James Fell is an MBA grad and professional fitness speaker and an internationally syndicated fitness columnist whose work is read by millions each month. He writes for the Chicago Tribune, interviews celebrities for the Los Angeles Times about their fitness stories, is the head fitness writer for AskMen.com, did a four-year stint as head fitness writer for Chatelaine.com, and he has written for TIME Magazine and NPR. He also has authored several books including Lose It Right: A Brutally Honest 3-Stage Program to Help You Get Fit and Lose Weight Without Losing Your Mind.
When I found his site, www.bodyforwife.com, I first read You Don’t Have to Like Fat People. Upon discovering he is an excellent writer I went on to laugh out loud while reading the entertaining post 6 Ways to Get Your Thigh Gap. He uses some very catchy titles as well such as Being a Mom Doesn’t Make You Special.
This interview is part of an ongoing blog series: Great Examples of Business Website Content. Below is our interview with James Fell.
How Author James Fell uses Web Content:
When did you decide to get in shape?
It was 1993, and I had just got back some photos from our summer vacation and realized that I’d gained a lot of weight in university. I was never active growing up – literally the last one picked for teams – and I was starting a master’s degree and had free access to the university gym, so I decided to give it a try. It was a major struggle, and I wrote about it here. But after about six months I slowly learned how to love being active and fueling with better fuel.
You have amazing content in magazines, on TV, on radio, in print, and on your website. As for your website’s content, how does it help you? Does it help with books sales and consulting or speaking ventures?
It helps an amazing amount. Prior to 2015 there was no unique content on my site, and the only traffic came from my bylines on published articles. It averaged around 5,000 visits a month. Then I started blogging and it instantly jumped to over a hundred thousand visitors in the first month.
I realize this is a “results not typical” kind of thing, but I had a built in fan base from my article writing. Also very important was that my blog was different from the articles in that I could cover any subject I like in any way that I like. The traditional publishing restraints were removed, and I could be a lot more creative and write stuff that was weird and funny and a little profane that people would latch onto and share. I wrote one piece going off on dark chocolate that got over 30,000 Facebook likes.
You have a rare, engaged Facebook audience and over 10,000 followers. Does this help drive traffic to your site?
Facebook rules! It’s way better than Twitter. Twitter is marketers marketing to marketers, where everyone talks and no one listens. I have over 13,000 on Twitter and it drives about 10% of my traffic, but Facebook is driving about 65%.
Twitter works for some; mostly celebrities. For me, I’m too longwinded to really get value out of it. Facebook allows me to build a community that I interact closely with, and it allows for generating some very dedicated followers. I find that on Facebook you don’t have to be a celebrity to drive traffic, because people read their Facebook feeds, whereas on Twitter, I just don’t think people read much. The Facebook algorithms also allow for popular stuff to rise to the top, so if you write something good, more and more people will see it. I see people that follow tens of thousands of people on Twitter and think, Do you ever look at your feed? It would be just non-stop broadcasting of mostly crap.
And since I’m not some half-starved fitness Barbie, I don’t do Instagram. I don’t get it. Definitely not my thing.
Has content on the web ever helped you in any unexpected ways?
Oh, for certain. People get in touch asking me to be their lifestyle consultant, offer me speaking gigs, free trips to Vail and even Italy. The best part for me is that work comes to me now. When I started out, I struggled and was in constant sales mode to pitch articles and getting rejected and it sucked. Now, they come to me. Just recently I landed what will hopefully (probably?) turn into a regular gig with a major publication, and they pitched me out of the blue. That was cool.
What happened with AOL / Huffington Post?
I left before the HuffPo purchase. It was a competitive thing. AOL was my first column and I was offered a new column from a competitor that paid WAY more, but the catch was I had to leave AOL. I had no problem doing so.
Anything else you’d like to add?
Humor sells. People love to laugh. Johnny Carson said, “People will pay more to be entertained than educated.” I try to do both.
Making a living as a writer is tough. It’s probably as hard as making a living as a musician or actor. But it’s an awesome lifestyle. I had to struggle early on, but it was totally worth it. Having a supportive spouse was critical.