Below is a blog roadmap that not only attracts a thriving audience, but also has the path to a product built right into the strategy.
The video below is one that many Fizzle members consider the most helpful video in our entire library. (Fizzle has over 430 lessons at the time of writing.)
It comes from a course on the Essentials of Web Design for Business Builders. A few of the references are specific to course concepts (resource pages, C.R.A.F.T. method, etc), so don’t worry about those (or try Fizzle for $1 and cancel when you’re done).
The video is an honest-to-god sharing of what I’d do if I was starting a blog from scratch given all I’ve learned from the last 7 years of making things online (both successes and failures).
If you want the type of gig where you build a blog, grow a tribe and eventually support yourself with your own work from anywhere, you’re about to get the thing I was dying for several years ago.
It’s a 10,000 foot view on the first several months of starting a blog and we here at Fizzle hope it helps you get the expectations, heart and vision to build something you’re truly proud of. Enjoy!
P.S. I recommend you watch the whole thing and read the notes below before taking any actions. Getting a sense of the whole picture can really impact the way you zoom in on any single task.
Also, there are a couple questions at the end I’d love your input on.
The video walkthrough:
This video is a little over 16 minutes. There’s a bunch of stuff to cover, so grab your notepad and get yourself a cup of coffee, tea or Fernet + Coke.
- Pick a website framework.
- If I can code I’ll go with WordPress and one of the reputable frameworks like Thesis, Rainmaker or Velocity Page. Here’s our guide to the best wordpress hosts.
- If I can’t code I’ll go with Squarespace. (If I was starting today I just might choose this even if I can code).
- More of our thoughts on themes here: Squarespace vs WordPress.
- Define and clarify my target market. Niche down to a more specific target. In my case I’d focus Father Apprentice deeper than simply “dads” into “new dads who work.”
- On this one you really can’t miss the handful of exercises and images in our free guide on defining your target market: Get the Fizzle Guide to Defining Your Audience
- Create a great about page. This is about THEM, the audience, the target market that I’ve clarified above. It nails their struggle, problem, pain, desire, hope, etc., and will include a simple “I’m going to be creating things for you, if you have these problems, enter your email and I’ll send you something only when I have something great” email signup box.
- It’s a huge mistake to make your about page simply about you. There’s a whole lesson in the Fizzle design course about this, but here’s a great article from Derek Halpern about it (check out his about page here).
- You’ll need an email list provider. Look no further than ConvertKit. Best place, hands down, for getting started, adding forms to your site, creating freebies and growing to infinity.
- Create a very simple, clear homepage. Main goal here is to test for conversion and popularity of different messages in the headline, so extremely simple and strong text-driven design so there’s no confusion when someone lands on the page.
- Create 3–7 headlines focusing on different things, touting different problems, solutions, methods, etc. My goal here is to see which topic this audience is the most interested in, so I want them to be different enough to matter. (e.g., testing “time management for dads” against “for dads who struggle with time management,” I would only be testing 1 topic idea. A better test would be “time management for dads” against “products every new dad needs” and other categorically unique headlines.)
- Optional: researching topic ideas has been a big change for me this year. We talk about it at length here: How To Reverse Engineer Massively Shareable Content (FS086)
- Put together a great picture of me. Work with a photographer, or setup something with a friend. Can’t overestimate how important this is. Your brain is a face recognizing machine extracting millions of bits of data in a split second from a single glance at an image of you. This is important.
- One big green button. Copy would say something like “learn more” or “I’m In!” or something and it would simply be a link to the about page.
- From here I’d A/B test headlines on this page. All those headlines I put together above are the only things I want to test, everything else stays the same. Visual Website Optimizer is who we currently use at Fizzle. Testing tools can be spendy, but oh so valuable. So, if it were me, I’d pay for it.
- Here’s an example of the kind of simplicity I’m talking about on this page: Top 10 Mistakes in Starting an Online Business
- Research and create a list of sites specific to my audience. From there I’ll work to build relationships with those site owners. These can be blogs, forums, ecommerce sites, etc. These are places where my target market is already hanging out online. (e.g., my audience is new dads who work, so sites that come to mind are Huckberry, Need and Art of Manliness. And beyond that sites like Storyline and Michael Hyatt are teeming with dads.) My goal would be to create a list of about 20–30 sites my audience is already interacting with.
- Now, I collect ideas in Evernote as they come to me (I share this tactic in the Productivity Essentials course in Fizzle), so I’ll have a list of ideas for articles and videos to make. My goal is to figure out which topics would be best for which sites. An article about x would fit best on site y because z. I’d do some research and create headlines for each of the articles I want to write for each site and why that article works well for that site.
- Then I’d approach the site runners with targeted articles/videos for those sites. These people need content, it’s up to me to prove to them a) I know their audience, b) I’m capable of writing something great for them and c) I’m going to get it done!
- Note: we create a list of 20–30 of these sites because many will respond with “no.” So get your thick skin on.
- If you need some writing help: 10 Fast Ways to Become a Better Writer (Even When You’re Burning the Midnight Oil and Can’t Afford an Editor Just Yet)
- If you need a lil’ writing trick: Write Quick & Better: The “Aha” Index Card Method
At this point we’ve:
- Clarified our target market,
- Put our site up with a simple homepage (where we’re testing a few headlines to see which is more compelling to the audience),
- Created an about page that tells their story and asks them to subscribe,
- Identified and reached out to a bunch of site owners with targeted guest post ideas for their site,
- Put on our thick skin to prepare for a bunch of “no’s” and our work boots to get down to writing really great stuff for these folks.
Now it’s time to develop our first pieces of keystone content, BUT we’re going to do it around a very specific theme.
- When your A/B testing tool tells you you’ve had enough traffic to the site to decide which headlines are performing best, it’s time for us to choose which headline we want to create a simple book about.
- We’ll write this book one blog post at a time. We’ll need about 7–12 articles about this topic, so, of the top performing headlines, pick the topic you feel the most compelled to write about.
- Brainstorm a bunch of ideas of posts to write. We’re talking 20–30 ideas. Just get as much as you can out. Then do a few hours of content research to find other articles on those topics and collect them in a spreadsheet with their headlines and any relevant bits and pieces you want to build on. (there’s too much detail here to recount, like the amazon 3 star review trick, so just listen to this podcast.)
- Of that big list of possible articles (all of which fit with the book topic we chose above) lets decide on the top 7–12 articles that we want to write. Arrange them to make sense as a table of contents for a book… because these are each going to be a chapter in a book.
- Time to research and write. One article a week. Research other posts on the topic, cover your bases, and bring out your voice and opinion (much easier for me to do when I’ve read several others’ opinions on the topic… hence the research). Our goal is to make these really, truly helpful. An honest-to-god problem and some valuable, human perspective on how to alleviate the pain and/or solve it.
- Now people who visit your site know you publish every Tuesday morning (or whenever you chose) and each post will fit into this larger topic and you can end each post with a question enticing readers to share their point of view. Think those will come in handy as quotes in the book or as guides telling you what you forgot to cover in the post? You bet!
- This is work. Make no bones about it… straight up work.
- Put the damn book together! Apple’s Pages is a great tool to throw your first version together. (Microsoft Word if you’re the self-flagellating type.) Of course you want it to look awesome… for now, just make it readable. Your content is the real value here, sexy book design will come later, when we’ve improved this thing (and have started making money with it).
- Duplicate the book file, remove all but the first 3 chapters and put an ad for the full book on the last page. This is the freebie we’re going to give away to people who sign up for our email list.
- Put this free version on your server somewhere and copy the URL. Either in Gmail’s “canned responses” or in a text file or with TextExpander, setup a little message that you’re going to send to everyone who signs up to your email list. Mailchimp will send you a new sub notification when someone signs up… you’ll simply click their email address in that email to compose a new message to them and send them that canned response manually. (You could do this with MailChimp’s autoresponders, but then you’d have to pay. I didn’t start paying until I started earning.)
- Signup for Gumroad and upload the full book (not the freebie). Set your price and create your sales page headline, description, image, etc. Here’s our Gumroad quick start guide to get you started.
- Gumroad makes this stuff so simple. There’s other options, like paypal (barf) or rolling your own with plugins, etc. But there is literally no reason to do that. Literally.
- Here’s what a sample sales page on Gumroad can look like: our sample gumroad sales page.
- Update your website with calls to actions throughout. Homepage, sidebar and end of post will all promote the free book to get on the email list. Then, the only other thing in the sidebar is an advertisement for the whole book. This can simply be an image that links to the gumroad sales page.
- This is a time where Squarespace comes in handy with it’s drag and drop and DIY features. If you need designers and coders to help you, check out WP Curve or Odesk.
- For examples of how to do this with brutal (and often ugly but effective) simplicity, check out SocialTriggers, Father Apprentice and Ice to the Brim.
- Promote that book and start collecting testimonials from readers. Hopefully the guest posts are delivering a bit of traffic to your site, but you still need to go out and get people to your thing. Social media is easy to do and difficult to drive lots of traffic, but we all start there, so start there. Look for more (or repeat!) guest posting opportunities. You’ve now got a book out!
- When you’re early on, waste a bunch of time trying to be as helpful as possible to readers of the book. “What else could I write about that would help you? If there was one thing I could solve for you right now what would it be? What do you think I could have written about more in the book? What was confusing to you?”
- You want to be the expert in this target market. You want to know them and their struggles more than anyone else in the world. Listening to them is how you’ll get there.
- Look for publicity and (for me) speaking opportunities. What news sources out there could cover you, your site or your book? What journalists in the big magazines and newspapers cover your niche? How can you introduce yourself to them and make their life easier? Could you read most of what they’ve written? Could you send them stories they could use in an article? Get creative, be human, be helpful.
- Once 20–30 readers have given you feedback about the book, it’s time to update it to version 2.0. At this point you’ve got a good understanding of what this thing is actually about. You can make the chapter transitions better. You can fill in the gaps. You can add a story here and a quote there and a testimonial from a reader over there. And, if you’re making a lil’ money, maybe you can justify working with a designer from Odesk or elsewhere to make it a bit more pretty.
- When you ship an early version and get feedback from your audience, your second version will always be better than what your first version would have been if you spent more time with it. And if you spend too much time on version one you may never ship at all.
- When version 2.0 is out, it’s time for MORE publicity, guest posting and speaking opportunities. More finding where that audience is, more trying to get insightful, funny, emotional, valuable content in front of them.
- Again, this is work. So. Much. Work. Especially early on and especially if you’re trying to get results fast. If you could allow yourself 4 years to percolate (as long as you’re actually writing and publishing and listening to your audience) you could get the same results with less stress… but many folks don’t want to take the time.
A few closing questions
One of the really special elements of this roadmap is the built in feedback loops, giving you a chance to course correct based on input from your audience. This is something bloggers are woefully wretched at, opting instead for the “I know exactly what to do!” route which, typically, leads straight to the failed-project graveyard.
Because we focus on the research + discovery, looking at them, the audience, not myself alone, we’re able to relatively simply and confidently create something of real value, something they want, something they’re willing to buy.
It’s a ton to take in, but hopefully it’s easy enough to understand, especially when you see my hair flopping around in the video 🙂
In closing, I have 2 questions for you — one for you to ruminate on, and the other for you to share your response to in the comments below.
1. Can you see how important it is to actually care about your topic? There’s so much work involved. This will feel like a job at times, so best to pick a topic you feel is important enough to justify the effort.
2. Did I leave anything out? If not, what’s your favorite or most surprising or most helpful part of the outline above? Please share your ideas in the comments below. I’d love to add to this with some insights from you!