You can make a good living off of your writing. How do I know this? Because I’m doing it. But before I was “successful,” I built over a dozen blogs, most of which failed.
My first blog began in 2006. Then for the next six years, I had failed blog after failed blog. The main problem? I was lazy. I wanted thousands of fans without really doing the work of thinking about how I could serve them.
What finally changed for me was I gave it another shot. Goinswriter.com was my ninth blog. My ninth attempt at trying to build an audience. And this time, it worked. Because the way I approached blogging completely changed. I stopped worrying about what I could get out of this and started trying to figure out how I could serve people more. How I could help. How I could give.
It made all the difference.
I’ve been doing this for a while now – writing on a blog and teaching other writers how to succeed. I’ve learned that it takes patience, intentionality, and a little generosity.
Building a blog is a lot like building a house. Minus the fact that building a house is way more difficult, labor intensive, and, oh yeah, super expensive. Building a blog from scratch requires you to really contemplate what you’re trying to accomplish and what you want this “thing” to look like. You should think of it like a construction project. Sure, you could just start building, but it’s not going to look as good as it would if you spent some time thinking through all the pieces you want to include, and why you want to include them.
Whether you’re just getting started blogging, or you’re like I was and you’re tired of doing it the wrong way, this article should help.
Before you can build an audience, spread your message, and make money, you have to learn the basics. So let’s start there.
That’s right, we’re starting at zero. Because before you can build a blog you need, well, a blog! That means you need a host and domain.
There are lots of ways to do this now. A self-hosted Wordpress site is easy and probably the most popular way. You can watch a short video and read a blog post I wrote about how to do that. Squarespace is also a popular option if you want even less set up and don’t mind less personalization. Whichever you choose, I do recommend an easy-to-remember domain that is either your name or some variation of it. You can get a domain through whatever hosting site you choose.
1. Home page: The first thing readers will see.
Your home page is a snapshot of what your entire website is all about. It should be short and informative without being exhaustive. Think of it as the headline to your website. It’s the first thing most readers will see, and if you don’t captivate their attention now, you will lose them forever.
So, ask yourself:
- What problem are you going to solve with this blog?
- How are you going to help people?
- What is the purpose of this website?
- What do you want people to do once they visit your website?
Your homepage should answer these questions and include the following:
An email subscription form (if you don’t have an email marketing tool, I recommend ConvertKit , which allows you to embed forms on your website).
A picture or graphic. This can be aspirational – the ideal outcome for your reader, like a picture of a happy customer or person.
- A paragraph or two about you and/or your brand. Just give us a snapshot, linking to the About page so people can read more. Again, think of this as an introduction. Tell them just enough to get them hooked.
- Important links to other key content on the website, including your blog page and subscription page.
2. About page: Where your readers will get to know you.
The second most important page on your website, after your home page, is your About page. This, as I have said before , is one of the most neglected pieces of real estate for many bloggers. It’s often something that we throw together with little thought, not realizing that it will likely be one of the most visited pages on our blog.
My About page is the #2 most visited page on my blog after the home page, which is where any new visitor typically lands. In a nutshell, it should be an overview of who you are, what you do, and what the reader will get out of reading your blog.
A good About page should include these three elements:
- Compelling promise to the reader
- Call to action (like “sign up for my email list!”)
3. Subscribe page: How you will stay in touch with your readers.
This page is dedicated to getting new email subscribers to your list. You should tell your readers what they get when they sign up for your email newsletter list, why they should sign up for it, and what to expect from you. You can include other ways to stay in touch with you.
You could also dub this the “Free Resources” page and use it to promote lead magnets (e.g. free eBooks that people get when they join your email newsletter list). To see an example, check out my subscribe page .
4. Blog page: How readers can encounter your recent work.
This is where your recent blog posts go. I recommend having a dedicated page for your blog that simply lists recent blog posts. You can see mine here. I don’t recommend having your blog page be your home page, because that can get confusing in terms of what you’re asking the reader to do.
Your home page should remain clean and focused on the big-picture goal of the website, whatever it is. For my home page, I want to encourage people to sign up for my email list. But at the bottom of the page, I link to my blog page and other resources so people who are just browsing know where to go.
The Bigger Picture
Okay, now that we’ve covered the basics, let’s expand a bit. We’ll get into creating content and making money soon, but first let’s ask ourselves four questions that will help guide the rest of the decisions we make.
There are four questions you need to ask yourself when it comes to blogging.
1. What is this about?
What is your message? What do you want people know or hear about? To simply say your blog is about you is not enough. What compelling message can you share that will get people excited to read your writing and experience your content?
2. How will you communicate your message?
So often we read writers and listen to podcasts, not just because of what they say, but because of how they say it. Voice matters. So what does yours sound like? Are you a teacher? Will you chastise your audience or coach them? Will you get personal or keep your content prescriptive?
Good writing is about choices, and until you make some, your message will feel bland and uninteresting.
3. Who is this for?
You cannot create something for everyone. It doesn’t work that way. Something for everyone is effectively something for no one. Because we, the audience, don’t want to feel like we’re part of everyone. We want to feel special, and the way you do that is by communicating a unique message for a specific group of people.
This is your tribe. Who are they? How will you reach them? Knowing your ideal audience is half the battle. The other half is simply finding them.
4. Does this add value?
Are you creating so much value for your readers that they would be willing to pay you? Of course, not all blogs have to be monetized, but it’s a good question to ask as it indicates how much value you’re actually adding. And if you want to become a full-time blogger or author, then having some idea of what you want to sell is a good plan.
On the other hand, if you are building a community that will be hard to monetize, that would be good to know at the outset. It will help you have the right expectations.
Here’s what it comes down to. You need four elements to create a successful blog:
- A clear message
- A powerful platform
- A committed tribe
- A product to sell
Those four things will help you clarify your message and grow a large audience that you can eventually monetize.
Create Amazing Content
You have your blog all set up and you have the answers to the four questions above. Now it’s time to do some actual writing!
Over my 11 years of blogging, I’ve made a habit of studying prolific, influential bloggers, and realized something: they all have a system and structure for blogging. While the structures vary, they all have some form they follow. The norm is that serious bloggers have a set way that they write every blog post. And you should, too, if you’re going to be prolific, if your words are going to reach people and resonate with them. So what does this look like, exactly? How do you write a great blog post every single time?
Depending on the focus of your blog and your personality, your approach may be slightly different, but I’ve observed that the most powerful blog posts typically have four important elements:
1. An attention-grabbing headline
A good blog post is about one topic, one story, one idea. Not 57. Not 101. Just one. Before you begin blogging, figure out what you want to write about. Choose a mock headline to give yourself some structure (you can always change it later), and start writing.
Good titles are interesting, descriptive, and engaging. It should read like a magazine headline or a TV newsflash, daring the reader to click the link. If you need help, read this post . This is the first thing your readers see, and the only thing, if you don’t do it right.
2. A captivating lead paragraph
You know how much first impressions matter, right? So why aren’t you writing like it? Why are you wasting readers’ time with frivolous details and silly little anecdotes? When it comes to the internet – when people’s attention spans are even more limited than with print – your opening paragraph is crucial. Don’t blow it. Journalists know this. It’s ingrained in them. “Don’t bury the lead,” they say. If you don’t hook your readers immediately, you will lose them forever.
Start off with a quote, a question, or a bold, audacious statement. You only have one shot. Make it count.
3. Interesting supporting points
This is the body of the article. It’s the “meat” of the post, what will back up your main topic or argument. Every story you tell or idea you share needs to have supporting rationale, something the readers can sink their teeth into. They don’t all need to neatly fit into a three-point argument or a seven-step process, but you can’t be all over the place.
Consider what you want to say and how you will back it up. A great way to organize is to make a list of bullet points. Then, write the body of the post using these as your main sections. If your blog post is a road, these points are the street signs leading your reader to the end.
4. A compelling call-to-action
If you’ve hooked your readers’ attention with a good title, drawn them in with an interesting lead paragraph, and then led them through with compelling points, now you need to wrap it up.
Don’t be vague. You don’t want your audience wondering why they bothered reading your post in the first place. Give them something to take away.
Want your audience to reflect on a particular idea? To do something? Respond somehow? Whatever it is, be clear about it. It will not just happen. You will get what you ask for. This is the part of the post where you invite your readers to answer a question, leave a comment, or share your post. Make it clear and actionable.
To see a list of some of my most popular articles and how I structured them, here they are:
- 10 Ridiculously Simple Tips for Writing a Book
- Your Work Is Not For Everyone
- The Most Transformative Year of My Life Had Nothing to Do with Success .
- How to Overcome Writer’s Block: 14 Tricks That Work.
- 4 Signs You Might Be a Starving Artist and What to Do About It.
If you need more help getting the writing done, check out this article: How to Get Your Writing Done Every Day .
Find Your Audience
Now you have your blog and you’re creating amazing content regularly. But how do you get people (other than your mom) to listen? How do you earn attention? Everyone wants to believe what they’re doing is interesting and worth talking about. They want to think they’re special and unique. But that’s not your call.
Here’s the truth: In a world full of noise, the way you get people to care about you is to care about them first.
No, we don’t care what you ate for breakfast or what stupid trick your cat can do – until you show interest in us. Once you’ve done that, you’ve earned our attention, and we may start to trust you.
Communication is a two-way relationship. It involves a sender and receiver and is held together by the glue of the message. You need to find ways to add value. You better make it worth your audience’s while.
Here’s how I did this with my writing. When I began my blog, I knew that sharing my random thoughts about inane things wasn’t enough to captivate and inspire. I knew nobody knew or cared about me (yet), and so I had to earn their attention.
So I started to think:
- What problems do I have that others might have, too? How have I solved those problems?
- What struggles have I overcome that I could share?
- What interesting stories could I tell that would help people?
Then, I did a few things:
- I started an email list , so that I could capture people’s attention for continued conversation.
- I began guest posting on other blogs to build my audience even more.
- I asked readers to share my articles (if they liked them) via social media.
From that point on, I continued searching for ways to help people, often asking questions and sharing thoughts along the way. The more this exchange happened, the more a community was established, and the better I got to know my readership.
This is what it means to add value: listen first, speak second.
Such an understanding didn’t come to me intuitively; I had to learn it through failure. But now I get it. Our talents and skills are not intended only to be used for our own good. They’re meant to be shared as an offering to the world. A gift in the truest sense of the word.
To break it down further, here’s what you can do:
1. Find a conversation.
Spend some time listening to what people are already saying about a particular topic. Subscribe to a few blogs, read a couple of books by industry leaders. Get informed.
2. Engage with others.
Leave comments on blogs. Not so people see your name, but just to help. Send emails to industry experts (my favorite way is to subscribe to their email list and reply directly to them). If you don’t know what to say, ask a thoughtful question that only takes a minute or two to reply to. Read this post about meeting your heroes and getting them to partner with you.
3. Make a contribution.
If you’ve studied your niche, then you know what it’s lacking. This should be something you feel strongly about, something that really bothers you. It could be a grave injustice or mere ignorance. But if you can’t find anything wrong or something new to contribute, then you have no right speaking up.
Repeat the process until people start listening. If you’re adding value and putting in the work, they eventually will.
Monetize Your Blog
I didn’t start blogging to find a way to make money. I did it because I love writing. But at a certain point in exploring a passion, you have to ask: “Can I make money doing this? Can I find a way to monetize my passion?” Yes, you can. You don’t have to be a starving artist.
Here are some ways people make money online:
- Affiliate marketing: Selling other people’s products for them and earning a commission on each sale. I’ve done this by promoting other products I believe in.
- Product sales: Sell your own products (eBooks, webinars, iPhone apps, whatever). The trick is delivering value and only giving your community what they want. And the best way to do that is just to ask them. Create a poll and email your list to find out what they would pay for. I make a really good living selling courses that help people become better writers and build better blogs .
- Advertising: If you have decent traffic, you can sell ad space.
- Market your own services: If selling stuff makes your skin crawl, you can use a blog to build an online presence and then use it to land consulting or freelance services. I’ve had several people contact me about things like private coaching and ghostwriting, which have both proven very lucrative. Just pay attention to what people ask you for and then offer it to them.
Well that’s it! It’s that easy and that hard.
Seriously, building a successful blog that reaches people and makes money isn’t rocket science, but it does take time. Play the long game and be generous. Remind your audience what’s in it for them and serve people. Zig Ziglar said, “You can have everything in life you want, if you help other people get what they want.” Don’t give up. You can do this.