From knowing nothing at all, to feeling like I’ve got this. Here’s a diary of my first 18 hours as a content marketer.
There is a very good chance that for most of my readers the amount of detail I’m about to offer will be overkill. But for anyone who is literally following along– and I hope some of you do– getting to see all the little tasks that go in to building the business will hopefully be useful.
While I have been thinking about starting a content marketing business since the summer of 2019, I decided to plunge in early last week. I wrapped up some lingering to do’s related to other projects, I set-up a home office in a corner of a second bedroom, and I got started.
But how do you start when you literally know nothing? Sure, over the last few months I’ve read some content marketing blogs, looked at some other people’s case studies and had gread about some basic SEO concepts, but that’s not exactly a solid foundation. Yet, in a lot of straightforward endeavors, there is no better training than real life experience, so I am just diving in.
I figure if you are trying to follow along, you can divide the time it takes me to do something in half. It took me 10 hours to get to point X? It will take you 5. This won’t always be true– you might get kicked in the teeth by a technical glitch that I got lucky enough to avoid. But in general, not only did I need to solve problem X, but I had to identify what problem X would be. Figuring out the sequencing and the tools is taking a lot of my time. By following the steps I am journaling every day, you don’t have to figure out what to do next.
So, without further ado, here is the breakdown of my first five days. Keep in mind, that this is all work I’ve done on Crunchle.com. Once I start working on my money site, my description of what exactly I’m doing will broken down in much more detail to help anyone else who can benefit from the precise details. For now, no technical details, just glancing under the hood.
Friday, April 3rd. Two hours of work. Hosting issues suck!
Last summer when I first thought about starting my own content marketing site, I bought a few domain names and bought a hosting package. (When I start my real money site in a few days, I’ll go through exactly how to do this step-by-step). One of the domains I bought was crunchle.com. No, it’s probably not a great domain name. It isn’t descriptive. It doesn’t let people know anything what I am doing here, but I liked it! And hey, if I am working on a project that is a labor-of-love (versus my K-12 education “money” site) I might as well like the name.
My first two hours on Friday were spent trying to get the hosting to work. I wanted to get an SSL certificate. There were so many options, and settings and, and, and… just lobotomize me now. This two hour of hosting crap was enough to make me question my plans. I had a twenty minute chat with tech support because of some cache issue that they did something to fix… and then…. woohoo! I could hit crunchle.com on my browser! For all the frustration, I went to bed feeling like a champ!
Saturday, April 4. Four and half hours of work. Installing WordPress and choosing a theme.
Installing WordPress was easier than I thought it would be. Again, this is my first time doing this stuff. I decided not to buy an actual “WordPress hosting solution”, in other words, I went the cheap route and needed to install WordPress myself. Here’s my take (as someone who is not particularly tech savvy): if you pay extra to have a server that already has WordPress on it then you are a SUCKER! It was literally two minutes of reading the instructions and pushing one button. To think I agonized over the decision and almost ponied up an extra $50 or $75 bucks (for the year) just pisses me off. Lesson: try doing it before spending money. Sure, if it isn’t easy, or the time isn’t worth what it will cost, no need to be cheap. But at least understand what you are up against before you throw money at fixing it.
Things that seem hard might be absurdly simple.
Don’t throw money at a problem until you understand the scope of the problem.
Choosing a theme. OK, I am ready to throw down about a hundred expletives as I tell you how challenging it is to pick a theme before you have any understanding of how to work with WordPress. For those new to all this, here is an analogy: WordPress is the engine and the theme is the car body. But, unlike going and buying a car from the dealer, where you get both things at once, here you have to get both separately, and hope they play nice together.
You also have to hope (if you are a beginner like me) that you get an engine that is easy to use and doesn’t require a lot of skills as a mechanic to make work. I am now living proof that someone without a lot of tech skills can navigate this stuff. Hey, you’re here reading this right? And I am writing this post, with the front page of Crunchle looking pretty sweet, after just 18 hours. When I go through the steps of launching my K-12 education site, I’ll go through everything I do– every choice I make– in excruciating detail. But for now just the big ideas.
So, the big lesson I learned here– and it was a lesson I learned by wasting a lot of time: don’t start out by shopping for themes. It is too overwhelming. There is too much choice. There are too many branches of each of the top level choices. (For example, the theme I ended up choosing, JNews, has 50 different demo variations!) Below is a screen shot from the WordPress theme marketplace. Of those 47,799 themes, I wasted three and a half hours on Saturday looking at what felt like 500 of them. Ugggg!
So how can you do this step faster? I realized instead of looking at 47,000+ themes to find one I liked, instead look at themes I liked and then figure out what they were. It turns out people have made great tools for doing this. (Of course they have! Coders rock; there is a tool for everything!) I thought about blogs I really liked. I thought about random blogs I had come across. I thought about who I wanted to emulate in terms of style and the general look of my site. I didn’t spend a ton of time on this. The goal here isn’t to be great, but to be done. (“The Lean Startup” by Eric Ries a great book about why launching fast matters more than being perfect. I highly recommend it.) After about twenty minutes I found my target: shanghai.ist.
I don’t really read a lot of blogs, and Shanghai.ist wasn’t really something I had seen before, but I had read a COVID-19 article on it a few days before and had remembered it. Then I plugged the domain name into this awesome tool: gochyu. This is a theme detector. Once you put in the website you are curious about it tells you what theme and WordPress plugins that site uses. Super awesome! There are many other theme detectors, but there is a huge variance in how well they each work. I plugged shanghai.ist into 5 different theme detectors, and gochyu had the best results and the most detail. So, that’s my official recommendation.
Don’t choose a theme by digging through a massive marketplace.
Choose a theme by reversing engineering themes you like, using a theme detector.
The happy and sad news: when I bought JNews for Crunchle, they were having a sale, and I paid $38 for a six month license. The bad news is that I want to use JNews for my K-12 education site, but the sale is over now and it’s going to cost me $55. Bummer! In theory, I could choose a different theme, and get back in that $30 range, but there is a real learning curve here. That $20 might be better spent now than losing three hours learning all the ins-and-outs of a new-to-me cheaper theme.
Sunday, April 5. Four and half hours more hours. Installing the theme and figuring it out.
I spent Sunday installing JNews and figuring out how to use WordPress. There were definitely moments I felt that I was in over my head. The whole thing was two steps forward and one step back. All in all, it took me about 30 minutes with the JNews documentation to get the theme installed. Then, I spent about half an hour figuring out how to get the demo going. I decided to use the demo, and just change everything in WordPress. (In other words, instead of installing the theme and building the site I wanted with the modules that the theme includes, I installed the demo, and then just opened the posts and started changing the titles.)
Here is my pro-tip from my Sunday experience: If you really have no clue how to use WordPress, and/or you don’t know how to use the themes that “sit on top” of the WordPress engine, installing the theme demo is definitely the way to go. There are a few reasons to do this (if you are brand new to this WordPress stuff). First, the site looked really cool from the get go, instead of looking like a blank canvas. More importantly, every time I changed a headline and refreshed the page, I had this awesome sense of accomplishment. Getting to see my micro changes inside of something that looked fairly complete really kept me motivated so stick to it and keep working.
If you are new to WordPress, don’t start with the theme as a blank slate.
Install the demo and change stuff that’s already there.
Way easier to figure it all out this way.
The best part (for me) of using the demo and changing little elements like tags, headlines, photos, and categories, is that I really started to understand how all the pieces fit together. I spent the rest of the day messing around with all of these little things and then seeing how it played out on the site. By the time I called it a day on Sunday I felt like I knew enough to keep my head above water. Yeah! That was a great boost and left me feeling like I was ready to start creating content on Monday!
Monday, April 6. Seven hours logged. Let the writing begin!
Crunchle looked pretty rough when I woke up Monday morning. Even though I spent a lot of my time Sunday figuring out what all the back end buttons did, the live version of the site pretty much was unchanged. I decided Monday was the day to make it feel like my site. I looked at the demo, which had four big sections on the front page. I decided what kinds of content I wanted in each of those sections; I opened up a spreadsheet, and I started writing headlines of articles I imagined posting soon.
After about 30 minutes, I had 25 articles, organized into 4 categories. I decided which 3 would be the first ones I’d write and I changed those headlines on the homepage. Dang that felt good! Next stop on the content creation train: outlining my first article.
My favorite outlining tool is workflowy. It is awesome, and it is awesome for everything. I use it for making lists and plans for all kinds of things. And, for writing blog posts, it is great! Mentioning workflowy though brings up a really important question: should you outline everything you write? I’m going to cover this in a lot more depth in a comprehensive guide to content creation I plan on writing soon, but for now, let me say emphatically: YES!
Even if you aren’t a big outliner in general, what I learned in my SEO explorations over the summer is that the way you organize your content can have a big impact on SEO. In fact, organization can have such an impact, that the way you use headers (basically those big titles at the top of every few paragraphs) will even determine (in part) how well you rank. By making an outline, you have basically just started with the work of making the headers. This also makes it easier to write the whole article for those of us who sometimes struggle with procrastination. Once you have your outline, your job is writing (for example) seven mini-articles, not one big one. It’s way easier to get going when you can see the baby steps that will get you to the finish line.
Here is the first article I wrote for Crunchle. (This article that you are reading now is my second.) The outline took me 15 minutes. I think that is on the long side, but I haven’t written anything besides emails and thank you cards in ten years, so I’m not unhappy with 15 minutes. In comparison, today’s article (this one) took me 11 minutes to outline.
With outline in hand, I started writing. Here is a mistake I made on that first article that cost me some time. I wrote the whole thing on Google Docs but then I had to move it over to WordPress. It wasn’t like this took a painful amount of time, but it did add time that was entirely wasted. If you write directly in WordPress you can add photos, and quotes and captions as you go along. Way, way easier. Today (this article, #2) I am writing directly in WordPress and it is way smoother!
So, how much actual writing happened yesterday?
|TASK||TIME||TOTAL TIME (RUNNING TOTAL)|
|Making the outline||0:15||15 min|
|Formatting and adding stock photos||1:15||4:25|
|Re-reading, editing, tightening it all down||0:45||5:10|
3097 words on the site in five hours and ten minutes. 10ish words a minute. 600 words an hour! And that’s with formatting and images.
If I can reasonably expect 600 words an hour, that’s not bad. I’ve read that one of the things a content marketing site will need to succeed is about 200,000 words of content. About 333 hours of writing at the pace I am going now. While I hope I can speed up, how many hours do I need per week to hit different goals? Let’s look:
|HOURS PER WEEK||WORDS PER WEEK||(APROX.) WEEKS TO HIT 200,000 WORDS|
Right now, with the lock-down, I think thirty or more hours is reasonable. But in my regular life, if I can squeeze out 15 hours out a week, I’d be really happy. Keep in mind, on top of this 15 hours will be other tasks like adding affiliate links, reaching out for backlinks, and putting out fires where ever they may start. But, I’ll also have the option of outsourcing articles. (For almost all of this stuff, you can always swap money for time, and I’ll write about that in another post.)
While 350 hours might seem overwhelming, if you think about spreading it out over a year, that’s about 6 hours of writing a week. Is it worth it? What will you make per hour of your time? I’m going to play around with those numbers in a post I’ll write up soon (and link here, then). For now, I’ll say I’ve run some numbers, and I do think it is worth it. But, I’ll let you know if I think the same thing 350 hours from now!
Where am I now? What today looks like? What’s coming up?
Today hasn’t been as productive as yesterday. That’s ok…. this is a marathon, not a sprint. This article will be about 2800 words. I hope it has been a useful 2800 words! I spent a little under 5 hours on it. That includes the time it took to find images and play with layout options (I’m still not great at that). The good news is that it just keeps getting easier, which is why you should start now!
(Once I post an index of all of my “just start” articles I’ll update it here with a link. Just walk through them one at a time, and let me know in the comments how it’s going!)