Darren: Welcome to episode 260 of the ProBlogger Podcast. My name’s Darren Rowse and I’m the blogger behind problogger.com which is a blog, a podcast and a series of courses, eBooks and events even, to help you to become a better blogger. You can find more about ProBlogger at problogger.com. Now today, we’re going into our blogger breakthrough series where we’re sharing stories of bloggers who have had breakthroughs in some way. We’ve had three of these previously and they’ve been really popular. I’ve had a lot of really positive feedback about those episodes.
People seem to like to hear from normal bloggers. I’m not saying I’m not a normal blogger, but normal bloggers who are at different stages of their journey. Today, we’ve got a story from Sarah Cook. Sarah has a blog called Sustainable Cooks. I guess, a bit of a play on her name but also the topic as well. She writes about recipes, and gardening, and I guess doing food from a family perspective in realistic ways.
She will introduce that much better than I did. I love this story. It’s a really short one today and it’s simple on some levels, but it’s incredibly powerful. Sarah has been blogging for eight or so years now. Things have really ramped up in the last year as a result of a mindshift.
Also something really practical that she did. As in similar stories, it is a mindshift type thing that needs to start with, but it’s also a practical. I’m going to let Sarah share that story. As I said, it’s not long. At the end, I want to come back and share a few thoughts and give you a free downloadable resource that you can also use to do the exact thing that Sarah did. You’ll find a link to that on today’s show notes, and you’ll find a full transcription as well as links to Sarah’s blog, the show notes are at problogger.com/podcast/260. If you want to look at Sarah’s blog as you listen, she is at sustainablecooks.com.
Sarah: Hi, I’m Sarah Cook from Seattle, Washington and my blog is Sustainable Cooks. You can find it at www.sustainable cooks.com. I’ve been blogging for eight years though only seriously in the last 11 to 12 months. My blog is all about real food for real people. So we share healthy recipes and gardening tips with realistic expectations about what you can accomplish with kids and family, and things like that. What was blogging like before my breakthrough?
Up until last summer when I started discovering awesome podcasts like yours, I didn’t know a thing about SEO. My photography was so bad that my friends now refer to an old post I have as the poop cookie post because the picture was so terrible. I had seven years of post without a single recipe card. I had self-changed my permalinks and screwed up the redirect, breaking all of my popular posts on Pinterest in the fourth quarter right in time for Christmas, and my site was so slow and not user friendly.
At that time, I only wrote for me and not my reader. I never considered them when I wrote. I was ready to quit because I just wasn’t motivated, and I felt useless. My traffic and my income were a joke. I didn’t understand social media or promotion at all. I would publish a post, out it went, and why it never paid off is only a mystery to me. I put it out there and I figured that was it.
So last May I had two paths in front of me, quit or double down and work really smart and super hard. So my breakthrough actually came about through one of your podcast. They mentioned doing Skype calls with readers and honestly, I thought it was really weird. But I needed practice for Skype for an upcoming project. So I sent it out to my list as a, “Hey, what’s up? Anyone wants to talk?” And I got a lot of interest. During a Skype call with the reader, she started off immediately by saying, “This is how your blog has changed my life.” Just like that I realized these were real people behind the Google analytics, actual human beings and not just numbers.
From there I became obsessed about learning about my audience, what they needed, what made them tick, what made them laugh, and what made them cry. I created an avatar of my reader and I’ve even shared this avatar with them in a post and they all pretty much said, “Yup, that’s me.” Now I write to my avatar. I write to solve her problems and I write right to change her life. What has blogging been like after my breakthrough? The mindshift changed in combination with a giant rebrand, new site design, and professional SEO audit has completely changed the course of my blog.
My traffic is up, I qualified for a premier ad company, and I have purpose and motivation again. I no longer sit down in my laptop and think I have to write a post. I open my computer and I think, this is how this post is going to help my reader’s life today. I am so fired up and I’m still ready to hustle. I never sleep but it’s always worth it because I love this job.
What is a tip to share with your listeners? Shift your mindset from “Me.” to “We.” Think about how your reader will use your content to solve their problems. Maybe your post don’t need so much of a backstory that’s how I used to write, all about me. Because maybe your readers just want the recipe, or perhaps they’re just coming to you to be educated about something. Maybe they want and need new ideas for their family, but they don’t want to feel like Pinterest failures. So while you’re solving their problems, also show them what real life looks like, how it’s realistic. Be true to them by being true to yourself and be helpful.
I have two small boys at home so Thomas, the tank engine is huge in our house, and every day when I sit down at my computer to write, I think tonight I will be really useful. Is there anything else I want to share? Just that your podcasts has been so instrumental in my change and thank you so much.
Darren: What a fantastic story. Thank you so much Sarah for sharing it with us today. I love this story. I love that it’s something that came out of the ProBlogger’s podcast. It’s always really nice to hear those stories of how something that we’ve covered here on the podcast has helped people. Thank you for that. It’s very encouraging to me.
I guess the other thing I love about these story is that it pretty much used a tip that I give every time I get up in front of an audience and talk. I always touch on this even if it’s just in passing.
Firstly, work out who is reading your blog, and secondly work out how you can change their life. For me, this is just central in everything else, and really these are the two questions that I ask when I write a piece of content, but also do a redesign as I think about the products that we create as we do podcast episodes. I’ve got the audience in mind but also the change I’m trying to bring. And so it was really great to hear Sarah articulate that in a slightly different way to the words that I use.
I just want to reemphasize some of Sarah’s points, but I also want to say that there is a resource that you can use to create one of those avatars. I’ll talk about that in a moment but you’ll find a link to that in out show notes as well. So if you want to do the avatar exercise, that is something you can grab for free and we’ll send that to you if you pop in your email address.
A couple of things that Sarah mentioned that I loved. Firstly, change your mindset from “Me” to “We”. Most bloggers do start out with the real emphasis on me, that’s what I did.
My first blog was a personal blog. It’s natural to do that. It’s natural to talk about yourself, your own experiences. Sometimes, I think it’s quite fine for a blog to always be about you. You expressing yourself, you will find some readers are interested in you. I do think you probably want to keep some of you in it forever.
But if your goal is to build a larger audience, to monetize your blog, to sell products, to find advertisers, you’re going to have a much higher success if you do the work that Sarah described and make some transition through thinking about your readers.
That’s not to say that you have to give up talking about you. You can still inject you into your blog but you need to focus more on understanding who is reading, who’s on the other side, who is behind those Google analytics numbers, what their lives are like, what role you’re playing in their life and if you can help them in some way? This is just such a powerful thing to do and to understand. It will reveal so many things to you. It will inform your blog design, it will inform your branding, how you promote your blogging, grow your audience.
It will give you ideas for how to engage people and to get them commenting on your blog or commenting on your social media, they will give you ideas for the type of products you could create, or the type of advertisers that you might reach out to. It’s just such a powerful thing and I guess ultimately it’s also going to inform the content that you create.
Once you nail who is your reader, and what is your role in making their lives better in some way, you need to keep it at the forefront of your mind and this is something I find a lot of bloggers do understand who their audience is, but they don’t revisit as much and it tends to slip off the radar. I love that question that Sarah asked herself before she writes a piece of content, “How will this post improve my reader’s life?” And that’s something that I would encourage you stick it on your screen, your computer screen, make it a screensaver, or do something that’s just going to remind you of who your reader is.
One of the things that I used to do after I did my first avatars was to print them out and put them next to my computer. I would literally look up at my avatar as I was writing content. I would imagine that I was talking to them, and I found that that transformed not only the type of content I created, it suddenly started to be more useful. But it also made me write in that much more personal tone. Whatever you need to do to remind yourself who that reader is whether that’s jumping on a Skype call and like Sarah did with readers once a month. I know Pat Flynn does this every month.
He rings up a reader and has a chat to them, or whether it’s printing out the avatars and keeping them at top of mind all out with it. Running some meetup events where you actually get to meet your readers, all of these things can just trigger you back to remind you of who is on the other side of your content
So take home message today is to do the exercise Sarah mentioned. Create an avatar, if you have not done one before, I wrote an article on how I recommend you do that and that’s a link in today’s show notes, and on that post on that article, there is a downloadable template which you can fill in or use as a basis for your own avatar.
Now if you’ve already done the avatar exercise, I encourage you to revisit it, update it. Your audience may be changing. You may be changing in your focus, you may be changing in how you are changing your reader’s lives. What I’ve found over the years is that my understanding of my readers has deepened. It has changed, my audience particularly on the photography blog has changed, their needs have changed. Revisiting that avatar is a really useful thing to do periodically.
If you’re feeling extra brave, do that exercise that Sarah did. Get on the phone or Skype with a reader. It can be incredibly revealing, and lead to all kinds of unexpected things.
If you want to read my article on creating avatars or if you want to visit Sarah’s blog, head over to the show notes at problogger.com/podcast/260. Again, Sarah’s blog is at sustainablecooks.com.
Last thing, I love what Sarah said, in passing in her story about keeping it real and showing your readers what real life looks like. I’m kind of passionate about this topic at the moment for a couple of reasons.
Firstly, I think it’s just a great thing to do if you blog. It really does build a connection with you and your audience. I can say on Sarah’s blog that she has what she calls confessions posts. She had one for August so this is a confession where she does a series of confessions to her audience and she tells her audience a few things about herself, what she thinks, and what she feels. I can see the reaction to that post is really positive. She gets a lot of reader engagement there. This is her showing her life as it really is.
It’s not just, “Here’s 10 fabulous things I did over the last month.” It is, “Here are things that are going on in my life or things that I feel.” Some of them not just warm and fuzzy, some of them are a little bit more raw.
This is something I’ve been reminded about a lot lately, being vulnerable is just so powerful. I did talk a little bit more about that in episode 255. So if you want to delve into that a little bit more, head over and listen to that episode as well.
The other reason I just love this whole idea of keeping things real is that I just think that we are working in a space where it’s so tempting to just present the good stuff in our lives. The stuff that’s happy, the stuff that we’re proud of and I think that creates something in our culture that is really harmful.
I’m just really passionate about this at the moment. We’ve got to be real with each other. We’ve got to be vulnerable. We’ve actually got a show each other what normal is because if we continue the way that we are at the moment particularly in social media, it leads to comparisons, it leads to unrealistic expectations, and I just think it’s hurting our culture. It’s going to hurt our kids, it’s hurting people around us and it’s leading to a whole lot of issues.
I encourage you to be real. Be a part of breaking some of these stuff that we see going on around us. I think you will not only release yourself and hopefully find a happy place for yourself by letting people know what noble is for you, but I think you have a massive impact on your reader’s lives as well.
Sorry for the side track there. It‘s something I’ve been thinking a lot about lately and particularly with the Spark’s 00:15:01 challenge that we’ve been running as a result of my midlife crisis post, it’s not something that’s come out quite a bit there and we had a little Facebook group of people sharing on a daily basis about their lives. Some of the things that people shared were vulnerable and I could see it impacting not only them in sharing it, but the rest of us as well.
That’s my little thought for the day. I hope you do find some of that useful. Again, the show notes are at problogger.com/podcast/260 and lastly, thanks Sarah so much for sharing your story. I’ve got another one for you next week.
You’ve been listening to ProBlogger. If you’d like to comment on any of today’s topics or subscribe to the series, find us at problogger.com/podcast. Tweet us @problogger. Find us at facebook.com/problogger or search ProBlogger on iTunes.
Before I go, I want to give a big shout out and say thank you to Craig Hewitt and the team at Podcast Motor who’s been editing all of our podcast for some time now. Podcast Motor has a great range of services for podcasters at all levels. They can help you to set up your podcast, but also offer a couple of excellent services to help you to edit your shows and get them up with great show notes. Check them out at podcastmotor.com.