Guest blogging? Bring your "A" game!

I really enjoy guest posting on other blogs. It's like being invited to come to a dinner party at a friend's house where you may know some people, but probably not everyone. The dinner party is your chance to meet new, interesting people with fresh perspectives and you might even walk away with newly formed friendships. Let me step away from the analogy now and say it in plain English. Guest blogging gives you:

  • exposure to a new audience
  • backlinks to your site
  • the opportunity to share your expertise
  • potential for increased credibility

Now, let's go back to the dinner party.

Would you show up unwashed in your Saturday schlepping clothes? 

Do you come in poised to sell to every human with a pulse you interact with?

Is the bottle of wine you brought as a host gift worthless or wonderful?

Don't squander guest blogging opportunities 

The guest who walks in prepared to socialize, with their most charming anecdotes and winning personality on display is a guest who will draw the interest of others and have a greater chance of creating meaningful connections.

Understand the rules of etiquette 

Dinner party etiquette is fairly standard. Most people know about BMW (bread, meal water) and using the outside fork first, and waiting until everyone at the table has been served. Blogs are a tad different. 

Know what is expected of you as a guest blogger - from language to content to engagement. Blogs that welcome guest bloggers regularly probably have comprehensive guidelines that will help you get to know their community and what they expect from content on the blog.

When you deliver on those expectations, you leave a good impression of your host and the community you're interacting with. 

It is better to give than receive

Inviting someone to share their expertise on your blog is a risk. Granted, editorial veto power is a must - always. But you also hope you don't have to exercise that all-important veto power. As the host of this guest, you're rooting for them to give you great quality content that resonates with your community.

It's deflating and disappointing to see an email that contains a blog post-sized sales pitch that has no redemptive value. It's too much like opening a bottle of your favourite wine only to find the cork is black and the wine is undrinkable.

Re-gifting isn't a good idea

When I guest post, I will sometimes re-publish a version of the post on my own blog, but I like providing original content. I'm not going to bring an already-open bottle of wine to the dinner party that I got from someone for my birthday. No, I provide new, original, fresh content and if I want to repurpose it for myself later on, so be it (if the blog is okay with that practice).

Impressions matter

All of these things serve to give your host and their audience an impression of who you are as a person, as a business, and as an expert. If you don't bring your "A" game, chances are most blogs simply won't publish what you provide. If they have to heavily edit, they may be slightly less reluctant to invite you back. But if you bring your best work and dress to impress, you will make an impression that won't be forgotten.

Quick tips for successful guest blogging

  1. You're there to give value, not a sales pitch. You have to earn the right to pitch and you're nowhere near that point in a guest post.
  2. This audience is not your audience; make sure you understand who you're talking to, what will help them, and how information is usually presented to them.
  3. Pay attention to social media and the comments on your post. Reply to comments and say thank you for shares. (Your parents will be proud.)

Brutally honest tip: If all you want to do is publish all of your blog posts on a higher authority site, you're better off syndicating. That is not guest blogging.

You can be a highly valued guest blog contributor fairly easily if you keep all these things in mind. Those are the contributors who are asked to come back over and over again. And eventually, they build relationships that cross over into their own audience, which is lead gen gold. 

So, bring your "A" game, and go for the gold. It really does pay off.

Find good quality, legal images for your website

I love creating lovely images for my website. I have developed my own brand style guide so that fonts and colours I use on images are consistent throughout. I've personally invested a lot of money in tools like Adobe Creative Cloud and a subscription to Adobe Stock because I take on occasional graphic design projects for clients, in addition to doing all of my own design work. 

That said, I don't know many business owners that want to buy and use Adobe design tools, because there's a fairly heavy learning curve and it's expensive when design isn't your genius work. 

So, I've compiled a list of just a few of the places you can look for good quality images that you can use with or without attribution. This list is pretty comprehensive and contains image sites that you may find don't work as well for your particular business.  

One quick note before we get into the photo resources - It's always important to check the license available on any image that's free or paid. The least restrictive license for commercial use is Creative Commons Zero, which allows for personal/commercial use without attribution - other licenses are more restrictive so read carefully or choose selectively to ensure your use is permitted. CC0 doesn't waive all rights, but it is the least restrictive.

Free photo pack subscriptions 

I've started to subscribe to sites that send me free pictures and I've developed a pretty extensive library of beautiful stock photos that I have rights to use. There are many photos that I may never need for my own site, but that doesn't mean my clients won't ever need them!

Search free image sites

If you're used to going on to stock image sites and doing searches instead of sifting through your own library of photos, you may prefer these sites for finding images. They are all free, so once again, check the licensing. Note that all of the photo pack subscription sites have various degrees of search function as well. 

The free image sites I use most

Morguefile - Truthfully, I use this one a lot less lately because I can find better quality images elsewhere, but don't discount it entirely. There have been many times it's the only place I can find the right image. 

FreeImages.com - This was my go-to replacement for Morguefile when I realized I wasn't finding good images as often. 

Stock Up - I start on Stock Up these days. The site aggregates search results from a number of different sources and when you hover over pictures, you can see the license. It's just really handy and the quality is excellent.

Pixabay - Even though Pixabay results often show up in Stock Up, I still do a search there separately because I get lucky from time to time. I've been really happy with the quality of the results there too.

Gratisography - This is a searchable photo collection that is ever-growing and has quite a mix of content. Some is very artsy. Some is weird. All of it is high quality. I don't think I've used more than one or two images so far, but I made sure to donate so they don't go away. :)

Other free sites I occasionally use

These are but a few sites that are out there. In fact, a fellow WBN member posted this list of the best free stock photo sites recently and I haven't had a chance to check out the ones that I'm not already using just yet. 

A little side note to promote that friend a wee bit more, because it's apropos of this post! Rachela, the owner of Butter and Honey Design is a talented graphic designer who is teaching so much about DIY graphic design. You can join her group on Facebook to get a taste and then be sure to check out her courses which I hear great things about!

Paid stock options

Of course free is easier to fit in the budget, but sometimes it's harder to find what you want or need for free. That's why I suggest you start with Canva if you have to go paid. Canva stock images are $1 each. If you want an image without any other design elements, just pick a layout size, then find an image you want in their library and download the image without adding text/design elements. Just be mindful of the license.

A new comparable Canva alternative is Desygner. For now, it's free and the images available are also free to use. But that never lasts, because they'll need money to keep going eventually. The image library is linked to Wikimedia, which can be limiting in terms of useful images, particularly if you need larger sizes.

I mentioned Adobe Stock above, but I also like Shutterstock for paid stock because of the way they structure payment compared to other paid stock sites. 1 credit = 1 image, regardless of size/file type. They also have pay as you go plans. They tend to cost more per image than a subscription, but if you don't need lots of images regularly, it's cheaper to pay as you go.

I need more images more regularly now, which is why I now have a 10 credits/month subscription at Adobe Stock. Shutterstock became my paid stock site of choice after using iStockBig StockDreamstime, and a few others. They have transparent pricing so I know exactly what to expect. And since I often buy large image sizes and vector graphics, the others cost me more.

Design bundle sites

Last, but not least (IMHO), is membership sites and package deal sites. If you aren't a designer, these will have limited value for you, so skip this section if you're not interested! 

Design Cuts - I stumbled upon Design Cuts sometime last year and I'm addicted. I've bought quite a few of the monthly bundles and now they've launched a marketplace where you can build your own bundles and save a ton of money. The quality has been amazing. The amount of design elements I have is overwhelming, but I have also invested in a couple of bundles that included photo packs. And they're gorgeous. I've used quite a few in blog posts. 

Mighty Deals - Like Design Cuts, this is a site that offers design bundles. They seem to have more photo packs than DC does, though, and I've grabbed a few from them as well. Just be careful if you buy multiple photo pack bundles. I've found some overlap, so vet them carefully, even if you buy from different bundle sites.

As you can see, there are many, many resources to find affordable images to use on your website to maintain a high-quality look. You don't need to use google image search and worry about copyright infringement or the hit and miss caliber of the graphics. 

If you have a favourite photo site that I haven't listed, add it in the comments! 

Grow your audience with guest blogging

If you want to grow your audience and you aren't guest blogging, you're missing out on an important opportunity!

What is guest blogging?

Guest blogging is preparing content that is posted on the blog of a website other than your own. I submit at least one "guest" blog post a month at a minimum as President of the Women's Business Network, because I write the President's Pen which is published at the beginning of each month. I link back to my own site each time, which brings me to the benefits of guest blogging. I occasionally manage to sneak in posts on other sites as well - this is something I want to do more often.

Accumulate backlinks

Your website is your home online. The goal with any content marketing is to lead followers back to your website. Backlinks are links from other sites that lead back to your website. When a site that is linking to yours has greater authority, it gives your site a little boost. Backlinks aren't a one and done activity.

It's important to keep working to get mentions by other sites or use opportunities to be a guest blogger as part of an overall linkbuilding strategy (simply put, linkbuilding is a proactive effort to accumulate backlinks). The better the quality of your backlinks (i.e., links from more popular sites), the more it helps you. Since they have a cumulative effect over time, it's an ongoing process.

New audience

I have a decent sized audience in my own right. It's not huge, but any chance I have to reach out to a new audience is an opportunity to grab the attention of someone I can connect with. It isn't always about getting business. As we all know, the ability to get quality referrals by clearly communicating what you do and who you do it for is every bit as important. Ten quality referrals of clients within my target market are far better than 1,000 cold leads that will go nowhere. 

That's why it's so critical to deliver stellar value when you create guest blog content. There's a delicate balance that you have to achieve between offering valuable information and trying to make a sale. The easiest way to avoid the appearance of trying to sell is not to try to sell. 

Showcase expertise

My dad drilled it into my head growing up. Don't lend money with the expectation of being repaid. Sometimes the loanee just can't seem to get ahead of their financial obligations to be able to repay the loan. Sometimes they just forget, especially if it's a small amount. The point is that if you lend without the expectation of repayment, you will never be disappointed. 

The same goes for guest blogging (and a lot of other content marketing activities, too). Give freely. Give openly. Give without expectation. It's okay if you don't give every last detail of how you do your business - I would never suggest that. But you can give a lot of valuable information away without affecting your bottom line. If you aren't trying to make a sale, the content will resonate more completely with the people you're reaching. 

Guest blogging challenge

I challenge you to write and submit a guest post for another site by the end of April. Will you do it? Don't worry - your post doesn't need to be published by the end of April. Just submitted to the site. This is an honour system challenge. :) 

Try it once. See how it goes and come back and tell me! 

The vulnerability of getting on stage

Last week, I wrote a post describing my personal feelings about performance. The experience of being on stage, feeding off the energy of your audience, the relief of completing the show (with or without hitches), and the celebratory aftermath is exhilarating. 

That post, and this one, are both inspired by a short conversation I had at a networking event. A fellow WBN member, who also happens to be a singer, shared her fears of blogging with me. 

getting-on-stage.png

The fear of blogging is common. There is a widespread belief about social media that success and best practice lie in the sharing of intimate personal details. There are some very successful bloggers who have grown large audiences by opening up their minds and hearts to bear their souls in HTML. Sharing private stories can be provocative, leading to increased attention. 

It's not hard to see how this belief persists.

I think it's okay to have a little fear. When it's in check, the fear of doing something new can help you identify exactly what concerns you have and decide how to proceed in a way that eases your fear. 

When it comes to social media, that fear is motivation to set boundaries that establish our comfort zone. This becomes your personal playbook that you should never deviate from. Then your content becomes personable instead of being personal. There's nothing wrong with personal content as long as it doesn't take you so far outside your comfort zone that you begin to regret the choice.

In speaking to my friend, I had an AHA moment that clarified a bit part of what I get from blogging. 

Blogging is like performing

1) Practice makes perfect (or, at the very least, good and ready).

As I write this post, it's practice. I'm practicing the craft of the written word. I'm practicing how I want to present ideas. I'm practicing giving my audience something for their valuable time and attention.

Even if I'm writing outside of this blog and no one sees it, that every day practice will help me get better in this space.

2) Publishing is nerve-wracking.

The more time, energy, and self you invest in something, the more you hope for a positive reception of your work. The prospect of a response, whether it's the response you want or not, can be nerve-wracking if you aren't used to it. 

Hitting publish on a blog post is very much like those steps a performer takes onto a stage. There is anticipation, nervousness, and hopefulness all rolled into an adrenaline rush that propel a performer to great heights if they're ready. Fortunately, it gets easier over time - at least that's been my experience.

3) You feed off of your audience.

I have written pieces that take a huge time investment a number of times, and it's usually because I'm doing heavy research or navigating a potentially controversial topic.

It can be deflating and discouraging to hear crickets from your audience after a mammoth effort. On the other hand, I've written short, poignant or funny pieces that took 20 minutes and received lots of feedback.

Performers put energy out into the audience with their facial expressions and body language and overall commitment to the performance. A responsive audience laughs, cries, sits with rapt attention, which all gives back some of that energy to the performer. A blogger does the same with their words, hoping for a response. It's a happy day when comment notifications roll in.

4) You want to hit the right note with your audience.

When you take voice lessons, teachers will sometimes use visualizations of physical acts to help the student use better technique. As a soprano I was often singing songs that required me to stretch into the higher notes of my vocal range. My coach used one visualization that was quite effective. 

Imagine yourself putting something on a high shelf. Instead of stretching to reach and barely getting it on the shelf, get a stepladder so that you can gently and safely place it on the shelf. 

The visualization translates well to the act of singing.

Getting the stepladder is the act of breathing properly, using the diaphragm to support the voice.  Reaching up and over the shelf describes using that support to it the high note with accuracy instead of falling flat.

The quality of writing is almost as important as what is being said. Well framed points with support for your views will hit a note. Whether it's the right note or not will become clear from the audience response. 

5) Know yourself. Know your audience.

Knowing yourself is about acknowledging the passions that drive you, staying aware of non-negotiable boundaries, and preparing for all possible reactions to your work.

Knowing your audience takes time. First you have to build a loyal audience that relates to your work. Sometimes you'll hit the right note. Others you'll completely miss the mark. Thank goodness practice can help you improve. Find opportunities in those missed marks. 

Do it anyway

Putting yourself out there can make you feel a spectrum of emotions: fear, anxiety, excitement, melancholy, and more. This is vulnerability. Being vulnerable isn't weak; it shows your inner strength. Once you acknowledge the things that give you fear and anxiety, figure out how you can manage those feelings. 

Barbara Streisand is famous for her intense stage fright, but she goes out there anyway - on her terms. I know great speakers who get extremely nervous to the point of having physiological reactions that only make it worse, but they keep on seeking opportunities to walk on stage. 

If there's something you truly want to do, don't let fear stop you from doing it.