How Do You Know if You’re Succeeding?

This guest post is by Josh Klein of Digital Strategy with Josh Klein.

You had an idea for a blog. You developed a smart blog strategy. You wrote a compelling about me page. You learned how bloggers make money, and you even followed some examples of how Darren makes money with his blogs. Then you picked up a “how to” guide, like the excellent free ebook from Michael Martine, “How to Start a Business Blog.”

And then you blog, and you promote, and you make some cash on the side. You’re up and running! But how do you know you’re succeeding? How do you know you’re heading in the right direction, and simple patience and dedication will turn your hobby into a profession? When do you know if you’re a problogger?

Amateurs can make choices based on their raw enjoyment, their traffic numbers, their comments, and their links, but professionals need to measure their return on investment (ROI). Probloggers need to pay their rent. But you’re not cashing big checks yet, and you still need a way to see if you’re on the right track.

I want to tell you about four things you can do, right now, to understand your business goals for blogging and test whether or not you’re achieving them. Because the truth is your follower count and your page views won’t pay your rent.

1. Measure your influence

Whether you’re selling your own product, promoting affiliates, offering a service, or advertising, your ability to make money is dependent on your ability to successful convey to your audience the value you offer them in such a way that they take action. Ideally, you’d measure your actual profits as a way to see if you’re succeeding, but you may have just started to get traction. There are other ways to test your influence.

Followers—be they RSS subscribers, Twitter followers, Facebook friends, or something else—are not a great way to measure your influence, at least not at face value. The reason for this is that the volume—reach, in marketing-speak—is less relevant than the quality of these relationships. You could message a million people, but if none of them were the right people, you’d be done for.

PostRank is a great service to measure influence in an effective way. Not only will it track the views your blogging gets, it will follow “social events” as they happen across the web, as people discuss and share your posts. This is the kind of activity that really demonstrates your growing influence, and as a practical matter, you can use it to follow up directly with the people that have “pre-qualified” themselves as interested in what you have to say by sharing your posts.

Instead of tracking how many people follow your blog, you can track—and take action based on—the people actually doing something with your blog that brings them closer to becoming customers. If your posts are spreading beyond the initial push you give them, you’re starting to make things happen.

2. Solicit and test feedback

When you ask your audience something, do they answer? It’s easy to forget, since blogging is a broadcast medium (you write, others read), that comments and emails are from real people who took a real chunk out of their day to not only pay attention to you, but to give you something in return. Compared to your average fly-by reader, make sure you cherish these people, and try to take to put their interest to good use.

When your audience gets in touch with you, don’t simply thank them and send them on their way. Instead, try to solicit their opinions on the direction you should be taking things, test their feedback on the blog, and build a lasting relationship with them.

There is a bigger difference between zero true fans and one true fan than there is between one true fan and 1000 customers. Again, it’s important to emphasize “true fan” rather than “follower” here, because these are people that go out of their way to engage with you.

If you’re gaining and interacting with true fans, you’re starting to make things happen.

3. Understand the sales funnel

A sale is good news, no matter how you look at it. But some sales are better than others. How so?

If you make some money, but don’t know exactly how it happened, you’re not likely to repeat the process. That old adage applies here: “Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for life.”

A problogger has a system—a repeatable methodology of reaching sales—that makes him or her a pro. There are many different systems, and you’ll ultimately have to try a few and find what works for you, but the point that you need one can’t be overemphasized. Even a single sale is a monumental achievement if it goes according to a preconceived plan.

You don’t need to write down a lengthy business plan, just to understand the funnel. For instance, “I’m going to sell a course. I’ll promote this course through a sales page, which is driven to repeatedly throughout a free ebook, which I will distribute by guest posting on blogs in my niche and offering as a download.” This certainly could benefit from more detail, but the outline is there. Then you can measure each step of the process; if 10,000 people read your guest posts, about 5,000 download your ebook, but only ten click through to the sales page … well, maybe you need to change the way your ebook promotes your sales page.

Once you have a system, and it succeeds once, you have all the proof you need that it is possible. Your next step is to make it better. Remember that the first sale—at least, the first measurable sale—is the hardest to make. After that, it’s just incremental improvement.

4. Stay true to your one goal

You were smart enough to think strategically about blogging when you first laid out your plans for world domination, but how often do you get mired down in the details, losing sight of your original goals? I’ll be the first to admit that opening Google Analytics to see whether yesterday’s post got as many views as the one from the day before is an addiction. But probloggers know that information is only useful insofar as you can actually take action based on it.

Here’s a novel suggestion: try to boil down your goals to one sentence, maybe a paragraph if necessary. Blow it up into big letters and print it out on a piece of paper, then tape it somewhere that is within your line of sight as you work.

As you write and promote your blog, grow your influence, interact with fans and partners, and watch your sales, always look back to this goal and ask yourself, “is what I’m doing right now getting me there?” You goals can change—they almost certainly will—but you can’t get get “there” if you don’t know where “there” is.

If you do this, all that time you spend replying on Twitter or reading other blogs will start to take on a new dimension. You’ll start to question the value. These activities may very well turn out to be worth pursuing, but at least you’ll have made it an active choice based on our strategic goals.

Over time, what you’ll find is that you naturally gravitate towards the things that matter, and as importantly, you’ll understand why those things matter. This is how you know you’re succeeding, even before the paycheck arrives in the mail—you know you’re working towards a goal you care about.

How do you measure your success? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments.

Josh Klein is a marketing consultant with experience working with major brands on Madison Avenue and small businesses around the country. He writes about marketing and business in general at his blog, Digital Strategy with Josh Klein.

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