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It’s like the online marketing bible.
“WRITE MORE!! START A BLOG! TELL YOUR STORY!!!”
Every content marketer worth their weight in gold will tell you you’re an idiot if you don’t have a blog. “You gotta put your work out there!” Where is there? I’m not sure, but I know the cool kids are there.
“You need a blog to position yourself as an expert. It’s a necessity for growing your business.” You can drink for every time they say “and standing out in a noisy online world.”
The problem with well-meaning advice about having a blog is that it leaves out a few important details about the “blogosphere” that I’d like to cover with you today.
If you want to know whether you should have a blog, you need to know all the facts so you can make up your own mind about whether it makes sense for you and your business.
If you don’t like writing, blogging isn't the right medium for you
This one seems obvious, but for whatever reason good people who don’t write well feel like they need to be something they’re not.
If you don’t enjoy writing, if writing is not a craft you want to master, if writing takes you a really long time and you prefer a root canal to the pain of building an argument with words–find a different medium.
You can play the content game (successfully!) in different mediums that reward other skill sets.
- Do you have an eye for design? That’s why god created Instagram.
- Do you love video? Hi Youtube, meet you.
- Do you prefer talking things out and sound much better IRL than in writing? Helloooooooo audio.
There are a lot of content options besides blogging that can be useful, if not better for your brand or business.
“But, Margo, can’t I just hire a ghostwriter?!” I mean, yes. You can. But I’m not sure how that’s easier.
You have to find and hire the writer, train them up on your voice, manage them, pay them, and approve of their work. That’s not exactly “fun” or “easy” or (more importantly) a good use of your funds because, well, see below.
It’s possible to succeed in business without a blog
This is going to get me slaughtered by my colleagues, but here it is. Content is a long game. And the advice makes it seem like if you write great high-quality content (which btw I advocate for mercilessly) that you will magically attract high-quality leads who will buy all your services.
This is not true.
There is no magic involved. There is a business model. And you need to know which one you are operating. Using content to attract leads works if you’re an online business, SaaS company, media company, affiliate, thought leader, or e-commerce company.
If you’ve been in business for under five years and are still hustling for clients, a blog is not the answer. A blog is a distraction from the real work of building a business.
Your time is better spent on sales.
Direct sales. Finding people who will buy things from you. And then getting them to buy again or refer you people who will buy things from you.
To the people who are screaming, “but it cements my perception as an expert! It gives me credibility! Which means I can charge more!”
Eh. A website that showcases your portfolio and a boatload of happy past clients who got results from working with your company cements you as an expert and gives you credibility.
And that’s a hellofalot easier to maintain than “churning” out content once a week.
Coming up with ideas, researching keywords, actually writing the damn thing, uploading your content into your CMS, choosing photos, headers, and writing headlines (lord, writing headlines!), and then promoting each piece is a lot of work.
Which brings us to...
Blogging is a lot of work
For every person who’s told you, “It’s free–and easy!” please allow me to metaphorically punch them in the face. Using content to generate leads is a TON of work.
For starters, having a blog on your site is not enough to drive a ton of (or any) traffic to you. It used to be back in the 90s. But today you have to optimize it with all these bells-and-whistles that are way above my pay grade to explain.
You’ve kind of suspected this, so let me confirm it for you: websites that are getting a ton of traffic have been at this for years (if not a decade plus). They’ve been playing the SEO game longer than you’ve been in business.
Worse (sorry, this is going to hurt) they have backlinks galore and a staff of copywriters, writers, content strategists, and SEO experts tinkering with everything from copy to design (read: Not free).
Yes, it’s a lot harder to stand out and be found online today because of the sheer amount of content that exists. But it’s more because you’re battling against a machine that’s been building their ranking(s) for years.
People love to cite the, “20% content creation, 80% promotion” maxim. But that is insane if you’re a solopreneur, freelancer, or small business owner still hustling for business. It’s awesome if you have a full staff of people doing this for you or a department in charge of growth and outreach. It’s also awesome if said content leads to actual sales. But–again–if you’re a solopreneur, freelancer, or small business owner (specifically, a service-based business owner who doesn’t sell directly through their website), it’s a bad use of your time.
It’s not fruitless, and you can certainly make the argument that it can be worth it (no doubt I’ll be getting angry emails from people about this). But don’t call it easy and do not call it free.
Blogging is a lot of freaking work.
It’s emotionally exhausting
“Publishing your writing takes a toll... Regardless of whether you’re posting something to your blog, sending something to your mailing list, or publishing a book, expect some degree of emotional trauma, a little paper-cut on your soul.” –David Moldawer
Writing is personal.
Even if you hire ghostwriters.
You’re articulating a point of view, sharing your expertise, showcasing your skill, and being creative. In other words, it demands a certain amount of vulnerability that requires a new set of (not totally business related) cojones.
Being able to put your workout into the world and open yourself up to ridicule, social scorn, trolls, criticism, and all the other fun things that come with being in the Arena isn’t for the faint of heart.
Learning how to not-take-it-personally takes years to master (and even then, the toughest of us don’t always succeed). Not mastering it can have deleterious consequences for your business and mental health because you spend more time recovering from your emotional setback than you do getting clients.
Blogs don’t make money
Sorry folks. One day, I’ll publish a series called “So, how do you REALLY make money?” so I can share what I’ve learned working in the belly of this beast. But until then you’ll have to take my word for it. Most bloggers don’t make any money. If you want to make money through your blog, there are about four models that actually work.
First is ads. This is what media companies have been doing for decades (TV as well). You see this model on sites like cnn.com or inc.com. SuzieQ’s food blog uses this model too, but she makes like $100/week being in the Google Ad Network or whatevertheheck they call it now. So unless she gets a TON of eyeballs, it’s not a great model.
The second is affiliate links. That’s when you see someone “recommending” something with a link out. It’s what I have in my bookstore. Those are Amazon affiliate links. Which means if you click on them and buy the book, I make like four cents.
The third is e-commerce. Which can mean a legitimate store, in which case your biz isn’t really a blog, but a marketplace (it’s a blurry line). Or that you sell products or swag (those usually don’t make much money either. The cost of shipping kills most businesses here unless you have sufficient scale).
The last one is information products, but tbh I don’t qualify this as a blog making money. This is an online business. The blog serves as a lead magnet to drive people into your funnel. You sell through email or content upgrades or membership or all the other million things. Your blog is a really useful tool in this case, though.
The online business model
The online business model is where most people get tripped up. It’s the model most people want (PASSIVE INCOME, BITCHES), so they try and emulate it by having a blog. But 9/10 their actual business is freelancing or 1:1 work that doesn’t come from online sources. Which means (drumroll please) blogging is a distraction that doesn’t actually lead to sales.
Point is: blogs on their own don’t make money. Businesses make money. So if you’re starting a blog to make money, have a business plan.
Time to decide for yourself
Now that you know the truth, you can decide for yourself what you want to do. I chose to have a personal blog because I genuinely enjoy writing.
It’s fulfilling for me.
Well, that and I don’t have many other useful skills (just ask anyone who played soccer with me between 1993-1998). I am miserable at design, I can’t code to save my life, and no matter how many times you show me how, I still can’t make Pivot tables work.
My strength is writing. It’s about all I got.
But for you, that might not be the case. My friend Jordan is best on audio, my friend Talia is best with images, and my friend Jake is best with design. If you’re getting into the content game, start with understanding what your strengths are and double down on those.
Don’t start a blog because you think you’re “supposed to.” At best it will be a distraction, at worst it will cost you time and money.
Start a blog because it makes sense for your business model, you genuinely enjoy writing (or want to get better), and it helps you reach your goals.
Margo Aaron is the founder of the Arena, a virtual coworking space for solopreneurs, online businesses, and side hustlers with virtual companies.