A few weeks ago, on Instagram, I shared a bit of my journey into blogging and how it went from a hobby created while in college to my full-time job. It’s something that is still surreal to me seven and a half years later, and it’s something that I am proud of daily. This month Olay is celebrating fearless females by partnering with influencers to share their stories! I’m proud to partner with a company that values women & celebrates them every day! I’m so excited to dive in a little deeper into my blogging journey today. I also opened up questions on IG stories & I’m answering those today as well!
So, let’s back up a few years to 2011, shall we… I was a twenty-year old junior at Appalachian majoring in communication. I was enrolled in a few marketing classes as well as a few graphic design classes. Every time I left class with an assignment I felt giddy with all of the ideas I had in my head. Most of those assignments required me to use Photoshop and/or Illustrator, which I had come to enjoy. One day after finishing an assignment, I decided to play around with Adobe a bit more. I started playing around with logos for a blog that I hadn’t yet created. That night when I got back to my apartment, I logged on to blogger.com and created my blog, Life with Emily.
In 2011 blogging was totally different than it is now. It was a place where I shared my favorite products in collages, weekend updates, and sometimes my outfits (that were taken with a self-timer on a point and shoot camera!) Like I said, things were WAY different back then, ha! As the years went on I continued to grow my blog and the industry continued to grow and evolve into something incredible. Fast forward to 2014, I was working my full-time job in addition to blogging. After coming home from my full-time job, I would work into the whee hours of the night on my blog. It was becoming a vicious cycle. I was constantly feeling stressed, overwhelmed, tired, and like I was being pulled on both ends. My blog income was matching (and exceeding) my full-time job at the time. That November I took my blog full-time, and while incredibly scary, I was excited to take the plunge into working for myself and towards my goals. Since then I have continued to grow my blog, work with my dream brands, and have had opportunities that I could only have dreamed about. This industry is still relatively new and evolving, which can be a bit scary sometimes. There are days I still don’t feel like I know what I’m doing, but it’s worth being fearless and going after my goals every single day. Working for myself is very rewarding & it’s nice to see the fruits of my labor, knowing just how hard I’ve worked to get here! If you’re wanting to try something new, I say take the leap! It may not always be easy, but it will definitely be worth it!
I posted a question sticker on IG stories recently about blogging, so today I’m answering some of your common questions! As always, feel free to leave any other questions you have in the comments below – happy to answer them!
Q: WHERE DO YOU EVEN BEGIN?
A: To start, you should decide what you want to write about on your blog. It doesn’t have to be ONE thing – maybe you want to create lifestyle content or maybe you want to share affordable outfits. Whatever it is, try to think of what you can bring to the table & what will make you stand out. Next up, figure out a name for your blog (aka the hard part haha!) If you ask an influencer about their blog name, nine times out of ten they will tell you they hate it. I don’t like Life with Emily, but it’s stayed relevant over the years because it is sharing my life – whether that be my style, my travel, etc. From there, create your site! I’ll go into more detail about this in the next question.
Q: WHAT SITE DID YOU USE TO START YOUR BLOG?
A: When I started my blog in 2011, I created it on blogger.com. Blogger.com is owned by Google and it’s a very user friendly site for starting your blog. Blogger offers a lot of customization, analytics, etc. It’s also FREE, which is a huge bonus. There are, of course, certain functions that you can’t get on blogger.com, but for the most part it’s a great platform. I will note that with blogger.com you do NOT own your content, Google owns it. They could shut it down at any time. If you’re just wanting to test the waters without feeling like you’re investing too much money, I highly suggest using blogger.
Three years ago I transferred my site over to WordPress.org. If you are running your blog as a business, this is the platform that I suggest using because you own your content and it offers more in terms of customization, SEO, user experience, etc. If your platform is WordPress.org, you will need to use a hosting service and buy a domain name. There are definitely more fees associated with using WordPress, but they can all be written off as business expenses. I use SiteGround to host my site & have been very happy with them. I was with Bluehost, but after a series of nightmares (!!) I no longer recommend them.
Q: DID YOU HIRE SOMEONE TO MAKE YOUR SITE?
A: When I first migrated over to WordPress, I used Whitney Hawkins to transfer over my content, design my site & re-brand with a new logo and graphics. About six months ago I purchased a theme from Lindsay Humes to create a more interactive site. Nowadays, there are SO many places selling themes that you can easily pay $75 for a theme for your site that has everything you want! If you’re looking for themes I suggest: Lindsay Humes, EmPress Themes, and PipDig. Note: there is a difference in WordPress & Blogger themes, so make sure you make note of that when searching for themes.Q: HOW MANY POSTS SHOULD YOU HAVE WRITTEN PRIOR TO MAKING YOUR BLOG LIVE?
A: I think it’s best to have a few (three or four) posts up on your site before making it live so that readers know what to expect from your content going forward. If your niche is lifestyle content, show different ways you plan to share that. Aside from posts, make sure you have a great “about me” page live so readers can learn about you. Also, make sure you have your social links somewhere on your site so they can find you elsewhere if they wish to do so.
Q: WHAT ARE SOME TIPS TO HELP GROW YOUR BLOG?
A: My first tip is to know that it’s not going to happen overnight! Growing your blog is a process and, at times, it can feel like you’re at a standstill! When you start your blog, I suggest networking with other bloggers and creatives and use them for guidance. A great networking & learning resource is The Blog Societies. They connect you with other creatives & have a wealth of knowledge about all things blogging on their site! My biggest tip is to utilize Pinterest. I use Tailwind to schedule out my Pins and that allows me to drive traffic back to my site. I have seen a LARGE increase in site traffic by using Pinterest/Tailwind more. You can create specific images for posts in order to promote them. By using Tailwind, you can join tribes (i.e. fashion bloggers, interior, etc.) to boost your pins and get them shared more by those in your niche. Learn more about Tailwind here.
Q: HOW DO YOU COME UP WITH TOPICS/IDEAS FOR POSTS?
A: This is kind of a two-fold answer! I have a notebook where I jot down blog post ideas whenever they come to mind. If I’m on the go & come up with an idea, I’ll put it in the notes section of my phone and then add it in my notebook when I’m home! It’s nice to have a running list of ideas for rainy days, ha! But a lot of my ideas also come from feedback from my readers either via DM, email, or a blog comment! I place those in a list in my “blog notebook” too and add those posts in as I can! I also strongly encourage bloggers to use an editorial calendar to plan out their content. It makes it easier to plan when you can see the “big picture.”
Q: HOW DO YOU FIND NEW CONTENT (WHEN YOU LIVE IN A 690 SQ. FT APT?)
A: First of all, don’t let your surroundings determine your content! When I was in college I lived in an older apartment that was everything except #goals, haha! It was old, had brown panel walls in the living room & had a hodge podge of furniture from me and my roommate! If anything, this can help you get creative! A few tips: Order backgrounds on Amazon (like this marble one!) With these you can do flat lays or shoot your photos on them to give a more “put together” look. Another piece of advice is to use areas in your city! Find a cute coffee shop that doesn’t mind if you shoot photos there, or work with local companies that have work spaces or blank spaces and shoot there! A lot of blogging isn’t glamorous & a lot of work goes in to these curated photos that you see on blogs & IG!Q: PROFESSIONAL CAMERA VS. IPHONE? EDITING VS. ALL NATURAL?
A: A mix of both! There are many times that I reach for my iPhone out of convenience, but there’s nothing like the quality that comes from a DSLR camera. If you’re looking for a camera but don’t want to break the bank with a DSLR camera right away, I suggest this Canon camera and this Sony camera. I have the Sony & it’s great because it’s compact, it takes great photos, you can change the lens, and it has wifi capability. I shoot a lot of my travel photos with it & did this Youtube video with it! For outfit photos & lifestyle photos I use my DSLR camera with either a 35mm f/1.4 lens, a 50mm f/1.4 lens, or 85mm f/1.8 lens. Each lens is used for different things. For instance, I love the 35mm for travel/outfit/lifestyle, I use the 50mm for outfits/beauty mostly & the 85mm for detail/up close shots.
As for editing, I do almost all of my editing via Lightroom on my computer (not the app). I prefer this program because it really allows you to customize the image, fix lighting/color issues, and make presets, if you choose to. For iPhone photos I use VSCO or Darkroom. I just did a trial of VSCO X and so far I’m liking the additional filters and editing options. I’m team “less is more” when it comes to editing. I don’t need to look like a plastic Barbie or alter the colors in my photos too much.Q: HOW DID YOU TURN IT INTO A FULL-TIME JOB? HOW DO YOU MAKE MONEY?
A: For the first few years, my blog was purely a hobby and not monetized at all. As I continued to grow my blog I began working with companies for product in exchange for blog & social coverage. Then, brands began paying me for sponsored posts on my site because they could see the sales I was driving to them. Eventually between sponsored posts and affiliate income, I was making more money than I was in my full-time job, allowing me to make blogging my full-time job.
So, how do I make money? The majority of my income comes from brand collaborations and commission from affiliate links. Brand collaborations typically come directly from the brand or through an ad agency. A collaboration can be a blog post, a social media campaign, or an event. Sometimes it’s just one post, other times it’s a six month contract, it just depends on what the brand is wanting. With a brand collaboration, I make a flat fee for the post and sometimes commission from any sales I make. I love doing brand collaborations, but I am always careful about what collaborations I accept. I say ‘no’ more than I say ‘yes.’ If I’ve never heard of a brand or haven’t worked with them before, I will usually try out the product first before agreeing to the collaboration or I’ll order for myself to see how my experience is as a customer before promoting it. To me, it’s very important to remain authentic and never promote something I wouldn’t use or buy myself. Sure, there have been a few times that I’ve said yes when I probably shouldn’t have when I started out, but it was lesson learned! 🙂 Then there’s affiliate links… I work with rewardStyle and ShopStyle in order to make money off of affiliate links on my site. The way that works is if you click a link on my site and make a purchase, I will make a small commission from your purchase. This isn’t a fee that you pay, rather the retailer pays it since I sent you to their site. Cookies vary for different retailer – some cookies last 30 days, some only last one day, again, it just depends. If you were to make another purchase on that site after clicking my link, there’s a chance I may make a small commission off of that too. It’s a little tricky because it’s always a click war (haha!) with other bloggers. Example: If you click my link to Nordstrom and add something to your cart, then click over to another blogger’s site and click one of their links to Nordstrom and check out, that blogger gets the commission, not me! *I hope that makes sense!*
Q: DO YOU FIND THAT PEOPLE STILL READ BLOGS? I KNOW I PREFER QUICK LINKS, PICS, ETC. ON INSTAGRAM.
A: Yes and no! I find that people still read them (proof is in page views and google analytics!) but don’t take the time to comment as often. They tend to find what they’re after and then they are on their way! With social media, the way people take in information has changed. Everyone wants quick info & fast answers. It has definitely made me change the way I blog and, in turn, promote it. It’s definitely been a learning curve, but I always devote more time to my blog than social channels because I own my blog. I, personally, find blogs to be a better resource when you want to read or find out something. I get a lot of DMs on Instagram and they can sometimes get backed up. A lot of questions are about things I have covered on my blog, so I tend to refer them to the post on Life with Emily, since my blog posts contain more detailed information that may interest them!
Q: CAN YOU BE AN INFLUENCER WITHOUT HAVING A BLOG?
A: You totally can, to each their own! It’s not something I would recommend because you don’t own your social media, but you definitely can be an influencer without having a blog. I feel like I’m harping on this, but it’s only because it’s so true. I would have a hard time being an influencer knowing that any day my instagram could get hacked or IG could shut down. Just my two cents though 🙂
Q: IS IT BETTER TO GET YOUR BLOG STARTED FIRST OR GET YOUR IG LOOKING PRETTY?
A: I will always, always, always recommend that you put your most effort into your blog vs Instagram. While Instagram is the “of the moment” social media that everyone loves, it is continuously changing (and not for the better) and it’s not something you own. You could spend a long time getting your IG aesthetic perfect and IG could shut down tomorrow. Then all of your work is essentially down the drain. And that would suck!
I’m a big believer in not putting all of your eggs in the Instagram basket. I don’t like to devote a TON of time to a platform that I don’t own. Sure, I enjoy Instagram and have grown great following on there, but my blog is where I make most of my income and it’s not something I’ll have to “fall back on” should IG ever die! I suggest creating great content on your blog & sharing that on your IG feed. And promoting on every other social site. Q: HOW DO YOU GET YOUR FIRST FOLLOWERS WITHOUT DRIVING YOUR FRIENDS CRAZY?
A: Interact with other bloggers in your niche! Follow them. Like and comment on their posts. Show that you’re interested in their content. It may not turn into a follower, but it may! Tip: NEVER be that person who uses the comments to promote & plug your own page/blog. That tends to turn off people instead of getting them to your page! Also utilize appropriate hashtags – people may discover you that way!
Q: IS IT BETTER TO START A NEW IG ACCOUNT OR BUILD OFF OF A PERSONAL ACCOUNT?
A: I think this is mostly personal preference. When I started my IG there wasn’t the option of having more than one, so I just built mine off of my personal account. At that time I posted personal and blog content on my account. Eventually as I continued to grow I stopped adding in more personal photos (like with friends & family) because I wanted to respect their privacy. Last year I created a personal account and I’m SO happy I did. I can share whatever I want whenever I want without worrying about filters, losing followers, etc.
HAVING TWO ACCOUNTS
pros: You can target your audience with specific content. You won’t bother your “IRL friends” with blog content that they may not want to see.
cons: You have two accounts to manage & that could get confusing or overwhelming.
BUILDING OFF PERSONAL ACCOUNT
pros: You already have “built in” followers. Slowly add in blog content so it’s not overwhelming for your friends/followers.
cons: Your friends/followers may not want to see blog content. Your new followers don’t care about your cat or a night out with your friends.Q: IS IT BETTER TO START TAGGING BRANDS IN YOUR PHOTOS TO GET THEM TO NOTICE YOU? OR SHOULD YOU TRY TO JOIN LIKETOKNOW.IT RIGHT AWAY?
A: There’s never any harm in tagging brands in your photos! It can be a great way to get noticed & possibly get re-grammed by a brand! I know rewardStyle/LikeToKnow.IT has certain requirements for accepting influencers, so I wouldn’t try to join them right away until you have established yourself a bit. I had friends who got denied at first, but a year later got accepted. I wish I had more advice on how to get accepted 🙂
Q: HOW DID YOU AUTHENTICALLY GROW YOUR IG? I ADMIRE YOU FOR NEVER “SELLING OUT!”
A: Being myself, paying attention to what my followers liked, and interacting with likeminded accounts allowed me to grow my instagram account. I have had slow & steady growth, which I’m fine with. Some accounts explode overnight or go viral, and even though that hasn’t been the case for me, I’m ok with that! Every person is different. I can sleep at night knowing I am growing authentically. I have NEVER once bought followers. I have never used bots to like/comment/follow or unfollow on my behalf. And I do NOT participate in loop giveaways or secret giveaways in order gain followers. There are girls who buy followers like CRAZY. There are girls who also pay anywhere from $500-$2500 to participate in giveaways (you know the ones… trips, Gucci bags, etc.) in order to gain followers. That’s just never appealed to me. I would rather have a smaller follower number that consists of engaged followers than fake/ghost followers who don’t engage or purchase from me! With the way the algorithm is now, I have ZERO tips for growing your IG, unfortunately. It’s kind of a nightmare and some days my posts do well and other days posts don’t even reach 10,000 of my followers, which is frustrating beyond belief.
This post is sponsored by Olay. All thoughts & writing are my own. Just as I overcame by fears, I am proud to stand with this pilot, who helped start this campaign, and all of the other fearless females throughout the world!