Friday, August 5, 2011

How to blog for your personal brand: 9 rules for raising your profile

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I've met scores of bloggers over the past few years who love to write, wish they could make money writing, and don't know how to make that happen. If that's you, keep reading. And if that's someone you know, please feel free to pass this post on. 

This week I spoke at a conference in San Diego called Women Create Media: Empowering Writers in the Digital Age. My topic, which I shared with Patti Londre (owner of Camp Blogaway and Worth the Whisk): "How your blog informs your brand."

The morning's sessions tended toward the inspirational and emotional, but Patti and I were all about business. Your blog can be your resume, your portfolio, your public face to the world. You can use your blog to make a name for yourself, build a personal brand, and get paying work as a writer, editor, consultant, recipe developer, photographer. But it doesn't just happen. You have to make it happen.

I realized as I was preparing for this presentation that I've followed some basic rules over the past two and a half years, and I'm proud of the results. I can't promise you fame and fortune if you follow these rules - but I can promise you that potential employers and clients will take you more seriously.

Erika's 9 rules for blogging with purpose


1. Create excellent content. This may seem obvious, but lots of bloggers give themselves permission to be sloppy. I do not think it's okay to post stuff half-baked. You never know how a potential employer or client will find you - it could be your most recent post, or it could be something from months or years ago. Make sure that wherever on your blog a visitor lands, she's seeing your very best.

2. Pick an angle and stick with it. You want people to read your title and your tag line and know exactly who you are and what you do. You want them to be able to describe you in one sentence. Why? So that potential clients notice and remember you among the crowds of food/mommy/etc. bloggers. If you can package yourself well, clients will assume you can do the same for them.

3. Be consistent. Don't disappear for a month and then write four posts in one week. It makes you look flaky. If the client sees that you ignore your own brand for weeks at a time, she might be more wary of trusting you with hers.

4. Be professional. If you want people to pay you to write, then write cleanly - no typos, no grammatical mistakes, no lazy constructions or run-on sentences. If you want people to hire you to develop recipes, make sure every recipe you post works. If I'm a brand manager looking for a freelance writer to help me with my website and I see typos or careless errors on your blog, guess what? I'm moving on. There are lots of writers out there - I'm going to hire one who'll make my life easier by turning in clean copy.

5. Think strategically. When an opportunity comes your way, make the most of it. There's always a way to turn a lucky break into a stepping stone.

Here's an example: In 2010 I was fortunate to be chosen by Foodbuzz to decorate cakes with Kelly Ripa and Buddy "The Cake Boss" Valastro. I knew the event would be getting a lot of attention, and I wanted to find a way to use it to boost traffic to my blog.

The collective mind of Food Bloggers Los Angeles (more on that in a minute) came up with a great idea: Write a themed post every day for a month leading up to the event to generate excitement and create search-engine-friendly content. I took private lessons with a local baker in fondant and buttercream, listed facts about ovarian cancer (the event raised money for the Ovarian Cancer Research Fund), shopped for makeup to get ready for the video cameras, decorated cupcakes, piped chocolate - and blogged about it all. In every post I mentioned Foodbuzz, Electrolux (the sponsor), Kelly Ripa, and the OCRF.

It was hard work. But my blog traffic took a big jump that month and never dipped. And when I got to the event in New York, every single person from the PR agency and Electrolux knew who I was and had read my posts. Did that series lead directly to money? Maybe not. But it went a long way toward putting In Erika's Kitchen on the food blogging map.

6. Make friends. The better people know you, the more likely they'll be to help you, support you, and even hire you. Online relationships are fine, but nothing replaces face-to-face time. That's why we go to blogging conferences. And that's why Patti and I founded FBLA.

Every month our group of Los Angeles-area food bloggers gets together to learn from (and cook for) each other. Members share their expertise with the group - we've had sessions on SEO, Google Analytics, working with PR agencies, brand-building, photography and more. We write about each other's food, which helps all of us expand our audiences. We've fed each other paying work, helped each other get mentioned in newspapers and magazines, and pulled each other up the learning curve. And we've become really good friends along the way. We've been meeting for almost two years and in that time every single one of us has seen tangible growth and success. By the way, we include reporters, PR reps, local chefs, food companies, and just about any other member of the local food and restaurant community. Relationships are key.

7. Ask for what you want and don't sell yourself short. Your voice is important, your audience is desirable, and your time is worth money. When someone asks you to write for free and promises you fantastic exposure in exchange, think hard about whether you're really likely to get something concrete out of it (traffic, recognition, connections, a reference, a portfolio piece). If yes, then do it. But if you feel like it's something you should be paid to do, then ask. I say something like "Thanks so much, but I'm only taking paid writing assignments right now - is there any funding available for this project?" Sometimes there is, sometimes there isn't. The worst they can say is no.

8. Be patient, but not complacent. It can take months or even years to get significant traction as a blogger. It's not likely to happen overnight. Have patience. But don't just sit there waiting for things to happen. Do something. My M.O.: Strategize, plan, act, assess, repeat.

9. Prioritize. Figure out what's really important to you and make decisions accordingly. My personal guideline: Real life comes first whenever possible. If it's a choice between blogging and cuddling my kids, my kids win (most of the time).

What else belongs on this list? I'd love to hear your ideas - leave a comment below....

20 comments:

Russell at Chasing Delicious said...

This is such a helpful post. Many come as second nature to me, but a few of them tend to escape my day to day thinking. It is easy to forget you're managing a brand when you're having fun with it. The only extra item on my list is passion, though I don't think any of us foodies are lacking that.

Thanks for sharing these tips! I've enjoyed discovering your blog.

Lentil Breakdown said...

Even if you inherently know these things, it's good to see them articulated. Thanks for leading the way here and with FBLA.

leahsthoughts.com said...

I'm so glad I was able to listen to you and Patti speak at Women Create Media. I thought your presentation was one of the most helpful of the day. I love the tips you offered. And it was also reassuring because I've been following a lot of the guidelines you talk about without even realizing it. Makes me think I'm on to something. Thanks again for the inspiration. Looking forward to keeping in touch with you an Patti.

BonnieBanters said...

Erika, this is extremely helpful information and some of the best I've read. I sincerely appreciate your generosity in sharing it. Fantastic!

Jeanette said...

What an incredibly helpful post - thanks so much for sharing your experience. My biggest challenge is finding enough time to do everything it takes to move my blog forward, but I remain encouraged when I read tips from more experienced bloggers like you. Thanks so much for sharing your knowledge.

Erika said...

Russell - I look forward to exploring your blog as well. Thanks for being here and adding your two cents.

Lentil - yeah, I think a lot of this is just common sense. But I've definitely met bloggers who haven't gotten to the point where they're thinking about how to use their blog to move themselves to the next level. I hope they find this helpful.

Leah - same here - glad we got to meet on Thursday!

Bonnie - thank you for the kind words.

Jeannette - time is my biggest challenge too. My other hobbies have taken a hit. I've been working on the same knitting project for a year. Oh well. It's too warm for sweaters in L.A. anyway.

Miss @ Miss in the Kitchen said...

Great advice and I really appreciate you sharing your experiences! Also enjoyed the "10 things" we didn't know about you over at Savor the Thyme. :)

FamilySpice said...

Wonderful advice! Many of your points weren't highlighted during the two BlogHer sessions I attended yesterday, so I've got the message loud & clear! I feel more focused and confident in my blog today than I have for the past 3 years I've been blogging. I wish I lived in LA to be part of your fantastic FBLA. You have created an incredibly supportive and successful community.

Denise in said...

Erika- Thanks so much for sharing what's helped you. I'm one of those newbies who IS trying to figure out what my "brand" is, and so hearing from those with more experience is fascinating to me :)

Denise

Angela FRS said...

This is incredibly useful, thank you.

Mary @Delightful Bitefuls said...

This is such a great post! Thank you!

Great blog; happy I found you!

Mary xo
Delightful Bitefuls

Stephanie Weaver said...

Erika, I loved how specific you were about how you prepared for the Kelly Ripa event. That kind of specificity really helps others. As my blog continues to come into focus (healthy living through and beyond menopause), these tips become that much more helpful. Thanks!

judylyness said...

I can only say thank you for these great rules. While I wrote tomorrow's blog they kept me in line, on point and focused. I can't wait to write again with the same purpose and focus.

Bianca @ South Bay Rants n Raves said...

I love this post. Many of these may seem like no brainers but just to see them written in black & white is helpful. Thanks Erika. Hope to see you at the next FBLA event.

Nikki @Pennies on a Platter said...

Erika, you have stated not only great points, but focused in on the more important ones. I'm honored to have met you and excited to get to know you more!

Priscilla - She's Cookin' said...

Thanks for sharing and articulating the finer points of blogging. Your advice and the FBLA meetings I've been able to attend have been very helpful and encouraging :) I just "upgraded" my website and am excited about the direction I'm taking!

Jerry (cbsop) said...

I only have one thing to say here.

BRAVO!

Wonderfully written, eloquent and informative. I've been at this a while now and I've learned a lot from this piece. Thanks for sharing!

Erika said...

Sorry, I've fallen behind in responding here - thanks so much for the kind words, everyone. I'm thrilled to know that sharing my experience might be helpful to others. That's one of the things I love most about this blogging community: Lots of people have helped me along the way, too. I'm so glad to be able to pay it back even a little.

Mardi @eatlivetravelwrite said...

Erika I saw this post and bookmarked it during my vacation when I was only really dipping into my Google Reader from time to time and I am so glad I kept this one to read properly. Such solid information here and sensible and realistic too. I have a feeling I might be picking your brain a little as Food Bloggers Canada gets off the ground in the next month or so!! This will remain bookmarked for me to refer to from time to time!

Julie Gray said...

Great article and SO true. As a consultant who works with Hollywood screenwriters and who blogs for the Huffington Post as well as my own blog of six years, I cannot emphasize the importance of great content enough. You can SEO and backlink your blog til you're blue in the face, but inspirational, instructional, entertaining, unique content is what brings readers back time after time. Well done.

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