Wednesday, November 5, 2014

How to Grow your Blog Platform

One year ago, I had no platform whatsoever. No blog, no social media following, nothing.

Tonight, I sat down to check the stats on my personal blog, A house full of sunshine, which is just shy of its one-year anniversary. The page-views are hitting 150,000 a month. I have 1500 subscribers, and 7000 followers on social media.

I'm not yet a published author (apart from a sparse handful of short stories.) I have no previous marketing experience.  I'm not a speaker or a columnist or a public personality.

I'm a stay-home Mum. I'm no more brilliant or talented than anyone else out there with an internet connection and a heartbeat.

So how the heck did this happen?

The answer is that very few things in life just happen. This is no exception.

I truly believe that success is something that can be taught, and it can be learned. I may not be the best out there in my field, but I do love to learn from people who are far better than I will ever be. And believe me, there are a lot of them. So please understand, when I share my success - it's not to brag. The grace of God has played a major role in getting me this far. And I'm no blogging or marketing genius, trust me... I'm just a good learner. 

The thing is, I'm pretty sure you are, too.

The writer's platform
"If you want to be a writer, you need a platform."

You've heard the line a thousand times.

We all know how important it is. We're told repeatedly how much harder it's becoming to land a book deal without a platform. Even if we do snag that contract, a lacklustre sales record could well ensure we don't get the same chance again. The author is in charge of her/ his own marketing like never before. The conventional advice? Get active on social media, and start a blog.

Up until a year ago, I resisted blogging. I'd seen too many authors jump onto the blog bandwagon, and pour hours into writing posts that would only be read by their mother and a handful of loyal friends. With three small kids at home, I didn't have time to blog. More specifically... I didn't have time to write a blog that would not be read. Time is our most valuable commodity, and if I was investing it, there had to be a ROI.

Also, I didn't have a clue what to blog about. I'm a novelist, for goodness' sake. I'm also a stay-home Mum, and the deepest thought in my head most days is how I'll manage to cook dinner, help with homework and distract a toddler from a tantrum simultaneously. What on earth could I talk about on a regular basis that strangers would actually want to read?

Fast-forward one year, and I have a thriving blog which continues to grow daily. The investment has been a massive amount of time, energy and late nights... but I'm seeing a return on that investment.

So, how did I get from Blog Zero to that sort of result in under a year?

Find the recipe on A house full of sunshine
1. Identify your readership, and write for them
How many writers do you know who blog about... writing? Writing blogs are wonderful (hello, Writer's Alley - how we love you!) but they reach a very defined niche: other writers.

What are you doing to reach your readers?

The turning point for me was when I took the time to identify my readership. I write inspirational women's fiction, so my readership is women... in particular, Christian women.

The question for me became, what do these women want? And what do I have to offer them?

See, your sweet spot as a blogger is the place where your interests and passions intersect with the felt needs of your reader. (Click to tweet this)

I'm an interior decorator, and before I had kids, I taught Creative Arts for elementary and high-school. You could say that creativity is my passion. I decided to blog about those interest areas. Decorating/ DIY/ kids is a thriving blogging sector. And it's an audience right in line with my target demographic.

Is that to say you need to start a DIY blog to see any sort of success? Absolutely not. If you blog about something you have no passion for, your lack of enthusiasm will show, and others won't get excited about it either. Besides, passion is the fuel that will keep you going through those lonely first months where you're seeing no progress and you feel like you're talking to yourself. (And believe me, I have been there.)

The good news is, whatever your passion, there is an audience out there who wants to read what you have to say. You just need to learn how to reach them.

See the tutorial on A house full of sunshine
2. Learn, learn, learn
Once I decided to start a blog, I committed myself to its success. I didn't want to waste my time on anything less. I became a sponge, absorbing as much information as I could from a range of sources. I read e-books on blogging, attended webinars, listened to podcasts, and subscribed to marketing blogs.

Here are some sources I've found helpful:

Platform by Michael Hyatt
How to Blog for Profit without Selling your Soul by Ruth Soukamp
Building a Framework by Abby Lawson

3. Create shareable content
The most widespread mistake I see people make with blogging is to treat it as an online journal of random thoughts and ramblings. If you're writing for yourself and your family, wonderful. But if you want to see growth, you have to broaden your perspective.

Ask yourself - why should someone share this post? What is the takeaway for the reader?

Until you learn how to create viral content - content that demands to be shared - you'll never break into the next level of blogging. And to do that, you have to meet a felt need of your reader, whether it be for entertainment, instruction, a new idea, inspiration, or something else altogether.

4. Become your own best marketer
Sid Kemp of Firepole Marketing suggests that at least 60% of your time in any creative industry should be spent marketing. I have certainly found this to be true of my blogging experience.

I know the whole idea of marketing rubs some people up the wrong way. It feels uncomfortable, even
See the project on A house full of sunshine
wrong. We're taught from childhood to be modest and not toot our own horn, so it's counterintuitive to us to self-promote.

I can honestly say now that I love marketing. I've developed a passion for it. And yet, it wasn't always that way. An example? I went for my first job at age 15. The store owner asked if I was good at maths. I was top of my class at the time, actually, but I'd been raised to never boast about my accomplishments, and I was sure it would sound like bragging if I mentioned it. So I ducked my head shyly and mumbled, "Ah, well. Not really..."

Needless to say, I didn't get the job, but I did learn a valuable lesson. The store owner needed to know that information, and I didn't give it to her. That was false modesty.

In the same way, there is an audience out there who wants and needs to connect with your words, and often, you are the biggest obstacle to that connection - because you are hiding behind a false idea of what modesty really is.

Hear this: your job is not to promote yourself. It's to find your audience. (Click to Tweet this)

Your job is to connect with the people who want to hear what you have to say. They're out there - you just need to put in the effort to find them. And unless you have a marketing department behind you, let's be absolutely clear - this job falls to you.

The thing that truly excites me? It's easier to make those connections than ever before in history. We live in a world where anyone with an internet connection and a bit of gumption can create a truly influential blog platform from absolutely nothing.

I'm living proof of that.

Want to learn more? I'm kicking off a series for the next few weeks on How to Grow your Blogging Platform. Follow along every second Wednesday for some concrete tips and strategies I've used to grow my blog from zero to 150K page-views a month.

Let's chat: Do you blog? Why or why not? How do you feel about marketing?

Find the rest of the series here:

Essentials for your Success
Guerilla Facebook Marketing
Supercharge your Stats

Karen Schravemade lives in Australia, where she mothers by day and transforms into a fearless blogger by night. Her popular creative home-making blog, A house full of sunshine, reaches over 150,000 readers a month. She's a Genesis finalist for women's fiction and is represented by Rachel Kent of Books & Such. Find her on TwitterGoogle+, Facebook and Pinterest.


Catherine West said...

Karen! This is wonderful and so timely for me. I've been struggling with blogging for YEARS! Like you, I know I need a platform. I know I need to somehow find that connection with future readers. But I haven't managed it yet. Rachelle and others talked about this a bit when we were in Monterey. I've been trying to define my ideal reader. And I think you're right. Once I do that, then I know who I'm talking to. Baby steps and a steep learning curve, but I believe those of us who really want it, will get there. Thanks for sharing your success today!

Casey said...

You ROCK at growing your platform! Thrilled to be on this journey to help you. :)

Karen @ a house full of sunshine said...

CATHY, so thrilled this was helpful to you!! YES - defining your ideal reader is absolutely pivotal, and it all gets clearer from there. You're right about the steep learning curve - boy, has it been steep for this gal!! But very worthwhile, too. I hope you'll stop back in two weeks for the next instalment. I'm excited to share what I've learned so far. xo

Karen @ a house full of sunshine said...

CASEY, I couldn't do it without you!!! You're my hero. Truly!! So blessed to have you on my team, girl! xo

Courtney Ballinger said...

Ooh I definitely like this post. For my website/blog, I've tried commenting on other blogs, sharing my posts, asking questions, blogging regularly...
I get page views but lack in comments.
I'll be mulling over your post. :)

Sarah Forgrave said...

Karen, I'm so impressed by your blogging success! Thanks for sharing your tips here.

I've gone through different cycles of blogging. Right now, I'm on a blogging sabbatical so I can pour what little writing time I have into my manuscripts. But your post has started my creative juices flowing with ideas for when I return. Can't wait to read your posts in the coming weeks!

Krista Phillips said...

LOVE LOVE LOVE this Karen! You are such an inspiration!!

Your point about marketing is spot on, and not just about blogging!!! Marketing can be SUCh a struggle for me for my books, because it FEELS like I'm saying, "Hey, I'm this awesome author, you should read my books" and uck uck uck, that just feels yucky.

But I don't write so people will think I'm a great writer. I write books because I want to share the story God gave me, to encourage women in their walk with Jesus. And how can I do that if I don't spread the word about my book, ay?

Sally Bradley said...

What an awesome post, Karen! Love the bit about false modesty. I think that will resonate with a lot of readers here.

So I'm curious--what was it that changed your mind about blogging?

Jeanne Takenaka said...

Karen, wow, just wow. I love hearing about people's successes. :) You do have a lovely blogsite. Congratulations!

I'm blogging, but trying to figure out how to broaden my reach. I guess I need to tap into the needs of my reader, and what I have to give them as a takeaway. Right now, it's all sort of hazy in my mind.

I'm looking forward to your upcoming posts. Thanks for sharing your wisdom!

Unknown said...

Wow! These are awesome ideas! Thanks! =)

Lindsay Harrel said...

Looking forward to reading more about this! My question is how to actually FIND those readers for your to get your blog discovered, I guess, by people you don't know.

Karen @ a house full of sunshine said...

All fabulous strategies, Courtney! Comments are hard - I struggle with that as well. Even if a post gets heaps of pageviews, it can feel like a flop if comments are low. But that feeling is not necessarily reality. There are an awful lot of people who read loyally and share generously, and never once comment on a post. We have to remember that blogs are still a relatively new thing, and a lot of people are still operating in a "print material" mindset, where no interaction is possible. You read something, and if you really like it, you share it with someone. They're your only options. So I wouldn't take it personally or use that measure to define your success, and meantime, just work on building a community and interacting with your readers. They'll come out of their shells eventually. Sometimes it just takes some coaxing. ;)

Karen @ a house full of sunshine said...

Thanks, Sarah! So cool that those creative juices are flowing - hooray! I totally get the "seasons" of blogging, and I'm sure when the time is right for you to get back into it, it will be with an overflowing bucketful of inspiration. Sometimes a break is just what we need to re-evaluate and re-fire.

Karen @ a house full of sunshine said...

Krista, YES, exactly!! Yes, yes, yes! My mindset on this has totally changed. I now think: if I truly believe God has called me to say something and gifted me for that purpose, who does it serve if I hide my light under a bushel? It's almost insulting to God - like the steward who buried his talents in the ground. God has given us gifts to bless others with. Marketing is just about finding the people who would love to receive the gift we have to offer. It's not about us at all - it's about them! It doesn't do anyone any good to wrap all your presents and then hide them in the cupboard. ;)

Karen @ a house full of sunshine said...

Sally, it was a God-thing. Truly. I'd hit a wall with my book and taken a year off writing after I had a baby (I also had a 3 and 2 year old, and I was really struggling to cope with life.) A year later, I was ready to write again, but literally one day in to my new writing schedule, my computer had a meltdown and I couldn't open my manuscript. It took 2 months to resolve the issue. I had so much pent-up frustration - I was raring to get back into it and DO something proactive with my writing career. So while I waited... and waited... I thought I might as well do something about my platform. I cracked open the book "Platform" by Michael Hyatt, and it was like a string of lightbulbs went off in my head. I realised it wasn't that I didn't have time to blog, I just didn't have time to waste on an unsuccessful blog. So I decided I was going to do it, and put 110% into it and see where it took me. I can honestly credit divine intervention for the whole thing - it was a completely unexpected calling, and God had to do something drastic to get my attention! But I'm so glad he did!

Karen @ a house full of sunshine said...

Thank you so much, sweet Jeanne!

YES, defining your reader and what they really want is so crucial. Everything gets easier from there! I'll also be sharing some specific tips for how you can expand your reach, in the weeks ahead. Nothing "just happens" - it takes a specific strategy and a lot of work, but it can be very worthwhile. xo

Karen @ a house full of sunshine said...

So glad it's helpful, Emily!

Karen @ a house full of sunshine said...

Yes, absolutely! There are some really practical strategies you can use to do just that - I'm looking forward to sharing those ideas in the weeks ahead.

Susan Anne Mason said...

Congratulations on your blog, Karen! I have pretty much given up blogging since I saw no success at all.
Will follow your series and hopefully learn something!