At the start of 2019, I began a journey into the unknown.
I created a web development blog.
Over the next twelve months and 32 tutorials and thought pieces, I learned more about blogging, writing, and marketing than I ever knew was possible.
As a result, here’s what I learned from twelve months of web development blogging.
- Never Assume
- You Can’t Sell Fish to a Fisherman
- You Don’t Need to Be an Expert to Help Someone
- Don’t Hesitate to Share
- People Love Free Stuff
- Writing Coding Tutorials Made Me Infinitely Better at My Day Job
One of the main reasons I started a web development blog, more specifically a coding tutorial blog, was my utter contempt for poorly written tutorials.
I can’t stand them.
They’re either incomplete, make zero sense, out of date, or worst of all, make false assumptions about the reader.
A poorly written tutorial tells the reader to drive from London to Paris without instructing them on how a car works.
Some readers know how to drive, others don’t.
My advice for those wanting to start your own tutorial blog is to be clear, concise, and never, ever assume.
As an example, here’s my process for writing successful tutorials:
Firstly, I actually research and build the thing I’ll be writing the tutorial about. I take little notes at every milestone, large or small.
Then, I go back and follow those notes again to see if everything makes sense, or if I’ve left something important out, or assumed the reader knows something when they might not.
Once I’ve followed my own notes, I’ll expand those notes out to be full sentences that are very clear and concise without leaving any stone unturned.
You can’t assume the reader’s knowledge level if you want to write a thorough post.
And if you are going to make an assumption, it better be the assumption that everyone reading your tutorial is a beginner.
You Can’t Sell Fish to a Fisherman
There came a time toward the midpoint of my 12-month blogging journey when I was receiving decent traffic, and the thought of making money popped into my head.
Just enough to cover the cost of my web hosting fees, I thought.
“How hard could it be?”.
Very, very hard.
To illustrate, let me introduce you to Margaret.
Margaret, or Marge as her friends call her, is learning web development. Specifically, React.
She reads the official React documentation and gets to the point where she finally feels comfortable enough to spin up a new React project for the first time using create-react-app.
She wants to add an onClick event handler to a button.
So, Marge jumps over to Google, clicks in the search bar, and types:
After that, the search results page loads and she clicks the result to my tutorial on adding an onClick event handler in React.
Let’s pause for a moment.
What’s her intent at this point?
Her intent is to solve a very specific problem, which she knows can be acquired for free.
Margaret wants to know how to add an on click event handler to a button. She isn’t interested in knowing anything else at that moment in time, let alone buying anything.
Why would she? The only thing that matters to her at that moment is knowing how to solve a problem with code, which, thanks to Stackoverflow, is made freely available.
Now think about another blog based solely around reviewing refrigerators.
And think about the intent readers have when navigating to any article in that blog. Their intention is to buy a refrigerator.
They come to the blog with a different intention and therefore are an easier sell.
Currently, on my coding blog, I’m selling code samples that enable React developers to quickly and easily create sign in, signup, and forgot password pages in their React projects.
I thought my “React Starter Kits” as I’m calling them, would sell like hotcakes.
Let me tell you something about web developers.
They would rather build a house than buy one.
What I’m trying to get at is that a developer would much rather write their own code than buy someone else’s code. It’s in a developer’s nature to want to create.
That React Starter Kit that I’m selling on my coding blog has had a total of 150,000 impressions.
I’ve made a total of $88 profit.
In other words, you can’t sell fish to a fisherman.
If you want to make money while blogging, don’t start a coding blog. Review fridges or something.
You Don’t Need to Be an Expert to Help Someone
I wasn’t an expert in React when I started my coding blog.
And it’s safe to say, twelve months on I still wouldn’t consider myself an expert.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m good at React. I don’t really need to Google React errors anymore. But is that what being an expert is about?
Or is that just knowing the answer because you’ve done the same thing a thousand times over?
Whatever it is, what I’ve discovered is that people just appreciate you sharing your thoughts in the form of tutorials, thought-pieces, or short rants about a topic.
If you’ve tried something, and it works, and it’s solving someone’s problem, then you’re an expert at solving that person’s problem.
What I discovered with coding tutorials that all people are interested in is finding a solution to a specific problem at that very moment.
So if your solution works, that’s all that matters.
Don’t Hesitate to Share
I remember the first time I posted one of my tutorials to the /r/react subreddit.
I’ve never had so many negative internal thoughts as I did at that moment.
“They’re going to tear me to pieces”.
“It’s not perfect. There’s got to be a mistake somewhere in the code”.
What did I have to lose? I posted my tutorial on building a web app using React and Airtable on a Sunday morning at around 8:04 am.
I sat in my office chair for the next half hour, frantically refreshing the page to see how many upvotes I got, if any, and if there were any nasty comments.
And then I saw that someone had left a comment:
Not only did they say “Nice job!”, they told me what they would like to see from additional tutorials, AND even gave me a heads up on a mistake in my code.
That’s three things that one person did to help me.
They proof-read my tutorial for free.
Patted me on the back.
And pointed me in the direction of my next tutorial.
All that tension and nerves I felt about sharing my tutorial with other people dissipated.
I’ve since posted every single one of my tutorials to Reddit and Twitter, and have yet to have a single really negative comment.
In fact, the only really negative comments were those in my head.
Lesson: do not hesitate to share your writing with family, friends, Twitter, or even Reddit.
Share an incomplete document if you must. You’ll be surprised at how generous people are.
The comments and feedback I get from the web development community actually help me understand what I should write about next, how I can improve my writing, and above all if my tutorials are any good.
Also, don’t be afraid of Redditors. They’re actually a nice bunch.
People Love Free Stuff
When I first started my coding blog, I had a little newsletter email capture field at the end of each post advertising a monthly newsletter.
After a few months, I was getting an average of 3 email subscribers a day, which I thought was pretty good going.
Then, I offered a free chapter from my upcoming React book, and daily newsletter signups tripled.
There’s a greater lesson here.
Provide something of value and people will give up their most personal information.
That was a joke, but at the same time, it’s sort of true.
In other words, people are willing to give you their email address for something of value to them that is free.
It’s a fair trade in their eyes.
You don’t have to create something from scratch to give it away for free.
I read a really nice quote from Daniel Vassallo on Twitter.
Sell your sawdust.
If you’re a creative or a maker, you’ve likely got heaps on stuff on your computer that other people would find incredibly helpful.
With very little effort you could turn your sawdust into something of value for a lot of people.
Writing Coding Tutorials Made Me Infinitely Better at My Day Job
I had reached a point in my career where I wanted to better my coding skills.
That was actually one of my reasons for starting my coding blog. I wanted to really dive deeper into coding, and what better way to do that than building little projects and then showing others how it’s done?
I noticed three things:
- My written and verbal communication skills improved drastically
- I became confident enough to mentor junior developers
- My day job helped me understand what I wanted to write about
It’s pretty obvious if you think about it.
Completely immersing yourself in a single topic makes you understand that particular topic more.
As a result, things related to that topic are likely at the forefront of your brain, and it’s much quicker and easier to pull things out of the front of your brain.