Every year I run a small, free neighborhood haunted house out of my garage. It’s a mammoth undertaking every year involving countless hours of work, a staff of about four or five helping during crunch times and months of planning. All for about 12 combined hours of “open” time in late October.
However, like every large undertaking I’ve tried, it’s come with its share of life lessons, at least a few of which apply to blogging. So, with that in mind, here are five lessons that running a haunted house, or any similar project can teach you about blogging or running a site.
1. Much of the Work Isn’t Fun
For every hour of scaring visitors, there is probably 12 hours or more of building walls, painting and other mundane, laborious tasks that almost no one enjoys.
Blogging is much the same way. Though every blogger has tasks they love, whether its designing, writing or answering comments, there are many elements that are just no fun at all, filtering spam comments out, fixing site errors, dealing with flame wars and keeping track of your content to name a few.
Though everyone should love what they do, loving your site doesn’t mean enjoying every single task you do for it. It just means that the good outweighs the bad.
2. You Can Look Professional Cheaply
Since our haunt is free, we have to do it on a very tight budget, a few hundred dollars per year tops. We build many of our own props, design many of our scares and find low-tech solutions that other haunts use computers and pneumatics for. We are able to solve our problems cheaply and, at the same time, produce a pretty good haunt.
Blogging is much the same way. WordPress is free and there are tons of great themes for it freely available. Combine that with good content and a great domain, you can have a professional-looking blog for almost no money.
What you do need is skill, time and dedication. If you don’t have the money to buy a professional theme, you need to create or or tweak an existing one. Can’t pay writers? You have to write good content. Money can be a shortcut to a professional appearance, but an investment of time and talent can create the same results and, I would argue, give those results more heart and meaning.
3. Cross-Promoting is Critical
I would be easy for me to consider other haunted attractions in the area as competition and try to “beat” them somehow. However, it’s been much easier for all of us to work together and cross-promote. I even donate a few off nights to volunteer at haunts technically compete with.
The reason is that people don’t usually visit just one haunted house nor do they visit just one blog. Giving a “competitor” traffic is not the same as taking visitors away from you. Networking and working with others in your field is critical not just to drive traffic, but to build your brand and build awareness about your site.
No site is an island so it is best to promote accordingly.
4. Constantly Troubleshoot
The first thing we do after every night of haunting is sit around and go over what happened. The atmosphere is always light-hearted and we’re reliving our favorite scares, but it’s also somewhat serious as we’re going over the things that did not work and planning to retool for the next night or the next year.
Blogging is no different, every so often you should look at your traffic and your site’s use patterns and see what you can do to improve it. What features can you add? Is your navigation confusing? What might help search engines crawl your site better?
A blogger should be constantly looking at their site, determining what works and losing what doesn’t.
5. Be Unique
Being high quality isn’t good enough by itself, you have to do something that’s unique. With our haunt, we try to focus on more realistic scenarios and avoid all horror movie icons. This helps people remember us and gives our haunt a very unique feel.
If you can’t describe what makes your site unique in less than 20 words, you probably need to change your focus to give it something a bit more original. Otherwise, you’ll always just an “also” ran in an overcrowded field.
If you provide something unique, people will remember you and they will return.
All major projects, whether online or off, have a great deal to teach us about running our sites. The Internet does not change the basics of what makes good work and by looking at what it takes to do a good job elsewhere, you can apply the lessons online.
So what are some of the lessons you’ve learned from your offline projects and how did you make them apply to your site? I’d be interested to hear what others have to say.