My five biggest takeaways from Blogtacular - The Collative
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My five biggest takeaways from Blogtacular

I have to admit, when I first sat down to write this post I was a bit overexcited – probably still buzzing from absorbing so much information in such a short space of time. I was all like: 100 TIPS FOR BLOGGERS FROM BLOGTACULAR! (Well, almost).

Actually, I probably could write that post if push came to shove. Even though I’ve worked in online publishing for nine years now, I still took so much away from the event and almost filled the notebook we were given at the beginning.

But after having a little word with myself and remembering to breathe, I decided to think about the messages and moments that really resonated and stood out for me.

So if you’re reading this and thinking man, I wish I’d gone to that, here are my thoughts on the five most helpful takeaways for anyone starting or growing a blog in 2015. Here goes…

1. Practise doing the things you’re afraid of

Grace Bonney, Design Sponge, speaking at Blogtacular 2015

Grace Bonney kicks off Blogtacular 2015 with an inspiring keynote on facing your fears and embracing change in blogging & business

Grace Bonney, founder of Design Sponge kicked things off with an inspiring talk on embracing uncertainty and facing your fears in blogging and business.

Grace wrote a stand-out essay last year called the State of the Blog Union (well worth a read) and her talk was a great follow-on from this, looking at how the blogging world has changed dramatically in recent years, how she’s coming to terms with this and learning to embrace change.

She shared so many useful insights (at least five pages’ worth in the aforementioned notebook!), including her five-step process for facing her fears, which begins with acknowledging them.

But the thing that really stood out to me was Grace’s story about how she faced her own fears of interviewing. While some people might decide to go on a course or practise on a friend, Grace faced her fears head on by signing herself up for a weekly radio show.

She shared how in the first show she’d prepared a list of 60 questions – and managed to get through all of them due to sheer nerves and not knowing how to turn responses into a conversation (something I can totally relate to, my first few interviews were very similar!) Today, After the Jump is one of the most highly-rated design podcasts and draws an average of 500,000 listeners per show.

It just goes to show: if you never practise the thing you’re afraid of, you’re never going to get better. This idea came up in several sessions throughout the day, including Mollie Makes’ talk on finding your voice and cultivating creativity. The resounding message was this: whenever you try something new you’re going to be crap at first. That’s OK!

2. You can create your own job title

Marte Marie Forsberg speaking at Blogtacular 2015

Marte Marie Forsberg shares her insights on creativity and inspiration

Marte Marie Forsberg’s talk was another highlight for me. Again, there were so many bits worth sharing but a few moments really stood out for me. First, she shared how she had a bit of a meltdown when approaching 30 because she didn’t know what she wanted to do with her life, and couldn’t find a ‘conventional’ path that ticked all the boxes.

In the end, she decided to turn the problem upside down. Instead of looking at the job titles that were already out there and trying to find one that fit, she started by thinking about the things she loved. Eventually, she simmered this down to three words: food, design and travel. From that point, she started to think about how to design a life around those things.

Without a path to follow, she began by approaching restaurants in Oslo and asking if she could photograph their food for a restaurant photo guide (this hadn’t been commissioned; she was creating it herself!). This gave her invaluable experience in food styling and photography, and helped her hone her craft by working with dimly-lit restaurant mood-lighting (ie, you really need to know how to work a camera to get a good result!) and things took off from there.

All this slowly led her to the life she leads today as a food stylist, blogger, visual storyteller, author and more. It doesn’t fit into any conventional box, because it’s crafted around her own unique interests and strengths.

3. be mindful of outside influences

Anthony Peters, Imeus, speaking at Blogtacular 2015

Another inspiring keynote from Anthony Peters, graphic designer, founder of Imeus design studio & director/creator of Made You Look

Another theme throughout the day, and something I’ve learned myself too, is that how you respond to outside influences and opinions can either help you set yourself apart and find your own way, or leave you mired in expectations and ultimately, following someone else’s dream.

In their talk on finding your voice and cultivating creativity, Mollie Makes stressed the importance of reading and consuming outside of your niche, which I’ve found so important both for coming up with new angles and ideas, but also to avoid going down the rabbit hole of comparison and worrying about whether I should be doing something because everyone else is doing it. Making new connections between completely different spaces or industries is often one of the best catalysts for creativity and innovation.

Mollie Makes at Blogtacular 2015

Finding Your Voice & Cultivating Creativity: L-R: Lara Watson, editor of Mollie Makes & Jessica Bateman, production editor

Grace Bonney also talked about the two choices you have as a blogger or business owner: to swim with the tide or swim upstream, and gave some wonderful examples of companies that have gone against the grain and achieved great success, such as Kinfolk Magazine – launching a beautiful print product at a time when ad revenues had tanked, and Rifle Paper Co., who embraced printed stationery at a time when “everything that made sense to print had a digital component”.

And this was also a big message in Anthony Peters’ awesome closing keynote. Anthony shared his own story of how he had defied expectations to create his own path. This led him to starting his own design studio, Imeus, which works with clients including Shortlist, New Scientist and John Lewis. His final slide of the night was a rallying cry to follow your heart and the perfect message to end the day on:

4. engagement > numbers

Grow your audience panel at Blogtacular 2015

The Grow Your Audience Panel: L-R: Cate Sevilla, managing editor of Buzzfeed UK; Sam Baker, co-founder of The Pool; Kat Goldin, co-founder of Blogtacular; Elizabeth Muhmood Kane, founder of Bridal Musings and Kristabel Plummer, founder of I Want You to Know

Again, this quote from Grace set the tone for the day. In an online world where ad revenues have plummeted, building a profitable (and fulfilling) business increasingly depends on finding your true readers and customers and your engaged, raving fans – these are the people who will want to follow you everywhere, read (and probably, buy) everything you put out into the world, and will engage and connect with your posts.

In other words, while of course you need to attract new visitors to build your audience, as a blogger your sustainability and future is becoming increasingly reliant on your ability to convert new visitors into loyal and returning readers and build an engaged community.

This all starts with having an intimate knowledge of who your ideal reader is and what they’re looking for. Sam Baker (formerly editor of Red, Cosmopolitan, Company and Just Seventeen, and part of the Grow Your Audience panel at Blogtacular 2015) recently co-founded The Pool with Lauren Laverne, a platform that creates content for busy women. She shared how they have put together “the most detailed reader document” detailing who their ideal reader is, and that she has spent the last few years “going up to women on the tube and asking them what they’re looking at and where their head is at”.

This groundwork has translated into some really innovative decisions around the reader experience and type of content they create and share – and how and when they share it. The site is also one of my favourite discoveries from this weekend, as a reader I’ve found it such a calming experience and a pleasure to use.

This intention is also behind the decision to forego comments from the site: “We wanted it to be a safe space,” said Sam.

Instead, they want to encourage discussion elsewhere on the web and offline. She used the Serial podcast as an example – you could only talk about it elsewhere, like Facebook and Twitter, which helped fuel its viral growth.

While a number of big sites (such as Copyblogger) have removed comments from their blog in recent months for this reason, it’s interesting to see a site put a flag in the sand about this from the get go. But Sam has a compelling argument for this:

“If your most engaged fans only talk about how much they love your blog on your blog, what’s the point?”

5. There’s plenty of room at the table

Blogtacular 2015

“Everything around us is changing and we have to support each other,” said Grace in her opening keynote. She also referenced Tina Fey, who says that it’s a misconception (especially among women) that there’s only enough space for one of us at the table. The resounding message through every session I attended and every person I spoke to was that we need to move past this scarcity mindset to one of support and collaboration.

There’s plenty of room for everyone, and we can all create original content by sharing our own stories and perspectives, or interviewing others to hear theirs.

This is probably my favourite thing about the blogging community. Personally, other bloggers sharing my content has been the single biggest driver of growth for my blog, hands down (the lovely Jen included me in a post and pretty much doubled my Bloglovin’ followers overnight). And supporting and showcasing other creatives is also a big part of this site’s mission.

By working together and supporting each other, we can not only help each other navigate this constantly changing digital world, we can grow the market for everyone.

There are also so many great stories out there that aren’t currently being told. That’s probably why I loved Anthony Peters’ closing keynote so much, because he’s created a film dedicated to sharing some of these.

I’ll leave you with the trailer for this: Made You Look, a film about creativity in a digital age that shines a light on the stories, processes, values and dreams of independent creatives (so clearly, right up my street!).

 

OK, now it’s your turn! Which of these points resonated with you most and why? Or if you were at Blogtacular 2015, what’s the most valuable lesson you learned or what did you enjoy most about the day? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments…

 

Image credit: All photography by Piers MacDonald for Mollie Makes 

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8 Comments

  • Reply
    Anna Simmonds
    June 17, 2015 at 4:14 pm

    Love this post so much. A lot of it overlaps with the lessons I learnt, too, especially #2. You don’t have to force yourself to fit into a box!

    • Reply
      Steph Welstead
      June 18, 2015 at 9:06 pm

      Thank you so much Anna, I’m so glad you enjoyed the post. I’ve just read yours too – it’s brilliant! Love this line especially:

      "…what you share will evolve beyond your control. People tweak things to suit themselves. If you make it easier for people to do that, you’ll win them over. Custom is king!"

      So true! 🙂

  • Reply
    Helen Johnstone
    June 18, 2015 at 11:56 am

    I have only just discovered Blogtacular, typically a week after the event! I have blogged for 8 years mainly about gardening and recently I have been a little at sea and bored with my own blog. I have thought about dropping it but that would be like turning my back on an old friend. I have become obsessed with stats and league tables etc and forgotten why I started which was to engage with others. The garden blog world is saturated which is OK but it hard to stand out and find a way to swim up the stream as you mention above. I think I need to start blogging about anything that I find interesting rather than feeling limited by my blog name.

    • Reply
      Steph Welstead
      June 19, 2015 at 10:54 am

      Thank you so much for your comment Helen, I can totally relate to what you’re saying and have just been through a similar situation myself!

      I think it depends on what your goals are for your blog. If you want to make money from it or turn it into a business then I think the key is to be mindful of who your target audience is and what type of content they’ll find most valuable. But if the purpose of your blog is to be a creative outlet or hobby then of course you want it to fulfil you creatively. Also, there’s no reason why you can’t find a way forward that does both!

      I read the post you wrote yesterday and think it’s a great start to speak to your readers and get their feedback. It looks like you have a band of loyal readers who will support you whatever you decide, which is awesome!

      For me, it all came down to having lost sight of my purpose. Reconnecting with your ‘why’ can be a really powerful thing. I wrote a post on an exercise that helped me regain some clarity, in case it’s helpful: http://www.thecollative.com/blog/60-questions-to-help-you-build-your-best-business

      Best of luck with everything, and I look forward to following your journey over the next few months! 🙂

  • Reply
    Helen Johnstone
    June 19, 2015 at 11:22 am

    Hi Steph
    Thanks for the reply and I enjoyed reading the post you included. Its interesting as I was an early adopter of blogs and yet reading yours and others that I have discovered through the blogtacular link I feel I am completely behind the times. My blog is like a comfy jumper whilst yours and other blogs seem to me to be the latest fashion – I do feel quite ancient!!

    I have toyed with trying to make my blog more of a business in the past, looking at garden journalism but it is already over populated and competitive. I’m not a naturally pushy person which I think you have to be in that environment. I would love to make my blog more than just a hobby but at the moment I can’t see how particularly as I dont want to walk away from my full time job

    • Reply
      Steph Welstead
      June 20, 2015 at 3:54 pm

      Hi Helen,
      Sorry, I hope I didn’t sound patronising. What I meant to say was, I think it all comes down to what you want from your blog and its purpose, whether that’s to be your creative outlet, help others or something you want to make money from. If your blog is your creative outlet I don’t see anything wrong with writing about anything that interests you! I always think the best blogs are those that feel authentic and where the author is truly passionate about the subject.

      You’ve built a wonderful, supportive community and I’m sure this will stand you in good stead however you decide to move forward. I also agree with your reader who said there’s no need to be too literal with the word gardener. In a more broad sense, a gardener is someone who creates, curates, nurtures and nourishes, so I agree that your blog name could potentially encompass all sorts of other creative pursuits and subjects, if you wanted it to! 🙂

  • Reply
    Laura Howard (Lupin)
    June 22, 2015 at 4:10 pm

    I filled most of my notebook too!

    So many great tips to apply to my blog and other aspects of my business (and life in general!) and the atmosphere on the day was just electric, so positive and inspiring. Of your five, I loved Grace’s advice about embracing and facing your fears but also Marte’s story of creating her own job title. I sometimes feel like I don’t have a "proper" job but I totally do, it’s just a job of my own making 🙂

    • Reply
      Steph Welstead
      June 23, 2015 at 1:11 pm

      Absolutely! I can totally relate to that feeling too and was so inspired by Marte’s story. I’m so glad you enjoyed the post Laura and thanks so much for reading and commenting. 🙂

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