expense of compromising the objectives of your blog – which, in case you haven’t taking Blogging 101, is a big NO-NO.

For example, let’s take the case of Hugh Macleod’s excellent blog, Gaping Void. I, like many others, hit that blog up only for his artwork. Not to be rude, but I’m not interested in the projects Hugh is working on, or what’s going on in his personal life (I would if we were friends, but that hasn’t happened yet).

Now if a lot of readers were to ask Hugh to setup a category / tag / special feed for just his comic posts, would that be a bad idea from a “be user-friendly” perspective? I mean, if there is a significant portion of your readers who are coming only for the comics and emailing you (like I’ve emailed Hugh 3-4 times before I realised why it would be bad for his blog) to setup something separate, wouldn’t it make sense to serve their needs better?

The thing is, Gaping Void is not just about comics drawn on the back of business cards, despite the tag-line. Over the years it has morphed into something more – if I were to venture an uninformed guess, it’s a public forum for Hugh to discuss his views on a variety of issues, most of them tied together with the common thread of marketing / the Internet. You might not care about what Hugh thinks, but that’s what his blog is for.

Who should compromise here? In my view it’s the readers who should bite the bullet and learn to skim the blog for cartoons (it’s surprisingly easy to skim over text and look just for the pictures) – for Hugh, a lot of these readers will also end up reading what he writes, and this way his views and his projects get more eyeballs than they would if he siphoned the comic-only readers off to a special feed / section of the site.

Serve your readers, but not at the expense of sabotaging the reason why you blog in the first place.

This article was originally written on 11 Oct 2007 for Performancing.com.

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The other side of blogger credibility

If you want to be known as an expert in your niche, one of the best ways to build your credibility is to get published in popular media – whether that’s offline or online.

It is credibility through association – books and newspapers are generally associated with expertise, authority, research and knowledge, so if you end up writing a book or a column in a newspaper, you can establish your own credibility by virtue of association (this applies to industry-leading blogs too, by the way – why do you think guest blogging is so hot?)

Today I want you to look at it from a different angle – how getting published in a major newspaper or leading website / blog in your niche is NO guarantee that you’re any good at what you do.

These days self-publishing is easier than ever. Anyone can put together 50 pages and call it a book – slap it next to your profile on your blog, spin some hype and you’re on your way to being an expert.

And you’d be surprised at how much journalists usually know compared to the general population – usually it’s a lot of spin coupled with access to more news / gossip / rumours than the ordinary man on the street. Once you mash together opinion with half-truths, hype and metaphors you have the makings of a genius column.

As indicators of expertise, publishing a book and writing a newspaper (or blog) column are superficial signs – highly effective at manipulating mass perception on a subtle and subconscious level but not enough on their own to demonstrate expertise.

Earlier this week I got an article submission from an unknown blogger. It was an average article, and while we’ve published ‘average’ and sometimes below average pieces on that blog before, I chose to turn this one down because I wanted to stick to quality. In my reply, I told the author that the article was not ‘good enough’ to go up on the site. Perhaps a bit harsh, but that was the truth at the time.

The next day I get an angry email from an acquaintance, another blogger in the same niche and a friend of the first author. I was summarily presented with the original author’s ‘accomplishments’ and their status as an expert (thanks to them being a regular columnist for a leading news site).

The incident struck a chord with me because sometimes people – good writers – get to a point where they are too full of themselves to consider that their work is crap. I’ve been there, and I know how angry one feels at being ‘turned down’, but the reality is that if you’re not delivering what your audience wants and if you keep relying on your reputation rather than the quality of your work, you’re going nowhere, fast.

When it comes to trusting a blogger and estimating their expertise, don’t use their reputation or the fact that they wrote at so and so blog as a definitive criteria (although it does help to weed out the trash) – make sure that you read what they write without any bias and then decide if they are any good.

This article was written on 11 Oct 2007 for Performancing.com.

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