By Robert Pagliarini

Are you passionate about something? Do you enjoy writing? Are you looking to distinguish yourself in a competitive job market? Would you like to spend a few hours a week writing about topics that excite you? If so, starting a blog may be a smart option for you.

If you have something to say, you can quickly and easily create a blog and start writing about it. Seriously, in about three minutes, you could have your very own blog. Time to break out the champagne bottles? Not so fast. Because any Tom, Dick or Sally can author a blog, earning money from blogging is a challenge (but it is not impossible). In fact, there are almost as many people making a living as bloggers as there are lawyers, and there are more Americans making their primary income from blogging than there are Americans working as computer programmers, firefighters or even bartenders. There are successful blogs on everything from new gadgets, to gardening, to Feng Shui, but if you want to be successful blogging, you need to follow these seven rules.

Successful Blogging Rules

1. Create valuable content.

This is rule numero uno. You must have something to say about a topic you are interested in and know something about. For your site to attract and keep visitors, you must provide those visitors with something worthwhile. If there were only two blogs on the Internet, you could probably get by with mediocre content. But there are millions of blogs just a click away. Your content must be worth reading.

2. Focus on a niche.

To increase your chances of success, you have to blog about something you are passionate about and something that 10 million other bloggers aren't already feverishly penning. Maybe you're interested in celebrity gossip, but unless you've got an inside source on Britney or a unique perspective on the subject, chances are you won't be able to offer anything to set you apart from the other million celebrity gossip bloggers. You need to find something to write about that will help you stand out from the crowd. For example, after watching the Golden Globes, Danielle Friedland was inspired to start a blog about pregnant celebrities. Her niche blog attracted advertisers such as McDonald's and Kodak. Now her blog is under the People magazine umbrella.

3. Identify popular markets.

You need a niche, but you also need a topic that is popular enough to get visitors and earn money. Blogging about adopting autistic kids from Indonesia is certainly a unique niche, and it may be something you are interested in, but even if you captured 100 percent of this market, your blog wouldn't even make enough money to pay your monthly website hosting fee.

4. Be opinionated.

Whether you're blogging, giving a speech or on national TV, you've got to take a stand and provide an opinion. Nobody is interested in "on one hand ... but on the other hand ...." This doesn't mean you need to be as obnoxious as most radio talk show hosts, but it does mean that you must clearly and unapologetically share and stand by your opinion, because, at the end of the day, your personality and opinions are what will make or break your blog.

5. Get Personal.

A good blogger needs to open up. A blog needs to be more like a conversation between friends and less like a news report. Your readers want to know you. Help them discover who you are by sharing personal stories, challenges, defeats and victories. I've found that too many people want to project a perfect image of themselves, but this isn't effective when you're blogging. Readers connect much better with "real" people -- those who admit to mistakes and struggle with challenges -- than they do with Mr. or Ms. Perfect.

6. Create a brand.

A brand is the emotional reaction someone feels when they hear your name. What do you feel when you think about Oprah, Bill O'Reilly or Paris Hilton? You don't have to be famous to have a brand. You have a brand right now. In fact, you probably have dozens of brands, and that's the problem. You need to craft your own brand and communicate that brand to others. Before you write your first blog, consciously determine what your brand will be and make sure you are reinforcing that brand with each blog post.

7. Market the heck out of your blog.

You have to get the word out to build traffic and a loyal following. For great marketing advice on how to build a tribe, look at Seth Godin's work.

Once you have a following, think about how you will monetize it. Ads? Maybe, but don't get boxed into thinking that they are the only way to make a buck blogging. The most successful bloggers don't rely on just one source of income. They have carefully crafted their blogs so that they provide several sources of income. And then there are other bloggers that don't necessarily monetize their blogs in the traditional sense. They may use their blog as a platform in order to get paid speaking gigs or book deals, to sell products, or to attract the attention of potential employers. Happy blogging!

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