I just made a decision that could change my life: I've committed to starting a personal blog. And this is my first post - a milestone.
Hours upon hours spent thinking, researching, reading, and talking to other bloggers, with the intent to answer the question: is personal blogging a worthy investment my time?
The answer to this question, of course, depends on who's asking. So it's worth mentioning that I'm writing this post for myself so that I can come back and reflect on it down the line.
But hey - you are clearly NOT me, and here you are reading something I told you not to read. If you dare to continue, you'll learn my point of view of the upsides, downsides and challenges of starting a personal blog.
In September 2020, I signed a contract to sell the online business I'd been working on for the last five years: HomeGrounds.co (a content site in the coffee space). The sale resulted in a nice payday; not "fuck you" money, but enough to semi-retire and have a launching pad to build "fuck you" wealth.
I started that business to make enough money to allow me control over my time. It worked. So why don't I continue down this path?
The simple answer: I'm asking myself different questions now than I did five years ago.
I'm at a crossroad. I could easily jump straight back into the content publishing game all guns blazing, with the time, money and experience I've acquired as leverage.
But the thought of doing this leaves me feeling bored. I'm looking for something that will challenge me to grow and develop new skills, and result in a more fulfilling existence.
I have a hunch that this lack of inspiration is a symptom of asking the wrong question before starting new projects.
The first question I used to ask was "How much money can this make?"
This is a terrible first question if you're seeking more than just money. Today, I'm seeking that elusive thing called "fulfillment". If making money was the priority I'd just keep doing what I've been doing.
But I'm now asking myself different questions:
In how many ways could this project leave me feeling fulfilled?
"What type of impact will I have on the world?"
"What will the day-to-day be like of this project? Will I enjoy doing it for five hours per day for the next five years?"
"Will this project build wealth in other areas of my life, such as relationships and specific knowledge?"
Of course, "how will this make money" will still be a question worth asking....but it won't be the first question.
I'm a total Naval Ravikant fanboy. And Naval suggests that a powerful way to build true wealth is to productize yourself.
What does this mean?
Productize has specific knowledge and leverage. Yourself has uniqueness and accountability. Yourself also has specific knowledge. So you can combine all of these pieces into these two words - Naval Ravikant.
So I'll need specific knowledge, leverage, uniqueness and accountability. And building an audience through blogging seems to tick all four boxes.
I'll acquire specific knowledge while researching and writing about the topics that interest me. The leverage will come, eventually, through the audience and relationships. And if I write authentically about topics that interest me; it will be unique and build a reputation in the public domain (which will make me accountable).
If I'm looking for a fulfilling project that challenges me and allows me to acquire new skills: why write? Many other roads lead to this destination, right?
I recently came across a post that makes a strong case for blogging: 'How to start a blog that changes your life'. Hell yeah! The TL;DR version is that blogging can create a platform of opportunity for an amazing life while building massive wealth if done right. Seed planted!
I consider this a huge life decision, so a followup question I'm asking myself is:
What are the upsides? What are the downsides? Can I live with the downsides?" - Keith J Cunningham, The road less stupid.
I spent quite some time researching online and speaking to other writers about the upsides and downsides of blogging. The good shit sticks. Here's what stuck:
The upsides that excite me the most:
Of course, this list could go on. But If I was to tie it together with one overarching theme, the biggest upside is:
A personal blog represents a platform of opportunity.
And the goal for me in starting this project is to build wealth, relationships, valuable skills and interesting knowledge. Can a personal blog truly create a platform of opportunity for all of this? I sure hope so.
The downsides that came up frequently when speaking to other bloggers were:
I feel like the most challenging downside to deal with for me will be
A personal blog will suck time and attention away from other projects.
The opportunity cost of building a personal blog/brand is time and attention. Would it be wiser to invest this time and attention elsewhere?
To pull this off successfully, I'll have to wear many hats. And when one wears many hats, one does a lot of work. This warning came up continuously when speaking to other bloggers about their experiences blogging.
Let's think of everything that goes into writing an impactful article. Critical thinking, researching, writing, rewriting, editing, promoting, engaging with an audience, updating content, etc. And then what about video content? Surely one building a personal brand in 2020 should be making video content too?
I've learned a thing or two about hiring and outsourcing various roles of online business over the last few years. But there are parts of this project that just can't be outsourced.
At the very least, I believe that this will be an opportunity to become better at managing myself, my time, and others. Sure, I can't outsource critical thinking and writing as these are the core functions of such a project. But I can learn to automate and delegate anything else that is not critical.
Where the rubber meets the road: Now that I'm aware of the upsides and downsides, can I live with the downsides?
By accepting the downsides and moving forward, I'm acknowledging that the taxes are worth paying. In my opinion, the only way to answer this is through the old 'gut feeling' test, and it's a strong yes for me.
I know this project is going to require a good amount of time and attention. But I don't have anything else that I feel strongly enough about to focus on right now, so it's a great place to start.
As I mentioned, one of the upsides is the opportunity to overcome limiting beliefs and fallacies.
Here are 4 of my strongest current limiting beliefs that I'm excited to crush:
Black and white SEO fallacy around Keywords and competition
More or less daily for the last five years, I've been thinking about or doing SEO. And all of the 'ways of doing things' in the SEO world have almost become unconscious habits.
I often wonder if this has somehow rewired my brain? At the very least, I'm certain it's cooked up a terrible fallacy:
Here's how it plays out. The first step I take when exploring a new content idea is to open up a keyword tool and analyze search volume and competitiveness for the keyword. Based on this data, I'll either get excited or lose interest. Weak search volume or strong competition sabotages the idea before its born, and I move on.
Rarely do I stop and think deeper about what's going on here: black and white thinking.
What does weak keyword data actually mean? There is no demand to solve the problem associated with the keyword? Sure, this could be one scenario. But one of many.
What else could be happening here? Perhaps it's not a topic one would go to a search engine for in the first place? Maybe it's a somewhat original, emerging topic that Google has not yet collected enough search data about?
And if the keyword seems competitive, should I automatically ignore it? Well, not so fast. If I'm interested in the topic enough, the goal should be to expand my understanding of it. The #1 goal is not to rank on page 1; That's just an indicator of doing an outstanding job.
This is one SEO fallacy of many that I'll have to overcome. And the solution is simple: Long term thinking. Write first, SEO second, not vice versa.
SEO is a zero-sum game, meaning that if I move into position #1 for a keyword term, whoever was there must move down. In this zero-sum battle; relevance is a competitive advantage. A website that exclusively publishes content about coffee has a relevance advantage over a website that publishes about coffee, business, gardening tools, tech, etc.
Remember About.com? This generalist mega-site published about every topic under the sun, from recipes to specialized medical advice and everything in between. It had no relevancy, but it had hundreds of millions of visitors per month.
As the landscape of the internet and search changed, About.com lost traffic month after month, despite the teams best efforts to improve its product (It's content).
Dotdash, the media company that owned About.com, realized it was fighting a losing battle and made the drastic decision to split About.com which had approximately 1.3 million articles at the time, into a portfolio of smaller focused niche websites.
Dotdash saw the power relevance had in the publishing game, pivoted their business model, and have experienced strong year-over-year growth ever since.
A more personal example was my coffee website HomeGrounds.co versus NYTimes.com. While The NY Times has much stronger SEO authority and power than Home Grounds, we consistently outranked them for many coffee-related keywords. Why? Because Google looks at our website assumes we are an authority in the coffee space since it's the only topic we publish content around.
This SEO fallacy is holding me back since I have direct, first-hand experience with it.
On the one hand, I don't want to 'niche down' on this blog because I'll become bored talking about one topic for years, and if that happens, I'll eventually abandon ship. If I want this to be a long term project, I'll need to commit to uncommitting to a niche so I can talk about topics that deeply interest me at any given time. Right now, its sleep hacking, psychedelics, masculinity, and digital content publishing.
On the other hand, If I post about anything and everything will I become irrelevant in the eyes of my audience? If I'm talking about sleep hacking one month, then masculinity the next, where is the relevancy behind all of this? Won't people become disinterested?
Not everyone will be interested in the same topics as I am. That's a reality. Everyone is unique. So why am I stuck on this problem?
I believe the answer is catastrophic thinking. Here's how my mind works, without examination:
"Not everyone in my audience will share the same set of interests as I do, and therefore readers will be indifferent to certain topics. They might not come back and read the blog again, or they might not open any of my emails. And if they don't open my emails my email open and click rates will plummet and my CRM will move me to a terrible email server, which will further harm my email deliver-ability. Eventually I'll have no readers. And then the project will fail. And I'll lose all the time and money I've invested in it. Then I'll probably starve and die, alone. All because I didn't niche down."
See what I did there? I let my mind run and take the natural path of catastrophic thinking - AKA worst-case scenario thinking. Of course, I didn't actually think through to the 'i'll die alone' part, but my mind was heading down a path that would sabotage the project before getting to the worst case.
Intellectually I know that the probability of the above scenario playing out is tiny. But subconsciously, that's the direction my mind wanders unless I observe what's happening.
So this is probably less of an SEO bias and more of a general fallacy.
Now that I'm aware, my justification: I don't have to choose a niche, but there should be an underlying theme tying it all together. And that will be enough. This underlying theme will probably be linked to my values and philosophies - the things that don't seem to change often in life.
One of my dominant values is 'freedom', which might somehow tie everything together. Let's take two subjects that interest me: sleep hacking and digital content publishing. How can they be linked to freedom?
Improving the quality of my sleep represent freedom to think clearly and live a life full of energy. Digital content publishing seemingly has nothing to do with 'freedom'. Still, if I talk about it from an angle that excites me - how to automate processes and build an amazing team, I'm talking about freedom of time while earning money.
I'm not going to talk about semi-passive internet businesses one day, and then the joys of having a secure job the next. Naturally, this would never happen.
So If I have strong, underlying themes that tie my content together, I'll have an audience. I only need 1000 true fans. Out of all of the people alive today who value freedom, how many of them would likely be interested in entrepreneurship, wealth creation, biohacking, and spirituality? More than 1000, that's for sure!
After a few years of publishing coffee-related content on HomeGrounds.co I got bored. I fear that this will happen again, and I'll jump from project to project, never creating anything of impact.
Choosing a personal blog means choosing to un-niche; which means the topic I'm exploring should always be driven by what I'm most interested in at the time.
Therefore: If I'm writing about what I truly want to write about at any given time, I'll never get bored.
What happens if something else takes priority? I'll put the blog on hold. And if I 'shelve' the project temporarily, is that such a bad thing? I should be viewing this as a long term project, and there are no rules about publishing consistency.
If I do abandon this blog one day, what would I have gained in that time? Maybe I learned to tell stories, or perhaps I refined my copy writing skills? It would be a classic case of 'failing but still winning big' as Mark Adams put it.
And, if I walk away from it with a clear awareness that blogging is not for me: that's a huge win. No sitting around when I'm 80 years old, regretfully wishing "I wish I had taken a chance with that blogging thing."
I hold a false belief that I don't have interesting shit to share with the world. Everything I want to explore has been talked about before. I'll be another mediocre blogger. It won't be original.
I'm a follower of well-known content creators such as Tim Ferriss, Julian Shapiro and Noah Kagan, who are each widely successful entrepreneurs and high-level bloggers. Their standards have become my benchmark. How am I to compete with these gods?
Deep down, I know that the answer is that I shouldn't try to compete. If I copy Tim Ferriss and attempt to 'deconstruct world-class performers', of course, I'll live in his shadow. The point of this project is to be uniquely me. If I'm authentic, I'll create my category of one.
As Naval keeps hinting:
Escape competition through authenticity. Nobody can compete with you on being you - Naval Ravikant.
I don't yet know what is authentic to me, or what my category of one will look like. These things will emerge on the journey, not before.
Slight problem: I like many of the same things as my blogging idols, like sleep hacking, productivity, spirituality, etc. The challenge for me will be: How do I share content around these topics with an authentic, angle?
One avenue is to take the 'students approach' when writing about these topics and talk about my experiences and lessons along the way. I could use engaging stories and make it personal. For example, I'm diving deep into the world of sleep optimization right now because its a problem I'm trying to solve for myself. But I'm a newb. If I'm honest about my experience, I'll talk from a beginners point of view, which will be authentic. A beginners mindset is often said to be a huge advantage.
Before embarking on any major project, I find it helpful to write down a brief outline of my strategy, covering what I'm aiming to do, how I'm planning to do it, and why. This allows me to reflect on my decision later and course correct if need be.
Here's my V1 strategy for blogging:
There seems to be two major schools of thought when it comes to answering the question "how often should I publish?".
I see this as a spectrum. On one end you commit to posting on certain days of the week, no matter what.
This strategy acts as a positive constraint, forcing you to be consistent. James Clear, for example, posted twice per week (Mondays and Thursdays) for years, as a way to build his writing skills, audience, and voice. James is THE habits guys after all, so this strategy is consistent with his theme.
When I started, there was no way I could answer that question for myself or for others without developing some level of skill as a writer. I needed to write twice per week to find my voice. I needed to write twice per week to build an audience. I needed to write twice per week to churn through my average ideas so that I could uncover the great ones. In the beginning, I had to put in my reps. - James Clear.
On the other end of the spectrum, you only publish only once you believe you have something worthy of posting.
Julian Shapiro, as an example, does not merely publish articles, but he releases what he calls detailed ‘handbooks’. His reasoning behind this approach is clear:
Writers who post frequently (2x/wk) are rarely worth reading consistently. I read for insights. And no writer can generate profound insights on a fixed schedule. I aggregate writers who publish sporadically. When they post, they truly have something to say — Julian Shapiro (@Julian)
I can see the appeal in both strategies.
Committing to a set publishing frequency will force you to throw perfection aside and build good habits. This gives you momentum. But As Julian mentions, it comes at the cost of potentially limiting the depths at which you can go to on a topic to uncover profound insights.
Having no constraints on time means you can go deep. So deep, perhaps, that you'll uncover specific insights and knowledge not available to others. The challenge with this approach, however, is: when is a topic deemed 'worthy' of being published? How the fuck do you answer that?
It seems that publishing to a set frequency is the best way to start to build good habits, and you can then transition to a sporadic schedule once you have momentum.
I'm going with a hybrid approach. I'll build the habits by committing to writing every day for X hour's in the morning, but I'll only post when I feel I've gone deep enough into a topic that it feels worthy of posting. But as a general rule, I'll try to publish one new post per month.
The system will be daily writing; the goal will be one post per month. If I don't reach the goal, I still win, because I've built the habit of writing and everything that comes along with it.
Writing is just one medium from many to focus. What about Vlogging? Or podcasting? Or twitter-ing? Instagram-ing? Perhaps I should start with an email newsletter?
I'll aim to be active on all channels that matter, but which one should I invest most of my focus into?
My answer: start with all of them and a clear path should emerge. I'll focus on writing and Vlogging initially, with a little social media thrown in for good measure.
Why start with blogging? It comes down to audience control; I control the platform. If I grow an audience organically and I'm not reliant on one traffic source, then I have control. I want to build an email community, and I'm intrigued about how other successful personal bloggers use email effectively.
And when it comes to blogging vs Vlogging: Should I make video content first and then hire someone to turn it into blog content? (I believe this is how Noah Kagan does it), or write blog posts and then turn them into videos? (like Nat Eliason is doing).
The biggest asset here is always going to be my audience, and I want to be in control of that audience. Therefore, The blog and email community should be the priority, and I should create a process for turning that content into content for other platforms.
I'd love to explore this topic and turn it into an article: A Blog first vs video-first approach to growing a personal brand.
Blog first: Go deep into a topic and learn as much as possible about it, while writing a detailed post. Once it's live, spend the next month or so turning it into other forms of media, such as video content and social media threads. The initial phase of research and writing will make the content creation for other forms easy, because I would have acquired the specific knowledge by that point.
Video first: Create a video and then hire an editor to transcribe the video into a blog post and turn it into other forms of media. If done right, I'm guessing that you can produce more content this way since you only really have to research and create a video. But if the writing is the be profound, you'll need a darn good editor.
Either way, this might become a great case study. Spend 6 months trying each approach, write about the results, and stick with the strategy that feels right.
The first milestone for a content site is fill the queen bee role. Doing so creates a moat and frees your time. Here are the 2 steps you need