Taking a Little Break

Hello friendlies!  I just wanted to pop in to apologize for not having a post up for you all today.  I was getting my daughter ready for bed just now when it suddenly occurred to me that I hadn’t written my Wednesday post.  Life just gets so frenzied sometimes (a lot of that is my own fault), but I guess it’s also a good lesson in allowing myself to acknowledge when I have too much on my plate.

Since I’ve been having serious pain issues with my right hand — which has been making it increasingly more and more difficult to type or use photoshop (I’m seeing a surgeon for a consultation tomorrow), and am also trying to put together my holiday magazine, I am going to put the Better Blogging series on hold for a while.  If you are new to the series I hope you will enjoy reading the articles already shared.  And if you’ve been visiting for a while, thank you for all the fun…and I’ll see you here again in this space sometime soon.  xo Ez

It’s okay to say no + other tips for maintaining your sanity

Today’s post is rather short (but hopefully sweet) and ties in a bit with my previous post on Blogger Organization.  It seems that it is so easy to get wrapped up in the blogging world – not necessarily a bad thing, but I’ve seen it effect myself and other bloggers negatively from time to time.  Because of this I have a few little reminders that I try to keep in mind.  They’ve helped me maintain my sanity in the blog eat blog world we operate in…and I hope that maybe they will help you too!

1. Only read (or link to) blogs that make you feel inspired and good about yourself.  I would be almost embarrassed to put this out there, except for the fact that every blogger I’ve personally talked to has shared the same feelings with me, and that is this: not all blogs (even the most popular ones) leave you with a good feeling and are worth spending your time on.  Yes, they might be pretty to look, have thousands or millions of followers and probably don’t mean any harm, but do you feel better about yourself and your life after a visit to their site?  I believe it is an important question to ask yourself.  After all, it is you who gets to choose what you will allow to influence your life, so why not be picky and invite only positive things in.  Once I personally determined which sites were causing me to doubt myself or feel like my or my life wasn’t good enough, I simply stopped visiting them.  It was a bit odd at first, but honestly my world feels a whole lot brighter now, and I am so glad I took action for myself.

2. It’s okay to say “no.”  At some point in time you will likely be asked to post something for someone (sales pitches, giveaways, non-profit causes, etc) or to create content for another site or publication (guest posts, magazine features, etc).  It’s great and exciting when people and businesses are taking an interest in you and your blog, but it can also feel as though saying no is impossible (even when your hands are already full and/or you don’t care for their products or site).  But the truth is that no matter how tough it is, you can and you should be picky about the content you share.  For me, this means that I don’t write about anything or provide content for any site/publication that my heart isn’t into.  I guess I realized pretty early on that if I were to post every single thing that came into my inbox or provided content to everybody who wanted it, I would be sold out and burnt out in no time at all.  So even though it is scary, and you might feel like you are throwing away an opportunity (especially when you are first starting out), but I really believe that it is worth it to stick to your guns and trust your instinct.

Tip: If you don’t want to give a hard no, you can always let the person/business know that you are not currently interested but you are open to receiving contact from them in the future.  This might be a little bit easier to manage and will not likely leave anyone harboring negative feelings towards you and your site.

3. Remember to take time for self-reflection.  In the busy, often over-stimulating online world it is very easy to get swept up in the shuffle for more posts, better content, newer ideas, etc.  For me remembering to take time to sit with my own ideas and not invite other people’s concepts of success or brilliance to overtake me is something that I often struggle with.  The two things that help me most of all with this are:

  1. Limiting the number of blogs I actually do read.  This isn’t because I don’t like other blogs…but because I personally want to know that the content I’m coming up with is my own and wasn’t inadvertently influenced by another blogger.  Not that finding inspiration in another blogger is bad either, but for my own sanity and peace of mind I like to know that I am being true to myself on a real level and not allowing myself to be fully formed by what is going on around me.  I guess you could say I’m choosy.
  2. And keeping a notebook for jotting down little ideas, inspirations and such that I can revisit whenever I want to.  This can be anything as simple as key words and sketches, to full post text and more.  It’s my little space to be as random and dream as much as I want to, and since it is always there I can rest easy every day knowing that I’m not forgetting something important.  If you don’t already have a little notebook to jot down your thoughts, I highly recommend picking one up.  It doesn’t need to be fancy…I actually prefer something that isn’t, so I’m not worried about messing it up.

I hope that you will find my little tips helpful as you continue on your blogging journey and navigate the almost always wonderful blog world.  Do you have any special tips for keeping your sanity as a blogger?  I’d love for you to share any advice and thoughts you might have in the comment section bellow.  xo Ez

Blog Etiquette

Hello bloggy friends!  Today I want to touch on the subject of blogging etiquette…for both bloggers and readers of blogs.  I don’t know it all (not even close) so I’d love for you to chime in with your own personal thoughts on blogging etiquette.  I’m sure you will have great things to share!  So here we go:

Thoughts for bloggers:

  • Always link back…always!  No doubt you have likely experienced what it feels like to find content that you shared posted on another blog with no crediting link.  Of course it is also wise to note that there is a possibility that that other blogger simultaneously discovered the same content (this has personally happened to me and was really upsetting when out of the blue someone came after me with accusations of content theft – I was able to show them that I hadn’t stolen the post content, but it was still rattling).  The main point here is not to police the blog world, but rather to do your part to give credit where it is due.  It seems that some bloggers think that it looks bad if they don’t find all the content for their site on their own so they intentionally leave crediting links out of their posts.  Maybe some readers are put off when a blogger finds content elsewhere…but I personally have a higher respect for bloggers who make a habit of crediting their sources, regardless of where they found it.  Community and sharing is what blogging is all about (in my opinion)…and link sharing is a positive and vital way to grow your network of blog relationships.
  • It is usually in bad form to recycle full posts/images from another blog.  Since blogs rely upon incoming links for growth you are only hurting the other blogger by copy/pasting complete posts (your readers will have no reason to visit the original blog – even if you do provide a link), not to mention you will be profiting from their hard work (they had to find the content, write about it and assemble the post images).  Instead, give your readers a teaser image or two and let them know why you like the post…then direct them over for the full post content with a link to the source blog.  Additionally, freebies, downloads, PDF files, etc. should remain on the original blog that created them.  It is great to spread the news about a freebie you love, but it isn’t nice to take the download and offer it from your own site.  Doing so eliminates any need for your readers to visit the original source blog…not good.
  • Copyright.  This is a huge (scary) topic and one that I will be sure to address more thoroughly in the future.  But the main thing I have to note on this topic right now is to be sure to honor the artist/designer/blogger’s posted wishes regarding their work.  If they ask for you to obtain written consent before posting…then that’s what you have to do.  If they say they don’t want their work blogged, then it is best to just walk away.  There are millions of those out there who are happy to have their work shared with the world…so go to it.
  • Be proactive, not reactive.  From time to time you may come across someone in blogland (on your or another blog/social networking sites/or by email who has only hurtful or mean-spirited things to say.  Some blogs thrive on this sort of environment, but if you are not a blogger who enjoys this sort of atmosphere then it is wise to sort out exactly how you will respond to these kinds of individuals.  I have personally adopted the “kill them with kindness” philosophy and find that it is best to say nothing at all when possible, or address such individuals with a calm and understanding tone.  I think it takes a strong person to just walk away and not try to get the last word in…but I believe that it really is worth the effort.  If all else fails, ask a trusted friend in the blogging community for their advice and hang in there.  If you refuse to give them kindling for their fire, eventually they will have to burn out.

Thoughts for blog readers/businesses:

  • Remember that bloggers are only human.  There are so many facets that make up a blogger’s world (and everyone is different) so it is easy for some things to fall through the cracks.  Believe me…any kind comments, sweet emails, etc that you might want to share with a blogger can mean the world (they do to me at least).
  • Newsletter no-no.  If you own or work for a business…never sign a blogger up for your newsletter without their permission.  This is something that happens to me all the time and I make it a general rule to unsubscribe immediately.  This practice leaves such a bad taste in my mouth that it makes it hard to want to feature the company’s products after this has happened.

The best rule for blogging etiquette really has more to do with the Golden Rule than anything else.  “Treat others as you would like ot be treated.”  As long as I remind myself of this then it seems like everything moves along exactly as it should.  I hope my little tips will be of help to you in your blogging journey.  Feel free to ask any questions you’d like in the comment section below…I’m happy to answer them.  xo Ez

Organization for Bloggers – My Favorite Tips

Hello everyone!  Thanks for stopping by.  My topic for today is something that for me has been and will probably continue to be a work in progress.  I’m talking about organization.  If you’re at all like me then you’ve probably struggled at one time or another (or might still be struggling) to keep all your ducks in a row.  Below I’ll share a few of the methods that work well for me.  I’d love to hear what you use to organize your blog world in the comment section below and be sure to ask any questions you are having too.  Let’s get started.

MY FAVORITE TIP for organizing potential post content + saving crediting links:

For far too long the method I used to save post content involved thousands of folders on my desktop…many of which would become so buried by other folders that I’d lose them until it was too late to use the content in them.  All this changed with one free online site: Wishpot.  While technically a site for creating gift giving/receiving wish lists, its ability to create lists, add tags, etc. makes it the ideal tool for busy bloggers.

Here’s a little video I put together to show the simple process I use to save content and links via Wishpot.  Note: There are a few times in the video where there is an odd static noise – sorry about that.

The best part about wishpot for me is the visual element.  It is incredibly handy to have a thumbnail image to view while trying to put posts together, and the fact that I can also add tags to help me organize my picks by subject is invaluable.  I also like to recommend Wishpot to friends and bloggers because it is free – which means anyone can use it!

Other methods of organization take the more standard route and are probably things that you currently use or have tried in the past.  A few that I use on a regular basis are:

  • Weekly Planner – used to organize advertising info and post schedules.
  • Spiral-bound notebook – used to jot down ideas, doodles, or pre-write post content (specifically for these Better Blogging posts).
  • Google calendars – occasionally used to keep track of scheduling (I’ve kind of fazed this one out recently).

You might also consider:

Downloading an App for your phone or iPod that is designed to keep you organized.  I have one called Chores for my iPod and use it to keep track of thoughts and ideas that I have when I’m away from my computer as well as create checklists for tasks I need to complete or want to complete over a long-term time frame.  I also use the calendar setting on my iPod quite regularly…so if you have one at your disposal, then these two methods can be a great way to stay on top of things.

These are the specific methods I use to keep myself organized.  The next phase with any organization plan involves putting it all together in a system that works for you and with your available time.

One of the questions I’ve received on more than one occasion (and is something I’ve struggled with over the years) is: How do I stay on top of blog comments, emails and submissions?

Again the answer to this will vary for each individual.  For me what works best is scheduling a portion of each day that is devoted specifically to correspondence.  I’m not perfect at staying on top of things by any means, but when I keep myself to a set schedule I find that I can actually manage my inbox instead of fear it.  I highly recommend picking a time of day that allows you as much uninterrupted time as possible.  For me this is generally the evening.  None of us have infinite time or patience for correspondence, so experiment around with the time you can devote to the task until you find the amount that works for you.

Remember that you are just one person and unless you have superhuman powers (please send some my way if you do) you can’t possibly reply to every comment, email, submission you receive every day.  As your blog becomes more successful correspondence will only become more challenging, so setting yourself to an impossible standard of perfection will ultimately just cause frustration and stress in your life.  I recommend establishing a system for yourself that loosely categorizes your correspondence tasks by importance/urgency.  Tackle these items first during the time you’ve scheduled.  If you find that you have time remaining, take on the second and third tier correspondence tasks.  Again you will be the best judge of which items need immediate attention or not.  Trust yourself and know that you are doing the best you can.

MY FAVORITE TIP for staying on top of emails:

Canned responses (available through Gmail accounts).  I know it sounds horrible and impersonal (and seems like one of those things that I probably shouldn’t be telling the world), but once you start using canned responses you will see how easy they are to customize to each individual email.  I have a long list of responses that I’ve written that address the main topics for which I receive emails (advertising inquiries, product submissions, blogging advice, etc).  After inserting the canned response that fits the email I’ve received I can then begin to add the customizations I want.  The content ends up being exactly what I would have written out anyhow…and ultimately saves a huge amount of time.

I hope you will find some of these tips to be helpful.  Next week I’ll be addressing the topic of blogging etiquette.  If you have any questions or comments on the subject I’d love to hear them.  See you then.  xo Ez

Blog Tips: Targeted Growth Strategies

Today’s topic is one that I’ve received quite a few comments and emails on.  Most notably how to use specific tactics like giveaways, writing guest posts and the like to bring growth to a blog or business.  Once again I’ll just be speaking from my personal experience and would love for you to chime in with your own insight and thoughts in the comment section below.  So here we go:

Giveaways: hosting or offering products for giveaway.

Positives:

  • Giveaways provide immediate targeted clicks for the prize provider as well as a click-through spike for the blog hosting the contest.
  • Potentially bring in a new audience through online buzz about the giveaway.

Negatives:

  • There can be extra work involved in hosting giveaways (tracking comments, selecting the winner, correspondence with the company providing the prize, etc).
  • If you offer advertising on your site, giveaways may deter possible advertisers from purchasing an ad spot.  They may instead look to receive “free advertising” on your site via a targeted giveaway.  This in not a complete loss, but you may receive some very low prize value offers that you might want to pass on in the interest of maintaining the integrity of your site. Because of this it is best to have some guidelines in place for those interested in potential giveaways (a prize value requirement, etc).
  • There is no promised interest level.  Just because a product is awesome does not necessarily mean that the interest in it will be huge.  As long a both bloggers and businesses are aware of this from the beginning, there shouldn’t be any issues.

How to become a giveaway host or approach blogs for a giveaway of your product(s):

It is hard for me to remember how/when I first began offering giveaways on my blog.  I do know it was not something that I sought out, but was something that companies/artisans approached me about.  Initially (when my readership was smaller and I was not using social networking to help spread the word) response in giveaways was pretty small.  In fact there were a few times very early on when I felt pretty low about how little interest was shown (I felt bad for the businesses who had invested their product with me).  So I think it’s important to be realistic about the sort of crowd you can expect (both as a blogger and as a business).  As your readership grows the value for both your blog as well as businesses interested in sponsoring giveaways will increase.

If you are a blogger interested in offering a giveaway for the first time, you can:

  • Approach shops that you feel have products in-line with what your readers love.  Communicate an interest in their work and ask if they might like to offer a product for giveaway on your site.  Share your stats and demographics with them and let them know the value of product you are seeking.  Be professional and hang in there.  At first there may be limited interest, but once you’ve broken the ice by hosting your first giveaway things will become easier.
  • Get the word out.  Blog, tweet, facebook about your interest in taking on giveaway sponsors.  Be prepared to share details about your site as well as provide guidelines for submissions (i.e. price value, who is in charge of shipping the prize to the winner, whether anyone can enter or if there are country specific requirements, etc.)

If you are a business interested in offering an item for giveaway on a blog, you can:

  • Compile a list of your top choice blogs.  These sites should feature content that is relevant to your product(s)…not just have high traffic rankings.  Be sure to read the fine print on these blogs before sending any emails (some blogs do not host giveaways, so contacting them for that purpose will go nowhere).
  • Contact your very top choice blog first and let them know what you have to offer.  Bloggers look for exclusive and original content, so be sure to let them know that you are contacting them first.  If you don’t hear anything back within a week it is fair to go ahead and contact the next blogs on your list.
  • Offer a product that clearly reflects what your business is all about.  If you have a shop that carries multiple categories of items you might like to think about offering a gift certificate as the prize.
  • Generally the more valuable or more exciting the prize, the better the response is going to be.  Ask yourself how much the potential press is worth to you and try to offer a product of a comparable value.

Guest Posts

I’d venture to say that unless you’ve already established some sort of positive relationship with a blogger, this method won’t likely work for you.  That being said, if you are on familiar or friendly terms with your favorite bloggers a great way to bring increased interest in your own blog or website is to offer to write a guest post for them from time to time.  It can be a little bit awkward to just pop out and offer writing services, so here are a few ideas on how to best go about it:

  • Pre-write the post and have your post images all ready to go.  Make sure they are sized appropriately for the blog you are interested in working with.
  • Contact the blogger you would like to work with in a friendly and courteous way and let them know that you have written a post that you feel might work really well on their site – attach the post images that you’ve created for them to sample.  Let them know that you would be happy to give the content to them if they are interested.  Be sure to let them know whether or not the content will be exclusive to their site or not (this is really important).
  • Posts that work really well for guest posting (at least for my site) are DIY projects and tutorials.  Try to fill a niche that you see the blogger is building on.
  • Be patient and remember that not all bloggers are interested in guest posts.  If you get a thumbs down, be sure to thank the blogger for their time and let them know that if they ever have interest in the future you are more than happy to work with them at that time (you never know – they may go on vacation, etc. and need someone to help fill in for them).

Another type of post sharing:

One additional method for post sharing would be to contact a top blog and let them know about a special post you have coming up on your blog.  Attach images and let them know exactly what the post is about, when you will be posting it on your site, and why you feel it is relevant to their readership as well.  If you want to increase your odds even further you can attach images that are pre-sized to work on their site (let them know that you have done so, and that they are free to use the images).  Once again, be sure to let the blogger know whether or not you are contacting them exclusively or not.  If a blogger feels that you are simply trying to get on as many blogs as possible they are quite likely to ignore your offer.  If you receive no reply or they are not interested in promoting your post, you can then approach a few additional blogs and follow the same process.

Free Downloads

I really enjoy providing free content for my readers and have noticed since implementing freebies on my site, that they are also a great way to bring in a steady flow of readers (a happy bonus to discover).  One reason for this is that they are highly searchable – meaning that they are easy for the average non blog reader to discover via web searches.  Another great bonus is that they are always relevant (unless the download is a calendar).  Once you create them, they live on your blog for as long as you want and will continue to bring readers in as time goes on.  Of course not all blog readers are interested in free downloads, so whether you add free downloads to your site or not will be dictated by your actual site and readers.

I hope these tips will be useful to you.  Next week I’ll be talking about organization for bloggers + some sources to help you keep all your ducks in a row.  See you then!  xo Ez