Bit navel-gazey this post, but bear with me, and I would love your feedback.
So, as mentioned previously, I am looking for a job. The main reason for this is that I want to be able to focus on one thing, and not have the freelancer’s dilemma of always looking for the next thing while doing the current thing.
Trouble is, I have rather a niche set of skills that are pretty hard to fit into any job description that hasn’t been put together with me in mind – and not even I am so arrogant to think that anyone would want to do that.
(Of course, if you do want to do that, please get in touch.)
So, what are the options? One might be to try and build a business, based around a particular product or service. I’ve plenty of ideas for such things, lots of folk I could collaborate with, and am not writing this off at all.
If I am honest though, I think my real dream would be to be able to make a living through this site. Y’know, just like Gruber or Thompson or Kottke.
How might that be possible? Well, I’m in a good place tech-wise as this site is now hosted on the Rainmaker platform, a customised hosted version of WordPress which has a load of functionality built in, including a membership scheme that can be charged for, have members-only content, the ability to host podcasts, and to have a members forum.
I’m not currently using much of this but am in the process of moving all the various bits of content I do into the platform.
Currently, my content-creation schedule is haphazard, with me writing posts, recording podcasts and doing other bits and pieces when I can fit it around contract work and other consulting gigs. It all acts basically as a marketing thing, to try and convince people I know what I am talking about so they hire me for more contract and consulting work.
So, what might a business model for this blog look like?
The free stuff
Well, some stuff would still need to be free. Probably the type of blog posts I usually publish at the moment would remain free and accessible to anyone – but if the blog was my main focus, there would be more of them. I find it so hard to blog daily when I am also doing a full time job.
My podcast would also remain free and public for its current form, doing interviews with interesting folk in the digital world. Again though, with the site being my main focus, I could do them much more regularly, whether every month or even weekly.
I’d also like to do more with my bookmarks. Currently they are pinged to Twitter, and I include the best of them in my newsletter (when I remember to send it out). I would like to have a daily link roundup post though on the blog.
Finally, a free weekly email newsletter, done properly and regularly. Having the time to focus on this would make it much easier. I need to find a way to make it easy for people to get the blog content by email, and then also the added value of a newsletter. Maybe I could combine one weekly newsletter which featured some new content, plus links and summaries of all the blog posts that week, plus my bookmarks from that week.
Maybe people could also opt-in to a daily blog posts by email thing as well, if they are super keen.
So, for free: blog posts, podcasts, link roundups, general email newsletter – all doable because the site and the content around it is my primary focus.
I could make this more sustainable by looking for sponsorship for the free, public content, of course. I’d need to find a non-annoying way for that to work, but some people do very well out of it.
Paid for stuff
The sustainable way to make all this happen is to have regular subscription model, with members paying a small monthly fee to both support the free, public content, and to get access to other stuff.
For instance, Ben Thompson charges $10 per month to members, and they get an exclusive email most days with in depth analysis, as well as access to a forum to discuss issues related to Thompson’s writing, which Ben takes part in himself.
So what could I offer to members of this site?
One thing I would probably do would be a weekly longer, in depth piece of writing just for members. Picking a topic of real interest to my readers, and doing a proper piece of research and writing that goes beyond my usual well intentioned but half baked blogging.
I’d probably do an occasional solo podcast as well, discussing a recent news topic that’s worthy of a quick bit of audio. Likewise I would like to do more videos, such as the quick training ones I trialled towards the end of last year, which got some great feedback – those could be members-only.
Adding a discussion forum would be simple – it’s baked into Rainmaker as discussed earlier – and also I already have a community with a good membership and activity on it. Access to that forum is currently free, so I would need to figure out a way for that to continue for those people, otherwise it wouldn’t really be fair.
So, members who pay roughly a tenner a month get a longer, in depth article a week, access to extra podcasts and video training content and the ability to take part in a discussion forum, with other members and me. They also get the warm glow that they are supporting me to produce the freely available, public content too.
Does that sound reasonable? I have no idea, personally.
The other question is how to make it work. How many subscribers would I need?
A hundred subscribers – which, if I am honest, sounds like a lot – would give me an income of £1,000 per month, which is sadly nowhere near enough to keep the Briggs family in the manner to which they have become accustomed. Not least when you think that there are costs to be taken out of that figure.
If I did sponsorship of the free content, that might be able to pull in £250 a month at the most to begin with – again, not enough.
Of course, what I would need to do then is to make up the deficit by doing contracting and consulting – but perhaps a bit less of it, to enable me to meet my content creation schedule.
Hopefully over time I could build up the membership side of things, enabling me to spend more time writing and sharing great stuff with people, which is what I really love to do.
So, what do you think? Would you pay for a membership to my site in exchange for those rewards?
Or should I just accept that I can’t make a living by blogging, and get back to the job hunt?
4 thoughts on “Could I make my blog my livelihood?”
I think this would be a VERY bold move. However a few facts that I’d want to make an informed opinion are not included. Specifically, what’s the current website and subscriber stats?: How many hits do you get? How many “conversions” do you get (into, say, email subscribers)? How big is you email list and what’s the open and click rates?
Ultimately you’re probably going to need to make some kind of mathematical/statistical judgement call like, if you’ve got 1000 email subscribers and a 50% open rate and you reckon 10% of them would subscribe then that’s 50 people. If your email list is 500 people then that’s 25 subscribers. etc. I don’t know if 10% conversions of email openers to paid subscribers is a reasonable figure or not – it’s probably too high. Perhaps you could ask others that have done this what their rate was?
On a more qualitative note, my fear with this strategy is that, in turning to blogging as a means of making income, you will be expected to do that first and foremost. This means that you are no longer first and foremost working in a digital strategy/leadership role. And this in turn (IMO) means that you are less authoritative because you’re not gaining at-the-coal-face experience.
I’m hesitant to support this kind of activity for two reasons:
1) The people producing large amounts of content are not primarily at the coal face; and
2) There are probably people who ARE at the coal face who are producing content too, and that content will be better because it’s based on experience, not just theory.
Pricing is also an issue. A guy in the WordPress world (where I’m technologically focussed) just launched a “club” model for his content and that’s $99 per year. Which kinda sounds like a lot to me, especially as there are other people writing about the same things that he’s writing about and publishing for free. Will his content be any better? I don’t know!
Also, you’ll STILL have to do marketing. In fact, unless you’re already VERY well known (the WordPress guy IS very well known) you’ll probably have to do MORE marketing in order to get and keep subscribers. You’ll probably want to be featured in professional publications and guest blogging and attending conferences to demonstrate your continued level of authority. That all takes time and costs money too.
May I make two alternative suggestions:
1) CrowdFunding: This will require work to set up, market, and run, but is lower risk. You set a target. If that target is met then perhaps you could do this for a year, or for 6 months, and see how it’s received. If the target isn’t met then you carry on as you were.
2) Produce less content – market yourself more: I also struggle with the balance of fitting in sharing/publishing useful knowledge around the work that I have to do. One way to fix that would actually be to not produce as much content and, instead, focus on marketing, networking and building your portfolio. You’ll still produce content occasionally, but you’ll focus on publishing only the really useful things that you really need to publish.
I wonder, have you any evidence that your current content production actually leads to work? Or would you get the work anyway by word of mouth? Has it been shown that demonstrating your authority here actually helps? I genuinely don’t know the answer to that, but maybe it’s another fact that could inform your decision.
I hope that’s helpful. I’m naturally cautious, so my gut feeling is that this isn’t a great idea and would want some more quantitative evidence that it was a good idea before trying it. Perhaps you’ll gather that here?
Whichever direction you take, I wish you well!
Hey Ross. Thanks for taking the time to write such a detailed and interesting reply.
I know you’re right. This won’t work for me. I think I was just trying to articulate what it is that I love to do, and how I could make it work for me. Sadly, I don’t think I can.
It’s a shame, because not only would I enjoy it, but I think it would be genuinely useful. One example would be the digital democracy report that was published earlier today – I’d love to have the time to site down, read it through properly and write up some proper analysis. I just don’t have the time or the attention to do it right now.
Maybe I need to get a job at a think tank?
I think what Ross has done for you there is incredibly useful; if you turn all his challenges into headings in a business plan, in other words if you can see how to meet those challenges, you’d be on your way to something solid and sustainable.
In my view, you need to work our what your core offer is, ie what’s your bread and butter, what can you do easily that earns money to support doing the stuff you really enjoy and want to work on expanding? I have a friend who does kind of similar things to you but in an EU context, he’s called Jon Worth, I think it would be an idea to get in touch with him as I know he was having some similar dilemmas but is relentlessly focussed on making it work and definitely does NOT want to get ‘a job’. As far as I know he earns a living motly by doing training courses. This is something which is very easy, because he has built up loads of resources, and can just churn it out without having to put in a lot of effort.
As far as the ‘coal face’ thing goes, I will say to you what I said to Helen on Sat; you are actually better placed than those ‘at the coalface’ to stay abreast of innovation and best practice because you are not weighed down in some big stodgy organisation. You are constantly interacting necessarily with those at the forefront BECAUSE they are the ones seeking to explore new ways of working. You are not hampered by a backwards-looking CEX or hemmed in by your job description.
Gah, I would do what you’re doing in a heartbeat if I had any valuable skills or expertise to pimp out.
I believe a way to make this work is by offering online courses, as that could scale up. And you could also carry on with consultancy work, but cherry picking the most interesting (or better paying) ones.
Have a look at Liz Ryan, or Wendy at Mutu System. They are both very active bloggers and offer online courses with wide appeal.