A few posts ago, I wrote about creating a great blog. On the same day, The Maple Grove Barefoot Guy wrote about the same topic. We do that a lot. Anyway, Christian made a comment that I’ve been thinking about for the last two weeks:
“I’m going to be honest with you folks. You can do everything that all of the articles on this topic suggest and still be a lonely blogger in some dark corner of the internet. Over 20,000 blogs are started on the web per day. Your odds of standing out among that mess are slim to none. I’m not saying you’re not an awesome person who runs an awesome blog. I’m just shooting straight. It’s probably not going to happen.”
As much of an idealist as I am, I know he’s right. The odds of success are slim to none. My tips, combined with Christian’s tips, will definitely increase your odds. Still, it’s a lot like going to a good university. It gives you an advantage against your “Northern Michigan University” cohorts, but it’s not a guarantee of success.
His quote made me sit back and reflect on my own relative success, what I could learn from it, and what I can use to help teach others.
BRU recently hit the million pageview mark. That includes about 600,ooo unique visitors. After closely examining my past, I came up with some answers.
The short story: there was a lot of hard work mixed with a bunch of luck. Neither would have worked on their own, but together they allowed me to get the traffic I get today.
The long story: Sit back and grab some popcorn and beer. Here’s a rough chronology of events:
- 1992- Did some barefoot running out of boredom, which planted the seed that it was something that was possible.
- 2003- Met Shelly, we started working out together including recreational running.
- 2005- We ran our first race, I was hooked, decided to run an ultra. I got hurt a lot. I started a website (The Ultramarathon Store) that included a calendar of ultrarunning events. It proved to be fairly popular. I participated in ultrarunning forums, too.
- Late 2005- While researching running injuries, I came across the idea of barefoot running. Further research led me to Ken Bob, Ted, and Rick’s sites.
- 2006- Started running barefoot and in aqua socks, and immediately started writing about my experiences on a new website. I got some traffic from my ultra site.
- 2007-2008- traffic grew slowly (~20 hits/day), I continued to experiment, learn, and write about BFR/MR. I started yet another site- Barefoot Chronicles.
- Early 2009- Victor Palma invited me to join the new Runner’s World Barefoot Running Forum. Through discussions here, I learned about teaching others BFR/MR.
- Mid 2009- Born to Run started making an impact, lots of people became interested in BFR/MR. I continued to learn.
- Late 2009- Volume of email increased to the point where I made another barefoot site (this one, it was my third barefoot site and fourth overall.)
- Very late 2009- Held my first clinic, guide I put together was most popular part.
- Early 2010- Decided to make clinic guide into a book and sell it from website. After looking into publishing options, I decided it would be easier to self-publish. With the help of friends, I published the first edition of The Barefoot Running Book.
- Mid-2010- TBFRB was shockingly popular, cracked Amazon’s top 1,000 books sold in the world (briefly.) Decided to remake the book and created the second edition. This time I hired a professional crew of editors and designers.
- Late 2010- Got hooked up with Merrell via Angie Hotz and a random email sent to a random person requesting a shoe review.
- Early 2011- Relationship with Merrell blossomed as we had remarkably similar goals, Shelly and I were fed up with our teaching jobs and decided to quit.
- Mid- 2011- We hit the road with our three children and niece to become
running bumsbarefoot running educators.
Each one of these steps accomplished two things: they gave me an opportunity to learn a specific skill set that would help later on, and they helped me meet more people associated with running in general and barefoot running in particular. There were a bunch of moves I made that seemed inconsequential at the time, but turned out to play a huge role in the success of this blog.
The timing of my entry into barefoot running couldn’t have been better. I entered early enough to learn all the basics and develop a degree of mastery before Born to Run was published. By the time it hit the market, I had already run a 50 miler barefoot. I had already read every piece of research and other writings I could find. By the time Born to Run was published, I had already accumulated about 1,200 hours of running barefoot, plus about 200 hours of reading and research.
My experiences in college helped, also. As a psychology and history major, I was adept at determining the motives behind people’s behaviors within the context of our particular place in history. This allowed me to predict behaviors, which helps analyze why people visit my site, get involved with barefoot running, or decide which minimalist shoes to purchase. This helps choose the topics I write about and discuss. I was also involved in empirical research (I aspired to be an experimental psychologist), so I was well-versed in reading and critically-analyzing research. My unfinished physical education minor taught me about biomechanics, which helps explain how and why barefoot running works. My teacher prep classes taught me about teaching methods and other issues that would be invaluable to conducting clinics and writing “how-to” guides.
The forum participation allowed me to discuss anything and everything related to BFR/MR. I got to know what people needed to learn the skills to do this. I learned about the personality types of barefoot runners. I learned about the shoes they desired. Of course, this DID take a tremendous amount of time. I was embarrassed to see I have over 4,000 posts on the RW forum alone. If each post represents 10 minutes of reading and writing, that’s about 700 hours of time spent on that one forum. My other forum participation was about half of that, so add another 350 hours.
The book helped immensely as it gave me instant credibility. That’s funny, considering it was self-published. Anyone could do it. It did give me a huge boost because it was the first barefoot running book to hit the market. According to publishing statistics, 99.5% of the books published in the world (by traditional publishers) sell less than 5,000 copies. TBFRB has sold about 25,000 copies. That’s a pretty big tool to use to spread my ideas. Since publishing, I can use the book as a tool to help promote this site, which boosts traffic. I’ve also been able to secure some professional writing gigs (note- I am not a trained writer) as a result, which also helps traffic. Time spent writing, editing, publishing, and promoting book- Approximately 2,000 hours.
The websites I had prior to BRU helped me learn website design and traffic patterns. I learned what drives traffic to a site. More importantly, I learned why people visit a particular website. I learned about search engine optimization, advertising, html coding, and a host of other techie things. Most importantly, I wrote content. Lots and lots of content. In my first three sites, I spent approximately 1,000 hours developing and adding content. BRU took that to a new level. To date, I have 400 posts. Each one averages 1,200 words. It takes about three hours to write one post. That’s almost a half a million words over 3,600 hours of writing alone, plus another 500 hours of website development.
I cannot discount my teaching experience. Through 12 years in the classroom, I learned how to simplify complex ideas and teach to a wide variety of individuals. I also learned to speak in public in a way that engaged the audience. There’s no audience tougher tan a room full of teenagers held against their will. ;-) These experiences allowed me to frame everything else as a teaching-learning experience, which has made the materials useful. Over 12 years as a teacher, I spent about 12,000 hours standing in front of a crowd actively teaching.
My decision to start reviewing shoes was useful for driving traffic for two reasons. First, people search for shoe reviews, which drives traffic. As a side benefit, I learned about the shoe industry. First from the outside as a consumer, then from the inside as a reviewer. That helped secure work as a consultant for Merrell, which has allowed me to get a truly insider’s perspective. To date, I’ve spent about 500 hours working directly with various shoe companies.
As much as I like to talk up my laziness, I’ve spent almost 10,000 hours on barefoot running over the last 5+ years, which is a fifth of my life during that time. I’d routinely wake up at 3:00 AM, work for hours, go to my day job, come home and work for a few more, then finally relax for an hour or so at night. Add to that another 12,000 hours of direct instruction as a teacher over 12 years.
Twenty-two thousand hours is a pretty big chunk of time, so I guess I can safely say BRU’s success required quite a bit of hard work. It was tolerable because it was fun. I was also willing to learn as much as I possibly could from each one of those hours. That open-minded approach allowed me to acquire a huge range of skills that I have been able to leverage into tools to help BRU succeed.
Still, none of it would have produced the results it had if it were not for a healthy dose of luck and help from a ton of friends. At every step of that chronology, I was at the right place at the right time. I made decisions that would have profound consequences down the road even though they seemed trivial at the time. I had a ton of help from friends both inside the running community and out, whether they knew it or not. I had a few people to trusted my knowledge even though I may have been riddled with self-doubt.
The work continues today. Since Shelly and I have quit our teaching jobs, all of my work is dedicated to barefoot and minimalist shoe running. I average about six hours a day spent on BFR/MR, and up to 16-18 hours some days. The experiences continue to allow me to build and learn to continue to try changing the world.
Success was a function of both hard work and being at the right place at the right time. Most cases of success follow the same formula.
How can this help you develop your blog?
Well, Christian was right. Your chances of garnering a huge chunk of traffic is slim. It’s possible, but it will take a tremendous amount of work. If you’re not passionate about this topic, you’ll burn out. Even if you have the passion, you’ll need some breaks. You can get lucky like I did. If you’re smarter than me, you’ll have the foresight to make the right decisions. Christian is a good example- he’s done what I did in a fraction of the time… mostly because his hard work was coupled with brilliant decision-making.
Of course, garnering a huge chunk of traffic might not be your goal. In Christian’s article, he asks why you want to have a popular blog. Having one blog that has the power to influence a large number of people is great, but so is a small blog that influences a very small number of people.
I like the story the boy and the starfish. We repeat it often in education circles:
A man was walking down an ocean beach one morning. He noticed an extraordinary number of starfish scattered around the beach. They had washed up with the tide and were now dying on the sand. Suddenly he saw a small boy frantically running around. The boy would pick up a starfish, run to the water’s edge, and gently return it to the sea. The man silently watched the boy do this for several minutes, then approached him.
“What are you doing, son?” the man inquired.
“Saving starfish, sir.”
“But there’s tens of thousands of dying starfish on this beach. You can’t possibly save them all!”
The boy looked down at the dying starfish in his hands.
“But mister, I can save this one.”
Blogging is a lot like throwing starfish back in the sea. Are you going to change the world? Probably not. Can you change one person’s world? Absolutely.
This is the precise reason I try to push people to start a barefoot running blog. Yes, there are a ton out there. We’re not competing against each other, though. We’re building something.
It takes extraordinary circumstances to grow a blog into something big. That shouldn’t discourage you. Even if your blog never reaches high numbers, every blogger has the power to affect at least some people. If enough of us do this, collectively we’ll change the world.