Tips from Bjork and Lindsay
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Welcome to episode 54 of the Food Blogger Pro podcast! In this episode, Bjork talks with Jeni Elliot from The Blog Maven.
Last week, Bjork talked with Pat Flynn (the Pat Flynn!) from Smart Passive Income about determining whether a business idea is a good one, or if it’ll flop. To go back and listen that episode, click here.
Jeni Elliott knows that just doing the work isn’t going to turn your business dreams into a reality. Instead, she’s a proponent of doing the right kind of work, using both tactics and strategies to achieve your overarching goals, and maintaining a work-life balance.
She got her start not in the blogging world, but in the business world, where she helped small business owners meet their goals. As an avid blog reader, though, she found that she could apply her strategies to blog businesses and see profound impact. So, she made The Blog Maven her career’s work, and along the way has learned what it takes to turn a blogger into an entrepreneur.
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Bjork Ostrom: Welcome to episode number 54 of the Food Blogger Pro podcast. Hey there everybody, this is Bjork Ostrom. You’re listening to episode number 54 of the Food Blogger Pro podcast. Today, we are chatting with Jeni Elliott from a very fitting name for this podcast, theblogmaven.com. What Jeni does is she works with bloggers, and helps them figure out how to blog smarter, and because she does this day in and day out, works very closely with bloggers, she understands what your struggles are.
She understands the really big problems that we face as bloggers. She’s going to speak specifically to some of those problems, and talk about some of the solutions that she has in order to alleviate the stress and the burden that you might feel as a blogger. She does a really good job of not only connecting with them and understanding that problem, but also surfacing solutions that are really helpful and really applicable.
I’m really excited to share this podcast interview with you, so without further ado, Jeni, welcome to the podcast.
Jeni Elliott: It is so nice to be here. Thanks so much for having me.
Bjork Ostrom: I’m really excited to talk to you. We had a few podcast request come in, so every once in a while, we say, “Podcast listeners out there in the world, do you have anybody that you’d love to hear from,” and your name was one that came up. I said, “Man, this makes so much sense,” because you are exactly in the niche that we serve. As a quick back story, can you talk a little bit about what it is that you do and the business that you have right now? After that, I want to ask you a few questions about your history.
Jeni Elliott: Sure, absolutely. Within the blogging space, nobody goes into blogging thinking that they’re going to be working 60 plus hours a week, and getting eye strain and hemorrhoids because they’ve been sitting in front of their MacBook all day long, but if you don’t have a solid business and marketing strategy, then that is what your life looks like. I have this underlying belief that you can be an entrepreneur and still have a life.
That’s why the Blog Maven exist. It’s to bridge that gap, to connect the idea people, the bloggers, the business owners with the strategy that’s going to help them cut out the 90% of things that they couldn’t be doing, and focus on just what they should do so that they can make a predictable sustainable income, which is what they’re looking for.
Bjork Ostrom: Can I add? Can you paint that picture out a little bit? When you say that you can still have your business, have your blog, and have life, paint a picture of what that work-life balance potentially can look like.
Jeni Elliott: I’ll talk about just because nobody does what it actually looks like for most people, which is staying up 5 nights a week until 1:00 in the morning, and trying to decide between caffeine and sleep, or having your husband go to bed a little bit upset with you again, because you’re not coming to bed on time, or having your kids trying to talk to you, and not being able to understand what they’re saying because the only thing going through your mind is this blog and this frantic frenzy to try to figure out what you should do next.
That’s what life looks like for most people unfortunately. It’s not the glamorous picture that everybody thinks that they’re going to get.
Bjork Ostrom: Even before the call, we were talking about the idea of the rat race, and so often, I can feel like that you were looking around, and everybody else is doing something, so you feel like you need to do it, and so you’re maybe publishing more because people say you need to publish more, or you’re using Periscope because people say you need to use Periscope, and it can be totally overwhelming.
The flip side of that I would assume means that you have margins in your day that you’re able to spend time with family, that you’re able to keep at a pace that is sustainable, and you don’t totally get burned out. Is that in general what we’re going for?
Jeni Elliott: It is. I like to say that you don’t want to live to blog, instead, that you can blog to live. Having your blog be something that serves the life that you want, and not having it run your life instead.
Bjork Ostrom: What a distinction, and I think it’s important for people to hear, because sometimes we don’t even realize we’re at that point where we built this thing, but essentially it’s in some way, shape, or form controlling us instead of us controlling it, and allowing it to serve us in terms of maybe, again, being able to spend time with family, or take breaks when we need to. It’s even good for me to hear, because for both Lindsay and I, we can get very, very deep into the work side of things.
It’s important to hear that outside perspective it doesn’t have to be that way. There are things that you can do to make it a little bit more sustainable, which is why I’m so excited to have you on to talk about what some of those things are that we can be doing. Before we do though, I want to hear a little bit more about your story. Can you take me back before focusing in here with the Blog Maven, what was it that you were doing before that? Were you in the industry, or did you have a blog of your own? What did that look like before?
Jeni Elliott: I’m assuming that you don’t want to hear about me selling skittles out of my locker in grade school.
Bjork Ostrom: Sure.
Jeni Elliott: I will skip forward.
Bjork Ostrom: Yeah, fast forward past middle school, high school, and college.
Jeni Elliott: I always was planning to be a career woman. I never really thought about anything different. I was in a PhD program, but I dropped out of my PhD program because I wanted to chase the next great adventure on the horizon, which was teaching Navaho kids; I was actually in Teach for America, and getting married. Thanks to an appalling lack of family planning, I gave birth to my son 41 weeks after my honeymoon, and the most unexpected miracle happened. My focus completely shifted.
Every desire that I’d had to rise in the ranks to make more money, and just for the sake of being successful completely evaporated. I realized the shift that occurred, and I just wanted to do life with my son. I had a medical transcription business for a while. Then my clients needed websites, so I figured I had to do that. Then at some point, because I keep in very, very close contact with the people that I work with, I realized that what they needed even more than they needed a website was they needed a marketing strategy, which I loved.
Frankly, it doesn’t matter how beautiful of a web design you have. If you don’t have a solid business structure underneath, and if you don’t have a way to convert those visitors into actual people who are paying customers, then everything else false apart. It doesn’t really matter.
Bjork Ostrom: When you say underneath, what do you mean by that? Can you paint that picture?
Jeni Elliott: What I mean is I visualize content creation, any aspect of running an online business, as kind of a tiered thing. If you think about a sagittal view, a cross section view of the core of the earth for example, you have layers. You got the core bit that’s in the very center. Then up through, you have multiple layers stocked on. It’s hard to communicate this.
Bjork Ostrom: No, that makes sense. I’m right there with you.
Jeni Elliott: I’m moving my hands.
Bjork Ostrom: I see. I don’t see that. I didn’t see that.
Jeni Elliott: Well, I’ll try to put the words with the hands. At the very top layer is anything that you do to attract people. It’s this surface level things that you do, whether it’s a social media post that you put out there, or whether it’s making a phone call to prospective clients, or maybe publishing a blog post, any effort that will get people from out there and bring them in here. That unfortunately is where most bloggers start and end. They just stay at that very surface level.
The part that is deeper as you get into running a successful business is the part where you give your people, the people that you’re serving a reason to follow you, a reason to become not just one time viewers, where it’s a quick in and out wham, bam, and they’re gone to become more of a permanent part of your business. Any business owner will tell you that the hardest thing to do is to get the new customer in the door.
The magic happens. The money happens. The life change for your customers or your readers happens after that. It’s what you do after they come to visit, and when they’re exposed to deeper levels of your business, and when you convert them into actual paying customers, where the exchange of value is taking place.
Bjork Ostrom: Which is I’m excited to dig into that a little bit further. Going back a little bit, so you were at this point where you started to realize that the companies you were working with, you originally started out not necessarily consulting them on their website, but eventually you realized, “Hey, these people need websites,” so you started helping out with that. As you got into the website, you realized, “Hey, these people need marketing plans, and they need some intentionality behind their content creation.”
What was that next step for you then? That’s a pretty big jump. To be honest, that’s a hard thing to understand and to start to advice on. What did that look like for you to take that first step into getting a layer deeper and closer to the core essentially? How did you make that initial transition?
Jeni Elliott: Part of it was I was a business owner myself. I was trained to hassle for my own clients. As part of researching and understanding in practical terms what does that look like for me, I started reading marketing books. I started just consuming any kind of information that I would do. In fact, I would block out time in every single week that I did nothing but read and research.
As I’m doing that though, instead of just thinking what does this look like for my business, I also had this extra hat that I put on that says, “What does this look like in my client’s business?” I had what in marketing terms you refer to as your target market, because I had my target market in mind as I was learning, as I was assimilating things in my own business, and I had the chance to get my fingers in other people’s businesses, I could say, “Okay, well, let’s try this. Here’s possibilities. Here is what works. Here is what doesn’t work.” Just having a playground to start applying some of these marketing principles, that’s really where it took off for me.
Bjork Ostrom: As you started to get into this, you realized that, “Hey, it might make sense for me to shift and start to focus in on this specifically, and for this to be my expertise.” The area that you decided to go into is blogging. Why blogging versus social media, versus direct mail versus TV commercials? What was it about blogging that was attractive to you, that you felt like it was a really good place to focus?
Jeni Elliott: It was really just part of the world that I was in. Four or five years ago, I was reading blogs all the time, and every time I would be reading somebody’s mom blog, or health food, or real food, or the things that I was into at that time, I would look at their blogs, and I guess, I’m in there nerd in the front row that kept looking on what they were doing, and thinking to myself, “Oh my goodness, if they just did this, then it would solve all their problems, or this would really be a game changer for them and their business.”
At the same time, I was designing websites. I was designing blogs. I started the Blog Maven website itself not because I wanted to teach marketing, but because I wanted those bloggers to come to me for their design. It worked. From the second blog post I published on the Blog Maven until I stopped designing, I never had a lack of clients. There was always a steady stream. It’s because I wasn’t teaching them about design. In fact, I don’t write anything at all on my site about what design is, but I was solving their problems.
I was taking this target market, but I wanted to work with bloggers, and I was solving their problem for them, so teaching them alternate ways laterally to get them to their goal, and because of that, you build the trust. Then they really don’t want to hire anybody else at that point. They just want to hire you.
Bjork Ostrom: It’s such a great example of content marketing, where you start out by offering this content specific to people and your target market. Then they come. They’re familiar with you. They trust you, and you start that interaction and that engagement, which is so cool, and makes such a great example of it, and maybe it’s a good lead into this question. One of the things that I pulled as I was looking through your site was you talked about some of the blogs that you work with, and coaching or consulting relationships.
You talked about starting with goals, and then applying your background in marketing to help determine a strategic path to get you to those goals. Can you talk about goals for bloggers? I think most people would have a goal of say, “Hey, I want to be working full time on my blog, or I want to be able to have enough income from my blog or my website to be able to stay at home with my kids, or XYZ.” People would have these very big goals. Do you feel like those are the right goals to start with, or do we need to get more specific with the goals that we start with as it applies to our blog?
Jeni Elliott: Great question. I think most people at the point in which they come to your podcast, or at the point in which they’re really seeking out ways to do these things better, they are ready to make the jump to making an income from it. Hobby bloggers are a totally different animal from people who want to blog professionally and make an income from it. The goal of making money with your blog in order to serve whatever purpose is a perfectly valid one.
In fact, that’s where most people come to me. They want to make more money. The question is not necessarily what the goal is, because for most people, the goal is the same. The question is what are the strategies that you’re going to use, the strategy you’re going to employ in order to meet that goal?
Bjork Ostrom: Do you feel when people come to you that they have some type of strategy that they’re using, or what’s the average example of somebody that comes to you in a working relationship that says, “Hey, here is where I’m at?” Are people implementing a strategy, or are they usually coming in and saying, “My strategy is post three times a week?”
Jeni Elliott: We need to back up and talk about the difference between a strategy and a tactic, because a lot of bloggers … When most people come to me, they are basically using the spaghetti wall method. They’re just throwing whatever content they can against Pinterest, or Facebook, or blog posts, and emailing their readers, and whatever, hoping that it’s going to stick, but there is nothing deeper that they’re actually trying to serve. They’re trying to take individual tactics, things like publish three times a week, or things like post 80 times a day on Facebook, or things like join a link swapping group, or take beautiful photos.
Those are all tactics that you could employ, but they’re not relating them to a bigger strategy. The strategy is something that should inform the individual tactics that you use. Without a strategy, really, all you’re doing is participating in that rat race. When people come to me, a lot of times, even the ones that are making pretty good money, they’re exhausted. They’re not getting enough sleep. They’re not treating themselves well. They basically are at the mercy of this machine that seems to be running them.
Bjork Ostrom: What is it that’s different about those people than somebody that implements a strategy versus just tactics? What’s the difference there? What is the change that has to be made in order to get to a place where you’re shifting that a little bit? Does that make sense?
Jeni Elliott: Absolutely. Where it comes down to is … Let’s say the one goal that everyone shares here is to make money. I guess I’ll go back into a little bit what is the difference between strategy and tactics. I’m sorry if the ancient Roman military isn’t your thing, but that’s where this distinction comes from, so I’m going to go ahead and go with it.
Bjork Ostrom: Bring it on.
Jeni Elliott: On the Roman battlefields, it would look something like this. The goal would be conquering Europe. The strategy that the Romans used was soldiers are our most valuable assets, so if we manage our soldiers well, then we will win. It was all about organization and management. The tactics, the individual tactics that they used could be any number of things like split your army up into groups with legions, or cut off your enemies from food and water, lay siege to it. If you can take all the food and water for yourself, then do it. If you can’t, then just burn everything.
Those are individual tactics that would feed into the strategy, which is managing soldiers in order to conquer Europe. Apply this to blogging, and here is what it looks like. The goals is make money. A strategy might be use ad networks, get as many page views as possible to make that a profitable thing. Now, if the strategy you’re going to use to make money is ad networks, then that means that you’re going to have to use some specific tactics. You’re going to have to publish three times a week. You’re going to have to post on Pinterest. You’re going to have to optimize your pins on your website.
You’re going to have to pray for a viral post. Once you get a viral post, you’re going to have to pray to figure out how that went viral, so you can do it again. You’re going to use Edgar or some other tool to schedule your social media post. All of those tactics are necessary if your strategy is make money with ad networks. Another model, and this is the one that people who consider themselves bloggers have very, very little exposure to, is the strategy of using products and services to make money. Then parts of the strategy is use products and services, and attract people who want to buy them. That’s the entrepreneur model or strategy.
Bjork Ostrom: One of the questions that I have is how are the tactics different if you use that strategy?
Jeni Elliott: If you’re using the strategy of creating products and services, and just attracting people to buy that, it significantly narrows down what you need to do to employ that strategy. For example, a tactic might be research your target market, build your authority, so learn, read, consume, take courses as much as you can to build your authority in that area.
Bjork Ostrom: Can you explain for those that aren’t familiar with that term what that means to build your authority?
Jeni Elliott: Building your authority basically means getting enough understanding of your subject matter that people can look to you for advice or support or help.
Bjork Ostrom: For example, the Blog Maven.
Jeni Elliott: For example, the Blog Maven.
Bjork Ostrom: Or Food Blogger Pro, like claiming a niche, and then … Do you feel like it has to be niche and then becoming an expert in that essentially?
Jeni Elliott: An expert and that people are coming to you for solutions, and so theoretically, you could be a blogger who blogs about food and home, and decorating and simplifying, and natural living, and all of the other things. However, it’s really, really hard to showcase your authority if it’s spread really, really thin.
Bjork Ostrom: I think that’s a really, really important concept for people that I would love to continue to dig and do. Before I get too far out of it, you were talking about the tactics. I want to make sure you get a chance to go through all of those. You talked about researching your target market potentially or not potentially, but spending time thinking about once you have an idea about the target market is building your authority and really being intentional about learning about that specific niche or that area or industry. What are some of the other tactics that you can apply?
Jeni Elliott: Finding out what would help your target market. What are their needs, their desires, what is that thing that they want to do, or be, or feel for that matter? Then one other tactic is give it to them. You help them see why they should join your tribe instead of someone else’s, because what you’re really building here is something larger than just a fly by night page view. What you’re building is a loyal member of your tribe that’s going to look to you as the source of some solution.
Bjork Ostrom: Like I said, that’s such an important concept, and interesting because for people in our niche, which is the food niche, oftentimes, what happens is that we go for the general approach, where maybe people are just doing general recipes and whatever they feel like. They’ll post about it. What would your advice be for people that are in specific to the food niche, and not that everybody who listens to this is in the food niche, but what are some of the first steps they can take in order to apply some of those tactics to what they’re doing?
Jeni Elliott: The first thing is to stop thinking of yourself as a source of recipes. Frankly, recipes are a commodity, meaning, you can really get them anywhere. The people who would come to your site if you’re a food blogger by in large are coming there from Pinterest. What’s the difference between your recipe and anybody else’s? There are a lot of factors that go into that, but most people, if you just present yourself as a source of recipes, you’re no different from Pinterest. I promise, Pinterest has a way, way, way higher advertising and marketing budget than you do.
Bjork Ostrom: No different than all recipes for instance, like a site that is essentially a huge pool of user-generated content in the recipe space. We talked about that a lot where if you decide to be a general, especially a general face list website in the recipe niche, then your competition is so high because you’re competing with other recipes, and there are so of those. It makes a lot of sense. Anyways, continue on. First thing, stop thinking of yourself as the source of recipes.
Jeni Elliott: Then second of all, you need to start listening to the people. If you’re going to make this transition from just being another recipe generator basically, if you want to make the transition from that to being in authority, you really need to start building relationships with the people that come to your site, because you need to get inside their minds, and grab on to their perspective. Why did that woman popped over from Pinterest, and come to see your recipe about home style macaroni and cheese?
It’s not probably because she wants to lose weight, let’s say, if you have this totally fatty, deliciousness. She’s looking for something different than the woman who comes to your site looking for a recipe for Vietnamese Pho. Understanding what brought that person here in the first place, and actually reach out to your readers. Talk to them. Call them on Skype. Get to know them. Understand what they’re going through, because one of the biggest mindset shifts that I see in bloggers happens when you realize that your readers are not there for you.
We like to think of ourselves as the Luke Skywalker, the hero of the story, and, “Oh, everyone is going to love me and read all my recipes, because they’re my recipes.” That can really also post some problems for people who have self-confidence issues. Instead, let’s reframe that, because your reader isn’t there for you. She’s there for herself. She is the Luke Skywalker of your blog, and you are Yoda.
As an authority, your job is to help her achieve her goals. When you can prove to her that you understand what she wants, you understand why she doesn’t have what she wants yet, and when she sees that you can help her get there, that is when the relationship clicks. That’s when she decides to join your blog instead of anybody else’s.
Bjork Ostrom: How do people do that? What does that process look like? Conceptually, it makes sense to understand your readers better to get to know them potentially even to jump on a Skype call, but how do you go about doing that? What do the first steps look like?
Jeni Elliott: The first step is just to take a look, because I’m assuming that we’re talking to people who already have blogs out there. It can be challenging for people to look inside their analytics, and say, “Oh my goodness, 85% of my traffic is going to 1 blog post,” which everybody is embarrassed about, but nobody wants to admit. “Hey, it’s that way for me too.”
Figure out what are these people that are coming in fresh off the internet, what do they come into my site to see? That can be a big clue into where does your success already lie. You don’t want to start again from scratch. You want to take what’s already working, and leverage that. Understand what your biggest successes are as a blogger, because that leads you to what your readers see you as an authority on.
Bjork Ostrom: Idea being you going to analytics. You have a look and say, “What are the posts are really popular that have a lot of engagement, may potentially a lot of page views.” Is that what primarily you’d be looking for at this point?
Jeni Elliott: Page views, but more than that. A lot of times, here’s a little trick that I teach, is go into WordPress, and look at the comments that you’re getting. Let’s sort out your posts by how many comments you get. This can be a false economy for a lot of food bloggers, because a lot of food bloggers just have other food bloggers commenting on their blogs. It’s this false thing that’s happening out there, but looking at the people who are leaving comments on your site, not bloggers, just your average person who is reading your blog, what is it that they’re saying?
What kinds of things are they asking you for advice about? Do you notice any recurring themes in that? Are they saying, “Oh, I love this because I used it for my son who had food allergies?” Then you also notice that somebody else mention the fact that they had food allergies, and you start to say, “Hey, this is something that’s coming up among the people who are visiting my website.” Theoretically, you can make this mental jump to say, “They already see me as a source of information for people who have food allergies for example.”
Listen very carefully. This is is just purely a passive exercise. You just listen to what people are already saying. Then after that, really, there is no substitute for hopping on a Skype call.
Bjork Ostrom: That’s something that the classic internet entrepreneur, which is maybe I’m just describing myself here, is so scared of doing. It’s such a hard thing to make that jump from being behind the computer, and publishing, and not really interacting to actually engaging with people, but you learn so much from those simple conversations. I love that simple tip of reach out to people, and connect, and have a call, and talk to them, “What are your needs? What are your interests? What are the questions that you have about this specific niche?”
One of the questions that I have is let’s say somebody goes in, and they start to get a feeling that somebody is talking or their audience is really interested, or really struggling with figuring out food allergies. What if that’s the last thing in the world that they want to talk about? How do you balance the opportunity to be in authority in an area with your passion and interest in the subject?
Jeni Elliott: Such an amazing question. This is really one of the defining lines between a hobby blogger and a professional blogger. The hobby blogger sees everything purely from their own interest, their own desires, and, “Hey, I’m writing about this because I want to write about it.” Sure, there are people who rise to the top, who get the success, who make money by approaching everything by what they want to do, but those usually are Cinderella stories. It’s not predictable. It’s not a business model, but anybody else could follow.
On the other hand, people who are professional bloggers, I’ll say, people who are really putting on their CEO cap, and trying to make decisions, in a way, that’s going to create long-term permanent growth and success for them. They’ll say, “Okay, I am willing to lay aside my personal preferences for the moment, and pursue this opportunity that is right in front of me.”
You will find that the people who are coming to you, who are asking these questions, let’s say you have the lady who has her kid with food allergies, you solve that woman’s problems, and she’s a member of your fan club for life. She loves you. She will tell all her friends about you. Anytime she hears about anybody whose kid has food allergy, she’ll say, “Oh, you should go check out this site.” You’ve just turned her from a reader into a believer.
Bjork Ostrom: By focusing in on a specific need instead of trying to project a general content, really focusing that in and saying, “I noticed that people continually have this issue, or need that’s there.” Some are really going to focus in on that, solve that. The other thing I think that happens is you then become like you said, it becomes a natural referral engine, where my hope would be for instance for the Food Blogger Pro podcast is somebody’s getting into food blogging.
Then it would be a really easy recommendation, because it’s like, “Well, there’s only so many podcasts about food blogs,” so because we’ve claimed this as our authority and our niche that it makes it easier for people not only to grab onto it and to understand it, but then also to recommend it for somebody who, let’s say, is just getting into food blogging.
Jeni Elliott: That’s right. That is a natural resource that is right at every single blogger’s finger tips, and most people don’t ever take advantage of it. It’s this potential to have walking brand ambassadors. I’ll give you an example. It doesn’t apply everywhere. I can just speak from my experience. When I publish a blog post, I write the blog post. I rewrite the blog post. I refine it and hone it. It’s all based on understanding what my people need.
Then I do three things. I hit publish. I email it out. I write a little personal type email to my people on my mail provider, on what I call that Convert Kid, on Convert Kid. Then I pin it on Pinterest. That’s it. Then after that, I never mention it again.
Bjork Ostrom: It’s amazing if you go to your blog, you see that there is hundreds of comments on a lot of the posts, which for most people I think would be unbelievable to have that many comments. You would assume that you have to be really pushing it everywhere, social media, reminding people to comment. It’s interesting to see that engagement on the post that you have.
Jeni Elliott: Everything that I have on my blog, I quote promote via social media one time. That’s it. I don’t have any pin schedulers. I don’t have any Hootsuite or Edgar or anything else automating anything. What I do is I trust that I am pouring so much energy into creating change, and to helping my people meet their goals, that when I publish, I hand off the baton.
I do ask. I say, "Hey, if this helps you, then please tell somebody else. They do. They take that baton, and they run with it, so I have tons of posts with lots of comments that generate their own traffic just because the people who see them, the people who read them get so much value that they are now doing the hard work of promotion for me.
Bjork Ostrom: For sure. When you are in that research mode of trying to figure out what is the type of content that I can create, whether it be free content for your blog, or maybe developing some type of service or product, are there other ways that you gather feedback and insight from your audience? Do you do surveys? We interviewed the founder of Hot Jar, which is this little feedback and analysis tool. Do you anything like that, or is it purely the fist step is this intuitive/research based on comments and analytics, and then the next step is reaching out and talking to people, or is there something in between there like surveys?
Jeni Elliott: It’s a little bit more personal than surveys. I’ve never done a survey mainly because the people who do actually follow through and take the surveys aren’t necessarily the most representative of your group. They’re just the loudest. Instead, I’ve dove tailed my service offerings with my content marketing research. For example, I have a coaching program. Anybody of the internet can pay to me to sit down and have a one hour conversation with them to talk about what their goals are, what’s not working, all the things that they have tried, and what they want to achieve, like what does that look like, pretty typical consulting model.
In those conversations, I get this inside peek into their businesses, and I hear the words that they’re saying, like they’ll say, “I’m so frustrated because I just want to stay home with my kids, and everything that I’m trying to do is taking me away from them more.” That gives me insight into their mindset. At the same time is I’m providing a service for them. I’m actually helping hem get to their goals. I’m also doing market research.
Bjork Ostrom: That’s interesting, and that refines your understanding of the needs and wants and desires of the people that you’re working with.
Jeni Elliott: It does, and so then if you think about the entrepreneurial leap to creating some kind of product that can serve thousands of people, then the leap from, let’s say, doing some of these behind the scenes intuitive research to actually talking to real people with real challenges, real setbacks and real desires, you can then create a product for those people that you know will sell, because it’s based on the real-life experiences of your target market.
Bjork Ostrom: It’s interesting. One of the authors that I really like is Steve Blank, and he talks about customer development, but he talks about specifically in the startup space, so people that are creating maybe a SaaS product or launching the next social media network or something. Exactly what he says is, “You need to connect with people, and literally sit down and talk with them, and allow that to guide where things go, and continually stay in contact with people, so you can continually refine exactly where you are headed.”
It’s interesting to see how that applies in startups, or SaaS, or with creating a product or service, digital product or service. That was actually going to be my next question is, so once you start to get to this point where you’re having these conversations with people, do you have an intentional process that you follow? Let’s say you schedule a Skype call. Do you have a list of questions that are the same every time? Do you record that call, or is it more of refining your intuition as you start to hear those conversations more?
Jeni Elliott: A lot of types of information that you would get on a one-on-one coaching call for example are things that perhaps you could get if you spent hundreds and hundreds of hours reading bunches of books for example. The successful coach is not one that says, “Here is what you should do,” but one that helps your customer, that helps your client to help to make some of those decisions on their own, because the last thing that you want to do is have somebody hang up from the call and be like, “Wow, that was amazing. That was life changing,” but then not implement it, because that wasn’t them. The change did not happen from within themselves.
As far as a process, I have an intake form on my site that I point people to when they book with me. It goes through some basic business questions. Who is your target market? How long have you been doing this? What do your page views look like? How much money are you making through different channels? Helping me to get an overall picture of their site, one of the biggest questions that I ask though is, “What have you tried that has not worked?” Through that question, I really get a lot of tag along information about what they have tried.
When we see sit down to the call, the first thing I say is, “We have an hour, and I want this change as much in your business as it possibly can, but because we want to do that, it can’t be all over the place, so let’s focus down on one result that you want to get. If we can answer that one question by the end of this call, then, your time will have been worth it.”
In my early days of consulting, I would get on the phone, and we talk about, “Oh, there are 16 different things that you should do,” and we’ll make an action list, check boxes with 1 through 16. I’ll even email it to you after the call.“ I would follow up with people 6 or 8 weeks later, and I’d be like, ”Hey, how is that going?“ They’d be like, ”I didn’t do any of it." That’s not the business I’m in. I’m in the business of changing people’s lives and changing people’s business.
By focusing down and helping them make one step in the direction that they want to go, it’s a lot more effective. Once they have that, usually, they have the momentum to keep going forward on their own. Does that make sense?
Bjork Ostrom: For sure. That’s great. I think that idea of comparing and contrasting what’s worked and then also asking the question what hasn’t worked is interesting. For people to also analyze that, one of the things that I’m doing that are working, and one of the things that I’m doing that aren’t working, there’s value in that question. I want to walk through the entire process here.
We have a food blog. We’re starting to shift our thinking a little bit. We’re not just a recipe site. We’re going to lean into this idea of building relationships with people that come to our site starting to understand them a little bit better. Then once we start to understand what a specific need is, maybe we can focus in on a target market, and say, “Okay, I’m going to build authority in this space.” The example that we gave is the idea of recipes that are good for people with food allergies.
Jeni Elliott: Wait, back up, you just said recipes. I didn’t say recipes. I said solutions.
Bjork Ostrom: Okay solutions. Can you correct me, and tell me where I was off with that?
Jeni Elliott: Your reader comes to your site, because she wants a change. We’ll just run with this example with the lady with the food allergies. All she is thinking about right now is her son, and he has a rash on his cheek. It’s really noticeable because he claws at it all the time, and it stays red and irritated, and maybe his friends at school make fun of him, and he’s bullied because of that.
The lady who is here at your site now, she’s not looking for a recipe. She wants to solve this problem of her son having food allergies. She wants to make it go away at all. Now, if you can promise her, “I will lead you to a place where your son doesn’t suffer from food allergies anymore,” she doesn’t care at that point what you give to her, what you deliver. She doesn’t care if you give her a list of recipes. She doesn’t care if you tell her what food supplements that she should take.
She doesn’t care if you tell her, “Oh, this is the reason. If you cut this out, then that will do it.” She’d also doesn’t care if you say, “Okay, do this list of steps, and hold your left hand above your head for 21 days straight, then that will solve it.” She doesn’t care about the delivery method. She cares about solving the problem. It’s a really important distinction to make. We’re not in the business of creating recipes. We’re in the business of providing solutions.
Bjork Ostrom: Got it. Let’s say that, to continue on with the food allergiesthing, we have figure out that’s what we want to do. It’s not necessarily publishing a bunch of recipes that would be a good fit for people with a certain food allergy. It’s about the solution of dealing with a certain type of food allergy recipes or not, right? It could be any type of solution that helps people in this specific situation.
Jeni Elliott: Correct.
Bjork Ostrom: What does that next step look like then? Then a follow-up question is what happens if you run out of things to say about food allergies? What do you do then?
Jeni Elliott: There are entire blogs, entire communities that are built around nothing but food allergies. When we think about that problem specifically, there are not less of them. There are more of them. It’s a problem that’s not going away. Second of all, it’s pretty myopic, pretty narrow minded to say that there is a limit to the amount of stuff that can be known about it.
There’s always more to learn. There’s always more to know, and the higher you get up, the more in depth your understanding of whatever it is that you write about becomes the more you realize that, “Oh, I know just this tiny little fraction of all that there is to know. There’s so much out there.” I guess, that’s where continuously learning yourself comes in.
Setting that fear aside, what we want to do now is not just provide a one time solution, because then you are really forced to get back in the rat race, and to slug it out, to keep to turning out more and more posts, and to post on social media, and just to get frenetically caught up in the tide. Instead, we want to say, “Okay, anybody who comes to my site looking for issues, looking for solutions to a food allergy problem, they need to know that this is the place for them.”
User-experienced designers have done tests, and they found that the first three seconds that anybody is on the new website, their brain is trying to unravel two questions. First of all, where am I? Second of all, am in the right place? Am I in the right place for me, for my need that I have? If you can prove that to them through something that’s a way bigger topic of your brand, if you can prove that to that person within those first 3 seconds, or open up the window first 10, 15 seconds of them being on your site, then they understand why they need to not pop back over to Pinterest, why they need to join your community instead.
Then you need to have a way for them to join it. You need to have a way and a compelling reason for them to subscribe, because the last thing you want to do is for this amazing person who’s going to turn into your brand ambassador, your super fan, you don’t want them to go back to Pinterest.
Bjork Ostrom: Can you talk a little bit more about that? What does that process look like?
Jeni Elliott: This is what we call conversion. It’s helping take people from out there on the internet, and filtering through them, and converting them. There are couple of ways you can look at conversions, but converting them either from readers to subscribers, or at the deeper level, then from subscribers to buyers once you get to that part in the process. Converting just means that you are taking them from just a random one-time visitor who pops in, and scroll, scroll, click, and they’re gone to somebody who says … They raise their hand and say, “You are the blogger for me. I want to join your tribe because you’re making me a promise I can’t refuse.”
Then at that point, you have moved them from out there to in here, and the in here becomes that core group of people that you can serve, and those people that you can create for the people who will tell everybody about you. Then when you do offer products or services, those are the people who will buy them. Not just be grudgingly buy them, they cannot wait to hand you their money, because all they want is whatever you’ve got.
Bjork Ostrom: All of that starts at this very beginning stage of figuring out your target market, and saying, “I’m going to really focus in on this area, and become an authority on this.” It’s interesting. As you’ve talked about it, I’ve envisioned you doing your circles as you were describing the cross section of the earth and the different cores that exist within it, or the different layers, and can really see how we’re starting to get down to that core piece, which is that entrepreneur piece.
It goes back to what’s the difference between a blogger and an entrepreneur. It’s really clear as we talk through this that the entrepreneur is intentional about … If their focus is going to be on a blog, then they’re intentional about that not just being the blog, but having these different steps along the way that bring them to this core piece, which is eventually that product or service.
This is all so fascinating and so interesting. I think it makes sense. At a conceptual level, we understand that, and as we think about these different layers that you used to get down that you used to get down to this idea of implementing a product or service, and focusing on a niche, and building authority in that area, but I’m wondering if you have examples or maybe a case study or something like that of somebody you’ve worked with, the changes they made and then what happened because of that.
Jeni Elliott: Sure absolutely, I have a gold level coaching program, where I work with people who are already successful entrepreneurs, and help them multiply the existing income that they already have. One of my long-time clients was in this transition phase. She’s actually Pre-K blogger like for teach of kids who are in Pre-K. She had lots and lots and lots of products. She had literally a couple hundred tiny little micro products, little printables, and things that you would buy for $1 to $5 a pop.
She also had pretty high traffic, because she had been for years a huge content creator. Just getting things out there had worked up her page views really high. When she came to me, she was tired of perpetual content creation. She was really getting burned out. She said, “All I want to do is spend less time working. I want to spend less time blogging, and spend more time doing things that are going to create long-term money for me.”
What we did is we transitioned her from somebody who had ad networks. She had ads plastered all over her site. Frankly, it looked a little spammy. It’s a little bit outdated design, which is not bad in itself, but just chaos when you look at it visually, which the designer in me just cringes, “I can’t believe you would do that to your site,” but it’s making money. At the point, two of the months that I would say in this case study, in October, she was making $1,800 a month from ad networks. That’s not chump change.
If you say $1,800 a month, that’s a couple mortgages. She has these products, and she was also running ad networks. We said, “Okay, we’re entrepreneurs, so we can test things out. What would happen if we replace the ads that you have on your site with ads for your own products instead? Use the same real state you have available. Instead of promoting somebody else’s stuff and making literally pennies on the dollar for people who are clicking away, what would happen if we replace this with ads for your site? What would happen if we replace those with ads for your products, where you’re making a 95% to 97% profit on your own products?”
In October, she had a total income of $10,354, because about $8,500 of that was from her products. Out November 1st, we cut her ad networks, and we replaced it with ads for her products, and in the month of November with no change at all in traffic, she earned an extra $7,232.
Bjork Ostrom: That was removing ads completely, and just placing an emphasis and the focus on the products that she had.
Jeni Elliott: Right. She went from making $8,500 from products in October to making $17,500 in November. One thing more of the main reasons that that happened is that the reason that people were there, they’re intent being on that page absolutely matched the products that were being advertised.
Bjork Ostrom: There wasn’t a disconnect like maybe an ad showing for Tide detergent when they were really interested in a worksheet for Pre-K.
Jeni Elliott: Right, absolutely. This is one of the examples I love to sight with people who are saying, “Really? Does it really work?” Well, we’ve tested it out. A combination of matching the user’s intent when they come to your site, and then also the percentage of your profit when you are offering your own products is way higher, so a combination of those two. She literally almost doubled her income just by changing out those ads.
Bjork Ostrom: What a great example. We’re coming to the end here, and I know that people will get a lot out of this. I think there’s some mindset shifts that will probably come from listening to this podcast. I also know that obviously, you do the coaching and consulting, and you have a lot going on. For people that want to take the next step, and perhaps work with you personally, Jeni, I’m curious, what are the different ways that people can do that? What are the different ways that people can follow up and connect with you?
Jeni Elliott: The best way is to get in touch with me over at theblogmaven.com, because I only offer things to my existing subscribers. At least for the foreseeable future, you’re not going to see any external links. You won’t see a link on my website to, “Here is the courses you can buy.” You won’t see a link to my services at all, because I keep everything in house. There’s a process that you have to go through as you become member of my tribe that lets me know that, “Hey, you understand where I’m coming from, and so I know therefore that you would be a good match to work with me.”
In that name, I’ve really stopped doing most consulting, most one-on-one consulting altogether. I don’t think we had mentioned this, but I’m a single mom of four kids. I home school my kids, and I only work about 15 hours a week.
Bjork Ostrom: That is a great case study in and of itself for what you’re teaching. You’re doing it.
Jeni Elliott: If I can do it, I have a 9, 7, 4, and 1-year-old.
Bjork Ostrom: Never dull moment for you.
Jeni Elliott: Yeah. Anybody who takes care of my kids, I have to pay them to do it, and I work about 15 hours a week because my business is here to support my mothering habit. That’s why I do everything. Anyway, in the name of keeping with my life mission, I’ve pulled most of my consulting services, and now, I offer a chance for people to work in groups in a new program that I’m launching. That’s called Blog Smarter.
Basically, it holds your hand step by step through this process. It takes you from being a blogger to being a CEO for not knowing what’s the next thing that I should do? I really don’t know. With my spaghetti wall approach, I don’t know why any of this is not working to exactly what the next thing to do is to grow your business.
Bjork Ostrom: That’s great. If people are interested in learning more about that, first thing to do is go to theblogmaven.com. Second thing to do is sign up for that list. Then third thing to do is stay tuned, I’m guessing.
Jeni Elliott: Absolutely, stay tuned, because when I put stuff in place because of these limitations that I have in my personal life, I’m going to be sending it out via email, so get on my list, and you will not miss it when it goes live. I run 2 pilot programs at this point, and my students have seen phenomenal results. Then I’ll be releasing case studies here later too, but I have bloggers who have been blogging for 7, or 8, or 9 years who are just burned out. One of them said that this like P90X for her blog.
She could not believe that in 9 years of blogging, she never heard any of this. What really it is is graduate level marketing strategy, because bloggers are smart, resourceful, hardworking people, and they can do this. It’s just a matter of having the right mindset and having the right understanding of the process.
Bjork Ostrom: That’s great. We’ll be sure for those, not that they need it, but we’ll be in sure to include some links in the show notes too, where people can sign up for that, and also just to check out your blog. There’s lots of, as we’ve talked about, incredible resources there, incredible resources in the email list, and for people to stay tuned for the course as well. Jeni, thanks so much for coming on the podcast. I really appreciate it. I know that people will get a lot of out it, and there’s a lot of really important concepts, so appreciate you sharing those with the Food Blogger Pro audience.
Jeni Elliott: Thanks so much Bjork. I had a great time, and I hope I can get to come back.
Bjork Ostrom: All right, thanks. One more big thank you to Jeni Elliott from theblogmaven.com for coming on the podcast today. We really, really appreciate you sharing your insight, your ideas, and all of the different tips and tricks that you have for bloggers. Thanks Jeni for coming on. Thank you wherever you are for listening to this podcast.
There is this unique relationship that you and I have, especially if you’ve been listening to this for a while, and that I feel like you maybe get who I am a little bit, and a big piece of that, the biggest piece of that following along for information, and being able to build your blog into a better thing, whatever your goal with it would be, but this side part of it is that you and I get to hang out each week or however often you listen to this. I think that’s cool.
If you ever run into me, whether at a conference or if you’re in Minnesota, or I am where you are, and we run into each other, make sure to come up and say hi, because I’d love to connect with you. If not that, then connect with me here, there, or anywhere around the internet however that might play out. I just really appreciate you, and I appreciate the fact that you listen to the podcast every week, and think it’s cool that we have this very little but significant connection, so bla, bla, bla.
Anyways, have a great week, and thanks for tuning it. Bye.
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