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Running a Design Blog Like a Business - Colorburned
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Running a Design Blog Like a Business

Many design blogs start off as a hobby. Designers like to share what they have learned and seek out criticism from others. Blogs are a natural way of doing this. As blogs mature however many of us have found that they have had to transition from hobbyist to businessman. In the last year or so Colorburned has gone through a number of transitions and I have learned a lot about blogging; what works and what doesn’t. In this article I’ve decided to share a little about what I’ve learned about running a design blog like a business. It’s my hope that you guys will learn a little from my experience and hopefully not duplicate some of my mistakes.

Producing Content

A blog without good content is like a business with a terrible product to sell. If you want your blog to be a successful business you need a great product. Producing a quality product however isn’t easy. Take a look around; there are hundreds of design blogs out there. Competition for the attention of your potential readers is fierce so you will want a product that stands out.

The best way to stand out is to carve out a niche. Don’t try to replicate another blogs success by producing list after list of other design blog’s content. Find a niche in the design industry and exploit it. This is the best way to really make your site stand out from the rest.

dieline

The Die Line is a fantastic example of a design blog that has carved out a niche in the industry. The Die Line might not be the most popular website in terms of traffic but it is certainly one of the best in terms of content.

Posting Content

For your blog to be successful you must also post content frequently. You can’t sell a product unless your product is on the shelf for your customers to buy. This means that if you want to sell your blog’s content that you have to put it out there for public consumption. The best design blogs post at least 5 days a week and sometimes even multiple time a day. The science of this is pretty straightforward; the more you post, the more likely your articles are to be seen in RSS, Dugg, Stumbled, or Tweeted. So if you really want your site to take off, you had better start writing!

abduzeedo

Abduzeedo is an example of a design blog that posts several times per day and frequent posts are one of the reasons for Abduzeedo’s success.

Recruiting Staff

If you’re going to start posting multiple items on your site per day or per week you may have trouble doing this on your own. This means that in order to keep up that you will definitely need to recruit talented writers to help you out.

There are several ways to recruit writers but I’ve found that the best way to do it is to identify the most talented ones and to go after them. There is no lack of talent here in the design community and you will find that most designers and writers will be happy to contribute to your blog assuming they have the time.

psdtuts

PSDTUTS+ is an excellent example of a design blog that actively recruits writers.

Marketing and Promotion

There are 2 ways that you can increase traffic to your design blog; you can advertise or you can produce traffic organically.

Advertising

Most of us probably aren’t in a position to advertise very much but there are several design blogs out there that have been very successful using advertising to promote their sites. Web Designer Depot is one of the best examples. In fact, I discovered their site through an ad that I saw on another website. If you decide to advertise, try placing your ads strategically. Since advertising is risky and expensive you might want to try placing your ads on smaller, less expensive sites at first and then build up to the larger, more expensive ones.

webdesignerdepot

Giveaways

Since advertising is expensive and most design blogs can’t afford it in the beginning. That means that you will have to find creative ways to promote your site. Giveaways are fantastic ways to attract attention to your site. In the early days of Colorburned, several other design blogs including Bittbox, Abduzeedo, and You the Designer hosted giveaways for us. These giveaways were very helpful in getting us off the ground. More recently, Media Militia has been successful promoting their site on other design blogs by providing big ticket items such as external hard drives to be given away.

mediamilitia

The best thing about giveaways however is that you don’t need some one to host them for you. We’ve hosted dozens of giveaways on this site and we’ve found that they are amazing tools for gaining traffic and loyalty amongst the readership.

Social Networking

There are literally dozens of social networking sites out there to help you promote your design blog. My favorites are Twitter and Facebook. In fact, if you want to promote your site in the social networking world, you really need to start there. Don’t be shy, remember you’re running your site like a business so don’t be afraid to tout your articles and achievements. Always speak positively about your website and don’t be afraid to ask your readership for help promoting an article.

Websites like Design Bump, Stumble Upon, and sometimes Digg are great ways to promote your site but also keep in mind that there are several sites (including this one) that offer some form of user created news. Feel free to submit your site to as many of those sites as possible.

design-bump

Producing Revenue

Producing revenue is the most important aspect of running a design blog like a business. If you’re not producing any revenue than your design blog is just a hobby. There are several ways to produce revenue on a design blog but the 2 most basic ways are through advertising and sales. Most of the popular design blogs out there earn revenue through one or both of those options. Line25 has a great article describing how many of the top design blogs earn revenue.

Banner Ads

One of the best tools I’ve found out there for offering advertising on my site is Buy Sell Ads. Buy Sell Ads is an advertising network that allows advertisers to strategically place banner ads on whichever site they choose. I highly recommend Buy Sell Ads because it will make you money and save you time which is great for a blogger who is constantly short on both.

buysellads

Giveaways

Every now and then you may receive a request from a company who wants to give away their product on your website. Most design blogs are eager to provide content and products to their readers and will frequently do this without accepting payment. This is a big mistake! While it is nice to have a product to give away on your site, giveaways should be considered advertising and posting giveaways without accepting compensation is bad for business.

Reviews

I use the term review fairly broadly. When I refer to a review, I’m not typically talking about reviewing a product like a mobile phone or graphics tablet. I’m usually referring to a post that simply mentions a website or product. When your blog reaches maturity, you will frequently receive requests from companies who will ask you to mention their products in an article. We consider this sort of thing advertising and charge accordingly.

Sales

There are a lot of design blogs out there who have something to sell. Design blogs such as the GoMediaZine have the Arsenal to promote and others have some sort of premium membership or WordPress themes to promote. Selling something is a great way to increase revenue without having to increase the burden on your advertisers. The toughest part about sales is figuring out exactly what to sell. Check out Spryre Studios for a great article and earning passive income.

arsenal

Conclusion

Running a successful design blog is not easy so don’t be frustrated if your early attempts result in failure. Learn from your mistakes and try to turn them into positive experiences. We made several mistakes in the early days of this site; in fact, we’re probably still making some. Just makes sure that you never lose site of your goals and that you are continually reviewing your progress to make sure that you are still on track.

Grant Friedman

Grant Friedman is a graphic design, blogger, and author. In addition to being the founder of this website, Grant is also the editor of Psdtuts, one of the world's most popular tutorial websites.

  • http://aext.net Lam Nguyen – AEXT.NET Mag

    I agree with some ad services for publishers like BSA. People gotta realize that some ad networks like Google Adsense make readers feel uncomfortable by their ugly ads.

    Great article!
    .-= Lam Nguyen – AEXT.NET Mag´s last blog ..20 Fonts Ideal For The iPhone And Other Mobile Screens =-.

  • http://diesellaws.com Diesel Laws

    Great post Grant. Definitely an important and informative article. There are a lot of people that start blogs but are not prepared to put the time in to create the content for the revunue or returns (or even opportunities) they desire. Hopefully this post will give them an idea of the depth and importance of consistant posting!
    .-= Diesel Laws´s last blog ..Unplugged: A Dark and Sleek Child Theme for Buddypress =-.

  • http://designlovr.com DesignLovr

    Nice article that definitely contains some valuable tips, but I have to disagree with one of your points:
    Posting as many posts/content as possible isn’t a sign of professionalism and doesn’t make your blog any better or successful.
    I’d rather see less, but better (higher quality, in-depth) posts throughout the whole design blogosphere than many, average posts. If you can consistently provide amazing posts that it is ok to publish as much as you propose, but otherwise you’ll rather lose than gain readers.

    I even think that abduzeedo lost some of their spark due to too much (average) content. Look at blogs like Design Informer or Line 25, which publish only once or twice a week and still are great and successful blogs.
    .-= DesignLovr´s last blog ..Weekly DesignLove #4 =-.

  • http://marcinretecki.com/ Marcin Retecki

    Good read, thanks a lot!

    Thou I have to agree with DesignLovr, too many posts often floods the readers.
    .-= Marcin Retecki´s last blog ..Week 5 – All People Lie =-.

  • http://artatm.com Rocky

    Providing Giveaways is definitely a superb idea for promoting a blog. Even I have been trying to do the same, though not successful yet!!!!

  • http://www.vunkyblog.net Vunky

    Great Article,

    I must agree with DesignLovr. Too much content is not fun for subscribed readers. I don’t even bother to check out RSS streams anymore. I use the Firefox morning coffee plugin to checkout different blogs daily.
    .-= Vunky´s last blog ..The ABC’s of a good design proposal =-.

  • http://graphicdesignblender.com Preston

    What an excellent post. I think there are a lot of designers out there that hope that their blog can be successful monetarily, but are unsure how to make that happen.

    Sadly, they put content out there and simply hope people will read it and it’s just not the case. I would simply add that in order to have success at this, you have to be extremely patient and dedicated.

    Thanks for the great article.
    .-= Preston´s last blog ..What to do when a client wants you to copy other designs =-.

  • http://blog.digitalmaggot.com Arron Dvies

    Great post! Great timing! Was just looking into this since yesterday. Cheers!

  • http://www.webm.ag McBonio

    Great read, some good ideas in there!
    .-= McBonio´s last blog ..110+ Free And Stylish Social Media Icons =-.

  • http://www.socialitedesigns.blogspot.com Socialite Designs

    Awesome article and very informative / helpful. Thank you very much!
    .-= Socialite Designs´s last blog ..Zazzle Fashion Business Cards =-.

  • http://www.amberweinberg.com Amber Weinberg

    Great ideas. I just started selling ads through BuySellAds on my own blog, although I don’t want to crowd the site with too many advertisements. Getting posts viral though, is definitely an art in itself :)
    .-= Amber Weinberg´s last blog ..Creating Custom WordPress Themes: Part 1 – Identify Your Theme =-.

  • http://resourcehive.com JC

    Great article. I recently started my own design blog @ http://resourcehive.com. It is focused on finding high quality free resources around the web and making them easier to find for designers. There are some great tips here that can help me grow the blog. Thanks!

  • http://www.allverdig.no Allworthy

    Great article!
    Many valuable tips.
    I love your blog design – as a web designer I feel enforced to point that out ;)
    I believe your sidebar is the best I’ve ever seen! The problem I often find is that the content of the sidebar distracts my concentration from the main content. But it in your case, the sidebar is packed, but in a beautiful and harmonic way which makes it delightful to examine.

  • http://lucascobb.com Lucas Cobb

    Hosting your giveaways on some of the other established design blogs is a great tip. I’ve been doing giveaways on http://lucascobb.com with some success, but never thought about offering them on other larger blogs. Great tip and great post.

    Lucas
    .-= Lucas Cobb´s last blog ..Website Prelaunch Checklist Perfected =-.

  • http://www.infictus.com Paul

    Damn good article! This is very useful for everyone trying to start up a blog and planning on business. Thanks Grant!

  • http://www.designjuices.co.uk jared thompson

    amazing article, bumped and promoted.
    .-= jared thompson´s last blog ..Vancouver Winter Olympics 2010: Ultimate Collection of Links From The Design Community =-.

  • http://www.dezigndiva.com Mia

    This has been the most comprehensive informative article written on the matter of Blogging, Content , Maintenance of a Blog and the Strategy behind Blogging. Thank you Grant, it was a pleasure reading your article. I totally agree with the points you have made throughout – however : I will say that as far as posting frequently or posting several articles daily as you mention , I don’t believe that simply because an individual(s) posts several times per day or daily , makes a Blog popular nor of any particular substance . Sometimes , less [ in terms of posting frequency ] , can mean more : ex., someone can be posting images – with no literary content which bears any substance or quality . Does this imply that a Blogs popularity depends on frequent/daily posts even if it lacks substance ?
    Somehow , I dont believe so . I prefer to encounter a blog which maintains frequent material yes, however : I prefer quality content overall . Even if that content is on a weekly basis it is much more preferable – rather than Blogs featuring a paragraph worth of text ( barely ) and then 60 images ensuing . I also , dont believe that a site ( as far as a personal blog goes ) requires Ads to run , nor to be popular . If a personal blog requires 20+ Ads to maintain itself – then it isnt really a blog , but rather an Ad Campaign .
    But that’s just my take on it :)

    Awesome article , thank you again :)

    Mia?
    .-= Mia´s last blog ..The New Masters of Illustration =-.

  • http://www.guerrillafreelancing.com Mike Smith

    This is a great post and it couldn’t have come at a better time. I’ve got a blog idea in the works and this will give me a good starting point when I start putting all of the plans into action.

    Thanks for linking to the article I wrote on Spyre Studios too. Glad to know it’s considered a useful resource :)
    .-= Mike Smith´s last blog ..The ups and downs of launching your first startup =-.

  • http://theycallmemarty.com Marty

    Thanks for this great write up. I think some of us forget that creating content is only part of the process. To quote Amber’s words “Getting posts viral though, is definitely an art in itself :).”

    Once again, thanks for the post.

  • http://graphictuts.wordpress.com/ Carol

    Very informative article. One slight criticism – something that I hate to see, but see too often in any publication – why are so many articles published with spelling mistakes – is it so difficult to get it proof-read? I’d happily do it!!
    .-= Carol´s last blog ..Photoshop Tutorial – Grunge and Swirls Text =-.

  • http://www.yummygum.nl Vince

    Useful for webdesigners trying to start up a blog, thanks for sharing.
    .-= Vince´s last blog ..6 SEO tips ter bevordering van vindbaarheid =-.

  • http://www.teamworkscom.com Paul Pruneau

    Great post.
    I’m writing a post for my blog at the moment and your insights are helpful in framing my thinking.
    Thanks for the great content.
    Keep up the good work.

  • http://victoriaanndesign.net Vicki – VictoriaAnn Design

    Bookmarked and noted! My blog is new and I’m not getting that many visitors yet so these tips are much appreciated.
    .-= Vicki – VictoriaAnn Design´s last blog ..10 Premium Artsy WordPress Themes =-.

  • http://digitalartempire.com/ Benjamin Rama

    excellent read Im glad to see thes points put into words – I took down all teh ads on my site just untill i have more visits – its v encouraging when you get comments and connect with the audience – thanks
    .-= Benjamin Rama´s last blog ..How to Create a Colourful Retro-Futuristic Poster =-.

  • http://bract.us bractus

    Social Networking aspect of today’s business is very important and we are getting lots of interest and attention from our clients.
    .-= bractus´s last blog ..welcome =-.

  • http://www.thomascraigconsulting.com Thomas Craig Consulting

    Excellent article, I think the content needs to be reviewed by professional copywriters as well, as their are so many intelligent developers that can’t write or spell for the matter, as previously mentioned.

  • http://www.voyazer.com chandan

    Excellent article…very helpful

  • http://www.addtodesign.com Mathew Carpenter

    Great read, Grant. Should help a lot when I launch @addtodesign

  • http://www.empfehlenswert-wien.at wien

    great post, thanks for sharing

  • http://www.thegraphicmac.com Jim

    As you mentioned, the key is content. I’ve seen plenty of sites that don’t post every day, some even as little as once per week. But for the most part, a daily post will be necessary until you get so popular you can get away with less.
    .-= Jim´s last blog ..Free font: Jane Austen =-.

  • http://what-what.net shoaib hussain

    this is just so nice ,m pretty new to this arena,and going through this post,m pretty sure that I have a lottsa work ahead of me.thnx a lot.
    .-= shoaib hussain´s last blog ..Maximize Battery Life Of Windows 7 By Turning Off Windows Aero And Glass =-.

  • http://hbcreativedesign.com Hian Battiston

    Great article, just the best sites!
    .-= Hian Battiston´s last blog ..Atualização Portfolio! =-.

  • http://www.ytdesign.de Agentur Siegen

    Very useful article.Great job!