Measuring a Blog's Success: Visitors and Comments Don't Cut It [en]

[fr] Un blog, c'est un investissement à long terme. Six mois, un an au moins sans se poser de questions, avant d'essayer de voir si "ça marche" ou pas. Et ne mesurez pas son succès aux visiteurs et aux commentaires. Plutôt, trouvez un moyen plus qualitatif de mesurer les bénéfices que vous en retirez, en vous basant sur la raison pour laquelle vous tenez ce blog.

Interestingly, a large part of my work right now seems to revolved around blogging. I’m happy about that. I’ve been blogging for over 10 years now, and went I became self-employed mid-2006 the first “title” I used was “blogging consultant”. Because back then, it was about blogs (and maybe wikis, and maybe social software, but not “social media”).

Anyway, I digress.

What I want to point out is that if you start a blog, or your company starts a blog, it’s important to have realistic expectations about the kind of benefits you’ll reap, and when, and how to measure them.

Even in 2011, too many people imagine that if you’re doing a good job with your blog, it will translate into thousands of visits per day and dozens of comments within a few weeks.

No way.

Those blogs with thousands of visits per day and dozens of comments are edge-cases, and have probably been at it for longer than you have.

Blogs and comments are actually not a good way of measuring the success of a blog. Honestly, if your blog has a few hundred readers a day and you get a comment now and again, you’re doing fine.

To measure the success of your blog, you need to think back to the reason you’re doing it. What do you want to get out of it? Chances are that “having as many people as possible visit it” is not the reason you’re doing it.

Maybe you want to change the perception people have of you. Maybe you want to showcase certain things you’re doing. Maybe you want to attract a certain type of person — reader, writer, or contributor. Maybe it’s the “marketing budget” for your business. Maybe you want to share a passion. Maybe you want an outlet to express yourself.

There are many reasons to want a blog. And most of them are perfectly valid (one that’s not, most of the time: make money with it).

But don’t go around measuring readers and comments to judge your success just because they’re convenient numbers.

Maybe what you need to do is create a scrapbook of all the things people spontaneously say about your blog, online or off. Maybe you need to make a list of events or situations where your blog was an ice-breaker or opened doors for you.

That seems to make way more sense than counting visits and comments. I mean, if those are so important to make somebody happy, they can be gamed.

Blogging takes time. It takes time because it takes time to think, write, link, tag, categorize, illustrate, title, proof, and publish. It takes time to be creative, and if your ambition for your blog is to be more than a collection of breaking news, hot topics and catchy headlines, blogging is a creative job.

But blogging also takes time because it’s a long-term strategy. When blogging started being hot, there were these numbers flying around, telling us that the average blog on the web was 3 months old and had 3 articles (or something like that). People started blogging, and abandoned their blogs very quickly.

When starting a blog, I wouldn’t worry about if it’s working or not before at least six months or a year. People are in such a hurry nowadays. All this hype about real-time, the internet being a place of unprecedented speed, the acceleration of innovation, not to say the “overnight successes” we keep hearing about but which languished in obscurity for ages before coming to the light. And even if there are real “overnight sensations”, they are, as I said above, edge cases.

And your blog will not be an edge case.

Your blog can work fine and do its job, but it will not be an edge case.

Unless your blog is your product — and in this case you’re clearly in the media business, and not using your blog as a communication tool — it is not to be looked at as a service or product people are going to use everyday and flock to. Instead, it’s a collection of valuable, long-lasting, well-indexed information. It’s the expression of something. It colours who you are.

And that takes time — not just the time of labour, but the days and months flying by in the calendar, so that value can accumulate, and become valuable.

Let me sum up this long rambling post in a few points:

  • blogging is a long-term strategy: it will take many months or even years for you to see what benefits it’s actually bringing you
  • don’t obsess on visitors and comments; instead, focus on what is said about your blog, and the opportunities it brings, in terms of contacts, open doors, favorable dispositions (qualitative measurement rather than quantitative)

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More Thoughts on Weekly Planning [en]

[fr] Planifier mon travail sur la semaine me rassure sur le fait que je vais faire le travail "obligatoire" qui est sur ma liste durant la semaine, et que je peux donc me permettre de prendre du temps en cours de route pour des tâches qui me paraissent moins cruciales (mais qui, au fond, sont tout aussi importantes à mon activité professionnelle que le travail payé).

So, enter my second week with a weekly planning, after the first. I spent a good part of my Monday morning getting organized.

I’ve understood how having a weekly planning is helping me make progress in the neglected departments of my “work”: bizdev, research, more writing, etc.

When I work as I normally do, day-by-day, I am only digging into the pile of “things I must do for others”, or “urgent things”. I do not feel I can afford to devote time to less urgent tasks, because there is always this feeling that I should be doing more important things.

With a weekly planning, laying out my week means that I have an overview which reassures me that the “urgent/important” stuff can and will get done, and that it is in fact OK for me to stop and read an interesting publication for an hour or two even though I still need to upgrade some WordPress installations for a client or write a blog post for another. That’s why it works.

The challenge, for the moment, is that I still overestimate what I can do in a day. Or I underestimate the amount of time I need to set aside for the unexpected. And I still have trouble prioritizing, which means that I spent yesterday morning agonizing in front of the rather long list of client work which absolutely had to be done this week.

Yesterday worked out well, but today is being a disaster. Too many rocks, and one task in particular that I completely underestimated: it took me the better part of the morning (granted, there were interruptions and emergencies) to sort through my 350 photographs of Troyes — which I needed to do as I’ll be using some in an article I’ll be writing for a client.

I’m starting to see how longer-term planning (it’s not for straight away, mind you) will come in to help me be better at determining how many projects or how much client work I can take on for a given time period without getting “swamped” in the end.

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Weekly Planning, First Attempt [en]

[fr] Cette semaine, pour la première fois, j'ai réparti mes tâches sur la semaine au lieu de travailler au jour le jour comme j'en ai l'habitude.

As I mentioned in a recent post, I felt the next step to take in my “work life improvement” series was to plan beyond the day, and start looking at my weeks so that I can start building in time for long-term projects. I’ve done this for the first time this week, and overall, the result is pretty positive. Here’s roughly how I did it and what I learned.

1. Define office days and meeting days

This has to be done in advance, obviously, or the calendar fills up. I usually have either two or three of each in a week (minimum one). Every now and again exceptions slip in and an office day turns into a half-baked errand/meeting day, but I try not to. I think I can still improve the way I plan and manage these days (for example: errands vs. meetings, laundry days, exceptions for “immediate” paid work…).

2. Define “areas” that next actions fall in

I’ve refined the list I brainstormed in my “balance in the office” post and come up with these four areas:

  1. things other people expect me to do (paid work, projects involving others, getting back to prospects…)
  2. longer term business development (taking care of my sites, creating documentation, direct marketing…)
  3. stuff I want to do more of (blogging, research, fooling around with cool toys, write ebooks and fiction…)
  4. admin and daily business (personal and professional, checking e-mail, emptying physical inbox, accounting…)

These are my areas — yours might be different. Suw and I chatted about this on Skype on Monday and hers are slightly different from mine. Just find something that makes sense to you.

Looking at my areas, it’s easy for me to see that “bizdev” and “stuff I want to do” are the two areas which will easily be left aside if I just work day-by-day doing things as they become urgent (in bad cases, call this the “Fireman Syndrome”). If you don’t do stuff people expect you to do, sooner or later they nag you or you get in trouble. Same with admin: forget your taxes or invoicing long enough, and you’ll get in trouble.

As there were almost no tasks in these two areas, I realised that to fill them up, I probably need to do a little longer-term planning. For example, what are the things I want to do in the “bizdev” department over the next 6 months? Over the next month? That will help me generate next actions. Otherwise… I’m just flying blind.

3. Sort upcoming next actions in those defined areas

The way I’ve worked these last months I would have one “master” next action list (in EvernoteI love Evernote) and I would regularly “pull out” the 3-10 next things I was going to deal with, under headings like “today”, and then “next”, or sometimes a specific day.

What I did this week is that I first sorted this “master list” into the four areas I defined. I just made four big headings in my list, and that was that.

4. Plan the week!

This is the fun bit, actually. I just made another 5 “day” headings at the top of my list (Monday to Friday) and then started moving items to given days, making sure the urgent stuff was in there, as well as a certain amount of less urgent stuff (specifically from my two “left aside” areas, bizdev and stuff I want to do more of). Two things to pay attention to:

  1. don’t plan to do stuff on errand/manager days, even if you see you will have some office time (a weekly plan is for the “minimum to accomplish” — if you have too much time you can always grab things to do from your master list or even… take time off!)
  2. remember that a fair amount of what you do in your week is going to appear during the week, so leave plenty of buffer time for the unexpected and the unplanned.

5. As the week rolls on…

One of the reasons I like having my tasks in an Evernote note is that they have these neat little “todo” checkboxes (keyboard shortcut: alt-shift-T) that I can check as I go along. Sometimes I’ll do something that wasn’t planned for precisely this day, or that is still on the master list. Well, I check it, and it feels nice. It’s also nice to see a day with a list of completely checked tasks by the time I leave the office.

My Tuesday was a meeting day, but I made the mistake of planning quite a lot of stuff to do on that day because it looked as if I was going to have enough time in the office. Big mistake. So halfway through my Tuesday, I grabbed nearly all the items I had placed under the Tuesday heading and dumped them under Wednesday (a full office day).

On Wednesday, I didn’t manage to do everything I had planned (unsurprisingly, as I shifted the “Tuesday problem” to Wednesday). So I checked the actions I did accomplish and left the others unchecked. This meant that Thursday, in addition to the rather modest list of things I had planned to do (buffer time, remember? specially at the end of the week) I was able to go back and check tasks that were leftover from Wednesday. But I didn’t move them over to Thursday — somehow it felt better to be able to start Thursday with a “clean slate” and catch up when I felt like it.

So, Monday morning, I’ll be wiping the slate clean and planning next week — looking forward to it!

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Finding a Balance in Office Work: Long-Term Projects [en]

[fr] Quelques réflexions sur comment je m'organise pour mon travail "de bureau", et la difficulté que j'ai à avancer sur les projets "long terme, pas urgents".

Here is an umpteenth post about my journey figuring out how to “be the boss of me” — getting work done and still having a life as a freelancer.

Honestly, I have not been doing too badly this year. It’s even been pretty good. 🙂

The other day, when I was catching up with Suw, I told her that I was now pretty competent at managing my days, but not that good at looking beyond that. What I mean is that I have a system to keep track of the next things I need to do, and I’m much better than I used to be at evaluating what can get done in a given day. I still tend to be a bit ambitious, but overall my “day plans” are pretty realistic.

Proof of that, in my opinion:

  • I now very rarely have a day where I’m “running” or “scrambling”
  • I rarely have to work during the week-end or the evening to do stuff that “absolutely needs to get done and I haven’t managed to squeeze it in yet”.

So, the next step is the week. I’m still using maker days and manager days (it’s not perfect, sometimes I give in and sacrifice a maker day, but overall I’m getting increasingly better at sticking to my plan). What I’d like to think about here (you read me right, I’m writing this post to think something over) is what I do (or try to do) during my office “maker” days.

Here’s what I’ve identified so far:

  1. daily business: checking e-mails, taking phone calls, hanging out on Twitter/IM, responding to prospective clients, journalists, people who want to pick my brains, dealing with little emergencies, reading stuff online
  2. “regular” paid work: these are gigs that are long-term and require a little work every day or every week at least, and therefore fall in the “daily business” category too, but are for a client who is paying
  3. my projects: taking care of eclau, Bloggy Fridays
  4. my “promotional” stuff: blogging, keeping my websites up-to-date (technically and content-wise — ahem), writing, planning ebooks but not writing them, preparing general documentation to promote what I do to prospective clients, research
  5. accounting and administrivia: personal and professional, including writing to the gérance to ask them to change the windows so we can save on heating
  6. support network: I have a bunch of friends I’m in regular contact with to talk things over (their things, my things)

OK, the list is a bit messy, but it’s a start. I know that one thing that can usually “kill” an office day is when I’m asked to do a one-off, time-limited gig by a client: for example, a 2-4 hour WordPress training/coaching session. The reason for that is that this kind of gig pays immediately: shortest path to money. So usually, when I make exceptions and kill a maker day, it’s because there is immediate money at stake (as long as it doesn’t compromise the work I need to do for my “regular” paying clients, of course).

Items 1, 2, 3 and 6 of the list above are not really a source of trouble right now. I mean, that’s what I spend my time doing.

Items 4 and 5, on the other hand, are problematic: I keep falling behind. In the case of accounting and administrivia, as they are something I get in trouble about if I don’t do them for long enough, every now and again I go “gosh, am behind, gotta spend a day on it” and I get it done. But I have trouble with regularity (less and less though, to be fair with myself).

The big painful one is what I call “my promotional stuff”. It’s long-term. If I don’t do it, there are no direct consequences. It does not involve other people. Summary:

  • it’s for me, so it tends to end up less high priority than all the rest that is “for others”;
  • no time constraints, so it is less high priority than emergencies and deadlines;
  • some of it is actually difficult for me (preparing promotional copy for example).

So, here are some of the items that are on this long-suffering list of things I want to do but never get around to doing because there is always more urgent stuff to take care of:

  • upgrade WordPress and plugins on a bunch of my sites
  • do something about the horribly out-of-date content on my professional site (organize another WPD?)
  • get a proper lifestream up and running (as Nathalie aptly put it earlier this morning, “FriendFeed is nice and all, but I never go there”)
  • start writing the blasted ebook 😉
  • write more fiction
  • write up shiny material explaining what I do (including “terms and conditions”) that I can send or give out to my clients and prospects (including sending stuff to schools saying “I give talks” and “looking for somebody to teach a few hours on social media over the next academic year?”)
  • catch up with my photo uploading on Flickr (in a way, yes, this also ends up being a “promotional” activity)
  • blog more (you’re getting tired of hearing it, but look, it’s working).

I’ve tried a few times to state (to myself, that is) “Friday afternoon is for administrivia and accounting” but weeks are so short that my resolve usually falls down the drain. I’m thinking that I should firewall time to work on these “longer-term” projects each week — but again, I look at my calendar and think “ugh”. A day a week? Sounds like a minimum when I look at the list right above, but quite impossible when I think of what my usual weeks are like. On the other hand, I do have (what feels to me like) quite a relaxed workstyle, so maybe if I did firewall a day off I’d discover I’m perfectly capable of dealing with the rest of my work on the other four days.

So, the questions for me remain:

  • how many office days vs. meeting days in a week? (right now I try to have three office days, but don’t always manage)
  • what’s the best way to build in time for long-term projects which tend to stagnate at the bottom of the priority list? (firewall a day or half a day off each week, or every two weeks, or something else…)

Dear readers: your insight is much appreciated. How do you do this? Do you do it? What have you tried? How did you fail? How did you succeed?

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