The Trap of Stats {Smaller Bloggers}

Look Beyond Stats

What defines a “smaller blogger”. There really is no “formal” answer but many people define themselves by their stats. So what exactly constitutes a “smaller blogger”?

It’s the mindset of the blogger.

When you play the comparison game, there will always be someone to stand next to you who has more readers, more likes, more follows than you do.

When we define ourselves (or others) by stats, we create barriers in various areas. When we use stats to define the value of a person (including ourselves) we put up walls and create stereotypes based on stats. We may not even realize we’re doing it! Yet, what happens is we start to make assumptions about people based on their stats. We think less of our ministry when our stats don’t mirror someone else’s. We become discontent with what we’ve been given.

Take a moment to watch this video that helps illustrate well what I mean. Click here if you’re reading in email or a reader.

Until we can look beyond our stats, all we’re going to see is stats. We are going to miss the ministry God has placed in front of us because we are too busy chasing after what someone else has.

There are many factors which lead to why stats look the way they do for different people. Some examples include:

  • time invested
  • goals/mission/vision of blogger
  • God’s vision (!!!)
  • unique gifts
  • reach
  • education (and I don’t mean a college degree, but willingness to seek out and learn)
  • consistency of blogging

These are just a few things. The goal today isn’t to overwhelm you — in fact, the overall goal for this entire series is to keep the information simple and straightforward. The last thing we want you to do is throw your hands up and think it’s hopeless based on this list. It’s not!

Our goal, however, is to make you aware of the elements involved in what creates these stats. The one thing you need to know about “bigger bloggers” is that they were once “smaller bloggers”. So when you see them write or hear them speak on topics like stats, they are doing it from a position of experience, not arrogance.

If you think you’ve hit a wall, don’t waste anymore time running into it. If you’ve done all you can and you believe you’re getting nowhere, it might be time to think about starting fresh. It might be time to dream again; to revisit your vision and goals.

It is important to understand that building a blog and extending your reach takes dedicated, consistent work. It requires that we stretch beyond what we know and be open to learning new things constantly. We must be willing to grow if we want our blog to grow. Growth involves more then merely stats. It includes the development of your writing, and your willingness to learn beyond the basics. It requires some investment.

This week, we want to challenge you to break the barriers of defining yourself and other people by their stats.  Blogging is not a popularity contest; it’s a community where we work together.

 

*Post from the archives, authored by Christin

Measuring Sticks, Insecurity, and Some Conference Advice

Size Platform Measure Worth 2

I begin in the west and fly halfway across the country before I finally arrive for the conference. The driver picks me up at the airport and I’m reunited with my online friend who started her journey this morning in the east.

We chat a mile a minute and look forward to seeing our “smaller” blogger friends and many of our “bigger” blogger friends too.

During the conference I meander through sessions with my “smaller” blogger friends, all the while casually noticing who’s interacting with whom. I watch the “bigger” bloggers interact with their own circles of friends, while I engage with mine—looking them in the eye, listening, and relating.

But I deceive myself, because while I think I’m fully present in each conversation, in reality I’m partly absent. And as the conference presses on, I realize I’m disappointed when my “bigger” blogger friends have not initiated a fuller connection with me.

And it’s the last day of the conference when God convicts me of a cold hard truth.

My disappointment is a symptom of my illness—the virus of insecurity—hovering like a flu.

It has infected me. And I ache with its uncertainty while questions linger…

Do I matter?

Do I fit in?

Do “they” notice me or even want to be my real friend?

That last afternoon I leave the lunch table with my friend Alia, and make my way across the room toward our other roommate Amy—my in-real-life friend and newbie blogger—who has come with me to the conference.

And as we approach, she immediately turns to us, as if our timing is perfect.

“Hey guys! There’s someone I want you to meet.
This is Jennifer, another newbie.
And at lunch I asked her which of the “bigger” bloggers she most wanted to meet here.
And you know who she said?
Jacque Watkins and Alia Joy.
So I told her I could probably hook her up, since you guys are my roommates.”

I startle, like a deer caught in headlights.

Did she actually just say my name with the phrase “bigger” blogger?

Shocked on the inside, I greet Jennifer with a smile, flattered and completely stunned anyone would consider me a “bigger” blogger. She is sweet and gracious—a tea-drinking mama of four. And after our delightful interaction, I’m better for having met her.

As I fly home, reflecting on the conference, the Holy Spirit woos and convicts me again.

During the conference I wasted so much mental time, and internal dialogue, wondering if I’d get to build deeper relationships with  “bigger” bloggers.

While probably there were others there, who would’ve loved to build a deeper relationship with me.

And the recognition of this truth is like medicine for my ill and insecure heart.

Could it be possible everyone thinks of themselves as a “smaller blogger” and is waiting for that “bigger blogger” to initiate a connection?

Could it be that no matter who we are, there will always be someone “bigger”  to look to? That the one we see as a “bigger” blogger has an even “bigger-blogger” person they’d love to be pursued by too?

And could it be, that to someone, somewhere in the world, YOU are the “bigger blogger”?

That there is one someone scanning the room–looking for you—wishing they could meet YOU?

Hoping YOU’D go out of your way to pursue a connection with THEM?

No matter the size of our platform, we are all asking the same questions at our core:

Do I matter?

Do I fit in?

Would they really want to be my friend?

And the real truth is, our worth and purpose and significance is not dependent on whether a “bigger” blogger knows our name or pursues a friendship with us.

And we need the real truth to sink deep into the crevices of our hearts:

We all matter and fit in because we are His.

He chose us.

And He has great things planned for each of us to do.

So what if, instead of finding our validation from the “bigger bloggers” in our lives, we find our soul’s validation in our time spent with Jesus?

Allowing His Word to inform our starving souls of who He is,

And the truth of who we are because of Him…

Chosen.

Beloved.

Redeemed.

The child of God.

We are eternally valuable regardless of the size of our platform. 

And the size of our platform does not measure the worth of our soul. 

[Tweet that]

So when we set foot inside the walls of the Allume conference this October…

What if we become the initiators of connection because our security in Christ compels us to do so with whomever God places in our path?

What if we say hi first? Flash a smile first? Begin the conversation first, as a people who love in His name?

What if we stay fully present with whomever we’re with—refusing to allow our minds to be “noticing” the room?

And what if we make an effort, to not only hang out with our “people,” but to branch out to new circles of beautiful people? So that no one leaves feeling small and alone.

May we remember we are in this together…

Cheering for each other,

Fighting to believe who He says we are,

And really knowing we ARE already enough because of Him.

I can’t wait to see you at Allume!

Will you be there?

 

When Your Voice is an Idol

We spend more time analyzing ourselves than ever before. With the rapid expansion of social media and technology, we live in a world constantly bombarded with self.

Which profile picture will I use for my avatar? What do my liked pages say about me? What interests do I showcase that make me look good?

We live in a culture that capitalizes on more than our personal tastes, it capitalizes on our persona, our brand. 

Whether it’s the TV shows we like, the books we read, the stores we frequent, or the places we go, there is a growing desire to share bits of who we are with others. You can tweet during your favorite shows, share excerpts of the books you read, capture your pumpkin spice latte and map your location down to your favorite neighborhood Starbucks.

Some would argue that this narcissistic bent is why connection is often difficult, why comparison and insecurity arise when everyone else’s Instagrams are so much cooler than yours, because you never eat watermelon in cowboy boots and a floral dress whilst leaning over a vintage table with the perfect yesteryear wash bathing the photo in golden hues. You just stand at the counter in your faded yoga pants and spit seeds into the garbage pail next to the pile of dirty dishes you have yet to get to.

And maybe you’re doing it wrong. Maybe the life you live is less than. Or maybe you are the girl with the cute boots and impeccable taste Instagramming away your seamless life? Even you know there’s more to your story than the pictures you share.

default of the heart

But social media or not, I think the human heart always seeks to compare. Our default is to be concerned and consumed by our own glory. If ever there were an idol of our times in the blog world, I believe it is our voice. Our need to always be heard saying something.

There are the shock value bloggers capitalizing on every current event, every controversial divisive line needing to be parsed and severed and inspected with scathing sarcasm and open letter rants.

There is the desire for our words to reach further, to impact more, to challenge or encourage or matter. But there is a grace-less way about always needing to have our voice heard. And there is the quiet despair for those who faithfully share their voice and stories to the humble reception of silence and wonder if they matter at all.

We gather at conferences and wonder about the elevator speeches we’re supposed to prepare summarizing who we are and what we offer. And sometimes I think we’re too practiced at saying all the right things that we never stop to listen.

Because at the heart of it all, we tie our performance with words and platform and branding to our worth. If our story doesn’t matter, maybe we don’t either?

And I know I’m not the only one, but I’m tired of it.  I’ve felt the sticky fingered lure of candy coating what is, at it’s core, pride. The syrupy tongued words that pave the way to a bigger audience have sent me writhing back to silence, like a child found in bloated emptiness amid a flurry of candy wrappers the day after Halloween.

I’m an advocate for story because I believe the word of God’s people, the testimony of His beloved brings glory to Him, connection to the body, and light in the darkness but there will always be the temptation to focus so much on ourselves, our story, our path, our contribution to this writing world, that we forget that to live a good story, we’d be wise to listen and slow to speak.

Because grace happens in the pauses, when we stop to soak in words that are not our own. We live better questions when we stop reciting what we have to offer and start to champion other people’s voices. Start to believe in the storyteller who’s writing our moments with a master’s precision. When we find our humanity not just in the words we craft but also in the words we cultivate. When we worry less about our own voices being heard and allow God to speak.

crafting words

 I will always champion God’s people using their voice, but let us also learn to hold our tongues and listen with bold ears and hearts wide open, and maybe then, God will speak and our words will be tinged with grace, soothing to our souls, and full of life.

for when we long to be accepted

Hi. I’m the one person on the planet not going to Allume this year. Blah. Which is sad to me because I love my bloggin’ sistas. I love the late nights of talking and the sessions full of Divine wisdom and the photo booth thingy and the make-me-hyper coffee!

So I prayed about what I could possibly say to all of you amazing bloggers who do get to go to the conference, as well as to those who don’t get to go. And the word that came to me was “acceptance”. Acceptance.

 
Accepted
 

We all so desperately want to be accepted. That’s partly why I’m disappointed that I don’t get to go this year. I don’t want to miss anything. It’s also partly why I’m guessing some of you are nervous about going. You don’t want to feel left out.

I know that I know that some of you are spending sweet time worrying about what cutie outfits you will wear, because I’ve done that. Or worrying about what you will say, because I’ve done that too. Or worrying about what people will think of your wanna-be-rapping skills, maybe that one’s just me. When at the root of all that time and energy is a longing to be accepted.

But we get it sooooooo twisted. SO twisted. Because here it is. You ready? You and I will never ever find our ultimate acceptance in other humans. It isn’t possible. People are too volatile, short-sighted, and self-focused, just like us. And if we spend our energies looking to other humans for our acceptance and our identity, we will never truly embrace the woman that God created us to be. What a travesty.

If there’s anything I hope we each prepare before jumping into new things or jumping onto flights to new places, I pray we prepare our hearts. Let’s spend time looking at our Maker. Spend time meditating on the things He says about us. Spend time reveling in the beauty He whispers.

When we truly embrace who we are in Christ, we’re empowered to walk confident into a room of hundreds of other women that we’ve never personally met. Not because we have some haughty view of self. We can walk confident because we know WHOSE we are. And when we know WHOSE we are, we can know who we are — accepted and beloved, regardless of whether we’re wearing the trendiest pair of boots.

I don’t get to go to Allume this year — unless crazy, unexpected things happen. But I’m fighting those “missing out” feelings with truths that my God declares over me. The same truths He declares over you.

 
How have you wrestled against that nervous feeling of wanting to “fit in”?
What does our God say about us as His daughters?

 

The Seasons of a Dream

I’ve neglected my children.

I made allowances for my need to write, to follow hard after dreams. But I’ve done it all wrong.

Because a vacancy moved into their lives as the rabbit’s hole of my laptop screen beckoned and swallowed me up.

But didn’t my ministry and passion need to be tended too? The reading and interacting. The tweets and status updates and link-ups. The silence and time to write.

It seemed I killed my blog just when I was seeing fruit. Just when I had built up subscribers and was feeling like the hard work was paying off.

God was being glorified, right? This is after all, the dream He gave me. The call I was responding to. The call I felt God confirmed in so many different ways. 

She told me I have the potential to be great. That I’ve got a voice and skill and passion and that if I learned to combine those with a little direction, I could really rock this whole writer thing. Maybe get published and have a real book on a real shelf instead of piles of journals stacked in old boxes in the garage.

She said that as an encouragement to me, her eyes warm and expressive, the kind that make you nod like a puppy and lap up anything she says, because after all, she is living this dream. And when my feet finally landed back on earth, I was giddy with dreams I’d always held but never dared speak aloud.

I wanted to rip her words from the air and type them into a crisp contract I could present to God to sign.

After all, everything I’m passionate about, everything that makes my fingers fly at the keyboard, everything that inspires me and draws me out to splash around on a canvas of words starts with God’s glorious inspiration.

The breathing of words and story into the wounds of my past, the joys of my present, the fears in my moments, and the dreams of my future. It only seemed right that any platform built is going to shine directly on Him.

 But I couldn’t get past the Holy Spirits prompting that I was getting it wrong. Again.

I’ve found myself failing at the dream.

The time to write and pour myself into this ministry of words is spotty at best. The time to invest in those dreams, spaced and erratic.

And the kids are ready to be tucked in and pleading for one more story and I’ll lay there resenting my time  being used up on another rendition of “If You Give A Mouse a Muffin.”

Bed time

Because I feel like the poor child in the story, being overrun with requests, each one leading to another. If you put your child in pajamas, they will decide they only want to wear the batman ones, and you will remember those are in the wash, so you will bribe him with another story, and if you read him another story, he will fall asleep on you, so you will have to carry him to his bed, and if you carry him to his bed, he will wake up and want another story…

And I’ve bought into the urgency of now.

I see other bloggers succeeding, and I know they deserve it, but I’m also grieving and feeling left out.

I can’t keep up with the pace or demands of blogging, and mothering, and homeschooling, and ministry, and mentoring, and being a good wife. If you add in showering, cooking, and keeping house, you have the trifecta of failure.

I’m looking for dead weight to cut and I see nothing but my words. So the blog often goes silent. And numbers dive.

And I’m mourning the dream, pity washing over me when I remember, “It’s not a loss, it’s a sacrifice.”

It is laying my dreams and promises of God on the altar, trusting that in His time He will provide.

It is trusting that the path I’m on isn’t a race to the finish line but a slow steady obedience, each step moving me forward closer to Him, where dreams are birthed. It is trusting that blogs can be resurrected from the dead or slaughtered completely and it makes no difference as long as I’m faithful.

I have friends waiting on the Lord. Bleary-eyed new mothers craving a full nights sleep and shirts free from spit-up and days when they’ll have the energy to fix their hair again. Women facing vacant rooms in a once loud house, longing for Thanksgiving break, knowing  their kids will be visiting instead of just home. Friends who long for things I so easily take for granted, when kids climb up onto my lap asking for more of mommy.

I forget God created seasons. We brush past eternity every time we stop to really see where God is in each one. And that, when we choose what might seem like a sacrifice, it’s not a loss at all, because nothing is lost which is released into His hands.

Why Every Blogger Needs an Email Newsletter

Why Ever Blogger Needs an Email Newsletter by @TrinaHolden on #Allume

When you read yet another post enthusiastically encouraging you to start a newsletter, what do you think?

Probably the same thing I did for a long time: “That’s advice for bigger bloggers, bloggers who are marketing something, or bloggers with a clear idea of where they’re going online. But definitely not for me.”

But today I’m going to give you two key reasons why any blogger, big or small, casual or focused, ministry or marketing minded, would both enjoy and benefit from creating a newsletter. And then I’m gonna tell you exactly how to get started with the help of my techie, friend, Gretchen. Are you ready? Here we go!

1. Email is Tried and True

In the busy summer months, or anytime you don’t have a lot of time for the computer, what’s the last thing you hang on to? That’s right—your inbox. Facebook may get neglected, your favorite blogs pile up in your RSS reader, but when you just have a few moments, you still check your email faithfully. Why? Because email remains the most trustworthy way for people to contact you, and for you to collect information that’s important to you.

It’s also the most assured way that you can get in touch with your readers. Facebook’s algorithms may squeeze your statuses out of their feed, they may have forgotten to switch their RSS reader when Google reader died, but email remains steadfast. You don’t have to fight to be heard on Twitter or seen on Pinterest—when you offer your readers the chance to connect with you via a newsletter, they’re asking you right into their private inbox where it’s much quieter, and a personal note from a friend or blogger they enjoy will probably get top billing. Instead of fighting for attention on a busy street, you’ve been invited to the kitchen table to share your heart over a cup of coffee.

2. Email is Personal and Private

Have you struggled to connect deeper with your audience, pouring words out of your heart, but rarely hear even an echo back? There are several reasons (besides the hurry of life) that keep people from giving feedback on posts.

  • Your reader may not be as tech savvy as you and has trouble commenting no matter how easy you make it (a very dear relation of mine would certainly fall into this category!).
  • Your reader may have been too deeply moved by your post to be comfortable pouring their heart out in a place as public as a comment form.
  • Your reader may have a question or a concern they don’t feel like airing publicly.

Email resolves all of these issues, encouraging your readers to respond to you in a way that is familiar (“simply reply to this message!”) and private. When they realize that their communication with you will go straight to you and no one else, you may be amazed at how they open up, feedback increases, and relationship deepens.

Do you begin to see how even you and your audience may benefit from an email exchange? It’s the perfect tool for a deeper, more reliable communication with your audience. With a newsletter you can transition from one-way communication to a rich, personal dialogue with your readers in the comfort of your inboxes. So, let’s get started!

Gretchen Answers Your Newsletter FAQ

I know by now your head is full of questions about how this works and how much it costs. So my friend Gretchen is here to answer your questions:

How much does it cost to build an email list?

It’s free! I recommend MailChimp or Mad Mimi, and both are free for limited emails per month to less than 2,000 subscribers. (Check out the price breakdowns for more frequent emails and other services here.)

Isn’t this what FeedBurner or Jetpack already does with my latest posts?

Yes and no. You can use MailChimp or Mad Mimi to send out your posts by email (it’s called RSS to email). But what Trina is talking about here is offering an additional subscription option, a personal newsletter, directly from you to your readers’ inboxes.

I don’t know anything about coding—will I be able to set this up?

Both MailChimp and Mad Mimi are super easy to use, and have great tech support and helpful tutorials. Advanced signup form configuration may require coding help from a VA or designer, but setting up an email list and sending out a newsletter is pretty simple.

How do I get people to subscribe?

Put the signup form in your blog sidebar and on your Facebook page, create a special “subscribe” page on your site, Tweet about your newsletter from time to time, offer a free download exclusively to your subscribers, etc.

How do I get started?

Choose a service like MailChimp or Mad Mimi, set up your “list”, and get started creating your first campaign (that’s the fancy term for “newsletter”)!

Click here to check out Gretchen’s detailed guide to creating and building an email list over at gretchenlouise.com.

Now, what to put in this here letter?

Well, there are many types of newsletters, but the goal of most of the good ones I’ve received seems to be to serve the reader either info, inspiration, or a juicy combination of both.

The Informational Newsletter

Includes tips and tricks your audience would expect to get from you, plus multiple links to further content on the subject of the email, either from your blog or other’s. (Example: Amy Lynn Andrews)

The Inspirational Newsletter

Got a really special message the Lord has put on your heart for your readers this month, or a great new idea that’s helping you on your journey? Choose to make it newsletter content over a blog post. Perhaps include links to other related posts on your blog or books that have been inspiring you this month. (Example: Emily Freeman)

The Blog Wrap Up Newsletter

This newsletter, which is basically a synopsis of what your blog has offered in the last week or month, is a great way to serve your reader who’s been too busy to visit your blog every day or keep up with their RSS feed. Give them a brief rundown of what you’ve been writing about, and let them choose the links they follow. It can be automated through RSS to email campaigns, or you can code it yourself. (Example: Jeff Goins is one of many bloggers who offer this option in addition to his weekly Inspirational-style Newsletter.)

The Personal Update Newsletter

Do you have news or thoughts you’d rather not broadcast to the whole world, but still want your readers to know about? Consider using your newsletter in it’s simplest form—a traditional, newsy, heartfelt letter, just what you’d share if you were having coffee together. (Example: My newsletter falls into this category, though I’ve been inspired by all of the above styles at one time or another in the past year since I’ve been sending a newsletter.) If you do want your news to stay private to people’s inboxes, MailChimp gives you the option to disable social sharing, etc.

As you can see, there’s a whole slew of options to mix and match into the newsletter you’re uniquely equipped to write to your readers.  Once you decide what you want to convey, let the fun of deeper connection begin!

My Best Tip for Learning to Craft a Great Newsletter

My final tip for creating a good newsletter is to subscribe to some great ones! Besides the ones mentioned above, you may enjoy the newsletters offered by some of our very own Allume writers: ErikaGretchenJill, Kayse, KrisNatasha, Tricia, and yours truly. (And if you’re an Allume attendee this year, don’t forget to sign up for Allume’s own newsletter!)

Do you receive a newsletter you love? Please share the sender’s blog address in the comments, as I’m looking to fill my inbox with fresh inspiration! And if you have a newsletter, do tell us where we can sign up!

 

Tweetables:
  • Email was the first way to connect online, and it remains the best method to get in touch with people. (Click to Tweet)
  • Newsletters: Not just for bigger bloggers! (Click to Tweet)
  • Want to connect more deeply with your readers? Try a Newsletter!  (Click to Tweet)

Ripening or Replicating: How are we growing as writers?

When I first started blogging, I often heard,” Don’t compare your middle to someone else’s end.  This was usually said at conferences by bloggers with platforms, RSS feeds bursting with subscribers, and years of experience being social media ninjas. As someone just starting out, I’d look at my one or two comments and think, I’m just not there yet, with yet being the operative word.

If I’d started in 2006 when the competition and noise on the internet felt more like the mingling at a cocktail party than an olympic stadium with the roar of the crowd drowning out the clacking of my keys, then I’d be further along too. I’d scribble the line in my notebook, or tweet it to my 25 followers, nodding my head because everyone knows comparison in blogging will make you . Once you go down that path, you may as well break out the duct tape to gag and bind yourself, because it’s pretty hard to write authentically while trying to replicate someone else’s success.

So I’d plod along faithfully, wrestling contentment down with each post, imagining when my “end” would come and I’d have arrived. When I could count myself a writer. Maybe get a book published or reach a certain number of subscribers. When I’d be the one dispensing anecdotes about the good old days of blogging and tips for building your platform. I’d dream of a time when my voice would matter.

 We often think of growth as a linear thing.

We back kids against door frames and etch pencil scratches along the years as the tops of their head stretch upward from chubby thighed toddlers to gangly teens. Failure to thrive would be, well, failure.  We think of growth as the raise you get after each faithful year on the job or the beater car with the tricky alternator that turns into the minivan or new SUV as each new child comes along. The dorm room of your college years to the 4 bedroom 3 and one half bath home with the wrap-around porch.  Growth means bigger, and bigger means better.

But what if growth isn’t always linear?

What if my end never looks like theirs because my journey isn’t taking me in that direction? What if growth was less about replicating and more about ripening ? Less about measuring up and more about pouring out?

file000986939609

Because lately, I’ve been looking down the road and I don’t see the horizon brimming with the things I once thought I was headed for. Even the things I thought I wanted. And I’m realizing there is a great freedom in that. That in my corner of the internet, my words are enough, no matter how small.

I feel a collective pull of my writer friends, back into their lives, to write what they love, not just what gets tweeted or shared. There is a dedication to the seeking of words and story and truth that all writers wrestle with, but there is a calm too.

So many of us, who started with God sized Dreams of doing the big things, have learned that God works those out in the small things. That growth often comes in the deep blush of fruit swollen and ripe, and not just the arching branches seen from miles away saluting the skies. It comes in tiny rings spreading modestly across a trunk year after year, no more than the width of a fingernail. It comes in pruning season and it comes in harvest. It comes in roots grown wide and long under scorched earth, seeking out water and life and bedrock with which to sustain it’s might.

We don’t always see it. We just sink our teeth in, letting the juice gush lavishly down our chins, we taste and know it’s good.

psalm 348

On Ordinary Art

I tell my son to be careful not to paint the table.

I’ve laid out plastic and my four and eight year old have the watercolors and a collection of rocks to recreate into swirling florals and all manner of messiness.

My daughter has a paint by numbers that is sectioned into tiny slivers awaiting their chosen colors, the end result being a Panda.  I’ve unleashed their brushes and their tiny fingers lead them in pirouettes across the stones and canvas.

I open my laptop next to them and stare at the cursor flashing on the blank page.

And then my son has finished his first rock, a black swirl of paint on a smooth round stone. He tells me it’s a wabbit.

My daughter is leaning close to the canvas, hand steady trying to get the paint into the designated spots. I see the Panda’s face beginning to form. She bites her lip and tilts her head to the side inspecting her work.

“Mommy, I can’t get the yellow to mix right. I think I made it look weird.” She is becoming her own worst critic.

AliaJoy Art/writing

Meanwhile my son has cranked out several more rock paintings and has graduated to paper. He holds up a painting in hot pink, a large circle with two lines sticking out the bottom.

“This is you, mommy, ” he announces proudly. Although, I do have a potato-esque shape, I don’t  see the resemblance. I move it to the counter to dry alongside the line and two dots which is my husband and the green circle which is our house.

And I think about my blank screen and my inner critic and my need to make the words just right.

I think about my children’s fingers dappled with paint.

Young children lack the skill to create with precision but what they lack in ability they more than make up in confidence. Young children still see the world with every possibility because nothing is fantastical yet. Pioneers in their journey of discovery, everything is new, therefore everything holds equal fascination and monotony.

When we pause at the painted hills, the striated rock colorations etched golden-red like tiger stripes, we all stop to take in the glory. But the young child runs along merrily, picking up rocks without discrimination of their ordinariness. He squats down to watch an ant barrel along while the valley stretches wide beside him, unnoticed.

We learn to classify the ordinary and monotonous in direct contrast to the extraordinary and magnificent.

G.K. Chesterton states, “The poets have been mysteriously silent on the subject of cheese…”  Yes, cheese may not inspire sonnets, although I do have a baked brie recipe that makes me believe there is a God who loves me. What I believe Chesterton is getting at is that we find ordinary things uninspiring.  Mundane things like diaper changes and Math lessons, grocery shopping, and spreadsheets.

We forget as writers, that eventually, everything becomes monotonous to those who can no longer see the simple and ordinary graces among us.

Yes, we all want to write that post. The profound one that goes viral. Yet we often lose the pure in the pursuit of the profound.

Simplicity comes before the numbers and the lines. Before you know what the picture is supposed to look like. When you have the ability to splash in the paint tray and mix the colors.

Because the Lord sees beauty in your words when they’re full of wonder and praise. When we silence the critic and let our fingertips dance on the keys without always knowing what picture we’re painting. When we make art in a world full of ordinary, we paint in God’s glory.

Alia Joy writing at Narrow Paths to Higher Places

 

The Benefit of a Blogging Mentor

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Do you have a life mentor? Do you have someone who pours their heart, wisdom, prayers, and love into your life?

Mentors have played a tremendous role in my life as a Christian. Over the course of my new life in Christ I’ve had a couple of different mentors. Each of these mentors has breathed life into my soul, showered me with their wisdom and loved me in a way I never could have expected.

After I began blogging I began to see that, just as in life, I had a lot to learn. I not only needed a deeper understanding of the technical aspects of blogs, but my writing required greater depth and insight. I wanted feedback and I craved constructive criticism that would help me progress toward my writing goals.

At first I started to “stalk” some of my favorite bloggers. I would look at the format of their blogs, watch how they hosted guests, ran giveaways, and shared their heart. Closely following these amazing bloggers taught me a lot, but I was unable to receive the personal one-on-one help I was craving.  

And that’s when I decided to step out.

I am blessed that I have an in-real-life friend who is already several steps ahead of me in the blogging world. I admire her writing, her passion, and her professionalism. I wanted to learn everything I could from her, and so I took a chance and asked her to be my blogging mentor. Although she is a close friend, I was nervous about asking her. She has numerous kiddos, multiple writing projects on her plate, and many professional business projects in the works. I was worried she would see me as another addition to her already highly committed schedule.

But after a few days of praying about it, she agreed to be my mentor.

This new phase of our relationship has been a huge support to me. Although we don’t talk about blogging on a weekly or sometimes even monthly schedule, I am grateful to her for the time and feedback she gives me. I have learned a tremendous amount from my seasoned blogging mentor, and I know I wouldn’t have grown as much as I have over the last year without her.

It was easy in the begining to “stalk” different bloggers, trying to learn what they were doing and why they were making the writing/blogging decisions that they were. As my blog grew, and as my dreams came into greater focus, I realized the importance of running my blogging/professional world just as I run my life – with intentionality.

Having a mentor who is willing to pour their wisdom and insight into me has allowed for me to become more intentional in all aspects of my life, and so I am grateful to have found a blogging mentor to help me find that same focus and intentionality in my writing and professional pursuits.

And so I wonder, sweet blogging friend, do you have a blogging mentor?

Sure, maybe you “stalk” other blogs like so many of us do, but do you have someone who you can boldly ask for their guidance? Maybe this person doesn’t yet know you exist, and that’s ok. Take some time to pray about whether or not this person is worth pursuing as a blogging mentor, and if the Lord is fine with it, I encourage you to humbly reach out to them about it.

You may not be able to find someone who can commit to mentoring you right away, but don’t get discouraged! Just continue to pray that the Lord may reveal someone who would fill that role. If you’re anything like me, this relationship is sure to help you grow.

By, Mandy Scarr

 

 

 

5 Reasons to Write What is Real {not just what sells}

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I was all set, fixed right up with a shiny-new email list powered through mailchimp.com. Now I just had to figure out what to giveaway (like the experts tell us) to convince people to part with their email addresses so that my platform could grow.

I thought about writing a mini ebook on meal planning. I could picture this beautiful cover:

mock-cover @allume

Except people would probably be a little bit disappointed when they read my meal planning advice:

1. Open cupboard. 2. Pull out some type of starch (bread, pasta, potatoes, squash, beans). 3. Open fridge. 4. Pull out some type of meat and two vegetables. 5. Cook. 6. In four hours, repeat process.

Okay. Scrap that idea.

I thought about writing a book about scheduling. Oh, it would be glorious! I could create these beautiful printouts except, well, I probably wouldn’t have time for all that since I’m the worst scheduler ever.

Oooh, cleaning! Cleaning books go over really well. But then I looked over at the chair piled high with papers and books. Bad, bad idea.

My shiny-new email list sat for some time. Oh, I sent out a few fluttering newsletters. Ten faithful followers took the time to open and read them. (Dear, dear, people.) 

Then a neighbor and friend asked if I would be willing to speak at a women’s banquet about my book Pain Redeemed. It’s not a fun book, you know. There aren’t any pretty printables and there certainly aren’t 6 easy steps to anything in it. People haven’t lined up on my blog (hilarious word picture there, just in case you missed it) to purchase a copy.

It’s a book about pain. A book where I peel back the layers of my heart and brutally, honestly, share about my walk through infertility. It’s the book that God called me to write last year. The one I faithfully wrote and self-published because I knew that I needed to share the story now, while I was still clawing my way through the darkness.

And when I stood there, in front of 120 women from my in-real-life community, and shared about where God was in the middle of my sorrow, as we cried together and connected, I knew. I knew exactly what I was suppose to write and give away.

Dying of Thirst at the Side of a WellSo I sat down and wrote a really long poem, then wrapped it all up into a mini ebook.

It isn’t going to go viral, folks. I know that.

But I want to give my readers something real. Something of me. And this is me. 

Here are five reasons for you write what is real about YOU:

  • Real = Lasting

When you sit down and create something out of who you are (not just what is pretty or sells well) it will last. In your life. In the lives of those who read it. {and I’ll add in right here: if who you are is someone who creates awesome meal-planning lists– write a book about it! I’d love to read it. And if you need a cover, we can tweak this one up for you. :)}

  • Any decent writer can create “what sells” but only you can write the real things from your heart

I’m the only one who can share about my journey through infertility. It might not be popular, but I know from personal experience that it can be profoundly moving to the one who needs it. 

  • It requires more than your own strength

For me, to write about one of the subjects I mentioned would be simple. I could just design lovely printables to go with my 6 easy steps to whatever. But it wouldn’t require much of God in the process because it wouldn’t be tapping into who I really am. When I write real, I am forced to depend on Christ. I’d be too afraid to press publish otherwise.

  • Your readers will keep coming back

If you write real, readers will keep returning. They’ll read a little sample and then come to your blog and keep coming back. Maybe it will only be 10 faithful followers at first. But ten who return are better than 10,000 who take your freebie and then disappear.

  • It’s honest

I have at least 3 speaking engagements coming up this year, and possibly more, all based on my book. What if I had written a book on a subject I didn’t really care about? What if I had created something that didn’t interest me or mesh with who I was in real life? Ouch. 

Last year at Allume, Kat Lee shared a session on Blogging as a Ministry. She told a story about something her soccer coach told her when she offered to switch positions with another girl. He gently turned her down and said,

I really need someone in that spot who knows her position and isn’t going to constantly chase after the ball.

Play your position. Write what God calls you to. Faithfully, consistently. Don’t run around and chase after what looks shiny or fun.

We are all given passions and stories. If your passion is cleaning, then write about cleaning! If your story involves meal-planning or scheduling then write about it. If, like me, you have a story that scrapes raw don’t hide your real-story to tell one that sells better. 

Don’t waste your time on things that aren’t really a part of who you are. Because who you are is enough story and passion in itself. God created you. Write the words He has inscribed into your DNA. Be you. 

still striving to write as real as possible,

Natasha

Fans Do Not Equal Friends {The Benefit Of A Smaller Blog}

“The next best thing to being wise oneself is to live in a circle of those who are.”

C. S. Lewis

I think it’s safe to say, I’m a “smaller” blogger. I don’t like that phrase very much because sometimes that word, small, can sound like “insignificant” and sometimes, I believe that’s what it really means. But today, when I say small, please know I am only referring to subscriber counts. Let’s not let that little word make us feel less-than, okay?

I’ve been publicly blogging for 2 years now. In the grand scheme of things, 2 years is a sneeze. A blip. A blink. But the truth is, I have been tempted at times to fret over the growth (or lack of growth) of my blog. I’ve watched other bloggers skyrocket to having hundreds of thousands of subscribers in the time I’ve been blogging. This hasn’t been the case for me, but during a recent blogging break, I realized that I couldn’t be more thankful for where I am right now, in my blogging journey.

For the last ten days I went mostly offline. It’s been a challenging season for me, balancing writing and publishing my first book with homeschooling my 4 kids, Coordinating MOPS, being a wife, while still managing to keep everyone fed and in clean underwear. I hit a wall of exhaustion and had no choice but to sequester myself for a bit.

What I didn’t expect during this time, was the overwhelming support that came in the form of phone calls, text messages, tweets and private messages on Facebook. 

98% of the people who contacted me during this break were friends I have made online. Ya’ll were calling me. I got your sweet texts offering prayers and encouragement. My small blog has served as the conduit for these relationships. The size of my blog doesn’t matter to me–my friends matter. The people I have met and been able to get to know through having a smaller blog, that’s the stuff that gets me all goose-bumpy.

Not having  thousands of blog comments to sift through is a blessing because I am able to read and reply to the people who take the time to encourage me, or cheer me on in my writing endeavors. I don’t need a team to handle my correspondence. Having the ability to connect with my readers has turned so many into real-life friends. I don’t give my phone number out to everyone, but some of my readers, they have it because they are more than ‘fans’–they are my friends. 

God’s faithfulness in my blogging journey hasn’t looked like a subscriber list 2 miles long. It’s better than that. God has blessed me with specific people in my life who I have met through blogging, who now journey with me.

The greatest gift of having a small blog is the community you can enjoy. Lets be honest, no one has time to reply to hundreds of comments. I read a post earlier today that had over 1,273 comments and the first thing I thought was, how do you connect with that? And the reality is, you don’t–not really. Fans do not equal friends. 

As much as I want people to read my writing, I care more about hearts than head-counts. <–Tweet this!

Friends, whatever the size of your blog–please know that you are touching lives with your words. On the other side of that screen sits a real person, who cries real tears or laughs genuinely when they read your words. Treasure this season of small. Embrace the joys of actually connecting with people for purpose. God has given  you a community, it may be 5 or 5000. Whatever it is, recognize that He has you where you are for a reason–and it may look different than you imagined.  

Smaller blogger have a unique opportunity–community. Embrace your community. You never know how it will change in time. This is where God has you right now.

Get to know your readers–love them, and when you need it most, you’ll be amazed at how they love you right back. 

Why Encouragement Works

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Encourage one another.

It seems so simple, doesn’t it? Would you like to know a secret? It has been the single most effective way for me to build my blog.

And also required the heaviest sifting of my heart to find.

It has brought me the most joy and has found me more often than not on my knees before the Father in tears. I have had to put my selfish pride behind me and do things – in blogging, online communities, and real life – that bring glory to God. And it’s hard.

My natural tendency is to strive. To have a goal and do everything in my power to make it happen. When it works, my pride grows. When it fails, my pride suffers and I become insecure, comparing and wondering why it worked for “her” but not me. And that, sweet friends, is an ugly path I have traveled down far too often.

It is only by the grace of God, a powerful refining, and a softened heart that I now know the full joy of offering praise for the success of others. It’s not always easy. It takes practice, reaching out to someone and celebrating their achievement when you wish it was yours. In a world where competition is the norm and women are expected to be catty, not congratulatory, it takes practice.

But I can promise you this. When you go out of your way to share someone else’s amazing blog post, leave an encouraging comment for a blogger you admire, or send another writer information about an opportunity you think they would be perfect for, you are doing a hard thing. You are choosing not to keep it all for yourself, you are choosing to admit that you are not the only one who can do this thing and you showing this world that Christ’s light shines brightly when we live for Him and not ourselves. As I’ve opened my heart to those around me, as I’ve joined community and sought ways to encourage others, He has blessed me in incredible and unexpected ways.

Today, my amazing writing friends, let’s give God the opportunity to poke some holes in our pride so He has more room to shine. Be a light. Love one another the way Christ has commanded us to and take this “light living” from the pages of Scripture to the screens of blogs and out into our daily lives.

Encourage one another.

Who is God calling you to encourage today?

Crystal Stine
http://www.crystalstine.me

How to do What you are Called to Do Without Failing

How to do what you are called to doPhoto Source

As a blogger you can get pretty lost in all of the “to dos of blogging.” It’s a list that most blogging conferences, or blog posts on how to blog, confirm: promote your blog, use social media, comment on other blogs, guest post, connect, build relationship… It’s not a bad list and it does yield results but it may not yield the right kind of success if you aren’t supposed to be doing those things.

Over my 3 years of blogging I have watched blogger after blogger burn-out. They felt called to write at one point or another but then the demands of it took time away from their families and they couldn’t find the balance so they had to lay it down…completely. I admit to wondering time and time again if I should lay blogging down but every time I seek God about it I hear a clear “no.” I have had seasons of laying it down but have never felt the necessity of letting it go completely. However, It scares me, honestly, that there is such burn-out among bloggers, especially moms.

As I have watched so many bloggers struggle with the balance I could not help but be desperate for the answer to cure the epidemic. “God why do so many women struggle with this, myself included?” and what God spoke to me was a swift and absolute answer.

Only Do what I told YOU to do.”

Oh! I get it. Too often we get caught up in what someone else is doing and attempt to follow their path. Sometimes that is the right thing to do because that’s what God has told us to do. But sometimes it’s not. Sometimes we are just chasing the success of someone else. If you’ve been told what to do then THAT is your path to being successful. If you haven’t been told {or haven’t taken time to ask} please make that a priority before moving on.

When I think back to the beginning of my blogging journey I remember that God called me to write. Every day. He said “Write every day. Live your life and blog along the way.” He never said to catch up with Mrs. Jones who has been blogging for years. He never said promote yourself like crazy. He never said “you have to connect.” He just said “write.”

And I remembered how God is interested in our hearts. Do we trust Him with what He has called us to? Will we be faithful to obey? Even if it isn’t the way it looks for someone else?

Of course I had the potential to burn-out because I cannot expect that God will bless, protect and grow what He never asked me to do {also known as disobedience to what He HAS called me to do}. He equips us faithfully for our calling. We falter when we leave Him behind thinking that we’ve got it now and know how to do it.

{Please note that there is a difference between burning out because you are following the wrong path and God changing your path. And there is ALWAYS grace. I have missed the mark on this so many times and He lovingly brings me back to truth…every time.}

My calling may be different from yours. You may not even be called to blog. You may be called to blog and promote and work long hours to make money at it. You may be called to connect like crazy. BUT if you aren’t you should stop. I had to stop.

Let me leave you with a verse that God has been speaking to my heart over and over. Psalms 23:1 says:

The LORD is my shepherd, I shall not be in want.

Another version says …I have everything I need. Is the Lord your shepherd? You have everything you need. Your calling is enough for you. But get this: in Hebrew the word translated “want” also means to fail or (cause to) fail. So you could also read it like this: The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not fail…

Make the Lord the shepherd over your calling. Do only what He asks you to do. Guard it and your time diligently and You cannot fail. He won’t let you.

Kristin Lemus
The Beautiful Deep

One Week to 3500 Subscribers { How I Built My Email List }

I am a smaller blogger, no doubt about it. I’ve got around 700 trusty readers and followers on Facebook. Not too shabby, but not BIG, by any means. Just a few months ago though, I had plateaued around 300 followers. My numbers grew slowly, if at all, and I began to look into how to reach more people.

Then, I heard about email lists.

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What’s the Big Deal About Email Lists?

According to blogging and social media gurus like Jeff Goins and Derek Halpern, your email list is the most important thing to focus on. The idea is that even if you’re not selling something, you’re still selling something – your content – and email continues to be the most direct form of marketing.

Even if your blog is a ministry, and you don’t receive any income at all from it, you have a message that you want to get out to the world. The hard truth is that your message isn’t going to get out there on it’s own, you have to market it. Sending out a monthly newsletter that includes exclusive content and a solid, relevant message is a great way to do that. Even if you’re not selling something right now, you may be in the future, and now is the time to build your audience.

Um, What IS an Email List?

I’m not talking about how many people sign up to receive your blog posts through feedburner. Email lists are built when people agree to give you their email address because they are interested in receiving what you are providing. They want MORE than just your weekly posts. Often, this comes in the form of a newsletter.

Ok, So How Do I Build An Email List?

First, you need a newsletter service. I love MailChimp. I’ve tried some of the more popular services, and this one takes the cake. Easy, effective, and FREE for up to 2,000 subscribers.

You can then install a sign-up form on your blog (MailChimp will walk you through that), and invite your readers to start signing up! Easy-peasy, you’ve got an email list going.

However, building your list that way takes a lot of time. And, honestly? People are more motivated to sign up for something when they get something out of it.

So, I wrote an eBook, and gave it away to subscribers. For free.

A year before, I had written a blog series on home management that turned out to be pretty popular. I took that series, revamped it a bit for the eBook, and included a complete set of home management printables. Sign up for my newsletter, get the eBook, including 30 printables, at no charge.

My goal was 1,000 subscribers.

I opened up the sign-ups for the newsletter, and launched my eBook on December 31. Word spread quickly thanks to a few blogging friends, and in six days I had 3,500 people sign up for my email list.

From zero to 3,500 in less than a week. I actually had to cut off the free eBooks because I had exceeded my goal, and needed to start charging for the book so I could pay for my MailChimp service!

My email list continues to grow, because the content I provide through my newsletter is exclusive and relevant. I try to throw a free printable in when I can, and share real, encouraging stories of faith and family. My newsletter sparks email conversations, and I am getting to know my readers on a more personal level than just through blog comments. Now I have a growing, invested audience, and a group of dedicated readers who will support my next project (like my book that’s coming soon).

Email lists. You need one. Give away something for free (anything you’ve got that is relevant and valuable!), and watch your numbers exceed your expectations. It will bless your socks off, I promise.

Blessings,
Kayse :: kaysepratt.com

 

*Disclosure: Affiliate link used.

The Hope for Success

I’ve heard it said time and time again, “If your blog changes the life of one person, then it’s worth it.”

Every time I hear this the sarcastic, pessimist in me wants to cock my head to the side and say, “Really? Because, you know, that’s easy to say when you have 2,000 subscribers, contribute to multiple sites, speak at conferences, and have multiple eBooks?”

The whiny “That’s not fair!” keeps going, “But what of the rest of us? What of those of us who, when we log into our analytics see the graph pitch all the way to 10 views? What about us who shell out hundreds of dollars for blogging conferences and only a handful of people will ever know our name? Is it worth it then?

Can’t it feel that way?

It doesn’t matter if what they’re saying is true, when you’re not coming from the same place it can feel false.

It’s hard to write and pour your heart out in words and then be met with an echo so low you have to lean in to hear it. I’ve been there, eagerly waiting for a comment or two on a post I fell in love with and no one comments or tweets or…anything. Flat silence. It’s frustrating when you have idea after great idea, but not the audience to make it work. Or when you’re trying to find your tribe or niche and you just don’t fit in.

Being a “small blogger” is hard. It requires a faithfulness that’s different from the headlining act. Staying in this place where you feel called, even compelled to write knowing few are listening, takes passion and conviction.

After nearly 8 years of blogging and having no measurable success, I’m finally coming to realize, and convincingly know, I must do this because I love it not for the hope of success. “Success” may never come or it may be an opportunity waiting just around the corner. Whatever it may be, when I look to the right and to the left and see the opportunities pouring in for other bloggers I must be content. I must be thoroughly convinced where I am is where I am supposed to be.

My audience, my words, my influence…in the end none of that really matters. Not even how many lives my words have encouraged and changed. In the end, the only real success will be measured in my faithfulness.

Have I been faithful to my calling? Have I been faithful to the Truth? Have I been content in the measure of my giftedness?

Will I press in and press on even when I feel out of place in this blogging world? Will I let one other than the King define me? Will I write for the sheer love of it–or is my heart tangled in promotion and praise?

Or have I set the praise and accolades of man higher than the comforting, guiding hand of the Father?

You want the advice of a mediocre blogger and aspiring novelist?

The lists and the have-to’s and the metrics–use what is useful, but don’t let it define you. Write in the freedom and restoration of a heart embedded in the King’s good pleasure.

Be the fresh air. Be the small voice resounding Truth. Be faithful to your calling.

Success, true success, will only go as far as your faithfulness. Enjoy what you do. Find pleasure in the writing, in the abiding, in the faith-walking. It may not have the look of success, but it will have the look of grace, of praise, of faith.

And faithfulness? It’s the only true success.

 

Jessica is a sojourner a bit reluctant on the journey. She writes on faith, the beauty and art of everyday life, the writer’s life, and pursuing justice for the voiceless. Redemption is her favorite word. You can join the journey at The Reluctant Sojourner or tweet along @Jess_Reflects.

Carriers of His Love…

Yet if we would know God and for other’s sake, tell what we know, we must try to speak of His love…I can do no more do justice to that awesome and wonder-filled theme than a child can grasp a star. Still, by reaching toward the star the child may call attention to it and even indicate the direction one must look to see it. So as I stretch my heart toward the high, shining love of God, someone who has not before known about it may be encouraged to look and have hope.” A.W. Tozer, The Knowledge of the Holy

There is a short account in Luke 2 of a few shepherds, I have found a message that, perhaps, is often over looked. They were sheep-herders living out their ordinary lives, in obscurity working in the fields, watching over their flocks. God met them where they were, in their little corner of the world. He sent angels to tell shepherds the greatest message the world will ever hear — love came down.

“Long before He laid down earth’s foundations, He had us in mind, had settled on us as the focus of His love, to be made whole and holy by His love — through Jesus.” (Ephesians 1:5 MSG)

And the shepherds didn’t keep silent, but told what they knew, and all that heard it marveled at the wonder that is God.

On Valentine’s Day, I wonder, should I be mentioning a story that is mostly themed for Christmas? But, I believe this is greatest love story ever written, even greater than Anna and Bates, and we are story tellers of it. For this story is told in each of our own lives as God has chosen us to write the story of His redeeming love in and through us so the world might know — love came down.

And what do shepherds have to do with us bloggers?

When I think about God sending His heavenly host to ordinary sheep herders to declare to them the greatest announcement the world has ever known so they can be carriers of His message, carriers of His love, I can believe He’s chosen me, too, no matter how small or ordinary I might be. And He’s chosen you.

And the message He’s given us isn’t to keep for ourselves, for God’s love is not a secret to be kept. And how He has created us to reflect His love is unique to us all, our call tailer made for us. What you do, why you do it, where you do it, and how you do it in your corner of the blogging world, is unique to you.

“Each person is given something to do that shows who God is.” (1 Cor 12:7 MSG)

And God is Love.

As you carry on about your day in your seemingly small corner of the world wide web, you may be holding the greatest message that the world has ever heard. If you keep silent or try to be anything other than who God created you to be, the world will not get to see that facet of the love of God has uniquely chosen for you to display.

So, no matter if you design, cook, capture images, dress, mother, show and tell, and write your stories of your everyday ordinary — He chose you to be a carrier of His love. Yes,  my friend, He chose you. You may feel like you are attempting to grasp impossibly high up at the stars. When you do, stretch your heart toward the high, shining love of God. As you indicate the direction one might look to see it, someone who has not before known about it may be encouraged to look and have hope.

by grace,

Michele-Lyn…living a life surrendered

you. we need you.

You. Your voice. Your God-given, Spirit-inspired, life-lessons-learned voice is needed. It’s needed.

Not just maybe needed. Not just “if you want to say something then that would be fine” needed. No. I mean there are people who God strategically places and perfectly prepares to hear your. specific. voice.

 

God gave you a voice on purpose.

 

Do you believe that?

Personally, I used to really wrestle with that thought. I mean, I had twelve subscribers for the first six months of my blogging venture. Twelve. And eight of those were family members.

And even though I sensed God leading me to write, I struggled. I questioned, “With all these other voices filling blogs and books, does mine really matter? Does my voice really matter.”

God slowly, faithfully revealed that I was asking the wrong question. Wondering if my voice matters put the focus on me. Not Him.

Here’s the bottom line. Write this down. Frame it. Have it tattooed around your wrist…if you’re into that. If God leads you to do it (whatever *it* is) then it’s with infinite purpose. For our good and His glory.

We may not see the results. We may never know how our words affected another. But following His lead brings great reward. I’m not talking about tangible rewards like increased subscribers or more comments or hundreds of shares — that may or may not come. I’m talking eternal, unseen rewards that time can’t steal.

You. Your voice. Your God-given, Spirit-inspired, life-lessons-learned voice is needed. It’s needed. So let’s press into our God. Let’s seek His face. And let’s trust that if He leads us to write it, then He must have a really good reason.

 
How have you wrestled to believe that your voice is needed?
What is God calling you to do?

 

When You Feel Like a Wannabe

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I remember when I first started running.

Actually it was mostly walking with a few random spurts of jogging. I would keep my eyes focused on the ground ahead of me, slightly embarrassed by how blatantly obvious it had to be to my neighbors that I was not a real runner.

Just a wannabe.

Many times I wanted to give up, but I didn’t. I slowly worked my way up to running 3 miles without stopping, and then up to 6, and eventually 11. I even found the confidence to venture out of my neighborhood and join the real runners on the popular running and biking trail across town.

The thing is, I still feel like a wannabe runner.

When I cross paths with other runners in my neighborhood or on the trail, I just assume that they have been running for years and have completed several races. I assume that running comes naturally to them, that it isn’t something they have to work at.

I wonder if they know that I’m just a wannabe. That I’m not very disciplined. That right now, I am struggling to just get out the door.

Then I remember that I don’t actually know their story and that they could just as likely feel the same as me.

I remember that it is simply the act of running that makes me a real runner.

For me, blogging has been a lot like running.

Three years ago, I gazed out the window of my computer screen and saw the bloggers passing by, and thought, I want to be one of them.

I started a little blog and began writing about this and that, trying to find my voice and figure out who I was as a blogger and a writer. Head down, I kept to myself, quietly tapping away at the keys.

I slowly gained confidence and began venturing out of my little blogging neighborhood to join the real bloggers out on the trails.

I joined over 1200 bloggers writing for 31 days in October. I attended Allume and met some amazing ladies. I was invited to join a blogging mastermind group. And now, here I am, writing a blog post for the Allume blog.

The thing is, I still feel very much like a wannabe.

Someone who still struggles to get the words just right. Someone who can’t seem to find the time and the self-discipline to write. Someone who is always in the middle of a blogging identity crisis.

I see other bloggers and just assume it all comes so much easier to them. That the self-discipline is there and the beautiful words just flow. But then one of them will open up and share a bit about her struggles and insecurities as a writer and a blogger, and I will breathe a bit easier knowing that I’m not alone.

And so I keep at it. I lace up my blogging shoes a few days a week and I do this blogging thing.

Because blogging is what makes me a real blogger.

It’s the act of doing it day after day, week after week. And knowing that no matter how long I do it, no matter how many comments or retweets or Facebook likes I get, I will always struggle with a bit of insecurity. It’s part of the package of putting myself out there on a regular basis.

So to all you fellow bloggers on the trails, I offer you a passing smile and a nod of encouragement.

Because you and me. We’re as real as it gets.

Always,

Amanda

Writing for the Crowd

My sister is the mother of 8 beautiful children. Wife to a hard-working man. Homemaker extraordinaire, gardener of wild things and wild hearts, baker of cakes and cookies, and curator of the good stuff.

I marvel at her, managing 8 children, each teeming with dreams, hopes, and energy. They’re all weaving a whole story of their own under her rooftop. And she writes about them. Photographs them. Tells stories of them. Yes, blogs about them all.

She writes about their adventures. About their nature lessons. About hikes into the woods and valentines crafts, Christmas dinners and slow Thursday mornings.

I tell her it sounds like a storybook. She laughs and tells me that’s far from the truth
but she’s a seeker of beauty and I tell her that she does quite a good job of finding it.

grady

Not long ago, we surprised her and took the years of blogging she had written, and printed each entry into a book. A real life, hard cover book for her own kids to hold and read. All those stories, poems, thoughts she had captured about the beauty of a simple life, there in hand to recall at a moment’s notice.

And that was when I realized — sometimes we’re not writing for the crowds of readers and tweeters out in the giant world. Sometimes we’re writing for the crowd around our feet, or the ones who are living life shoulder to shoulder with us.

She tells me her husband loves that she writes about the beauty of her life. That it helps him see it all too. That when it’s hard, or uncertain, she is chasing down the line of grace in the middle of it all, and holding up the light like a beacon of hope in their home. The children circle around the book. They recall the best of days and give thanks that someone captured it, and relive the good that is built under roofs of wood and in hearts of love.

She and me, we talk about the blogging world. How big it feels sometimes. How easy it is to feel small, insignificant, and like you’re not even sure who you’re trying to talk to anyway. There are so many voices, opinions and styles, it’s easy to feel swallowed up in the giant web of it all.

So we agree — it’s good to step back and ask, why? What is it that I really wanted to accomplish with all this blogging anyway?

Sometimes we’re not writing to give an angle on the latest controversy. Sometimes we write to give an angle on the beauty that is refracting into our lives. Sometimes it’s not about marketing and opinions, methods and how-to lists. Sometimes it’s foundations and memories, dog-eared pages and remember-whens.

If you’re writing to remember, that’s a good reason to write.
If you’re writing to capture, that’s a good reason to write.
If you’re writing to document, to frame moments, to tell stories, that is a good reason to write.

Sometimes having a blog isn’t about the numbers or how much traffic you can generate from a tweet at 2:15 p.m. Sometimes it’s much bigger, much better, much more meaningful than a stat or comment.

And that? That, I tell my sister, that is the best kind of blog.

The Smaller Bloggers Series is Returning

Embrace the Influence

I am so excited because we’re bringing the “Smaller Bloggers” series back. Woot!

For those of you who are new to the Allume blog, the Smaller Bloggers series is a series dedicated to those who consider themselves a smaller blogger. Being a smaller blogger is not a bad thing. Not at all.

The point of this series is to cheer you on and encourage you that the world needs smaller bloggers.

This series will offer you tips on how to build content, comment etiquette, the right kind of growth and more!

And this is your opportunity to share what you would like to know about blogging or express your frustrations with us so we can address issues and encourage you on your journey! We have a beautiful group of writers here who have a heart for women, community, blogging, writing, and Jesus!

So, leave a comment and let us know what you want to learn!

Joy in Christ,

Christin, Joyful Mothering

What To Do Until You Are Famous

I’ve worked with many well known and even famous people in my life. I’ve had the privilege to work with some of the greatest known singers and musicians in the world. 

I’ve also worked with people who want to be famous but probably never will be. 

What are the differences? Why do some become famous and others don’t?  

Let me define what famous means to most people. To be known and loved.  Even if someone wants to be famous to have money, it still comes back to being affirmed for success. To be known.  

Are you using energy in your life (or blog) to be known? 

Before you decide you don’t want to read the rest of this post because it may cause condemnation….let me say this…God put in us a desire to be known. He wants us to be known by Him. He put in us a desire to be loved so we’d pursue being loved by Him. Under the work of the Holy Spirit that same desire is used to support others. To use our voices to call upon the greatness we see in each other is encouragement. And it spurs us on to do the work of the Kingdom. It’s the desire for greatness that has given people the drive to start non-profits and take care of the less fortunate. 

Submitted to God, being known is a result of making Him known. 

God promises to have rewards and assignments for us in heaven.  And he knows in the pursuit of Him we will be known by Him and even find peace in the presence of our enemies. He has a plan for us to be known on earth and in heaven. 

The problem comes when well meaning Christians who desire to make Jesus famous get caught up with the wave of excitement of being known.  I can almost smell the rise of defeat among those that will never find the acclaim they so desire.  It’s like a drive that pushes back instead of pushes forward.  

So how do we avoid the road that leads to destruction? 

It’s no secret I’m a newer blogger. So, one day I was talking to God about all the things I’d been told I needed to do to make my blog known so I could do the work he’s called me to do. He spoke this to my heart. “Jill, I got my will accomplished before social networking was invented.”  

I am utterly convinced that if I spend more time on social networking or building my audience instead of the instructions of Jesus – to love God and love each other – then I have failed.

I may not be the best at Twitter and Facebook etiquette. I may not have a lot of followers, subscribers or comments.  But, God knows me. And if what I write is meant to be read by the masses, He will bring attention to it. I must seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness and all the other things will be added unto me. 

 So, I complied a list of things really famous people do. (you decide if you know them or not)

 TOP 10 LIST 

  1. Build into someone else’s platform
  2. Pay more attention to the average person than the popular person
  3. Be generous with time, money and affection
  4. Build relationships not contacts
  5. Treat people the same privately as publicly
  6. Don’t break eye contact when in conversation for anyone else walking by
  7. Treat people as extraordinary and fuss over them often
  8. Habitually do something for someone that can’t return the favor
  9. Keep promises and commitments
  10. Arrive on time to scheduled meetings, parties or appointments

This list is just a start of the challenge for me.  What do you want to be famous for?  

A Grace Journey with Jill Monaco

Greatness from Small Beginnings

I held a seed in my hand as did each student in class. We discussed how God created it to lay dormant, to be nourished, even in darkness, to have a season, to sprout, to grow and produce. “We can’t look at the seed, wish it to grow or say, ‘Grow seed. Grow,’ and make it grow,” says the 10 year old boy who speaks wisdom.

I think about my blog. I ponder the small size of it, of seeds, how they grow, and the wonder of it all. And I measure my growth in unfollows, unlikes and unsubscribes, yet only God knows what greatness the small beginning will ultimately produce. No earthly standard of measure could tell me that.

“Anyone can count the number of seeds in an apple, 

but only God can count the number of apples in a seed.” Robert H. Schuller

So, why do I worry about or try and manipulate my blog’s growth? I must do my part to cultivate, plant, water and let the light shine. Then trust God to do His part. It’s a process, always.

Sometimes, I busy myself making improvements to my blog, and apply myself to developing my craft. I navigate the lines of the world wide web trying to find my place, and I should. Blogs don’t just happen, they take effort. But I cannot neglect the work to prepare my own heart for growth. This is the time of cultivating.

It’s time to dig deeper. I open up and give God unhindered access to shine light on my heart. (2 Cor 4:6, John 3:21) He brings out what was once hidden in darkness, and makes me to be a light-bearer, puts me on a stand and says, “It’s time to shine!” His Son’s light shining bright.

I am devoted to prayer, study, and writing–all soul labor of writing true. I sow the Word-seed into the soil of my heart. (Mark 4:8)  I scatter seeds for others–sharing others words, posts and books, giving support, offering grace through words that encourage and giving my time, knowing it’s more blessed to give than receive. This is the time of planting.

And then, I must wait. This is not the time to dig up the seeds. It’s quiet. He is quiet. It’s long, slow and seems like nothing is happening. Yet, God is working behind the scenes beyond my scope, orchestrating the details of my life for His purpose, and continuing the work deep within. Yielding, so that I might yield. This is the darkness of dormancy.

Sometimes, I am parched and starved. I drink deeply of the living water so that it becomes a spring welling up to life eternal. (John 4:14) I feast on the Words of God, to sustain me and to have living bread to offer His sheep. (John 21:17, Matt 4:4) This is the time to be nourished.

And then I see what I hoped for, sprouts and new growth. It’s what I pray for and labor for, but I cannot force. I can only trust God to do His part, while I do mine. He causes the increase. For that, I cannot take the glory. “So neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow.” (1 Cor 3:7 NIV) It is time for the harvest.

No matter where I am in the process, I do not have to wonder how make my blog grow, and neither do you.

Do your part, and “God will make it happen, for He who calls you is faithful.” (1Thess 5:24 NLT)

 

The Number One Thing To Remember, Christian Blogger

On the other side of the screen, with a heart just like mine and just like yours, is a woman. A real, flesh and blood, stinky morning breath, possibly in need of a pedicure woman.

She may be sleep deprived because of a baby’s cry. She may be living her dreams. She may be soul-thirsty in the middle of a hopeless mess. But however her spirit, for a few quick moments she skims through your blog. And then just like that…she’s gone.

 


photo credit

 

As a blogger, if I live consumed with me or my numbers or how cracked up something looks, then I could miss that just-like-me-woman. I’ve walked that route before. She may move on to the next thing still wondering if God sees her, or loves her.

But if I remember why I write, then I start each post on my knees. Because each word is ultimately for His glory. Each post is an act of service to my sisters.

You and I have a platform. He has given us a sliver of cyber-space. But only He can pierce hearts. Only He can anoint our words.

Whether we write about motherhood or coupons or faith. Whether ten or ten-thousand people read our blogs. If He goes before and behind us, then our words hold great power. If we seek His guidance and trust Him to graciously speak to that woman on the other side of the screen, then amazing things can take place. Lives can change.

The call to action is pretty simple…in theory. Let’s give it all back to Him.

Practically that means we make prayer a priority. We pray for His wisdom before we start typing. And we pray for wisdom while we form the sentences. We pray for those who will read that day and pray for those who comment.

I suppose I could be effective without Him. I could grow an audience through sheer determination. But if I want to be used for eternal things, I have to follow His lead. I have to ask His opinion and trust Him with the results.

So as I click “publish” I pray He uses this post to inspire all of us — including myself! — to lay the blog as an offering before Him…again.

How do you stay purposeful in the blogosphere with your writing?

Written by Lara, ToOverflowing.com

Linking Hearts

Faithfully Parenting Fridays linky party (designed by Singing through the Rain)

I talk to God a lot about my blog. When I write, it’s a conversation with Him, for Him, and about Him. I strongly believe He brings people together, by heart. For many months after my son was born, I struggled with feelings of loneliness as a SAHM. I entered the blogging world desperate for a place to find other mothers who shared my most precious value: parenting with deep faith in God. A few weeks into blogging, I discovered a linky party. I have to admit I spent a full nap time reading and commenting. Although my page views showed increased traffic, the real excitement came from something else…a deeper feeling: People who shared Christian values? People who returned to visit my blog after I commented on their work? Questions I asked answered? This was for me. So I entered more link-ups. Being of a rather obsessive nature, I began to ask other bloggers about “proper ethics” as I visited link-ups. “God, I’m a newbie…could I do this? Could I host a linky party?”After a lot of praying, I made the decision. I chose a topic, parenting with faith, that I could write about with passion.

165/365 Photo by A. Gutermuth

Every Friday, I host Faithfully Parenting Friday, when bloggers link stories or tips of parenting with faith. My linky party isn’t about bloggers gaining high page views. I’m hoping to foster a community where mothers can share and support each other. I also want my non-blogging readers to have a place to select special stories along the same topic that they are interested in reading.

So how’s it going? I’m a rules girl. It’s hard for me when someone links up a post that does not fit my guidelines, few as they are. At first, I thought I would delete these posts…but I just can’t do that to someone’s writing. Now, I’ve chosen to comment with gratitude on all posts that do relate to the topic. As a blogger, I LOVE writing these posts.

Deep connections with some incredible women have developed. A few linkers each week have joined me in this past month. I believe people will join me again if they believe in my cause, not in page view numbers. It gives me such joy to see fellow linkers comments of support on each other’s posts.

God, I accept and know that there may be ups and downs with my heartfelt way to connect mothers of faith. Please guide me in serving you in this way. I am reminded of the first link up party, when a sweet blogger responded to my writing in the most touching experience I have ever had blogging. She reminded me that after all, everything in life is all inHis time.” How has joining a linky party been a light in your blogging world? Inviting mothers of faith to link up for connections of the heart.

  Michy is a Christian Stay At Home mother writing with passion about her loves: faith, parenting, and healthy living. She is a past Special Education teacher and Elementary Literacy Specialist who loves learning. You can visit her on facebook or at her Loving Our Journey blog.

Spending Information

Do you ever notice when you’re out driving, walking or biking, the other people passing by? Do you ever soak in their face and wonder what their life is like?

A man walking down the street carrying a back pack.

A woman out for an evening run.

Despite the obvious fact that we know nothing about them other then they are just people, do you ever pause to consider what they might need?

I was sitting and pondering last night on my way to the library this very thing. As bloggers and writers, let’s be honest. We tend to spend quite a bit of time in front of the screen.

I admit, Sarah Mae’s post on Tuesday got my own wheels spinning. It also made me stretch my own thinking a bit further.

Our Responsibility

As readers, or consumers (who consume information put out by others), we have a responsibility with the information that we learn. It isn’t to merely stuff it into the back of our brain as we nod and say, “Oh this is good. So true. Yes, I totally agree”, and leave it there. What good is that?

As writers, we have a responsibility to be authentic and write with integrity. We can’t tell other people what they should be doing if we aren’t doing it. Certainly we can learn with others and grow as we write, but we should never write about things that we aren’t doing or aren’t willing to strive for ourselves.

We also have a responsibility to guard our time.

We can only write {well} what we’ve truly lived. We can only live if we’re not constantly writing.

Furthermore, bouncing around the net, reading and absorbing massive amounts of information that we do nothing with is useless. It doesn’t do us any good whatsoever.

What have we gained? Did we act on living a more disciplined life after reading that post on being disciplined? Did we act on how to make a menu and save money after reading that post on menu making to save money?

Take an idea, and work it into your life.

Spend That Information

Those people passing by on the street? God knows them. He wants us to know them, too. Those children over in Africa who are starving to death? They need food. Plain and simple. They need education so they don’t grow up to raise a family in poverty, too. The people of Asia? Some of the most remote parts of the world, and they have never heard the name Jesus Christ. Ever.

What do we do with that now that we know about it?

There is something for everyone. There is plenty of need to go around. How are we going to spend the information we have gained?

Those of you who are wives and/or mothers, those needs stare you in the face every single day.

What are we doing with the posts that teach us how to disciple our children, using these wonderful resources or those free ideas?

The bottom line is this: Take a little encouragement, or a little information, and go out and use it; spend it. Make it a reality in your own life.
Live your life. Don’t simply read about everyone else’s life. A little goes a long way.

My goal here is to challenge you, not shame you. Hear my heart. God’s purpose for you is greater than what’s in front of the screen. The screen is a tool, not an escape from your reality. Use it wisely.

Information doesn’t become revelation until it causes transformation.

By Christin, Joyful Mothering

Image: FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Sometimes God Says “Leave”

 
 

From the very first time I hit the publish button in blogger I felt as if I’d found my calling.  I was sharing things that people actually wanted to read about.  This was unusual to me because I thought the things I liked really didn’t matter. 

 

It was easy for me to put my desires and dreams on hold or not think about them because no one ever encouraged me to put it out there.  Blogging changed those views.  The blogging community encouraged me to be me without regrets.

 

As the time crept closer to my blogging anniversary things began to change.  I felt lost.   I no longer felt purpose in what I was doing and I became discouraged because I hadn’t attained all of my blogging goals.

 

Perhaps my discontent stemmed from the dwindling comments or the drop in traffic. I was no longer happy with the quality of work that I was producing.  Feelings of envy and resentment were stirring around in my spirit and it left me feeling worthless. 

 

God began to speak.  My intentions were called out and my heart was convicted.  Out of three hundred posts written in the course of a year, one would have to do some serious digging to figure out I was a Christian.  

 

Why didn’t this occur to me before?  I shared everything else about my life but I rarely talked about the goodness of Jesus.  I didn’t think that my readers would care.  To be quite honest I was scared of offending and scaring off my readers.

 

That was the problem.  I was focused more on the needs of my readers than the needs of my soul.  More focused on my problems, my life, and my adventures than considering how God wanted me to use this tool to minister to others.

 

I decided to take a break from blogging, fast, pray, and seek direction from the Lord.  It didn’t take long for me to gain some.  God eventually spoke LEAVE into my spirit.

 

God asked me to LEAVE my former blogging identity behind and blog for Him.  I tried for a few months to incorporate subjects involving my faith into my former blog although my spirit remained unsettled.

 

I was trying to incorporate His command into what I already had going on.  I ignored the parts that were too uncomfortable for me because I didn’t want to lose all the work I’d put into building my brand.

My previous blog was all about my glory, The Scott’s Crib.  It was a reflection of a selfish point I had reached in my life.   In order to submit to His will I had to completely LEAVE my old blogging identity behind..

 

One morning as I rose peace settled within my spirit as I realized what I had yet to do.  I took the time that day to LEAVE and move forward.Without further hesitation I gave my blog an overhaul and changed my domain name.  

 

As I typed in my new domain my palms became sweaty because I knew that this meant I was truly starting over.  All of the guest posting and those previously coveted pins on Pinterest would be gone. My former identity in the blogging world would be gone with the push of a button.

 

This step was crucial and I couldn’t continue to ignore it.  God changed Abraham’s name when he told him to leave his country and that he would bless him greatly.  

God told me to leave my old blogging identity so that I could gain peace and move forward with His plans for me.


What has God been calling you to leave behind?

 

“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” Jeremiah 29:11.

 

Latoya is a work at home mom of a precious two year old, married to her husband of three years.  She is learning to yield to God’s mighty hand and following Him into the destiny which He has prepared.  She blogs at A Peaceful Crib where she is content on living out Colossians 3:17 “And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.”  You can follow her on Facebook here.

 
 

Practicing Consistency

(Me and my best friend on my 14th Birthday)

When I was growing up we moved a lot which meant I was often the new girl. My mother taught me the best way to make friends was to be consistent and keep showing up. I learned others would trust me to be who I was, but sometimes it would take a little bit of time. Over the past nine years in the blog world I have learned the same can be said about blogging.

No matter where you are on this journey of sharing words in public forums, the topic of readership has been on your mind at least once. It seems we are all looking for the exact equation which will build our readership to mega-blogger status in a short time. The problem is even in this era of instant gratification people need time and reasons to trust you.

Learn from my mistakes.

As a blogger I have made a lot of mistakes. I have changed how I blogged, deleted years worth of posts, and moved my blog numerous times. I have had times when my inconsistency with how I presented myself on the web caused a loss of readership and friendships. I can say the loss of connection was greater than the loss of numbers.

Starting over is sometimes harder than starting anew, but in both cases the rule is the same: be consistent. If you want to touch lives, as most bloggers I know do, then you have to be present for a period of time to prove you will be there for the long haul. You need to give them a reason to trust you.

What will consistency do?

I cannot promise you consistency will grow your readership to mega-blogger status. What I can promise you is consistency will allow you to interact with people in a way they will learn to trust. This will allow you to touch those lives and make an impact. In other words, consistency will bring connection.

Readers know when you are trying to play them to add another number or when you sincerely want to be there for them. To be quite honest, it shows over time. This is why readers are slow to commit to supporting a blogger. This is why you need to be consistent even when things don’t seem to be happening.

Blogging is about building relationships.

Most of the work in the quiet time of blogging is going on in the heart. As you share what’s on your heart, they take it into theirs. Even before a comment is written, a heart connection can be made. Eventually, after you have proven yourself by showing up and they have learned to trust you, they will share their heart with you also. You will receive a note or comment explaining how much you mean to them, and how your words have had a positive impact on them.

Through consistency we will improve our writing, deepen connections with others, and increase the number of lives we are able to impact. Until we have proven ourselves none of this can happen.

My mother would need to remind me after each move how it would take time to make friends. It isn’t always easy. It will require hard work and discipline. However, the results of being consistent are worth it. Let me remind you: the same is true with your blog.

Stacey Lozano recently moved to Oklahoma, two years ago. She has been married to the love of her life for 20 years, eighteen of which were spent homeschooling her boys. As she prepares for the junior year of her youngest, she also waits for her oldest to head off to Basic Training. Her heart has forever been changed by moments which have and will soon happen. Join her regularly at Stacey’s Daze or at Pinterest where she just restarted her boards.

The Best Personal Branding Advice I Ever Got {Or Gave}

personal branding advice

As a smaller blogger, unsure of my niche and how to bill myself, branding was a big, intimidating obligation, kind of like meeting prospective in-laws for the first time. (Can we just get this over with?)

Much of the advice I read seemed to apply to people who could already define themselves and what they had to offer their readers in one tidy sentence—all that was left to do was hire someone to design a logo and header to match.

But what if you are too new to know what your main contribution to the blogosphere is will be? Or what if you’ve got your hands in a lot of different stuff, and don’t yet know which one you’ll end up focusing on?

The best branding advice I ever received came from Michelle at So I Married a Mennonite. Intrigued by her unique blog title, I asked her why she chose it. She said, “I picked something about myself that would never change.”

So, I ask you: what’s something about yourself that will never change?

Don’t think too hard here. It’s right in front of your nose.

Your Name.

Letting your name be your brand is simple, yet it works for you in so many ways:

  1. It allows people to connect with you personally. The online world is all about relationships–people want to connect with real people anymore, not a billboard or a slogan or a caricature.
  2. It allows for growth and change of direction in your online pursuits without losing your followers. No matter where your blogging journey takes you, they will know how to find you.
  3. It gives you a solid place to hang your hat today, even if you haven’t quite figured out what you’re about yet.

But what about protecting my identity? Michael Hyatt says hidden online identities are a thing of the past. People can now Google you and find anything they want about you. Why fight it with a nickname people can’t spell or remember?

“A real name communicates authenticity and accessibility. Don’t hide behind a made-up name that is only meaningful to you.” -Michael Hyatt, Platform: Get Noticed in a Noisy World

We are here to build relationship. We need to introduce ourselves the same way we do in real life—by announcing our name.

How this works:

  • On your blog: call it whatever you want, but make your blog address yourname.com. You’ll be easy to find no matter what you blog about.
  • Your Twitter, Facebook, or Pinterest handle: Use your name, or a close variation (see below).
  • Your Email: YourName@gmail.com, or, better yet, yourname@yourdomain.com (ie. trina@trinaholden.com)
  • Facebook Fan Page: Name it after yourself. A personal fan page is simply  the easiest way for people to connect with you on facebook—no friend request necessary, just one click of the ‘like’ button and you’re connected.

I know this can sound a bit egotistical, but really, it’s not. You’re simply removing barriers and making it easy for people to find you and talk to you. It’s a favor to your friends and anyone you meet online to be consistent in your online identities.

Having a solid brand is as simple as just being yourself wherever you go.

Creative Variations

But what if your name is already taken? If you have a popular name, you will have to get creative  with your handle. But don’t go too crazy. You still want people to recognize you.

  • Use your first and middle name if your first and last aren’t available. This is also a good idea if your last name has the potential to change or is hard to spell.
  • If that doesn’t work, try using a verb after your first name—something about you that won’t change, or something pertaining to the particular social media platform you’re on. (On facebook I’m TrinaHoldenWrites because TrinaHolden wasn’t available. On Twitter I could have been TrinaTweets if TrinaHolden wasn’t free. If your domain name isn’t available, try YourNameBlogs.com or YourNameWrites.com.)
  • When trying a variation of your name on for size, imagine referring to it in a phone conversation to a friend—if it flows easy and you don’t have to spell it for them, it’s good.
  • Keep in mind that a long handle will get in the way on Twitter. You want it as short and too-the-point as possible. Avoid numbers and too many initials in a row.

Use a site like KnowEm.com to help you check availability. When you find a handle that works all around, grab it!

Now all you have to do is BE yourself each place you visit, and people will begin to associate your writing voice, personality quirks, and actions with your name, and you will have created a brand for yourself. Are you fun and funky? Deep and articulate? Artistic and random? Embrace who God made you to be and let it shine through your online identity! (<– Tweet this!)

True Confessions Time: What’s one of the aliases you’ve gone by during your online journey? I started out with my dutch name, Trintje, in an effort to be unique. But my friends told me it was impossible to spell or say! What about you?

P.S. Have you already built a brand but feel the need for a change?  There’s no better time than the present–you’re smaller now than you will be!  Check out my friend Gretchen’s rebranding journey and all her awesome branding tips.

9 Lessons From My First 3 Months Blogging

Hello! My name is Mary Beth, and I am a Smaller Blogger.

Sidewalk Messages I started my blog, New Life Steward, in May of this year. I have been an avid reader of blogs for the last four years. I was a lurker, you know, the kind that hangs around and never comments. I always had a secret desire to be a blogger though. I only mentioned this to a few friends because I thought it a silly notion–seriously, what do I have to say? Who would listen to me?

Then earlier this year as I was mapping out some goals for myself, the Lord pressed upon my heart the idea of starting a blog. The idea stayed in my brain and festered until it grew into something that I just could not hold in my brain anymore. I begged my husband for the money to buy a domain name and hosting, and New Life Steward was born. I had absolutely no idea what I was doing, but I was determined. Now here I am, 3 months later, and I’ve learned a few things I’d like to share with you, my fellow small blogger–although I believe these apply to anyone in the blogging world.

9 Lessons from My First 3 Months of Blogging:

(PS: It really stresses me out that there are 9–I really like even numbers, but oh well, 9 goes nicely with 3.)

  1. Just write and keep writing: There will be moments when you sit and stare at the white screen and that blinking cursor will mock you. Just write something, anything. Push through. At least then you’ll have something to start with. Some of what I thought we my worst posts have been quite popular.
  2. The difference between Twitter and Facebook: Let’s be real here, if you are blogging, you are probably on Facebook or Twitter or both plus Pinterest and Instagram. I have observed that Twitter is a great place to make friends with other bloggers and get quick answers. I share my posts on Twitter, but get very few clicks. Facebook, on the other hand, brings a large portion of my traffic. I’ve discovered that Facebook is a great place to connect with your fans and share your posts. I’m still learning how to utilize Facebook to its fullest potential.
  3. Go to Twitter School: I read most of that series during my first few days/weeks of blogging, and boy did it make all the difference. Twitter is a confusing world with symbols, norms and a language all its own. Make sure you understand it, so you aren’t being annoying and to maximize its potential!
  4. Link Up and comment: The only link-up I knew about when I started blogging was Top {Ten} Tuesday. I wrote specifically for that link-up the first few weeks. Then I read Courtney’s Guest Post: My Journey to 5000 Followers in the Smaller Bloggers Series and realized there were oodles of link-ups! I followed here advice and found the link-ups from this tidy list that fit well with what I blogged about and began linking up daily to multiple sites (I’d love to have you at my link-up WIP [Work in Progress] Wednesday!) I also faithfully comment on the post linked up before and after me on every link-up. This has been a huge traffic/reader booster! I’ve also met some GREAT women through these link-ups!
  5. HTML: HTML was very intimidating to me at first. Then I realized that a lot of it could be accomplished with a simple copy/paste. The few things I needed to know (like centering a graphic in a widget on my sidebar), I googled. My most helpful idea with HTML has been to create an HTML document on my desk top. I save all the HTML code that I use frequently on that document for quick access when I’m writing a post. I have all the link-ups organized by day, my various blog buttons, a Feedburner subscription box, a text box, and various other items all saved on that document.
  6. Be brave: Whatever idea you have that gives you butterflies in the pit of your gut, do it! Tweet the person you really respect. They almost always reply (and who doesn’t love a Tweet!). Submit that guest post. You may get turned down (I have!) but you might not (Here I am, guest posting!). Start that series or link-up or book study. Whatever it is, take a deep breath and jump! You never know until you try.
  7. Set boundaries: I’ve found that its highly important to set boundaries in regards to time spent blogging. I have set parameters for when I blog, check Twitter, Facebook, and e-mail. I have to admit that I’m not perfect at keeping these boundaries, but if you don’t set them, you will most likely go overboard and get burnt out or neglect other responsibilities.
  8. You cannot do it all: We are human after all. When I first started blogging, I joined every challenge, book club, whatever that I came across. I found myself way over-committed and unable to really enjoy any of them. Lots of things look fun to be involved in online. Prayerfully consider what will be most beneficial for you.
  9. Stay true to who you are in Christ: If you only remember one of my lessons, remember this one. Stay true to who you are in Christ. I found that writing a mission statement both for myself and my blog helps me keep focus. I know what I’m aiming for and what my standards are. Write yours and then stay true to that. We don’t need a bunch of cookie cutter blogs. We need YOU.

My first love is Jesus Christ followed quickly by my husband and my son. I am now a stay at home mom, writer, and blogger. My career was first in teaching and then in Marriage and Family Counseling. Living in a small, Southern town in Mississippi, we enjoy SEC football, walking around barefoot, and playing outside. A day to myself would be spent napping, blogging, and reading with a bit of reality TV mixed in! Please come chat with me on Twitter!

Photo Credit: ClickFlashPhotos

A Very Important Reminder {For All Bloggers}

I have been mulling over whether or not to continue the Smaller Blogger series. I wasn’t sure if there was still interest nor if I had any singular topics that had enough “beef” to write up.

Yesterday on Facebook, I put out an informal poll to get a feel for interest and it seems very strong still. So as I pondered throughout the day what I would write on, the minutes and hours slipped away. I remembered I had promised my husband an evening of just the two of us here at home; you know, once the children are in bed.

The dilemma was, though, that I still hadn’t written a post for the smaller bloggers series yet.

Then it hit me, the number one thing we as bloggers need to remember. When our family has a need {for us}, we must set aside other things. For me, it’s not a permanent “set aside”, rather it’s a temporary one. A day. A week. Or simply an evening.

Often, we may not realize how deep the need goes for us to meet that need. Does that make sense?

So, having said all that, I took the evening off to be with my husband. This has been a very busy month as we have gathered adoption paper work and gone to home study visits and doctor’s appointments.

 If you haven’t read the other posts in the series or want to re-visit them, you can do that here.

Feel free to leave some topic suggestions in the comments so we can keep this series rolling!

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