I recently completed the The Create a Blog to Boost Your Career course offered by Simple Programmer. Having procrastinated about doing this (creating a blog) for over a year I decided to give the free email course a go.
Why I took this course
Now I actually did things a bit back to front as I created my blog using Ghost Pro and had a couple of posts written before taking the step of handing over my email address to get the free content. As Simple Programmer offered the entire course content in a PDF version for $5, I decided to buy this as I wanted the content immediately and the price was low enough that I was prepared to give it a shot.
I felt my need to get some professional help was urgent as I had asked a couple of friends provide feedback on the blog such as it was and the response I got for my 2 post, 3-page site with nothing added to the default Ghost theme was far from complimentary.
What I got
The course has some great actionable steps on how to
- Create a blog with very little effort
- Get a good theme for the site that has the extensibility required should you wish to really build a business through the site.
- How to interact with the community to drive traffic to your site.
- Help on thinking up ideas for posts.
Now for me personally as a web developer, the first item on the list was maybe less valuable than for a non-web developer but it is still really great advice.
Now, this is where the email format of the course really shines. Each part of the course contains steps to move forward with your blog and the emails are delivered far apart enough that you have no excuse not to have taken action by the time you receive the next email.
Now, this is perhaps where the workbook really pays for itself. Whilst you get similar or the same (I haven't checked to that extent) content in the emails being able to consume the course contents in book format allows you to grasp the core values that it's trying to promote.
It means that as the emails arrive and prod you into action, you are achieving clarity on ideas and concepts that you already have some familiarity with. This makes it easier for the information and the values that it seeks to promote to sink in and have a lasting effect.
What I did not do
Hosting and Platform
So as I had already chosen Ghost as my platform of choice I did not follow the help given in terms of choosing hosting and finding a theme. For now, I'm happy with my setup, though I do have concerns long term about the scalability of my own site.
The options promoted by the course (Wordpress, Bluehost and Thrive themes) seem to be a better choice if you really want to make money out of your blog. But at the moment I'm this is not my main focus. At least for a few months ;-).
This is something that I found I couldn't decide on. I prefer to wait and see what I like writing about first, though, I would concede that this is something that is good advice and will factor into my thinking going forward.
What action I took
Improving the aesthetics
So whilst I could not use the courses' advice on theme choice (having chosen another platform), I did up-the-ante by getting some stock images to make the site look a bit more professional.
Interaction and contribution
On a personal level, this required the biggest change in my routine. I don't naturally seek attention or affirmation so it's easy to fall into the mindset of thinking that interaction with the wider community is simply for superstar developers who work for the elite companies in the industry. A lot of the advice given requires both time, real thought and change. The focus on the material is on encouraging an organic integration into the wider development community and this requires consistency and effort so that one's interactions provide genuine value.
A lot of work
In less than a month I have written 8 posts (3 are scheduled for the next fortnight) and have 3 more that are half way done. I even created an npm package as a result of some of the sample web apps that I created for my forthcoming posts.
What results did I get
So, full disclosure, the diagram above is a bit of a vanity metric. It shows the traffic to my blog over the duration of the time I was doing the course. I got really lucky with a couple (3 to be precise) of my posts on Reddit and they brought over one and a half thousand visitors each. This traffic isn't organic and I also had to really engage in the comments to keep the ranking high as well as put a lot of time into commenting and promoting other posts and even engaging with people on Twitter about my posts.
I also currently spend 30 mins+ everyday reading new posts and commenting where appropriate to organically make connections and grow my online presence.
I'm under no illusions without the continued hustle my site would be a ghost town and I don't think I will be getting organic traffic in the hundreds let alone thousands for a very long time.
That said the traffic to my site has gone up exponentially since I started taking action on the steps highlighted in the course.
I have had a couple of random approaches about my availability to work (offers of work not the invitation to apply) as well as one invitation to do a tech-talk that was just too far away. It's too soon to say if this is directly correlated to my blog. Of course, like any developer with a few years experience, I continued to attract attention from the good, bad and ugly of the recruitment profession. (Though, unlike a lot of developers I don't see them as the devil spawn a lot of developers like to portray them to be)
What benefit do I feel I got
Becoming a finisher
With every email that I got, I tried to take action (sometimes in my own way) on the theme of each part of the course. Even the thought of an automated email coming in a few days creates an element of accountability I guess.
So a big emphasis on the course is to take action and be consistent. I really liked the honesty in the content. There is no attempt at selling some secret elixir or hack that will take you to the top. It just highlights the process you need to follow over time to get results.
Learning to contribute
The course provides some nice tips on how to interact with the community in order to promote yourself long term. I really like the emphasis placed on promotion through providing value to others.
So one benefit of creating and promoting your own content is that not only are you forced to learn new things but you also have to be thorough in a manner that you may not have been before.
Perhaps it's just human nature, but well, you are posting things to the internet and if you wrong in any way, someone will be most happy to let you know :-). That tends to make you triple check things.
I would highly recommend this course to any developer trying to start a blog.
The course and workbook have provided actionable steps to give a clear process to follow. Perhaps the greatest thing the course has to offer is that the journey that it takes you on, making a meaningful change in your mindset that leaves you with a hunger to see where your journey will end.