Have you ever worked so long and hard on your site you couldn’t think straight? I have. It’s not good in the short term or long term for both your business and your health.
It’s an easy trap to fall into working 24/7 on your blog (aka online business). There is no end to what you can do in an effort to grow it. In fact, the to-do list never ends.
I work reasonably hard but I never put in monster 80 hour weeks. I’m not capable of that. Okay, when I started I probably got close some weeks because I was juggling a full time job and growing my niche sites. But once I was full time online, it’s been rare I put in more than 50 hours per week. I prefer to keep it at 40 or fewer.
I embrace the tortoise (not the hare). I take it slow and steady (for the most part). This has enabled me to carry on for 10+ years through the good and the bad (and there have been rough patches in this business).
I don’t recall any serious burnout periods fortunately, but I’ve had some weeks where I worked harder than I should have. I’ve certainly worked inefficiently which contributed to higher stress levels.
I’m sure I’m not the only blogger who has endured stressful days and weeks. I will again, but I do take steps to minimize it. Here’s what I do.
Focus on highest ROI projects
I’m guilty of violating this big time. I’ve wasted so many hours doing stuff that produces a terrible ROI (or no return). Had I focused on high ROI tasks I’d be much further ahead. The thing is, this requires choosing to forego a lot. It’s hard to not do everything. Just because you can doesn’t mean you should.
I had a big revelation this past weekend. I was checking out John Lee Dumas income reports (now that I’m podcasting, I’m interested in what’s possible) and noticed that 50%+ of his substantial revenue is from sponsored podcast advertisements. The rest of his income (which is also a lot) is a massive list of “a little bit here and a little bit there”. In other words, his remaining revenue is spread across many sources.
Interestingly, his courses do not account for all that much revenue (it’s still quite a bit but much less than sponsored ads). I expected it to be higher.
This is not a criticism of John. In fact, I’m astonished at how well he does and it’s all centered around podcasting. I just found it very interesting how sponsored podcast ads accounted for such a large portion of his revenue.
Here’s the revelation as it pertains to Fat Stacks (and my niche sites generally).
I put quite a bit of time juggling a few balls around here yet given the rapid growth of my podcast and the insane sponsored ad revenue potential, I would probably be best-served putting more time into the podcasts. I hope I manage to pull this off. The problem is sponsors aren’t interested until each podcast episode has a sizeable audience. Which means, I have to wait.
Don’t worry, I’ll still blog here because I like writing (and it forms the content for my podcasts). I’ll continue sending out my new stuff in the email newsletter as well.
But, if I’m smart, I need to do more podcasting. After all, I like the ad revenue model (most of my niche site revenue is from ads), so why not do more of it here?
Focusing on high ROI projects certainly applies to my niche sites.
My success is primarily a result of publishing plenty of evergreen content targeting low competition keywords. I do this across several niche sites. I have terrific systems in place now so that my time requirement is minimal. It works for me.
What doesn’t work are videos, email, link building (mainly because I don’t like doing this and it’s risky) and social media. It’s not that this stuff doesn’t work generally, and it may work for you. It’s just that it doesn’t work well for me. It generates a weak ROI when other tasks are much better for the bottom line. We all have our strengths, weaknesses and preferences.
Highest ROI doesn’t always mean the most money
This is where the concept can get difficult. Sometimes, you can make more money but it takes exponentially more effort. It’s passive vs. hustle income.
I’ve fallen for the “more money” trap many times. However, the better move for me is to focus on the “passive” approach where I can earn good revenue from minimal input.
High ROI means earning more from less. While it may not result in maximum revenue, it’s geared toward more from less.
For example, I could probably do quite a bit more consulting if I lowered my price to $150 per hour. I could promote it and potentially add a niche chunk of revenue to my business. However, whatever the revenue amounted to, it would take a lot of my time.
Alternatively, I can invest in podcasting, which is quite a bit of time up front, but if I play my cards right and my podcast grows, it’ll pay off with much more revenue per hour down the road.
Limit my hours
In Tim Ferriss’ 4-Hour Workweek, he talks about Parkinson’s Law. He didn’t come up with it, but he popularized it. In a nutshell, the theory is “work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion” [source: Wikipedia].
Sometimes this is okay, but often a task needs only a fraction of the time allotted to it.
Applied to blogging, if you’re smart about how you go about it, especially once you have revenue coming in, you could probably do a lot more in less time. Perfectionism and analysis paralysis afflicts many bloggers. Fortunately, I’m not afflicted with perfectionism (I’m probably a bit too sloppy), but sometimes analysis paralysis creeps in.
You can only effectively work so many hours in a day and week. At some point you need to disengage. You are not a robot or a machine. I know it can be hard to stop mid-task, but often it’ll turn out better if you return to complete it the next day or after a few hours away from it. I’ve noticed this many times. In fact, I reserve my most important tasks (content review and ordering) to first thing in the morning because I know I am at my best then.
If you’re prone to slogging away 18 hours per day, perhaps trying to cap it at 8 and see what happens. In a way, I’m fortunate because I have kids and spending time with them is a priority. I work regular hours and leave it at that. If I didn’t have kids, I suspect I’d be tempted to work more hours than I do. And this goes to show that I can still get what I need to get done by capping my work day to 6 to 8 hours.
Focus on projects that I can outsource (and/or you enjoy)
There is some work you cannot outsource. That’s okay if you like it. I write most of the posts and all of the email newsletters around here because I enjoy it. I do the podcasts as well. If I outsourced all the articles here, it would change the nature of the site.
However, if you’re doing work you don’t enjoy, either stop doing it, or outsource it. Typically, recurring tasks are ideal for outsourcing. Fortunately a lot of what goes into running a successful niche site or blog are recurring tasks.
As soon as you can afford it, outsource recurring tasks. I understand when starting out that you have to do it all, but once you can afford it, outsource it.
I resisted outsourcing for quite a while because I feared other people couldn’t do it as well as I could. This is nonsense. In fact, I now work with writers who write far better than me. I have VAs who are faster and more detail-oriented than me. My head VA who manages all the VAs is an organizational phenom. I’m a total disaster when it comes to organizing anything. She organizes and stores everything.
The key is hiring and keeping the right people and training them well. This can be a somewhat long process (an unpleasant one but worth doing).
You may have to let new hires go if they can’t do the job. You will need to provide detailed instructions and training (short training videos work very well).
But once you train good folks your work life will become so much easier.
These days, I focus on niche sites that I can easily outsource most of work. When I bring my A-game when expanding, my mantra is “can I outsource most or all of this?” If so, I do it. If not, it’s a no-go.
Scale up what works, ditch the rest
Once you hit upon a winning formula, scale it up. Why reinvent the wheel when you have a winning concept?
If you have a successful niche site, and you want to launch another site, why not do a similar type of site in a different niche. Sure, there may be slight differences, but generally similar approaches can work in many niches.
I do this. I’ve developed niche site concepts that work (they’re largely visual). I now publish 3 of them. Interestingly, they’re the three highest earning blogs (other than the one B2B that I’ve had for many years).
For whatever reason, this type of site works for me. I can also use very similar article topics and concepts across all three so keyword research is a breeze. My team is trained extensively so deploying them and training new folks is very easy because I already have systems in place.
Basically all I’m doing is scaling up a winning formula across multiple web properties.
Interestingly, Fat Stacks is an outlier site and it shows. I’m still scrambling around with how to scale Fat Stacks. To my defense, I have quite a bit going on, but Fat Stacks should be much more successful than it is. At least it’s fun to run.
Have realistic expectations
Burnout often stems from having unrealistic expectations. When you fail to meet those expectations, you get stressed out.
Ignore the “get rich quick” info out there. It doesn’t work. It’s taken me years to build up my online publishing business.
For example, you can’t rush Google if you’re going for organic search traffic. Even if you published 4,000 high-quality articles at one time, it’ll take time for those articles to get traffic and mature into good revenue streams.
Yes, you can have some luck and if you do this long enough, you will enjoy some luck. An article may go viral. You may earn a huge commission. These things happen, but enjoying consistent peak results takes time.
Learn to live with unfinished work
Many jobs are such that once you leave work, you don’t have to think about it anymore.
This is not the case with running a business. There is always unfinished work. There are always problems to solve, opportunities to consider and new ideas to implement.
If you think you need to have everything “finished” before you shut down your computer, you’ll go crazy because that will never happen.
Instead, accept that it’s not done and you’ll get to it later.
In fact, I like having a never-ending list of stuff to do. Never do I show up to work looking for things to do. I’ve become pretty good at booting work out of my head once I’m done. When I do think about work, I’m okay with the fact I have a lot to do and won’t get to it until Monday morning.
There are exceptions. If I get an email that a site is down, I will deal with it immediately. There aren’t many problems as severe, but once in a while (as in once a year) something comes up that I have to deal with right away.
While I love the fact I make as much money on weekend not working as when I do work, the thought of a site down for a day or two not earning is not a situation I can wait out.
Develop interests outside of work
For entrepreneurs, it’s easy for your work to be both your work and your hobby. I love this work. I have no desire to stop.
However, I do have other interests that help me disengage from it, which helps me do it better in the long run.
Having other interests helps me limit my hours. My interests include hanging out with my wife and kids, playing a few sports (squash, skiing, mountain biking), working out and reading novels are my typical pastimes outside of work.
If you’re the type of person that likes a challenge, choose something where you can make progress. This isn’t all that important for me, but I can see how it can be a motivating factor for other people and serves as an incentive to drop work and do something else.
Jon runs the place around here. He pontificates about launching and growing online publishing businesses, aka blogs that make a few bucks. His pride and joy is the email newsletter he publishes.
Hyperbole? Maybe, but go check it out to see what some readers say.
In all seriousness, Jon is the founder and owner of a digital media company that publishes a variety of web properties visited and beloved by millions of readers monthly. Fatstacks is where he shares a glimpse into his digital publishing business.