"Abandoning" your blog sounds a little harsh, doesn't it? But that's exactly what I did for about two months when my day job demanded every hour I could give. I set what automations I could in place, then decided to leave TLS to its own devices, except for my newsletter.
During this period, I learned a lot about how a blog operates, what readers expect from you, and what it means to automate your business. I know that life gets in the way a lot, so I won't be the only blogger that ever needs to take a hiatus.
If you're considering one, or if you're in the middle of one, I'd like to share the lessons I've learned with you.
Lesson 01: New content matters.
This is the most business-practical lesson I learned, and it's the most disappointing one for us lazypreneurs.
You can't put your content on autopilot.
Oh, trust me, I tried. I published a blog post on March 6, and didn't publish again until May 9. During that time frame, I knew that my website would become a ghost town, and I tried to minimize that consequence with some automated promotions.
I set up my BoardBooster campaigns (R.I.P. BoardBooster) to randomly pin from my blog post board to all of my group boards at least once a day.
I even had BoardBooster campaigns pulling pins from these group boards to share on my own boards, to make sure I wasn't only repinning my own content (bad idea, I've spent hours cleaning up low quality pins from my account!)
But the fact remains that you can't run a content-based business without creating new content. Automation is an efficiency tool to supplement hard work; it's not a replacement for it. You can quote me on that.
Pinterest has said again and again that they reward new content. They want people putting new stuff out there to keep users coming back for more! That said, if all you do is repin the same pins over and over again for 2 months (especially if you only had like 20 to choose from anyway, *cough*), you won't help your account's ranking in the algorithm. Pinterest will see you as some washed up, outdated content-recycler.
It's also worth noting that Google's crawlers really like to see new content appearing on your website as well.
If you're planning your hiatus, which I recommend, here are a few tips:
- Write blog posts in advance and schedule them to publish while you're gone. Don't forget to schedule the pins and emails that let people know you've got new content up!
- Schedule promotion for your posts that generate the most discussion. While this doesn't do much for Pinterest, user-generated website content in the form of blog post comments can soften the blow of your own inactivity for Google's site crawlers.
- Create new pins for old blog posts and schedule those to go out over your break. This won't do much for Google, but the new-pin-same-link strategy works for - and is encouraged by - Pinterest!
If your hiatus wasn't planned and you're deciding at the last minute to stop juggling all your hats (like I did), you can try and dedicate an hour or two to setting up a schedule for either promoting "discussion-posts" or alternate pins (or both!).
Otherwise, you should mentally prepare yourself for a dip in traffic that you'll have to dig yourself out of upon your return. Which just so happens to be the route I get to take. Whoo!
Lesson 02: Accept the situation and focus on what it takes to move forward.
Tax season lasts from January 1 to roughly April 15. I went from 35-40 hour weeks to 50-60+ hour weeks overnight. Guys, I worked 48 days in a row, without a single day off.
Yet I didn't start my blogging break until nearly mid-March. Why? Pure denial.
I wanted to prove I could do it. I wanted to show that I could chase my dream while working ridiculous hours so that I could have a great story for my About page. So I struggled, and I lost sleep, and I got stressed, and I cried a lot . . . for a story. How stupid is that?
I write primarily for day-jobbers, so I know your struggle. I know what you're dealing with, and what you're trying to do. I know that you're wrestling with exhaustion while being bombarded with messages telling you to persevere and to chase your dream no matter what so you can prove your worth as an entrepreneur.
And yes, I believe we have to make some sacrifices to make it work. Your time is your most valuable commodity right now, and you have to use whatever you can spare to pursue your business dream. You have to say no to the luxuries and force yourself to work, even when you don't feel up to it.
But hear me when I say this: Your business is not your first priority. YOU are your priority. Fight for your business, but always protect your mental, emotional, and physical health first.
You can quote me on that, too.
If your health is at risk - mentally, emotionally, or physically - prioritize yourself. It's okay to put your blog on hold. Take your break, and focus on what it takes to move forward.
For me, that meant I had to focus on getting through tax season. For you, that might mean working through an emotional trauma, developing a new habit/routine, adjusting to a major life change, learning a new system, or simply getting some dang sleep. Identify what has to happen before you can return to your business, then focus on that and that alone.
Lesson 03: Coming back is weird.
Heads up: coming back is weird.
Depending on how long you're gone, you're probably going to have a weird adjustment period where you remind yourself where you put all your files, how you were naming your pictures, what blog posts you had in the works, and how to navigate those stupid WordPress settings. (Just kidding, I like WordPress, even if I use Squarespace now.)
Okay, Katie, this isn't a very helpful lesson.
(Yeah, I Googled how to spell that.)
Do you know why we procrastinate? There's a lot of reasons, but one of the strongest de-motivators for getting our work done is intimidation.
If a task overwhelms us in any way, we tend to put it off. Anything that requires processing complex information or performing a large, often tedious, task fits into this category.
If you decide you want to come back to your blog after your hiatus and you jump into an old project draft just to realize you have no memory of what's going on, you'll be tempted to abort mission and put off your comeback "for just a little longer."
I want you to take a break when you need it, but I also want you to come back as soon as you're able.
So do yourself a favor. Don't jump straight into a mammoth project, okay? Let your first task be to explore your own website as if you were a new reader. Or to start a new, small maintenance project to get your feet wet. Or to reread an old blog post draft and see if it can be tweaked into a publish-ready article.
Take it slow when you return, and give your mind time to readjust to the blogging world!
Lesson 04: People are going to leave when you come back.
This is the part that hurts.
You're going to want to return triumphantly, galloping on the back of a unicorn that breathes sunshine, bursting through the ornate floor-to-ceiling doors that lead to your throne room where hordes of your people have gathered to celebrate your homecoming. You may have even imagined a welcoming buffet of buffalo wings as the ultimate sign of admiration and joy. (Just me?)
But here's what's going to happen. You're going to send out your first email to your list, and an insulting number of the recipients will unsubscribe within the first 12 hours.
Why? Frankly, they forgot who you were. They didn't realize you were gone, and when you returned, they had no idea why they were on your list in the first place.
That's the price of not emailing your list.
Many of you don't email your list even though you're not on a hiatus. To this I say, start emailing your list, YESTERDAY. Do not let them forget who you are. You should aim to email them weekly (at the very least, bi-weekly). Here's a great resource from Meera Kothand on how to get your email list back on track if you've been neglecting them.
Ideally, you'd schedule emails to go out while you're gone. I didn't.
I have a bi-weekly Newsletter list and a marketing list that I maintain. My Newsletter list is smaller, and contains people who want updates on my blog specifically. My marketing list is for people who sign up for opt-in freebies and expect exclusive content and strategy tips on a weekly basis.
My Newsletter crew got their emails because I only had to write them once every other week. But my marketing list, the vast majority of my total subscriber base, was completely ignored for two months. Bad move.
I'd say I lost about 5% of my subscribers when I started emailing again, which is well above the industry unsubscribe rate of less than 3%.
Be prepared for this, and try not to take it personally. Unsubscribes are actually good for cultivating an email list of people who actually care!
Lesson 05: Stop apologizing.
I literally had two subscribers tell me on two different occasions in the same day to stop apologizing for taking a break and having slow email response times. This kind of stopped me in my tracks and made me realize what I was doing.
For one, I was apologizing for something that I knew wasn't going to change anytime soon, which really discredits the apology.
Two, I was usually complaining in addition to my apology (disguised as an "explanation"), which is unprofessional and rude all around.
And three, I was among people who already understood. I'm building a community of day-jobbers who all have the same struggles that I do - that's kinda the point of the brand. I didn't need to apologize each time I touched a keyboard, because they already knew.
Yes, an apology is necessary. An explanation is important. But don't go overboard. It won't make you or your subscribers/readers feel any better if you're constantly apologizing and trying to make up for an absence that didn't bother most of them anyway.
Give your audience some credit. Have faith that they understand what you're going through. Which leads me to my next point . . .
Lesson 06: You'll find your true friends.
Remember all those unsubscribes? Don't worry about it. Because for every person that left because they didn't really care enough about your brand, there's another who believes in you.
Your true friends will be excited to have you back, and they're worth fighting for.
And I think you'll be surprised by how many there are.
I found friends while I was gone. They were the ones who still opened my emails, who sent me well-wishes and encouragement, and who celebrated when I came back. One of my subscribers (shout out to you, Kelsey! Get yo' blog up so I can link ya!) even sent me a congratulations email on tax day, completely out of the blue! That made me cry.
The good ones will stick by you, and they are the reason you're doing all of this. Don't ever take them for granted!
RELATED POST: How to Stay in Love with Your Readers
You're not taking a blogging break just to go on a guilt trip (HA. See what I did there?). Taking a break is important, and if that's what needs to happen, that's the way things are.
If you can, prepare for it. Plan ahead, and put systems in place to keep things going, even if they're going a little slower than normal. But if you aren't able to, don't sweat it. Your stats will drop, sure. But it's nothing you can't come back from! Use it as an opportunity to come back with a bang and give your blog a bit of a revival!
I've never felt better about TLS' direction now that I've taken a break and reevaluated my systems.
Lessons learned, time to move forward.
Let me know in the comments, are you looking to take a blogging break? Have you taken one in the past? What do you plan to do, or what did you do, to keep things afloat? Let's talk about it!
Until next time!
- Katie Scott