Note from Kat: How can you grow your blog by spending less time on it? Today I have the honor of introducing you to Stephanie Langford. Stephanie is truly one of my favorite people in the whole world. Like Tsh, she was also on the Compassion Blogging trip to the Philippines, so I got to know her quite well. She is incredible savvy, wise and level headed. She and her husband just overflow with kindness.
I’ve learned more from my conversations with Stephanie than I have from any blogging book. If you’ve ever felt overwhelmed by all you should do in the blogging world, you’re going to really appreciate her blogging story. I know you’ll love her and learn from her wisdom.
1. Give us a quick intro to you, your family and your blog.
Hi, I’m Stephanie! First and foremost, I’m a lover of Jesus, a wife to Ryan, and a mommy to Abbie, Caden, Johanna and Kepler. We make our living as an entrepreneurial family, with my husband primarily running our music school Resound School of Music while I run our blogs, Keeper of the Home, and more recently, EntreFamily Travels.
I spend my days at home with my kids, homeschooling, cooking from scratch, gardening and preserving, studying nutrition and healthy living, and running my blog. We make our home in the Vancouver, Canada area, although we’re currently on a one-year journey around the world with our kids, and having the time of our lives!
2. Tell us your blogging story.
Keeper of the Home was my very first blog, though I have since started two others (Saving Naturally, which I sold after 7 months, a long story in and of itself, and EntreFamily Travels which I currently use to share our family’s travel stories).
I launched KOTH 5 ½ years ago, shortly after my husband completed cancer treatments and achieved remission. Understandably, the previous year had been very difficult for our family, and I was in need of some sort of a hobby to throw myself into. I had been contemplating some sort of website for a while, as a venue for sharing much of the nutrition and healthy living information that I had been soaking up like a sponge during the previous 5 years, and that I wanted so badly to share with other moms.
When I first began, I think I had read a total of 5 different blogs, ever. I knew so little about what I was about to do. I hadn’t thought to learn anything about blogging before I began. I had no business plan, no written goals. Coding was a completely foreign language to me, and I had no clue there was such a thing as blogging etiquette. I simply wanted to write, so with my standard-looking WordPress.com site and a self-made (read: awful) header, I began.
Looking back, that’s not a terrible way to begin a blog (because we all have to start somewhere), but it’s not a very good way, either. The novice blogger today can be leaps and bounds ahead of where I was, thanks to the plethora of helpful tutorials and information available for free. Use it. It is your friend. The more you can glean about your craft before delving in too deeply, the better.
Instead of worrying that you haven’t written 5 posts this week, write 1 or 2 and spend your extra time reading up on sites like ProBlogger, Blogging With Amy, Savvy Blogging and others. Analyze the blogs you love and what you love about them, then consider your own blogging goals, your personal style, the audience that you want to appeal to, and consider how you can take those excellent traits and apply them in your own unique way.
3. Tell us about a blogging “success” or “failure” that taught you a powerful lesson.
Striving does not equal success. There was a period of time in my blogging a little while back, which lasted over a year, where I worked mighty hard. I mustered up every bit of blogging know-how I possessed, I burned the midnight oil, I toiled and stressed and ultimately became unhappy in my blogging and created frustration in my family. Traffic had started to plateau after a couple years of steady growth, and by golly, I was going to figure out how to get that thing growing again. All I really succeeded in doing, however, was burning myself out and taking precious time from my family.
There had to be a different way, and I recognized that maybe, that meant I let the blog suffer. I wasn’t sure how it would turn out, but I cut down my work hours, brought on more contributing writers (and in turn, decreased my own writing schedule), got off the insane hamster wheel of social media, and tried to learn how to just let it be. If the blog tanked, well, then I guess it tanked, but at least I would have my priorities in order and stop running myself ragged.
Wouldn’t you know it, but when I stopped striving, the blog began to thrive again. Traffic jumped, and I found fresh energy and passion for it. My readership changed a little, but it was a good change, and a beautiful sense of community began to emerge. I learned that I adored mentoring and partnering with the writers that contributed, and when I did write, I could relax and enjoy the process more because I didn’t feel such pressure to pump out constant content. My social media outlets (Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest) remained somewhat pathetic, but you know? The blog grew in spite of my “bad blogging” practices.
The moral of this story isn’t that if your blog suffers, you should ditch Twitter and go find 17 writers so that you can sit back and twiddle your thumbs. Rather, it’s that if your personal life is suffering, your priorities are out of whack, and blogging has become a obligation, that comes through in what you write and it won’t inspire anybody. But when you focus on actually living and loving your offline life, then use your blog as an extension of that, sharing your passion and enthusiasm with others, it’s contagious. Even if your aren’t following the 57 Rules of How to Be a Good Professional Blogger, what you do will be more of a genuine success because it’s, well, genuine and coming from a place of life and purpose, rather than striving and burden.
4. What are the intangibles that have helped you succeed?
It needs to be said that if anyone has ever told you blogging is easy, they’re lying. Blogging is not easy. It is not a simple way to make oodles of money. It requires hard work, strong character and ethics, perseverance, a back like a duck (so that negativity can roll off), a whole lot more hard work, getting to know Starbucks baristas by name, dirty dishes in your sink, and a willingness to work for pennies for quite some time, simply because you love what you do. My blogging friends whose blogs are flourishing are among some of the most diligent, hard-working women I know.
Another huge aspect of successful professional blogging that doesn’t get talked about nearly enough is that no blogger is an island. By that, I’m not referring to the sense of community and partnering with other bloggers, although that is crucial as well.
What I mean is that if you look a large, successful blog and then see the pretty little picture of the blog author on the sidebar and think to yourself, “Gosh, she’s so amazing that she runs this huge site all by herself, and I really love her scarf”, think again (not about the scarf- that part is legit). What you aren’t seeing is that either a) Her home and relationships are falling apart because she works herself to death (this is a generalization, but based on the bloggers I’ve know over the years, it’s not far off) OR b) she has more help than you know. Back in the 80’s, my mom (a secretary at the time) had a mug that said “Behind every great boss, there’s an even better secretary”. Well, behind every successful blogger, there’s a phenomenal virtual assistant (and maybe an advertising manager, a designer, an accountant, and so on).
I wised up to this a little less than 3 years ago. My blog had been growing beyond what I expected when I first began and I was starting to bring in an income that bought more than a latte here and there. It was exciting. Also, it was exhausting, keeping up with a kazillion emails, meeting advertisers needs, putting out consistently great content, maintaining the site behind-the-scenes, and all the other things that go along with growth. So, I hired my first team member, for about 5-8 hours per month. It was a stretch for me financially, since I had just started to make a little bit of money, but sometimes that’s what you need to do in order to keep growing.
Since that time, I now run Keeper of the Home with a team of 12 contributing writers, a personal VA, an advertising manager, an editor, and a social media manager (woot- I figured out how to outsource this one!), as well as several designers and a technical guy that I hire on an as-needed basis, plus an accountant at tax time. Does it take up a good chunk of my revenue? Sure. Also, I’ve had to learn how to manage people, which is an entirely new skill set. Thing is, I couldn’t keep my site going with any level of happiness and integrity without this team behind me and beside me, and so I’m thankful that they allow me to continue to do what I love and focus on what I’m best at.
5. How do you keep your blog and home life in balance? What does a “typical” blogging day look like for you?
Our life is currently a bit topsy-turvy and upside down, since we left our home in Canada at the end of January to spend 54 weeks traveling the globe with our 4 young kids. Our home base changes anywhere from every night to every month, internet connections vary widely in different parts of the world, and I have to fit my work time around various excursions, sight-seeing, plane rides, language learning, homeschooling and also just the regular parts of being a mom and wife.
Typical isn’t really in my vocabulary right now. So I’ll share with you what a typical work week looked like in the fall and winter, before we entered this year of beautiful chaos.
Tuesday 12:30-4:30 – At the coffee shop while my regular mother’s helper watches the kids. This is a time when I work hard to write as much as possible and deal with big projects.
Thursdays 7:30-10:30 – I wrote a regular weekly column for another large website and always did it on Thursday evenings.
Weekday afternoons – I usually spent 30-60 minutes checking emails, answering comments, editing photos, social media, etc. during my children’s quiet time (assuming quiet time actually happened- if it didn’t, then I wouldn’t get to take this computer time).
Weekday evenings – Other than Thursdays and nights when we had church caregroup or some other family activity or outing, I would spend 1-2 hours on the computer after the kids went to bed. This was when I would do more of my writing and editing, things that I find difficult to do during the day when there are distractions. During particularly busy seasons (site redesign, ebook launch, training new staff, etc.) I would often work more like 2-4 hours in the evening if necessary.
Total hours worked? Usually 12-15 in a good week, 15-20 in a bad one.
The most important thing for me personally in keeping the blog and home in balance is that I keep them separate. I know that’s not the right answer for everyone but it is for me, especially in this season with really young children. I find it difficult to write around them, so I will very occasionally moderate a few comments or respond to an email or two if they’re nearby, but generally I just keep my computer shut.
I do my writing in concentrated chunks of time when I have a babysitter or my husband with them, or else I wait until they’re in bed. To capture inspiration as it pops up throughout the day, I write notes on my iPhone, quickly start new drafts in WordPress and jot down a few sentences and save them for later, or scribble on the back of napkins with purple crayons in the minivan. When you’re a working mom, you gotta do what you gotta do.
6. Show us a photo of your current workspace.
Q & A with Stephanie
Do you feel like you’re on the hamster wheel of blogging? Does the idea of scaling back terrify or thrill you? Click here to share your thoughts or ask Stephanie your questions!