About two years ago, I wrote a giant post with all of my blogging tips. It remains one of my most clicked posts and I send it out no fewer than 20 times a week via email or Instagram DMs. A lot of you want to start blogs and I think it’s great. Yes, it’s a saturated market, but there’s plenty of room for everyone because everyone should have the opportunity to share their perspective. If you’re just starting out or want to learn more about the basics of blogging, that post is where you should start.
Even though I wrote that, I still get a lot of follow up questions, particularly from people who have been blogging for a couple of years and want to take it to the next level.
Let me start with two pieces of wisdom. One, trust your instincts. The best part about blogging is that it’s your space. As great as it can be to look to someone else for help, don’t fall into the trap of just doing what other people are doing. Do YOU. You have the best instincts for yourself because you know yourself better than anyone else. If something doesn’t feel right to you, don’t do it. Don’t follow the masses just because it seems like that’s what you should be doing. Take even my advice with a grain of salt. If you think it will work for you, great! If you think you should do something else or try a different approach… do it!
Two, don’t get sucked into blogger scams. Now that blogging has become an industry, people have caught on that there’s money to be gained and a lot of times, it’s super sketchy. If I had a dollar for every weird thing I’ve seen a blogger selling, I could retire. I don’t recommend giving people money for “consulting,” or to be in exclusive Instagram promotion groups, or to join a “big league” giveaway. If something seems too good to be true, it probably is. Go back to number one and trust your instinct… and check the facts. Sometimes I see these ads on Facebook of people selling these blogging courses and then I go to their Instagram and it’s filled with bot comments and their Twitter has ZERO engagement. If it seems like a scam, it’s a scam and the only person who will benefit is the one receiving your Paypal payment.
Is starting a blog even worth it? Why can’t I just be on Instagram?
Starting and then maintaining a blog can be a lot of work. (Actually, it just is a lot of work.) Because it seems like “everybody” is on social media (e.g., Instagram) and it’s an already made platform, it seems like a no-brainer. Instagram is great but you should also have a blog behind it.
First, it’s going to be a space that you can completely control. What you can do, and how you “perform,” on social media can be entirely dictated by someone else. There are plenty of examples, but Vine, Pinterest, and Snapchat are three super specific ones. People got popular on Vine and even made careers out of it and then, womp, Twitter buys Vine and ultimately shuts the app down. Then what? Same with Pinterest and we’re seeing it now with Snapchat. (Frankly, people are going to see it happening on Youtube to a certain extent soon too.) If you grow your audience on a platform that you don’t completely control, you could be in trouble down the road.
With a blog, you don’t have to worry about algorithms or changes because… you’re in control.
Social media should supplement your blog. I consider my blog the bread and butter of what I do. I can write as much as I want and share as many photos as I want, without being tied to limitations set by a company. I also want to make sure that people can follow one, two, or all of my social media accounts and feel like they understand what I’m all about without having too much overlap in content. In my head, it’s like my blog is the sun and social media platforms are the planets. All the planets are doing their own thing, rotating on their own time, but ultimately are tied towards the sun. And while the experience on one planet will differ from the next, it’s all in the same solar system revolving around the one sun. (That may be a little far-fetched, but I hope you get what I mean!)
Another thing that I consider is that I try to transcend the whole concept of platform altogether. The ultimate goal is to cultivate an audience that wants to follow you and hear what you have to say, regardless of where you’re saying it. So Vine shuts down, but people still think you’re funny and they’re following you to Youtube and Facebook or your own spot on the Internet where you will continue to post content.
A giant mistake I see Instagrammers make is assuming that their followers will follow them off the platform. You post cute photos and captions, but would they also be interested in hearing what you have to say on a blog? Or in a Tweet? To take it to the next level, you have to go beyond being a one-trick pony. I think people started to see this Pre-Instagram Stories when they would try to get their audience to follow them over to Snapchat. Try not to focus on cultivating “an audience on Instagram” because it’s not actually as valuable in the long run as just cultivating an audience. An audience interested in you will follow you from platform to platform because the value isn’t in Instagram, it’s in you.
At the end of the day, a blog is going to allow you to really express yourself beyond one photo. You could, of course, just use a blog as a visual diary, but honestly? I think a blog is best served when you can truly inject personality into it. Use it to stand out and to share what you’re all about. I don’t think you have to share every detail of your life, but in my experience, opening up and letting readers in is why people stick around. It can be scary at times as you’re being vulnerable in a public space, but it can be an extremely rewarding experience.
Should I spend a lot of money?
NO. Whatever you do, don’t go into debt trying to build a business around a blog. Guys, it’s not worth it. I can understand the temptation, but honestly? So much of what you see on social media and other blogs is fake (or faked to a certain extent). Bloggers are wearing fake Gucci belts purchased for like $5 on Amazon, traveling to Bora Bora on their parent’s dime, and putting entire wardrobes on credit cards, and then returning clothes after they’ve worn them. It’s keeping up with the Joneses to an extreme.
Until you’re making money and “hurting,” don’t spend a lot, if any. I was using a free blog platform for seven years with a template that I finagled myself and had a friend do the design.
From what I see, it looks like people think they need to go out and buy a new wardrobe and, woo!, you’ll get a million followers. That’s not how it works. Just know that you can run a blog, write a blog, photograph for a blog with everything you already own and love. In fact, that’s the best way to do it. Why? It’s authentically you.
One quick note about this too. Commission based income (I talk about what that means in this post if you’re confused) is a small fraction of my income now. I’ve focused all of my energy on flat-fee campaigns (aka sponsored posts) because the payoff is so much bigger. I consider my commission income (i.e., what I earn through rewardStyle) to cover my business expenses* (payroll, travel, etc.) and everything else is true profit. (*I’m also pretty frugal when it comes to business expenses, I spend as little as possible.) Focusing on commission means you’re almost always chasing a quick buck. It can earn you income, even with the clothes you already have, but it’s not going to build you an empire overnight. And you won’t have to shop until you’re broke or fake your wardrobe in the process.
And just like how I mentioned you don’t want to build your audience based on one platform? Same thing for these commission conglomerates. You don’t want that company to dictate what you can earn. At any given moment, they can drop your top retailer or lower the commission by half. This happens a few times a year and, while I do notice a difference, it’s not totally ruining my business because I haven’t relied on that for my solvency. If I solely relied on that, I’d be in trouble. For example, Nordstrom lowered their commission by a significant percentage last year and for a lot of bloggers who rely on their big July sale as the biggest point of income for the year… that could mean financial trouble.
Another way people waste money is to spend too much on equipment, mainly cameras. I see comments like this all the time: “What camera did you take this with?” I can guarantee you, it’s not the camera, it’s the creativity and fundamental-camera-knowledge behind the photo. If you learn how to use a camera, you can get an incredible shot, even if it’s not a $2500 camera. Unless you’re a camera aficionado, there’s no need to spend a ton of money on a camera. Get a basic one to learn on and build a lens collection from there as necessary. If you’re struggling with cameras, don’t worry, I do too. If I have to take a photo myself, I put my camera on auto (lol) and do a lot of post-processing editing in Lightroom to get it to look the way I want it to. I’ve seen a bunch of big-time blogger’s raw files and, well, I think it’s safe to say that a lot of people are doing this (even with cameras worth more than a car).
When should you hire?
Just like spending money (which technically, hiring is spending money), I would hire when you absolutely must. Push through growing pains and stay as lean as possible. But there definitely comes a point where hiring is necessary. I’ve needed it a few times:
1. My accountant. Even though it’s not a full-time employee, having an accountant is INVALUABLE. If your blog has turned into a business, I highly recommend an accountant as your first “hire.” You may want a bookkeeper as well, but you can easily do that on your own with software like Quickbooks. Filing taxes when you own your own business can get tricky. It’s so worth it to hire an accountant who can do it in his/her sleep versus trying to get through it on my own.
2. My manager. I am on my third manager right now, but when I went to hire my first, it was because I really needed one. I needed someone to be the “bad cop.” That is, I needed someone who could aggressively negotiate contracts, go after payment, and generally protect my brand in a way I couldn’t “as talent.” (I mean, gag, I hate to describe myself as that, but as far as a contract is concerned, that’s what I am.) Even though my manager takes a percentage of everything that I do, she can negotiate contracts up where it’s so, so worth it.
3. Full-time photographer. This was my most recent hire. It’s made a huge difference. A big reason why I could afford this in the first place was having an incredible manager. I’d recommend using freelancers or even friends for as long as possible to save money. I don’t have an “Instagram Husband” so hiring a photographer was the next step for my blog.
But what about the “Instagram Algorithm.”
Here’s the thing… there’s nothing you can do to control it. I’ve been in meetings with representatives from Facebook/Instagram and they completely ignored the “a” word. It was actually pretty incredible. They were clearly briefed to avoid discussing and acknowledging it altogether.
The good news? It’s affecting pretty much everyone, so don’t worry. Just focus on creating the best content you can create and content that you’re proud of! Put it on your blog first and foremost… and then just put it on Instagram.
Staying active on the app (commenting/liking) and using whatever new features they come up with (Live, Stories, stickers, fonts, slideshows, etc.), of course, won’t hurt. I do the best that I can while a) not losing my mind and b) still able to sleep at night. I don’t want to do anything unethical and I don’t want to let something I can’t control ruin my creative energy.
Whatever you do… don’t complain about it. Trust me, no one wants to hear it. (This is probably terrible to admit, but there’s a blogger who is constantly whining about the Instagram Algorithm. I kind of want to tell her that her engagement probably has nothing to do with the algorithm and more with her attitude!)
What can I do to feel more comfortable in front of a camera?
This is an interesting question that I get all the time. I find it so interesting because, well, I feel so awkward in front of the camera almost always. There is nothing natural about posing with a photographer. (Now that I do this for a job, I always think about how unnatural it can be when you realize that “candid” moment was witnessed and memorialized by a photographer.) With that said, knowing that actually relieves a lot of that awkwardness for it. Yes, it’s awkward and that’s why I feel awkward, so let’s just have fun with it.
Having a photographer that you trust (even if your “photographer” is just a friend holding your phone for you) is the first key. If I’m shooting with someone I don’t know, I’m as stiff as a board. I like to joke around, laugh, and all around have a good time with it. Not only do I feel more at ease in front of a camera that way, the photos always come out better because I’m genuinely happy.
The other thing is that you just have to go for it. I described it to someone once as being “shameless,” and I think that’s the best way to describe it. You have a vision for a photo that requires you to stand in a crosswalk? Own that crosswalk. You want a boomerang of yourself jumping on the beach? Jump girl, jump. Check your self-consciousness at the door and make the magic happen.
Lastly, make sure you get to review all of your photos. If you’re working with a photographer who selects and edits the photos, ask for the whole “roll” so you can review everything. Seeing the best 30 photos won’t teach you anything. I like to go through all the photos so I know what poses work and what doesn’t. Often something seems like it’s going to be a killer shot in my head, and then I look at the photo and something got lost in translation. I’ve learned how to pose by figuring out what doesn’t work for me.
Is buying followers the only way I can be successful?
NO NO NO.
Guys don’t do it. I can go on and on about why buying followers, likes, and comments is a horrible idea. But let’s start with the very basics. One, you’re kind of cheating the system. If you feel like “everybody is doing it,” you should follow better people or make new blogger friends. Not everyone is doing it. And not to sound like a mom or anything… but if everyone jumped off of a bridge…. you know what I mean. Two, it’s against Instagram’s terms and conditions. You’re breaking your contract with them and putting your future success at risk. Do you want to sign into your Instagram account one day only to realize you’ve been kicked off? Not. Worth. It.
It’s also very obvious. Brands and companies (and regular people) are starting to use services like Social Blade to see if an influencer’s engagement/follower count is organic. I recommend checking it out for yourself. If you see accounts that are following/unfollowing at high rates or seeing giant gains and losses in their following account every other day, they’re buying followers. I have very little respect for anyone who does it and brands are going to see right through it.
The fake comment thing is also just as obvious. It takes about 30 seconds of sleuthing to see that someone’s comment section is filled with fake accounts and even faker comments. “Cool pic” 400 times does not equal engagement!
Even though an account may “look” successful with big numbers, it doesn’t mean that success will actually follow. True engagement is what really matters. [This is from the Blogging Tips Part 1] Consider this: a blogger with 100,000 followers and a 0.5% “conversion” rate, she’ll have 500 sales. If a blogger with 10,000 followers has a 5% conversion rate, she’ll have the same number of sales. A 5% conversion rate is amazing– it means you have a highly engaged audience and that has JUST as much value as someone with a huge, although less engaged, audience.
How should I schedule content?
This is a two-parter.
Part I: Scheduling blog content is an art and a science. I follow a loose schedule and then fill in the gaps based on the season and what’s going on in my life. I set up an editorial calendar in Google Docs and add topic ideas to the calendar days. It’s a super easy system and I can customize it, however, I need to. I have standing posts every week (like guest posts on Mondays and an “On My Radar” series on Friday, and shopping posts on Saturday) and that makes it easier for me to see what’s coming up and what I still need to do. I definitely plan out one week in advance and up to two weeks, loosely. Because I shoot content one week ahead of schedule, I generally know what my following week will look like from a content perspective.
My social posts then follow my editorial calendar for my blog. (Remember that sun/planet analogy?!)
Part II: Scheduling too much is something I would really avoid. It’s robotic and unauthentic. Of course, if you’re blogging or doing social media on the side while you’re holding down a full work or school schedule, you might need to do some scheduling. I would limit it as much as possible so your posts feel like real time. I tend to write my posts the day before (although I’ve probably drafted something in the days leading up to it) so that they feel authentic. I used to be able to get away with scheduling a week ahead, which was great for my student schedule, but now with Instagram Stories and other real-time social channels, it feels like a lie if I write a post too far ahead.
Also, this is a personal pet peeve of mine, but scheduled Tweets are the worst. Sometimes I scroll through bloggers’ Twitter accounts and of course, their engagement is non-existent… they’re not actually active on it. They’re scheduling Tweets to their blog and products and nothing else! Twitter has been one of my favorite platforms as of late because it’s so easy to connect with readers (even easier than IG DMs). I treat it like its own channel… because it is!
WHAT should I blog about?
This is up to you! Kind of going off of everything I’ve already said: be you, follow your instinct, and don’t feel like you have to do what everyone is doing. Come up with a North Star for your blog and try to stick with that. For me, I try always to treat my blog like a conversation with friends. Whatever I’m talking to friends about, I’ll share on my blog! This helps me stay focused on sharing content that feels “me” and it helps me come up with ideas all the time because I can just take note of what my friends and I are discussing.
Your blog might be reviews of books you’ve read, your take on current events, documentation of your travels, or roundups of the best sales on the internet.
Ask yourself what you’d want to read every morning. Is there something missing from the space? Chances are if you’re interested in it, there are other people interested in it too. Even if you’ve already been blogging for a bit, if you’re feeling lost with content, don’t feel like it’s too late to change course. You can always go back and tweak what you’re blogging about. Maybe you haven’t had a direction at all or maybe you realized you’re not candid enough or maybe you don’t like what you’ve been writing about at all. It’s never too late to change course.
As a little bit of a precaution, I would try to think long and hard about your direction and stick to it as best you can. Don’t give your readers whiplash by being all over the place. If you’re going to be a travel blogger, you’ll have to travel. (Two vacations a year is not travel blogging!) If you’re going to be an affordable blogger, don’t go out and buy a designer bag for every outfit. If you’re going to be a preppy blogger, don’t start wearing the trendiest of trends the second they come out. Stick to your direction because that’s what your readers will come to expect.
How can I stand out?
Now, I know I’ve said to follow your instinct and not to do what the crowds are doing. But in this case, look at what the bloggers are doing who stand out to you! Are they writing long-form posts and spilling their heart? Sharing awe-inspiring images that make you want to hop on an airplane? Or maybe you appreciate how they’ve responded to every comment and email and DM you sent.
I know I’m not going to stand out for having model looks and a designer wardrobe. I try just to be myself and show my appreciation to readers by engaging with them in comments/emails/DMs. I keep things positive but I don’t gloss over certain challenges in my life.