HSC Influencer Series - Matt Niehoff
Matt Niehoff is one of Nashville's most well-known bloggers. If you're from this town, it's likely that you follow his blog, Experience Nashville on Instagram for the best local knowledge about all things food, drink, music, and experiences in general. Considering how quickly the city of Nashville is growing, he has his work cut out for him! Everyday, there is a new restaurant to try, a new bar opening or a new band coming through town. Matt took some time out from his very busy schedule to sit down with us and give us the low-down on building his successful blog in this ever-growing Music City.
How did you get started in blogging?
I moved to Nashville in 2007 – and began my career in the sales world, which, to be frank, I hated. I was looking for any way to transition into a more creative, marketing position (and, needed some sort of creative outlet before I went completely mad). After meeting with some folks in the marketing/advertising world, I was advised to make myself “stand out” somehow amongst the pack of marketers. I wrestled with what exactly that meant for me, and asked myself what it was that I wanted to do with my career. I’ve always loved traveling, food, and drinks (who doesn’t), and wanted to create a repository of my ideas. Thus, Experience Nashville was born. It was a perfect creative outlet for me, and allowed me to hone in on many new skillsets.
When did blogging switch from hobby to profession? Was it a moment or a process? Tell us about that transition and how it felt.
Around 2 years ago (2015), I was looking for my next move career-wise and questioning my purpose in what I was doing with my life (yes, that kind of heavy shit. Ha.). My husband and I started brainstorming on the meaning of life, what was next, and what various opportunities we considered low-hanging fruit. You know, typical dinner convo.
Experience Nashville had grown into a brand with an immense following – between site visits, Google ranking, social following, etc., which made it an obvious choice for us to focus on. This, a few freelance gigs, a live events company partnership, and Airbnb revenue allowed me to pseudo-comfortably make the jump out on my own. After ditching the 9-to-5, I was able to focus more on the build-out of Experience Nashville along with the other brands we were working on/with.
To be honest, I had a mild freak out at dinner before I was letting my former boss know I was leaving. The idea of losing a steady paycheck was terrifying to me. Was I making the right move? I’d never done anything like this in my life. An “aha” moment happened as we were sitting at the bar at City House – which changed my mindset completely.
To make a long story short, we discovered the couple next to us had just grappled with a similar life-changing decision. They both quit their steady jobs to focus on fulfilling what they felt was their calling at the time – and their life purpose. They were taking a year off to travel the world, taking it in while they were young and had means. Then, after this year off, were moving to a new city and focusing on careers they were passionate about. It hit me like a ton of bricks. It was like the universe telling me to take a leap of faith. So I did. It felt terrifying and exciting at the same time.
Tell us about your all-time favorite Nashville experience. Where was it? What was it?
This is such a tough question! So, I’m giving you two answers. Truly, my favorite part about living in Nashville is the people. So many people here share the same spirit of acceptance, encouragement, passion, and drive – and inspire me so so much. Meeting so many friends through EN has been and continues to be one of my all-time favorite Nashville experiences.
My other is the culture, specifically, within the music world. Music is one of my greatest passions in life, and the fact that we are surrounded by the best music in the world is beyond thrilling to me. Going backstage at the Grand Ole Opry, attending a private show with Little Big Town, interviewing Idina Menzel, seeing Garth at the Ryman, hanging backstage at the Counting Crows and Lady Antebellum shows, and meeting the one and only Miss Britney Spears (yes, in Nashville!) are among some of my top memories.
How do you go about finding new clients to work with- or do they find you?
A mix of both. A lot of brands (thankfully) reach out to me directly (and if you’re interested, shoot me a note: firstname.lastname@example.org #shamelessplug). I also have a handful of brands/people that I’ve longed to work with that I have no qualms reaching out to directly. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t, but it’s always worth a shot!
Considering Experience Nashville’s reputation, I imagine that there are a lot of businesses around Nashville wanting you to write about them. How do you decide which stories to cover and which avoid?
This can be, and often is, the toughest part for me. I get multiple emails a day from people requesting some sort of coverage. Sorting through it all can be an absolute nightmare. I do my best to read every email and consider it for coverage. Unfortunately, it’s just me from a content perspective, so I’m limited in capacity. I try to choose brands that best align with our brand and what I’m passionate about, and what I feel our readers/followers would find most beneficial.
How has your previous work or training helped in building your business?
Immensely. My first marketing job (which I landed after starting EN), was on the campaigns team for a local healthcare company. It eventually led to a management position on the digital marketing team, which provided so much understanding of the digital space, and ultimately helped me continue to build upon the skillset, which built EN!
In your opinion what are the vital skills needed to be a successful blogger?
A creative eye, basic web and design knowledge, the ability to form a complete sentence or two (and write them down), the willingness to put yourself completely out there for the world to see (and judge), remaining authentic to yourself, networking networking networking, understanding that working for yourself is a 24/7 thing (even on vaca!), and not 9-to-5.
You work with a lot of clients. How do you manage your workflow day to day?
Confession, I’m probably the most unorganized person, ever. If you saw my e-mail inbox, you’d agree. I struggle with workflow, and very much credit my calendar and business partners, Cole Evans and Alex Hamilton, for keeping me in check.
Do you often work with the same clients again? How do you go about building and maintaining those relationships?
Definitely. I look at client relationships just like I do my own personal relationships – the key is open communication. You have to have constant, honest dialogue with one another to ensure both parties are happy, aka, success.
What’s one vital tool or system that you use every day and couldn’t live without?
Is it cliché or a copout to say Instagram? I interact with so many brands and followers through it – and have met so many friends and clients as well.
What is the hardest thing you've had to deal with as a blogger? Would you have done anything differently along the way?
The hardest thing is probably dealing with negative comments on posts. People can be brutal, and when you pour so much into something like this, its hard not to take it personally. As for doing anything differently, I’d say no. I’ve always strived to do my best, to blow off the negative, and solely focus on the positive.
Any advice for budding bloggers?
Thoroughly understand the world you’re getting into. Before you put yourself out there, research your favorite brands and ensure you are bringing your A-Game when starting your own. It is a noisy blogosphere these days, so find a way to be unique and boldly stand out amongst the pack. This begins with excellent, unique, and authentic content.
Diversify yourself. Do not put all your eggs in the Instagram basket – blogging is not simply having a huge instagram following. There is much more to it!
Slow and steady wins the race. Work hard, be the best you can be, and do not let your competitors distract you from doing so – let them inspire you to work smarter. Oh, and DON’T BUY FOLLOWERS.
Understand this is hard work, and not just the glamour you see on social media. Hours upon hours upon hours are spent gathering content, attending events, building websites, editing photos, articles, posting on media platforms, and meeting with clients and potential clients. It’s truly a full time job!