In this post I’m going to reflect on what I’ve experienced since I relaunched loureviews.blog as a professional concern in January 2019.
This is my own personal viewpoint, based on my experiences over the past seven months.
A bit of background
I have previously built up my career as a professional librarian in academia, for the last four years of my career as a senior manager in a small but upcoming university.
It was a job I enjoyed, and had done well in, but issues with my mental health had caused me to step away from it, and eventually leave both the job and career path, by choice.
Without going into too much detail, I needed to find time and space to work on my own terms, and I am lucky enough to have saved enough money to allow me to do that for at least two or three years. I’m 47 years old now and it is time to do something for me, plus I have a husband heading into retirement in the not too distant future (who has been a brilliant rock thus far).
I have been reviewing theatre shows since 2011 and launched my current blog in January 2012.
I was part of the London Theatre Bloggers network at that time but was unable to take advantage of many of the opportunities on offer, due to work commitments. I attended theatre when I could at weekends, some evenings, but wasn’t as plugged in to the theatre scene as I would have liked. Leaving my paid job has allowed me to change all that.
Building the brand
I changed my Twitter name and my blog name to match each other, created a new profile, and upgraded my blog to become Premium.
I upgraded my Pinterest account to a Business one and started to redesign it and regularly share my blog posts to it.
I joined Instagram and upgraded to a Business account, posting every day.
My Facebook page has been active since 2014 and all posts are automatically uploaded to it, and I also add all posts to my personal Facebook page to be seen by everyone.
My LinkedIn page has been completely redesigned with a new profile and regular posts from my blog. It retains all my previous work experience and publications information.
My personal photo is the same across all my social media, and I now have business cards to support my blog and social media.
My heaviest use of social media is on Twitter, which is about 70% theatre-related and 30% other (cinema, local interest, politics). I have a list of theatres and shows that I follow, plus other bloggers, and regularly interact with them and retweet content.
Every show I see is reviewed, whether I have received a complimentary ticket, a discounted ticket, or have been unwise enough to pay full price.
To give you an idea of what my personal experience has been, so far this year I have paid over £3,000 on theatre tickets and have received around £600 worth of complimentary tickets.
I have started to utilise discount services such as TodayTix, lastminute.com, and there are also seat-filling agencies. I have also had to set myself a travel budget as travelling around the capital, even with an Oyster card, isn’t cheap.
My average spend on a theatre ticket works out for 2019 at £45: I would like to reduce this further for 2020.
Finding a niche
I am not a specialist in any particular type of theatre or arts – I review plays, musicals, dance, opera, music, exhibitions, and cinema. I attend West End shows and fringe shows, professional shows and amateur shows, revivals and new writing, gender-specific, queer, black theatre. However I have avoided immersive theatre, so far.
I have launched a number of occasional series on my blog which I intend to keep up – The Mix, which is a news round-up which started monthly but is currently running a bit behind; Fringe Focus, which will be as regular as possible; interviews and features on shows big or small (often those I cannot make a gap to see, but find interesting enough to run to raise awareness on); and my quarterly look-back at my own performance attendance.
More features and content are planned for 2020 and beyond.
Treating it as a job
My blog and related social media take around 4-5 hours of my time per day, on top of time attending performances (average 3 per week, more if I can).
Although it is not bringing in any money, it must be treated professionally for it to be taken seriously, to build trust with PR representatives and performers, and to increase its reach and visibility.
My email signature has my blog address, my Twitter, and my Linked In profile listed, and I hope I am always polite and interested in whatever interactions I have.
I also ensure I promote and mention shows I can’t see, but which sound interesting. My first love is the theatre business, after all.
For someone who is shy and socially awkward, this has been the hardest bit to learn. I must approach people to find new connections and opportunities, which means approaching PR, production companies, theatre creators and other bloggers to increase my network.
At the end of 2018 I was on three PR lists, now I am on twelve. Others have started following me on my social media spaces, which seems positive.
Perhaps in 2020 I will get on lists which represent the “big boys”, which would be nice for my pocket, but it’s far from essential. I’ve grown to love the fringe spaces and shows I have seen this year, and with over 250 theatres within London itself, there’s still a lot to see.
In 2020 I would like to have the opportunity to do some interviews in person, so we’ll see.
Setting realistic goals
My goals this year were to engage with more PR companies, see more shows, and increase my followers.
My more personal goals were to look after myself, increase my confidence (going out on my own, going/travelling to new places, handing out some cards), and to engage with others working in the same space.
I’d recommend anyone moving into blogging has an idea of what they would like to achieve, and a plan for how they can do it.
I have goals for next year which include getting my blog syndicated and having access to more opportunities, but I know I must work for that.
Saying no is also an important part of being a blogger – my strategy has been, no, sorry, I can’t fit in your show but if I like the sound of it, let’s have a chat about it and I’ll do a bit of promotion for you.
It’s also important for me to know my limits including evening shows, number of shows (two show days wipe me out) and where in London I can realistically travel outside matinee times.
Negotiating blogger etiquette
This is a big learning curve for me, as I am not sure whether I should contact PR companies or wait for them to find me (I’ve started doing the former, and they can only say no or ignore me, or maybe even say yes).
What level of social media engagement is the right one is also a minefield – I tend to be active on Twitter a couple of times a day, with several posts/retweets, but I don’t have a clear strategy about reposting my own content yet.
I’ve tried to reach out to other bloggers, who in the main are a friendly bunch, but one or two do shut you down if you’re not a ‘name’. That might have bothered me at one time, but it doesn’t now, and there are by far more friendly and supportive bloggers out there than not: an invaluable network of creatives.
Dealing with rejection
This is something all bloggers probably must deal with at some point, but it is still a tricky one.
I write for myself, primarily, in my own space, on my own blog. If someone only wants to give opportunities to specific publications or sites, or need to ‘pre-approve’ you, that’s fine (as I’ve already said, I’ll pay for a ticket and come and review anyway).
My writing credits speak for themselves, not just in blogging. Follow my Linked In link to see the articles, books and chapters I have written over the years. I’m not a novice, and I believe my writing is honest and valuable.
I think bloggers are just as valid as professional critics – perhaps more, as we are unpaid and do it for the love of the sector we’re in. But now and again, you’ll get the message that your brand and your blog just doesn’t cut it, and that’s OK.
Identifying new opportunities
This year has been a real voyage of discovery. Finding out the theatre and performance spaces in London has been interesting enough (Twitter, Instagram, and the londontheatremarathon project have been invaluable), but then finding shows, companies, and creators is a minefield.
Following other bloggers gives clues, as press releases are shared, detective work starts, and emails get sent out. I have a spreadsheet, of course (every former librarian loves a spreadsheet). I read The Stage. I subscribe to every London theatre’s mailing list (I think!) and follow them all on Twitter. I listen to podcasts, watch vlogs (I want to launch my own at some point), search across social media platforms and theatre news sites.
I try to challenge myself – this year I didn’t attend the Vaults Festival because I wasn’t familiar with the space, but now I am, and I’d like to go in 2020.
I can’t go to the Edinburgh Fringe as travelling that distance on my own is too scary at the moment, but I am attending some of the Camden Fringe, the Richmond Theatre Directors’ Festival, and did one show each in the CASA Festival and the LAMDA Summer Season student showcase.
If a theatre across London has a matinee performance, I do my best to see something there (if not this year, then next).
I’ve contributed to four crowdfunding projects for shows this year, and even if I cannot see those shows, I still post about them.
This is one of the most important things to me: many bloggers struggle with mental health issues, for example, and we support each other. We all have similar goals and want each other to get there. It doesn’t take much to say something nice, or get a message out to your followers.
Be nice to everyone: I learned that from my previous career when as a manager I helped a lot of people navigate and climb up the career ladder.
Now I’m finding my way (but not a beginner) in the blogging world, a new name in a crowded space, but I really want to be here, and stay here. So, I accept the help of others, and help them where I can.
Know your own worth
This goes for any facet of life, but as a blogger I know I’m good enough to find my niche, to find those opportunities, to be part of the London theatre scene.
If I meet my deadlines and my obligations, I’ve done my bit. If you’ve offered me a complimentary ticket, or an interview, or a product, then I expect you to stay in contract and deliver on your part of the bargain.
A lot of blogging admin is chasing emails, sending reminders, following up leads, but I do expect to be treated as a fellow professional, and I promise to reciprocate.