“So Nords, why are you still blogging?” (Part 2)

If you’re just joining us from a search engine or another blog, this is the second post in a weekly series on blogging advice. You can find the first part of blogging tips back there a week ago. I’ve written an earlier post on starting a blog, but today I’m going to add more ideas. This is probably going to go slop over into a third post.

Your writing style

Remember how your high-school English composition teacher expected you to write in a certain way? Does your occupation expect a certain writing style from your correspondence or training materials? Kinda painful, isn’t it? For some reason our “professional” writing conforms to someone else’s standards manual– not your style. To get the grade or keep the job, you had to learn to do write in a manner that you otherwise would never do on your own.

Well, now it’s your blog: and your rules. You are your own style manual. You can change it whenever or as often as you want, but your readers will expect you to maintain a consistent & credible style. If you’re snarky, they’ll return for more of it. If you’re dry & formal, they’ll expect a professional level of discourse. If you’re going to write like a rap DJ then you’d better have experience as a rap DJ, or your rap-DJ readers will know you’re faking it.

I recommend that you write the way you speak. Blogging is generally informal and conversational, and you’re sitting around the kitchen table talking story with your readers. They’re coming to your blog to learn, but they’re also coming to be entertained. You want your blog to be a comfortable hangout that they return to again and again– especially if you’re helping them through their struggle to reach a goal.

You’ll probably write in the first person, and that makes it easier to tell your story. Readers come to your blog to learn, but they will not tolerate a lecture.  Instead of telling them what to do, report what someone else did or what other people recommend we should do. Tell them what you did– or better yet, how you were a miserable failure and what you learned from it.

If you’re going to make fun of somebody, then it should probably be you. If you’re going to criticize someone or something, then it should probably be your behavior. Some celebrities (or even readers) are just begging to be mocked, but they (and their fellow bloggers) might have the resources to bring down a hailstorm of negative publicity on you. There’s no such thing as bad publicity, but you probably want to avoid a public name-calling battle that detracts from your blog. (I’m lookin’ at you, Suze Orman.) I’d hate to blow up at someone and later have to offer an apology.

Speaking of apologies, do not apologize for the frequency of your writing. (Sounds like a lecture, doesn’t it?) Do not write things like “I’m sorry I haven’t been posting much lately, but next month I’ll do more!” It’s your blog, but you’re blogging for your readers. They want your support. If you’re not posting as much as you promised, then your message is that your readers are not important to you. They will immediately retaliate by abandoning you, and they may even mock you on other blogs or discussion boards.

Just share your rules, and then follow them. “A post every day!” is a painful commitment and a setup for quick failure. A posting schedule is good: “Every Monday, Wednesday, and Thursday.Your blogging software will let you schedule the publication of your posts so that you can write whenever you want.Twice a week” might fly, but tell your readers to sign up for e-mail or RSS so that they don’t have to keep checking your blog.

When you’re scheduling your posts then you’re not allowed to have a blogging emergency. You should be writing a week (or even two!) ahead of schedule so that you have time to recover from a power outage. If you end up hospitalized or have a family emergency then there’s usually a way to find 15 minutes to post a short explanation and an expected restart date. If you’re going on vacation then you can trot out guest posts or even re-post some of your old material. One well-known blogger has recycled over three years of material for a couple of years, which gave him more time to write a book and start a discussion board.

No matter what happens, tell your readers something. Don’t tell them nothing. 20 years from now, you want to look back on your blogging and know that you did a good job for your readers.

Building your image

We could call this “building your brand”, although I don’t know much about brand marketing. However, your avatar will certainly contribute to your image.

Readers want to know the blogger. They come to your blog for information and advice, and maybe some social networking too, but they really want to know who they’re getting it from. You could be quoting the world’s best personal-finance advice from Nobel laureates, but they can dig that up on Wikipedia or in textbooks. Readers want entertainment and a story with their knowledge, and it’s your job to deliver.

When you create your blog, choose your image with care. You can be anonymous if you’re planning to someday reveal your secret identity, but readers might tire of the suspense. If you’re concealing your ID from your employer or your family then… well, maybe you need to reconsider why you’re blogging– or at least have an exit strategy when you’re discovered. The Internet is full of stories of “anonymous” bloggers who were outed in the most unexpected (and embarrassing) ways.

Choose your image with care, but you can change it later if you change your mind. You’ll change with time, and your readers might appreciate an update. Pick a photo, or take one of yourself, and get started. Put your photo near the “About me” section of your blog, and use the same image for your social networking accounts. Register with websites like WordPress’ Gravatar that will automatically put your image into other Gravatar-equipped blog comments.

I resisted this “getting to know you” step for a long time. I wanted “The Military Guide” to be about contributors & readers reaching their own financial independence in their own way, not just browsing sea stories from a balding ponytailed surfer dude. I wanted to be the narrator in the wings of the onstage action. However, a real no-foolin’ marketing exec (who sold billions of dollars of chips for Intel) finally convinced me to share the stage. It turns out that readers actually want to see that sea-story stuff once in a while, and it’s a valuable way to show people how you’re designing your new life. You build your credibility by sharing your identity, and your story helps readers imagine how to reach their own goals.

So get a picture or an avatar, and use those on all the images associated with your writing.

Guest posts

I love guest posts.

Your first blog post has an audience of… one. (And it’s probably your Mom.) After a month you might have tripled your audience, but as the weeks go on you’ll exert the same level of effort for puny gains (and losses) of a few readers at a time. It’s like reading Shakespeare on the stage of an empty theater: great words, but no audience.

Guest posts give you a free audience, and it’s full of your new readers.

A guest post is an additional blogging burden. Your primary mission is (all together now) regular doses of quality content. Guest posts are extra writing, and you’re just giving some other blogger a paid holiday! But you’re begging for the chance, because you’re writing for a new theater audience that’s full of the people who you want reading your blog (and subscribing to it). It’ll take them a while to find your blog by themselves, but here’s your chance to give an existing audience a free preview. You get one post to make a good impression.

Your guest post should be about the other blog’s content, but with a twist that entices readers to your blog. Other personal finance bloggers are regularly asked about the military, yet over 90% of the PF bloggers have never served. That’s your opening for posts about “Extreme Early Military Retirement“, or “Get Rich Slowly in the Military“, or even “Mr. Military Money Mustache“. Blog about topics for the audience you want to bring to your blog, and make them feel good– servicemembers & veterans love reading about how they have more frugal potential than anyone (because they’re so accustomed to deprivation). Or write about how they have more advantages at seeking employment. Or write about the military advantages that boost retirement planning. Don’t lecture them. Just introduce yourself and invite them over to your place for more info. The rest of the guest blogger audience will politely listen while you’re writing to your targeted new readers, so you can keep it short and sweet.

Before you seek guest posts, accumulate a few months of content on your own blog. You want the host blogger to be reassured that you know how to write and that you have the longevity to partner up with them. You also want them to understand your style (so that they’ll feel comfortable seeing your style on their blog) and to feel motivated to give you a boost.

How do you entice host bloggers to let you guest post? Start by putting their blog in your blog roll, and mention it once in a while. (“I’ve added ‘Budgets are $exy’ to the blogroll.” “It’s Twitter’s Follow Friday, and I’m reading PT Money’s latest.” “Another expert on debt is ‘Punch Debt In The Face’– see their link in my blogroll.”) Keep an eye on your Twitter subscribers and your fan page. If you see their blogs following you, then you know they’ve cast their eye your way and will eventually consider your guest post. Post a comment on their blog (see last week’s post in this series) and then give them a week or two to check out your blog. (Established bloggers are busy enough with their own audience and will need that long just to get around to you.) After that time has passed, use the “Contact me” form on their blog to offer a guest post. Read their guest-post guidelines and suggest a subject.

In the extremely unlikely event that another blogger happens to link to your blog from theirs, then be ready for the opportunity. If you don’t already have their blog in your own blogroll, then consider linking it immediately. Thank them publicly in your next post for mentioning you, and include the link to their blog. In the day after they mentioned you, post a “Thanks!” comment on their blog to let them see your appreciation. (You don’t really need to say more, and don’t be spammy.) If you must say more, then add a compliment like “Your link boosted my traffic 3x!

The next day, use the “Contact me” utility on their blog to thank them again and mention that you’d love to do a guest post. You could even link to one of your blog’s posts that covers a topic their readers would enjoy but emphasize that you’d write original content on that topic.

When you’re invited to do the guest post, read their guest post guidelines on their blog and do exactly as they say, even if it’s “not your style”. This is an audition, and you need to show that you can follow directions. Your post should introduce you with one sentence, and your post can end with two or three more sentences about you. You also rate one link to your blog. You’re going to e-mail the post to them in HTML format, as thoroughly cut-and-paste ready to go as you can make it, and far enough in advance for them to ask you questions or to request changes. (It’s their blog, and you’ve just given them your post, so they get to have it the way they like it!) The nicer a guest you are, the more likely you’ll be invited back for an encore performance in front of their (bigger) audience.

For the biggest and busiest blogs, you might have to skip the step of offering a guest post. Simply write it and e-mail it. You’ll have to pay close attention to their blog because you’re choosing the subject for them, and you’ll have to execute exactly on their guest-post guidelines. If you do a good job on both of those challenges, the host blogger is presented with a ready-made post that saves them a valuable hour of contacting you to discuss the idea. They’re that much more tempted to accept your cold-call guest post because you’ve made it easy for them!

Discussion boards

Discussion boards are a tough audience. (I helped moderate one.) The moderators get pelted by truckloads of spam and they’re not going to indulge your party-crashing post of “Dudes, check out my blog!” Their guidelines will let you know what you’re allowed to link.

If you’re going to look for readers on discussion boards then you should choose one or two boards that closely match your topic. Register and become a valuable contributor. After you’ve advanced past the “newbie” stage then let the moderators know that you’d like to mention your blog. It’s probably fine to have a link to your blog in your profile, so fill out your profile and build an identity. Your avatar should match your blog so that readers see the same image on your blog, your Twitter account, your Facebook page… you get the idea.

If you patiently contribute regular doses of quality writing to the discussion board (and your blog, and the comments on other blogs, and the guest posts on other blogs, and your social network) then you’ll become a valued contributor. At that point you may be able to form a relationship with the board’s owners and moderators. With their permission, you could solicit the board’s contributions to your blog: stories, “how to” advice, resources for your subject, or just topic suggestions. You can mine a discussion board for a wealth of material, but it works best when your board members feel that they’re getting as much as they’re giving. Give them control over your content, let them tell their stories, and credit them for their contributions.

When you’re writing your blog posts, you’ll be regularly linking back to that discussion board so that your readers will join its community. When you’re posting on the discussion board, the moderators may eventually permit you to link pertinent material to the thread from your blog. (So the posters can start reading your blog.) You’re building a long-term relationship here, so put the time & effort into it. Hit-and-run tactics will just label you as a spammer or, even worse, a troll.

If you’re persistent enough to develop a large audience of commenters on your own blog, then you may end up forming your own discussion board. That’s a self-hosting project that will require its own admin and a moderator team. It’s much easier (for you) to leverage your blog off an existing discussion board than to form your own, but your readers will tell you what they want. If you’re doing a good job then they’ll volunteer their labor to build the discussion board and turn it into a community. If you’re earning revenue from your readers, then you should contribute some of your earnings to hosting the community and helping it grow. Consider it part of your marketing budget.

Support your fellow bloggers

Blogging can be a solitary and very lonely occupation, but you can join a support group.

Blogging is not a zero-sum game. We bloggers can share and leverage. Your readers will read more blogs than just yours, so another blogger’s audience might be happy to read your blog too. Instead of seeing your other bloggers as competition, think of them as future teammates. You’ll have a ready-made social group to share your knowledge on topics, events, advertisers, and other material. You could even coordinate your topics to encourage more readers to join your audience to see your tag-team writing or your potluck treatment of the same topic.

Blogging can also be a family effort. My college daughter regularly contributes her perspectives on my material (in a good way!) and suggests topics. I know another blogger whose spouse provides all the blog maintenance & tech support. Another popular blogger’s spouse has started her own blog… and although she has a very different audience, I suspect that hers might be more profitable.

I’ll try to wrap this series up on the third post, coming up in one week.

Related articles:
“So Nords, why are you still blogging?”
Just write it.
Update to “Just Write It”
“So Nords, how did you start blogging?”

About Doug Nordman

Author of "The Military Guide to Financial Independence and Retirement" and co-author of "Raising Your Money-Savvy Family For Next Generation Financial Independence."
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