It’s good to celebrate milestones so here’s one: I passed one full year of “real” blogging in August. (I realize it’s now September but better late than not at all!)
My first post was called “Things I’ve Learned in 3 Weeks at a Startup“. I had just started at isocket and I can still remember how excited I was to soak up all this new knowledge about marketing, board meetings, customer support and user testing.
Blogging was a great way for me to share what I was learning, retain the knowledge and build up a brand/network in the startup community. One year later it’s amazing to see where the blog has taken me. It’s made me smarter, happier and more lucky.
I promise that this blog is NOT going to become a blog about blogging – that would be both annoyingly meta and really uninteresting. But still – a man must discuss his craft from time to time and this is the place to do it. I’ve tried to take my own advice (particularly #4, #6 and #9) here as well. So anyway – here are 9 lessons I’ve learned from the past year of blogging:
1] Consistency matters
From August 2010 through July 2011 I put down over 140 posts, which is one every 2.6 days. My worst month was October 2010 (6 posts) and I was most prolific in April 2011 (17 posts). I believe a big part of my blog’s success has just been posting on a regular basis – it’s not easy but it’s worth it.
2] Be flexible about what counts as a post
If someone told me a year ago that I’d need to publish a blog post every few days for a year, I’d be pretty intimidated. “Where the hell am I going to find the time / material to put out so much content?” is what I’d be thinking. But not every blog post has to be a huge 21-item list or an epic, 3-part personal journey. I’ve posted dozens of quotes and videos – and a handful of podcasts, link roundups and interviews as well. Being flexible about your posts will help you keep your rhythm going.
3] Keep multiple posts brewing
There are at least 4 blog post drafts in my WordPress admin. Sometimes you’re in inspiration mode and sometimes you’re in editing/publishing mode. If you have a great idea for a blog, pull up Evernote or Notepad/Textedit and get the core concepts down. If your momentum holds, finish the post. If not, you can save it for later, when you aren’t feeling so inspired, but you can take a nugget of an idea and polish it off.
4] Don’t judge your posts too harshly before posting
Everyone’s got an inner editor/critic. I like to beat mine senseless whenever it tries to make me uncertain about posting. My number 1, number 3 and number 7 posts of all-time (based on pageviews) were posts that I wrote off-the cuff and wasn’t sure if they’d resonate with readers. Apparently they did – and it would have been a shame if I canned them because I judged them too harshly. Like Sebastian Marshall says: you get judged by your best work, not your bad work. So post freely – there’s little downside (as long as you’re writing something obscene or offensive) and big upside.
5] Be easy to get in touch with and responsive
This blog is my home base online. Jason Shen HQ. All of my online accounts point to this site and I’ve made it easy to get a hold of me. I post my personal gmail account on my sidebar and on my about page – none of that contact form nonsense. I think I’ve gotten unwanted email less than a dozen times in the past year. I have, however, gotten lots of very interesting email from readers that has turned into friendships, coaching clients, new roommates, advice/mentorship, job offers and more. I respond to every reader email I get (so far) and I’ve found this approach to be quite valuable.
6] It’s all about your readers
At the end of the day, you get value by providing it. I always try to make my posts actionable and filled with useful information/advice. There are other ways to provide value (humor, shock value, etc) but however you do it, make sure your blog serves your readers.
7] Finding your voice takes time
I’d like to think that blog has developed a strong, original and authentic writing style over time. You can really hear it in certain posts, like Winning Isn’t Normal or Loud. Arrogant. Rebellious. Asian and my post on gymnastics lessons learned on fear. My voice isn’t something I “worked on” but it is something that just happened as I wrote more.
8] Ditto for your audience
“Know your audience” is the advice given to every blogger out there. For a long time I struggled with this – who was I writing for? This requires both work and time on your part. Because I talk to my readers and respond to all my comments I’ve gotten a feel for the kinds of people who check this site out. They’re 18-35 year olds, skewed male, who are interested in pushing themselves personally and professionally. And over time, I’ve been able to tailor my writing to them. Which reminds me – I should probably take this time to do a survey or something just to refine my understanding even further.
9] It’s ok to get personal
This blog isn’t just about startups, personal challenges, psychology and winning. It’s a reflection of who I am. It’s not a complete picture of me: I don’t discuss my relationship with my family, or my weirdly vivid dreams or my favorite iPad games. (Though on second thought, those topics could all potentially make good blog posts if done right). The point here is that it’s ok for you to get a little personal on your blog. Trust your instincts. I ask email subscribers what they want me to write about, and I’ve been surprised by the number of responses that are just “I don’t want to give you suggestions – just write about stuff you’re doing, and stuff you’re interested in.”