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5 Pitfalls to Avoid When Launching a Blog

I tried many platforms to feel at home. Here's what I learned.

Oren Cohen
Oren Cohen
Photo: iStock.

October 2020 Update: I moved back to Ghost - the site you're reading this on, but with the paid plan which takes care of all the peripheral costs I initially mentioned.


Over the last year or so, I’ve moved through blogging platforms faster than I binged shows on Netflix. But, the thing is, I learned a lot from this process. I discovered what I like and what I don’t like about my word’s home.

For example, I love Ghost but I found that the pricing associated with its peripheral services could be very pricey. I paid almost a hundred dollars a month because I used services that I thought I needed. In truth, I didn’t need any of it. I didn’t really need a comment section. I didn’t really need a lot of sharing options, only a few. I didn’t really need a strong machine because my monthly unique visitors were in the thousands, not the tens of thousands.

So, in this piece, I would like to welcome you to my new home. I will share with you what brought us here, the reasoning behind these decisions, and what I learned from the process so you could avoid those same mistakes yourselves.

Self-Hosting Ghost Was Too Expensive

I only ever wanted to write words, to create. Isn’t that what we all want? The problem with that was that I made bad decisions in designing my website or my entire brand for that matter. One of my earliest mistakes was basing my decisions on the potential of making money sometime down the road.

If this is your motivator, I urge you to revisit that decision.

It resulted in many problems for me. For one, I had made things complicated for myself by offering both a subscription on my blog and also a Patreon opportunity. And when the inevitable happened and someone signed up for my Patreon but wanted access to my blog, too, I realized the error of my ways.

I spent almost a hundred dollars monthly to make sure that monolith was actually working. It wasn’t.

As I’m dealing with my financial challenges, a decision had to be made. So, I moved to Substack. It was the logical solution as it had all the features I wanted: sending emails, a comment section, a WYSIWYG editor, and a robust infrastructure to rely on. To this day, I don’t think I encountered service disruptions on Substack.

So, why wasn’t it a good choice?

Making Substack Work Was Not Worth It

Substack might be a great service when you have a specific niche. Say, you’re a journalist and you publish your news pieces over there. Many journalists move to the email-focused service for the easy-to-use features that they offer. These creators have a specific niche. There is a novelist on Substack who publishes chapters weekly.

Focusing on one type of writing is not my style. I am a content creator and I have many topics that I write about in my portfolio using more than one type of content form.

When I opened the publication on Substack it felt weird to be sending everyone an email with a full post whenever I publish something even if I was writing in different niches.

I needed to believe that the platform was working for me, too. I didn’t feel like that with Substack and not because they are not good. It’s my style of writing that just didn’t suit this kind of platform. And that made Substack not worth to grow on, in my mind.

This was the vision-focused reason I didn’t stay there but there were more practical reasons, too.

  1. No top-level domain. All of their sites are [name].substack.com. I assume this feature might arrive sometime in the future — even the near future.
  2. No integration with Zapier or any webhooks at all. That meant that I couldn’t automatically sign up new patrons to get the emails, I had to do it manually. Besides, working on Substack rendered my ConvertKit useless. I couldn’t keep track of Substack sign-ups vs. other sources sign-ups like my free Medium course which is offered on a ConvertKit landing page.

The main takeaway here is to keep it simple. I already have one system to send emails to my subscribers and that is ConvertKit. I don’t need more. Even here on this new site, Squarespace allows me to integrate with Zapier and send new subscribers to CK.

When I commit to sending emails only from one source, there is meaning when someone decides to click the unsubscribe button. It’s my responsibility to make sure I don’t send them emails anymore on any platform and it makes it a lot easier when you only use one email service.

And yet with all the setbacks, I decided to plunge my head into Substack’s platform. Here’s why.

I Wanted to Become Part of a Community

I broke my own rules with that move. Becoming part of a community means writing on a website where it’s easy for other people to discover your work. But, as Neil Patel says, you need to bring people back to your own site. So, SEO-wise, it’s a smarter move to have my own blog and than syndicate the content on it to other platforms.

By moving to Substack I basically broke my own rule of not moving to Medium for example. They are one and the same. Only, Medium is closer to being a social network than the former is. The latter is also more open with their email management while the former allows readers to sign up to your newsletter without being privy to their actual email information. That keeps Medium in power even though they give you a powerful tool — to send emails to subscribers from the platform itself.

As a Content Creator, it’s important to not be associated with any one platform. Do you want to be known as the “writer from Medium”, or “That writer from Facebook”? No, you want your brand to stand on its own two feet. Yes, it’s important to write and create where your audience lives. You need to begin somewhere. But, you also need to be able to draw them to you and not just meet them where they are. It’s tougher than it looks.

Nicolas Cole, the founder of Digital Press, started his publishing journey by answering a ton of questions on Quora. He honed his skill and even though his environment told him that writers will forever remain poor and that it’s a bad career decision, he stayed consistent. Then he went on to open Digital Press. He owns a paid email list and of course a personal website where you can find all the platforms he’s on at the moment.

Every Public Figure in the world is known individually, not associated with a platform or where they started. Leonardo DiCaprio is not associated with Titanic. He worked hard to stand on his own fame since then. Andrew Sullivan, the political blogger who made headlines when he made more than a million dollars from his blog, The Dish, in one year, is not associated with that blog anymore. In fact, the dish has not been updated since 2015. Fun Fact: Andrew Sullivan moved to Substack. He is known for his political writing and it doesn’t matter whether he wrote it on his own blog or in a newspaper — he built a powerful personal brand. All of us should be doing the same.

The takeaway? Create where your audience lives but don’t neglect not having a home on the internet.

Now, the next point is about streamlining this process.

Don’t Make it More Complicated Than it Needs to Be

People grow to expect something simple and consistent from you. You don’t need to be on every platform and you don’t need to stretch your abilities longer than needed to grow. Just be consistent with what you’re doing right now and make sure it’s easy to do.

In my Ghost blog, I made sure to be on many platforms and syndicate my posts to other platforms. This isn’t the way to go. I already know that for me, I would focus on Twitter, Facebook, and Medium. That’s it. I don’t need to be anywhere else for now.

Decide for yourself how to make the publishing process easy. It should allow you to write, publish, and then perhaps make it easy for you to syndicate your content around the web.

When you make it easy and simple, it would be possible to stick to a schedule.

Have a Publishing Schedule

Not having a schedule is by far the biggest pitfall of my writing journey. Even before I got started on Substack, I needed to have a schedule and I simply didn’t. I will say even more than that: I didn’t have a plan. What was a success? I didn’t know. It’s a basic thing to define where you’re headed. I didn’t do that.

When I started on Substack, I realized things would have to be different. Every post I publish will be sent to email subscribers and if I send too many emails every week, that’s spamming. if I send too little, It’s easier to forget me.

That’s why I decided to publish new articles two times a week, in addition to a weekly list of five things (or Dragons) that inspired me this week.

You need to find the thing that works for you. Perhaps you feel like you could only write once per week? Or, maybe you could write a lot more? If you’re fortunate to have more time to write, you still need to remember to not spam your subscribers. Perhaps send them a digest of your posts once per week. Do what feels like a good balance between writing to your capacity and also keeping your subscribers engaged.

Conclusion

Starting a blog doesn’t have to be messy. In this piece, I covered some of the pitfalls I went through in my journey. Paying too much money for hosting and peripheral services, sacrificing your independence for growing on a closed platform, searching for a community when you don’t have a home of your own, making publishing needlessly complicated, and publishing inconsistently.

These are the pitfalls you want to avoid when you open a new blog. Make it easy to churn out new content and spread it around. Make it easy to repeat this process.

Thanks for reading!