An Inside Look At “Design Blogs”. Interview with Jacques of CreativeOverflow.

If I ask you to break down the most popular blogging niches I’m sure you won’t need even a second to think: design / creativity / freelance; blogging / marketing / make money online; personal development / personal finance.

By looking at the flagman blogs in design and blogging niches, which are Smashing Magazine and ProBlogger, respectively, it’s hard not to notice which of them is more popular.
 

The Holy Grail Of Blogging

That said, to many it may seem that picking “design” as a niche for your future blog literally guarantees you an overwhelming success. And I’m not making this up – five of my friends own design blogs and some of them have launched just recently.

The temptation to get one of your own gets even stronger as you head over to BuySellAds to see how much you can earn from a single banner. A 125 x 125 pixels spot on a blog like 1stwebdesigner will make you $400 monthly (there are 10 spots actually, all sold out – you do the math).

But the popularity / profit part of this niche is only the tip of the iceberg – what people don’t think about is all the hard work it takes to grow a successful design blog.

Wanna know “how deep the rabbit-hole goes“?
 

Meet Jacques van Heerden

I was lucky to meet this guy just by accident, and since that time he somewhat become my “blogging mentor” and was helping me with lots of different things (both related and unrelated to blogging).

Jacques is a founder and editor of Creativeoverflow – “A Design blog for Anything creative”. Other than that he is a successfull online entrepreneur owning a bunch of projects: An1ken, An1ken Creative, RichVibe, etc. And besides he’s the one responsible for some of my very well written headlines :)

  • You can learn more about Jacques here.
  • Read his personal blog right here.
  • And follow him on Twitter here(@Jacquesvh) or here(@creativeofblog).

I’ve asked Jacques if he could spend some of his time talking about “design blogs” and “all things blogging”, and he kindly agreed:
 

The Interview

★ Tim: Hey Jacques, I’ve just introduced you as the owner CreativeOverflow, which in my opinion is one of the most popular “design blogs” these days. That said, how about we start with defining a “design blog”? Is it any different from a “regular blog” after all?

★ Jacques: Firstly, thanks for having me share some tips on BloggerJET, Tim. Appreciate it. Now for defining a design blog: In my eyes a design blog is no different from a regular blog. The difference between the two comes down to the content, so if you were to compare Creativeoverflow to BloggerJET you will see that both of them are niche focused. Creativeoverflow obviously focusing on producing design/creative related content for our readers and BloggerJET focusing on blogging essentially (producing traffic, guest posting, tips, tricks etc.).

10 Ways A Designer Can Make some Extra Money
from CreativeOverflow

Being a Full-Time designer can be tough at times, you get times where clients just don’t have the money to pay you right away or you go through a patch where you don’t have enough client work to keep your bills payed and may even rely on easy cash advances. There is a solution, a few in fact…

 
★ Tim: So the only difference is pretty much the niche, and it seems to me that yours is among the most powerful ones. Can you shine a light on the “design blogs industry” as a whole? Why do you think design blogs are so popular these days? (Do we really have that many designers?) Why do people keep creating new design blogs all the time? Is that purely for money?

★ Jacques: Design blogs have become more and more popular over the last few years due to the enormous amount of creative content available on the web. Blogs that have been around since 2005/2006 has seen the industry change dramatically. An example that I can use is Abduzeedo, a huge inspiration design blog founded by Fabio Sasso in December 2006. Back then looking for creative inspiration wasn’t unheard of, but it was much harder to find professional work to inspire you. You have to remember that in 2006 Youtube was only a Year old and Twitter didn’t even exist yet. You didn’t have countless design news sites around except for an awesome site called DeviantArt(no introduction necessary) and you had to physically promote your blog and expose it to the world. There weren’t any shortcuts.

Now if you fast forward to 2011 and look at a site like Behance.net you will notice that there are hundreds of thousands of designers out there that are hungry for professional, unique and creative content and an equal amount that produces mind blowing work too. There are more designers in the world at the moment than there ever was before, it’s all thanks to the way the internet has evolved and how it simplified the heavy task of learning a new skillset.

So over the past 2 years that I’ve been running Creativeoverflow, I have seen hundreds of design blogs pop up and fade away after 2-3 months. Sure some of them lasted for more than a year, but then the authors just gave up and abandoned the sites or sold them off for pocket change. The reason for this is because they assumed they will make a lot of money quickly, but in the end proved their assumptions totally wrong. In order to build a successful blog that will give you a solid stream of income you will need to treat it like a business. You will have to create a plan, set goals, find writers and promote like crazy. However, before you just go out and start a blog I would advise that you rather write influential articles for other blogs in the related niche. Therefore if you are chasing money, you will be earning money for each guest post that you write and if you become a full time writer for some of these blogs, you can make more in a month than your newly founded blog will make in a year.

Its a fact and that’s what a lot of people don’t understand. You won’t be making money on your blog from day one, well unless you have a huge following(could be built up through guest posting) or you’re a celebrity and because people don’t realize this they start blogs and abandon them later on thus polluting our blogging solar system. Haha

“100 Sketchbooks and Moleskines That Will Leave You Breathless”
from CreativeOverflow

We love seeing what other designer come up with and their creative processes. In this post I have rounded up 100 sketchbooks and moleskin’s from the Behance Network which will leave you totally breathless…

 
★ Tim: I’ve recently compiled a list of 99 “blogging / online marketing (mostly) blogs” and I also have a list of “design blogs” which is 150+ and counting. The numbers make me think that design blogs are somehow easier to maintain/promote. Is running a “design blog” any different from running a “blog about blogging” like BloggerJET? Is there a difference in maintaining/promoting those types of blogs?

★ Jacques: Once again the difference between the blogs comes down to the content. Running a blog about design is exactly the same as running a blog about blogging, we obviously just focus on different content and thus we will spend time researching different topics and scenarios. I think in the end growing the blogs will work on the same foundation, where you need to output high quality content and things that will have your readers coming back for more. However, when it comes to the promoting side of things, the design industry(having tons of creative people) has some pretty useful news sites that you can submit your articles to for further promotion and voting.

When you look at a site like BloggerJET, your main promotion channels will obviously be Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, StumbleUpon, Delicious, Newsletter etc. If you look at the Creativeoverflow promotion line we start off with Twitter, Digg, StumbleUpon, Newsletter, Facebook, DesignBump, DesignFloat, TheWebBlend, DesignPoke, Design-Newz, Reddit, Delicious, Dzone etc. As you can see the design industry has a lot going for it when it comes to promotion channels, I have only really mentioned a few here and there are still thousands of blogs that have the option of submitting news on the sites which basically feeds into their RSS Feeds.

Whilst truthfully, Creativeoverflow has only been making use of Twitter, Facebook, StumbleUpon, Newsletter and Designbump the last while, we are looking into getting back to promoting through our entire list of News sites and blogs. We are looking to a hire a social media manager for that early 2012 though. It’s a very time consuming task.


How To Block a Freshly Printed Poster @ CreativeOverflow

★ Tim: That perfectly makes sense! Now can you tell me about the “early days” of CreativeOverflow: how did the idea come to start a blog like that? Did you do everything on your own (writing/design/promotion) or you formed a team of writers/editors from the very beginning?

★ Jacques: When I initially started freelancing in 2007 I always wanted to setup a blog, but never really had the resources or knowledge to do so. South Africa was lacking in the Web industry and at the time 3Gigs of bandwidth cost $30 apart from your telephone line rental etc. Anyway, we definitely aren’t going into that now haha, as I was saying, I wanted to start a hobby where I posted cool things that I found around the web and jumped between blog names like crazy. I firstly called it InspirationStation then Cooliothings and those are the only two that I can remember, I changed the name more often that I could count. These weren’t actual domain names and the site was hosted on blog.an1ken.net back then, so the name was changed through the backend on a weekly basis. Obviously no one really read my posts, it was more like a venting phase for me. Haha

Anyway, I then dropped the blog, stuck to the portfolio and just worked. In late 2009 I decided to start Creativeoverflow as a side project and it grew from there. I was obviously involved in the design industry and that is also why I chose the design niche. Most of my knowledge was about design and therefore I could write about it share my experiences etc.

I started the site as my own personal side project as mentioned above and therefore I did everything by myself. To this day I still curate all the content that goes through the blog. Sure there are regular writers and guest posters, but Creativeoverflow is my baby and therefore I still give it a lot of my attention. I have made a few mistakes in the past and also shrugged off work that had to be done on Creativeoverflow, but things changed and I’m looking forward to 2012, there are some major things going to happen that will really take the site and its readers to the next level.

 
★ Tim: Obviously that wasn’t the “I wanna make moniez blogging” kind of decision :) And if you could start anew, what would you change in the way you were running CreativeOverflow in the early days?

★ Jacques: I definitely would. Firstly I would enter the market with a unique theme right from the start. In the early days of Creativeoverflow I was using Convergence Community Theme as our blog theme and even though we garnered a lot of attention it was due to the content quality not the design. People struggled to remember what Creativeoverflow looked like, simply because it was generic. The second thing I would do differently is get guest authors right from the start. Building a network of guest posters is important for you and your blog, it gives your blog diversity and your readers great content. Also having 10-15 guest posts a month on the site helps you focus on other aspects of building the blogs popularity and promoting, especially if your blog isn’t your full-time job.

Below you can see what Creativeoverflow’s first unique theme looked like. We have come a long way since then.


 
 
 
★ Tim: LOL It reminds me of the future design of BloggerJET, which I can’t wait to release. And speaking about BloggerJET, I think the unique thing about it is that I share the most concealed practical tips and tactics for growing a blog (all of which are tested on BloggerJET beforehand actually). Now can you help me out a bit and share your take on “effective blog growth”? What’s your “message” to the readers of BloggerJET?

★ Jacques: Growing your blog effectively is something that runs in trial and error. What works for some doesn’t always work for others. I see hundreds of people giving out guides and tips on how to grow your blog effectively, but the biggest mistake all the readers/receivers make is that they think they already know it all. Sure some tips might be new for them or they might learn a new thing or two, but the thing that will separate the successful group from the failing group, is taking action.

In order for you to grow your blog you are going to have to stop talking about building a huge blog and start doing so. “Put your money where you mouth is,” comes to mind when I think about building a successful blog. The best thing you can do for yourself and for your blog is own up to reality. Be reasonable and honest with yourself, study your analytic charts and pin point your readers interests. Separate the good days from the bad and look at what caused the problem. Comment on other blogs with insightful and influential responses. Engage with your readers and make sure they are happy and in order to always be sure that they are, host giveaways and contests on your blog, be unique and creative.

Ex. Creativeoverflow gave away an Apple iPad 2 64GB when it was nearing its 2 year anniversary. I’m not saying you have to do the same, but giving them business cards, flyers, pens, merchandise or even advertising space could do the trick. Just remember to always be grateful for your readers support and don’t take them for granted. The only time you will ever know how valuable they are is when you lose them and believe it isn’t a great feeling. I’ve been through it and had to rebuild Creativeoverflow from the ground up after it happened so make sure you always have your readers interests at heart.

So, if you want to grow your blog effectively and successfully all you have to do is TAKE ACTION. My definition of taking action in this situation is: “Working hard, managing your time, scheduling articles ahead, writing more than you should, finding great guest authors, promoting your blog.

Thanks Tim for having me and good luck with your goal of reaching 100K Visitors in just 6 months. I will be cheering on the side line.

The end :)

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I used to be a professional DJ when I realised that talent alone won't get me thousands of raving fans. That's how I began studying marketing. So today I'm a marketing consultant, helping people squeeze more money from their online ventures.

3 Comments

Add comment
  1. design blog

    great blog i love this

  2. Shamelle

    Hi Tim,
    Came across your blog for the first time via twitter..
    Inspiring interview…

    Gosh you’ve set yourself up for a mighty challenge. Doable.. a lot of hard work I presume :-) Anyways.. hope you achieve your goal.

    will tweet a few of your posts and send some traffic over. I am also still starting out so don’t have that many tweeples but hope it helps in some small way..

    cheers
    Shamelle

    • Tim Soulo

      Hey Shamelle! Huuge thanks for the feedback and for support! .. and thanks for the tweets too :)

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