Today’s seller in the spotlight is a perfect example of why going super niche can be the smartest move you can make when it comes to building a name for yourself online.
Becky Lerner is a professional ‘forager’ of the urban wilderness. She writes, demonstrates and educates people about how to make the most of the plants that surround them in their neighborhood and local area.
Her blog, FirstWays, has accumulated a cult following of people who are interested in nature, alternative food and therapies, and simply appreciating their surroundings in a new light.
Who are you and what do you do?
My name is Becky Lerner and I teach people how to identify and use wild edible and medicinal plants, especially those found in urban areas. I do that in person and through videos and webinars, as well as sometimes on national TV! I’m also the author of the book “Dandelion Hunter”, a blogger at FirstWays, and a Reiki master healer and teacher.
Tell us about your blog and how you got started.
I have always loved nature and learning about wild plants where I live — in Portland, Oregon — became a way to connect with wilderness in the city. I find it very fascinating that every plant I see has historically had some important use for people, whether food, medicine, dye, or some other neat material, and my FirstWays blog is a place for me to document plants and my experiments with them as I learn, and to share that information with others.
Now I have something like 70 different plants archived in my searchable photo gallery, and hundreds more posts. I was initially interested in wild food but then I became more curious about medicinal plants, and now I’m also exploring the metaphysical end of working with plants.
I’m always learning, and that’s the great thing about this subject – you’re never done. There’s always so much more to know.
How have you built up your following and online presence?
It’s been a long and steady process over about 4 years. I am very active on Facebook at www.Facebook.com/urbanforager and occasionally I post on Twitter @urbanforager, and I do find that sharing unique photos and videos helps build followers, but I think what’s been the most effective for me is working with traditional media. Since I’m a former newspaper reporter, it was really easy for me to write press releases about my book and classes, and I felt comfortable approaching TV, radio and print media in my area.
Once the interviews aired, momentum picked up on its own, and now I often get requests from journalists and bloggers who saw me somewhere else. I always say yes, and each time I do an interview, more people come to my website. I think my approach is pretty unconventional in that it’s very web 1.0, but I’m just playing to my strengths, doing what comes easy to me, and I think that’s always the most fruitful option, regardless of trends.
Are there any particular challenges that you’ve faced along the way that you could share with us?
I’ve faced many challenges, and the solution to most of them was to be patient and trust things to work out, and to reach out to knowledgeable and experienced people who’ve been there, whether that’s on the WordPress end of things or the creative end of writing a book.
How about any special achievements or favourite moments?
I had so much fun filming a plant walk for the TV show “Brew Dogs” on Esquire Network this summer. I took their hosts foraging for weeds to brew beer with instead of hops. It was so spontaneous and creative and enjoyable, and then seeing it air on national TV in the fall was pretty exciting! Having my book get published and getting to do a book tour was also really fun. As was contributing the Northwest plants to the Wild Edibles iPhone/Android app! That was exciting too.
What tools do you use to manage your business?
I use WordPress, Selz, PayPal, and social media tools such as Facebook and Twitter. And e-mail of course!
What has been the biggest surprise you’ve had along the way?
I think maybe the biggest surprise is that it’s really possible to have fun and do what I love for a living. It’s also been surprising to me that a subject that could be seen as esoteric is actually of great interest to the general public, and that people are truly excited about it. I think that’s an amazing and wonderful thing, because plants have so much to offer us, and everyone can work with them, without needing to even travel to a forest.
What would you say to bloggers and online creatives that are starting out?
Follow your bliss and do what you love, because what’s most effective and most worthwhile is sharing your passion with the world. When you’re passionate about what you’re doing, readers want to be part of your adventure. Be clear on who you are and be true to that, and trust that your followers/readers will come. Sometimes people try to target too broad an audience and that can dilute the message. Also, be patient. There are those amazing success stories of bloggers who have millions of followers seemingly overnight, but that’s not the norm.
Photo of First Ways blogger Becky Lerner by Dylan Harkavy for Portland Monthly magazine
What does the future hold for you?
At the moment, I’m excited about using some great new tools to teach people who live far from me, such as by offering virtual classes through videos. Selz has been very helpful with making this possible for me. I have many creative projects in the works, and I am always open to new opportunities.
You can find out more about Becky over at http://firstways.com/, or Facebook, and purchase her book here.