As you’re reading these words, I’m at VO Atlanta, the largest gathering of voice talent in the world. When people spot me on the conference floor, one of the first things they usually say is:
“Hey, are you Paul from the Nethervoice blog? I thought I’d recognize you!”
Then we’ll chat for a few moments, and inevitably, people start asking me questions about my blog. Of course I love talking about the stories I write, and I’m happy to give aspiring bloggers some pointers.
Now, to save some time I’ve decided to answer some Frequently Asked Questions, and that way you don’t have to take any notes. So, here’s question number one:
Should every (freelance) business have a blog?
That’s a tough one to answer. I can certainly tell you why I blog, and then you should decide for yourself if blogging could be beneficial to your business.
Here’s the thing.
You could own the best store in town, but if nobody knows who you are and where to find you, you’re not going to attract any customers. So, you need to do something to get people in the door. Once your customers have found you, you have to gain their trust. Nobody likes to do business with people they don’t trust.
My blog does a number of things. It brings thousands of people to my website every month. That’s a big deal. It means that out of all the voice-overs sites they could have gone to, they go to Nethervoice.com, and they stay there for a while.
Why do they do that? Because they find something of value that makes them come back again and again. That “something” happens to be my blog. And when they read that blog, they get to know me, and they learn about my take on the business I’m in. It’s a way for me to position myself in the voice-over market place as someone who knows a thing or two about my line of work. This builds trust.
I call this approach “under the radar marketing.” What do I mean by that? Well, I’m not putting up ads that say:
“Better call Paul.
He’s the best!
If you need an international voice, Paul is your man!”
People have become allergic to this kind of in your face, self-congratulatory marketing.
Instead, I write reviews, I give advice, and I tell stories. Most people hate ads, but they love a good story!
Does this approach work for everybody? Absolutely not. I happen to love writing. I’ve been doing it for most of my life. If you don’t like to write, then a blog is not for you. Perhaps you should do a weekly podcast. Others love making videos, or they put out a picture diary on Instagram.
The important thing is to do something that excites you, and that fits you. People can sense whether or not your heart is in it.
How do you become a successful blogger?
Before I answer that question, I’d have to answer another question. How do you define success? That’s not only important for blogging, but for any area in your life. Success is one of those tricky words. We think we know what we’re talking about, but we all have our own definition.
Personally, I like Deepak Chopra’s definition:
“Success is the continued expansion of happiness, and the progressive realization of worthy goals”
The next questions would then be: What makes you happy, and what are worthy goals?
Money? Fame? Influence?
For some bloggers, success means having two hundred followers. Others want two hundred thousand. Some bloggers look at how much money their blog is making them. My blog makes me happy because it enables me to connect with people from all over the world. Clients and colleagues. And when they tell me: “What you’ve written really helped me today,” that is a success. That makes me happy.
When people write to me and say: “I don’t agree with you, but you really made look at some things in a different way,” that too is a success.
Now, if I would tell you that numbers don’t matter, I would be lying. I am proud that I now have over thirty-nine thousand subscribers. For some bloggers that’s nothing, but I look at it in the context of our small voice-over community.
If you believe that you have something that’s worthwhile sharing, you want to share it with as many people as possible. So, 39K is a nice start!
Now, back to the question. How do you become a successful blogger?
Three words: Content, Personality, and Promotion.
We all lead very busy lives. Every week I ask people to take a few minutes out of their day, and spend those minutes with me. They will only do that if they feel I have something to offer that is valuable and relevant.
My blog is a free service. It’s not a sales pitch, and I think my readers get that, and appreciate that. But there’s something else that I think makes it work.
If you want to appeal to a wide audience, you have to have a unique point of view.
Why do people watch the Late Show with Stephen Colbert? It’s not because he rehashes dry facts from the paper. It’s because he’s Stephen Colbert.
Another reason why my blog has become a success is because I know a little bit about spreading my message. And thankfully, my readers are my best promoters. Without them, I would make as much noise as one hand clapping in a soundproof room.
What should a blogger write about?
If you don’t mind, I have to answer that question with a few more questions.
1. Who is your audience?
2. What are they interested in? What are they hungry for?
3. What do you have to offer that distinguishes you from other bloggers?
One of the things I like to do is to write about topics that are timely, and make them relatively timeless. News is outdated the moment it is published. Analysis lasts much longer.
If you want to give your content more staying power, I suggest you use specific examples to make a general point. For example…
Last year, I wrote about World Voice Day, an international event held every year on April 16th. I used it as an opportunity to write about vocal health. In the past I have written about the Voice Arts Awards. I used that story to talk about the pros and cons of competitions. I wrote about Top Gear presenter Jeremy Clarkson who was fired after physically and verbally abusing a producer. I used his story to identify seven traits of successful colleagues, and the ways they treat the people they work with.
What things should you avoid as a blogger, and what are things you should absolutely do?
Here are a couple of dos and don’ts. Let’s start with a few don’ts.
1. Do not oversell yourself. People love to buy but they hate being sold. A blog is about offering value for free, and about creating a connection. Once people start trusting you, they will start trusting your product, especially if you happen to be your product.
If you wish to increase sales, don’t make it about selling.
2. If you want to highlight what you have to offer, don’t make it all about you. Show people what you’re made of, but avoid the ME, ME, ME-stories. Focus on your readers.
Here are a few do’s:
3. Educate without lecturing. Come across as an expert, but not as a know-it-all. The most compelling way to pack information is to make it fun and light. Make your blog conversational, as if you’re talking to one reader who is sitting across the table from you. Use stories to make a point.
4. Always do your research. Make it easy for your readers to find and check your sources. If you want people to look at you as a reliable source of information, don’t spread rumors or make claims you cannot back up. It may take you years to get a decent following. It takes one stupid gaffe to lose your tribe.
Give your readers an opportunity to go one level deeper by giving them links to sources and resources. It will enhance your credibility.
5. Care about your readers, but don’t care about their opinions. If you feel like stirring the pot, then do it. Push that envelope. If you want to bring about change, you have to start pissing people off. Make a few folks uncomfortable. But be prepared to live with the consequences.
I once wrote a blog post about podcasting that didn’t go over so well with the podcasting community. People started calling me all kinds of nasty names, and I had to change my comments policy because of it.
I also rubbed a few readers the wrong way by giving them five reasons why they should never become a voice-over. With over 10 thousand views, it became the most widely read story I ever wrote.
How much time does blogging take?
Some stories come easier than others. On average I’d say I spend at least one day every week on my blog, but usually more. This includes prep time, writing, rewriting, and publishing. It also includes how long it takes me to respond to your comments, tweets, Facebook & LinkedIn messages, and emails.
I also spend a considerable amount of time repurposing content. I turn some of my blog posts into booklets, and I turn quotes from my blog into pictures that I repost on social media. My book “Making Money In Your PJs, Freelancing for Voice-Overs and other Solopreneurs” is largely based on stories I wrote for this blog.
Can blogging really increase business?
Absolutely, and this brings me back to the beginning. People don’t do business with someone they don’t know and can’t find. Years ago I was at a voice-over conference, and I did a presentation. At the beginning I asked people how they had heard about me. No one said:
“Because you’re on Instagram, Pinterest, Twitter and Google+.”
Most of them said: “We know you because we read your blog every week.”
Now, you might say: “These people are your colleagues. Not your clients.” Well, I happen to get a lot of business through referrals from colleagues. But my blog is also read by agents, on-camera actors, producers, audio engineers, and other freelancers.
What many people don’t realize is that I’m also a voice-over coach. Most of my students come to me because they’ve read my blog and/or my book.
So, in all modesty I can say that my blog did put me on the map. People visit my website because of it. They don’t go to a voice casting site or my Facebook page to find me. They come directly to me, and I can deal with them on my turf, and on my terms. To me, that’s huge!
How did your blog get over 39,000 subscribers?
Let me tell you: it didn’t happen overnight. It is the result of a lot of calculated small steps, and the support of my readers.
If you want to have that kind of success, the bigger question really is: Why would people come to your website? Why would they want to spend some of their limited time with you, week in, week out?
Here’s the answer:
You have to offer them something of value that is relevant to what they’re doing and thinking, and you have to present your content in a way that’s easy on the eyes.
People also read blogs to find out where someone stands. My most opinionated pieces are the usually biggest hits. People like controversy, and a good rant. As a blogger I have made many friends, and also a few enemies.
In summary: content, relevance, value, personality, and a pleasant format is what brings people to a blog.
But there’s even more to it.
If I were to write for the VO-community only, I would never have gotten where I am today. If you wish to be successful, you have to widen your reach. How do you do that? Start by asking yourself:
What greater community am I a part of?
This is what I came up with:
– Actors & artists
– The self-employed
– The underemployed
– Small business owners
As a narrator and voice actor, I’m also in touch with:
– Linguists & translators
– Sound engineers
– e-Learning specialists
– Advertisers & Social Media specialists
– People in the entertainment industry
Looking at this list, I had an idea: What if I were to write a blog that would be of interest to all of these groups? That way, I could use the angle of the voice-over industry as an example of a much greater picture. This really brings us back to one of my most important content rules:
If you want to appeal to a wide audience, you have to have a unique point of view.
Take fellow-freelancers for instance. They run into the same problems as I do as a voice-over professional:
• How do you put a price on your product?
• How do you handle challenging clients?
• How do you advertise your services?
• How do you overcome fear of failure?
• Where do you find new business?
Those are some of the things I write about every week.
Last but not least, you have to use technology to spread the word. My publishing platform is WordPress, and I let some of the WordPress plugins do part of the work for me.
A few tips:
1. I optimize my blog for search engines, using the All in One SEO Pack plugin. This allows me to enter a title, a short description of the topic, and keywords to the blog.
2. On the day my blog is posted to my website, I add it to relevant Facebook groups, such as Voice-Over Pros. I try not to post the blog to all groups at once.
3. I add it to relevant LinkedIn groups, to Google+, my Tumblr site. I add it to StumbleUpon and Reddit. Some of that is automated via the JetPack plugin. I usually write special Twitter links with shortened url’s.
4. I make it easy for people to subscribe to my blog. Some bloggers offer an incentive to get people to subscribe. It’s usually a free book or link to a video. I don’t do that, but I’ve heard it works well.
5. I encourage people to add my blog to Feedly, a content curator.
6. People can search for blog content by typing in keywords, or by category.
7. I have a list of the most popular posts, and a list of the most recent posts.
8. I offer them related posts. That way they stay on my site a bit longer. For this I use the Related Posts by Zemanta plugin.
9. I encourage my readers to share my stories with friends and colleagues, and people do.
10. I reward interaction. I do my best to thank every commentator and people who share my content. I believe in the power of PR: positive reinforcement. First-time commentators get an automated thank you note, via the Thank Me Later plugin.
All these small steps combined create a nice wave of publicity, and it’s such a joy to ride that wave with you!
Thank you so much for your comments, and for your continued support. It means more to me than I’ll ever be able to put into words.
If you happen to be at VO Atlanta for the next few days, I’d love to meet you in person!
Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice
PS Be Sweet. Please subscribe & retweet.
PPS I’ll be at the entire conference, and below are the events I am scheduled to participate in:
Friday, March 2, 2018, 11:00 AM – 12:00 PM: I’m on a panel about The Future of Voiceover Casting, moderated by the inimitable and amicable J. Michael Collins.
Friday, March 2, 2018, 6:30 PM – 9:30 PM: I’ll be conducting an X-Session named “Six Steps To Turning Your VO-Business Around.”
Saturday, March 3, 2018, 3:15 PM–4:15 PM: I will do a presentation entitled “The Inner Game of Voice-Over.”