Just Heather

I didn’t really mean to abandon my personal blog. It just sort of got shuffled aside as I launched my new site, muddled through various illnesses and struggled with personal drama & everyday life. Over the years, this blog has been many things—an online scrapbook, an outlet for adult conversation or a place to find new friends. Since it’s relaunch, it has morphed into a place to record my personal journey.

And, that’s how I’d like it to stay.

It will be a place to record my progress as I learn to be a grownup. I’ll track my 40×40 list, share our alphabet dating journey and cross off any other Someday lists I come up with along the way. In between, though, I’m finding places for the rest of it. I am now the proud owner of 5—yes, 5—blogs. So far.

Wanna know my thoughts on Mommyhood? Check out my latest project, Miscellaneous Mom. I’m sharing parenting tips, rants, fails and more with a few of my bloggy friends. The name? Based on a quick post I wrote right here, once upon a time. (You know, before Twitter made micro-blogging an actual thing.)

Looking for my money saving expertise? That’s still at Inexpensively, where I’ve joined forces with frugal bloggers across the country to provide advice, bargains and weekly grocery deals. I’m also working with a lot of experts to bring tips on saving money in a variety of categories.

And, don’t worry—I’m still a huge sports fan! I’ve channeled most of that into my new Colts fan blog. Of course, that venture came just in time for the end of the season, but training camp is just 4 months away.

Were you counting? That’s just 4, including this one! I’m getting ready to launch yet another site with MFJ—who is now officially a blogger! In the meantime, you can follow us on Twitter to see why friends don’t let friends drink and tweet!

I’ve got a few other projects in my head, but that’s probably enough for now. I’m already overwhelmed enough to have accidentally abandoned Project 365. I’m sort of failing at the daily photo thing. Although, I am taking more everyday, family life photos. As that was my personal goal for the project, I’d have to call it a success!

Sort of.

I’m in the middle of a women’s study on The Mom Factor through my church. As part of tonight’s activities, we were asked to design a mask—one side represented our personal, inside attributes; the other represented our public face. Whoa.

I wrote character words around the outside of mine, colored my public face purple (duh) and used a variety of colors to represent my insides. The mask I wear for the “public” isn’t fake or a contrived persona. It’s just the best part of me—the parts my parents would be proud of. Inside? I’m a big, hot mess. I bill my competitive streak as tenacity. I cover up my confusion with determination. And, I hide my hurt with defiance.

What’s interesting to me, though, is that I’m completely open, honest and transparent here. In our discussion, I think I nailed down the reason. Here, you can only stop reading. And, I’m okay with that. In real life? People have the power to hurt me. Here, I can hide behind my computer and pretend no one reads my words. Out there? In the real world? What if they don’t like me?

So, I blog. I blog about the things I can’t talk about to people in my life. I blog about the things I’m excited about but think no one else will care. I blog about the worst parts of me I wouldn’t admit to my best friend. Because it’s freeing. And, sometimes? I find that people do care. People do relate. And? People still like me. So, I’m working on taking off the mask in real life a little.

If I hadn’t been real, if I weren’t all me with MFJ, we wouldn’t be planning a vacation together right now. If I hadn’t opened up, made myself vulnerable and let Spencer see all of me, we wouldn’t have reconnected the way we did. Yes, even the hubby was kept at a distance—out of fear, mostly. I’ve been letting it go a little, peeking out from behind my mask and thrilled to find that he loves me anyway.

What does your mask look like? What are you hiding from?

So amazing to finally meet my online friend Mindy. We've 'known' one another since Al Gore invented the internet. Huge thanks to Moosh in Indy for the pic.

I have been to a lot of business conferences in my time, and several blogging conferences over the last year, but last week was by far my favorite! Someone described it as a big family reunion, and that just about sums it up for me. It was awesome to touch base with friends, amazing to finally real life hug blog friends and tons of fun meeting new ones. I hesitate to name names because I know I will forget someone. There were tons of seriously fabulous gals at Blissdom. It was truly like a big ol’ reunion, and I’m thrilled to finally know so many of the amazing bloggers who inspire me.

Southern Fairy Tale and Moosh in Indy

It’s going to take me all week to catch up and follow the great women I fell in love with at Blissdom, but I wasted no time unfollowing those who had the opposite effect. I was really struck by how very little respect some bloggers have for others. I don’t know why I’m always surprised to find people like that. It was a teeny, tiny percentage of the women at the conference, of course. Instead of letting them ruin it for me, I choose to take another perspective. My stream is now full only of tweets & tweeps that fill me with bliss. Everyone else must go.

My roomie, Angie from Just Like the Number

Taking charge of my own bliss was my big take home from the entire event! I love a conference like this because there is no pressure or stress to cram in a ton of expertise. It’s simply women learning from other women. The sessions were spot on for me—I had such a hard time choosing between the business & writing track each hour. One of the things I always do to keep myself focused at a conference is narrow down my notes to a single action item at the end of each workshop. It’s nice to come home with a list of very specific to-do items rather than be overwhelmed with notes & lists. I live blogged each session so I can go back to re-experience them once I’ve gotten through my first round of action items.

Real life hugs from Alli! (Photo by Alli, via Whrrl)

I’m going to be streamlining how I do things. The balance session was incredibly helpful—especially now that I write for 5 different sites. I have tons of new ideas for Inexpensively. (And, I was so, very thrilled to spend some time with the team this weekend—Renae & Amee, Holly, Cherie and Melissa all made the trip too!) There’s a lot I want to accomplish this week, and more I’m being realistic about putting on the back burner. Step one—regain control of my calendar. The hubby and I have now scheduled a weekly meeting to touch base on the family calendar, our budget, paperwork and my writing schedule.


Because I am determined to find my bliss!

This session is on pulling back the curtain of online advertising. I’m a little worried it will be more basic than I need, but I’m interested in hearing the perspectives of the ad network managers on the panel. Everyone wants to know how to make money from blogging. This one is all about selling real estate on your blog. It is a live blog so it is completely unedited—I’m just taking notes as we go.

Speakers

Mary Anne Beasley, @thestilettomom
Melanie Sheridan, @adramaticmommy
Michelle Lamar (Gloss Inc), @michellelamar
Tsh Oxenrider, @simplemom
Paula Bruno, One2One Network, @paulabruno

Content is king.
Develop a niche. Keep it uncluttered—advertisers don’t want to invest in “real estate” on your blog when the sidebar is full of clutter.
Melanie: Give yourself permission to not write every day. When you do write, write well.

Clean up your act.
Paula: You want to make it easier for advertisers to want to advertise on your blog.
Tsh: You don’t need a lot of sidebar, chotsky widgets if you want to make money on your blog.
Melanie: Consider your theme—be sure it is advertiser friendly. Find something that is clean and supports where you want to go.

Be careful what/how you review.
Mary Anne: Advertisers want to be sure you are not writing things that conflict with their ads.

Know Your Stats
Mary Anne: Be ready to tell people how many people you reach.
Tsh: Be able to speak to your “influencer” status. It isn’t always about the numbers. If your readers are extremely loyal or you are influential in some way, be able to present that information.
Mary Anne: Talk about what kind of social footprint you have.

Key words you need to know
CPM: Cost per thousand pageviews
Market averages: Widely varies, typically higher for a niche. This session is using a $5 average CPM.
Uniques vs. Pageviews: Unique is number of individual people coming to your site. Pageviews is how many times your site was viewed total. You sell pageviews, but advertisers typically want to know about uniques.
CTR: Click Thru Rate—the percentage of pageviews that actually clicked to the site.
CPC: You only get paid when someone clicks.
Comscore: The Gold Standard among ad agencies, but you have to be a big site to be measured. Also use Quantcast.

What do you do when your stat counters are so different?
Mary Anne: Use the one that makes you look better and see if you can get away with it.
Tsh: Most companies understand Google Analytics better so I just use that.

What is an Ad Network?
Mary Anne: Sell ads for a group collectively. (Glam, BlogHer, Juicebox Jungle, etc)
Pros/Cons: You get big brands advertising and it makes your site look good. You also have less control, though.
Expectations: You need to stick with your content niche. Most will require above the fold placement. Some won’t let you have reviews on the site.
Different ways to make money: Some will offer editorial integrations.
Melanie: I have to weigh how much I want to write about the topic vs. how my readers will feel about paid editorial content.
Read the fine print!
Mary Anne: The devil is in the details.
Paula: Think about what you really want to do over the course of the contract.

Tsh: Runs only private ads for complete creative control. More time consuming.
Michelle: Be very specific about your audience to filter out ads.
Mel: “This is why I go through an ad network.” Willing to give up 50% of revenue to ad networks in exchange for extra time to spend on content & community.

How much should be charging for CPM ad?
Tsh: Works with small businesses who can’t afford higher rates, but that’s who she wants to support.
Audience: Federated sells mom blog ads for $10-15 CPM, and pays us half.
Mary Anne: It depends on the blog, the niche and the market.

Final Thoughts:
Michelle: Keep track of your stats. Don’t sell yourself short.
Mary Anne: It’s a business. You have to treat it as such.

Once again, Alli Worthington is in my head as she plans these things! I have a couple different niche blogs, actually, with 2 more on the way later this month. This is a live blog so you’ll see my unedited notes as we go through the session.

Speakers:

Heather Solos, @heathersolos
Nester Smith, @thenester
Jennifer Schmidt, @beautyandbedlam
Sommer Poquette, @greenmom
Rachel Matthews, @sthrnfairytale
Audrey McClelland, @AudreyMcCellan

If you have a lot of frugal aspects on your blog. How does that affect your PR?
Jennifer: Doesn’t shop at a lot of stores so it makes it tough to find sponsors. Goodwill loves her but she’s learning to work with brands, not stores, that have lasting value.

Let’s talk about the elephant in the room—money.
Sommer: Be strategic. Think about your niche. Think about your
Rachel: Makes money with ads but only because she likes the content in them. Works as a spokesperson for some foods, but only when she can support it.
Nester: Think about things that are a great fit for your niche instead of chasing everyone.
Do you see other blogs in your niche as competition or community?
Huge round of absolutely not!
Sommer: Help others in your niche, they’ll help you and it all comes back to you.
Audrey: There’s power in numbers. People get caught up in traffic numbers, but when you come together with 4-5 other women, you can approach a company together.
Sommer: Reading other blogs in your niche can give you inspiration on another post.
Rachel: There’s power in your community. You are a family. Support each other, love each other, share.
Nester: Recommends Tribes: We Need You to Lead Us by Seth Godin: Know your tribe and get to know them.
Jennifer: If we drop that competitive edge a little, we’ll all succeed.

Community: How do you define your niche with your readers?
Jennifer: Be specific with your readers in your about page. Define you terms. Use a tag line.
Rachel: Your tag line is powerful. It can lead people into wanting to know more. You can rebrand yourself at anytime.

Can you rebrand yourself and refocus your niche at anytime without losing your readers?
Rachel: They’re going to come or go, regardless. Write for you. Write what you know.
Audrey: People read because you have content they want. The people who will leave aren’t the ones you want anyway.
Rachel: Be you. When people meet you in person, they should already know you through your blog.

Writing in a niche can lead people to view you as an authority. How do you feel about that?
Nester: You should become an authority in your tribe.
Rachel: Own it. If you aren’t entirely sure about something, write is if you are. When people ask you questions about something in your niche, you have a blog post right there. If one person asks, ten more want to know.
Sommer: You do have to be careful, especially when you are writing about products or ingredients. If you don’t know, send your readers to someone who does.
Jennifer: “I totally share that I screw up a whole lot.” This question depends on what kind of voice you want to share.
Audrey: The beauty niche is very subjective. It’s more opinion than fact.

How do you deal with the issues involved in being an expert?
Sommer: Get an LLC and insurance. You can also hire an attorney to help be sure you’re protected.
Jennifer: Also has an LLC. (Me too!)
Heather: Sometimes, it’s okay to say you can’t help.

How do you overcome outside perceptions of your niche?
Jennifer: Do a survey, get some demographics to show potential advertisers.
Rachel: Your social footprint is huge and they should look for that.
Heather: Some of it is on us to know our readers and our numbers to share with them.

What do you do when you don’t want to post in your niche?
Sommer: Ask to guest post with someone in another niche. Write a blog post on a Ning network—it can be about anything you want.
Nester: You can also post unrelated things on your Facebook page, where the fans are more interested in community.

Considering the fact that I’ve been writing no less than 3 books, and officially added “Write a book” to my 40×40 list, this was another must attend session. Alli sure knows what she’s doing! I am live blogging the events so you’re reading completely unedited notes as we go through the panel. Sometimes I miss things, sometimes I commentate but mostly I just jot down what I can along the way.

Speakers:

Sharyn Rosenblum from Harper Collins, @sharynrosenblum
Kristen Welch, @weareTHATfamily
Alicia Ybarbo, author of Today’s Moms: Essentials for Surviving Baby’s First Year, @todaysmoms
Tsh Oxenrider, author of , @simplemom
Erin Chase, author of The $5 Dinner Mom Cookbook, @5dollardinners

Sharyn: Decide what it is you want to write about, and the supporting materials (photos, etc). Is it book worthy? Publishers are looking for people who are strong writers and have good interaction with their readership.

Once you have your concept, how do you go about developing it and putting together proposal?
Kristen: The proposal was very intimidating. Non-Fiction Book Proposals are, on average, 10-20 pages. She highly recommends Jeff Herman’s Guide to Book Publishers, Editors, and Literary Agents. (specifically the chapter titled Knock-Out Non-Fiction Book Proposals)
Alicia: There are elements you need in a proposal: a pitch letter (1 sheet about yourself & your idea), market comparison (similar books & what makes yours better), author bios, Table of Contents (will take the longest to do since you’re outlining the book without having written it), sample chapter—add photos, include graphics, make it aesthetically pleasing. Make it professional, but interesting enough to get read by an agent or publisher.
Tsh: Used an outline/template to write her proposal, but tried to find ways to make hers personal. Looked at books that would be sitting next to hers on the bookshelf and included information about how hers would be different.
Erin: Read Nonfiction Book Proposals Anybody can Write—and did it.
Alicia: Your first draft is also not going to be your last.
Sharyn: It’s a case by case basis. There isn’t one way to do it but there is one way that’s write for you. Presentation is crucial. Swag is also good—if it’s a cookbook or art related, send a sample along with it. Your blog following is important but the book has to be able to stand on its own. Don’t oversell yourself, but don’t sell yourself short. You should have a reason why your book is a great idea. The editors want to work with people who really want to develop the best book they can.

About the process:
Tsh: Editor asked to see 2 chapters per month. It wasn’t in the contract but it helped to keep on track and stay in touch throughout the process. One of the reasons my editor picked my book is that I already have an eBook on my blog so they knew I was familiar with the writing process.
Kristen: “I really thought once I landed an agent that I was going to be a millionaire, but that is just not happening.” You don’t need an agent. They are a great go between but you can do it on your own.
Alicia: Don’t think you need to go to a big box firm. Meet with smaller, boutique literary agents. Go with your gut & choose a person who will ultimately be the one to take care of you.
Erin: “I really had no clue. I got the proposal thing figured out because there was a book.” Wrote all of hers in 2 months, but had most of the content (recipes) already on her blog.
Sharyn: Ask about the editorial process & schedule in advance. You’ll know what to expect & have the chance to choose someone who will be attentive. Know the kind of book you have & where you want it to land. If you compare yourself to someone or has a similar audience as another book, go to a similar publisher.
Tsh: Found her agent by asking another online friend with a similar published book and asked who she used.
Kristen: Knowing what you want to write is important. Hone in on what you want to write about. Editor told her only 50% of her book could come from her blog. You can’t just make your blog into a book, but you can’t hold back from your blog either. They want you to continue being active on your blog.
Tsh: The blog writing process is different than the book writing process. You can still take your blog posts, but expand on them.

What happens when the book comes out? Do you have to do a lot of publicity or tours to promote it?
Sharyn: Publishers put great efforts into getting into social media but book publicity is still very traditional. We use traditional media—television, radio, print.
Alicia: The publicist can only do so much. You’ll have to do a lot of hustle — connections. Take advantage of your own communities—local media, etc.
Erin: In the middle of publicity for her new book. There is a lot of work involved—interviews, book signings, etc. She actually asked to do the book signings just in locations she would be traveling already. Book reviews, giveaways have been huge since her book came from her blog.
The rest of the session was Q&A. I don’t do great at catching those, and I’m really freaking hungry. Also? My laptop needs to be charged so I’m all done here. If I catch something interesting along the way, I may come back & add it later. Sometimes, I also tweet random quotes.

With live blogging, I simply blog throughout the session. You may find my personal comments, direct quotes or quick notes. It is unedited and, therefore, not always cohesive. I do promise to come back later to edit spelling & grammar. One quick note—Kim & Kris are identical twins. Their responses may very well be reversed & I sincerely appologize if they are. I’m sitting too far to read the nametags.

Speakers:

Amy Turn Sharp from Little Alouette, @dooblehvay
Julie Cole from Mabel’s Labels, @juliecole
Kimba from a Soft Place to Land, @kimbaASPTL
Kim Christopherson from You Can Make This, @youcanmakethis
Kris Thurgood from SWAK Embroidery, @jessekatedesign
Lisa Leonard from Lisa Leonard Designs, @lisaleonard

Steps to take (the 5 Bs):
Build the Buzz: You want people to start talking about it now.
Be yourself: Don’t worry about it being perfect—just be you and real.
Be specific: Be specific about what action you want your readers to take.
Bring on the bookmarks
Be appreciative: Thank your readers/customers for everything they do—they don’t have to give you their email address so thank them when they do! Give them something as a thanks for signing up—a free eBook

What social media tools have been affective?
Kris: Get to know your audience. Find out what tools their using! You’ll learn where to focus your efforts.

How do you manage social media?
Lisa: “I do all the social media for the business myself.” It’s more genuine & personal than if it were hired out. Give your readers a sense of who you are. Network like nobody’s business—people are really open to getting to know you, especially if they love your product. Build relationships for the relationships not just to sell.

How much time do you spend and how much is right?
Kimba: Spends several hours per day, but understands each person needs to decide what is right for them. Make decisions about what you will and won’t do.
Julie: Building social media for Mabel’s Labels is actually her full time job so it’s 9-5. However, social media is 24/7. Focus on following up with people who are talking with you.

What campaigns have worked for you?
Amy: Get your name out there. People find you, fall in love with you and tell everyone.
Kate: You have to be passionate. If someone responds negatively in public, respond publicly. Loyalty is key—just because someone is small doesn’t mean you shouldn’t work with them. You could be building a relationship & loyalty with someone who will be bigger later.
Lisa: Network up, down, side to side. Just network a lot, and consistently.
Amy: Treat everyone the same with kindness & love because you never know who is buying your product, or who they know.
Kimba: A single campaign isn’t necessarily going to turn things around for your business, but it’s worth it for building buzz & relationships.

Do you have any personal rules with social media?
Amy: Has a personal account that is truly just her, but still has to be careful about what you say since you’re connected. Kris: “Don’t drink & tweet.”
Amy: Keep the biz account business focused. Don’t get involved in things that are hateful & heated. Uses UberTwitter to keep them separate (I use Tweet Deck with multiple accounts).

Kim: If you can be helpful, you’ll become an expert in your field. Even if you drive people to someone else’s posts, you start to become a resource.
Amy: Uses Tumblr to share photos that inspire her as she’s creating toys.
Julie: Know your readers, your target.


The rest was an audience Q&A. I didn’t always catch the questions but I did my best to write the important points from the answers.

What tools do you use to stay up on your competitors?
Amy: Google alerts.
Lisa: My readers keep an eye out for me. It can drive you insane trying to keep up on what others are doing. Put your energy into being creative instead of trying to police the internet.
Amy: Setup a Google alert for your name just to see what people are saying about you.
Julie: Don’t waste your time & energy worrying about it.
Kris: Just play your own game. Blogosphere has enough room for everyone.

How do you sell your business when it’s you—a service, not a product?
Lisa: You have to find a way to separate it. Define what you do and sell that.

Julie: Branding is important. Make sure your Facebook fan page looks like your website. The content doesn’t have to be identical but the sites should be the same.

If there’s one session I was completely required to take, it’s this one! I have trouble balancing work and home life. Something always gets pushed aside. Lately, it’s been my poor family. They’ve suffered through finishing college, launching a new business and my personal obsession with social media. This is a live blog, which means it’s completely unedited. I’m simply taking notes through the session.

Speakers:

Christine Koh, @bostonmamas
Deb Rox, @debontherocks
Megan Jordan, @velveteenmind
Carmen Stacier, @mttsm

How has balance come to you? (Speaker Stories)
Deb: “I’ve burnt out of a lot of careers because I didn’t have a real balance.”
Megan: What matters will be there, when you come back. “I’m willing to lose if it means I can play by my own rules.” Sometimes that means not worrying about missing opportunities, not getting to take the trips, not being on the Top 50 Mom Blogger lists. Do the things that are important to you, and let the rest go.
Carmen: Stop comparing your insides to someone else’s outsides. “Maybe I don’t make everybody else’s Top 50 lists, but I make my kids’ lists.”
Christine: “Remember. Opportunity can be dangerous. It’s not always the right thing.” Every path brings you to the next, even if you turn things down. There’s a real feeling of needing to always be connected so you don’t miss anything, but it’s okay if you do.


After sharing their initial stories, the panel deferred the rest of the discussion to the audience Q&A. I didn’t always catch the questions, but I tried to jot relevant info out of the responses.

Megan: “I have ‘just a seconded’ my kids out of an entire day.” Social media is fast paced and competitive, but you don’t have to do it all.
Christine: If you are feeling anxious, figure out why. If it’s simply because you are worried about missing something, it might not be the right thing. Go with the things that you want to do because you want to do it, not because you want a gold star.
Deb: We want to be present but we aren’t taking a role in making it happen. “If you’re passive, if you wait, the game will win.”

Megan: Focus on doing a few things really well, rather than doing everything halfway. “How about I just do my current projects really well?”
Deb: “If you do everything just to get the gold star, the first ones will be tarnished before you get the last. Do you really want everything if it means you have to clean it?”
Carmen: Saying yes to everything made everyone else happy except me. Don’t say yes—say, “Can I get back to you?” You aren’t liked because you say yes; you’re liked because of who you are.

Megan: “By not asking for help, you’re depriving others of an opportunity.” Asking for help isn’t showing a weakness.
Carmen: Your way isn’t always the right way. Don’t deprive your family of the opportunity to find their own way.

On scheduling specific blocks of time: Christine carves out time during the school day. When it’s time for one thing, shut everything else off.

“You can have it all, just not at the same time.”

Deb: It’s not just that you can’t do everything yourself; it’s that you don’t have to. There are others with expertise you can tap into.