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Sunday, April 2, 2017

If I Was Starting Free Technology for Teachers Today...

I am frequently asked about how I started Free Technology for Teachers. In response to that question I always tell the story about starting it as a hobby that I never thought would turn into the business that it has become. As a follow-up to that, I usually share what I would have done differently if I had thought that it was going to become a business. Here are some of the things that I would do differently if I was starting Free Technology for Teachers over again from scratch.

1. Self-host the blog and use WordPress. 
While I still believe that Blogger is a good choice for classroom blogs or small hobby blogs, it does become limiting at a certain point. One the bigger limitations being in the level of design customization that can be accomplished without diving into lots of coding. Another limitation of concern is that I'm still at the mercy of Google. If Google decides to shutter Blogger, I would still have all of my content in an XML file, but I'd have to find a new place to host it and do the arduous work of rebuilding search engine visibility. In other words, every day is a gamble running a business that relies on Google not shuttering Blogger.

Every professional blog (PracticalEdTech.com, iPadApps4School.com, and others) that I've started in the last five years has run on WordPress. To be clear, I'm referring to the free WordPress.org software not the WordPress.com hosted blog option. I use MediaTemple as the hosting service. It's not the cheapest hosting service you'll find, but the customer service is great! And they're currently running a promotion that gives you two months of free hosting.

There are thousands of themes and templates that you can use on a WordPress blog. I've used free themes, but I've been happiest with themes that I've purchased from WooThemes, StudioPress, and DIY Themes.

2. Create and share more videos.
It's only in the last couple of years that I started to make and share a lot of my own tutorial videos. Screencast videos don't take a lot of time to make and they're quite helpful to visitors. Posting the videos on YouTube with links back to the blog is also a great way to get more visitors to the blog itself.

3. Offer an email newsletter. 
When I started this blog RSS readers were the darling of the Web 2.0 world. People were trying all kinds of things to monetize RSS feeds because the RSS reader was going to replace email. In fact, Allen Stern proposed charging $1 feed. (Side note, Allen Stern was one of the truly great guys in the Web 2.0 blogging community. He taught me and many others a lot about blogging. Sadly, he passed away far too young four years ago). Fast forward ten years and email is still here and Google Reader is long gone. The email newsletter that I finally started in 2014 now has more than 13,000 subscribers and it accounts for almost as much traffic as Facebook referrals while accounting for the majority of webinar registrations.

What I did right.
The thing that I did right from the start is have a clearly defined (at least in my head) purpose of sharing only free resources and always trying to share an idea for how that resource could be used in a classroom.

This is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to what I've learned about turning a blog into a business over the last ten years. In my upcoming course, From Blog to Job, I'll share everything I've learned and give you guidance on developing your own blog-based business.