This week’s interview is with Tiny Buddha founder, Lori Deschene. Lori created this amazing site 3 years ago as a way to help individuals “reflect on simple wisdom and [learn] new ways to apply it to our complex lives – complete with responsibilities, struggles, dreams and relationships. Over the last three years, Tiny Buddha has emerged as a leading resource for peace and happiness, with more than 15 million views to date” (tinybuddha.com).
Tiny Buddha is a unique and intriguing blog for several reasons – first of all, Lori has managed to create an active site that not only accepts but encourages and utilizes user-participation. Many of the site’s posts are submitted by guests, and she encourages a community-like feel and approach. Second, her website effectively blends my two greatest loves – self-improvement and inspirational quotes – into one streamlined platform. Third, she has both written her own books (Tiny Buddha: Simple Wisdom for Life’s Hard Lessons and Tiny Buddha’s Handbook for Peace and Happiness) and features a spiritual bookstore on her site, as well.
Inspired by both her spirit, mission, and fantastic blogging entrepreneurial skill, Lori was so kind to let me pick her brain a bit. I learned a ton and was greatly inspired by this interview, and I hope you will be too. Enjoy!
1. So, let’s start with the basics. How did you start Tiny Buddha? What did you have in mind in the beginning?
At first, Tiny Buddha was just a Twitter account with one daily quote. When I started tweeting, I had thoughts about where I could go with it, but no real concrete plan. When I started thinking about launching the site, in the beginning of 2009, I began to clarify my purpose and intentions.
I knew then that I wanted Tiny Buddha to be a community blog. At the time, there were a lot of personal development blogs that hinged around one person’s story of transformation. I wanted Tiny Buddha to be about all of our stories.
I wanted it to be a place where we’re all both students and teachers, and we all have something to share and something to learn. I hoped people would feel comfortable sharing their struggles and insights honestly and even vulnerably, so we could help ourselves and each other.
2. You’re very prolific. How often do you try and post? How do you think this posting frequency has influenced your readership?
I generally publish one post from the community and one of my own posts on every week day. I think readers enjoy this consistency, because they can expect a daily dose of wisdom every day of the week at that same time.
3. You have done an amazing job of taking your blog/website and making it have a real community feeling. You encourage guest posts, have a subscription service and a Facebook page. How did it grow into this? How did you successfully make your site so large and interactive?
Thank you so much! It grew somewhat slowly at first. I launched the site with three posts: one from me, one from a friend, and one I wrote under a pseudonym to give the impression Tiny Buddha was already a community blog. (To this day, my name isn’t on that post!)
Although I sporadically wrote posts under my own name, I didn’t write anywhere on the site that I was the founder, because my intention was to keep the emphasis on the community. To this end, I also wrote many anonymous posts which, I realize in retrospect, lacked a sense of heart and connection.
Over time, I recognized that this wasn’t an effective approach, so I eventually acknowledged I ran the site and started putting more of myself into my writing. I also found a strong contributor through an ad I put on Craigslist.
Over the first year, the site started to attract a loyal, engaged following, and eventually, it gained some momentum with submissions from other writers. The more open people were in their posts, the more they inspired other people to open their hearts, as well.
Ultimately, I think this is what makes Tiny Buddha what it is: people of all ages and backgrounds from all over the world share their experiences and lessons bravely and authentically. This type of honesty reminds us that we’re all very similar, despite our differences, and we are never alone.
4. Tell me about the books you’ve written and the on-site bookstore. It’s really phenomenal. How did you set that up? Is it your full-time business or do you have another job?
Thank you again! I’ve written two books so far, though one is actually a collection of blog posts. I’d seen other bloggers compile popular posts into an eBook, so I decided to do that in the spring of 2011. At that point, I had just finished writing my first print book, which is entirely original (not taken from the site, like my eBook).
My print book is titled Tiny Buddha: Simple Wisdom for Life’s Hard Questions. I started the process by asking @tinybuddha Twitter followers a number of difficult questions, including: What’s the meaning of life? What does it take to be happy? Does everything happen for a reason?
Then I shaped the book around their responses, including stories from my own life and action-oriented suggestions to help readers create meaning and joy, even in a world with so much uncertainty.
It’s been an exciting experience so far, mostly because of the feedback I’ve received. I love knowing I’m able to recycle some of my past pain and lessons into something useful and positive for other people—and do it in a way that includes so many varied perspectives and insights from the community.
As for the book store, that’s actually a co-branded store through Sounds True. They supplied the code, and all I had to do was put it on the site. I get a percentage of sales, but it’s far from a full-time income!
I make a living through a combination of different things. First, I have ads on Tiny Buddha. Secondly, I earn through my two books, and I’m also an Amazon affiliate. Lastly, I write for a magazine for ‘tween girls, and I ghostwrite for a popular ‘tween website.
5. Speaking of site logistics, as someone who has both a blog and a quotations site I’m intrigued on how you’ve put together your site to integrate the store, quotations, and blog so well. Is it a WordPress site? Has it always been this complex or has it evolved over time?
It is a WordPress site—and I can’t take credit for anything to do with the design or coding! Joshua Denney of Think Web Strategy has done all the design work; and I’ve worked with a couple of different people for programming.
The site has definitely evolved over time. There have been a few major redesigns, and a lot of little additions over the years.
6. The purpose of this interview series is to encourage people that no matter what their interests are, the internet has so many resources to help them network and cultivate those different sides of themselves. How do you think your website has helped you grow personally? How has it influenced your life professionally?
Tinybuddha.com has been an instrumental part of my personal and professional growth over these last three years.
First, I’ve learned through writing and reading posts other contributors submit. There’s something empowering about looking at a difficult situation and focusing on ways you can grow from it going forward, and maybe even benefit. That’s what Tiny Buddha is all about, and I gain so much through that process.
Secondly, I’ve grown from the experience of building and running the site. I’ve faced a lot of my fears, some related to perfectionism and criticism, and I know I’ve become stronger and less sensitive as a result.
Lastly, I’ve been able to do something that feels deeply meaningful to me every day—and I’ve also been able publish a book, which was a lifelong dream of mine.
Formerly, I spent years bouncing from job to job, feeling aimless and purposeless, but these past few years I’ve felt an increasing sense of satisfaction with how I spend my time. I don’t think I could ask for much more than that.
7. What tips do you have for someone who is inspired by your website and wants to get their feet wet trying a blog themselves? Any final words for the Fearless Blogging series?
Jump in! Before I started blogging, I felt somewhat terrified to start, mostly because I don’t have a technical background. Although I’d written for the web for work, I felt overwhelmed by everything I didn’t know about running a blog myself.
What I’ve realized is that you don’t have to have it all figured it out to start. You just have to trust that you will learn as you go. I’ve known some amazing people who started much like me—with lots of passion, but no clue what to do with it. Passion is the most important part, and if you have that, you’re absolutely ready to take your first step.