Savvy Socializer

Know Thy Self

Series Premiere: Jon Paul takes a leap of faith to transform his blog into a business.

What does it take to turn an online passion into a viable business?  That’s the question that thousands of bloggers around the country have been asking—including me.  It’s a question I hope to answer in the journey to become a Biz Savvy Blogger.

In my case, ABCityblog began as a promotional vehicle for my humorous memoir Alphabet City, but the site quickly took on a life of its own, with steady traffic from a passionate group of global readers.  I loved being able to connect with fans in such an immediate way, and soon companies like Kimpton, JetBlue and Whole Foods were angling to connect with my readers too.  But how could I “monetize” my blog?  How could I independently make a living at blogging?

As I posed that question to bloggers I admired, the typical reply was, “Sign up for Google Ads network.  They pay a small fee based upon clicks.”  This advice was often followed by a shrug of their shoulders, “I get maybe $300 per month—enough to cover my costs.  Certainly not enough to live on.”  There had to be a better—and more profitable—way.  I was determined to figure it out—for me and for everyone else dreaming of turning a profit from passion.  Thus, the idea for the Biz Savvy Blogger series was born.

What if I took all my skills as a journalist and marketing professional and applied them to the challenge of transforming my blog into a successful small business?  I was confident that I could conquer this challenge if I channeled the energy and know-how I’ve used to succeed at other opportunities.  Even better, I would document my process in hopes of helping others.  And maybe, just maybe, companies looking to connect with bloggers in innovative ways—from financial services and technology leaders to fashion and design houses—would join my efforts.  Together, we could cut through a lot of the intimidating techno-jargon and help an individual become a Biz Savvy Blogger.

What does it mean to be a Biz Savvy Blogger?  It means maximizing time and income.  It means knowing how to use technology in the smartest way to increase traffic; making smart decisions about marketing and sponsorship efforts; and learning how to transform the hobby into a true small business.  It means being brutally honest about strengths and weaknesses in order to seek appropriate help.

On the one hand, I had terrific content—readers spend on average 4 ½ minutes per visit on the site—way above industry norms.  On the other hand, I knew that content was not packaged effectively—either for readers or sponsors.  What worked well as a promotional book effort was straining under the weight of all the other passions I was communicating to readers—restaurant and theatre reviews, travel tips, and more.  I realized that I had outgrown being a single sitcom called Alphabet City, and like Oprah, needed an entire network to showcase my talents.  That meant it was time to expand beyond a simple do-it-yourself WordPress blog to a custom-designed site built by a talented design firm.

But what would I tell the firm I even wanted?  It was important to get clear in my head my vision in order to articulate the concept to potential design partners.  To focus, I sat down and conducted an exercise I do with many of my corporate clients—a SWOT Analysis.  No, I didn’t call in a branch of the NYPD.  SWOT is a fancy PR-speak acronym for Strength (what do you do well?), Weakness (what do you not do so well?), Opportunity (where’s the potential upside?), Threats (what are outside situations that could derail you?.  I brainstormed thoughts in each category.

Strength—intelligent content, captivating/optimistic voice, clever concept, respected reputation, creative/nimble, contacts

Weakness—cluttered design/layout, limited time & resources

Opportunity—expanded coverage to capture sponsorship revenue, sponsor friendly-content packaging


Now it was time to take stock of the situation.  I always ask clients, “What can you do to address weaknesses and threats?”  In my case, a revamped website would address the “cluttered design/layout” issue.  But what about “limited time & resources?”  That could only be solved by taking a big leap—leave behind the struggling marketing/communications business I had developed the past several years, and throw myself full-time into being a Biz Savvy Blogger.  After consulting my partner Chef, I decided that the potential happiness upside of following my dream was so great that I could weather the economic issues.

And so, I outlined what I wanted for my re-developed blog: a design that matched my fun, frank, fresh, optimistic voice, and that would better show-off my content (relationships, travel, culture, food).  It also needed to be sponsor friendly, and flexible enough to grow and change if I added more content areas.

Sounds easy enough, right?  Not so fast.  Now the challenge was hiring the perfect firm to help me realize that vision.  Where in the world would I locate them?

On the next Biz Savvy Blogger: Jon Paul’s design firm search takes him from Boston to Bulgaria before settling back in the Big Apple.  Don’t miss his Top Tips for the Perfect Match.

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