Here’s the video from my PyCon AU tutorial on technical blogging. Fair warning: it’s a long talk!
Is there a client you’re trying to land, or even a day job that lets you use your writing skills? It may seem like an obvious rule, but you shouldn’t blog about those places, especially if you’re considering saying something less than pleasant.
There’s the obvious chance that you’ll lose out on the deal to begin with, but many prospective clients will walk away from a writer who has posted unfortunate things about clients in the past — they think ‘that could be my company up there next’ and start looking for another writer.
Yes, Even Anonymously
I’m sure you’re thinking that if you don’t name names, the problem is solved. There’s two approaches to keep names out of it: either you blog under your own name but you don’t use the name of the client you’re hoping to work with, or you write on a blog where your name never appears but you mention the name of the client. It is possible you could be blogging anonymously, as well as not naming names, but for the purpose of this post, I’m assuming that you’re trying to accomplish something specific with your blogging.
But the fact of the matter is that anonymous isn’t nearly as anonymous as you’d like. If someone from the company in question reads a post, he or she will probably be able to figure out what’s going on just from the general details. If you’re writing under your own name, many potential clients will read your blog as a matter of due diligence. If you use the client’s name, it’s relatively easy for the post to be found through a routine Google Search.
I’ve posted a very vague statement about something a client had done to upset me to Twitter (with no names or even much in the way of details). An hour later, I had an email from the client in question in my inbox, asking if I was talking about him. It was a sticky situation, to say the least.
Even If I’m Going to Say Something Nice?
I’m a little wary of even posting nice things about a prospective client — I don’t want to be known as that writer who will suck up just to land a client. If I have something genuinely important that I think is worthwhile to say, I might bring it out here, but if it’s just something run of the mill, I’m far less inclined to bring it up.
There is something worth noting here: one of the easiest ways to get someone’s attention online is to blog about that person. Many technologically-savvy types have Google Alerts set up for their names, so a couple of mentions of them on your blog can create an opportunity for an introduction. But I’d generally restrict that approach to the absolute preliminaries and I’d avoid making a habit of it — after all, if you’ve got a blog, you’ve hopefully got at least a few readers you want to keep entertained. Keep Google Alerts in mind, though: that’s one of the fastest ways for someone to learn you’re writing about them, good or bad.
Image by Flickr user Yohann Aberkane
I flew out to San Diego last Friday to see my husband, who happens to be working out here this summer. I found out that BarCamp San Diego was Saturday and Sunday — I’m a fan of BarCamps and other small sort-of conferences because they’re almost always free and you get to hear from a lot of people who are truly passionate about the projects they’re working on. This weekend was no different… but I wound up giving a talk myself.
If you aren’t familiar with the BarCamp format, it’s pretty spur of the moment: all the attendees show up about an hour before talks are scheduled to start and hash out the day’s speakers. Before that point, no one really knows who will be speaking and what they’ll be talking about, and that can include the speakers. As people were hanging out and chatting, I wound up on one of my standard soap boxes — making money off of writing online. If you do that at a BarCamp, you quickly wind up on the schedule.
That meant, between the next few sessions, I had to distill my soap box down into about 30 minutes of coherent presentation. I’ve included my notes below, but I simply wound up focusing on giving a broad overview on how a blogger can make money, mentioned a few key bloggers who are good role models and then offered about ten minutes for questions about the specifics people were wondering about.
Five Things to Do Before Trying to Make Money as a Blogger
- Use WordPress. Furthermore, get your own domain name and host it yourself. Sure, there are other blogging tools out there, but WordPress is the horse I’m betting on. It’s more robust, has a bigger community of developers and the user interface is very friendly for new bloggers.
- Look for money-making opportunities, besides advertising. It’s hard to make a living off of AdSense and it’s getting harder. Most other approaches to advertising require you to have a lot more traffic than you will when you’re starting out.
- Network with the other bloggers covering your topic. Having a network is crucial to making money, even if it’s only a matter of discussing a product idea with a friend who can say ‘I tried that and it didn’t work so well.’
- Listen to your readers. Maybe your readership is ten of your closest friends and your mom. Assuming your mom is only there to be supportive, your friends can still give you a good idea of what you’re doing well and where you can improve. As you grow, keep listening: ask readers questions, especially about what they’d be willing to buy from you.
- Write as much as you can. Even if you don’t consider yourself a fabulous writer, you have to write as much as possible. The practice will make you a better writer, which is an absolute necessity for a career as a blogger.
Five Strategies to Make Money Blogging
- Set yourself up as an expert and sell consulting services or freelance services
- Use your blog as a portfolio and land paid blogging gigs on other websites
- Sell information products (like ebooks or webinars) related to your blog
- Sell physical products related to your blog (like t-shirts, cookware or whatever your niche is)
- Use affiliate links to promote other companies products
This is just a smattering of options, of course. There are plenty more. But these are the big ones — the ones that absolutely have to be covered when you’re limited to thirty minutes of chatting. I think it’s worth noting that that these five methods all fall into one of two categories of making money from blogging, as do all the alternatives: indirect and direct income. Direct income comes from advertising, selling a product and so on, while indirect income comes from establishing your expertise and using it to land bigger gigs (such as consulting or writing).
I think two bloggers really typify the difference: Darren Rowse and Chris Brogan. Chris has built a whole company around his expertise and the expertise of the people he works with, earning a nice chunk of change from consulting and speaking gigs. Darren has also built up a company, but he’s focused more on ebooks, membership sites and more directly selling to his readership. There is some overlap between what they do, of course. Both of these bloggers are immensely successful, though, and make for wonderful blogging role models.
Today is Ada Lovelace Day. Bloggers all over the world are taking a few minutes to acknowledge the contributions of women in technology and science — women like Ada Lovelace, who managed to write the first computer program and dream of a world of advanced computers while Charles Babbage was still trying to get his calculating machine to add up numbers.
For me, there are a few bloggers I’d particularly like to point to. These women write amazing things about science and technology every day. They’ve inspired me not only to write, but to explore new and interesting areas with every post they put up. Yes, there are plenty of female bloggers out there, but we could always use more interesting posts from writers with two X chromosomes in science and technology.
- Gina Trapani: I’ve looked up to Gina Trapani for years now. She was one of the first women I heard of who was not only making a living from blogging, but she was doing it by talking about computers, programming and productivity. On top of that, she’s a whiz with computer code, building the tools she needs to be productive on a regular basis. Trapani’s blogging career really took off at Lifehacker and, while she’s not writing full-time there, she continues to post cool stuff both to Lifehacker and to her own site, Smarterware.
- Maggie Koerth-Baker: A relatively recent find (at least for me), Maggie Koerth-Baker seems to have a pipeline straight to the coolest science as it happens. Her byline pops up all over the web, but I’m particularly fascinated with her posts at BoingBoing. Her recent headlines include “T-Rex’s on Saturn: The theory that will re-make science as we know it” and “Saturday Morning Science Experiment: Melting steel with the sun.”
- Suw Charman-Anderson: While it doesn’t hurt that Ada Lovelace Day is the brain child of Suw Charman-Anderson, her other projects are incredibly fascinating. Her resume includes titles like Executive Director of the Open Rights Group and Social Software Consultant, as well as blogger. She writes at Chocolate and Vodka — where posts on volcanoes follow write up on book binding experiments — as well as working with her husband on Strange Attractor, a blog that offers insights on social media, business and journalism.