Want to get blogging tips from hot bloggers with a proven track record? Blogging Success Stories is an interview series that helps you learn from successful bloggers, get motivated to keep blogging and be empowered by actionable blogging tips.
Today we're talking with Jen Gresham. A "scientist by training and an optimist at heart", Jen shows people how to turn their career fantasy into reality. Jen is the founder of the No Regrets Career Academy and a former US Airforce officer with a Ph.D. in biochemistry.
Jen’s been blogging since 2009 - we first connected online through our blogs then met at Blogworld in Las Vegas in 2010. Jen even wrote about me on her blog in Do Something Scary and surprised me by gifting me a book of her poetry. Yes, she's a poet too which probably explains why her writing is so beautiful.
Here’s more about Jen Gresham’s blogging success story along with her hot blogging tips.
Let's get personal! Where do you live? Do you have a family? What do you do for work and play?
I'm an American living in London in the United Kingdom - a life-long dream of mine. I was born here, but my parents moved back to the States when I was just a baby. I still pinch myself that I made this happen. My family, my husband, and daughter are both here too.
My work is also my play to a large extent. Give me a couple spare hours and I’m likely to spend it watching a training video on marketing or writing a blog post. People ask me how I get so much done running a business and taking care of a family, and the secret really is finding work that is also fun. But I also love getting out with friends and exploring Europe. When I spend too much time by myself in front of the computer, I get cranky.
What's your blog about? Who reads it? How long have you been blogging?
I primarily help over-achievers design a career that makes them happy, successful, and fulfilled. It’s a group and a problem I understand well, since I went through a massive career change myself, leaving a successful career as a Ph.D. scientist to become a writer/speaker/coach. My blog was my first “career test-drive” as a writer, to see if turning my writing hobby into a job would ruin the fun. It turned out to be just the opposite. I got hooked on blogging the moment I started. I’ve been blogging now for about 2.5 years.
What do you offer your readers that no one else does?
Well, I think what most coaches and writers offer is perspective. My training as a scientist means I bring a very logical perspective to the problem of a career change. You know, I struggled a lot with choosing a career myself and often felt I was just making complete stabs in the dark, even after reading a lot of books on the subject.
After doing a ton of research and experimenting with an early set of clients, I eventually developed a 6-step process for choosing a career you love that really works. It’s funny, so many career changers worry about the sunk cost of change—that whatever new career they go into, they’ll have to start all over in terms of skills. But even for two incredibly divergent careers, science and coaching, it turned out to have a lot of overlap.
All my skills in distilling concepts, designing experiments, and analyzing data make me a better coach. And it’s that different perspective that helps me stand out in a crowded marketplace.
How often do you update your blog and how many unique readers do you have each month?
I update once a week. I’m a believer in the Jon Morrow/Scott Stratten theory that it’s better to write amazing content every time you post than to write so-so content every day. Depending on how often I’m guest posting, I have between 7000 and 10,000 unique readers a month.
Do you have a big email list too?
I think most of my readers are subscribers. I’m not an SEO wizard, so I get very little search traffic, something I hope to improve in the future. So right now, I’d guess 90% of my traffic is from my email list.
How much time or money do you spend on blog design?
I spent a lot of time and money up front on blog design. I get a lot of compliments from people about my design, and I don’t think it’s because it’s terribly special, but it does match my brand and my personality. I made the mistake when I first started off trying to copy the designs of popular bloggers I admired and it just didn’t work.
The key is finding a designer who can code what you need but also intuitively understands your mission and message.
What about blog maintenance?
There’s no getting around it: blogging takes time. Writing a blog post is a full day endeavor for me, but then, many of my posts are more than 1000 words.
I also respond to every comment on my blog, because I believe a community is important. I happen to think I have some of the nicest, most insightful readers on the internet. I like to say they expand my thinking as much as I do theirs. It’s time well spent for me.
I know you work with interns sometimes. Can you tell us what they do for you, how many hours they work and if you hire anyone else to work on your blog?
Okay, getting interns was one of the smartest business ideas I ever had. I was at a point where I desperately needed help but didn’t have enough money to pay someone. So I put out a call to my own readers for interns, where I would coach them on blogging, building a business, or changing careers in exchange for their services.
I had people fill out a pretty extensive application and got about a dozen amazing offers. I ended up taking on two “interns,” and they worked for me for 6 months. Both were far better than I expected or could normally afford. They made a huge difference in my business.
At the end of the internship, I ended up hiring both of them as freelance contractors. They became invaluable to me. Now I don’t use interns as much, but it was a fabulous way to get started.
Where do most of your readers come from? Google search, Social Media or other sites? If it's referrals from other sites is that from guest posts or mentions of your posts?
Almost all my readers came from guest posts, although I get a fair amount of traffic from Facebook.
Tell us the three most popular blog posts you've ever written and why you think they were so popular.
The most popular post I’ve ever written is called Why I Fired My Father (And Maybe You Should Too). I talk about why I decided to end my relationship with my abusive and unfortunately mentally ill father, and how that courage has served me well in my career.
The second most popular post is How to Overcome Your Greatest Disappointments, which talks about our difficult decision to end fertility treatment and give up on our dream of a bigger family—and in the process, everything I learned about how you can learn from and grow stronger from defeat. You’ll see that the theme for both of those posts was the courage to be extremely personal while never losing sight of the purpose of the post: to help others.
Blogging for me isn’t therapy, but sharing my vulnerabilities to help others with the same problems.
My third most popular post is one I wrote for Leo Babauta’s Zen Habits, called 3 Clear Reasons to Change Careers. This post also has an emotional element to it, but it answers one of the most common questions I receive: how do I know if I should change careers or hang in there and make my current career work? It’s been more than a year since I wrote that post and I still get over a 100 visits per month based on that link.
You share some great personal stories on your blog. How did you learn to tell stories and how do you choose what to share with your readers?
Well first, thanks! You probably couldn’t have given me a nicer compliment. I learned about storytelling first as a poet. I’ve been writing poetry my whole life, literally since I could put a pen to paper. That taught me how to get at the emotional core of a story. Once you learn how to make someone cry with just a few lines of verse, having the space to tell a story in a blog post feels indulgent.
Thus, when trying to choose a story, the first criterion is: will this move my readers emotionally?
If so, then it’s probably a good one to use. Then you have to figure out how to logically tie that story back to the larger message you want to communicate, again, making it about the reader, not the author. You can do this with almost any two topics, and I enjoy finding creative ways to connect seemingly unrelated concepts.
That's a great tip. I know you've worked with and been mentioned by some big bloggers like Leo Babauta and Jonathan Fields. How do you build up that kind of relationships?
There are two ways: meet them at a conference and use that to continue communication, or hire them for their knowledge and become a star student. I’ve used both methods effectively. I met many big name bloggers at what was then known as BlogWorld and then used that meeting to ask for an interview. I did my homework and asked good questions. That’s a sure way to impress them (most interviewers rehash the same old questions) and you can then establish a longer-term relationship with them.
I’ve also used the “star student” idea with Jonathan Fields. I heard him speak at BlogWorld and just thought he was brilliant. So I hired him for an hour of his time…to the tune of $500! Because it was so expensive, I made sure I implemented what he told me, then I followed up to tell him about my results. I gave him a glowing testimonial. We’ve been friends ever since.
The key in both cases is to develop mutual admiration. I don’t pursue relationships with big name bloggers unless I honestly admire them and feel a connection with them. I met one A-lister, who will remain anonymous, who totally put me off in person. I not only didn’t pursue a guest post with them, I stopped following them all together. If you don’t want to be friends with someone, why would you want to do business? That’s my motto anyway.
Every summer you stop writing for six weeks. How does that affect your blog traffic and your business?
It’s great actually. I gain subscribers over the summer. It doesn’t sound possible, but it is. More importantly, I show that I’m willing to walk the walk with my readers. That goes a long way in building referrals, both to the blog and my business.
Most people dream of taking a 6-week vacation or sabbatical. Showing people that it’s absolutely possible is a big credibility builder for me. As long as you give people advance warning, they’ll stick around for you and welcome you back when it’s done. It’s something I’m committed to doing every year.
Do you make a full-time living from blogging?
This is a tricky question because, in my opinion, no one makes a full-time living from blogging. You make a full-time living by running a business, and blogging is one facet of that business. It’s a small point, but a critical one in my opinion.
Further, my situation is such that my husband makes enough for us to live on. Right now, all the profits from my business go into a secret stash, which is meant to serve as an enormous down payment on a house when he retires from the military in few years. My goal is to save up $200K by that time. I’m optimistic.
How exactly do you earn money from your blog? Please, can you break down your income and tell us about what percentage comes from. For example coaching, coaching course, advertising, webinars, speaking, freelance writing, affiliate sales, other forms of income?
Affiliate sales: 5%
No Regrets Career Academy (online course): 40%
Private Coaching: 5%
Freelance writing: 50%
What's the best way to get new readers to a blog?
For me, guest blogging has been my main source of new traffic. But there’s more to it than that. I’ve written some great guest posts that hardly made a blip in my subscribers and others where a single post netted me more than 1,000 subscribers (not a typo).
So when guest blogging you have to target audiences who want to hear your message and you need to write really good posts that speak to and solve their problems.
What are your recommendations for other bloggers who want to monetize their blogs?
There’s no shortcut to building an effective business. Figure out what product or service your readers want, and then do that. Blogs are just a mechanism to do market research and establish your credibility.
Tell us your best blogging tip for new bloggers
Be bold. Put yourself out there, either emotionally or ideologically. Fan mail is great, but one of the best pieces of advice I got from Jon Morrow was: if you’re not getting hate mail, you’re not stretching enough.
What are your best blog writing tips?
Spend time clarifying your thoughts before writing your post. People don’t have time to dissect your thesis. But don’t forget to lead and end with emotion. My goal is to have someone say at the end of my post, “Are you writing about me? It’s like you’re inside my head.”
Please, can you share one final blogging tip or something that would make you want to read a blog?
One of the biggest things I find missing from blogs (and the guest posts people send me) is a truly unique perspective. People think they can rehash generic advice and that’s enough.
If you don’t have a surprising idea waiting for me in your post, I probably won’t be back. This is one reason I only post once a week. Really good ideas are rare and it takes time to talk about them thoughtfully. But it’s time worth spending.
Where can people find out more about you? Is there anything else you'd like to share?
My blog, Everyday Bright, offers a unique perspective on how to get the clarity and courage you need to design a career you love. I also offer a free mini-course in career change at my No Regrets Career Academy. I’ve helped nearly 200 people from more than 15 different countries through that work - if you want to see the meaningful work that really lights me up, go check it out.
Thank you, Jen, for taking the time to share your brilliant blogging tips and congratulations on all your success so far. I'm looking forward to watching you and your blog continue to evolve and grow.
What are your takeaways from Jen's blogging experiences and tips?