Mid-way through last week I was having some real trouble balancing my blogging with running my business, interlinking the two, and generally finding a happy balance for my time management. For this reason, and a couple of others, I though it'd be great to interview Chris Spooner, who runs the epically successful Spoon Graphics blog as well as his own web design / illustration business.
Hi Chris! Unless they've been hiding under a rock for the last few years, I think that most people will know who you are - so we'll skip the boring introductions and go for something a bit different: How's the weather today where you are, and are you working on any exciting projects at the moment which you can tell us about?
Thanks John! The weather today is pretty boring, grey skies, 10 degrees C. I’m looking forward for the Summertime to arrive. Project wise I’ve got a few cool jobs on the go, including a website for an audio/video company, branding and website design for a well known site in the design community and some interface designs for an interesting web application.
You currently run your own graphic/web design business, could you shed some light on how you got into the business and at what point you were able to turn it into a full-time career?
I went straight into the creative industry after achieving my BA (HONS) at university, where I worked at a local company for two years. During this time I developed my blog which helped tremendously when it came to heading off into the world of freelance by providing exposure and a good revenue base.
Over the last couple of years you've really launched yourself into a position of recognition and respect within the web design industry, particularly for those of us over here in the UK. Could you describe what was most instrumental in moving from being "yet another person with a blog" to where you are today?
One of the biggest factors must have been my turn towards presenting myself as Chris Spooner, along with a profile picture on Blog.SpoonGraphics. Beforehand I saw a few comments and messages referring to ‘You guys’, as if it was a team behind the site. This has helped, along with Twitter in getting to know other people, as well as being known personally.
Obviously what you're best known for is the SpoonGraphics blog, and you've also just launched the Line25 blog (more on that in a minute), how has blogging affected your actual business? Has it generated many new leads as well as increasing your personal brand awareness?
Without my blog I wouldn’t be in a position to freelance at all. Especially when you consider the traditional methods of freelancing where you promote yourself locally, looking back I have had done very little work for clients in my area. With the exposure I’ve gained from my blog I’m able to take on work from across the world, with a large proportion from the USA.
You wrote a fantastic tutorial for this month's .NET Magazine, how much does it mean to you being featured in one of the biggest web design publications in the world, and once again what has it done for your business as a whole?
I’m always stoked at every new opportunity that comes along, the email from the editors of NET mag asking if I would like to write an article was definitely one I was excited about. Being a magazine I was familiar with and that I have read on a number of occasions made it all the more special! I’m not too sure how it has affected business in the short term, although it has been mentioned in a few emails. I’m sure it’s something that will look good placed on my website/CV.
Since taking my web design business full time I've been using this blog to track my own progress, and share advice, information, and applications with other people who are doing the same thing. One big problem that I've found with this is that I try to write a blog post every (working) day of the week - but it eats a huge amount of time out of my working day. Writing a decent blog post takes me about an hour, and then promoting the story through social media takes at least another hour if not more. How do you manage to write a successful blog and run your business at the same time? What advice can you offer for maintaining a good balance between the two?
Blogging can certainly be a time-consuming business, but as mentioned previously I wouldn’t be in a position to freelance without my blog, so I try to make sure I spend a large part of my week creating new content. However rather than writing a new post each day, I like to concentrate on creating a larger post once a week. So in my case the two go hand in hand, blogging generates the exposure and leads for freelancing, and freelancing develops ideas and new techniques which can then be used as blog posts.
Something which you're not currently known for is video content, and speaking appearances - is this something that you hope to expand into doing in the future? [why?/why not?]
It’s strange you should mention this as video blogging and screencasting is something I’m currently looking to spend some time on. I have recently produced a couple of test videos for myself but I’m currently at the beginning stages of getting over the weirdness of talking while no-one is there. I recently had an opportunity to speak at a small event in Hull, but considering I have zero prior experience it was something I had to pass on. Hopefully this new direction in video will help develop my personal skills in new areas.
As mentioned earlier, you've just launched the Line25 blog - why did you choose to do this, and how does the site differ from blog.spoongraphics? What's the long term plan for the site?
I’ve always tried to stick to my one post per week schedule, and recently with revenues allowing more time to be spent on blogging I decided to increase the amount of content I was producing. Likewise I also wanted to give more attention to creating more articles around the web design topic. However with Blog.SpoonGraphics developing quite a reputation for Illustrator and general design tutorials I didn’t want to suddenly saturate it with web design. My solution was to set up a second blog, which would not only give me plenty of opportunities for new content, but also be quite a challenge to develop and grow a new blog from scratch, reliving the early stages of Blog.SpoonGraphics, but with the added bonus of my new knowledge and experiences. So far the site has developed nicely, it has been widely accepted into the design community and quickly achieved over 1000 subscribers, not to mention an entry to PR4 less than 30days since its launch, which was pretty good timing! I’m looking forward to posting new tutorials and topics, and hopefully develop the stats into a nice steady flow of visitors.
Could you share something about yourself or your business that you've never mentioned in an interview before?
Something I haven’t mentioned in online interviews, but have probably tweeted plenty about is my frequent trips to the cinema and Alton Towers theme park with my Fiancee. This is generally what I get up to when away from the computer!
Finally, any advice you'd like to offer to people like me who are just getting established? Anything you wish you'd known before you started, or something that you'd do differently if you had another chance?
I think investing time into something like a blog can reap the benefits later down the line. During the early stages there isn’t really much of a return, which shows when a lot of websites die off after a few months, but if you do it for the love of your topic rather than as a money-making scheme you are likely to succeed. In terms of doing things differently, I’m really happy with how my site is performing so I’m not too sure what I would change. Looking back at some of the older posts I cringe a little, but they served their purpose and hopefully helped a few people out. I’m currently putting into practice my new experiences with Line25, which is just the same as going back and doing it all again!
A huge thank you to Chris for taking the time to answer all of my questions and giving some really great insight into his business! As usual if you have any questions for Chris then do leave them in the comments and I'll ask him to stop by!