Darren: Hello there friends. Welcome to episode 268 of the ProBlogger podcast. My name is Darren Rowse and I’m the blogger behind ProBlogger. A blog that’s dedicated to really helping you to start an amazing blog, to grow the traffic of that blog, to grow an income from that blog, and to help your readers in some way as well.
You can find more about ProBlogger and what we do at problogger.com. You might also, while you’re there, check out our two free course. I have one free course, How to Start a Blog, and our other paid course, 31 Days to Build A Better Blog. Particularly check out that Start a Blog course if you are looking to get going with blogging.
Now today, we’re continuing our series all of blogger breakthrough stories and we’ve got Anita Joyce from cedarhillfarmhouse.com. She’s got a great story that I think is going to really connect with many of you because she shares a problem that many bloggers have–that feeling of being on the hamster wheel with your blog.
Have you ever felt like you’ve built a blog and you may have built some traffic, you may have built some income, but to keep generating that income, you need to keep feeding the machine? This is something that Anita talks about to her realized that her blog was very dependent upon page views and shares a story of what she did about that to diversify her income streams and to engage with her readers in a new way.
So really some really practical things. I want to come back at the end of what Anita talks about to really share some of my own story with these as well and to give you a little bit of further reading because Anita’s story is going to relate really well to some of you, but there are some ways that you can apply what she’s talking about in different ways and I want to highlight some of those at the end of the show.
Now you can find today’s show notes at problogger.com/podcast/268. I’ve got some further reading and some further listening for you today. I’ll mention those things at the end of Anita’s story. So thanks Anita for sharing. Again, you can find her at cedarhillfarmhouse.com.
Anita: Hi, I’m Anita Joyce from Houston, Texas. My blog is called Cedar Hill Farmhouse named after our farm in Round Top, Texas. You can find it at www.cedarhillfarmhouse.com.
I started my blog in March of 2011 and it’s about country French interior design. Before my breakthrough, I was working nonstop on my blog. I didn’t have time to go to the grocery store or spend time with my family. It felt like a big hamster wheel to produce the content, and then promote my blog. My traffic was about 250,000 page views a month which you know, it’s not a large number, but it really was enough for me to work with, and it was providing me with good opportunities and good income.
It was opening doors for me so I did get a book deal and my book is actually in its second edition now. My blog has definitely been working for me. I’ve been in over 25 national magazines mostly in the US, but also in Italy and France, and I was one of the winners of the Dash and Albert rug design challenge last year. I got to design a rug with them that will be released later this year and that’s an opportunity that I would have never gotten without my blog.
The problem with my blog was that I was working nonstop and my income was so tied to page views. As you probably know, page views for so many blogs are going down and so this is a real issue if your income is tied to page views. I felt like I was needing a new source of income so that I wasn’t so dependent on page views. Basically, I wanted off the hamster wheel and this is why I decided I felt like I needed a breakthrough.
My breakthrough came in two different ways. The first thing I did was I started a podcast on decorating called, Decorating Tips and Tricks with my friends Kelly Wilkniss and Yvonne Pratt and you can find that on iTunes or at our website www.decoratingtipsandtricks.com. The podcast really helped us connect on a much deeper level with listeners and readers. They often tell us they feel like they’re hanging out with us or they feel like they’re hanging out with friends over coffee when they listen to their podcast. I hope they feel like I’m their friend because I feel like I am.
We get about 140,000 downloads a month right now. What I’m seeing is every month, we get more and more downloads. So as podcasts are gaining, it seems like blogs are losing readers. I think it’s really kind of a nice place to be looking if you haven’t looked at podcasts. I think it’s really worth your time. The second breakthrough happened when Kelly and I—my podcast host and I—opened an online home decor store this year called Bespoke Decor and you can find that at www.bespoke.store.
We wanted to provide a product or service for listeners that would really be of value. Not just something that would provide us with income, but something that we knew they would love and something that would make their lives better. I knew from a reader survey that I had done, that over 90% of my listeners and readers, people who responded to my survey were saying they were interested in buying home decor products from me. I had a much smaller number say that they were interested in purchasing a decorating course from us. So that really told us where to start and we may do some decorating courses later, but I felt like the products was really the place for us to start.
So breakthrough one was starting a podcast, breakthrough two starting an online store–these were two pretty big things that we’ve done recently. How things have changed since the breakthrough is that my income stream has changed in a big way. So now a big chunk of my income source is from our store. We still have sponsors, I still have sponsors from my podcast, from the blog and there’s an ad income, but this is a whole new source and it’s not so dependent on page views, and really, you develop this core group of customers and they often are repeat customers.
The first month of business for our store, we sold about 700 pillows. We were so excited. It’s a great start and we really see so much opportunity for this business to grow over time. Although the shop is really time consuming, I feel like I’ll be able to delegate some things pretty soon. With blogging, I really didn’t feel like I could delegate much because my readers could really sense when I wasn’t there and when other people were filling in for me. I think that’s normal with a personal blog but with the store, I don’t feel like it’s so necessary for me to be involved in every little aspect.
The other thing is I now have a business partner for the shop, Kelly, and so it’s wonderful that she does so much of the work and helps out so much. So I’m not doing everything myself like I am with my blog. This fall, we are really taking Darren’s advice. He said in a previous podcast episode of ProBlogger that, “Rather than spending so much time with other bloggers, we should spend time with potential readers or listeners.” Tomorrow, I’m headed out with Kelly of Bespoke Decor and we’re going to the Round Top Antique Show.
This is a huge event in Texas. There’s about 100,000 people that show up for every and there’s two shows a year. We’re so excited to be going there and we’re really hoping to meet a bunch of new people and hopefully, kind of find out what they’re looking for, get to know them, get to talk to them and I’m hoping that we’ll get some people signed up for our newsletter for the shop and subscribe to the podcast. So it’s an exciting time for us. Thanks Darren, what a great tip. We’re really looking forward to it.
I have two tips that I want to share with you. One is to survey your readers or listeners and find out what they want from you in the way of products or services. And at the same time, really think about what you want to provide for them, and then wherever those to intersect, that is going to be your sweet spot. That’s where you can really provide something that your readers want and something that you want to provide.
The second tip is to partner with others if you don’t have expertise in an area that you need covered. Kelly and I really can’t be selling all of these pillows and the bedding and everything. It’s just far too much for us to do and it’s not although I sew, it’s very different sewing the kind of volume that we need. We partnered with a great company to do the manufacturing of our pillows and bedding. We do the designing, selling, photography and marketing and we really let them do what they’re best at, sewing our textile products like our pillows and are bedding. I feel like it’s important not to spend too much time trying to improve on areas where you know you don’t excel and I think that really can waste your time. So stick with your strengths and hire the rest out.
One more thing I’d like to share with you is not to give up if you fail and not to even think it’s a bad thing when you fail. I feel like that is so important for learning. That’s where we learn is when we’re making mistakes and I feel like it’s so important to really spend time thinking about when you’ve made a mistake what is it that you can improve.
I know I submitted my home to the magazine on the first time, my first try to a magazine I got a very polite, “Thanks, but no thanks.” and it was clear that they had no interest in my photography or my decorating. I really spent a lot of time thinking about, “What’s wrong with this picture? Why did they not want it?” I looked at their magazine, I looked at my picture, and I really had to admit that my picture really stunk. It really was helpful for me to take an honest look at my work and say, “I need to improve.”
After that experience, I really focused on improving my photography, improving my decorating skills and it paid off. All of that hard work, all that focus on improving paid off. Like I said, I’ve been in over 25 magazines and had five covers. I think it’s important to really focus on your failures and seeing how you can improve. Remember, I mean it’s a good thing to do. I think this is where you’re learning.
And not only have I been featured in magazines, I also have a column on interior design in the Round Top Register and our podcast actually has a column on decorating in the Country Sampler seasonal magazines. I hope that that gives you some encouragement to keep trying, don’t give up, and don’t even think that failure is a bad thing. Enjoy your blog, enjoy the ride and thanks so much for listening, and thanks Darren for having me on ProBlogger. I appreciate it so much. Take care.
Darren: Thanks so much Anita for sharing your story today. As I said at the top of the show, I think this is something that many of us can relate to. I certainly could as I heard Anita talking. Now for Anita, she felt kind of trapped, I guess, by the model that she was using of monetizing her blog, very reliant upon advertising, sponsorship which particularly when you’re doing it with advertising networks as I was in nearly days is very dependent upon page views.
There are some things that you can do to grow your income without increasing your page views particularly in the early days of using advertising. For example, you can put more ads on your page or you can position the ads on your page differently. But once you get that optimization of your ads dialed in, the only real wide to grow your income is to get more page views. This presents a real challenge both because there’s a ceiling I guess for many of us in how many page views we can get and many bloggers kind of run into that issue but is also a danger if you can’t maintain your page views.
This is something I ran into early on in my blogging. Just after I went full time with my blogging, I was relying upon Google to send me most of my traffic, and I was relying upon AdSense to monetize my blog. When one day my search traffic disappeared overnight, my traffic plummeted, but also my income did as well. I realized that I was too dependent upon this one single source of traffic but also this one single source of income.
This is something that many bloggers run into whether it be a disappearing traffic from search or whether it be from another source, maybe Facebook has been decreasing the amount of traffic it sends to you as it has for most bloggers. How are you going to maintain that income that you might have been generating if you’re so dependent upon page views? What do you do in that situation? Really, Anita has given you a couple of really great keys here.
She’s done it in quite a specific why and what I want to say, as I kind of mentioned at the top of the show, is that you can take the same principles that Anita did, and you can apply them in different ways for you. Now, you might be thinking, “I don’t want to start a podcast. I don’t want to start an online store.” Well, there’s other ways that you can apply these. What do you need to do? You need to do something new and that’s the key for me. You need to diversify in different ways.
I actually wrote a mini series of blog posts back a few years ago now and I’ll link to them in the show notes where I tell my own journey with this and I talk about that experience of losing all my traffic overnight and what I did about it. What I did about it was two things: firstly, I diversified my traffic sources, and secondly, I diversified my income streams. I tell how I do those things in these articles which I’ll link to in the show notes.
In some ways, it’s exactly what Anita did too. Anita started a new podcast which increased her numbers. Now she has page views and downloads. She’s got increased numbers and this allows her to monetize in the same model that she was already using with advertising and sponsorships in a new way by increasing her numbers. This is great, it enables her to continue to grow that advertising income but also as she mentions by starting a podcast has deepened her relationship with her existing audience.
The audience now feel like they’re spending time with her and this has been my experience too with this very podcast every time I meet ProBlogger readers and listeners now, it’s the listeners of the podcast who feel a deeper connection with me. We’re actually going to do an episode in a couple episodes time with the guys at PodcastMotor to talk about podcasting if that’s something that you want to get into as well. Podcasting is just one way of increasing your numbers.
There’s a variety of other ways that you can increase your pageviews, your reader numbers, your reach, I guess. It might be starting a video channel, it might be by doing more on live video, it might be looking at new traffic sources like Pinterest or Instagram, or reaching your audience in a new way. I talked about some of those in the article in the show notes today.
The second thing that Anita did was that she diversified her income streams. This is again what I did as well. I didn’t start an online store where I sold physical products like Anita did. She did it that way because that related to her audience.
I did it by creating eBooks, by starting to work with partners as an affiliate for their products. Again, you can read more about how I did it. But the key is to realize that there are more ways to monetize your blog than just with the model that you are currently using. For Anita, it was expanding beyond advertising and sponsorships and adding these are new income stream is again another way of diversifying what she has done.
Now, it’s worth noting that Anita mentioned she still has her advertising revenue. It’s not about switching tracks completely from one revenue source to another, it’s by building a second income stream and this strengthens her business. This puts her in a better position to survive if something goes wrong with that first income stream. For example, if traffic drops, if the bottom falls out in the advertising revenue that she has, if that one stream of income is impacted by seasonal ups and downs, by adding a second, by adding a third or even a fourth income stream, it sets you up with a stronger business to see it through those ups and downs in business.
Again for me, I added new income streams. For me it was about not just relying upon AdSense, but working directly with sponsors, building my own products, running events, adding a job board. Today, I’ve got 11 or 12 different income streams. It didn’t happen overnight, but by adding in gradually over time new income streams, I have built a stronger business. I still do run AdSense on my first blog. I didn’t get rid of it, but I’ve added new things into it as well.
Great tips there from Anita. I really do appreciate those things. The other things that she mentioned there was to get to know you readers. She did surveys, she’s gone to events to meet her readers, to spend time with them. This understanding of your readers enables you to monetize better. It enables you to drive traffic in different ways. It enables you to make decisions about whether you should start a store or sell courses or do both, this is so important.
The other tip that she mentions there is to partner with others. She did that in a couple of ways in the story. She partnered with Kelly I think it was to do a podcast and to create that online store. But also she partnered with another organization who could create some of the products that she sold. You don’t have to do it all. Again, this is something I’ve learned over the years as well. I would create all the products that I’ve created in eBooks and courses because I’ve partnered with other people to create those products with them.
All the eBooks that we sell on Digital Photography School were written by other people and we designed them. We put them in our store and we share the revenue of those things. I didn’t have to create 30 different courses and eBooks. I was able to partner with other people to grow does new income streams.
Lastly, that last piece of advice is just so good, “Don’t worry when you fail. Don’t give up when you fail. Learn from it. Tweak your approach moving forward, improve, keep going forward.” Part of the process of diversifying means that you’re definitely going to try some things that aren’t going to work. You’re going to try some you traffic sources, you might try new medium, you might try new income stream. It may not work or it may not work perfectly when you first started, that’s okay. What did you learn? How could you evolve what you tried and what else could you try?
There’s so many different things that you can learn from trying new things. Some of those things will work really well, I’m sure of it. There’s been times where I’ve tried new things and they’ve worked literally overnight. I remember adding a new ad network at one point and that was called Chitika. It literally doubled my income overnight for my advertising revenue and it was amazing. But there were other times where I tried new ad networks and they didn’t work. In fact, they negatively impacted some of the things I was already doing. You’re going to learn some things, track what you’re trying, see what works and evolve your approach.
Again, you can find Anita’s site at cedarhillfarmhouse.com. There’s a link to her site in the show notes as well. I’ve got some further reading in the show notes today. The show notes are at problogger.com/podcast/268.
There’s three articles there. The first one is where I talk about my disappearing traffic. If you want to hear a little bit more about how I just completely dropped out of Google in the early days of my blogging. The second article in that series is about how I diversified my traffic as a result of that experience. The third article is about how I diversified my income streams. If you prefer to listen, go and listen to episodes 153 and 154. Thanks for listening to this episode today.
We’ve got one more blogger breakthrough coming next week and then we get back into some other kinds of episodes as well including that interview with Craig over at PodcastMotor. If you are interested in podcasting check at PodcastMotor. They’ve got some great resources for new podcasters, they also offer some services around producing your podcast, editing your podcast as well which is exactly how we use PodcastMotor as well, so check them out. Check out the show notes today at problogger.com/podcast/268 where you will find a full transcript of today’s show. Thanks for listening, chat with you next week.