OJR 2007: From blogging to business

What do you need to do to make your blog profitable? Paidcontent.org founder Rafat Ali encourages OJR 2007 conference attendees to play it straight from the beginning, especially from a business sense. That means sparing a few hundred bucks for an accountant could be worth your while and save you an audit when your site really starts to make money.

“My experience is if you make a mistake the first year, chances are the IRS will forgive you. The second year they won’t tolerate it,” Ali says.

Many novice indie Web publishers still need to work a day job, and Ali and conference attendees agree that being upfront with employers about your blog is key. It’s easier to present your “side project/hobby” to an employer while it’s not making any money, provided it doesn’t compete with the industry you’re involved with during the day. Once your blog starts to earn revenue, then you’ve earned it with your employer’s blessing.

Anticipate this revenue when you’re designing a blog, making sure to leave potential space for ads to run once you’ve gained the readership. Fortunately, you don’t need to spend much to get started as an indie Web publisher. Blogging tools such as WordPress and Blogger.com will set it up for you.

But seasoned bloggers at OJR 2007 say you do need to spend to get the right top-level-domain extension, namely .com or .org. Topix.net CEO Rich Skrenta says his popular site just spent $1 million to buy Topix.com.

Once you set up the logistics, stay focused on your topic and publish frequently. OSTG editor-in-chief Robin ‘Roblimo’ Miller urges attendees to publish multiple times a day to drive traffic to their sites.

One mistake rookie bloggers make, says OJR.org editor Robert Niles, is to wait until a story is completely flushed out before posting it. “Don’t be afraid to dramatically lower your definition of what constitutes newsworthiness … one little fact, vignette or nugget can be a post,” he says.

Deliver that information in multiple ways, adds Ali. Namely, don’t discount the power of an e-newsletter. Paidcontent.org delivers posts via e-mail to its readers daily. “It’s brand reminder for them to keep coming back to the site. Our readers don’t have time [to visit the site] so they read [posts] in their inbox or on their Blackberry.”

Above all else, know who that audience is. Niles adds that successful blogs cater to a smaller audience who isn’t finding its needs met in the mass media. “It’s really great for a journalist because this is your opportunity to go follow your passion and go work that beat you’ve always wanted to work. You’ve got to love what you do because the first couple of years are going to be lean.”

About Sarah Colombo

Sarah is a recent graduate of USC's Annenberg School for Communication, where she obtained a Master of Arts in journalism. She served as the managing editor of OJR's news blog during the 2004-2005 academic year. She has also been published in a variety of online and print publications, including the Daily Breeze and Premiere magazine. Her professional interests include cultural affairs reporting, arts and entertainment and anything multimedia related.