The Ultimate Guide to Digital Business Development

“Your blog is not your business.”

If, like Pat and me, you started looking to the internet in the late 2000s as a possible avenue for new career opportunities, then you’ve probably heard that phrase once or twice…or a hundred times. It became standard advice during the height of the blogosphere boom. New sites were bursting to the scene like wildfire. Blogging was the new it thing. Everyone wanted one. And thousands upon thousands of people started one because blogging had become intertwined with the dream many of us were chasing.

The dream? To escape the 9-to-5 job. To become your own boss. To pursue and perform work that is meaningful to you. To replace (or exceed) your current income level. To maybe, just maybe, build something that can grow bigger than you and become something more—a thing that creates a real, lasting impact upon others that is celebrated and remembered well into the future, perhaps even after you’re gone.

I dare say that many of us entrepreneurs share that same dream—at least that broad outline of it. I also dare say that dreaming is the easy part. And that’s the gritty truth at the heart of the notion that your blog is not in fact your business.

Many an entrepreneur have become misguided in their thinking that merely having a popular blog, or podcast, or YouTube channel, or similar platform with a large following is the dream personified. It’s not—at least not completely, not by a long shot—though it’s easy to understand why this mistake is made. On the surface popularity may look like success, but buying into the notion that popularity and success are synonymous risks the misconception that marketing drives success on its own. That’s not true, though many are fooled into thinking so in part because it’s human nature to ascribe success merely to the things we can see (the marketing) and then focus on those things—and only those things—with limited to no consideration of anything else that may be unseen (e.g. the business model, the operating budget, the team culture). The point: Marketing is a critical business function, yes, but it’s not the whole picture and on its own cannot transform your entrepreneurial dream into reality.

The dream, really? To have a business—a real business that serves customers and generates profit—including but not limited to marketing.

Business dynamics differ. You may envision a solo endeavor performing a service-based craft to help others. Or you may want to partner up with one or two other founders in a venture that creates a product that solves a pesky problem in your industry. You may see the value in hiring and leading an in-house team. Or you may get queasy at the prospect of recruiting and managing employees. You may not want to take on any money to start because the notion of debt or having investors gives you the heebie jeebies. Or you may actually want to raise startup capital to give your new venture a fast and hot start.

Business outcomes also differ. You may never care about exiting—meaning selling in some form. Instead, a freelance business that’s just you working from the comforts of anywhere you please may sound perfectly dreamy. Or, the promise of an exit may be wildly motivating and exactly what you want to build toward. Or maybe something in between sounds right—a business that isn’t just you alone doing everything, that can achieve modest scale with a small team, and that generates a healthy and sustainable profit for the foreseeable future.

Despite such important differences, many fundamentals are the same. A set of documents that establish terms and boundaries with your business partner(s) (if you have them). A well-defined business model. An empowered set of culture principles. A sensible operating plan inclusive of anticipated costs. A method for planning, managing, executing, and delivering work. These assets are among the most important foundational pieces to any business venture.

Together, as a composite, they are what’s meant by the “business” part of the phrase, “your blog is not your business.”

This guide exists to help you learn the ropes of these fundamentals as well as guide you through the big decisions related to them. These subjects aren’t as sexy as the marketing. From someone who happens to love this stuff, I think that’s just fine—thank you very much—because for what the business stuff lacks in terms of outward flashiness it more than makes up for in terms of inward intricacies that make a business a beautiful thing. 

As a dream-big entrepreneur, if you’re up for the challenge to take these business matters seriously and embrace them fully, then you’ll develop the mindsets, instincts, and abilities to actually run a business versus just being the face of one.