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.

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