Blogging was a natural fit for me. I always loved writing and even taught middle school English for 17 years. One of the things I did as a teacher was encourage my students to write for a real audience. I required them to research a magazine to submit their writing to, so this involved finding the submission editor and physical mailing address. (Yes, this was well before email was standard business practice!)
Several students got published each year and some even got paid for their writing, but most did not. This was when editors and publishers were the gatekeepers of public voices, so when “blogging” gave a chance for anyone to publicly publish their writing, it was a no brainer for both my students and me.
Central Florida Top 5
My first blog was the Central Florida Top 5, which was an event-oriented blog and one of the first of its kind in Orlando, along with The Daily City and the Pulse of Central Florida. It was named “Best Neighborhood Blog” by the Orlando Sentinel in 2010 and as a result I was asked to lots of local events and worked with several brands as an influencer back when brands were first exploring out how to work with influencers.
I remember Chevrolet’s “Girls on the Go” program where I was given a new Chevy each month and asked to write about my adventures and make some videos of the experience. And, while Chevy's marketing team was quite excited about the program, the dealers couldn’t quite grasp the idea of working with an influencer and didn’t understand what exactly we were doing on our “blogs” and videos!
Since I was a newish blogger, I wanted to attend a blogger conference. I knew there was a ton I could learn from bigger and better bloggers, but there was a problem -- there were no blogging conferences in this area of the country, and who could take a few days off from work? I mean, I had a full time job as a classroom teacher!
Since I couldn't afford to buy a plane ticket or get a hotel room or pay a few hundred dollars for a conference ticket, I decided to do the next best thing... create a conference right here in Florida: FLBlogcon.
Armed with this idea, I spent months going around to the biggest and or best bloggers I knew, and told them my idea to have a conference right here and begged them to come share their blog secrets and best practices. I talked with bloggers like Rachelle Lucas of @traveblggr and The Travel Bite and Jeanette Johnson of J's Everyday Fashion. We also had Missy Ward of Affiliate Marketing and Meghan Anderson-Russell of Meals and Miles.
Mark Baratelli of The Daily City, Susan Lomax (then with Visit Florida) and Gustavo Hernando of Dafoodie are just a few more of the many incredible people that donated their time and shared their expertise at that very first conference. (And it all happened in the little elementary school gym where I was teaching at the time! Yep, it was just me and the maintenance man setting up the tables and chairs!)
And the cherry on the top was two-time Emmy winning journalist and blogger Marc Middleton of Growing Bolder, who agreed to be the opening keynote.
Even before we sold out that first year (and almost every year since), people were already saying things like, "When you get bigger, you can fly in some of the top bloggers and really do a great conference then!”
Um-- what? We pride ourselves on the fact that Florida *has* some of those big names! Rachelle is consistently named one of top bloggers and most influential people in travel, and Jeanette is one of the most-followed fashion bloggers in the country.
Later speakers included Julie Deily of The Little Kitchen, named one of Time Magazine's "Must Follow" Pinterest accounts, and Lou Mongello of WDW Radio, who has over one million downloads of his podcast monthly.
Speakers like Pat Williams of the Orlando Magic, Olympic Gold Medalist Rowdy Gaines, Ted Murphy of IZEA, Pam Moore of Marketing Nutz, Jason Zook of Jason Does Stuff (and formerly of I Wear Your Shirt), Kerry O'Shea Gorgone of Marketing Profs, and Dennis Littley of Ask Chef Dennis have only continued to demonstrate the strength of the blogging and social media power found right here in Florida.
With all due respect to the rest of the nation, we're Florida bloggers helping other Florida bloggers, and we're pretty darn proud of what we got!
And with the wonderful addition of Ford and Your Southern Ford Dealers joining as the presenting sponsor and Full Sail University as the venue, we feel like a “big time” conference while still remaining an intimate affair that benefits hundreds of attendees each year.
National Television Show: Blog Talk TV
Although Brian Wilson became the new owner of the Central Florida Top 5 in 2011 as my husband and I started a new blog (Florida Swim Network which became its own monstrosity), I stayed in blogger education. Always looking for new ways to connect with bloggers, content creators, and online influencers, we started live streaming a weekly show called Blog Talk TV. Ben Reed was my co-host and we featured Florida bloggers.
Will Rodriguez, a producer in Virginia, saw the show online and contacted me to see if we could expand past Florida. We could and did and so Cox Cable picked up Season 1 of Blog Talk TV and put it in a regional market. Having good ratings, Blog Talk’s Season 2 was picked up nationally on Cox and Brighthouse Networks also added it to their cable line up.
And while it was fun to do and provided great marketing for the conference, it was not profitable enough for us to continue justifying production. Will Rodriguez is still asking for a third season, though! :)
FM Radio Show: SMarketing News
In 2017 I was asked to host a regional radio show on WPRK FM. Focusing on blogging, content creation, technology, and entrepreneurship, I hosted Smarketing News every Monday morning for the next year. I had the opportunity to interview some really amazing business owners, influencers, and bloggers and you could even listen on-demand on Alexa. And as I sat there in the radio station, I often thought about how much my life had changed since I started blogging!
Designing My Life
Fifteen years ago my current lifestyle would not be possible. I was still teaching students how to address their envelopes to mail in their query letters. The idea of simply publishing your own work and having the potential to reach thousands of people almost instantly was unthinkable. And that really is the magic of the Internet, isn’t it? The idea that you really can take control of your future in a very concrete way. You can learn everything you need to through networking with more experienced bloggers, watching YouTube tutorials, and through trial and error.
Blogging with the Central Florida Top 5 and then Florida Swim Network afforded me opportunities I never would have had as a classroom teacher: Working with amazing brands, hosting a TV and radio show, meeting incredibly inspiring influencers and leaders in their industry, live streaming swim meets for ESPN and the SEC Network, and even going to the Rio Olympics as press.
Life is short and we only have one chance this go-around, and so I am incredibly thankful that blogging has helped me design the life I have. I was fortunate to have launched my blogs and conference during a time when there was great potential for growth, but the internet is still big enough for all of us.
So my question to you is are you designing the life you want to live?
Are you a marketer, business owner, or somebody curious about blogging, creating content, or being an influencer? Design your own life. Tickets are on sale now for this year’s FLBlogCon. Click here for more info.