Characteristics required for successful blogging

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Here is part of a guest post I wrote a while back at Free Money Finance, covering how I successfully made money from my maths tutoring (part-time) job.This got me to thinking on how my approach to tutoring paralleled my current success in personal finance blogging. Following the guest post excerpt, I provide some of the common success characteristics required to do well in (part-time) blogging!

It’s strange how things can sometimes work out in life. For example, how a hobby or part time activity, can lead to a nice financial windfall and provide a huge amount of personal achievement and satisfaction.This story started when I was in University doing a Mathematics and Finance Degree. I have always had an affinity for numbers and so math related topics were something I enjoyed and was good at. Knowing this a family friend approached me to provide math tutoring to his son, Matthew (Matt), a subject that he was struggling with at school. In fact half way through the school year, Matt had not passed a single math test and was in danger of being held back. Matt’s parents tried other tutors but his results were not improving and he was getting more frustrated. Also they were on a budget, so couldn’t afford some of the expensive professional tutoring services. I agreed to take Matt on as a student and my hourly rate was $25 for two, one-hour lessons a week.

After a month of lessons, eight in total, he had his first major math test. We had prepared hard for this Algebra test and I felt he was more than ready. Matt also seemed confident and while his parents were nervous they reassured him that no matter how he does, they were proud of all the effort he put in to his after school tutoring. Great parents. A week later, he got his results and he passed! The first time for him in a long time and I think his parents and I were happier than he was. By the time the year was up, he was in the top 20% of his math class.

Before I knew it I started receiving calls from Matt’s parents other friends who had kids in similar grades. I guess through word of mouth, my name spread and given I was relatively inexpensive (and got results) I was a good option for a lot of parents in the area. Also, I think Matt’s parents were great references. Sometimes I felt like they were my agents and biggest supporters, the way they promoted me. Another life lesson – Do what you do well and the rest will follow.

I soon realized that I could make some decent money from this part time job. It is something I enjoyed and I think good at, so it was a perfect situation. At the peak of my tutoring “career” I had 10 students (one to two lessons a week) and factoring in a few cancellations per week I was pulling in about $350 in cash per week. This was about 12 years ago so it was a lot of money at the time. My average hourly rate was about $20 to $30 (depending on grade), which was more than double what my friends were earning. Plus, and most importantly, it was a hugely satisfying job. You are having a direct impact on someone’s life and seeing them grasp a concept that was so hard for them previously is a feeling that I cannot describe. It is akin to seeing your child learning new words.

So this hobby or part time job that I fell into ended up funding most of my living and social activities through university. It also allowed me to start investing in the share market. I still think of it as my first real job and it taught me a lot of skills I use today – effective communication, leadership and mentoring. I met a lot of great people and especially a lot of smart kids, who just needed a little guidance. It was a gratifying experience and I whenever I run into some of “my” kids today (most are working now), they still look at me as their “teacher” and more than one has thanked me for all I did in helping them. That is reward in itself.

You can clearly see that this was something I enjoyed and made some decent money from. I would say the same is happening with my blogging. Like most bloggers I started slowly after discovering the blogosphere and potential monetization opportunities. I had some spare time, a lot of interest in personal finance and investing, and a lot to say. The perfect recipe for blogging. However, now that I have completed 6 months or so on Saving to Invest, I looked back and saw that a number of reasons why I am doing well (in terms of the goals and target I set) could be paralleled with the above and why I was successful in tutoring. This includes:

- Make the effort. I used to spend as much time preparing for tutoring lessons as on the time teaching then. Similarly, having a half decent blog with substantial “presence” takes work! Don’t believe the story that working 1 hour a week and a few clicks will lead to making $100 a day. That is a joke, and in your early stages of blogging it is most likely to be the other way around where you spend 100 hours on blog related activities to make $1. Over time though, this equation does come back more in your favor as you content and presence grows. Even so, I still find myself stretched to keep up quality posts and maintain a normal work/life balance (It is 10pm on Friday night, after a long week at work, as I write this post!). That’s why you will see many of the top personal finance bloggers like Get Rich Slowly, Digerati Life and the The Simple Dollar quitting their day jobs to focus on blogging. To stay at their level of quality, you need to spend a lot of time on the research, administration and writing aspects that make a good blog. Once you realize it takes a sustained effort to maintain a decent blog, you can start actively factoring it into your life. While it may feel like a part time job after awhile, the fact that you are building something yourself and potentially helping others can be a very rewarding experience – both financially and personally. If you are lucky enough, one day you can make your part time job/hobby a full time one and officially join the exclusive club who say they “love to work”.

- You need to be self-motivated and have patience. You may have fallen into blogging as a way to share your thoughts and a lottery ticket to making the big bucks from the world wide web. “Others can do it so why can’t I?”, you may have thought. After all setting up a blog is free, simple and takes less than 10 minutes. That’s why there are about 70,000 new blogs started every day, and what is less reported – probably about 69,900 that stop actively blogging every day (my guesstimate). Why? Because people soon lose motivation when they realize that blogging regularly is too much work, no one is reading and there is no quick money to be made. To be a good long term blogger you need patience, belief in your self and self-motivation to keep on going (especially in the early days). If you write good stuff, promote your blog and keep at it, read
ers and revenue will come. Naturally you will have ups and downs, but ride this out and the rewards will be yours.

- Success leads to success. Like anything, success seems to follow success, as it was with the growth of my tutoring business. Maybe it is having something to with Karma? Similarly, once your blog starts getting picked up in search engines and catches the eye of more prominent bloggers who link to you, a lot of traffic starts flowing your way. When I registered this domain name in April, I was getting about 20 visits a day and had a about 5 subscribers (to my blogspot domain), of which half were probably automated feed bots. However once I started actively blogging, commenting on other blogs and “making the effort”, I saw a nice steady rise in traffic that seems to rise every week. As of this week, my average visitors per day is 250 and I have 150 subscribers give or take. While this may not be much for some, it definitely exceeded my expectations. Also, I find that even though I post less frequently now, I get a lot more organic traffic growth as my blog gets more frequently picked up in search engines (thanks to more searchable content) and traffic comes in from various sources. I have also learnt a thing or two about search engine optimization (SEO) – a topic for another post if anyone is interested – but the key takeaway is that once you build momentum it is a force unto itself in the positive growth of your blog.

- Networking and word of mouth is key. The way I got most of my tutoring business was through word of mouth. There is nothing like a good personal referral to get someone’s trust. This extends to the blogging world, and is even more important given the plethora of finance blogs to choose from. Word of mouth is equivalent to getting links (the best being a blogroll link) from more prominent sources and is the number one source for building “presence” in the blogosphere. I have noticed when I get mentioned in a prominent finance blogs (like MSN Smart Spending, Seeking Alpha, Gather Little by Little or Moolonamy) I get a spike in traffic from that link/reference. What’s more is that, that traffic is of much more high quality because it is coming from a trusted source. So someone who comes through that source, is more likely to think “If I already like the blogger who is recommending this site, then this is probably a site I would like as well“. Another form of networking I have recently started participating in is a blog network. You will see many of these where like minded bloggers get together and start a common site with the aim of leveraging the power of the group to build everyone’s presence. It still early days for me and the Finance Blog Network I am in, but it is a great concept and even if it does not lead to a lot of traffic it does provide a supportive network of like minded bloggers.

- Good quality is key. Whether it is tutoring or any other part time job, just because it is part time doesn’t mean you can take quality for granted. In fact one of they key ingredients in blogging is to write good quality posts. You don’t have to be writing at the level of the New York times or Wall Street Journal writers, but you should ensure you have something which is easy to read (conversational style works best for blogs) and grammatically correct for the most part. So when you write a post, take the time to review it before you publish. You will naturally get better over time as you write more, but always keep an eye out for quality. It takes a 100 good posts to be classified as a good writer, but only one or two really bad ones to put your readers off. Also, while most people understand you are trying to make some revenue from your blog, try and balance the commercial (20%) with the informational (80%). Nothing puts people off like seeing ads all over the place and don’t trick your readers into buying something or promoting a product you don’t believe in because most of them they will see right through your ruse.

- Make a difference. With my tutoring gig, I made a big difference in the lives of many of the children I taught. Unlikely I will top that with blogging, but I can still make a difference and also draw a benefit for myself. There are a few ways I try and do this. One, I try and write entertaining posts that have a personal touch. Secondly, I try and write about topics related to personal finance, but with a different take and perspective. Most topics in the personal finance world have been covered extensively, and there is no way you can be leading edge as a part time blogger (there is just not enough time). So by all means leverage what’s out there, but write it from your perspective with an eye to keep it interesting for potential readers. Now some posts are written with a view to the dark arts of SEO, but generally you build your subscribers by writing good quality posts that make a difference amongst the millions of other finance blogs out there. Also, as a final add on – have an opinion. It is your blog, and as long as you can defend it, give your viewpoint. If people just wanted the financial news they will read or watch it on CNBC.

I could add another 10 points (another post for another day perhaps), but I think the above captures the essence of the parallelism I was trying to draw with my tutoring experience. What are your thoughts and learning’s on the road to becoming a successful blogger?

Appearances over the week: Thanks to Our Fourpence Worth for hosting the money hacks carnival and featuring my post on the expensive bankruptcy process. I was also pleasantly surprised to be included in the Fire Finance’s, top 100 personal finance blogs (at number 88 – lucky for some). Very nice honor.

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