Thinking about what I want to do and where I want to go with this blog

A friend of mine is a big fan of Firepole Marketing and other blog-related marketing sites, so a lot of his advice for me has been focused on building audiences and information products. It’s been quite useful—look, I finally got around to all these little design tweaks!—but there’s something niggling at the edges of my brain, and that’s usually a sign I should slow down and reflect on it. I notice that I hesitate.

I need to sort out what I’m hesitant about just because it’s unknown or something I’m shy about, and what I’m hesitant about because I want something different.

What I want from blogging

The things I love the most about this blog are:

  • Sharing all these small, varied things I’m learning about, and not worrying about sticking to one topic, making sense, or writing too often
  • Having these amazing conversations spanning miles and years (Raymond Zeitler, Clair Ching, Chris League, and a few other people have been commenting for more than five years – I’m so lucky!)
  • Bumping into all sorts of amazing people through chance conversations and connections
  • Following the thread of our shared curiosity into new questions
  • Answering people’s questions with blog posts from when I was trying to figure things out too
  • Knowing that no matter what happens, good or bad, it’s something I can learn from and possibly share

There’s a lot of good advice out there for people who want to “monetize their audience” or build a business around blogging, but… maybe I have the space to explore something different. What would this blog look and feel like in another ten years? More of this, I hope, and better. Better at learning, better at sharing, better at organizing, better at connecting.

Sometimes people pay more attention to what they pay for. Hmm, maybe optional payment, or saving payment for individual help? I don’t have a mental hangup about being paid for consulting, because that’s stuff that clearly creates a lot of value for my clients and doesn’t really give me things I can widely share as a way of helping others. I don’t have a hangup about earning a little bit from affiliate sales (since it’s entirely optional, and only the stuff that I like, and I point out non-affiliate links or alternative ways to get things like borrowing books from the library). I’m sort of okay with the idea of making collections of blog posts and sketches and selling them for a nominal fee as an experiment, although I’m tempted to just make them all freely available and then perhaps add a pay-what-you-can system or a donation button.

Anyway, we’re doing well, so I have some space to focus on learning and sharing. =) I want to make the most of that opportunity. Can you help me figure out what would make this better while keeping it real?

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  • JT

    I don’t see a moral impediment to helping people directly for a fee. If you’ve posted something that’s generally helpful, but some folks don’t get it and/or want more specific assistance with it, why not charge them a nominal fee for the time and attention? Maybe I’m too Capitalist for my own good, but that seems like consulting to me.

    I have yet to seriously start blogging because I have such an eclectic array of interests, any of which might be immediately important enough to me to write about, and everything I read tells me to focus on one thing. (There are other reasons, but that’s definitely one of them.) The reality is that while I could focus on one thing for a while, there is no telling when that one thing will become mundane to me, and writing about it would become a chore. I admire your bravery in not following the “rules” of blogging; I love that I only know that the quality of your posts will be good when I see you’ve made a new post, but the content could be something that I had no idea even existed. Your writing quality makes the content interesting when the subject matter is not something I would normally seek out.

    All of that being said, one of the things I’ve thought about is maintaining multiple blogs: one that’s centralized and for everything I output regardless of its category (much like this one is for you), and then one for each type of content. I haven’t seen any solutions for that problem (aside from the hack of having an RSS feed for each category), and while it would be an interesting problem to solve, I’m not currently writing (much less attempting to monetize said writing), so it’s not something that’s at the top of my fix-it list. I think it would be a fun problem to solve, though, and having just articulated it, a few solutions have leaped to mind, so I might start something up to deal with the issue. =)

    • Yup, that individual, customized attention is why I’m happy to do consulting. =) (Although I keep it to a few days a week so that I’m forced to follow my own curiosity too…)

      I go through so many interests too, and I want to have one place to share that will also be the one place I’ll invest in keeping around as close to forever as I can. =) A centralized repository of my various interests – that’s exactly how I think of . That way, I don’t have to worry about feeling like I need to keep writing about a topic even if I’ve moved on to other interests.

      I could probably spin off some of my categories as their own blogs. One could imagine a blog interface that’s geared towards people learning more about Emacs, one that’s geared towards Quantified Self, and so on.

      And aww, thanks for saying such wonderful things about reading my blog! I’d love to read what you have to share, so please do tell me if you start blogging.

  • Sacha … I was so moved by this post I felt I had to comment – this is my first time commenting on your blog.

    I completely empathize with your struggle and desire to remain authentic, so hopefully some of my comments will be helpful to you. I am just beginning to get serious about my blog and yours is one of the blogs I often come back to for ‘models’ on how to do things (even a simple as a sign-up box).

    I have only been following your blog for a couple of months but I am blown away by the richness of your posts. I am not in one bit bothered by the variety of things you post about because I think its not as scattered as you may think it is. You actually have a very strong ‘brand’ and part of that brand is your ‘renaissance woman’ approach to life. That’s what I think is so awesome about your life.

    Trying to box yourself in to monetize the blog would be a tragedy as I think this would stifle your creativity and make blogging a ‘chore’ rather than a love – and this would start showing through in your writing.

    The reason I think your blog is not as scattered as you think is that you have recurring themes that repeat themselves regardless of what you are writing about. I would list some of them as:

    > Un-apologetic geekery
    > The joy of discovery and continuous learning
    > Looking at the world as a lab (quantified self)
    > Organizing complex thoughts and ideas for others to consume (sketchnotes , how-to posts)

    I don’t think you need to do things like adding advertising or strong marketing pitches to your blog – you just have to continue being generous – and the path will become clearer.

    The things I would suggest for you that will be revenue generating but still remain authentic is to start thinking about creating products about:
    a) areas that you have deep knowledge (e.g. Emacs) … could be an ebook based on posts you have written in the past
    b) a collection of your sketchnotes from a theme (e.g. book reviews on 10 life-changing books you have read) … would be great as an actual book but would also work as an e-book
    c) what you have learned about the quantified self – you could make this very visual using some of the data visualization techniques you use like the recent one you posted about you blogging frequency

    You are so generous with what you know already that I don’t think your readers would have any problem buying some of your items that you have taken time to ‘package’ more. Going through the process of packaging and launching these ‘products’ will actually increase the earning potential of your offline activities in consulting and public speaking because people who are not ‘blog readers’ would still be able to experience your awesomeness and become part of your tribe.

    I would be happy to brainstorm through this process with you – no hidden agenda, nothing to sell – just want to see a dreamer like myself connect with their tribe.

    I’m at @komasworld

    • Thomas: I’m really glad to hear from you. Thanks for the encouraging words!

      It’s funny how all these different threads of interests end up coming together. You’re right–I don’t have to worry about being scattered. People who are focused on just one topic can browse using the category view or come in through search results, but there have been so many interesting conversations that have come from people who came here for one topic and stumbled across another that they were also interested in, and I don’t want to give that up. (So I’m going to gleefully ignore the advice to keep a blog focused! ;) )

      It’s amazing how close your list of recurring themes is to what I think about a lot, so I guess I’m doing something right! =) Sometimes I feel self-conscious because I use the word “I” a lot in my blog posts, but that’s also because I feel more comfortable sharing my experiences (“Here’s what I did, and maybe it will work for you too…”) and less comfortable telling people what they should do with their life (“Top 5 Things You Should Do Right Now”). I’d love to keep sharing this kind of continuous learning and exploration.

      Yeah, advertising and hustling don’t really sit well with me. I dislike a lot of the ads I see on the Internet. Predatory or scammy financial products and services, weight loss and appearance-related body-policing, consumerism and other things… I experimented with having Adsense, but the ads didn’t feel right, so I removed them. I don’t like the sell-sell-sell feel of some of the blogs I read. I’m glad it works for other people, but I don’t want to be in people’s faces like that.

      I want to learn more about organizing and editing information so that I can help people save time, learn more, and do more awesome things. I’d love to put together collections of blog posts and sketchnotes, and to write new things along the way. Please stay tuned – I’ll be sure to post about them on my blog!

      It’s always great to hear from people who read my blog and who share their insights with me. Let’s set up a Skype chat or Google Hangout. I’ll e-mail you and we can find a convenient time. Thanks!

  • I personally avoid bringing money into the equation unless it’s going to be a significant contributor to my income. Money changes how people interact with you.

    For a blog, it could change the perception of authenticity of your articles or discourage people from connecting with you. Read The Psychological Consequences of Money, a research paper about studies related to how even the mention of money affects how we interact (you need to register to read the paper, but it’s free).

    For me, at some point I may monetize Lean Decisions. But that’s a focused blog around a specific topic that I’m already treating as being part of my next business. Fast Fedora I don’t expect ever to monetize. That’s my expression of who I am, with a scattershot of articles. It’s so much more valuable to me to give myself freely to the world.

    • I like that. =) I’ve got the unusual position of not having income pressure, so I’m glad I can make good stuff and give it away for free. Maybe the next step is more like building a place where I can float ideas for blog posts and experiments, and find out what other people are interested in. There’s so much to share and so much to explore, so being able to consider other people’s interests (and questions!) may help me prioritize better.

  • Your blog is refreshingly free of advertisements. So I receive it as a pure form of self-expression and an altruistic willingness to help others — like a flower in a harsh land. And I agree with Trevor’s comment, “Money changes how people interact with you.”

    But I also think you’re entitled to monetary reward. Hmmm, not sure how to reconcile the two. Perhaps by allowing for donations on a totally separate site, such as* with a subtle link to your membership page, on which you might present yourself as both a benefactor (which you most certainly are) and a recipient.

    You could add a “store” tab to your site. Your product list could include your e-book(s), poster-size hardcopies of sketchnotes, plus consulting services.

    Thank you for including me in your list of amazing conversations! It has been amazing!

    * This is not an endorsement of the site. I’m not really familiar with it.

  • Actually the left side of the things in the What I don’t want group will just happen naturally and it’s fine. Though I am using it for experimentation purposes as well to see people’s behaviours for fun.

    I think it’s better to say “what I am not focusing on” rather than “what I don’t want”

    I like that you’re expanding on your media choices, I still limited myself to text for now because that is the one I am most comfortable with. Though drawings may come next albeit more mechanical like SVG and UML just because that’s my personality.

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