In the last article, we talked about finding your niche using the “organic” approach of tapping into your networks.
But what happens when you’ve tapped out your networks? What if you still don’t know enough contacts — or you don’t know your contacts well enough?
Never fear. Even if you’re “blooming where you’re planted,” there are many ways to dig deeper and branch out in your niche. One of them I’ve mentioned before:
Hold an interview.
Now, by “interview,” I don’t necessarily mean the formal, sit-down kind. Often, it’s as simple as sending questions through email.
Interviewing an expert (or potential client) in your niche is an easy way to make a new contact or rekindle an old one. I admit, though, that I never took this seriously until recently, when I found myself out of touch with a network that was really important to me …
A Little Help for the Platform-Challenged
You see, outside of web writing, I also write fiction and poetry. Since university, though, my pool of contacts in the “creative writing” world has shrunk to a puddle. I’ve had no one to read my work, let alone critique it.
But last month, Writer’s Digest hosted the 2015 October Platform Challenge, a kind of online bootcamp for writers to build their author platforms. I knew I badly needed a community, so I entered the Challenge, dusted off my blog, and started making connections to other writers.
The problem was, these connections still weren’t “real” to me. They were only followers on Twitter and Google+. How could I kindle these new contacts into real, ongoing relationships?
That’s when Robert Lee Brewer, the host of the Challenge, set us the task of interviewing an expert.
A lot of people balked at this. “Me? Interview an expert?” But in my head, a light bulb clicked on.
If I wanted to dig deeper into the writing community, I could interview other writers — including my new contacts. What a perfect opportunity to reach out!
In fact, I already had a person in mind. There’s a poet I admire who’s developed a creative way to combat writer’s block by posting daily mini-magnet poems. I wanted to promote her because I thought her “Fridge Poet Project” would help others … especially during November, when many poets challenge themselves to write a poem every day.
By interviewing her, I’d not only be promoting my “hero” and strengthening our connection, I’d also be offering content of interest to my new contacts.
A win-win situation all around!
The 5 Basic Steps of a Platform-Building Interview
As a web writer — especially if you’re a blogger — you’re also building your platform. This is your sphere of influence within your niche, which can seem pretty small when you’re starting out.
Interviewing can help you expand it.
And the best part? The process is simple. Here are the five basic steps, which I’ve adapted from Robert Lee Brewer’s instructions:
Choose an expert related to your niche. But, don’t get bogged down by the word “expert.” You don’t have to contact a “Big Name in the Field” unless you want to. Look for someone in your sphere who has an innovative new project or some specialized knowledge or experience.
Find the expert’s email address and send them a quick pitch. Don’t forget to tell them the purpose of the interview and where you’ll publish it.
If they say no, thank them for their time. But if they say YES, go on and send the questions! (More on this below.)
Put on the finishing touches. Collect the expert’s answers, format your post, and get approval for any changes you make to the content.
Post and promote! That’s all there is to it.
Tips For a Successful Interview
Email, phone, or face-to-face? Go with your gut.
I’ve recommended an email interview because it’s easy and not as intimidating as a face-to-face meeting. However, you may decide that an email interview is too informal for your expert … or that you’d feel more comfortable talking in real time, perhaps by phone. Choose what works best for you and the person you’re interviewing.
Ask focused but open-ended questions.
Remember why you’re interviewing this expert. What valuable knowledge might they have? What is most interesting about their work, to your readers?
Design questions to draw out this information … but steer clear of yes/no questions. Use the five W’s: who, what, why, when, where.
Sequence your questions appropriately.
Start your interview with a “softball” question and ask the expert what they’re up to. What projects are they working on? Have they had any recent successes you want to highlight?
From there, try to sequence your questions so one topic leads smoothly into the next. Of course, things may not go as planned, but now you at least have a solid foundation for keeping the interview coherent.
Finally, end on a “takeaway” question: a last piece of advice, perhaps, or a lesson learned … something to wrap up the interview and give the reader a parting gift.
Check your questions for potential misunderstandings.
While preparing each question, ask yourself, is it possible my expert might misunderstand this? Can I word it in a different way to make sure we’re on the same page?
Doing this could save you both a lot of confusion.
Set a deadline.
Okay, honestly, I didn’t do this one so well.
I was worried about pressuring my expert because I knew she had tight deadlines already.
So, I told her I was in no hurry … that I’d just like it “sometime in November” because the subject was relevant for the Poem-a-Day Challenge and NaNoWriMo.
Though I trust her, I realized later that giving such a loose deadline is not a good idea. Lack of clarity leads to uncertainty and procrastination, and besides that, it’s hard to know when you should send a reminder email. You should be respectful of the expert’s schedule, but negotiate a clear deadline that’s appropriate for your goals and theirs.
Ask for a picture, a bio, and links.
You’re giving the expert a chance to promote themselves and their work. Make sure you have all the information you need to do so!
Ask for a photo (a professional-ish headshot), a relevant bio, and any links they want you to include in the post.
Finally, don’t forget to send them the URL and tag them in social media posts.
If your expert shares the interview with their networks, you might just get a boost of new traffic to your blog — and your niche pool could get that much larger.
So my challenge to you is this: make a list of “experts” in your niche, both easy contacts and more intimidating ones. Think about what you’d like to know and what your target audience would like to know … and then draft some pitch emails!
Keep in mind that you’re just asking for an interview. This is an opportunity for them. The worst they can do is say no.
So, Wealthy Web Writers, who will you be interviewing this month?