How to Quit Your Day Job & Become a Professional Tech Blogger

83 Comments 07.10.10

I’m looking over about 100 applications for an evening news writing gig over at ReadWriteWeb and thought I’d share some thoughts about the process.

If I wanted to be a pro tech blogger, here’s what I’d do. Heck, here’s what I did.

The short version of this story is: blog awesomely like a pro news blogger would, and the opportunities are out there for you to become a pro news blogger.

Not so long ago, I was working at a convenience store, selling candy, soda, beer and lottery tickets. I had just graduated with an undergrad degree in political science and I discovered the world of blogging, RSS, etc. in the last few months I was in school. My plan was to do consulting for nonprofit organizations about how to use these new tools for research and promotion, but I had to pay the bills – thus the convenience store gig. Maybe you have a better job than that now – but I still think this is good advice.

I started a blog and wrote about the things I was learning. Here’s the first post I ever wrote. I broke the post-page template one day and decided to move off Blogger, but here’s my first month’s archives if you’re curious.

I read other tech blogs, posted the smartest comments I could and linked to their posts in my posts. Then I went to an industry event and met some people. Barb Dybwad and Marnie Webb, now at Mashable and Netsquared, were the two people I connected with best at that very first event. We all knew each other from blogs and comments already. (Remind me to tell you the story sometime about that trip to SF. It involves an alarm clock, hitchhiking several rides through a rainstorm, a missed flight and a race to see danah boyd for the first time.)

In blogging I tried to add unique value to conversations and I tried to do a good job at important little projects I started. Both Barb and Marnie ended up hiring me to write for them at Netsquared and at AOL’s Social Software Weblog, within just a few months of our having met face to face. Once I had both those gigs, I quit the day job at the convenience store.

The months between were filled with early morning and late night learning, hard work and hustle. My mother-in-law now says she thought I was crazy, waking up so early in the morning to blog, but she agrees that it worked out pretty well.

Once I got those two jobs, the Social Software Weblog one was where I had the best opportunity for visibility in the larger tech blogging world. The pay there was miserable, it was something like $4 or $5 per post, I don’t remember. I worked that job as hard as I could, though, writing 3 to 5 posts a day. I also had another job writing as a subcontractor for an international currency speculation blog, writing 6 posts about currency speculation every weekday before 9am PST. That was nuts. So I was writing about 10 posts a day, of various lengths and about different topics, at three different places.

I tried to always improve my work while I was doing that. One of the things I learned would give me an important advantage was subscribing to the RSS feeds of key company blogs (Google, YouTube, Technorati back then) by instant messaging and SMS. I used a service called Zaptxt. That way whenever a big company blog would update, I’d get a link sent to me within about 15 minutes. That meant I could write it up before anyone else, as I don’t think many if any competitors were using such a system. (Most everyone among top tech news bloggers does today, I think.)

One day Michael Arrington from TechCrunch called me up and said “you keep beating me to news stories – I want you to come write for me.” It was a very, very small operation at that time. I think I was the first paid writer there. It was awesome and I learned a whole lot. It was a very competitive place.

Now I’m co-editor of the smaller but more tech/less business focused, more thoughtful, sweeter-smelling and more modest blog ReadWriteWeb and I’m looking to hire a killer evening news writer.

Figure out some tricks. Write some blog posts that get attention (in a good way). Leave comments on ReadWriteWeb that make us say “wow, that’s one smart cookie right there.” @ me on Twitter. Be a part of our community.

Break some news. Do some great writing. Show us what you’ve got and make sure we see it out there on the web.

Some people are doing that, to some degree. But the web is making publishing easier by far than it’s ever been in history. Trackbacks, replies and other social media mechanisms make developing connections with people easier than ever.

Tech news blogging is one of the most awesome jobs in the world. It doesn’t pay fabulously when you first start, but seize opportunity by the horns on a very regular basis and there’s plenty of opportunity for advancement. I bought a beautiful house in Portland, Oregon last year. I know that I have been able to do this in large part because I was raised white, male, middle class and heterosexual – I was raised to believe I could make something of myself, that I am at core (original sin notwithstanding, thanks) good and right. Not every one has that privilege.

If you are fortunate enough to be a fast thinker, a good writer, have low cost of living expenses and some free hours each day to strike out into a new adventure – then opportunity is right there waiting for you. Just reach out and grab it. I know you’re out there – lots of you.


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  • Great advice! I’m not tech-oriented, or I’d be sending you an application! If you ever want to know about Hawaii, though, I’m your girl.

  • Gary Vaynerchuk would be proud. You’re preaching the same model he talks about: take your spare time and start building around your passion, rather than just complaining about not having your dream job.

    Application through emulation is a powerful thing.

  • What a great template for tomorrow’s big tech blogger. And I love how you outlined what you did. I hope you help a few more convenience store clerks move on from the counter.

  • Or gym doormen

  • It appears there’s an element of “it’s not what you know, it’s who you know” in your story. No matter how good your content, you still need to attract the right set of eyeballs or bend the right ear to get noticed above the crowd.

  • Thanks for the advice. Every blogger needs to take a look at their work and sharpen their skills. Good to hear about it from someone who has obviously been successful at writing.

    Appreciate it.

  • Wow! It’s been awhile since I’ve read a piece so spot-on – informational, instructive, and encouraging — covering writers, techies, entrepreneurs and beyond. And the almost-throwaway (and rare) sentence on privilege just reels you in.

    Great article! I have lots of work to do πŸ™‚

  • Great advice and I’m happy you focused on the quality of your writing. That’s what makes the difference in a huge pool of tech bloggers. I started my blog back in 1999 after coming across Dave Winer’s blog. I wrote about tech and little else, until I had kids and now I write about my experiences in raising four children. Thanks for the advice and maybe I can use it one day to land a writing gig.

  • Points taken.

  • Thank you Marshall, this is a smart post and one we all can learn from. Don’t just (As Apple said) Think Different… Instead, (As Nike said) Just do it!

    I’ve been sitting on the sidelines for a long time, soaking in the tech world from a Branding & Design perspective, not JUST on the web, but from all angles. People tell me they like my comments, thoughts and feel I should share my opinions more. To that point, you are exactly right: publishing is now easier than ever in history. Finding eyeballs, as Jack Carlson said above though is really the name of the game. But if your work isn’t out there, then no eyeballs will see it, regardless.

    I have made a few furtive attempts at blogging in the past. While I’m not planning on becoming a full time writer, I think its finally time to put my voice out there in earnest. Thanks for the fresh kick in the pants!

  • Great read, Marshall. I’ve often watched/read from afar your work and enjoy your work greatly. Thank you for sharing, and it underscores working hard, but being strategic about it.

    Blogging offers some type of authenticity for those without mega-budgets. It can be a thankless job if you are not in it for the right reasons (and even then still can be) πŸ˜‰

    That being said, keep up the solid work!

    Best Regards,
    Ken Stewart
    ChangeForge

  • Great sharing of ur story Marshall. I just wanted to add that blogging can also lead to other opportunities such as hooking up with some great connections, working for cool startups, and other interesting adventures. Blogging can open up many doors for u. To quote an old Nike slogan
    “Just Do It!”

  • What a great post! You’re speaking specifically to and about tech writers, but this is excellent wisdom and advice for anyone who has a goal or dream they’ve been sitting on. Very inspirational. This is going to keep me coming back for more.

  • Your first blog post reminded me of mine, A New Journey. Driven by long term ambition/goals we work to cultivate a network of like minded folks. Some days I feel a little light on the topics to write about, but that doesn’t stop me.

    I can’t imagine writing 18 quality posts a day, it takes me 2 hours to write a simple and short one. But it’s the challenge of translating abstract ideas and thoughts to legible posts that keeps me coming back every morning.

    Glad to see rww gaining steam. This is notch chance ;).

  • My kingdom for a Disqus edit button notch => not by

  • Lovely post.

    Love that you also post photos of blueberries from your garden on Posterous.

  • Hey Marshall! Its great to hear that all your hard work paid off. Congrats and good luck finding a great tech writer!
    @Mike Templeton: Gary V is one of my heroes!

  • Very encouraging! The best thing about tech blogging is that almost everyone is willing to give everyone else a chance. Keep up the good work!

  • I recently started a tech blog and was looking for inspiration. I found this article on a twitter page and found it a good learning experience.Starting a blog is not easy, I am still trying to figure out how to post more than 1 original content everyday.I think your advice will help me a little.

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  • This is very encouraging and motivating. Thos outline of what you did should be a guide for the new blogers.

    Thanks

  • Awesome! This is inspiring. I’ve been blogging for some time now and I enjoy doing this πŸ™‚

    Although I am not always up-to-date with technology, but I try my best and do everything I can in those few hours I get in everyday. This is inspiring!

  • Those lines, “4$ – 5$ per post” reminds me the way I started to write for an Australian Company 3 years ago for same rates! Fingers crossed πŸ™‚

  • Kimberley Barker

    Marshall, not only is this post full of very good, extremely detailed advice, but it also demonstrates your generosity of spirit. I enjoyed it for both reasons πŸ™‚

  • This is a great post,

    thank you so much for sharing… what is your advice on how to find a tech blogger to help write a blog to a startup related to bloogers? we look for a tech blogger to write about tech bloggers πŸ™‚

    if anyone is interested then my mail is: sharel.omer@gmail.com

    Thanks,
    Sharel

  • This was a great article and down the the point. I write about healthcare tech, not as exciting, but still tech at the Medical Quack.

  • This is exactly what I have been wondering all along. I know it is possible to do this stuff for a living, but couldn’t ever figure out how to make it happen logistically. I am looking forward to having a little more time to write (quitting my day job and moving to NYC for internships in a month) and hope to start to make some waves in the interweb. Thanks for the post Marshall.

  • SG

    Your words are inspiring. I am already on the road you are talking about. And it is a tough road I must say. Often one feels like going the easier way? But then once in a while posts like these hit you on the face, wake you up and whisper into your ears, to give that one last try, yet again.

    Hoping to make it one day.

  • Great post. Really opens my eyes to what I should focus on, and write about what I love. Hopefully someday I can look back, and remember some of the post I have read that are great, yours will be one of them. Thanks.

  • Marshall: Fantastic post. As much as I like your tech intel, I love your personal posts. It’s as if you are telling a story aloud around a campfire so we can learn from the content while simultaneously learning by example.
    Thanks,
    Kristin

  • Asshu

    Your post would inspire every one who wanted begin their career as blogger as well the bloggers who feel inferior them selves .
    BTW …http://zaptxt.com/ is not functional now .

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  • While I’ve never been the “writing type”, I have started a blog, and am very dedicated to making it a success. I really plan on using this blog as leverage however, for other products, and hopefully, I’ll be able to work from home doing something I actually enjoy.

    Thanks for the inspiration.

    ~Matt

  • I too was an early adopter of ZapTXT. I’m surprised you didn’t notice. Now about that job…

  • Wes Cook

    Great post Marshall…and so relevant to thoughts racing around my head lately!

  • As this information is educational so this site has been added to my RSS feed for later browsing. [ run a marathon in under 4 hours ]

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  • This is great advice! I think one thing people fail to see about jobs is this: β€œJobs are a big part of our social lives.” Yes they are. In fact I’ve seen some stuff about how people who work from home are starting to gather together in various places to do their work (sometimes in each others’ homes) in order to fill this social need.

  • Thanks Mashall. Your story really encourage me very much. Bloging is not a short competition but a long run business. Instead of worry about the income, we should completelty focus on generating new and useful contents and one day soon the money will come.

  • There a lots of opportunities online and blogging sure is one of them. I would appreciate if you could write a bit more about how you managed to succeed as a tech blogger.

    Stan

  • Rick

    This post really inspired me. I have recently started school after a taking a year or so off and want to major in journalism to become a tech blogger/journalist, and found this really helpful and quite inspiring, I plan on starting my blog tomorrow and getting my voice out there. Do you have any advice for a student wanting to get in the same field?

  • NverDoo

    Cool… I also found some other great pointers on how to quit http://howtohacklife101.blogspot.com/2011/08/how-to-quit-your-job.html

  • Ajay Ohri

    inspirational and nice

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  • Edward

    I didnt know that you had to be ” white, male,middle class and heterosexual” to be a Tech Blogger. Since I am a African American male I guess I need to look for another career. Your article was well written until you added these comments that is not only incorrect and ignorant but does not add any substance to the subject of this article.

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