Book Review – The Blog Startup by Meera Kothand

The Blog StartupThe Blog Startup by Meera Kothand is one of those books that you read its title and you almost know what it’s all about, especially when you read its long subtitle:

“Proven strategies to launch smart and exponentially grow your audience, brand and income without losing your sanity or crying bucketloads of tears”

So isn’t this one of those books about how to create a six figure earning blog, make loads of money and lie on a beach somewhere enjoying your spoils? If that is why you picked up this book, then sorry you will be disappointed. Right from the book’s introduction, Meera makes it clear that this is not one of those books and I am thankful for that because right from the book’s introduction titled, The Big Bold Promise, she makes it clear that blogs don’t actually really make money, rather it’s a business or something like that, backed by a good blog that makes you money.

Two quotes from the introduction that emphasized the message she is trying to communicate in the book are:

Blogging is not a magic pill. As much as it’s romanticized as the secret to a freedom or laptop lifestyle, a lot of work goes into it.

and

But unless you use ads as a monetization strategy, blogs don’t make money, Businesses do. Your blog is not a business. It would be really difficult and you would need a huge amount of traffic to be able to make money from the ads alone on your blog.

So Meera doesn’t tell you about how your blog can make you rich in this book, what she does is educate us on how a blog can support us to build successful income streams.

Another aspect of the introduction I do like is how Meera introduces the two methods to start a blog (that you aim to make money with). These methods are:

  • Method 1 in which you use content to engage and build an audience that you eventually promote your products and services too.
  • Method 2 is when you have existing products and services and your blog simply promotes them to potential customers.

Okay, enough about the introduction (which has a lot more I could write about) and let me give you a brief review of each chapter of which there are fourteen.

CHAPTER 1 – NAIL YOUR LUCRATIVE NICHE

You have probably heard and read about the, ‘find your niche‘ message loads of times, here it is again and for good reasons. Meera starts out writing why we struggle to choose niches or are simply afraid to do so. Then she writes about the basis of a good niche which she describes as four fold:

  1. Your target audiences pain point
  2. Your strength and interests
  3. Are there others in this niche (if there is, that’s some form of validation that there is potential there).
  4. Your niche does not target a one-only problem. You can make money from it over and over again.

She uses an attractive image with overlapping circles to illustrate the sweet spot that emanates from the convergence of these four points.

CHAPTER 2 – IDENTIFY YOUR BLOG’S CORE MESSAGE

If you’ve identified a niche for your blog then how do you define your core message. This is what the chapter focuses on. Meera presents us with some simple steps to follow to identify our blog’s core message. She advises us to:

  • First state our overall business umbrella
  • Drill down to the core business or niche
  • State who the niche focuses on
  • Then identify what problem you will solve for the identified identified niche

She uses examples to illustrate how the process works and provides a template to use for your own niche.

CHAPTER 3 – YOUR ONE READER

Meera opens this chapter with a key statement:

Knowing your idea reader is important because you can’t cater to everyone.

She writes further that by being able to define your ideal reader, you will be able to:

  • Talk to your audience at the right level
  • Not waste time writing for people who are unlikely to be your audience
  • Be able to create content more easily

We are shown how to identify our blog’s idea by using psychographics and motivational factors. But also, Meera states that, what is helpful is being able to define who you don’t intend to serve with your blog.

So how can you get a picture of who your audience are and what they want? We are given some ideas here on how to research for that information searching Facebook groups using key words and phrases, and to search other places such as Amazon, Udemy and Product Hunt.

CHAPTER 4 – YOUR BRAND IN THE ONLINE SPACE

This chapter is not about logos, colours and fonts as a lot of us would imagine when we start talking about brands or branding. As Meera puts it:

Your brand isn’t the logo or color palette you choose. Rather it’s the experience someone has with you.

The experience you want to create will help you determine other things like your logo and those sort of things. A question Meera said helped her in this area is:

If you were a well-known blogger, who would you be?

Meera is asking us to think about how we want people to feel about us. What experience will they have when they read our posts? What will be the tone and language of our posts? One thing stood out for me here and it’s that you will have your own signature way of writing and it will appeal to some people and not others. Don’t try to copy another blogger’s style just because they’ve been successful in their space. Identify and develop your own unique style. Following are examples of some of the statements that Meera says completing can help to identify how you want your own personal brand to feel:

  • I want my target audience persona to feel that I’m______________when they read my posts and watch /listen to my content.
  • Most people would describe me as_____________
  • I never want to be seen as_______________
  • I would never want my content to be__________________

She also writes about brand voice which is she defines as:

A brand voice is nothing but how you communicate with your audience

Meera also states that:

The words, tone, and style you use in your writing say a lot about it. You need to be consistent in the voice you project across different content pieces and even platforms.

One important message you should get from this chapter is that you should not write, sound or act like everyone else. Find your own brand voice and stick to it.

CHAPTER 5 – BRANDING YOUR SITE

This chapter deals with the usual type of branding we are familiar with. It looks at:

  • Colors and fonts
  • Setting up your site
  • Your logo

CHAPTER 6 – 3 MUST – ANSWER QUESTIONS BEFORE YOU PROCEED

Three key questions which if answered properly will further help us develop our blog are asked in this chapter. The questions are:

What will be your primary content channel? – the medium you use to build trust and grow your audience? Primary content channel refers to a content channel like a blog, YouTube channel or podcast. Since this book is a about blogs then we can assume that the channel we are choosing here is a blog. According to Meera, the primary goal of the content channel will be to, ‘attract as many people as possible and build trust with your readers so that you can convert them to subscribers.’ Two other pieces of advice given are:

  • Pick a content format you’re comfortable with.
  • Even if you start with one content format now such as a blog, you can transition to another content format later such as video on YouTube as your business grows.

What will be your primary traffic channel? Meera advises us here to pick one main traffic source which most likely will be a social media platform and one secondary traffic source. She states that:

Your primary traffic source is the one that helps you with lead generation.

Some examples of traffic channels she gives are:

  • Pinterest
  • YouTube
  • Instagram
  • LinkedIn
  • Other’s platform’s through guest posting

Meera discusses some very very useful information here also in regards to the traffic channels. First she implores us to pick a channel aligned with our ideal audience, then she summarises the types of audiences that each various traffic channels (FaceBook, Instagram, Pintereest, YouTube, Twitter, LinkedIn) best serves.

How will you build your authority and credibility? Answering this question will help you think about how you will get your audience’s respect. It’s about what actions you will take to get your audience to trust and believe in you and your niche. Meera sites some of the things she did. They include:

  • Free site reviews
  • Guest posting

She also writes about the importance of developing an email list which she states should be our ‘one constant.‘ In other words, it is compulsory because, ‘email is the only thing that gives you this undivided attention.’ So the message is clearly that we must build an email list.

CHAPTER 7 – WHY YOUR BLOG OVER OTHERS?

Okay, this is an interesting question, why your blog over others? Additional questions that Meera asks here are:

  • How is your content different?
  • How is your business (in this case, side hustle) going to be different?

The focus of this chapter is how you can apply differentiation to your blog and business. To help with learning this among other information provided Meera shares a graphic that illustrates six ways that Priority Metrics Group shows we can differentiate our business. The six ways are:

  1. Product differentiation
  2. Service differentiation
  3. Channel differentiation
  4. Relationship differentiation
  5. Reputation / Image differentiation
  6. Price differentiation

Thinking about these six strategies, which one will work for your side hustle? There are some helpful examples that show how we can apply the six strategies to our own blogs and side hustles worth reading.

She further states that, once we’ve picked a differentiation strategy then we need to ask and answer some key questions:

  • Is it relevant to your readers? It must resonate with your audience.
  • Is it true or evident? There must be demonstrable evidence that it’s working.
  • Is it a point of parity? Point of parity is a normal expectation. It cannot be a differentiation strategy. For example good quality cannot be a differentiation strategy, it is expected.

CHAPTER 8 – BARE ESSENTIAL BUSINESS EXPENSES

This chapter is a summary list of bare essentials that you need to build your business. Before sharing the list, Meera warns us about three things:

  1. Don’t fall for the most popular or promoted tool or service.
  2. Free or cheap is not always the best.
  3. Recurring fee vs. one – time fee.

Now for the list:

  • A premium mobile-optimized theme (for your blog)
  • Good hosting (for your blog)
  • An email service provider
  • Lead capture tools (landing pages and opt-in forms)
  • A social media share tool

There are also a number of related FAQ questions that Meera answered. The FAQ starts from number 5 here so they have been in some of the previous chapters too. Here are the FAQ questions in this chapter:

  • FAQ5 – Do your expenses have to increase as you grow? Yes, if you intend to keep improving your service as you grow.
  • FAQ6 – Should a copywriter be part of your early business expenses? Try it (copy writing) first so you can understand what you need. That way if you do desire to hire a copy writer you know the right questions to ask. Though it is a skill that you should learn anyway.

CHAPTER 9 – YOUR CONTENT STRATEGY

Since this chapter is about content marketing, Meera starts it with a definition:

Content marketing is building a relationship with your reader through the use of content, and your content strategy is the plan that helps you with it

In a previous chapter we’ve been advised to focus on just one content channel, so the next suggested step here is to identify your content categories. Content categories refer to the topics your content channel or in this case your blog will focus on. There is a whole section here on identifying your content categories and Meera offers some really good advice about how many content categories to have. She writes that:

Think of your content in terms of buckets. Each content category is a bucket and you can have 3 – 5 content buckets. If you are struggling to nail down your content buckets, head back to the core purposes or value proposition of your blog that you identified in the first chapter.

A number of examples are used to describe the content bucket principle. Here’s one of them:

For example, if you have a budget /frugal blog and the purpose is to help thirty-to forty-somethings get out of debt, think about the content categories that will help the reader achieve the purpose. These could be budgeting, intentionally living and saving /investing.

Consistently focusing on those content buckets will help your audience to know what your blog stands for. Other areas discussed in this chapter are:

  • How to capture + curate content ideas
  • Preparing to write your first posts
  • How to outline your posts

CHAPTER 10: EMAIL: YOUR ONE CONSTANT

This chapters focuses on how to build an email list which is an important strategy for building a successful blog and dare I say your side hustle. Meera starts out introducing a framework she calls MVEM which stands for Minimum Viable Email Marketing.

What the MVEM consists of is discussed which includes things like, opt in forms, landing pages and thank you pages. How to use the email marketing techniques are discussed in a bit of detail. If you are interested in learning about email marketing, you will definitely pick up some hints from this chapter.

CHAPTER 11 – TAKE YOUR KEY WEBSITE PAGES FROM ‘MEH’ TO AMAZING

This chapter deals with building your blog webpages to attract people but two pieces of advice caught my attention:

  • Don’t waste too much time perfecting your front page because people who come to your site do not typically land there.
  • Focus on the first one-third of your blog site which is the header.

Other things discussed here are:

  • The importance of having a ‘call to action’ on your site
  • Having a navigation that is clean and clear
  • Writing good ‘About’ pages
  • Having a ‘Thank you’ page for subscribers

CHAPTER 12 – LAUNCH PLAN

The core message here is how to launch. What do you need to consider when you really want to launch your blog? That question is answered. To illustrate what is needed Meera presents sample plans which she labels as ‘Plan A’ and ‘Plan B’. For instance Plan A contains the following action items as what is needed to launch:

  • 1 main traffic source
  • 1 landing page
  • 1opt-in incentive
  • Welcome email
  • A description of your opt-in incentive to promote on your chosen trafic source
  • Thank you page for subscribers
  • At least 3 emails in a welcome email series

She describes each item in both plans. And her last advice in this chapter is:

Pick a launch plan and set a launch date for your site. Start working on your minimum viable plans that you will need for the launch.

CHAPTER 13 – REVENUE GENERATION: CREATING A TAILOR-MADE BUSINESS MODEL

This is a chapter that will be of interest to a lot of as it describes ways to monetize a blog. Some very important advice that Meera gives here is that each of us should find our own unique way or the best way that works for us to monetize our site and not just believe that by copying others it will work out.

She also describes various income streams that we can choose from. The ones described are:

  • Digital products
  • Live events or workshops
  • Coaching and consulting
  • Offering services
  • Membership site
  • Affiliate marketing
  • Mastermind

She goes on to explain three tiers of products and the ones that will work for us at each stage of our blog. For instance, she explains that tier 1 revenue streams which include, coaching, offering a service, digital and tiny products and affiliate marketing are good for people in the early phase of their blog and business.

You will also learn about the 2M (+1) system as a way to earn your first $1K and beyond. This is based on having two main sources of blog income and one supplementary source rather than just relying on one income stream. An example is:

  • A tripwire
  • One small product
  • Affiliate marketing

As the blog matures more income streams can be added.

In addition to this Meera also discusses:

  • How to create a small product or tripwire
  • How to know if your product is successful
  • Good and bad revenue streams
  • How not to have gaps in your marketing system

CHAPTER 14 – WHY SOME BLOGGERS MAKE THE LEAP AND OTHERS DON’T

This is the last chapter in the book and I will say it’s an aptly named one to conclude. So why do some bloggers start and others don’t? Summarily, here are some of the answers provided:

  • Investing in yourself: this in itself is not bad but you can spend too much time learning, going after the latest information and gadgets and not do anything.
  • Focus on the main things you need to start, ignore things you don’t need at this stage no matter how atrractive they are and get going.
  • A list of things not to worry about in the first six months (such as creating a tag line, repurposing your content, getting a branded photoshoot) and list of things you should not do (such as asking for comments about your logo on a Facebook group)
  • Don’t branch out to multiple content platforms in the first year.
  • Don’t compare your starting point to someone else’s middle (they’ve been in it for a while)

There is some more advice on how to boost your productivity titled, ‘how to 10x your productivity.‘ It provides these suggestions:

  • Do similar tasks in batches. If you send out an email every week, write emails for the next four week at once.
  • Pick fewer goals, a maximum of three, so you are not overstretched.
  • Engage in sprints by focusing on just one activity over a short period of time.
  • Avoid decision fatigue. Identify the important decisions that either grow your blog and maintain your blog and do them.
  • Create an editorial calendar that allows you to consistently put out your content.
  • When you feel overwhelmed go back to your original purpose and ask yourself – what do I need to do right now to make progress?

CONCLUSION

This is the last section in the book and Meera starts it by writing that:

You now have everything you need to launch your blog. You have the building blocks to formulate a plan for where you want to take your blog and how you intend to turn it into a business.

Grand statement but she warns us to be mindful that at every stage of our blog + business journey we will face self doubts, such as:

  • Will people like the content I am sending out?
  • Is all this hard work worth it?

Meera leaves us with some encouraging advice to battle these self doubts which are:

  • There will be people who don’t like you no matter what you do.
  • Squash the temptation to move on to the “next thing.”
  • Balance speed and having a good foundation in place.
  • Feed your brain, keep learning.
  • Always refleact back on whether your vision still serves you.

…AND REMEMBER BUILDING A BUSINESS IS A MARATHON, NOT A SPRINT.

Overall, this is a book I definitely recommend to those involved in building a side hustle and want to support it with a blog. Meera has written it in a way that you can easily grasp the principles and apply them in your own way. But be warned, even though this is a relatively small book, it does contain a lot. Don’t try to use everything. Think of where you are, your capacity and your vision and choose what is likely to work for you at this stage.

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