Creating Signature Content 28

I have dim memories of the time I spent creating my signature, and looking back on it, I didn’t give the task the attention it deserved. Now the signature I’m stuck with is somewhat jagged and messy, and I’d go back and change it if I could.

Despite its short-comings, it does get one thing right: it’s unique, and like any good signature, can’t be copied.

This week, I want to discuss how signature content is created — content your readers won’t be able to get from anyone else.

Why create signature content?

When researching this article I stumbled across a quote by Leo Babauta which, I think, gets to the core of why creating signature content is important. Though he was speaking about including biases in blog posts at the time, the quote rings true in this context and can apply to any form of web content:

With millions of blog posts out there, yours is not likely to be very unique — unless you put in your post the one thing that you know is unique — yourself. There is no other like you out there.

In other words, the internet is so vast that chances are at least one other person is writing on the topics you cover. By signing content with your own signature — your thought process, your experiences, your stories — you’re ensuring readers can only come to you and you alone for the content you provide.

Some other benefits

  • Readers connect to you as the author, not just to your content.
  • What you write can’t be mimicked, copied or replicated.
  • Increases reader trust because you are putting yourself in what you write.
  • With advice writing, shows that you are “walking the talk.”
  • Will help set you apart from others.

Adding your signature to different types of content

News
Everyone can have an opinion, and plenty of people have the same opinion. Your biases alone are not enough to make your news content unique.

Consider asking yourself the following questions as you write and working in the answers where (and if) appropriate.

  • Where were you when you heard the news? Doing what?
  • What were your first thoughts?
  • What was your gut reaction?
  • How will it affect you or people you know?

Advice
If you’re recommending something you should have personal experience (or at least have personally observed) that it works. The more you put yourself in your advice writing the more you’re showing yourself to be “walking the talk.” You can also use your own experiences as proof that the advice works.

Lastly, advice writing is one of the most commonly duplicated forms of writing. How many advice articles have you seen listing ways to increase website traffic, for example? How many points had you seen elsewhere? Putting yourself in your advice writing can ensure that it seems fresh. A great example of an author putting themselves into their advice writing is Darren Rowse’s 18 Lessons I’ve Learnt About Blogging.

When working on your own advice writing, think about including the answers to the questions below.

  • What happened when you implemented the advice you’re giving?
  • Have you noticed it implemented successfully by someone else?
  • What was your behavior before you discovered a new way of doing things?
  • What challenges did you face when implementing the advice?
  • Where did you get your inspiration to try it?

Referrals
What you do when you create content for the purpose of pointing to content elsewhere. That might involve linking to a great article you’ve read, a new service you discovered, a funny webcomic, and so on. If the content is new and popular then it’s most likely that a lot of other people are creating referral content about it too. You can make your content unique by considering the following questions.

  • How did you find the content?
  • What was your reaction?
  • How do you think others are going to react?
  • What’s good about it?
  • What’s not so good?

Other forms of content
Above I’ve listed three common types of content. The web is home to still many other types of content, but I hope the examples above illustrate how you can add your signature to every type of content you create. You could put yourself in one sentence or you could dot your thoughts and reactions throughout the whole piece.

You might be doing a bit of it already!

Most of us don’t write completely in the abstract, and some of your content is probably already marked with your signature. What I want to suggest is that we can be more conscious of how and when we do this, and we can do it more — especially when we know the benefits.

Walking the talk

I should end this article by saying that this is something I myself don’t do enough of. My effort was the introductory anecdote about working on my own, real-life signature, but I could definitely do it more.

Is this something you already feel you’re doing well, or do you think it’s something you could work on?

Bloggers Watch and Learn 289

Learning to blog well is no different to learning any skill, from painting to playing football.

When learning about blogging, we spend much of our time reading lessons on how to blog well, much like an aspiring painter will read books and attend lessons on various types of painting. However, a crucial aspect of learning any skill effectively is to study those who are already highly accomplished in the skill you’re trying to learn. Painters may study the work of Van Gogh, and aspiring footballers might study videos of Ronaldinho or Messi. But who, or what, do bloggers study?

One of the most valuable sources of blogging knowledge is to study and observe those who do it well: bloggers who write posts that get Dugg all the time, bloggers who have tripled their RSS count in the last six months, bloggers with a kick-butt personal brand, bloggers who produce top-quality content like some kind of content producing automaton, and so on.

You should be studying these bloggers even if the things they blog about are of no interest to you. Learn from bloggers who have already achieved, or are on track to achieve, the goals you’ve set for yourself, even if you are not part of their target audience.

Learning by watching

I’m an avid subscriber of three blogs that I’m not interested in. At least, not in the same way that I’m interested in most of the blogs in my feed reader. I subscribe to Get Rich Slowly, but I consciously do not practice frugality in my own life, don’t live in the U.S.A. (much of the information is US-centric) and I’m not in debt… yet. And still, I’m still excited when a GRS post hits my feed reader. Let me explain why:

  • The blog has close to 60,000 subscribers and employs roughly the same content model I use–long and in-depth posts, albeit much more frequently. I study the blog to observe how J.D., the blogger behind GRS, makes this content model work so effectively to grow the blog’s subscriber base.
  • I observe the way the content unfolds over time. How does the blogger balance frequent posting with the production of fresh ideas?
  • I admire J.D.’s writing style, and consider how I can bring that clarity to my own posts.
  • I try to observe the way J.D. has created a community of active commenters at the blog.
  • I look at GRS posts that have done will on social media and ask, what made this work? What can I learn from this?

Despite being disinterested in this type of personal finance, each post is a lesson for me. It’s not a problem that I don’t read the blog for the financial tips and advice, as I’m not part of the target audience. The impressive subscriber count shows that the blog is exceptionally good at catering to its target audience.

Another blog I’m subscribed to for similar reasons is Zen Habits. I think Leo Babauta is to blogging what Van Gogh is to painting–a true master! However, I don’t generally enjoy reading personal development blogs, and don’t use the blog’s content in the way it was intended to be used. Instead, I track the blog for the following reasons:

  • To observe how Leo’s content strategy has influenced the growth of Zen Habits’ subscriber base.
  • To learn how a super-strong personal brand is built.
  • To examine how the blog has been able to have phenomenal success on Digg, in particular.
  • To learn how a passionate readership and comment-culture is constructed.

The story is similar with Coding Horror, a software programming blog I greatly admire despite having next to no knowledge of the subject matter! I read the blog to observe the way posts are given beautiful texture with the use of formatting and images–a method I’ve observed to be very effective when it comes to maintaining reader interest throughout a long post, and also in the realm of social media.

Immerse yourself

The practice of learning can be loosely divided into three areas: listening (or reading), practicing, and studying. Many bloggers do not actively practice this third aspect of learning. You might listen to the recommendations of blogging experts and practice blogging regularly, but do you actively study other blogs and bloggers that have achieved the kinds of goals you’ve set for yourself? This kind of learning is as practical as it gets: it deals in real-life action and examples rather than abstract lessons.

Get started as soon as possible, in the following ways:

  1. Familiarize yourself with the most successful blogs in the world, even when their subject matter is of no interest to you. Start here: even though its accuracy is questionable, it includes many of the key players. Think about the following: content strategy (what kind of posts, how often), target audience (who it’s for, who it’s not for), branding (what do you know about it?), what aspects of its success would you like to emulate?
  2. Familiarize yourself with blogs that have already achieved goals you aspire to (i.e. 50,000 subscribers), with a roughly similar content style. How did they do it? Once again, it’s not important that you be part of the blog’s target audience. In fact, this can often help you gain objective distance and study the blogger’s strategy with fewer distractions and biases.

Immersion is an essential aspect of skilful blogging, just as it is essential when learning any skill. If you want to master the art of writing content that is optimized for social media, you need to immerse yourself in this kind of content. If you want to become a world-class blogger, immerse yourself in the work of world-class bloggers. Never stop watching and learning.

Are Subscribers Over Rated 225

Subscribers are widely regarded as the most valuable indicators of a blog or website’s success. When it comes to selling a blog, some pundits have valued 1 subscriber at around $35. That’s incredible. Whether they’re truly worth that much is a mystery, but it holds true that most of us look to our subscriber count as the primary yardstick of our progression.

The question I want to ask today is: should we be doing this? Much has been written by various bloggers — including myself — about trying to gather more subscribers. A lot less time has been dedicated to examining why we should be pursuing this goal. It’s assumed that subscribers are worth their weight in gold, but are they really?

I’m not setting out to prove or disprove the assumption. I want to test it, weigh up the pros and cons, and see what happens. As I write these words, I’m not sure what the outcome will be. I like subscribers. I hope they come out on top. But I can’t make any guarantees.

Form follows function

I’m concerned by untested assumptions. Are subscribers really important, or did we just decide they were important? Your subscriber count is a fun visualization — a badge you can wear, a number which can be volatile but, like blue-chip stocks, tends to increase over time. Part of me wonders if our veneration of the subscriber count started because of it’s game-like quality: blogging is the game and your subscriber count is the score. As humans, we like competing, we like to measure our success in numbers rather than an abstract sense of achievement.

I want to set aside my own fondness for the impetuous little subscriber count badge and work out if it really means as much as we think it does.

What is a subscriber… really?

Aside from the percentage of your subscriber count made up of bots and scrapers, each subscriber is an individual who’s elected to be notified every time you update your blog or website.

While it’s almost impossible to determine how your users interact with a subscription, we know one thing for sure: each subscriber means that at some point in the past an individual opted-in to voluntary interruptions from you. Something about your blog or website made them feel as if they didn’t want to leave it behind in the internet ether. They decided it was for keeps.

After that point, things get murkier. Email subscribers get posts emailed to them, but you don’t know whether they read them or delete them, or use a filter to send them straight to trash.

Those who follow you blog in a feed reader are also relatively mysterious. In Google Reader it takes a fraction of a second to skip a post and mark it ‘Read’ without looking at much more than the first few words of the headline. If you’re like me, most of the posts you’re delivered will be ignored in this fashion. Of 50 posts, I might only scan a handful. Most posts fall into the ‘Not relevant to me’ or the ‘I already know that’ category. Because there’s so little time involved in skipping past posts, I can stay subscribed to a blog even if I only read a fraction of its content– simply on the odd chance that it’ll eventually produce something I want to read.

Your feed readers could be:

  1. Ignoring all your posts and on the path to unsubscribing.
  2. Ignoring most of your posts and reading just a few.
  3. Reading most of your posts and ignoring a few.
  4. Reading all of your posts religiously.

It seems likely that most subscribers fall into either category 2 or 3.

What does this mean?

Not all subscribers are engaged readers. In fact, I suspect that the ‘Returning Visitor’ count is composed of more engaged readers (proportionally). If you load up a website enough times and find it has little to offer, you’ll probably delete the bookmark. It’s a lot easier to sweep irrelevant feed items under the rug.

Your ‘Returning Visitor’ count will also include feed readers who’ve visited your blog to comment, extract the link to your post or vote for you on social media. I’m not yet sure whether subscribers are over-rated, but I feel confident in saying that the ‘Returning Visitor’ metric is under-rated.

Though each subscriber is not necessarily a ‘perfect’ reader (as they’re often characterized), I think the subscriber count is a better indicator of whether you’re on the right track with your content than your number of daily uniques (DU). Your DU count is held under the sway of too many variables you can influence but not control: social media surges, in-bound links and search engine traffic. Your subscriber count will depend on the quality of your content and your niche alone. Your DU in the short-term might say nothing about the long-term story behind your blog — and where it’s heading.

If you’re publishing for a niche audience who don’t often use feed readers, it might be more worthwhile to measure your subscriber count in comparison to the subscriber count of other blogs in your niche.

If subscribers are not necessarily engaged, daily uniques are even more flippant. It’s almost inevitable that most of the social media and search engine traffic you receive isn’t interested in your content. The web still has work to do when it comes to delivering the right content to the right people.

As for measuring your blog’s progress, I’d argue that your subscriber count is more valuable than any other metric. Your daily unique count tells you only how many people found their way to your blog — even if they navigated away instantly. Your subscriber count gives you an idea of whether your content is appealing to your target audience. That’s invaluable.

I do, however, think that a blog’s subscriber count is possibly over-valued by on-site advertisers and buyers. Of course, this is one thing that tends to work in our advantage. Only a small proportion of feed readers click back to your blog (unless you use partial feeds, which will mean you have less subscribers overall, anyway).

When it comes to on-site advertising, page views are the most important measure — as well as whether your product is targeted to the blog or website’s audience. Despite this, prospective advertisers do seem to be impressed by a decent subscriber count — probably because they assume that it’s accompanied by a lot of traffic. They also want the benefits of being associated with a respected blog or website. From a buyer’s perspective, I think subscribers are over-rated. From a seller’s perspective, they remain highly valuable.

When it comes to buying blogs as assets (with the assumption that the blog will eventually recoup the price you paid for it and make a profit on top of that) I believe subscribers are strongly over-valued. A blog’s subscriber count says very little about its potential profitability. If you’re ever looking to buy a blog as an investment, the key question to ask is: how much does it make?

Another thing to consider: people subscribe because of content rather than premise. If you buy a blog with 500 subscribers there’s no guarantee those subscribers will stay after the previous author hands over the reigns.

From a seller’s perspective, though, your subscriber count can drastically increase the value of your blog even if your monthly earnings are insignificant. Blog buyers seem to believe subscribers will translate easily into dollars. I don’t think this is true at all, but demand creates value, and there’s a very high demand to buy blogs with an established subscriber base — particularly in niches commonly regarded as ‘money makers’, i.e. blogs about blogging, SEO, make money online, gadgets and so on.

My advice to anyone thinking about selling their blog is to do everything you can to increase your subscriber count and monthly earnings. My advice to anyone looking to buy a blog is to look at the monthly earnings and page views, and get proof that both figures provided are accurate.

The answer?

A blog’s subscriber count is the best metric you can use to work out if your content is doing its job. If your count is plateauing, you may need to increase the quality of your content to get things moving again. If it’s falling, determine whether you’ve changed anything about your content (i.e. form, frequency, etc.) If the change loosely corresponds with the drop, I’d suggest that you revert to what you were doing before, or try something else.

If you’re hoping to sell advertising on your blog, your subscriber count will influence what you can charge. Buyers attach more value to this metric than they should. If you’re a buyer looking to advertise a blog, website or product, look at page views and relevancy over the number of subscribers.

If you want to sell your blog, chase subscribers like crazy. The other metric you want to bump up is your current monthly earnings. You don’t need to have these two things in place to get a good price, though. I’ve seen blogs with a few hundred subscribers sell for thousands of dollars without making more than small change. Conversely, I’ve seen poor quality blogs with a high monthly income sell for thousands, as well.

If you’re looking to buy a blog for love, a subscriber count is probably the key metric you should be looking at. If you’re buying for love and money, look at its subscriber count, page views and monthly income. If you’re buying for money, look at its monthly income and, to a lesser extent, page views.

The Bloggers Library 28 Free ebooks and Excerpts for Bloggers 77

Looking for some reading material?

These eBooks cover topics ranging from content creation, promotion, social media, general blogging, business blogging, making money blogging to web writing/copywriting, SEO and design.

The collection totals more than 864 pages and 31 megabytes. Enjoy!

Instructions: left-click on the links provided to download or save the eBook from its dedicated page.

Content Creation

1. Killer Web Content (Sample) by Jerry McGovern (20 pages . 154kb)

The first chapter of Killer Web Content provides an overview of writing for the web and the different types of content you can create. McGovern has also written an eBook specifically about writing for the web (available below).

2. Killer Flagship Content by Chris Garrett (17 pages . 255kb)

The definitive guide to writing pillar articles — value-packed blog posts which will help to define your blog. The eBook was written by Chris Garrett who blogs about becoming an authority blogger at ChrisG.com. He’s also a regular contributor at Copyblogger.

You can access the eBook by subscribing to the ChrisG.com RSS feed. You can unsubscribe at any time.

3. What Do You Do When Someone Steals Your Content? (Sample) by Lorelle VanFossen

Lorelle of Lorelle on WordPress outlines several different responses bloggers can take to the (almost) inevitable content theft that comes with writing on the web. This is an excerpt from her book, Blogging Tips.

4. Who’s There? by Seth Godin (45 pages . 1.88mb)

“Seth Godin’s incomplete guide to blogs and the new web.” The companion book to Knock Knock (available below), this one is more focused on what you put on your blog than how you promote it. Seth outlines some simple and powerful ideas as only he knows how.

Promotion

5. Viral Marketing With Blogs by Brian Clark (30 pages . 484kb)

Packed with tips on using viral content and promotions to build the profile of your blog, this eBook is written by the inimitable Brian Clark of Copyblogger.

6. Unleashing the IdeaVirus by Seth Godin (197 pages . 893kb)

The most detailed text on viral marketing you’ll find. It’s not written specifically about blogging, but many of its core principles can be translated over.

7. Everyone Is An Expert by Seth Godin (32 pages . 1.59mb)

Discusses how Squidoo can be used to build your profile and drive traffic back to your blog. It should be noted that Squidoo is the brain-child of the author.

8. Knock Knock by Seth Godin (41 pages . 6.10mb)

“Seth Godin’s incomplete guide to building a website that works.” An unconventional guide to marketing and running a website/blog from an unconventional guy.

Using Social Media

9. What is Social Media? by Spannerworks (33 pages . 975kb)

A good overview of the different types of social media, from podcasts to folksonomies. Anyone looking at branching into new content formats will find this eBook useful.

10. Flipping the Funnel by Seth Godin (18 pages . 1.20mb)

A short guide to promoting yourself with Web 2.0. Many of the principles are directly translatable to blogging.

11. Authority Black Book by Jack Humphrey (64 pages . 856kb)

A guide to utilizing Web 2.0 as a promotional tool for your blog. Would also serve as a good introduction for someone unfamiliar with how social bookmarking services can interact with blog content.

General Blogging

12. Blog Branding and Identity (Sample) by Lorelle VanFossen

Lorelle of Lorelle on WordPress outlines the basics of creating a brand and identity for your blog, through both its content and its design. This is an excerpt from her book, Blogging Tips.

13. Blog Syndication and Subscription Tips (Sample) by Lorelle VanFossen

Some basic tips on offering feeds and increasing subscriptions. A good starting point for the absolute beginner. This is an excerpt from her book, Blogging Tips.

14. Successful Blogging (Sample) by Bob Walsh (29 pages . 630kb)

A solid overview of the blogging process, from being consistent to remaining inspired.

15. The Art of Alpha-Female Blogging by Halley Suitt (22 pages . 386kb)

The focus of this eBook is on writing dirty — writing with personality and humanity. I’d recommend this to any personal blogger.

16. We Media by Shayne Bowman and Chris Willis (66 pages . 3.14mb)

In-depth exploration of citizen journalism and how this relates to blogging. Useful reading for any blogger who writes on current events, politics or breaking news.

17. Launching a WordPress Blog by Tina Clarke (5.72 mb)

A good starter-guide for anyone flummoxed by the process of setting up a WordPress blog. Details installation, customization and some basic SEO. It might also be useful to share with anyone you know thinking of moving to WordPress from another platform.

Business Blogging

18. The Corporate Weblog Manifesto by Robert Scoble (13 pages . 295kb)

Robert Scoble is an internet celebrity. Here he provides 20 solid foundations for any corporate weblog. Any business blogger will find useful ideas here.

19. Beginner’s Guide to Business Blogging by Debbie Wiel (41 pages . 913kb)

A practical and common-sense guide to getting started with a business blog. Aimed at the absolute beginner, but with good foundational principles for the veteran, also.

Make Money Blogging

20. Blog Profits Blueprint by Yaro Starak (54 pages . 676kb)

A comprehensive overview of how to get started making money with a blog. Yaro has previously co-operated with Darren Rowse of ProBlogger.net and is currently selling his services as a blog profits mentor at Blog Mastermind.

21. Make Money Online by John Chow (59 pages . 1.79mb)

John Chow of, well, his blog, outlines how he has started generating a monthly five-figure income through blogging and provides tips for how you can do the same. This contains some useful general blogging info as well, though everything is always related back to monetization.

22. The Long Tail by Chris Anderson (33 pages . 645kb)

Required reading for anyone aiming to monetize a niche market.

Web Writing/Copywriting

23. Writing for the Web (Sample) by Gerry McGovern (12 pages . 218mb)

Short and sweet guide to crisp web writing with a focus on saying more in less words. I recommend this one if you don’t want to spend too long reading theories on writing better.

24. The Elements of Style by William Strunk, Jnr.

The online version of the classic book. This remains a constant point of reference for many copywriters. Its most famous message is to “omit needless words” and will be useful for any blogger looking to sharpen up their web writing.

25. Common Errors in English by Paul Brians

The online version of the book by Paul Brians. An encyclopedic list of common errors in English, this resource should be useful for bloggers looking to fine-tune their spelling, grammar and expression.

SEO

26. Beginner’s Guide to SEO by SEOmoz (30 pages . 438kb)

SEOmoz is a highly trusted SEO resource and its Beginner’s Guide has consistently been a first port of call for those who want to get to grips with the SEO phenomenon.

Design

27. Web Style Guide, 2nd Edition by Patrick Lynch and Sarah Horton

A comprehensive introduction to web design for the blogger looking to customize or construct a theme for their blog. Introduces important concepts like the use of whitespace and chunking information.

28. 5 Simple Ways to Improve Your Blog by Nate Whitehill (8 pages . 2.51mb)

A clearly presented basic guide to making your blog look unique. This would be perfect for anyone looking to personalize or brand a theme. You’ll need to subscribe to the Unique Site Designs email list to receive the eBook. You can unsubscribe at any time.

Ask the Readers Whats Your Definition of success 165

This week, I want to challenge Skelliewag readers to set out a concrete definition of success for their blog or website. A point where you can say you’ve achieved everything you wanted.

My personal definition of success is focused around two goals: to be able to quit my part-time job and make my income online doing something I love, and secondly, to release a book or eBook through the blog. I haven’t achieved either of these yet, but I’m on track to do so.

What are the goals you’re working towards?

I’ll be looking for another most valuable commenter this week. Here is a quick summary of what I’ll be looking for:

  • A useful and insightful answer — something others can learn from.
  • Engagement with other commenters and reflection on their answers.
  • Active participation in the discussion.

What I won’t be taking into consideration:

  • Names, identities and affiliations. I’ll be judging by comments alone.

* * *

Last week’s question — what’s the most important lesson you’ve learned? — generated another interesting discussion with some fantastic comments and contributions. I’d love to highlight about a dozen commenters, but that would devalue the prize.

This week’s winner is Keira Peney (who runs a blog for game developers) for her original and insightful thoughts on the importance of listening as a blogger.

I’m not sure this counts as a ‘lesson learned’, but one of the best things I find about blogging is the way you can interact with people – to some extent it feels like the evolution of the message board. You can be questioned, sometimes you can be persuaded to change your mind. You’re always learning and developing – especially if you have challenging readers!

I think if I had to sum it up in one word, the most important lesson I’ve learned as a blogger is listening. Listening to other bloggers, to your readers, and in my case to my Dad who is my best critic! And really responding and engaging with other people. Being approachable really helps, and I think that ties in with being authentic, and including the personal stories alongside the factual information.

It’s like being at a party – you can either jump in and have a good time, or stand off in a corner mumbling to yourself.

Keira goes into the running to win a one-month featured spot in the sidebar, alongside previous winner SpicePuppy.

I’ll be judging that winner at the end of December, depending on their continued participation in the ‘Ask the Readers’ discussions.

This week’s question again:

What’s your definition of success?

How to Level the Playing Field with Digg 288

If you haven’t noticed already, Digg is the most deeply gamed social media service on the planet.

‘Gaming’ social media is the act of using private networks and arrangements to propel your own content forward. Asking for votes is gaming, organizing submission by select individuals is gaming, and so on.

The argument against so-called ‘gaming’ is that it’s undemocratic, and it goes against the principle of a level playing field. At first glance, this objection sounds both fair and logical. The issue is made more complex by the truth: everybody does it. From top bloggers down to little minnows in the web ocean, people are trying to maximize their chances of success on Digg using both arranged submission and private networks.

For a second, though, let’s imagine if nobody did this. Small blogs and websites would be at a huge disadvantage, as they’d be unable to get more than a few Diggs from their modestly-sized regular readership. The chances of the Digg community picking up on a submission with 5 – 10 diggs in as many hours is miniscule at best, considering the huge number of submissions made every hour. At the opposite end of the spectrum, highly trafficked blogs and websites would utterly dominate the front page (more than they already do), because they could rely on their huge reserves of traffic to propel the stories forward.

The end result? You have a service that sends CNET, TechCrunch, NyTimes and the Huffington Post even more traffic, and entrenches the web media status quo.

Is it really a level playing field if content succeeds based on the size of its servers and advertising budget, rather than on the back of human creativity and endeavour alone?

A network of voters can give even a small website or blog the chance to hit the front page, by putting its content in a position to be judged by the Digg community, and then either propelling it success or burying it, depending on its merits. This networking stage is also one of the most social and enjoyable aspects of using Digg.

If you’re serious about playing the odds game on Digg, you need a network to push your best content forward. Here’s how you can build one, and benefit everyone involved.

Build a grassroots network

This is a network of contacts with Digg accounts who have reason to help you. They might be readers, friends or online acquaintances. Let me explain how to create such a network from the ground up.

  1. Start with the obvious. If you already have a network of friends on Digg, this is a logical starting-base for your network.
  2. Ask your readers. Write a quick post asking if your readers would be willing to offer occasional help with growing your blog through social media. Reassure them that you will never send more than one email in any seven day period. Tell readers who are willing to opt in to leave a comment on the post. You can extract their email from your comment and add it to your network.
  3. Ask other contacts. This could include other bloggers or other people you’ve had correspondence with, friends and online acquaintances, or people who might be interested in a mutual-help arrangement.
  4. Continue building your network and making it stronger. The effectiveness of your network will depend on several factors: its size, how much individual members care, what they get in return and how often you utilize it.
  5. Always look for new people to add to your network. You might make a post about it once every three months, for example, to add interested readers who’ve discovered your blog since the last time you asked. Being active on Digg will also allow you to naturally accrue friends. A larger network will help you succeed even if your conversion ratio is quite low (conversion ratio being the percentage of people you ask who actually vote).
  6. Build the quality of your network. Get to know its members better and help them to care more about you.
  7. Make it worthwhile. It’s easy to take, take and take, but your network will always be more effective if its members receive something in return. Make yourself available to reciprocate their social media votes with your own.
  8. Don’t utilize too much. I mentioned earlier that you shouldn’t ask for votes more than once in any seven day period. When a blogger does this to me, my conversion ratio plummets. Think of your network like a rechargeable battery. If you use it less often, you can extract the maximum amount of power from it each time. If you use it too much and too often, it will quickly become depleted and worn out. You don’t like to be interrupted, so make sure your requests don’t become an interruption for others.
  9. Communicate across multiple channels. If you ask less often, you can get away with being louder when you do so. I would suggest staggering vote requests across shouts, Email and Twitter, each about an hour apart.
  10. Capitalize on existing momentum. To use your network most efficiently, you only want to ask for its help with content that really does have a chance on Digg. I would suggest doing this by focusing on posts that have developed a little bit of traction on their own. The number of diggs your content initially receives will depend on whether it has at least one of the Idea or Execution elements, the size of your network, and your conversion ratio. With a network that is large enough and responsive enough, you can virtually guarantee up to 100 diggs on any given content item.

Make friends in high places

If you look at the profiles of top Digg power-users, you’ll see that the percentage of stories they submit that go popular are very high (as high as 66.8 percent). This is because they have a large network of followers and a keen understanding of what works and what doesn’t. If you’re lucky enough to have your content submitted by a Digg power-user, your chances of hitting the front page are drastically increased.

It’s no surprise that many bloggers try to form relationships with Digg power-users and co-ordinate the submission of articles with them. If you decide to travel this route, here are a few tips to help you:

  1. Pursue channels with the least competition. Everyone wants their articles to be submitted by Mr.BabyMan, msaleem or MakiMaki. This is exactly why your efforts are probably better spent elsewhere. Users in the top 10 – 20 are not far off in terms of percentage popular ratios, but they’re unlikely to receive anywhere near as much inbound communication. Having said that, Muhammad Saleem’s profile encourages you to call upon him for submissions.
  2. Understand their needs. Digg power-users are always looking to tap new sources of content that is well-optimized for Digg. If you can provide them with that, your relationship will be mutually beneficial. Understand, however, that a Digg power-user will never submit content unless they truly believe it has a good chance at going popular. Their reputation rides on it.
  3. Shape your publishing schedule around them. Don’t publish a post and then go looking for your power-user contact. They might not be around, and in the mean-time, someone with a weak profile might submit your post (with a crummy headline and summary text, to boot). Instead, let your contact know as soon as possible what day you are planning to publish your post. They can give you a time that works for them in return, and you can set your post to publish at the moment they specify. This ensures they will be waiting when your post goes live.
  4. Don’t take advantage of your contact. Only ask for a submission when you’re sure that your post is well-optimized for Digg. If they have to knock you back too often, it will add a negative tone to the relationship.
  5. Consider developing 2 – 3 contacts. If you’re relying on one power-user only, you have a single point of failure. They might not respond to your email, they might go on vacation, and so on. Once you have one relationship in place, think about developing another one. Just make sure option #2 is not an immediate threat to your first contact’s Digg ranking, or the partnership might out you in a difficult position.

An example strategy for reaching the Digg front page

  1. Read the previous post in the series on playing the odds game with Digg. There you’ll learn about the IEN formula.
  2. Draft a post concept with IEN, IN or EN qualities.
  3. Execute the post concept with care and attention to detail.
  4. Include images and clear formatting to add texture and interest.
  5. Take time to craft the best possible headline.
  6. Proofread thoroughly and check all links.
  7. Make sure your blog is Digg-proof (I use WP-Cache).
  8. Negotiate a publishing time with your power-user.
  9. When the time comes, check that your post has been submitted by the right person.
  10. Stagger contact with your network over shouts, Email and Twitter.

You may also wish to count the total amount of communications you’ve sent out and the total number of diggs from within your network, to tabulate your conversion ratio. Once you have a rough idea of what your conversion ratio is, you can work out how large your network needs to be to generate the desired number of initial diggs.

Bonus: extra tips from Digg power-user domfosnz (thank Dominic!)

“My extra tip would be to make your digg profile networkable. By this, I mean list all your network channels so that people can get in touch with you easily. e.g. Twitter, Gtalk, AIM, Plurk, Facebook, and all the other usual suspects.

Also (while on the topic of profiles) make sure to use and avatar. Friend requests from avatar-less users are a real turn off for a lot of diggers. Bonus points if you use the same avatar across multiple social sites so you stand out easily.”

30 Simple Ways to Battle Poverty with Technology 571

Bloggers are very privileged to be able to share our creative output with so many people, and in some cases, to profit from that creative output. We’re able to do this because we’re not living in poverty. We can afford to run computers, electricity, pay internet bills, purchase domain names and hosting–something that many people can’t do, and will never do.

Blog Action Day 2008 presents an excellent opportunity to remember this, and to avoid taking the privileges we have for granted. That’s why I’m glad to take part this year, with this post.

Here’s a challenge: today, do at least ten things to help in the battle against poverty. Don’t worry–I’ve made it kind of easy for you. Below are 30 things you can do. Some take a few hours, others a few minutes, others only a few seconds. Some you’ll only able to begin today, others you’ll be able to begin and end. Best of all, (almost) none of them require you to leave the chair you’re sitting in right now.

If you like the idea of helping out but are strapped for time, why not just contribute $10 to a low-interest loan for an entrepreneur in the developing world?

I’ll be donating 5 cents to Kiva.org for every visitor to Skelliewag on October the 15th. That’s $1 per 20 visitors. I want this number to be as high as possible, so I appreciate any visitors you can send my way. Please remember that there are no advertisements or affiliate links on Skelliewag, so I don’t benefit from this. I’ll give you an update on how much we raised when October 15th is over.

30 easy ways…

  1. Give social media votes to articles and news dealing with poverty.
  2. Lend $1 to an entrepreneur in poverty for every new person who subscribes to your blog in a given time period. You can adjust this number to more or less, depending on how much you want to give and how many subscribers you already have.
  3. Lend $5 to an entrepreneur in poverty for every one person who links to your blog in a given time period.
  4. Invest 5% of online eBook or service sales from your blog into a Kiva.org loan.
  5. Donate your blog or website’s October 15th earnings to a poverty-fighting charity.
  6. Donate spare or old technology to a family living in poverty (an old computer, for example).
  7. Donate $1 for every 1,000 page views or visitors to your blog or website in a given time period (i.e. one month).
  8. Join or create a Facebook group dedicated to reducing poverty.
  9. Use Twitter to share a good article on poverty (and reducing it).
  10. Use Twitter to share one important fact about poverty.
  11. Invite 5 friends to join Kiva.org and create a lending group.
  12. Share Blog Action Day posts in Google Reader.
  13. Send your favorite poverty-related website some SEO juice by linking with good anchor text.
  14. Create and share a desktop wallpaper to remind people about the battle to solve poverty.
  15. Donate your freelance skills (i.e. web development) to a poverty-fighting organization.
  16. Create a Flickr photoset of images that tell a story about poverty.
  17. Sell unneeded items on eBay or Craigslist and donate the proceeds to battle poverty.
  18. Create a video to raise awareness about poverty and share it on YouTube.
  19. Review a product on your blog or website and use an affiliate link. Lend your earnings to another entrepreneur somewhere else in the world.
  20. Donate unused hosting space to a poverty-battling organization.
  21. Email your local representative about your ideas on battling poverty in the area.
  22. Use your blog or website to tell the story of someone who overcame poverty. If your site is about online business, for example, you might tell the story of an entrepreneur who lived in poverty during a period of their life.
  23. Encourage your blog’s reader-base to donate or lend to battle poverty today.
  24. Lend 50 cents through Kiva.org for every person who comments on your next blog post. Make sure to tell your readers that’s what you’re doing, as you’re bound to get more comments that way. If your readership is small, you might raise the amount to $1.
  25. Give a poverty-battling organization some free advertising on your blog or website.
  26. On October 15th, submit 15 articles on poverty to your favorite social media service.
  27. Send a fantastic article on poverty to all your StumbleUpon friends.
  28. Shout an excellent article on poverty to your fans and friends on Digg.
  29. Have you heard about 1% for the Planet? This year, try 1% for Poverty with your blog or website’s earnings.
  30. Participate in Blog Action Day! (if it’s still October the 15th, it’s not too late).

Getting Better at Bad Why Practice Doesnt Always Make Perfect 1176

“Practice makes perfect.” – Unknown

Or does it?

We’re told that with thousands of hours of ‘deliberate’ practice, meaning practicing the same thing repeatedly, we can become experts. Well, tell that to my old soccer team.

I was new to soccer and especially bad at it, but some of the players on the team had been practicing and playing soccer for 12 years. And yet, they weren’t very good. In truth, they were terrible. Their kicks were weak and inaccurate, and they were awkward with the ball. These were players who had spent hundreds, if not thousands of hours practicing soccer. They practiced the same skill repeatedly. And yet, they never seemed to improve. We lost every game we played!

They were passionate and dedicated and loved soccer, but it didn’t help. Somehow, in 12 years of practice and playing, no coach had ever taught them the correct way to strike a ball, or control it.

When we practiced, we were only getting better at doing things the wrong way. Every training session we burned bad habits and bad technique into our muscle memory. We became experts at playing soccer badly.

Repetition isn’t enough

I’m a firm adherent to the belief that anyone can become expertly skillful at anything, if they practice intelligently. But it’s not enough to practice with repetition – to take 500 free-throws, or write 500 short stories, or play 500 songs on the guitar. If your technique isn’t right, you’ll be getting progressively better at doing things the wrong way, and helping to entrench habits that will hold you back from reaching your full potential with that skill.

Every time you practice with bad technique, you entrench it further. The most obvious example is in sport, and unknowingly teaching your muscle memory to throw incorrectly, or kick like your leg is a hockey stick. But this applies just as equally to cooking, or making music, or writing, or any other skill you might want to learn. If you start to practice before you know what you are trying to learn (and what you are trying not to learn), your skills may end up stagnating.

“I can’t sing.”

If you’ve ever had the pleasure (or displeasure) of watching an episode of an Idol series, you’ve probably seen some of the terrible auditions that air. You watch those people and assume they are talentless and delusional, that they simply don’t have the ability to sing. And yet, there’s no doubt they spend a lot of time singing, and singing the same things repeatedly and doing their best to improve. They’re engaging in what is commonly called deliberate practice, so why are they still so bad at singing?

I suspect it’s because they spend a lot of time practicing how to sing badly. They’ve never been taught how to control their voice, or modulate their pitch. Surrounded by encouraging friends and relatives, they’ve never been told that they’re going about this whole singing thing the wrong way.

And yet, with the right teaching, practicing the right things, even the worst singer can learn how to sing.

Repeat success patterns

When trying to learn any skill the best thing you can do is learn how the skill is practiced by people who are already experts. How do your favorite writers write? How do the best soccer players kick a ball? Find success patterns and replicate them.

Too often we focus only on results when we practice. It’s possible to achieve good results with bad technique, but too often that’s what separates the best from those who get lost among the middle ranks. You hit a ceiling of how far you can go doing things the wrong way.

Learn the best practices in the field you are trying to learn, then practice what you learn. In sport, practice correct form. Focus on form over results. In the short-term you might fall behind teammates who settle for easy yet incorrect methods, but long-term your investment in good technique will pay off.

When writing, don’t simply try to write as much as you can, regardless of quality. Try to produce as much good writing as you can, putting into practice the advice and best practices that you learn. Don’t write things that you know contradict the expert advice you have read, for the sake of increasing your word count (often thinking I’ll fix it later). Every time you do that, you’re getting better at bad writing.

Intelligent practice

When striving for expertise, deliberate practice is not enough. To become an expert at a skill, you must:

1. Learn the best practices, success patterns, and correct technique and form for the skill you’re trying to master. The time you spend reading and researching is not, as is commonly argued, wasted time that you should spend actually practicing. You are preparing yourself to practice right.

2. Practice good form first, and think about results later. Most bad form is entrenched when people take shortcuts to get results faster. If you’ve ever read a poorly written best-selling novel, that’s why.

3. Practice good form for a long time and you can’t fail to become extremely good at the skill you’re practicing. Just know that hard work isn’t quite enough. You don’t need innate talent (many argue it doesn’t exist), but you do need to practice intelligently.

Whats it Like to run a Popular Blog 236

As Skelliewag approaches 3,500 subscribers (barring huge Feedburner errors…) I’ve started to accept that the blog has grown into something that many people would class as popular, successful and so on. One thing that strikes me as strange is how little talk there is about the ways in which running a well-established blog differs from running a blog in earlier stages of growth, both in terms of the things you find yourself doing and the demands on your time.

A lot of bloggers are envious of niche-leading blogs with a big feedcount, lots of comments and daily traffic in the thousands. A lot of bloggers also want these things for themselves, but there’s surprisingly little information out there to indicate whether they should be careful what they wish for.

In this post, I want to describe in more detail what so many people are striving for: what it’s like to run a popular blog.

The unique challenges

1. Lots more admin. More links, comments and stats to track mean more time spent on the admin side of all these things. If you use ads and affiliate programs, expect to spend even more time tracking and tweaking those.

2. Many people asking for your time. Whether it’s to answer a question or give advice, you’ll find that while you have less time, people ask for more of it. As one blogger with many other commitments it’s impossible to cater to the needs of everyone, particularly when requests are difficult or time-consuming.

3. More frequent mean-spirited criticism. Whether it’s from a hit-and-run commenter or someone who picks apart every post you write, mean-spirited criticism increases with traffic and visibility. Luckily, more criticism generally leads to thicker skin, and at this point you’ve generally achieved enough success that the nastiness of one person bothers you less.

4. More emails. While the contents of emails tend to be more exciting when you run a ‘popular’ blog, the volume of emails you receive isn’t. Achieving the ‘ideal’ empty inbox is tough. One of the best things I’ve done to improve my email situation is set up filters to automatically delete WordPress comment notifications, new Twitter follower emails, and so on. The only thing I ever did with them was delete them, and it wastes too much time and clutters up your inbox if you continue to do so manually.

5. More visibility when you make a mistake. That half-baked post your wrote at 3am in the morning probably won’t cripple your blog if it’s still relatively modest. However, if thousands of people read your half-baked post and you make a big mistake, factual error or express yourself in the wrong way, your mistake can spread far and wide.

6. More frequent blogger’s block. By the time your blog becomes ‘popular’ you may have written several hundred posts. Unless you’re covering news or a very broad topic it becomes increasingly difficult to write content that’s not only unique for your blog, but unique for your niche. If you’re not someone who naturally has an abundance of post ideas, you may struggle at this point.

7. More pressure. Once you have a ‘popular’ blog there’s a lot of pressure to do grand things with it: make the front page of Digg, break into the Technorati Top 100, launch innovative projects and so on. While the ability to chase these opportunities is a blessing, the pressure to further succeed can weigh you down, particularly when things go through an inevitable plateau.

8. You have to say ‘No’ more often. As more people ask for your time and offer you things (sometimes things you don’t want at all) you’re forced to become better at saying ‘No’ politely. This can be difficult, particularly when the person you’ve refused takes it personally.

9. You have more to lose. A 30% subscriber drop when you have 100 subscribers is not fun, but it’s not hard to recover from — it might only take a day or so, in fact. Losing 30% of 10,000 subscribers is a different matter entirely: a setback which could take months to overcome. The more you have, the more you have to lose, and that can be quite stressful.

The good stuff

1. More cool opportunities. From collaborating with people you admire to being offered a book deal, it can sometimes feel as if you’re offered a new and amazing opportunity every time you check your email. When you can direct and shape a lot of attention, you seem to become a lot luckier!

2. Interesting people want to know you. Or, at the very least, they’ll be less resistant to your attempts to get to know them. You might be able to interview people who you’d never dreamed of talking to, or get comments and emails from bloggers you’ve always been inspired by. This part is a lot of fun.

3. You have a bigger audience. It’s nice to know that a lot of people enjoy reading what you write. While I’d always choose an engaged audience over a super-big one, knowing that thousands of people will read what you write makes it a lot easier to stay motivated.

4. You can earn money (if you want to). I truly believe that a big attention hub like a popular blog can always be made profitable, even if ads and affiliate programs don’t work well. Whether it’s AdSense, eBooks or consulting services, you can almost always find ways to turn a big chunk of your attention-share into income.

5. You can self-promote less. You can finally afford to stop talking about yourself and focus on giving other people a reason to talk about you.

6. People want to write for you sometimes. Writing a quality guest-post is actually one of the nicest things you can do for a blogger. It can save a few hours of their time, or if they employ paid writers, $50 to $100 dollars. Not bad, right? A well-established blog means more people will offer to write for you.

7. You can use your blog as a launching pad. Whether it’s for another blog, a product or service, or the book you’ve always wanted to write, having a well-established blog allows you to direct attention where you want it. It often allows you to give new projects a very useful head-start.

8. More feedback and unique perspectives. You’ll hear from more and different types of readers who appreciate your stuff. You’ll start to learn how your writing affects different types of people. Connecting with readers is one of the nicest things about blogging, so it’s nice to be able to do more of it.

9. You can charge premium rates. If you offer a rates-based service through your blog your notoriety will allow you to charge premium rates. I don’t know how much Brian Clark charges for copywriting, or how much Seth Godin charges for marketing advice, but I suspect it’s a lot!

10. You get free stuff sometimes. I’m at the stage where I get the occasional invite to a web app beta test, or free review copies of certain books (usually only if I ask for them!), but by all accounts the amount of free stuff you get increases exponentially as your popularity does.

Blessing/curse

1. You get a lot of interview requests. It’s really fun to do interviews at first and you’ll probably accept all interview offers unconditionally (“Wow — people want to interview me!”). In truth, though, doing an interview on a small blog generally means that none of its readers know who you are and aren’t particularly interested in what you have to say. A ten question interview might take half an hour to answer and yield just two or three clickthroughs. Due to the time-investment, I’ve started to approach interviews a little like guest-posting and ask: “Is it worth my time to appear on this blog?” (unless the blogger is a friend, in which case I can’t say no). After doing something like twelve interviews in one month I’ve also lost all desire to talk about myself, which doesn’t help!

2. You have an abundance of options. When starting from scratch your only real option is to try and get visitors and subscribers. You’re concerned only with growing. When you have an established audience your number of options increases dramatically. How are you going to use your attention share? Are you going to branch out into other projects? Are you going to hire a writer? How are you going to monetize? While it’s great to have an array of options, the sheer number of decisions you have to make can be stressful.

Is it worth it?

Absolutely. Running a well-established blog, while challenging, is very much worth it. It takes a lot of hard work to achieve, though — and a lot of time. A blog you write yourself is definitely not a muse!

If you’re embroiled in the struggle to get somewhere with blogging, I hope this post has reassured you that the hard work is most definitely worth it.

30 Days to Become a Freelancer 961

If you’ve ever thought about freelancing part-time but never done it, this post may help you. Most people never follow through on those thoughts because they are overwhelmed and confused by the process of starting a freelance business. The aim of this post is to provide a step-by-step guide to launching a part-time freelance business in 30 days, going from zero to taking on your first client.

The format for this challenge was inspired by the excellent 31 Days to Build a Better Blog program, which concluded recently. I really like this approach because it offers concrete, practical steps with a measurable result. Sometimes ‘do this, do that’ advice is more useful than theory. My hope is that you can follow the steps here, putting one foot ahead of the other, and find yourself with a little freelance business at the end of the process!

The program is designed to be completed while you are working full-time, either by dedicating a couple of hours in the evening or mornings, or working on the program over the weekend. It should be combined with daily hands-on practice in the skill you want to freelance in, particularly if you are a novice in that skill. If you are a novice, don’t delay the program until you feel you are ‘good’ enough. The emphasis is on selling a very specific skill that you can become good at in a short period of time. 30 days practicing one hour a day is more than enough time to develop a specific service that you are good enough at to sell.

The main aim of this program is to help you learn how to monetize a skill that puts you into flow. This will make you a happier and wealthier person!

If you’re going to create your freelance business in 30 days, you can’t afford to waste any time – so let’s get started.

Day 1

Decide on the one service you will offer. I emphasize picking only one specific service because without freelance experience, you are probably not already highly skilled in the area you want to freelance in. Even if you have been practicing it as a hobby for a long time, providing that skill as a service is a different challenge.

If you are wanting to freelance in web design, don’t offer everything and the kitchen sink to begin with (complete design + front-end code). Provide PSD mockups only. If you’re more on the dev side of things, start with some code slicing jobs. If you want to write, start with one specific kind of writing.

This approach will help you become skilled in the service you provide very quickly. Since you want to be taking on your first client in 30 days, it’s crucial that you develop your skills to an adequate level. Once you become comfortable with providing that one service, you will naturally expand what you offer.

Day 2

Gather learning materials to help you practice your service before taking on a client. As I mentioned in the introduction to this list, you should spend at least 1 hour per day just developing your skill. While this should be mainly direct practice (doing rather than reading about), you will need to gather materials to guide you here. This includes articles, interviews and tutorials. Focus mainly on developing techniques you could actually see yourself using in client work.

Day 3

Decide on a business name – are you a studio or individual? Then, buy the domain name and hosting. You can freelance under your real name, a pseudonym, or a business name. Here are some example business names I generated with this cool little thing:

  • Flying Dog Design
  • Green Ant Productions
  • Scarlet Zebra Interactive
  • Blue Cat Labs
  • Chestnut Rabbit Solutions
  • Golden Lemur Studios
  • Friendly Kangaroo Ltd
  • Evil Pencil Media

Of course, some of these are really absurd, but they do give you an idea of some common naming conventions.

Once you’ve picked a name, it’s time to buy the domain for that name. If there’s no domain available for that name, pick another one. Your domain branding is really important.

Buy a domain name that comes with web hosting, as the next branding step is to create your portfolio.

Further reading: Naming Your Freelance Business – To Personalize or Not (With a Poll!)

Day 4

Design your products. This is different from the service you are going to offer – here you decide how it is going to be packaged. Are you going to sell blocks of time? Completed projects? What will your rates be?

Your goals should be modest as you are only starting out, both in terms of how much you will work and how much you will charge. For your first job, I would suggest an hourly rate between $20 – $30. Keep in mind that you don’t publish these rates online and can therefore change them from client to client. Just because you do one job at $20 an hour as you’re starting out doesn’t mean you can’t be charging $50 an hour a few months later.

Per-project rates are a great option down the track as they decouple the direct exchange of time for money. I don’t recommend them to a beginning freelancer, though. It will be extremely difficult to come up with an accurate price estimate before you have the experience you’d need to look at a project and quickly have a reasonable idea of how long it is going to take. That’s something that will only come with time and experience. (Note that this advice doesn’t necessarily apply to smaller jobs like article writing.)

Day 5

Set up a business email address and PayPal account. While your friends and family might not mind receiving email from ronny69@hotmail.com, prospective clients might! Create an email address linked to your new domain name. Forward it to a free Gmail account, then under your Gmail settings, put your domain email address as your default ‘Send Email As’ address. This will allow you to manage your domain email through Gmail, rather than the dubious email UIs provided by most webhosts.

A good format is @yourdomain.com. This will make it easy to give new people email addresses at your domain if your freelance business expands in the future.

Next up you should create a PayPal account if PayPal is available in your country. If not, try Moneybookers. Most online freelancing is paid via PayPal and I consider it a must-have. If you dislike the fees, you can build them into your rates.

If you already have a PayPal account, it might be a good idea to think about changing your address to something linked to your business, i.e. ‘accounts@yourdomain.com’ or ‘paypal@yourdomain.com’.

Day 6

Set up WordPress under your freelance business domain. Every freelancer should have an online portfolio, even if it’s very simple. If you’re a designer with time to spare you can probably take control of this step. If you want a quick solution that is quite effective, download WordPress and install it under your domain name.

Day 7

Select and install a portfolio WordPress theme. This platform will give prospective clients the means to learn more about you and your services, view your work, and contact you. You can browse some great Premium options under $30 at ThemeForest.

Day 8

Write your portfolio ‘About’ page. Include your current location, any relevant qualifications you have, previous work you have done in the industry and previous clients you have worked for (don’t worry if there are none). This is particularly relevant if you’ve been working in your field before going freelance. Keep in mind that this should be mainly professional rather than personal, but you can include some personal info at the end if you want. If you’d like to include a picture, a specially taken portrait is a good option.

Day 9

Sign up at Formspring and create your ‘Contact’ form. I use Formspring often in my job and I think it’s an excellent way to create intelligent contact forms. You can use this form to find out what kind of work the client is looking for and even what their budget is. All this information will help you when it comes time to write your response and close the sale.

Day 10

Design your invoice template. If you fancy yourself a designer, create an attractive template for your invoices. As someone who spends time receiving and paying invoices, they do affect my perception of how professional the freelancer is. If you aren’t confident in your design skills then I would create an account at Freshbooks. They’re my favorite free invoice management service and I’ve used them often.

Day 11


Set up your home office space.
 You’re a freelancer now, so you need space to work. A room dedicated just to your work is ideal, but if you don’t have that luxury (I know I don’t!) set up a desk or table in one of the quieter rooms in your house. A bedroom is a good option, but keep in mind that you probably won’t be able to get away with late nights – or possibly early mornings – if sharing with someone else!

In my experience, the cornerstones of an effective home office are a computer that works quickly, a good chair and a large monitor, or multiple monitors, for better productivity.

Day 12

Create a logo OR commission a logo OR work more on your skills. While not every freelancer has their own logo, it’s a fantastic addition to your branding. You can use it in emails, watermarks, business cards, invoices, your portfolio and when presenting work to your clients. If you don’t want a logo or don’t have the budget yet, work more on your skills today.

Day 13

Start work on a portfolio item – you will have 5 days to complete this. More important than having items in your portfolio is the practice you will gain from completing this exercise. By the end of the 30 day challenge you will have three items in your portfolio, and this is the first. These items should involve the exact skills you will be selling to clients.

Here are some ideas for portfolio items in various industries:

  • Copywriting – write an original sales page for an existing product or service.
  • PSD to code slicing – purchase a cheap PSD template and convert it into a functioning demo site.
  • Writing – write an article suited to appear in the kind of publication you want to work for.
  • Web design – create a one-page design.

Day 14

Add a page to your portfolio describing your one service. You should call this page ‘ Services’ – for example, ‘SEO Services’. On this page you will describe the service you provide to the client. Make sure to focus on benefits, not just features. For example, your SEO services “will funnel highly targeted traffic primed and ready to buy”.

Day 15

Read Freelance Switch’s guide to Getting Started as a Freelancer. There are some great articles here that cover all aspects of getting started with freelancing in more detail. If you have questions, you’ll find answers here.

Day 16

Familiarize yourself with tax laws for freelancers in your country. In my job I often receive invoices from Australian freelancers without an Australian Business Number listed. Unknown to them, it is actually illegal for me to pay them without that 11 digit number. Luckily it only takes a few minutes for them to apply for and receive their ABN once notified about this, but your country may have stumbling blocks of its own – and they might be a bit trickier to deal with!

Make sure you’re aware of the tax and government requirements freelancers must comply with in your country. A good place to start is the website of your national or state tax office.

Day 17

Announce that you are going to be taking on freelance work soon. If you already have an audience online, whether it be blog readers, your social media network or forum buddies, let them know that you’ll be available for freelancing soon. This will build a little bit of buzz and anticipation. If you’re really lucky, you might even be able to line up your first client before you’ve officially opened for business!

Day 18

Start work on portfolio item #2, add item #1 to your portfolio. Now that contains some work, you have a genuine portfolio. Now we’re going to work on beefing it up by adding a couple more items. Item #2 should again illustrate your one service, though approached from a different angle. If your first sales letter was for skin cream, the second might be for a membership site, and demonstrate a different selling style. If your first PSD to code conversion was for a WordPress blog, the next one might be for a business site.

Day 19

Perform some simple SEO on your portfolio. Sprinkling a little SEO-dust on your portfolio can eventually help to bring a trickle of prospects to your portfolio on autopilot. To begin with, use likely keywords in your portfolio title (i.e. ‘Jane Smith: Flash game designer – Melbourne, Australia’). Try to work keyword phrases into your copy and page titles if they seem natural. Install a WordPress SEO plug-in like the All-in-One SEO Pack. If you want to learn more, read SEOmoz’s Beginner’s Guide to Search Engine Optimization.

Day 20

Make your portfolio public (link it up everywhere). It’s time to debut yourself to the world (very quietly). Google can’t know about your portfolio if it can’t find it, so you need to leave a trail. You give Google that trail by linking to your portfolio wherever you can. Start by linking to it on every online property you have ownership over – blogs, Facebook pages, forum signatures, email signatures, Twitter profiles, Flickr profiles, etc.

Day 21

Create free portfolios and profiles wherever you can. Yes, you already have a portfolio, but you want to get your work out to as many people as possible. Some prospective clients may never know the right keywords to find your site, but they might browse Carbonmade or LinkedIn instead.

Day 22

Sign up to job boards relevant to your industry and subscribe to their RSS feeds. The Monster List of Freelancing Job Sites is your roadmap here. You don’t need to apply for any jobs today – your only task is to gather a ‘watch list’ of job boards and sites. Browse through some of the jobs available to get an idea of what’s out there, but don’t apply for anything yet.

Day 23

Start working on portfolio item #3, add item #2 to your portfolio. Another portfolio item done and dusted – well done! It’s now time to move on to item #3, your final item in the 30 day challenge. Once again, show your ‘one service’ in a different shade. This time, create the item as if you were working for the type of client you most want to work for. If you’d love to write sales pages for high-end internet marketing products, make that item #3. If you’d love to get work as a live show photographer, go out and photograph a gig in your area. The type of items in your portfolio will affect the kind of work you get. I think this quote from freelance designer Barton Damer illustrates this well:

“A couple years ago, I began only posting projects I love. I pulled down logos, brochures, etc. off my portfolio and only posted digital art. The result, people started contacting me for digital art!” (Source)

Day 24

Announce that you are now available for freelance work. Most people prefer to hire someone they know. They could spend 30 minutes searching online and probably find somebody more talented than you are (there’s always someone more talented!), but people place a lot of value in feeling they can trust the person they’re working with. That’s why your existing network and audience is an excellent place to find work. Post about it on your blog, tweet about it, update your Facebook status. Let the world know that you’re ready to work!

Day 25

Apply to 10 jobs on various job boards. Over the last few days you’ve hopefully been keeping tabs on your jobs ‘watch list’. You may have earmarked a few jobs that looked good to you. Now is the time to really take the plunge and start applying for work.

I have advertised for freelancers before and I speak from experience when I say that by following the instructions in the job ad very carefully you will launch yourself into the top 5% of applicants. Seriously!

A friend of mine recently applied for (and won) a job in web development. The instructions in the job ad stated that the subject line of the application email had to contain the word ‘Elephants’. Though a little confused by this request, he complied. Later on after winning the job he learned that although the company had received close to 100 applications, only 7 of them contained the word ‘Elephants’ in the subject line. The company did not even open the other 93 emails. For them, the ‘Elephant’ instruction was a way to test the applicant’s attention to detail.

As a final note, make sure to only apply to jobs that match your ‘one service’. If you can’t find 10, don’t broaden your scope just to make up the number. If you end up applying for and winning a job that requires skills you don’t have, you may also end up delivering a sub-standard end product to the client. Remember: you want this job to be something you can add to your portfolio!

Day 26

Email 10 prospective clients. Erm… didn’t you just do that? Yes, but this kind of emailing is different. Here you are offering your services to people who don’t know they need them yet. If you’re a PSD to code slicer, look for the portfolio of a web developer who states that they are not taking on new work at the moment. This means they’re really busy. Send them an email presenting yourself as someone trustworthy to outsource to and help them get through more clients. (Note: this works in just about any industry, not just design.)

Next, look for people who might need your skills for other reasons. If you’re a freelancer blogger and you know a good blog that pays for content, email the owner and offer your services. If you’re a copywriter and find a lackluster sales page, offer to create something better. If you find a website that’s poorly coded, offer to shore it up with impeccably valid and clever code.

Keep in mind, though, that when presenting your services as a ‘better’ option you are often talking to creator of the original. If something looks DIY, it probably is. Rather than criticizing the original, point out the virtues of a professional service.

Day 27

Exchange your skills for promotion. Money is not the only currency a freelancer earns. They also earn promotion, referrals and reputation. Today your goal is to trade your skill for promotion and exposure. Pitch a guest-post to one of your favorite blogs. Offer to create a logo for a popular website that doesn’t have one yet. If there are errors in their web design, offer to fix them.

The key here is not to do something for free and hope that you get something in return. Negotiate this exchange like you would if you were being paid in cash. Outline specifically what you want in return. Do you want to be mentioned in a site update? Do you want a testimonial? Do you want a post written about you? Do you want a banner on the site for a set period of time?

You’re providing the client with something of value, so you should expect to receive something of equal value in return. It’s essential that this arrangement is made before you do any work at all. This guarantees you won’t waste your time and that you won’t spring any surprises on a client who thought they were getting free work without any strings attached!

Day 28

Create a Twitter account for your business. If you already have a Twitter account, consider whether it is consistent with your business branding. If not, you might want to consider creating a separate business Twitter account. The point of this is to get your clients to follow you. This is, in my opinion, the best possible way to stay in the minds of previous clients and encourage repeat work. Some freelancers are so good at generating repeat work that they don’t even need to look for new clients! If you begin working towards this goal from the beginning you will give yourself a useful head-start.

If you create a Twitter account for your freelance business, make sure the visual branding is consistent with your portfolio. You need consistency to create a ‘sticky’ brand that clients remember.

Here is a quick introduction to Twitter for freelancers.

Day 29

Ask 5 people for a testimonial. Testimonials are solid gold to a freelancer, yet most of us don’t know it. Consider that more than talent, more than cheap rates, more than a slick portfolio design, prospects are looking for someone they can trust. Your portfolio items help them trust that you do good work. Your client list helps them trust that you are professional. Your testimonials help them trust that you are good to work with and deliver what you’re paid for.

Even though you don’t have clients yet, you can still have testimonials. A testimonial is, at heart, a statement vouching for you. Clients are not the only people who can provide these. If you’re a designer, get a testimonial from someone who thinks your work is great. If you’re a blogger, get a testimonial from a reader who thinks you’re talented. And finally, something anyone should be able to do: get a testimonial from a friend who thinks you’re a good, kind, trustworthy person.

If you feel uneasy asking for a testimonial, look through comments, tweets and emails about you. When people say nice things, that’s an instant testimonial you can use.

Day 30

Add portfolio item #3 to your portfolio, then buy yourself a home office gift for completing 30 days to become a freelancer! Your portfolio now contains 3 items – not bad at all! You’ve been working hard these last 30 days. Whether you have found a client yet or not, you’ve set up your own freelance business, and that’s an achievement. To celebrate, buy yourself an upgrade to your home office – something you will use to improve your business. Whether it’s a 30″ screen or a nice packet of ballpoint pens will depend on your budget, of course…

If you haven’t won a job yet, don’t worry. Your first job is always the hardest to land, and the process will get easier over time. Keep applying to any job that looks good, building your skills and your portfolio. Eventually your tenacity will be rewarded.

From Moonlighting to Daylighting

While you’ll begin doing 5 – 10 hours of freelance work a week, plugging away at it on evenings and weekends, you may eventually decide that you’d like to make freelancing your primary source of income. While much has been said on transitioning from part-time to full-time work, I can’t stress enough the importance of a financial safety net. Ideally you should use the extra income gained from part-time freelancing to build the cushion you’ll need when you go 100% solo. Having said that, most freelancers won’t make the jump until they are consistently turning down good quality job offers that they don’t have the time to complete while moonlighting. Chances are you won’t need to rely on your safety net, but it’s still an essential.

Taking it to the Next Level

What I’ve outlined here is really the most basic kind of freelance business. It’s effective and can be very lucrative, but there is still more you can do. I’ve not had the space to touch on more advanced SEO strategies, creating a launch process for your services, using a blog to funnel clients into your business, building a referral program, becoming an industry leader to charge premium rates, and other advanced business strategies. I know many Skelliewag readers are just getting started, so I don’t think it’s appropriate to post these high-level strategies on the blog. Instead, I’ll put them in the newsletter I mentioned in the ‘flow’ post. Don’t worry – it’s getting closer to being ready every day!