How to blog for influence (if you’re not a freak)

A friend who is a highly effective PR person sent me this note regarding challenges she has with her clients:

I wanted to let you know that I’m a daily reader of your blog.  . . .  I have introduced several of my clients and prospective clients to it.  They are learning a lot, especially about book proposals and literary agents.

Do you have any advice for people who want to write blogs more often? What’s your secret?  How do you find ideas to write about?  How do you stick to a writing schedule?

I have advice. But the advice is not “be like me” — because I’m a freak.

My secret won’t work for you

Here’s why and how I can blog every day:

  • I’m a very fast writer.
  • It’s a habit that I’m committed to.
  • I’ve got 20+ years of analytical experience to draw on.
  • My client experiences often lead to more general insights worth sharing (like, for example, the question that led to this post)
  • I have an infinite amount of source material — every badly written statement on the internet.
  • My schedule allows me to spend 60-90 minutes per day on blogging — I have neither bosses nor employees, and my work does not require 8 hours a day of my time.
  • I get a freakish amount of enjoyment from blogging.

This is almost certainly not you — in particular the time availability and being accountable to no one. I am a freak and I know it.

Beyond that, I can tell you that from a rational perspective, it doesn’t make business sense for me to blog every day. I do get leads from the blog. But there is no indication that those leads are tied to daily blogging. I could likely get as many leads by blogging weekly or every other week, which would be a lot less work. I do this because I like it, not because I can prove it is effective.

That said, I do help others who want to blog and are not freaks, and I do have advice for you.

How to become a useful blogger

If you are an author, speaker, or aspiring thought leader, you need a regular connection to your audience. This could be a blog, a podcast, a newsletter, a stream of YouTube videos, posts on Facebook or Instagram, or whatever. The point is, you’re going to have to create content, and it’s going to be work. Here’s some advice on how to do that.

  • Determine a cadence. Will you post weekly? Every other week? Every third week? Assume it will take you two hours to create something worth posting, and possibly more time if you involve others. Can you commit the time? If so, block it off in your schedule. If not, don’t bother starting.
  • Set a goal. I don’t mean a goal like “Get 1,000 followers.” I mean a goal that matters to your business, like “Generate 20 leads in a year” or “Get 10 speaking invitations” or “Become one of the go-to experts in my field.” Recognize that it may take a year to get to the point where your goal is in reach.
  • Determine if it is worth it. This is not a commitment to take lightly. You cannot try this two or three times and then give up — you’ll accomplish nothing and look like a fool. If you can accomplish your goal, will it have been worth the time you’ll need to put in? If not, don’t start.
  • Create a unique point of view. Are you the world’s foremost expert on social media in pharmaceutical companies? Are you sitting on a decade of data about taxpayers and tax filing? Are you a horrendously funny smartass regarding tech company excesses? Are you devastatingly good at dismantling corporate press releases? Are you doing marketing from your patio in New Zealand? If you’re “just another blogger on [your topic here],” don’t bother. The world is ready for unique insights, not more of the same crap everyone else is doing.
  • Tap into a source of post fuel. You’re going to need things to write about. These could be corporate announcements, client experiences, people you know and can interview, poll results, or examples from your book. But whatever it is, you need a constant stream of it. Without fuel, you’ll have nothing to write about. “Musings” get old very quickly.
  • Make a plan. Let’s say you’re writing every other week. Plan 12 topics — that’s about six months of material. Then write four of them — before posting any of them. If you can do this, you have a chance of succeeding. If you can’t get it together to write a few posts ahead of time, you’re unlikely to be able to write them on a deadline.
  • Don’t obsess about the tech or other details. You can spend months tweaking your blog design, getting SEO working, getting the right microphone and camera for your podcast, and buying just the right URL. Don’t do it. It’s easy to set up a blog — it took me about 3 weeks and a thousand bucks for design, and I’m still using it five years later. And you don’t even need to do that. You can post on LinkedIn, Medium, or YouTube for free. Once you’ve got a content plan, it’s better to start and improve than to compulsively worry about details.
  • Free yourself. Write fast and edit. That’s how to get past writer’s block. Make one point per post — this isn’t a research paper. Be personal. Be snarky. Be idiosyncratic. This is you, not a corporate news release.
  • Get good at newsjacking. David Meerman Scott invented the massively cool idea of newsjacking: looking for news events and then jumping on them with your own perspective. You should do this. It is the easiest blogging strategy and yet so few people have the guts to do it. Read the news every day. Find a story about which you can say, “With my experience/expertise, I understand what’s really going on here, in a way nobody else can.” Then write that perspective. The main mistake people doing newsjacking make is that they are too slow. If it happens on Monday morning, write about it on Monday. If it happens on Monday night, write about it on Tuesday. If you wait until Thursday, no one will give a damn what you wrote – and you won’t get the tailwind of people curious about the event that just happened.

If you want to know more, I strongly endorse starting with Mike Alton’s Blogging Brute.

If I’ve helped you get started, great. If I’ve scared you out of getting started, that’s great, too. Because you deserve to know what you’re getting into.

And finally, here’s a little secret: blogging is fun. But you won’t find out unless you do it.

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  1. Great post, Josh! I like the little breadcrumbs such as, “Determine if it’s worth it” and “Get good at newsjacking.” These are good details for newbie (or wannabe) bloggers like me.

  2. I know you didn’t mean it as a humblebrag, but I want to compliment you on paying good money to your web designer. I always cringe when I read conversations of people advising each other to get a cheapo web/logo/cover designer while wondering why there are so many (non-)prospects out there who don’t want to pay enough. I want to pay people well and get paid well because I’m a person, not a ledger.