The hidden power of blogs

Or why blogs really are a big deal.

The other day while looking through BizNicheMedia‘s portfolio of sites, something struck me, this is why blogs are really important. You might ask, why BizNiche? Well its simple, they are doing something that is really more widespread than we realize, they are creating mini-niche verticals in underserved markets. With the cost of setting up a magazine being too high for most niches, and their reach being too limited, the blog becomes the perfect vehicle. Now when I use the term blog I am leaning more towards the software that powers the weblog, not the fact that a blog is usually written by an amateur writer or two. What blogging does is lowers the cost of entry into the market substantially.

Take this for an example: in the airplane parts repair industry there is one major trade magazine (ground support), an annual subscription runs over $1000 a year for 12 issues, each less than a hundred pages. Why is the cost so high? Well it’s a small market, but one with lots of big money floating around, and it costs alot of money to pay a staff of writers and editors and graphic designers. On top of the payroll costs, there are the distribution and production costs that quickly escalate (especially when not printing super high volumes). This is where the blogging aspect comes in.
Using off the shelf software like wordpress, a cheap webhost (can be had for $60/year), freelance webdesigners, and freelance writers (pay them per article), you can publish a mini-vertical that is able to compete with established industry players. With such a low barrier of entry, this becomes the perfect side job for anyone in a niche industry to tackle in their spare time.

Business 101 – Getting Started

When starting a new business venture, one of the first things most of us do is fail to break down the matter at hand. What I mean is, we are all so excited about our revolutionary new idea, that we fail to pick it apart and break it down to its core. Most people have good ideas from time to time, some people have great ideas from time to time, and a select few have what others would refer to as genius (these people already assume their ideas are genius 😉 ). Its those good and great ideas that make up most businesses in America and the world, these ideas are what the “fortune 5 million” are made of (that term is borrowed from 37signals).The issue I’d like to cover today is not what you would normally think of when discussing new businesses, no we aren’t talking about how to write an effective business plan (you can read guy kawasaki‘s books or blog for that), what I’d like to cover is how to make your good ideas into great ones.The first step in your idea evolution is going to require either a pen and paper or a computer. What I want you to do is write down your idea. Now if you are on your computer, email it to yourself. Trust me. You are probably wondering wtf I am talking about, well let me tell you, I’ve had my fair share of ideas, and this is how the filtration process works. Ok now walk away from your desk, couch, or wherever you wrote this down, go outside, and do something COMPLETELY unrelated. Usually I take my dog for a walk, this gives me fresh air, and the time to mull over the idea. Normally my mind starts racing from idea to idea to idea, and that is all fine, but what this really does is gives me a brainstorming session where I am likely to only remember the best ideas (remember you are removing yourself from the vacuum that is your computer).Now that you are back at your workspace, read your idea outloud to yourself. This works pretty well despite your inherently not thinking it would. Now I want you to ask yourself the following questions (and write down your answers):

  • Do I need this product/service?
  • Do I have the background to create this service?
    • If not, do I think I could find the right people to do so?
  • How much will I charge for this product/service?
    • If it is free, then how will I pay for this?
  • Who is doing this already? (google is your friend here, even if they are your competitor, they will help you find out who else does it, and how they do it)
  • Who will want this product/service? (target market, etc.)

Ok so those are basic questions you have probably heard alot, but you would be amazed at how many people fail to run this gamot of tests on an idea, despite it taking only a few minutes.As part of my feeling generous and whatnot, I think we should do an experiment, whoever sends in a good idea to brian [at] webimpresario.com will get it posted and dissected and have suggestions posted here for everyone to discuss.

Blog network battle of the stars

Ok, so I wake up a little late today and get in to the office later than usual and miss an ENTIRE blog network battle! WTF. Can’t these people wait till noon to start and end a battle? Normally I would throw in a link to each stone thrown; but not today, as I suspect this was a misconceived pr stunt that got out of control.

The whole issue seems to stem from the fact that everyone has a blog network, and everyone thinks theirs is best (of course your [insert blog network name] is best 😉 ). But all this has created is an opportunity for everyone to throw stones and leave a link trail back to each other. Now as a community (of bloggers) shouldn’t we be worried more about making a buck than trashing someone else’s house?

Anyway, I digress, and wish I had something more interesting to say about the subject. Even though its over, feel free to read this post outlining the whole fiasco.

Podcasting costs

One of the simplest things people don’t understand about podcasting is that it isn’t free 99% of the time. The average podcaster has a number of costs he/she must incur before attempting a venture like this.

To produce a quality podcast requires a lot of time and a fair amount of capital. The podcaster needs a decent microphone and headset combo, some good audio recording software, some audio editing software (if it isn’t the same as the recording software), and a place to host said podcast. Of all these things, the software is arguably the cheapest part of this podcasting recipe, as there are plenty of free pieces of software that let you record to mp3 or wav. The hosting I believe to be the most expensive item on this list, over the course of a year.

Now you might be arguing “but hosting is so cheap now, you can get gigs of space and gigs of traffic for dollars a month,” and this is true, but everything isn’t always as cheap as it seems. The vast majority of webhosts that run the type of operation that can sell unlimited space or unlimited bandwidth for $4 a month (just using fake numbers as examples) have to cut quite a few corners to get you those prices and still pay their staff. So what initially might seem like a great deal, really isn’t great if you are running a high-profile blog. If you are running your weekly podcast and the only listeners are your immediate family, then by all means, go and use the cheapest solution possible (why pay for what you don’t really need?). Its when you are running a podcast with substantial traffic that you need to worry about costs of hosting. You’re probably thinking, why is he blabbering so much about the server cost, well it all boils down to this one point: if your server is slow, people will just give up on downloading your podcast; if people don’t download, then how are you going to make money off of it?

So in conclusion folks: pay attention to the quality of every aspect of your podcasts, as you are trying to build a reputation. It is that reputation (influenced not only by the quality of your topics) that will help you build up a quality revenue stream from your podcast.

Blog Networks – A value study

This post is in response to the flurry of postings on site after site about the potential and future of the blog network concept brought up by Scrivs, Wurk.net, and others. The root of the uproar is over the following: what inherent value do networks provide the reader?

On the surface of the issue it would be easy to say that they in fact do not provide any tangible value to the reader/customer. Now that is easy to say for some of these networks that have blogs in every conceivable category (yarn blogs???), thus making no sense to the person reading yarnblog to be interested in dodgeviperblog (so why would these two be in the same network?). That loosely illustrates why non-focused non-vertical networks are a waste of time. Furthermore, for a network to make sense it would require a small team of people selling ads and other services on this network (thus creating value for the bloggers other than link farming).

In a vertical niche, like say sports, the network operator can build a much better demographic pool to work with and create a much more effective sales team. How else do you expect a sales team to keep track of values for CPM and CPC ads across 30 categories, whereas they do one vertical niche, they can maximize their effectiveness, and thus bring more value to the bloggers they are either employing or working with. At this point however, most blog networks are really a 21st century take on the old web rings pioneered in 1996 or 1997.

Despite all this discussion, I still haven’t shown what value blog networks bring to the end-user/reader. Well, it’s simple really; they only bring value when presented in a vertical niche. Now some sites like 9rules new communities section try and group together a loosely fitting network into smaller categories, and that does bring them closer to a providing mini-niche/vertical networks, but really doesn’t help the reader that much. When good blogs are grouped into niche networks, they CAN provide value, value in the sense that you get a number of likeminded or related blogs discussing similar topics, this in turn creates a sort of magazine/journal effect for the network.

What they need to work on though is creating more interaction between the blogs, and thus building up their combined reach. A few people will get this right in 2006, but I suspect the VAST majority of them won’t, it will be those who don’t who rely solely on adsense revenues (not that there is anything wrong with that, but there is much more revenue to be had elsewhere) and never get a name for themselves.