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Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Professional Blogging: How To Become A Successful OnlineTechnology Reporter - My Story With Robin Good

Professional blogging is a huge growth area, and there are few people who wouldn't relish ditching the nine-to-five for a life writing about the things they love best. That's exactly what I did one year ago, when I joined Robin Good's Media Network. I haven't looked back since.

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A little less than a year ago I hadn't even considered the idea that I would be making my living by writing blog posts and making videos for the web. I was an active blogger, putting together various projects and writing about what inspired me, but I had no inclination that blogging would change my life in so many ways.

I had worked all kinds of jobs, from HR recruitment to lecturing in film at university and was all set to enter the world of academia, lining myself up for three years of financial hardship and some serious study for a PhD after a spell teaching English in Japan. I had my doubts though - surely there were better and more efficient ways to reach people than lecture theaters and seminar rooms.

Then I met Robin Good, and in a few breakneck months had made the complete transition from blogging as an interesting sideline, to blogging enough to earn a decent living, live in four different countries, and forget about ever having to set foot in an office again. It's been one hell of a year.

As I get ready to set learn more and start some new responsibilities here with Robin, I thought it might be a good idea to share what I've been doing this last year - what I've learned from my time with Robin Good, where it has taken me, and what I think it takes to get on as a professional freelance tech blogger.

If you're interested in making that transition yourself there is every possibility that it could be you next.

Becoming a Professional Blogger With Robin Good

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A year ago, I was invited by Robin to collaborate on some initial content production work together. Over time, as we both realized that we enjoyed working together, and I had managed to prove myself as someone interested in taking things further, I moved from an initial part-time engagement to a full-time writing, video-making and editorial position.

In the space of a few short months I went from researching content for Robin's network, to writing my first post under his direct voice and screen-sharing guidance, to eventually taking on a daily schedule of researching, writing and publishing content for two of the three main websites in the network.

Every step of the way Robin was there with guidance and new challenges. While I was rapidly taking on new tasks within the network, Robin was carefully staggering my learning, which all took place in a very trusting, hands-on and informal way.

Robin doesn't teach you. Robin guides you into making your own conclusions, and asks subtle questions rather than telling you what to do.

Over time, through effective modeling and continuous dialogue, I started to pick up the key skills needed to write, edit and research work for the network.

Six months in and I was:

  • Creating and editing daily content for the presentation and visual communications blog Masterviews
  • Writing regular content for Master New Media several times a week
  • Effectively NewsMastering for the Master New Media stream of news content, twice a day, hand picking the best blog posts and information from the web to share with our readers
  • Creating regular screencasts, and learning about the vast range of web video services and their strengths and weaknesses
  • Interviewing and chatting to the CEOs of Web 2.0 start ups on a regular basis

It has been a breakneck journey, and sometimes it all seems like a blur. At times it has been a very challenging journey, as the need to manage both new work stuff and my own personal time have taken me more than once to stretch in significant ways my notion of work and of being a good manager of one's own time.

...and by the way... Robin will settle for nothing less than your very best - and so, there is no way to fake an article written with too little time available or rushed through the door to make the deadline... Robin will "see it through" the moment he reads it. I don't know how he does it, but I can tell you that he is better than an airport sniffing dog when it comes to evaluating the quality of writing, its layout and formatting, the selection of images and more.

In the space of months I have gone from blogging as a hobby, to making my full income from the blogosphere, supporting myself and my wife in our global travels while picking up an innumerable amount of skills I will find myself using for the rest of my life.

Wow, I said to myself after a while... that is the kind of opportunity I always wanted to have. No office, no hours, no dress code plus the opportunity to do what I like best, to do it at the time I want, to get tremendous feedback and advice and to work and learn from great colleagues and teammates.



Getting Yourself Noticed

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Photo credit: Stephen Coburn

Bloggers blog, and if you aren't already out there on the web writing about what excites and inspires you, you need to be. But blogging is a lot more than the writing and publishing. Unlike print, what defines blogs as a new medium is their strong roots in striking up a conversation.

Having a great blog might just get you hired, or even earn you enough money in ad revenues to support yourself given time and patience. But if you want to thrive, your blog is going to be the launch pad from which you begin a thousand conversations.

Blogs might get you noticed, but it is people that get you jobs.

I met Robin Good through a blog project I was putting out a little over a year ago, and made a point of asking some of the key bloggers I read daily to contribute their thoughts. Robin was at the top of my list. It felt like a shot in the dark, and I never expected anything to come of it, but it was from this conversation that everything that has happened to me ever since, grew to what I have in my hands today.

I'm not suggesting that you should coldly and ruthlessly cook up reasons to talk to people in the interests of advancing your career - people will see through you if you aren't speaking straight from the heart.

But if you are passionate enough to reach out and strike up conversations about the things that really matter to you, it can be surprising how readily people will respond.

The friendship and subsequent business relationship that developed between myself and Robin did so through our mutual passions for online collaboration, open-source culture and the emerging technologies that are changing everything around us.

And at that point I had not even the faintest idea of just how much this learning experience with Robin Good was going to affect and transform my whole life in the following 12 months.



Key Skills And Character Traits

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Photo credit: John Tomaselli

So what do you need to get by in a professional blogging job while making the best of it?

I think there are definitely some key skills, which I will list below, but far more importantly there are some essential character traits.

Skills can be learned, and in my humble opinion Robin Good is a true master at this, but if you don't have some key strengths of your own to bring to the table, you are more than likely not to be able to go much further on this path.



Character Traits

In my humble opinion you have a much better chance of success if you are passionate about your subject.

For me, that's Web 2.0, disruptive technologies and social media. For you that might be knitting, dog training or origami. It might sound like a cliché, but if you don't have the passion to drive yourself, you are unlikely to make it through the tough times, the hard work and the sometimes long hours spent researching, networking and writing your posts.

You need also to be a self-starter, as while you will have regular, daily contact with your network of colleagues,when push comes to shove you are going to be working alone. If you get lonesome after an hour away from the office, or need a manager to be checking in on you every fifteen minutes, you might find the self-organization needed in this job to be a tough nut to crack.

Does it go without saying that sociability is also right up there on the list? If you're the nervous type, don't like meeting people or making connections, and shy away from having to communicate in all but the most minimal of ways, you surely came to the wrong place to work at.

Blogging is one part writing to three parts conversation.

Finally, stamina is key. There are going to be some long days or tough assignments that really take it out of you, and sometimes you are going to need to be doggedly persistent to get yourself an exclusive scoop review, or dig up some hot information nobody has yet. Without staying power, it would be easy to throw in the towel at the first sign of trouble.



Key Skills

On top of these character traits, you will need - and can readily pick up - the following key skills if you are going to work as a professional blogger:

  • Rapid information processing - you're going to be faced with a daily barrage of RSS feeds, press releases, direct emails from startups and PR firms, off-the-cuff requests and sudden leads. The ability to rapidly filter through all of this information is essential to getting through the day.
  • Working knowledge of the industry you are looking to cover - if you don't know your Brightcove from your YouTube, your Digg from your del.icio.us, or your ReadWriteWeb from your Mashable, ask yourself if you are really interested enough in being a tech blogger
  • Writing skills - you are likely to turn everything you know about writing on its head when you start blogging for a living, but if you have no flair or passion for the language, you are going to have a hard time writing every day
  • The ability to network effectively. If you are going to get the really juicy stories and exclusive access to the latest tools and services, you are going to need to be a great networker

These are the basics, but beyond this short list of key skills, there are certainly many more valuable ones, as I have come to discover after this first year of great learning with Robin Good.



What I Have Learned

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Photo credit: Andres Rodriguez

Listing what I have learned from Robin in the space of a year is a tough challenge, and I am only going to be able to touch on the very tip of the iceberg here.

But among the profoundly useful skills I have picked up under Robin's direct supervision, I would highlight the most important as being:

  • NewsMastering - NewsMastering - a term originally coined on these very pages - is a key skill for any professional blogger, and is at the very core of doing the job well. Essentially, NewsMastering is a process of bringing in information from a range of online sources, effectively filtering it through via RSS, and finally playing an active role in its selection at the end of the process.

    Robin lives, sleeps, eats and breathes RSS, and if you want to learn how to effectively put it use as a professional blogger I can think of nobody who could better teach you.

  • Writing for the web - Writing effectively for the blog medium requires an entirely different set of skills and approaches to writing for the print medium. From chunking your text to effectively titling your articles for search engine optimization, Robin really knows his stuff here
  • Effective use of collaboration tools - again, I can only think of a few people with a better understanding of the evolving range of disruptive collaboration tools than Robin. If you want to learn how to collaborate and communicate effectively over the web with the very best technologies available, Robin is a treasure trove of information on this subject
  • Valuing the network - Robin has compounded my belief that taking part in a wider collaborative sphere than your direct contacts is essential to really succeeding as a professional blogger. Whether that means checking in daily with your collaborators in Robin's virtual newsroom, or extending your reach to the blogs and bloggers around you, blogging is a conversation and Robin is in a great position to teach you how to most effectively take part in it



Flexibility is a Two-Way Street

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Photo credit: PNR Photo

Professional blogging can have a huge impact on the way you live your life. If you want to sit and write your posts in your pajamas over a big cup of coffee, or by the pool in Thailand with a cocktail within arms reach, these are both options available to you.

Being able to collaborate online using the latest disruptive technologies means that you aren't bound to any office, city or even country - this is the kind of flexibility that doesn't grow on trees.

Then there's the way you choose to carve up your day. No more do you need to force yourself out of bed to the sound of an alarm and spend the first two hours of the day wanting to crawl back to bed - unless of course you are a morning person (I'm not). If you want to write in the evening after a day at the park, or get your work done in the morning and spend your afternoons doing whatever you like, you get to choose.

However, I'm not going to pretend that you are suddenly going to be doing nothing all day - professional blogging can be very hard work, and you might end up some weeks putting in longer hours than you ever did at the office.

Flexibility is a two-way street, and when the latest scoop comes in or a score of exciting leads land in your lap, time can be of the essence.

For me that is a very fair trade to make, and while I would say that stamina and the ability to put in some serious hours are important if you want to succeed in pro-blogging, I believe that this is more than made up for by the ability to arrange your own day and choose to live and work wherever takes your fancy.

In the last year I have lived in the bustling metropolis of Tokyo, the tiny relaxed island of Malta, by the seaside in my homeland Britain, and in the thriving cultural scene of Berlin. This never would have been possible if it wasn't for my work with Robin, and while you might be just as happy settled in your home town, there are still some pretty obvious benefits to being master of your own days.



Professional Blogging - The Essentials

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Photo credit: liv friis-larsen

In my opinion the following key points will be of most use if you decide to follow the road to becoming a professional freelance blogger:

  • Love what you do - one way or another this is going to be a huge and ongoing part of your life. If you aren't passionate about what you're writing about, really consider whether this is the lifestyle for you.
  • Networking - you are only as strong as the network you belong to. Blogging is profoundly sociable if done right. Whether you want to promote your work, make friends, open up opportunities or give yourself a great shot at getting breaking news, remember that it is all about the network.
  • Go beyond press releases - there are a lot of pro-bloggers that get by fine rewording press releases and hitting the publish button. If you take things to the next level, however, you will eventually be noticed for what you personally bring to the equation
  • Forget your fears - don't aim low when looking for a story or making a blogging connection. You'd be surprised by how easy it is to reach out to the big guys if you have the passion and something worth saying.
  • RSS is your best friend, and cooking up your own effective RSS strategy is going to be essential if you are going to stay on top of the very latest news. Effective NewsMastering skills are essential if you want to thrive
  • Immerse yourself in social media - if you don't already have a blog, a Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, OpenID, LinkedIn or Flickr account you are missing out on some great opportunities to learn the latest news and make some great connections
  • Effective communication and collaboration are key - be easy to contact, talk about what you are doing with your colleagues, and the social media communities you belong to, and don't be afraid to be open about both your strengths and room for improvement



Conclusions

I have just lived through one of the most exciting and life-changing years of my life, and wouldn't change a thing about it. It's been hard work, and stretched me in so many ways, but every second of it has been worth it.

I have switched to working completely from home, or wherever else my wireless connection takes me; lived in four different countries; met and made connections with some of the most passionate and interesting people in the world and learned more than I ever did in a lecture theater or seminar room.

In my first year with Robin Good, I have come to appreciate that blogging is an open, ongoing conversation that can open all kinds of doors, and provide a sustainable, hyper-engaged lifestyle where passion is a premium, learning is informal and constant, and self development is par for the course.

If you haven't already taken the plunge, and have the deep down urge to do so, I suggest you shoot out an email to this crazy man that is a concentrate of creative plutonium... as Robin is always on the lookout for some great new talent who wants to be challenged they way I did.

...and soon enough I am going to have to tell him that I am off to the Caribbean for a month of white sand beaches for me and my beautiful girlfriend. Are you the one up next to replace me?



Additional Resources

If you would like to learn more about becoming a professional blogger, you might want to check out the following links:




Originally written by Michael Pick for Master New Media and originally published as: "Professional Blogging - How To Become A Freelance Tech Editor

 
 
 
Readers' Comments    
2011-10-15 02:33:48

Tasos Christidis

Thank you Michael for this sharing of thoughts and experiences. It was quite enlightening.
But what is most important is that you didn't forget the people that helped you along the way!
Thanks for sharing



2007-07-31 14:34:22

Michael Pick

Thanks for the great comments, I'm glad that my thoughts struck a chord!

Margaret - I have left a comment over at your own blog, which looks great btw. The mail address, which Robin will correct me if I'm wrong, is on the Masternewmedia about page and I believe is:
via San Damaso, 23, 00165 Rome, Italy

I'm sure Robin would love to see a finished copy of your great looking book!

James - welcome on board, I hope to be in contact with you soon and to collaborate in future. Break a leg.



2007-07-27 15:46:06

JamesBruni

Your "Story with Robin Good" post was fascinating. Been getting ready for a stint with RobinGood TV as a correspondent here in NYC and found your advice/tips very helpful.



2007-07-25 11:36:53

Margaret Stead

Heh Michael
You're so lucky.

Robin helped me raise my game too.

Without the slightest sense of criticism he suggested that the presentation of my new book on blogging - could be different - have more definition and impact - and he was so right!

If you'd like to email me an address I'd like to send him a personal copy?

Margaret Stead



 
posted by Michael Pick on Wednesday, July 25 2007, updated on Monday, October 31 2011


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