DR 219: How to pick a great topic for an online business

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Welcome back for week 2! In last week’s podcast, DR 218, we covered a 100,000 foot level view of what it takes to start your own online business. At the end, I assigned some homework: figure out what your business is going to be about. Did you decide? Well, if you had trouble, no worries. This week, we will be covering how to pick, and hone in on, your topic.

What Do You Want to Do?

Whether you’re starting a blog or an ecommerce site, you’ll need to pick a topic. What do you want to talk about, or what are you going to sell? It’s the same concept; for the sake of simplicity, I’ll refer to it today in terms of writing a blog. Just know that the process is the same for ecommerce.

This happens to be my favorite part of online businesses — they can literally be about anything. The only limit here is your imagination and your creativity. Plus, one of the benefits of taking your business online is that it delivers you to so many people in so many places. No matter how crazy your idea may seem, you’re bound to connect with others who have a similar interest.

So, let’s get to the five factors you should consider when picking your theme.

1. What Interests You?

You will hear this all the time, and logically so. You should start a business based on what you find interesting. But there’s a caveat to that: just because you’re interested in something, doesn’t necessarily mean it will make for the greatest online business topic.

For example, I am very interested in chess. I’m a 1900-rated player (an A-player, for those unfamiliar), and actually stopped in the middle of recording a podcast yesterday to play in a tournament. Chess is something I would enjoy blogging about – but could I make any money doing it?

The problem is that if you want to learn about chess, you go to a Grandmaster. The difference between a 1900-player, like me, and a Grandmaster is about the same as the difference between me and Lebron James on the basketball court. It’s just absurd. So, when I want to learn something about chess, I listen to a Grandmaster. Maybe I could write a successful blog about chess, but it wouldn’t be my best option even though it’s an interest of mine.

That said, writing about a passion of yours is very beneficial for three reasons. One, you’ll probably know a lot about the topic already, and have a vested interest. Two, you will also know the niche from a broader perspective if you’re actually involved in the topic, which will help you create more thorough and relatable content. Three, you’re not going to make a lot of money when you first start out, so writing about an existing interest will make the process more enjoyable.

2. Where Is Your Expertise?

This ties into the chess example. Sure, I’m interested in chess and could say I’m pretty good, but I’m not exactly an expert. I do have expertise in other areas, though.

When I founded Dough Roller, I had been running my family’s finances for 15 years, investing in the stock market for 15 years, and investing in real estate for many years. I considered myself proficient in the topic of personal finance. I wasn’t a credentialed expert, but I knew enough to write an informative blog… and I continue to learn on a regular basis.

Were I to start a blog today, I could cover the area of law which I practiced. I worked at an organization called PCAOB (the Public Company Accounting Oversight Board), bringing cases against auditors of publicly-traded companies. Later in private practice I defended auditors in PCAOB investigations. I’m sure 99.9% of you have never heard of the PCAOB, but it’s my very narrow area of expertise. So, how could this benefit me?

Well, for starters, being an expert in that field means increased opportunity for networking (and, in turn, publicity for my own site). Having the credibility to be a source for other companies, news outlets, blogs, etc. has the potential to open a lot of doors. Plus, of course, being well-versed in your topic of choice will result in an informative and helpful blog that keeps people coming back for more.

Do you have to be an expert in your field of choice to be successful? No, but it could certainly help you. At the very least, pick a topic in which you have a fair amount of knowledge and experience, and continue to build on that as much as you can.

3. Check Out the Competition

It’s important to know who else is out there, doing what you want to do. Check out their sites; in fact, find the top 3-5 blogs in your chosen niche and explore them thoroughly. Get a feel for how they run their site, how much traffic they’re receiving, what kind of feedback they get, and how they are monetizing their business.

Don’t shy away from a topic simply because there’s a lot of competition, though. Having a lot of competition simply means that it’s a popular, and valuable, niche. This is why personal finance blogging is such a flooded market, because of its value. Plus, you can put your own spin on it and create something unique, even in a saturated field.

4. How Broad, Or Narrow, Do You Want to Be?

This one is really important. You need to decide early on if your site is going to be niche-like or much broader. Generally, the more focused the site, the better, but it really depends on your vision and the topic.

For example, doughroller.net covers a pretty broad range of personal finance and investing topics, but there are plenty of blogs out there with a much more narrow focus. My friend, Mike Piper, runs Oblivious Investor, which is primarily focused on investing. Ken at DepositAccounts.com focuses on banks. And, of course, there are plenty of sites that just cover credit cards.

Sure, I broke my own rule of thumb with Dough Roller, but I didn’t know better. Thankfully, it worked out for me. I’m not suggesting you avoid broad topics, but as a general rule, err on the side of a narrower topic.

5. How Will You Make Money?

If I were to start a PCAOB site, as I spoke about, I’d probably make money by selling my services – practicing law again or consulting. The problem is, I don’t want to do that. Therefore, I’m not starting a PCAOB blog anytime soon.

You’ve got to think about how your chosen topic will actually translate to money for you. Will you use ads or affiliate links to bring in income? Will it be offline income, like the PCAOB example, where your online presence results in offline services? Or maybe you’ll sell your own products?

In any case, this is something you need to think about now, before you even get started. You don’t want to get a few years down the road, only to realize that you can’t make money – or can’t make it the way you want to – with the business you’ve built.

Fun Ways People Are Earning Money

Now, let’s look at some fun, and even “krazy,” examples of people making money online.

  • DIY Sites: A good friend of mine, Matt, runs a site called Swim University. It’s a site about caring for your pool and hot tub, which is a topic I never would have thought about. But Matt worked in the industry for a number of years and offers a lot of great information. From what I can tell, he monetizes the site by linking to Amazon when he mentions products (the Amazon affiliate program starts at a 4% commission, depending on volume). He doesn’t just sell products, though, which is important to note. He has built up years of useful, relevant information, but also links to the products his readers may need.
  • How-to Sites: If you’re into photography, a site like Digital Photography School may be very interesting to you. They offer a lot of tips on how to take pictures, using equipment, tutorials on editing… and, like Swim University, they also link to Amazon for equipment recommendations. They do sell some of their own products, as well, which are guides they’ve written.
  • Company Sites: Now this one, I never would have expected to work. But somehow, it does. I Heart the Mart is a site that covers everything Walmart, and it’s great. They post coupons, link to Walmart, offer suggestions on how to stretch your dollar at the store… it’s quite impressive. They use Walmart’s affiliate program to monetize the site.
  • Mommy Blogs: I don’t know if mommy bloggers actually like to be called that, but they have taken the internet by storm in recent years. They tend to be stay-at-home moms (SAHMs) who blog about life, kids, family, and finances, and they are a force to be reckoned with. Crystal Paine of The Money Saving Mom has a great looking site, excellent content, and has also written her own book, Money Making Mom, which my wife is currently reading.
  • Sell-Your-Own-Product Sites: Then you’ve got businesses like 5 Dollar Dinners, who is run by a wonderful woman named Erin. She goes to FINCON and I’ve known her for a number of years. Her site has done an incredible job at providing weekly meal plans for busy folks, and she’s been featured on a number of big news outlets as a result.
  • Minimalist Blogs: There are quite a few blogs out there about minimalism, such as Zen Habits. Just going to the site, you can see that he practices what he preaches: it’s all white, the text is black, there are no ads. So, how does he make money? He wrote a book and does some speaking, so that’s his gig. Who would’ve thought!
  • Idea Blogs: This includes blogs about stuff, ideas – whether it be about productivity or how to become a better you. One of my favorites is the Farnam Street Blog. This is a blog about ideas. He writes a lot about books, human behavior, etc. He makes money from advertising and also has a membership to the site that unlocks additional content. Also, he hosts a conference to bring in more money and publicity. I personally subscribe to his newsletter each week and enjoy it.
  • Travel Blogs: There are so many travel blogs out there, and one of my favorites is Nomadic Matt. While it’s a very competitive niche, there are also a ton of ways to monetize the sites. The travel industry has affiliate programs, travel credit cards, etc. If you have a passion for both travel and an online business, you can make a fortune.
  • Home Improvement DIY: There are also a lot of these types of sites, but considering how many potential home improvement projects one could encounter, that’s expected. Some of my favorites are just individuals sharing pictures and videos of them remodeling their own homes. One I came across is Ugly Duckling House – I really enjoy the name. There are a ton of ways to monetize this type of site, too. The stores supplying all of your tools and materials, like Home Depot and Lowe’s, all have affiliate programs and display ads. Linking to Amazon for other supplies is another option. If you take it a step further, as Josh with Bigger Pockets did, you can cover real estate investing and broaden your topic a bit.
  • Coupon Sites: Lastly, one popular type of site is a coupon blog. There’s a particularly “krazy” one out there called The Krazy Coupon Lady, and is apparently a pretty big deal among couponers. They’ve made a fortune providing info about and links to available coupons, and amassed a huge following. In fact, they have 1.7 million likes on Facebook (which is only a few more than Dough Roller’s Facebook page). They utilize ads and affiliate programs to monetize the site.

So, you have a number of ideas here to get the wheels turning. You also have the five important considerations to ponder before choosing your topic. Now, your weekly homework: Come up with your topic. What do you want to blog about? Once you decide, find at least 3 existing blogs on the same topic, which you believe to be great examples in that niche.

Next week, we will start on the technological side of things, like buying a domain and building a blog. If that sounds intimidating, don’t let it — I think that’s the easiest part of it all.

See you next Sunday!

The post How to Pick a Blog Topic for Your Online Business appeared first on The Dough Roller.

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