I recently read a post on my favourite website Quora that really changed my perspective on how I go on with my blog. I admire Nicolas Cole and follow his Instagram as well. I enjoy his writing and timeless pieces. More than anything, his writing is genuine, from the heart and like a conversation with a friend. So this article really made me sit up and think. I’ll let him do the rest.
I am going to disagree with two industry leaders here on their (very top-level) strategies for starting a blog, Gary Vaynerchuk and Noah Kagan, and give you an entirely different way to think about blogging.
First, let me give you a quick background so you understand how I discovered this strategy in the first place.
2007: The Rise Of The Blog
When I was a teenager, I was one of the highest ranked World of Warcraft players in North America. I wrote a book about these years called Confessions of a Teenage Gamer, where for the first 18 years of my life I was undiagnosed with Celiac Disease and subsequently sick every single day, and at the same time pwning n00bs late at night on the Internet until the wee hours of the morning.
This was back in 2007, when the idea of having a “blog” was still seen as one of those weird hobbies someone has, like knitting.
The summer before my senior year of college, this website launched called GameRiot (now dead), which was essentially a social blogging platform specifically for World of Warcraft players—and later expanded to a few other games like Starcraft, etc. It operated very similarly to Medium, where anyone could start a blog and anyone could browse the site and read.
The difference was that (being a blogging platform for gamers), it was gamified. On the front page there was a ladder with the Top 10 Most popular blog posts for the day and the week, along with a Top 5 ladder of the most popular bloggers.
Being a highly competitive teenage gamer, this was my introduction to writing—specifically writing on the Internet. I was fascinated not just by the Internet and its ability to let me creatively express myself through a blog, but the fact that I could “compete” against other writers and land myself on that front page ladder.
(For anyone who has listened to me speak on podcasts, etc., on my journey here on Quora, you know I have treated this platform exactly the same way.)
2008: King of GameRiot
My entire senior year of high school, my nightly schedule was as follows:
- Pretend to go to sleep at 10 p.m. (I wasn’t allowed to stay up and play video games).
- Sneak back to my computer at 10:30 p.m.
- Compete against the highest ranked World of Warcraft players in North America until 2:00 a.m.
- Grab my laptop and write that next morning’s blog post until 3:00 a.m.
- Get 4 1/2 hours of sleep.
- Go to school.
It was one of the most intense years of my life.
During that year, I became one of the most popular World of Warcraft “bloggers” on the Internet. If you played the Mage class, you read my blog. If you were a teenager and hated high school, you read my blog. I mixed two very clear elements in my writing: I taught people how to play the game better, and I entertained them with my ridiculous adolescence.
This is the winning recipe, and one I came to later “realize” here on Quora.
Answer people’s questions X entertain them with your personal story.
When people think about “blogging,” they think of, as Noah Kagan said, a WordPress blog.
When I think of blogging, that’s not where my brain goes. Admittedly, because that’s not how I was originally introduced to the concept.
I created my first blog in a social environment. Similar to what Gary Vaynerchuk said, social media platforms are, by definition, “blogs,” just with different restrictions. You can “micro-micro-blog” on Twitter. You can “micro-blog” on Instagram. And you can even write entire posts on Facebook, and treat your Facebook page like a blog.
When I first entered the world of blogging as a teenager, I walked through the door of this social writing site called GameRiot. The site already had readers. People would sit on the front page and refresh for new content, new blogs to be posted. Why, then, would I have a separate website where I could write where the people already were?
Gamers don’t get enough credit. A lot of the things you see happening today, gamers were doing ten years ago. I remember several very well-known gaming bloggers, whose blogs I read, abandon their personal websites to write on GameRiot.
Because it was social. Readers were already there.
How to blog in 2017.
When someone says, “I’m thinking about starting a blog” and they start talking about buying a domain and setting up a WordPress account, I immediately tell them to stop.
You don’t start a blog with a blog.
You only do that if:
- You already have the ability to drive high amounts of traffic.
- You want to spend (or have a budget to spend) money on ads.
- You understand SEO and you have a clear strategy and niche you’re going to target.
Even if you want to sell products or services, having a website and having a blog are two totally different things. A website, sure. Have it, let it store your products for sale or explain the value of your services. But that doesn’t mean you should also be “blogging” there as well.
A blog, in my opinion, is the last step. And why most people fail is they skip these very, VERY important steps.
Step 1: Discover your voice.
I am a writer. I learned digital marketing because I realize my craft of choice is like a tweed jacket. If I wear it the way it was worn 50 years ago, I’m old and out of style. If I wear it with other elements of the modern day, suddenly I’m hipster and cool. To be a writer today, you have to be digitally minded.
I let one thing and one thing only guide my writing: the voice.
Without the voice, you have no story.
Without the voice, you have no tone, no music.
Without the voice, you have nothing. You have words for the sake of words.
When 99% of people start a blog, they start it without a voice. They have no idea who they are, what they stand for, who their audience is, what their music sounds like. This is what voice is, it’s music. It’s a cello or a violin, a piano or a synth. When you read this, these words right here, LA LA LA, do you hear that in your head? That’s my voice. That’s my voice and it’s deliberately crafted to make you feel a certain emotion, to hear a certain tone. That’s the art.
Without a voice, your blog is just like the other 2 million blogs that get posted every day. You are writing content, but you aren’t sharing anything of value. It’s just words for the sake of words.
The reason I encourage people to start a blog LAST and to start writing in a social environment FIRST (Quora, Medium, LinkedIn, even Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, etc.) is because you can’t skip this step. You think you can, but you can’t. You could have the most beautifully designed WordPress site, with content that is straight rubbish. You could have the best branding in the world, but if the writing has no voice, nobody is going to read your stuff.
Going about it this way is not a longer road. This is a longer-lasting road.
The reason why you have to write in social environments first is because you can’t discover your voice without external feedback.
Do you know what it was like as a teenager writing blogs on the Internet? You think having someone comment on your Quora answer, “I didn’t like this very much,” is hard to swallow? Try posting blogs and having people comment, “This is fuxking stupid you dumb tip licker why don’t u go upstairs n grab a dinner knife and kill urself u fuxkcing faggot.”
^ That’s the sort of feedback I got on my writing, every single day, for over a year straight—with equal parts positive feedback from people who enjoyed my writing and encouraged me to keep at it.
This is part of the process. You need people to tell you you’re terrible, or that you entirely missed the mark on a piece, in order to grow and improve.
That’s how you find your voice. You have to practice in front of an audience.
Step 2: Build an audience.
Ok, so what’s harder: starting a blog that nobody knows about, and then working double-time to drive traffic to that site? Or writing in a social environment (like Quora, for example) where people can easily follow you and your content?
The latter. Every time.
Where bloggers fail is they go spending all this time creating their site, even writing a few blog posts, only to realize that now they need to build their social following as well.
Do you see the problem yet?
There are 8 billion influencers you can follow on social media, who all post incredibly engaging content. So if you skip that first part where you learn and refine your unique voice, you now have two major problems:
- You don’t know your voice for your blog, and have to figure out how to drive traffic to your site.
- And since you don’t know your voice yet, you don’t really have a clear idea of how you should approach building your social media following either.
And when I say “know your voice,” people think this means sitting at a coffee shop and proclaiming, “Well I want to be witty—I definitely want to be witty.”
Sure, adjectives help. But honestly, they don’t mean anything.
It’s not what you say your voice is. It’s what actually comes out when you put fingers to keys. Ideas and artful execution are two completely different things.
Which is why when Noah Kagan said, “Write 3–5 blogs ahead of your launch,” I cringe. 3–5? I write 3–5 loaded pieces of content for myself a week. Sometimes per day.
Anyone who thinks, in 2017, that building a successful anything on the Internet is about a handful of content pieces is so, so missing the mark.
Success, and building a real audience takes two things:
- High-quality material.
You need both.
And furthermore, how do you expect to find and refine your voice by writing 3–5 pieces of content?
The truth is: you won’t.
You’re far better off writing somewhere readers already are, and building a reader base there—in the beginning.
Step 3: Now it’s time to launch your blog.
I didn’t launch my own blog until I had a strong following on Quora—and there’s a reason I did it that way.
When you write in social environments, here are the lessons you learn at an exponentially faster rate than if you were to try to learn these from writing in isolation.
- You understand your audience and their pain points: Quora is all questions. Think about that. If you go into any topic, you’ll see tons and tons of questions that people are asking—which means they are struggling and looking for an answer. Quora is the ultimate resource for understanding your audience and what sorts of things they need help with—and where you, Mr. or Mrs. Aspiring Influencer, can provide them value.
- You have practiced high-quality volume: So you want to be a blogger? That’s nice. I wanted to be a professional hockey player all growing up. But in order to actually be something, you have to be able to do it at an extremely high level. If you want to be a blogger, then you need to master your craft of writing really great content on an extremely regular basis. It’s a sport. Invest the time to get good at what you say you want to be, before you go proclaiming to the world that your “new blog is live.”
- You have an audience: This is the most important one. It is so much easier to take the audience you have in a social environment and direct them to your blog (for premium content), than it is to start a blog with no audience and simultaneously try to build both.
Which means we need to reframe the purpose of a blog.
It’s for your best, best, best content—and it’s a long-term play.
If your only goal is for people to read your thoughts, you don’t need a blog. Go make a Quora account or a Medium account and just write. You’ll get plenty more eyeballs on your content that way. (I get 1M+ views on my content here on Quora per month.)
If your goal is to monetize your thoughts, perspectives, insights, well then now you have a purpose for a blog.
Here are the reasons someone would start a blog, from a monetization standpoint:
- You want to build an email list, which you can then sell to (products, services, affiliate promotions, etc.).
- You want to sell ebooks/online courses/downloadable materials.
- You want someone to hire you for your services (although a basic website satisfies this, a blog with premium content, email captures, and automated sales funnels can greatly enhance your sales process here).
- Ads (the worst way to monetize, but an option).
- Affiliate links (also not great, but works well for some).
The second tier here is if you want to build a publication, which is like a blog army.
A publication would be a blog about a specific topic or niche, usually started by one or two people, and then expanded to a team of contributor writers who also author content for the site. At some point, however, that publication will also want to monetize, and it will have to decide from the above list as to how it wants to go about doing that.
Which is why, circling all the way back to the beginning, think about how many lifestyle fashion bloggers, foodies, social media “experts,” whatever the industry, think about how many of them start blogs. They spend all this time writing and re-writing their bio, choosing the right header image, coming up with a clever name for their blog, only to skip all of the most important steps (of actually learning their so-called craft) and furthermore, not even know their primary intention of this blog. Is it just to share their thoughts via writing? Is it to be seen as an “industry leader.” Is it to build a personal brand? Is it to sell products?
The majority of those things can be accomplished by writing in a social environment, and you will have a much, much easier time for doing so.
The people who start successful blogs, the 1 in 10,000 (or maybe even 100,000), they know exactly what they’re going after. It’s usually always a digital marketer, who knows their niche, their audience, their pain points, they’ve done the research, they know how they’re going to monetize, and their entire strategy is SEO focused.
There’s no right or wrong way to go about blogging.
But the vast, vast majority waste their time making the most obvious mistake from the very beginning.
They start a blog.
So for now, I will answer most of the questions on Quora to create a habit of writing good quality answers. That way, I won’t be struggling to come up with content for this blog all the time. I will still be growing this baby and bring the best of Melbourne, and my home to you. If anything, I will be adding more of my voice to this post. If my last thoughts are anything to go by, people always appreciate my writing when I write from the heart. So you are guaranteed to get more of it!
The other thing I love doing is writing to music and these guys really helped me when I was completing this post!
2 thoughts on “Think Tuesdays: Finding Your Voice”
Your piece popped up in my Facebook feed at just the right moment. I’ve been ghost writing for other people’s blogs for a long time (as a paid endeavor – not enough to make a living on and I didn’t want the hassle of maintaining one) and recently was advised stop that you should start your own! Well I was about to embark on the ‘I’m going to write a blog’, making all the mistakes you’ve made clear. Now my journey will avoid all those pitfalls and I can start attaching my name to my voice. Thank you so much for your very timely piece – I’m sure you saved me money, time and unnecessary angst!
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I’m glad I could help. Though the credit must go to Nicolas Cole. He’s the one that inspired the piece and his answer was so comprehensive that if I tried to rehash it, I would be wasting my time. You should follow his work on Quora. It’s pretty damn awesome.
Plus, ghostwriting as a paid endeavour is still pretty cool. And after 4 years, I’m still finding my voice, so you’re not alone. Glad it could be of help. If you do need anything, feel free to reach out!