Yesterday marked my sixth annual rewardStyle conference since launching my blog 7 years ago. Normally #rSthecon takes place during the spring in Dallas, and is a long weekend full of education, meetings, and events. However, due to Covid the conference was postponed and streamed virtually. I had the pleasure of teaching a class, Steps to Growing a Successful Influencer Business, and thought I would use today as an opportunity to share a little more behind the scenes of blogging. Whether your just getting started blogging, or you're a reader and just want to understand what goes into blogging, then this post is for you!
How to start a blog?
Just start! I don't think its possible to have everything figured out immediately. That will come with time. Decide on a name for your blog, buy a domain, and just start blogging! There a plenty of website templates for under $50 you can buy and then customize your site from there. As far as taking pictures, these days you don't even need a fancy camera to take pictures an iPhone and full length mirror work great until you find a photographer to take your pictures, if thats the route you're wanting to go.
How did you get started? What motivated you?
I was working a very demanding corporate job and didn’t have much of a work/life balance. At the same time, fashion blogging had really only been around for a few years. I was looking for a creative outlet from my job, and blogging was the only thing I felt strongly about. I was always the one friends would ask for advice on what to wear and I wanted to be able to share that with others. You can read more about my journey to starting my blog here!
Best blog platform?
WordPress.org (the paid version). Its the most customizable and what nearly all blogs are built on. Like I mentioned above, you can find website themes that are fairly affordable vs. hiring a web designer. Creative Market is a great resource for themes, fonts, graphics, etc.
How do you monetize content?
There are a few ways I monetize my content. First one is through affiliate links. The links that are on my blog, social media, LTK, and swipe ups on stories all have unique tracking codes that essentially link back to my account. If you click or swipe up on one of my links and make a purchase, I earn a commission from that sale, its very similar to the way a sales associate makes commission in retail.
The second way is through brand partnerships. Some are set up to just run once during a specific month, while others can be set up to run every month for the quarter or even year; these are known as ambassador programs.
How do you get paid?
Each brand is different, but it can be anything from a check, direct deposit, or PayPal. Since taxes are not taken out prior to a payment being made, I take 40% of the earnings and put into a savings account that is used to pay taxes on quarterly.
What does a sponsored post mean?
It's basically a brand paying for a blog post and social media to support the post. Typically its a full blog post that will require 4+ images, written post about the subject determined by the brand, 1 Instagram post, 1-3 Instagram stories, and 1 Facebook post. Sometimes there are more/less obligations, as each brand is different. It's important to note, that just because it's sponsored, doesn't mean it's something I don't stand behind. It's actually the opposite. I only work with brands that I would actually wear/purchase product organically. Brands have different reasons for paying for sponsored posts, but most of the time its to promote a new product, create brand awareness, or drive a sale during a specific time.
Do you have a say in what goes into a sponsored post?
I would say 99% of the time yes. When there are stipulations, like a brand wants to promote a specific product, vs. anything on their site, I make sure that product is a fit for my brand first. In the rare case it's not, my brand manager will negotiate and see if the brand is really needing to promote that specific product, or if there is any wiggle room to promote something else and drive brand awareness instead. For the most part brands are really flexible as they want it to be a successful collaboration for both parties.
How do you set up brand affiliations?
There are two answers to this questions. The first one is through rewardStyle. They help to connect me with brands who are looking to collaborate. I make sure its a fit for the Fashion Jackson brand and then go from there. The other is through organic relationships. For example, I was organically wearing Miranda Frye jewelry and tagging them in posts. They noticed and we started the conversation to building a relationship. Since they have their own affiliate network, I have unique links I can share with you as well the discount code which is all tracked and then I'm paid at the end of the month based on my sales.
FYI I shared all my Miranda Frye jewelry in this post; use code FJ10 for a discount!
What is the difference between a brand collaboration and a brand ambassador?
They are essentially the same, they just have different timelines. For the most part a collaboration, aka a sponsored post, is just a one-time contract, so it's short term. That doesn't mean more from that brand won't come the next month, but it just means they are only agreeing to collaborate for that one-time, typically based on their budget. A brand ambassador is usually a long-term collaboration partnership. Whether it's agreeing to monthly sponsored posts for the quarter or year, these terms are agreed upon prior to signing a contract.
How do you reach out or work with new brands? And what's the best way to negotiate?
Not to sound like a broken record, but its really about working with brands that you authentically love. Buy their product, wear it, share it, promote it with the money out of your own pocket. If they take notice, great! Ask about how you can build a relationship together. If they don't notice on social media, find a contact (preferably email) and introduce yourself. Share with them the posts you've shared on your site or social media and start the conversation there.
Most of the time when starting out brands will send product for you to wear and promote. However, if there is room in their budget, test a small sponsored post. Maybe its just a couple Instagram stories, or an in-feed Instagram post, either way just make sure its a fit for both before signing up for something you might not be able to deliver on. Everything is negotiable.
Social Media 101
Is it necessary to have a blog, Instagram, Facebook, and LTK? It seems like sooo much to keep up with!
It is a lot to keep up with, but that's where where finding help is so important. There are scheduling tools that can push this content automatically. But no. It is not necessary to have them all! Start with the ones that are strongest, get in scheduling routine, then see if you can add another social media channel.
Do you think you can just be an Instagram blogger instead of having an actual website?
Yes. You can definitely be an Instagram blogger and there are many successful ones. However, if you're wanting this to be a business and not a hobby, I would strongly encourage you to invest in a website that you own. If Instagram goes away tomorrow, then what? You would be left with nothing and your followers wouldn't know where to find you. Websites are also beginning to trend again. Time spent on blogs and pageviews are increasing. The market is there.
How do I get more followers on Instagram?
There is no easy answer here, except DON'T BUY FOLLOWERS. You're only going to hurt yourself in the long-run. It's not worth it. Tag brands in your imagery, use hashtags that are relevant, post consistently, and really push stories that are engaging with you audience. Take polls, ask questions, etc. Instagram stories are ranked higher than in-feed posts, and this is where most viewers are spending their time. I know this isn't a straight forward answer, but hopefully its helpful!
Would love to learn more about "comment pods!" Do you think it's authentic engagement?
Short answer no. I don't like anything that is planned to "beat the algorithm." It's trying to cheat the system and it looks fake. If you genuinely like a post, give it a double tap, leave a comment, and move on. Agreeing to like/comment on the same 10-20 influencers images every time they post just isn't authentic. This was a really informative post about comment pods.
Growing a Successful Brand
How long did it take for you to make enough money to blog full time?
For me, it wasn't necessarily about "making enough" to blog full-time, but more about matching my corporate salary before taking the blog full-time. That salary was what my lifestyle was based around, so similar to changing jobs, I needed to make sure I could support my current finances. At the beginning of 2016, when I knew I wanted to blog full-time, I gave myself the goal to match my salary by the end of the year, and then I would take the blog full-time.
Deciding when to hire a team?
For me, I was stretched too thin and my business kept growing to the point where I felt like I was struggling to keep up. I couldn't continue going at that rate, so I knew it was really time to hire help. It will vary for each person, but the moment you think to yourself, "I could really use some help doing xyz", then its time to hire. That doesn't mean you need to hire a full team right away, or even a full-time person. You can look for contract/freelancers or part-time help, until you figure out exactly how much help you need with your brand.
Important team members to hire?
Again, this will vary for each person. Take a look at where you're spending the most time and determine if it's because that task isn't your strength. Do you love styling outfits and taking pictures, but struggle with writing blog posts? Outsource that! Do you spend too much time with daily busy-work tasks? Look for an intern or assistant.
Remember the 80% rule for delegation: "If you have someone on your staff who can do this task 80 percent as well as you can, delegate it."
What advice would you give to someone that wants to take their business full time?
Make sure you have a business plan with goals, strategies, growth opportunities in place. If you want to be successful you have to actually treat this as a business and put in the work/hours it requires.
What are a few tips to or “must do’s” for building a successful brand?
Define Brand Identity - this is so important because this will set the tone for your future. Yes, it can evolve, but knowing what your voice is, what your sharing, how your sharing it is key to building your brand successfully.
Set Goals - you want to stay focused and hold yourself accountable. So write down your goals. Set short term and long term goals at the beginning of the year and revisit them either quarterly or half way through. Adjust as needed but make sure you’re checking in with those goals.
Stay Focused on Your Strengths - this can be challenging especially if you’re too focused on what others are doing. Put your blinders on. Stay focused on what you excel at.
Build Strong Partnerships - determine your brand identity and the brands fit within that. Talk about them organically then work to build those partnerships that can be long-term.
Identify New Opportunities - when building a successful business its so important to look at the market and see how you can evolve or expand into new areas. Because you never know, that new vertical might just be what sets you apart from the rest.
Behind the Blog
Common misconceptions / amount of work needed for everything we see posted?
This is a great question! I feel like a lot of people think I just shop and take outfit pictures and while that is a portion of it, there is SO much more that goes into it. I basically look at each month as a whole. I schedule out all the sponsored posts, then strategize with my manager about organic posts based on whats going on that month. From there I have to find product to shoot for those posts (there is strategy here), schedule out the photoshoots - typically can shoot 4 looks in 1 hour. Building one blog post from start to finish, with editing pictures takes anywhere from 1-4 hours depending on the post and I publish 6 blog posts a week. I also have to film stories in advance and send to brands for approvals prior to posting. Weekly tasks include reading/analyze sales, planning out stories and LTK content, sending out newsletters, touch base meetings with teams and brand partners, etc. Daily tasks are planning content and posting on Instagram, responding to DMs and emails, pushing content on social media and following up with completing obligations for brands. I also have miscellaneous tasks like payroll, bookkeeping, and special projects on the side. I wish there were more hours in the day!
How do you plan your content? You have so many great graphics for each story!
Thank you! Graphics are something I have put a lot of time and effort into over the years. Last year I hired a graphic designer, who now handles all graphics to make sure they are cohesive and "tell the story". When it comes to planning out content, my team and I use a project management platform called, Monday. It's a great way to keep everything regarding the blog organized. There are a few monthly series blog posts that are planned and scheduled in advance each month, then we plan out the collaborations based on their deadlines, and fill in the rest of the days with organic content.
What are some of the cons experienced with having a blogging/influencing career?
I would say the most challenging is turning off. And this is just something I need to be better about. The job is pretty much 24/7 so setting those boundaries is key. Also learning that I can't please everyone. It can be a very critical industry, but there is a saying I like to remember, "if they don't know you personally, don't take it personally". Also, not having the traditional healthcare, 401K, tax withholdings, etc. It was just something I had to work through logistically.
Do you create and update your own site, or do you hire someone else to do it for you?
I do this myself! I did hire a web designer and developer to redo my site in 2019, but I manage all the content and updates daily.
What camera/editing tools do you use?
90% of the time its my iPhone! A few apps I love using, Lightroom, VSCO, and Snapseed. For pictures taken on a DSLR I use Lightroom and Photoshop.
Do you actually keep the clothes from your hauls or return?
I keep them! Again, I only share things I genuinely love so why would I share something to then just return it? I do clean out my closet every 3-4 months and donate the items I don't wear anymore.
What are some of the goals you have set for this year?
I briefly touched on this during the classroom session during the conference. I have a few short-term goals for the year, which have been achieved, and some long-term goals with completion dates approaching! I can't quite say yet, but a few of them are popular things you guys have been asking for! Stay tuned!!!