Every week as SmallBizLady, I conduct interviews with experts on my Twitter talk show #SmallBizChat. The show takes place every Wed on Twitter from 8-9pm ET. This is excerpted from my recent interview with Katherine Reynolds Lewis @CurrentMom. She is a former newspaper national correspondent who now runs her own freelance writing business focusing on work, personal finance and parenting for magazines, Web sites and newspapers. She’s the founder of CurrentMom.com, an incubator for emerging mom-focused technologies and women entrepreneurs. For more information www.currentmom.com
SmallBizLady: What skills and background make someone likely to succeed at blogging for money?
Katherine Lewis: Obviously, you have to be a decent writer. But some of the most gifted writers I know would never succeed as bloggers because they don’t have the business sense and the ability to budget their time. You need to be ruthlessly efficient in creating high-quality content that people want to read. You have to avoid the tendency to get sucked into a topic and spend way too much time on it. It also helps to have the self-confidence to present yourself in an appealing way and the commitment to make it through the start-up period when you’re writing reams and making very little.
SmallBizLady: What are the biggest mistakes beginning bloggers make starting out?
Katherine Lewis: The biggest mistake is assuming that everyone will be fascinated by the minutia of your life or that you are funny if you’re not. It’s easy to look at personal blogs that skyrocketed to success, like Dooce or the Julie/Julia Project, and think, “I could do that too!” The truth is that blogging is a lot of work and making it big on a personal blog is like winning the lottery. Be a critical editor of your own writing. The next biggest mistake is relying only on advertising for revenue. You need to put together a business model that includes other revenue streams, such as sponsorships, affiliate commissions, direct product sales, donations, e-courses or seminars, network marketing, consulting or even pay per post. But don’t expect a blog that is heavily sales oriented to resonate with readers; one rule of thumb is 80 percent valuable content to 20 percent sales messages. (At most.)
SmallBizLady: How do you get a gig writing a blog for a corporation, association or Web site?
Katherine Lewis: Writing a blog for hire can be less work at first if you are guaranteed a certain income. Many of the outfits that pay you only for pageviews you receive will be just as much work as starting your own blog from scratch — with the downside that you likely don’t own your own words. You land a paid blogging gig the same way you get any job: network, network, network. These days, every business owner either has a blog or thinks she needs one. If you can demonstrate your blogging skills, you can market it as a skill alongside the other business services you may perform.
SmallBizLady: How much can you expect to get paid to blog?
Katherine Lewis: This is a very controversial topic in all of the blogging and writing groups I belong to. There are lots of organizations offering $5 or $10 a post, or only paying based on your pageviews or conversions. I would discourage anyone from traveling this route, unless you want a platform to sell an existing product/book or market yourself as a consultant. But there are decent gigs out there where you can earn $50 to $100 for a relatively simple post. The most I’ve ever made for a single blog post was $500.
SmallBizLady: How should you use social media to promote your blog?
Katherine Lewis: Any way you can! Everyone who creates content needs to have a Twitter account and Facebook page, in my opinion. I’d also add LinkedIn and StumbleUpon to that list, if you have the time. Use social media to find like-minded bloggers and develop relationships with them. Make sure you leave comments on their sites and link to them, and you might also swap guest posts. Social media is also a great way to expose your off-line network to your blog posts.
SmallBizLady: Should you blog for free in order to put together a portfolio of work that will land you future paid work?
Katherine Lewis: I don’t ever blog for free. But I’ve been a professional writer for 15 years. If you’re just starting out, I could imagine blogging for free just to get into the practice of writing regularly for an interactive audience. Or if you want to explore a new voice or new content area. Just don’t expect it to lead to a dream gig; at most it would give you a step up.
SmallBizLady: What are the best resources for beginning bloggers who want to make money at it?
Katherine Lewis: I like @Problogger @copybloggger @typeamom – and for those on a more professional track: @mediabistro @poynter @ONA
SmallBizLady: How long does it take to start making real money blogging? How much time do you need to spend and how do you structure your blogging?
Katherine Lewis: A lot. A lot. If you’re starting a blog from scratch, it takes at least six months to establish yourself with Google and other search engines. Then you can build some serious pageviews and eventually make something more than bus fare. I’d suggest structuring your blogging in a very disciplined way because it’s easy to let it take over your entire day. Better to limit it to two extremely focused hours, if that’s a pace you can maintain over the long term.
SmallBizLady: How do you come up with ideas for content? Don’t you run out of ideas for blog posts?
Katherine Lewis: At any given time, I have about a dozen ideas that I am dying to write about, in each of the topic areas I cover. I can’t imagine running out of ideas. I keep ongoing lists of story ideas and add to them as I read the news or talk to people. I’m a voracious consumer of all forms of media, and usually that stimulates more ideas. If you are at a loss for ideas, search Google Insights or Adwords for the keywords that you imagine your readers would be searching for. Look at your blog statistics to see what keywords are bringing people to your blog; create more content along those lines. You can always write about events in the news or upcoming holidays.
SmallBizLady: Do I need to worry about the new Federal Trade Commission guidelines for bloggers?
Katherine Lewis: Absolutely! I’m not a lawyer, but my basic understanding is that bloggers must disclose any benefit we get in exchange for a review or a blog post, whether that’s free products or outright payment. When in doubt, disclose. More: http://bit.ly/2Cuu2F
SmallBizLady: What’s the best advice for people who want to blog for money?
Katherine Lewis: This is not a pursuit for the faint of heart. You must pace yourself so you don’t burn out before you can start making money. Network relentlessly, and give at least as much as you take along the way. Be willing to adapt your business model along the way to add new elements or abandon ideas that aren’t working. Be stingy with your time — only spend it when you have a clear vision of how it will help you achieve your goal. Most important, don’t neglect your real life. Have fun blogging, but take a break from the computer once in a while!
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