Imagine if you tried to learn how to crawl, walk, run, ski, drive, cycle, and surf all at the same time. Or if when you started learning to read as a small child, the first book you were given was a Shakespeare play and you were told to write a dissertation and give a talk on your work at a conference by the end of the month.
It would be impossible right? You’d end up frustrated, confused, and overwhelmed.
But this is what a lot of bloggers try to do. It’s normal to be excited about blogging, but trying to learn everything straight away is just going to pull you in a bunch of different directions. Without delving deep enough into anything specific, or sticking at one thing long enough to make a difference, you’ll be spinning plates without getting anywhere. Not only does it set you up for getting frustrated with yourself and your results, it’s the fastest path to burnout.
Part of this is because a lot of people see blogging as a single thing. But when you look at all the skills involved and all the routes you could go down, it’s actually a bunch of different careers. Email marketing is a career. Writing is a career. Photography is a career. Image editing is a career. And so on. There are tons of people out there who have entire careers based on just one of the skills you want to learn, like email marketing.
As a blogger, you don’t have to learn all these things to be successful. One of the joys of blogging is that, for the most part, you can pick out what you like doing best and focus on that. Some people hate email marketing and love Pinterest, for example. You definitely don’t have to do everything; in fact, as one person, you can’t do everything!
How to decide on what to learn
Picking one thing and spending at least a few months learning and practising it really well, will get you the best results in the long term. You don’t want to stray all the way to the other extreme – you don’t need to learn everythng about typography or change your font ten times as a subconscious excuse to delay launching. But learning one area at a time to a point you’re happy with it is a good strategy.
If it turns out to be something you don’t like doing or you don’t see as good results as something else, at least you have enough information and data to make that decision, and knowledge is always good!
Start by making a list of all the things you want to learn more about. At this stage, it should be a very general list, for example:
- Search engine optimization
- Theme customization
- Website speed
- Email lists
- Image editing
- Affiliate marketing
- Creating paid digital products
Next, write a short list of 2-3 general goals you have for your website. These could be things like, “Grow traffic,” “Increase income,” or similar.
After you’ve done that, look at both your lists together and see which topics are most aligned with your goals. For example, if your goal is “Grow traffic,” learning about image editing or theme customization isn’t really directly relevant, whereas learning about SEO or Pinterest is super relevant.
Then re-order your list of what you want to learn from most to least important to your goals. Using the example above, our list would probably look something like this:
1. Pinterest (grow traffic)
2. SEO (grow traffic)
3. Email lists (grow traffic/increase income)
4. Affiliate marketing (increase income)
5. Creating paid digital products (increase income)
6. Theme customization (no specific goal)
7. Website speed (no specific goal)
8. Image editing (no specific goal)
From there you can look at what’s most logical to start with. For example, it’s better to grow traffic before creating paid digital products so you have someone to buy them (unless you’re planning to pay for ads). We also know that Pinterest has less to it and can have quicker effects than Google SEO, so if we’re impatient for traffic we may want to start with that. Conversely, if we want to make sure we have our ducks in a row for the long-term game, we may want to start wth SEO.
If you’re having trouble narrowing it down further, it may help to ask yourself the following:
- Which thing will help you achieve your goal better/faster?
- Which do you want to do more?
- What’s important right now? (E.g. if you have “Understand WordPress” on your list, you may want to concentrate on that before trying to grow your traffic so you can create content efficiently and you aren’t demotivated because you can’t get your styling how you want).
If two things seem equal, just pick one and leave the other to concentrate on next. The specific order isn’t too important as you’re planning to work through everything at some point – it just clears your mind if you’re consciously focusing on one thing first (with a master list you can refer back to when you’re ready to move on).
Once you’ve chosen your first area, break it down into smaller steps. These will vary depending on what you already know and how much you want to learn about the subject. This is also a chance to remind yourself of your goal and write down any big questions you have about the topic.
Approaching your chosen topic
Identify some good sources of information you can use to learn. For example, we have an SEO For Bloggers blog post and an SEO course (Navigating SEO). Resist the temptation to ask questions in forums or groups until you have some foundation knowledge on the topic, or you’ll be pulled in different directions or get lost down rabbit holes. For example, if you’re tempted to ask, “How do I improve my site speed?” you need to do more research so that your question becomes, “How do I improve my FCP?” or similar.
Spend time reading and researching before asking; this will help you form much better, more specific questions. If there are any discrepancies or contradictions in what you’re reading, write those down to come back to and explore in more detail once you have more knowledge.
Don’t mistake buying, reading, or watching for action. It’s essential to implement what you’re learning as you go, so that it reinforces your knowledge and helps you prove to yourself you’re taking it all in.
If you’re feeling unsure about something, ask another question. For example, “How do I figure out what people are searching for in Google?” becomes “How do I do keyword research?” then “What are the best keyword research tools?” then “How do I identify the best keyword results from keyword tools?” You may have to do some digging or re-wording to get to the answers you need, or add qualifiers such as “beginner’s guide” or “introduction to” if you’re getting techy/confusing answers.
How to get out of your own way
In Dealing With Self-Sabotage As A Blogger, we looked at a number of different reasons for self-sabotage and strategies to deal with it.
Don’t be a squirrel – If you have squirrel brain or shiny object syndrome and find it hard to stay focused, reduce the temptation to skip between topics by staying consciously focused. Keep a master list. If you hear about something you want to try or look at for your blog, write it on your master list for the future. That way it can be safely out of your immediate mind space and you don’t have to worry you’ll forget, but it’s not distracting you from what you’re currently learning.
Don’t try to learn everything – Just what you need to know to create a good strategy for your chosen topic. If you’re really enjoying it, there’s no reason not to continue, but if you feel like you’re not learning anything new, that’s a good sign you need to be implementing rather than consuming.
Don’t fall into the “should be doing” trap – A lot of bloggers start sentences with, “I know I should be…” or “I know I need to…” where the end of the sentence is usually, “be on Pinterest” “start a mailing list” “learn SEO,” or similar. This often leads to people feeling guilty or jumping between totally different topics. You don’t have to do everything to be successful. Put it on a list to come back to later if you’re interested in the topic. But remember that you can be successful without it. People pushing you towards “must dos” or “this changed my life” may mean well, but it may not work for you and your blog.
If it’s not for you, move on – Don’t worry about dropping things you don’t enjoy or aren’t serving you (if you’re the kind of person that carries on reading a book or watching a movie you don’t enjoy because you don’t want to leave it unfinished, there’s a good chance you fall into the trap of carrying on with things longer than you maybe should!). If you’re limited on time/money, don’t be afraid to drop something so you have more resources for something that serves you better.
If it’s something that really “needs” to be done but you don’t enjoy it, hire a Virtual Assistant or barter with someone looking to get something done that you do like doing. Facebook groups and Twitter are great for this.
Not everything will work, and it’s not you – Some audiences are on some platforms but not others, some audiences respond to some things and not others, some audiences prefer video over text, some content and niches work better for social than SEO (and vice versa), etc. It’s all about experimenting and making sure you stick with something long enough to get an accurate idea of the outcome. Even if you’ve got quite far into it before realizing it’s not working for you, it’s not wasted time; you’ll still have the skill. More importantly, you’ll have more information to better gauge what will work for your audience, website and resources (there’s always something you can learn!).
Above all else, there’s one essential thing to remember: Blogging should be fun. The more fun you make it for yourself, the more motivated you’ll be, the more naturally you’ll stick at it, and the more success you’ll have.
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