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VOL. 35 | NO. 40 | Friday, October 7, 2011

Nashville-area bloggers find audience, second career

By Hollie Deese

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Making money wasn’t John Gotty’s initial motivation when he began his blog, The Smoking Section, in 2005.

Involved heavily in the local hip-hop and rap music scene, the Winchester native and TSU graduate was looking for a way to share the new music he had access to with his friends and family. He had been sending out links via email, but was looking for something a little easier.

“Mix tapes were real heavy, and after Napster and everything started trailing off, people who still were looking for music and file sharing really started coming up,” Gotty says. “I was able to get a lot of music and I had friends and family who always wanted it. So I would basically grab a new album, a new song, a new mix tape and send it to 20 or so people who were in a small email group. And then one of them told me I should just start a website so it would just make it easier.”

What began as a small site now has about 14 contributors and gets national attention with the help of a partnership with Uproxx, a large news, opinion and entertainment site. It also gets about 35,000 visitors a day with page views at nearly double that, Gotty says.

“It is a totally different animal,” he says of the evolution of the blog that started with a bit of file-shared music. “As we got bigger and more eyes started to watch, we had to stop doing that because of the legal aspects of it. Now it really has grown from being music only to include pretty much everything. You may see posts on current events, wrestling, sneakers. It can go in any direction at any given time.”

The popularity of The Smoking Section allowed him to leave his full-time job last year. And he attributes part of his success to his early entrance on the scene.

“When I first started, blogs weren’t respected,” Gotty says. “As we have grown and had a little success, we get our share of attention and recognition. A lot of our success is because we were there early. We were familiar with a lot of people. It has become their daily habit.”

And all of those page views translate to money, with traffic and ad sales paying his bills, although he won’t disclose how much.

“No one is going to get rich doing blogging and I think that is what a lot of people get confused about it,” he says. “It is still writing. I don’t know too many rich people in journalism or too many rich authors. Everybody is doing this out of love and out of passion. For me it was a choice. I could either work at a job – and I enjoyed my job – but at the same time I could do this and it was something that I really like. And I knew it was a window of opportunity I had to take.”

Elizabeth Fox and Liza Graves also saw a window of opportunity when they launched Style Blueprint in January 2009.

Fox had been interviewing for a job that dealt with style and writing but was not sure she wanted to commit full-time. She called Graves to see if she would be interested in job sharing, but it wasn’t exactly what she was looking for anyway.

“We wanted to do something on our own,” Graves says. “We started exploring ideas and decided there was a void we could fill, so we met every Tuesday for a solid year about what we envisioned this blog to be. And then we came up with the name and put it out there.”

At first they only sent it to friends. They began to take on subscribers only after they had built up content.

“At first people were like ‘what is that little thing you are doing?’” Graves says. “But perseverance wins people over. We were writing five days a week and that is how we keep it today. By August 2009 there had been enough buzz that was created that if we wrote about a store they would see an increase of business. Women found out about it from going out to eat with their girlfriends and it would be brought up.”

Now, the local fashion and design blog is a full-time job for both of them. The blog has 7,000 subscribers and 35,000 unique visitors every month. In February 2010, Graves and Fox sponsored their first high-end women’s consignment sale, now an annual event after they were able to sell more than $20,000 worth of used clothing in less than two days.

“We did it out of my house and it was crazy,” Graves says. “But everyone loved it and so many people came to it and it really created some buzz.”

And after some style changes – and the removal of banner ads – they feel the look of the blog really reflects what they have to say.

“We don’t sell any ads on the blog, and we wrote for two years without making any money,” Graves says. “The way we make money now is a deal based off a Groupon model that we have tweaked.”

Each day, a local restaurant, spa or retailer offers a special – 50-90 percent off their regular price – to Style Blueprint readers. Readers can share the deal with friends using the blog’s Facebook, Twitter or email links. Reader referring a friend who purchases within 30 days get $10 applied to their account for future purchases.

But the content comes first, and that is why they think their readers are loyal.

“We get lots of requests every week for deals, and we absolutely say no more than we say yes,” Graves explains. “When we do a deal it is absolutely in the same regard as how we would post. Here is the store that we adore, we love it, here is why, here is the deal. That is why we don’t have any conflicts with it.”

Scarlet Paolicchi, a stay-at-home mom, started her Family Focus blog (familyfocusblog.com) in 2009 as a creative outlet once she left work to stay home with her children. Making money, though minimal, has been a nice added benefit.

“I used to be a retail sales manager, and that was not at all a good schedule for having kids,” she explains. “I wanted to come up with something that I could do now while they are home around their schedule and maybe continue doing when they are off to school. And I kind of missed having my own creative outlet.”

The Bellevue mom’s blog centers on family activities, eco-friendly products and green tips. She now has 22,000 followers on Twitter with 2,000 “likes” on Facebook. She receives products from manufacturers to review, and then gives them away to readers. She also makes money thorough sponsorships and ad clicks, at a few cents per click.

“It’s not a huge moneymaker, but it is a good little side income,” she says.

Her blog is so popular, in fact, she is currently in the running for Parents magazine’s best All-Around-Mom-Blog and currently is fifth in reader voting.

“I am pretty excited about that,” she says. “And I have gotten some good opportunities from the blog, too.” She now blogs for the “greener choices” section of the SC Johnson website, which pays more than her personal blog, and was recently contacted about possibly traveling to Vancouver to live blog from the Flicka 3 movie premiere.

“I never thought any of this would come from my blog,” she says.

Of course there are others who do look at blogging more as a money maker in that it helps build a brand or awareness about a core company.

Thomas Scott launched his company, Brand Journalists last year, producing content for a number of franchise businesses. Local franchises can buy into the national program, getting customized content for their online blogs and social media sites.

“We say we are a PR firm because if you say you are a blogging firm they really don’t know what that means,” Scott says. “It used to be to learn about a business you would have to talk with someone about that business and listen to their ‘elevator pitch.’ But now that initial pitch is online and someone forms an opinion of you without ever talking to you.

“And first impressions are really hard to undo. So if you are not really mindful of what that impression is – and that is a crucial role of a blog – you don’t know who you are missing. They will just move on to someone else.”

Scott explains that the more content you have available on your business blog, the higher you will rank on search engines. This drives more traffic and, hopefully, more business.

“If you are going to have a business and you are going to have a website, you really can’t afford not to have a blog because you are missing an opportunity. That is how you broadcast your brand out so people can find you. A blog is a component of a business website. It is not something separate.”

In the age of the expert opinion, consumers are looking online more often for reviews and positive reinforcement that the product or service they are about to buy is a good investment. But Scott says companies often fail to push those positive stories online.

“Customers will complain loudly when they are unhappy and there may be three bad reviews from people online about a product,” Scott says. “But there may be 1,000 people who had a great experience, but we don’t typically write about stuff when we have a good experience.”

That’s where the importance of a business blog comes in.

“Collect all those positive mentions and testimonial and reinforce that online,” he says. “That’s magical stuff if you can do that.”

As far as where blogging is heading in the future, it’s hard to say. After all, MySpace was once hot and profitable.

“It may not last forever,” Gotty says of the blogging boom. “I have done online ventures before and have had decent success. But at the same time I have watched some of those different little bubbles blow up so I know the window is small. I have to take the chance while it is available.”

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