One the guys who I’ve found really encouraging in this journey I’ve been taking with my johnnylaird.net blog is Mike Cliffe-Jones.
Here’s the interview…
Q: So, Mike, I know you have an interesting background. Can you tell us a little about your history, and how you found yourself living where you do?
That’s a long story! OK, here’s the short version. I was born in Hong Kong and lived there until I was 12, although I was sent to boarding school in England from the age of 8.
I love cars and I’m a complete petrol head, so I did the logical thing and joined the motor industry. I worked for Toyota GB during the very exciting launch of the Lexus brand, then moved to Ford Motor Company, before settling for several years with Volkswagen UK. Both my wife and I (she was finance director of an IT company) had senior level jobs which meant we travelled a lot, and although we had all the trappings of success, we realised our quality of life and the time we could give to bringing up our kids was not sufficient recompense.
So we sold up and moved to Lanzarote 10 years ago! When we arrived we started an estate agency, which we gradually grew to be the largest on the island, and then in 2008 we took the decision to pull back from that (we still own the brand and run the marketing) and follow our passion as writers. And that’s how we ended up as bloggers!
Q: Before we unpack things in more detail, what are the projects keeping you busy right now?
I kind of wear three “hats.”
I run our business Camel Media Group, which is both a social media consultancy and the owner of a number of websites. The premier site (and income earner) of that business is www.lanzaroteinformation.com
I’m also CEO of an American business called Beyond Blogging Corp. and my role there is to publish books about blogging and to run something called the Beyond Blogging Project, which basically helps bloggers create businesses with long term sustainable incomes.
I’m also “just” a writer. I love writing my own blog Mike’s life and I’ve had two books and hundreds of articles published on the web and in print.
Q: OK – back to the beginning; what was it that first made you want to blog, and which bloggers were the first to grab your attention?
As we pulled back from the estate agency, I wanted to find a business we could run from anywhere in the world. One of our kids has left home and the other will be doing so soon, so our plan for some time has been to travel the world for six months of the year.
Blogging combined our love of writing, with a business we can do from anywhere – all we need are a couple of Macbooks and our Blackberries.
Q: Was the purpose always to make a living, or did you start just by sharing your story?
We started the business with the intention of making money. There’s a whole other story here, but we sold out of the estate agency and that left us a pile of money and several properties. At that point the recession bit hard, and to cut a long story short, the banks panicked and insisted we reduce our borrowing. We did, but it took all our money!
The net effect was that we needed to find a way to make money very quickly, and so we concentrated on making Lanzarote Information successful, and Mike’s Life became the place where I shared my thoughts and transferred the learning from the travel blog to help others to do the same.
Q: I know you had some pretty tough days near the beginning when there was nothing much doing revenue-wise. Can you tell us something about that?
The above hints at it, but there were some pretty desperate days – you can go back through the archives of Mike’s Life to find out more.
I do remember days when we both worked 16 or 17 hours and ended up earning less than a dollar!
It’s hard, but it’s character forming, and we weren’t stupid enough to think we could create a business without some really hard work. But the level of work surprised us both.
I wouldn’t change it though – we learnt so much about blogging, business and ourselves through that period, and it makes our moderate success all the more satisfying.
Q: Along the way, was there a single tipping point when you thought “yes – now we are getting there” or has the success of your blog much more linear?
There were several tipping points. With Lanzarote Information, it was the day we were first contacted by an airline who wanted to advertise with us. And then a hotel, and then an tour operator. I still don’t know why, but it was like we had suddenly become visible.
Blogging for an income is anything but linear. I was looking at figures for Lanzarote Information the other day. The income on that blog doubled from April to July last year, and did the same again from July to September. It’s like a snowball.
In relation to Mike’s Life, it was when our book Beyond Blogging went on sale. The launch period was crazy – we turned over 5 figures in 24 hours, and we ended up as a trending topic on Twitter, in the Alexa “Hot sites” pages, and it was just a manic period. That was thanks largely to some big hitters picking the story up. But the whole thing was a kind of tipping point for my online presence.
Q: How has your blog developed since day one, which technologies have had the most impact on it?
I’m not the most technical of people, so the evolution of the blog has been pretty gentle. In writing terms, I’ve become a much better blogger than I was in the beginning – and writing for a blog is very different to writing for a newspaper or a book.
Our blogs all use the Drupal platform, and I think Mike’s Life is on it’s third theme. Things I use and love are:
- Livewriter - the best posting tool there is
- Disqus comments – I love moderating in email
- Twitter – I have almost 10,000 followers and enjoy using the service
- Facebook – I ignored it for too long, but I’m now hooked
Q: I would say – from my own experience – that you are one of the top drawer bloggers who is always willing to engage with their readers; is this true, and how much effort do you have to put into developing the relationships that this level of engagement brings?
Thank you – that means a lot. And it’s quite deliberate.
You see, I came into blogging as a very experienced, mature, successful business man. Without wishing to be arrogant, that means I’d spent years talking to senior level people, who would listen to me, answer my questions and be interested in working with me.
So when I first came into blogging, I did what I’d always done – I went and found the successful people and tried to start a dialogue with them. With a few exceptions (notably those I mentioned earlier) I was ignored. And I didn’t like that. I have no problem with people being too busy to invest their time in me, but I do with them not having the courtesy to respond at all.
After that experience, I vowed never to do the same. My promise is that I always answer people who contact me, however they do so. Nine times out of ten I can help them or answer their question within a few minutes. If I can’t, I go back to them and tell them why. But that’s rare, and it’s even rarer that people take advantage of that.
I do have a VA, but she doesn’t handle any of my communications, because as a blogger I see that as a very important part of my job.
Q: Which of those very early online friends are still with you today, commenting on Mike’s Life, following you on Twitter and just generally still in dialog with you?
Great question! And too many have fallen by the wayside over the last year and a half, amongst them some were great writers, like Jamie Harrop and Gordie Rogers.
Q: When did you come into contact with your recent partner on the Beyond Blogging project, Nathan Hangen, and what’s the story behind the recent parting of the ways.
Nathan and I sort of got to know each other via comments on other blogs. He then approached me with his idea to write the Beyond Blogging book, which we did, and which was very exciting.
We parted company last week after about a year of working closely together. There’s no great mystery to it – Nathan is very creative and is a real free thinker. He wants to explore new areas, move away from blogging and get into creating art and software amongst other things. That just didn’t sit well with him being one half of the Beyond Blogging team, which is focused on helping people make money from blogging!
He left the team with my very good wishes and eternal gratitude for the fantastic job he did as my partner.
To illustrate that this isn’t just a “PR” thing – we’ve just both agreed to sit together on a panel at Blog World Expo, and we’re both excited to be meeting each other and sharing a few beers.
Q: Do you have any more plans for more collaborative initiatives, or are there any other new things you are working on?
I’m currently working on the next steps for Beyond Blogging Corporation. I want to create a whole series of books which follow the original format, but take the story down into “niches.”
We already have someone working on one based on travel bloggers, and I have a whole list of others to chase down, like automotive bloggers, personal finance bloggers and so on. How about one from you? Christian bloggers? (JL hmmn….interesting
I’m always open to collaborative ideas, and now that I have a decent network and some reach, I can hopefully help some other people on their way.
Q: You live in Lanzarote in the Canary Islands. What impact has that had on your blogging business; what have the pros and cons been for you?
It’s a wonderful place to live, and possibly the best place in the world to bring up kids.
I think the biggest advantage for me personally as a blogger is that our lifestyle here gives me so much outside of blogging to enjoy. We don’t ever sit around and watch TV – we’re too busy swimming, surfing, diving, running, cycling or socialising. I think having interests outside blogging provide great stimulation for a writer.
There’s only one “con” to living here, and that is it takes ages (and is expensive) to go anywhere. The nearest “hub” airport to us is Madrid, but that’s a two hour flight away. For example, to get to Blog World in Las Vegas, we’ll be travelling the best part of two days in each direction, and getting a total of six flights.
Q: Are there any bloggers coming into the range of your radar who you think the rest of us need to know about?
Goodness me! I’m going to avoid that question, because as someone who works with a lot of new and learning bloggers, I’m far more likely to forget to mention someone who deserves it.
I’ll side step it by saying the people who are really impressing me at the moment are the ones in “unusual” niches. How about vegetable gardening, marathon running or antique clothes? People in these niches and others are applying basic business and blogging principals and creating fabulous incomes for themselves, much faster than I ever did!
Q: I always like to give a little space for free thought at the end of my Questions….anything else to share, Mike?
I’m pretty sure I’ve rattled on enough, but thanks for some stimulating questions, and I’ll leave everyone with a final thought:
The biggest thing I’ve learned as a blogger trying to earn an income is that every time I’ve taken what I thought was a risk, it has paid off for me. It was a risk to create a whole new type of advertising program on Lanzarote Information, it was a risk to create a membership program there, it was a risk to take on another writer – I could go on and on.
But without fail, every time I’ve hesitated about investing a lot of time, and in some cases money, into something, it has always delivered far more than I was expecting.
Massive thanks to Mike for an excellent set of answers – enormously useful to anyone serious about blogging. Thanks too for the image, Mike.