Lessons in Blogging
Time for another ‘lessons’ post, this time dedicated to all things blogging and to all of you who send me questions on email and instagram about getting started or in need of advice, plus a few random things I’ve learnt along the way… As always, I by no means know everything (who does?!) but this is what I’ve learnt so far and if it can help you guys, or just give you more of an insight into the weird and wonderful world of blogging, then that’s just great. Plus, loads of these are relevant for all kinds of self-employed careers, not just blogging so do let me know in the comments if you’re working on something totally unrelated but still find something of use in here!
Sidenote, this isn’t about gaining followers rapidly or ‘getting noticed’ (mainly because I have no clue about how to use hashtags). But hopefully the below can help if you’re figuring out where to start or how to keep going in an industry that can feel like a tough cookie at times. I refer to the fashion and beauty side of blogging mostly, but hopefully this can translate to whatever kind of site you’re running.
Blogger Isn’t a Dirty Word (but You’ll Feel Like It Is at Times)
Try as we might, ‘blogger’ still has negative connotations. While I now have plenty of other strings to my bow, blogging remains my professional backbone and I’m proud and contented one at that. However, I still find myself making self-deprecating excuses for what I do or telling print journalists in jest that I’m ‘from the dark side’, so I’m as guilty as the next person for not sticking up for the B-word. I’m not sure where or why ‘bloggers’ as a whole got such a bad rep either. I think it might have something to do with the fact anyone can be one and no-one but your readers has to give you the seal of approval for you to have a job. To me, that’s what I admire the most in other bloggers; the ability to create something from nothing. Even if you don’t like someone’s style or aesthetic, the fact they’ve carved out a corner of the internet for themselves is worth something I think. But self-made roles are incredibly easy to dismiss as the lack of a structured, step-by-step career ladder can make people uneasy at best, angry at worst. At the start, I was so paranoid about friends from university finding out what I was doing and thinking I was a clinical narcissist or that I saw myself as some kind of oracle of style, when in fact I had no idea what I was doing and doubted myself relentlessly. It was only when I went full-time that I decided I had to put those fears to bed, back myself and generally give less f*cks in order to create the kind of content I wanted to and grow my site. I’ve had a love/hate relationship with blogging over the years with my trusty imposter syndrome and fear of judgement making me doubt myself to the core, but I feel like I’ve now found my place in the industry that works for me.
In the last year or so I’ve reconnected with writing more, stopped feeling the need to document just about everything, started a Book Club and generally figured out how to balance ‘blogger’ me and ‘normal’ me. To me, being a blogger involves, amongst other things, being a writer, a stylist, a photographer, a book keeper, an executive assistant, a creative director, a website designer, a social media manager, a travel agent, a brand director and a business manager. Not everyday, somedays I’m just an email-opener, but sometimes I’m all of those things all at once. So I for one am proud to be a blogger as to me, it’s just the simplest way to sum up the many, many hats we’re lucky enough to don on a daily basis.
Money, Money, Money
One thing you’ll notice being a blogger is people are suddenly very comfortable asking very upfront questions about money. Unlike other career choices or freelance career paths, blogging and more to the point, bloggers incomes, remain something of a mystery, and people outside of the industry will struggle to know where to place you. The press are equally fascinated with the amount bloggers/instagrammers are paid, so it makes sense that much of the rest of world also want to known how you pay the bills and how much you’re making a year. The amount of times I’ve sat next to someone at a wedding who has been angling for some kind of figure in terms of how much I earn is pretty crazy. It used to drive me mad, but now I kind of get it as it comes from a place of ‘how’ rather than direct rudeness or confrontation. That said, it still kind of pisses me off in all honesty. The art of smiling, nodding and posing the same questions back to them comes into play here I’ve learnt!
On the other side of the coin, you’re suddenly asked to value yourself like a commodity and this takes time to get comfortable with. I’ve had an agent for the last two years which has been a huge help, mainly in terms of time and accounting to be honest, but before that I had to get used to pricing myself and figuring out what I’m ‘worth’. This is really, really tough but the sooner you get comfortable with it, the sooner other people will too. While it might be tempting, don’t try and ask other bloggers what they’re charging (this stuff is anything but regulated or textbook) as everyone’s engagement, aesthetic, reach and positioning is different, all of which are taken into account when brands want to hire people. It’s a balancing act but practise makes perfect and you have to make a few mistakes along the way to work out what you’re comfortable with. Know what you and your content is worth, don’t be greedy but don’t be taken advantage of either.
Style Within Your Means
When I first started out many moons ago, I had one second-hand, vintage designer bag. A Louis Vuitton bucket bag that I got for about £150 on a designer resale site. Other than that, my entire wardrobe was high street and vintage. I’d trawl the The Outnet for Isabel Marant Etoile bargains and sites equivalent to Vestiaire Collective for brands like Alexander Wang and Acne (habits I still have now). The online world is granted a different beast these days, but I firmly believe you don’t need a wardrobe full of current season ready-to-wear to be a success. If you’re starting out, please don’t feel like you need to beg, borrow or steal a Gucci bag in order to be respected or gain followers. If you yourself wouldn’t or couldn’t buy one (yet!), be the person that sources the best bags on the high street or discovers vintage treasures and old baskets instead. Likewise, don’t start asking PRs for gifts as soon as you have a few thousands followers. Shop within your means and show the brands you love that you’re a fan regardless of freebies and who knows, next time they might reach out to you instead. If you like something, wear it over and over because that’s how people dress. No one wears a different outfit everyday of the week in real life so don’t succumb to that pressure online either.
The Power of Saying No
Not to sound massively negative, but saying no is more powerful than yes in the blogging world at times. When you first start out, every opportunity that comes your way feels like like an amazing gift and it’s tempting to gobble up every project or approach. But whether you’re just starting out or been doing this for years and at a point where it’s easier to turn down projects financially, saying no occasionally is a great skill to hone. For me, saying no to certain things gives extra value to the things I do say yes to and allows me to feel confident about each, individual project. There’s nothing worse than working on something that makes you cringe or feel uncomfortable so I now make a point of only working with product and brands I feel excited to add something to. An ‘amazing project’ is only amazing if it’s right for you and vice versa; one woman’s trash is another woman’s treasure after all. It also means that I feel confident declaring something is sponsored on instagram and my blog because I know I would wear or use the products I’m featuring regardless. ‘#Ad’ used to be an almost shameful inclusion but it really shouldn’t be, as long as you’re in line with what you’re promoting. All it’s doing is declaring money has changed hands but to me, it should in no way negate your content or turn people off. It’s honest about the business of blogging, and as long as you have integrity about it and you’re making room for content that isn’t sponsored, it’s all good in my mind.
Saying no to certain things that don’t feel like quite the right fit, or simply because the timings doesn’t work, means I can give the right amount of time and attention to the things I do say yes to. The thing that makes me more stressed than anything else is not liking the content I’m producing because it’s created in a bit of rush, so I now know not to spread myself too thinly. It’s hard at first to not feel guilty for turning down a project (‘what if I never get approached again and I turned down that pay cheque and end up impoverished?! your irrational brain cries’), but you quickly learn there is always another opportunity, another chance and as long as you don’t burn bridges and are polite, kind and conscientious, that exact same job might come back to you full circle.
Work Between The Jobs
It’s important to keep up your enthusiasm for blogging because as soon as you’re bored or lacking in inspiration, your readers are going to pick up on that so I always make sure I have time to create non-sponsored, totally autonomous content. Sounds like such a small thing, but it’s amazing how many people let this slip and then wonder why they’re lacking in ideas. The creative brain is like a muscle and has to be worked to stay fit, so if you’re only ever working on content that’s been laid out by a third party, that muscle ain’t going to be getting much exercise is it. Rather than simply chasing projects or dollar signs, keep plugging away at your content even if there’s nothing on the horizon so you’re constantly offering new stuff for people to engage with and showing everyone the great stuff you can create.
Blocking Out The Noise
Remember that episode of Sex and the City where Charlotte goes for fertility acupuncture and Dr.Mao tells her to ‘block out the noise’, namely of other women’s ‘miracle’ post-treatment baby stories. Well, the same goes for working in the blogging world; living your life online requires blinkers. We have all had moments of comparing and despairing in this industry but I’ve learnt it’s worth ignoring the noise. From instagram stories entirely dedicated to box after box of freebies and gifts (don’t even get me started on that one), to girls working on seemingly dream projects, learning to ignore others’ online hype is key. Remember none of us knows what goes on behind closed doors or behind those ‘perfect’ social media feeds and keeping that horrible green-eyed monster at bay is key to keeping your head above water. And remember another woman’s success doesn’t diminish your own; if anything, it helps the whole blogging community keep rising. So be outwardly supportive of those women you aspire to be like, say you’re jealous when you’re jealous and keep treading your own path without letting others’ noise crowd you.
Be Inspired, Be Yourself
It’s harder than ever to find something individual online these days but it’s more important than ever to find your own place in the digital world. I’m as guilty as the next person for coveting items I’ve seen on another girl and thanks to the endless scrolling of instagram, inspiration often seeps in like osmosis. But do your absolute best to keep doing you. What do you want to see on the internet that isn’t there already? What are you passionate about? From designing your website, coming up with ideas and composing instagrams, to what you want to wear or talk about, be brave and do it before others rather than after. Even if you love someone’s site, find a way to make it your own for you and out of respect for them. Plus, you might have a cease and desist letter coming your way if you don’t! No one is saying you need to dress like Gaga to offer something different; if you want to wear jeans, t-shirts and little else (yes please), do just that. Be inspired and enjoy the internet, just don’t strive to be anyone but you. Harder than it sounds at times but so important.
Invest To Get Ahead
I would never suggest you rush out and buy all the gear before you’ve even written a word, but if you’re looking to up the ante, sometimes you need to throw a bit of money at the situation. I spent years editing my photos in iPhoto (which now doesn’t even exist) and now realise how much better Adobe Lightroom is for example. Cameras don’t have to cost the earth but the right one can make a huge difference to the kind of photos you’re producing, equally getting a good accountant and/or book keeper is 100% worth it if numbers aren’t your friend. Are you always roping in a grumpy boyfriend with a full-time job to take iphone pictures of you at the weekend? Think about finding an up-and-coming photographer or connecting with someone whose aesthetic you like on instagram to help you take photos instead. You reclaim your free time and can produce twice the amount you were before. Win win. Sometimes spending a little more can help take your blog to the next level, even if that’s just because it frees up more of your time to dedicate to it. Work out what you can afford and recognise the value in that spend. A new piece of tech or some administrative help is worth so much more than that new pair of shoes in the long run.
It’s hard sometimes to keep evolving, especially when you’ve found a happy place that works. But doing things that scare you, finding new mediums to play with or new projects to get your teeth stuck into is key to keeping the momentum going. I have a few things I’m wanting to work on in the future, but yet again, the thing that’s stopping me is just good old fashioned fear. You know that ‘fear of judgment’ I spoke about earlier? Turns out it hasn’t totally evaporated as there are definitely things I want to do but haven’t done yet as I’m scared of getting it wrong… But I also know I’ll do them eventually when the time is right. Whether it’s hosting events, doing an Instagram Live or starting a new series of some sort, keep moving forward rather than staying still in your comfort zone.
Patience Is A Virtue
Lastly, be patient and expect to work damn hard. It might look easy from the outside, seemingly posting the odd instagram and travelling the world. But from my experience at least, is it takes time to build something. Don’t lose heart if you’re not growing at an exponential rate but equally look into why that might be and what you can do about it. And remember numbers aren’t everything. If you have 10K super engaged followers that you interact with and who love what you do, that’s way stronger than someone who has 100K followers who couldn’t care less about anything other than what they’re posting online. Post what you like rather than chasing those followers and the right people will come. If you have a full-time job, get ready to roll up your sleeves and work evenings and weekends to help you blog love-child grow.
If you have any more questions about specifics or anything at all really, drop them below and I’ll get back to you.
If you like this, check out some of my other lessons posts below too.
Ph. from various sources including YanYanChan, Jeanne Damas, Always Judging and numerous tumblrs.