Expert: Andy Merrett,

#12 of 30


About the Expert

Andy Merrett is a full-time blogger, freelance writer, web publisher and Internet consultant who owns and runs the Blue Fish Network of independent web sites. In addition he is the editor of HDTV UK and iPhonic, writes for Tech Digest and TechScape and is a columnist at The Blog Herald. Andy has a wide range of expertise that includes music, relationships, blog networks, tools and statistics as well as UK-focused technology related to high definition TV, Apple, computing, Internet trends. As a busy and successful full-time blogger, Chitika is pleased to host his ten lessons for aspiring professional bloggers.

Though I’ve been using the Internet since the mid ‘90s, and have blogged for over three years, I’m only just approaching my first year of full-time professional blogging. Here are ten lessons that I’m learning to apply to my new career. I hope aspiring probloggers may find something that motivates them to greater success. Please don’t read these thinking that I know it all. I don’t (see point 7):

1. Banish Distractions I’m convinced that the number of distractions increases exponentially with workload. Banish them:

  • Do whatever it takes to find and keep focus, and to block out external distractions.
  • Improve your working environment to minimise noise and interruption.
  • Tame online communication tools: Don’t check email every time a message arrives, turn off IM when you need to concentrate.
  • Allocate exclusive blocks of time for researching or writing copy, and stick to them.
  • Try to schedule meetings and conversations, set a reminder, then forget about them.

Personal examples: I do my absolute best to ignore my noisy neighbours. Sometimes the only way to shut out distracting noise is to use headphones and music that I know will help me to work (it’s Celtic jigs at the moment). I often stay off IM until mid-afternoon so that I can get the bulk of my work done in the morning.

2. Be Good to Yourself When working primarily alone in a home office, it’s easy to neglect your body:

  • Drink plenty of fluids.
  • Eat proper meals and healthy, energy-boosting snacks.
  • Exercise during the day.
  • Try to take a one or two day break at least once a month.

This will help keep your body and brain active, and fend off everyday illnesses. Personal examples: I feel the difference if don’t drink enough water, eat fruit, or miss out on a midday walk. I’m just not as focused or clear in my thinking, and it slows the whole working day. A weekend away every so often helps me to refocus.

3. Work your Natural Rhythms Part of the reason I left a 9-to-5 job to be my own boss was the freedom to work when and where I wanted:

  • Don’t feel guilty if you’re not using your home office all the time.
  • Work to your body’s strengths. If your productivity drops at certain times, don’t work then. You’ll become weary and frustrated.
  • Thrive on change? Mix things up. Work in the garden. Go to a café. If it makes you a more productive, happier blogger, it’s good.

Personal examples: Working in bed doesn’t cut it for me, but if the mood takes me, I’ll happily use the garden, the sofa, the home office, or occasionally I’ll take a trip out.

4. Plan and Prioritise Free-for-all blogging may be fun at times, but a plan will help you achieve your goals:

  • Know why you blog and what you want to achieve: more money, personal recognition, greater knowledge.
  • Work out which of your blogs and projects are ‘non-negotiable’ – those that absolutely must be done (either contractually or because they are important).
  • Work out which of your projects are expendable – those that would be good to finish, but you could let go for a day or two if you had to.
  • Plan your work around these priorities. You’ll have greater focus and achieve more if you know what you need to achieve each day.

Personal examples: Some articles I have to write, or I don’t get paid. I keep a daily record of how much I’ve written so I know when I’ve hit targets. I also try to work in press conferences and personal events that take me away from home so that I can maximise the amount of work I get done on the move.

5. Nurture your Networks. Know your contacts.

  • Get to know other writers in your niche. Who are the influencers, the key voices, the up-and-coming newbies?
  • Leave relevant comments on other blogs and participate in forums and online communities. Work towards becoming a trusted authority.
  • Keep your contacts list up-to-date. Get to know PR people and ‘insiders’, making enough noise that they send you news and information first, but don’t become irritated by you.
  • Use social networking sites to your advantage. Spend enough time promoting your profile and adding interesting content, but not to the detriment of your blogging.

Personal examples: Forming the Blue Fish Network, and working for Shiny Media, my online network has increased, and I have a decent set of UK PR contacts. I’m also investigating ways of using sites like Facebook and Twitter to increase my profile.

6. Grab beneficial opportunities. Learn to say ‘No’

  • Look for and be open to opportunities that further your blogging goals.
  • Generally, if someone offers you a blogging opportunity (regular or one-off), it’s because they want you. If you have the time, energy, and desire – and the opportunity fits – snap it up.
  • Beware of projects that sound good but may take up large amounts of your time and energy with little reward. Ensure you know the scope and expectations for every piece of work you take on.
  • Don’t be afraid to say ‘No’ to projects that don’t feel right, will take resources away from more important projects, or don’t benefit you.
  • Having said all that, it’s good to be involved in projects that benefit others when you can.

Personal examples: I’m amazed by some of the opportunities that have come up already, thanks I’m sure to the fact that I’m writing for two blogs in the Technorati top 1000. However, I also know what it’s like to take on a project that was far too big and took me away from my core blogging tasks, and where the benefits were far outweighed by the costs. It can be hard to say ‘no’ sometimes, but it has to be done.

7. Avoid Arrogance. Beware False Modesty.

  • Don’t act as if you know it all, and that everyone should listen to you and agree with your point of view. They won’t.
  • Don’t put yourself down, or write in a way that belittles your expertise.
  • Aim to balance self-confidence and humility.

Personal examples: I have strong views on a number of subjects, and I’ve acted like I know it all, but articles I’ve written with more compassion generally get a better reader response, and more respectful conversation. Graciously admitting you’re wrong when someone pulls you up on a mistake is a trait worth mastering.

8. Improve your systems. Find shortcuts. Automate!

  • Don’t assume that your working system is the absolute best it can be. There’s always room for improvement.
  • Find ways of shortcutting or automating common or laborious tasks that sap your productivity.
  • Look out for new software and productivity tools that can be integrated into your work patterns.

Personal examples: Moving from Bloglines to Google Reader and getting as much news in RSS feed format as I can has been a time saver. Typinator is a brilliant little keyboard shortcut program that I now couldn’t be without. Dual monitor working definitely boosted my productivity, too.

9. Minimise Admin Admin is important, but it can easily swallow time and energy:

  • Get your online world and computer systems organised, adopt a system, and stick to it.
  • Adopt efficient ways of keeping on top of finances – tax, domain registrations, affiliate and ad revenues – or hire an accountant to do it for you.
  • Beware of filing and tidying when you’re procrastinating and should be writing.

Personal examples: I keep a fairly simple spreadsheet to track various revenue streams, ensuring that I’ve been paid the correct amounts at the right times. My paper filing system isn’t the neatest at present, but I know where everything is. My computer system is pretty well organised, with separate folders for different projects, image banks, ideas, invoices, and so on. OS X’s Spotlight function still comes in very handy, though.

10. Write Something! Procrastination kills productivity:

  • If you feel lethargic or stressed by the amount of work you have, and it’s sapping your productivity, start writing something.
  • It’s far better to write something that could turn into an article, or be a springboard for your ideas, than to sit watching the time slip away and getting distracted by other activities.

Personal examples: Some mornings, I don’t know where to start. I can tap through my feed reader aimlessly, finding stories but not knowing what to write about them. That’s usually when I write a short personal piece, just to get a bit of creativity going and the fingers working.

And finally… * There will be some that support you wholeheartedly. * There will be many who won’t understand what you’re doing. * There will be plenty who ridicule what you do and try to tear down any achievement. * There will be a few who will expect or even want you to fail. Stay close to those who support you, explain to those who don’t understand, work hard and believe in what you do, minimising the others’ impact. Good luck in your problogging journey. It’s an exciting one!