I’m also going to add that growing your blog into a legit business brings along headaches and sometimes heartaches that you might not have anticipated. If you don’t 100% absolutely positively LOVE what you’re doing, you will find that running the business element of the blog isn’t worth it. 10% of my time right now is spent doing the things that really bring me joy and the other 90% are things I just have to do, some of which I can’t stand. But that amazing 10% makes it all worth it!
Now that I have that little disclaimer out there, let’s say that (while it may not be your number one goal) you would like to make your blog big. Now onto what you’re really interested in. This is probably my absolute number one most frequently emailed question: how do I get more followers. The thing is, it’s not about the number of followers. At all.
– It’s about engagement. Instead of thinking about the number of followers, you should be focusing on the engagement of your audience. At this point in social media, you can buy the numbers. (And it’s unbelievably obvious to everyone.) Numbers might get you noticed– if a brand sees your follower count on Instagram, for example– but it won’t seal the deal. Engagement does.
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.
This is all to say that instead of getting as many followers as possible, you should work on cultivating an engaged audience…. and that all boils down to this point:
– It’s about your content.
When you’re starting to figure out what kind of content you want to put out there, you really have to know who you are and who you aren’t. And stick to it. If you carefully build your audience on one thing and then wham! change overnight, it’ll be a shock to the system. Or if you’re all over the place all the time, people won’t know what you’re about and it might be too confusing to stick around.
A quick way of thinking of this is trying to picture what niche you fit within. (Although maybe that niche doesn’t exist! You may be creating something new altogether!) Another way of thinking about this is that you can’t be everything for everyone.
When you’re committing to “going big” with blogging, you should realllllly make sure that what look you’re committing to is truly who you are. So you should have a good idea of who you are, but it also helps to know who you aren’t.
One mistake I think some bloggers make is that they try to do “all the blogger things.” One day they’re wearing Valentino Rockstuds, the next they’re posting about a dress under $20, the next they’re on a luxurious beach trip, then they’re grinding away at a full time job posting coffee pics, then they’re back on a beach posting revealing bathing suit Instas, then they’re launching a new app, then they’re vegan and working out every day and sharing green juices. You know what I mean?
Don’t be sad if you’re being passed for certain opportunities. It may be because that’s not who you are. It doesn’t mean that you have to change who you are, it just means that the opportunity wasn’t right for you.
I do think you can evolve, but you have to realize that your audience may not be on board. If you’re committed to the change, don’t panic or worry if you see some drop off in your following or a slower period of growth.
FOUR // Go All In
And then once you know who you are (and who you aren’t) really go for it. I think five, six years ago you could ease into the whole blogging thing. Now, you should put the pedal to the metal and go all in. This does not mean you have to go all in and spend a lot of money. At all.
Before going public with the blog, I’d spend three months creating content. When you do go live, there’s more content for people to view– this helps with your blog’s “stickiness.” Plus you’ve had three months to figure out who you are and to get into the swing of blogging.
Going all in, in my opinion, means you should fake it til you make it. What would you post if you had 100,000 readers? What kinds of Instagrams would you post? Post it now, even if you’re starting from scratch. Take it as seriously from the beginning as you would if you were doing it full time. Waiting until you’ve “made it” to start producing high quality content just won’t be worth it because it will be a much, much harder/longer climb to get there– if you get there at all.
This might take a little sacrificing. You may have to devote your Saturdays going out and shooting outfits with your best friend after working all week. Or your Sunday mornings writing beautiful posts. Or maybe you’re dedicating a few hours of your night post-work on the backend of your blog. You can work smarter, not harder, but it still takes dedication and time.
The question right after “how do I get more followers?” is almost always “how do I make money?” There are a number of ways to monetize your blog, the most common being affiliate links and sponsored content.
Affiliate: Lots of retailers belong to affiliate networks, but there are conglomerate blogger networks that make it seamless and easy. Instead of having to apply to and work with a hundred different retailers, you apply to the network and get access to all the retailers within the network. You may lose a little commission since you’re working with a middle man but the convenience and access absolutely makes it worth it. Two of the big ones are rewardStyle and ShopStyle. rewardStyle works through conversion (you make money when someone makes a purchase) and ShopStyle works through clicks (you get paid per click and the price is based on an algorithm that considers your conversion rate). To make significant money through either of these programs you really have to have an engaged audience. If you’re making $10 on a sale or 10 cents on a click, think of how many clicks and sales you’ll need to make up a salary.
Sponsored Content: When brands and agencies start reaching out about sponsored content, it may be the right time to start considering it. I don’t recommend reaching out to brands on your own. Once you have quality content that you’re proud of and want to start working with brands, I’d either wait for them to email you (it will happen!! even if it takes a couple of years) or consider joining a blogger network. There are tons and tons out there nowadays, but be very very picky about which to join and even more so which offers to accept. (In my experience, the campaigns they tend to offer are very “basic”/grocery store type items: tampons, soap, etc.)
Sponsored content is tricky but here’s some top-level, low hanging fruit advice. You have to be willing and ready to say no to sponsored content– don’t be tempted by the money because in the long run it’s not great for your brand. For example, if you say no to $1,000 for a brand you’re not passionate about in the first year of blogging, you may better grow your audience so you can consistently make more than $1,000 and more frequently in the second year. Think in the long term. When you do agree to do a sponsored post, it’s important to work closely with the brand and agency to set expectations. Have it all in writing: when to post, what the brand’s goal is for the post, what your promise is for the post, what’s included, what language, what happens if the brand doesn’t approve something, etc. Included in those expectations is being as open and honest as possible about your numbers. I’m all for leaning in and being a great negotiator, but when you’re trying to build lasting relationships with a brand, you have to be honest about what they can expect from your post. The more you take care of upfront, the better the relationship will be for both the current post and future posts.
Now that you have monetization in your mind, I thought it would be helpful to paint a realistic portrait of full time blogging. I really don’t say any of this to dissuade you. Full time blogging absolutely can be done. (Really!) But it’s important to keep these things in mind because it’s not that easy and not as common as it may appear. There’s more to the story than just a blogger saying she’s blogging full time.
– Sometimes it’s not full time blogging. Just because someone is dedicating full time hours and not working at another job, it doesn’t mean she’s bringing in a full time salary. She could be married and not responsible for supporting herself on what would be considered a full time salary. That is, he/she’s not paying rent or a mortgage, household expenses, etc. Maybe her parents cover major expenses or she’s living at home.
(Just a little note here: I don’t think there’s anything wrong at all with the above if that’s someone’s situation. I’m just noting this because it could be misleading someone into thinking they’re raking in the $$$.)
– The percentage of full time bloggers is small. There are articles floating around the internet every few months talking about bloggers making a million dollars a year. Hello! Amazing!!!!! But with millions of blogs in the world, it’s such a small percentage that are doing it full time. And just a fraction of that tiny percent who are doing seven figures. Don’t be discouraged by feeling like you can never make it (again, I firmly believe if you really go for it and have the patience for it, you can do it) or feel overly confident that you can make it happen within a year. It takes work and lots of time.
– I personally know a few bloggers who took on quite a bit of debt in the hope that it would pay off in the long run. It’s not worth putting $20,000 worth of clothes on a credit card hoping you’re going to skyrocket to blog fame. It’s an extremely risky move and definitely not one I’d recommend. You may hate blogging after six months and then you’re stuck with a huge bill that you can’t afford. Or it could take three years before you’re able to blog full time and meanwhile that $10,000 in debt has grown to $20,000 and then $30,000.
– Blogging full time is a business which means you have to make more than an actual salary. You start having more expenses beyond just being an employee at another company. A lot goes back to the government through taxes, you may have to bring on some freelance photographers, you may have some legal fees as contracts become more intense, you have to get health insurance on your own, you may start contracting out your bookkeeping/taxes to experts as your filings become more complicated, you may have to start renting a small office space. More
money income, more problems expenses.
– I also know a lot of bloggers who don’t save any money. What they make, they spend. I think this is common for people in their 20s in general, but it’s an extra risky move when your “career” is blogging. Do I think blogging is forever? I don’t know. But I do know that I may personally change my mind or want something different. Or something bad could happen (medically, personally, etc.) and I need to take time off or I’m hit with a huge expense. I know the income I generate now may not last forever and I don’t intend on blowing it all at 26. (A TMZ clip… swap out “boy band” for “blogger.”) Taking an unconventional career path is not a bad thing, but it is a risk, however calculated. Be smart!
People tend to ask me what my social strategy was when I started blogging. I have to remind them that Twitter/Facebook Pages/Pinterest/Instagram/Snapchat either wasn’t popular yet or simply didn’t exist. This made it so much easier to start blogging because I didn’t have to worry about anything other than the blog. Now there are so many places you can/should be. You could feasibly only Instagram full time.
Personally, I recommend that new bloggers join all the platforms and focus on as many as you possibly can while still creating content you’re proud of. Each social channel is relevant and useful in its own way. My strategic social media advice:
– Work on building an audience that will follow you no matter what the platform is. This means that “tricks” to “getting more followers” don’t really pay off. If you work crazy hard to get a higher number of followers on Instagram, but that audience isn’t actually all that interested in YOU, then when Instagram becomes passé, you’re in a bit of a pickle. You want to cultivate an audience that’s interested in following you, regardless of the platform. A scary example of this is when Pinterest stopped allowing affiliate links to be used. For people who were full time “pinners” (that’s a thing), they were all of a sudden not able to make income. You don’t want to find yourself in that position! Think about the Kardashian’s here. People love the Kardashians. If they’re selling lipstick, people are buying the lipstick. If they’re promoting an app, people are downloading the app. If they’re launching a new spin off show, people are watching the spin off show.
– Social media platforms are different and that means the content should be too! Why read a blogger’s blog when you can see all of their content on Instagram? Or why follow on Twitter if they’re only promoting blog posts you’ve already seen? Being active on social media accounts, without regurgitating content, is a really powerful way to build your brand. You can give a 360 degree view of the brand, adding value from every direction. Here’s a brief overview of what I personally do:
- TheCollegePrepster.com: I’d consider this the bulk of my brand! This is where I can really go into depth with everything. Personally, I think of my blog as a conversation with friends.
- Instagram: This is the second biggest portion of The College Prepster brand. This is more snapshots of my life that may occasionally overlap with content from my blog, but is easier to digest and quick.
- Twitter: I do quick thoughts here and drive traffic to my blog. I love to share sales that I think my readers would be interested in.
- Facebook: Facebook has become a little trickier over the years. It’s pretty rooted in a pay-to-play system now but it can be worth it and does work if done correctly. I pretty much only share blog posts and sales here.
- Tumblr: I share all my Instagrams here because they get reblogged and answer reader questions.
- Pinterest: Gathering inspiration, sharing fashion finds, and promoting my own content.
There are an infinite number of ways to blog. It’s going to be different for everyone. And it’s going to be different for you depending on where you are in your own life. In college, I was very much strapped for time and would blog when I could. I started scheduling my blog posts to go live at midnight and would write as many as I could in my free time. (This mostly ended up being Sundays when I was avoiding homework.) When I started working after college, I made time for blogging after work. I’d stay up as late as I needed to get through my emails and to get content ready for the next day. Now that I blog full time, I write the post for the next day. To me, it reads more authentically than scheduling posts and it allows me to be a little more flexible with my editorial calendar.
Finding your rhythm is all about finding YOUR rhythm. You really have to figure out what works for you. That could be writing posts on the fly, or planning out an editorial calendar three months in advance.
Some things to consider:
– Regardless of whether 30 people are reading your blog or 30,000, blogging is public. Everything you do online goes on record. It’s incredible to be able to have an audience, again regardless of the size, but it does come at the cost of your privacy. I shared a lot more in the beginning than I do now because I never imagined that people would actually read it. Now I’m more careful about what I talk about and what I don’t talk about. I have certain “policies” in place that help me with this but the best is to remember that my dad reads everything on here. If I wouldn’t feel comfortable having the conversation with my dad in person, I’m not putting it on the internet. While I don’t mind getting stopped in a restaurant for a photo (positive!), it can be really upsetting to read nasty/untrue things written about you online (negative!). I take the good with the bad and ultimately know that the positives far, far outweigh the negatives. (But the negatives exist and it’s something to be aware of.)
– Now I love the name The College Prepster. It is playing into a larger picture of where I see the brand growing/going. “College” is also a hugely valuable intangible asset and it is the very root of my blogging story. But there was a time (right after I graduated) when I panicked thinking how dumb it was that I named my blog after something that would only be relevant for four years. Honestly, I just had NO idea that this would be something that I’d do for more than four months, let alone post-college. When choosing a name, try to steer clear of names you can outgrow (hair color, locations, stages in life, even style) or names that exist (no trademarked brands, blank and blank names, blank prepster, etc).
– I cannot stress highly enough the importance of responding to emails. Not only do I think it’s basic modern etiquette, but it’s incredibly valuable for your brand and business. I do my best to respond to every email. (The exceptions being generic press releases and regular retail emails of course.) For your brand, I think it’s important to let your readers know that it’s not just a one-sided conversation. For your business, it’s a good practice to communicate with the companies and brands, even if it’s not a good brand fit. You never know where someone might end up. A PR girl may be working at a brand that isn’t a good fit now and in six months she takes up a job somewhere that is a perfect fit. People remember how you treat them– whether you ignored them or if you were pleasant to correspond with. Additionally, a lot of brands end up working on a tight time crunch. If they know you’re on TOP of your email game, you better believe you’re going to be one of the first bloggers they think of when they have a campaign versus the blogger who takes three weeks to respond. Trust. Me. It’s so rare for bloggers to politely respond to emails in a timely fashion that you will blow the person away with your response. It pays off!
Things to avoid:
– Loop giveaways. (I’ve done one and only because it was four of my friends and one of my favorite brands, Lilly! I also didn’t have to “buy” into offering up $50 along with 2983 other people.)
– Joining blog Facebook groups where you have to like/comment other people’s things in exchange for them liking/commenting on yours. It’s the opposite of organic. (I DO think blog communities can be great and supportive, but don’t join one just for the engagement.)
– Don’t spend a lot of money upfront. Wait until you’re in the rhythm of blogging and know you’re in it for the long haul. I recommend Blogger (that’s what I use, for free) and Squarespace is something to look into as it’s gaining a lot of popularity. If you feel like you must have a great blog design, you can get already built, very affordable options here.
– Scheduled social content. I’m very anti-scheduled social content. I managed a company’s social media account at my old job and honestly, I was constantly afraid. What if a tweet went out at an untimely or inappropriate time (if there was a crisis somewhere or something that couldn’t be predicted). I also feel like it sounds extremely robotic. When you’re a major company, you can get away with sounding corporate. When you’re a blogger and tweeting like a person (because you are a person), you’ll sound robotic and ultimately inauthentic. One well-timed, personal tweet after work is worth more than ten scheduled boring tweets throughout the day.
I asked on Snapchat and Twitter what you wanted to know… I’ll do my best to answer questions that I haven’t already covered:
1. Where/how do you create blog posts?
I do it all within Blogger. I start a bunch of drafts as I come up with the ideas and throw ideas/sentences into the drafts until I’m ready to write the whole thing. I do keep a running Note on my iPhone with blog post ideas and random thoughts I think of throughout the day. Occasionally, if I’m pressed for time I might write a blog post in an email from my phone and then clear the formatting for my blog post.
2. What camera do I use? How do you edit your blog photos?
Garrett shoots my outfits with a Leica M-P 240 and 35mm lens. If I’m shooting something I either use my Nikon D3200 and a 50mm lens or this little Canon that I can easily tuck into a purse. I also use my iPhone a lot!
For editing, I use Lightroom.
3. How did you manage a blog and work full time?
I gave a lot socially because both were super important to me. I would get to work by 7:30 and leave (on a good day) at 6 or 7. Then I’d go home, eat dinner, take a 30 minute power nap, and blog/answer emails until 2 or 3am. Even though it wasn’t healthy, it did ultimately pay off as I was able to grow my blog significantly during that year allowing me to fully support myself off the income.
4. How do you get your name out there?
The best thing to do is to focus on creating amazing content first and then finding ways to organically grow your content. Engage on Instagram with accounts (bloggers and non-bloggers). Participate on Twitter. Comment on other blogs. Share your posts on your personal Facebook page. Be authentic when commenting and not overly aggressive (you don’t want to come across as “thirsty” for followers).
5. Is Pinterest still the best way to get traffic?
Once upon a time, Pinterest was amazing for traffic. It’s still great, but the new algorithm (I’ve found) really doesn’t help much. (You can see what people are pinning from your blog.) To win at the Pinterest game, I recommend being very active and making your photos on your blog “pinnable” (high exposure, great lighting, wearing lots of layers, cropping out your head/face, vertical photos, etc.). To win at Pinterest now, you have to really play to the Pinterest audience. “Pinterest-y” outfits are going to get pinned the most, cheesy recipes are going to be pinned the most, and photos with click-baity title overlays are the ones that are going to go the most viral. The posts that have performed the best for me on Pinterest are: Classic Fall Pieces to Stock Up On, Intense Study Tips, Instagram Photostrips, and How to Roll Your Sleeves Like J. Crew.
If you’re really going to devote a lot of time to getting better/more traffic, I would recommend doing what you can from the Pinterest front and really investing in spending time working on your SEO and optimizing your site for SEO. (It’s something I know I still need to work on!)
6. How do you get people to engage with your blog posts?
I think commenting is at an all-time low across the board. Now that I have an app, I see even less comments but equal/more engagement with people tweeting their thoughts or shooting me an email. (More often than not when you see blogs with tons of comments, they’re either in one of those Facebook groups I mentioned above or it’s other bloggers leaving links to their own URLs trying to drive traffic to their site.) That said, the posts that are going to engage readers are the ones where you ask opinions. I like to throw in a question at the end of my blog posts… but it’s really when I’m legitimately asking for an opinion that people feel inclined to comment (what’s your favorite dry shampoo, should I cut my hair, etc.). You know why? It’s a conversation! I approach all of my blog posts as if they’re a conversation with a friend and I think the flip side of that is that it’s not a one way conversation, I leave room for comments and replies.
7. How do you manage the finances of your blog?
I use Quickbooks!
8. How do you know what your posts are worth when it comes to sponsored content?
Unfortunately there’s no right answer here. When I started out, I chose an arbitrary number (I think it was $60) and when too many people said yes easily, I would increase. It’s kind of like a very basic game of economics. How many brands want a space to be featured on your blog and what are they willing to pay. I’d prefer to say yes one time to a great contract with a great brand than say yes ten times for a “meh” contract. Now I work with a manager who helps me determine pricing and handles my negotiations. But one super easy tip, if a brand or agency reaches out to you, you can always ask them what their budget is. Throw the ball back into their court and see what their initial offer is, it will give you a ballpark range of what you can ask for. (Example: If they say $5, you could easily counter with $25, but $100 would be out of the question.)
PS People package this content up and sell it… Unless you’re working one-on-one with a (really knowledgeable) consultant, I wouldn’t waste your money on e-books or e-courses selling “secrets.” Almost everything you could need to know you can find online for free. The secrets people sell are more like diet pills when in reality, the solution is long term healthy habits.