Behind the Blog with Leah Kalamakis

Behind the Blog with Leah Kalamakis

Behind the Blog with Leah Kalamakis

A few months ago (in May actually), shortly after I launched my blog, I decided to start a series called Behind the Blog, profiling and interviewing various bloggers that inspire me. I started with Lauren Hooker of Elle and Company – you can read her interview here. I was hoping to profile someone once a month, but life and busy things got in the way and I haven’t touched the series again since then.

BUT, with excitement I am back, and hoping again to start up and profile someone once a month. This month’s edition features Leah Kalamakis of The Freelance To Freedom Project. I first met (e-met) Leah a few months ago when I joined her Freelance to Freedom Project Facebook group. It’s such an amazing resource and community for bloggers, entrepreneurs, and freelancers of every level, and I’ve gained so much over the past few months by being a part of it.

The Freelance to Freedom Project was started in October of 2013 by Leah Kalamakis, a web designer and entrepreneur living in New York City. What started as a blog has now evolved into an incredible resource and community for entrepreneurs wanting to become freelancers. Leah freelances as a web designer and developer by day, and encourages others to make the leap to full time freelancing. She preaches the benefits of being your own boss, setting your hours, and finally feeling free within your career. Reading some of what Leah has written on freelancing is a huge part of what made me decide to take my freelance design work full time, and I’ve loved every second of it.

Here are a few fun facts so that you can get to know Leah better, followed by her answers to some key questions that I always wonder about people when reading their blogs and interacting with their online personnas. Enjoy!

Coffee or tea: Coffee
Cats or dogs: neither (I’m allergic)
WordPress or blogger: WordPress!
Summer or Winter: Both, that’s why I love NYC :)
Pen or keyboard: Keyboard
Sweet or savoury: Savory (buttered popcorn!)
Morning or night: Night
Serif or sans: Sans
Indoors or out: Indoors
Apple or Android: Apple

Behind the Blog with Leah Kalamakis

Q

What inspired you to start your blog?
What obstacles did you face in the beginning?

A

I used to work in a boring corporate job. I loved who I worked with and I enjoyed the work for a while but over time I realized I was a hamster in a wheel, doing the same thing day-in and day-out, making money for someone else. I knew I could make more money and have more freedom working for myself. I lived in France at the time and hated that I only had a few weeks a year that I was able to go home and visit family. So I spent my nights and weekends learning new things, in particular web design, and started freelancing. I was quickly making more from my side-hustle than my day job and realized there was no security in that regular paycheck regardless, so it was time to quit! After realizing how easy it was to learn something new (without a $100,000 tuition), get clients on my own, and reach income levels it would take years to reach staying in my corporate job, I wanted to help people do the same.

The best thing I could think of to do so was starting a blog and community and sharing my experiences along the way.

At first the hardest part was getting people to actually come to the blog! I feel quite lucky that it “took off” pretty fast, meaning I grew my subscribers and traffic enough to motivate me to keep going and grow even further. After about 6 months it was a snowball effect and took on a growth path of it’s own. The biggest struggle I think is getting that momentum in the beginning (by focusing on the right things) in order to have the motivation to not give up.

Q

How did you come up with your blog name?
What’s the meaning behind it?

A

I believe the #1 benefit of freelancing is freedom. The definition of freedom is different for everyone. It can be freedom of time (being able to choose the hours you work in a day or given week), freedom of choice (choosing what kind of projects you work on and clients you work with), freedom of location (not being stuck in one place because that’s where your employer is), etc. So I knew the word freedom was important to me.

The name has two meanings for me: Finding freedom through freelancing (when you start freelancing, you’re getting closer to your definition of freedom), or finding freedom beyond freelancing (by scaling beyond one-on-one work for example).

I knew I wanted to grow this blog – beyond on a blog. I wanted it to be a community with shared goals and dreams and not just about me. So although I already have my business under my name, I knew it had to be a more meaningful, general name using the word project to invoke that community feel.

Q

What is your daily blogging routine and how do you stay productive?
How many hours a week do you spend on your blog?

A

For the first 18 months it was just me blogging (with an occasional guest post) and I would publish once a week. I would keep a running list of topic ideas and when the inspiration would strike, I’d batch write a few posts. I believe the advice that you should promote more rather than publish more. So I didn’t feel the need to publish more than one post a week in order to grow. I probably spent 5-6 hours a week on the blog, even for just one post.

This year however I realized I wanted to be able to share more topics on the blog, topics in which others are better experts than me. I wanted to feature more people from my community and knew they had a lot of wisdom to share. So I’ve recently transitioned to a more multi-author style blog. I have Featured Writers and one-off guest posters.

So with that, I’m personally writing a lot less (when the inspiration strikes and I have something interesting I really want to share). My blog routine has become more about outreach and management. I have a couple virtual assistants that help with the management. And boy, there is a lot more work than one might realize. Reaching out to writers, reviewing submitted posts, creating images, formatting posts, getting them into the calendar, creating social posts for them.

Although I’m slowly outsourcing more and more of this, I probably spend about 10 hours a week making sure everything is getting taken care of.

I stay productive by blocking out certain hours per day to take care of blog tasks, and by finally handing stuff off to others so I can focus on creating products and my web design clients. There are so many small tasks as part of maintaining a blog, and there are so many talented people that can do them even with a small budget. Like blog post images for example, this is something you can find someone so easily (and cheaply) to do for you on a website like Upwork.

Q

Are you the only one who works on your blog or do you have help?
If yes, how long were you working alone before you brought on help?

A

As I mentioned above, I now have help! I have someone to help with sending emails to guest writers, someone to help with post editing and formatting and I plan on bringing someone on to help optimize each post for SEO. Even when I was still the only one blogging on the site, I started having my virtual assistant help out with blog tasks about a year into having it.

Q

Was there a blog or blogger you looked up to when starting out?
How did they inspire you and your blog/brand?

A

Oh this is a great question! There are a ton. Off the top of my head I was probably really inspired by people like Corbatt Barr back when he had Think Traffic. He both inspired me in the freelancing sense, and also the benefits of starting a blog and community.

Q

Are there any blogs you read regularly?
Why do you like them?

A

To be honest, there isn’t a specific blog I read religiously. I’m more of a pop-in-and-out girl. I’m on a lot of newsletter lists and have them all rolled up into a daily digest with Unroll.me. When it’s time to wind down at the end of the day or when I need to procrastinate, I’ll pop in and see what headlines grab my eye (proves the importance of good headlines!). Some that I find myself checking out more often than not: The Sparkline (for actionable business advice), Denise’s Lucky Bitch (for money motivation), my good friend and business partner Heather Thorkelson – Republic of Freedom and Makeness Media (for their straight-talk no B.S. motivation).

Q

What do you wish someone had told you on your first day of blogging?
What advice would you give someone else on their first day?

A

Your blog will evolve, your interests will change, you will lack motivation to write. Make sure your topic is something you already have a million and one ideas about and it’s something you feel strongly about so you will have more motivation to keep going with it. It takes time to build an audience and most importantly build trust with that audience. Don’t start a blog to make money or if your goal is to make money from it, know that it won’t happen quickly. If you try to make it happen quickly, you’ll grow slower because people need to learn to love and trust you before wanting to buy from you.

Q

If you had $1000 to start from scratch today what would you spend the money on?
What have you spent money on that wasn’t worth the investment?

A

A business/blog coach for sure. Someone who has done what you’ve done and knows how to do it. It’s great for accountability, for new ideas, and to have someone other than your husband or cat to get feedback from. I also would spend it on tools. Having the right domain name and professional hosting (not blogger or WordPress.com), having a good newsletter program and paying extra for things like autoresponder capability if necessary, Lead Pages to optimize my optin forms and other similar tools that help you look more professional and grow faster.

The only thing I’ve spent money on that I shouldn’t have at the time was an ecourse. Shiny Object Syndrome can be hard to resist and there are many great courses out there that do a great job of making us feel like we have to have it. The time I regretted it was not because the course wasn’t good. It’s because I was using it as a distraction from actually doing the work that needed to get done. I convinced myself on a whim, “oooh- I want to start doing video, I should take a course on doing video”. That was not the thing that was going to help me grow my business the most at the moment and as soon as I figured out what I needed to be working on, I never looked at the course.

Q

What’s the one thing you’ve done that has increased your traffic the most?
What have you wasted time on with the least reward?

A

The one thing that has increased my traffic the most is putting a lot of effort into growing my email list. The more subscribers I have, the more people I remind to come back to my website every week, and the more they share my content with others. The main areas I focused on:

– Putting a lot of time into creating my Freelancer’s Toolkit & Community (which are the freebies I give away when people sign up). Making sure it was interesting and helpful enough for people to want to sign up and stay signed up.

– Optimizing my website to get people to sign up by getting optin forms in lots of strategic places.

Q

When did you realize your blog was a success?
What was the turning point?

A

My blog was a success for me when I started getting emails from people just wanting to say thank you. Knowing that people are actually reading, and getting help because FTFP exists makes all the hard work and investment worth it. I also felt like it was a success for me financially when I released my first product and had more signups that I could ever hope for. That’s when I knew that taking the time to grow the audience, grow the FB community and deliver free value again and again, resulted in the trust that helped me successfully sell a product.

I want to say a huge thank you to Leah, not only for participating in my series but for inspiring me to take the leap to full time freelance. It’s support and encouragement like her’s that makes it possible for so many people to be following their dreams. If you haven’t already, I encourage you to take a look at The Freelance to Freedom Project website and join the Facebook group to reap the full benefits of all of Leah’s wisdom!

What other questions would you like to see posed on Behind the Blog?

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