The first thing that comes to mind when speaking with blogger Katlin Smith is that she’s one ambitious lady. Her blog, Southwest Washington Zest, is all about ‘Celebrating People, Places and the Good Life in SW Washington State’, and it does just that.
Smith covers seven counties in SW Washington State: Clark, Cowlitz, Klickitat, Lewis, Pacific, Skamania and Wahkiakum, to be specific. That’s some 8900 square miles (by comparison, the entire state of New Jersey is only 8729 square miles), and Smith is determined to cover all of it.
CHAMPION OF THE LOCALS
Smith, who is originally from Iowa, has lived in the Pacific Northwest since 1976. A former journalism major, she started her blog as a creative outlet and as a way to publicize her (rather large) corner of Washington State and call attention to all of the activities, attractions and goings-on there.
But her biggest goal is to get local people out and about, exploring their area:
“When people think Washington State, they think of Seattle. We’re right across the river from Portland, and Oregonians can be a little snooty; I’d like to get my Oregonian friends to come over here more. That river shouldn’t be as big of a divide!”
MONEY, CASH, BLOGGIN’
Smith also sees the blog as a way to combat the recession:
“That’s one of my goals, too – to increase visitors up here in my own tiny way and to create some kind of economic stimulus around the state.”
Smith herself has certainly shelled out a nice chunk of change in the name of blogging. She says the expense has been one of the most surprising things about blogging, and notes that she’s dropped a hefty amount of cash at hotels and restaurants across SW Washington.
Like blogger Sara Pepitone, Smith foots the bill herself and says that bloggers do need to be aware of the newest FTC regulations:
“I don’t accept any freebies. That may be my downfall – I don’t know! I may go broke blogging. It bothers me when I read blogs that don’t disclose [the freebies they get] and there’s clearly no way they paid for [a certain item, trip or experience] themselves. I have a journalism background and I’m trying to follow the same ethics that I would if I were a newspaper reporter. So, consequently, I will probably go broke!”
That said, Smith isn’t doing anything at the moment to monetize her blog.
“I’d like to get to a certain number of subscribers or visitors before I do that. I don’t want to destroy the look of the blog. I just need to find a way to do advertising in a way that is aesthetically pleasing,” she says.
LEAVE IT TO THE PROFESSIONALS
Blog design is certainly something that Smith has put a lot of thought into and also invested in.
“I think a lot of people feel it’s challenging to design their blogs, so I hired someone. That turned out to be a great decision. I love looking at food and travel blogs because they’re graphically so gorgeous. Of course, if you want to have a certain look and feel, you need a professional,” she says.
As for her own professional life and how it has been impacted by her blogging, Smith says she hasn’t seen much of a crossover between the two.
“I would say [the blog is] kind of separate from my professional life – it’s introduced me to some potential clients, but that’s not why I started it, so I haven’t leveraged it that way. For my clients, it shows a fun side of me that they don’t normally get to see, but I don’t know if that’s necessarily going to bring me work. I’ve thought about creating a PR blog, but I’m not ready to take on a second blog.”
WHAT TIME IS IT? (BLOGGING TIME)
Not surprisingly, Smith’s reservations regarding the possibility of a second blog stem from what seems to be a recurring theme amongst bloggers: blogging is HARD. It takes a LOT of time to do it right. Smith spends roughly eight hours per week on blog-related activities, and averages about one post per week.
“[The amount of time it takes to blog] has been the most surprising thing. When I started, I expected to blog three times a week – and now, doing it all on my own – research, writing and marketing – I realize there just isn’t any way I can do that – and run a business and keep a social life and all that. I do have to do a fair amount a research, and that takes time,” she says.
BLOGGERS JUST WANNA HAVE FUN
Still, in spite of all the challenges that come with blogging, Smith says, she’s never thought about quitting.
“It’s so much fun! I’ve met so many great people. How often do you get to set an appointment with a museum director? You have to have a reason for doing it. The blog gives me that entrée, to meet interesting people I wouldn’t have met otherwise.”
When I ask Smith to give me an example, she’s reminded of a tattoo parlor she and her husband visited while in Camas, WA.
“We were in downtown Camas on a Saturday night, spending the weekend there for the blog. It was about 10 P.M. and I said to my husband, ‘let’s go out and see what’s open.’ It’s a pretty quiet town, but there were two taverns open … and a tattoo parlor, too. It turns out that the reason that it was open was that there’s a paper mill in Camas, and the tattoo parlor – Painless Ric’s – caters to the mill workers. Apparently the mill workers will stop by for tattoos after work. A tattoo parlor is not a place I’d normally go, but we had a great time talking to the staff.”
But the best part about blogging?
“The sky’s the limit. I think some of the most creative writing and best photography is happening on blogs right now – there’s not a doubt in my mind. Blogging opens up this whole new way to be creative. Some people say, ‘don’t you think you’re going to run out of things to do [in SW Washington State]?’ – but there’s so much to experience, it’s limitless. I’d love to see every area in the country have a blog focused on recreation and tourism. ANY area – I don’t care where it is – can be turned into a blog full of great local insights.”
PS: If you’d like to be featured in our ‘Bloggers We Love’ series (or you’d like to nominate your favorite local blogger(s) for inclusion), we’d love to hear from you! Simply send an email to esther[at]outside[dot]in.