Blogging is a rapid growth industry, and plenty of people have found successful careers as bloggers. Still, few bloggers tend to describe their site as a small business. Only around 14% of bloggers claim a salary earned through blogging, so the vast majority of bloggers are hobbyists. Unfortunately, the makeup of the majority has meant that even those who monetize their blogs treat them as hobbies, rather than small businesses. But if you blog with a mind for earning an income, you are building a small business. It is important, then, to treat your fledgling blog like any other start-up.
1. Write a Business Plan
A blog, like a small business, is normally founded to fill a gap or niche. When a business owner writes out their business plan, then, much of it has to do with meeting the demands and needs of that small group of consumers. You have to do the same thing – you may not be selling anything yet, but your audience is still your customer-base. Think beyond growing traffic. Traffic is going to be low for a bit and, with banner ads and Google AdSense boasting a dismal .1% CTR average, you won’t survive with ads as your sole plan. Instead, answer a few key questions:
- What demographics are you writing for?
- How do you differentiate yourself?
- How are you going to make money?
These are important questions as they will guide your blog through its start-up phase and, eventually, into a site you can make a living with, be it by using ads, selling books, consulting, or earning affiliate commission.
2. Sell To Your Market
Your audience visits and reads your blog for a reason – identifying that reason, then, is key to selling to your target market. Keep an eye on your traffic and see which posts do better than others. There is no blanket advice I can give here since blogs cater to a wide variety of audiences, but once you figure out what your audience likes, it’s just a matter of writing articles they enjoy. Whatever you do, though, don’t just churn out carbon copies of successful posts. Authenticity is important to creative businesses like blogs, and your audience can tell when you’re just trying to drive up traffic.
3. Use and Read Contracts
Contracts are often long, boring, and confusing. But they are also a legal necessity for any successful blogging business. Affiliates, advertisers, marketers, other blogs, outside writers – it doesn’t matter who you are working with. You need to clearly define the terms and expectations of any business arrangement. Bigger affiliates and advertisers will normally insist on a contract when they sponsor a post or review – ensure you thoroughly read and understand what you are signing. Getting forced to write a glowing review for a business you product you hated is the last thing you want.
4. Keep Your Books Up-to-Date
Like contracts, bookkeeping is often overlooked by bloggers. Don’t be one of them. Keep good, detailed notes on any money you spend or earn with your blog. Anyone who earns a net profit of just $400 a year has to report that income to the IRS and pay self-employment tax. Further, if you want to claim business deductions for expenses related to your blog, you have to be able to prove you are running it with intent to be profitable. Otherwise, the IRS may classify your blog as a hobby. Just keep track of whatever you make and spend, and what you’ve paid in taxes and fines, and your business should stay out of trouble with the state and federal tax agencies.
5. Embrace Your Brand
A blog is a very personal type of business. It will reflect a major part of who you are and what you know. In other words, you are your blog’s biggest asset, and therefore your presence is your brand. Embrace that, and use it to make a name for yourself in your industry by networking, talking to influencers, and willingly acting as the face of your business. At the end of the day, you will differentiate your blog from the competition. Finding your voice and building your brand are therefore instrumental to your success. Combine that authenticity with a few basic small business principles, and your new blog should be in pretty good shape.
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Deborah Sweeney is the CEO of MyCorporation.com. MyCorporation is a leader in online legal filing services for entrepreneurs and businesses, providing start-up bundles that include corporation and LLC formation, registered agent, DBA, and trademark & copyright filing services. MyCorporation does all the work, making the business formation and maintenance quick and painless, so business owners can focus on what they do best. Follow her on Google+ and on Twitter @mycorporation.