During my recent trip to Israel, I met with over 100 different start-ups, venture capitalists, and investors who are really passionate about their ideas. Israel truly is a start-up nation, for better or worse, as my friend Renee from SheBytes noted on her blog.
Meeting with so many start-ups really got me thinking about the similarities and differences between new entrepreneurs and new bloggers. The approach to this new endeavor is almost often extremely different, but is this a good thing? Could bloggers – those who hope to make money at least – benefit from taking more of a “start-up” approach to what they’re doing?
Is a Blog a Business?
I think the “is a blog a business” debate is one of the most interesting in our new media world. Certainly, not all blogs are businesses. Some are purely for hobbyists, people who simply enjoy expressing themselves online. But what about the people who do have some kind of business in mind when they start their blog. Typically, people are in one of two mindsets:
- The blog is the business. They hope to monetize the content through advertising, premium content, affiliate sales, or other means.
- The blog is not the business, but rather a means of marketing the business. They hope to use their content to lead to sales through being hired as a consultant, selling products, etc.
Often, there is overlap between these two opinions and it is a matter of perspective whether the blog is the business or the blog is a marketing tool for the business. For example, a blogger who posts affiliate links might consider the blog the business, while a blogger who emails affiliate offers to people who’ve signed up for their list might see the blog as a marketing tool for the real business, the list.
Regardless, there is a business element to the blog. So doesn’t that make your blog a start-up? By their very nature, start-ups are designed to grow quickly, which is the hope for every blogger as well. No one wants to feel as though their mom is the only one reading.
What Bloggers Can Learn from the Start-Up Mentality
If you’re starting a blog, here are a few things you can learn from the world of start-ups:
- This will be hard work.
“You have to understand how tough it is,” says Dov Moran, CEO of start-up Comigo and inventor of the USB flash drive. “It’s a lot of work. It’s a lot of fighting. It’s not fun. [...] But if you do it and succeed, it’s amazing. Go ahead and do it, understanding the price.”
Bloggers often start with the mindset that this is an easy work-from-home opportunity, in part because what you see most often are the success stories. Chris Brogan, Seth Godin, Darren Rowse, Jenny Lawson…these are are hugely successful bloggers, but what you don’t see are the thousands of bloggers who “fail,” either because they give up or in the sense that their blog never supports them financially.
If you want to have any financial success, if you want to make blogging a career, you need to be prepared to for the amount of work you’ll have to do. Any blogger who tells you that it’s easy to make money online is lying – or at least not telling you the whole truth. Building any kind of business, online or otherwise, takes a lot of hard work.
- What problem are you solving?
Often, the difference between a start-up that fails and a start-up that succeeds is the magnitude of the problem they are solving. If someone develops a technology that cures cancer, you better believe they have a better chance of success out of the gate than someone who develops a technology that cures hangnails.
What problem does your blog solve? This is a question most bloggers never ask themselves, but if you don’t think about it, you could be missing out on an opportunity to succeed.
Sometimes, the problem you’re solving is pretty straightforward. For example, here on the NMX (BlogWorld) blog, we help people become better bloggers, podcasters, video producers, and social media users. Other times, the problem you solve might be that people are bored and you want to provide entertainment. Cracked.com is a great example of a blog that’s solving the problem of boredom.
Check out Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. The more basic your needs (near the bottom of the pyramid), the bigger problem you’re solving for people. That doesn’t mean you can’t succeed if your blog addresses the need for creativity instead of the need for food, but it’s something to consider when you’re pinning down the topics you want to cover.
- Monetization needs to be in the plan.
One of the reasons I believe that many start-ups fail is that they don’t have a strong monetization plan. It’s great if you have investors, but those investors aren’t just going to keep throwing money your way forever. You have to have a plan to make money. Blogs are similar. If you truly want to make this a career out of this, you have to have a plan to make money.
Yes, that plan starts with great content. But where does it lead after that? You don’t have to have an in-your-face hard sell present on your blog from Day One, but you do have to have a strategy from Day One, leading you to a final goal of making money. It might take a little time to perfect this strategy, and that’s okay, but don’t make the mistake of saying, “I’ll worry about making money later.” Once an audience is used to content without any kind of advertising, for example, they’ll revolt when you do decide it’s time to start selling ad space on your blog.
Maybe Start-Ups Should Think More Like Bloggers Too…
Although I do think something can be learned from start-ups, I think bloggers have something to teach too, especially about community.
When you’re a new entrepreneur, working hard to get your start-up off the ground, it is somehow easy to forget the people behind your business plan. Why is this a solid business idea? Who will ultimately become your customers? What does your audience really want and need? Most bloggers are very in tune with the idea of community, but start-ups sometimes get so involved in research and development that they forget this aspect of business. So maybe we have something to learn from one another!
Do you think a blog is like a start-up? Do you treat yours like a business?