Today, I want to share how I made a six figure business by blogging, and how you can do it too.
I don’t write about Canny’s success on our blog very much. In fact, I’ve never really wrote about it at all.
I don’t like “blowing my own trumpet”.
But more clients than ever are asking me about Canny’s success, and asking why we write a blog.
With that in mind, combined with my firm belief that SEO (search engine optimisation) is a nothing term, I wanted to share my experience with blogging.
I want to share what I’ve tried, what worked, what didn’t, what I’ve learned, and how it’s helped me to grow a six figure design agency in a small Northumbrian coastal town.
But first, to give you the full story, here’s a little bit about myself, and Canny Creative.
A Long Time Ago, in a Galaxy Far Far Away…
Rather than bore you with all the details, let me just hit you with the key facts.
- Came out of High School with 1 x A (English Language), 4 x Bs (including Design), and the rest Cs
- Went to college, studied graphic design
- Went to University, came away with my BA in Graphics Arts (Branding and Web Design)
- Found out my girlfriend (now wife) was expecting our first child.
So essentially, no job, no money, and essentially “a useless art degree” in the eyes of academics.
The small town I lived in, wasn’t exactly rife with opportunities for designers.
And the jobs in Newcastle were so exclusive and rare, that you’d wait a lifetime for an opportunity to present itself.
So I thought “let’s just, you know, make a design agency. How hard can that be? Really? As long as the work’s good… I’ll be fine.”
Here’s the deal:
Making your own design agency, is certainly not easy.
Why? Because nobody knows who you are.
They don’t know what you do, how good you are, and rightfully so, aren’t willing to take a risk on you.
Thankfully, a few things went my way right at the start;
- My cousin was starting her own sweet shop, and needed help set-up a website. Knowing I was “into all of that” – she asked me for help.
Then, through my involvement in an online design forum, I was able to blag myself two additional jobs;
- Creating the business cards of a mental health professional
- Creating a website for an online gaming clan
The jobs weren’t wonderfully well paid, which is to be expected.
But, it gave me something.
It gave me the confidence to setup my own website, because now I had some things to put on it!
For my third ever client, I’d learned to setup a WordPress site, and had become enthralled with the platform.
It was a website management system, that also allowed people to post their own news items with ease, rather than having to copy and paste huge chunks of HTML.
So, I used WordPress to setup my own website.
By this point, my girlfriend had uttered the words “you’re canny creative aren’t you” – and the name had already become apparent.
Naming a business is often the hardest part, so I’m glad that was out the way.
I used my first three projects to setup the website, and I was off to the races.
Three projects on a website didn’t really scream “professional design agency.”
So what now?
That’s when I started our blog.
WordPress comes with blogging functionality out of the box, so it was easy to get started.
“But, What Do I Blog About?”
This it the first thing I get asked when I mention to our clients that they need to start a blog.
There’s always hesitation and trepidation, because people aren’t willing to put their thoughts and ideas out there.
But you’re in business for a reason, you’re an expert.
So here’s what I did:
I just got started.
At first I had no idea what I was doing, but I just started writing anyway.
I had no idea about content marketing, keyword targeting, or to be honest, even SEO at that point.
But I just started, and over time, noticed more and more people coming to our website.
So the answer to “what do I blog about?” – in the early days, is anything.
If it’s on topic for your brand, go ahead.
I think my first three blog posts were;
- Goodbye 2011, Hello 2012 – where I reviewed the previous year for Canny
- Graphic Design Newcastle – which was about the graphic design and branding services we offer
- The Chicago Neighbourhoods by Steve Shanabruch – where we featured another designers work on our blog
As you can see, there wasn’t a whole lot of strategy went in to creating the posts.
In fact, the longest post of the lot was only around 400 words and really didn’t stack up when compared to today’s standards of blogging.
But it got me a start.
And at the time, I was sharing my posts to forums I was a remember of, so it got people talking!
You can actually see on the Analytics below where we started to blog and receive regular traffic to our site. And the peaks reflect when certain blog posts really hit home with our audience;
After I’d seen the impact several blogs could have on my website traffic, I started to experiment with my output.
What Worked and What Didn’t
Like I mentioned earlier, I’ve tried a whole range of different approaches to blogging over the past several years.
I want to explore each “tactic” (I call it a tactic loosely, as like I said, there was no strategy until early 2019) in more detail:
Tactic 1: Blogging As and When
When I first started the Canny Creative blog I was blogging as and when something caught my eye.
I was blogging primarily about design, and other people’s design work.
This was great, as it allowed me to build up relationships with other people in my field, but it didn’t lead to any new project enquiries or leads being generated.
I’ve already mentioned what my first three posts were.
I then went on to write about the DC Comics Rebrand, how a local games store Grainger Games could benefit from a rebrand, reasons not to use low cost print suppliers, and more.
Average Length of Posts
Around this time, I was writing posts between 500 and 1000 words long.
- I could write when I was feeling inspired as there was no schedule to follow
- Writing the posts was easy
- Because it was still “early days” in terms of content marketing, posts easily ranked in Google
- We didn’t get many return readers because the posts were too sporadic
- The blog wasn’t generating leads because we were mainly celebrating other designers
- Because I was still getting used to writing blogs, they were taking up a lot of my time
Tactic 2: Creating Daily Inspiration Posts
The next thing I tried out with the blog was creating design inspiration posts on a daily basis.
In these posts, I solely focused on writing about the work of other designers.
The idea was to inspire our visitors into taking action, but also to create a reason for them to come back to our site each day.
It didn’t work like that.
Average Length of Posts
The daily inspiration posts were some of the shortest posts on our blog, ranging between 300 and 600 words.
- Took a lot less time to write, because they were so short
- Attracted a lot of people to the website
- The traffic we had on the site, was made up primarily of other designers
- Having to write every single day was relentless
Tactic 3: Writing Monthly About Something Meaningful
Eventually, I switched my focus to writing a blog post on a monthly basis.
The post needed to be based on a meaningful topic in the realm of branding, web design, digital marketing, or business.
I talked about the issues surrounding the cost of logo design, as well as featuring several high profile branding studies such as The UN Logo and Coca Cola vs Pepsi.
Our most popular post from this time is still our most popular blog post of all time, which is 10 Rebranding Failures and How Much They Cost.
Average Length of Posts
This is where the length of our posts went to between 2000 and 3000 words. A small essay for each blog post we created!
- Because the posts were more in-depth, they ranked better on Google for several long tail keywords
- The in-depth posts helped position me as a thought leader, and we got offers to review products, write on other blogs, and speak at events
- Enquiries were picking up because the content was a lot more relevant
- The posts were still taking a long time to write
- I realised the value of the posts, and wanted to write more, but couldn’t fit it in as the business was growing
Tactic 4: Forgetting About The Blog Altogether
There was a huge period between the end of 2014 and the start of 2016 that I just didn’t write on our blog at all.
We had so much work coming in, that I was unable to deal with that, and writing blog posts.
However, leaving a gap like that meant any returning visitors we did have, dropped off. I don’t recommend doing this at all.
Consistency is vital when it comes to the success of your blog.
We managed a few posts in 2016, but didn’t really start blogging properly again until the start of 2017.
It was however during this period that we were contacted by our first large overseas client, Shodai. They had found our blog posts interesting and were willing to work with us.
We later found out that the reason our leads were up during this period, was because blog posts take quite a while to rank in Google, so our monthly posts had started pulling their weight!
- Lots of time saved writing blog posts
- Lost all of our returning visitors
- We could have had a lot more content out there working it’s magic for us
- All leads from the blog dropped altogether
Tactic 5: Bringing in a Writer to Create Weekly Posts
After all of the trial and error, I wanted to bring in a writer than understood how to use our blog to generate leads.
Now having wised up on best SEO practises and keyword insights, I knew what I wanted to achieve and how I was going to do it.
So, to help, we brought in a writer. From the start of 2017, we had one blog post per week going out.
This period saw quite a few good hits. Some blogs really resonated with the right people.
Some didn’t connect at all, and thanks to a recent content audit, have now been completely removed from the website.
Average Length of Posts
With the longer form posts working for us, we briefed our writer to create posts in the 3000 word range each time.
- Bringing in a writer let me spend time both in and on the business
- The consistent schedule drove a lot of return visits and generated some good leads
- Bringing in a professional writer for a year is quite pricey
- If I had written each of the posts myself, they’d have done better, simply because of how close I am to the subject matter
Tactic 6: One Post Per Day for a Month
As I’d not written much over the course of 2017, I’d been banking up a lot of posts and ideas.
I decided that in February of 2018, I’d release one post a day to see what that did with our traffic.
Armed with new information about our target audience, brand positioning, and keywords we were wanting to rank for, I thought this plan couldn’t fail.
So when February rolled around, I was pumped to get each of our posts out there.
Traffic didn’t spike, neither did enquiries.
Not immediately anyway.
It actually took around six months for the posts to start ranking for meaningful search terms. And once that happened, the floodgates opened and we were overwhelmed.
Average Length of Posts
The daily posts were all really in-depth averaging between 2500 and 5000 words.
- Once the posts started to rank, we were inundated with leads and visitors
- It looked great on our social media channels when we were pumping out a post a day
- If you were trying to do this consistently, you would be forever writing
- No immediate return, but I think that’s the case across everything blog related
Tactic 7: Two Posts Per Week, Consistently
Since the start of 2019, we’ve been working as a team, to consistently deliver two posts a week.
And I have to say, it’s working well and the team are enjoying sharing their ideas too.
With a staff team now in place, I only tend to write twice in a two week cycle, with other members of the team making up my shortfall.
This helps me greatly as I can get my thoughts and ideas out there, and also gives a voice to the rest of the Canny Creative teamprof.
Two good posts a week is allowing us to benefit from fresh ideas, new leads, and not becoming overwhelmed with content creation!
Average Length of Posts
The posts we’re writing now are on average somewhere between 3000 and 5000 words.
- The longer posts allow us to rank for a range of keywords
- Because we’re so active, site visitors see that, and aren’t hesitant to reach out
- The wider range of writers gives a voice to Canny Creative as a business
- Managing the blog schedule can get a little tricky, but it’s worth it!
- Other than that, nothing to report (yet!)
Key Takeaways About Blogging
There are so many blogs out there that talk about the importance of blogging and content creation when it comes to your SEO efforts.
I hope this look at blogging from a real business perspective helps shed some light on how it can help you and your business.
What worked for me, might not work for you, but there are some key takeaways to consider:
Consistency is Key
You need to pick a rhythm, and stick to it. Whatever you decide, whether that’s monthly, bi-weekly, weekly, daily, stick to it.
Nothing confuses visitors more than a sporadic effort with your content. Try to forge a habit and make a real effort with your schedule.
You Need to Focus on Your Audience, More Specifically, Your Buyers
We made a mistake sharing a whole range of design work on our site.
Sure, it looked good. But it drove the wrong type of traffic towards us.
Being able to profile your target audience and customers will help you generate a list of blog ideas that will do wonders for your business.
You need to write posts that help, entertain, or inspire your audience. Otherwise, you’re going nowhere.
Size Really Does Matter
Longer posts perform better. That’s just a fact.
Here’s a graph from Neil Patel that proves it:
In this day and age, short snappy posts aren’t going to perform well organically for you. They’re good for social media, but keep them to that.
The posts on your website need to be substantial, and be worthy of that coveted #1 spot in Google.
If you’re wondering whether ranking number one is that important, check out this post from AHREF’s that explores why the #1 spot might be overrated.
However, ranking #1 will always be preferable to ranking #37th, so don’t be fooled, it is important!
You Need to Choose the Right Keywords
Keyword research is vital to the success of your blog.
It’s no good ranking for “the best IT solutions provider in Luxembourg” if nobody searches for it.
And you need to be both broad and specific at the same time.
We use AHREFs to help us decide which keywords to target. But you could use Google’s free tool to help you.
Here’s What Blogging Did For Us
So, how did we grow a six figure business off the back of our blog alone?
Naturally, good traffic turns into good leads. That’s a given.
When the blog really picked up in popularity, a whole load of solid leads and enquiries came with it.
We also had the option to sell advertising and sponsored posts, however, we took the decision early on to retain our integrity, so we don’t sell space on our blog.
Our blog has enabled us to;
- Grow a six figure design agency based in a small town in Northumberland
- Work with clients from all over the world
- Increase our website traffic from nothing to over 1000 visitors daily
- Raised awareness of our brand
- Helped us rank in Google for a range of useful search queries
And realistically, that’s without having a clear blogging strategy. We’ve only had a consistent content strategy since the start of 2019.
Blogging is the only marketing technique we’ve ever used.
We’ve never attended an exhibition, paid for adverts, or used any other small business advertising ideas.
Our blog has been the one and only marketing pillar and has played a key role in the success of our business.
Conclusion: How I Made a Six Figure Business by Blogging (and How You Can Too!)
I can’t recommend blogging enough!
It should feature heavily in everyone’s digital marketing plan.
Realistically, I’m not the next Gary Vaynerchuk, I’m not some sort of online business guru.
I’m a guy from a small coastal town that wanted to grow a business I’m proud of, and the Canny Creative blog has allowed me to do that.
Without it, we’d not have anywhere near as many clients as we do now, and we wouldn’t have travelled around the world to meet our clients!
Does your business have a blog? How important has it been in developing your business? Let me know in the comments below.
reading time: 16 minutes