Sam Holstein

5 Big Misconceptions About Blogging Businesses that Keep Bloggers Broke

5 Big Misconceptions About Blogging Businesses that Keep Bloggers Broke

One of the hardest parts about building a career as a blogger is definitely the amount of bad advice out there about how to be a blogger. People run a blog for six months, make a few thousand, then announce to the world “Hey, y’all, here’s how you run a blogging business!!”

Last time I checked, people need more than a few thousand dollars to go full-time with work, so I’m willing to bet most of these people dispensing advice about how to build a blogging business have not actually done so. When they try to teach others about things they barely know themselves, they spread harmful misconceptions about what it actually takes.

I’ve actually built a five-figure blogging business. I’ve been running it for three and a half years, and have been running it full-time for one and a half years. In that time, I’ve learned how to tell the difference between legit blogging advice and legit bullshit. I’d like to pass these lessons on to you.

Misconception #1: “Appearances Matter”

Unsuccessful bloggers sometimes have an obsession with appearances. They labor over creating the perfect logo for their blog, picking the most beautiful color palette or WordPress template, and selecting the best font for their articles.

Say it loud for those in the back: None of those things matter.

The first few years I was blogging, I spent countless hours fucking around with this sort of thing. Hundreds of hours alone were spent designing and redesigning my WordPress website. To say nothing of time spent designing cute little logos for my newsletters and other branding angles.

How much money did any of it make me? Not one single fucking dollar.

I’ve watched a number of my friends do the same thing in the years since. They schedule time with me to meet at a coffee shop and ask for feedback, and then their feedback is all about their blog. Do you like the template? Do you like the font? What do you think of the design? Is it attractive? Are these good photos to use? Do you like the name I chose?

I tell them what I’m telling you now. It doesn’t matter. Your blog can look like the ass-end of a mid-2000’s website. If you write good headlines and stories, readers won’t care.

In a blogging business, any time spent on design work that does not directly contribute to increasing your conversion rates is a total waste of time. The kind of design work that increases your conversion rates is not the kind of design work that makes your website look “pretty,” either. It’s more about doing good copywriting work for your lead magnet conversion form.

If you’re not making a full-time living off of your blog yet, just throw up a good-enough template, use the default font and logo choices, and don’t spend more than an hour tinkering with this stuff. Then move on with your life.

Misconception #2: “You Can Engineer Viral Articles”

A not-insignificant amount of blogging advice on the internet is about how to copy successful blog posts to produce more successful blog posts. A whole cottage industry of blogging tools exists to collate the quantifiable data about successful blog articles and attempt to boil them down into a series of data-based conclusions.

This may seem like a sensible thing to do at first blush. I certainly thought so. Many of my months as an unsuccessful, unprofitable blogger were spent reading and “learning from” analyses like these. But it never worked. Eventually, I gave up on trying to reproduce the success of others and simply wrote what I wanted to write.

When I did finally get some successful articles under my belt, it was easy to see why. What makes successful blog posts isn’t their word count, “language style,” calls to action, or any other junk. It’s about providing value for the reader — in other words, writing a great article. It doesn’t matter how you do it so long as you do that.

Stop wasting your time trying to figure out the secret formula to the perfect blog post. Spend your time practicing your craft and getting to know your audience. That is the investment that will pay off, not looking for hacks.

Misconception #3: “Your Articles Need to Be Perfect”

There is a lot of blow-hard criticism on the internet about “self-published” work. Self-published, self-edited writers are put on roughly the same moral level as rats and people who demand to see the manager.

But you know what? The numbers say it doesn’t matter if your work is self-edited.¹ It doesn’t even matter if your work has errors. As long as your work doesn’t have so many errors that readers give up on reading your articles, you’re good.

Some of my most popular, most profitable articles have errors. There are more than a few six-figure bloggers on the internet whose work is routinely riddled with errors. But it doesn’t keep them from being profitable. In fact, investing in an editor would probably cut into their profit margins and end up being a waste of money. (That was the case when I hired a freelance editor. I gave up the contract a month later).

Read over your work before you publish it and make sure it doesn’t have any obnoxious or glaring errors, but don’t worry overmuch about making everything perfect. It doesn’t need to be.

Misconception #4: “You Need to Have a Website, Pinterest, Facebook Page, Twitter, etc.”

You do not need to have omnipresence on the internet to build a financially successful blog. All you need is a place to host your articles and a way to make money.

If anything, being everywhere on the internet usually distracts and undermines your business success instead of enhancing it. Achieving “virality” on a social media website usually means very little for the bottom line of your business, as gratifying as it might be to have thousands of likes. Time spent crafting social media content is far better spent crafting actual blog posts, lead magnets, and other products.

For a few years there, I worried about my social media presence. I tried to stay active on Twitter because “it’s important for writers” and maintained an official Facebook page. It never earned me one thin dime.

I decided to reclaim the wasted time. I deleted all my social media accounts and wrote about it. Those articles have together made me thousands of dollars. Now that’s a return on investment.

Misconception #5: “You Don’t Need an Email List and Lead Magnet”

The second-dumbest mistake I made when I started my blogging business was waiting to start my email list.² I’ve never liked newsletters, so running one felt scummy to me. I thought I could just figure it out without a newsletter.

Sometimes you don’t need what people tell you you need. You don’t need an attractive website or a social media presence, for instance. But I learned the hard way you do, in fact, need an email newsletter.

Without an email newsletter, I had no way of driving traffic to new blog posts. No way of conducting market research for books I wanted to sell. No way to contact beta readers. I had to rely on organic reach — and unless you’re a blogger with an audience of 500,000 or more, it’s hard to rely on organic reach for consistent traffic of any kind.

You don’t need an email list or lead magnet to be a blogger if you’re just trying to have a good time. But if you want to earn a full-time income, make blogging your full-time job, or become a digital nomad, you need these marketing accouterments.

If they feel sleazy to you, put your own spin on it. Give your newsletter a unique format. Use it as a place to truly connect with readers. Make your lead magnet something fun instead of something business-ey.

If I Was Starting Over Again Today

If I was starting over today and had to build my entire blogging audience from scratch, here’s what I would do.

  1. Throw up a half-decent website. I would use WordPress and ConvertKit because I’m technically competent, but more usable options like SquareSpace and Substack would be fine too.
  2. Cross-post every blog post to Medium using a canonical link. This is a fantastic way to build SEO. It’s also like growing a tree; you have to plant the SEO seed early.
  3. Set a posting schedule of 3 to 5 posts a week.
  4. Create a lead magnet and start building my newsletter ASAP. I wouldn’t create more than one lead magnet and newsletter list.
  5. Learn how to write excellent headlines. There’s no point in learning how to write better articles until you’ve learned how to write excellent headlines.
  6. Write from the heart. Don’t regurgitate the same tired content everyone else is regurgitating. Write stuff that matters to you. I’m still figuring this one out.

I wouldn’t worry about anything else until I have at least 1000 subscribers to my newsletter. I wouldn’t worry about my website design, writing a book, creating courses, becoming a coach, trying new writing styles, changing up my stock photos, changing my name or URL, or anything.

It’s easy to get distracted by shiny things. But shiny things aren’t going to build your audience. Only hard work will.