How does a blog go from a sad, dusty thing nobody reads to a vehicle that provides a steady income? I have an opinion on that, as I traveled that road from 2008 to 2011.
Starting from nothing -- I barely knew what a blog was -- I ended up with a Top 10 Blogs for Writers award and more than 12,000 monthly readers.
Looking back, I see seven key moves I made that helped vault my blog from obscurity to become a viable business. Here are the steps to take:
Find out what your readers need to know. I wasn't getting much of anywhere while I guessed at what readers wanted. Once I started taking polls and asking -- and then delivering exactly that information -- my audience started to grow.
Be reliable. At first, I posted sporadically, maybe once or twice a month. In 2009, I got serious and starting posting twice a week religiously, on the same days of the week. And readers started to comment.
Get celebrity friends. It's true what they say about blogging -- it's like high school all over again. You need to hang out with the cool kids to get noticed by a bigger audience. For me, that first moment came in early 2010, when Copyblogger editor Jon Morrow saw one of my posts on Twitter and asked me to be a Copyblogger guest poster. Other assists came from Problogger's Darren Rowse, who retweeted one of my posts and sent a huge new audience over, and Mary Jaksch of A-List Blogger Club, who suggested I enter the Top 10 Blogs contest. Never would have crossed my mind otherwise. I later did in-person networking events and met more top-level bloggers. Each relationship opens up new opportunities for guest posts and social-media exposure to new blog readers.
Take chances. When opportunities arise, you have to be willing to get out of your comfort zone and put yourself out there. If I hadn't sat down and sweated blood to make that first guest post good enough to be on Copyblogger, you wouldn't be reading this now. If I were too shy to promote myself as a candidate for Top 10 Blogs, I would have missed a chance to double my audience. Grabbing these opportunities often involves stretching yourself as a writer as well as putting in some extra hours. You have to be willing to go those extra miles sometimes, to grow your blog.
Make it easy and enticing to subscribe. I can't believe how many blogs I see where there is no way to subscribe by email, or it's hidden away at the bottom of a page. Without a list to market to, you are going nowhere. Facebook friends and Twitter followers are generally not a business model, as you don't have a way to contact those people. At first my sign up wasn't very compelling -- things picked up after I added a free report for subscribers.
Design really matters. When I started out, I thought, "I'm a writer writing about the business of writing, for an audience of writers. It's all about my beautiful, clever, helpful words here. How the site looks isn't that vital." Totally. Dead. Wrong. Every little design improvement I made, I saw my subscription rate go up.
Learn to sell the right stuff, the right way. A few blogs make it work with Google Adsense ads slapped up everywhere, but I knew from the start that wouldn't work for me. After some experimentation, I learned to create a Products I Love page (now expanded to a separate Useful Books tab as well). I developed a philosophy of selling that I stick to today -- I only affiliate sell products I know my audience really needs, that I personally have used and can recommend. My readers send me thank-you notes about the products I've sold them, because they appreciate being steered to the best solutions for their problems. I'd never putting up random ads I don't control that could be for inappropriate or poor-quality products. That destroys your audience's trust and leads them away from your site to buy elsewhere. Instead, create some of your own products -- I write ebooks, do paid webinars, and run the Writer's Den to help other people become professional writers.