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ReFab: Blogging for Makers and Creators



What do you have to say and what are you giving away?


I started this blog in 2009 because I kept seeing things online that I wanted to share. And "share" was not such a super easy thing back then.  "Blogging" too was a different thing, in the pre-Pinterest world. I was also not in marketing when I started. That changed. I'm now a full-time, agency writer and have been living and breathing marketing (along with blogging) for several years.

Yes, the blog is a personal thing - a forum for sharing my ideas and those of others. But I've used my blog (and helped others create blogs) specifically to market art, books, crafts and other lovely things. It's this combined career and blogging experience that made me feel ok accepting the above invite from the Berwyn Makers. I've learned a few things. And now I'm thrilled to be able to share what I know and help if I can. Here's a summary of what I covered (and what I learned) at the Berwyn Makers gathering. NOTE: these are my opinions based on personal experience and instinct. Nothing more. 

1. Blogging is one part of your overall social media strategy. A blog is just one way you can engage an audience.  Is it the right one for you? 

- Pinterest, FB Pages, Google+ etc have broadened the landscape. Instagram is currently the fastest growing social platform and is great for anything visual. And the way people follow blogs has changed, in no small part thanks to Google killing the beloved "Reader". So you have to think broadly. These are all marketing tools. Ways of connecting and engaging an audience. Is a blog the best platform? Or would a Facebook page (+ Pinterest etc) feel more natural to you?
- Blogging is a commitment. One that is really worth it for the right personality and endeavor. But think about the way you use social media … are you a loyal reader of a few things? Do you like to engage and leave comments? Are you excited about writing regularly and sharing yourself and your life with your audience? Or does the thought of it freak you out? One Berwyn Maker said writing her blog was like exercising - she felt good after it was done, but had to gear herself up for it and didn't love the process. If you actually hate writing, are you better off committing to something almost entirely visual like FB, Instagram and Pinterest?
- These are big, valid questions. If you're trying to show people what you create and potentially sell it to them, you can’t just think of blogging. You have to think of all of it together as social media strategy. What’s your strategy? 
- One final note: writing blog posts does not have to entail writing essays (like this!). Shorter is actually better, especially if your goal is to show your work. 

2. If you ARE going to set up a blog, keep it simple.

- A simple, clean look and layout is best. Yes, it’s nice to have a "pretty" site, but it’s even more important to have a site that works well on all browsers and all mobile platforms. This is called a “responsive” site and the more bells and whistles you have, the slower it'll load on a phone. So keep it super simple and your audience is more likely to stick around.
- Blogger is still my preferred platform, especially if you're new to managing your own site. A mobile-friendly option is built in. And you can use their SIMPLEST template and still make your site look good (see poldapop.com and paintingsinthepost.blogspot.com).
Buy your “.com” domain. It’s worth it ($10/year). And it’s easy to just point it to your blogger address.
Learn to photograph your product. If you’re making, and promoting, something beautiful make sure you’re good at photographing it. This means lots of experimenting with light and angles. And then it means consistency. Photograph your work in the same place, using the same light as often as you can.

3. Thinking up topics/generating blog and Facebook posts

- What to post today? Should you share slightly different things on Facebook than you do on the blog? These are million dollar questions – for small bloggers and huge companies.
- Answer: What do you have to say? You do not need to write essays every day! If your work is visual, post good images and talk about them. Let your followers see "behind the curtain" - share your world a bit with them. Your artistic process. Your failures. Photograph your world. Show them the space you work in and the things that inspire you. And DON'T over think your writing - be yourself. People will respond to authenticity. And yes, posting regularly is still important, but I'd argue that it's much LESS important than having something solid to offer. So...
What are you giving away? What do I mean by give away? Mostly, your ideas. What are you offering? Why should people spend time on your blog or Facebook page? If your goal is to sell your work, there are still things you can give away. Create a tutorial of some sort that lives on your blog. Share your ideas. Don't give away your secrets, but do give away some expertise. Your goal is to engage people in a long-term relationship. First, you want to get noticed. Then you want to build a relationship. 
- Pinterest means that the good stuff keeps on giving. I'd say 75% of my blog traffic comes from the sharing of a few choice posts ... some published 3 years ago. Those ideas have been pinned and repinned so many times, they do a lot of work sustaining traffic for me. 
- What if your blog is more about ideas than craft? What if you're trying to market services instead of a product? Attach an image to your ideas. Any time you can organize your ideas into a list of "tips" or "ideas", you can add an image at the top and use an online image editor (picmonkey) to add text to the image:  "5 great ways to...." Now your great post is Pin-able. 

4. Identifying audience / Driving traffic to the blog

- I really think that a smaller but dedicated audience is more important than big numbers. Who are you really talking to?
- Having a strategy for driving traffic to your blog is a necessity – if you build it, they will not actually come unless you KEEP telling them that they should. They must. What are you giving away?

DRIVERS: 
Pinterest power. Entirely dependent on good pin-able images - images are key.
o   Related note: Pinterest group boards. They can be gold. Look for the little icon that indicates group board and see if you can sign on. Obviously you're looking for boards featuring work like yours.
Cross post everything. If you're using a blog to promote, you have to set up a Facebook page, Google+, Instagram, Pinterest, Twitter etc. Yes, it's a pain. But your audience is scattered and you need to offer them ways to follow you that work for them. Tools like Hootsuite will help you manage all this. I still do a lot of it manually. 
- Can you guest blog on someone else's site? Or can you swap a button with someone? Reach out and tell other bloggers about your work. Let them know you exist and ask them to feature you or let you contribute something. Offer them your work to give away in return for a feature. Worst response: No. You move on. 
- If you can, enter online contests or link parties or "challenges" - anything that will help your work get featured and seen by a potential new audience.
- Once you have a decent sized following, run a giveaway now and then with a tool like Rafflecopter. 

6. To monetize or not to monetize

- Install a single Adsense unit (Googl ad) on your blog. Even if you don't care about advertising revenue, it helps with the way your blog is ranked and attended to by search engines.
- Actually hosting ads yourself - a fine idea once you're established and can show a decent number of page visits. 

7. Selling – a paid community (Etsy) or free platform (Tictail.com)?

- I already have regular traffic to my blog. If I ever decide to start selling something, my blog is a gateway. I’d prefer a free platform like Tictail.com
- A big benefit of Etsy (Artfire etc) – people go there to search for specific things and might find you. 
- Having a blog (and other social outlets) and diligently marketing yourself does not guarantee sales. Turning attention into actual revenue is hard work. The trick: keep shouting about what you do. :)

Best practice examples:
Here are a few examples of artists and makers who, in my opinion, use their blogs (and other platforms) very successfully.

Lesson: if your goal is to SELL the beautiful things you make, never soften it. Announce loudly that you have new items in your store. That XYZ detail is an exciting new detour for you. That you’ve carefully selected new colors. That you’re working on packing a bunch of products that just sold. Etc.

·     Markets herself relentlessly on Facebook
·     Sells on Etsy

Lesson: Generosity. Alisa is an artist and art teacher.  But she also has an online store. She is extremely generous with her tutorials … is a beautiful photographer and shares her life (and view of the world) easily and openly. I've been following her for years. The way she shares comes very naturally to her. Does it feel natural to you? 

Lesson: Consistent aesthetic. Jessica hasn’t changed the look of her blog in years. Her aesthetic is authentic. She shares a LOT of tutorials and is hugely popular (sells on Etsy and other places).

And now I'll wrap up the longest piece I've ever published on this blog!  Hope it helps.