The Art of the Business Part 7: Welcome to the Blogosphere

To listen to the interview in its entirety, click here. (27 minutes)

If you are reading this, you already have at least a handshake acquaintance with blogging (given that it’s published on a blog and all). This month, I delve into the basics of blogging, with the help of the authors of Blogging for Dummies, Second Edition, Shane Birley and Susannah Gardner. Shane is a partner in Left Right Minds, a web development, arts management, business blogging and on line marketing content consultant company, here in Vancouver. He also writes a bunch of blogs. Susannah is the owner of Hop Studios, a web design company, and author of, among others, Buzz Marketing with Blogs. Oh, and she also writes blogs. Enough introductions, on with the show!!

Shane Birley, Susannah Gardner and Rebecca Coleman at the Left Right Minds Studio.
Shane Birley, Susannah Gardner and Rebecca Coleman at the Left Right Minds Studio.

What is a blog?
According to Blogging for Dummies, the word blog is an amalgam of two words: “web” and “log.” Another term you may have heard being bandied about is “blogosphere.” Shane says the blogosphere is simply, “everyone on their soapbox.” Basically, if you have something you feel like writing about, and are willing to put the time in, you can have a blog. And because the internet is so wide, you will probably get an audience, even if that audience is only your family and friends. But more about garnering an audience later.

As an artist, how can having a blog help me?
A blog can be a very powerful marketing tool, albeit an informal one, for several reasons.
Technical stuff: The more often you blog, the more often you will be indexed by search engines, and the higher you will come up in a search. “Search engines love fresh content,” says Susannah, “and blogs feed right into that. The more you put yourself out there, them more you make yourself a possible search result, the better the chances are, you will be able to increase your profile. In a fairly painless, non-traditional way.”
Get to know the person behind the product/service: “People respond to people,” says Susannah. “It is incredibly powerful to be able to speak to the artist directly—you don’t always have access to that. Blogs help to create a dialogue between the audience and the writer.”

What do I need to start a blog?
First, you need to decide if you are going to sign up for web-based blogging software, or use software that will post your blog under your own, dedicated domain name.
I am going to talk about how to start a blog using web-based software, as I think this is the most popular, and easiest route to go for a beginning blogger.
The two most popular blog software programs out there are Blogger and Word Press (this blog is done on Word Press). Signing up for either one is a very simple, three-step process.

Now, here’s some stuff you might like to add on:
About Me/Profile:
“If you are wanting to use your blog as a marketing tool, and you don’t have a bio, don’t bother having a blog,” says Shane. “You’re talking about yourself, but there is nowhere they can go to get a background on who you are.”
Comment section: Blogs that elicit comments from their readers are considered to be successful. That doesn’t mean you should write stuff that it controversial just to elicit comments, but blogging is all about creating dialogue. So ask your readers for their opinions and comments.
Archives/Categories: This helps people to find similar posts to the ones that they like and enjoy. Most blog software programs have this built in.
Blogroll: Shane describes a blogroll as being, “a listing of blogs that you recommend to other people.” This is similar to a links section on a webpage, and all about cross-promotion.
Photos: add visual interest to your blog posting.
Widgets: third party pieces of software, which are embedded in your blog, and are little add-ons, like Flikr, which show your latest photos in your sidebar, polls, or ETSY, which allow you to show your latest products right on your blog.

What the heck is RSS?
Shane and Susannah both agree that RSS stands for Really Simple Syndication. RSS is code, written in a language called XML. Every time you update your blog, the RSS feed goes out, and lets all the search engines on the web know that you have a new posting. Also, if you read blogs using a program like Google Reader, it lets people who subscribe to your blog that there is a new posting. Shane recommends that everyone “go to Google Reader and sign up for an account and take the tutorial.”
Most blog software has an RSS feed built in, so once you activate your blog, you don’t need to worry about it again, it updates automatically.

How many times a week should I blog? What’s the magic number?

This is a controversial question. The more often you blog, the more often you will be indexed by the search engines, which drives up your profile. However, you also have to be able to be inspired enough, and be able to sustain, writing 3-4 blog posts per day, if that is what you want to do. That can lead to burn out, or some pretty lousy blog posts. Or worse, you can overwhelm your audience, and you may lose them completely. Shane and Susannah agree the magic number is “ a couple times a week.” Shane recommends, if you are thinking of starting a blog, to “do it once a day for an entire month, and if you can, then you will probably be a successful blogger. If you do it for a couple of days, and can’t maintain it, maybe you should think about another medium, like audio or video blogging.”

How do I garner a readership for my blog?
Here are some suggestions from Susannah and Shane:

  • Make it searchable by search engines. Most blogging software will do this for you automatically, but you may also want to register your blog with sites like Technorati or Feedburner.
  • Put your blog address in the signature line of all your outgoing email.
  • Make a business card with the address on it.
  • Put your blog address on anything that gets handed out.
  • Let your friends and family know, send out a mass email, inviting people to read.
  • Buy advertising, such as Google Ad Sense.
  • Post comments on other people’s blogs, and include your blog address.
  • Make your blog posts related to something that is current and newsworthy, be topical.


Final comments?

Susannah: “In general, try to think about who you’re blogging for, and what they’re interested in. Don’t get fixated on traffic numbers. You want an audience that is interested in you–you don’t need 5 million readers, just the 50 who are actually interested in you.”

Shane: “Blogging is writing. Read blogs, comment on blogs, get involved in the community. Get out and talk to people. Nothing spreads like word of mouth, it’s faster than the internet and any RSS feed.”

Special thanks to Shane Birley and Susanah Gardner. Blogging for Dummies, the Second Edition, is available widely in bookstores, and I highly recommend it as an informative, but easy read.

Special Thanks also to Dave “the sound guy” Rankin.

Rebecca Coleman

Rebecca is a contributing columnist and founder of Titania Productions, a Vancouver Marketing and Public Relations Company.

The Art of the Business Part 6: Managing your Flow…

For a downloadable or streaming audio podcast of this article, click here.

A bunch of years ago, when Julia Cameron first published her book The Artist’s Way, I, like most other artists I knew, went out and bought a copy, and started working my way through it. I loved it; I was doing my exercises, my morning pages, my artist dates. And then I came to Chapter 6, and hit the wall. It took me seven months to get through “Recovering a Sense of Abundance.” Why? It was a chapter on money.

In a previous column, I talked about putting a value on your work. Sometimes, as artists, that’s hard to do—there is tons of competition out there, first off, always someone who’s willing to sell their stuff at a lower price to get the sale. Also, there is a kind of attitude in the world that, because we as artists get intrinsic value from our work, we don’t need to be compensated financially. Plus, it’s boring. And administrative. And not creative. Add to that the whole romantic notion of “the starving artist” (Moulin Rouge, anyone?), and no wonder we are often a mess when it comes to matters of money.

But if you want to feel like a professional and have others perceive you as such, you need to take some control of your cash flow. This month’s column is dedicated to some tips about just that.

1. You are a small business. If you are selling CDs, paintings, or working as a Production Assistant on a movie, you are self-employed. What that means is, your income taxes and CPP (Canada Pension Plan) payments don’t come off your cheque. If you bill the client for $1000, they give you a cheque (hopefully!) for $1000. It’s your responsibility to pay the taxes on that income. However, as a small business, you also get certain tax breaks (yay!—more on that later).

2. Set yourself up a separate bank account for your business transactions. Go for a credit union as opposed to one of the bigger banks, they will charge you less fees. Funnel all your business expenses and income though that account.

3. Taxes. It’s a good idea to take 20-25% of everything you earn and put it in a separate account from your regular business account. This money is earmarked for income taxes at the end of the year.

4. GST (Goods and Services Tax—5%): In Canada, you can make up to $30,000 in one year from your self-employment without having to charge your clients GST. However, once you hit that mark, you have to start. You can get a GST number from the Canada Revenue Agency. Many small businesses like to charge GST, despite the fact that they may not be at the $30,000 mark yet, and despite the added administration work of figuring it out (you get to write off all the GST you spend on your business), because it gives them the impression of being bigger than they are. You know, fake it till you make $30,000.

5. Set up a System Part 1. You can buy a small business software package like Simply Accounting or Quickbooks, or you can just use an Excel spreadsheet to track your income each month. You need to know two things: how much you have billed in any month (meaning, you send the invoices, but are still waiting for payment, like they owe you credit) and how much actual income you had that month (when people actually paid you and you cashed the cheque. Again, yay!). This spreadsheet, which shows both your income and expenses each month, is called a Cash Flow Statement. The goal is to keep it in the black, although this doesn’t always happen!

6. Expenses: When you go to file your income tax return at the end of the year, you can write off any expenses that are related to the cost of your doing business. For example, as an actor, you can write off headshots, acting classes, postage for mailing submissions, office supplies, books/plays, Casting Workbook, and even a portion of your rent, telephone, internet and car expenses. The list is extensive. Talk to someone at your local union office, or CARFAC (Canadian Artists Representation) if you are a visual artist, and they will often have a comprehensive list.

7. Set up a System Part 2: Part 1 was about tracking income, Part 2 is about tracking expenses. It is imperative to save your receipts for anything you think might be a business expense. Write on the receipt what it is related to, if it’s not obvious. Then clean out your wallet once a week or so, and dump all the receipts into a shoebox or a container someplace accessable. Once a month, go through the receipts, and enter them into your spreadsheet. You may want to break the spreadsheet down into categories, like Transportation, Meals & Entertainment, Books, Marketing, Bank Fees, etc. If you have a lot of expenses, you may need to do this more often than once a month.

8. Hire a professional. If you are totally lost with this stuff, or you are in a place where it is getting to be too much for you to handle yourself, you might want to hire a professional. An accountant can actually save you money, because they may know of hidden deductions that you were unaware of. A professional organizer can help you to create a system for your paperwork and for your computer.

Okay, so I’ll be the first to admit that all this talk of Cash Flow Statements and taxes and accounting is not the sexiest or most exciting topic in the world. However, getting a handle on your finances and setting up systems to deal with money can actually take a great deal of stress off, because you know exactly where you are financially, all the time. And that allows you more time to be creative, and to make a living at what you love to do. How awesome is that?

Finally, I’d like to give a plug to the Prosperous Artists blog and podcast. Dean and Rosh are based out of Michigan, and they have fantastic tips for the business side of being an artist. Coincidentally, the topic of their most current podcast is also cash flow.

So, until next time, here’s to bums in seats everywhere…

Rebecca is a contributing columnist and founder of Titania Productions, a Vancouver Marketing and Public Relations Company.