month I do a statistics check for WOW! to see which sister sites and blogs have referred visitors to us. I’ll often look to see who’s writing about us and return the favor by commenting on their post or article. I noticed a bunch of visitors coming from community blogs connected with b5media, and upon further surfing, I discovered Shai Coggins, Vice President of b5media.com. After reading her bio, I was undoubtedly impressed, and knew that she would make a perfect interviewee for our inspiration column.
Shai Coggins has always wanted to write and create for as long as she can remember. Her first ”books” were mini novellas and short story collections that she self-published (handwritten in school notebooks) when she was ten years old. She won her first writing award at thirteen. Then, she first saw her work printed at fifteen, when she joined the school paper. This recognition jumpstarted her career and her drive to write. Shai received her first real freelance writing job at the age of nineteen, writing for a national magazine in the Philippines.
She has since won other awards and published works (poetry, stories, articles) in various countries, including an illustrated children's book (Goodbye Grandma) for a small publisher (now defunct) in Singapore. Her works have appeared in various print and online publications like ELLE Magazine, Woman Today, Today's Child, and About.com (a NY Times Company).
Currently, Shai focuses her writing on the web. She is co-founder/co-owner and Vice President (Community) of a top blogging network, b5media.com, based in Canada.
She has been featured and profiled in various media like The Advertiser (Australia), Manila Bulletin, Reader's Digest (Australia), SBS Radio (Australia), and ABS-CBN TV, among others.
Although Shai's work seems to revolve around media and art, she has actually trained as a psychologist. She has a Master’s degree in Applied Psychology and a Bachelor of Science degree in Psychology. Her psych work is primarily in the areas of disabilities and family.
You can learn more about Shai through her personal blog: http://ShaiCoggins.com/. She also blogs at Just Make Money Online (http://justmakemoneyonline.com/) and Chrysalis Creativity (http://chrysaliscreativity.com/). Her web property for writers is http://ewritelife.com/. And, she has set up shop for her creative works at http://shaicoggins.etsy.com/.
Now, that’s a bio! But what’s even more amazing is how down-to-earth Shai is, as you’ll see in this interview.
WOW: Welcome Shai, we’re thrilled you’ve decided to join us today. In your bio, it states that you’re one of b5media’s founding members. I have popcorn and chocolate sitting on the table beside me, and I’d love to hear your story of how you got started with b5!
Shai: Thanks for inviting me. I'm excited and honoured to be featured here at WOW! And, it's good that you have popcorn and chocolate. I'd love to have some while I tell you my b5 story in the shortest possible way...
Okay. How did I get started with b5?
Well, I actually began with my own separate blogging network (AboutWeblogs.com). I initially came up with the idea that there were several niche markets being under served in the blogging network arena during that period. Most of the networks were covering topics like gadgets, web 2.0 stuff, and all sorts of geeky/techy topics. I knew then that there was room for good blogs that would appeal to a different audience—those who love crafts, food, homemaking, women's issues, health, travel, and arts, among others. That was back early in 2005, when there was only a handful of blogging networks around.
I invited blogging and writing friends to join me in the AW project. Thankfully, I ended up with a bunch of wonderful women who wanted to take part. And, AW came up with about 20+ all-female bloggers and 30+ blogs that catered primarily to women.
In September 2005, b5media was launched by Jeremy Wright, Duncan Riley, and Darren Rowse with a handful of blogs. And, shortly after they launched, the guys approached me with a proposal to merge AboutWeblogs and b5media.
Talks and negotiations happened between the guys and my then AboutWeblogs network bloggers. Then, in October 2005, we sealed the deal—and I became the new partner in b5media. AW then officially became b5media.
WOW: That’s an amazing story! And very inspiring for bloggers and website owners alike. So, as VP of Community you must have a heavy workload; what’s a normal day like for you?
Shai: Normal day? I don't think I've ever had one of those!
Well, actually, even though I have work days and work routines, I tend to work with a “loose” schedule. My day starts between 7am (earliest) to 9am. I usually turn on the computer almost first thing in the morning, during weekdays, to check on emails and other messages (Skype, forum, etc). Once a week, I hold a network-wide weekly chat with b5ers. I read lots of blogs. Comment on some. Surf the web for ideas, information, and such. Write (or collect data) for my blogs, as well as for my work on b5.
Then, I find breaks throughout the day to eat, do chores, spend time with my family, have some down time, do some art/craft, etc. But, the computer is usually on all day.
After dinner and once the rest of the family's in bed, I keep working until 2am. Sometimes, even 3am. Weekends, I try to stay away from the computer for most of the day (if not all day). But, I still often end up working/going online between 6 to 8 hours at the weekend. Sometimes more, if I'm trying to make up for work time.
As VP of Community, my role is three-fold. My primary role is to take care of the various community aspects of b5media—publishing internal newsletters, coordinating internal contests, holding virtual “meet-ups,” as well as creating and maintaining various programmes to encourage and to motivate our bloggers and channel editors (CEs). And, basically, just making sure that we're able to communicate and connect with each other within our growing organisation. This sort of work is the bulk of my day-to-day role with b5.
My other role is working closely with my sub-team, which is the Content Team (where the Community aspect falls under at the moment). We basically deal with various day-to-day operations of the company. Christina Jones (Content Manager), Darren Rowse (VP, Training), and myself work together to deal with different issues and projects at b5 like blog proposals and launches, hiring CEs, documentation, and such.
And, finally, another one of my roles is to do “management-type” stuff. Weighing in on various higher level issues like policies, ongoing and future projects, property acquisitions, hiring, communicating with other managers within the team, and such.
WOW: And I thought my days were long! I guess that’s the difference with a monthly publication as opposed to dailies. I’m sure that also has an effect on things such as traffic ranking as well. That’s one thing I noticed right away... b5media has a great Alexa ranking. Do you have any advice on how blogs and websites can improve their ranking?
Shai: Hey, can you believe I've actually been planning on writing a blog entry about Alexa for a while now? Anyway, I haven't really uncovered all the secrets of Alexa rankings just yet. And, although a lot of people seem to look at this as a measure of a blog or website's success, I seriously don't look at it all that much. But, if I were to impart one tip on how to improve one's Alexa ranking it's: Download and install the Alexa Toolbar in the browser that you use the most. And, keep it turned on—even (or especially) when you visit your own blogs or sites.
"The worst thing I ever wrote will always be better than the best thing I never wrote." That's pretty much what I try to tell myself.
WOW: Yes, I talk about that quite a bit on The Muffin and encourage our women writers to install the toolbar (Hint). And Shai, I know communities are a traffic driver, but in your opinion, do communities simply happen organically, or do you create them?
Shai: I believe that community can happen both ways. A community can happen when people with similar interests, purpose, or goals just happen to come across each other. It can also happen when you build a product or service and you deliberately attract a certain kind of demographic in order to build a community around that product or service.
WOW: I can see that... so if you were deliberately baking a community cake, what essential ingredients would you include to make it tasty?
Shai: The thing about community is that there's no single recipe that will appeal to all. What works for one community doesn't mean that it will work for another.
Having said that, I definitely see the following things as key ingredients in most “tasty community cakes”:
- Communication (the right amount, done in the right voice, delivered in the right manner).
- Purpose/Goal (people who share the same goals/hopes/dreams/passions tend to build and grow healthy communities).
- Participation (it's no good just to exist within a community; taking part is essential).
- Fun/Joy (or generally positive associations).
- Respect for each other's differences/individuality.
WOW: Great advice. At b5media you have many tasty community cakes, but which features do you provide that would be of interest to our women writers/readers?
Shai: We have several blogs that are specifically targeted to the female audience. So, there's plenty to read, to learn, and to discover within the network. Other than the numerous blogs that we have for women, b5media has also published The Golden Pencil (http://thegoldenpencil.com/) by Anne Wayman. It's a great resource for freelance writers.
WOW: Oh yes, we love her blog! She’s mentioned WOW! a few times. So how can a writer apply for a blogging job at b5?
Shai: The best place to go to is the Blog for b5 Page http://www.b5media.com/jobs/. That's where you can send in your application either for an advertised position (you can find these on the main b5 blog or on blogging job boards like Problogger's Job Boards http://jobs.problogger.net/)—or for a blog that you wish to pitch.
Of course, advertised positions are best, as there will already be existing plans for that topic. However, if writers have a blog topic that we're not covering yet, they are always welcome to suggest a new topic.
WOW: Thanks for the head’s up, Shai. We’ve actually published a few of your bloggers on WOW!, so we know that you have excellent standards! Now, I’d assume that your pay structure is probably very different than ours, so is there a set-pay for writers, or do you pay on traffic, or how does that work?
Shai: Currently, we pay our writers a flat monthly fee (increases every few months) plus page views/traffic bonus. We want to offer both security (flat fee) and a chance to make more money when the blogger grows his or her blog.
Through our community programmes, there are also other ways to make money and/or get other side benefits as a member of b5media.
“Shopping for art and craft materials is also a good creative exercise for me. Much to my husband's dismay!”
WOW: I’m sure it changes quite often. So let’s switch gears and talk about creativity a bit. What inspires you to write?
Shai: Daily living inspires me to write. Things I watch on telly, books, art, music, nature, the kids, memories, family, other people's good writing and creations... These things inspire me.
WOW: Do you ever experience a lack of inspiration? I know that blogging is a great daily practice, and since you have several blogs you write for... do you ever experience writer’s block? And if so, what do you do to beat it?
Shai: Yes, absolutely. I experience writer's block on a regular basis. But, often, necessity and deadlines just push me to write.
Other things that help me to unblock include: Keeping a list of ideas, regular brainstorming with a good old pen and paper, and just starting something. Anything. It doesn't matter if it's any good or not.
Who was it that said: "The worst thing I ever wrote will always be better than the best thing I never wrote." That's pretty much what I try to tell myself.
WOW: That’s an excellent quote! I think I see a t-shirt in the making. I know another way to get bloggers motivated is blogging projects... are you involved in any, and what would you recommend?
Shai: Ah, yes. I love blogging projects, but I don't participate in them as much as I'd like to. In fact, I haven't participated in a blog writing project for a while. You reminded me that I probably should commit to joining at least one or two every now and then. Or, maybe host one of my own? Heh.
Darren Rowse of Problogger.net often has very successful blog writing projects (with prizes). He doesn't do them that often, so it's good just to watch out for them.
WOW: I will! And yes, you should host one of your own.
I also know that you’re a wonderful painter. Before I started WOW! I owned an art gallery in Long Beach, CA, and painted in oils. What is your favorite medium, and do you have a muse?
Shai: Wow. That must be cool to own an art gallery. That's one of my fantasies. I wish I could see some of your work! I always enjoy looking at people's artwork.
On a favourite medium... Well, I once was just totally besotted with watercolours. Then, I moved to acrylics and oils. Now, I'm just loving mixed media. At the moment, it's a challenge for me to work with different materials and to see how I can create with just “stuff”—stuff that I just picked up, stuff I love, a mixture of stuff that I enjoy working with... and tell a story with it all.
(Shai's Artwork: Gocco Prints, available at Etsy!)
WOW: It sounds like you’d make a fabulous illustrator—which is basically putting pictures to story. Are there any other hobbies and/or exercises that help your creativity?
Shai: I like trying new and different things. I enjoy learning. I find that the more I learn, the more I create. I wish I could attend classes and workshops on a regular basis.
I love visiting other people's blogs and seeing what everyone's doing. I love hearing people's stories of their lives.
I love visiting different websites, looking at photos, viewing creative works... Going out with family, meeting friends...
Shopping for art and craft materials is also a good creative exercise for me. Much to my husband's dismay!
Reading, cooking, traveling...
Just about anything can be a source of inspiration for me. As long as I'm doing something, I'm inspired to create.
WOW: Speaking of your husband, you’re a mum! How old are your kids?
Shai: I have two kids—a 3.5 year-old boy and a 6.5 month-old baby girl. My boy's just about to start kindy and my girl has been sitting up by herself and is beginning to learn how to crawl.
WOW: : It’s always amazing to me... I don’t know how you do it! What’s the key to balancing your work-life with your family-life?
Shai: Knowing your priorities.
It sounds like a massive cliché, but family really takes first place in my life. I do believe that at the end of the day, nothing else matters if my family life falls apart. So, when it comes to making work and career decisions, I always take my family's interests into consideration.
Having said that, I know I am blessed to have a family who supports my work. I have a husband who is a real life partner—helping to take care of the kids, do chores, etc. I wouldn't be able to do what I do without his love and support.
And, I know that I'm also blessed to have a job/working life that's flexible enough to allow me to be a mum and wife without taking too much away.
Knowing my priorities also enables me not to worry too much if the house isn't in tip-top shape or if I haven't been out partying with friends and such.
WOW: Well put. As writers, we often have a saying, Let the housecleaning go (when we’re writing). Another necessary writer-diversion is reading—it’s essential to any writer. So when you have a moment offline and get to curl up with a good book, what do you enjoy reading?
Shai: Just about anything. I read fiction and nonfiction, the classics and trashy romance novels, juvenile fiction and comic books.
Admittedly, reading books has really taken a backseat in my life. But, some of my recent reads included Harry Potter #7 (and also re-read #5 and #6 prior to starting the last book), Purple Cow (by Seth Godin), How to Make a Journal of Your Life (by Dan Price), IzobelBrannigan.com (Christina Hopkinson) and The Next Thing on My List (Jill Smolinski). Not a big fan of the last two books on this list, though. They're mildly entertaining but nothing too exciting.
Currently, in my 'on the go' book reading list (whenever I get the chance to sit and read) are The Creativity Book (Eric Maisel, my second attempt at trying to read this book; gave up the first time around), Knitting (fiction by Australian writer Anne Bartlett), and The Tipping Point (Malcolm Gladwell).
And yeah, I'm always picking up a book or two from my art and craft, as well as writing, book collection—just to get some ideas and inspiration whenever I feel like it.
“I look at my work as experiments. That way, I feel like I've got permission to fail and to make mistakes...and just to keep trying and to keep doing what I like to do.”
WOW: Oh, how funny! I just finished reading Purple Cow—great inspirational book—I highly recommend it. Shai, I’m in awe of your many talents, so what’s next for you, and for b5media?
Shai: Awww...thanks! Fab of you to say that! Somehow, I just keep thinking of these things as my experiments rather than my talents.
Talents seem to make it feel like I'm supposed to be really good at what I do. Truth is, I'm just going where my interests and passions take me. So, I look at my work as experiments. That way, I feel like I've got permission to fail and to make mistakes...and just to keep trying and to keep doing what I like to do.
What's next for me? Hmmm... I'm not sure if I'm any good at forecasts. But, in the near future, I intend to keep doing what I'm doing now, as I do enjoy it all. Except, I hope to incorporate a lot of learning and growth in the process. Also, I'm still not giving up on the idea of getting another book published one day. And, maybe hosting my own online talk show. Heh.
On b5media... Wow. We have so many plans and dreams and hopes for the company. I don't know where to start. We just launched our first portal/gateway http://spekked.com/ and if all goes well, we're planning on releasing more. And, adding more features to our blogs and projects. We want to be more involved in the greater community too. So, hopefully, more interactivity, more projects... better stuff for our bloggers and channel editors. We're really all for seeing an evolution in the blog network scene.
WOW: I can see it! Thank you, Shai, for taking time to chat with us today, it’s been fun! Do you have any parting words of wisdom that you’d like to share with our readers?
Shai: Thank you! I really enjoyed it too. It has been great.
Hmmm... words of wisdom? Well, if there's one thing I always tell folks when it comes to following their dreams, it's: Just keep at it! A persistent writer (or artist/blogger/etc) will outdo a brilliant one any day.
WOW: I agree... persistence pays off. Thanks again Shai for inspiring us to experiment and create!
Ladies, find out more about Shai Coggins by visiting her multitude of sites: