Turning complexity into clarity.

Give The Gluttons A Feast

In steering this ship on the quest for the first $10,000, I have charted a course to an online only venture. There are lots of sites to help you sell doodads or do drop shipping. In fact, the online only venture does end up with physical products, but that's the icing on top of the cake of online content creation.

To earn an income first you have to earn an audience, then advertising and lastly that income. You aren't so much a content creator: you're a chef. Some restaurants have faults that doom them and those same problems could spell the difference between success and failure for your venture. If you cater to the audience, then you can get them to gorge on your content like you're serving up an all-you-eat buffet. Good content is like good food, it hinges on good ingredients. When you cook up good ingredients once, it's called cooking. Doing it repeatedly for others is what the restaurant business is all about. If you can cook up great content, you need to know how to make that skill into a business. Content has to be served with several attributes: interest, easy digestion, quality, timeliness and regularity.

Interest
Your fare has to be interesting. Bread is boring, but a bakery is a destination. Celebrity sites are old hat, but look at how many are runaway popular. You have to be your own first fan. As long as you make your site interesting to your first fan, you have something to build on. If you don't like what you've output, stop. Re-assess what it will take to grab your interest and make it a destination for yourself and people like you.

When you look at what to cover, the general topic needs some longevity. If you do a Miley Cyrus site, you have to expect it to have a short shelf life with a boom and bust for content.

Some ideas to think about:

  • A news site (any topic with lots of material)
  • Videos (post them to Youtube and put a fleshed out version of information on your own site).
  • Comic strip (eg. XKCD or The Oatmeal).
  • Information site (like Instructables or similar).
  • Your Blog (if you have a fabulous site, you can have a fabulous blog).
  • Review site (you must like something, review everything in its category).

Easy Digestion
The easier it is to digest your product, the more likely you will get traction. Radio is still in the media game because it's so easy to recieve. You can turn on your car radio and it fills the car with noise. Print is on the ropes because of all of its downsides of delivery, cost and timeliness-- not to mention quality.

New media (aka the Interwebs), also has a similar pecking order. Pictures outflank text. Video out-performs pictures. Portability trumps them all. This is why podcasts had such a good time in the sun; everyone popped an iPod into their pocket and earbuds into their ears.

Consider how you produce your content. A site like I, Cringley will publish its text (great for SEO) and produce a podcast for each article. The podcast contains the article text in spoken form, but it opens another front by making the content easy to digest. If you do a video edition of your site, it will be easier for people to watch, but it will take more production time.

Quality
Your site has to have a consistent quality-- effectively an editorial voice. This isn't to say high quality or low quality. It has to be same quality. If you got fast food at a posh restaurant, you'd be insulted. If the opposite happened, you'd be confused. Figure out what you want to produce and keep aiming for the same territory. Read a paragraph in US Weekly and then a paragraph in the NY Times. You will see a very different editorial voice-- even if both pieces are about the same subject.

There are two aspects of quality: there is the editorial quality and the quality of the delivery. Your editorial quality should be as high as you can make it. In cooking terms, this amounts to a clean kitchen. As for the quality of delivery or the editorial voice of your site. It doesn't have to stuffy, polished or polite: grunge isn't bad. Some popular sites (cough! MySpace cough!) look horrible. If your site works best with quirks and clutter, go for it. I like a clean site with all of the intact navigation and no more, but how much you toss into your site is a topic for another day.

Timeliness
Food has to arrive quickly or its stale. Keep apprised of the social trends. Use popular topics as cues for what you should cover. For a while, you can run with the herd and riff off what the topic of the day is. After a while, even currency will grow stale and you can pepper in fresh ideas. If you're lucky, you could even get a jump on a trend and be the first to run with a meme.

In magazine publishing, some magazines used to have content locked down three months before publication. This was their way to get advertisers on board. You don't need to be that far sighted with the Internet, but you should still look to the future for fodder. Be prepared for what is to come. You could use this cool link to the trends of 2011 to gain some precognition into the coming year.
JWT: 100 Things to Watch in 2011View more presentations from JWTIntelligence.

Regularity
You have to publish on a consistent schedule. This is my greatest sin. I will go through periods of feast and famine. That is such a big problem when it comes to building an audience. There's this terrific Indian food place a few blocks from my house. They hung signs that read "Open Daily For Lunch"-- they weren't open daily nor were they open for lunch. If they had hung a sign that read "Open Randomly: Get It While You Can" I would have a lot more respect for them. For them, the random schedule means that I usually give them a pass rather than come by and find them closed. In Internet terms, publishing content randomly is the equivalent to the lack of regular opening hours. Do you have new content today? Should I check back today or next week? Meh-- now I've forgotten about this site of random novelty. It would be wonderful if you could kick out content daily or even more often, but your schedule has to be consistent.

When you arrive at a survivable schedule, there are three ways to stick with it:

Prep Work - Before you begin your new venture and embark on your path to your first $10,000, do some prep work. Make a chart of the content you want put into your site. If possible, write several pieces before your site launches, put them into a hopper using scheduling. When your site debuts, you won't be writing your first piece, but your third or fifth or tenth piece as the prepped backlog helps you.

Scheduling - Try to work up a backlog of articles. When you have more articles ready than you can fit in your schedule, write them and leave them unpublished. Drupal and WordPress both have scheduling add-ons available to allow you to publish pieces when it suits your schedule best.

Save Your Scraps - While frowned upon with restaurants, it's fine to do with content. Start to work on pieces as the mood suits you. When you have more material to flesh your pieces out, fill out a piece and put it into the queue for use.

The key to running a good web business is cooking up interesting material; delivering a consistent product; and keeping your audience intrigued.