When I started freelancing, I knew that I needed to improve my online presence. I created a website and started blogging. The first post was published on March 4th, 2015. Many people have asked me what I've gained from blogging. Freelance work proposals, perhaps? Micro-payments? Ad revenue? The short answer is that I have lost money. Yes, you read correctly. The time spent writing, hosting services, proof-reading, editing, etc., all cost money, and nothing is coming in. But wait, that's not the whole story!
Beyond monetary value
Money generated from content and visitors is usually earned through ads, product placements, affiliate links, paywalls, etc. Besides a few affiliate links to books, I have none of those. What are the non-monetary benefits, then? Here are a few that I have noticed:
- communication with other developers
- being memorable
- name recognition
- no tech interviews (when talking with a client)
- work offers
- improved communication skills
- improved technical skills
Let's see some concrete examples.
Communication with other developers
When I started writing this blog, the site didn't have a commenting system (Disqus is the most popular). All the commenting systems somehow felt dirty; the styles didn't fit the site, the scripts affected page loading, etc. I used Muut.com and customized it to fit the site's visual style. Mutt is very lightweight. Unfortunately, people didn't use it much.
If most traffic comes via Hacker News, I reasoned, then visitors may already have accounts there. The fact that people are not required to create a new account could ease them into commenting. Once someone starts a discussion then the activity begins and we've been having quality discussions. Take the post I Was Wrong About TypeScript, Here is Why, for example. I learned a lot by reading the Hacker News comments. There were even people from the TypeScript team responding and collecting feedback! Readers and commenters, thank you for participating!
People have also sent positive emails that encourage me to keep putting out content:
Just wanted to say that I was greatly helped by your article on custom Handlebars helpers for Ghost! Especially the permissions I wasn’t able to figure out myself. So Thanks!
Even when I was receiving emails and watching Hacker News discussions, the communication felt a bit irregular. I wanted to know readers better. Knowing the readers and their needs helps me to prioritize topics. I created an email list, and, within ten days, 170 developers began to receive content and respond. This has generated a lot of new topics and been very rewarding.
Staying on people's minds
To get referrals from people, you have to stay on their minds. When someone hears that someone else needs a web application, I want to be at the top of that person's mental list. I update LinkedIn, Twitter, and Hacker News when I create new blog posts. Even people who don't read the entire article know what I have been doing and that I am still active. Staying on people's minds is about more than online presence. I strongly recommend that people visit local meetups. If people connect your face and/or name to a tech meetup, you will be perceived as someone who is interested in learning.
A CTO I approach may have already read articles that I have written. Quite often, this will speed things up by proving that I have invested time in a particular topic.
Having a tech blog means that almost every visitor is a developer. You can imagine that trying to sell web application development to a software developer is like offering dental services to another dentist: the worst idea ever.
But, whether they realize it or not, developers tend to influence decision-makers. For example, people who need specific kinds of expertise quite often ask developers if they know anyone.
I have done quite a bad job at promoting my services, but, nevertheless, I have been offered work. The leads that I have received from this site haven't yet converted to a client. I am confident that creating better product offers and a clearer path to buying will result in more leads, and that some of those leads will convert to clients.
The lifetime value of a single client has been 20k€-80k€, which means that getting a single project via blogging would easily pay off the effort.
Improved communication and technical skills
The more time I spend on my development career, the more I realize that development is not about shiny new libraries and frameworks; it is about communication. Feeling empathy and stepping into someone else's shoes helps you to communicate information in an understandable way. This doesn't depend on whether someone is an amateur writer or an expert. I am an amateur, but I have simply written down what I have learned. Blogging forces me to learn things in a way that allows me to write about them. This makes me learn much more deeply, and, hopefully, program much better.
These is my experience of a year of blogging. I maintain the email list and my blog, but I am looking forward to expanding to other forms of media, such as podcasts and videos. It would be interesting to hear your experiences with this!