Building one website and turning it into a success can be a pretty daunting task, but doing it with an entire network is considerably more challenging. Because it’s often more work than one person can handle, a lot of time and effort is spent finding and coordinating the right people who are responsible for each piece of the network.
That’s the challenge that today’s guest, Teresa Mears, regularly encounters as the executive editor of Living on the Cheap, a network of local “On the Cheap” sites that focuses on deals, personal finance tips, and other information specific to each city/local market. It’s a great concept that I’m sure took a lot of work to execute.
Teresa talks more about the challenges that she faces in her role, but also touches upon the success of the network, how they’ve built a massive social media presence, and the importance of local (face-to-face) networking.
Teresa, I’m a big fan of Living on the Cheap, and I like how the site is really a network of many local market “cheap” sites. Tell us a bit about your background and the origins of the website. How did this whole network of sites begin, and what was your involvement with it? What did you used to do (in your career) prior to working with Living on the Cheap?
Jenn Maciejewski of Atlanta on the Cheap came up with the original concept. After she had been running Atlanta on the Cheap for a few months, she suggested to a number of us on the Freelance Success forums that we could do it, too. A number of us decided to start sites in our cities, and we formed a networked called Cities on the Cheap.
After several years, Jenn decided that she no longer wanted to run a network, so Laura Daily of Mile High on the Cheap in Denver and I took over the network, re-branded as Living on the Cheap and started the Living on the Cheap website.
Before I worked with On the Cheap, I was a newspaper journalist for several decades. My last newspaper job was working as an assistant features editor at The Miami Herald, where I previous edited national and international news. I also worked at The Los Angeles Times, The St. Petersburg Times and small papers in Kentucky and Tennessee. Until late last year, I was the real estate blogger for MSN.com and I also wrote for MSN’s Smart Spending.
I have also done freelance writing and editing, which I still do in addition to running the On the Cheap sites.
What has been your greatest success (or successes) with Living on the Cheap?
We’ve been delighted at how much respect our venture has gained from the beginning. The Living on the Cheap site has grown to about 100,000 page views a month in just over two years of operation, and we are regularly approached by big companies that want to either syndicate the content written by our professional writers and to place sponsored content on our site.
As the executive editor of Living on the Cheap, what do you find to be the most challenging part of your job and why?
Three major challenges:
a. One is finding local publishers that have the skills and the drive to make their local sites a success. There are lots of writers, but a good publisher also has to be a social media maven, a marketer, a writer, an ad sales person and more, in addition to being a good writer. We need more people with that skill set to join our group.
b. The second challenge is growing readership for both Living on the Cheap and the local sites. The rules of social media seem to change every minute. People who know our sites like them, but we still need to get them in front of many more readers.
c. The third challenge is monetization. We’ve done well with ad networks but need to do more direct ad sales.
There’s no doubt that this network of sites has experienced tremendous growth over the years – what has been the sites’ strategy for growing and increasing traffic?
We use a variety of tactics: social media, local in-person networking, speaking at professional conferences and online networking. We need to do more of all those things, and better.
Which of these tactics for growing the site’s traffic has been most effective in your opinion?
I don’t think you can pinpoint any one technique as being the most effective for growing readership. It’s important to use multiple techniques simultaneously. And things change quickly. Just a few years ago, Facebook was a great free marketing tool. Now it isn’t. You have to recognize that there is no magic bullet and you need to work on multiple tactics at once.
Going along with the previous question, I noticed that the network has a remarkable social media presence (including 40,000+ Facebook fans and 43,000+ Twitter followers). Has this growth been purely organic, or was there a specific strategy put into place by you and your network partners? We’d be interested in any tips you might have when it comes to social networking growth.
Much of our social media growth was organic, but it has also taken lots of work. Several of our publishers have real skill at social networking and have big followings on Facebook and Twitter. We learned that creating a successful website is not a “build it and they will come” proposition. The sites that have had the most success have used multi-pronged strategies: social media, in-person local networking, giving talks locally and working in partnership with local media.
While most website owners seem to have a grasp on social media (although not all use it well), many seem to overlook in-person local networking. What tips do you have for someone who wants to get more into in-person networking? How have you found events or meetups for Living on the Cheap?
Look for gatherings of other local website publishers and online marketing people. I found some via Facebook and some via Meetup and some via Twitter and others through people I met at those groups. Look for Social Media groups in your town, for WordPress meetups, for PR group gatherings and for gatherings of local bloggers, writers and website publishers.
For a national website, you may find national groups via local groups. If you don’t find a group, you may want to start your own.
What are your favorite online resources?
WordPress, of course. Its simplicity enables a one to publish a website with limited technical knowledge.
The best conference I have been to is FinCon, the financial bloggers’ conference held once a year. It also has a Facebook networking group. http://finconexpo.com/.
Twitter is great for networking with local businesses, attractions and arts organizations.
Facebook used to be a useful resource, but now that Facebook no longer shows your posts to your fans, it has become much less useful.
Freelance Success is a great resource for professional freelance writers. It’s a newsletter and online networking forums, and it costs $99 a year. (I used to be one of the owners but I sold it in 2000).
There are probably lots of other great resources I should be using, but there are only so many hours in the day.
Finally, where can people find you online?
You can find me at http://livingonthecheap.com or http://miamionthecheap.com.
Twitter: @miamicheap, @teresamears and @cheaplives
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/livingonthecheap and https://www.facebook.com/miamionthecheap
Google Plus: https://plus.google.com/u/0/+TeresaMearsEditor/about/p/pub or https://plus.google.com/u/0/+Livingonthecheap/posts
What are your thoughts about this interview with Teresa, and the “On the Cheap” network? Leave a comment below!
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