5 Tips for Crafting Creative Blog Interviews: Video with Dyana Valentine

5 Tips for Crafting Creative Blog Interviews: Video with Dyana Valentine

5 Tips for Better Blog Interviews from tara gentile on Vimeo.

Interviews make for great blog fodder, provided your interviews are great.

But because interviews are an easy way to get other people to create content for your site, it’s easy to be lazy. Instead of taking the time to get creative & craft an interview that serves your readers as well as your subject, you can fall back on the “usual questions.”

The usual questions are boring.

Having Twittered about crafting creative blog interviews, Dyana Valentine – who helps self-starters self-finish – volunteered to share her criteria for a great blog interview in a short video with me. I had a blast talking to Dyana who has a glowing, larger than life personality in addition to being fiercely intelligent.

The video is only 5 minutes long so I encourage you to watch but here is the Cliffs Notes version:

  • Creative blog interviews offer something fun.
  • Creative blog interviews discover something new.
  • Creative blog interviews take advantage of a live component: audio, video, or chat.
  • Creative blog interviews have context, answer a larger question.
  • Creative blog interviews are brief.

How can you incorporate a creative interview into your blog content?

I love a photoblog in the morning…

I just love the look of a photoblog. So clean, so fresh, so c-s-s good.

So, since I purchased a new camera – the reason for too many minutes spent away from my real “work” – I decided I wanted to code a photoblog theme. Now, when you might spend time painting, writing in your journal, scrapbooking, or catching up with your favorite TV show, I was sitting in front of the computer coding for fun.

This photoblog theme took just a couple of hours to finish on the outside – thanks to some help from Justin Tadlock, the developer of the Hybrid Theme Framework, on my social sharing functions. And I’m really happy with the results. It’s clean & minimal – like any good photoblog should be. There is a dynamic element to the sidebar, showing thumbnails for the last 6 posts. The logo is done with CSS and I really dig the narrow sidebar & wide content area.

I’ll be releasing this theme as a free download soon. But before I do, I’ll like to get your perspective. What elements are missing? What do you like? What do you dislike? What do you think would be a good addition to this theme? Check out FOTOS here.

Want some other recommendations for photoblogs? Check these out: Sandra Juto | Galaxie Andrews

Leave me your two cents in the comments – and recommend some photoblog faves of your own!

6 Web Design Principles to Get Visitors to Stay Longer

The design of your website goes a long way to getting your readers to stick around longer, browse more pages, and return more often. Readability and accessibility can be key in converting readers to customers. So why do so many sites defy simple principles of solid web design?

They don’t know any better. It’s easy to get carried away with a design concept – or lack thereof – and miss out on simple steps to make your site more accessible.

Take a look at your web space. Are you following these principles?

1. What’s your justification?

When it comes to the main content of your blog or website, center justification doesn’t work. It’s hard to read because your eyes need to find the starting point of the next line at a different place every time. When your text is left-justified or fully justified, your eyes go to the same place on the page with each new line.

Center justified also has a habit of looking a bit sloppy. While on your screen, with your settings, it might look pretty good, you have to remember that other computers & browsers will make the text look different.

2. Give me some space!

White space – the empty space in between elements – is an often ignored principle of web design. We have so much to fit into our pages that elements get cramped and confused. I know this from experience because I just can’t seem to get the white space right on Scoutie Girl.

Take a look at your own site. Is there ample space between your content and your sidebar? How about between the items on your sidebar? Is there sufficient space between your images & your text? Are your headers set apart from your text with white space?

Respect each element on your site by giving it the space it deserves.

3. What’s the link?

Since links are the currency of the internet (wait, I thought that was PayPal?), it stands to reason that you should make them look important. Your links need to be readable, prominent, and in keeping with the style of the rest of your site.

If they don’t look different, people won’t know to click on them. If the color is unreadable, people won’t be able to understand what you’re saying. If they’re not prominent, people will ignore them.

4. Size really does matter.

There seems to be a trend on craft & design blogs towards really tiny text. While you may like how the letters look at that size, if people can’t your text, they’re not going to make a habit of visiting your blog. Text should be at least 12px in size – 13 or 14px is even better. 15 or 16px makes your text very readable.

For comparison, the text on this site is 15px in size. The text on Scoutie Girl is 12px.

In an aging population – even an aging internet population – it’s important to make your text big enough to be ready easily. And as a web professional who spends upwards of 12 hours a day on the computer, it’s good for fairly young eyes too.

5. Tell everyone you’re important.

Headers (like the one above) tell people – and search engines – that text is important. They give our eyes a place to stop, rest, and refocus before diving into another piece of information.

Headers are also a great way to carry the design of your site over into the content. Taking the time to style your headers to match your site and look special gives you a more professional look.

They’ll help people read through to the end of articles too. Score.

6. Color me surprised.

Carefully, carefully, consider the colors on your website. You can use all sorts of color theory guidelines to help you pick the colors that will work best for your branding and business; however, you must also consider what kinds of colors work best on the web.

High contrast is important. If your background color is too close to your text color, it’s not easy to read. But you don’t have to go black & white. Check out Dave Navarro‘s site (or really anything designed by Reese) to get a feel for a softer color palette that’s still easily read.

Also, be careful of colors that burn. You know the ones. Used as a highlight here or there, these colors can make your site pop! Used for text or large images, they make your head spin.

The colors you use on your website & in your text not only communicate your brand but are the primary way readers access your information.

As websites replace phone books (does anyone still use those?), it’s up to you to make your site accessible to any number of potential customers who could be visiting you – ready to buy – for the first time. Ensuring that your site is easy on the eyes helps those customers stick around longer, browse more, and complete the sale.

What would you add to this list?

Want to get the whole scope on how to set up a website – from start to finish – using WordPress? My ecourse – Website Kick Start – is launching soon and I want you to be the first to know. Click here to get the scoop.

time to forget about “real life”

Part of the Secrets to Succeeding with Social Media series by Blacksburg Belle

The phrase “in real life” (IRL) drives me a bit batty. It’s the phrase that social media addicts, bloggers, and otherwise connected folks use to describe the interactions they have outside the internet space.

“In real life” suggest that online life is fake.

“In real life” sets up a barrier between what you do away from the computer (or mobile device) and what you do in front of it.

This is a false dichotomy.

If you’re looking to create influence online and a larger following of engaged “fans,” it’s time to forget about IRL. You only have one life to live – and if you’re building a business, a good part of it will be spent online. Your life is a whole and should be represented that way, as clearly & passionately as possible.

getting really real.

April asked me to write about building a following in social media because I’ve done a fairly good job of it, relatively speaking. I have 4200+ followers on Twitter, almost 1900 fans on Facebook, a growing email list, and a respectable subscribership for both of my blogs. There are a lot of people who choose to connect to me and consume what I have to offer.

Since beginning my online business in January 2009, I have never felt more “real.” Online, I connect with people who truly care about the real me: what I have to offer, what my interests are, who my family is, how much ice I like in my lattes. Online, I have the freedom to be who I really am, without question, without shame. If you don’t like who I really am, you quit following me – no offense, but there will be someone else to take your place.

My life online is just as real as my life offline – if not more so. I don’t hold much back online, I don’t craft strategies for getting more followers, I am who I am. Being real is the key to my success.

So how do you connect with real people in a real way?

  • Talk back. Everyone wants a conversation. Initiate one. Answer questions, respond to ideas.
  • Ask questions. Just as important as providing answers is asking real questions and expecting real answers.
  • Share your mission. Yes, real conversation is great but, at some point, you’ve got to get real about your mission. You wouldn’t have a face to face conversation without telling each other what you’re all about. Attracting people to you requires communicating your message.

Finally, keep you barriers low. The least “real” part of social media is just how easy it is to connect with real (cool) people. Outside the web, I’m a pretty hard person to connect with – I’m so darn shy. Online, we can connect with one keystroke.

If you’re looking to make friends, build a following, and grow your audience, make sure its ridiculously easy to connect with you.

Growing your online network isn’t about tips, tricks, or strategy. It’s about getting real and forgetting the false barriers we put up between our real lives and our online lives. Growing your online network is about being real enough that people want to share you with their friends.

on being bilingual :: and some great press!

on being bilingual :: and some great press!


I’ve been lining up some great media mentions for the last few weeks. Luckily, they all came right as I’m making the final push for my ecourse, Between the Lines. Actually, they all came… today!

Each mention is thoroughly unique from the others, in each, I try to speak the language of the audience I’m writing to. 

All my life, I have desperately wanted to speak another language. I’ve always felt a bit trapped by English and a very self-conscious of the fact that, to travel abroad, I’m relying on others to have learned English. But, it’s just not something I’m good at. Memorizing – oh sure, I can do that with the best of them. But putting vocabulary into sentences and computing what others are saying… well, it throws me for a loop!

But, when it comes to communicating on the net, I consider myself bilingual – probably multilingual – and I think that is one of the great reasons for my success. I think I’m a pretty good web designer but I have a great ability to translate tech language to people in the creative community. Here are the three languages I’m speaking today:

  • Interview on Carmen Torbus’s blog – Here I’m speaking the language of the creative community. My goal is to explain my own inspirational process and bring inspiration to others. I won’t lie, I love this language – it comes from the heart and gets people moving & doing. What’s better than that?
  • Guest post on Problogger: Wow! What a thrill! This blog is literally read by millions of aspiring bloggers around the world. So that’s who I’m talking to — people who are trying to build a business around their own little spot on the net. Not all tech people, but definitely not a touchy-feely audience. My goal was to communicate the benefits of creating an “experiential blog” to people who are used to cut and dry, informative posts. Did I succeed?
  • My (l)earning story on the DailyWorth – Wow – this was a hard one to write. I let DW founder, Amanda Steinberg, know that I had quadrupled my earnings in just a few months and she was dying to publish the story. Yikes! Here my goal was to present my transformation and earning evolution to a group of women who are hungry for empowerment. In fact, this story sits nicely between Carmen’s interview and my Problogger post: it needed to be inspirational but at the same time lay out my story in a succinct, informative way. You be the judge!

If you’re coming from one of these mentions, thank you! This particular blog is written in many different languages, as the mood strikes. Sometimes it’s a family blog, other times I’m writing for entrepreneurs, and still more times I’m stepping on a soapbox – the thread tying it all together is telling the story of my business. I love the variety and I hope you do too!


my story

my story

from formspring:
How did you go from studying religion in college to being Scoutie Girl?

latte art

My personal journey from high school to college, college to full-time work, and full-time work to mom to career, has been a convoluted one. I’m flattered that you’d even ask! But if my story can:

  1. help you to understand me better. or
  2. inspire one person that she can do it too

then it’s completely worth writing.

I didn’t start as a religion major, I applied to Lebanon Valley College as a music education major. To prepare me, I “interned” with my high school band director my senior year of high school. I quickly discovered that I was too big a perfectionist to teach kids music and that I wasn’t talented enough to teach anyone older or more experienced!

So, I entered LVC as a music (trombone) & religion double major.

During my four years, I switched back & forth from one to the other – ultimately graduating with a major in religion, minor (just a few credits shy of major) in music. What I discovered in all of this was a real passion for writing & communicating – oh, and a healthy dose of earth-shaking theology.

My senior year of college, I was completely hooked on religion. I applied to grad school and was accepted on a full-tuition scholarship to Syracuse University to study with one of my theology crushes. Freaking Awesome. I graduated, got a summer job, and waited to move out-of-state and start my life as an academic.

Oh… that summer job… I wanted to be surrounded by my old love: books or my new love: coffee. Luckily for me, I got a job as a barista at bookstore. Sweet! I could buy all the pretentious books I wanted & sip discounted coffee while doing it! I was hooked. A bit too hooked. Oh, and I’m still hooked on the caffeine.

Two weeks before I was to leave for Syracuse, my supervisor quit. Crisis of conscience. I could take a full time job at the place I love & figure out where my life was headed. Or I could follow a path I seemed destined for but offered no clear cut future. Crap. I took the job.

And I worked. hard. and harder. I made my way up the ladder, I took a frighteningly low level of pay to help run a multi-million store, manage human resources, supervise merchandising, and run a coffee shop. The company cut jobs around me and my pay stayed the same even as my responsibilities increased.

When I was 8 months pregnant, my general manager left for a new job. I applied, as I had been trained & groomed for the position. After a killer interview, I had a lot of confidence that I would have a great job & a pay increase to come back to after Lola was born. A week before I gave birth, I got a call from another manager that the position was filled. Not by me.

Obviously, I can’t make any claims that I was discriminated against due to my pregnancy, but I can tell you that that’s what it felt like.

So I had my baby, took my disability leave, stayed out my FMLA, and then quit.

I started out helping my mom with her Etsy business. Learning the ropes of marketing, teaching myself to blog again (I first started blogging in college), and discovering a thriving community of women just like me. In December 2008, my mom gave me the idea for Handmade in PA, my first serious blog.

It thrived! I was on cloud nine knowing that I had created something of value to people. I met Jan, the founder of Scoutie Girl, through Handmade in PA, after discovering through a coincidence of photography, that we lived just two blocks away from each other. We kept in touch, Handmade in PA grew & grew, and all the while Jan’s business grew in a way that made maintaining Scoutie Girl near impossible.

We began discussing the possibility of me taking over the SG side of her business. Slowly, very slowly, the idea took hold. And in July 2009, I purchased Scoutie Girl and took over editorial control.

I still go to the bookstore often. Last time I went, I saw a woman who worked for me & struggled with her dreams, never seeming to make them reality. She asked me what I was doing now: “I write.”

Wow. That’s what I do for a living: I write. I communicate. I call my own shots.

That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

{image credit: dennis wong via flickr}