Networking at a Homeschool Convention as a Homeschool Blogger;
What Homeschool Bloggers Need to Know about Networking at a Homeschool Convention

If you are a homeschool blogger, you can wear your blogging hat to a homeschool convention to grow your blog through networking. Make your trip do double time. Look at the curriculum and listen to the speakers with your homeschool mom hat on, but also spend time making blogging connections.

Meet Readers and Blogging Buddies

Before you go to the convention, be sure to share your plans with your readers and online pals so you can be deliberate about meeting them in person. I actually keep a list of the people who say they be at the convention where I’m attending. About a week before the event, I will contact them to either set a time and place to meet or to share my twitter handle or cell phone number (depending on how well I know the person) for getting in touch at the event.

Giving your readers a hug and chatting for a while is a great way to solidify a virtual relationship and bring it into “real life.” Remember that to many of your readers, you are something of a celebrity. Whether you like it or not, they look up to you and are eager to connect face to face.

Your blogging peers may not put you up on a pedestal like non-bloggers, but they are still as excited to put a 3D, real life face to your avatar. Don’t miss the opportunity to connect and create those bonds of friendship. It’s one thing to email and hangout on on social media. It’s something totally different — more meaningful– to sit over coffee (or Cincinnati chili) and chat face to face.

If you hear a lot of people say, “You are just like I expected!” or “In real life you are exactly like you are on your blog” then you know you are blogging with your authentic voice. When people recognize you across the vendor hall, you know your avatar is an honest representation and that you’ve used a good variety of photos of yourself on social media. If no one recognizes you, it could be that you need to update your avatar or come out from behind the camera in some of your blog posts.

Meet Companies You’ve Worked With

Besides meeting readers and blogging pals, you should also make an effort to shake hands with any companies that you have worked with. Take a look at the vendor list and mark the ones you’ve placed ads for, written articles for, or done product reviews for. Be sure to visit those booths and mention that you are a homeschool blogger who has helped to promote their goods or services.

The person you worked with via email may not be manning the booth when you go by, but sometimes it happens! It’s quite rewarding for both sides to meet face to face. If you worked with that company through an organization, just mention that group instead of asking for or mentioning your contact.

Nurturing existing relationships keeps you on a company’s radar for future projects, and it also builds up the overall reputation of the blogging community. Be human and value relationships above all.

Networking is all about relationships; it’s not about making money, earning prestige, or getting traffic. If you neglect the relationship, none of those other things will happen. So even if you don’t anticipate working with that company ever again, go ahead and stop by the booth to say hi.

Connect with Companies You Want to Work With

If there are companies at the convention that you would like to work with, be sure to introduce yourself. Here are a few tips for doing that both naturally and well.

1. Be discreet and respectful about your pitches. Feel free to network with the vendors, but don’t pull them away from potential customers to do so. Plan your main networking time during the presentations of the big name speakers. The vendor hall will be mostly empty, and the vendors will have more leisure to chat.

2. Start with the products for sale. Show a genuine interest in the products; ask some questions. Then slowly lead into an introduction of yourself as a blogger.

3. Offer social media promo on the spot. Here’s a strategy that I like to use. I ask, “Are you on Twitter (or other social media)?” If they say yes, then I ask if I can take a photo with them at their booth and tag them in a tweet. Even if they are not on Twitter, I tell them that I’m a blogger and would like to give them some free promotion with a photo tweet. Either way the outcome is the same — you get a photo with the vendor, you have given them some free promotion, and you have made them smile! Plus, they now know you are a blogger and may ask more about what you do online.

3. Find out who you should talk to. Some vendor booths are manned by local volunteers. They won’t know what to do with a blogger’s pitch. Ask who does marketing for the organization so you know you are talking to the right person.

4. Observe cues. If the vendor seems uneasy about your mentioning product reviews or ad placement, drop it. Not everyone is ready for using social media to market. Don’t push yourself on anyone.

5. Offer your business card and media kit.

6. Ask for contact information and get permission to follow up with an email.

7. Use your social media powers. While you are still at the event, offer authentic promotion with positive mentions. Upload those photos you took with vendors, being sure to tag them like you promised. Don’t go overboard like a stalker, but do be deliberate about the companies you would like to work with. Behave with a no strings attached attitude. To be honest, most companies do not monitor their social media well and those who do may be too busy at the convention to stay on top of it. So you probably won’t get any feedback. Don’t expect any, and you won’t be disappointed.

8. Follow up by email or phone calls 1-2 weeks after the convention. These emails must be unique and personalized –no form letters sent out in bulk. Mention your contact by name, and offer a concise proposal with a clear call to action. Don’t drone on and on about yourself. Focus on how you can help the company because that is what will move them to respond.

If no one responds favorably, don’t be discouraged. You made friends and practiced real-life networking! It can be a bit awkward to self-promote, but you pushed yourself outside of your comfort zone and did it. That is an accomplishment in itself. And if you met with blog readers and blog buddies, your networking time was a success.

And remember that if you use your trip to a homeschool convention to build your blog, you can deduct (at least some of) the cost on your income taxes as a business expense.

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What to Do When You Hate the Product You Agreed to Review
What to Do When You Hate the Product You Agreed to Review

It has happened to most bloggers at some point. You agree to review a product maybe in exchange for compensation or in hopes of earning affiliate commissions. But after you use the item for a few days, you realize that this product stinks. You just don’t like it. But you said you would review it. What should you do?

Bad Options

It might seen obvious that these are not good choices, but I have seen bloggers react these ways in response to a lackluster product.

  1. lie and write a glowing review
  2. write a negative review
  3. ignore the entire project

You cannot sacrifice the trust your readers have placed in you by writing a deceptive review. It’s simply not an option if you want to blog long-term and create true community on your blog. But you also cannot violate the trust the business placed in you by writing a negative review.

Some bloggers are so overwhelmed by those two extremes that they choose a third alternative — they stop answering emails and they never follow up. How unprofessional! When you shirk your responsibility, you are not only ruining your own reputation, you are also tarnishing that of the entire blogging community.

Many businesses have been burned by irresponsible bloggers who never followed up or followed through. It’s no wonder brands don’t want to invest marketing dollars in cooperating with bloggers. A few bad apples have ruined it for the entire group. Don’t be that bad apple.

Better Options

  1. write an honest but positive review
  2. contact the company and communicate your struggle

The best option is to follow through by writing a review by the agreed upon time. After all, that is what you said you would do.

If a product is not a good fit for you but still has value, you can carefully write your review to be honest but positive. Just because I don’t like feature XYZ doesn’t mean that everyone else doesn’t like it. I can honestly talk about the features and benefits of a product even if they are not features I particularly value.

You might be able to delicately address some of the negatives about the product in an overall positive review.

If the product is just too terrible for you to even affirm with a blog post, then you have only one option: get in touch with the company.

I’ve seen bloggers worry about hurting the client’s feelings especially when they have dealt with a small business owner one on one. It’s great to be kind. But this is business. Maintaining your own reputation (and that of the entire blogging community) takes precedence over the potential risk of insulting the client. A savvy business person can divorce herself from the pain of criticism and see the value in honest critique.

Here is an outline for your email response.

1. Thank the client for giving you the opportunity to use and review the product.

2. Apologize for backing out of the agreement. But state clearly that you will not be writing a review.

3. Explain your problem with the product very specifically.

4. Reassure the client that you will not write a negative review or disparage the company on social media in any way.

4. Offer to return the product, refund any compensation, or otherwise make right any part of your agreement.

Make sure you send this email well prior to the agreed upon posting date. Nine times out of ten, the company will not ask for the product back and will appreciate your honesty. If they are offended and angry, that is not your fault (assuming you composed your email in a professional way). Your specific feedback can actually be more beneficial to them than a product review because your critique arms them with information for honing their product or for revamping their sales pages to better demonstrate what they are selling.

Learn From Your Mistake

To prevent this situation in the future, be sure to research before agreeing to write a review. Often bloggers are flattered by an invitation to join an affiliate program or allured by a compensation check, so they don’t read the product information carefully. Many times their criticisms are features that are clearly spelled out on the company website which the blogger didn’t take the time to read. Reading carefully will often make it clear to you that a product is not a good fit before you agree to the review.

Never be afraid to say no to a project that is not a good fit.

Ask questions and allow for an escape plan. If you aren’t sure about a product, ask! And be upfront with the client about how you will respond in the case that you strongly dislike the product. This doesn’t make you look mean; it makes you look professional. The only way to truly know if you love a product is to use it. Tell the client in your initial emails that you are unsure but that you will not write a negative review. Being choosy is actually very attractive to a potential advertiser. It demonstrates that you cherish your relationship with your audience.

In the negotiation process, ask the company if they want negative feedback. Smart businesses do. Sometimes you can write that carefully crafted, honest but positive review and offer your criticisms privately to the client via email. This way you have been faithful to both audience and the brand.

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Are you breaking your promises on Pinterest?
Are You Breaking Your Promises on Pinterest?

I was searching Pinterest to repin content for a client’s account, and I was frustrated by attractive graphics with catchy titles that led to lackluster content that wasn’t worth repinning.

That experience is probably what made me zero in on a single phrase from Demian Farnworth in a Hangout on Air with Jason T. Wiser. He said that a headline is a promise.

Yes! That was exactly my frustration with Pinterest.

Those bloggers with the sub-par content have mastered the art of the pinnable image. They take a bright photograph or a snazzy vector background from a graphic subscription site and overlay a catchy headline in pretty fonts.

The image draws you in to click and repin. But if you visit the article, you are left disappointed because the content is no where near the quality you expected from that spiffy image and headline. Sometimes the article doesn’t even parallel what the image portrays at all, and you feel deceived by the virtual bait and switch.

Bloggers, your headline is a promise, and your pinnable image is a promise, too. If it doesn’t deliver, then you have disappointed a potential reader and harmed your reputation.

If people repin your broken promise image without clicking over, what have you gained? More people on Pinterest will have a chance to be disillusioned by your broken promise now.

What if someone is enticed to click? When they discover your broken promise, they will simply hit the back button. Sure, they are a blip of traffic (with a high bounce rate). But what good is that blip in your overall strategy? You have not gained a follower, a subscriber, or a customer.

Blog with integrity. Make sure that the quality of your written content parallels the beauty of your pinnable image so that you are not breaking promises on Pinterest.

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Curating Your Best Content in End of the Year Posts
Curating Your Best Content in End of the Year Posts

It’s the end of the year, and for many of us that means a frenzy of holiday activity that can leave us scrambling for time to write new blog material. No worries. There are many ways to repurpose your existing content and publish valuable content for your readers.

Instead of creating new content, curate old (but great) posts into helpful lists or round-up posts.

Ideas for End of the Year Posts

Normally, an end of the year post is limited to posts published in that year, but you can do what you like and include every post you’ve ever written when you choose what to include. Either way, get access to some data —either your Google Analytics or the simpler WordPress stats— and find your superlative posts.

Top Posts from the Year could be determined by whatever metric you choose:

  • the highest traffic
  • the most comments
  • the most shares on social media

Or ignore your stats and tell your readers what you think your best content was. Make a list of

  • My Favorite Posts of the Year
  • The Posts From This Year That I Don’t Want You To Miss

If you are a regular and prolific blogger, you might want to take a month by month approach listing

  • My Best Post from Each Month This Year
  • My Year in Review in Twelve Blog Posts

If you write about a few key topics, you could create a list of My Best Posts This Year About [Topic]. Do that for each of your most common blog categories.

End of the Year Posts Based on Social Media

Was Pinterest good to you as a blogger this year? Share the love with a wrap-up post listing

  • My Most Pinned Posts of the Year
  • Posts You Need to Pin
  • Posts You Probably Pinned

Or look at your blog through the eyes of Twitter, Facebook, or Google+ with

  • My Most Tweeted Posts From This Year
  • The Posts Google Plus Loved the Most
  • My Posts with the Most Facebook Likes

These kinds of posts give you a chance to brag a little and share your stellar social media stats.

How To Structure End of the Year List Posts

You can gather a list of post titles and link them back to the original posts, but I like to also add the pinnable image I made from each post into my collection. Be sure the images link back to the posts from which they come. People love to click on images, and a string of images will keep them scrolling down to see all your best posts of the year.

To beef up your new post, be sure to offer concise descriptions for each of the posts you are listing. Give your readers a sneak peek and a reason to click over. One format that works well is Q&A. Write a question that your post can answer.

You could also organize the posts chronologically by month or logically by topic.

Do you think these types of posts are cheating? They aren’t! The fact is many readers —even your most loyal readers— sometimes miss a post for one reason or another. And even if someone read it back in March, that doesn’t mean he won’t want to read it again in December or January! If a post is good, it’s still good the second time around. Make the most of your archives, and curate some end of the year posts with your most epic content.

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