I am often asked two questions “Why do you blog ? ” and “Why do you write tutorials ?”
This may at first seem strange, but I have to admit initially I didn’t really have an answer. However, after a little reflection, I am able to comprehensively answer the questions, which I
It’s not about the money
The initial motivation behind blogging comprised typical digital marketing based objectives to promote my services as a UK Based Software Developer;
However, I realised that in order to successfully promote those skills I needed to learn and master a whole set of new skills, which in turn have also become highly marketable and beneficial.
These skills include:
- Writing Skills
- Search Engine Optimisation
- Content Marketing
It is thanks to my blogging efforts I have been able to acquire, hone and develop a whole range of hard and soft skills. I have been able to expose myself to many more business focused skills than most software developers usually do.
I have to admit that in the beginning I had dreams, aspirations and visions of grandeur creating a “Best Selling” blog, if ever there is such a thing.
Those hopes were completely dashed after the first few months of generating dismally low levels of traffic which brought with it the realisation it was going to take vast amounts of effort.
Fortunately, my background as a software developer I have natural tendency and curiosity to find out why things work the way they do and how to improve. These attributes drove me to explore and experiment with the deeper workings of the blogosphere.
Over time and constant learning I have managed to attract and build a small audience and continue to do so. This has also enabled me to exposure to new markets and other opportunities that I had even previously envisioned!
Blogging takes time
To write an average blog post, takes on average between 4-8 hours.
Instead of wasting time watching TV, I can often be found fiddling, researching, writing or editing content for some aspect for my blog, so essentially Blogging has become a hobby, maybe even a new found passion! Which is great, as I have learned over the past few years, there is always something to do and the work never stops!
It’s fun and an immensely rewarding experience, especially when you receive feedback from people you have helped.
The snag is, it’s not always financially rewarding. In fact, reviewing direct financial compensation one would deem it a complete failure. However, taking into consideration indirect financial compensation, reveals a completely different story.
In my experience, success in blogging may in some way depend on the 10 000 hour principle as defined by Malcolm Gladwell, in his book the outliers , and on your drive and commitment to self-improvement.
Key factors for success will be the amount of time, effort, dedication and passion combined with continual learning and adapting you’re prepared to do.
I have had to develop and enhance a variety soft skills. Some of which have enabled me to get work in areas I would never have contemplated before.
One would initially think that a background software and web development with over 15 years experience, I’d be a natural candidate for a blogger. However, I will say that there are two very different worlds that exist between developing a website and making it a success.
It doesn’t necessarily mean because you’re good at one you’re going to be good at the other. Technical proficiency is not a recipe for success. In fact, it may actually work against you.
I have had to learn a lot of about subtleties of copy-writing and if I am to be brutally honest writing in general.
Writing is not something that has ever felt natural to me. In fact, it probably explains why I chose to persuit a career in software development!
During the process of writing content, I learned I really had no idea how to write content! My first attempts completely sucked! Embarrassingly my spelling was atrocious, grammar poor and on the whole structuring of paragraphs and thoughts was initially difficult
Even though I’m a native English speaker, read a lot and I believe I have a fairly good command of the English language, this does not necessarily mean I will be able to write English that everyone can easily understand.
This is a skill that I am still very much attempting to improve upon. Particularly that due to the content I publish seems to draw large audience from non-native English speaking countries.
Writing content for a blog is a completely different to anything I had done before. It’s definitely not as easy as just sitting down writing, there are so many more things to consider, especially when you bear in mind that a vast majority of the visitors to your blog are going to have the attention span of gnat!
It’s just the fact of life of the internet. The vast majority do not spend time reading, rather just skimming.
I am guilty of this as much as anyone. I very rarely read a full web page, news article or blog post. I usually just quickly scan until I find the relevant information I’m looking for, If I don’t find it quickly enough I lose interest and move on.
Through personal experience I have found this to be especially true for work! As a software developer, I spend a lot of time learning, reading and searching for code samples. The internet has become a fundamental and crucial tool in my arsenal!
Technology and software development frameworks keep changing and evolving in what seems like a daily or even hourly basis. I constantly have to turn to the internet for documentation or guidance on how to use a new tool or component.
Usually, I’ll find a little nugget of information I need on another developer’s blog before the official documentation or website of the company or organisation that released it.
After reading Eric Ries book The Lean Startup I came across the term validated learning and how Startups should use it when trying to build to build a new product or service in conditions of extreme uncertainty. There are a lot of things you know that you don’t know, and a lot of things you don’t know that you don’t know.
Therefore, a startup’s most important function is learning – in particular, learning what the customers really want and what will lead to a sustainable business.
But you need to approach learning with discipline, what Eric Ries calls validated learning
Bad, unvalidated learning is executing a plan without much prior thought, seeing it work or fail, and giving a post-hoc rationalization. (Well of course X didn’t work, that means we should do Y!)
Validated learning is having testable hypotheses about the world, designing experiments to test those hypotheses, and analyzing the data to evaluate your hypotheses. You have real, quantitative data to show what you have learned.
In my opinion, this can equally be applied to Software Development and Developers in general. So much of what we do tends to focus on new technologies and ideas.
I found that blogging provides me with a form of validated learning, by providing me with a platform to illustrate what new things I am learning, and then by reviewing the analytics and stats of visitors etc, I can quickly identify what others are interested in too. In some cases, I may actually stop learning things based on lack of interest or as the case normally is double down on learning more about a subject because there is a lot of interest in it.
The Lean Startup is a new approach being adopted across the globe, changing the way companies are built and new products are launched.
In order to keep financial expense to a minimum, I have had to learn a whole raft of new skills associated with running a website. Such as;
- Search Engine Optimisation (SEO)
- Digital Marketing
- Graphic Design
- Web Design
- Content Management
- Content Strategy
- User Experience
- Data Analysis
- Web Performance
I am by no means an expert in any of these fields, but I have a far deeper insight into these areas than most and continue to improve on a daily basis.
I previously mentioned, that just by taking the time to learn these new skills has inadvertently benefited my career and opened doors to many opportunities!
It really is surprising that by just taking the time to learn a new skill, even just by reading a book like SEO for Dummies can propel your career in new and unexpected ways.
I’ve also made more than my fair share of mistakes, which have ended up costing me money. However, I’ve recovered and as they say what doesn’t kill you counts as experience.
The most expensive lesson I learned, is that of using Images on my blog, making the mistake of using an image without checking the copyright implications. This mistake cost £300, which is a mistake I will not be making again. It’s also a mistake which prompted me into attempting to learn the basics of graphic design and most importantly gain an understanding of copyright law.
Giving back to the community
Over the years, I have gained so much knowledge and learned many new skills from the millions of people that have taken the time and effort to publish their work on the internet. For the most part this has been freely or at least to no financial expense to myself.
I realised this very fact a few years ago, and I realised how selfish I had been over the years always taking but very rarely giving back to the people who had unselfishly helped me!
It’s only after I started running and managing my own blog, did I realise just how much time, effort and money it actually takes to unselfishly help complete strangers everyday.
When you take a step back and think about it. It makes you realise just how powerful the internet is and why we should all continue to work to keep it a free and awesome resource for humanity to continue to learn from.
The added bonus, or writing tutorials is that by teaching you have to learn your subject. With this in mind I generally try pick subjects that I have some prior knowledge on, but would like to learn more about, and then start writing a blog post.
At the end of the process, I guarantee you will know a whole lot more and the beauty part of it, it will probably stick. You also have the added benefit of being able to refer back to your own notes!
Competition is Good
If you have a competitive streak, then no doubt blogging will feed that! I know it feeds my competitive streak and it very much continues to do so!
You don’t realize it but blogging is actually very competitive. All bloggers are competing for the attention of users, with the ultimate aim of solving their problems. There is a lot to learn and implement if you want to win that race.
SEO and Marketing will get you so far, but what ultimately wins is the perception of the value of your content. If you develop and write great content then, in my experience people will come.
In the beginning my average blog post length averaged around the 300 word recommended minimum and I just started pumping out 2-6 sub par quality posts a month and found I really wasn’t making traction. I gradually started increasing the length of my posts and started to focus on quality of content rather than quantity of content. This approach has gradually started to improve my visitor count.
I now have adjusted my focus to producing the best quality content I possibly can and aim to make every post better than the last one. I also routinely edit my older posts in order to improve the quality of the content as much as I possibly can. With every new post you write, you learn more so its good to review and edit as much as possible
Each blog post I publish, is a new experiment and an exploration of a new tactic. I also attempt to push myself out of my comfort zone, to explore other avenues.
If you’re thinking about starting a blog or wondering whether it’s a good idea to start one. I can honestly say it is a far more enriching experience than I had ever thought it would be.
It has opened many new doors for me and I have learned many new skills and continue to explore more.
The pay off from blogging has been huge, but it comes from areas I would never have imagined. I recommend that for anyone, irrespective of field or interest that if you’re wanting to explore it a bit more, start a blog, start learning and keep exploring you’ll be pleasantly surprised where it takes you!