Rachel Spencer has followed a similar trajectory to ourselves at Altrincham HQ
Starting off as a Journalist around 20 years ago she jumped to the other side and started helping businesses and individuals tell their story
Niche-ing down on her passion for pets she launched a blog entitled the Paw Post which was named one of media expert Vuelio’s Top 10 Pet Blogs in 2017, 2018, 2019 and 2020.
Rachel often mentions that it was our blogging course many years ago that started her passion and career shift so we thought we were long overdue a catch up to tell her story and what she’s learnt about blogging over the years
We go seriously indepth so notepad and pens out now …
Q: Your career as a journalist covered everything from The Warrington Guardian to the Daily Sport and News Of The World. Was it always your dream to be a journalist as a teenager? And in the early days of the shockingly slow dial up internet how did journalism differ 20 years ago?
When I was at school and Uni I wanted to be a primary school teacher and did loads of work experience and absolutely loved it.
I went to the University of Northumbria at Newcastle and studied History and English and planned to do a PGCE and become a teacher.
But after Uni I decided I didn’t want to teach (my dad was not impressed!) and had a year working in a call centre to try to work out what I wanted to do.
I’d read Riders by Jilly Cooper and there was a character in there called Janey who was a journalist and she made it sound like good fun, so I decided on journalism.
I did the NCTJ pre-entry course at Liverpool Community College – this is where you learn about local government, central government and law and started on the Widnes World in 1999.
We had one computer in the office with the internet on and would take turns to use it!
One of my jobs was to upload the main stories in the newspaper online after the printed version was out so completely different to what journalism is like now. (I feel so old!)
Q: When I started writing in 1999 I called myself a journalist and so did those that hired me as a freelancer. Blogging is “cool” now, but I never seem to remember the word blogger even being mentioned until years later. Do you see any differences between a journalist or a blogger?
I don’t think blogging is the same as journalism.
Journalists are trained in the law and report the facts, speak to experts and cover news. They create content for other publishers such as newspapers, magazines, TV or radio.
Bloggers create content for their own platform, so they are the publisher. This means they’re free to cover whatever they choose and can be more agile and have more freedom to write about whatever they like however they like.
Q: Journalism in 2000. Blogging in 2020. What is the one thing that remains the same?
For me it’s getting great stories about inspiring people that other read, enjoy and want to share.
I cover all kinds of things on my blog, but the stories about ordinary people doing extraordinary things are the ones I enjoy the most and that are the most popular.
One story that springs to mind is about a vet, Janey Lowes who left her life in Newcastle to set up an animal hospital in Sri Lanka.
Another is Emma Billington from Dogs4Rescue who is just amazing and when I went to interview her she moved me to tears.
Q: Like many you took the leap from journalism to PR. How was it being on the other side of the fence. Pitching rather than writing?
I did a bit of pitching and did PR for a few pet brands and I have to be honest, it wasn’t for me.
I still do a lot of journalism but what I do with my clients is coach them on what journalists want.
I do write press releases for people but I don’t distribute them. They do the pitching themselves and I give them all the tools they need to set themselves up for success.
Q: My memory at times is shocking. Do you want to tell our readers who we 1st met as I can’t remember if it was through social media and then the blogging course or the blogging course 1st and then social. Take us down memory lane
Yes, so it was back in 2016 and I did the Talk of Manchester Facebook and Twitter course first, and really enjoyed that.
I was already using Facebook and Twitter but wanted to understand them more.
Next, I booked on for the Blogging and Instagram course and it gave me the kick up the bum to start blogging because you made it sound easy, and explained how it could help my business. I still have the notes by the way!
Q: You’ve always said that our blogging course changed your life. Do you want to explain briefly how?
OK, so for years, I had known that it would be a good idea for me to blog and share advice on how to get media coverage, what makes a story, how to write a press release.
I worked with an SEO company, 360 Spin (https://www.360spin.com/) and Malcolm was always saying to me that I needed to blog.
But I would always cringe thinking about writing about myself – I was so used to writing about other people.
Here is one of them – it’s so rubbish! https://rachelspencerwrites.com/are-you-looking-for-help-with-your-website-copy/
I did a few blogs but never shared them much, then about a year or so later I was writing more and more stories about pets, but some of them were only making very small articles.
I felt like there was more to the stories and I wanted to get them out there. So I had the idea to start a pet blog where I had my own platform and I could write about whatever I liked.
Q: Your 1st blog you ever published. How many readers did it get and how many blogs did it take until you were like “Oh, people care about what I write”. Talk us through those early days of blogging
I started with ten posts when I launched in May 2017 because I’d done a lot of reading to prepare and I didn’t want to launch with just one.
Then, you kind of sit there and hope people will find it and read it. I shared it on my social media channels and it began to build momentum.
The first ‘live’ one was about my old dog Daisy and I doing the Muddy Dog Challenge for Battersea Dogs Home.
I tried lots of different things in those first few months to see what people liked. But at the start it wasn’t anything amazing. I probably got about 100-500 readers a month.
My target for total monthly views for the first year was 500 a month.
Then, in September 2017, I did a post to help a contact who ran a rescue and was in a desperate situation because her landlord had sold the land her rescue was on.
She needed to find a new home and fast – so I did an appeal. It raised £2000 and her story was picked up by newspapers and she even went on This Morning.
That’s when I thought ‘OMG I can actually do something with this blog.’
That post brings in thousands of visits each month still and because it ranks on page 1 of Google for ‘Rehome English Bull Terriers’ it helps Liz re home dogs.
So it’s just amazing for my little corner of the internet to be helping dogs find forever homes.
Q: “How long should my blog be?” is a question we’re always asked. So in your case – Short or long blogs? And why?
Ah, the more detail you can put in the better, but it really does depend.
I would say ‘what it makes,’ which you’ll remember from your journalist days Alex!
If you want to rank really high for something you have to spend time on it and go into a lot of detail.
Think of all the questions your ideal reader/client would ask around a topic and answer them.
I love writing about dog friendly travel for instance, so I’m really thorough when I visit a place and try to think of all the bases to cover.
This review of Robin Hood’s Bay for example is at the top in the search terms and it’s about 2000 words long. I add to it and update it regularly.
If you want to get found, you have to do the work.
Q: One of the objections we always hear is “I don’t have time for blogging”. I never lie and always say it does take time to make blogging work. It’s a long time strategy. How long does it take you to write, edit, source images etc for a blog. For someone who has never blogged before, what is your blogging process?
You know something, it varies. If I have an idea in my head, sometimes I can sit down and write it in under an hour.
Other times, you do loads of research and it can take ages, days!
Now I have my pet blog which is for fun, but I blog for business because the pet blog led to me offering consultancy services for pet brands.
With this, I need people to find me for my keywords which are pet business press release, pet business publicity, or pet business blogging.
For the first year, I spent every week creating content around those topics and yes, it took ages, but it was worth it because now I rank for those terms.
I’ve written a book, created courses, spoken at events, been on podcasts and now have my own podcast which has enabled me to start a paid membership.
So it’s been a slog but it’s been worth it. It’s a long game.
Q: I mentioned numbers of readers before. What do you consider blogging success and which KPI’s do you measure?
I track my DA which is Domain Authority, visits, time on page, social media followers and e mail list subscribers every month and you want to see the numbers moving up.
I check my analytics every day (I know I am really sad) and I’ve also been in the Top 10 UK Pet Blogs for the last four years and have moved up each year so that’s a KPI too.
Q: I want to ask this as a separate question. How much time do you spend distributing and marketing your blog? And how important is the activity after you click publish?
Not as much as I should to be totally honest. I sometimes do a post and run out of steam and I know I shouldn’t do this.
I usually share each post on each platform at least once in the week it’s out. This takes around 1-2 hours – the post usually takes about half a day.
But I am good at re-sharing posts when it’s relevant.
For example, when one of the dog friendly properties won an award I re shared, and I do put each post out on relevant dates, awareness days and so on.
Q: You launched a blog called The Paw Post. Could you tell our readers why you specialised in pet blogging?
Yes, so when I got my first dog of my own, Daisy, in 2009, she became my world.
I was working as a freelance journalist but because I had her, I didn’t want to go out on jobs and be stuck out of the house all day. (She did go to daycare I must add!)
So I started writing more and more about pets and the pet industry as a journalist, covering stories about influencers, dog friendly places, trends like pet tech, so things like testing activity trackers and cameras.
Pretty much all my stories became about pets – and they still are.
But some I wasn’t able to place, or I felt there was more of a story to tell, so I decided it was best to have my own platform.
Q: Do you feel having a niche has helped your blogging and career?
Yes, so so much. And I love what I do. I get so excited writing about a posh cattery or someone who makes clothes for tortoises so my interviewees love it!
And the more passionate you are about a story, the easier it is to sell it to someone. I have some fantastic editors and colleagues who know me as the pet lady or dog lady.
Being niche has helped my career so much. I had a message on LinkedIn once saying ‘I’ve been told you’re the Queen of Dogs,’ and I was really chuffed!
Q: Through blogging about pets you offered PR and coaching services for pet related businesses. Talk us through monetising a passion because people are always told to “follow your passion”
This was a gradual process. I started the blog and I had pet business owners ask about how to get media coverage.
So I wrote a short book, Publicity Tips for Pet Businesses which I self published in September 2018.
Then I set up a Facebook group for people who had bought the book so they could stay in touch and had a website built for the book to help me promote it and the group.
Then (you know where this is going) I added a blog, sharing more tips that expanded on what was in the book.
Next I created a blogging course because people said blogging was something they wanted to do but didn’t know how to get started.
The next stage was a Publicity course which I launched for the first time in September 2019, a year after doing the book.
After COVID-19, I realised people needed ongoing support so I turned the course into a monthly membership where people pay an amount each month, have access to the course and support from myself.
The response has been really good and I absolutely love what I do!
Q: What’s your most enjoyable client / story you’ve worked on?
Ah, so many, it’s hard to say, but one that stays in my mind is Kim O’Donnell, a former nurse who set up a pet accessory business.
When Boris Johnson’s fiancé Carrie Symonds adopted rescue puppy Dilyn from Friends Of Animals in Wales, Kim thought she would send him a present.
It was in the run up to Christmas so she sent a lead, collar and bandana made in a lovely blue Christmas pudding fabric to 10 Downing Street.
Dilyn wore it almost every day on the Election campaign including the day the Conservatives won.
He’s wearing it in the photo where Boris picked up his dog and cuddled him on the steps of Downing Street.
The day after the election, I went in the shop and saw it on nearly every front page and Kim did lots of interviews on how a former nurse was dressing the PM’s dog. It was bonkers!
Kim is such a lovely lady. She started the course and said she was sat there wondering how on earth to get people to her website. Now she has clients all over the world!
Q: What is the biggest mistake businesses make in marketing themselves?
Thinking they have to be ‘professional’ and serious and businesslike – I’ve made this mistake myself.
I think times have changed and it’s ok to show your personality. You’re not going to be everyone’s cup of tea and that’s ok.
Also, journalists want stories, they don’t want to write about your business and aren’t there to promote it.
You have to think of the reader and give something of value – similar to what you teach on social media – we all love a story and don’t want to be sold to.
Q: Where can we find out more about what you do?
I have a podcast, Publicity for Pet Businesses which you can find where you listen to your podcasts, and my website is www.publicityforpetbusinesses.co.uk.
My pet blog is www.thepawpost.co.uk and I’m on social media @rachelspenceruk or if you want to follow my pet account it’s @thepawpostuk.
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Alex McCann is owner of Altrincham HQ – a social media management and training company based in Altrincham, Cheshire that has worked with 100s of local business developing their social media strategy. Alex has 400+ LinkedIn testimonials and is ranked number 1 for Social Media Marketing in the UK via independent customer reviews on Freeindex.