The fourth podcast episode is now live on iTunes. In this podcast episode I speak to Wendy Piersall who just released Mom Blogging For Dummies about how she used what was happening in her everyday life and translated it into a huge and profitable blog network of kids activity websites.
We talk about how she first got started earning money online and what projects she’s working on right now. The conversation we had as a whole was great, because I often hear from people that complain about not knowing what niches to build websites in and what Wendy has done by translating the activities she first put together for her kids and migrated onto the web is a terrific example of turning passion into profits.
Items Discussed In This Episode:
Rosalind Gardner’s affiliate marketing book
Mom Blogging for Dummies
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Intro: Welcome to the MakeMoneyOntheInternet.com podcast where you learn tips and strategies from the pros on how to build your own online business. Now, here is your host
Chris: I’m very excited to have Wendy Piersall on the podcast today, who I know as a fellow Elite Retreat alumni and most recently I purchased one of her websites, CopycatCrafts.com. We’ll make it to that a little bit later but first let me welcome you to the show, Wendy.
Wendy: Thanks, Chris. Thanks for having me. Hi, everyone!
Chris: Yeah, I’m very excited to talk to you because you’ve done a lot of interesting stuff and I think that you can help shed some lights in the idea of running a network of websites, so. I know one of the first things that you started was Sparkplugging.com. It was a business blog network. But before we get into the sale and everything else of that site, I’m curious what made you decide to go into blogging?
Wendy: Oh, honestly and this is something I found with most successful bloggers is that I totally started by accident with a completely different intention. I was starting up another business and I – this was my little hobby blog where I was just going to talk about what it’s like to run a business on the internet from home, because this was like my third business at that point, and the business was going nowhere and the blog was taking off and I was like, well I’m going to go with what works. This was back in 2006. I didn’t know the first thing about how to make a business or money off a blog. So, this really wasn’t in the game plan. I was just – I just knew that it worked and every kind of intuition said run with it. So I did. I would say that’s not a path for the faint of heart because it took me a long time to turn it into a really viable business, like almost three years. But it was by accident, that’s how I got into it.
Chris: Okay. And you mentioned that you didn’t know a lot about making money with the site. I mean, where did you go or how did you find out, did you just look at what other sites were doing and then just mimic what they did or …
Wendy: Yeah, I was a total sponge at that point. I mean I think I read almost every single post in Darren Rowse’s Problogger blog back then. And, Darren – honestly I still don’t to this day know why he was so generous with his time. But he really was. I mean he really – I mean out of the blue I’d email him questions and he’d answer them and he’d give me feedback on things and I honestly named him as one of the – in the acknowledgments of my book. So, I honestly don’t feel like I’d be here where I am today without him. But there were other people I learned from as well. Shoemoney was one. I’m trying to think of a few others that I read in the early beginning. Just a lot of those kind of make money online blogs and I read some books as well. What’s her name – oh, Rosalind Gardner’s affiliate marketing book that was tremendously helpful and she still has it. I think it’s now even a real book instead of an ebook. Those were, I think, my primary first learning vehicles. And then, you know, beyond that it was a lot of trial and error as you well know. Everything that you learn from all these make money online and internet business sources will work in some circumstances and not in other circumstances. So I really just had to just – it took me a long time to figure out what worked for me in the topics that I wanted to write about.
Chris: Definitely. That’s cool too to kind of hear some of the other resources. I know Shoemoney obviously that’s kind of where we’re connected through the Elite Retreat conference but I’ll have to check out that book later. I know that this was the first, kind of, network of sites that you ran and then I saw that you sold it back in 2009?
Chris: And, that sale was kind of interesting, right? It seems like it didn’t work out very well or can you go into more detail about how the sale process worked for you?
Wendy: Wow, yeah, that could probably take up our whole call so I’ll try to give you this short version.
Wendy: So, at the end of 2007 B5Media approached me about selling Sparkplugging to them and at the time, B5Media was really one of the biggest blog networks out there, really kind of a leader of the pack. I was absolutely flattered, completely excited. At the same time I had to go through a process of letting go of the blog. This was my baby. As you know and I’m sure a lot of your listeners know as well that these blogs are kind of an extension of who we are. So, I felt like I had raised a child up to the point of getting into college and then I had to let it go and move out of the house. And that was really emotional. I mean I even cried a couple of times. And then, the deal fell through. This was, you know, a few months later at the beginning of 2009, yeah, and the economy was horrible and then I was stuck with this blog – this blog network basically that I emotionally let go of and I had started up another project with the intention of getting this, Sparkplugging, off my hands and then I was really stuck. I mean it was really difficult. I had to juggle two blog networks at the time. I was having some health issues. It was very stressful. And then, later on in that same year a friend of mine was interested in buying it. I look some of the content off there so that it lowered the value of it a little bit but they really weren’t interested in that part. They were really disinterested in the business content. And at that point it seemed like a fairly smooth transaction. I mean there were definitely bumps and a lot of negotiating points along the way. But I sent it off into what I felt was really good hands. And these were dear friends that I felt like I was handing my baby off to people who would really take care of it. And as you well know they have not done anything with the site since then. I mean, literally, they made the announcement in September or October 2009 and that announcement is still on the homepage of the blog! Ahh!
Chris: I’ve seen that before in the past, actually. I’ve looked at other sites that I was interested in buying and then found I know either I was out bid or just didn’t end up buying it and then seeing that whoever took it over just hadn’t done anything with it and it is kind of frustrating sometimes. Especially too if you kind of from the perspective of someone that used to own it and you know you have that emotional attachment. So that’s kind of frustrating and I know that’s something to think about when you’re trying to determine whether or not you want to sell a site or not. But I know that you’ve also started WooJr.com and there’s a lot of other associate websites. How many websites actually make up the whole Woo! Jr. Network?
Wendy: So there’s five blogs on different topic areas and then Woo! Jr. is kind of the hub where you can find all the content from one place. For me, it was an experiment. Sparkplugging was a whole bunch of blogs on one domain and I decided I wanted to try a blog network on different domains. There’s pros and cons to both. Hindsight being, you know, what it is. I would say that I would probably go back to putting all the sites on one domain again.
Wendy: But at the same time, I mean, I guess I can’t say that 100%. Because in some ways it’s been a benefit to have them on different sites. But anyway, it’s a kid activities blog network. The reason that I started it was because in 2007 it was the beginning of the summer, my kids were home from school. I had a crap load of work on my plate and I’m thinking to myself how the heck am I going to get through this summer with all the work I have to do. With three kids at home needing my attention. They were much younger at that time. So I thought, ah! Link bait! This is perfect! Of the list of 100 kids activities for work at home parents and it ended up being only 94. It kind of pushed me to my limits of trying to find 100. But that post – it was insane how that post caught on and took off. It made it to the front page of Digg, I mean people were linking to it all over the place and I’m sitting there I’m writing a business blog and I’m really confused going: Really? Kids activities? Is that possible? I was kind of astonished. So when it came time to turn Sparkplugging into a blog network kids activities blog was one of the blogs I decided I wanted to add. I hired a writer for that and that ended being one of the most successful blogs in the blog network. So, when it came time when I was just saying earlier to sell the site and I was thinking about my next project I was thinking well, I’m just going to take what I know is working really well for me on Sparkplugging, the kids activities and expand that even further into its own blog network. And it was probably one of the best business decisions I’ve ever made. I mean, it made money from day one.
Chris: That’s interesting. So obviously you have kids and you work at home. So you thought okay I’m going to come up with a list of activities for my children to do during the summer and then make a huge list and again list posts are great as link bait as you just said as well. And it just really took off compared to anything else you would have imagined it would have done. And really kind of launched an entire network of sites, basically.
Wendy: It did. It was the absolute beginning. The seed of where I am today. What’s funny is that I really only did it for kind of selfish reasons. I really didn’t think it was going to take off and I thought I would get the push back from my readers which just goes to proof, and this has happened to me on several occasions where you think a post is going to go really well with people and it’s going to be this big deal and it totally flops and then one little sleeper post that you think is never going to go anywhere or just going to be this one little thing just completely explodes into something that you never – beyond what you ever expected of it and that was that kind of posts.
Chris: Awesome. I know you mentioned you have five sites in the network. How much traffic do you receive monthly to that entire network of sites?
Wendy: It’s between 250,000 and 300,000 visitors a month. Although during October, which is my biggest month of the year, it doubles. I get last year I had three million page views in October and almost half a million visitors I think.
Chris: Okay. So why would it double on October? I mean I’m thinking of is it just because people are going back to school around that time or…?
Chris: I guess it’s September, right?
Wendy: It’s Halloween. It’s the beginning of a very – I don’t know how to quite describe it. Parents get very crafty and creative and domestic between October, November, December. They’re getting ready for the holidays. They’re starting to hunker down the winter time. They’re think about making, you know, projects with their kids. They’re not able to go outside anymore. So kids activities at that time of year is just really a big deal to begin with. But I have a ton of Halloween content as well. I have not just coloring pages but pumpkin stencils, printable masks, games, you name it. So it’s extremely, extremely popular content with lots of pages around it.
Chris: That’s cool. I know. Actually I’ve known about you and your network of sites before. So I looked at them before we originally planned to do this conversation and I see, you know, you have a lot of really, really high quality stuff. And I was curious do you have a staff of writers that help you manage all these websites or how do you deal with being able to create such compelling and quality content in the kids activity niche?
Wendy: You know that’s a good question. Because my background is really the perfect resume for a site like this. I used to be a graphic designer. I used to do – I have some education in my background and I have both print and web design in my background. I’m not a total guru at it but it’s enough so that I’ve been able to create almost all these content myself. I have one writer that I hired honestly only this year when I needed to start writing my book because I just needed to take some time away from the sites so I had solid book writing time. And she just gives me about five craft posts a month. And, that’s it. Almost everything else is what I’ve done myself. And, that’s just been over years of creating content and knowing really as a parent what my kids like and need. I see what they bring home from their teachers and what their teachers need in their classrooms and I based my ideas off of that kind of inspiration and it’s proved to work for me really well.
Chris: Yeah, I think, that’s a perfect example of where domain experience, where you know you’re very experienced in a specific area and it just makes – it’s a perfect fit for your sort of website and niche because obviously you’re a parent and you have kids that are interested in that type of content and it was just a clear fit, also with your background as well. So, that’s for listeners that are trying to think about what to do, just think about what you already experienced with and your own life experiences, and see what you can do to, if you’re trying to decide a website to build. That’s one approach.
Wendy: I totally agree, Chris. And, what’s interesting, and I think this is my biggest lesson out of Sparkplugging, is that I really loved it. I mean, loved to my core. Writing about business, and marketing, and blogging when I was writing for Sparkplugging. But for me it was not a natural fit to make money off of that kind of website. I really wanted something that was more page view generated and advertising driven and that one really was more content and more product sales driven. So, also I mean as we just said writing about kids activities is a natural. I love writing about it just as much as I loved writing about business. But this to me was also a natural fit with how I wanted to and how I’m good at making money off of a site. So it’s important to know that even if you’re great about writing about a certain topic you may not be a natural and great about making business or making money on that topic. You know, it took me three years trying to put a square peg into a round hole with Sparkplugging to finally face the fact that Sparkplugging wasn’t the business that I wanted to be in and I had to let it go. And that was scary and challenging and frustrating for me. But also, why I was able to make money from Woo! Jr. from day one, because everything that I’ve learned with Sparkplugging that I couldn’t quite make work over there, worked perfectly on the new network. It was like almost effortless.
Chris: Nice. I know the site makes money from actually different methods than I typically do. I usually use Amazon, Adsense, Ebay Partner network etc those typical big name companies. But I see you’re using RealGirlsMedia and a few other ways. How are you making money with these types of sites?
Wendy: It is primarily through my ad network, which is RealGirlsMedia. They just got bought out by Meredith who is the publisher behind Family Circle and Better Homes & Gardens. So I am hoping that that even leads to bigger and better things. I do have a secondary ad network and I do use some Adsense. I did use a lot of affiliate marketing but as you well know, we had had this conversation before, I live in Illinois so all my – nearly all of my affiliate marketing has gone down the tubes because of the new affiliate tax law that’s been passed. Thankfully, I’ve never kept too many eggs in one basket. But I feel a little bit more vulnerable now because I’m relying on my ad networks now even more and I’m looking for ways to diversify even more now because, you know, if something happens to my ad network for whatever reason then I’m screwed.
Chris: So, actually going back then, so RealGirlsMedia was your ad network?
Chris: Oh, okay. So that’s something that…
Wendy: Well, no, it’s not mine personally…
Chris: Oh, okay.
Wendy: No, it was started by a woman named Kate Thorpe that was just – I mean just it’s a girl – it’s a women’s ad network, competitor to Glam and BlogHer ads basically.
Chris: Okay. And I guess when you’re building up a really high traffic site are you typically being paid out based on like a banner, eCPM like flat rate or what’s typical…?
Wendy: It depends on the season and the sell through. And that’s actually been really frustrating for me as an entrepreneur, because there’s been ups and downs in both in the economy and especially when the ad network was being sold. So sometimes I get really high CPMs for my industry and sometimes I get astonishingly low CPMs. And here’s a perfect example of just not having a lot of your fate in your own hands when you’re working with an ad network. In 2009, I had 1.4 million page views and in 2010, like I just said, I had more than 3 million page views. I actually made more money in 2009 because my banner ad rate was so much higher than it was in 2010. That was heartbreaking. To come up all that traffic and to work an entire year to build up that kind of traffic and then not get rewarded for it, heartbreaking.
Chris: So, have you been looking for other solutions. What did you try to do in the past to try and mix in other types of monetization methods to see if you can find other ways to make more money from your traffic then?
Wendy: Right. So, that was definitely a time when I – Adsense was really my backup ad network at the time and then I got a little more aggressive about finding a better backup ad network and the one that I found was Rivit Media who – they focus on DIY and crafting kinds of blogs. They’ve done really great as a backup ad network and I’m hoping that they grow to the point when who knows they could take over my primary ad network. So I’ve done that. I started working with other ad networks and the other thing that I’ve done is I’ve start kind of branching out and doing other things. Last fall I was approached by Wiley to write a book and it just felt like a really good time to do it. In my head it was this is a great time for me to break out and do something completely different and have a completely other source of income, which is through the book and maybe doing some consulting or other projects that stem from the book. So, let’s say, all my ad networks died today I would have, you know, I now have the foundation for a whole other business on the side. The challenge with that though is that you get to a point where you’re just juggling too many things at once and I’ve really struggled with that. I know that was one of the questions that you’ve sent over. I really have a hard time switching gears that drastically. From running a blog network to doing nothing but writing a book and now I’m having to go back to running the blog network but also market a book.
Wendy: It’s really challenging. I really like to be able to just kind of settle into a mindset and just kind of dive in and like let myself obsessed with it and you know, go as far as I can with it. And, that’s really hard to do when every other day I have to switch gears and go, oh, no today I have to do interviews for the book, and oh, no, I’m behind on content for the ad network, you know, the blog network. So, I’m in between place right now that’s pushing my capabilities, let’s just say that way.
Chris: I know that’s something else I wanted to talk about the book. It’s going to be called Mom Blogging for Dummies, right?
Wendy: Right. Yeah, one of the Wiley’s for Dummies series. I’m really proud of it.
Chris: Almost everyone’s heard of the four Dummies series of books and so this is a really cool and exciting thing for you. I know you mentioned it was last fall that you’re approached. Could you explain a little bit more how that happened? Do people just hear about your network of sites or see your blog or how did that even come about?
Wendy: This is a great question because I think this is really an important process for any blogger who wants to get a book deal. So I met the director of – one of the directors of marketing at Wiley at South by SouthWest in 2007, I think. And we started talking about a book all the way back then and I’d seen a presentation by Gina Tripani from Lifehacker about writing her own book back then and I realized that it really wasn’t all it’s cracked up to be. You have to market your own book; it takes a lot of time; you don’t make a lot of money at it; you don’t write a book to make money off it. You write a book to build your platform and to sell other things. So when I realized that that was the nature of book writing as it is today, generally speaking. Especially in the business book space. I knew it wasn’t time for me to write a book. It wasn’t until I saw Wiley at BlogWorld Expo last year in Vegas that we started talking about it again and I knew it was the time. I knew that I could take six months away from Woo! Jr. and it would still make money if I only was working at it a fraction of the time. Because I’d got it to a point where it could coast. And it just intuitively felt like this is the right time to write this book and, this is hard for me to say because I’m not a normal one person to just be easy about tooting my own horn, but I absolutely knew in my heart that I am the best person in the world to write this book. I have been to every corner of the blogosphere when it comes to learning about making money from a blog and being a mom and being in this space. There are definitely more successful mom bloggers than I am, but none of them have done all the different kinds of monetization from blogs. I mean every single kind of monetization strategy you could possibly imagine, I’ve done it. And I just felt like, you know what I am the best person to write this book and I’m just going to do it. So that was, you know, and they’ve been wanting me to write a book for years at that point so it was all a good time. One of things I found as I was getting through this book deal process was that book publishers spend more time looking for writers that have an existing platform than they do going through book proposals from potential authors.
Wendy: Interesting to me to realize that that they are pitching people on writing a book more than people are pitching them on writing a book.
Chris: So, it’s almost like they want to, kind of, be able to take advantage of the fact that you have a built-in audience that you can market a book to basically.
Wendy: Exactly, exactly. Because you know the publishing industry is not what it used to be. And unless you have you know – unless you have celebrity status and it makes sense for them to push marketing dollars against the book they are not going to do a lot of marketing for you. I think I’m fortunate with at least the four Dummies series that I have a little support but ultimately selling this book is up to me. And, I really felt like this was a good time to take on that task. But did that kind of answer your question of…
Chris: Yeah, yeah. And, I’m curious too. I mean, I don’t want to throw you under the bus or anything with your publisher but, yeah, I do know there is a huge – there is a very big shift in the whole publishing world and I hear a lot of people talking about self-publishing. Is there a reason why you didn’t want to go that route as opposed to doing a book deal with Wiley?
Wendy: I would say that’s a great question, honestly. I don’t know enough about – let’s put it this way. I haven’t looked into self-publishing enough to give you a truly informed answer to that question. But what I do know of it is that it’s a significant upfront investment of time and some money, it depends. It could be a lot of money, could be some money. And then, obviously, if you’re self-publishing you’re the only one that can go out and sell that book. With Wiley I got a book advance. So for me it wasn’t just – it wasn’t an initial investment of money. It was just a big initial investment of time and I actually got something out of that. You know, I got a book advance. So, I guess in that sense it made more sense for me to do it that way because that kind of time investment I don’t know. I don’t know that I would really do it if it was just up to me to sell it. Not that I’m not confident in my book selling ability but that’s a lot to take on for one person. And, if I can have a book advance, you know, I kind of got into a point where if I can get money for the work that I’m doing I’d rather do it that way.
Chris: Yeah. I can see too how if you’re – you know, you’re working with a publisher, they give you some money upfront and say, make this book by this time, then it kind of almost kicks you into gear. Not that I’m saying that you have any trouble motivating yourself and getting work done but I can see how just anyone that can help them out.
Wendy: You know what, no, that is a good point. Because it takes – okay, I’m okay with self-discipline but I’m not great at it. And, I knew this book was going to take a lot of self-discipline in order to write it. The level of discipline it took to finish this book was so far beyond anything I could have conceived of. I mean, it was excruciating near the end. When I was in such overwhelm mode. I was behind on everything. But this deadline was so important because we need to have that book ready for BlogHer which is here in August. So, this was not just a normal book writing dead line. This was an accelerated book writing deadline. My kids, you know, were – my husband was coming home from work and making dinner and feeding them. I was going to Starbucks on the weekends and I was hardly seeing my family. And if I didn’t have a publisher kind of breathing down my neck saying, you need to have this done in time, I probably would not have done it. So, there is something to be said for – especially if you’re not great and I mean like not just great absolutely perfect about self-discipline it would be hard to get it done for any person under those kinds of circumstances.
Chris: Yeah, definitely. And, I do see how having a deadline can help out too. I know you mentioned BlogHer is coming up in August. When is the book due out then?
Wendy: The book is due out next week. So I – earlier really than I thought. I’m supposed to get a box of them in my house sometime this week and I’m just like ecstatic about it. So you can order from Amazon any time after 4th July. It’s supposed to be in stores the week after that. We were shooting for the end of July. So, I’m really excited that I was able to not only meet my deadline but make it early. Woohoo!!
Chris: And, I’ll link to the Amazon page too as well.
Chris: On the homepage here for the blog and by the time people listen to this the book should be out. So that’s exciting. What else have you been working on then? Is this pretty much…
Wendy: This is, yeah, honestly, this is it. Because, as soon as the book was done I was so behind on everything else. And, I’m still not caught up with everything else. So, I’m still in catch up mode.
Chris: Yeah, I know, it’s understandable. I think we’re pretty close to wrapping things up here and I think that everyone should take a lot of advice – learn a lot of things here from you’ve said and again I want to thank you for coming on. Just curious so too, where can people get in touch with you if they’re interested in kind of following on with your projects or just kind of seeing what you’re up to?
Wendy: Yeah, that would be at WendyPiersall.com and I would love to note that a lot of the things that we covered here are things that I went into detail in my book. I talk about selling blogs, I talk about building and marketing and ad network. I even talk about using your blog to get a book deal. Because all these things are basically – this has been my whole journey of blogging from start to finish now in a book. So, if there’s anything that you’d want to know more about from what we just talked about it’s all there in more detail in the book. And, it’s really isn’t – it’s technically I know it’s Mom Blogging for Dummies but honestly, the information there is good for anybody that’s interested in blogging. It’s just – you know, there’s some things that’s specific to the mom blogging industry that I covered in addition to this topics.
Chris: All right, exciting. Well, thanks again for coming on, Wendy.
Chris: And, I’ll be sure to link to all these resources as well.
Wendy: Thank you, Chris.
Chris: On the homepage. Thanks again. And, that was the show. If you’d like to check out Wendy’s book, you can get it by going to Chrisloves.com/momblogging. This is an Amazon affiliate link so if you buy the book through this link I will receive a commission.
As I mentioned at the start of the podcast I recently purchased one of Wendy’s websites which is called CopycatCrafts.com. It’s as do-yourself crafting website and I’m currently documenting the process that I go through when I buy websites publically on my blog using CopycatCrafts as an example. So you can follow along with that case study by visiting my blog, MakeMoneyOnTheInternet.com.
Finally, if you’ve been enjoying this podcast I love for you to give me an honest review on iTunes, because the more reviews I get the more often my podcast shows up in various searches. You can review my podcast by going to MakeMoneyOnTheInternet.com/itunes. Now, thank you again for listening and I’ll see you on the next session.[/spoiler]
Podcast Transcription by TranscriptionistForBloggers.com – just tell him Chris sent you 😉