People are trying to help you: Are you listening?

Yesterday I talked about how bloggers should be more generous; how they should learn to give more instead of just asking for favors.

Before you can be all ‘giving’ though, you need to know exactly what you’re going to ‘give’. Doing favors blindly doesn’t make any practical sense – ideally you want to make a meaningful contribution to someone else’s life, and to figure out what matters to people in your social circle, you have to listen first.

As bloggers our job is to talk – we talk to our readers, we talk to advertisers, we talk to our employees, we talk smack with competitors – it’s pretty much a full-time talking job, blogging.

However, in all this talking we need to find the time to shut up and listen to the people around us – to learn what they want, to learn from their suggestions, criticisms and support, and to spot ideas in what they do and say. Listening to others (and more importantly, to the right people) gives you the kind of knowledge few people can hope to attain, and with that comes the ability to do make a genuine difference in your own life and that of others.

So who should you listen to? Here are a few ideas:

Your Readers: Blogging is about relationships (we keep saying this over and over again), and if you’re not in tune with what your readers want, you won’t be able to serve them properly and you will, sooner or later, end up loosing them.

This is a tricky place because there are many people who, on the surface, lead their audiences instead of their readers leading them. This is an illusion, I assure you. While the person may be headstrong, seemingly independent or just plain controversial, the reality is that bloggers are successful BECAUSE they provide what people want, and to know what they want you have to listen to them.

When it comes to listening to your readers, pull out all the stops. Do your keyword and niche research, monitor industry trends, read all comments, take onboard all suggestions and most of all, discuss issues in public and get input from your community. You don’t have to listen to them – you probably shouldn’t allow mob voting to make your decisions anyway – but taking their views onboard gives you a chance to listen to all sides and it also integrates readers more into the community.

Your Advertisers: The next time you have someone contact you to advertise on your blog, watch how they approach you, what they offer, how they continue negotiations, etc. Everything they say or do is a clue that can help you make more money from your site, so you’d better be listening.

One of the key things I’ve learned from listening to advertisers is to make as much information as possible available on the site in a prominent position so that advertisers can get a clue quickly (you’d be surprised at how many bloggers do their ‘advertise here’ pages wrong). Another thing I’ve learned is to reduce the number of options available to advertisers – too many options confuse them and reduce their chances of making a buying decision on the spot. Yet another thing I’ve learned is that while US based advertisers are comfortable working over email, UK based advertisers prefer using the phone (or Skype) before concluding a deal. It’s a minor detail (and possibly an inaccurate interpretation) but it’s an example of the hundreds of little things you can learn about advertising, about what your blog is doing right / wrong, about your niche, etc.

Your Employees: If you’ve hired people to work for you, pay attention to their suggestions and more importantly give them the right nurturing environment to grow and network for themselves. It boils down to the principle of giving – the more you help the people that work for you, the better it will be for you in the long run.

Yes, there will be some people who will only look to take advantage of you. Weed these characters out in the beginning and move forward.
Your writers, your designer / programmer / marketer – anyone you hire could be the source of the next idea that could double your blog’s income. Underestimate the benefits at your own peril.

Your Competition: In a competitive environment the players find different ways to gain an edge on their peers. As an observer, you can learn a lot by simply examining what makes your competitors successful and adapting that to your benefit.

90% of your competition is too proud, too lazy or just too anal to learn from listening. Be the 10% that break the mold and observe their environment. Combined with what we talked about yesterday in ‘Going for Broke‘, intelligent observations (or just listening) can be your ticket to blogging success.

Network with your competition, as much as possible. The relationships you build here will be invaluable in the long run.

Your Mentors: Your mentor may be someone you turn to for guidance in times of need, or it may be someone whose work you follow regularly or a one-on-one relationship with someone who is guiding you in your business. You may have one mentor or several, you may change mentors or stick with one person for a long time.

Whatever your case, listen from your mentor(s), learn and for the love of whatever you believe in, apply it in your life.

Takeaway: Schedule some time out today to listen to your readers, to the people around you. Schedule some time in your daily routine to just listen, observe and learn.

Bottom line – in a career where it’s mostly one-way traffic, it pays to take a break from time to time and let the traffic flow the other way for a change.

This article was originally written on 27 Sep 2007 for Performancing.com.

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