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, 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.
— Monica Stott (@TheTravelHack) June 13, 2015
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’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.
— The Collative (@Collative) June 13, 2015
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.
— Rusty (@rusty_rambles) June 13, 2015
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.
— Esra Alhamal (@Designeresra) June 13, 2015
3. be mindful of outside influences
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.
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”.
— Leanne (@LeanneBeale) June 13, 2015
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:
— laserbean (@laserbeanuk) June 13, 2015
4. engagement > numbers
“More and more and more is not the answer. What we want is an engaged community” Grace from @designsponge
— Mollie Makes (@MollieMakes) June 13, 2015
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.
— Samee Lapham (@samsette) June 13, 2015
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.
— A Playful Day (@aplayfulday) June 14, 2015
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
— Esra Alhamal (@Designeresra) June 13, 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.
— Esra Alhamal (@Designeresra) June 13, 2015
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.
— Catherine Edden (@ohhidiy) June 13, 2015
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