There’s a lot of amazing bloggers on Blogcast FM. We love listening to Srini’s interviews not just to be inspired, but to learn something practical: we want to learn how successful bloggers made the leap from ordinary to extraordinary, and do the same in our own work.
But how do we know what worked for a famous blogger is going to work for us?
We compare ourselves to them, thinking “maybe they’re just better than we are…or smarter…or better connected…or something that we don’t have?”
I wanted answers, and I made it my mission to figure out how it was that the bloggers Srini interviewed became so damn successful.
So I did a teardown:
I took 3 A-list bloggers from Blogcast FM, and poured over their interviews, looking to answer 2 of the top questions we have about how to become a wildly-successful blogger: “were you just a natural at it?”, and “how did you build you initial audience?”
I wanted to know if they just waltzed in and did a great job from Day 1…or if they spent years preparing to create their world-class craft.
Here’s the folks whose interviews I dug into:
Ramit Sethi, New York Times best-selling author of I Will Teach You To Be Rich, and head honcho of the blog with the same name, which hosts over 250,000 readers per month. (Listen to the Blogcast FM podcast here).
Chris Guillebeau, best-selling author of The $100 Startup and The Art of Non-Conformity, and blogger at The Art of Non-Conformity which hosts 70,000 monthly readers. (Listen to the Blogcast FM podcast here).
And here’s the info I trudged through the interview to find. You’ll notice some interesting patterns, and some surprising results.
“Was blogging something you are a natural at, or was it a skill you spent a lot of time developing?”
We tend to think successful people’s success must have been “inevitable”; that they’re more talented than we are, better connected than we ever will be, better looking than…you get the picture.
But is that actually true? Or is there more to it?
Chris went into blogging after an extensive career in entrepreneurship (such as SEO and importing coffee beans) and humanitarian work (he worked for 4 years in Africa as a medical humanitarian aid).
By the time he turned 30, he “felt that there was no ‘convergence point’ between all of the things I’ve done [travelling, business, and humanitarian work]; so I decided to go into writing.” From there, The Art of Non-Conformity was born.
At first brush, it may seem like success came easily for Chris: he writes in his famous manifesto 279 Days to Overnight Success that he had 3,000 subscribers within his first few months of blogging, and that his numbers increased quickly from that point.
What most people don’t realize, though, is that in addition to the years he spent mastering entrepreneurship, travel and humanitarian work, he put years into studying the greats and refining his blog concept before launching. He spent 2 years studying and learning, and months of writing content before launch. When he launched, he personally e-mailed hundreds of people letting them know about The Art of Non-Conformity.
Ramit got started with his blog back in college, after he got fed up teaching I Will Teach You To Be Rich classes on campus that no one attended. Regarding his early work, he points out: “You can go back to August 2004 [when I started my blog] and see that no one was there for the first 6 months [no one commented]…but what you can see is a pattern of learning to create content that differentiated me from other personal finance bloggers”.
Let’s go take a look at his first 6 months and compare that with today:
His original work was often super-short articles where he wrote random musings and gave advice he definitely wouldn’t agree with today (my personal favorite is an August 2004 post that advocates saving money by spending less on lattes, even though that’s an approach he specifically decries and makes fun of now!).
Fast forward to his content today: courses backed by tens of thousands of self-researched data point, lengthy, insightful posts; and an audience that loves him.
Jeff spent 6 years dabbling in blogging before starting Goins, Writer. “I was a student of blogging for a number of years…but I never made much of a dent in the web with my [original] blogs”
Originally, he thought “…my understanding is that you just write something every day, and then you become Seth Godin…what I learned was that with more noise and bloggers, the need for quality really went up…
“I went from spending 15 minutes each day on an article at the last minute, to planning my content out weeks in advance and spending 1-2 hours on each article.”
“How did you build your initial audience?”:
This is probably the biggest question that bloggers have: how do I get people to care about my site?
A little bit of investigation into the careers of these 3 bloggers shows some revealing perspectives:
Chris’ success was locked in by his attitude towards his work: “Persistence and consistence…this will be my life’s work even if I have other things going on…I get [my content] posted no matter what.” To Chris, this was the big thing that differentiated him: not giving up early and staying persistent.
He follows the philosophy of dividing his time equally between creating and connecting with readers (both online and in person), rather than spending all of his time creating content.
Chris also e-mailed each new subscriber to his blog in its 1st year to thank them…an undertaking that had him sending thousands of e-mails!
Chris summarized his success perfectly: “It’s not because something magical happened. It’s just because I kept working on it over and over”
Ramit followed a similar strategy to Chris: 50% content creation, 50% relationship building. He developed a strategy to contact and befriend bloggers and reporters: “I took a lot of time researching bloggers and contacting them, and I got good enough writing e-mails that I got a 70-80% hit rate”.
Ramit would engage with them about a piece they wrote and forward them a link on something he wrote that was complementary. “If you think your readers would like it, share it; I’d love to talk with you otherwise.”
Ramit even spent months pursuing a reporter from the Wall Street Journal, gently prodding until they agreed to publish some of his input on the WSJ blog.
He also recommends: “Don’t start at the top [with A-list bloggers]; they’re overwhelmed with pitches. Start lower, get people with smaller blogs to engage you.”
Jeff exuded immense persistence as he built his blog, but commented on how he, at first, didn’t understand the relationship aspect:
“…the thing I heard but didn’t want to believe was the importance of forming relationships with others…with bloggers, guest posting, getting on the radar of influential people in social media.
“I’m a writer, not a technology guy!”
What he said next is the downfall of most beginner bloggers:
“I wanted to believe that if I wrote great content, people would just show up. But that’s not true!”
When Jeff changed his approach and bonded with other bloggers and readers, his success skyrocketed, and he scored a coveted book deal in under a year.
So what does all this mean to us?
You want to be an A-list blogger? Srini’s A-list blogger guests make a few key principles patently clear:
1. They spent an immense amount of time developing their skill sets before meeting success with blogging.
For Ramit, it was trying to make his college class work; for Chris, it was spending years developing and refining his skills through travel, entrepreneurship and humanitarian work. For Jeff, it was spending 6 years learning about blogging!
For these 3, skill development prior to launching their successful blog was key, and was a clear component of their eventual success.
2. Their success came from their hard work, and not some unfair or unusual advantage.
It’s easy to think “well, if I went to an Ivy-League school” or “if I had rich parents”…but nothing in any of these blogger’s backgrounds exudes some sort of unfair or rare advantage. They started as ordinary people, worked hard, and became extraordinary.
3. Persistence is a prerequisite for success, not a game-changer; the kingmaker was personal relationships.
Of course, all 3 bloggers interviewed mentioned crazy persistence. But it was clear that success depended on much more than just that:
2 of our 3 bloggers specifically mentioned spending half of their time building relationships with readers and peer bloggers. The other mentions how he learned this the hard way, and how changing his attitude and focusing more on building relationships skyrocketed his career.
Do you spend half of your time building relationships with others? Or do you just stay on your own blog, chipping away and wondering why you’re getting no new traffic?
Success is definitely obtainable…
Develop your craft, build relationships, and be in it for the long haul. It worked for Ramit, Chris and Jeff.
Why can’t it work for you too?
R.C. Thornton is a entrepreneur and blogger at Decoding Startups, which teaches would-be entrepreneurs how to go from excuses to launch. He’s currently developing an iPhone case and a web app for use in academic research. Reach him by e-mail at rc at decodingstartups.com or on Twitter @rcthornton.