My Teenage Blogging Secret Is Key to My Grown-up Side-Hustle SuccessMay 30, 2021
I’ve accidentally lied in every writing interview I’ve ever given.
“Did you write from a young age? Was it something you’ve always enjoyed?”
“No, I tried a WordPress blog a few years ago but no one read it!”
The truth is something came a decade before the failed WordPress blog but I wiped it from my memory. I was too embarrassed to ever tell anyone but I suppose it’s time I came clean.
I was “Backcracker_uk” on the discussion boards for Smackdown on IGN with over 5000 posts and comments. Thankfully, they’ve archived their forums so there’s no evidence.
Yes, it’s a stupid name but I was 13 years old in my defense. In hindsight, I’m amazed at how obsessed I was with blogging back then. I spent hundreds of hours writing posts for free just for the praise of random strangers on the internet. These were the days before social media so I had to waste my time somehow.
I didn’t realize the skills I learned would help me earn tens of thousands of dollars in my first year trying a new side hustle. I avoided many of the basic errors so many others make because subconsciously I reused the same approach I used all those years ago.
The websites people write on might keep changing but you can use the fundamentals from a dweeby younger version of me to give yourself a headstart.
Lurk (in a non-creepy way)
Engagement metrics have become an obsession for many online businesses and it’s easy to forget most people consume silently. You’ll have no idea who the majority of people who read your articles or watch your videos are. Only a small percentage of people will leave a comment or press the like button.
I was one of these lurkers for months on the Smackdown boards. I didn’t care about the contributors as I only wanted the content. Over time I started recognizing names and seeing how the social ecosystem on the platform worked. I became engrossed in this little world.
By the time I finally decided to write my own post, I knew how to structure and format my articles like the forum veterans. My work drew attention because I had picked up what types of titles and images people loved. I understood readers because I had been one myself for so long.
My approach to blogging as an adult was exactly the same. I read articles online for six months before posting my own so I skipped the mediocre phase. One of my first articles went viral with over 100,000 views. Lurking has benefits.
If you want to be successful online, stop expecting people to spoon-feed you. All the information is out there if you choose to find it. If you want to shortcut then pay experts for their time but please don’t take the entitled route of cold messaging people for free advice.
Eyes on the key stats
Every week on the IGN forum, there was a community update with a bunch of boring sections but I read every week to check the leaderboard.
The rankings were based on a quality metric of the number of posts a user had done and the number of followers they had. These were the only two statistics it was possible to access on IGN but they provided a great proxy. It was very active for an internet forum in the mid-2000s and over 100 people were listed.
I made it to fourth on the list at my peak and while I don’t mention it on my resume, at the time it felt like a huge achievement. I intentionally targetted this quality metric while I was blogging. I wanted everything I posted to add value and resonate with people.
Even today, this is the number I pay most attention to in my writing. I don’t want to churn out sub-par content in the hope something takes off. I’m measured and generally only post once or twice a week. I’ve achieved more than I could have imagined with 25k Medium followers without even reaching 100 posts.
In the long run, quality over quantity always wins out.
The community thread
I had no intentions of talking to random strangers on the internet, I was taught about stranger danger at school!
Yet consistently posting high quality and rising up the leaderboard triggered the IGN community’s curiosity. The rumor mill believed I was actually a user who had mysteriously stopped posting months ago after being active daily. They considered it unlikely a new user could understand their tiny corner of the internet so quickly.
The persistent messaging led me to begin posting in the community thread where anything off-topic was discussed. I used the fake name “Aamir” because I was still cautious but soon relaxed as I found I had lots in common with the other users. Their feedback helped me grow but more importantly made me enjoy the forums more and spend even more time there.
As an adult, I again had no plans to engage in the writing community. Why would I try to make friends with people who I’d never meet in real life? Yet the same thing happened and within a few months, I made close digital friends. There’s no way I would have the results I have without their support and I would have become bored and given up a long time ago.
The lesson is to produce quality first and let people come to you. Give people valuable content then they’ll want to connect with you.
Remember what really matters
As a kid going to school, I had many other priorities asides from blogging; school, homework, friends, sports, and all the other normal teenage stuff. It meant sometimes I didn’t have the time to post as high quality as I wanted to.
I was in a competition where two bloggers would be given the same topic and whoever wrote the better post would progress to the next round. I was into the semi-finals but behind on my homework. The pressure meant I made a fatal mistake and paraphrased someone else’s content.
The community noticed and did not hide their outrage. I was branded a cheat and all my previous posts were called into question. They believed I should have forfeited rather than cheat and it was hard to disagree with their logic. My carefully crafted image for quality was gone overnight. I was lost.
I’m glad I did what I did because it forced me to confront the unhealthiness of my obsession with the Smackdown boards. I left the forum and never looked back.
The same pressures creep into my mind now as an online entrepreneur. It’s harder in the short term to focus on high quality instead of just trying to copy other people’s work. Other creators will even tell you to steal other people’s titles and ideas.
The drama from half my life ago means I know better now and won’t repeat the same mistake. Growth is important to me but never more than my integrity. If you’re the same as me then learn from my mistakes.
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