Five years ago, when April Bowles Olin was working as a therapist with families and at-risk adolescents, she decided she needed a creative outlet for herself after work, so she turned to blogging. She was in the midst of planning her own wedding, so she wrote about the process, with an emphasis on do-it-yourself projects and saving money. Soon, advertisers started asking if they could work with her, and she started earning money from the site.
After Olin got married, she decided to stop blogging about weddings and turn to her other passion, creative entrepreneurship. She was already making her own jewelry and art and selling her creations through her Etsy shop. That's when she launched her new website, BlacksburgBelle.com, where she dishes out advice on how to run a creative business. Her site, along with related digital products and coaching sessions, now supports her full-time, and she no longer practices therapy. Olin, who will soon turn 30, shared her tips on building a thriving online business. Excerpts:
When you launched BlacksburgBelle.com, how did you grow your audience so quickly?
I already had blogging experience [from the wedding blog], so I wasn't coming at it completely new. I knew how to write blog posts that people wanted to share and that they would enjoy. In the beginning, I focused a lot on relationships and wrote a lot of guest posts and tried to get featured on popular websites. I also hosted a blog series with people with a much larger audience than mine. Everyone put the posts on their own blog, and then I put all the posts into a digital guide. That took me from 20 pages views a day to 800.
How did you phrase your emails when you reached out to bloggers that you hoped would feature you without sounding too self-promotional?
I kept it short, simple, and personalized it to that person--using the person's name. Then I made the pitch. I said something like, "If you'd like to know more, reply to this email, I would love to hear back from you." Sometimes when people send me pitches, they'll have read my "about" page that says I went to Virginia Tech, and they'll say, "I love the Blacksburg area, go Hokies," and that catches my eye right away.
How do you deal with rejection, when someone turns down a pitch?
Rejection comes with the territory. It always hurts when somebody says no, but usually it's not personal. If you keep hearing no over and over again, then you can check back in and get some feedback. I didn't hear "no" a lot when I was first starting out, and if I did, I would remind myself of the times when I get the "yes," and how worth it it was.
Is social media a big part of your strategy, too?
You have to find where your people are. I love Twitter and Facebook, but you can't count on them; you don't own them. I had my Twitter account closed down by mistake and it took them three weeks to fix it, and I was in the middle of launching a program at that point. I have a good amount of people who follow me, about 2,500, and it's one way I reach people, but the best way is through an email newsletter, because it's all yours. I have about five times the amount of people subscribed to my newsletter as subscribe to my blog.
Why do you think so many people find marketing so difficult?
So many people come to me and say, "I have a hard time saying, 'Hey, look at me!'" It doesn't come easy to them, or they think of marketing as being like a used car salesman, instead of thinking, "People want to know about this, it will benefit their lives." If you have something valuable you're selling, then you should want people to know about it.
Any final advice for someone trying to build their own online community?
When you're putting together content, it needs to be really good content or it's not going to stand out. There are hundreds of thousands of bloggers, so it needs to be entertaining, informative, and enjoyable. Most people just slap something together because they feel like they're supposed to blog, and they end up hating it and not seeing any results, instead of putting in the necessary work.
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