Saturday, 20 April 2013

Why it shouldn't be Nerf or Nothin'

"I have a Dream!" Martin Luther King, Jr

This is something a little different from what I normally post, and it's a bit of a wall of text :) I'll get to the point of the Martin Luther King, Jr reference later, but I'm writing this post in part because I'm getting a lot of emails and messages, asking advice and tips on starting a blog.

Most bloggers are unaware of what commercial and professional power they potentially have at their finger tips, and in time I hope this changes. So where to start? The beginning is a good place :)

An unexpected journey is what started out, grown pretty much out of boredom and inspiration from Urban Taggers and Basic Nerf. Having been unwell for the last year, I spent much of my time bedbound or limited to the confines of the house.

This said, I also spent much of my time as a blog-widow - my wife runs a pretty successful fashion/lifestyle/beauty blog, and she encouraged me to start up one myself.
"All you need is some passion and basic computer skills!"
 - and with that mantra I started up on Google blogger.com. There is another version called Wordpress by the WordPress.org - both are free, but which is better?


I personally find it easy to navigate and install widgets (passive/active buttons like page tracker or a link to your Facebook page / YouTube, etc). Can't go wrong, and embedding videos and other formatting is a dream too. You can pretty much play with the layout to your complete customisation, but that's all for you to find out! I did it all hit and miss on my own, but it's all really straight forward.

Wordpress offers little layouts, but it's for the more discerning mind and I guess those who are more technically apt. It's backroom management is more advanced, but that's not to say that Google Blogger can't match it - some would argue better it. Wordpress is worth the effort, but for now, i'm sticking with the ease of use and convenience with Google Blogger.

Once you have the basics setup, it's time for a little roleplay with my good friend Obi-Wan Pocket Esq.:

MLD: Now I took inspiration from your good self and Basic Nerf to start up what I have today - For anyone thinking of starting a blog what tips and advice would you give?
Pocket Esq.: Choose an angle. Sure, you love Nerf, but what sets you apart from everyone else? I get dozens of would be Nerf bloggers write me regularly asking to affiliate with UT, but I ask what does that actually mean? What do you bring to the table that offers readers something they're not already getting? It might be as simple as just your own unique perspective.

Choose an angle.
This. What exactly sets you apart from everyone else? Well for myself, I'm passionate about toy blasters, I'm a big movie fan, I can sometimes speak for England, oh and I love reading Biographies. Mix all of this together, you have the essence of MyLastDart. I love to interview people in the NIC, get their opinion and take on the hobby, toy blaster products and I'm not shy to do YouTube. I bring my own personality and humour to what I do, and have my own take on things. My likes and opinions are not the same as others. That's what gets discussion and debate rolling and I enjoy seeing (and giving) fans a platform for talking with each other :)

As I am based in the London, I blog firstly on any UK releases and news there, and then across the globe if possible. So if your mother tongue is Spanish, then why not write a Nerf blog about news and releases happening in Spain? Chances are you will be one of the most active around, and that would put you in a good position to work closely with Hasbro Spain and get some product samples to review too! Also you would have the all the Nerf fans in Spain coming to you because you are blogging for them! Think about it :)

When I moved on to Airsoft back in the late 90s, I took up Nerf again 5 months ago. So for me personally I enjoy researching and talking to Pocket (Urban Taggers), CPL (Outback Nerf) , Shawn (Nerfcast), Will (Bobololo), and Jason (Basic Nerf) to name a few about older Nerf blasters I am not familiar with.

Mods? I have done 2 to date :P The sensor removal on the Stryfe and a spring kit for my Retaliator sent to me from Blasterparts.de. Whilst I love gadgets and gubbins, I don't have the time or tools honestly to get stuck in and do a lot more. This said, there are so many more people with a passion and talent for modding, it's easier for me to champion them. So if you enjoy this do it. There are only a handful of people in the NIC who do a good job of guides or videos, so definitely a need for more here!

So pick an angle, and stick with it. It's easy for bloggers to loose focus, some spread themselves pretty thin that you don't even recognise them as part of the NIC anymore.

Pocket Esq.: I get many would be Nerf bloggers writing to me and asking for affiliation - but ultimately what does it even mean?

Affiliation.
This is how I see Affiliation. Someone who is a missing jigsaw piece to the work you do. Personally speaking I am partnered with Basic Nerf and Urban Taggers. Jason from Basic Nerf does a lot of foam battle videos, and I absolutely love his work. This is something I am unable to do due to my condition, so he fits well here for me. Also he is a leading source for Nerf stock news.

Pocket from Urban Taggers is somewhat a league of his own. I absolutely love his mind and humour. His opinions (...rants!! muhahah) on generally the toy blaster hobby is very unique, genuine and unbias. I just love seeing a new post from these guys because I know it's going to be unique even if it covers the same news. Pocket is not afraid of speaking his mind and it's something that is really appreciated and enjoyed by all those that follow his work. Pocket is a well established leading source in the NIC for breaking stock news, but his witty rant posts - for me - are what set him apart.

There are a few very important points I want to make here
  • Both these fellas have a passion for toy blasters,
  • They work closely with companies who create toy blasters
  • Most importantly, they voice their own opinion. Good or bad, it's there. It is this that sets them apart from other established and fresh bloggers.

Pocket Esq.: Also try to see other blogs as your kin, not you competition. To date there are no real 'professional' Nerf blogs out there- we're all just everyday folk loving the same hobby, so don't get narky and bitchy towards one another. Have faith in your own work and what you write and stop worrying about the others.
Peace, Love, Unity
I can say I've seen this muddabichin* side of certain bloggers - long established bloggers and sites. For no real reason other than a lack of knowledge.

That is not my fault - and it's not really the haters fault for being hostile. It's a pretty baseless reaction, but their upset is more at the lack of understanding of how they think blogging works. They haven't had anyone teach or guide them in how blogging works. I am fortunate to have my wife and my own professional career in business development and commercial nouse at my side.

What Pocket means by "professional Nerf blogs" is the fact you are a brand in yourself, and it's potential as a career. If you pick up some haters, it means you're doing something right! They will more often than not be your biggest fans name dropping you everywhere, generating curiosity in you, Embrace them, don't be upset or lose faith in what you do. It's your blog, and you alone decide what you do - unless you are tied down to an NDA - something that has become a curse and blessing for me.

Let me use my wife as a professional blogger example. She covers fashion, beauty and lifestyle blogging. She works with many top brands and does product sample reviews but she gets paid. She commands a payment. Being well known for what she does, she Tweeted at the turn of the year she wanted to do a detox. A well known electronics company called Philips follows her on Twitter and their PR got in touch with her and asked if they can help her out? She said sure thing, and the next morning we had a delivery of a £300 juicer and a crate of fresh fruits and vegetables every morning for 2 weeks. All she had to do was write up her thoughts and opinions on using the product and the detox programme.

Other professional bloggers can command companies to pay them anything from £50-£1000+ to do a sponsored post on a product or services provided by a brand. Now if they are asked to do 5-6 a day, that money adds up - fast. Welcome to the world of professional bloggers. One of the first professional bloggers ever is from the USA and she earns a 6 figure salary still today.

If you know how to work your PR company and what the limits are, you can push for a lot - more than you realise. Some of these bloggers, instead of receiving goods or payment can get the company or the PR firm to send them to cover events overseas. If you know how to work your brand, you can have both. In her world, many top professional bloggers have this as a standard requirement and brands are more than happy to cover the cost.

No one gets paid to blog (right now) in the NIC, so instead of being hostile, support each other. When you manage to get on a payroll, that is even more reason for you to maintain yourself in a respectable manner.

For us to grow even bigger than we are as a community, we need to support each other new or old. Also conduct yourself well. Take a good look at how Urban Taggers, Basic Nerf and myself operate within the NIC. Excessive swearing, 133t sp34k, and generally being a nuisance is not cool, it's not going to get you far, and if you want to work with brands - not going to happen.

If you are a modder for example, you could approach a specialist production hobbyist (OrangeModWorks, Remedy Metal, Blasterparts.de, etc) and ask to review a kit on their behalf as a gifted item (free). For them it's a good thing you spreading the word of their quality kits, but also you are bringing something new to the table for your readers. If you do a good enough mod job, a good comprehensive guide for fans to repeat your mod, not only with the hobbyist appreciate your effort and work, but you will build a solid following.

In the future if the hobbyist comes up with a new kit, they may think of the review you did for them and send on out another kit! Obviously BEFORE you approach them, ask yourself this - are you doing a good job of guides? are your mods up to scratch? Be sure that you will have to build yourself up and show promising mods and stats because they won't give up anything without some promise of return.

Let me give you an example, I did an interview of Blasterparts.de a few months ago, and gave them some deeper coverage in the NIC. I also got them to give my readers a discount code on checkout when they bought a kit. They saw kit sales go up, and instantly sold out of a newly produced holster. For working in partnership with them, they gave my readers something in return. This is a healthy circle of "Pay it forward". It benefits the NIC.

Now whenever they have a new product or service coming up, they let me know and I help promote it to readers. Oh and that is where my Retaliator spring kit came from and an Aliens Counter :)

For more tips on a modder working with hobby kit specialists, check out this article I did with Remedy Metal - Modders: Remedy to your plastic problems

Pocket Esq.: And finally.. write a lot. Even I get swamped and can't post regularly, and trust me, the traffic/figures show what happens when I don't. If you want to blog, understand that if you're not posting multiple times a week if not daily, you have to accept readers will go elsewhere.
Idle elbows are the Devils fiddlesticks
I see a lot of new bloggers popping up, but they turn in to spam machines. What I mean is that they just repost breaking or leaked news with no thought for themselves, or their own readers. I think it's more to do with the fact they don't really know what they are doing. Think a blog like a real life conversation - give your thoughts and opinions! Otherwise who is going to listen to what you have to say. Why should anyone bother to read what you post?

Before posting, give it some thought - a post on the fly will not do, and your readers will not appreciate the empty noise. If you haven't got time to do it properly, then later is best. Be fair to yourself, and your readers.

Your blog represents your work ethic and how you will represent the brand. If it is rushed and brief - there is no benefit in a Brand working with you. Believe me they will have a good look around before committing to anything with you so start as you mean to go.

What mostly interests a PR firm is your traffic and stats. If you are showing positive growth and consistency then they are more likely to be interested in working with you. Build a good base of readership and style before you approach anyone. Sometimes first impression is all that counts, so you may not get another shot till you are well established!

A major pitfall is to rely on the brand to send you goods to review all the time. If you are waiting for these package drops then you miss out on the "now". There is nothing worse than reviewing a blaster everyone already has seen or own. Obviously if your territory hasn't got them yet and everyone has it's another story! Get your own blasters, and don't rely 100% on brands - even if you have to wait around for the price to drop, cool, but don't leave it too long otherwise readers will go somewhere else.

Photo reviews can be good but a powerful viral tool at your disposal is YouTube or Vimeo. In a world where we have the mediums to show people how the blaster handles, and be shown the ins and outs you gotta bring it to them. The box contents to other accessories that add quality to the blaster/product are a worthwhile exercise too. If you have never done one, then check out blog reviews or raid YouTube. Do a few dry runs on cam and see where you could do better. Once you are happy you can do it more confidently. I have a number of friends that uploaded videos to YouTube just to get past shyness!

Martin Luther King, Jr
Whilst Hasbro have the formidable Nerf brand, there are other brands out there who are carving out a niche and perhaps a visible competitor. Check out the likes of Zing Toys, Tek4Kids, Vapor Blasters, Buzz Bee Toys or Xploderz to name a few. Only when the #1 spot has healthy competition does it have to up it's game, as a fan you can have a hand in that. My good friends Shawn and Josh over at Nerfcast covered this topic pretty well - here it is below for you to listen to if you missed it:


I hope this article helps you understand a little better how to start up a blog and with the wise words from Samwise Pocket and I on how to maintain one.

We bloggers in the toy blaster market are quite some way from being in a professional position, but in time I don't see why this could not be possible. With more companies making waves, you should be able to command something more than just a freebie blaster or two in the future - "I have a Dream!"

*Pocket Esq (haha)

22 comments:

  1. Wordpress isn't owned/run by Microsoft. It's owned by the Wordpress Foundation.

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  2. Urban taggers has revealed the new rapvdstrike cs18, but why isn't it belt fed? Since it's flywheel it could easily have been made less cumbersome then the vulcan. it does not need air restrictors on the belt, which means it could have a more compact belt system and greater reliability. i wanted a 50 dart belt fed blaster, instead they give us a less versatile stryfe. Hasbro mvssed out.

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    Replies
    1. The reason the Rapidstrike CS-18 is awesome is not the face that it looks it but because my understand of it is that it is a FULL-AUTO flywheel nerf gun the first one all of the other flywheel blasters have been
      semi-auto

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    2. A note to your belt fed rant it would make it a lower rate of fire and I hated the vulcan and It would take longer to reload so all in all I doubt they will ever make another belt fed gun

      P.S. i meant to say fact not face in my earlier post

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    3. nitron was full auto flywheel and known for extreme ROF when modded, also the vulcan belt didn't have ARs, that was part of the plunger system kind of like the new strongarm. It would have been nice to see an elite vulcan remake but don't worry, there are still 2 MEGA blasters (i believe) that we don't know much about.

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    4. When i said the first Full-auto nerf gun i meant more along the lines of "The first Full-Auto elite nerf gun" but i do think that it would have been interesting to see a belt fed elite

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  3. Awesome post MLD. You've mirrored my thoughts exactly.

    What you're doing by writing a blog is creating a product. No it doesn't cost people money to read your work but it does cost them time. Parroting information for other, often more legitimate sources than yourself, is almost a complete waste of time. Yes link spamming a post that UT made might get you a few more hits via Google, but anyone who cares would have probably seen it on UT themselves.

    You need a point of difference. Pick your niche and run with it.

    I started Foam Dart Goodness with the idea of simple, well explained, photo based modification walk-throughs and that's mostly what I do. There are a lot of really dodgy mod writ-ups out there that are let down purely through presentation. Which is really unfortunately because they are obviously a talented modder based on their end results, but poor photos and shoddy lighting ruins their posts.

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    Replies
    1. Got to say I love your work and MLD also, this is a great post, and I might get started on my own blog too!! Thanks for the tips, I didn't really know where to start, but this is a great square 1.

      Keep up the great work man.

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    2. Love the work FDG - you're one of the best man! MLD you are awesome bro, shame you got the NDA stopping you from covering all this new stuff!

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    3. I have to say i'm a fan of your work FDG :) You're really comprehensive and thorough in guides and reviews of projects. Keep it going and keep up the standard of work! <3

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    4. I quite enjoy reading through all your mod guides FDG, since good mod guides can be hard to find. Sure those pics drain my bandwidth (XD) but the writeups are really enjoyable to read through and look at.
      (and yes I'm the same P13c30fch33s3 who commented on the Stryfe mod guide)

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  4. Great post, Having just gotten into the mill of things (with your help of course) Its a great post to have a look in your kitchen sort of speaking.

    You've been an inspiration and I hope to learn more from you and the rest of the nerf world to be able to bring my own ideas to the rest of the nerfing world.

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    Replies
    1. that is great it made you start, I might too :) I cant really mod so maybe I should do a normal one and talk about my favourite blasters!

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    2. I'm half Dutch and enjoy your blog :) Do you know when we will get the EAT in Rotterdam?

      Regards
      Jonte

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  5. Real interesting post, I'm not sure it's hard to keep focus with so few brands in the toy blaster world?

    If you take Foam From Above, that guy I would definitely put down as someone who's lost the plot in your article.

    Keep up the good work ML?D

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    Replies
    1. yeh that guy sucks lol

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    2. Think I stopped reading this guy since Xmas 2012, he was just real boring and didn't compare in quality to you or Basic Nerf or URban Tagger.

      He seems really arrogant too. Just my 2€

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    3. Thanks for the comment, but FFA has his own plan in action of how he works, if moving away from the NIC is what he wants, his choice - his blog :)

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  6. Tactical Tag is another great blog. Good job MyLastDart I enjoyed this, interesting stuff.

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    1. I think TT is a really good blogger, I love his articles and how he writes things. Also he is kinda the only forefront Laser Tag blogger.

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  7. mld dude your too kind, that jerk bash on you, after the mess with centoron man, don't defend this clowns

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    Replies
    1. You need to calm down my friend, I appreciate your support but even if that is true, I will leave fans to decide who they follow and what they believe.

      Please don't derail the topic in to name calling.

      Cheers

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