I love hearing about small businesses that have been formed from hobbies recorded on a blog. There seem to be more and more industrious people who start off by writing about their hobby in a blog and once they garner some good traffic, they start to see how it can become a business.
Hunters Lodge provides self sufficiency courses in poultry keeping as well as other small farm animals. Having read Fiona Dillon’s blog and now also her columns in a national magazine, and listening to her on local radio shows about how effective a blog can be in marketing your business, I decided to interview her.
Fiona, can you describe your business for us please?
My business is all about growing and rearing food in your garden. I run classes here at Hunters Lodge during the Summer. I am a freelance writer, am hired for self-sufficiency consultancy work and I give talks to groups, garden centres and pet stores.
Fiona, I keep seeing your lovely picture on various magazines and hearing your dulcet tones on local radio – how did these opportunities come about because of your blog?
One word – chickens! Both these opportunities were created because of my poultry-keeping experience. Let me explain…not long into my blogging career, I got a call from the Farmers Journal asking could they feature me in Irish Country Living (the lifestyle supplement in the Farmers Journal). You can imagine my surprise (and delight) to hear that the editor was a fan of my blog! I went from being featured in Irish Country Living to being a feature writer in Irish Country Magazine. KCLR96fm also found my blog and I got a call to answer a question on poultry-keeping on air, over the phone. Now I have a regular slot on The Sue Nunn Show, talking about all aspects of life at Hunters Lodge.
When you started your blog was it to record your sustainable way of living or did you start it as a business blog?
For many years I was without doubt, the quintessential career girl. I worked insane hours and had four children so life was hectic to say the least. In January 2009 I got very ill and the future looked like a blur of consultants and medication. After some soul-searching, the business suits were swapped for wellies and within three months of being diagnosed with Graves Disease, I was in remission and medication free.
Losing the stress of life in the corporate world meant that I went from hurtling towards a thyroid storm to being the picture of health. As my new life unfolded, my friends were intrigued with my goal to produce dinners for my family solely from garden produce. So my blog started for my friends and family.
I see your daughter Ruth is being featured on television – did this come about as an indirect use of your blog too?
Yes! I got a call from Buckshee TV asking would I know of any 8 or 9 years that might have attended my Keeping Chickens class. They were looking for someone of that age to present an RTE programme about chickens. So you would think that immediately I said “yes, my daughter is 9 years old and a poultry-keeper” but initially I didn’t even think of her! In my head I was going through all the youngsters that had attended my classes with their parents and then it dawned on me – Ruth was exactly what they were looking for.
Over the years I had learned the hard way that an advertising budget can become a bottomless pit very easily, often with negligible results. The decision to go from simply being an online diary to a small business was made on the premise that the transition would be as stress free as possible. My health was my priority, and there would be no major advertising campaigns or promotions, no loans, no overdrafts. Instead, I used Facebook and Twitter to convey my message. A combination of my blog, Facebook and Twitter has allowed me to run a stress-free, successful small business.
Do you know which blog post has brought you the most business?
Actually no. I think it’s a combination of a lot of posts. There are so many aspects to this lifestyle and I think it’s a combination of these that appeal to people. So I have readers that follow some or all aspects of what I do e.g chickens & baking, pigs & veg growing or indeed, all aspects.
For me, social media is THE most cost-effective way for me to promote my business. People learn to trust you and engage with you and these social media relationships are the cornerstone of my business.
Well I don’t consider myself to be in the least bit “techie” but I love to write and share all ups and downs of life at Hunters Lodge. I highly recommend blogging, but you must be committed. Readers don’t want to visit my blog to find that my last post was weeks ago. I always remind myself of the texts from my friends before I started blogging that said “what are you doing now”?
Social media allows me to keep my readers updated with what I am doing now. It can be time consuming but consistency is the key. Having said that, don’t ever blog just for the sake of it. Readers aren’t stupid and if you are not passionate when you write, it will be immediately evident. But if like me, you love to write, commitment will be easy…
Do check out Fiona’s blog at Hunters Lodge Living – living proof that a blog can become a very successful, small and thriving business.