As part of my ongoing investigation into what people are up to online, I talked to Rachel Lankester, who's set up a lively and inspirational online hub for midlife women, The Mutton Club.
Can you give the readers some basic information about the Mutton Club?
The Mutton Club is an online magazine designed to entertain and inspire women in midlife and beyond. We have 4000 followers on Twitter, 1400 followers on Facebook, and traffic from all over the world, 40% of it currently coming from the US.
How did you come up with the idea of the Mutton Club?
I wanted to create a website that empowers older women, recognising our wisdom and contribution, and challenging preconceptions that often marginalise us. The word "mutton" and all the negative connotations it holds ("mutton dressed as lamb") had been swimming around in my head but I couldn't make it work in a positive way. I was brainstorming in the car with my husband one afternoon and suddenly the idea of Mutton Club popped into my head. The addition of the word "club"made "mutton" seem more attractive, cool, and exclusive in a good way, something older women could be pleased to have attained membership of.
What are the main benefits you are bringing to your target audience?
We're providing interesting and fun content for all women that is different from what you find elsewhere. I couldn't find what I wanted on the Internet so I decided to create it. So much content for women over 40 is focused on family or housekeeping. But we're about so much more. And many of us aren't parents. Mutton Club celebrates the diversity of women while highlighting what we all have in common. For example, menopause is still a taboo subject, but we talk about it a lot on the Mutton Club!
What are the biggest challenges facing your readership?
I think many women in midlife struggle to work out what they're going to do with the rest of their lives. The first half is often clearly mapped out for many of us. The second-half much less so. Anglo-Saxon society is horribly youth-centred and older women are often sidelined and made to feel invisible. Mutton Club is about changing all of that.
How did you get interested in the Internet in the first place and were you a techie person before that?
I love input. And when the Internet came along I was in seventh heaven. I am one of those people who will often have 20 browser windows open at any one time! I'm trying to work on my Internet addiction. But I had never built a website before and knew nothing about the backroom workings. But I love it!
You've told me that getting the site built did not happen smoothly. Perhaps you could explain a bit what happened?
When I began building the Mutton Club site I didn't think I had enough knowledge to do it myself. I also wanted it done quickly and thought it would take too long to learn how to do it. So through a freelancer website I worked with two women developers, the first in India and the second in Manchester. Neither worked out well. I think I was naive in my recruiting tactics back then and too trusting! But I learnt a lot from watching what they did and didn't do. I eventually decided that if I wanted it done well, I would do it myself. I haven't looked back.
How did you find building the site yourself?
It was difficult at first but my Internet research skills meant I knew how to find help. YouTube, for example, has many tutorials on working with WordPress. The one thing I did well was to choose WP Engine as my host. I never imagined they would give me support for everything to do with WordPress, not just hosting. Their telephone support line became my life support!
What might you have done differently and what have you learned?
I've learned that it is worth investing the time in learning how to do stuff yourself. As Marie Forleo says, everything is figureoutable - even if a few tears of frustration were shed along the way. To speed things up, looking back, I think I would've used one of those £100 rudimentary website set up services which I didn't know existed when I started. Of course, if I’d had your book then, Alannah, I would have found it all much easier!
What are your favourite online tools for the business?
I have just written a long post about this and there are so many! Canva is an incredible free and easy design tool. Pixabay and Unsplash have great free images. Tinypng is great at compressing all those beautiful images, so the site still continues to load quickly. I like Evernote and Pocket for keeping content I find on the web either just to read later (Pocket) or to file for reference (Evernote). Manageflitter has been amazing at helping grow our Twitter following.
Are there any other great secrets you like to share with the readers books websites inspirational people?
Marie Forleo who I mentioned earlier is a great online and life mentor, and her B-School course was transformational for me. I knew nothing about online business and her course gave me all the tools I needed. Ruth Soukup's Elite Blogging Academy has also been fantastic as is Melyssa Griffin's Pinfinite Growth Pinterest course. Completely unrelated to Mutton Club, I’m loving the podcasts of Tim Ferriss. I find them incredibly inspiring and interesting, and my kindle is now full of books suggested by Tim and his podcast guests.
How important is keyword research when you're planning an article?
I always think I should be better at keyword research. I know the basics of SEO but I perhaps don't invest enough time in finding a true standout keyword. I bought a product called Market Samurai to help me with this but I find it so complicated that I rarely use it! But I do plug my keywords into Google to ascertain how viable they are before hitting publish. But the competition to rank highly for any keyword is so incredibly high that I try to focus on other ways of driving traffic rather than SEO.
Do you have a particular length for your blog posts, and if so why?
Blog posts are usually over 700 words, and I prefer longer posts, between 1000 and 1500 words, as apparently Google prefers longer, meatier articles.
How long on average does it take for you to write an article for the blog?
How long is a piece of string? Sometimes it can take me weeks if it’s something I’m struggling with. Sometimes it can take a couple of hours if all the ideas are ready to spill out. One tip I would recommend, which I used when answering these questions, is to dictate a post using a mobile phone. The dictation function in Evernote is particularly strong.
How do you find new inspiration for your articles?
There are just so many things to write about, it's easy to find topics. I'm trying to make Mutton Club into an encyclopaedia of resources for midlife women, and therefore the subject matter is potentially endless.
There is a lot of hype out there about learning a lot of money from blogging - what do you say to people who've read all these stories?
It's hard work, time-consuming and you need to be in it for the long run. You also need to be passionate about what you're creating because the money is not going to come instantaneously. Unless you have a magic wand of course! But if you have some other means of covering your costs while investing in your passion, go for it.
Which social media do you use most, and why?
I've been focusing on Pinterest most recently because I read that it's a good source of traffic for story-telling bloggers which is what we're all about. I did a couple of courses and now have a strong Pinterest strategy. Over half our website traffic is now coming from Pinterest having been zero only three months ago. Twitter is also a great platform for us. We have over 4000 highly engaged followers and I find writers on Twitter too. We also have a strong Facebook following on our page, but it’s difficult to get in front of people on Facebook pages without paying now, so that is less of a priority than it was last year. However, we've recently launched a private group on Facebook called the Flock which is going great.
You work from a shed in your garden. Does heading the project by yourself sometimes get lonely?
I'm an introvert and actually I'm very happy in my garden shed/office! The Internet brings the world to me. Twitter and Facebook are where I talk to fellow muttoneers. I'm also always chatting to members of the Flock. If your readers are interested, they can join the Flock here.
You must have researched and met some very interesting people during the course of the Mutton Club's history. Who have been some of the most inspiring people you've talked to?
You're absolutely right. One of the best things about starting the Mutton Club is the incredible women I've been lucky enough to meet. Actually most of them I haven't met in real life, but I've established a bond with them online. We profile many amazing women on the site. It's very hard to choose but my favourites include Felicity Gibson, Jen Lehner, Imogen Wilson, Dr Sue Black, Louise Chunn and Dorrie Jacobson.
What have been the most unexpected or interesting experiences you've had since founding the Mutton Club?
Being featured in a book about building websites is one example! That was amazing. Now I'm the editor of an online magazine I get lots of press releases and invitations to events. I was invited to go to the Women in the World conference last year and that was the most incredible experience. So many amazing women there. I was also approached to do a Mutton Club book early on, but we decided it was perhaps still a bit early days to do that! One day!
What can we expect around the corner with the Mutton Club? Can you share your vision?
My vision is to create a global network of fun and feisty midlife women who are empowered to change the world. Yes really! I want women to make the most of the second half of their lives and step into their power. I turned 50 this summer and if I'm lucky, I have another 30 years in good health to make a difference. That's the same amount of time as I had between age 20 and now, and I know how much I accomplished in that period. In the words of Ashton Applewhite, I refuse to accept that this version of me is inferior to a younger one. I'm in my prime. I'm not slowing down, I'm ramping up. That's what I want the Mutton Club to help other women feel, as it has done for me.
Thanks so much, Rachel! If you're interested in finding out more about the Mutton Club, visit the website, sign up, get their free e-book 12 Ways to Transform Midlife and Beyond, and if you fancy it, also join the Flock.