Today, I am continuing my FAQ series and focusing on my advice for starting a blog or an instagram account. I get asked about this A LOT, and while I am quite aware that I do not know everything, after being in the industry for eight years, this is my personal take. For other FAQ installments, you can read about my blogging journey here and my career path in merchandising here.
Before I get started on my thoughts I would urge anyone who reaches out with ‘What is your advice on starting a blog?’ to ask themselves two questions. One, exactly why do you want to start a blog? And, two, what is the blog about? With the amount of dedication and work that goes into launching a quality, original site or feed, you should already be passionate and have a clear idea in mind, and should be prepared to work on this creative endeavor with no expectation of a large monetary return. All of the most successful people in this space I know and admire have started sites/feed on topics they are authentically passionate about and did not start with the intention of making money!
Below, I am highlighting six steps for starting successfully:
1. FIND YOUR NICHE
The space is unbelievably crowded now, much, much more so than when I started in 2010. The most important piece of advice I would have is to find your niche. I still believe there is room for everyone, and that the blogging world is not a zero-sum game, but you absolutely need to differentiate yourself and find a unique point of view to stand out. While this may seem counter-intuitive to finding your POV, you also need to be flexible and able to change and evolve. If you create too narrow of a focus or point of view, it can be much more difficult to grow and expand. When you are setting the tone for your site or feed I think it is also important to think about your approach to your potential audience. Are you going to have more of a personal voice and/or allow readers to dictate your content (Good morning friends, what should I post? What do you want to hear/see more of?)? Are you trying to build a community, i.e. not just you connecting with readers but helping to foster reader to reader relationships? Or, do you want to establish a narrow focus and hope to be known as an expert, not just an influencer, and truly be able to lead your audience?
2. CREATE A VISION
Once you have defined your ‘brand’ and your unique proposition, create a road map. This should be both in the form of a mission statement/ethos as well as how you will show up. What type of content will you post, how often and on what platforms? I believe it is best (and most productive) to focus only on as many platforms as you can execute amazing, original content and on a constant basis. Don’t simply sign up for a platform because you feel like you ‘have to’. For example, when snapchat debuted, I felt it was wildly off brand for me. So, instead of jumping on the bandwagon and forcing myself to do content that didn’t come naturally and didn’t fit the vision I had created for Atlantic-Pacific, I focused on creating more content on my site/channels in the form of ‘Edit & Etc’, ‘Notepad’, and revamping my email and newsletter. Consistently revisit your mission statement and purpose within the space and adapt with time.
3. SET GOALS AND BOUNDARIES
Once you have a clear vision and plan, set goals against it! If you are truly just starting out, I would not recommend setting goals in terms of follower growth, traffic, etc. as you will not have a baseline or clear understanding of what is realistic or achievable. The most productive goals in the beginning are around what you can create and control. For example, setting a posting schedule, number of outreach emails you will send per week, or having engagement goals with readers/fellow bloggers you follow, will be much more productive to keeping you on track with producing content and staying true to your vision. Once you have a better understanding of what is achievable in terms of follower trajectory, traffic numbers, etc. you can then set realistic and actionable goals. I have also found setting boundaries and staying true to yourself and brand are equally important as goals. What are the actions, partnerships, etc. you will not take on because they are not in line with your vision?
4. THINK LONG TERM
Build for the future. It is very easy to get wrapped up in the day-to-day and not take time to make painful changes and updates that will better prepare you for the future. A current example is not creating and updating your own site and focusing exclusively on social media channels. Of course, social media is hot right now, and it may be a lot easier to grow your following and traffic on instagram as an example, versus a traditional site. And, to be frank, it will also be MUCH easier to create content. However, YOU have control of your brand, your assets, your site, and your email list, and in the long run, your site will be much more valuable to you and a better platform to seriously engage readers. You don’t have control of huge social media platforms. What is they change algorithms? What if they lose your content? Or your followers? What if they go away?
5. DON’T PLAY THE COMPARISON GAME
This is so much easier said than done, but do not try and benchmark yourself against anyone else. It isn’t productive. Instead, focus on yourself, your brand, the steady improvements (not just in terms of numbers but also quality and consistency of content) you can make, and how you can provide more value to your readers and brand partners.
6. BE NICE AND WORK HARD
Like everything in life, the best advice is simple. Be gracious and kind to other bloggers, your readers, and brand partners (even the ones you may not to partner with). The influencer world is very small, and the brand PR/marketing world is even smaller. Someone who may have reached out to you on behalf of a brand that may not have been a great fit will then move and in six months be working for the brand you have DREAMED of partnering with. They will absolutely remember if you weren’t easy to work with, were unkind, or simply did not respond. So be responsible, be kind, and always pay it forward. Expect to work hard, and for a really long time, before opportunities and growth come your way. Also, recognize that nothing is guaranteed and nobody owes you anything. For me, it took over a full year before I had earned even a single dollar on my site!
I purposefully kept this advice focused on how to truly start a creative outlet versus working with brands, specifics on follower growth, and attempting to beat the instagram algorithm (lol kidding). I may cover those topics at a later date. I wanted this conversation to focus on creating your brand through passion, differentiation, dedication, and hard work.