Build a succesful blog business

The web is a hotbed of opportunity. While the press understandably spends most of its coverage on the Facebook’s and Google’s of the world, the really interesting stuff is actually the many new ways that regular people are able to earn a living and build businesses online.

Blogging as a Business

Approaching blogging as an entrepreneur looking to build a
business, is very different from the view taken by a hobby blogger.
From the very beginning, you will be planning and thinking about
the blog as a product: what it will cost, what it might return, how it
will grow, and where it’s heading. You might be alone, or you might
have partners and investors. You might begin with a lot of capital,
or you might bootstrap the operation with whatever resources you
can find. Most importantly, as someone looking to build a business,
you will always have your eye on the bigger picture, and that’s what
this chapter is about.

Opportunities in Blogging

Publishing is changing quickly as more and more readers migrate from paper based products to electronic media, whether it’s a computer, a tablet, a mobile device, or an e-reader. Change of this sort always creates opportunities, and in the last few years it’s become clear that professional blogging is one of them.

The last decade saw a generation of blogs grow from being side projects and hobbies, into sites with enormous readerships and real revenues. Very quickly blogging has become a legitimate publishing business, and today a survey of the top 100 blogs shows that with a few notable celebrity exceptions, almost all of them are backed by real publishing businesses. While today the blogging industry has some very professional outfits operating, there is still lots and lots of room for the newcomer.

To start with, there are very few household names in blogging. While most people might recognize and know names like Time, Wired, Vanity Fair, and Vogue, there are significantly less who know Gawker, TechCrunch, Huffington Post and PopSugar, which are just three of the more high profile sites. There are still many, many people who don’t read online but who will eventually. These folk mean that blogging is an industry with a lot of growth ahead of it, and growth is good for business and good for newcomers.

Opportunities in blogging

Opportunities in blogging also arise from the many niches and topics that are still wide open. If you walk into any bookstore and look through the myriad magazines that line the racks, you’ll find there are audiences interested in reading about everything from sewing to tattoos, boating to cooking, movies to shopping. Can you name the blog to read on tattoos? How about a great blog about boating? Think you can find one? Moreover, for every niche that is big enough to sustain a real paper publication, there are dozens more that are too small for print but big enough online. Where the distribution costs are small and even nil. This is site of how to build a blog business.

Building a business out of blogging

Business in a blog

So building a business out of blogging, like any business, involves investment both in time and money. The questions you want to ask are:

  • What costs need to be accounted for?
  • Where will the revenue come from?
  • How long will it take?

Along with these high-level business questions, you’ll also be wondering about the practicalities of running a blog as a business, planning direction, finding and hiring staff, creating content, and marketing. In this book I aim to answer all these questions as well as to give you a practical, hands-on guide to building a business out of blogging. Like any business, it will take hard work, dedication, savvy, and a bit of luck. As someone who has built a number of blogs, I hope reading through my experience and methods will help you find your path to success.

Risk and reward

Every business investment comes with risk and certainly blogging is no sure thing. The risks in creating a business out of blogging include:

1. Choosing a Low Potential Niche 

Perhaps the biggest risk you run is creating the wrong blog. If you start a blog in a niche that has limited potential either because of the audience, the competition, or the revenue potential, then you create a significant impediment to success. You can shift the blog, reinvent it, invent a new way of finding revenue, trounce the competition somehow, or grow the topic’s audience … or you can choose a niche with strong potential to begin with! We’ll deal with selecting a niche in the next chapter.

2. Not Producing a Popular Product

Assuming you’ve picked a good niche to blog in, you still run the risk of producing a bad product. Maybe you hire the wrong staff, maybe you don’t figure out what sort of content people want, or maybe you get the frequency of publishing wrong. There are plenty of factors that go into a good blog. The best way to learn about them on an instinctive level, is to read and think about other blogs in your spare hours over a reasonably long period of time.

Competition

Every business has competition

Every business has competition of one sort or another. It might be other blogs or it might be traditional media. If your business grows beyond blogging, then it might simply be other service providers. Competition vies for audience, for revenue, and ultimately for dominance. Even if you scope out a niche very thoroughly and deduce that there is little competition, you can never account for the competition that is sitting in a garage somewhere plotting and planning their strategy for domination. Aside from thorough research, the best defense is to be on guard all the time, to always be looking for ways to be the best, and to think about ways to differentiate your product from your competitors.

Running Out of Capital

The simple reality of business is that in the beginning you will burn through your cash with little or no return. Later in this book, you can read about three case studies from my own experience where you will see that each blog took many months of losses before hitting break even, and that one set is in fact still burning through cash! To combat this you’ll need to make sure you have a reasonable amount of capital to begin with. You’ll also need to look for ways to get some revenue as fast as possible to help slow the losses. You’ll need to constantly evaluate whether you are on the right track, whether you can save money somehow, and how much longer you can last.

Market Conditions

No one can control the broader market conditions. At this point in time, blogging looks to be a good bet with lots of growth potential and more and more advertising moving online. Whether this is true, whether it lasts, who knows? The most important thing is to keep your finger on the pulse. Stay up to date with tech blogs, advertising blogs, blogs for bloggers and publishers, and stay informed. If you feel a change in market conditions coming, adjust your business plan to compensate. If you think there are lean times ahead and you are low on capital, pull back on your plans. Conversely, if you think there’s a boom coming in a particular niche, then you might ramp up to take advantage of it.

Draw a sketch of a Blog Business

Sketch a Blog Business first

What does a blog business look like? Who works there? How does it operate? While every business is unique in its operation, it’s possible to sketch out a broad set of roles to get a picture of what a blog business might look like, what staff will be needed, how workflow might be organized, and how a blog business might actually function on a day-to-day level. We’ll expand on this sketch in later chapters to flesh out a fully function model of blog business.

While blogging

While blogging is not without its fair share of risks, there are also plenty of rewards. First and foremost is the satisfaction of running a successful publication. Watching your readership grow, seeing comments and discussion happening on your site, hearing from readers who enjoy the site, and seeing link-backs from sites you respect are all incredibly rewarding.

On a monetary level, a blog business can grow very large. One of the earliest blogging companies, Weblogs Inc, which included powerhouse blogs like Engadget and TUAW, sold for a reported $25m to AOL in 2005. Another high profile sale occurred in 2007 when environmental blog Treehugger sold for  $10m to the Discovery Network. While a big sale to a listed company isn’t on the books for every blog, it’s certainly possible to do well purely on operating profits and revenue.

In the case studies in this blog, you’ll read about two blogs that I’ve worked on which have been fortunate enough to hit profitability and turn over enough cash to grow other businesses and to expand themselves to bigger revenues and larger audiences. In fact, later in this book we’ll look at how a blog can not only become very successful in its own right, but can also become the engine that drives new businesses such as blog  networks, apps, services, or products like books and job boards.

Roles

There are some roles that must be filled

There are some roles that must be filled in any functioning blog. They are:

Writing

The most basic function of a blog is to generate content, so someone is going to have to write that content day in and day out. We’ll discuss writing content in detail in our blog.

Editing

For a professional blog, some sort of editing will be essential to create a consistent standard of quality. We’ll cover editing in detail in our blog.

Managing Writers and Contributors

Writers and contributors will need management to ensure their work is in on time, their questions are answered, and they get paid. We’ll cover site management in more detail later.

Marketing

Until a site is a well-known destination, there is always work to bring readers, to generate buzz, and to build the blog’s brand. We’ll discuss generating traffic later

Monetization

Generating revenue requires planning and work, whether it’s chasing up ad payments, comparing affiliate programs, developing products, or implementing some other monetization plan. We’ll discuss building revenue in detail later.

Accounts

Like any business, your blog will need good accounting and tax records. The bigger the business gets, the more important these will become.

Web Development and Server Admin

Thanks to blogging packages like WordPress, you can often get by with very little web development. Nonetheless, even the most basic blog requires someone to set up the server, configure the software, and make sure the site doesn’t fall over if your traffic should spike. We’ll discuss finding and working with a developer later in our blog.

Web Design and Branding

A serious blog business requires some web design. Although themes can be pretty impressive, your site will need its own brand to stand out. We’ll discuss branding later, and working with a designer also.

Management and Direction

Coordinating the business is the job of the business manager. From early questions about topic and editorial calendar, to hiring and managing staff, to strategic direction and competitive analysis, this is in many respects the make-or-break role in the business.

A Simple Arrangement

The functions described above need to be accomplished somehow in order for a blog to succeed. How those roles are apportioned between staff is, of course, flexible. Hobby bloggers for example will often fill all roles by themselves. However, if you’re creating a blog as a business it’s not a good idea to tie up too many duties in a single person. Having only one person in all capacities means you are heavily reliant on that one person not getting ill, leaving, or otherwise putting you in a tight spot. Here’s a simple staff structure that could work:

  • Editor
  • Manages writers and contributors
  • Edits articles
  • Occasionally writes
  • Writers
  • Write content
  • Add content to the blog

Did all of this catch your interest ? Then continue reading on our blog.