How to Start a Blog - My Journey to Creating a Life on My Own Terms
This post on how to start a blog is in collaboration with 10 other blogger friends and is part of a Summer Blogging series. They'll be sharing their insight on various topics as well, and I'll link to their posts at the end! I am also answering the questions that were asked in my Instagram stories within the post. Thank you Arin and Navy for starting this fun series!
How to Start a Blog - My Journey to Creating a Life on My Own Terms
I have now been blogging for 2.5 years, so I thought it would be a good time to share a little bit more about my journey. Let's back way up to the end of high school and college. I have always loved fashion, design, and interiors. In fact, I designed and sewed my own prom dress for my senior project in high school. I always knew I wanted a career in the fashion/retail space.
After high school, I went on to get a Bachelors Degree in Fashion Merchandising from Oregon State University. I took on an internship with Nordstrom and moved into their management team after college. A few years later, I took a management position with Kohl's where I fell into the HR world. I loved this job because I could work closely managing careers and development, but I was also in the retail world. After Kohl's, I joined Vera Bradley where I worked for 5 years managing all HR functions at the retail level at stores across the country. When that position ended, I landed a role in HR for a large bank. I quickly realized this wasn't the job for me and I had to get out of there as quickly as possible.
we love trippleting
I love home decor and always have!
My blog had been live for around a year at that point. I wanted to create a full time income from it, so I really started focusing on building my brand. Becoming a blogger/influencer (I really don't love that term!) didn't start out as a means for making money. It was a great place to connect with other moms and people with the same interests. I truly love taking photos of my girls, styling, and sharing about our adventures. Making money from this is an extra perk (and a really good one)!
Luckily, Ryan is pretty techie. He was able to set up my blog and hosting for me. I did rely heavily on Google and YouTube when I was stumped. It helped tremendously! So did the other bloggers that I had connected with that had started around the same time as me.
Instagram - A Great Place to Start
I have had my Instagram account since 2011, but really started focusing on getting brands attention after Madison was born in 2016. I started taking more styled photos of her outfits and tagging brands/using strategic hashtags on posts. A post we took in a cart at Home Goods hit the explore page once, and I knew I started something. We had a flood of followers, likes and comments come in from that post. This sort of pushed me to creating content that I knew followers wanted to see from us. At this point, I had also started creating friendships with women across the country on the app. They were in the same stage of life as I was, and we've continued to stay friends! This is something I really recommend. Connect with people in the same niche and audience size as you. It's such a great way to bounce ideas off each other and share contacts!
the girls in their favorite Pippa and Julie dresses which is part of an ongoing partnership
Around 6 months after I had really been putting effort into Instagram, I started to get contacted by companies. At first it was to send bows/outfits for the girls for photographs. I gladly accepted! Although, Ryan said if another bow showed up at our house he was going to lose it. Ha! At this point, I decided to start a blog as a way to offer another option to companies to share products. When I take photos of the girls, I take A LOT so I figured I would start sharing them on my blog as well. I also really wanted a platform I owned, because you never know what could happen to Instagram. My blog became a creative outlet for me to share our home decor, party ideas, and travel adventures. I love being able to look back on it personally to remember all our fun!
one of our multi post partnerships with Petcurean and MudBay
I took advantage of my long commute to the bank to listen to as many Podcasts as possible. See this post for my favorite Podcasts! I am so grateful for this time because I really learned so much about the blogging/influencing/content creation world on my long drives. After really focusing on my blog and business I started seeing money come in, we decided I would leave my career to blog full time. I was so excited because I wanted nothing more than to stay home with the girls and have a flexible schedule.
How I Balance It All
Newsflash! I don't! When I was working full time, we would spend a lot of weekends taking photos, working on blog posts, and doing all the back end things for the blog. We still have to do this now that my blog has grown so much and my partnerships have a lot higher demands. McKinlee goes to pre-school 5 half days per week. Madison goes 2 half days. This gives me a little time to work on various things. I also typically work from 9-11PM after the girls go to sleep and sometimes when Ryan gets home from work.
our multi post partnership with Soma
This Summer, I hired a baby sitter once a week and my mom watches the girls one day a week. Some days might be photo shoots, some days are writing, and some days are spent sending invoices/tax prep/responding to emails, etc. A lot of bloggers/influencers have assistants but I just haven't bit the bullet yet. Personally, I'd rather have help elsewhere and do things myself! We also have someone come into clean our house every other week. Without them, I'd surely drown!
Ryan is the most supportive husband too! I sure got lucky when I snagged him. He is always willing to help out when I need photos taken or take the girls when I have a deadline. We still end up working a lot on the weekends, but we try to work things in when we're out and about anyways. I truly haven't taken a full day off in probably 3 years! We've had to turn invites down due to tight turn around times. Most all partnerships also require pre-approval of content prior to posting. This adds on time on the front end, but then when I receive approval I don't have to worry about writing my caption since it's already complete.
How to Grow Your Following
This was a huge question I received when polling on Instagram. In the beginning, the algorithm's made it a lot easier to grow. I would do follow Friday, story shout out trades, etc with other like sized bloggers/influencers. This definitely helped grow my audience in the beginning, but it doesn't work as well any more. I like to do giveaways with small shops to help grow both my audience and the shops audience. The followers that come from those giveaways are the most engaged! Another great way to get your account seen is to be shared on a larger brands site.
Are Giveaways a Good Idea?
When you're just starting out, make sure to tag other companies. You never know which one's might share your photo! This gives your page more visibility to a larger audience. The other way I grow is through giveaways. Some brands see this as "buying followers", but with the algorithm making it difficult to get your page seen this helps get your brand in front of different audiences. When looking for a giveaway to participate in, make sure it's in your niche. If you're a mommy blogger, don't join a giveaway targeted at 13 year old you tubers!
I also like to comment and interact with my following. Search hashtags and like/comment on those posts. You never know; they might come over to your page to give you a follow! As you can see, this can really eat up a lot of time. I try to time block my engagement time on Instagram so that it doesn't suck up a lot of my work time.
Ok, heres the part you're probably all curious about! I started earning a small amount of money in 2017, but definitely not enough to allow me to leave my full time job. This amount slowly increased and in January 2018, I started making enough money that would allow me to stay home. I figured if it didn't work out, I could always find another job. It took about a year, but I was able to earn more each month than I did at my full time job. This month, I earned just over 4 times what I earned in a month while working at my 8-5 desk job. Holy smokes!
our multi post partnership with 9 Elements
I earn the most money through brand deals and partnerships. Creating long term partnerships is my all time favorite. I really stand behind the brands that I endorse, and I love sharing about them with you. Products that make life easier, more beautiful, and more healthy are what I love to share. I share them as if I'm sharing them with my best friend, family or neighbor. We are SUPER picky in who we work with. I get so many emails each day asking us to endorse different products. I'd say we move forward with around 25% of the pitches we receive (just to give you an idea of how picky we really are).
Don't Always Say Yes
When I was just starting out, I definitely said yes way more than I should have. I made mistakes when endorsing products that I wouldn't necessarily purchase myself but did like. We have sent products back that didn't work for us or that we didn't like/want to endorse. On the opposite end, I've been introduced to products that I never knew I needed. Liquid I.V. is one that sticks out to me! I probably wouldn't have tried it, but when they reached out to work together I fell in love with the product and still use it today! Everyone makes mistakes when they are just starting and I've definitely learned from them! I'm super proud of my partnerships and take them very seriously!
I also make money from ads on my website and affiliate income. Those are a smaller portion, but it's a nice cushion to have each month.
Pitching and Working with Brands
When I first started, I worked really hard on perfecting my pitch. There are several courses and podcasts out there, but at the end of the day you are selling to the brand what you can do for them. You've built a loyal audience, and you want to share XYZ's product with them. It's really all about how you can help the company that makes a successful pitch. I always add in how their product/service has helped you personally and share a bit of your idea on how you'll make it come alive in your content. Always stay true to who you are! Those partnerships that you take on that aren't necessarily the best fit are always the most painful to complete.
one of my all time favorite partnerships - Martha Stewart at Macy's! This was one part of a 5 month long collaboration.
Who to Pitch?
When I was first starting out, I would look around my house/pantry/closet/bathroom for brands and products I used daily. That is how I decided who I would pitch first. I would also search hashtag partnerships to see what brands were "bloggers/Instagram" friendly. You can google press releases to find the best press contact, send them a DM, search for the marketing/social/PR contact on their website, or use Clearbit (lifesaver!). Be prepared for a lot of "no's" before you get a yes. For every pitch I send out, I probably receive a response 25% of the time. Don't get frustrated!
a recent partnership with Sparkling Ice
There are also a TON of influencer networks where you can sign up and search for partnerships. Some of my favorites are Aspire IQ, Everywhere Agency, Clever, Acorn, Social Bias, Collectively, and Social Fly. Try googling "influencer networks" and you'll find a ton! They are basically the middle man between brands and you. They'll take a cut of the pay, but you won't feel it.
You Got a YES, Now What?!
I think what has caused us to be so successful is that we truly run our blog like a business. I take on each partnership with care and know that the brand is trusting me to do a great job. It's all in the details, and my best piece of advice is to triple check your work for errors. You're going to need to invest money to make money. I can't recommend a high quality camera enough. There is such a huge difference to the photos I posted three years ago to the ones I post today. This has a lot to do with taking the time to learn photography and investing in a high quality camera/lens.
You can't post and run. Brands want to see that you're engaging with your audience. Some bloggers/influencers will post their sponsored posts and not respond to a single comment. I think this really shows that they don't truly care about the brand/product and partnership. Be professional and timely. If they're asking for content for approval by a certain date, send it early! It likely has to go through legal review or several departments and you want to be cognizant of others time.
ongoing partnership with Kroger/Fred Meyer
Growing Blog Traffic and Pinterest
I have really focused on growing my blog traffic and two ways that have helped me are SEO and Pinterest. I've spent a lot of time researching keywords to use in my blog posts that will gain traction through Google and it's definitely been working. I'm constantly learning, so I'm no expert here! Also, reducing site load time by using less plug ins, photo size reduction, etc. If you search google site speed, you should be able to get some great suggestions! I also spend a lot of time focusing on Pinterest since it's another large source of traffic for my blog. I do this by creating a lot of pinnable images for my blog posts. Canva is a great tool that I use for creating blog graphics. I probably have enough for an entire blog post on this topic, so please let me know if there is any interest!
PHEW! I think I've touched on everything. My biggest piece of advice is to be yourself! Share what you truly love! Look to others for inspiration but have your own thoughts and opinions. Please let me know if I've left anything out or if you have any further questions!
Make sure to check out the other ladies below on how to start a blog and all about their journey!