Welcome to the live blog on From Hobbyist to Professional: Taking Blogging to the Next Level. If you hope to take blogging to the next level, then follow along with a panel that can share insight on taking a blog from a hobby to a professional standing. Join Esther (ShePosts), Jen (PriorFatGirl), Josie (Yum Yucky)and Ryan (No More Bacon) to hear their tips on design, blog exposure, engaging your readers, and more.
Jen: Thank you everyone for attending. My name is Jen from Prior Fat Girl and I blog at www.priorfatgirl.com. We are going to introduce ourselves and tell what it means to us to be a professional blogger. Define what being a professional means.
Ryan: I’m Ryan Sullivan and I blog at www.nomorebacon.com. As far as being a professional blogger, it doesn’t have to be about making money at first. It will evolve into that, but you have to change your vision a little bit. You need to have clear goals for your site. Generally it won’t begin with much income, but over time as you get people to follow you, you can build things up.
Josie: My name is Josie Maurer and I am the Yum Yucky. I’ve been blogging since January 2009 and I actually had no intention to become a professional blogger. I do make money, which varies from month to month. The biggest thing to me is accountability. I have to plan things out and treat it like I would any job. I have to commit to what I’m doing and view it as a career. To blog as a professional you have to go through the steps and stay accountable.
Esther: My name is Esther Crawford. I blog for Weight Watchers and www.ShePosts.com. For me, professional blogging started in 2007 when I decided to leave my job and take on blogging as a full-time career. That is when it became more of a view of a profession for me.
Jen: Blogging is so fresh and so new to all of us and you all look to us asking “How can we become a professional”? It’s important to define what being a professional even means. Tell me more about what it means to move from blogging as a hobby to professional.
Esther: I set goals for myself. Then, when I saw those being achieved I realized it was something I could do. I began working with Weight Watchers. I was the first person to blog my weight loss journey. Now it has been 7 years of blogging.
Josie: I want to say something about actual goals. You may see others doing certain things and think that is your goal. You may find you aren’t successful with it or decide its not what you want to do. It is ok to have evolving goals. For example, I went from wanting to work with brands but moved to more wanting to brand myself. Don’t put yourself in a box. Your goals may change and that is okay.
Jen: You talked about thinking outside the box. How do you begin to think outside the box, or outside the blog to say, and actually make those changes?
Ryan: When you’re moving from blogging as a hobby to blogging as a professional, understand who your reader is. You really need a grasp on what your reader reacts to. Look at your material and what gets your readers excited and sharing material. If you have a post that does really well for one reason or another, take a closer look and build on that material. See what your readers are seeking in your site and cater to that more specifically.
Esther: Personally, I make very little money on advertising. It is primarily through other sources such as being a spokesperson, work as a brand ambassador, hosting events, speaking, and freelance writing. You have to view your work in an entrepreneurial manner. Some do it well and others find it more of a struggle. In order to make blogging a profession, you must have approach things as an entrepreneur because you are building your brand and your blog.
Jen: Yes. There are so many things to consider behind the scenes with blogging in a professional focus instead of as a hobby. Like when you get money from a brand or a company you will have to report it on your taxes. Blogging is a very new career. Companies may not know or understand brand and blogger relationships. You have to package yourself to make it a win win for both companies – yourself and the brand you hope to work with.
I also want to say that you need to know what you are going to work on and concentrate on in your own blog’s brand. You want to cater to your readers and you have to be true to yourself. You have to have value in what you’re writing. Ask yourself – would you want to read your own blog?
Now, as for aesthetics, what are some of the things you have done to change the aesthetics of your blogs?
Josie: Early on i made little money with the ad sidebars and similar stuff. Eventually, I realized that I would have to invest more in my blog. In the beginning, you have to put money in to get money out of it. You may have to go to self-hosting or design labels. I even had to move up to my own hosting because my blog kept crashing for three hours a day and that was simply not acceptable. My readers expected my site to be up and running and I must cater to them. Paying for the hosting was an extra cost but you have to be responsible for your blog. If you aren’t willing to invest in your blog, you will likely stay in the hobby realm. That’s okay but you need to consider that.
Ryan: When you go to Josie’s site you get a visual of who she is and what her blog is about fast. There is the three second rule. If someone goes to your site and doesn’t get a sense on what its about in around three seconds then they will leave and wont come back.
For me, I may focus on getting more subscribers. Something I have done is instead of just saying “subscribe by email for these updates” on my main page I have a space that says “Get Bacon!”. Use language and images unique to your brand that will draw attention and that the reader wants to see. Another good example is to have a space with something that asks a reader if it is the first time visiting. Then include a link to a page or material that will share your message.
And put a clear call to action on the bottom of every page aimed at what you hope to gain with your blog. Make it easy for someone to share something on Twitter, to become a follower on Facebook, to subscribe to your material, to comment, to buy something you sell and promote. Put things you hope people to do with your material in a clear, defined space on your site. You want it to be clean but you still have to promote your blog. Even just the other day I sent out a quick tweet asking for people to sign up for my email list. I got 25 people to sign up from that one tweet. Sometimes you just have to ask.
Jen: It’s okay to say “Hey, if you like me then why don’t you share with a friend?”. Show a clear action you hope to get from what you share.
Josie: You can have your own system. Certain things make you who you are. I do see occasionally people trying to be like other people and it comes across as forced. Readers can tell when you’re trying to force something. So be yourself
Esther: I want to add that finding strategic partnerships is important. If you find other bloggers similar to you, you can always find a way to perhaps promote each other. Hungry Hip Girl did a great job of doing that by trying to get more people to sign up on her email blast. She sent out requests to AOL, Yahoo, and Weight Watchers asking to write reviews. It led to back links and many other opportunities. You have to keep asking and put yourself out there. It may not be a paid position at first but it can bring extra exposure and future pay.
Josie: But how do you say “Hey AOL, hey Yahoo? How do you do that?
Esther: The best thing is to contact writers in the category you’re trying to get into. A lot of the main contact pages have such general information. A writer in your niche may give you a more direct contact. A local connection is great too. On a local basis, Twitter is a great tool to find local journalists or editors and connect with them.
Josie: Early last year I wanted to do some local press for my blog. I found local editors on Twitter and began following them.
Jen: You would be surprised how much info you can find on your local sites.
Josie: Exactly. I was able to find the Twitter for local editors and I followed them. At the time, I knew they may not notice me. I didn’t expect them to, but I focused on having genuine conversation with them. Over the course of 6 months I would tweet with them and then suddenly they asked to do a featured article on me and my blog. I was on the front page of the section. Then later on, I was offered to write with them in a freelance position. Consider local options and take those opportunities.
Jen: Yesterday, in the Keynote Panel on Blogging From Hobby to Career, they talked about the brand relationship and the importance of having a relationship with the brand. Before i began working with Polar heart rate monitors, I was authentic with my love for the brand. It was a natural progression to work together after communicating over things like twitter for awhile. We need to build connections. Why not email companies and ask to work together? Or why not email other people to ask hey how they broke into working with certain brands? Ask your friends for help. We are all a social network.
Josie: I did that early on. I actually emailed some bigger bloggers and talked to them on Twitter. I then emailed them asking for tips but never heard anything back. I didn’t understand that, so now i will always respond. This is not a competition. We can all be successful in our own ways. Go ahead and ask, but if you don’t get a response back, then move on.
Jen: Ryan, I know you had more to talk about aesthetics.
Ryan: Well first I have to apologize to Josie for not responding to her email! Okay, okay. Something I find very useful is a site called www.crazyegg.com. The site does cost $9 per month, but it tells you everything about your website. It shows you where people come from, what they click through to. and we can see how people interact to the site. The nine dollar investment can totally change the way you set up and utilize your site.
Question from the Audience: How is that different from Google Analytics, which is free?
Ryan: Google Analytics is free, but Crazy Egg can show you more in depth about peoples interaction in the site as they are there. It’s a little tricky to explain. The features page on www.crazyegg.com gives a good breakdown.
Question from the Audience: Are there other sites similar to that?
Ryan: I have seen some other ones, but that is just the one i have used.
Statement from Audience Member: There is one called Lucky Orange and another that is more expensive called www.clicktale.com. Click Tale will actually record people on your page so you can see what they are doing on your page. You can even watch their mouse move.
Jen: What are some small things we can do to our sites to make them more professional?
Ryan: Get rid of widgets. They are distractions from what you ultimately want people to do – follow your content or potentially buy from you. You don’t need to have things that will have people clicking out of your site. Make sure any outbound links open the link in a new window. You can even create a dedicated resources page and link to that page first before linking to the outside site. It makes people have to make a conscious decision to leave.
Jen: Also if it an outgoing link doesn’t open in another window then you have to try to bring them back to your site or click the back button instead of your site still being there as the reader closes out of the other window. Ryan, do you have any other easy ideas we can use?
Ryan: Overall, get rid of things that can distract from your ultimate goal. More actions to choose from get less action that people will actually take. Keep things as simple as possible. Keep all the actions that readers can take on your site directed to your ultimate goal, whether it is getting followers or selling an e-book.
Jen: The trick is to balance. These are all ideas to get people to buy into your brand but you have to do it while still being true to who you are. That is why no one can tell you exactly how to develop your blog brand into a more professional venture because it is a personal thing. Sometimes its simplifying what you’re doing instead of being all over the board. I always ask myself how much I’m writing and if I would skim my blog post. Should I do a “to be continued” post? I don’t feel bad about not saying everything in one blog post. So, how do you balance work as a professional blogger and a personal life?
Josie: Well, I drink coffee at 7 pm to keep me up until midnight. I drink it at seven so it will saturate into my body by the time I work from 8 to midnight after the kids are in bed. In seriousness though, I go back to the view of blogging being my job. I simply treat blogging as my profession. That is what i have to do. I set aside my time to work and my family knows and understands that is my time to work. I don’t always write a blog post, but there are other things that are the foundation of the blog that you always have to keep working on. I try to squeeze in everything I possibly can while working. I have my smart phone so i can interact all day long. Which, by the way, if you don’t have a smart phone and want to do more with blogging then you need one.
I know my stats every day. I keep up with them to see the trends and what is going on with my site. I do have 4 kids so its difficult, but i decided 2 years ago to commit to my blog after it started taking this direction. I give myself a window so my family knows my schedule and understand its mommy’s time and that I’m working.
Esther: I have two kids too and we’re adopting a 6 tear old. It is really difficult to balance. I consider myself more as an entrepreneur over a blogger. Blogging was simply the launching point for other things. It really does take a lot of time.
Jen: It is not a glamorous lifestyle. A lot of things are going on behind the scenes.
Esther: In a typical month, I am gone 10 days for travel. My family is even moving to San Francisco for opportunities related to my work from blogging.
Ryan: Like with anything it has to be a conscious decision. You have to decide you will make the time and then just follow through and do it.
Jen: During my masters program, the counselor worked with us on writing our thesis. One thing we were told was to make sure what you choose is your passion. You will live it, own it, breathe it, and bleed it. If it’s not a passion, then you will burn out. Blogging is a lot like that. You will burn out if its not your passion, so you have to be true to yourself. And who knows? Maybe you won’t be the next professional blogger. What happens if that doesn’t happen for you? Are you still going to have that passion? I think you have to still want to do it for yourself first .
Josie: Although, I know I do still get burned out sometimes. I have days where I start stressing and can’t think. My husband is really good and he can tell when it’s about to happen. He will pull me back for a moment, so I don’t have a complete meltdown. Then, I have a recovery time, like a day, and after I am back to it. Recovery is not quitting the blog for an entire week or a month or being wishy-washy. Sometimes bloggers go really strong and then drop off. Try to test things out and find a balance. That will help you avoid saying “forget it all and it’s not for me”. If you can pick up on a burn out and handle it early on, you will be able to have longevity.
Esther: You have to be willing to change it up and not be afraid of that. When I started blogging in 2004 it was a travel blog. A little over a year ago I launched www.ShePosts.com as a new site. I was posting 4 times a day, but it was too much. I finally decided to bring other people on board and hire some writers and a new editor. By the time I would have experienced a burn out I already had other people there to help step in.
Jen: We have about 25 minutes and I want to allow the audience to pick your brains. Do you have anything else you want to add before we start questions?
Okay, Heather will be passing around the mic for questions!
Audience: If I would go home and have just one thing to do to become a professional, what should I do?
Jen: Concentrate on your brand. Think about who you are and what message you deliver. Own that brand. Is it genuine to yourself and could you be on that brand forever? What is the package you want to give out to people?
Ryan: We haven’t really talked abuot this much, but guest blogging is a great way to get exposure – guest posting on larger sites. Write an email to 4 or 5 sites that can give you great exposure and share a great idea.
Josie: Just be sure you already have a relationship with them. If you are a stranger to them, they will see straight through to someone just wanting to get on their blog. it offends me actually if i don’t already have a relationship.
Jen: I usually don’t accept guest posts, but Jasmine from Eat Move Write recently was featured as a guest poster on my blog. She has a story on overcoming obesity and gastric bypass surgery. She noticed my readers had asked questions on it, so she reached out to me. When she asked and pitched her idea for a guest post, she pitched it to my heart instead of to my stats. So, I accepted it.
Esther: Interviewing is another great way to go about that as well. If you ask interesting questions featuring interviews with people or bloggers the audience finds interesting, then you may still get back links and exposure.
Question from the Audience: I have two questions. You were talking about guest posting and making connections, but you’re talking about just making connections with blogs already established. Do you think there is any responsibility to those who aren’t built up? Also do you think there is such a thing as overexposure where people write too much that ends up diluting the blog’s brand?
Ryan: I do like to give opportunities to guest post, but i don’t really write on smaller blogs – which part of it is time but also I honestly don’t get asked.
Jen: Yea. You can’t put these bloggers on a pedestal. You must realize everyone is human. We are real people.
Ryan: As far as diluting the brand, there will be times where there may be an overshare or the awkward TMI on a site, but sometimes those get great traffic. I think every once in awhile those things are great.
Josie: I know other people who have giveaways all the time. Awhile back, I thought “oh i need to do that”. Now, I won’t do any giveaways unless it is really of great value to my readers. That is just my decision. I feel more interested in giving away things from me and not because a company sponsored me. I don’t want to sit around and wait for a company to come to me to do something worthwhile for my readers.
Jen: I actually got called out on doing a lot of giveaways. A friend emailed me and told me I sounded like a commercial. It was a reality check. I even sent things back. Now, I try to be strategic with it. In WordPress, you can have posts that post to a subcategory. I can post reviews and giveaways, but it doesn’t post to my main stream. People can subscribe to just certain areas so it allows people to be proactive in what they read on the blog.
Esther: I work with Weight Watchers and help them choose people they will work with. I try to work them to have a variety of sizes of blogs and help their traffic. About diluting your brand, I think its really about being true to your core message and allowing your message to evolve. I like seeing people try different things, but also when bloggers will admit if something didn’t work for them.
Question from the Audience: I have a question about the navigation menu and sidebar. How would you clean that up a bit? I have services and e-books that I want to share in my navigation menu, so how could I clean it up?
Ryan: If it’s your own stuff, leave it. If it’s for other products, you can get rid of it. You can also simplify it into a products page that then breaks down into individual pages. You want people to interact with your site, even if they have to go through a couple more pages.
Jen: You can also do dropdown menus in WordPress to help simplify the menu.
Question from the Audience: You mentioned an image saying “start here” when someone new comes to your site? How does that work?
Ryan: I have something on my sidebar that will catch attention to get people to interact with that. It has changed and evolved over the years.
Question from the Audience: How beneficial do you think it is to have a Facebook presence?
Ryan: I think it goes back to deciding if that is a space you want to grow your blog in, but it certainly has a benefit. It is really nice, from a history standpoint, being able to get interaction from people right away. Everyone is on Facebook! As far as being successful, you have to use it as another place to interact and not just post links like a billboard. You have to have the time to use it to start discussion. If it ends up being a place you post links over and over again, it can take away from the professionalism of the blog.
Esther: Facebook is nice because it allows you to do ads that are very targeted. Also, you can tag certain brands like you would do in Twitter. This allows for brands to feel you are bringing value to them. Brands appreciate that and especially on Facebook since it is so much more popular. I mean, consider the percentage of the population using Facebook over Twitter.
Josie: I use Facebook and share my links and content, but i mainly use it as a space for people to interact. It’s not about getting a click and someone to read. I post things on Facebook that I may not post on my blog. I want it to have an added value such as pictures, updates, and information that is different than what appears on the blog. There is something to be said about your brand in having a Facebook page. If you’re interested in building your blog, I think it’s good to have a page.
Jen: Sometimes people find blogs intimidating and will feel more comfortable using Facebook. You can certainly get more interaction from it.
Esther: You will get into their stream and news feed, so you will get a lot more eyeballs.
Jen: We now have 3 more minutes, so we don’t have time for another question. I did want to give the panel time to share their final thoughts. For me, I would say you have to ask yourself if you will still be satisfied even if you never make it as a professional.
Esther: Hustle. You have to hustle. Be willing to invest the hours and the sweat and do the work.
Josie: Be honest with yourself. Do you really want it? Don’t force it because then it will become boring and you will quit. Find a way to blog that it is a passion for you. Then, even when you feel your brains are going to fall out, you wont mind.
Ryan: Have fun. And test all the time. If you question whether or not something will work with your blog, just try it. There can always be a chance to grow
Jen: That’s all the time we have. Sorry we weren’t able to cover more. Thanks for coming!
This session was captured by Tina of Faith Fitness Fun. Tina shares her personal journey to a full, healthy life and touches on topics including body image and fitness.