Filling a Swimming Pool with a Teaspoon

Riding
Showing up is at least half the battle

Over the past year, a number of budding bike bloggers contacted me looking for advice on how to grow their sites and build an audience. Each time I said essentially the same thing, and each time I was left feeling they didn’t like the answer much. To use a favorite analogy, growing a blog is like filling a swimming pool with a teaspoon. You start with one teaspoon; 768 teaspoons later you have one gallon; repeat 15,000 times and you have one average-sized swimming pool full of water (and hopefully, a handful of readers). It’s a slow process that takes dedication and perseverance. In my case, I published my first blog post on March 25th, 2005. It was a tentative start, but I fairly quickly reached the point of posting at least once a day, and I’ve rarely missed a day since. Eventually, if you’re lucky, that sort of stubborn indefatigability starts reaping a few rewards. I’m sure there are bloggers more talented than I who have progressed much faster, but for me, it’s clearly been a story of the tortoise rather than the hare.

I think advocating for bicycles is not unlike blogging. It’s easy to expect too much, too soon, with the danger being discouragement resulting from the interminably slow pace of progress, discouragement that may very well lead to abandoning the cause altogether. As transportational bicyclists and advocates (every transpo bike rider on the road is an advocate for bicycling), the most important thing you and I can do is just keep at it. If we all stick with it and keep riding and advocating everyday, I firmly believe we’ll make the progress we’re hoping for over the long haul. Then, one day, if luck is on our side, we’ll look up and notice that the swimming pool is brimming over the top.

23 Responses to “Filling a Swimming Pool with a Teaspoon”

  • SM says:

    Thanks for this post.  I just recently started blogging, with no real expectations, except that I love riding my bikes, and to just be myself when I  muse about bicycles and things related to cycling.  As quirky and simple as some of my topics may be, I believe it’s important to bring your own personality into it and not worry about others who have extensive knowledge and expertise about bicycles.  In the end, we all want the same thing – to inspire others to ride their bicycles, and to learn a thing, or two, from eachother as we blog.  I definitely will heed your advice, and try to post everyday, and see what happens.  If anything I will have a great journal (to print) for my grandchildren to read some day.  

  • Brian Daniels says:

    About blogging:

    I don’t blog, I don’t have the time or interest in doing so. However I follow a handful of blogs related to cycling. I think in some sense the instant gratification era we live in colors expectations of how a blog will succeed. (I’m in a band and building an audience is no different, slow, sometimes frustrating)
    However most blogs are not going to make it for any number of reasons. As a reader here’s what I’m looking for.

    1) An interesting read. You have to have something to say and be able to say it reasonably well.
    2) Up to date posting. If you have a daily blog, update it daily. If weekly, update it weekly. Only the rare person can get away maintaining an audience with the occasional post. Kent Peterson doesn’t post on a regular basis. The difference? He’s Kent Peterson and you’re not.
    3) Blog posts that say Sorry I’ve not posted but starting today I’m back followed by several weeks of nothing….enough said.
    4) Your personal life is probably not that interesting to complete strangers. It’s probably not that interesting to your friends and family either but at least they will feign interest. Therefore if you are writing about bike routes, I don’t need to see dozens of posts about drinking binges or read how you’ve suddenly discovered minimilism.

    5) Have a purpose and stay on point. The best blogs have a slant on something and stick with it. I don’t read a bicycle blog to learn about fishing for instance. So unless that post about your new high tech fishing rod is somehow relevant to the story or cycling..don’t waste my time.

    The best blogs such as EcoVelo,BikeSnobNYC, Lets Go Ride A Bike , and so on are relevant and stay the course. You might not want to think of your blog as a product but that’s essentially what it is. You have to deliver good product and be patient.

  • Kellen says:

    Very well said Brian Daniels.

    I would say regular posting is VERY important. Not posting for weeks at a time will make me lose interest in no time. Obviously quality posts are required to get me interested in the first place, but as long as they are reasonably interesting/entertaining, I’ll keep coming back as long as there’s new stuff on a regular basis.

  • Alan@TreeFort says:

    Thanks for the inspiring post. Blogging, as with cycling advocacy (i.e. commuting regularly), takes preserverence and dedication. Each day you keep at it, the more motivated you become, and the more you reap the benefits of your efforts. I’ve that once you stop for a break, the easier it is to become lazy and slack off.

    Brian, thanks for your insights. I think you are right in many ways. Regular postings, great content, and a clear continuous message will greatly help the growth of a blog.

  • kanishka new england says:

    this blog has been amazing as a reader for me. the consistency of interesting, new material, and the ability to turn to it, whenever i need to forget about stress and work

  • John says:

    There are a number of reasons I check your blog regularly. First, you post almost daily, and the content is important to me (making bicycling a practical part of our daily lives). Thus, you fill a niche I don’t find anywhere else. Second, your approach is welcoming, never preachy. I never feel like I’m a failure if I don’t have the “right” bike or have to drive my car to work. Yet, there are lots of posts on your blog that encourage me and inspire me to ride more. While never “snobbish,” your product reviews are always even-handed and show an appreciation for quality, beauty, and functionality that I appreciate. Finally, your wide variety of links and news updates make me feel as though I’m staying relatively well-informed about the world of transportational cycling and bicycle advocacy.

    Keep up the good work, Alan. We’ll keep reading!

  • Prentiss says:

    I would like to encourage the writers of blogs to keep at it, I have really enjoyed reading the cycling blogs. It had become a daily ritual for me. But lately I just haven’t had the time to read all the blogs I like on a daily basis. I have had to re-focus on my work instead of my cycling interest. Now I try to get caught up a couple times a month. When work becomes less time consuming I will read on a daily basis again.

    So, sometimes readership might go down for various reasons, but try not to get too discouraged. Please continue to write. We (readers) will get caught up with your posts eventually.

  • Lee Trampleasure says:

    A few other tips:

    Make useful, well written comments on other blogs. If you include your own blog as your “website” link for your post, some will be interested enough in what you have to say that they will click on your link.

    I have a blog that covers a wide variety of topics, so I don’t expect to have many regular readers. If you want a large following, stick to one theme (clearly, cycling is the theme of Ecovelo, and it rarely strays from that theme).

    Write subject lines that clearly relate to the content of the post. Search engines pay attention to this, and you can get great search engine placement if you pay attention to it (e.g. I don’t write much about WWI, but one of my posts discussing a local Pearl Harbor annual memorial gets high placement and lots of hits every year before December 7th).

    When appropriate, add links to resources relevant to your posts. If folks know they can get more information by coming to your site, they are more likely to return to it.

  • bongobike says:

    You have basically said that “stubborn indefatigability” or perseverance, has made your blog what it is today. That is only one part of the equation. You can be as stubborn, indefatigable, etc. as you want, but if the content is poor, you’ll get nowhere. Your blog is as successful as it is because of the valuable, up to date information and your excellent graphic skills.

  • Alan says:

    @SM

    We all have different goals, too. For some, blogging is a simple creative outlet, while for others it may be a platform for advocacy or even a full-time job; there’s no right or wrong here. In our case, we’re interested in reaching as wide an audience as possible while still staying true to our mission. The reasons for wanting to reach a wide audience are two-fold: primarily, we hope to encourage as many people as we can to spend less time in their cars; secondarily, increasing traffic means higher ad revenues, which may eventually enable us to spend less time working day jobs and even more time working as bike advocates.

    Alan

  • PJ says:

    I totally agree.
    Thanks for doing what you do.

  • Terry S says:

    This is the second site I check every morning. First, I go to the weather page to see how I’ll dress for my ride. Then I come here to remind me why I ride.
    Blogging is much like public speaking. It takes a bit of courage to speak before a crowd. You can be attacked as well as praised.
    Thank you Alan for all the work you do.

    -Terry

  • Alan says:

    @bongobike (and others)

    Thanks for the kind words and encouragement. With this post, I hoped to encourage all of you, my fellow bike advocates/commuters/bloggers, and you’ve turned it right around and provided encouragement to me.

    Many thanks and happy holidays…

    Alan

  • SM says:

    Alan, agree… Thanks for all you do and thanks to all the bike advocates out there who blog to spread the message as well.

  • DerrickP says:

    I pretty much agree with just about everything said here. I would add that the personal stories do make a difference. The difference in blogs than other media is the ability to be completely candid and genuinely you. I love seeing real people do what I love to do. It holds me accountable to keep doing it myself. I would probably categorize my blog as advocacy… for those men and women who assume cycling isn’t realistic with a family. It’s easy to assume that cycling is nothing more than a toy for children and a sport for Lance Armstrong. Blogs show a completely unseen side. One of those sides being families on bikes… which I hope my blog advocates. Hopefully, when they see real people, with a real job and three real kids doing it, they’ll convince themselves to give it a try.

    Thanks for bringing up the topic, Alan. It’s a great thought.

  • Lovely Bicycle! says:

    I think it is worth saying, that some things just cannot be created overnight, or even over a single year. You have a great deal of experience, and it has all brought you to where ecovelo is today. You are more than a fun read that was lucky enough to gain popularity quickly; you are there for the long haul and there is real substance to what you have built up . Your readers trust you and count on you. Thank you for sticking with it!

  • howard draper says:

    It’s taken 3 years of teaspoons to get my bikedenton.org pool filled, and the first 2 years were really mostly writing to a future audience. Patience and pragmatism grew into it, because cultural resilience and relevance required that I be more patient. It’s amazing to see tangible change based on the responses to articles.

  • Dan says:

    Alan:
    Consider me a teaspoon. I check your blog everyday because you update it everyday. It is a great place to go to keep in touch with biking information. With a long winter in Canada it is good to read about bikes all year long. Keep up the good work.

    Dan

  • Alan says:

    @Lovely Bicycle!

    Thanks for the kind words. I’ve enjoyed watching your site develop and your readership grow over the past 1.5 years. Offering sponsorships was a big step and it appears to be going very well – congrats! Keep up the great work!

    Alan

  • Bernie says:

    There are lots of blogs about bikes these days. EcoVelo keeps me coming back because it is part inspiration, part tools: the gorgeous photos and posts about the joy of riding motivate me to incorporate my bike more into my daily life, while the practical advice and reviews provide realistic info about how to make it happen.

    Another key draw is that EcoVelo has a great community of *commenters*. People are willing to share their opinions, experiences, and tips, and to do so in a friendly atmosphere. As a result, this is one of the rare blogs where, if I read a post, I always read the comments, too. I don’t think some new bloggers realize that this last bit doesn’t happen by magic — it takes consistent work to cultivate and build community.

  • Donald Bybee says:

    I agree with the above comments that daily postings are important, (as well as Alan’s knock your socks off photography) to keep me coming back on a very regular basis. I have tried to follow a few cycle related blogs that have interesting content but without regular postings it is hard to keep going back. After checking in and seeing the same last post three or four times I usually stop going back.
    Don
    Sacramento, California

  • 300 Pound Gorilla says:

    Alan,

    I agree with the teaspoon analogy. I am looking forward to starting my own bicycle blog. My main hesitation is time. If you don’t mind my asking, how much time do you put into this blog on a daily basis?

  • Alan says:

    @Gorilla

    Time can be an issue, but it’s doable. I work a fairly demanding full-time+ job and I’m able to maintain EV. Honestly, the challenge isn’t so much time as it is staying fresh and having something relevant to say on day 1,375.

    Regards,
    Alan

 
© 2011 EcoVelo™