2020 has been a tough year for fresh graduates, the unemployed, and the work market as a whole. It’s tough getting a job: the U.S. economy saw it’s the worst contraction on record in the 2nd quarter of 2020. So if you’re not too optimistic about your work prospects in the near future, you’re not alone. With things looking rather bleak until 2022 at least, I thought it would be a good time to redirect your energies to a potential undertaking that – at best, can make you a successful self-made businessman, and at worst – teach you so much about life, business, and marketing in general by staying at home.
That undertaking is: running your own blog. Note that I am not talking about running a drop-shipping e-commerce website or an affiliate feeding chain of landing pages like those Ponzi scheme running YouTube gurus: we are speaking about a simple and focused blogging website.
For the remainder of this article, I will focus primarily on blogs but rest assured that the benefits, skillsets and dynamics of the two are almost the same. The success of both endeavours depends on your ability to generate great original content – the only difference is the nature of the medium. In a best case scenario, and if you really want to go knee deep, you should be thinking of starting a ‘podcast’ to complement your blog (or vice versa). This does wonders in creating a loyal reader/listener base.
A legit startup
I know what you’re wondering. It’s 20 years since the dot-com bubble burst and most of the world’s content consumption is done on social media and other content distribution platforms: Instagram, Facebook, Medium, LinkedIn, Youtube, etc. That’s true.
But it’s also true that these platforms are largely geared towards short-form content. The real value, from the monetary perspective, is generated in long-form content: from lengthy informative articles, month-long video courses, podcast series, and so on. On social media, the reader/viewer literally has 2 seconds before another distraction raises an alarm bell to their ‘System B’, and they unwittingly click on another Call-To-Action and exit stage.
When you create your own infrastructure, such as a blog or a podcast, they are in your court. Sure, it takes half a second for them to switch tabs or generate another google query, but that half a second matters significantly.
Plus, since this is the infrastructure you created, you have much more control over it. Sure, you’ll end up using WordPress or Wix.com like 80% of other websites on the internet, but at least you have much more freedom and long-term potential.
This is different from putting all your eggs on Facebook or Instagram’s basket. Are you sure Instagram will continue to rake in the viewers or be relevant in 5 years? I wouldn’t bet on it.
Companies that made a fortune off Facebook 5 years ago are still doing so, but newer brands are facing significant barriers to entry. The most obvious one: there’s just so much multi-varied content on Facebook that it has become a chore keeping up. Entropy is never a good thing for the long-term sustainability of any environment.
The Benefits of Blogging
There’s a lot of be gained from running your own blog. You will see some of the benefits immediately on a personal level. For others, you might have to wait months, if not years. But it all rests on the fundamental question, anyways: is the content any good?
Credibility and Authority
The first immediate benefit, no matter how small your blog is, is the incremental credibility and authority you build with each blogpost and each comment of approval. Hiring managers and sharpwitted clients will often look up your profile on the big bad world of the internet, so having a well-crafted blog out there as the first result for your name on Google is definitely going to look good. Not as good as an article on Forbes about you being one of the youngest top 40-under-40, but still.
A Little Ad Rev
I’ll be honest. You shouldn’t be expecting any organic traffic from Google or much ad revenue for the first six months. Heck, most mainstream ad platforms like Adsense will probably not even approve your website within this timespan.
After you get over this period of economic inertia, you should be able to see a gradual inflow of money. And we’re talking a few cents or a couple of dollars. Unless, of course, your distribution game is strong and you’re seeing considerable traffic. A blog undergoing fairly steady growth can earn in multiple ways: from affiliate marketing tactics to recommendation partnerships.
Like all good things, it takes time for ad rev and other revenue channels to blossom and grow.
The Real Prize
The real prize of setting up a blog, of course, is what you learn. If you do things systemically and as per a cohesive plan, you will learn and you will grow.
In the next section, I will highlight some of the vital skillsets that you will absorb on your journey to becoming a successful (or not so successful) blogger.
So, what do I learn?
I would mention business skills here since blogs are (hopefully) ongoing endeavors and not time-constrained like projects. But considering the small scope of your ‘blog startup’, the fundamental skillset you will learn is project management. The very process of establishing the blog can be seen as a project with several mini-phases (or sprints, if you’re looking for a more agile approach). Planning, researching, and coming up with the design prototypes can be seen as the first coherent mini-phase. Deploying the website, which includes all micro-tasks associated with it (domain registration, WordPress deployment, theme installation) can be deemed a second phase. Content creation and going live be seen as the third and final phase before you ‘hand over’ the project to the operations team: which, in this case, is yourself.
Throughout all of these phases, you keep an eye on essential project constraints (time, money, resources) as well as the other key areas of project management albeit at a very small scale i.e. stakeholder analysis, risk management (backups), etc.
Content creation is a million dollar skillset. I have a friend who swears by these golden words: once you solve the content puzzle, the sky is the limit. And it’s certainly true. The ‘content puzzle’ is another name for ‘product-market fit’. This basically means that your product satisfies the customers.
As your blog grows, you will receive more feedback. This will play a major role in helping you fine-tune your content as per your target audience. If you’re self-sufficient, you could even skip the initial waiting period and get immediate feedback from friends, family and ex-colleagues.
Whatever route you choose, the skills developed in content creation (research, copywriting, feature writing, editing) will help you throughout your life.
Perhaps the most important skillset because of its immediate applications. If you know the nuances of online marketing and search engine optimization, it means you have the potential to get generate traffic and move products. This not only makes you employable, it means you have the skills to make any business grow in the future.
Online marketing is increasingly becoming synonymous with marketing as a whole. To understand it, you must spend a lot of hours navigating the platforms (Search Console, Hootsuite, Google Ads, etc.) that define. You will also need to develop the analytical skills to understand and mould the numbers (metrics such as ROI, CPC, LTV) behind the hood to your advantage. Last but not the least, you will need to understand the art of selling. This is the world’s oldest commercial skillset. If you can sell, you will always have a roof over your head – and then some.
Along the way, you will develop a multitude of soft skills. The most important one that I learned from decades of blogging is patience. You need to understand that businesses grow and move when they are ready, not when you are. This is highlighted aptly in John Sviokla and Michael Cohen’s fantastic book ‘The Self-Made Billionaire Effect: How Massive Producers Create Extreme Value’.
They describe this quality as ‘patient-urgency’, something common in the self-made billionaires they studied. Exercising patient-urgency, a ‘producer’ (you) will wait patiently for years if required for the right moment. However, when that right time approaches, they quickly shift into ‘urgent’ mode, ready to go into primetime.
For one, you need a laptop. But that’s not it. I’ve assembled a neat list of things that you will need to have if you want to have any luck running a half-successful blog a year down the line. The cost is pretty arbitrary, considering you might as well spend a $10k loan from your dad on Google Ads, but we’re keeping it learn here.
- A laptop ($500-$1500) with a steady internet connection
- A mic and/or camera with lights setup ($200-$500) in case you’re opting for a blog
- $50 dollars for the first year’s domain and hosting. Don’t go cheap on this one with a Blogspot or WordPress.com blog, get a domain, and get your blog hosted.
- $500 ad budget(for split testing, market analysis, and some early traction).
- $50 for a good WordPress theme or an Envato Elements membership for premium themes and graphics
There really is no limit to the above, but the above bag of goodies should have you set for the first year. One thing you should really consider is getting an Adobe monthly membership. Although a bit pricey ($35-$55 a month), it comes with all of the essential professional software in the Adobe suite.
Along the way, you will be tempted by a heap of ‘value providers’ and ‘grow quick’ toolsets. Whether you should opt for any is entirely dependent on how deep your pockets go. One thing is for sure: we, as human beings, tend to put more time and energy into initiatives that cost us relatively more financially. That’s why we never miss a class for the $400 Zumba course at the Country Club but skip our gym workouts as if it was a crime scene.
Let’s be honest: you won’t become a motion graphic artist by using Adobe After Effects on the side, but these skills play a big role in you being self-sufficient. This is, as we highlighted above, a great goal to have.
The ‘Do Something’ Principle
In his book ‘The Subtle Art of Not Giving A F*ck’, Mark Manson highlights how the most important thing in the face of inertia and inactivity is that you keep moving. The ‘Do Something’ principle states that once you do do something, everything else falls into place. Questions keep propping up and answers to these keep squeezing in from the crannies and nooks of our brain.
As a blogger, you would do well to internalize this golden principle. If you’re unemployed, underemployed, a fresh graduate or someone who has wound themselves up into a tight spot, the most important thing for you is to do something. Blogging fits into this philosophy perfectly.
Firstly, it’s a pretty lean arrangement as it stands. The costs for setting up a blog (or even a podcast) are minimal and you don’t need to break your back to get fancy equipment in place.
Secondly, the feedback loop is immediate if you keep your expectations low. From the get-go, you will reap a small but tangible reward for your efforts. Even in the first week, just one share of your latest blog post will get you a couple of positive comments on your personal social media.
These two characteristics make blogging ideal for ‘Do Something’ lifestyle that you’re trying to create. The thing is: if you don’t start moving, you’ll end up at the same exact place (or worse) a year from now.