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

Theme WeekChantelleFAT MUM SLIM (1)

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.

 

Bloggers To Watch: Jen Bishop talks about how to become a full-time blogger

Jen Bishop is the creative force behind Interiors Addict, the leading Australian blog dedicated to interiors and home wares. She was made redundant a year into starting her blog and was accidentally thrust into the world of full-time blogging.

I’ve loved watching her journey. She started off with a hobby blog on Tumblr and now reaches over 60,000 readers each month. In this interview, we discuss what she has accomplished since becoming a full-time blogger.

You became a full-time blogger earlier than planned. Did the need for immediate income affect your blog strategy?

Not really. I always wanted my blog monetization to be more display ads than sponsored content. What I did do earlier than expected was start working with an agency, who sell my ads on commission. That’s proven to be a good move.

What have been your most successful methods of monetization?

Banner advertising, without a doubt. Now that’s more established with bigger names on board, booking multiple times, I wanted to concentrate on the sponsored content side too. I also make money from social media consulting work with businesses in the interiors industry, and a little from job ads.

Your blog posts tend to be more newsy, with the occasional in-depth feature. How much time do you spend actually writing the blog content?

That really varies. I’m a very fast writer, after 14 years as a journalist, but I spend an minimum of 2 hours a day writing. Some days I’ll write from 7am to 3pm and suddenly realise I’m starving and have missed lunch!

You’ve turned your passion into a full time job. Have you ever felt sick or writing about the same thing repeatedly?

Never! I still feel like I’m living the dream, writing about what I love, day in, day out. I think this has a lot to do with the fact that I make my money from advertising so I have absolute freedom with the content. I can write whatever I like and about whoever I like. I can honestly say I have never put any thought into SEO or link-baiting or what might rank well. I just write about what I love, and know my readers love, and lots of it, and I hope that I write it well.

Growth

You do a lot of in-person networking at events and conferences. Has this contributed to your success?

It’s definitely good for raising your profile as it’s good to be seen at the right events and in the right places. Now I’m more established, I’m fussier about the events I go to, because time is money. But it’s still very important to me. Plus, I enjoy it!

You are very well connected and have interviewed some of the leading people in the industry. How did you get people to trust a ‘new’ blogger?

I think I was lucky to get a few high profile interviews in the early days and it was a case of people thinking “well if they’ve been on Interiors Addict, I want to be on it too!”. I also suspect that having a background in publishing and journalism helps add credibility and give people confidence you’ll write something professional and engaging about them and their brand.

I also made sure, in the early days, that I went to every industry event I was invited to and took every PR opportunity I was offered, however small, without being snobby or picky about it.

You’ve recently started adding extra contributors to what has mostly been a personal blog. How has your audience responded to this?

My audience don’t seem to have had much of a reaction either way. It’s not something I do very often and am wary of doing so in the future, because the blog is very much about me and my personal brand. I think, as the blog grows, I might have to get over that!

How do you plan to grow Interiors addict over the next 18 months?

I’m trying to write even more content (I’d love to get up to 5 posts a day most days but it’s a tall order!) and grow my email database. I’m also going to start doing some blogging events in Sydney, publish my first eBooks, and there’ll probably be a stint overseas where I’ll cover international trends as well as continuing to report on the Australian scene. Watch this space!

I launched a second, sister blog, Appliance Addict, a couple of months ago, and that’s part of my business growth strategy long term.

7 Vignettes Challenge

7 Vignettes is a creative online community centred around Instagram. Participates take part in a 7-day challenge, which starts on the first of each month.

Each challenge is focused around using elements from a key theme. Jen posts the themes on her blog the week before the challenge starts. Users have shared over 20,000 images so far. They even have guest judges and prizes.

You can learn more via her interview at Australian Businesswomen’s network.

You run the 7 Vignettes challenge on Instagram. Has it led to increased traffic to your blog?

According to Google Analytics, no! It only shows 218 visits in the 6 months I’ve been running it. That said, those people spend an average in excess of 5 minutes on the site which is a long time!

I believe I get a lot of traffic indirectly though, and my unique browsers have consistently gone up since November. It’s just hard to measure. Instagram only lets you link to your site once in your profile, that’s it; nothing in captions.

But there’s been a lot of buzz around 7 Vignettes and a lot of people must be coming to the site directly or via Google after hearing about it. I really believe, and hope, that Instagram will start letting you put links in captions in the near future.

How did you get such awesome judges and prizes on board?

I have a list of offers for prizes and judges as long as my arm! In general, they hear about it and approach me.

You reach over 50,000  (more than 60k this month!) readers a month. What are your main sources of traffic?

Most of my traffic comes from search, direct or referred from social media. A large percentage comes from Facebook, where I have the most engagement.

You were an early adopter of Pinterest. Has that helped attract interest in your blog?

To be honest, I haven’t used Pinterest anywhere near its potential. I do get a lot of traffic via Pinterest, but mostly due to readers pinning my images and then other people seeing them and finding me by clicking through. I’ve had a lot more success with Instagram and found it has been the best tool for building community off the blog.

Over to you

I love Jen’s story. She has accomplished so much since I first interviewed her in 2012. Her professionalism and hard work has allowed to accomplish quite a lot in a relatively small period of time.

What did you like most about Jens story? And, do you have any questions for her?

Blog Wise Tip 7: Use the Right Tools

You might think that, with blogging being a digital pursuit, the bloggers we interviewed for Blog Wise would be right up with the latest and greatest productivity gadgets, philosophies, and software.

They’re not.

Physical tools

Interestingly, almost every one of the bloggers we spoke with relies on physical productivity tools to some degree—pen and paper, wall calendars, and whiteboards.

“I actually have to have something visual to look at deadlines on a calendar,” says Amy Porterfield. “So what I have is on my wall in my office I actually have a yearly calendar, but it’s month by month, and I’ll put my deadlines in there.”

It seems that for many of us, there’s a sort of psychological benefit in having our to do list, for example, at our elbows, and separate from the computer in front of us.

Software

In terms of digital tools, these bloggers stuck with the mainstream software options: Google Apps like Calendars and Docs, Basecamp, and Evernote.

“I write whenever ideas come to mind,” Jeff Goins comments. “I use Evernote a lot, whether it’s on my phone or on my laptop, and I’ll just write some ideas down or a quote or whatever, and a lot of that turns into articles later.”

Many bloggers simply used the apps that came with their computers—iCal, Notepad, or Word, for example.

“I use a lot of text documents,” Darren problogger.net reveals. “I have about ten open on my computer at the moment. They’re just plain text documents, and that’s where I put my to-do lists and half-written posts and that kind of thing.”

Email, clearly, plays a massive role in productive communications between bloggers and their teams; Skype does too, but to a lesser degree.

Hardware

Though it wasn’t talked about in detail, the interviews conveyed the impression that smartphones have been a boon for most pro bloggers’ productivity.

As a storeplace for diary and appointment information, email access tool, alarm, and cache of contact details, the smartphone’s invaluable. It also makes working on the go achievable even in locations that don’t have wifi—and at times when you’re nowhere near your computer (or, for that matter, a notepad).

In particular, bloggers with families relied heavily on their phones. Heather Armstrong uses Google calendars on her phone. “I can make a change, my husband can make a change, and it immediately updates on my phone so that I know what to be prepared for the rest of the day.”

In his interview, Darren revealed, “My wife, she’s out for a walk at the moment—I texted her and said, “Please don’t let the boys in my room. I’m doing an interview now.’” Communication, he says, is critical to his productivity.

The other piece of hardware that got the thumbs-up? The tablet PC. “If anything pops into my head I have a tablet next to me [where] I just write it down so that I can forget about it in that moment and stay focused,” Amy explained.

What’s your favorite productivity tool? Let us know in the comments. And if you’ve downloaded your copy of Blog Wise and you’d like to share your thoughts on it, we’d love to hear them, too!

Blog Wise Tip 6: Build a Productive Team

“Have you ever merged together four different companies with four different partners, and employees from one company and another company?” asks Brian Clark of Copyblogger.net. “Oh my goodness, it was quite stressful.”

But, he adds, now that the transition’s complete, “It’s amazing to me, what we can do.”

All of the bloggers we spoke to as we researched Blog Wise extolled the virtues of team work—even when the team is your readership, as in the case of solo blogger Leo Babauta’s collaborative writing project, The Effortless Life.

But all of them emphasize the importance of clear communications within the team.

Brian explains that before his group’s merger, “I had all these smart people that were partners, and they were in separate companies and they weren’t allowed to talk to each other, if you will, because there was no profit motivation.

“I saw that the only way I was going to get to where I saw as a possible future vision, was to put all these smart people together so that they all had a stake in each others’ future.”

Our bloggers point out, though, that a philosophy of team collaboration needs to be underpinned by the right tools.

Like many, Darren finds digital collaboration tools helpful. “Every ebook [we produce] has its own folder in Basecamp, and I can tap into that and get pretty much any document I want along the way,” he explains.

Bloggers like Abby Larson of stylemepretty.com and Heather Armstrong of Dooce, whose spouses also work on their blogs, use tools like Google Calendar, and clear, close communication, to ensure that their husband-business partners know what’s going on at all times.

When you add shared responsibilities like children to the shared responsibility of a blog, communication is critical. As Abby says, “because the site is so dependent on both of us … we realize that we both need to commit equally to our family.”

Do you work with others on your blog? What approaches do you use to make your team as productive as possible?

Tomorrow: bloggers’ favorite productivity tools and systems.

Blog Wise Tip 5: Manage Distractions

Given their productivity levels, you might think that A-list bloggers don’t get distracted. The truth, as the interviews in Blog Wise show, is that they’ve learned to deal with distractions so that they don’t rule the day.

Distraction #1: Social media

Is social media sucking up your time? Give yourself permission to spend a few minutes there, says Amy Porterfield.

“I give myself permission, I get in there, I do it, there’s no guilt associated with it, there’s no hurry to it, and then I go on with my work,” she says, adding that for her, less stress means greater productivity.

Distraction #2: Family

For work-from-home bloggers, family can be very distracting. For this reason, Darren has agreed with his wife on certain times when he’s unavailable—“work time”—so that work and home responsibilities can stay fairly separate.

He adds that his family is understanding. “Having a business is a very high priority for me as well, and so we, as a family … acknowledge that I need to work long hours, and put aside time for that and plan for that as well.”

Distraction #3: Work

Darren and Jeff both handle work-related distractions by asking themselves whether the distraction is taking them closer to their goals.

Jeff, too, reminds himself that his purpose is to create, not react, which can help him avoid dedicating time to less productive tasks.

“If I have a choice, and often I do, between reacting or responding to what somebody else has said, and creating something new, I want to create something new,” he says. “So in terms of getting things done, that’s … a question that really helps me guide a lot of decisions.”

Top tip for killing distractions

Some of the bloggers we interviewed commented that they way they handled distractions was to physically remove themselves from the distraction itself.

Matt Kepnes, whose distractions are also his blog topic, shuts himself away from the world when he needs to catch up on work and really focus. For this reason, he finds air travel time to be really productive.

Gretchen Rubin also changes her physical location depending on the work she’s doing. This helps her feel that the time she has for any given task is finite, and helps her to stay focused as she tackles each of the tasks she needs to do.

Among Gretchen’s catalog of working locations, besides her office, are cafes and the library. The walk to get to those places is a bonus.

“I get outside I get a little breath of fresh air, a little hit of sunlight in my face (which is good for alertness and energy, I know from my research), and then I work there,” she says. “And then when I feel I can’t take that anymore … I move someplace else.”

How do you handle blogging distractions? Share your tips in the comments.

Tomorrow: Building a productive blogging team.

Blog Wise Tip 4: Choose a Structure that Works for You

All the bloggers we spoke to as we researched Blog Wise had an opinion on structure.

Even those, like Matt Kepnes of NomadicMatt.com, who doesn’t blog to regular schedules, noted that they had particular times that were good for certain work tasks, and particular times that tended to be less productive.

Matt, in balancing his desires to work and to experience the destinations he travels to, puts time limits on his daily blogging tasks. “The Internet, blogging, it’ll take as much time as you can give it,” he says.

“I force myself into boxes to work … to limit the amount of time I’m working.” He finds this the easiest way to stay productive.

Jeff Goins, of Goinswriter.com, takes the concept a step further: he’ll create a good “context” for that time, to make the work more enjoyable. He explains his rationale like this: “I have to do something I don’t want to do, so I’m going to create the most enjoyable context possible. I’m going to listen to music, I’m gonna drink coffee, and I’m gonna sit down and I’m gonna do it, and I’m gonna set aside this much time to do it.”

For Jeff, it’s not necessarily about hitting a milestone or goal within that time; it’s just about doing the work itself—about getting something done.

For the full-time bloggers, chunking time as part of the daily schedule was important. “That way I know how I’m going to spend my day,” Amy says.

She explains that this helps her prioritise tasks, and know if she has time to step away to do something a bit more inspirational or extraordinary.

While Leo’s a full-time blogger, he also practices a No Goals philosophy. What does that mean for the structure of his day? “When it’s unstructured, [the day is] really a huge, open container that you can do anything you want with,” he says. “I mean, you can fill it with anything.”

As he explains how that works to boost his productivity, he warns against the pitfalls of being too wedded to structure.

“When you’re structured, it just ends up being frustrating,” he says, “because you don’t always meet the structure that you set… if you had a structure that you had planned, and it doesn’t go according to that plan, then you’re messed up.”

Does a loose structure work for you? Or do you prefer something more prescriptive? Share your secrets for structuring your blogging workday below.

Tomorrow: managing distractions.

Blog Wise Tip 3: Plan for Productivity

Given all the tasks that can crop up on a blogger’s to do list, it’s no surprise that many of us struggle with task planning and control. Even the big-name bloggers we interviewed for Blog Wise grappled with these issues.

Having realized the negative impacts of stress on her productivity, Amy Porterfield has adopted a range of tools—from physical calendars to Google Docs—that help smooth her daily workload, and make sure she gets everything done.

Importantly, she actually uses these tools: she told us that she discards any that don’t really work well for her. In this way, her task and time management tactics are constantly evolving to suit her personal preferences and her changing workload and goals.

Gretchen Rubin has found that having a clear desk, and an uncluttered workspace, helps her to feel calm and in control. “Outer order contributes to inner calm,” she said. “And I used to think, ‘well, it doesn’t really matter if my desk is messy, because I can find everything.’ But now I’ve really keyed into the fact that I feel calmer, my mind feels more orderly, when my stuff is more orderly.”

Bloggers who work at home with families obviously face a particular set of planning challenges. Both Heather and Darren explained the value of sitting down at the start of the week—perhaps even on a Sunday—and looking at the work-life schedule to see what’s on that week.

Darren also takes the opportunity to speak with his wife about the family’s plans, so that he can schedule in the things he needs to do as a dad, as well as a blogger.

Heather says Google Calendars have been a “life-changer” for her. “We’ve hooked up all of our calendars onto Gmail,” she says. “And so my assistant has a calendar, my husband has a calendar, there’s a home calendar, there’s a me-work calendar, there’s a me-exercise calendar, and all of those are synced together on my phone so that I can look at my day.

“And I can make a change, my husband can make a change, and it immediately updates on my phone so that I know what to be prepared for the rest of the day.” Heather adds that while things don’t always go to plan, “It’s having all the other days go smoothly that makes that one or two days off the rails doable.”

Finally Leo, who blogs without either goals or plans, also feels that “I definitely am more in control of my life now than I ever was before.

“Blogging made that possible,” he adds.

How much do you plan your blogging—and how much do you leave up to chance? We’d love to hear your take on planning in the comments.

Tomorrow: how structure helps productivity.

Blog Wise Tip 2: Know Your Motivations

Every blogger has different motivations, but the interviews we completed as we developed Blog Wise showed how important it is to know what your motivations actually are.

The bloggers we spoke to listed a range of motivations.

The first was community and audience. Darren told us he’s motivated when he sees the community here at ProBlogger getting energy from his ideas. He’s motivated even further when he gets energy back from you guys.

Amy Porterfield’s motivated when she hears about the results her readers have achieved using her advice. And Heather’s dooce.com motivated by providing a place for her readers to form firm friendships.

Another key motivation for the bloggers we met was their blog’s topic.

Gretchen Rubin, of The Happiness Project, said, “The more I think about happiness, and the more I learn about it, the more intrigued I am, the more fascinated I am, and the more directions it seems to lead in.”

She sees that motivation as a key to actually producing a consistent, lasting blogging presence: “The deeper I go into it, the bigger it gets,” she noted.

Anther key motivation was a sense of contribution. Leo Babauta of Zen Habits explained that he’s motivated by his desire to do meaningful work, to enjoy his life, and to question established perceptions.

“All the truths that we believe in as a culture and as a society—none of those are necessarily true,” he commented. “So you have to question them and test them. This is why I do experiments,” he added. Like Gretchen’s approach, Leo’s motives contribute to his very productive creative strategy.

One thing that really stood out about these bloggers is that, in each case, understanding their motivations has allowed each person to set priorities and directions for their blogging work—and to pursue something they love.

It’s your turn: what’s your blogging motivation? How do your motives help you get your work done? Tell us in the comments.

Tomorrow: planning for productivity.

Blog Wise Tip 1: Diagnose Productivity Problems

Over the coming days, we’ll be presenting a series of pro blogging productivity tips that we’ve compiled using the advice of nine A-list bloggers we interviewed for Blog Wise, our new ebook on blogging productively.

Today, let’s consider the question, “do you have a productivity problem?”

In the blogosphere, it’s pretty easy to compare your blog to others, and feel like you’re not doing enough.

But how can you identify areas within your own blogging work that aren’t as productive as they could be? These productivity problems may not be easy to spot, but they can really hold your blog back.

The bloggers we spoke to had a few pointers.

  • Emotions: Heather Armstrong from Dooce.com admits that when she ends the day in tears, she knows something needs to change. “That’s usually my body saying, ‘something’s out of whack… the balance is off.’”
  • Energy: Darren keeps an eye on his energy levels, and those of his readers. “If I’m doing certain things and people are responding well to them, then that’s a signal that I need to do that more,” he says. “And conversely, if I’m doing something and there’s no reaction or a negative reaction, then I’m questioning, ‘Is this something that I want to put time and energy into?’”
  • Quality and results: Amy Porterfield, of AmyPorterfield.com tells us “If you’re not meeting deadlines, if you’re not actually producing great work that’s getting great results, you have to look at that and think something is broken in your process.”
  • Progress: Brian Clark of Copyblogger.com has experienced that first-hand. Before he merged his five companies, he had, he says, “these separate satellites, and they didn’t share together in knowledge or expertise or teamwork or profits … I saw that the only way I was going to get to where I saw as a possible future vision, was to put all these smart people together.”

What about you? Do you have a productivity problem? What are its symptoms? Let’s share them!

Tomorrow: Motivation and productivity