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Authority Blogging for Artists

What should a blogger do when they want to profit from their creativity, knowledge, experience and skills, but not by teaching “how to”, but instead from the results of their work?

As you no doubt know, my strategy for building a profitable blog around what you know is called Authority Blogging.

Build an audience of people who know, like and trust you. Get to know what they really want and need, then develop a solution for them that they are eager to buy.

How does this work for artists, writers, crafts and other creative people?

This is the dilemma Brian Dubé had when he contacted me about doing a blog critique for his New York Daily Photo site.

Now, I have helped a lot of artists and creatives over the years, but Brian is a little different, as you will see when you check out his site.

Brian is, amongst other talents, a photographer and story teller. He takes photographs and writes about the sites, experiences and characters of New York. People enjoy the content he shares, and it is a labour of love.

While he gets a good deal of traffic, the levels have plateaued, plus the ads on his site are not making much of a dent in the site’s expenses. He wants the site to at least pay it’s own way, and he doesn’t want it to turn into a chore maintaining it.

Does that sound familiar?

As with many artists, while the motive is anything but income, that does not mean to say income is not a factor. Positive feedback is nice, but getting paid is a particularly nice form of positive feedback!

The Problem with Advertising for Artists

Brian is a photographer, but he doesn’t write about photography. That’s a problem if he wants to make money from advertising.

What do advertisers want?

  1. Exposure – That means lots of traffic
  2. Branding – You need to be a site where the advertiser wants to be seen, prime real estate, plus have an audience demographic they want to reach
  3. Sales – While some advertisers are happy just getting the first two, and can buy in bulk, many advertisers are mainly interested in getting customers and sales, and for them really it is the whole point.

Essentially they want their target customer to know about their messages, associate good things with their products and services, and preferably buy.

You can get paid by the click, by the month or by the ad display, but either way you are going to be measured by the advertisers return on investment. If the ad doesn’t pay of, it doesn’t get renewed.

A photographer that does not talk about photography, let alone cameras and accessories, is not going to get highly paid keyword matched adverts. They are also not going to necessarily attract a compelling demographic to target. It’s not like Brian writes about New York for travellers and tourists either. This puts New York Daily Photo in an odd “lifestyle” type category. Doable, but not necessarily easily.

As an Authority Blogger though, we have options that don’t require chasing advertisers and pumping up the traffic to millions of visitors a month to get $0.50 in adsense clicks!

Create an Attractive First Impression

You only get one chance at a first impression, and the first impression is often a lasting one. This doesn’t mean you need to spend a fortune on a custom design, but it does mean you need to put together the best interface that you can manage.

Our mission when the visitor first arrives is to present a site that answers the following questions:

  • Where am I?
  • Why should I care?
  • What can/should I do next?

Many artists think their work should speak for itself, and often it does, but that does not mean we shouldn’t help it. At the very least, we should not distract from it. Don’t put your masterpiece in a rotten frame!

Remember your site doesn’t just need to be attractive, it has to function. Your visitor needs to be able to navigate without much in the way of conscious effort. A confused visitor is unlikely to return or become a customer.

The first thing we agreed is that the site needs to be given a face lift, and I recommended:

  1. Decide the brand and positioning – Unfortunately right now Brian has written himself into a corner. The site is called “Daily” which implies a certain posting frequency … a frequency that is difficult to sustain.
  2. Host on your own domain and your own hosting – You need something that you own and control, something that represents your brand, easy to set up, and that can grow with your needs. While you can get Blogger content on your own domain, or even using WordPress.com hosted service, that doesn’t offer the opportunity to do everything you might want to do at the beginning and certainly not down the line. Plus, you are renting space on someone else’s land.
  3. Get an interim design – The site is still in a transitional stage where there will be several experiments and tweaks. This is not a time to invest heavily in a custom design, but it still needs to look attractive. The best route is to use a WordPress Theme Framework, and a Child Theme that is as close as you can get. I am using Genesis, of course, but see what you like. Try layouts and plugins to see what works, and get a designer in for elements such as header/logo, and so on.
Warning: Moving blog platforms inevitably means a disturbance to your traffic and audience, so manage the migration carefully. There are a bunch of tutorials out there that show exactly how to move from blogger to WordPress, but essentially it comes down to importing your content into your new blog then hacking your old template to redirect visitors to the new location. It’s almost always safer when you have an email list because whatever happens, while ever that list is backed up and you have their opt-in permission, you can take your audience with you.

Promote Your Content

Mmmm, Pizza

As with the advertising problem, there is a promotion problem when you don’t write about what people are looking for. There are some “long tail” opportunities when you write about an eclectic mix of topics, some of those topics will attract a small audience and have little competition. That’s not going to be your main thrust of content creation though. This means while being aware of search engine optimisation will of course be helpful, it’s not  going to be your main tool in your toolbox.

Story tellers have something most people do not have. Stories!

We are hard wired to respond to human interest stories, stories with drama and emotion. That said, we need to get in front of people who are likely to want to read them.

As a writer and content creator you can do this several ways:

  • Networking – It all starts with networking, which is why I spend a lot of time teaching it in both Authority Blogger and also Shy Networking with Lewis Howes. It’s very difficult to get anywhere on your own, and that is without going anywhere near the “Field of Dreams” approach to your art! Your network can help you reach publicity, and the more publicity about your good work, the more people will find it.
  • Syndication – This basically means putting your content out where people already are rather than trying to drive them to check you out. On a technical level this means iTunes podcasts, YouTube videos, other people’s sites (automatically or via guest posting). I think in Brian’s case he has a further advantage in that he has photography AND stories to share.
  • Freelancing – Write a column for local or national newspapers and magazines? Why not get paid for your exposure?

You also want people who are already visiting to check out more and more of your content. Highlight items from your archives within your articles, use a related posts plugin to show articles that are on the same topic, and use categories and tags.

The best way to draw out content from your archives and give your audience something to read on a useful schedule though is an auto responder, which leads us to the next point …

Build a Repeat Audience

While a first impression is important, really you don’t want to have a whole bunch of first time visitors, you want a loyal audience.

That means, amongst other things, to get people to come back!

Give people a good reason to sign up to get your emails, then give them lots of reasons to stick around. The usual advice is some kind of incentive, a download, email course, and so on. Of course I give away two free ebooks, but don’t let that restrict your thinking. You can check out some examples of free stuff here.

Brian has some awesome content and photographs that can be packaged in different ways, from downloadable calendars through to video documentaries, and so on. Get creative!

By creating a sequence of emails that go out to your reader (now subscriber) automatically, you can reveal your best stuff from your archives, while reducing your workload in creating new content. If you can reduce the posting frequency then you can spend more time crafting the content and prevent burning out. I recommend Aweber as an auto responder service as it is the best in terms of deliverability and reliability, though there are plenty of others to choose from.

The main thing the audience wants is interesting content now and in the future, they don’t mind if it is from the archives providing they haven’t seen it before. You can further achieve this by doing seasonal or topical “round up” articles that link back to older content in a fresh way. For example, email the 4th July round up each year.

Offer Something Compelling for Sale

So after doing all this, where does money come into the equation?

As both a writer and a photographer, Brian has several options:

  • Books – New York is a fascinating subject from both a visual and a story telling point of view. I am thinking beautifully printed coffee-table books of New York with photographs and stories, showing a side people don’t often get to experience.
  • Art prints – I have a couple of photographs of New York on my wall. OK, I took them myself, but I am sure you know someone who bought some kind of New York related art. That means there is a market for it, and there is enough opportunity to at least try it. Everything from calendars and post cards right up to premium canvases. Include a booklet explaining the story behind the scene?
  • Guided photo tours – An interesting aspect of the characters and locations is people might want to check them out first hand. What a wonderful opportunity!
  • Commissions – Get known for the photo+story hook and people might want custom work?
  • Licensing – As your archive grows there will be opportunities to license your work out for use in media, websites, books and commercially.
These are just ideas, but the point is this …

Conclusion

As an authority blogger you don’t have to sell people on the how but there are often ways to sell what you do instead. Remember it is about building an audience of people who know, like and trust you. That gives you options.

What do you think? Please check out New York Daily Photo and give Brian some feedback, because I am sure he would appreciate your thoughts and comments …

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Comments

  1. Chris, This is one of the best email blog posts you’ve written. I got it from your mailing list.
    Thanks for your hard work. Giving insight into your method and how it applies to this site is a fantastic way of showing off your expertise.

    I have a small idea to contribute for monetization. Since Brian is such a great storyteller and photographer, I’d suggest he sell ‘sponsored posts’ where he offers to visit your business and do a feature story about you on his blog.

    • I love that idea Rebecca – very cool. He could write about anything New York related so everything from restaurants to boutiques and tourist attractions 🙂

  2. Small thoughts, offered as observation more than advice, from the point of view of fulfilling the promise of “daily,” without totally burning out on the workload.

    1. Some of the articles have a lot of links, which are time consuming to emplace, test and maintain. From a reader’s point of view, this is not bad. But it does increase the writer’s workload. How many are necessary?

    2. Many of the photos are montages (?), that is, several photos presented in a single image. The benefit to the artist is building skill at creating these images, which are very attractive. The risk is the time it takes to get good, and the time it takes to create them for each article. Question: are these type of images necessary for each article, and if so, do they need to be on the front page, or would they be better served via clicking through the “Read more” link to reward the reader?

    I may be completely off the mark with these two suggestions, but I do know how much time it takes to create, and the risk of burnout is real.

    • He does have some help on hand but those are good points – thanks Dave!

    • Dave,
      Thanks. I do spend some time preparing collages and multiple images. I do so because in talking to readers and observing people looking over my site, I find that most do not click on supplementary photo links, flickr galleries, etc. Often when I do an in depth story and need numerous images to do it justice, I feel compelled to place the images right there rather than risk that few see them. I am fairly quick now at creating collages in Photoshop after doing them for 6 years. I have to process some photos anyway and often it is too hard to make a choice for a single representative photo. Unfortunately, more is my style 🙂

  3. Ooh, perfect timing, Chris! I’ve been working on a storytelling site, http://oneblueberry.com, for the past few months but, other than writing a book and perhaps publishing a magazine, I wasn’t sure what to do. Great ideas, thanks!

  4. Great information. I’ve recently begun getting another email newsletter from a business coach for artists and she’s been sharing similar ideas – but not all the same. I’m in the same kind of predicament and have been developing products to sell at local markets and to sell via my website and use as giveaways.

    Interesting challenge I have though. I’ve not run 3 competitions and had winners, asked them to contact me to organise the delivery of the prizes, and they haven’t. Why is this? Why do people participate in a competition and then not follow through to receive their prize? Seems strange to me. I was using the competitions to grow fans at Facebook, email subscribers at my photoblog and my traffic generally.

  5. Sorry, I meant I have run 3 competitions…

  6. I also run a site with the word daily in the title. For a while it kept me posting daily, even when I was past the burnt out spot. I was afraid to not post daily, until one weekend I just did it. I still posted five times a week, but no one commented that I wasn’t posting on the weekends anymore, and my traffic didn’t drop either since I was focusing more on quality articles instead of just churning them out every day. Also, I took the dates off the posts, so a new visitor doesn’t know that it isn’t daily.

  7. I wonder if the artist under discussion can head over to someone like Trey Ratcliff’s blog stuckincustoms.com.

    That is one of the best ways right now to earn an honest living while doing your craft. What do you think Chris?

  8. Chris, just wanted to say thanks for offering a truly great and useful blog post. As a longtime journalist and writer who only recently moved into blogging, I’ve been searching far and wide for targeted information on how to make a living doing what I love. Great stuff!

  9. I would say, it is rather easy for an artist to create a following, since anything original does get attention fast.

  10. I thought this was a very insightful article that I am definitely taking note of some of the things mentioned. Thanks for your insight!

  11. Wow, Chris! That’s all I have to say. You must have spent a whole day to write this blog post. I know it took me over an hour just to read it! I agree with you much about the domain/hosting point. I always owned my domains, but unfortunately using shared hosting plan. I’m finding out quickly that shared hosting has many limits and going VPS or dedicated is the best option. However, I have no knowledge of managing such a server…so that’s the only thing that’s holding me back.

  12. “Remember your site doesn’t just need to be attractive, it has to function. Your visitor needs to be able to navigate without much in the way of conscious effort. A confused visitor is unlikely to return or become a customer.” (Will keep this in mind as I try to build my content)

    Just a few weeks ago, I remember asking something of this nature. I love the ideas that you presented in order to create income. Whenever I posted that comment, I was seriously felt lost and was really excited when I saw this in my reader.

    I guess that I was thinking to inside the box and not looking at other ways to make income aside from advertising. So my goal is quality content/quality products. Been working on that for a few weeks and thank you again, for your amazing insight.
    -Karina

  13. Hi Chris,

    I just wanted to let you know that this blog post is superb. It doesn’t really effect me but I have so many photography friends who would really appreciate this so I decided to share it with them.

    Lee