Answering questions about achieving online success


Wineanorak as it looked back in 2000

I was recently asked some questions (quite good ones) by someone researching a book. It took a while to answer, so I thought I’d share the responses here.

1) Tell me about your life before your wine blog. What was going on in your personal and professional life that led you to this project? Did you try other projects before this became a hit?

I was working as a science editor and I developed a wine habit. Then along came the internet: this would have been 1996/7, I guess. It was the done thing for people to start hobby sites on platforms like Geocities. So I did. I started a site called New World of Wine, and this then morphed into wine anorak. I registered the domain name in November 1999 and then started my hosted site shortly after. The blog aspect to the site began in 2001, and so in wine blogging terms it was the second, after Joe Dressner, as far as I know. At the time bulletin boards were very active, and hanging around bulletin boards was a really good intensive education in wine. So it has been this project pretty much from the beginning, and it has just kept growing.

2) The Internet is so noisy and crowded. What is special about you that resonates with people? If you had to describe that “it factor” in 1-2 sentences what would it be? Did you know this strength from the beginning or was it a process of discovery?

If I have some success, I reckon it’s because I have a distinctive voice. I’m aiming to write about the wines that I like, and I’m honest. I reckon the only people going on wine sites are those who are quite committed wine nuts, so I’m writing for people like, and fortunately there are enough of them to make it a success. Authenticity resonates with people. I’m me: some people like me, some don’t. I hope that there’s a real connection with the people who read my work. I know it sounds like false modesty, but I’m just a dude who drinks rather too much wine and likes to talk about it.

3) The thing I like about your site is that it is obviously an expression of your talent and passion for wine but it has also found a sizable audience. What steps did you take to build your audience? What advice would you give to somebody trying to have your level of success?

I haven’t really taken any special steps, other than posting daily and making an effort to provide unique, useful content with a bit of a personal twist. I was lucky in that I arrived on the scene when there were far fewer voices out there. This enabled me to develop and grow without a lot of competition. Also, I didn’t have to make a living out of this at first, so that took the pressure off a bit. If I were starting out now it would be much more difficult, but not impossible. I’m wary of offering advice when I had first-mover advantage, because if I did the same now as I did back in 1999, I’m not sure the results would be the same. I’d also say, be prepared to do something different. Everyone follows all the rules and ends up in the same competitive space. If you end up there, you are just one of a crowd. What can you do that is different, and still uniquely you? What are you going to be known for? Why would someone read what you write rather than the many existing voices?

4) Tell me about the reward of doing this work. It could be financial, a sense of achievement, making a difference, etc. What fuels your emotion behind what you do and keeps you going?

First and foremost, it’s satisfying. To have an audience and a platform is not something I take for granted. I know how fortunate I am. I also make a living from doing what I do, and I need to keep making a living, so this keeps me motivated. I have to pay my own way, and I work only in wine. Really, though, I just love wine and have an immense curiosity. If I lost this, then I’d have to find something else to do. For this sort of field – geeky wine talk – then that over-used term ‘passion’ counts for a very great deal. If you aren’t excited about something, then why would your readers be interested?

5) What one piece of advice would you give to a person who wants to be known for something on the web? What was the major lesson you have learned that could help others?

Perseverance. Lots of people have talent, and few convert that talent into something meaningful. So decide to do something, and persevere. If a project fails, don’t let it be from not having tried hard enough, and kept going long enough. Some projects will fail and you have to move on to something else. But there’s nothing sadder than seeing a media project die a slow death before its time.

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