Writing and blogging challenges have become popular over that last couple of years. Not only do they help you hone your writing skills, participation can generate a lot of buzz, traffic, visibility and opportunities for your business.
One of the most popular blogging challenges that I'm aware of is run by Connie Ragen Green. During a private Q&A call for Online Visibility Secrets students, Connie talked about how her blogging challenges have helped bloggers double traffic to their sites. I've known Connie since 2005 when she first started blogging and decided this was a good time to do a quick interview with her about her 30 Day Blogging Challenges.
You can listen to my 20 minute interview with Connie Ragen Green or read the transcript below.
Interview with Connie Ragen Green Denise: Hi. I'm Denise Wakeman, founder of The Blog Squad. Today I'm pleased to have the opportunity to speak with Connie Ragen Green. Connie and I connected in 2005. At that time she was participating in one of my blogging programs. Connie was just starting out on the Internet and learning about online marketing. Since that time, Connie has become an extremely successful entrepreneur carving out a niche for herself and making a very, very good living using the Internet.
The purpose of today's conversation is to learn about a very specific tactic Connie uses to generate a lot of traffic and how it helps her business. Welcome Connie.
Connie: Thank you so much for having me Denise.Denise: I've been curious to hear a bit about your story because we've been connected for a long time. Before I start asking the questions could you give us the nutshell version of your background to set the stage.
Connie: Sure, I'd be happy to. I was a classroom teacher in Los Angeles for 20 years. I taught kindergarten through 12th grade and even some adult school. At the same time, I was working in real estate. I was doing listings and sales and working as a residential appraiser. I was really exhausted from working 6-7 days a week and I really wanted to change my life. So in 2005 I left that all behind and I came on the Internet and you were one of the first people I found so I could get started blogging. The rest, as they say, is history.
Denise: Well, since 2005, that's just 5 years. That's actually not that long of amount of time to build a really successful business. And I know you've done that. We're going to find out one of the ways you've done that in just a minute.
This conversation is really about blogging and the reason I invited you to have this conversation with me today is because you host what has become a very popular online challenge: a 30 day blog challenge that, from my understanding, has grown from a few participants a year, year and a half ago?
Connie: Yes. A year and a half ago I did the first one and I just recently did the 5th blog challenge. The first one I think I had about 20 people and maybe close to 10 of those actually finished the challenge. I didn't consider that a failure that I only had 20 people. I considered that a success at the time. We all had a lot of fun and it was great for us. I wanted to do it again so every few months I've done it again and now it's really snowballed. It's really huge now.
Denise: You've just completed your 5th challenge. I was surprised it had been 5 already. How many people were in that challenge?
Connie: In this one there were 260 people in the 30 day challenge. Then, starting with the 3rd challenge I started doing something that I called the "Mini 7." Some people, by the time they find out about it, you're about 10 days in. Or, they had good intentions in the beginning and something happened. They didn't get going. I didn't want them to get left out. By doing the Mini 7 that means they're going to do 10 posts in 7 days. I do that in the 3rd week of the challenge. That way, so many more people are included. We had another 40 people this time that completed the Mini 7.
Denise: I want to get this all in perspective for my blogging audience. I want to find out, dig a little bit deeper into your blogging challenges: how they started, why the work, and what kind of results you're seeing. What motivated you to create the first blogging challenge?
Connie: My motivation in the beginning was to connect with other bloggers and to really challenge myself to do more writing. I felt like I was writing a lot of articles but in terms of my blog I was really only posting 3-4 times a week. I knew if I posted more, more people would find me and it would make my writing a little more streamlined. So I thought, "Okay. I'm willing to post every day, once a day for 30 days or at least 30 posts in 30 days." I wanted to include other people in that.
Denise: How, specifically, does a blogging challenge work?
Connie: People agree to do it. The way that I did it for the first 4 challenges is I would do a post and I would say, "Okay, we're going to start the blog challenge." I would usually start it 3-4 days later. I would say, "If you want to participate, leave a comment." So I'm soliciting comments. Tell me that you're going to do it. Give me the name of your blog, the url, so we can go and check out your blogs. That's how we get started with it.
Denise: Are there rules?
Connie: I had to make rules because the first time I didn't make any rules because I didn't think anything about it. I had people who did some pretty bizarre things. One person just went to YouTube and just did a copy/paste of 30 YouTube videos that weren't even hers.
Denise: That's very clever.
Connie: Very clever. She did the whole thing. She didn't even write one line of text. She put in the video and said, "Okay, I posted 30 times. I did it." I thought okay, so now I have to say that you have to do 150 words. You have to write 150 words, no matter what else you include. Then, I had something very interesting the second challenge. I had someone with an X rated blog. Not that there's anything wrong with that but it doesn't really match my audience. Some of the stuff was pretty sexually explicit. So I didn't include her and she was very upset. I said, "My audience is pretty much PG and G rated." I had to add that to the rules. Over time I think you have to do that.
Another rule that I thought went without saying but it didn't. The 30 posts had to be on one blog. If you wanted to do it on two blogs then you had to do 30 posts on both of those blogs. You couldn't break up and do 5 posts on one blog and 15 on another, this and that. Those pretty much were the rules.Denise: Those are the rules that have evolved and stuck now through this 5th challenge.
Denise: Okay, that's pretty interesting. I think that any time you do something for the first time, that's where you're learning what the rules have to be, isn't it?
Connie: I think so. I just couldn't have predicted what would happen.
Denise: You mentioned that you ask people to post a comment and leave the url for their blog to let you know that they're going to be in the challenge. How else do you manage and attract participants?
Connie: Starting with the second blog challenge, that's when we brought it over to Twitter. We thought this was an excellent idea. What I did was I checked hashtags first. I wanted to make sure no one was using what I wanted to use. I called it "#Blog30." Then, what I asked people to do in my blog post is to be sure to follow me on Twitter, I'm @ConnieGreen, and be sure to tweet me with your post for that day and use the hashtag #Blog30. Then we can all follow each other and see what we're doing and we can retweet each other's blog post. That made a huge difference. It made it more fun. People on Twitter that didn't know any of us, weren't on my list, decided to join in.
Denise: So, in fact you really expanded the visibility of your blogging challenge.
Connie: Yes. It was just almost overnight how we did it. For the 5th challenge, this is when I decided to bring somebody in. I thought, "Okay, I've been doing this. I've been having a lot of fun." But I wanted to bring in somebody that I knew would do a great job and someone I had joint ventured with and that was Dr. Jeanette Cates. Sure enough, she built a membership area and a forum and now the level of interaction has just gone through the roof.
Denise: Wow. I can imagine that it has. It's really taken on a life of its own in a way.
Connie: It really has. This time we had webinars throughout: on the first of the month, on the 15th, on the 30th. Then we waited a few days and we had the final one. We did a roll call on all the people who completed the challenge. We had a celebration. The membership area is over at http://meetourmembers.com and that's going to continue.
Denise: That's fantastic. So, of course we're all looking for results. It's one thing to have fun, right? And create content and the idea is that you want to be more findable on the web with our blogs and drive more traffic. What kind of results have you personally experienced and what have your participants experienced that you know of?
Connie: That's so important and we did remind people throughout the month that we are all in business and we do want to have results from it. For those of us who tracked it, we more than doubled our traffic. Not only that, but people stayed on the page longer and they visited more pages within our blog. All of those numbers increased and that was wonderful to see.
Denise: A lot of bloggers, especially if they're starting out, they might not be that savvy about how to track numbers, that sort of thing. Did you have any training at the beginning about how to do this?
Connie: I did. I had a training for everyone who is connected with me in any way. I had my webmaster, Nikki, do a webinar with me where we went into Google analytics, we showed them how to do that. We also went in to the Yahoo site where we can do the same thing. We showed very detailed how you can generate that HTML code, how you can copy and paste it. We showed that. We spoke very slowly and clearly and I made the webinar replay available to people so they could set that up for themselves easily or have someone else do it for them for a nominal fee. Charge someone for a half hour of their time.
Denise: So people were also learning through this process as well. It wasn't just about writing content. It was about taking their skills up a notch.
Connie: It really was. During those three webinars that we did, we also talked about getting ideas for what to blog about. Between Jeanette and I we came up with about 25 ideas, little things that we did on a daily basis to come up with writing. We also talked about repurposing the content to write with the end in mind. You might want to write 5 of your 30 posts on one topic and then turn that into a short report.
Denise: Excellent. How does a challenge create clients for you, convert people to clients for you, or does it?
Connie: It definitely does. I saw that early on. People get to know you better. You really make that personal connection with them. It's relationship marketing. They get to know you, like you, and trust you. That whole scenario right there works extremely well. Being on the webinars there, they can ask you questions. People that you otherwise would have almost no contact with either on your list or on Twitter, all of a sudden they're part of something. They're part of an event. They're part of a community. It does result in more business because we spend money with people that we get to know, like, and trust.
Denise: That's for sure. How often do you run these challenges?
Connie: We've done it every few months and the next will probably be in the month of September (2010). It's good to give people a break of 1-2 months in between so they can think about what they're going to do for the next challenge or see what they are going to do differently.
Denise: Right. Now what do you think it is about a blog challenge that gets people so excited about participating?
Connie: I think when you really take a look at everything, it's not the increased traffic, it's not the idea that they can repurpose content, it's the idea that they're connecting with other people that have some similar interests. I know that when I started blogging when you showed me back in 2005-2006, I felt like I was all alone. I was just blogging to the cyberspace and no one was there. Now, because of social media, because of challenges like this, we know for sure that someone is going to read our post the next day. We can leave comments and things. It was amazing this time.
We had people from around the world. We even had someone who was still stationed over in Afghanistan. He connected with people here, with several of us. Some of the people even ended up talking to his wife who is here in the States, on the phone. It really became where they got to know each other. People are creating joint ventures and products together. It's just been amazing. It's that contact with other people. You can bounce your ideas off them. People who are in a similar place to where you are at that point in time.Denise: It sounds like you've got a product here. How to run a challenge.
Connie: That's our next product. Jeanette is a product manufacturing machine and I'm the marketing mad woman. Together we work really well together. Yes, it was her idea to have that product and we will be creating that at the end of August.
Denise: That's fantastic. What have you learned from doing blog challenges?
Connie: I've learned that it's really important to always challenge yourself no matter where you are in your business. Even though I've been successful and I've made great strides in the four and a half years I've been on line. It still is important for me to challenge myself to do more. Whatever I've done before, let's see how I can kick up a notch and do a little more. Also, to connect with as many people as possible that I otherwise might never have spent any time reading their blog or conversing with them on Twitter or through email.
Denise: Good. So if someone were to want to model this type of program, for lack of a better word, challenge, what are a couple of tips that you would share with them to help them get started?
Connie: I would say to start it small like I did. Just get however many people-if you get 10-20 people, that's fine. All of you can be really well connected during that month. Do it again, 30-60 days do it again, and I can almost guarantee you'll have twice as many people at that point because the excitement builds. I would say people should do this. It's a wonderful way to connect. You may want to do it with a theme. So people who are blogging on a certain topic, whatever that might be. You can visit each other's blogs and you learn so much from reading other people's posts. It's just amazing what I learned.
Denise: Excellent. Going back quickly to the results or building your business from the blogging challenge - I know you have because you have an established business, you have products and services that serve people. Are there success stories with your clients as well, or other blogging participant's businesses growing as a direct result of the blogging challenge?
Connie: Yes, definitely. I have one student in particular, Helen [Raptoplous]. You know who that is. She actually came up with the idea for her next product. She's going to help people get past the 2K hump over on Twitter. So many people saw what she was doing in the 4th blog challenge and they said, "How did you do that? I remember when there were only 1,000 followers, how did you get over 2,000?" She started to show them. Then she decided she could create a product for this. She got ideas for her products. I think she is finishing her third joint venture this month. That's excellent.
Denise: Fantastic, good. Sometimes people say "Well, you're already successful so of course you're going to make money; of course you're going to attract new clients." For the person who is starting out it might seem daunting. I just want to make sure that it's -Helen's in a place that's newer than you and I in marketing online.
Connie: Yes, definitely. She's just been one year online. She started making money in February.
Denise: It's good to know that those who are new to this whole process can also see monetary results. That's why I wanted to go back to that one.
Connie: I think also people got confidence from this and it's so important in this process. I know Todd, the man who has now returned back from Afghanistan, he's now doing seminars and he's teaching people about his topic and he didn't have that confidence 2-3 months ago.
Denise: That's fantastic. Fantastic. So the reach really grows, and grows, and grows. You're a true influencer, Connie.
Connie: It's fun to be a part of that. I know when I was starting that first year it was so disappointing for me. I thought, "Gee, maybe I made a poor decision to come online. Nothing's happening for me." To see things happening much faster now because of social media, because of so many advances right within the industry within the last few years. We are able to see so many brand new people get that opportunity to do things quickly.
Denise: Yes, I think there's never been a better time because the tools are easier to use. They're free or hardly cost anything. There's a very low barrier to entry at this point.
Connie: Yes, and I think it's a great opportunity for people around the world.
Denise: I totally agree. Of course, the most important question here Connie, what is your blog and where can people find it?
Connie: My main blog is at conniegreen.com but I would love to mention my other blog as well.
Denise: Of course.
Connie: It's Big Money Tiny List. That's the blog that I followed what you did in your Blog to Book Project and I completed my book. I'm very proud of that blog.
Denise: That's fantastic. We'll make sure people go to that site. What's the best place where people connect with you and learn more about how you can serve them?
Connie: Either the blog, they can leave me their email. Or just follow me on Twitter at @ConnieGreen.
Denise: Fantastic. Well, Connie I want to thank you for taking some time with me today and sharing your blogging challenge experience. I've been really impressed by what I've seen you do over the last few years. It seemed like this would be a great topic to share with my audience on http://buildabetterblog.com. Maybe you'll see a new influx of blogging challenge participants the next time around.
Connie: Yes, and thank you so much for everything you've done for me Denise. I couldn't be doing any of this if I hadn't been taking that training with you and spent time with you since I came online. So thank you.
Denise: You are most welcome. It's been my pleasure. Thank you for being here with me today. Blog on!
Have questions about how to run or participate in a blogging challenge? Post your questions in the comment section and I'll bet I can twist Connie's arm to answer them for you!