Today’s interview is with a highly successful blogger and business builder Michael Martine. Michael is the brain behind Remarkablogger.com where he blogs and helps businesses become successful in social media. Michael is known throughout the industry for increasing bottom lines and his work with the highly successful Headway Theme for WordPress. Through all of his consulting work, Michael has some great insight into the blogosphere…so let’s jump into it.

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Robb: Hey, guys. It’s Robb Sutton from RobbSutton.com.  On the phone today I’ve got Michael Martine, who’s behind www.RemarkABlogger.com and Headway WordPress themes. Thanks for being on today, Michael.

Michael: Thanks for having me.

Robb: We might as well just go ahead and jump right into it. How did you get started blogging?

Michael: Let’s see, back in 1994 I had already been interested in web design and HTML. Even when I was a kid I had an interest in marketing, advertising and packaging and stuff like that. Those two things kind of came together with internet marketing and blogging and stuff like that.

The first blog that I created was a video blog actually, back when Google video was brand new and it was the only video thing out there on the web and they didn’t have the ability to embed anything yet. It was kind of a tough slog. The only reason why I could do it is because I already knew HTML. That was fun. It was the first blog that I had.

I started blogging back in 1999, and basically have been doing it in some form or another ever since. I started the business around it in 2007.

Robb: So you really just kind of progressed into it naturally?

Michael: Yeah. I mean there wasn’t much going on in the way of blogging really before 1999. There were people who were doing some things that were similar without using any real blog software. There was very little of that back then.

I remember Chris Brogan was saying how he was doing something similar in 1998, when it was called journaling.

Robb: Right. There was no such thing as WordPress. It was a lot harder to do it back then.

Michael: Yeah. I started on Blogger actually, before Google bought them. They were owned by this little company called Pyra Labs that was run by Evan Williams, who you may also know as the guy who is running Twitter now.

Robb: Absolutely. He’s had a pretty successful career.

Michael: Yeah. He had a little faltering in the middle there with a project called Odeo that revolved around podcasting, but Blogger was a hit and Twitter was a hit. The sophomore year was kind of lame for him, but he’s doing good now.

Robb: Yeah. He’s killing it. You’re known a lot for your blogging consulting work on RemarkABlogger.com. When did you start that project, and what was the idea that kind of sprung it into action?

Michael: I started that back in 2007. The idea was actually a pretty simple one. It was basically, “How can I make money helping people do something that is valuable to them and that I know something about?” There’s only so many ways to swing products and services around that idea. Consulting was a natural fit.

I also started to create training information products around that as well. It’s all related around that, a little package there.

Robb: Yeah. You do a great job at it.

Michael: Thanks.

Robb: You make a great living consulting businesses and bloggers on blogging. What is the most common mistake you see most bloggers make?

Michael: Really, it’s not really knowing who their audience is and what the specific problem they solve for the audience, which you know.

Robb: If there is such a thing, what three actions can any blogger make to improve their blog starting today?

Michael: Three things you can do? None of these are terribly easy, but they all would be huge steps in the right direction.

  1. Figure out exactly who your target audience is, I mean down to a very, very fine slice. “Anybody with a wallet,” that doesn’t count.
  2. Figure out exactly what problem you solve for them, and then write about that. That intersection between the people and the problem is where all the magic happens.
  3. Inject as much personality into it as you possibly can. The more you can relate your own personal stories and that sort of thing and turn things that happen in real life into a lesson and bring your own personality into it, the better.

Those are the three big things right there.

Robb: I’ve heard you talk about that a lot, and I talk about it as well, almost mapping out who that exact person is who you want reading your blog, who you want to convert into newsletter subscribers or RSS readers.

How would you recommend going and finding those people out on the web that you want to bring back on your blog and how would you attract them in?

A lot of beginning bloggers don’t have the ability to have really good search engine rankings or even have a really good presence online to poll from. How would those bloggers actually go out and find these people?

Michael: Well, it’s a lot easier if you’re not a blogger, if you’re a business person. Here’s the thing. The people that I help are not bloggers, they’re business owners. They already have a business. Their business is already targeting a market. It’s already got a product or a service that they’re selling. What they need to do is try to figure out how to attract them using a blog.

Starting with the blog first and then trying to figure out what kind of business you have is kind of doing it backwards. I realize that’s how a lot of people do it, and those people are certainly welcome to come to my site and read my stuff and buy my things.

I’m not going to turn them away, but my primary audience is essentially business owners and business people – small business owners, small businesses, one person businesses, other coaches and consultants, freelancers, that sort of thing.

These people already have a business, they just need to figure out how to market it. A blog is one of the tools that they’re using for that.

Now the reason why I’m stressing this is because if you are doing it the other way around, if you’ve already got a blog but you don’t really have a business for that, then now you know where to start, what part is missing. It’s the business part.

You can’t really have a business unless you identify your market and know who you’re selling to and know what problem you solve for them. Instead of thinking of it in terms of having a blog, think of it in terms of having a business.

The way that you can figure out who these people are is to take a look at what you have to offer and then look to see who needs that.

Robb: I do think that one of the biggest mistakes that people make who want to get into making money online through blogging is that they forget that key factor is that you have to have some kind of business backing to it.

Just writing and expecting people to come, and even if you have sometimes a lot of people coming to your site, it could not convert into dollars, because you haven’t thought about how you’re actually going to convert that into some kind of viable business over time.

Michael: Exactly. The biggest mistake people make when they’re trying to make money online is that they’re trying to make money online. It’s that old joke, “Well, if you want money, go rob a bank.”

Robb: That’s true. Purely your words don’t, unless you’re selling a book or you’re selling something that’s of value. Just your words and just playing online doesn’t make you any money at all.

Michael: No, certainly not. And really my point is, though, money is not the goal. It’s not the object. Money is a side effect.

Robb: Right. It’s the side effect of solving the problems of the people you’re trying to help.

Michael: Yeah. The goal is to do something that provides value for people and that’s fulfilling and that you enjoy doing. If you wanted to do stuff you hate, why don’t you just get a real job?

Robb: Isn’t that the truth.

Michael: Yeah. Well, actually, no. Never mind. Scratch that, because there aren’t any anymore.

Robb: At least none that are hiring, right?

Michael: Yeah. You might as well start an online business.

Robb: Since we’ve been talking about businesses a lot. I’m seeing a lot of businesses kind of jump into the social media atmosphere and jump into blogging as ways to find free leads for their business in a way that used to cost a lot of money in the past.

For a lot of people that don’t realize this, lead generation for businesses used to be a very expensive thing to do throughout the year. By using blogging, social media sites like Facebook and Twitter, they’re able to attract their audience a lot cheaper than they were able to in the past.

What difficulties do you see for businesses as they try to get into blogging and social media to kind of increase their spread on the web and attract more clients?

Michael: Well, the numbers are a little bit fuzzier. You’re right. It is a lot cheaper in terms of the financial investment, but now all you have is the time and labor investment that you didn’t really have before.

I guess in some ways you did. It just depends on how you spend your money. You’re buying labor one way or the other, regardless whether you’re paying for a sales force to do cold calling or whether you’re buying advertising, either way.

The effort that goes into it, it doesn’t seem like there’s as big of a return or that it’s as traceable of a return for everything you put into it.

But you can track it just like anything else. You’re doing X, Y and Z, and if that makes the needles groove, then you’re doing it right. If you’re doing X, Y and Z and nothing’s happening, then you’re doing it wrong.

Robb: Right. I like to equate it to like you see the billboards on the side of highways. You’re going after a much more targeted audience in your attack online than you are just flooding the market and trying to just see whatever catches.

Michael: Yeah. I mean, they’ve come up with the term “inbound marketing” for this whole phenomenon. In the old days it was push, push, push. You had advertising and you shoved it in people’s faces. You had cold calling and you shoved it in their ear.

Now it’s all basically when people want something they go online and search for it. That’s where search comes in. People have always followed referrals and they’ve always done word of mouth.

That happens online too. Only now, one of your referral tools is a high rank.

Robb: Right. It almost creates a pre-qualified lead for you that converts higher if you’ve done it right.

Michael: Exactly. I mean, there’s no almost about it. That’s exactly it.

Robb: While we’re on the subject of social media a little bit, how do you see social media outlets like Facebook and Twitter play into your recommendations on what businesses and bloggers need to do to grow their businesses?

Michael: Well, if you think of a hub and spoke system, your blog is the hub and social media outlets are the spokes. So you’ve got Twitter, Facebook, whatever else, and there’s different networks and services and sites and wherever.

Some of them are related to specific industries. Some of them are related to specific demographic groups of people. There are tons of them out there. We all know what the big ones are: Twitter, Facebook, MySpace, LinkedIn.

Depending on what part of the world you’re from, there are some other ones too: Bebo, Orkut, etc.

What these do is they basically send traffic back to the blog. That’s the main deal. When you’re looking at this from a marketing perspective, that’s the main deal.

Robb: It’s funny. Those people hang out and are focusing their efforts in the right direction instead of just trying everything at once.

Michael: Right, exactly. The tricky part is knowing where to focus any of your energy at all to begin with. This is where getting some training or getting some education or getting some help on just the general landscape by somebody who’s been there, done that can be really, really helpful and can help you absorb a lot of collateral damage as you get started.

Robb: It shortens the learning curve.

Michael: Right, totally.

Robb: All right. Switching gears a little bit, you’re behind the Headway theme for WordPress. What started that project, and can you tell us a little bit about that background?

Michael: Yeah. I’m one of the guys that helps out on Headway. That began because Clay Griffiths basically wanted something to help him design WordPress sites faster. He and his Dad ran G2WebMedia.com, and they still run it. They would do WordPress blog designs for clients.

He was just doing so many of them and had a lot of repetition of what he was doing. The kid’s a genius programmer. He basically put together this system for creating kind of a visual editor, kind of a drag and drop general visual editing type of software that became a theme framework.

He was using it himself. He created it just because he needed it and he would use it himself. They would use it to create sites for their clients. Then one day he was like, “Hey, we should sell this thing.”

Premium themes are a good business to get into, and so he and Grant brought me onboard and I’m helping them out with the marketing and the positioning and with the creation of documentation for it and so forth.

We’re just about on the verge of releasing 1.6 and we’ll have some new documentation that goes along with that. There’s a lot of video tutorials. It’s really just a phenomenon that we didn’t really expect it to be this big of a thing. All of a sudden there was Thesis and then now there’s Thesis and Headway.

Robb: Yeah, it is.

Michael: They’re different too, by the way, Headway and Thesis. They’re really just two different themes kind of geared towards two different kinds of people. Everybody wants to know which one’s better.

The truth is neither one’s better and neither one’s worse. They have their very different strengths and weaknesses. They’re totally like apples and oranges. If one doesn’t appeal to you, I’m sure the other one will.

Robb: I’ve used both of them on the back end before. It’s a different feel between the two. It really can be meshed towards two different people.

Who would you consider the best customer for Headway?

Michael: The best person to use Headway is somebody who understands how to work with software and understands the web, but doesn’t necessarily want to spend a whole lot of time writing code. They might even actually know the code, but a lot of people don’t.

For example, professional designers, they already know all this stuff, but their problem is that why should they spend all this time writing all the code by hand when they could work in a visual environment that spits out code a lot faster?

For people who don’t want to write code, then you’ve got a visual environment that allows them to design and create their own theme, basically, is really what it does.

Create your own theme and change anything you want about it, without having to write code and put an asterisk by that and saying everybody who’s going to be doing this sort of thing themselves in this day and age still pretty much needs to know a little bit of HTML, but that’s about it.

Robb: You need to know how to open up CSS and make a couple edits.

Michael: Yeah. I mean, like you would need to be able to recognize a hyperlink or something like that if you saw it in HTML or whatever, because not all the fields that you enter stuff in there, whatever you put in there, you might want to put some HTML in there to format it a little bit better.

If you want paragraph breaks in there or you want to put a list in there or whatever, you might need to throw some HTML in there, but for the most part there’s no coding necessary. People really like that.

Robb: Yeah, and I’ve used the drag and drop visualizer before, and it works exactly like you guys say it does. I mean, you literally just take stuff, drag it, drop it, what size do you want it? It works as easy as it does in the training videos.

Michael: Yeah. It’s like visual blog design software and you just add it into your blog. It’s way more than just a theme. I was really happy to work with them on that.

Robb: It was a good project. What are we looking forward to in 1.6?

Michael: Live CSS editing, importing and exporting of CSS and skins, and just faster, much faster. Every time Clay comes out with a new version, he’s got the code a lot more tightly optimized so that it just runs a lot faster.

Robb: So where do you see blogging in the next year, the next five years, next 10 years? How do you see it progressing as it matures, since blogging is really kind of a young thing in the internet world. It has a long way to go in a lot of ways. Where do you see it heading?

Michael: That’s a tough question, because think about all the predictions people made before 2006. Then as soon as Twitter came on the scene, everybody’s predictions were basically just flat out wrong. Nobody foresaw Twitter and it changed everything, right?

Robb: Right.

Michael: And the same thing for Facebook, pre-Facebook. How’s blogging going to mature? I have no idea. I know that I think it’s pretty safe to say that we’re just barely getting started.

Robb: Oh, yeah. We’re at the very beginning of something, we’re just not sure what sometimes.

Michael: Yeah. We’re in for a fun ride. Alvin Toffle is the guy who wrote Future Shock, actually many years ago by this point. It’s still a fantastic book, and if you haven’t read it, anybody listening, if they haven’t read it they really should.

One of the things he said was the most important skill that we’ll need in the future is the ability to learn and then unlearn and then relearn.

Robb: That’s a great line.

Michael: That’ll pretty much give you the ability to handle anything that comes your way.

Robb: If you weren’t making a living online today, what would you be doing?

Michael: Probably sleeping a lot more.

Robb: There’s a lot of truth to that!

Michael: Yeah. That’s a good question. I don’t know. I might be writing in some capacity. One of the reasons why I’m doing this is writing’s always been a natural thing for me, and I’ve always enjoyed it and been a writer. So now I write online. I probably will soon be looking at doing books and stuff as well, so yeah, probably something around writing.

Robb: What do you drive?

Michael: What do I drive? Right now I’m driving a ’98 Saab 900S.

Robb: Your favorite food?

Michael: Macaroni and cheese.

Robb: Good one. I think I can eat my weight in macaroni and cheese.

Favorite drink?

Michael: Root beer.

Robb: No kidding? It’s been awhile since I’ve had a root beer. Favorite thing to do away from the keyboard?

Michael: Favorite thing to do away from the keyboard is spend time with my granddaughter.

Robb: What can we expect out of you in the next year?

Michael: Some new training products coming out. I’ve got a group blog coaching program coming out soon. A couple of other things, some specialty products, for example, just for retailers and just for artists.

Robb: Where all can we find you online?

Michael: You can find me at RemarkABlogger.com, and also if anybody’s interested, I created a course on how to get more traffic to your blog, which is at BlogTrafficFisher.com. I almost sold it, but I decided at the last minute to let everybody have it for free.

I was going to charge at least like $50 for it, but decided to give it away instead. So you can find that at BlogTrafficFisher.com. You can sign up for that and get more traffic to your blog. Those are the main places that you’ll find me online.

If you’re on Twitter, then my handle on Twitter is @RemarkABlogger.

Robb: Awesome. Michael, I want to thank you for taking the time to talk to me today. There’s a lot of great information in there about growing your blog and your business. Thanks again for taking the time.

Michael: Thanks so much for asking me to be on. I really appreciate it.

Learn more about the Headway WordPress theme by clicking here.