Like many other bloggers and internet entrepreneurs, I am the proud owner of at least thirty domains. When I first started blogging, everything I thought of was potentially a new business. When the Wii was released, I wanted to do a Wii game review blog (that dates me a little). When I learned about bocce ball, I started a bocce ball blog. When I bought my first grill, up went the grilling blog. My main blog, Microblogger, where I share my experiences building up a 7-figure personal finance blog, was registered just five months afterwards! I never touched it until just recently!
What separates the extremely successful blogs from the “meh, that’s nice” ones? A mixture of planning, hard work, and luck. In the years since, I was fortunate to have started at least one blog that would enable my professional career as a blogger. I still have the others, they’re nice fun hobbies, but only one became something much bigger. I’ve often been asked by other bloggers, how do you know when you have a hobby blog or a pro blog?
The answer isn’t that simple but hopefully I can offer some of my experience today to help you answer that question.
First, let’s define the difference between a professional blog and a hobby blog. It all comes down to the purpose of the blog and how much revenue it’s able to generate. A professional blog is one that can support you financially.
A hobby blog is a blog that can’t provide total financial support, though that’s not to say it won’t one day. A hobby blog can generate income but it’s not enough for you to quit your day job.
A professional blog is not necessarily better than a hobby blog, it’s often a mistake to think that every blog needs to generate tens of thousands of dollars in income for it to be a success.
Sometimes the purpose of a blog is to be a creative outlet for the blogger. Sometimes it’s to make a little money to help pay for a hobby. The difficulty is when you want it to be a professional blog and it won’t get bigger than a hobby one.
How do you know if your blog will remain a hobby or become a full-time income?
Do You Want a Hobby or Pro Blog?
Before you do anything else, you need to ask yourself this very simple question – what do you want? There is a natural assumption that everyone wants to build a side project that becomes a full-time job. That’s not true. I know many bloggers who have extremely successful blogs on the side. They continue to work elsewhere because they derive great pleasure and fulfillment from their day jobs. They don’t want to be full-time bloggers but they enjoy running a successful business on the side.
While it’s possible to build a successful blog by accident, this isn’t the norm. If you want to build a blog that generates a full-time income, you need to know from the start and treat it as such. Very rarely does a hobby blog magically grow up and become a business, though many blogs get their start as a side hustle. We often rise to expectations so unless you expect big things from your blog, it’s rare that you’ll achieve it.
Build a Blogging Business Plan
If you want a pro blog, what’s the best determinant of success? It’s a business plan.
Do you know why investors always want to see a business plan? It’s because it forces the entrepreneur to think about how the business will respond to a variety of scenarios. It forces the entrepreneur to objectively analyze the opportunity, the threats, the market size, and all these other issues on paper, before he or she tries to start a business. Everyone knows what happens to business plans the moment they face reality but it’s the thinking and the planning that matters.
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Building a business plan is also much faster than starting a business. Once you have the plan, show it to some friends and family. Show it to people you think would be interested in that blog. Listen to their feedback and use it to improve your plan. If you still feel strongly about your plan, pursue it. If you have several ideas and several plans, this process can help you home in on the one you should try first.
Your first step in determining whether your blog will be a hobby or a professional pursuit is in coming up with this plan.
Analyze Finances & Revenue
As you build your business plan, one critical section that you need to spend a lot of time on is finances. This section focuses on your revenue and your expenses, your prospects for growth, the competition, and all the things that make business both challenging and fun. This is where you need to do the most research to find out how lucrative your niche really is. How can you earn income from your blog? How hard is it to beat out competitors? To take market share?
Let me give you an example of my analysis for a hobby whisky blog I created several years ago. I’m a fan of whisky, I thought I’d create a blog that talked about various whisky products, be it actual drinks to glasses and cleaners and whatnot. I did not create a business plan and so I didn’t know early on that my blog’s limits were that of a hobby blog. The reality is that most people don’t buy whisky online, they buy it in a store. Shipping spirits is also difficult given state laws, and so revenue would be restricted to a few physical products like glassware.
My approach, to rely on advertising and affiliate revenue, limited it to a hobby that generated a trickle of income.
If I created a business plan, and if I was focused on making it a full-time blog, I would’ve known to try a different approach. People don’t buy whisky online but spirits companies advertise. I should’ve focused on building up a large loyal community, rather than focusing more on SEO and search traffic. Alternatively, I could’ve tried to build my name as a whisky expert and provided consulting services to spirits companies. Either of these ideas would’ve been more effective than pursuing affiliate advertising!
A business plan would’ve given me that insight and saved me a lot of time. It may have also elevated my scotch blog to something more than just a fun site to have around!
The Plan Becomes the Blueprint
After you create a plan and after you decide which opportunity to pursue, the plan becomes your blueprint. What often separates success and failure is persistence. As you grow your business, you have minutestones and milestones along the way that can give you sense of progress. This plan makes it easier to continue since you won’t subjectively pick others to compare yourself against. It’ll become easier to manage the emotional toll of setbacks and lack of growth. The plan will be your stabilizing force.
I ran Bargaineering for three years on the side before pursuing it full time. I didn’t have a full business plan but I had milestones and an idea of what I was hoping to accomplish and when. I had simple milestones, like emailing five bloggers this week just to say hello. I’d comment on five sites I never commented on before. These seem simple but that’s how it starts. In the beginning, success was completing these achievable goals.
Without these simple tasks, if I just focused on something I had less control over such as revenue or traffic, I might have quit. If I had stopped anytime in those three years, I wouldn’t be here today.
Do you have the persistence and, to be perfectly honest, stubbornness to stick with it for years before it can support you? It just might take that long. It took me three years in an industry, personal finance, that is tailor made for making money on the internet. For years it was providing hobby income, despite professional income potential, until things turned a corner.
After the plans and the research, you need to ask yourself… are you ready to do the work?
Photo Credit: Annie Mole