Happy birthday to my first post from May 7, 2002.
1,782 posts and over 12,000 comments later, I feel like I’m still winging it, but it’s time to stop and think about the lessons I’ve learned over the last decade. This web site has turned into a consulting company that supports three of us, and tomorrow we add our first full-time employee, Jes Schultz Borland.
Here’s what I’ve learned so far:
Blogging is either your passion, your hobby, your job, or your chore. Guess which blogs will succeed and which will fail. I’ll be the first to tell you that it doesn’t feel like blogging is my passion – it’s just a hobby. I know folks who are truly passionate about blogging – they spend hours a day working on their blog, SEO, analytics, promotion, you name it. I think that’s awesome, but you don’t have to be that passionate for your blog to succeed and turn into a company. It just takes longer when it’s a hobby, and it ain’t gonna happen if you see your blog as a job or a chore. That’s okay – just find a different route to success that doesn’t involve blogging.
There are periods in my life where it’s a chore. There have been months where you’ll be simply overwhelmed with work and unable to blog, and that’s okay. Just know that you’re going to lose momentum in the form of stockpiled posts and eager readers.
Use your most comfortable writing voice. When you sit down at the keyboard, you want the words to just come pouring out. When you first get started, just start typing. Don’t try to mimic someone else’s writing style.
Readers want to get to know you, not just the topic. If you want to write personality-free content, don’t bother blogging – contribute to Wikipedia. It’s a wild, thriving community that appreciates quality contributors.
As your interests shift over time, so will your blog. I started out shoe-gazing, then wrote about turtles, then focused on computers when I got a column in HAL-PC Magazine. (Funny glimpses into history – in 2003, I predicted Windows Tablet would be a failure, was already writing about virtualization, and enjoyed bathroom humor.) In my How to Start a Blog guide, I emphasize how important it is not to tie your personal site to a product or topic: don’t brand yourself as SQLWhatever. Five years from now, when your focus changes, you’ll thank me.
The look matters, but not as much as the content. Nobody ever forwarded a post to a friend and said, “You’ve gotta read this! Their WordPress theme looks amazing!” People don’t return for beauty – they return for content (although your content can be beauty, too.) On the other hand, readers definitely do say, “I can’t read this – the theme is driving me crazy.”
The Underpants Gnomes were right. Here’s how blogging works: Step 1: Collect Followers. Step 2: ? Step 3: Profit! Step 2 isn’t impossible – it’s just unpredictable. Check out how a few popular bloggers turned their hobbies into a living:
- Jeff Atwood wrote CodingHorror, a killer blog for programmers, and turned his following into a fast user base for StackOverflow.com, a killer QA site for programmers.
- Jenny Lawson wrote The Bloggess, a hilariously offensive blog, and
made money off endorsements for Chipotleturned her following into a book deal.
- Justin Halpern just tweeted – TWEETED, mind you – hilarious stuff as @ShitMyDadSays, and within 60 days he’d been mentioned on every talk show around. He then turned his following into multiple book deals and a TV show.
- Just in the SQL Server world alone, Aaron Bertrand, Brad McGehee, Grant Fritchey, Steve Jones, Tom LaRock, and most recently, Robert Davis have all turned their online followings into evangelist-type jobs where they’re not on call.
- Little old me started a blog, and now we get so many requests for consulting services that it keeps three of us busy full time.
If sharing your knowledge online is a hobby (or a passion) for you, the profit will come sooner or later.
I’m even happier having partners. Turning this blog into a company and partnering up with Jeremiah and Kendra has been incredibly fulfilling. We all push each other to up our game by offering feedback on our work. I know I do a better job of blogging knowing that Jeremiah and Kendra also have their skin in the game here, and I don’t want to let them down. I love making them proud.
You, the reader, make everything worthwhile. Sure, I get lots of comments that say “Please send me how to be a DBA fast” or “You’re stupid” but those pale in comparison to the thank-you emails I get. I love hearing about someone who solved their problems or got a better job through what they read here.
Here’s to another ten years.