I’ve been blogging for nearly 6 years now (!!!) and every once in a while I’ll get an email from a lovely reader asking me questions ranging from how to start a blog to how to grow it and work with brands, etc.
I’m certainly not a blogging expert (I can only speak to my own experience) and there are many blogs wildly more successful than mine, but I’ve been lucky enough over these last several years to have incredible readers whose support of my blog has provided me with opportunities to grow it and even earn a little extra income for our family, which I never could have imagined when I published my first post more than 5 years ago.
Below I’ll answer some of the most common questions I receive, including ones from an IG post earlier this week.
What inspired you to start your blog? Any tips for someone who is just starting out?
My blog came about in an interesting way. I was on theknot when I was planning our wedding and some of the ladies on the forums would ask me how I styled my hair or did my makeup. I would get messages and emails about these topics frequently and had toyed with the idea of blogging for some time. One day I finally decided to just go for it and created a place where I could share products I was loving, outfits, my shopping picks, home decor, etc. There was (and is) such a strong community of women bloggers out there and it was fun connecting with them and with my readers.
If you’re just starting out, it’s a good idea to think about your motives for blogging. Is it to share the things you love and are passionate about? Is it to connect with other women like you? Is it to grow your business? Don’t think about traffic and readership and growth just yet— focus on writing about things you love and want to share. I still feel really excited every time I hit publish on a product review post, knowing that one of my readers may love a product just as much as I do!
Something else to think about is the focus of your blog- will you mostly cover style, beauty, decor, cooking, travel? I like it when blogs have variety because I’m at a point in my life where many different lifestyle topics interest me, but my blog definitely started out focusing on beauty and personal style and I do find that having a focus is especially important as you’re building readership.
When naming your blog, get creative and jot down a lot of ideas— maybe even share them with people you trust to get some feedback. Looking back, I don’t know that I would have chosen “Veronika’s Blushing” if I was naming my blog today, but I do like that it has my name in it— I think the different spelling makes it easier to remember.
One last tip is to check etsy for great blogger and WordPress templates. Some of my old blog designs were so awful looking back. For $20-$50, you can get awesome blog templates that are customizable and look professional and clean. It’s the first impression you make when someone comes to your blog, so it’s worth a small investment.
How do you get people to follow your blog/increase traffic/get more page views?
I started my blog when there weren’t as many blogs around as there are now, so I think that alone made it easier to gain a following, even with terrible/blurry photos (the total opposite of the curated and professionally shot photos you see on blogs now). Below are some tips for growth:
- Be consistent- you want to keep your readers coming back for more content and you want to reliably deliver that content. If you’re only posting once a week, people tend to lose interest.
- Great photos- I certainly don’t have great photos myself, but I’m finding that the newer blogs that grow really quickly have super high-quality photos shot against great backdrops/locations. You don’t need to hire a professional to get great images— so don’t get discouraged. Ask a friend or your partner and try to mimic shots you like to see what works for you and your style. Look to other blogs whose photography style you love to be inspired on how to shoot your own content.
- Connect- for me, blogging has always been a two-way street. It’s important for me to respond to my readers- this includes on my blog, emails, social media etc. I can’t always answer 100% of my emails or comments, but I truly do try to answer most of them. Being accessible and responsive has always been a priority for me. Follow and comment on other blogs. Leave IG comments. Connect with other bloggers who have a similar following to you by hosting giveaways together. Participate in “Follow Fridays.”
- Content- what posts perform well on your blog? What posts garner the most comments? Examine your site traffic and learn what your readers want from you. I used to do a lot of products reviews and those fell by the wayside. However, I noticed when I would post one, my engagement levels went up, so I know those types of post resonate with my readers and I make an effort to do more of them now.
- Find your voice- it’s so easy to see a popular blog and try to mimic the style of their writing, but it’s best to simply be authentic and write in your own voice. Share your experiences and perspectives in a way that if someone who knows you in real life read it, they’d see your personality behind your words.
What do you feel has been the best part about blogging?
The relationships I’ve made because of blogging are the number one reason I love it so much. When I moved to Houston, I only knew my (now) husband and his parents. I literally had no friends of my own and had to “start over.” I met a lot of great people through Kevin and my jobs, but starting a blog opened up an entire new avenue for me to connect with women who had similar interests. Some of those friends I’ve only ever known online, but I’ve also had the pleasure of making lasting friendships with women right here in Houston via connecting through blogging. I’ve even met blogging friends from other cities, like when I met Michele at the RS conference recently. I love the genuine connections made from blogging. It’s such a positive community and I’m proud to be a part of it.
I’d like to know how you build partnerships with companies for product reviews/affiliations, etc…
That’s a great question! When I started blogging, very few people were blogging for a living. Nowadays, it’s not uncommon to find many bloggers quitting their jobs to blog full-time because they’ve become so successful (major kudos to them!)
When I was first starting out, I would occasionally get emails from PR companies asking me if I was interested in reviewing a product. Now, my inbox is absolutely overwhelmed by those emails and to be completely honest, I turn down about 90% of the opportunities I am offered— and this includes PR emails and opportunities via blogging networks like BlogHer which I’m a part of. The best part about campaigns is that you only apply to the ones you want to be considered for.
The most important advice I can offer here is to stay true to yourself and never let it be about the money. Maybe it’s easy for me to say that because I don’t depend on my blog as my sole source of income, but I only work with brands whose products/services I have used or would purchase with my own money and that I feel would be a good fit for my readers. Sometimes, this means I have to turn down an opportunity where I could make some extra money— but it’s important for me to remain honest about which products and brands I support and endorse.
I’ll give you an example to put it all into context. I had been approved for a campaign once for a shoe retailer trying to improve their brand image. They had come out with some new styles of shoes and bags (that I liked) and I was going to style them and review the brand on my blog. I received an email from my brand coordinator with a list of shoes I was able to choose from— and none of the styles I liked were on the list. I emailed them back to let them know that I would prefer to style X,Y,Z items because they were a better reflection of my own style and would resonate with my readers. They told me those styles weren’t an option, so I emailed my rep. and told them that unfortunately I couldn’t participate in the campaign. Did I lose a decent amount of money? Yes. But I would have lost much more promoting shoes that were clearly not my style— the respect and trust of my readers. The bottom line is that as your blog grows, you’ll be contacted by more and more brands— I urge you to think carefully about which brands you choose to work with. It can be fun in the beginning to get “free things” but think about whether or not those things are truly items you would wear/like/use if you had to pay for them yourself. This is just one example, but there are so many opportunities I have turned down that weren’t a great fit.
Going through all of those emails is a lot of work (I can see how it can be a full-time job if you’re a big time blogger!) but it’s so important to carefully select from the opportunities presented to you. Not every product review, sponsored post or paid brand opportunity is going to be the right fit— and that’s okay! It’s better to wait for ones that are.
Some posts are focused on reviewing or showcasing products and others have a little more flexibility. For example, I recently shared a post sponsored by a toothpaste brand that allowed me the freedom to submit a piece on any topic I wanted. I knew a salad recipe I had posted a couple of years ago was a hit so I decided to share a new one because it worked with the brand messaging while allowing me to provide content I felt belonged on my blog anyway.
When working with brands, the best advice I can give is to agree on the terms of the review or sponsored post ahead of time. Is it simply a product in exchange for a review (good or bad)? Is there additional payment involved? Work out all of the logistics so both you and the brand know what’s expected. If you work through a blogging network where someone manages those relationships for you, then that information is provided to you ahead of time, which is helpful.
One last bit of advice— if you want to work with a brand— contact them yourself! To be honest, I had never done this before until I attended a blogging conference and was surprised to learn how many bloggers contacted companies on their own. It’s a good idea to have a media kit that shows your site stats, social media numbers and gives the brand an overall impression of why they should work with you. I don’t have a lot of time to proactively pursue relationships with brands, but if you’re blogging full-time, it’s something I would absolutely not hesitate to do. If you already love and use products from a certain brand, why not turn that into a lasting partnership that’s mutually beneficial? Come to the brand with some ideas of how you could share their product or service and send them examples of past sponsored or brand awareness content you’ve worked on to give them an idea of what to expect if they decide to work with you.
How do you make an income from your blog? What is the average income potential for a blog like yours?
As I mentioned above, blogging has become a great way to make some extra income (or as your sole source of income). I’m not going to share numbers because I don’t share my salary from my day job either, but here are some ways many blogs generate revenue:
- Affiliate links- there are many networks that allow bloggers to use affiliate links to make a small commission if someone purchases something through their link. Brands are part of these networks because bloggers are driving traffic and sales to their sites, so it’s mutually beneficial, however, there is absolutely no cost to the consumer (you). You don’t pay any extra fees, you just make your purchase like you would anyway. This is a great way to make income especially if you have a style or beauty blog.
- Ads- from google ad sense to blogging ad networks, having some ads on your site can generate some extra revenue. Your earnings are based on your site’s traffic and sometimes click-through rate on ads.
- Blogging networks- many bloggers are members of blogging networks where opportunities for sponsored content are presented and bloggers can apply to be part of these campaigns. Brands then pick which bloggers they’d like to work with that feel best represent their brand image. These campaigns typically have a one-time payment per post.
- Working directly with brands- some brands will contact blogger directly. Some opportunities involve free products and some involve products and payment for a sponsored post. As I cautioned before, make sure the brand is a fit for you and your blog before participating.
How do you keep your blog “safe” letting people know you live in Houston but not exactly know where you live?
I addressed this in a recent post and I’ll reiterate it here again— if you blog and put your life out there, it’s hard to remain “anonymous.” People who are curious will try to find out where you live and how much money you make and what your partner does for a living. I never anticipated my blog would become as popular as it has, so I didn’t think about a lot of these things unit it was too late. Many counties have the option now to make your address unsearchable online via your last name, so that’s a good place to start if you don’t want people to be able to look up where you live.
Any advice in picture-taking?
I love using apps like Afterlight to edit my photos. They can increase brightness, cripsness and contrast in photos to make them “pop” more. Afterlight is the only app I use but I know a lot of bloggers that love VSCOcam as well. I don’t have Photoshop, but if you’ve saavy and want to learn, there are plenty of tools there that can also help brighten/sharpen your photos.
I recommend looking at photos from other blogs you like and figuring out what you like about them— is it the fun backdrops and locations? Is it the style in which they’re shot? Is it the overall tone and coloring of the photos (I notice some bloggers really brighten/whiten their photos whereas others focus more on bursts of color and contrast). Think about what style of photos you love best and try to be inspired to take similar photos. There are also some great photo taking and editing tutorials online- many of your favorite bloggers may have even shared their own methods!
I have to admit my DSLR is rarely used these days since iPhones take such great photos, but if you’re interested in honing those skills, check your local camera shop or college to see if they have any classes you could take.
How do you make your favorites boards in your posts?
For product shots, I often use two white poster boards that I’ve glue gunned together to make a backdrop that’s crisp and bright. You can also use things like a nice blanket or marble cutting board for a nice backdrop that has a little texture. Be creative and try to use things around you to make a photo stand out. I notice a lot of bloggers doing things like adding fresh flowers to their product shots for an extra dose of prettiness. Those curated and staged shots often get the most “likes” on social media because they’re so beautiful to look at. A great product image goes a long way in getting click-throughs to your blog and generating interest about the product you’re writing about.
For favorites boards like when I showcase items I love from sales, I either use an app called Diptic to make a collage from my iPhone or I use OpenOffice’s “presentation” program (similar to MS PowerPoint) to create a layout of products I love when using my laptop.
How do you find the time to blog with a full-time job and family?
Sometimes I wonder this myself— but like anything in life, I think people make the time for things they care about. For some people, that’s going on a long run or doing photography on weekends or whatever their hobby may be. For me, blogging is an outlet for creativity and connection and it doesn’t feel like work (well, most of the time, haha).
Basically as soon as Harper goes to sleep for the night, if I plan to blog that day, I will open up my laptop and get started (I also spend nap time on weekends working on posts if I can). I don’t watch TV much anymore (we even cancelled our cable and just do Hulu/Netflix, etc.) so I spend my evening relaxing time either reading other blogs and watching shows and videos or I will write a blog post. I find it to be a nice way to unwind for the night and Kevin has a few shows he loves to watch so we can both relax after a long day.
It can be hard sometimes to keep up with responding to comments on the blog and on social media but I try my best. During the day, I use my time on the shuttle bus to do this. We have a shuttle system at work that takes us from my office to the hospital where I go a lot for meetings, media interviews, etc (sometimes multiple times a day). Though it’s just 10-15 minutes of my time to wait for the bus and get to the hospital, I try to use that time to quickly respond to comments. I eat my lunch at my desk and work through my lunch hour 90% of the time so I can leave sooner, so these little bits of time in my day allow me to keep up with some blogging stuff (thank goodness for wireless internet!)
I have the ability to pre-schedule Instagram posts via an app on my phone, so that helps tremendously. You can also work on content throughout the weekend and schedule posts to go live during the week which is a big time saver.
Due to the fact that I work full-time and will continue to do so, I realize this limits how much I can grow my blog and I’m okay with that. I’m very happy with the readership I have now and I love having my blog as a hobby.
How do you get good feedback on your blog? How do you get more readers that are actually return readers? I started in January and literally just stopped these past three weeks or so. I just hit a wall. So much going on in life and I want to find the time to make sure I’m not just throwing something up just because.
I think this goes back to connecting with other bloggers— if you want other bloggers to check out your content and comment, do the same for them and I think you’ll notice this relationship-building will ultimately lead to more readers for both parties. Also look into joining local blogging groups and meet-ups in your area— you can gain a lot of insight and tips about what strategies have worked for them and make new friends all at the same time.
It can be difficult to keep up with content. One thing I’ve seen lately is that some bloggers have a weekly schedule they follow. So for example on Monday, it’s always a weekend wrap-up post. A couple of days a week they’ll share an outfit and one day they’ll focus on home decor or lifestyle content. I personally don’t stick to a schedule like this, but I have seen it be a successful formula on other blogs and it might keep you more motivated to know what your next piece of content will focus on and help you with post ideas as you’re planning for the week. Another thing to consider is that something may seem ordinary to you, so you wouldn’t think to blog about it, (maybe you make banana bread for your family every Sunday) but I bet your readers would love that recipe you make so often!
I understand feeling busy and burned-out. My own blog has gone through times where I stopped blogging often (especially during my brutal first trimesters). The thing about blogging is that it’s always there to come back to, especially if you’re new, so don’t put too much pressure on yourself to meet a certain deadline or a certain amount of followers. I love my blog and I do view it as important in my life, but it’s also often the first thing that falls by the wayside as other priorities like my family and job take precedence. I have to remind myself that I can’t “do it all” and that sometimes other areas of my life that require my attention more mean that blogging needs to be put on the back-burner.
I blog about my daughter, but I just see it as we can also look back one day when she’s 20 and remember that day at the zoo or the day at the park— but what if she doesn’t agree when she’s older?
I think that these are ongoing discussions you have with your children as they get older and it’s important to be mindful not to post content that humiliates or shames them. Your concern is valid and something to think about and evaluate on a continued basis. I have seen bloggers shut down their blogs or “go private” so that they have access to their content but it is no longer public. That would be an option if you decide at some point in time that you’d like to keep those memories somewhere but no longer want them accessible publicly. I have also seen websites that will turn your blog into a printed book, so that’s also an option to look into if you decide to stop blogging.
With such a busy schedule, how do you stay motivated and positive? Also, what inspires you?
I try to find ways to maximize the time in my day and I’m definitely someone who thrives on being busy. I stay motivated and positive because I love this community and have seen so many great things happen through blogging- from new friendships, travel, opportunities to work with brands I love, etc. I’m inspired by so many things- my daughter, my husband, my family, my friends, my job. Life isn’t perfect but I consider myself blessed to have all of the things I do— even if it makes for a busy life— it’s one I wouldn’t change!
What are taxes like for a blogger?
I report and file taxes on all of my blogging-related income, just like I would with any other source of income.
I would love to know how you see your life in 10 years.
In 10 years, I see myself enjoying life with my family, watching our children grow and working for the same organization I do now. I can’t wait to see what life has in store for our family. Will I still be blogging then? I’m not sure. I have always told myself that I will continue to blog until it isn’t enjoyable or sustainable for me and that hasn’t happened thus far, but you never know what the future holds.
Thanks for reading! If you have any additional questions, feel free to leave a comment.