Three Things I Learned from a Failed Blog

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The image above is from the book by Jeff Patton’s book,  User Story Mapping.  It’s about the concept of Minimum Viable Product.  The video in the link at the bottom discusses the MVP concept in detail, using this illustration.  I’ll cover the book next week. 

Bloggers are a special subset of people looking for impractical advice.   There are probably a dozen good resources for people who want to create a blog, for fun and profit, but it is a confusing world for newbies—-seriously easy and impossibly hard, all at the same time.  It’s a whole like the entire process of designing your life and finding your way forward. 

If you are not a blogger (yet), consider this a case study in designing your life. 

I’m both an old and knowledgable blogger (emphasis on the old part of this equation) and also a new and confused blogger.  I remember with fond nostalgia, Old Blogging Before Twitter (OBBT or Old Blogging).   This was before the new-fangled deluge of mailing lists, affiliate programs, SEO and “easy” e-commerce options, before you had Twitter to grow your audience.  These were the hard-core days of the early 1990s when you had to work EVERY DAY and post like a maniac to build and develop your audience. Before WordPress, when it was all LiveJournal, and hand-coded websites using Notepad. I’ve been blogging and developing content since the early 1990s, so I was actually there, then, learning and even teaching HTML.

When I started this project, I had trouble deciding on writing a blog for new bloggers (which I know a great deal about from the Old Days– and NOTHING AT ALL today!) or an impractical advice blog about what I know a GREAT DEAL about, navigating life and career in difficult times.

Could I do both?

The answer to that is “not really” (practical advice) and “yes, of course” (the impractical advice). In all of the great guides out there to blogging, a blogger needs to find her niche and even niche DOWN her niche to the smallest possible audience. I tried working on big broad topics and it just ended up a mish-mash without focus.

At the same time, writers are constantly being told “write what you know.”   The things I know about New Blogging are immense.   There are a bunch of starter guides out there but it is a deluge of information.  It’s intimidating.

Could I contain, within a single blog, two slightly different audiences, with a compatible, complimentary set of topics: career change, life collapse, and navigating life in difficult times (audience 1) AND a second audience (audience 2)  of people who want to consider the development of Internet content as a career component, as part of a second career direction?

Well, actually, that’s what “niching down your niche” means — to find and develop that sliver of audience that one is searching for.

This is where impractical advice comes in handy.  When it comes to practical life advice, you often find contradictions like this.  This is especially true in a “collapse” situation or in any new starting-out, starting-over situation.  

My Failed Blogs: From Failure to Lessons Learned

Human beings are wired for negativity. If the boss tells me six good things, and then gives me one bad thing, I’m most likely going to obsess about the one bad thing.  This is how human psychology works.   Taking the lessons from failure and examining without assigning blame is hard.  Sometimes, we have to get out of our own way to move forward.

Yeaaaaah, blogs fail all the time, or actually, we fail them. We fail to give them our time, our creativity, our bloody hard work. But they fail us too. The audiences fail to come, to engage, to give to us that whatever-it-is-we’re-looking for. Whatever the reason, we drift away after a single post, a half year of posts, and that’s that until our next wave of inspiration.

I’ve had probably a dozen of blogs in my lifetime, each more ambitious (and cheesy) than the last.

The only one I’m prepared to talk about (sob!) is that attempt to create a food blog, or, what I thought was more clever, an attempt to write reviews of other people’s food blogs. It taught me a great deal about trying to build a business around blogging, a side-hustle or side-gig, that would develop my writing talent and help me to learn more about the business of Internet content development.

Food blogs are fun, interesting, and allegedly can be wildly profitable (more on this in a future post). It was great fun reading and studying the vast variety of food blogs, both new and current–and old and abandoned.  I thought curating food blogs might be a way I could turn a hobby and an interest into a profitable blog, a kind of hobby-business.  Like many first ideas, it was laughably bad. It was overly ambitious (probably like this blog) and I didn’t properly appreciate how hard and time-consuming it would be–par for the course in content development projects of all kinds.

My idea was to review food blogs and rate them, to create and maintain a catalog of curated blogs, a go-to-site for the best sites. It was a target-rich environment. Food blogs are big business. A successful food blog can net big bucks, like six-figure income bucks. I was starry-eyed with the possibilities. There are millions of food blogs, thousands upon thousands of successful ones, and Google is not the best resource for finding them. I gleaned through lists of “best food blogs” and through Youtube searches, a variety of search engine crawls–I spent hundreds of hours reading through food blogs and THEN I found ProfoodBlogger. 

ProfoodBlogger is not to be confused with FoodBloggerPro, which is a big, commercial site geared to selling you, the new food-blogger-wannabee, a range of products and advice for creating a successful food blog site. ProfoodBlogger was the work of a single person, Malcolm Bedell. It was a labor of love, thoughtful and ethical. This blog, now no longer being updated, gave birth to  food truck business in Maine and a wonderful blog I adore reading,  From Away,    I learned a great deal about blogging from the original ProFoodBlogger site.  I still reference it for advice and insight on blogging.

 Three Things I Learned from a Failed Blog
1) Writing a blog is hard work.  Failure is common. Those formulas for success you hear about will eat your money and waste your time. Many of the “pro” this and that sites are about seeing the wannabee-successful-money-making blogger as an opportunity for cashing in on their need to jump on the bandwagon. If you have a story to tell, if writing is part of wanting to learn to write or wanting to write a book, then blogging is a great pastime.  But it will take a few years of deliberate work on my part to make it happen.  I expect this blog to teach me things about blogging.  I don’t expect it to make me a living anytime soon. But as a learning experience?  It’s great. Highly recommended. Enjoyable, educational, and fun.

2) It helps to think of a blog as a Minimum Viable Product. What is the cheapest and fastest way to solve the customer’s problem? (Or in the case of a blog, in meeting the expectations of the audience?)  If you’re writing as practice for “the book” — who do you think wants to read what you’re writing?

Think big, but work in testable, try-able increments.  When you’re working on a life design that involves making a living, you’re going to have think about your customer, the person you are serving with your labor.  Who is going to be paying you for your work?  What problems will they have that you have to solve with your efforts?

 In the books and videos that I’m going to be talking about, you’ll see this advice again and again.  Try things out some first.    A interesting discussion of the MVP idea is found in this 12 minute video is found here.   

3) Fail early, fail often, fail forward. Whatever you want to do in terms of a career, in terms of making money, understanding the lean start-up process is helpful.  My food blog experiment taught me that there is a problem when users have too much information (yes, that’s a real problem), but many of my assumptions were way off.  Start prototyping and releasing.  That’s when the real learning happens.

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