I want to make an important point, one that highlights the biggest difference to how I used to teach people to go about building a blog.
The key distinction lies at the spectrum between making a sale andbuilding a community. The sale is at one end and the community at the other.
With a blog you can try and build community first and then make a sale, or you can try and make a sale and then build a community around that market.
In the past I would have said build an audience and community then start testing ways to make money, starting with advertising. Today I believe it's smarter to make money with your own products and services (actually I've always believed that, I just haven't recommend you start there).
The question you need to decide is where on the spectrum you want to sit, which is all about time and how you use yours.
How much time do you want to put into content creation for the purposes of building an audience and community, vs how much time do you want to spend creating content to specifically sell something.
Here's the interesting thing about this question – the real outcome you are after is TRUST.
Trust Is What Leads To A Sale
A community is brilliant for trust. Once you have a large enough community then making a sale is easy – you just have to present a product and your loyal following will buy. You don't really need to sell, you just tell people about your product and if they want it there is no issue, they already trust that it's a good product.
That definitely makes life easier.
If you try and make a sale without community (to people who do not know you), then you have to put in a lot more effort to “sell” what you have. You have to do it with marketing materials in a much shorter period of time, hence you need things like good sales copy, a longer sales video, testimonials and case studies, a more focused sales message following a proven formula.
Bear in mind, these sales tools help no matter what the situation, with or without community, you can just do well without them when you already have trust.
So the question you need to ask is when do you want to make sales?
In my experience with bloggers they are much better at building community and not so much at selling.
It's a lot more comfortable to deliver great content, help people and then six months to a year later ask if they want to buy this amazing new product you have just created.
It's a smooth process with far fewer uncomfortable feelings about selling because it requires less overt sales tools like copywriting.
The one big risk with this path is the ambiguity of whether people will eventually buy. You can build community and have a loyal following only to discover they don't want to buy from you. Maybe you have the wrong product or the wrong target market or something else. The problem is you don't find out until much later, after months and months of hard work building that community.
The alternative is to start with the sale process earlier, before you have much community built. In this case when you create your blog you are immediately offering something for sale.
The not so fun aspect of this strategy is your need to be a good marketer, you have to have strong selling tools.
Because you can't rely on existing trust you have to use far more psychological triggers to convince a person to buy. You have to manufacture trust all within the first few interactions with people. To do this means learning and implementing a whole different set of skills like good copywriting, how to make better offers, how to split test, and get really good at sourcing the right traffic, all things bloggers do not enjoy nearly as much.
The good thing about trying to make a sale first is you can keep testing until you find something that works without investing any more effort than is required to make the sale. It also forces you to really tighten up your selling process, which certainly is a good thing no matter whether you have community or not. However it is work, often work that does not appeal to the brain of a creative content creator.
Then once you know what sells and whom is buying, you can build the blog community around them, attracting more traffic from a market segment you already know buys things.
What Should You Do?
My advice is to take the best from both worlds.
Set up your blog so it is designed to sell something from day one. To do that you create a path for people to follow that guides them towards a product.
That path can be as simple as having an optin form on your blog with a targeted offer, then a sequence of targeted content released over a week or two via email and/or blog posts that they go through, that leads them to a product offer.
Look at this sequence as your money-testing machine. All the variables of this process – how many people optin, how many people open and click the emails and of course, do any of them buy – are the parts of the machine you test to improve. This is how you learn how to sell and how you find out if you have buyers.
Once this process is set up, which should not take longer than a few weeks to a month or two, depending on your ability to set up a newsletter and put together a first product offer, then you build your blog as usual.
You write blog posts, one or two or three a week, aim to create pillar content, start getting your message out to people and start building that community.
Of course the benefit of having the money-machine ready, is when you do start building your community they are exposed to your offer making process straight away. As soon as you attract your first blog readers you will attract your first email subscribers and possibly your first buyers too.
It's not the quickest path, but it's not the slowest either. This methodology allows you to explore the creation of your blog, which I think everyone benefits from because you learn about yourself and your audience, but it also gives you a mechanism to make money from day one, and learn about the selling process too.
How much you focus on the selling process vs the blog community process from there is up to you. Your results can guide your focus. Whatever is not working so well, whether that is not attracting traffic, or not getting people to optin to your newsletter, or people not buying if they make it all the way to your offer dictates what is broken and needs fixing.
There's a lot to do here of course, but I hope you can see it is possible to enjoy the process of fostering a community at the same time as making money.