The reader profile is a weekly series where I attempt to give something back to one of my readers while providing some useful information for everyone. It typically includes some information about his/her online projects as well as a mini interview.
This week’s profile (sorry it is a few days late) features Graham Smith of ImJustCreative. Graham is a freelance graphic designer and a blogger. There’s a lot about his background and experience in this interview, so I won’t get into many details here.
1. From getting to know you a little bit recently and finding out a little bit more about some of your projects, it seems like some of your priorities are different from many of our readers. Can you tell us a little bit about your motivations for blogging and what you hope to accomplish?
How much space have you got Steven? Frankly I find summarizing questions quite hard, it’s always been a issue with me. Whenever answering, I have to go into infinite detail, more often than not digressing in the process. I’m not sure what that says about me, something I ought to look into at some point. As you probably noticed, I’m not one of the ‘one sentence’ commenter, instead usually waffling on about stuff, but in my own head I am trying to add some value to the conversation rather than do the norm which is to just ‘flash’ a ‘hello, nice post’.
So back to your question then. I do feel that it can be a hard business to be ‘heard’ in the Blogosphere, even if you have something extraordinarily valuable to say, it may not always reach the people you want it to. How far should one go in promoting your Blog, concentrating on Google friendly tactics, spending vast amounts of time on social networks and the list goes on. For me I have seen the Blogosphere change into a very competitive and cut throat business. But maybe that’s just because the last few months I have been spending vast amounts of time reading some of the most read Blogs. And it’s hard to make any substantial inroads unless you are incredibly dedicated which I think is a shame for the many Bloggers who set out with the best intentions but find it’s just too darn time consuming and therefore less fun to keep at. It’s all very competitive, and I think that’s not really a good thing for Blogging in the long run.
I think the phrase, ‘only the strong will survive’ is quite apt.
I started several years ago with I guess could be called a personal Blog. But it started as a very personal journey, describing my experiences with having a breakdown and being diagnosed with BiPolar 2. The Blog sort of evolved into one ‘dark, unique, humorous and deadly personal’ diary. It was a mish mash of Categories, but that really was a reflection of how I would be feeling at any one time.
Over a period of time though, it took on quite a high profile status. I think in part to my ability to be very descriptive and forthright about what was going on in my head. I had many comments saying what a wonderful Blog it was, insightful, useful, personal and pretty much everything else. I was rubbing shoulders with the more prominent Bloggers on Depression and Mental Health which was quite a turnaround for me. It was not what I was planning at all, but it just evolved that way. I certainly had a voice. Taking about my vast experience with medication, trials, side affects, legal issues allowed many other sufferers to really connect to what I had to say. I was fortunate that at the time I had some of the best private health care going, so I had some insights that many people just don’t get with a ‘regular’ health system. So I had stuff to give and share which I knew would be of use to some people.
My priorities were very much different to the many Blogs I have been actively reading and participating in recently, totally different in every way. It was for me, and anyone else who had or was suffering. Sadly my Father passed away early last year whilst my Blog was really gaining traction and this for me cut short the whole Blogging pastime.
It stopped very suddenly.
And I didn’t return to it till very late last year. A bereavement like that can totally derail you, all of a sudden your priorities change.
In my mind I was very keen to get back into Blogging of some kind, but felt that going back to my personal Blog would be a mistake of sorts. I had changed over that period of inactivity, my passion for anything Mental Health was dying, frankly I had had enough of it and wanted to move onto more positive subjects.
Hence ImJustCreative. My motivation for this is based on my need to return to my roots, as a Graphic Designer. Starting my own Freelance business, I felt creating a new Blog based on my creativity was the way forward. Still keeping my personality and soul but minus the whole Depression and Bipolar aspect. After all, it would be serving as a Blog but also a front end for potential clients, so there are just some things you need to keep below the surface, and certainly not shout from the rooftops about.
So returning to Blogging after this period proved to be quite daunting. Starting again really from scratch. Getting the momentum can be hard. So hence why I started taking such an interest in sites like yours Steven. Sites that would help me pick up the pieces and direct me in the right way. Relearning the SEO tricks, getting back into the fold as such.
My background being a senior Designer and IT Manager for a Commercial Print, Design, Advertising and marketing company ideally lends it self to applying these valuable real life skills to the Blogosphere. So adapting what I know from my years in this area to Blogging just needed some realignment in thinking. But the concepts are pretty much the same, I mean the results we strive for are the same. Be it printed advertising to digital media advertising.
But just prior to Christmas, I re created my girlfriends site for her. BEing a legal consultant, and specializing in Flexible Working for individuals and companies, creating a Blog although relatively straightforward, would be hard to make an impact in the general Blogospehre. I think we really are talking Niche here in every respect. She is one of a handful of English legal consultants who deal with this aspect of working. So there is still a massive educational gap that needs to be bridged. It certainly isn’t something that people are frequently Googling for or Stumbling about. But it’s there, it provides a unique service and unique skillset, it just will not be a popular Blog any time soon.
So as long as you know this and keep your expectations realistic, you can just muddle on. This was my first attempt at using a self hosted WordPress solution, so for me was a huge learning curve coming from the TypePad family with GrahamsBlog.com.
A whole new skillset and knowledge base had to be learned and applied. But I think given my lack of experience with CSS and PHP, modifying the Modicus theme as my first project worked out all right. It’s by no means perfect, in fact its far from what I want, but it’s a start.
So applying this to ImJustCreative, I launched my own WordPress site. Initially using a modified version of K2, i left this for a premium theme from GraphPaperPress just this weekend actually. A theme that wold really allow me to express and show to the world all my little set of skills. It’s now a much more visually rich site, rather than a standard Blog theme which K2 really was. It was hard to really push the envelope with a theme like this, with the limited skills I have. So my new site is much more how I envisaged it. Pretty happy with it at the moment, much to do in personalising it, but that’s all in time.
At the end of the day, I need to find my own voice. It’s not about big time. It’s about being ‘true’ to your self and sending messages that are important to you. If other people find those messages important then that’s really great.
I think I started to make the usual mistake. Trying to imitate the Big boys and force yourself to talk about the things that everyone else seems to be talking about. Namely Google and other Google things. With some WordPress, PHP, SEO, Social Marketing etc. I tried but realised that it was not me, I don’ have the experience to talk about it. So over the last month, my Blog has really just started leveling out.
This is true for my other ‘side project’ that has been going since early last year. Not going into too much detail, which you can get by visiting the site. It doesn’t score any points for design or anything like that, but this again is quite a niche site. It’s about the injustice of the English Legal System with respects to the Prejudice against parents who suffer from a Mental Health problem but have their children taken away by the courts. The site is bases on Anna’s own experience. Herself suffering from mild Bipolar, she had her 3 kids taken away by the English High Court system last year in a very high profile case. during a very bitter divorce and child custody battle.
Against all the professional advice of top medical experts stating quite clearly that Anna was probably a better mum than most, and certainly not a risk, the Judge was allowed to make her own mind up and decide that the father should have the children even though he himself would require a full time nanny to look after the children due to his work commitments. It’s a very sad state of affairs, so this Blog is really about getting this very particular message about Mental Health discrimination in the British Legal System. The feedback we have had is quite extraordinary, and its certainly a global problem.
So this Blog, although has to be Anonymous, due to the sensitive nature of the Children’s Act, we are still able to campaign and lobby against a very real problem.
The motivation for that Blog should be apparent. This is only based on the Free WordPress Blog, but it is the next project to move to a hosted solution with new custom theme
The other project whilst I remember, again is one that is quite niche in terms of existing Blog frequency. Type One diabetes in children. Anna’s 6 year old son has had this since birth. So we are planning on releasing a Blog specifically aimed at children with or who know a friend with this medical problem. But i feel this could make a big splash if we get it right. As there really is little out their, thats child friendly. As a means to encourage Conall, he will play a active role in it’s content and structure, as will his two sisters and of course Anna’s exceptional experience as a Mother having to deal with the daily trauma of injections and hypo’s, shock and mood swings. It’s a tough job man.
This is only in planning stage, but the problem is that it has potential to be quite big, my skillset is lacking. So we are looking around for someone to create a site for us, I think I will leave this one to the professionals.
I realise that all that is quite considerable answers, but trying to make it any less and you dilute the meaning. Blogging is a big part of my life again, and there are different motivations at play, different reasons to accomplish different results. Some main stream, others not so mainstream.
I do feel out of my depth at times, but I now look at my site and smile because it’s finally coming together and will be a accurate representation of who I am, but my skills are growing rapidly, and again, with sites like yours and the many many other out there giving all this amazing advice on how to market, promote your Blog etc you should not have an excuse to fail.
But we all know that information overload can also cause it’s own issues. That;w hat i refer to at the beginning. I do get so overwhelmed with the selection of advice, must do’s must have’s that you can wonder around all day surfing the net in a total daze. Trying to filter it, take what you need rather that what you want can prove quite challenging.
2. How has blogging served as an outlet for you?
Simply, it been invaluable to me. Being someone thats very expressive in every way, but who suffers from real world lack of confidence, expressing these thoughts and feelings can be extremely hard in day to day life. So much so that I often just want to explode with the pressure of not having the confidence to get it all out.
The blog’s have really helped me express myself in a way that I can control. I can go hell for leather, from design, to photography, to art, to writing, to music… it’s all made possible by having a website or Blog.
For me it’s a very personal thing, it’s not about money really. Yes, ImJustCreative is close to that, but it’s still primarily a portfolio of me and what I can do. I can sell myself and my abilities without having to do the hard conversational sell. Which is what makes Blogging so invaluable for people like me. If IJC works in generating income then great, but if not, its still serving a very valuable service, one that no number of therapists or counsellors could ever manage.
3. How do you see your blog as an asset and resource for your freelancing business?
Ultimately, like many people, my goal is to be able to provide custom websites based on my own visions, rather than having to use other peoples. It’s way off on the horison, but I’m working at it. So the website has to be a true reflection of your own abilities and your personality.So I have to use and show what I have right now, and hopefully also show my enthusiasm and ability to improvise to start gaining a foot hold in an already crowded industry. So being able to adequately customise a popular theme is a good place to start, especially if you are looking to gain work in your local town.
My ultimate aim though is to move to ExpressionEngine, this is my real career goal. WordPress is short to medium term plan you could say. I just like being different and the challenge of learning something that is less mainstream. That’s just me all over.