Creative Commons photo by Tim Patterson

Creative Commons photo by Tim Patterson

We all should know by now that getting a degree from a good university or landing a job with a big company does not mean a secure future anymore. Half of recent college graduates are either unemployed or under-employed. We’ve gone from a world of pensions and steady paychecks to one of job-hopping, joblets, and hustling to build up enough freelance gigs to pay the bills.

Expecting someone else to secure your future career or finances is no longer a reliable strategy. Companies go from hot to not in an instant, flying up and flaming out faster than a half-price restaurant sale. That boss who hired you for that secure staff job will probably be gone in a year. The editor who has been buying all your freelance articles will likely get sacked at some point and leave your last two pieces in limbo. Making a living from “a real job” only goes so far in a recessionary climate of compressed wages and rising time demands.

The safest solution in this climate is to run your own show, no permission required. Self-employment is the new job security.

That blog you’re running, however, is not immune to a downturn, either, if more than half your income is from one source. For the modern writer, editor, or publisher – and you probably need to be all three – any stability you have is going to come from diversifying your own efforts.

If there’s a reliable blueprint for the digital age, it is this:

  1. Build unique content you own.
  2. Build an audience that finds that content useful.
  3. Branch out into other sites, services, or products from that established platform, cross-promoting each step of the way.
  4. Create multiple streams of income from the widely varied sources.

That last one means varied advertising sources, but also sources that have nothing to do with advertising: a book, a product, leading tours, freelance writing, a course, or whatever else relates to your skill set. When one source disappears, you may be scratched, but you won’t be mortally wounded.

Many bloggers have seen their traffic drop off for no good reason the past couple years as Google changes its algorithms behind the scenes and emphasizes paid results over organic ones in their layout. Others have seen their income from certain types of advertising plummet as those methods go out of favor. If all your eggs are in one basket, it can get depressing and scary when that one basket drops.

If your blog is just a fun hobby, that’s fine, but if you want it to ever be a real income generator, it needs to be a platform for a business, not the business itself. Becoming a business owner, rather than just a blogger, means diversifying. It means adding more income streams from existing sites and adding more sources for those streams through other projects.

Answer these questions if you want to be more than a hobbyist:

  • What can I be doing to earn money besides putting up the same kind of ads 1,000 other travel sites are putting up as well?
  • What do I or can I do better or differently than anyone else?
  • What expertise do I have that others are willing to pay for?
  • What does my audience care about and what are they indicating they might buy?

If you don’t have a big enough or dedicated enough audience, work on that first. Develop a unique angle or point of view that’s all yours. Write quality posts that attract a tribe, not cheap list posts.

Meanwhile, take a walk in the woods, exercise, talk to your readers. You need big ideas and creativity, not more time at a virtual water cooler. Think beyond your baby (the blog) to what’s next, then what’s next after that. Float things out and see if there’s traction — failure is cheap now, and failure is a great educator.

You’re living in a golden age of inexpensive technology, low start-up costs, and the freedom to make your own future. The best job security is making your own job and creating success on your own terms. It may not be as predictable and straightforward as your father’s career, but the 21st century career you make for yourself can be a lot more fun and satisfying. And the only person who can fire you is you.

Author bio: Tim Leffel launched the Cheapest Destinations Blog in 2003 and went on to found multiple other websites including the award-winning Perceptive Travel and review blog Practical Travel Gear. He is the author of several books including Travel Writing 2.0 and the new 4th edition of The World’s Cheapest Destinations. See more at TimLeffel.com and catch Tim speaking on empire expansion at TBEX Toronto 2013.