I attended the Design Blogger’s Conference late last month and I’ve finally had some time to sleep reflect on all that I learned. What a whirlwind! Besides getting the chance to listen to some of the design industry’s best (keynote speakers Bunny Williams and Martyn Lawrence-Bullard were extraordinary!) – I found it especially rewarding getting to know some of the attendees, most of them new to blogging, and enjoyed learning about their experiences (and fears) about blogging. What I realized from talking with new bloggers is that many of them were eager to learn anything and everything about blogging and couldn’t wait to go back home and apply that knowledge. So as a treat for those of you who weren’t able to attend the conference, I compiled a few observations and tips to share with you so you can kick start your blog this year.
What I Learned…
1. Passion Matters. Successful bloggers are a passionate bunch. This is because people (as in current and potential customers) are attracted to passion. If you have passion about a subject, you have a voice, and if you have a voice, you are interesting. Remember that above all else, a blog is a communication tool and in business it is used to build trust with an audience. How do you build trust? Through insight, observations, stories, predictions, etc. If you are looking to hire someone and all you have to go on is his or her website (or blog), who would you rather work with? Someone who is interesting or someone who drones on about how great they are?
Blogging tip: Tell YOUR story. This is where you’ll have to put on your journalist hat and ask yourself some open-ended questions. Where have you been recently? What do you love right now? What gets you out of bed? What is inspiring you right now? If you could do any project in the world, what would that be? Why did you get into this business in the first place? Beware of the “I love to bring design to the masses” mumbo jumbo. Dig deep and uncover the real reason you started your business and you’ll find what makes you unique. We’d all like to sell to everyone, but if you zone in on the right audience, you will attract more like-minded prospects. Those like-minded prospects are so much more fun to work with, aren’t they? Passion shows you care and people want to work with people who care.
2. The first year of blogging won’t always bring in loads of opportunities. You know that successful bloggers didn’t start at the top, but it is so easy to get wrapped up in other people’s (perceived) successes. There are a whole lot of great bloggers out there. (See my list below and you’ll see what I mean.) So, setting realistic expectations at the get go is super important because instead of focusing on what isn’t happening, you will delight in the small successes. 1000 visitors is not a realistic goal, but 100 visitors is a realistic goal. Overnight successes are rare. A lot of hopeful business owners start blogging hoping for immediate and dramatic success (whatever that may be), and are disappointed when they don’t have comments or phone calls or the Nate Burkes show isn’t knocking at their door. Blogs just aren’t built that way. Like any new venture, it takes time to build momentum.
Blogging tip: Big hairy audacious goals are great, but cut those goals down into bite-sized chunks and they will help you get to the big ones. Instead of focusing on how many phone calls you received in month (you might not even get a single call in the first few months or more) focus on building the foundation first. Set milestones. Work at those milestones. You can set a milestone for 10 comments, but also make sure you are doing all those things you need to do to encourage people to comment. Since you haven’t built up an audience yet, use this first six months to experiment! Discover what works, and what doesn’t work.
Several of the bloggers that spoke at the conference (Cassandra LaValle of the fabulous Coco+Kelley and the amazing Rhonda Carman of All the Best Blog, in particular) had been blogging for 5 years. 5 years! That’s a whole lot of momentum! Hardy Wallace of Dirty South Wine (also a speaker at the conference) started a blog because he loved shooting videos and writing about wine. He ended up getting another blogging opportunity with Murphy-Goode, a winery out of Healdsburg, California, a few months later. This just goes to show you that the opportunities are there, but you have to make a plan or you won’t recognize them when they do arrive.
3. Differentiate or be lost in the crowd (this goes for marketing and life) You may want to be Pioneer Woman (not a designer and wasn’t at the conference, but she is a well-known blogger) or the next Coco + Kelley. Heck, so do I! Both of these blogs are incredible. And if I could cook all day on my thousand-acre ranch, I would be happy one happy camper. But I am pretty sure that Ree Drummand or Cassandra LaValle didn’t catapult to success on day 1 (or year 1 for that matter.) They had to figure out what made their blogs different, remarkable even, and use that in every piece of marketing. That remarkable quality is what helped them stand out in the sea of bloggers.
There are so many reasons why blogs like theirs are successful, but one of the more obvious reasons is that that they both do something so well or so different that they stand out. And they have some serious marketing chops. And Ree makes cooking and homeschooling and photography seem sooo easy. And Cassandra has such luscious taste. Of course, it’s great to aspire to be like someone else because that gives you some insight into your own tastes and goals, but I do say dare to be different.
Blogging tip: Focus on your uniqueness and tell more stories! (I recommend checking out Seth Godin’s book The Purple Cow for inspiration on personal branding.) It’s very easy to jump on the “everyone else is doing this” train. The easy route is just do like everyone else does and conform. BUT, the really successful blogs are the ones that do something just a little (or a lot) different. During the panel discussion at the conference, Rhonda Carmen mentioned being a brand ambassador, which translates to that age-old expression of “be yourself.” Your blog is a reflection of you. No one else can be you, so if you focus on what you are good at, you will be original.
Hardy Wallace of Dirty South Wine, (the crazy but charming wine guy I mentioned earlier) is another example of someone who has a great story to tell.
He takes something like wine and its common misconception that it is scary and too sophisticated for regular folks and presents his point of view in a unique way. Hardy, through his blogventures, helps make wine accessible and not scary. His personality, his passion, and his love of wine are apparent in his quirky videos. I don’t know about you, but to me, anyone who can don a Viking Helmet on his blog is going to be a fun read –and memorable.
4. You don’t have to be all business all the time, but your story should be relevant.
It’s OK to talk about what you had for dinner IF you do it in an interesting and relevant way. If you ate at a restaurant and noticed the colors in the drapes would make a great seat cushion or a friend’s scarf inspired a design, use it! People love stories, especially the “behind the scenes” stuff. I loved hearing how Bunny Williams started and how she worked in an antique furniture store first. That made her human and relatable because I thought “wow, she didn’t start at the top?” And it would have made for a great blog post. (And I am just guessing. The post would get some comments.)
Sometimes it is easy for business owners to get stuck in their own heads. This is what I should write. This is what is professional and acceptable. This is not. But the best blogs (and, I read A LOT of blogs) have a human factor. You feel like you know them through their stories. I truly believe that the best blogs —and businesses—are the ones who tell their stories the best.
Blogging tip: Though you are blogging for business, it is OK to inject some personality. Add some spice. Some flavor. I urge you to stop talking at your clients and talk to them. What do they want to know about you and your business? Your clients will love that you took the time to reveal something they aren’t usually privy to.
5. Business owners are scared they’ll mess up. This is something I know firsthand because I was a business owner in a past life. Business owners want to write about great topics that will spark conversations and go viral. They want to share their knowledge, but they are afraid to make mistakes. (They are thinking, who would hire someone who makes mistakes?) They are afraid their competitors will copy them and be more successful. They are scared that their prospects won’t buy from them if they are too real. (This isn’t usually the case.) They are afraid if they give away good (free) info, people won’t use their services. (This is not true. I can clean my house, but if I had some extra cash I would be happy to have someone else do it. The cleaning service would likely know way more than I do because they clean homes every single day.) They are afraid that they won’t be perfect or that a spelling error will make them sound dumb.
Blogging tip: Step out of your comfort zone a little. Write about something personal, as long as you can relate it back to your audience. You will mess up sometimes, but as many bloggers can attest, often those posts are the most appealing because they can be more honest.
Last words…The biggest takeaway I can offer you is that while blogging is hard, it can be incredibly rewarding (and lucrative) if you keep with it. It takes time. More time than you think. Many bloggers quit after 2-3 months because they go into blogging without a plan or a goal.
The toughest part is staying the course. Invest the time to set up your goals, milestones, and content calendars before you dive in and you will find, as many of the DBC speakers have discovered, that blogging can open doors.
Need some blogging inspiration? Check out some of my favorite design blogs –some are clients, some are new friends, and some I’ve read for a while. Enjoy!
Absolutely Beautiful Things
A Creative Mint
Two Brunettes Shop
Coco + Kelley
Leslie Fine Interiors
Things that Inspire
Making it Lovely
Happiness is a pink foo dog
Pure Style Home
Peak of Chic
Young House Love
Things that Inspire
Style Me Pretty
Design Lovers Blog