5 unexpected things I have learned from an unpaid blogging project

When I convinced my good friend Dirk to blog live from his ultra-marathon run through the Himalayas I even did not know whether this would work out technically. I simply knew it had to be done, because it would be a shame not to. So I wasn’t prepared for what came out for me on a professional and especially on a personal level.


Being a communications strategist and a content marketer, I spend quite a few hours a week working on other people’s and companies’ blogs and social media. So you may well guess that I am not too enthusiastic about doing the same things during my spare time. Yet, when Dirk – a former client who, over the last years, has become an esteemed friend, told me about the Bhutan project he planned, I was stunned: A six days, 200 kilometers ultra-marathon run (multi-stage race) in the Himalayas, up to heights of 3.600 metres and more, over mountain passes, through rainforest and exotic landscapes.

I answered within seconds: “Dirk, we have to blog this!” But Dirk, although rather experienced in blogging about his professional topics and a top expert in his field, has a natural sense of modesty and bears a resistance to putting himself into the spotlight. He mumbled something about not wanting to show off and also not having the time, and not wanting to take my time for free, and things … – But I did not give up on this, and I am very happy to say that I finally convinced him, by pointing out that it would be no ‘show’ at all, but a gift to many other people: granting them the opportunity to really share a challenge so daring and so exceptional that only a few people ever live to see first hand.

The plan was: Dirk would set up a blog and then report on the planning and preparations himself. Once he arrived in the Himalayas, I would take over for the time being and put anything online he could send me during his adventure, nearly in real-time. So we started, but we did not know at all how things would come out. Would there be enough internet connection in the camps to transfer text and photos from his iPhone to my computer in Germany? Wouldn’t Dirk be too exhausted after up to 55 kilometers’ running to text and to take pictures?

As you can see here in Dirk’s blog, it worked out miraculously. And this is because Dirk, however exhausted he was, still found the energy to text and to send pictures. What exciting times we live in: Even on the heights of the Himalayas, in a monastery 3.600 metres up in the mountains, he found enough internet connection to get in touch. Imagine: We carried out all our communications via Facebook messenger!

As Bhutan is four hours ahead in time, every day of the race from 1 or 2 p.m., I started getting nervous until I got the daily sign of life. And so did some hundred people all over the world: friends, family, business colleagues and training partners in Germany as well as in the United States and other countries. From zero to several hundred blog visitors per day: This is something most private blogs do not achieve in months.

So, every day, as soon as I got something, I sat down and edited photos and text to put it online as quick as possible. And every day some hundred people were relieved and happy – and commented in the blog, on facebook, sent private messages to Dirk, encouraged him and even prayed for him. Afterwards he told me, how amazed he was, that so many people really cared and cheered, and how this had carried him through the rougher parts of the race.

One day I even, in the middle of a consulting day with a client,I asked the team to grant me a timeout so that I could at least publish a short note and one photo in the pre-prepared article so that everyone knew Dirk had arrived safely again.

So this was my passion project (as my friend Maren calls it) for the first half of 2016 (and most hopefully not the last one for this year). Of course it was not in the least as ambitious and as challenging as Dirk’s adventure itself. But I feel most honoured that I was allowed to take a small part in serving all those people who were following and cheering.

Apart from all the fun I had expected, these are the five things I had not expected to get out of this, but nevertheless got:

1. Money is no primary motivation to me

Although my prices in business are far from being discount, once I am on a job, I forget about the money. Or, the other way round, there is no payment high enough to turn something I am not convinced of into an attractive job. It’s not merely the fun part that makes a project interesting to me. Things just have to have a so-called ‘positive attractor’ for me to make me give the best I can. Also, I have to see the bigger picture:

2. I have to see the greater good

How does this project contribute to a greater good? That is always a question I ask; not only myself, but also my clients. Please do not understand this as an altruistic belief of mine. It is something else. In this special case all the people eagerly waiting for news and cheering via blog and facebook provided me with energy and motivation – even though or even because most of them did not realize that it was not Dirk’s doing alone, but that it was me, playing the much smaller but necessary part so that they could follow nearly in real-time.

3. I am best when it’s really fun and comes from the heart – and I want more of this

Please, again, do not misunderstand me: I love my job. I am privileged to only work for clients who share my values and appreciate my work. There is little routine, and it is very satisfactory. But this little blogging project was really fun. The outcome was not clear, there were no KPIs. We could be creative, and everyone was happy with whatever we delivered. BUT: We did our best and we appreciated the time and attention other people invested. So: Even private projects are more fun when you realize them with a professional attitude. But on the other hand I want to keep track of this feeling: do it from the heart and always find the fun part in everything I do.  

4. I still want to do things hands-on

Most of my work is strategic: Consulting, keynotes, concepts, planning feedback … Of course I love this. It is not my core tasks to upload content or to edit pictures. But doing this kind of work from time to time really grounds me. (Although it is virtual, on the internet.) What is more: It gives me a specific insight in how things work on a technical, operational level and how the people feel who normally do this for my clients or for me. It is kind of like the architect who, from time to time, still lays bricks …

5. Everyone is a personal brand – you simply cannot avoid it

… but branding does not necessarily have to be only commercial. As ‘personal branding’ is one of my key topics in work and in publishing at the moment, I could not avoid having  this merely professional realization, too. Everyone of us is a personal brand in one way or another: The image we give, the reputation we have at work, in private groups, in the neighborhood, the family, or, of course, also in public. There is nothing reprehensible in this. But: We are best when we are not focused on leaving the best possible impression. To my mind, we are best when we focus (again!) on the greater good: How can we contribute? What are others interested in? That is how networking works. The question never has to be: How do I want  to look like in other people’s eyes? But rather: Who is the person I want to be, and where are those to suit?

That is, what Dirk did: Not only experience something extraordinary for himself but sharing it with those who might profit as well.

So, what do you think? And: What is your passion project? Please comment or send me a note!


Photos: Dirk Liebich, dirkliebich.com


Dr. Kerstin HoffmannAbout the author: Kerstin Hoffmann, PhD, Kerstin Hoffmann is one of Germany’s top experts, bloggers and book authors in public relations and digital communications. She is speaker No. 1 in social media (absolit ranking). Kerstin holds a PhD in Philosophy and also teaches at Heinrich Heine University (Düsseldorf).
Her blog „PR-Doktor“ is one of the most read and leading blogs about PR and communications.

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