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Jennifer Wilson Shares Niche Membership Site Secrets

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Yesterday, I wrote a bit about some questions to ask yourself before becoming a full-time niche blogger. One of the things you have to consider is whether or not you can develop your own products to sell as part of your blog, which is often a more profitable choice than affiliate sales or advertising alone. Recent, Jennifer Wilson from Simple Scrapper sat down with me to answer some questions about a type of product that she’s developed for her niche site – a scrapbooking membership community.

Allison: For those who may not know you, tell us a little about yourself and Simple Scrapper.

Jennifer: I am a water scientist by training, but I’ve always loved writing and creative hobbies. I started my first online publication in 1996, an e-zine on AOL, when I was still in high school. Fast forward to 2008, where I was recently married, relocating to a new city and starting a new full-time position in my industry. I worked full time for 3.5 years while launching my business. I’m now home with my new baby, working 75% time for myself and 25% for the local University. I’m the type of person who needs to keep a foot in both the scientific and creative worlds to be happy.

Scrapbooking seems like a small but crowded niche. How did you initially differentiate your site to find readers and build an audience?

In the beginning (2008), I set out to develop a site that was entirely about digital scrapbooking. At that time there were very few sites in this niche, but I sensed it was about to explode. (It did.) Over the first year, I spent a lot of time further defining my unique offering and looking for specific customer challenges I would address. What I figured out was that people struggle with finding time to scrapbook, with getting over their hangups when it comes to their photos and their memories. I wanted to help those people and thus focus on productivity in scrapbooking. Scrapbooking with your computer (i.e. digitally) became just one of the skills and shortcuts we recommend at Simple Scrapper. Broadening our market to scrapbookers of all styles and approaches was an important decision for the growth of the business.

Why did you decide to build a membership site rather than running a traditional blog?

I didn’t, at first. Simple Scrapper began as just a blog. I knew I wanted to monetize it though, so I focused the first six months on building a readership. Then I added advertising, directly sold to other businesses in my niche. After nearly two years, I saw that this model was not going to take me to the next level (particularly as businesses were cutting back on advertising with this economy). I would need to begin developing my own products.

I launched my first class in August 2010. At the beginning of 2011, I launched a product line that was available individually or by subscription. I also developed a few more classes in 2011. However by the end of summer 2011, I was struggling to keep up with the administration of running a shop with a growing number of products and self-paced classes (not to mention in my third trimester of pregnancy). I didn’t feel my business model (or my lifestyle) was in keeping with my own mission statement of simplicity. I began making plans to convert to the membership model we have now. It was launched in November 2011, just 10 weeks after the birth of my baby girl.

The bottom line here is that I no longer consider a blog to be a viable business model. A blog is an excellent marketing vehicle for building a customer base, a community around a particular niche. However, it is very hard for a blog in “soft” niches to be sustainable on advertising alone.

One of the things a lot of bloggers have trouble with is making money from their readers. How do you build a community when you’re also making money from that community?

It is important to set the expectation that you are a business owner, not a hobby blogger. If you own that title, refuse to apologize for it and accept the responsibility that comes with it, you should have no trouble making money. There is nothing that says businesses can’t fill a market need while being friendly and community-focused. I would even argue that is the best way!

If you could go back and do things differently, what are some of the things you would change?

I wouldn’t have waited so long to begin introducing my readers to the idea of becoming my customers (no longer than six months). I could definitely see some resistance in the beginning, because they had been getting so much for free over the previous two years. I think it is important to have a solid business model in mind before starting your blog, even if it is part of your marketing plan to not launch your membership (or other product offering) until later in your first year.

I also would have signed up for an email service provider from day one.

Thanks for all of your awesome advice, Jennifer! As a way to wrap this up for our readers, can you give us your top three tips for growing a niche membership site?

1. Plan out how all the parts to your program (and your site) integrate, then try to make it simpler. You don’t want users to get lost or frustrated by the experience.
2. Know from the start the content and marketing mechanisms you will use to keep your members renewing.
3. Emphasize (and support) the “community” benefits of your membership, rather than treating this as an add-on.

Head to Simple Scrapper to see Jennifer’s membership site in action!

You’re Branding Yourself As An Expert – Get Used To It

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… by Britt Reints

I’m not certain whether or not there is any such thing as a “social media expert”, but I do know that branding yourself as an expert is an important step towards success within your niche. People listen to experts, subscribe to their blogs, join in their conversations, share their material, purchase their products and invite them to speak at industry events. Unfortunately, many niche bloggers fail to position themselves properly because they struggle with seeing themselves as an expert on anything.

Perhaps you think it’s rude or arrogant to act like an expert. Maybe you don’t feel you are qualified for the title because you don’t know everything. Or maybe you’re afraid of how others will react to you if you dare to put yourself out there as someone who knows what they’re talking about.

Whatever your reason for resisting the expert label, it’s time to get over it.

Step One – Realize You Are An Expert

You’re blogging in your niche because you feel like you have something worth saying, something that hasn’t already been said that you think needs to be heard. Chances are, that’s because you’re an expert. An expert doesn’t have to know everything, you only have to have a special skill or knowledge in some particular field. Isn’t that why you chose your niche in the first place?

Positioning yourself as an authority means acknowledging that you pay more attention to a specific topic than the average person. As a result of that interest and the time you’ve invested, you know more about that specific topic than the average reader.

People with a casual interest in a subject read niche blogs. People with a special skill or knowledge in a subject decide to write niche blogs.

If you really can’t convince yourself that you have some level of expertise about your subject matter, it may be time to choose a new subject matter – or start doing your homework.

Step 2 – Accept That Some People Will Be Annoyed, But Most Won’t

The sad truth is that there are some people in this world who absolutely love to see others fail. The more spectacular the failure, the more enjoyment these people get from it. It’s sad and it’s pathetic, but it has nothing to do with you. Those people will always be rooting for someone to fail at something, no matter how you branded yourself. The only way to avoid these people completely is to make yourself invisible in the world, and that is no way to live.

The good news is, these people are rare.

Most people have their hands full making the most of their own lives. Most people aren’t that much different than you. They to listen to people who can add value to their busy lives, people who can help them in some way. They are attracted to people who exude confidence and seem to know what they’re talking about. They don’t expect anyone to know everything or be perfect all the time. They appreciate humanity, honesty, and good intentions.

Step 3 – Show, Don’t Tell

Once you’ve come to terms with the fact that you are an expert and no one is going to hate you for it, the final step is to act like an expert. Doing this with humility will attract rather than repel an audience.

The key is to act like an expert in your niche rather than talk about what an expert you are.

  • Give specific examples of your work instead of listing labels and titles on your about page and in your bios.
  • Associate with people outside of your niche, answering questions about your subject when they come up organically.
  • Participate in discussions within your niche, making an effort to learn from and share what others have to say.
  • Practice what you teach – be a living example of your message.
  • Show your weaknesses when necessary – imperfection can add depth and credibility.

As with most endeavors, the key to niche blogging success is to learn to get out of our own way. That means getting over your fear of branding yourself as an expert so that your audience can begin to take you seriously.

Britt Reints is a professional blogger specializing in SEO content that doesn’t suck to read and travel blogging. On her personal blog, she writes about happiness and personal development. She is also the expert of world domination known as @missbritt on Twitter.

Survival Tips for the Niche Blogger

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Guest Blogger: Patricia Biesen

I write Chicago Eats Allergy Free for ChicagoNow. I’m a passionate foodie that happens to have food allergies. I provide tips for my fellow Chicagoans on where to eat and cook allergy free. I try to make food allergies as entertaining as possible. My writing style is kind of like a lactose intolerant version of Carrie Bradshaw. I believe we retain more information if we can laugh and have fun. That being said, I am also really serious about having integrity and providing the absolute truth. The last thing I want to do is make someone sick by writing about a product that turns out to not be so gluten free.

 

Many people romanticize about the lifestyle of a blogger, kind of like how illustrators were romanticized in the ‘70s. Blogging is often a job without a paycheck. Those who write about popular topics like motherhood, sports or celebrities seem to have it easier. Of course, if Tiger Woods had celiac disease I would write about it. One month my blog made the most money ever, that being a couple hundred dollars, because of a story I wrote called Healthy Eaters Who Look Good. I observed how many healthy diet book authors either looked great or well . . . didn’t. I wanted to report on those who walk their talk. I don’t think you should purchase a nutrition book or follow a diet from someone who looks unhealthy. Many of my readers agreed and were especially impressed with Peta’s Sexiest Vegetarian Over 50, the 71-year old Mimi Kirk. I was elated my blog was gaining readership. I just naturally assumed that this was just the beginning and my blog would grow in readership. Unfortunately, the next month I only made about what a “sandwich artist” makes in about an hour. Even though I worked hard and paid attention to Google Trends, my blog hasn’t had the same success. To be a good blogger you need to observe things that go unnoticed and yet provide something useful. Here are a few more of my thoughts on niche blogging:

It’s essential to love what you do. Your passion will be apparent, so will your lack of it. The old days of pushy marketing are over. People want to align themselves with authentic people. There are going to be days when you will feel totally unappreciated. On those days I will ask myself: What is new and good? Maybe that day I got three new Facebook fans or maybe nothing happened and I just really enjoyed sharing a story about someone’s gluten free cookie business that started out of a home kitchen.

Selling you v. offering a solution.
No one reads my blog because of me. They may think I’m a nice person but I’m really not selling myself. I’m selling a solution. First it’s important to figure out what are my reader’s problems? Many of my readers request help finding good tasting gluten free bread or dairy free ice cream.

Ask and you shall receive. If you don’t know what your readers want then ask them. I usually inquire through Facebook posts or via Twitter. I never think of myself as a writer with an audience. I think myself as a person building a community.

Make your readers feel important. If applicable, offer freebies. Give a shout-out or personal thank you from time to time. I also try to make them feel like less of a niche audience. No one likes to feel alone. Can you align your readers with other groups? For example, some readers like to know that many of their favorite celebrities are also on gluten free diets.

Be aware of Google trends but also be true to you. Try to balance that fine line between giving what they want and writing what you want. For example, I do not agree with pretty much anything Elizabeth Hasselback has to say or stands for but she is a prominent gluten-free celebrity and I have mentioned her in my blog.

Never get angry at a reader. I never thought as a food allergy blogger that I would get hate mail but it happens from time to time. It’s important to breathe and then type. When I reply back to a negative comment I usually thank the reader for taking time to read my blog and for being so passionate about the subject matter I have written about. Then I explain diplomatically why I disagree. You never know who is reading your comments. It could be someone who would like to hire you so it’s best to keep the F-bombs in the privacy of your own home office.

What’s in it for you? Of course, YOU have to benefit somehow or else why do it? In addition to blogging I’m also a holistic health coach. A blog is a great marketing tool for my business. Also, I have no shortage of people sending me free food or product samples. I’m also amazed at the connections I have made. I have met some truly fantastic people and they keep me motivated.

Build relationships and trust first. It’s easy to be persuaded by another blogger’s success story. Focus on “how can I help” v. “how can I make a lot of money?” It may take someone six months before they feel comfortable contacting you for an opportunity.

For the food bloggers: you must have gorgeous photos. If sex sells in advertising, then food porn sells for us. Food is colorful and your blog should be too. Either learn to snap your own photos or align yourself with someone who can provide you with beautiful photos.

Avoid writer’s block. Years ago I did Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way program. Out of the many tools I took away from that program is the “morning pages”. In the morning write three full pages of just content, just stream of conscious writing. I find this process warms me up for the writing I do later on in the day. I’m always amazed at the ideas that just flow. The morning is ideal for this process as I believe the critical part of my brain is not up yet to get in the way.

And last of all, booby trap your home or office for creativity. I keep pads of paper on every table top surface. Any idea that pops into my head I write down. I think it’s also important to not dismiss the seemingly small ideas as you never know where they might lead you.

Patricia Biesen is a Food allergy expert and PAC (Protect Allergic Children) Consultant with Eat, Live and Learn. She helps schools, families and day care facilities become allergy safe. Find her at Chicago Now

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