In the past four years, I've managed to turn my blog into an actual business. It wasn't what I'd set out to do when I began blogging, but it was a natural extension of my love of writing and teaching, and a byproduct of having a father who is an entrepreneur.
Within six months of starting a blog, I had built a strong audience. Then came my first interview. Within a year I had interest from a major literary agent. Within two years, I was being contacted by television networks from around the world. I did want my blog to succeed, but I never imagined the kind of achievements I experienced so quickly. Since turning my blog into a business, I've been featured nationally on TV and radio, and I've worked with some very high-profile people and companies -- all of whom reached out to me.
Achieving these milestones wasn't easy to do. I'm still working hard and coming up against professional challenges. I will always consider myself a work-in-progress, but I've learned a lot from turning my blog into a business, and I want to share those lessons. Here's what I've learned from my experience:
1. Work with a team. No one is good at everything. We may have expertise in many areas, but we aren't experts at every thing. That's why it's important to find and build a team when you have a big goal. Actors have agents and managers. Writers have agents and editors. Public officials have an entire staff. Companies have dozens of teams. The fact is we need other people's expertise. You may not be able to afford a professional team, but you're likely to meet (and become close to) a variety of very intelligent people over the years. When you do find these people and do receive help from them, make sure you return the favor when they ask -- and be judicious with your requests; you don't want to be known as a pain. Make sure to thank your contributors every single time. Send a sweet card, a gift, or better yet, offer to pay them for their expertise.
2. You need an attorney. My attorney has been an integral part of my team for the past two years since I was approached by a NYC production company to film a docu-series based on my previous work with cults and cult victims. The series was pitched to a major network, and they loved it. During contract negotiations, the network pulled out for valid reasons. What my attorney was able to do for me during negotiations was invaluable, and the entire process taught me so much. Not only did he explain why I needed certain language removed from the contract, he caught so many issues I missed in the existing language of each draft. I consider myself smart and business savvy, but there were implications in the wording that I didn't fully understand. As well, it was my first time dealing with a complex contract negotiation of this nature.
3. Trust your instincts. One of the most important lessons I've learned is the importance of trusting your instincts. Whether it's your instincts about how you feel about a person or a project, listen. That impression you got after meeting someone happened for a reason. The drive to keep pushing forward despite naysayers is also there for a reason. If your gut is telling you something, trust yourself. The outcome will nearly always prove that your instincts were right.
4. Save your best work and best ideas for publication. As much as you think your blog audience will love that piece, save your very best work for publication. Make sure your most polished pieces are placed somewhere they'll be fully copyright protected. Your blog is not the place for working out new ideas.
5. Don't over-share with fellow artists. Some writers borrow or steal. Others are inspired. Either way, you don't want to share drafts or ideas with other artists, unless they're a close creative partner. They may very well make your project or idea a reality before you do.
6. Believe in yourself. A few years ago I was new to publishing. I had no idea what to do to pitch a story or how to work with editors. I had no idea my work would be so coveted. I learned a valuable lesson in all of this: Believe in yourself even if you aren't as experienced as you would like. The truth is, one day you will be experienced if you keep working to improve yourself. Believe that you can "get there" and go after your goal.
7. Learn how to read people. People can be tough to read, and they don't always say what they mean Some people are more like Frank Underwood than Mother Teresa, and you'll find more Underwoods up at the top than you expected. This is where experience working with a variety of people (and your intuition) will come in handy. When you learn to read people and not just hear what they have to say, you gain greater insight into their character. Try to observe people, ask a lot of questions, and talk to people a lot before you trust them. Before collaborating, take the time to do some research. Don't agree to engage in something because you think they'll do you a favor. They likely won't. This is especially true of people who are of a higher professional caliber than you are (we all have to start somewhere) who flatter you. Never trust a flatterer -- especially if their credentials are stronger than yours.
8. Treat yourself as a consultant. When I listened to my attorney and became a consultant, I changed my frame of mind. Then I began to change the way I worked. With so many requests for my expertise, I needed to find a way to create my own work and also feel like my experiences offered value to others. My solution was to treat my knowledge and experiences as a business. I stopped thinking my education and success were "freebies" and started researching how much value they really held. After I shifted my mindset, I opened my own freelancing business. Within days I had my first client. Operating my own business has been challenging, but the rewards exceed the setbacks.
9. Learn from your mistakes. During my four years of blogging, I haven't learned just how to develop an editorial calendar or how to run a successful social media campaign. I've learned how to learn from making mistakes. If there's one thing I've learned during my journey, it's how to keep moving beyond my mistakes. When you're learning at a rapid pace and when your career suddenly starts spiraling into something larger than you expected, you will make mistakes. You won't handle everything quite correctly. You'll overlook important emails. You'll forget a deadline. You may divulge a great idea or give away a story. What's important isn't your mistake; it's what you learned from making that mistake. What's most important is that you keep moving on to the next big goal.
10. Stop worrying about what others think of you. You can't make everyone -- fans, friends, family, critics, college acquaintances -- happy. They're all going to have an opinion of what you do and how you do it, and they may even tell you what they don't like about you. Or worse yet, you won't find out what they think of you until you get snubbed at an event. You will be disliked. People will be jealous of your success and may lash out at you. Eventually you'll lose fans and gain critics. Eventually you will have to say no to people you really like and it will change your relationship with them. Stop worrying about what people think of you. Give yourself freedom to be yourself, to live fully, and to make mistakes. It's the only way you'll grow professionally and creatively.
11. Trust your team. Several months ago, I was offered a job. It looked as if it would be a great opportunity, but when I was handed the contract my heart sank. The language in the contract didn't reflect what had been discussed during the interview and hiring process at all. Not only were there surprises about the type of work and hours that were wanted from me, there were things in the contract that I should have been told face-to-face. I went to my team with my doubts and they reviewed the contract. We discussed my concerns and they confirmed their validity. My lawyer explained why it was a bad contract a friend said she wouldn't sign the contract. It pays to listen to and trust your team.
12. Be optimistic. No one's creative journey is easy. It's never seamless. We all struggle, but very few people talk about their struggles openly. When I've had a lapse in judgement, I've beat myself up. And then I realized that everyone has setbacks. After some time, I remember all the reasons I have to be optimistic, and I get back on track. One of the keys to success is to be optimistic.
13. Be tenacious. My best trait is my tenacity. My perseverance makes me stand out, gets me stories, and keeps driving me forward. I've learned that being tenacious and hard working is more important than almost anything -- even talent. It's certainly more important than any mistake I've made, and any setback I've suffered.
Lisa Kerr coaches bloggers on how to turn their blogs into businesses. She's also a freelance writer and editor-for-hire living in California. You can find out more about Lisa and her past clients on her website. Lisa blogs at lisakerr.net.
Photo credit: Brian Walter on Flickr