An interview with blogger Mike Cliffe-Jones

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.

At the beginning of 2010 Mike was listed on Problogger as one of “30 bloggers to watch in 2010″, so it’s been great to be able to catch up, and find out a little more about Mike.

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.

The first bloggers that grabbed my attention were Darren Rowse, Chris Brogan and David Risley.

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:

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.

People from the early days include Kevin Tea, Chris Hinton, Robert Bravery, Nathan Hangen and David Risley.

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.

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Is the Plastiki a sign of the Future?

Did anyone ever wonder if we were at the beginning of the story of humanity instead of falling in line with the seemingly perceived wisdom that we may be much closer to its end?

This was the thought that popped into my head when I read a great piece in The Sunday Times yesterday. I’d love link to it to share it with you, by The Times’ paywall means you’d have to pay for it.

So – with a HT to journalist Jessica Brinton – I’ll at least draw your attention to the parts of the story that fired my imagination.

The premise of the “Young, Loaded and Green” article – with the amazing story of David de Rothschild and the Plastiki Expedition at its core – was that there is a growing movement of young wealthy socially conscious eco entrepreneurs urging us all to journey in the direction of a utopian “Planet 2.0″; a more sustainable and just plain smarter way of living.

(I hope you clicked on the link. “David de Rothschild and the Plastiki Expedition” are NOT a long forgotten prog rock band from the 1970s)

Now, this kind of thing doesn’t always play that well in David’s native UK, where cynicism is routinely practiced at black belt levels, but I find it pretty inspiring.

I’m not entirely naive, but I’ve never been wholly convinced that things are continually getting worse in the world today, and still hold on to the hope that things might actually getting better. I know there’s a lot of depressing news around each day, but I’m an optimist, and am buoyed up when I see people getting out there trying to bring about positive change it whatever way they can.

Jessie cites some examples of such heroes of this paradigm shift, where social/ eco consciousness, good design and technical savvy are thrown in the mix;  so I’ll share a few with you here to check out by yourselves:

The Plastiki Exbibition

David de Rothschild

Terracyle

Janine Benyus

Any piece that drops references to Jamie Oliver, Burning Man, TED and Tom’s Shoes makes it a must read for me!

Here’s hoping the article somehow escapes it’s entirely Planet 1.0 paywall prison

HT to Dwell for the image

Seth Godin – The smart guy the smart guys listen to

Seth Godinthe smart guy the smart guys listen to – has revamped his home page.

Bowl on over…

Not Like Me – new site, new blog, new book

Eric Bryant’s new “Not Like Me” book is getting a real push, and I’m pleased about that, because it’s wonderful!

There’s a new site up, and I’m pleased that the “Not Like Me” crew have republished a review that appeared here on johnnylaird.net

Hands up if you wanna go buy it?

HT to Knut Burmeister for the image

Like Minds Scott Gould interview

It’s only a matter of weeks since I first became aware of Scott Gould, thanks to a Tweet from my online buddy, Barry Furby suggesting we might have some common ground and that it would be good for us to connect. It was the best piece of advice I’ve had in a long time.

Scott and and his fellow Like Minds (which we learn more about in this interview) hasve already – in a very short space of time – become a rich resource of information and inspiration for me in a number of disciplines.

I recently put together a few questions, which Scott has answered with typical clarity and foresight.

The dialog is shared here for you:

Q: Scott, can you tell us a little about you – what makes you the person you are, and what has brought you to the place you are in now?

Jesus. Everything about me spills over from a love for Jesus, and in turn, a genuine love for people. More specifically, it is His Church that has really shaped me and informs who I am.

When I was 16 I was out drinking like every other 16 year old but I remember one Sunday feeling like such a hypocrite, so I stopped drinking. Shortly after, I really felt a draw to be more deeply involved in church, and the message that was not just preached on Sunday but constantly shared from the church leaders was one of empowerment and being relevant and agent of change in this world.

So from 16 till now – 10 years – I have been pushing towards growing spiritually and making that something that affects the world around me for good.
Q:  We’ve learned a little about Scott Gould the man; can you share something about the initiatives you are involved in – from your professional life with your Aaron+Gould Company, to Like Minds, and even your role in your faith community?

Not sure where heard about ‘Scott Gould the man!’ (Jonny Rose I guess?)

I’m involved in 4 main things really. The first is church, where I’m on the pastoral team and oversee our media, comms and executive produce a lot of our events and such. One of the new parts of this is an initiative to raise awareness about Human Trafficking, an issue that is really beginning to tug at my heart.

The second is Aaron+Gould , which is a consultancy providing a somewhat premium level of consultancy to companies in Social Media. What we really do is train and given advice. The luxury of it is that I’ve had the privilege to work with some great thinkers, but more so, use the company to train interns, which is a major passion of mine. I have about 10-15 interns a year who work with me for various time periods and I input into, in the hope that the experience they get can be changer for their career and future.

The third is Like Minds , which is again, all about people – hence ‘like minds’. We have a bi-annual flagship Conference in Exeter and then a range of other activities, most recently being the addition of our co-working club in London. I co-founded Like Minds with Drew Ellis almost a year ago, and it’s amazing to see where we’ve come in that short time. We now have a Twitter reach of our #likeminds hashtag to over 500,000 people.

Then finally there’s my blog and my thought leadership , where I discuss many of the ideas and things that become what I do at the other three.

Recently I was on a list of top 10 thought leaders in Word Of Mouth, so that kind of summarises a lot about me in that I guess!

Q: From my perspective, Like Minds may be the venture that has the broadest reach for you. Is that a fair assessment, and how do you see its potential developing?

Like Minds definitely has the furthest reach – and it’s not a shallow reach at all. We have a deep relationship with so many people in our community which is constantly growing, and we’re developing some really quality long term relationships with our partners.

The idea of Like Minds is to be an ecosystem for the ‘like minds’. This started out as an event, but with our partners we’ve created ways to extend the platform both online and offline. As I said above, most recently this is the co-working club where people can have a year’s membership at the Like Minds venue, complete with gym, free tea and espresso coffee, free bottled water, preferential hotel and meeting room rates, free wifi – all for £300. It’s our way of saying to the people out there innovating but with not much cash out there, “hey, you don’t have to break the bank to get the right space to make your ideas happen.”

For the Like Minds Conference in October this year (28/29/30), we’re also pulling out some new things that will really wow people. Two of those are the introduction of “#LikeMovies” and “#LikeMusic” festivals, which are a social redefining of what have become broadcast events.

Q: You have a number of things to keep in some sort of balance there. How do you manage that, and do you have any advice for others who are living in a state of multiplicity?

Ha! Hard work, a strong team, and using the Getting Things Done system.

To be honest, I’m always looking to cut things out and focus more. Robin Dickinson taught me that you have to have a strong ‘NO’ in order to have a powerful ‘YES’. Too many of us say ‘yes’ to so much that our ‘yes’ looses power. So the trick is to start saying ‘no’ to a lot more.

I don’t mean saying ‘no’ to people, as in, “I won’t help you, I won’t advise you, I won’t be there for you” – I mean it as saying ‘no’ to all the little things that distract us, the internet whims and fads, and pouring out time into unproductive ventures or “I could do this” projects that don’t have real bottom-line purpose behind them.

If you’re not balanced, then you’re not in harmony. It also takes having good mentors and peers who can hold the mirror up to you so you can see what things are unharmonious.

Q: Has your faith – which you are very upfront about without with being preachy – given you any particular challenges as you navigate all of the projects you are involved in?

Not that I can think of. There’s no ‘questionable’ work that I’m faced with, and everything I do all day is about serving people. Jesus said the greatest among us is the one that serves, so I find myself in a great position!

The challenge that I do face with my faith is that I constantly have people privately saying to me “you know, I’m a Christian too”, and me wondering why they can’t say that on their profile and on their blog and actually talk about it? It seems that there’s a lot of talk about brands being transparent and authentic, but many of the people saying it not actually being it themselves, or they are oppressing those who are open and transparent about their faith. It’s a funny world we live in.

I must also say that I consider it is my faith that has put me in front of the opportunities that I have.

Q: Can I ask who you consider to be your peers, and the major influencers in this fast shifting world we’re exploring?

My peers and influencers? They are everyone who has commented on my blog – seriously. Every single person who I consider a partner and peer who is labouring with me, or a influencer who is profoundly affecting me has at one time or another commented on my blog. That’s why I love social media.

Social Media means I know Joe Pine who co-authored Experience Economy and Authenticity – and he comments on my frameworks! His books show you the future – you won’t be the same after reading them

My blog is where I met Robin Dickinson who has been one of the greatest forces in my life this last year. Robin has the best business development blog there is, period.

It means Chris Brogan stops by every now and then and pitches his thoughts. His blog has great content, especially if you can capture the concepts that he shares. He also taught me to value the person in front of me.

As far as event management goes, Jeff Hurt and Dave Lutz have helped me put understanding to my gut instinct about how events should be run in the first place – as participatory events, not events that you just attend. They continually comment and encourage me.

On my blog Olivier Blanchard, Trey Pennington, Rosa Garriga, Sy Taylor, Molly Flatt, Sam Ford, Joanne Jacobs, Jonny Rose, Andrew Davies, Ed Barrow, Kris Colvin, James Poulter, Amber Naslund, Annie Syed, Stephanie Rudat, Michael Meyers, and of course Drew Ellis – they all comment regularly. (And there’s more I haven’t mentioned who’ll no doubt kill me for my crimes! Sorry!)
Q: Are there any companies coming over the horizon whose work you admire?

I’m a big fan of 1000heads who’ve just celebrated their 10th year in the Word Of Mouth business. With regards to newer companies and startups, I like the work that Cofaccio are doing, which is a goodwill search engine where you can find people to help. Then there’s Childs i Foundation in Uganda that are redefining, in my opinion, how social giving will be understood in years to come.

Also the work that Idio are doing is amazing. They understand the core of curation and semantics and have a platform that is the best in the world at delivering content accordingly. They work with some Unilever brands and the broadsheet newspapers. They are building the deploying the technology that will define tomorrow.

Q: What are your most important tools in your work life?

The Getting Thing Done (GTD) system helps me manage my tasks, projects and teams on a daily basis. Practically the two tools I use are Evernote and Remember the Milk, as well as my calendar, email, etc. They are all such a part of my life that I don’t’ really notice them.

Then there’s my blog. There’s so much interaction that goes on in the comments, that it is where I meet people and form ideas. Many people wouldn’t see it as a tool, but to me it most certainly is.

Things like Dropbox, Google Docs, Google Wave, Post Rank and so on make up the other things that I’m using all day everyday. They especially help because they take away friction. Dropbox means anyone can access a shared folder (so no more ‘email a file across’)

Q: How does do you see the future panning out for Scott Gould?

As far as my plans go, I’m focussing on building up the 4 areas and seeing them grow in width, breadth and depth. The aim for me is to take on more executive roles as my various teams grow, so that I am doing less admin and spending more time fostering connections with people and making things happen that way.

I’m also booking up my speaker engagements for next year already too. I really distain the whole ‘solopreneur social media consultant with a personal brand and weird title’ thing, so speaking for me isn’t just another rung on a ladder. I’ve been public speaking (mostly in church) for 10 years, and anyone doing it that long understands it’s not about impressing people; it’s about investing in people. Getting the chance to lead a group of people for however long it is means you need to impart real value that they can use, not just say things that stroke your ego because you want everyone to know how smart you think you are.

The next year will see me saying things like that with more confidence, leading bigger teams and innovating new ways to help people. And at the centre of it all is a drive for people to make peace with Jesus – and providing all that other help and value adding along the way.
Q: OK. Free space…anything else to say?

So Johnny – tell me about you :-)

My response:

…..That….(pause to remove shades a la CSI Miami’s Horatio Caine)…will have to be another post entirely.

A good place to start, though is “Who Am I?”

HT to Scott for the pic

21 Years

It’s a long time. It’s a good time.

My most loved brother & sister (in laws) celebrate 21 years of marriage today, and I celebrate with them.

I celebrate because they are outstanding example of solid marriage

I celebrate because they both are dynamic and inspirational individuals

I celebrate because they have so graciously embraced me as a brother

I celebrate because we have so many wonderful shared memories

I celebrate because we laugh, live and share high hopes for our kids…together, even though we live on opposite sides of the Atlantic

God bless you, Ev and Don

Q&A Interviews?

A little while back I kicked off a series of guest posts here on johnnylaird.net with a little vid to get things moving.

I’ve had some great posts from some excellent guests, and that goes on. There’s always an opportunity to be a guest here, and I’d be glad to hear from more of you. Some posts are still being prepared, and I’m excited by all of the people who’ve committed to write. There are some real goodies on the way, believe me!

However, you may not want to write a piece from scratch – but you’d still like to join in the conversation, or would like to say something but are short of time.

If that’s the case, how about I fire your over some Questions for you to you respond to here as an interview?

Hit me with a Tweet or comment, and I’d be glad to quickly pull something together for you.

There are already a few very cool interviews coming together, appearing here soon.

Here is the news…via my Twitterfeed and paper.li

I’ve been noodling around with this funky little tool from the guys from Small Rivers.

They’ve built a “newspaper” from the Tweets of the people I follow, and it’s pretty fascinating…to me, at least!

Go to paper.li to make your own newspaper

This is probably a good place to point out I have a disclaimer page on my blog….just in case anyone I follow says something outrageous that I don’t support or agree with!

Iain Archer at Moot

The good people at Moot are hosting what promises to be an excellent Iain Archer gig at the end of the month.

I have to check my diary to see if I can make it.

I suggest you do the same!

More on Moot at johnnylaird.net

johnnylaird.net on theMediaNet

Delighted the lovely people at theMediaNet have published a little piece of mine today.

A lot of it has already appeared in one form or another here on this blog, but it’s been good for me to revisit where I was, and where I’m headed.

Much love – again – to all of you who have stayed close to me on this journey…whether you’ve been there since the beginning or a new and valued friend.

If you’re a Jesus follower, and involved in the media in any way, theMediaNet is well worth exploring

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