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4 Ways to Sell More Products Online

This is a guest contribution from Rosie Scott of The New Craft Society.

As we discussed recently in this post, making money via blogging is far more than fanciful thinking; for an increasing number of dedicated bloggers, it’s a rewarding reality. But there’s a difference between, “Hey mom! I made 30 cents this month using nothing but my typing fingers!” and, you know, actually making a living. Whether you generate sales through coaching, services, eBooks, physical products or any of the many other ways bloggers can pull a profit, selling more products online means thinking more like a business. Don’t worry – it’s not as intimidating as it might sound, and you won’t lose suddenly turn into a heartless corporate shill.

1. Optimize Your Website for Sales

It may sound obvious, but if you’re going to sell products through your blog, you’ve got to get it primed for sales. This is intuitively done on business websites, where the focus is all on the product and there’s all of one section devoted to a blog. It can be a little less natural, however, when blogs are the central focus. Here’s how to get it right.

Make a separate tab for your store. Each product or service you’re selling should have its own, dedicated page. If it’s a digital product, it should be downloadable in as few clicks as possible. If you’re using a shopping cart, that should also be easily accessible, with few to no barriers to purchase, like long contact or sign up forms.

Don’t fear the long-form sales page. When in doubt, it’s better to give more details than too few. Don’t skimp on shipping policies, product details, contact info, technical specs, product FAQs – anything you can think of that a customer might need to know. You can separate this easily with on page grids or columns. However, even a long form sales pitch can be highly effective, as long as it tells a great story (and as a blogger, isn’t that what you do?). Take a look how writer and writing coach Alexandra Franzen does it for her I <3 Email course. That is one long sales page, but it’s broken up well with catchy headlines, all the essential details about the course, bullets, testimonials, and at one point, an easy sign up, but it’s off the site now as the course has sold out. The point is, if you’ve got the details, make ‘em known.

Take excellent photos. Customers may like the convenience of online shopping, but there’s just nothing quite like holding a product in one’s hands to really get a sense of it. Photos go a long way towards mitigating that problem, allowing customers a much more in-depth look. As such, it makes sense to invest in a good photographer to take clear, high quality product photos, from just about every angle you can imagine.

Make sharing easy. These days, having a social bar on a sales page is essential, so that customers can easily share products or services they think are great on their favorite social networks. Whether it’s at the bottom, on the side, or several places throughout the page, you’ll do best when sharing is one-click easy.

Encourage feedback. Reviews are by and large one of the biggest deciding factors for potential customers. In this social age, they’re also a form of social proofing (i.e. if that personable looking guy thinks it’s good, it probably is). Three weeks after purchase, email your customers directly to ask for a review, and feature the good ones prominently on a testimonial page.

Consider a third-party selling platform. Managing shopping cart software on your own can be difficult, not to mention handling payments. It can be a lot easier to simply integrate a third-party platform like Shopify into your site, as you’ll get to retain the look and feel of your site while Shopify does all of the backend heavy lifting. Alternatively, for certain kinds of bloggers, sending followers to a different site altogether can be an even better option, especially if you want to keep your blog from getting to sales-centric, and it makes things much simpler from a design standpoint. A good guide to Etsy, for example, will get you quickly set up to sell on that particular site without any of the work you’d have to do to fit a store onto your personal blog. Doing so will also enter you into a wider pool of sellers that customers already trust, thereby broadening your reach and doubling your efforts.

2. Up Your Content Strategy

As a blogger, you’ve already got somewhat of a built-in strategy; content is, after all, kind of what you do. But if you really want to up your sales, you’ve got to get organized about just what you’re posting, when you’re posting it, who you’re promoting it to and how you’re doing so.

Do some sleuthing to determine what readers want. Maybe you’ve already furrowed down into a profitable niche, or maybe you’re still just sniffing the ground to figure out where the best scents lead. Either way, it’s always worth doing a little detective work to determine just what your readers (or potential readers) want to read – all the better if that just so happens to tie into a service or product you’ve got for sale. To do this, take a look at some of the keywords that are bringing people to your blog, and be on the hunt for any questions you have yet to answer. Comments on both your blog and on other blogs within your niche are also a great place to look for this, as are trending topics on places like Google+ or Twitter. Or, hey, here’s something novel: just get on social media and ask your readers all about their deepest questions within your niche. Boom: you’ve got a wealth of posts, ready to go.

Change up your format. Sure, how-to blogposts and scintillating written stories are great to read. But why not change it up a bit from time to time? Videos, infographics, and especially contests and giveaways are a great way to engage readers, and they each provide plenty of room for your unique personality. Launching a new doggy daycare service on your pup-centric blog? (See, I can’t stop with the dog thing!). Have your readers send in cute photos of their pups for a chance to win free services. The more varied and creative you get with it, the more readers you’ll get sharing your work, the more products you’ll ultimately sell.

Get serious about an editorial calendar. In the old days, you could get away with blogging about whatever interested in you from post to post. When you’re trying to sell products and services, getting organized with an editorial calendar is key. This way, you can better vary your content and spread out your product marketing, so it’s not all “buy, buy, buy!” one week and random blogposts the next. In fact, depending on your product, you’ll still want to plan so that you’re primarily focusing on your regular blogging, with your promotions more widely staggered.

Organize your audience into categories. Readers who follow you on Facebook aren’t necessarily drawn to you for the same reasons as Twitter followers, nor do they expect to engage with your blog or products in the same manner in each place. Take some time to research your followers on each social media platform, and to curate posts and shares, whether promotional or otherwise, that really make sense for each one. Even if the ultimate message is the same, it should be communicated differently on each platform. Taking the time to tailor your social media messages will make the much more shareable on each one.

3. Engage More With Your Followers

This may be something you already do, but if not, it’s time to start engaging at a much deeper level and more comprehensively with your potential and current followers. In one respect, it makes sense again to think of yourself like a business with need for customer service representatives; if someone comments on your blog or tweets a complaint about a product, they deserve a response, even if it’s just a “Thanks!” or a retweet. (Caveat: You still retain a blogger’s right to ignore trolls).

However, it’s important not to take the customer service representative idea too far and let yourself turn into an automaton. Big businesses, after all, are increasingly trying to sound just as personable as bloggers, so you’ve already got a real advantage in that department. Which is to say: respond in your characteristic tone of voice, using the full force of your personality. Just be polite and encouraging wherever you can.

And hey, if you’ve already got a loyal following, use it! As you promote your posts and products on different platforms, reach out to followers directly with @mentions, as long as you think they’d truly be interested in what you have to say. Pose discussion questions, or host a Google Hangout where you can talk issues of the day or simply, well, hangout. The greater the response your followers get from you, the more they’ll feel like they know you and that you’re on the same team, the more willing to buy they’ll be.

4. Cross Sell 

On the other end of the corporate vs. personable blogger spectrum, there’s the essential art of cross selling. Hey, if the big guys benefit from it everyday, why shouldn’t you? If it’s done right, cross selling is really just the process of giving your customers even more of what they need, not just randomly throwing more advertising at them. Think of what happens when you book a flight on Kayak. It’s not like when you check out, the site offers you low, low, LOW prices on used cars or trucks, for a limited time only! Rather, the deals they offer are on hotels or car rentals at your destination. You know, stuff you’re probably going to be booking anyway.

Just how you cross sell will depend entirely on the kind of product or service, and you will be the best person to determine just what matches well with what. Cross selling might be done, as we just saw in the Kayak example, at the moment of checkout. It can also happen in the form of a bundle, like when Amazon offers you a deal or sometimes just the convenience of packaging three similar items in one. It can come in the form of an incentive, or in the form of data, by suggesting similar products or service that other people bought in conjunction with the one the buyer added to their cart. It can also come in the form of expert recommendations, or in a 2-for-1 type of offer.

Don’t have anything to cross sell yet? That’s fine. You’ll still want to draw the purchaser further into your brand by suggesting they sign up for your newsletter or connect with you via social media as they check out. The goal here is to think beyond the single sale.

The Takeaway

Chances are, you came to blogging so that you could talk about your passions, and you dreamed, too, of that passion supporting you full-time. Well, in order for that to happen, you’ve got to sell products or services, and doing that requires a good dose of business savvy. With a little education and experimentation, I know it’s doable for you. So get going, and have fun!

Rosie Scott is a content strategist at a digital marketing company. An avid blogger, you can find her at The New Craft Society or on twitter @RosieScott22.

 

Life After Keywords (Not Provided): What’s Next For Bloggers?

This is a guest contribution from Jim Burch, a copywriter from St. Louis.

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When you use Google Analytics to track your blog’s traffic, you may see (not provided) on your list of keyword searches. Simply put, this is Google’s way of encrypting keyword searches in the name of privacy and security.

If you heavily rely on keyword analytics for the content you produce, you may be in a bit of a panic. What was once a quantitative measure to strengthen search engine rankings is now much more qualitative. As a blogger, you want to see every piece of analytics behind every keyword, but in 2013 that’s just no way to do business.

The Web is the only medium where people write for machines instead of people. You get so caught up in keyword density, you may forget actual humans are reading the content.

This Is Good

The first point to understand is this is an improvement for the Web. Adjustments and transitions will take time, but in the end, the general quality of content is about to increase. Imagine if off-Web content was written to fulfill SEO and keyword standards. What would an Ernest Hemingway novel look like if it needed to rank for “great American author” on Google? Hemingway didn’t write for Web crawlers and neither should you.

“Content is king” and all those wonderful cliches still apply, but there’s a little more work to be done now. Digital marketing agencies are looking ahead on this. The marketing blog at iAcquire recommends implementing a “content system” to create content that is both high-quality and consistent to get the jump start on life after (not provided).

Creating a Content System

A content system is an efficient way for bloggers to produce high-quality content while staying organized and consistent. The switch to (not provided) keywords is seen as a restriction by some, but really it’s an invitation to rock some of the best and most-effective content the Web has ever seen. You just have to add the layers to form one delicious cake. What does a content system look like? There are a few elements:

  • An editorial calendar that is both active and consistent. Follow it and use it to keep up with consistent social media and blog posts.
  • When you’re constructing blog posts and social media, keep the themes consistent. You can thoroughly cover a topic and keep readers engaged through all social media platforms.
  • Stop writing for keywords and start writing for people — your audience.

Authors with Authority

Gaining Google Authorship or collaborating with a writer with Google Authorship can be a big asset to your blog’s rankings. Google’s most recent update may give more power to authors who use Google+ and Google Authorship.

Who writes a post could be as important as the site on which it’s published, in the eyes of Google’s web crawlers. This makes the relationship between the author and the publisher mutually rewarding — the publisher will get stronger rankings from quality authors and the author will drive up his or her own authorship ranking with each post.

Not Everything Changes

Keep in mind, just because Google isn’t providing raw data on keywords doesn’t mean its algorithm doesn’t count them. So don’t throw the whole strategy out the window.

These changes are designed to refine existing strategies, not rewrite them. If your work help boost rankings in the past, keep doing them. The addition of better, more consistent content will help rankings in a more organic manner, even if you can’t see feedback from specific keywords.

Bloggers Have It Best

While marketers are scrambling to adjust methods for better rankings, bloggers are good to go. Chances are, you were always writing for an audience first and search rankings second. This method of organic content is going to pay off now that Google rewards both concepts and authorship more than ever before. It’s time for players who cut corners to step back in second place. Bloggers who do it the right way, have been doing it the right way, are about to take the lead.

What do you think? Will the new Google strategy help or hinder your blogging?

Jim Burch is a copywriter from St. Louis. Jim has spent the last 2 years specializing in writing for SEO and helping some of the worlds biggest brands build out their content marketing strategies. He specializes in advertising and marketing and also covers a variety of health and fitness topics. 

Tapping into Joy and Disappointment: Lessons from Our Biggest eBook Launch Ever

Over on dPS last week we launched an eBook on Posing Portraits that has sold faster than any other eBook launch I’ve been a part of.

While talking with a friend about the success of the launch, he asked why I thought it had done so well. I thought I’d share my response here as I think there’s a couple of good lessons to take away from it.

There are certainly a number of factors at play that helped with our launch today including:

  • almost eight years of daily posting and building up a readership – this of course is the foundation for all we do and cannot be overstated.
  • a repeat author for the eBook - Gina, who wrote this eBook, has written two previous Portrait and Portrait Lighting eBooks and has contributed on our blog over the last couple of years. As a result she’s familiar to many of our readers.
  • a popular topic – portraits is a topic that many of our readers are interested in – in fact it’s the number-one type of photography that they do
  • a well-honed sales page – we worked hard on our sales copy for both the sales page and emails that we sent our subscriber list
  • a beautiful book – the cover and sample pages we showed of this eBook are beautifully illustrated and designed – it’s certainly easier to sell something with visual appeal
  • readers trust our products – this is our 16th dPS eBook. We pride ourselves on producing quality and useful eBooks and this builds trust/credibility over time.

But Perhaps the Biggest Reason Is…

As I was pondering our launch today a reader left this comment on our Facebook page:

Posing feedback

Then I spotted this comment just now on the blog post announcing the eBook:

Posing ebook feedback

When I saw this feedback I realised that probably the biggest reason that this eBook has been so popular with our readers is that it fulfils a felt need that many people have.

As that last comment says – most people know the feeling of seeing a photo of themselves (or others) that is awkward or stiff. This is a disappointment that we can all relate to as we realise that the image taken doesn’t really reflect the person in the shot.

On the flip side are those times when you see a shot of someone which captures their true spirit – feelings of joy accompany these moments!

At dPS we see both the joy and disappointment that many experience when shooting portraits and it was this very reason that we wanted to publish this eBook.

While at the time I don’t think we realised just how much it would connect with readers, now with hindsight we should have expected it.

Take-Home Lesson

Do everything you can to get in touch with the challenges that your blog’s readers face. What problems do they struggle with? What disappointments do they encounter? What moments of joy are they chasing?

Tapping into disappointment and joy is a powerful thing.

I think creating products (and for that matter writing blog posts) that respond to those things is a great recipe for success.

On a practical level this can mean manny things including:

  • identifying your own challenges, disappointments, joys (past and present)
  • watching the comments on the posts you (and other bloggers) write
  • asking readers to submit questions or identify problems that they face (further reading on one way I do this)
  • watching what search terms people are searching for to land on your blog
  • running focus groups with readers to ask them about their needs
  • running polls and using surveys to tap into reader needs (learn more on how I’ve done this here)
  • share your own needs/challenges/disappointments as stories on your blog (this often unearths other peoples)

The main thing is to keep putting yourself in the shoes of readers and let that experience inform your blogging direction.

PS: a Word About Manipulation

It is worth noting that tapping into the disappointments of readers is something that can at times lead to manipulation.

Playing on fears and problems and promising solutions is something that can definitely drive sales, but unless you’re backing it up with a solid product that actually solves those problems, you’re running the risk of manipulating your reader. Apart from helping you make a quick buck, it’s a ploy that doesn’t help anyone in the long run.

Instead of letting your readers disappointments inform empty marketing spin, let it inform the actual products you create to increase their actual value to those who buy them.

Content Week: A bit of homework to inspire you – come and get involved!

Theme WeekAfter the week we’ve had immersing ourselves in the wild and wonderful world of sourcing blog content, there shouldn’t be any one of you who hasn’t come up with at least one idea for a post. But in order to blog better this year, I’m encouraging you to push even further – spend some time this week (why not right now?!) writing 25 blog post ideas to get started. You don’t need to use all 25, just find some space in your brain to dig them all out and get them all down in hard copy. Have even more than 25? Go for it! Really, it’s just an exercise to put everything we’ve learned this week into practice. If nothing else, you’ll have a handy list to refer to next time you’re struggling for ideas.

As always, let us know how you go in the comments – you’re bound to find a friend in the same boat as you!

Content Week: Let’s Chat! Where do you get your blog ideas from?

Theme WeekThis past week, we’ve been talking about all things content – where can we get it? What inspires us? What works with our audience? What are some out-of-the-box ideas that will set us apart from the regular blogging crowd? We spoke with Chantelle Ellem, of Fat Mum Slim, who encouraged us to write what we love, and Carly Heitlinger of The College Prepster, who told us to take a topic and make it personal. We wrote a mega-list of places to go when we’re fresh out of ideas to inspire us again, and we heard from Darren on the topic.

Now it’s over to you – where do you find your ideas? Do you have any sure-fire sources of inspiration? What do you do when you’re hit hard with blogger’s block? We’ll also be chatting about this over on Darren’s Facebook page - we’d love to hear from you all.

Content Week Case Study: Carly Heitlinger of The College Prepster

Theme Weekcarly for pb theme weekIn 2008, Cartly Heitlinger was a freshman in college doing what most of us do in her situation – studying a subject they don’t like in order to get a degree they do. So she started a blog as part distraction, part creative outlet, writing about things she was interested in – study breaks and bows on shoes, to name a few.

Now, six years later, Carly writes a wide variety of posts on The College Prepster that revolve around fashion, lifestyle, shopping, her life in New York, and snippets about what she’s learned about blogging. Almost 2000 posts later, it appears she’s never been stuck for an idea.

For those of us who are dying to know how to keep our blogs interesting and fresh, I asked Carly to spill her secrets on how she found her groove, how she realised what her readers wanted most, and what are the kind of posts she won’t go near with a ten-foot pole. What she shares with us today are valuable tips she’s learned through trial and error – tips we can all use to inspire us to create useful and entertaining content no matter what our blog niche is.

carly in the beginningIn 2008 when The College Prepster began, it was Carly’s “little escape” that she could focus her energy on in between school stress, exams, and crew practice. She says the culture of blogging at the time was “actually pretty ideal”.

“There was NO pressure,” she says.

“No followers? No problem. Personal branding wasn’t a buzzword. Twitter wasn’t mainstream. Marketing dollars were still being spent in the traditional sense. The community of bloggers, (there were a handful in the same “niche” as me) was a lot closer and not competitive at all.”

So while there was no pressure, no competition, and no real need to be unique and stand out from the blogging crowd, Carly experimented with content she enjoyed writing and watched how it resonated with her growing audience.

“I really was just desperate for an outlet when I started; what I was writing about just sort of happened,” she says.

“For a while, I would blog about fashion (mainly products I liked) and quick little updates about my life. I was really young and quite busy with school, so I didn’t have that much to contribute. My content continued to evolve as both I and social media matured. I was able to share experiences and provide advice and work more closely with brands to produce exclusive content through the “College Prepster” voice.”

carly the evolutionThere are few blogs in existence that are exactly the same as what they were when they began. Over time, as we get more comfortable, more bold, more understanding of what works and what doesn’t, it’s natural to progress into new areas, to cut others, and find the winning balance. The best part of blogging is its flexibility, the ability of the author to test new things, to learn from their mistakes, and for their blog to evolve as they do.

The College Prepster has grown and evolved just as Carly has over the years, and while it stays true to its roots, it’s a much slicker operation these days, with a little more forethought into its content.

“I consider my blog to be a combination of ‘life and style’,” she says.

“So you might find anything from a recap of a fun weekend I had, new books or movies I loved, a personal style outfit, new arrivals or must haves from a favorite retailer, advice from a life experience, or simply just something interesting!”

The topics Carly features sit seamlessly alongside brands keen to reach her engaged and interested audience. From sharing fashion finds for the love of it, to collaborating with big-name partners, Carly ensures her posts are not just readable, but useful too.

“I always post products that I personally love and endorse. Some are paid features and I often make a commission off of the products, but it’s always things that I love!,” she says.

So what has the blog evolved into? And what resonates with her readers the most?

“I want my blog to be a place where people feel like they’re my friend and reading something they can’t find anywhere else,” she says.

“A blog entirely with only fashion photos seems too impersonal and a diary of just my life would be boring. I like to have a diversified content mix.”

carly what content“The real key is posting things that I find interesting or that I like. The right readers will follow,” Carly says.

“Writing about things that I think my readers will respond well to, versus listening to my intuition of what I want to post, actually has the opposite effect. You end up attracting the wrong audience!”

Right. so: diversify, go with your instinct, and stay true to yourself. What else?

“Readers who come back day after day respond very well to my “life event” updates. Whether I’m sharing a lesson I’ve learned or a fun day I had, they like following that plotline of my life. I get lots of new readers from Pinterest from fashion photos, organizational posts, and DIY/how-tos.”

Got it: Let people peek behind the curtain – they love connecting with the human experience. How has Carly seen that affect on her readers when she posts about personal stories?

“I think [writing more personal posts] is the key differentiator,” she says.

“It comes with costs (mainly a loss of privacy as readership has grown), but the value it adds to my blog is notable. Someone recently sent me an article about how blogs are dead and I almost had to agree. The market is saturated, the content is copied, and attention spans have gotten smaller! However, personal stories I think are getting lost or dramatized. (How many five minute Youtube videos have you watched about an inspirational video… only to move onto the next story next week?) There’s something to be said about a storyline that continues over the years. The College Prepster isn’t perfect, is relatable, and fails and succeeds. She has become a friend to the reader over the years! (It doesn’t stop at just the blog though, using other social media platforms to build out a more robust character is necessary).

“I love blogging about books I’ve read and movies I’ve watched. I love getting recommendations from other people, so those types of posts are generally great “conversation starters.”

But creating fresh, new, interesting content day after day, year after year can be difficult. What serves as Carly’s inspiration, considering she posts nearly every day (and sometimes twice a day!)?

“I find inspiration everywhere,” she says.

“But mostly I draw from my life experiences. I think this has actually allowed my blog to stand out amongst a rather saturated market and gain a loyal, very tuned-in audience. I’m not just showing a pair of new shoes, but instead talking about where I went in the shoes and what kinds of experiences I had.

Bingo.

Another of Carly’s hot tips is to step away from the mainstream ideas of what makes “blog content”.

“I think video, imagery, and writing all go hand and hand,” she says.

“I mean, look at Instagram. It’s really a mini blog (and should be treated as such!). It’s also important, from a business development perspective, to see where marketing dollars are being spent from a corporate level, namely Pinterest (photos) and YouTube (video). Writing certainly will continue to have its place, but it’s important to keep content fresh and “current.” If a photo or a video does the trick, then it does the trick. Content is content.”

So keep it personal, step outside the box, but also know what doesn’t work. What has Carly found doesn’t work for The College Prepster?

“As a rule, I don’t blog about politics or religion. That’s not to say that I don’t have opinions on these topics (I certainly do!), The College Prepster is just not the place. I used also lump personal relationships/my dating life into the off-limits category over time… but I’ve slowly relaxed a bit on that. I have a boyfriend, and while we share certain elements of our relationship online (mostly in the context of fashion and/or events we went to together), we keep it primarily ‘offline’.”

carly's advice“Write about what you’d want to read. (And don’t blog about something you’ve already read. There’s nothing more boring than reading blog posts consisting of photos I’ve already seen on another website!) I write as if i’m writing to my best friend!”

If you’ve found this case study as inspiring as I have, you might like to read more of Carly’s blog at The College Prepster, watch her (super-useful!) YouTube videos here, chat with her on Facebook, or Tweet her here.

 

Content Week: How to Deal with Your Blogging ‘Inner Critic’

Theme WeekDo you have an inner critic? That little voice in your head that whispers in your ear as you write… chipping away at your confidence… making you second guess yourself… scattering seeds of doubt and fear through every paragraph you write… resulting in the ‘delete’ key being the most used key on your keyboard!

Or maybe that’s just me???

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It is content week here on ProBlogger this week and while we want most of our posts to inspire and equip you to create great content on your blog, it would be remiss of us to ignore one of the biggest challenges that many bloggers face – dealing with their inner critic.

I asked readers about their inner critic and how they deal with it on the ProBlogger Twitter account and Facebook page earlier in the week, and it was fascinating to see people’s reactions.

For starters it seems most bloggers have an inner critic – the response on that front was quite overwhelming!

How to Deal with the Inner Critic

There are no right or wrong ways to deal with your inner critic, and depending on the situation, you might want to take a number of approaches.

Ignore or Banish It

It is easier said than done, but when your inner critic has nothing constructive to say and is stopping the creative process, banishing it can be one of the most useful things you can do.

There are a range of ways of doing this, as illustrated in these responses on our Facebook page:

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This simple technique of redirecting your brain when you notice negativity is something that works for a lot of people. It aims to break the moment of negativity and then allows you to move on. You can try a word, like Karen does, or you can try to force your brain to think of something else to crowd out your inner critic – long enough for you to move on and be unaffected.

Then there’s the ‘willpower’ approach which some seem to favour:

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I find this willpower approach tougher and generally like to try to find a way to work with my inner critic.

Partner With It

I love this response from Erin White:

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This rings true for me and has become my default position for dealing with my inner critic. You see ‘critique’ is actually a useful thing. When used at the right time and in a constructive way, it actually makes us better.

I’ve come to peace with the fact that my inner critic is often actually my inner quality control inspector.

The key is to keep it in its place and only allow it to do its thing when the time is right.

So for me, when I begin to hear the whispers of doubt as I’m writing, I don’t ignore them, rather, I defer them until later – at which point they can go to town with their critical thinking. I also work the same way when I’m finding new content – first, brainstorm, then critique.

Note: This doesn’t mean I never allow myself to be critical of what I’m doing until I’ve finished. Sometimes some critical thinking is useful earlier in the writing process and idea generation stage.

It just means that there are times to bring critical thought to bear, and other times to suspend it and let one’s creativity flow.

So for me, I have a time for writing and creating, and a time for critiquing and judging what I’ve written.

If the doubts get loud to the point that they’re crowding out my creativity, I often find it worthwhile to jot down the nagging feelings I have on a piece of paper next to my keyboard before getting back to writing. I tell myself that I’ll pay attention to that doubt I have later… but now is a time to create.

It’s not always easy to take this approach but I’ve found that the more I do it the better I get at putting off and then, at the appropriate time, embracing the inner critic.

A few Questions to Ask When Working with Your Inner Critic

Working with your inner critic as a parter takes a little practice and is something you need to balance.

Without them, your work can be shoddy and of a low quality. But let them have too much influence, and you may not actually produce anything! If you let your inner critic overrule all the content ideas you come up with, it can be hard to keep producing them, and you might find you’re writing about the same old thing and never stepping out into new territory.

As a result I think it’s important to learn to ask yourself a couple of questions to help get the balance right (note: these are the same questions I recommend asking when another person is being critical of what you’re doing):

1. Is their truth in the words of my inner critic? - sometimes the whispers contain no truth and are just holding you back – but sometimes they have truth in them and are signals that you could improve what you’re doing.

2. What can I do to improve? – If there is truth in what you’re hearing – what do you need to do to improve what you’re doing? Turn the critic’s words into a constructive direction and use them to help you improve what you’re working on.

This second question is really important for many of us to do as often we let the inner critic paralyse us and stop us in our tracks. Rather than getting wrapped up in the turmoil of the critique – let it be the launching pad to better things!

Lastly, try to decide upon an action you can take that will move you on from your critical thinking. It is easy to get bogged down at this stage so I find it is important to move back into ‘action’ and ‘creation’ after having a critical review of what I’m doing. This gets the momentum going again and me back into a more positive frame of mind.

A Word About Fear

The other inner turmoil that many of us face as bloggers is fear. While some of the above probably applies I have previously outlined 3 quick questions to ask when you’re paralysed by fear. If fear is crippling you (as it has me at times) – I hope those questions help get things in perspective.

Content Week: An Interview with Chantelle Ellem of Fat Mum Slim – Where Does She Find Post Ideas?

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Chantelle Ellem is a blogging powerhouse – if you’ve not read her blog Fat Mum Slim, then you’ve probably seen her pop up in your social media feeds with her Instagram Photo A Day challenge.

Over her five years of blogging, she’s not only come up with almost two thousand post ideas, but she has also written for leading Australian parenting websites, magazines and blogs. If that wasn’t enough content for you, she also creates most of the Photo A Day prompts each month that sparks the creativity of social media photographers everywhere. She has also written an eBook packed to the brim of topics to get inspired – “Let’s Give Them Something to Blog About” will no doubt knock that blogger’s block right out of you.

Choosing blog post topics

But coming up with thousands of blog post topics can’t be easy, can it? Chantelle says when she’s super-stumped, there are a couple of go-to inspiration sources that never fail:

  • getting out and about (people and places are great for prompting ideas)

  • scrolling through StumbleUpon or Pinterest,

  • reading favourite magazines Frankie,  Fete, or Red,

  • digging back through post archives to remind herself of the topics she really enjoyed writing about.

While having a niche is usually a good idea, sometimes personal blogging is hard to categorize. Chantelle says that over time, her post topics have been refined into: photography, family, “living life inspired”, and food. She says these are the themes that inspire her the most, and therefore form the backbone of her blog.

What do readers want?

A blog is nothing without its readers, and it doesn’t take long for a blogger to realise that writing reader-friendly material is the key to keep them coming back. But how does one know what will work and what won’t? Well that’s just a matter of trial and error.

“It’s hit-and-miss sometimes,” Chantelle says.

“Something I think will really connect can fizzle, and others that I’ve spent very little time on and think will be a dud, soars. I think if people can’t connect, then it just doesn’t work”.

Over time it gets easier to know intuitively what readers might connect with, and to provide it in an authentic way. Chantelle says she knows that if she is moved while writing the piece, it is likely to strike a chord with the reader.

“If I cry over my keyboard, I think others will too,” she says.

“The heartfelt, moving posts are always the ones that people connect most to, and they’re usually about life experience or family. It always overwhelms me the number of comments, and social media feedback I get on posts like that.

“I once wrote a post about a man I sat next to on a plane, and it was one of the most beautiful moments of my life. It’s still my favourite post, and the one most people remember on my blog.”

How she stays organized

But with all of these ideas, inspriations, chance encounters and motivating moments, how does Chantelle keep track of it all?

“I am a paper person, so I keep jot down post ideas onto Post-It notes and place them on my wall. I also have a big box that I add to when I’ve read a great article or jotted down lengthier notes so that I can delve in when I’m stumped for content ideas.

“I also have an editorial calendar that I try and plan a few months in advance. It’s not strict, because if I don’t feel like writing, I don’t but it gives me an idea of which direction I’m headed.”

After being asked daily how other bloggers can find ideas, an idea for the “Let’s Give Them Something to Blog About eBook was born.

Her advice to others

  • There are loads of things you can do; get out and about (go to a cafe, the beach, the shopping center)

  • Use images/video instead of traditional written content (I think it’s a great way to get inspired and find new content ideas. I’m a huge fan of photos, even bad ones, because they tell a story themselves. And short videos are great when done well, but they have to be short (I think under 2 minutes is key). I don’t think we should ever get stuck doing what we’ve always done. Trying new things is key to staying inspired.

  • Try something else new – buy a magazine you’ve never read before, or even just exercise.

  • Get a blank piece of paper, and vomit out your thoughts in a quick fashion onto the paper. It doesn’t matter if it’s a lame blog post idea, write it down… you never know what it might inspire.

You can find Chantelle at her blog Fat Mum Slim, on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter. She might be just the inspiration you’re looking for.

 

Content Week: Come Join the ProBlogger Twitter Chat

Theme WeekThis week is all about content, and we will be featuring a post a day for six days giving you insight into content-creating from many different angles.

We’d love for this to be collaborative, so Darren will be hosting a Twitter chat this Wednesday 5th February from noon – 1pm Melbourne, Australia time (8pm US Eastern). Come armed with questions you’d like answers to, and to have a content conversation with like-minded people. Use the hashtag #PBchat and get involved!