What Works — A Redux
A few years ago I wrote on my first blog an article called “ What Works; What Doesn’t Work”. It was my thoughts on how startups change their go-to-market strategies and or products at the drop of a hat.
They have to do that sometimes just to survive because it’s a race to get customers before another entrant (i.e. competitor) does it. In that article, I advocated for stripped-down processes and using data to help you make changes.
I still advocate for those two important aspects but now I’m refining a few things.
I’ve spent the last year and a half writing seriously on Medium. I split much of my ideas between medium.thomasott.io and weathered.thomasott.io (a publication on my nature and climate change writings). Because of the frequency of posting, I’ve had some success and had two of the best months ever in terms of subscriber growth and earnings.
While I can’t make a living off the earnings, it’s been a nice boost to my ego — I have a voice that people like to hear and read!
It’s starting to feel like I got struck by lightning again and it’s inspiring me to keep going.
The number one thing I’ve learned is that the community is what makes or breaks you. While you write for yourself and share your observations and thoughts, your success is dictated by finding and filling a niche that your readers want.
If writing in those niches makes you happy then good for you. If they don’t, well you won’t be successful. Some people say that you should never write for the money, it has to be something that comes pouring out of you, like a waterfall.
Of course, we have to make money somehow, we need to eat! So what works and what doesn’t work here? What have I learned so far besides building a community?
Build an email list
That’s the most important thing you can do as a writer, build an email list and not spam everybody on it every single day. The email list is a way to mobilize your readers and fans when you drop a new book or a new post.
I routinely export my Substack and Medium email subscribers and upload them to my email newsletter manager. This is a future-proofing move because some people have been getting their entire corpus deleted by Medium.
You worked hard to build your platform and somebody just yanks it out from under you. This happens a lot more than I ever thought it would.
Your data is valuable, keep it near you
For years I fought writing on other platforms than the domains I own and host myself. I was foolish in the sense that I needed to go where the “eyeballs” were, so I threw in the towel this summer and went all in on Medium. I created a few new publications and one of them generated a small viral buzz. That helped me grow my readership parabolically for two months.
While that’s nice and all, I missed out on a lot of the data that was being collected on the buzz. In this economy, we know that data is gold and I completely understand why Medium wants it. I just need to figure out a way to move my data back to my domain.
I do use a few python scrapers that extract some data for further text analysis but it’s not ideal. Ultimately Medium uses all your data to figure out how to pay you for your work and make money in the process.
SEO matters, be smart about it
The reason I use Hugo for my Neural Market Trends blog is that it’s blazingly fast. While SEO didn’t come out of the box — I had to code it in — it generates fast static pages. Fast pages rank higher right off the bat. Plus another good thing, as an aside, is that I can export my Medium publications and articles to my Hugo base blog quite easily. If I ever have to close my publications I’ll just export it all to a Hugo-based blog on the appropriate subdomain.
I do take a long hard look if a new open-source blogging CMS comes along with SEO out of the box. When that happens I test it out and I’m doing just that at writer.thomasott.io.
SEO matters. Spend the time to optimize your posts, descriptions, and titles correctly. Over time it will help you rank higher in the search results.
Monetize only the sizzle
Most of my posts are monetized on Medium but some are free. Free content is a great way to build a following and a community, provided that your terms on monetization are clear. This is where a lot of people — myself included — have stumbled.
Unless you are a famous writer or celebrity, it’s very hard to have people pay you to read your work. Unless your content is so good and so valuable. You can get people to pay if the price is small like $1 or $0.50, or even less.
$5 a month for Medium works really well because it’s reasonable and you get access to thousands of great writers. It makes a ton of sense.
But what if you flipped all this on its head and go with 100% free content but an extra 20% as paid? Now THAT begins to make a lot of sense to me.
Or every 5th article is behind the Medium toll? This focuses on building such a large community that a 1 to 2% conversion rate brings you over the finish line.
Above all just write
Ultimately you need to write and create what pleases you. Like I wrote before, your work and creativity have to pour out of you, like a waterfall. You have to spend every possible moment putting pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard) and writing till your heart gives out.
Only then do you become a real writer.