If you publish a business blog, you probably know about and read the blogs of Chris Garrett (ChrisG.com) and Darren Rowse (Problogger.net). They are two of the most popular bloggers on the Web. In 2008 they co-authored Problogger: Secrets for Blogging Your Way to a Six-Figure Income (aff).
Now, 2 years later, they have released the second edition of Problogger, updated to include a new chapter on social media and a thorough case study about Darren's Digital Photography School blog and how he has achieved success and a 6 figure income with that blog. The case study alone makes it worth investing in the second edition of Problogger.
My colleagues were kind enough to agree to a blog -based interview and will also answer any of your questions posted in the comments. This is a great opportunity to connect directly with these two very smart business bloggers. So, without further ado...an interview with Chris Garrett and Darren Rowse...1. The second edition of Problogger has just been published. Backing up a bit, what inspired you to write Problogger originally and what is the primary take-away you want readers to get?
Chris: I guess the main inspiration was that people really wanted to know how to make money from their blogs but were struggling to piece the information they needed together. We wanted to put everything into one complete package, give people a step by step guide.
Darren: one of the challenges of producing a 'how to' blog on any topic is that over the years you write a lot of content that becomes a little dated, that becomes 'lost' or unseen in your archives or that is presented in an illogical order for someone reading in a chronological order - this book was an attempt to update, reorganize and unearth the 'gold' in the archives of ProBlogger the blog.
2. Problogger was originally published in 2008. In the intervening 2 years, what are the significant changes to blogging that you address in the new edition?
Chris: The original edition holds up surprisingly well, but the biggest change we had to address is the rise of social media from being an important side interest to being a core element. We had discussed social media in the last edition but this time felt we really needed to give it a whole chapter.
Another addition we made was Darren wrote a case study about his Digital Photography School blog, which most people do not realize is actually his main blog in many ways, not Problogger.net! This is an awesome chapter, but for me gives people the message that we are NOT advising people to go out there and create a blog about blogging. People keep telling us they want to earn an income blogging so they are going to create a "make money online" blog. That was a trend we were not expecting, all the copycat blogs that sprung up.
We would suggest instead of copying Darren, or trying to be the next TechCrunch or whatever, that they look to their passions, something they can talk about with enthusiasm and authority, try to do something unique and exciting.
Darren: for me the addition of a chapter on social media was a no-brainer, it's one of the main ways that bloggers are promoting their blogs and building their profile.
The other thing that I felt was missing from edition 1 was that it felt a little 'theoretical' and for anyone reading it lacked a real life example to illustrate much of what was covered. As a result the case study that talked about the first 4 years of my photography blog seemed to be a nice way to explore the theory in action. It was also quite fun to write as I'd not sat down and chronicled that blog's journey from start to finish before.
3. In the off chance that someone reading this interview hasn’t heard of you, how long have each of you been blogging and what is the primary focus of your blogs?
Chris: It depends on your definition of blogging! I have been writing continuously for the web since 1994, had a reverse-chronological website about science fiction that allowed comments in 1996, and started a personal journal in 1998. The primary focus of my main blog, chrisg.com, is helping people grow their business and attract raving fans using new media.
Darren: I started my first blog in November 2002. It was a personal blog and covered everything from topics of spirituality, to post modernism, to culture, to what I was doing personally. Over time I began to add other topics to it and launched a second blog that was about digital cameras - my first 'commercial blog'. I talk about the story of accidentally launching that first blog in the book but it evolved over time into a part time job and then a full time business.
These days I have three main blogs and a variety of other projects including membership sites, eBooks and more. My main blogs (in order of size) are Digital-Photography-School.com, ProBlogger.net and Twitip.com. They're all 'how to' type blogs that set out to help people improve their photography, blogging and use of Twitter.
4. What role do you see for blogging in the near and long term? Is blogging dead or does it still have a place in social marketing? ;-)
Chris: Blogging has become a staple of any online marketers toolkit. If you just look back to when the first edition came out to now you will remember we used to have to explain what blogs are, why you would want one, what they can do. Traditional Internet marketers used to push back and argue. Now you would be hard pressed to find an experienced Internet marketer who doesn't blog, doesn't recommend them. The big surprise for me is all the SEO experts who used to criticise bloggers as being armchair quarterbacks now all have their own blogs, ha!
This will only continue, but I do see the word "blog" might have a limited shelf life. It's not a helpful word and I wouldn't be sad to see it go. We will always need to create and share content, I think nobody would argue that is a given, but the forms it take and the etiquette will evolve. Content is the currency of social media and the modern web, that is not going away.
Darren: I primarily use blogging AS my business, my blogs are the central tool that make me money. This 'make money blogging' industry has grown a lot since 2004 when I started making money from my first blogs and we're seeing more and more bloggers using blogs as part of their way to make money from the internet. Once change I guess we're seeing (and will continue to see) in this space is that people are now using blogs as one aspect of their 'make money online' mix. Blogs are merging with their use of social media, forums, eBooks etc. Blogs are often still central in this mix, but certainly not the only part of it.
Of course we're also seeing many companies use blogs as tools to build their business - the blogs might not make money directly, but they help companies to fulfill some aspect of their companies goals (driving sales, building profile, customer service etc). Almost any aspect of a business can use a blog in one way or another.
Whether blogs are dead or not isn't really a question I ask - I think they CAN be useful in many places, but they're not the only tool. People and companies need to do some serious thinking about their goals and then find the right tool to meet them - blogs are just one of many tools available.
5. What are your recommendations for how to make blogging profitable?
Chris: Blogging becomes profitable in the same way any business tactic is profitable. You serve a real need while not putting in more than you get out over the long term. That need might be eyeballs and advertising space, it might be solving a problem with your services, or it might be selling products that you have identified a market for. In the book we give a bunch of ideas for monetization but it starts with identifying who you are going to serve, what they really want, and how you can provide that.
Darren: big question, someone could write a whole book on that!
There are many aspects to profitable blogs but for me there are a few foundations:
- Useful Content - if you help people they'll want to come back and bring their friends with them
- Community - build a blog where people feel involved, valued and are interacting with one another - again this will draw people back again and again and help you grow too - people want to belong
- Promotion - 'build it and they will come' doesn't work - you need to get the word out about your blog. Identify who you want to read your blog and where they're already gathering (online and offline) - then go build a presence in those places
- Give people a Way to Connect - offer ways to subscribe or join your site. For me the best way to do this is to build an email list, but you can do it via RSS subscription, forums, membership areas etc. Do this and you get people's permission to remind them to come back again and again.
6. What's your take on the personal vs. professional on a blog? How much is too much when it comes to sharing personal information when you're using a blog for business?
Chris: You have to share enough that your audience can connect with you as a person, but that doesn't mean intimate parts of your personal life. Many people approach Darren and I as if we know them because they feel they know us through our blogs, but we have clear boundaries. We are protective of our families, for example. It's tricky for me to give this advice because over the years I have probably shared too much.
That said there are some things I never talk about, and those things are different to Darren's boundaries, or yours for that matter. We all have to set our own walls and windows. Unlike Darren I have stayed away from talking about money or religion, things that clearly Darren can speak about very well! On the other hand I have talked about my wife and daughters names, which Darren does more rarely. The problem is, once you share something you can never take it back. The Internet has a long memory, information leaks freely and there is no "undo". So be very careful and intentional about what you do share, even in what you might perceive to be a safe environment.
Darren: I don't think that there are any 'rules' on this, there are successful blogs that are very personal and others that are more 'professional' or where the blogger keeps a real distance between their 'real life' and their reader. Either can work.
Having said that - I prefer to read books, articles... and blogs where I have a personal connection at least on some level with the author.
7. What is your #1 tip (one from each of you) for a professional who is just getting started with a blog for their business?
Chris: My first tip would be to get out of your head and into the head of the audience you want to attract. How do they think? What are their challenges? What are their needs?
Darren: Identify a problem that your potential reader has and solve it. Repeat Daily.
8. If someone has a very narrow niche, can a blog help and what should they focus on?
Chris: Narrow niches do work provided it is not so narrow that your potential market is too tiny to be worthwhile. Other than the financial benefits, blogs can help by creating a gathering point, creating authority and loyal fans, and by giving you a living resume. One of the big reasons I know many people with focused niches have turned to blogs is because using blogging software you can have a website up quickly and cheaply instead of making a huge investment in designers or techies.
Darren: yes a blog can be powerful in growing your expertise in a narrow niche. However don't make it too narrow. I once saw a blog started on a particular type of Canon inkjet printer - the blogger didn't have much to say after his first week - some niches are too narrow!
9. You write about how to make a six-figure income with a blog. Some people feel you shouldn’t try to sell on your business blog. How do you address that? What are some tips for how to write about your product/service without being overtly salesy?
Chris: If you really understand your audience then you will be offering solutions to their problems, talking about stuff that can help, giving them want they want. You don't need to be pushy or salesy, just talk about the problem you are solving, what it will do for them, what they get, how much it costs, and what to do next. There will always be a percentage of people who would prefer you live in a box and give away everything for free, but you know, as bloggers we do give a lot of value for free. The occasional valuable and useful offer will only offend the people who were not ever going to be the right fit for you anyway.
Darren: I'm totally fine with a blogger choosing not to 'sell' anything - however on a business blog I'd have though that it fits pretty well as most businesses are in their business to sell something. That doesn't mean you have to be cheesey, hyped or overly salesy.
My approach is to try to be useful, genuine, helpful and open with readers. I find that those who read my blog every day over time feel quite a bit of trust, respect and relationship with me - so even just mentioning that I have a new product will drive sales. I guess also its about selling things that are relevant to your niche and that will solve their problems.
If you're selling quality products that your readers need and people trust you - you're in a good place to see conversions.... without being one of those obnoxious sales people :-)
Anything else you’d like to add?
Chris: Just looking forward to any follow up questions folks have!
Darren: Me too!
About the Authors:Chris Garrett is an Internet consultant, writer, web geek and co-author of the popular ProBlogger Book. Since 1994, Chris has helped thousands of individuals, non-profits, small businesses and blue chips make the most of the web. In 2005 Chris founded OMIQ to help organizations attract, engage and retain audiences online. You can find out more, and grab two free ebooks, by visiting his blog at chrisg.com
Darren Rowse is the guy behind ProBlogger.net, which has become one of the leading places on the Web for information about making money from blogs. He is a full-time blogger himself, making a six-figure income from blogging now since 2005. In addition to his blogging at ProBlogger, Darren also edits the popular Digital Photography School (digital-photography-school.com) as well as numerous other blogs.
On June 4-5, 2010, you are welcome to post your blogging questions for Darren and Chris. Post your blogging questions in the comments section below and they'll pop by to from time to time to post their answers. This post is being published in the early morning Pacific Time and since Chris lives in the UK and Darren lives in Australia (where it's the middle of the night as I write this), they will likely be answering on June 5.