- Company: Rave Review
- Player: Mandi Strimling
- Established: 2010
- Visit: Ravereview.co.za
From a fun blog and R5 000 to a site with an active newsletter database of 3 000 followers and 50 000 hits per month.
How do you turn a blog into a money-making business? Mandi Strimling, founder of Rave Review, has figured it out. After starting out as a journalist and freelance writer, a life altering car accident saw Strimling change the course of her life to become the entrepreneur she always wanted to be.
“It was a huge leap, particularly because in 2010 online media was only starting to generate buzz in South Africa. It was nowhere near Europe or the US. Here it gave writers a niche space for their content, but turning it into a revenue generating business was yet to become the norm. To get there took sleepless nights, brainstorming and lessons learnt.”
These are Mandi Strimling’s top lessons on turning a blog into a money-spinner.
“I guess I was on the right track even before I started the site – if I saw something I liked, say perfume, I’d email friends and family referring them to it. Pretty soon I had people emailing me saying ‘It’s my husband’s birthday soon, recommendations please!’”
Strimling started with a basic blog and was surprised by the positive response to her Sex and the City style of writing that provided helpful information on all things from beauty to travel, food, gadgets and products.
“I decided to create a proper website, used R5 000 to get a web designer to build the site and I registered the business.”
Getting the money trickling in
“It was literally 365 days to the day that I got my first advertiser on the site – Park Village Auctions. I have their invoice in a frame to remind me! Before that I went to company after company begging them to let me advertise their product but they believed online didn’t work.
“No one can sell your product like you can, and I knew I had a readership of wealthy corporate women who invested in property and the like. I begged them to give me a shot for one week on a car going up for auction. They saw a noticeable spike in their traffic from banners on my site and they’ve taken advertorials every month since.
“I did that with a lot of brands and now I’ve got a core of ten consistent advertisers on Rave Review every month, with additional ad hoc advertising and an editorial fee for any promotional writing on my part.”
Figuring out the wins from the flops
“My original business plan is miles away from what I have now. Things I thought would work didn’t, like the sports page, and what worked well was that readers wanted to support each other, meet and test products together. This allowed me to start focus groups, organise book signings and reader days.
“Because of the community of engaged readers and regular advertisers I now have, the momentum brings in new readers and advertisers. Our Christmas emailer, for example, is now so big that we’ve split it into four different ones. I like to think of it as South Africa’s own ‘Oprah’s Favourite Things.’”
“I keep readers engaged with good content but incentivise them to come back by offering the chance to win prizes.
“This keeps the numbers up all year because I find that January to August are my good months with advertisers when everyone has budget, but come end of August I still have to pay bills, so I do themed newsletters, approach smaller businesses and artisans, offer Rave Review test boxes, and as an influencer now I have partnerships with other sites that pay me for social media. This year we’re also looking to start hosting events like make-up workshops – something readers requested.”
“What’s really worked for me is ensuring that whenever there are events with my readers, that we offer them goodie bags and giveaways. They make attendees feel great, special and valued, and participating brands benefit from the trade exchange not just with advertising, but being given the winner’s contact details for their database.”
Hard truths and big wins
- I had everything I needed to start this business, it was just fear holding me back
- I had to accept that I wouldn’t get paid for at least a year, so I made provision
- Passion comes first and money follows – I did a lot of pro bono work at first
- Allow your readership to grow at its own pace so you’ve got an active audience
- Brush up on SEO
- Keep your content consistent and engaging.
- Win small advertisers first
- Don’t be distracted by competition
- Always ask what readers want
- Offer advertising and promotions for free in the short-term for long-term gain
- Celebrate victories with your readers.