What sort of blogging tips does one learn after almost nine years of blogging? What sort of ‘business tricks’ do you discover after working with hundreds of clients?
Friends, a lot of my best blogging and business advice is stuff your mom has probably told you. “Be nice!” “Do what you say you’re going to do!” “Get your elbows off the table and take a breath between bites for Pete’s sake!”
Last Monday I turned 37. As I type this, I’ve been getting paid to write for 17 years, blogging for 9, and self-employed for 6.
Here’s everything I’ve learned about blogging, business, and balancing both of those with a life you really love.
Images are more powerful than words
Images are a jillion times* more engaging than words. Are you more likely to click on a tweet that’s words? Or words + and an amazing image of a cat in an astronaut suit? Do you click on Facebook posts that are 200 uninterrupted words? Prooooobably not. Do you pin posts that feature all words and zero images? Nope!
* scientific term
** not just images of barns
If you believe in your product, you owe it to yourself + your creation to market and sell it properly
Many of us (my former self included!) belong to the “I made a thing it’s over there if you want it” school of marketing. We worry that SEO and hashtags and sales funnels are “too much” or somehow sell-out-y.
But if you made something great and it can truly change people’s lives or businesses, shouldn’t you be trying to get it into as many people’s hands as possible?
Think about the books, movies, and methodologies that have changed your life. Where would we be if John Gottman or Liz Gilbert or Ira Glass or Danielle LaPorte had blushed and stammered and refused to self-promote?We’d never know about their wonderful, life-improving, mind-shifting work.
And if we’re working on something that ISN’T going to wildly improve people’s lives or businesses or hearts or minds, well, then why are we doing it?
The best ‘networking’ is treating people like your IRL friends
We all know what good friends look like. They do what they say they’re going to do. They’re excited for you when you do well. They’re happy to lend a hand when they can. They say nice things to and about you. They’re gracious and grateful.
What luck! If I know how to be a good friend, I know how to build a professional network and nurture professional relationships!
Proof your posts by reading them backwards
Let me be the first to admit that proofreading is not my strong suit, but I can catch 80% of my mistakes if I read my posts backwards sentence by sentence. When I read my posts forward, I tend to skip ahead and predict the next word, not noticing when the word I predicted isn’t there. Backwards reading slows me down!
Devote 20 minutes every day to updating + re-promoting old posts
Updating old posts helped one of my posts go so viral my site crashed three times! The process I use for updating old posts is preeeeeeetty lengthy, but it’s oddly gratifying and even weirdly relaxing.
I sort of enjoy combing my archives, polishing some jewel from 2010 and then sharing it on Facebook. It’s sort of a nice way to wrap up the workday!
‘Success’ doesn’t look the way you think it does
I’ve worked with clients who earn multiple six figures and have 200 Twitter followers. I have friends who’ve written New York Times best sellers and still have a day job. I know people who live in 2 million dollar homes and are miserable and riddled with self-doubt. I know people who live with three roommates and live lives filled with joy and adventure and intentionality.
You get to choose what success looks like for you.
And failure happens to everyone (even your favorite bloggers)
I know you know this, but it bears repeating: Everybody starts at zero and everybody has experienced failure. Your favorite bloggers, writers, and social media darlings have all written things they regret and published things that were poorly received.
The sun will come up tomorrow, the seasons will change, and at some point you’ll fail.
b) totally okay!
USE A TIMER
Are you using the Pomodoro Technique yet?! BECAUSE OMG YOU SHOULD BE. In a nutshell, you set a timer for 25 minutes and devote those 25 super focused, uninterrupted minutes to one task – writing a blog post, cleaning your kitchen, responding to email. When the timer dings, you stop your task and take a five minute break doing something else.
However! It’s important that your five minute break looks and feels different than the work you’ve been doing. You don’t want to go from answering email to checking social media. Rather, push yourself away from your desk and fold laundry, walk the dog, do some stretches in the yard!
Tag people when you talk about ’em
Sharing links on social media and curating link round ups are some of the easiest, most authentic ways to network. But people won’t know you’re talking about them if you don’t let them know! When you promote your link post on social media, make sure to tag the people you featured. You can see how I promote my Sunday link posts on Facebook here.
I’ve made dozens of internet friends this way and netted tens of thousands of dollars of client work from one @mention!
Adding a P.S. to a blog post, a sales page, or an email is a bizarrely effective way to get someone’s attention. As you’ve probably noticed, I frequently use them at the bottom of blog post to point readers towards posts in my archives – they’re much more effective than those ‘related post plugins.’ People become a bit blind to those and P.S.s show up in RSS feeds, but those plugins don’t.
What you ignore is just as important as what you pay attention to
Embracing intentional ignorance has been one of the best decisions I’ve ever made personally or professionally.
Right now, I’m writing and beta testing my first ecourse in four years (you can be the first to know when it launches by signing up here.) If a blog post, podcast, or webinar isn’t about ecourses, I’m ignoring it.
Later this year, I’ll get back in the habit of listening and reading things about writing and marketing and creativity, but for now I’ve got my blinders on AND IT IS GLORIOUS.
Eat real meals
I swear to god, I don’t make my meals look like this just for the sake of Instagram. Taking the extra 30 seconds to cut up some fresh herbs or swirl the sour cream through my soup (instead of glopping it on top) makes my meals feel lovely and special. When I eat at the table, on a placemat, without a screen in front of me, I feel like a geedee adult who knows how to nurture herself.
Setting boundaries makes everything better
No, you don’t work for free. No, you don’t take calls on the evenings or weekends. No, you’re not giving them another round of edits when you told them they only got two. If it helps, here are my ‘collaboration guidelines’ for clients.
Strategically unfollow and unsubscribe
In a perfect world, our self-esteem would be so unshakeable we’d never feel less-than when people show off their abs/six-figure incomes/partners/perfect homes. But sometimes that stuff makes us feel bad.
We’re all in charge of the images, words, and people we allow into our lives. If something or someone is making you feel bad (even if they’re lovely! even if you’re happy for them and their abs!) go ahead and unsubscribe or unfollow.
Do what you say you’re going to do
This is pretty much the only professional advice any of us will ever need. Meet the deadline the editor gave you. Send the email you said you were going to send. Stay under the budget you and your client agreed to.
As headshakingly obvious as it seems, the business and online world are filled with people who can’t seem to do what they said they were going to do. You can become incredibly successful just by being reliable and trust worthy.
If you believe in your client’s work and you think your followers would like it, tell them about it. If your friend is looking for a VA and you love yours, introduce ’em! If an app, plugin, platform, or pair of jeans has changed your life, by all means! Tell people about it!
Share other people’s work
Share articles with your Facebook followers. Point people towards Instagram accounts you love. Curate link roundup posts. Use Pinterest. Forward emails newsletters to your friends. It’s good karma and good business.
Be the change you want to see on the internet
When horrible, heartbreaking things happen, you can choose to be one of the people who acknowledge it – instead of posting photos of lattes as if everything is normal.
If you want to see more body-positive content, create it or share it. If you want to see more content that portrays people of color or people of faith or people making non-traditional life choices, create that content yourself or promote and share other people’s content.
If you’re online, you have a platform. And you can use it to make the internet just a tiny bit kinder and better.
I know you’ve read that book. It’s great if your why is “I want to empower female creatives to stand in their truth and live their best lives” or whatever.
It’s also great if your why is “I’m good at writing, I’ve been doing it for years, and I want to work from home because I have two high maintenance dogs. “
Read outside of your professional field and comfort zone
If you spend all day talking about conversion rates and opt-ins and sales funnels, give your brain a break! Read some fiction! Or read about a careers that are totally different than yours! (I love Gig for this very reason.)
Read things written by people who are different than you. It’s good for your heart, brain, and creativity.
It’s easier to sell to previous customers than find new ones
To be filed under “Things everyone else knew and I didn’t.” Previous customer who loved your work > total stranger who’s read one blog post. It takes most people seven interactions with a brand, product, or idea before they’ll consider buying. Your previous customers have probably had, like, 273 interactions with you.
When you launch a new product, make sure your previous customers are always the first to know!
You can use email auto-reply emails even if you’re not out of the office
Say whaaaaat? If you’re trying to get out of your inbox and into your life, create an auto-reply email that answers common questions and sets expectations for when/if you will be replying to said email. I rounded up the auto-reply emails used by some of my favorite bloggers and business gurus. Have a peek!
If you want work/life balance you’re probably going to make slower progress
We all know this but we (and by ‘we,’ I mean ‘I’) could always use a reminder. When you throw yourself headlong into any pursuit – personal or professional – you’re likely to achieve your goal faster, occasionally at the expense of other parts of your life.
Earning a degree, training for a marathon, paying off debt, getting a promotion, buying a home, launching your freelance career – you’ll accomplish things faster if you put other aspects of your life on the back burner. But that requires you to put other aspects of your life on the back burner. Don’t want to put things on the back burner? That’s okay! If we really want work/life balance, we need to make peace with reaching our goals a bit more slowly.
Put less on your to-do list
Long to-do lists are a recipe for disappointment and overwhelm. Here’s what I do. Every might, I open up my journal and on the left page of my journal I make a list of five things I’m grateful for. On the right side of my journal I make a list of four things I need to do tomorrow and one fun thing I’m going to do. Keeping my to-do list short helps me focus on the most important things.
Adding one fun thing helps me keep the joy in my workday. Writing my gratitude list and my to-do list at the same time helps me remember that daaaaaang my life is awesome.
You don’t have to beat your personal record every day, you just want to beat your average
Every single blog post you write doesn’t have to go viral. Every Instagram photo doesn’t need to garner 400 likes. Aim for sliiiiightly better than usual and you’ll be fine!
You’ll like blogging more if you view it as an opportunity-maker rather than a money-maker
Is it possible to earn a full-time, life-supporting income as a blogger? Yes. Does it require a lot of hard work and about 35 streams of income? Also yes.
What if, instead, you thought of blogging as an opportunity-maker? Opportunities you didn’t even know existed? Clients! Collaborations! Comped trips! New friendships! Writing gigs and tv spots! 9-to-5 job offers! All these things are possible when you regularly publish things on the internet.
Yes, SEO matters
Ugggggh, I know. I tried to ignore it, too. But then I followed these tips and increased my monthly traffic by 30,000 pageviews. It matters.
You can crank out tons of content without losing your damn mind
But you need to get strategic. Can you expand that popular Instagram caption into a blog post? Can you turn that blog post into a video? Can you create an interview series so all you have to write are questions and your interviewees provide the bulk of the content?
You can add personality to almost any blog post on almost any topic
If you open a blog post with an interesting witty personal anecdote, I AM HOOKED … even if you’re leading me into a paragraph about variable interest rates.
And if you write in a conversational tone? And illustrate your point with photos you took on your phone (instead some overly perfect stock photo)? Welp, you’ve just tricked me into reading 1,500 words about dutch elm disease.
When you’re feeling jealous of someone’s career success, consider what they had to do to get there
You know those people we want to unfollow? With their abs and multiple six-figure incomes? They probably had to pass up a lot of cheese to get those abs. They probably worked late into the night for months or years. They probably made some pretty huge sacrifices to get where they are.
Maybe you’re happy to make similar sacrifices to reach similar goals. Maybe you’re not. And that’s okay.
We should all add more newsletter signups to our sites
Yes, really. Under the header, in the side bar, in the footer. Text links embedded in the body of our blog posts. Maybe even a popup. Maybe even below your posts.
I know it seems like a lot but more than half of your readers are reading in RSS feeds and probably won’t see any of these signups.
If you’re feeling nervous about it, refer to item 3: “If you believe in your product, you owe it to yourself + your creation to market and sell it properly.”
Hotel room + no wifi = CAREER CHANGING WRITING ‘RETREAT’
Are you thinking “That seems a bit rich for my blood, Von Bargen”? That’s what I thought, too.Until I booked a $60 hotel room on Hotwire and cranked out six weeks of content in two days. Without exaggeration, these writing retreats have significantly improved my writing, my business, and my quality of life.
When you write guest posts, link to a landing page in your bio
When we guest post, we’re lucky if our hosts give us a 50-word bio with more than one link. Use that link strategically! Rather than just linking to your site – where people might wander around and leave without clicking or reading anything – link to a landing page.
Trolls are professional hazard (but don’t let that stop you)
My girl Alex says it best:
“You might have the best of intentions (to help, teach, inspire, uplift) but somewhere, out there, someone might feel like your tone is arrogant (or stupid, bossy, mean, greedy, too bubbly, too boring, what have you.) There is not much you can do to change this. You can control how you write, but you can’t always control how your writing is absorbed and perceived by others. This is the reality of being a writer (or engaging in any other art form.) It’s something that must be accepted.”
Pretty much everything takes twice as long and costs twice as much as you think it will
I know this. You know this. And yet I’d venture the guess that most of us fail to consider this when planning our schedules and budgets.
So let’s make a pact: Next time we allot hours to new task, let’s double it. Next time we allot money to a trip/event/project, let’s double it. If we’re wrong and things are cheaper/faster than we thought? What a lovely surprise! And if things do, in fact, take a long time and cost a lot of money, at least we were prepared.
You probably can’t predict what your most popular stuff will be
Last year I wrote a listicle, just like a million other listicles I’ve written before. But this little listicle-that-could went so viral it crashed my site. It was featured on Cup Of Jo. As I type this, it’s been viewed 700,000+ times and brought in thousands of dollars in affiliates sales money from one Amazon link.
And you know what? THAT POST IS NO DIFFERENT FROM ANYTHING ELSE I’VE WRITTEN. I could name 20 things I’ve written that are better, smarter, and more helpful. But the internet wants what the internet wants! All you can do it keep writing and creating things you’re proud of and eventually something will stick.
You’ll be much happier with your life and business if you track your efforts rather than your accomplishments
What you say: “I’ll keep track of how many new clients I get!”
How you feel: “Sooooooo, three months and I’ve only landed one new client. I’m a failure, I hate everything, and I should go drown myself in a pool of butter and noodles.”
What you say: “I’ll keep track of how many potential clients I pitch!”
How you feel: “Wow! I pitched five potential clients this month! I’m about a million times braver than I was last month and my presentations are a lot smoother. I’m getting better at dealing with rejection and my pitches are getting tighter and smarter each time.”
See the difference?
But enough about me and my hard-won epiphanies. If you’ve been doing what you’re doing for a while, tell us what you’ve learned!
P.S. More life-focused and less-business focused: 31 Things I’ve Learned In 31 Years