It’s time for another edition of the weekly Netsetter column. This week, Thursday Bram interviews Nancy Nally of ScrapbookUpdate.com, where she asks Nancy about what it’s like to work in an area that seems outside of the realm of “tech” and how she gets work done.
Thursday Bram: Nancy, could you tell us a little bit about yourself and your site?
Nancy Nally: Well, my site is basically a scrapbook industry trade journal, although I actually have quite a few consumer readers as well who are interested in the interior workings of the scrapbook industry as far as the news and all of that stuff.
TB: Are you a scrapbooker yourself? Is that what got you interested in this niche?
NN: Oh yes, definitely. Definitely. I’ve been involved in scrapbooking as a hobby for 12, 13 years, something like that now. And then this is actually not even the first time I’ve worked in the scrapbook industry, because before I started writing in the scrapbook industry I actually worked in a local scrapbook store.
TB: Very cool. So you run a trade publication basically which I know that a lot of the scrapbook sites that have been successful online are focused more on tutorials and information for consumers. What made you choose the industry side of things instead of that tutorial and examples side?
NN: It’s funny, it wasn’t really a conscious choice. I started out the site as a personal blog. I was working a little bit as a designer in the industry designing sample work, that’s what we call it when you design sample scrapbook pages for publication and for product samples in the industry. And I started out blogging about doing that work and it just, over time the site evolved into me talking more and more about the news in the industry, about companies that were having problems, closing down as the industry has been undergoing this major amount of change and realignment. And before I knew it I had stopped doing the submission and design work altogether and I was only writing. It just kind of happened.
TB: You do some freelance writing outside of your site, right?
NN: I did for a while, especially when I first started the site. But the site requires so much attention now that I barely do any freelance work anymore. Until recently I was writing in the tech industry for Web Worker Daily, but trying to keep up with two industries is more than I had time for. I do some writing for other scrapbook industry publications as part of just the kind of cooperative networking that I engage in in the scrapbook industry, as well as of course marketing.
TB: How important do you feel is it for a publication to reach out like that to other publications in your niche or your industry?
NN: I think it’s very important to share your resources back and forth, especially in the industry that I’m working in where the online publications are just now getting a foothold. Technologically, that industry, the audience is somewhat older and they’ve been slow to adopt the technology. So the concept of getting your information from blogs and e-publications, and things like that has not gained traction the way it has with like an 18 to 25 type audience. We’re just now getting into doing that so it’s been very important for those of us who are on the leading edge of doing that in the industry to support each other and back each other up, and share our efforts together.
TB: I’m very interested in the fact that you’re working in an industry that isn’t necessarily known for being technically savvy, I guess would be the term. So how have you reached out and found readers beyond working with other publications? How have you been able to find the people who are going to be interested, but might not necessarily be reading a lot of blogs or online publications?
NN: I get a lot of referral traffic from Google. Whenever there’s a big news story in the industry that people are “googling”, I will end up with a lot of Google traffic. I also end up – it’s a lot of word of mouth from my existing readers who will post links to me through social media of various different kinds: Twitter, Facebook, their own blogs, scrapbook message boards. There’s a huge network of scrapbook message boards and people post a link to a story saying, “Hey, did you hear about such and such that’s happening? Here’s where I read about it.” That is where word of mouth just spreads on the Internet, in the scrapbook industry.
TB: All right. How have you been able to monetize the site? I know that you’ve got some advertisers or some sponsors, but how have you built that up?
NN: Slowly, over time. There’s some outside efforts that I’m engaged in, like the freelance writing, some of which is paid work. But mostly it’s advertising on the Web site itself, some of which is contracted banner ads, some of its affiliate ads. We have some other projects that we are working on developing, which I’m not prepared to announce yet, but that will hopefully be financially viable additions to the company. It’s all about diversifying your income streams really. The advertising is never going to pay 100 percent of the bills, so you have to find other ways like freelance writing for other people and doing some of these other outside projects to help do that share of the income from.
TB: Definitely. Can you tell us if those outside projects, are they for the site or are they going to be launched separately?
NN: Some of them will be launched via the site and some of them are with outside companies.
TB: Very interesting. I see that we will need to stay tuned.
NN: Yes, those darn NDA’s. (laughter)
TB: So one of the things that I know that a lot of our listeners have struggled with is the idea of starting something like a publication when they don’t necessarily have a background that really supports it. Can you tell us a little bit about your background and how you came to the writing industry?
NN: I do have a BA in communications, which qualifies me to do exactly nothing pretty much, it feels like at times. (laughter) But I guess the one thing that I did take out of that is that I do have a strong writing background as a result. But there’s so much else that goes into this that there’s no training that could ever prepare you for. There’s all the nuts and bolts of actually running the business, as far as all the accounting and management and all that sort of stuff, and all the legal issues of all hat paperwork. Nothing can ever prepare you for that as an entrepreneur; you just have to dive in and do it.
There’s all the, of course since I’m online, there’s all of the Web structure management of managing my Web site. Designing it from the ground up. I run more press now, I was originally on TypePad, and all of those technical issues.
My husband works in IT, or he did, for quite some time, and he now works for me managing, among other things, my website full time. But originally, including making the transition from TypePad to WordPress, he was not available to me full time. I had to dive in and just figure out, okay, how do you run a WordPress Web site?
NN: And they didn’t teach me that when I was earning a BA in communications. (laughter) So you just figure – a lot of it is how much are you willing to learn through trial and error.
TB: Have you been bringing in other writers to help you with the site as well as the tech support that you’re getting from your husband?
NN: Yeah. I actually have a pretty strong team of support in general that I have assembled over the course of the last eight months. It started, I brought in a contributing writer. I tend to write the hard news stories, I do not have the creative skills on the design side of the scrapbook industry to write hard core creative content, design content for the scrapbooking stuff. So I brought in a contributing writer who is an absolutely gifted designer, and she writes content that’s kind of that type of content.
Then of course now I have brought in an accountant and a lawyer to advise me on those areas as those parts of the business have gotten more complicated. I also have a team of marketing consultants that I call on for help. But all of those people are not full time doing 100 percent of the work in those areas. They’re more like the people I call on to say, “Okay, did I screw this up or not?” (laughter)
So that, 100 percent of the work in that area is pretty much getting done by us with the then safety net of other people checking our work after the fact.
TB: Having been on both sides of the freelance writing business, is there any advice you’d give to somebody who was thinking about hiring a writer?
NN: Oh my goodness, that’s a big question. I guess I would say that, other than finding somebody who has good, solid skills, make sure you find somebody you can communicate with. Because finding a writer with good skills doesn’t ensure that you will get a good product if you can’t communicate to them what it is that you really want.
TB: That definitely makes sense.
NN: It’s like, there’s plenty of talented writers out there, but you have to pick the one that you are in sync with as far as being able to understand each other, as far as what it is that the project is about and what the goal is and what you want.
TB: Very interesting. Do you think in the future you’ll work on bringing in more writers? Or do you feel that you’re at kind of the right level for content?
NN: No, definitely we’re actually looking in the very near future at expanding the number of writers that are working on the site. We actually have periodically been bringing in guest writers to work. Last fall I had surgery, the site was basically taken over by guest writers for several weeks, and then periodically some of those same writers have been doing guest spots for me. We’d like to make that a more regular thing because it is valuable to have other perspectives when you’re writing, especially about an industry that’s as broad and even international as the one I’m working in. And it’s nice to have perspectives from people who play different roles in the industry and stuff.
So I’m definitely looking at expanding that.
TB: Very cool. You mentioned that you work with your husband now, that he works in your business. I know a lot of people are always looking for business opportunities that allow them to spend more time with their families, have you been able to add flexibility to your schedule? How has that worked out with your family with your business?
NN: Well, this is something we’ve been wanting to do for quite some time. t is not the first time we have worked together. We worked together for a while when we were both first out of school. Health insurance issues pushed us, unfortunately, to have him working for an outside employer at that point.
So we knew we could work together without killing each other, which some couples cannot do. (laughter)
NN: But we knew we could do it, and yeah, it is something that works very well for us. It does not bother us to have that flexibility because we also have a unique situation; we have autistic seven year old, which especially like the last couple months she’s been on summer vacation and trying to care for her while she’s on summer vacation and she has unique needs, requires some flexibility. We’re perfectly happy, the two of us, sitting down and having a business meeting at 10:30 at night after she’s gone to bed. (laughter) We don’t mind running our family/work that way.
That might not work for some people, but it works for us.
TB: Good. It sounds like you’ve really put together something very cool there.
NN: Yeah. We really enjoy working together. We share an office and, like I said, it’s like we segue very easily back and forth between, “okay, we’re discussing work” and “now we’re figuring out when we’re going to go to the grocery store”. It doesn’t bother us to flip back and forth between those two things. I know some couples have a lot of trouble doing that and have a lot of trouble with those boundaries.
We’re very comfortable with that. We don’t have an issue flexing back and forth and having boundary issues with that. We just, we flex our schedules and try to figure out when to get things done. We both tend to work very long hours right now because we’re still in startup mode, which is a lot, a time commitment. But because we’re flexible, we work from home, we work together, we can. We can work weekends together, we can work evenings together when we’re doing something. So it works out.
TB: Great.So I have one last question for you: if you had the opportunity to give just one piece of advice to somebody thinking about starting up their own business, what would you tell them?
NN: I would tell them to make sure they have a realistic view of what it is like (laughter) because on an hourly basis that I put in, I would make more working at Wal-Mart. But in return for that I get the independence of directing my own work and control, to a certain extent, of what projects I do and when. I get the flexibility of being able to say, “Okay, between 1:00 and 3:00 this afternoon I was going to drop everything and go to my daughter’s school orientation.” And in return for that I’m going to be working at 11:00 tonight, but since I control my schedule I can do that.
You have to realistic about the people who think they’re going to start their own business and it’s like life is going to be easy and I’m going to be in charge – no. You trade one set of problems for another, but for some people the entrepreneur’s set of problems is preferable.