How Five Years of Blogging Has Changed Me

Someone left an interesting comment on an earlier post, and asked me how blogging has added value to the primary areas of my life, and whether or not it has helped me achieve my goals. It is an excellent question, so I've decided to write about the good things, and the bad things that have happened in the past 5 years. This post may get long, so I will break it up into headings and sub-headings to allow you to skim and read the parts that you may find most interesting.

The Benefits of Blogging

Contacts
The most beneficial part of blogging, by far, has been the contacts I have made. As a result of this blog, I have been able to strike up relationships with a vast array of interesting, intelligent and unique individuals. For instance, I have met some very powerful and successful people like Roger Ehrenberg, Robin Wolaner, and Dharmesh Shah. I've connected to some super smart and interesting people that I consider friends, despite the fact that I've never met some of them in person, like Jay, Laurence, Charlie and Mike. I got the chance to meet some popular and powerful web folks early on, before they made it big – people like Jory Des Jardins, Jeremy Wright, and Jonathan Ruff. I've connected to a bunch of local up and coming web stars likes Andy Swan, Todd Earwood, Jason Falls, Shawn Morton, Ben Thomas, and Matt Winn, plus a dozen others who I don't know as well. They are all under 40, and most of them will probably be highly successful in some way or other over the next 10 years. Knowing them now, in the early days, when we are all just having beers together and struggling with the same business issues, will undoubtedly be useful as they take different paths and I am able to lean on their different experiences and unique areas of knowledge down the road.

Add to that all the other business bloggers that I've met, and people I have only traded a few emails with over the years, and it's a pretty nice rolodex – one that I wouldn't have if it were not for this blog. It has opened opportunities that would not have been possible otherwise. If nothing else had ever come from blogging, these contacts alone would have been worth it.

Writing Skills
The best way to become a better writer is to write. While I have not developed the skills of a professional writer, I can definitely say that I have improved and am much more comfortable writing than I would have been if this blog never happened.

Money
This blog probably put a high five figure amount of money in my bank account over the last 2.5 years. I won't complain about that, but I am not going to seek monetization of my new blog. It changes things. I don't plan to write much on the new site, and making money from a blog requires regular blogging.

An Understanding of Blogs, Online Marketing, and Related Social Media Ideas
Lots of people analyze social media. I've been able to experience it first hand. I've had a post on the front page of Digg, many posts on the front page of Reddit, posts on del.icio.us/popular, and posts that caught some momentum on other social media sites. I've learned some interesting lessons from this, like the fact that getting 51,000 visitors in one day from being on the front page of Digg does not correlate to more income for a blog like this. I've learned that timing matters immensely, as I've submitted posts to Reddit that did not go anywhere, deleted them, and had them hit the front page later after someone else submitted them. Whether or not you get any votes depends on time of day, who is reading, who is voting, and what other stories are in the queue.

Thicker Skin
I've taken my lumps from commenters and other bloggers who have criticized my ideas, pointed out when I am wrong, and not hesitated to take me to task for lazy thinking. I've also received hate mail around some controversial posts, and had to deal with lots of criticism from idiots who didn't know what they were talking about but still didn't agree with me.

I still remember the first time another blogger linked to me and said negative things. I wanted to get all defensive and justify my thoughts and say nasty things back to them, but over time, I just got used to it. People are different. You can never please everyone. Even smart educated people can disagree on things. And comments from pure trolls don't deserve a response.

Clearer Thinking
Sometimes I don't have my ideas fully worked out, and writing about them has helped. When you try to explain something, it really makes you think through it.

Discipline
I haven't really been into writing for the last year. While the early days were a lot of fun, it takes a lot of discipline now for me to sit down and write almost every day. It has given me the utmost respect for people who can write quickly and easily and still turn out good content.

Unique Opportunities and Resume Padding
Random things happen, and across five years of blogging I have been able to take advantage of some of those things. I've been featured in Fast Company and Fortune Small Business, and linked to by the Wall Street Journal. I got to do some blogging work for American Express. These are the kinds of things I can say that, despite being the result of randomness and a bit of luck, sound impressive.

Watching Cycles and Trends Rise and Fall
It has been truly interesting to watch things like "wisdom of crowds" go from unknown idea to being embraced by thought leaders to being mainstream ideas to falling out of fashion. It has confirmed my belief that the majority of people don't think for themselves, and that blogs aren't conversations as much as they are echo chambers.

The Negatives of Blogging: Bad Experiences and Disappointments

Too Much Email
Some days I get too many emails related to this blog, and while I want to respond to them all, they sometimes fall through the cracks. I am sure my non-replies and curt replies have discouraged further dialog with some interesting people. There are probably some people who think I'm an asshole. I can' really say much except that I've done my best given the limited amount of time that I have and the fact that I'm only human.

Dealing with Yahoos
For every cool person I meet (and if I continually respond to your emails, you fall in that category) I have to deal with 3 yahoos who like to talk about stuff more than they like doing stuff, have unrealistic expectations of what our relationship should be given that we've only traded one email and I barely know them, or want to lecture me on something that I know much more about than they do.

The Biggest Disappointment – No Funding
By far, the single biggest disappointment of the past five years is that this blog did not lead to any of my business ideas getting funded. I naively believed that sooner or later some long-time reader would approach me and say something about how much they believed in my abilities and how they wanted to fund my latest idea. The more I did unique things – things that other people eventually received funding for – the more I thought I was establishing a pattern of foresight and analysis that would make it all the more likely to receive backing. Instead, I've had to deal with the harsh reality of continual failure in this part of my life.

It would be nice if I could say it didn't bother me, but I would be lying. I've laid awake many nights wondering what's wrong with me, wondering what trait I don't have that other entrepreneurs possess, wondering if I've said something on this blog that makes potential investors think I'm an idiot. But ultimately I deal with this by telling myself that none of my self pity is going to move me forward or make me any more productive, so I push it out of my mind and just keep trudging forward. It seems like an increased online presence should have increased my opportunities, but maybe it can't overcome the fact that I live in the MidWest.

Dumb Jealousy
The other downside of blogging for a long time is watching other people who have been more successful. This is a particularly strange feeling for me since I have zero desire to be a professional writer, and I cringe at the thought of blogging for a living. For example, Anita Campbell has done a fantastic job of building SmallBizTrends into an online powerhouse in the small business niche. I look at her RSS stats with both admiration and jealousy and wonder why I don't have more subscribers. The odd thing is, Anita and I discussed this multiple times, back in the days when our subscriber bases were similar, and she was pushing me to do more, to expand the blog and make it a business. I told her I had no desire to do that, and I still don't (because I wouldn't enjoy it), yet I still sometimes wish I had followed her path and done more with it. It's a weird feeling to want more success in an area where I really don't want more success… if that makes any sense.

Pigeonholing
Despite the fact that I have multiple talents and know a lot about many different things, I've become pigeonholed as a web guy. I don't like that.

Public Failure
It sucks launching things like TBE, Commercebucket and Jotzel, (two business aggregator ideas that both failed). I learned a lot from all three projects, but it would have been better not to have such a public lesson.

Things I've Learned That Are Neither Good or Bad

Don't Believe the Hype
Most people are not as great as they look on paper. I find it funny when I go to web conferences and listen to panelists go on and on giving instructions to a bunch of bloggers who are trying to monetize their sites and, when asked about how much money their own blogs make, the panelists usually indicate it isn't very much. People play up their resumes and their experiences because that is just what you have to do. They aren't particularly better at any of this than you are, and they don't have any secrets to success. They are probably on the panel because they asked to be, or because they knew someone involved in putting the conference together.

All I'm saying is don't put people on pedestals. Few of them deserve it. And once you get to know most of them, they will tell you this same thing.

Randomness Matters
There is no way I could build Businesspundit from scratch to the traffic levels that it has today if I had not gotten such an early start. As I look at people who are much better writers and have much more interesting things to say than I do, I am reminded how much luck and timing matter in all things.

Friends and Family Readers
For the first couple of years, my friends and family didn't read this site. Now that they do, it has changed the things I blog about a bit. On one hand, it is nice that people can learn more about me through this blog. On the other hand, sometimes I decide not to blog about things I may be more likely to write about if I wrote anonymously.

That sums up my thoughts about what it has been like to blog for the past 5 years on this site. I'm glad to be done, as it is time to move on to other goals and projects. With less than a month left, I'll start linking to some interesting old posts that some of you may not have seen if you only became recent readers. If you have questions about particular aspects of anything I wrote here, feel free to leave a comment or send me an email.

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Comments

  1. Joel Libava's Gravatar Comment by Joel Libava on January 24th, 2008 at 3:13 am

    Great Post!
    Thank you for mentioning Anita Campbell. When I look at her RSS sub numbers, I am just amazed. Anita is so focused! She is also very supportive of a younger {2 years} blogger such as myself. That makes a difference in my life, as do great blogs like yours.
    Best,
    Joel Libava

  2. Keith Lauby's Gravatar Comment by Keith Lauby on January 24th, 2008 at 6:21 am

    Thanks for a great post. I’m new to this blog (Google Reader yesterday) but, for what it’s worth, yours were the only articles I clicked through. I’m looking to start blogging in my profession and your insights are helpful. Thanks again. As for you No Funding comment – don’t wait for it to come to you. Reach out and get it!

  3. Matt Jones's Gravatar Comment by Matt Jones on January 24th, 2008 at 6:39 am

    “As for you No Funding comment – don’t wait for it to come to you. Reach out and get it!” – My thoughts exactly!

    Great post though, make a very interesting read.

  4. Rob's Gravatar Comment by Rob on January 24th, 2008 at 6:59 am

    Just for clarification on the funding comment, we aren’t waiting around for it. We’ve been sending out business plans, networking, and pitching for the last 15 months. It’s just that most people here in Louisville don’t have the tech savvy to understand a hyperlocal web play.

  5. Roger's Gravatar Comment by Roger on January 24th, 2008 at 9:03 pm

    Rob, it has been a pleasure getting to know you. Your insights are keen and clearly heart-felt. Though you may be frustrated in certain areas, you have demonstrated the kernels that make me know that things will all work out the way you want in the end: you are a person of high integrity; you give without expecting something in return; you are honest with yourself and others; and you are very smart. Keep swinging, my man, and keep writing. You are a gem of the internet and the online financial community.

    Roger

  6. Marshall Lebovits's Gravatar Comment by Marshall Lebovits on January 24th, 2008 at 9:42 pm

    As a blogger of 18 months, I enjoyed this posting and appreciate the insights into blogging that it offers.
    Wishing you the best in finding funding for your business ideas!

  7. Jory Des Jardins's Gravatar Comment by Jory Des Jardins on January 25th, 2008 at 12:38 pm

    Rob, I love this post–even if you always make yourself the little guy left behind. I prefer to look at you as you are–the Tour de Force with the incredible influence. OK, so no funding. But boy do you dream up some doozies. I believe I even wrote about one of them for Fast Company n’est pas? Keep on keeping on being the Man about Campus who knows the place like the back of his hand.

  8. Sucker's Gravatar Comment by Sucker on January 25th, 2008 at 6:04 pm

    Wow, that sure hit home! I haven’t been “blogging” for all that long, but I’ve dealt with all the good and bad that comes with it.

    Nice long post!

  9. Careermemos's Gravatar Comment by Careermemos on January 25th, 2008 at 9:47 pm

    When you mentioned “Thicker Skin,” it made me laugh. Oh, truly, blogging can make you just that, with thicker skin :D

    Criticism and downright nasty comments are easy to ignore with all the benefits that you’ll get out of blogging.

    By the way, you truly have a great site :

  10. Claus's Gravatar Comment by Claus on February 4th, 2008 at 1:58 am

    You write

    “This blog probably put a high five figure amount of money in my bank account over the last 2.5 years.”

    and farther below

    “The Biggest Disappointment – No Funding”

    How does this tie together? Actually,this is one of my biggest disappointements about blogging myself, so I’m just curious.

    Greetings,

    Claus

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