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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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+ 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.