Among the thousands of bloggers who have made it past blogging’s trough of sorrow and who have started to see the fruits of their labour, but who have not (yet?) gone into full-time writer mode, many have the same goal: to blog more often.
So why don’t we blog as often as we’d like?
[Not got 10 minutes to read this now? Bookmark it and come back later! Or read the TL;DR conclusion, below]
¿Por qué no?
According to Behavioural Design expert BJ Fogg’s behavioural (with a u ;-)) model, three elements must converge at the same moment for a behaviour to occur:
In our case, the behaviour we desire is for us to blog more often.
According to Fogg:
“When a behavior does not occur, at least one of these three elements is missing.”
Therefore, when our desired behaviour – more prolific blogging – does not occur, when should aim to boost or improve one or all of these three elements; our motivation to blog, our ability to blog and the triggers that remind us to blog.
So let’s look at what these three elements entail, what they mean for our blogging prolificacy (or lack of it) and what we can do about it.
First, a primer on the Fogg Behavior Model (FBM).
As I have stated, 3 elements must be present at a single given moment to trigger a behaviour.
First up; we must, at that moment in time, be motivated enough to complete the behaviour. Human motivation, Fogg pertains, is driven by the desire to experience or avoid certain feelings.
We are motivated to experience pleasure, but;
We are also motivated to avoid pain.
We are motivated to experience hope, but;
We are also motivated to avoid fear.
We are motivated to experience social acceptance and belonging, but;
We are also motivated to avoid social rejection.
When Fogg advises on the design of technology and UX to promote the construction of behaviours in users, he focuses on these areas when trying to boost user motivation. We’ll return to see how these motivations affect our blogging habits.
Second up; we must also have the ability to complete the behaviour. To measure this, the Fogg model asks 6 questions about the behaviour and tallies up the answers against our current situation at that time. It asks;
- Does the behaviour require much of our time to complete?
- Does the behaviour require much of our money to complete?
- Does the behaviour require significant physical effort?
- Does the behaviour require significant mental effort?
- Will the behaviour make us look strange, or out of the norm?
- Is the behaviour something we are not used to doing?
In a nutshell, the easier the task is to complete – based on the answers to the 6 questions above – the more likely someone is to complete the task. Therefore, when a company or a mobile app or an individual is trying to encourage someone to change their behaviour, Fogg advises companies to design for simplicity and ease of use.
When we come to look at our blogging habits, we’ll see if there is anything we can do to increase our ability to exhibit that behaviour – more blogging! – more often.
Finally, the Fogg model states we need a trigger to spark us into action. If our motivation and our ability to complete a task is high enough, the right trigger will successfully prod us to do so. However, if our combined motivation and ability to get the job done is not high enough, then no single trigger will ever cause us to get on with the task at hand. We’ll look at triggers we can utilise to get us blogging more.
You follow me so far? Want a practical example of behavioural design in action, before we move on to our blogging habits?
Amazon’s One-Click button is a great example. They have made it so easy (dangerously easy, in one opinion) to buy something that it takes little motivation to do so. Think about how this compares to having to use an commerce store you’ve never purchased from before; creating an account, adding shipping details, adding payment details etc. No Thanks! I’ll take simplicity please!
[Anecdotally, Amazon's triggers are pretty awesome too. They know what you've had to the motivation to search for on their site. So they can quickly send you emails about products they know you want. As a trigger to buy, how much better is that than a generic 'Winter Sale' email?]
What do I care?
This creation of behaviours (in their case, purchases) has helped drive Amazon to become a global heavyweight. But we don’t want to create another Amazon; we just want to blog more often. Using the Fogg model for designing desired behaviour, let’s look at how we can do that.
For each of the three areas (our motivation to blog, our ability to blog and the triggers which spark us to blog) we first need to have a period of introspection to understand what our current situation is. Then we’ll see how we can improve on each of these areas.
So, what motivates us to blog and how can we boost our motivation?
Lets remind ourselves of Fogg’s key drivers of motivation: pleasure, pain, hope, fear, acceptance, rejection.
That juicy goodness
Do we blog for the pleasure it gives us? Some people like the act of writing, others find is more of a chore or a means-to-an-end. Where every blogger does find pleasure though, is in appreciation for their work. I was blown away by the response to my one-and-only blog post and took enormous pleasure in responding to tweets, engaging with commenters and indulging in real-time analytics (“7 people from Vietnam are on my site right now! WTF!”).
In the grand scheme of things, these stats don’t mean much. But they do provide a great motivator at this stage of my blogging life. I can only imagine the pleasure more experienced bloggers get from seeing their investment in blogging time bear real fruit in the form of new friendships or opportunities. A great motivator, I’m sure you’ll agree.
So to boost motivation, I find it important to remind myself of how good it feels to reap the rewards of blogging (and I realise this is rich coming from such a newbie, but I’m happy with the ‘rewards’ I’ve had so far. It’s all relative). Perhaps you can do this too. How many people have come to your blog? How long have they stayed? Collectively, you’ve probably had people spend DAYS getting value from you. That’s amazing. If you are more experienced, you probably have even more tangible pleasure you’ve experienced. Remind yourself of it often and it’ll help keep you motivated to blog.
Please god, let this be worth it
Do we blog to experience hope? I believe we do. Most of us don’t make money directly from our blogs but I believe we all hope that our blogs will help us be better-off in some way in the future. Perhaps you hope your blog will help you make new friends in a new city? Or that your blog will make people want to join your company? Of that your blog will increase your credibility and lead to more career opportunities? None of these blogging goals are guaranteed; we hope they will occur.
So hope of a better future is a big motivator for many bloggers. How do we increase this?
It’s all about keeping your eye on the prize. Know what your goals are for your blog and focus on these. Remind yourself of them often (something we can do with triggers, discussed later). There are 101 things you could be doing on your blog, but only a few core items that drive you towards your goals.
[Anecdotally, if a blogging task doesn't align with your goals, deprioritize it. I know a wee bit about SEO, but at this stage in my blogging life having my blog rank well for a variety of keywords is not a main aim. Search engines are not how I believe I'll hit my blog goals. So I don't spend any time on optimising title tags and gathering backlinks.]
Evil Monkey in the closet
Do we blog to avoid fear? No. But fear can demotivate us from blogging, which has worse effect than simply not motivating us. So we need to take the fear out of blogging. I have a dozen posts that I fear are not good enough to put on this blog. While a little fear is good – in this instance I’m hopping it keeps the standards high – we can’t let it overpower us.
As bloggers, we are what we are. I’m not Neil Patel with a thousand posts, all of which are adding value. I don’t have a lot of experience. So I am going to put out posts that I’ll be embarrassed about in 3 years. So be it.
As long as we don’t try to be something we’re not – and I think there is a massive opportunity for ‘operational level’ people in all types of businesses to differentiate themselves in the job market by blogging about how they do their day-to-day tasks to the benefit of their company – we can only aim to be successful AT OUR OWN LEVEL, whatever that level may be.
Thinking about it, in this instance fear is similar to another motivator in the Fogg model; social rejection. We need to not allow ourselves to become demotivated by worrying about what others think of our posts. Disregard the haters.
Look inside yourself. What can you do to remove fear from your blogging life? Removing it will help you blog more often.
In my opinion, the other motivations covered by Fogg – avoidance of pain and need for social acceptance – aren’t as relevant in our case. So let’s move on to see what we can do to increase our ability (and make it easier) to blog more often.
Whatcha gonna do bout it?
As Fogg states, a behaviour is made easier to complete when:
- it doesn’t take a lot of time
- it doesn’t require a lot of money
- it doesn’t require significant physical effort
- it doesn’t require significant mental effort
- it doesn’t make you feel socially weird
- it is something that can be part of your current routine
How do these affect our blogging habits and how can we hack them to train ourselves to blog more?
Blogging takes time. If there is one thing on this list that is a dagger through the heart of the average blogger’s aspirations, it’s the time that it takes. While some people can churn out articles quicker than others, with growing popularity there is often pressure to take even longer over your articles because you’ve set such a high bar in terms of quality.
Most individual blogging tasks take time:
- having ideas for blog posts
- constructing post titles
- structuring and planning posts
- researching posts
- writing posts
- proofing posts
- replying to commenters once the post is live
But if we can shave time from each of these tasks, we increase our ability to blog more often. What can we do?
‘Blog’ on the move
Most of us blog at our desks (or kitchen table) in solitude. But the blogging process doesn’t need to begin there. As I’m out and about, living my daily life, I’m inspired to write. Random ideas for blog posts pop into my head all the time, wherever I am. So the WordPress iPhone app is invaluable to me.
It allows me to ‘tee up’ blog posts which can be written later. In fact, the idea, post title, structuring, research and comment replying phases mentioned above can all be done on the move. So when I get back to my desk and open up the WordPress admin on my computer, the time taken to get that all-important first sentence written is reduced because I know what I’m going to write about, have a headline picked out, have sub-headings and notes at random intervals down the previously blank page and have URLs to link to stored in my phone’s web browser.
The key to making this work is changing your mindset; blogging is not a single action that should be done when you have a spare 2-3 hours one morning. It is a continuous process. ‘Blogging‘ every day does not need to mean ‘posting‘ every day, but daily participation in the many actions that constitute blogging will result in you posting more frequently.
So try the WP app (or set-up posting by email or join tumblr, as the idea is the same) and ‘blog’ every day. We’ll look at triggers soon to remind you to do this. The overall time you spend blogging may not decrease to begin with – as you are still doing the same set-up tasks – but it’ll seem like you are chained to your kitchen table for less time, which boosts motivation (and decreases pain!).
[N.B. Someone should create a light-weight app that plugs into WordPress that is solely designed to tee-up articles. I don't need 20% of the options on the WP app because I don't write articles from there. All I need is boxes for a title (plus a few variations), a box for topics/sub-headings/questions to be answered and a box for URLs of interest. I'd pay a couple of bucks for that.]
Asking friends, family and colleagues to proof your articles for you can also help reduce the time you take to get a blog out there.
Mo’ money, mo’ blogging?
What about money?
Blogging requires no cash investment. Even if you do choose to purchase a custom domain and hosting, the costs – before you hit WPEngine levels of traffic at least – are small.
There is an opportunity cost of blogging. When you write for 4-5 hours a week, those are 4-5 hours you could be investing in a ‘real job’ which directly influences your family’s bottom line. Most bloggers acknowledge and accept this cost.
Of the other highlighters of a person’s ability to exhibit a behaviour, a few don’t really matter to us in our blogging example. Blogging doesn’t really need much physical exertion (though RSI is an issue for some); blogging, these days at least, doesn’t make you a weirdo (though don’t expect your parents to understand why you do it without making money from it); and blogging is something that can be incorporated into a current routine – you already spend 20-hours a day in front of your computer too, right?
Blogging does require mental effort, but we’ve already touched on two ways we can reduce this:
- Blog at your level. Don’t pretend to be something you’re not. Write about what you know and don’t be embarrassed about whichever level you are at. You’ll find it much less mentally taxing.
- Don’t treat ‘blogging’ as a huge, single task that you complete once a week. Break it down into chunks, like I do on my commute or out-and-about. When doing something mentally tiring, the best of the best break their sessions into 90-minute chunks as any longer than that results in much lower efficiency. I guarantee that if you do the same, you’ll find it much easier to commit to doing one 90-minute chunk every Saturday morning (where you complete the crux of your article) than you would two 90-minute chunks (because you also have to do all that other stuff you could have been doing throughout the week).
That sums up hacking our ability to blog; focus on reducing the time it takes when you physically sit down to blog and reduce the mental effort it takes to complete each article.
Cool so far? So how do we spark ourselves into action to take the plunge and actually blog? Triggers!
If you’ve bought-in to my argument for breaking down the blogging process into chunks, we’ll need to create two different triggers. We’ll need to trigger ourselves into ‘teeing up’ our blog posts and we’ll need a separate trigger to prod us into writing our articles.
Our triggers should be comprised of two parts (one of which might not be needed after a short while). First, we are going to remind ourselves that we should be doing the ‘teeing up’ stuff on a daily basis. I use 2 or 3 alarms on my iPhone for this, but you could set-up emails or texts to be sent to you to do the same job. To simultaneously boost my motivation, my alarms also give me a little pep-talk to remind why I’m doing this. Yours could be:
“Why am I blogging again? Oh yes, it’s because I want to build credibility with app developers so they’ll want to join our company and although it’s tough, Jason Cohen has proven it a worthwhile tactic – just look at his credibility! OMFG! I. CAN. BE. JASON. JFDI!”
We’re going to schedule these triggers to happen alongside a habit we already have or alongside something that already happens in our life. The plan is that, eventually, we won’t even need the alarm. We’ll just link that habit with the behaviour we want to exhibit and do it automatically.
Nowadays I don’t need an alarm to go off when I sit down in my train carriage to remind me what I need to do (though I still have it for the motivational messages). You should work this trigger + motivational message combo into your own life. If you don’t commute, what are you doing while eating your breakfast every morning? What are you doing in the half-hour between dinner finishing and Glee coming on TV (like I know when Glee is on, come on!)? What are you doing while on the treadmill? Man, you’d feel like a productivity ninja if you’d just worked out while also having completing half of your blogging tasks for the next week!
The trigger for actually writing your blog posts will work in a similar way. Work out when you want to write every week and remind yourself to do it. Try a couple of different times to see which works best. It’s really important to link this behaviour to an existing routine which is why, apart from showering, writing is the first thing I do every day. Why don’t you do it after you’ve put the kids to bed? Or as the first thing you do after work on a Tuesday and Thursday?
So there you have it. The formula for increased prolificacy in your blogging, based on research from Behavioural Designer, BJ Fogg, is:
[increased motivation] +
[increased ability (higher ease of use)] +
[timely triggers linked to habits] =
Behavioural design is now an integral part of how all the giants of our world work. Think how automatically people turn to Facebook (when bored) or Twitter (for news) or Amazon (when buying *anything*) or iTunes (when needing music) or Microsoft (when needing a spreadsheet) and you’ll see that it works.
I hope that you can use these techniques to increase the amount you blog.
Think these tactics would work for you? Leave a comment below:
Everything else. Anything that could be done by either of you should be done by you.
Some non-technical co-founders feel an air of guilt that they cannot offer assistance to their partners with the nuts and bolts of building product. Finding bugs in code at 3am is beyond them and — bar learning how to code themselves (a whole other story) — there is nothing they can do to help.
Or is there?
Trust me, if you execute on the tasks below, there will be no guilt in the relationship. Cumulatively, what you are going to be doing is more than a full-time role and your co-founder will be absolutely delighted that you’ve taken care of this stuff to allow him to get on with building product.
So what are you going to do?
You should be the go-to guy when it comes to knowing your customer and what they want. What are their problems? As Clayton asks, what are the jobs they need doing? How are they getting these jobs done at the moment? How could your product help?
As part of your daily routine, schedule one-to-two client calls. Every day. Very quickly, you’ll notice patterns in those conversations which can be directed back to your co-founder to help steer product development. Jason Evanish has an excellent article on this.
UX (User Experience)
Given your newly found tight-nit relationship with your customers, you should be the guy championing the experience they have in using your product.
Note that UX is not UI. Designing a User Interface is beyond you, but keeping your customer front-of-mind and ensuring that every touch-point they have with your company is a positive one is not. You can survive with a poor UI, but not with a poor UX.
Customer Service can be a make-or-break area for some startups, and is often absolutely central to a customer’s experience of a product. Therefore it is vital this function gets the attention it deserves at the founder-level.
This is a biggie. I believe one of a founders most important tasks is to tell great stories about how a customer’s life will be made that little bit better by use of his product.
Of course, anyone starting a company will be able to communicate how feature X of their product solves for customer problem Y. But it takes that extra something special to turn it into an aspirational tale that takes the customer’s mind wandering to a better place; a better place made possible by this wonderful and simple product.
In speaking to customers, you should be noticing the features/problems they mention most often and the language they use to describe them. You’ll want to match these priorities in your product and mirror their language in your stories.
Take your customers to a wonderful new place. But keep it simple. Which means you should master the art of…
Storytelling is one thing. Copywriting is another. Copywriting is not just banging out text describing what your features consist of. That’s rubbish copywriting. Honing your copywriting skills will ensure that all written communication — whether it be web copy, email auto-responders, blogging, press releases or investor pitch decks — pack much more of a punch with their intended audience.
Copywriting begins by knowing who you are writing for. Who are you targeting? Do they know about you? What do they know about you? Do they know about your product? Do they know they need your product? Spending 5 minutes answering these questions before writing your piece will give your copy so much more of a focus than otherwise.
While we’ve identified that we must become storytellers, we must also recognise when we should be brief. And to the point. I’m amazed at the number of well-funded startups who do not explain to me what they do when I land on their site.
When a user lands on your site, pick one core thing you have to offer her and make that the main focus of your homepage. Ensure it’s crystal clear what your proposition is.
Of course you have more to say. You have a dozen features to talk about. That’s what other pages of your website are for. Keep your homepage to the point. If I can’t tell what you do and why I should give a monkeys in 5 seconds, you should not assume I’ll expend any further effort to find out.
Joanna Wiebe at CopyHackers offers some great insights for startup founders looking to improve their copy. Sign up for her email list – within a fortnight you’ll have come on leaps and bounds.
I’m no expert on startup fundraising, but by all accounts it is one of the most time-consuming parts of early-stage startup life. Ergo, it’ll take up a lot of your coding co-founder’s time if you let it. Man up and take it on yourself – at least the early stage stuff.
When it comes to VC meetings, you’ll obviously both have to work on your pitch together. And your pitch will warrant a lot of work. But you should take care of the toing and froing that comes beforehand so your man can do what he does.
Founders should blog in three different ways. The first two methods should be started immediately; the final tactic can wait until you are looking to staff-up.
Firstly, founders should blog about their experiences as a founder on a personal blog. Blogging is such a great tool for building credibility, clarifying ones own thoughts, growing a network and increasing publicity – all useful pastimes for a founder.
Secondly, you should blog as part of a content marketing strategy. Start a blog on your company site with a focus on your users and their problems. Doing this is great for SEO and can really give your company a personality. Blog commenters can also be followed-up with as part of your Customer Development efforts.
Thirdly, if you want to get great people to come and work for you, you should start a blog informing the world of what it’s like to work with you. Don’t just talk about your culture and the fact that you have beers on a Friday afternoon. Talk about the problems you try to solve on a daily basis. Talk about your rationale behind the decisions that you’ve made. Talk about your vision for the future. Along with your personal founder’s blog, this will give potential hires a great insight into the real you – which can only work in your favour, right? The Netflix Tech blog does this well.
Be the Google Analytics guy. Be the Kissmetrics guy. Be the guy to tell your co-founder that the new feature he coded last week is reducing sign-ups by 20% so he can unwind it. Be the guy who keeps the rest of the business up-to-speed so they know where you are. Better still, be the guy who understands that even though you have 348 metrics you could report on, you are only going to focus on that one, ‘cos you know it’s the one that matters more than all the others at this time in your startup life.
Retention/Community/Social Media Management
You should own your Mailchimp account and whichever usage-based communication tool is your flavour of the month. You are also ideally situated to give yourself the honorary title of Chief Education Officer, taking responsibility for ensuring that those clients you do fight tooth and nail to convert actually get the benefits out of your product they were promised.
And it goes without saying that if you have a company forum or Twitter account it needs to be manned. And manned by you.
Learning new skills
If, after all of this, you still have some time on your hands, learn some new skills!
You are not going to out-design a designer anytime soon, but with a couple of days of Photoshop training under your belt you could easily tweak your email templates or spruce up that VC pitch deck.
Likewise, a little CSS chops will have you testing call-to-action layout positioning in no time.
Anything you can learn to do yourself means a little less time wasted for your techy co-founder. And as we are understanding, they take a little bit longer to get back into their rhythm than us non-technical brethren.
Keeping everyone else happy
If you need to take your co-founder’s dog to the vet so he can keep coding – do it! If you need to be the lunch delivery boy to keep his energy levels us – do it! If you need to treat his misses to a night on the town so she’s happy which keeps him happy – do it! (What? You’re co-founders – you trust each other, right…!?)
What else can you be getting up to? Leave your thoughts in the comments below.
Image credit: David Martyn Hunt