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  Refining your idea

How did you do in yesterday’s exercise? Were you able to come up with a list fairly easily or did it take a while to get going?

Zeroing in on the idea for your website— coming up with it and refining it— can be one of the most difficult parts of the process but it is also a very important one. Without something solid to build on, you could spend months and years focusing on something that never could have been a profitable business to begin with. It’s important then that you take off that artist hat from yesterday and put the business hat on, nice and snug. Because today, you’ll need to be practical. You’ll need to step away from your idea and look at it, not in terms of your passion, but in terms of profitability and audience.

To further refine your ideas and to think about aspects other than passion, here are a few questions worth considering as you play with your list.

Question #1: Is there an audience for this topic?

Do people actually want to read about it? Is the marketplace crowded or will you be one of the few voices tackling this subject? What’s your unique take? Do this research now, before you set up your website, not after nobody reads it and you’re wondering why.

Question #2: Is it you?

Some of the best blogs and websites in the world today are those that have an opinion. You read them because of a writer’s expertise and personality, not because of the various experts he or she has quoted. Websites that lack personality are news feeds. News feeds have readers and hundreds of comments, but those are not loyal readers. They’re not following you. You derive little benefit from that audience.

Good content-based websites, like the kind we’re trying to build here, have blog posts and articles that are brimming with personality, quick tips, anecdotes and experiences, sometimes humor. It helps if you have experience with the topic because it allows you to inject all those things into the website and make it uniquely you.

Question #3: Is this a topic you see yourself building on?

Will you (or do you ever want to) write a nonfiction book on this subject? Give speeches? Become the oft-quoted media personality on this issue? Tie it into your novels? Basically, is there a reason you want to spend all your time building this audience? What is the ultimate pay off for you?

In a few years, when you start building a readership in the tens of thousands, you’re not going to find it easy to walk away from the brand you’ve built. And if you do, it could be at a great financial loss and the risk of having to rebuild from scratch when you tackle another subject. Think about that now.

Are you willing to keep up with the trends, the new issues that spring up and the new technologies that will change the industry you’re writing about?

Question #4: Is your topic evergreen?

As a journalist, the word “evergreen” makes me uncomfortable, but as a businessperson, it’s one I’ve come to embrace. Having evergreen content is one of the basic principles of marketing when creating a website. If you write something that’s newsworthy, it’s topical for a week, you get hundreds of comments, and readers move on. But if you write something that has relevance regardless of time, you’ll constantly attract new readers who will check out your archives and stick around for the new work. Your website becomes “sticky,” that is, readers will want to spend more time on it.

Stickiness is one of the key things to learn as the owner of a content-based website because that is what gets you on Google, gets you linked to by blogs with hundreds of thousands of readers, and wins you the trust of your own readers and followers.

Is the topic you’ve chosen going to help your website become sticky? Will you be able to link to old posts because they’re still relevant? That’s not to say, of course, that you can’t tackle newsworthy issues in your chosen topic. You can and you must. But overall, you want to try and stay away from websites that are built exclusively on newsworthy content because then you’re creating another job for yourself that you need to remain invested in, not a business that keeps ticking over by itself.

Question #5: Can you write 50-100 articles about this topic?

Can you research it, talk about it on an ongoing basis and not want to tear your hair out? Is there enough meat in your topic to create that amount of content?

I say 50-100 articles because look, if you find that you’ve built up this website and want to move on to something else, you can hire writers, outsource the content and still remain the owner. But right now, when the site isn’t profitable and money spent on domain and hosting is spent at a loss, you’re going to be doing the grunt work. You need to be able to do the initial content building. If it’s not a topic you’re interested in, you’re going to burn out very quickly.

That’s exactly what happened with me after I launched Your Dream Interpretation. I kept it going for a while, built a huge audience, and then, when it came time to shine, I just couldn’t be bothered any more. I did not want to write about the subject and, if we’re being honest, I’m not entirely sold on the idea that dream interpretation is a legitimate thing. To have a business then, that conflicted with my ideas about the world, wasn’t something that inspired me to work on it first thing in the morning, especially since I questioned the premise the more I learned about it.

The whole point of building your website is to create an asset that serves you, not only financially but also in terms of the actual work and the joy you get from having created it. I try never to forget that now when I think of building websites.

Question #6: Will the mainstream media feature it?

The International Freelancer came about organically but now having it made it profitable, I know there are more content-based websites in my future. As I think of the many topics I could explore, one thing I’m giving a lot of weight to is whether I’ll be able to get the site featured in mainstream media. Will, if the circumstances are right, The New York Times or Vogue be able to feature the website in their pages or on their websites? For me, the answer to that question has to be a yes. I have spent a decade writing for these publications and have existing relationships with many editors. I want to take advantage of that experience and therefore, don’t want to create a website that’s so small and specialized that I’m unable to use my strengths to promote it.

Action Step

Let’s take your list of ideas from yesterday and start running it through the checklist above. We don’t want to delete any ideas at this point since we’re going to explore profitability later this week, but I do want you to score each idea using the questions on this list. The topics that score less than 3/6 might need some additional thinking and work, while the ones that score 5/6 or 6/6 may be your current top choices.

If you have any more ideas that are springing up, now is the time to make a note of those, too. We’re still in the “adding ideas” phase. Later in the week, we’re going to start culling this list to arrive at the one idea we’re going to stick with through the duration of the course.

Until then, get creative and keep jotting down those ideas.

I’ll see you in the next lesson!


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