Today's post is a highly requested one and what better day than the 8th Birthday of EJ Style to publish it. I hope you'll find it useful and if you don't have a blog maybe it will just be interesting and provide a little more insight into what being a 'Blogger' entails. I'm going to give you a little bit of information on my background and why I started a blog. Taking you through the stages of my own blogging career I'll just be sharing some of my top tips on how to run your blog as a successful business and how I made it this far...to the point at which I can proudly say 'Yes, I've made a darn good little business out of this blogging lark'. By no means is this the ultimate guide to Blogging, everything in this post is based on my own experiences as a blogger and not everything will apply to everyone. After all your business should be tailored to you and your audience.
If you enjoy this post then please let me know in the comments below, and I can always write more 'Blogging advice' posts if you find them useful.
First of all I want to just run through a few of my own blogging facts so you can get a little background on me and how and why I started a blog. I didn't go to University, I just didn't feel like it was for me. As a non-drinker University seemed to be sold as the place to go and get absolutely off your face for 3 years and obviously that held no appeal for me. I worked in retail from the age of 19, starting as a Visual Merchandiser and working my way up to Store Manager. In the early days I loved the job, I worked at Zara you see, so this had it's perks. I always got first choice of product from deliveries and I could get my hands on the best sale bargains before anyone else. However as the time went on I felt unsatisfied in the job, it was fast paced and demanding but there was a serious lack of creativity. My role as a VM was great, the perfect retail job in my opinion (minus the shitty wage). Customers wouldn't bother me because I was always in a window or creating some visual display up a ladder somewhere. It was like being in my own little world, and I was good at it. I bought my first property and I needed an 'adult job' so I progressed to the higher paying roles of management and my creativity was stripped away and replaced with number crunching, HR and rota planning. One day on my lunch break (aka. 10 minutes to scoff a sandwich and look at Daily Mail online) I read about this 12 year old girl, Tavi Gevinson, who had started this thing called a 'blog' and she documented her style, albeit not my taste as she was quite the granny dresser for a 12 year old but then that was her USP (unique selling point). I went back to work and that day I had roughly 9 or 10 different customers ask where they could find my exact outfit in the store, as obviously we had to wear Zara. This wasn't something new to me, I would get asked on a daily basis where my outfit was from and women would tell me I had great style. I was just wearing what I liked and also trying to sell the shit out of these clothes so I could get my bonus at the end of the month...so I could buy more clothes. When I got home that night I started a blog, and this was 8 years ago today.
Finding the Right Platform
8 years ago today I launched EJ Style on a hosting platform called Squarespace. Back in the day Squarespace was pretty basic but it's come a long way since then. In hindsight I should have started on Blogger but I had no idea what I was doing, there was no strategy and the buzz on social media was around Facebook and MySpace (Whoooooo?). I just wanted to share daily pictures of my outfits and Squarespace offered me a simple solution to do that in my own space on the internet. Fast forward about 3 years and I finally moved to Blogger and my Squarespace site was eventually deleted, losing all of my original outfits which I'm now pretty thankful for, phew! Blogger is a great platform to start a blog, and if anyone is thinking of starting out I'd say choose Blogger. It's user friendly and makes uploading your content a doddle, plus with all the design templates on offer your site can look pretty professional, not to mention the fact that it's free!
However, lets say you want to run your blog as a business, in this case it's got to be WordPress (self hosted). This is where you need to do your research because you will need an element of knowledge on all things 'Internet' to create and maintain a WordPress self hosted site. The bonus of a site like this is that you own the space, your blog is actually yours. With Blogger your blog actually belongs to Blogger and therefore could be deleted any time due to error (pretty bad error), or their discretion (if you've done something offensive or have been reported). However there are some bloggers who have remained on Blogger, a fave of mine being Blair Eadie, and the platform certainly hasn't stunted her blogging growth. For me a self hosted WordPress site works well, I have my own domain which I saw and still see as an important factor, and I was able to get my site exactly the way I wanted it by designing it from scratch and getting a web developer (Phil at Pipdig) to code it for me...but more about site design later on. With WordPress you have the ability to download these magical little things called plug-ins, and there are plenty of them. These are pre-designed features which you can add to your site, for example you can add a Twitter feed to your side bar (if you have a side bar), you can make your social media icons float down the side of the page as someone scrolls down. I could go on as there are thousands of plug-ins to enhance, improve and develop your site.
As I mentioned earlier my site is a custom design. I designed it, not a web designer. I used photoshop to draw the exact layout I wanted and wrote poor Phil at Pipdig a massive 5 page essay on what I wanted each section to look like and what it should do. This entire process took around 3-4 months. I put so much thought and effort into creating a site which really met my readers needs. I changed certain elements of it time and time again, then I left it for a few days and came back to it to see if I still liked the ideas I had drawn up. It's costly but this is something which is worth investing in because your site is your business. As the times move on I'm sure my site will change as this is a fast paced industry and we always have to be one step ahead of the game.
Templates are great. Pipdig have some amazing ones and there are also plenty to choose from on the Web. Most of which you do need to pay for but in comparison to a full custom site this is a quick fix to have your site looking professional. The only downside with a template is that it is not unique. Tens, hundreds or possibly even thousands of other blogs will look exactly the same as yours and in an industry this saturated it's important to stand out from the crowd.
My Tips: Start on Blogger, then once your blog is established, move to WordPress with a template. When you start to earn enough money from your blog to invest back into the business that is when I would recommend designing your own site or hiring someone to do that for you.
There are 2 ways in which I earn revenue from my blog:
1. Collaborations I work with brands that I love to create sponsored content for both the blog and my social channels. All sponsored content is always disclosed at the bottom of each post and often in the text where I say who I've 'teamed up' with for that post. For Instagram and other social posts the #ad is always used for a sponsored/paid for post. However just because a post is paid for does not mean that it's not as natural as my other posts. I only work with brands who I either already have an organic relationship with or new brands who have approached me and I genuinely like their products, for example my recent collaboration with Hush. I had never heard of Hush until I was asked to work on that collaboration and as I do with all proposals put forward, I checked out the site. As I mentioned in that post I have no idea how Hush has escaping my prying eyes for all these years but it's now one of my favourite brands and a website that I will spend my money on. There's often quite a bad stigma around sponsored posts, some critics branding bloggers as 'sell outs' or 'just out for the money' but you know what I'm not ashamed to work on sponsored content at all. I know I'm still creating the same quality of content that I would do organically and it is thanks to these collaborations that I can do this as a job and bring my readers the content they want on a daily basis. Read more on collaborations later on.
2. Affilate Links There are quite few affiliate linking schemes around, LinkShare, SkimLinks, ShopStyle and RewardStyle to name but a few. Some brands even have their own affiliate schemes. But how do they work? An affiliate link is a uniquely coded link to a product or site which potentially can earn you money. Some schemes operate on a 'pay per click' profile whereas other are commission based. For example a reader clicks on a link to buy this Topshop coat via your affiliate link, once they have paid for the item you will earn a percentage of commission from that sale. I personally use RewardStyle as I am a member of their scheme and love the interface and the way they operate, not to mention the handy little widgets and Liketoknow.it function which allows me to monetise my Instagram content as well. RewardStyle was the brainchild of a blogger and for me that means that the set up is created and maintained with bloggers in mind. I would naturally be linking to the items I'm wearing because after all that's why you guys come to read my blog, so what's the harm in earning a little money from these links rather than letting the 'bigs in suits' take it all? Because did you know that if you Google 'Topshop' and click on the site via their search engine or Google chrome internet browser, they will actually be earning from your clicks and your purchases.
You can also earn revenue from advertisements. As you will see from the design of my blog I have no specific 'ad space' and this was a personal choice of mine. I want full control of what my site looks like and what products appear on my site. I'll never forget the day I visited a blog which I loved about 4 years ago and I was greeted with a giant colourful wraparound advert for Tampax, I swore that would never be me. But again guys, I'm not here to say what's right and what's not right, it's about what suits you and your blog.
Knowing Your Audience
Getting to know my audience and what they want is the most valuable aspect of running my business. As Bloggers we are spoilt for choice with the amount of tools at our disposal for finding out facts and figures about who is looking at our blogs. Your audience may even differ from platform to platform; your blog readership may be wanting a different type of content to your Instagram followers and figuring this out is key.
Google Analytics is old school but great and I use this on a daily basis. With GA you can see the age demographic, location and even the interests of the people visiting your blog. You can also asses statistics such as the 'Bounce Rate'; this is the percentage of visitors to your site who leave after viewing only one page, very helpful to know because it shows how engaged your readers are, if they leave after only viewing one page then clearly they aren't that engaged. I won't go into everything as that would be a post of it's own but it's a very valuable tool that you have easy and free access to. There are similar tools for Instagram such as Iconosquare, which used to be free but now sadly has a monthly charge because they whacked the word 'pro' in front of it, although can can sign up the the free trial to see if you get along with it. And now as Instagram is transforming into an even bigger platform the latest upgrade now offers statistics built into the app itself and the chance to upgrade your account to a business account.
Finally after 8 years I now feel confident that I know my audience inside and out. From day 1, as I explained earlier, my blog was always about my personal style, and the appeal for many is that I style affordable high street clothes into outfits which leave them saying 'Nooooo, that's not high street??!!'. Yes ok, now I'm a little older I have developed a penchant for luxury shoes and accessories but that wasn't a strategic plan, it was a natural development for me as I got older and as my income increased. My readers have grown with me and the majority are a similar age to me and therefore they also like to 'invest' in higher end pieces as and when they can afford them. Over the years I have struggled with deciding what type of content to stick to, branching out into Travel, Lifestyle, and Beauty. But Fashion was always the sticking point, I never neglected my Fashion posts. I've never sold myself as a 'personality', I don't divulge much about my personal life and that's because actually the majority of my readers aren't interested and I'm quite thankful because I get to keep that for myself. I think the love of a personality is more apparent in the world of YouTube, but with a blog it's a little trickier to get your personality across, not impossible by any means but it does depend on the type of content you create. My readers want to know what I'm wearing and where it's from and that suits me just fine because there's nothing I love to talk about more than clothes, shoes and handbags. Of course to add a little variation and to reflect how I am growing as a person I add in the occasional Travel, Lifestyle and Beauty posts but I always know that these won't be as popular as my style posts. The one trap I've seen many fall into is that they see the successes of others and try to head down a similar path, but if you don't have the audience to match it's never going to work so figure out your audience then plan your content...
I often get asked the question of 'how far in advance do you plan your content?'. Well I start to think about content a few months ahead, this gives me time to come up with a few ideas and potentially approach some brands to see if they might want to team up on certain topics, yes you can do that (more info on that later on). For example in the Summer I was planning out certain posts that I wanted to create and that I knew my readers would like to see, here are some of the ideas that I drafted in my notebook:
- 5 Coats for Autumn/Winter - The 3 Boot Trends You Need to Know For AW16 - Christmas Gift Guides - 10 Tips for Better Sleep - 5 Ways to Wear Leopard Print This Season
I've already posted one of these but you have the rest to look forward to over the next couple of months. This doesn't just apply to Fashion posts, although I find these the easiest to plan because we know the trends ahead of the season. Again lets say your planning content for Autumn in the Summer, just think about what happens in Autumn and what people might be interested in. If it's Fashion then there are so many topics to cover; transitional style, a feature on boots, a feature on knitted accessories, a certain fashion trend, what to buy now etc etc. If it's Beauty; an autumnal make-up look, how to care for your skin now it's getting colder, the obvious (but amazing) Halloween tutorials. Or Lifestyle; Refresh your home decor for Autumn, how to save money on heating bills (if you have some ideas), again Halloween is a great topic to cover and my friend Debs (yes, who is also my very talented photog) recently created this amazing DIY post on these super cute painted pumpkins.
I know I probably make it sound easy but planning content really gives me some structure and a schedule which I can then work around. I start off by coming up with some ideas and jotting them down in my notebook. Then I look at my posting schedule and start to roughly plan in some dates for when this content could be shot and go live. If there are any ideas that I really love and think might work well with a certain brand then I draft up a proposal and send it off to them for their consideration.
So I've already touched on the fact that these are sponsored posts and payment is involved but I thought I'd go into a little more detail about collaborations. There are two ways in which a collaboration can come about; 1. The brand approaches you with an idea and asks to collaborate. 2. You approach the brand with an idea that you think would be a good fit for that brand. Yes, you can actually do this. After all we are creative minds here and more often than not we can come up with some pretty cool ideas. As I mentioned in the segment above I forward plan my content the season before and I approach brands during that time with any ideas I have for a potential project, why? Because brands have budget allowances and these are often set per quarter, so if you approach a brand mid Autumn for an Autumn collaboration the chances are their budget will already have been allocated to other projects. I like to be one step ahead of the game and I also like to secure some revenue for the coming months, I do have a mortgage and bills to pay after all.
On to the nitty gritty. I always ask for a contract for a collaboration, I want the terms of what is expected of me and what the brand will uphold set out in writing so there can be no issues or disagreements. If the brief is in writing then I know exactly what I'm working on without wasting time creating content which actually wasn't what the brand was looking for, this has happened in the past. Sometimes things can get a little lost in translation somewhere along the email chain and having a contract makes things run smoothly. When it comes to fees you should have a Media pack which sets out your statistics for a brand to see and also your rates. Now this is where I can't really help you guys because unfortunately there is no set formula for deciphering your 'worth'. There are so many factors that come into setting your fee and these are different for everyone. My advice would be to discuss/ask the opinion of a valued blogger friend, someone you trust, trust being the important word here. The last thing you want is someone blabbing what you charge to a group of other bloggers, why? Because some things should remain private and this is where professionalism should come into the equation.
Once I have agreed on a collaboration I set to work on scheduling the shoot day, ensuring that I have enough time to play with should any external factors come into play ie. the weather, sickness, product not arriving on time etc. I leave myself enough time to cover any little mishaps and also enough time to have the post drafted and put together for a preview to send across to the brand. This is also a nifty little function of WordPress because you can create a preview without the post going live. It's important to stick to your side of the deal, by posting on time and sticking to the brief. I always like to stay in touch with the brand to let them know what stage of the process I am at, shooting, drafting, maybe I send them a little image as a teaser to get them excited about the post, and finally the finished post in preview form. It's also good form to let the brand know if you're experiencing any issues with the post and if it's going to be late.
Payment times for collaborations can vary from brand to brand and also if it's a first time collab or not. Usually with new brands it can take 60-90 days (worst case scenario) as you will need to be put through their finance system and as a brand once told me (rather honestly) the finance team don't think you us as their priorities and sometimes need a little nudge to get moving. Bigger fish to fry and all that but business is business and don't be scared to chase up your payment because it's all in that contract.
Having An Agent or Management
Do you need an agent? The answer is no. Do I have an agent? Yes, but before you put me on the firing line let me explain why. This decision is going to be different for everyone, because each of us have so many differentiating factors that make up our blogs and our businesses. For me and my business this was the right decision and I also managed to bag myself a non-exclusive deal with a top London agency. Maybe this was luck, I don't know, but I have the best of both worlds. It was always important for me to maintain my relationships with certain brands that I had worked with in the past, after all the blog is under my name and they want to deal with me (hopefully), and that's how that will work. However sometimes new brands or brands I love but haven't worked with yet might approach my agent and propose a collaboration and it wouldn't be good business sense to not consider these opportunities.
For many of us these 'little blogs' are our babies, we've nurtured them from birth and they are as much a part of us as anything else. I for one couldn't deal with letting go of the 'handling business' side of things and letting someone else do it for me. I still handle all of my emails and speak to brands personally as I have always done. I just now have help getting a few extra projects on my plate. And don't forget guys agents/managers take a cut, so it's always worth considering if that's something you want to give away. There's plenty of successful bloggers out there who are just killing it, and they are doing it independently.
Investing back into your business
Investing back into your business doesn't just apply to the financial side of things, although that is something that I believe helps to improve a business. It can also be investing more time, investing more effort, constantly wanting to do better. I think amongst bloggers this is a natural feeling anyway, but don't lose track of what your goals are, not what other people are doing. If you do something that you love then it's only natural that you will want to spend more time doing it. I often find myself brainstorming ideas in my notebook when me and my husband are trying to hammer through the latest season of GOT, when creativity strikes, you have to run with it. Yes it's important to have some down-time to keep yourself sane but don't ever think negatively about doing a little extra here and there.
Investing money back into your business can be done in a few different ways. How do I invest? Well, I invested into my site design, after 7 years I knew it was the right time for me to go the extra mile and have the site that I wanted and also deserved. I also invested in my equipment. For I don't know how many years I wanted a Canon 5D MkIII, I adored any image shot on this beast and finally after a few good collabs I decided to get one and a few lenses. The photography side of my blog has always been something that I've taken a real pride in and this was something that I wanted to improve. Do you need a Canon 5D? No you don't, the Olympus PEN EPL-7 and the new EPL-8 does an incredible job at producing dreamy images (when shot with the 75mm lens) and this is a fraction of the cost, so maybe you might want to invest in the PEN, or if you already have on, the 75mm lens. Investing in your equipment is also something you can offset when doing your tax returns so it's win win really 😉 Sadly I m not one of those lucky devils who has a perfectly willing boyfriend or husband to take their photos. Been there, tried that, it ended in disaster so the decision was made not to continue down that road. For years I shot with other bloggers and this was great because a) they're free and b) they're not going to mind if you say the words 'can we just do a few more from this angle', the words every boyfriend/husband hates. It was shortly after I had my new re-designed site launched that I decided to go to the next step and hire myself a photographer, Debs. I wanted consistency and a uniformity in my images and as much as it was fun shooting with other bloggers you often end up with the exact same locations being used for both of your pictures. Although having my own photographer costs me financially it actually makes me more productive as we only have my outfits to shoot, so in one day I we have shot a record of 8 looks which lasted me around 2-3 weeks.
If you've decided to take your blog to the next level and turn it into your own business then being and acting in a professional manner should play a big part in this. In many of the topics I've already discussed, professionalism should be at the fore front. I know Blogging is an unusual business to be running, in terms of it not fitting into the stereotypes of the 'norm' but at the end of the day if you're running it as a business then it shouldn't differ from any other kind of business.
I've touched on being professional with collaborations and brands and it really is important to maintain this. Otherwise a brand might not want to work with you again if you've gone and posted your post a week late and then demanded the payment within 3 days. Try and reply to emails in a timely fashion. I can admit this isn't always possible as time is often the most challenging factor in running a blogging business, but so long as you try your hardest and make an effort to check those emails when out and about, brands will appreciate this. Also, you snooze you lose.
Being professional with other bloggers should also come into the mix. As I said before it's not wise to discuss details (ie. payment) of collaborations or projects because you will find that this is often a term in your contract. But we all need a guru to go to and ask for advise and this is where that word 'trust' comes into play again.
At the end of the day you have built this blog from nothing, would you ever want to do anything that would jeopardise the success of it's future?