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....