In this interview, Wendy shares her experiences building a business from a spare room in her home, some tips on building a strong online community, and the tough decision to change the name and direction of her company.
Tell us a little bit about yourself. How did you get into blogging?
I started blogging because in early 2006 I was working on starting up a social network for people interested in personal development. I learned about blogging, became quickly fascinated, and thought it would be a good way to increase my search engine rankings. Starting eMoms at Home was an afterthought. I was doing a ton of business research, I was starting up my third home-based business, and I figured I could have a little fun on the side as I shared my knowledge on working from home. Famous last words…
When you started – you were eMoms at home – a blog that took off so quickly that you left your other job after 3 months of the eMoms blog? How did you manage that growth?
It was hard at first, because I wasn’t planning on making blogging my business – and I didn’t know the first thing about making money off of a blog. I just knew I had a following, and I knew I could make it into a business – so I did. It took quite a while to earn anything off of the blog, and I was working on it full time. Thank GOD my hubby was supportive (both emotionally and financially) because I never would have been able to pull it off, otherwise!
Over the next two years – you saw a ton of growth – what were some of the things that you did that drove that growth in your community?
I think the most important thing I did was listen to my community – both via their comments and by analyzing my web stats. I knew what people wanted to read, so everything I did to grow the site revolved around what the community asked for. I also pushed myself to speak at as many conferences as possible, and in 2007 I spoke at 4. That made a world of difference in gaining visibility for both myself and for my authors. Lastly, I hate to give you the boring answer of “everything else that people do to promote blogs”, but these things really do work: guest posting, networking, commenting, linking generously – you can’t run a blog and not do these things. It’s important to be a part of the community you serve.
You’ve recently made the move over to a new domain – sparkplugging.com – what prompted the move?
Again, it was the community. We had too many dads and non-parents that were reading our content on a regular basis. I was going to change the name to something like eParents Inc., and I asked our readers for input. Surprisingly, they pushed back and said that even though most of them were parents, they wanted a site that didn’t say ‘parenting’ in the name. It kind of put me into a brand quandary, because I never expected that.
At that point I realized I didn’t just need a new name, I needed to completely reposition the site. What started as a resource for moms had completely outgrown it’s name and intended market. So I opened up the doors a bit, focusing the site as a resource for anyone who works at home and is using technology to run their business in some way.
Tell us about the planning for the move – and some of the steps that you took during the move to make it successful?
It was a huge process, not just because of the move, but because when we moved, we were also going to add 10 blogs to the site. We had to build a sophisticated WordPress template that would provide better page loading and allow for scalability. We’re running the template and the plugins off of symbolic links so that changes and maintenance are drastically simplified compared to our old setup.
The template also has a back-end administration panel, which was the most important thing we created that enabled us to get everything ready to go when we made the switch. I was able to set up each blog with separate ad scripts, color schemes, analytics tracking, etc. and then it all magically appeared when we switched to the new theme. That was probably 40+ hours of prep work.
We also had to do a lot of research on 301 redirects, because moving a site of my size (7 blogs) was something neither I nor my developer had ever done before. The research was time well spent, because it made the transition seamless for our users. We’re still waiting for Google to figure it all out, but everyone else can still find us. ;)
What are your goals with the new – larger – Sparkplugging community?
Good question – first and foremost it was to create a site that better represented our community members. Secondly, I needed the scalability. The work at home industry is really rapidly changing – in fact, working at home is at an all-time high. I needed to ensure that we could continue to serve our readers no matter who they were or what information they wanted. Lastly, I believe the business can grow bigger under the new name. Most of our authors are on some kind of revenue share, and I’m constantly working to grow their earnings – as well as my own, of course.
What tools do you use to manage your blog & workflow as a blogger?
WordPress is our platform and we LOVE it. I’d love to take two weeks off and just travel the country evangelizing for them! I also use the stats on MyBlogLog daily – it’s the only place I can see how each individual blog is doing at a glance. Plus they offer stats on outgoing clicks, which has been information that has influenced the direction of the site as I can see what people are most interested in. I also love HitTail for real-time referral information as well as great keyword analysis.
But honestly, the most important thing I use to manage my workflow is my set of email filters on my inbox. We get HUNDREDS of emails daily and I would go NUTS if I didn’t have a system in place that separates important messages from the emails that can wait until later. This has been my number 1 time saver – I wouldn’t be able to run my business without this setup!
What’s your home office and computing environment like?
I confiscated my favorite room in the house for my office – next to the fireplace and in front of a huge sliding glass door that opens out to my patio. Plus I have a second mini-desk set up next to mine so that I can stay engaged with my kids while I’m getting work done. It’s a sweet setup!
What advice would you give to a new / up and coming professional blogger?
Be you – speak from your heart, be an original thinker. The blogosphere is already an echo chamber at times, you’ll need fresh, new ideas to stand out from the crowd. And get used to getting outside of your comfort zone – there’s not a day that goes by that I wonder how I am going to handle it all, yet somehow I do.
Lastly, forget about “making money blogging”. Instead think about how you are going to build a business, and how blogging fits into your business model.
Matt Craven is the former editor & publisher of The Blog Herald. Currently, Matt is the co-founder of Bryghtpath LLC, a consulting practice located in Woodbury, Minnesota. Matt's presently looking for new blogging gigs. Ping him at matt (at) bryghtpath dot com. You can follow him on Twitter.