Monday, July 27, 2009

BlogHer Day Three - The Why

I awoke that first morning, nervous about all the day would bring. I walked a couple of blocks away with Starbucks gift card in hand to buy my favorite, a non-fat Green Tea Latte. I even bought the Vente size since I had $15 on my card. I decided to treat myself like a Queen and eat the piece of cheesecake I bought the day before from the Cheesecake Factory. All in all, a very unhealthy, fattening way to begin this great adventure. I did not scold myself as I might have once done for eating this way. Then again I did not lie to myself, assuring myself that it will be OK because I will “skip” some meal, or exercise the extra calories away. It is yet another advantage of being almost fifty. You no longer believe even your own lies and you have finally realized that nagging is never an effective way to change a behavior. I splurged because I could and I assured myself that it would be just fine if I did.

Today was the official start of BlogHer. The pre-Parties are but a memory and now it's time for the rubber to meet the road. It's time for me to reflect on the Why's of my trip to BlogHer.

Before going to BlogHer I felt it important to set goals. What was it I planned to learn from the whole event? What did I want to experience? What will I do to push me from my comfort zone? All good questions and they were questions I asked myself yet again as I sat in my bed eating.

I teach a class called Entrepreneurial Ventures. When I first began teaching, almost eight years ago, it was called Entrepreneurship. This class has sparked an argument between my husband and me. At times he feels I am a fraud to be teaching this class. He argues that anything I teach them is useless because I have no real experience in owning my own business. These heated conversations lapse into the stale argument that begins “Those who can do….” I argue that seven of my students have actually gone on to start their own business but I question myself about the lack of experience that I bring to the table.

I never really fancied myself as a business owner. I am someone who thrives on security because I’ve been so desperate for it so much of my life. So if one could label a blog a business then I became a business owner right around Christmas last year.

I didn’t start my blog with the idea of creating a business. To be truthful I began my blog because I needed one to enter blog giveaways. You see Online-Sweepstakes suddenly started being bombarded with these blog giveaways. At first I didn’t know what to make of them. Sometimes the prize being given away was one I wouldn’t have minded having. I wouldn’t have minded having one of those electronic grocery list makers. Other times the prizes seemed to be almost worthless. Win a binkie. Win a bib. Then again I’ve entered sweeps to win a T-shirt.

The question then became what would my blog be about? Popular topics include politics, food, mommy, niche, and frugal living. Each one of these bloggers feel that their topic is the height of art and some even look at the other bloggers with a sneer of contempt upon their lips. I always tell my students to do what you love I chose saving money with a twist because I also talked about sweeps and contests.

At the beginning I didn’t really care about how many people came to my site. This doesn’t mean that I totally blew the site off but it meant I was posting every day but not getting caught up in who came. I say that until I’d checked on my stats after two weeks and I was surprised that no one had come to my site. How could that be? No one cared? I told Darryl that I was thinking about stopping my blog.

Darryl was adamant about me not closing the blog up and only posting when there was a contest. I should take this seriously just like any business. Business? Did he say the word BUSINES? This wasn’t a business it was my blog. I think that’s when it first hit me that I should run this like a business which means that I should always try to give my readers (customers) the best product (posts) that I can.

Darryl fixed the mechanism for tracking visitors. I began to see a few people stopping by. We decided to run our own giveaway. Honestly I had no clue where the bloggers got the stuff that they gave away? Did they buy it and then give it away? How in the heck do you make money doing that? If you have to buy things to give them away what is the point? Still we looked around our house and decided to giveaway some Soy Joy bars that we had bought for FRE at CVS. We kind of promoted it like a New Year’s Resolution giveaway and we had almost a hundred people visit ThriftyMaven to try to win. I promoted the giveaway on Online-Sweepstakes and SweepSheet.

In the mean time the poop was hitting the fan on Online-Sweepstakes. Bloggers rated right down there with lawyers and tax collectors and slightly above Bernie Madoff. They hated the blog contests because bloggers asked people to make a post on their blog in order to win. Big deal I thought. For some it was a VERY BIG deal. Then they were asking people to tweet, blog, and Digg their posts. Too much work people were saying for such a small prize.

Darryl suggested we hold a giveaway ever two weeks so I decided it was time I actually research how to run a blog. I want to say that this is different than anything else I ever do because I ALWAYS research everything before I begin. This is just not true. Often I start something and then I begin researching in earnest. My local library’s only book about blogging was written by the people of the Huffington Post. There really wasn’t much that was applicable to what I wanted to do. So I searched the net for information.

I found out about IZEA. Basically, your blog must:

* Be at least 90 days old, with at least 20 pre-existing posts written in the last 90 days.
* Have chronological archives.
* Contain content that is original to you and the blog.
* Be a text/written content blog, meaning no message boards, websites, IM, photoblogs, vlogs, etc.
* Have only one author.
* Not include 'no follow' tags.
* Be a blog written in the English language. We do make note of any blogs submitted in other languages so we may share those as we encounter Advertisers seeking them.
* Not be a blog kept primarily for earning money.

So I had to keep working on my blog so I would meet their requirements. Even now though I was totally lost after that. I just could never seem to grasp how to get approved for anything because the site didn’t seem very user friendly.

Then I found out about BlogSpark. Very easy and they sponsor giveaways. The people I am in contact with are TERRIFIC. About the same time I began to take a look at companies sponsoring giveaways on other people’s sites and contacting them. I was able to get a couple of companies to sponsor a giveaway and I felt I was on my way. Not quite though.

Whereas I didn’t originally have a goal for registered users I began to wonder if I would ever hit the magic number of 1,000 readers. Every day dribs and drabs of people would sign up for the Maven Moment Alert. Those numbers slowly began to build and now I had to figure out how to bring the reader to my blog. It was beginning to look more and more like a business even though I was not pulling in a salary.

Then one day I was checking my traffic and I noticed some 6,000 people showed up on my site. Even now I can still scarcely believe it. The post was about Suave and how they were giving away a FREE full-sized bottle.

It was to be another two months before I had another big bubble like that one again. While not quite 6,000 I did wake up one day and notice that my traffic was getting steadily busy as the day wore on. I wanted to find out where the traffic was coming from and noticed that a Christian radio station had posted a link to my site. That first day I had some 3,000 people. On the second day about 2,000 people came and on the third day there was another 1,000 people.

I was now slightly over the halfway mark of the goal I had set of 1,000 registered users. The blog that had once been a means to an end had now become an obsession and I was spending hours looking for great deals for my readers.

Then just like everything else with blogging so far, I stumbled upon BlogHer. I say I stumbled upon it but really I found it because of a contest they were running. It was a contest for a conference they were having and you had the opportunity to win a sponsored trip to the BlogHer Conference in Chicago.

The more I found out about the Conference, the more I wanted to go. I began to wonder how I could manage to go to the conference because I know I couldn’t afford to go because my husband is unemployed.

At first I tried to win a hotel stay for the conference. It was a beautiful hotel and I told myself if I won I would figure out how I would be able to afford the airfare and the conference pass. I was just so certain I was going to go that I was almost a bit surprised to discover I did not win that hotel stay.

That’s when I learned about the Stovetop Stuffing Contest. I had to come up with an inexpensive one pot meal that contained Stovetop Stuffing. Even as I was writing the recipe down I had a feeling about it. Yet my “evil twin” told me to stop acting crazy. Do you remember those comic skits and cartoons that feature an angel on one shoulder giving you advise while the devil on your other shoulder tries to mislead you? That might as well have been where I was on this whole contest. The angel telling me that this contest had my name written all over it and there was a reason that I should go. The little angel assured me that my recipe was good and would at least get us second place if not better. The haughty devil on the other hand scoffed at the whole scenario. “You’re crazy if you think you can win something like this.” “Why in the world are you entering this contest? No one would like this recipe.”

For my readers who followed me as I nervously went through the steps of entering and begging for votes you know that I could hardly sleep at night I was so nervous about the contest.

The day I learned I had won, I was on my way home when Darryl told me that FedEx had dropped an envelope off at the house. He wanted to know if I wanted him to open it. He told me it was from Kraft. I was afraid that I hadn’t won the sponsorship but excited that I might have won one of the second prizes which were $500 gift cards for groceries.

Once I knew for certain I began to make plans for my trip to BlogHer and tried identify what I wanted to learn. I knew I wanted to bring home what I learned to my students but I also wanted to show myself that I could do this. In all my life, I’d never been so far from home without family or friend. This was to be a totally new experience for me, a woman approaching fifty.

Now as I lay in bed finishing my Cheesecake Factory Cheesecake, I scanned the agenda once more. I told myself that people will like me when they meet me and assure myself that if some didn’t that was OK too. I practiced the words I would say to the company representatives and marketers that I would meet. I wanted to be able to use examples of what I said and my thought process with my students when they came back to school.

I drained my cup of the last of the latte and walked over to the sink to brush my teeth and apply my make-up. “It’s show time!” I said with a big theatrical smile. The face that smiled back to me was one that looked more like my mother every day. Blogging was a young person’s game but I would let them know that I wasn’t ready for the shelf. “Put me in coach. I’m ready to play.” I shut off the light, left my room and headed for the elevators.

No comments: