Last year, when I attended WordCamp Orlando, I didn’t know anyone in the community, and nobody knew me. At that time, I made it a goal to become a speaker the following year.
This year at WordCamp Orlando, not only was I a speaker, but I also knew a lot of the people in the community, and a lot of people either knew me or have read my articles.
More importantly, while I was just getting started last year at this time, now I can say that I’ve been published all over the place: I’ve written plugins, contributed to core, written articles for several different WordPress blogs, and I have been a speaker at WordCamps and a PodsCamp. Oh yeah, and I’m not broke all the time.
I’ve accomplished all that and more, while having a great time, simply by helping others in the community. So the point of this article is to explain how I approach blogging, strategically, which is at the core of my strategy: to succeed by giving back.
I should mention that this article is not about SEO, or any of the great tools for improving your writing and its reach. If that’s what you’re looking for there are tons of great articles here on Torque. I also strongly recommend watching Syed Bahlki’s WordCamp talks on WordPress.tv .
This article is based on a talk I gave at WordCamp Orlando earlier this month on furthering your career by helping others through writing about WordPress — wherein the talk I mentioned that one of the keys to my personal blogging strategy is writing to reuse.
First: What you need to know about yourself
While I do get paid to write about WordPress, it isn’t how I make most of my living (although it is possible to make a living as a WordPress blogger). I use blogging as a way to make the community better, learn more about what I do, and further my career — all at the same time.
In order to do this, you first have to know what you want to be known as an expert at. Once you know that, you will be able to focus your writing, and how you give back to the community.
Ask yourself what you have to offer, who needs it, and what they need to know.
I know that may be difficult to define and so it may take some time. It’s OK to start with a fuzzy answer and refine it over time. In fact, starting with a fuzzy answer will actually help you define your answer over time.
Writing starts with reading
It’s important to remember that writing starts with reading, because if you want to get published on a particular blog, then you need to know the type of articles they publish. If you want to reach a certain audience, then you need to know what types of articles they read. If you want to write unique content, then you need to know what everyone else is doing. Just reading a lot is not sufficient.
You need to read the article from authors who are the best at writing the kind of articles you want to write. And you also need to be able to analyze why they are the best. For example, if you want to write WordPress development tutorials, but you can’t explain why someone like Tom McFarlin is so good at it, then you need to do more research.
Giving back (strategically): Aligning pragmatism and idealism
It’s important to understand how to get the most out of your contributions to the WordPress community. I think it’s very important to focus how you give back to the community on what you do best, and use it as a way to get better at whatever you’re good at.
My focus on giving back strategically might sound selfish, but it’s not. It’s about maximizing the value of your contribution to the community. Avoiding burnout in open-source projects is very difficult. The easiest way to burnout as a contributor is to do too much, or to volunteer for projects you’re not passionate about.
When you align your contributions with what you’re passionate about or what you want to learn more about, your contributions will always be more useful. That passion will sustain your participation over time. It’s the kind of win-win situation that drives careers in open-source projects and at the same time improves the project.
Writing strategically: Reasons to write
One thing that I’ve learned as a developer is that in order to become successful, you need to say no to most leads. The same goes for selecting topics.
I write mainly about WordPress development. When I started, however, I wrote about all sorts of topics. But over time I’ve stopped writing about certain topics, many of which had great SEO potential. In fact, some of the posts I’ve written that generate the most leads are on those topics. That’s OK, because even though what I write about now generates fewer leads, the leads I do get are higher quality.
At the same time, because my content is more niche, it is more likely to fulfill a real need for the community.
I only write an article when it meets at least one of the following criteria:
- If it will help me learn something new or cement some new skill I learned
- If it will document something I do, where documentation of how to do it doesn’t already exist
- To reuse code or content I already have
- To evangelize a product or feature that I think is important
- To show off something cool I did
- So I don’t have to keep repeating myself
The last one on the list, to prevent repetition, is a great lesson I learned from reading Chris Lema’s blog. If I find myself explaining the same thing multiple times to people, I like to write a blog post about it. It’s not really about not having to have the same conversations over and over — I like talking. The real point is that a blog post makes the best business card ever.
When I meet people and I have an article about what we talked about, I email them the link to it the next day. That’s better than a business card, that’s better than a simple “nice to meet you” follow up email. It means that the answer to their problem is available by searching their email, and reading an email that I sent.
An example of an article that satisfies many of these rules is my article for Torque that serves as a programmer’s guide to learning SASS. It’s a little off-base from my strategy of projecting my specific expertise, as I am not a designer or front-end developer. That said, it’s reiterating a point that I tend to make a lot, it helped me cement in my mind a lot of things that I learned about SASS, and it helps me show others about SASS. While I might not write a lot of CSS, when it does get written, I think it can be done better with SASS, and that article is part of how I get people I work with to adopt the practice.
I’ve written a lot for Torque about the WordPress REST API, which exemplify this strategy. When I started writing them, I knew almost nothing about the REST API. Part of the problem was a lack of educational resources about it — a similar problem to what I dealt with when I became the community manager for the Pods Framework, and what I wrote about in my first Torque article.
I was paid to learn about the REST API, write plugins for it, write a node-powered starter app for it, and spread the word about this exciting new thing we have in WordPress. I’ve also contributed to the docs for the REST API, and contributed to the API itself, and worked on the Pods add-on for it.
Strategies take time
I’ve spent a lot of time working to hone my own personal strategy as a blogger. I’ve had a lot of mis-starts over time. That said, I can say from experience that the more I focused on writing about what I wanted to be known for, and giving back to the community strategically, the more return on investment I have seen for myself.
As the year comes to an end, I encourage everyone to think about how they blog, what they blog about, and how they share their gifts with the community. With a little more strategic thinking, we could all help each other better — while becoming more successful ourselves — and what more could one ask for?
Josh Pollock started learning WordPress development when he was supposed to be working on his masters thesis, which ended up being about open source solutions for sustainable design and was presented in a WordPress site. You can learn more about him at JoshPress.net or follow him on twitter @Josh412