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blogging advice and tips

If you are a blog reader and Instagram user you might just be feeling a change in the tide right now. What once was a thriving place full of glitzy homes and designer outfits is now a place where followers are growing disillusioned by the content that is being created and even bloggers are standing up to say enough (including myself when I announced in a post last week my guiding phrase for the future of this space, Attainable Inspiration). I especially love the thoughts that bloggers For The Long Hall and Blare June recently shared on their Instagram accounts talking about the overly polished, unrealistic and fake bot accounts, that are currently plaguing Instagram. Blog readership is down everywhere with the increasingly inventive ways to make money off of using just Instagram and the boredom that has erupted from all the "sameness" in the blogging industry.


Alright, well that came off as pretty negative and I don't want to dissuade you from starting your own blog or even kicking your existing blog up a notch! I personally have had some amazing moments with running my blog. I've made life long friends, earned a little mad money (and by little, I do mean little) and also got the opportunity to work with one of my all-time, life long favourite brands L.L.Bean (secretly I long to be in one of their catalogs!). I do intend to make a career out of Celebrating This Life (somehow, still not entirely sure how and when) but before I get into a few of the tips that I have picked up in my almost three years of blogging, I'd like to share a few truths that I think need to be said first.

The Truths About Blogging


Credibility 


Once you lose it, you've lost it. And a number of the 'big' bloggers have either already lost it or are about to. Look, blogging is a business and some people are lucky enough to do this full time. It must be incredibly hard to turn down a paying gig when you can never be really sure when and where your next pay day is coming from. But you run the risk of alienating everyone in the process and losing your followers and credibility if you accept sponsorship deals from anything that is off brand. Both are very hard to recover from. While I am not interested in calling out any bloggers specifically, I can give you a few examples so you know what I am referring to: the high fashion blogger that suddenly wants to teach you about bargain shopping with fast fashion brands, or the previously all organic, everything free, clean living blogger who now has #spon posts from prepackaged, and not at all healthy, food brands.

This is one space where you should never "fake it until you make it". The difference between blogging and say getting a new job where you need to act like you have everything in control, is that with blogging you are literally selling yourself. If you fake who you are, what will happen when the true you finally comes out or when brands and people meet you in real life and you are nothing like your online persona?

GOMI 


I don't defend any online harassment or bullying of any kind and the website GOMI is known for that type of behaviour. So why am I including it here? I don't know when or how GOMI got started but I can tell you how I found it. A blogger who I loved to follow because of her upbeat and realistic blog (by that I mean she shopped at mall brand stores that anyone can afford), suddenly started becoming obsessed with what was being said about her. She took great issue with GOMI, actually quite a number of bloggers have sounded off against the site, and because I had no idea what the site was, I decided to check it out.

GOMI stands for Get Off My Internets and it's basically a site for users to critique online personalities. Since that first day of venturing over, I have been hooked. Not because I want to hate on anyone, but because the threads I have read have insightful commentary related to the subject matter. Hence the reason I used the word "critique" and not "criticize". I don't want to get into a whole battle of whether it's ok to talk about someone behind their backs using an anonymous handle, but what I can say is that if you're thinking of becoming a blogger, find your favourite blogger's thread and give it a read. What I learned from the site is my point above, credibility. These users have long memories and are able to call out a blogger who suddenly starts acting in a way that is totally off brand. I'm not talking about if you decide to change your brand or site, which I myself have grown and evolved my content, I'm thinking of the ones that are either misleading you (a quick google search shows that the Government is cracking down on digital influencers and their blatant disregard for truth in advertising laws) or the ones that will work with any brand, no matter how off message it is.

Listen, would I like it if there was a thread on GOMI where they spoke negatively about me and pointed out things like my recent bit of weight gain (it's been a rough and busy few months and take out has been our nightly go-to for too long), absolutely not. But now what if the comments were about poor writing style, spelling mistakes, photos that were lacking in some way or questioning what they perceive as off message blog posts? That I would take notice of and use to improve my blog. I wouldn't use my forum to go on the offensive and call them out while trying to prove I was right because, as your mother always said, don't sink to their level. When bloggers complain about GOMI it doesn't come off as sticking up for themselves, which is what they claim to be doing. It reads as out of touch with your audience, entitled, and that they may have some real doubts about themselves and their abilities so they lash out. There is a big difference between defending yourself and throwing a tantrum.

Reading GOMI brought me back down to earth and helped me realize that there are more people like me out in the digital world. I want to see great original and attainable content and I want to create great original and attainable content. There is a world outside of millennial pink and posing in pictures with balloons! I was so upset thinking that the only way forward in blogging was to post "what all the other bloggers do" because it just didn't feel like me. I'll never get included in the like.something.give-me-your-email-address-and-I'll-flood-you-with-links program that most big bloggers use (I've tried and been declined many times) but I'm okay with that because I rather be my authentic self. Which isn't always pretty pictures of dresses and flowers. It was through reading the spot-on critiques of some bloggers that I realized I'd rather find a different path to making money then try to pretend to be something I am not.

Growing your Instagram 


Get ready for some truth bombs here! I have a mild (ok, more than that) obsession with Instagram. I'm on it as much as I can following the adventures of my friends, brands and bloggers, and I try to post two photos a day, except on weekends which is when my engagement is at it's lowest so I don't bother. Because I love the app so much, and wanted to grow my followers list, I enrolled in every free Instagram class available, had many girls wine night conversations about the site, read every bloggers post giving their advice (I'll touch on that in a second) and even took a social media class as part of my university BA studies! Yes, I am very serious about the app because I see the great value and power in Instagram. I have made some wonderful friends on the app (people I don't know in real life but absolutely would love to have coffee with!) but my numbers were just not where brands would start to notice.

Here's where I bring in the "bloggers sharing their advice" comment. Every single blog post I have read says to grow your Instagram audience by "sharing great content and the followers with come" and "brands don't care about numbers, they care about engagement/conversations". Both are lies. Sorry, but they are. You can share great content until you're blue in the face, unless you have a trick to find and gain new followers, no one will notice. As for brands, like I said I took a social media class. A class where students were looking to pursue a career in social media/marketing, and all they care about is your follower count. It's the best bang for a brand's buck, hoping to get your content in front of as many eyeballs as possible. Why work with a blogger that has say 5000 followers when you can work with one with 256k. In a perfect world the brand would work with the smaller blogger that has a more engaged audience which would in turn mean more sales, but this is not a perfect world.

How I grow my Instagram following is I reach out and start following new people. I either find them because they follow an account that I love and feel matches my aesthetic, or through searching hashtags. I follow them for 24 hours and if I like the content they have, because I love being inspired by a variety of different accounts, then I keep following them. Otherwise if it's not something I'd like in my feed, I will unfollow. In the meantime some accounts/people will follow back, others will not. This has been the only successful way for me to grow my account. I tried just publishing great content and engaging with people, I've tried using every hashtag imaginable to help my photo be searchable, I've commented on other accounts until my fingers hurt.

I did everything and my numbers wouldn't budge until I started following people. For the record, I do not and will not ever use a "buy followers" system, a bot comment machine (I actually called out more than one in this Instagram post), or pay to "boost" my photo. I find all of that seedy and underhanded and I refuse to pay actual dollars to grow my audience. Which of course means that I don't get the big partnerships that I want but in the same vein, I no longer want to work with brands that don't bother to see the deceit that is going on.


If you give it away for free, how can you expect to ever earn? 


As a blogger who publishes my email address and welcomes people reaching out, I receive quite a few emails on the average day. Some are from fellow bloggers who would like to become friends (my fave emails!), some are from readers asking questions (I can't count how many times I have been asked for blogging advice, hence this post!) and others are from brands either requesting to work together through a sponsorship arrangement where they either offer free product/experiences or cash + product for a review on my blog (I have turned down cash offers because they do not fit with my blog. I can't even begin to think how I would work teeth whitening into Celebrating This Life 😃) and the other email is the one that puzzles me to no end.

A brand reaches out and asks if I will write a blog post about "Your best day ever" or "what your spouse means to you" and asks if I'll include their links into my post. If the email comes from an actual company and not just a gmail account, I might email them back to see what their budget is and what they are offering in return. The answer is always "no budget, we'd just like to see what you can come up with and we'll even select our favourites to share on our social channels". So...you'd like me to give my work away for free so you can get free advertising and raise your SEO. Also, a quick glance at your social channels tells me that you do not ever share anything that comes from an outside source unless your just not providing credit. In that case I have an even bigger problem. That's called theft.

So what is in it for you, the blogger? There's no exposure, no money to be earned. Maybe it's just an exercise in writing content but I'm sure you can easily find something else to write about. Maybe it's just the opportunity to work with a marketer that could in the future give you another opportunity? If they don't value your work now, why would they in the future? And would you really trust the kind of marketer/social media contact that only takes and gives nothing in return? Don't unnecessarily make enemies, but don't also be a push over.

This type of arrangement is also hurting the industry. Many bloggers have wonderfully engaged audiences and large enough numbers but can't get a paying gig from a company they regularly frequent, and give ample free advertising to. Why would they pay when every other blogger is ok doing the work for free? Just remember those thoughts the next time someone is trying to undervalue you. The more we say no, the more PR/Media pros will recognize that you need to pay up to receive quality content and advertising.

Alright, so that was a little more long winded that I wanted to be but I felt it was important to set the stage. I'm more than a little tired with the state of the lifestyle/blogging/Instagram industry and felt that you should know a few truths before we dove into some tips.

Now, these are my tips and they might not necessarily line up with what you may have already read or experienced. These are the things that have guided me and things I know to be true in my world.

Blogging, it's free and easy to do


The great thing about blogging is you can spend as much as you want, or absolutely nothing. There are free sites like Blogger and Wordpress where you can sign up for free and secure a web address with no money down and no special HTML knowledge. You can purchase a domain name if you like, I own Celebratingthislife.ca purchased for about $14 a year through GoDaddy, and run my free Blogger account through that. I bought a web template off Etsy for roughly $8 and added it to my site to give me a more personalized feel. I learned all of this by Googling and watching informative You Tube videos.

Once your site is all set up, start writing about whatever you want. You could write about restaurant visits, or book reviews, or maybe you already know that you would like to jump into the world of lifestyle/travel/fashion blogging and would like to try and make a career out of it. Which brings me to my next tip...

If you're not in it for love, I'm outta here


Yes, Shania said it first but it's so true here. If you do not truly love the art of blogging or your content, you will lose interest and your readers will not stick around. It can take 3-10 years to build the kind of credibility and revenue it takes to turn this into a full time gig and that's a long time to spend doing something you have only half of your heart into. I may one day turn this blog into a full fledged empire, calling myself CEO and Creative Director while creating my own label of who knows what, or I will just sit here at nights and write for no one. I'm perfectly happy to do either.

I may have started blogging thinking that I might get some free clothing out of it, but I found so much more than just that. I have the creative outlet I was seeking (I know it's cliche and everyone says it's a creative outlet but it's so true!) and I've grow a number of skills out of managing this site, like social media management and writing, which I love more than I can even say.

I've also learned a lot about myself, what I want and what I don't want to put out there in the world. Focusing my blog more on creating attainable lifestyle content as opposed to just sharing an outfit with a million affiliate links attached is not a ploy or a calculated move. It's where I am at personally. Sure, I'll miss out on the opportunity to earn a few cents here and there but I love this blog I've created so much, I'd happily do it for free.

Reach out to brands, you might be surprised!


Have you read that you should never reach out to brands, let them come to you? Yup, me too. I could easily find five top bloggers who all say that and I pause trying to imagine if they actually believe this because this was their experience or because they don't want the competition (remember, once you've lost credibility nothing you say can be trusted). I did the waiting game. I tagged brands in all my photos on social media, even left comments telling then to check out my recent post where I tagged them. Nothing. So I waited some more and continued to publish content. Then because I am not a patient person, I started reaching out. I Googled PR contact email addresses, searched the "Contact Us" pages of my favourite brands, travel agencies, hotels, baseball teams, anyone I wanted to work with. And you know what happened? Many of them were happy to hear from me! I pitched them possible blog posts, created and sent a media kit and worked with quite a few. And you know what? Because I approached them and controlled the narrative, it reads authentically on my blog. Fancy that.

Another tip I have read in the past is you should never ask for money. Why not? If your blog is at the point where you can prove your numbers (monthly page views, conversation rates, etc.) then why not pitch that you'd like to work with the brand in exchange for free product to review and cash compensation. The blogging industry still has a lot of the varnish of we should all be happy to be here and we women shouldn't ask for too much. Sorry, not a game I'm willing to play. This is a hobby for me, but I treat it like a business and if I want paid for my expertise, I will ask for it.

Knowing what your content is worth is a little tricky but the way I have worked it is I started at $75 because that's what someone offered. Next brand I said $100, then $200, then $300 and so on. At first I used what brands were willing to pay as my guideline, now I know the work I will have to put into a blog post (photography, writing, social media) and I charge accordingly. There are many times that I will still work with a brand for providing complimentary services or product instead of cash. The Canadian climate is still not very up to date on the whole blogging industry and I wouldn't want to find myself in any sort of tax issues so I rather just have teams send over PR packages for now. Once Celebrating This Life is registered as a full business and I can submit tax returns, then I will ensure that I get paid my fair share the majority of the time.

Invest in a good camera


You were probably thinking you could get away with just using your phone right? Wrong. I know that nobody wants to hear this but iPhone or cell phone photos look grainy when published on a website and one of the top reasons brands will turn you down is due to the poor quality of your photos (I just read this on a PR company's website). I'm working on a blog post about photography tips that I have picked up along the way, hoping to get published this week. I'm not an expert in photography so you won't be reading any proper names from me! But I will show you how to use your DSLR should you choose to invest in one (which again, I recommend you do!). Go to your local equipment store and play around with the brands. Ask questions about the cameras and tell them what you are hoping to use the camera for. I have the Nikon D3200 and recently upgraded to a telescopic lens which I am loving! I spent three years with the starter lens and after a little mishap with my lens, decided it was time to upgrade.

If you plan on starting a fashion blog, study things like lighting (outdoor natural lighting is always best!) and know your angles. I think that I look best either head on or shot from my left. When I see photos of me from my right side I don't even recognize myself! Start paying attention to the types of places where people take photos. Find a great park, a waters edge or a pretty street and start snapping away! If you plan on taking lots of interior shots or product shots, again research the best lighting and maybe look into buying a white board to help bounce light around your subject.

You've got to go away to come back


David Lynch said this to Louie on the show Louis C.K (this was only the second episode of this show I've ever even watched. I can't tell if I like or dislike Louis. It's weird) and it just resonated with me. At the time I heard this I was at a breaking point. I was not happy with my full time gig (happily I am in a fantastic place now!), I was tired of blogging, school work was constantly piling up, and don't even get me started about the constant stress of raising teenagers and running a household! I was running full tilt on everything and felt like I was accomplishing nothing.

When I heard "You've got to go away to come back" I took it as a sign to stop. Stop blogging, take a week off of work and not work on the blog (which I have done in the past). Get the school work taken care of and tell the kids to fend for themselves while AMH and I went out for more than one drive (driving in the car is our happy place). It was exactly what I needed. I came back with a ton of ideas for content and eventually everything sort of fell into place. Now I try and take one week off from all responsibilities every quarter. Sometimes I'm not able to take the time off work so when that happens, I just make sure to leave on time and take a break from everything else in my life. It helps me reset, recharge and come back better then ever!

Which leads me to my very last bit of blogging advice

Go live a life worth writing about

From my trip to Stonehenge

I've ended with this one but really I should have started with it, it's that important! You'll never have content if you are not out in the world making content! I'm always amazed when people ask how I manage to visit such interesting places and post five days a week to the blog. My question back to them is, what are you doing on your evenings and weekends? My answer is I find new and interesting places to visit, most within only a few miles of my home, I take my camera everywhere with me because I love taking photos and I dress up because that's me! I'm always going to be the person who is a little too dressed up for the occasion and I am perfectly fine with that. Nothing I have said is revolutionary or ground breaking. I go out and live my life and write about it afterwards. Sure you can write a blog while never leaving your couch and Netflix (no hate, I love Netflix so much!) but I can't imagine anyone would be interested and I doubt you'd be excited to write about nothing.

Make some new friends in the blogging community who share your interests and even ones that blog about totally different subjects. There is just so much you can learn from each other's experiences! Plus, who doesn't like making new friends?

Go for a walk and take photos of the blooming trees. Head to a coffee shop and take a photo of your perfectly prepared latte. Post a photo of your running shoes in a field of bluebells. Just get out there and live! It is the best piece of advice I can give you.

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