Leaving Work Behind

Blogging: How to Build Authority From Scratch [in 5 Steps]

Written by Tom Ewer on May 9, 2013. 32 Comments
Photo Credit: Adam Chandler

Photo Credit: Adam Chandler

The best place to succeed is where you are with what you have ~ Charles Schwab (tweet this)

A lot of would-be bloggers are paralysed by an indecision as to what they should blog about.

Many feel that they don’t have anything particularly interesting to say or don’t feel that they are an “expert” in any given field.

I have two pieces of advice in response to this common issue:

  1. You only have to be “expert enough” (i.e. more knowledgeable than most) in order to write authoritatively on a topic.
  2. If you feel uncomfortable with presenting yourself as an authority on a topic, turn the approach on its head and use the blog as a journal of your journey to expert status.

In this post I want to focus on that second approach — the approach I took with Leaving Work Behind and the approach I am taking with other blogs of mine such as P90x Journal and Piano Journal. It ensures that you can avoid any feeling of discomfort over representing yourself as an “expert” and allows you to launch a blog on any topic that takes your interest — whether or not you have any experience in it.

A Short History of Leaving Work Behind

For those of you who don’t know, I launched Leaving Work Behind on 27th June 2011. At the time I had barely even read a blog before, let alone created one. In short, I didn’t know what I was doing.

And yet I felt that it would benefit me to have something to act as a journal of my progress. I needed to hold myself accountable to my goal of quitting my job. Leaving Work Behind was borne out of that desire — I intended for it to act as an accountability journal for my efforts in quitting my job.

I made no attempt to hide my lack of experience. In fact, I was clear in stating that I was completely new to the world of blogging and making money online. Yet over time Leaving Work Behind has served as an extremely useful tool for the development of my blogging skills and now makes me a healthy income too. I hope that in the future it will continue to grow and serve as the focal point for my “brand.” All of this out of an online accountability journal that I started less than two years ago.

You don’t need to be an expert to launch a blog on any given topic — I have discovered that people are seemingly just as willing to follow a newbie’s journey in gaining expertise than they are to read a blog from a self-proclaimed expert.

So what are the key ingredients required in order to build authority from scratch?

1. Be Honest

If you are going to start a blog as a newbie then make it absolutely clear that you are a newbie. The worst thing you can do is feign expertise — most people will see right through it and/or be turned off by it.

So rather than trying to hide your experience, make it your selling point. Explain to your readers that although you may be new to your chosen field, you will always be totally honest about that fact and never try to claim that you’re something you’re not (i.e. an expert). For the most part, people really appreciate this kind of candidness — it is not something you often see on the Internet.

The Leaving Work Behind pre-launch splash page, circa mid-June 2011.

The Leaving Work Behind pre-launch splash page, circa June 2011.

An easy way to stick out from the crowd is to take a completely different approach. So while everyone else is working hard to convince people that they are experts, put effort into convincing people that you are not.

2. Give Full Exposure

People are going to get a kick out of your blog for two reasons:

  1. You will demonstrate how to become an expert in your chosen field from the very beginning
  2. You will offer full exposure on all of your successes and your failures

If you nail these two things people will really start to feel connected to you and you will be building up an extremely valuable resource in the long term.

Take Leaving Work Behind as an example — it is a truly rare beast. You can read income reports from literally the first day that I started trying to make money online. You can see that I didn’t make a single penny (in fact, I lost nearly $1,000) within the first six months. Mine is not an overnight success story — it reveals the kind of truth that many other make money online bloggers would rather you not see.

Anyone who has a mind to will discover that Leaving Work Behind contains just about every step I have taken in getting to where I am. That is a rare thing. I believe that my propensity to offer full exposure on everything that I do (both my successes and my failures) is the secret sauce that has enabled this blog to grow over the past couple of years.

For an example of the level of exposure I am talking about, check out the following two posts:

I hope that P90X Journal will grow to offer something similar. When I started P90X around ten days ago I was in okay shape, but nothing to write home about. If I can demonstrate that P90X works and show people exactly what I did to achieve my outcome (including what I did right, what I did wrong and what I would do differently), the site will become a compelling resource for anyone interested in the fitness program. That’s the key to building authority from scratch.

3. Demonstrate That You Have No Ulterior Motives

One of the launch posts for this blog was Why I Am NOT Trying To Make Money From This Blog. In it I clarified that the blog contained no affiliate links, advertising, or any other commercial elements that could make me money. My thinking behind this was quite simple: I had no right to earn money from this blog until I had earned my readers’ trust and had something of true value to offer.

I eventually started monetizing Leaving Work Behind with affiliate links in February 2012 and started making an income from the site in April (a grand total of $38 in that month ;-)). My point is this: if you want to build a popular blog then you must gain your readers’ trust and offer them valuable content. When you’re first starting out you have neither of those things, but the quickest way to build trust is to demonstrate that you have no ulterior motives.

Many beginner bloggers are quick to attempt to make money from day one, but they have it all wrong. For starters, your audience is going to be so small that you’ll make little to no money anyway, and at what cost? People will be turned off by your overt attempts to make money when quite frankly you have no right to do so.

Trust first, followed by value, then followed by monetization. Get the order right.

4. Foster a Community

One of the things that really kept me going when Leaving Work Behind made no money and only received a handful of visitors was the small community I was building. It was great to see familiar faces in the comments section and receive the occasional email from someone thanking me for my hard work. It made my efforts worthwhile and gave me the impetus to continue.

As such, you should look to establish the same kind of community within your own blog. In my opinion this comes down to three main factors:

  1. Your brand
  2. Your personality
  3. Your involvement

Your brand is made up of various elements: your name, logo, tagline, design, and so on. You want to be memorable. That’s why I chose the name “Leaving Work Behind” — although the meaning is not to be taken literally, I felt it evoked exactly what I wanted to achieve. I want to be in a position where my life isn’t made up of delineated sessions of “work” and “play” — I want the kind of balance in which I enjoy everything that I do. That’s my brand — that’s what Leaving Work Behind is all about.

But don’t forget your personality — i.e. the way in which you present yourself and communicate with people. My style is very direct and candid — I don’t hold back in offering my opinion and I don’t waste time on writing fluff. I also tell me readers about me — I enable them to see that there is a real person behind the words. That approach is epitomised best in the following posts:

Finally we have involvement. I make sure to reply to just about every single comment and email I receive. If someone takes the time to reach out to me I want them to know that they’re not wasting their time. I give as much value as I can because I appreciate the power of the community that I am building. Because of this I think that Leaving Work Behind has a pretty good reputation amongst those who know about it.

5. Be Humble

Finally, if you are going to represent yourself as a newbie then accept that you may be treated like one. Put your sense of pride to one side and be ready to be open to all comments and suggestions. Many of them are likely to be very helpful indeed.

If you represent yourself as a newbie but are dismissive of tips and advice then your approach comes across as completely contradictory. A “learning blog” such as we are discussing should be about community involvement — if you are quick to put down those who have an opinion to offer, you are destroying one of the key elements of your brand.

It can be tough to be humble — I appreciate that. But people will respect you for standing out in the blogosphere as someone who doesn’t claim to know everything and anything. If you set out your stall as a beginner then be sure to act like one. Soak up all of the information that you can. The time will come when your actions belie your newbie status and you will be able to take the step up.

What Are You Waiting For?

I hope that those of you who are unsure about what to blog about now feel that you can actually make a start on something. It could be anything from cooking, to sports, to matchstick models — it doesn’t really matter.

What does matter is that you have a passion for your chosen field. Do not attempt to follow this model if you are not keen on developing whatever skill you choose. Although this type of blog serves as a superb accountability tool to keep you motivated, you must have a passion for what you do in order for it to become a long term project that you can enjoy and make money from.

I love writing about online business and I love helping people to create better lives for themselves — that drives me perhaps as much as the money does. Find something similar and put everything you have into it.

If you want to know what to do next then I recommend the following posts:

As always, questions and comments are welcomed below!

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32 Responses to “Blogging: How to Build Authority From Scratch [in 5 Steps]”

  1. Paul Kridakorn
    May 9, 2013 at 4:33 pm

    Thank you with the great advice Tom.
    I am in a moment of confusion about blogging, too. I blog in my familiar niche for long time because I am an expert in it.

    Now I am exploring a new blogging area and in a target group. And here comes the problem, am I expert enough? …But instead of waiting until I become expert (which I honestly don’t know when), why not start now as a progress journal. True as you said, I know my move now.

    • Tom Ewer
      May 9, 2013 at 6:00 pm

      Great! best of luck with your new endeavour Paul 🙂

    • Iain
      May 10, 2013 at 11:11 am

      I am totally in a similar place as you Paul.

      It’s when I talk to people what I am blogging about that I realize I know way more than the average Joe out there.

      It’s at those times when I realize that I am expert enough.

      Really it all comes down to reading and learning as much as you can. You would be surprised by how much you can absorb that way.

      • Paul Kridakorn
        May 13, 2013 at 1:49 pm

        Thanks for sharing Iain. That’s very true. Something we learn everyday and get too used to it. And then, we realize how much we know something in depth is when we share it among other people.

  2. Mark de Scande
    May 9, 2013 at 10:07 pm

    Hey Tom

    Great work on the article blogging is never a overnight money spinner 🙂

    Now of the top pick how did you get those slick social icons at the top of you website ?

  3. Rob
    May 9, 2013 at 11:20 pm

    Great stuff Tom

    Very useful on so many levels. I think your approach to blogging is refreshing and obviously effective, we can all learn from this.

    Your honesty and humility shines through in every post and I for one respect that!


  4. Retoucher
    May 10, 2013 at 10:15 am

    I really love this post, especially when you talk about quality comments. I really hate it when someone comments on my blog with something like “cute outfit, want to follow each other?” because you know they are just after followers and not looking at building actual blogging relationships.

    • Tom Ewer
      May 10, 2013 at 3:08 pm

      Yep, and people who don’t use their real names when leaving comments…;-)

      Just kidding! I know what you mean — I like to give people the benefit of the doubt when possible though.

  5. Mari Honaa
    May 12, 2013 at 2:18 am

    Hi Tom!

    Thank you so much for this timely post, exactly what I needed to take the next step on my newbie blogging journey. After reading your first couple of paragraphs, 1000 words on my motivation behind my blog just poured out of me. It will be my first post and I will definitely be taking the second approach! 🙂

    A question for you: If one of your goals is to learn how to make money online and you have full transparency, why do you think it’s bad to start experimenting with affiliate accounts? My logic would be that you could make ‘beginner lessons’ here and share them with your audience?

    Thanks again, very happy I found your blog! x

    • Tom Ewer
      May 12, 2013 at 12:10 pm

      Hi Mari,

      You’re very welcome 🙂

      The answer to your question is in the heading of Step 3: Demonstrate That You Have No Ulterior Motives.



  6. Sibo
    May 12, 2013 at 4:11 am

    Great Advice, Tom.Thank you for all the details. They are very helpful tips for beginners to blogging like me.

    I spent more than half year to go through different trainings and reading books to find my true passion. Now I am cashing my passion every day!

  7. Brooks
    May 12, 2013 at 4:24 am

    Tom, good list Sir.
    Although, I partially disagree with your #3.
    I think that it’s ok to let your fans know from the start that your intent is to create an income from the blog. They’ll understand, right?
    Although, you’re not the first that has had your view.
    So I guess I’d say that I can see it both ways and that either way can lead to success with your fans and followers.
    Take Care

    • Tom Ewer
      May 12, 2013 at 12:13 pm

      Hi Brooks,

      I know Step 3 will be unpopular amongst many startup bloggers. It’s definitely open to argument.

      You say that it’s okay to let your fans know from the start that your intent is to create an income from your blog. The problem is that you don’t have any fans at the start, and anyone that stumbles upon your site is a complete stranger.

      If a complete stranger sees a brand new blog that’s trying to make money they’re probably not going to give it much time (unless the content is exemplary). If on the other hand a complete stranger lands on your site, it has great content and you demonstrate no ulterior motives, they’re far more likely to engage with you, recommend your site to others and come back again.



      • Brooks
        May 13, 2013 at 5:35 am

        Ha, if it weren’t open to argument then it wouldn’t be worth writing about 😉

        I can definitely see your point. And I can really disagree. I can clearly see both sides from the top of my fence!

        Great points from you and well taken. Especially considering that you have made real money from your blog, while my projects would not be able to pay my mortgage at this moment…

        Your insight is appreciated!

  8. Andrew Montgomery
    May 13, 2013 at 7:49 am

    Hi Tom,

    Enjoying your blog. I’ve been reading it for some time.

    I like the philosophy of blogging a journey from beginner to proficient. A key benefit to me is the accountability/consistency angle. We hear it often enough that ‘overnight successes’ take 2-3yrs at least. I’ve left a trail of abandoned blogs in my wake…

    Just a question. For your two linked blogs you’re still using the basic WordPress theme. Is this an intentional choice (trying not to look too pro, too soon? You didn’t want to distract yourself with design?) or is it just that you’ve not got round to it?


    PS I live just up the road from you (Ashbourne – the road being the M1). My mother-in-law is in Coventry. Good to see someone doing well in the midlands rather than west coast US or Oz!

    • Tom Ewer
      May 13, 2013 at 2:08 pm

      Hi Andrew,

      Definitely a case of not wanting to distract myself with design. There’s nothing wrong with the default WordPress themes in my opinion!



  9. thepotatohead
    May 14, 2013 at 2:28 am

    Hey Tom,

    I’ve taken the last few weeks to read through a ton of your blog posts in my quest to start up my own blog. For me I think that #4 will be the thing that keeps me going when I run out of ideas. It will be cool to to interact with other bloggers and readers (hopefully they will show up as long as my blog doesn’t suck lol) on a regular basis. It’ll help me out big time to be able to share with others. Usually I’m just an internet lurker so this will be a big change for me :p

    • Tom Ewer
      May 15, 2013 at 1:01 pm

      There’s only one way to start! Engaging with other people and immersing yourself in interactivity is a great way to create the motivation to keep going.

  10. Bree Brouwer
    May 14, 2013 at 9:29 pm

    As always, another great post.

    This clear-cut, “I’m not an expert” angle is a lot of what I am trying to do with my personal blog, Geek My Life, where I not only give geeky thoughts and advice but also discuss how I am growing as a geek.

    I’m curious to apply this honest and open approach to a new blog idea I have, though, and see if it attracts readers in much the same way your blog has done for you.

  11. Joe
    May 15, 2013 at 3:52 pm

    Hey Tom, I discovered your blog through Corbett Barr and I’m starting my own blog about making passive income online. I’m kind of an intermediate newbie having been at this for 3 years (part time), but I have gained a lot of knowledge that I know newer newbies could benefit from.
    Just wanted to say “thanks” for putting out good content!


  12. Tony D
    June 7, 2013 at 11:33 pm

    Hey Tom, I have been debating on starting a blog for a long time, but I could never narrow down my focus for the blog. Because of your article, I’ve decided to start and see what happens. I will learn so much on the way. Thank you for this idea; I would not have started my blog without it

  13. Shruti
    August 18, 2013 at 6:41 am

    Great post! These are all great suggestions to help make your company known as an industry authority, but you are also creating great content to help boost your SEO in the process. One project I have personally worked on and seen success in is to deploy a mini website. It is a great way to reach out and communicate with your audience.

    Kindly Regard’s

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