Paintbrush Mixing PaintProfessional blogging represents a great way to automate your cash inflow. Bloggers like Darren Rowse and Steve Pavlina actually earn six-digit incomes annually from blogging! One of the critical elements of any money-making blog is a great design. How do you get one? There are a number blog design specialists such as E.Webscapes Design Studio and Unique Blog Designs who can quickly and effectively churn out a new or redesigned professional blog for you. This post describes the step-by-step process — from concept to rollout — for outsourcing your blog’s custom design by telling you how I did it.

Introduction

In January of this year, I decided that the world needed yet another blog. But this wouldn’t be just any ordinary one. This blog would share my insights into how a busy person can develop, implement, and enjoy an automated life.

After several months of fairly intense labor, my first monetized blog is fully operational, at least in its initial release. Personally, I think the design looks great. Not bad for my first attempt. Usually, anytime you manage a new project in unchartered territory, it takes a disaster or two before you finally get it right. Thankfully, I avoided such costly missteps by doing as little of the work as possible.

So how did I pull off this seemingly impossible task? Well, the answer is quite simple actually if you spend enough time finding sources to do what you need done. But where do you go to find those talented people? And what steps should you take to construct a monetized blog? All good questions. Lucky for you, I have the answers. In developing my blog, I outsourced nearly the entire design and implementation process by hiring the person who wrote the book, WordPress for Dummies. While I did invest a moderate amount of time in the upfront “planning” activities that would ultimately culminate into my Statement of Work (SOW), I relied predominantly on the experts for the heavy lifting. And so should you.

Ok. Here’s what we’re going to accomplish and how. I’m going to outline the general steps that I followed in outsourcing the design and implementation of my professional weblog. Special attention is given to how I developed and used an SOW to acquire and monitor the services of a third-party provider. I’ll also share my actual SOW so you can reuse it to build or re-design your own personal, professional, or business blog.

Step 1: Blog Concept Definition (6 to 8 hours)

Blog concept definition is simply the process of exploring, defining, re-fining, and finalizing the genre, niche, brand, and other “business model” parameters of your weblog. Without a well-defined concept, it’s difficult to shape a fairly stable set of requirements that will eventually comprise the SOW. Without a well-defined SOW, it’s very difficult to employ a provider due to fact that you cannot effectively communicate your expectations. In addition, fluctuating requirements can be a problem because they typically cause design and technical rework, costing you additional money and delaying time-to-implementation. (It’s much cheaper to get the requirements right the first time than it is to fix them later.) So nail down your blog concept as best you can in Step 1 (at least 80% defined). As you move toward Step 4, make the requirements even more solid.

Once I defined my initial concept, I refined it through some research. This research consisted of the following activities:

All the above research led to the following business concept model:

  • MISSION. External statement (what you see): offer pragmatic solutions that allow readers to lead a more simplified, efficient, effective, productive, and rewarding lifestyle, made possible by automated tools and personal outsourcing services. Internal statement (what I see): Become a profitable weblogger through mission execution.
  • CONTENT STRATEGY. Focus: tightly aligned with blog’s mission and needs of target audience. Post types: articles (mix of long and short), editorials (very short), roundups (short), expert interviews (medium), mullet baits or resource lists (short), and information references (very short). Content creation: original works (60%), synthesis (20%), and personalized aggregation (20%). Distribution: weblog, RSS feed, and email subscription. Medium: text with some videos and static images. Frequency: at least 1 to 2 posts per week. Style: substantive, research-based, technical, witty, and sophisticated. Staff: 1-2 editors, 2-3 writers, guest writers, and contracted freelance writers.
  • MONETIZATION STRATEGY. Ads: 125×125 ad blocks (e.g., Google AdSense or private ads), text link ads (e.g., ScratchBack, Text Link Ads, and ShoppingAds), in-text/inline ads (e.g., Kontera and Adbrite), post-level banner ads (e.g., Google AdSense), sponsored reviews (e.g., Sponsored Reviews, PayPerPost, and ReviewMe), RSS feed ads (e.g., FeedBurner RSS Ads and BidVertiser Ads For Feeds), polling ads (e.g., Vizu), and interactive merchandise kiosks (e.g, Chitika eMiniMalls, WidgetBucks, and Shopzilla). Others: affiliate programs (e.g., Amazon Associates), referral programs, donations, merchandise store (future), and services (future).
  • OPTIMIZATION STRATEGY. Directory submissions, article submissions, blog comments, manual blog and feed submissions, social bookmarking and social news sites submissions, and one-way natural link building via blogs (contextual links).
  • MARKETING STRATEGY. Branding: information source for automated ways of living such as personal outsourcing. Promotion: sponsored ad links (e.g., Google AdWords). Partnerships: to be determined.
  • INFORMATION STRATEGY. Performance measurement system supported by analytics tools for mining and analyzing site, revenue, and blog posts data (e.g., Google Analytics, WP.Com Stats , and Blog Metrics).
  • PLATFORM STRATEGY. Blogging platform: WordPress. Hosting platform: GoDaddy.com.

After laying-out my business concept model, I then moved to breaking down my pro blog requirements.

Step 2: High-Level Requirements Definition (6 to 8 hours)

Requirements definition is the process of decomposing the concept into a set of requirements. I won’t get into the different types of requirements (business, feature, functional, and technical) here. I will say, however, that in specifying requirements for this blog, I tried to focus more on the “what” and the “why” as opposed to the “how.” I left the technical, how-to details to the experts. The only time I delved into technical aspects is when it was critical to understanding the business importance (e.g., pingbacks).

Part of the exercise in gathering requirements included some research. Again, here is where blogs-about-blogging sites such as JohnChow.com and Problogger.com come in handy. Also quite helpful were posts that list out “must-have” features and plugins. Not being a blog guru, any features or plugins that I couldn’t gain a firm understanding of through research, I took note of and rolled into my SOW as part of a consultative requirement to explain their purpose and utility to me.

Through about 6 to 8 hours of investigative work, I came up with some well-defined requirements that eventually became the key section of my SOW. I’ve listed these requirements below, so I won’t repeat here.

Step 3: Sourcing Strategy (3 to 4 hours)

Sourcing strategy — what is that, you ask? Well, it entails the process of determining how best to fulfill a need, requirement, or objective (whether personal or business) given available resources and skills. Whether or not you’re conscious of it, you make personal strategic sourcing decisions all the time. For example, every week I make the sourcing decision to outsource the cleaning of my business attire to the dry cleaner. Resource considerations that factor into my decision: (1) waste of time doing it myself; (2) sufficient cash to pay for services; (3) favorable cost-benefit tradeoff. Skill considerations that factor into my decision: I can’t iron worth crap.

At this stage in the game, Step 3, I had a concept and a set of requirements for my weblog. But I wasn’t exactly sure how I’d translate all this into a working design. I had a need, a weblog site, so now I needed a way to fulfill my need (yes, I’m needy) while making the best use of available resources and skills. To come up with a method of acquisition, I took the following four actions:

1. Identified available sourcing options.
Identifying the sourcing options took less than 5 minutes. I ran a quick Google search using the keyword “blog design” simply to confirm the availability of service providers. Then, I listed my sourcing options: (a) self-source (do the work myself); (b) outsource (let someone else do the work); or (c) co-source (e.g., I design the look and feel and hire someone else to implement the design).

2. Assessed the viability of any uncertain options.
To ensure outsourcing stood as a viable option in terms of cost, I solicited quotes from two service providers directly via their website and from several others via eLance. Although a few eLance providers gave me ridiculous estimates (one at $4,500 and another at $3,000), I found the quotes to be surprisingly reasonable, ranging from $700 to $1,500. Outsourcing = viable option.

3. Selected the best-value sourcing option.
I had three options to choose from: (a) self-sourcing, (b) outsourcing, or (c) co-sourcing. This was an easy decision for me: (b) outsource it all. I arrived at that simple conclusion by answering the three magic strategic sourcing questions:

Question #1: Who could do it FASTER?
Answer: I wanted my professionally-designed weblog site fully launched in 3 to 4 months time. To accomplish that required a working knowledge of WordPress, hosting, PHP, HTML/CSS, and who knows what else. All those skills and knowledge take time to acquire — time I didn’t exactly feel like sacrificing. When I requested quotes for design work, I came across designers who completed 90-plus WordPress projects. My project track record: zero (0). Answer to this question? I think you already know…

Question #2: Who could do it CHEAPER?
Answer: If I undertook the work myself, sure, I wouldn’t have to spend $1,000 to $1,500. But if it took me 100-plus hours, which I’m sure it would have, I would’ve spent much more on lost time and still netted an inferior product.

Question #3: Who could do it BETTER?
Answer: Not me. I can draw a stick figure and a smiley face.

4. Compiled a list of service providers.
Having decided to outsource, I now needed a service provider who could perform the design work. So I conducted some research on the WorldWideInterWeb to compile a list of available sources. At first, I found it difficult to find any, but eventually the flood gates opened, and I came up with a long list of prospects — about 20. Here are just a few of them: E.Webscapes Design Studio, Unique Blog Designs, ContentRobot, Moxie Design Studios, Dagon Design, Pro Blog Design, and Remarkablogger.

Step 4: Statement of Work Development (2 to 3 hours)

With the requirements defined and a list of prospective service providers compiled, it was now time to develop the Statement of Work (SOW) for a professional blog. The SOW would be used to solicit proposals from just a handful of service providers. It allows vendors to determine the work effort, duration, and costs required to fulfill your requirements.

Provided is my actual SOW using Scribd’s iPaper. If you want a Microsoft Word version of this SOW, please, send me an email via the contact form.

[ipaper docId=4165208 access_key=key-hha6x1sdd486eafh8qz height=475 width=500/]

Step 5: Evaluation & Selection (2 to 3 hours)

With a list of about 20 potential service providers and an SOW, I now needed to select one lucky winner. Since I couldn’t possibly solicit and review proposals from all, I narrowed the list down to three. I filtered the candidates largely through brief reviews of their service offerings and portfolio of work. This got me down to three: E.Webscapes Design Studio, Unique Blog Designs, and an eLance provider.

To make the final selection, I issued the SOW and then came up with weighted evaluation criteria against which I’d rate each service provider’s proposal on a scale of 1 to 5: Cost (20%), Meets Requirements (25%), Past Performance (30%), Customer Service (15%), and Time-to-Completion (10%). When I finally received all the proposals, I conducted the evaluation. Below are the results:

Selection Scoring Matrix

Selection Scoring Matrix

As you can see, E.Webscapes came out on top. In terms of raw rating score, each service provider ran neck and neck, and E.Webscapes and Unique Blog Designs actually tied. However, when I applied my relative weights, E.Webscapes narrowly edged Unique Blog Designs.

Even without use of the above scoring matrix, my gut told me E.Webscapes based on my one-on-one interaction with the staff. All else being equal, their customer service quality and professionalism were simply unbeatable. This intangible factor is extremely important and you will learn why as you start to work with the service provider.

You should conduct your own evaluation based upon your own unique criteria and preferences and make a decision based on what you need. But should you happen to make use E.Webscapes Design Studio’s services, let them know that I referred you.

Step 6: Monitor (2 to 3 hours)

With the service provider now selected, it was time to kick off the real work: designing and implementing my pro blog. At this stage, all you need to do is monitor the progress against your timeline, approve the design prototype, test the site before launch, and signoff on the final product. (If you need a Test Log template, send a request to me via email.)

Over the months that E.Webscapes translated my requirements into a design, I focused on writing some content. That’s the beautiful thing about outsourcing: it allows you to focus on more value-added activities and reduces time-to-ROI for investments such as a pro blog.

When the implemented design was finally ready for testing, I hired an Independent Verification & Validation (IV&V) blog specialist from eLance to conduct end-to-end site testing on my behalf to catch any bugs, errors, and missing requirements. (Again, I’m no expert in WordPress site behavior, so I relied on someone who was.) After a few weeks of remediation work, the site was ready for primetime.

Step 7: Closeout (less than 1 hour)

I conducted a final walkthrough of the site before officially closing it. After thanking E.Webscapes for their quality service and for making this project a low-maintenance affair, I had several drinks in their honor.

Conclusion

Implementing a great-looking blog design doesn’t mean you have to sacrifice all your time, money, and other valued pursuits. Through effective use of outsourcing, you can have your cake and eat it, too, and be on your way to automating your income through monetized blogging.

Image credit: ROMA-OSLO / iStockphoto

###

If you have any comments or suggestions for evolving, expanding, or refining my Statement of Work, please, let me know. I’ll periodically update it so that it continues to serve your requirements for blog design outsourcing. Also, if you have any general questions about outsourcing your blog design, feel free to ask me.