Try this to find out what people are thinking: start typing a question into the Google search box. Something like “where does” or “why can’t” or “how come” — anything that starts with a question word.
When the little list of suggestions pops up, it’s usually either hilarious (like when I typed in “why does” and the third answer was “why does my husband fart so much”), or insightful, like in this case:
So many people are asking the questions “should I start a blog?” and “should I start my own business,” and they’re related. (By the way, don’t start smoking, not sure who’s typing that in, and you can probably find better uses of your time than playing WOW, but that’s a discussion for a different article…)
People ask me if they should start a blog all the time, and the answer is easy for most. I’ll share my answer in a minute, but first, let me tell you a quick backstory.
In 2009, my wife and I set off on a road trip / sabbatical through Mexico. We spent over 8 months on the road. It was a life-altering trip in a bunch of ways, but mostly because of one decision in particular.
While we were on the trip, I thought I would come up with a new idea for another “Silicon Valley” type of startup. My previous venture-backed business had just crumbled during the 2008 financial crisis. I had to swallow my pride after three years of blood, sweat and tears and start all over again. It was a dark time and the sabbatical was our way of hitting the reset button.
Initially, I thought I would come up with another software idea, build a prototype, shop it around to venture capitalists and pretty much do what I did before… but better the second time around.
What I ended up doing was almost the complete opposite.
The way most people start businesses is to build a solution to a problem, and then go looking for a set of customers.
A less common way to do it is to build an audience around a specific set of interests, then identify a shared problem and build a solution.
Essentially, the first approach goes problem —> solution —> customers and the second goes audience —> problem —> solution.
Both approaches can work, but going audience-first has a huge advantage. The biggest risk you face as an entrepreneur is building something no one wants, thereby wasting a bunch of time, effort and money on a useless product.
When you start with the audience first, you get the advantage of knowing their problems intimately and whether your proposed solution will be valuable, long before you build it. You know this because you have conversations with your audience and get feedback on everything you publish.
This doesn’t completely eliminate the risk of building something no one wants, but you can see how it almost guarantees you’ll have buyers on launch day.
Back to my little sabbatical story…
While we were on the trip, something incredible happened. In every Mexican city and town we stopped in, we kept meeting people who weren’t rich or retired, but who had somehow figured out ways to make their careers work around their lives, instead of the usual other-way-around. Some lived in a foreign country for months every year, some traveled around the world continuously, some worked on the road, some put their careers on hold whenever they wanted to.
This blew my mind because my worldview at the time held that either you found a good job, climbed the corporate ladder as efficiently and effectively as you could, hoping to retire a little early one day and with enough money to really do what you wanted to; or, I thought, the alternative was to become an entrepreneur, pouring your soul and most of your waking hours into building a business, hoping to win the startup lottery, sell your business for millions, and then do what you really wanted with the rest of your life.
The people we met on the trip shook my foundation. They were living the lives they wanted to now, instead of waiting for a magical “someday” to arrive.
This was all happening just before the concepts of digital nomading, lifestyle design, location independence and the four hour workweek were popular. I had no idea any of this was possible until I met these people, and I thought other people might be as affected by the ideas as I was.
So on a whim, I decided to start a blog. I wanted to chronicle our trip, tell the stories of the people we were meeting, and to start asking myself questions in public about the nature of work and life, and how the two could be better integrated. I wanted to see if other people were asking themselves the same questions.
It turned out people were more than just interested. The entire idea of supporting yourself and living a great life now instead of waiting for retirement caught fire that year, and I found a way to push my little blog into the center of many of those conversations.
And I started asking myself: if I have all these people coming to my blog, could I build a business around them? Could I solve their problems and create products to sell? I had unknowingly stumbled onto the second way to start a business that I mentioned earlier, the audience-first approach.
This all happened years ago, and since then I’ve built a bunch of other blogs and projects which have attracted over four-million combined visitors. The business side of things started slowly, with services, then individual courses, and now Fizzle, which combines a library of training courses and community for people looking to become self-employed.
Blogging has changed my life in more positive ways than anything else I’ve ever done. I run a business I love with an incredible team and I get to work from anywhere in the world where there’s an internet connection. I have no bosses, investors, board of directors or anyone else to answer to, other than my teammates and our customers.
My wife and I spend our winters in Mexico, summers in Europe or wherever we decide, and the rest of the time at our home base in San Francisco. We have new friends around the world, who I met through blogging.
Blogging can be the most valuable thing you ever do. It has been for me and hundreds of other friends and customers who have used blogging to accomplish things they couldn’t with either a regular career or typical startup.
Your blog doesn’t have to be a business (in fact a blog itself isn’t really a business), but your blog can easily earn you writing gigs, speaking opportunities, career opportunities, respect, recognition, new friends, a new perspective on life, special invitations to incredible places and experiences and more. And, it’s a fantastic way to reach a group of people, build a following, and develop business ideas that customers will be excited about.
Should you start a blog?
If you think you’ll enjoy writing and have some interesting/useful knowledge, experience, stories or ideas to share, I don’t know of many other ways to spend your time that can lead to a bigger impact or payoff.
Blogging can seriously be the most valuable thing you ever do.
Yes, it takes effort, and no, you probably won’t be an overnight success. You’ll need to find your voice, learn to write epic shit, and how to build a thriving audience. It’s a challenging journey, but it’s also incredibly fun and rewarding along the way.
If writing isn’t for you, podcasting or making videos might be better. But the goal is the same for any medium: publish things that make people think. Inspire people. Change lives. Create value. Blow people away with your usefulness.
If blogging does sound right for you, here’s how I recommend you start. First, figure out how your site will be useful, and how it will be different from other blogs. You can write about topics other people already write about, but you have to approach them with a fresh perspective and unique point of view. You can change your topic and direction later, but it’s best if your branding ties in with the overall theme of the site, and branding is harder to change. Try to nail the branding and central theme now if you can.
Your theme and branding will be more cohesive if you have a good idea of who you’re writing for. Define your audience. Try to imagine one or two specific people who you will inspire/entertain/educate/inform with your writing.
Then, generate a big list of blog post ideas. Keep this running list and add to it whenever you have a new idea. Just jot down a rough title and basic notes for each idea. You’ll use this as a well to draw from.
Write a few posts before you launch your blog. Get into the flow and make sure you really will have enough to say on your topic.
Don’t stress about the platform or design. Just choose either WordPress or Squarespace, and use a good looking pre-built theme. This shouldn’t cost you much if anything at all. Make sure you set up an email list and give people plenty of opportunities to signup. Your email list is gold.
There are lots of other details, tactics and strategies, but these are the basics. The important thing is that you get started, write regularly, and focus on helping/inspiring/informing specific people about specific problems.
If you’re ready to get started, check out these other articles we’ve written about blogging:
Popular blogging articles:
- Blog Strategy 101: The 14 Step Video Guide
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- 10 Fast Ways to Become a Better Writer (Even When You’re Burning the Midnight Oil and Can’t Afford an Editor Just Yet)
- Fizzle’s Chewable Guide to Defining Your Audience
13-week course: Start a Blog that Matters — this course has been used by thousands of people to start blogs that get noticed. Get started with Start a Blog that Matters for just $1 for your first 30 days here »