I get tons of questions from you all about blogging. Questions, both general and specific, range from how to start a blog to the creative and business side of blogging and everything in between. So, I wanted to try and answer all of your collective questions in one place to do my best to help you guys! I also wanted to chat a little bit about this job before I address your questions. I want to be very real here as I'm always going to tell it like it is and give honest answers in hopes of helping you. This applies whether I'm giving my opinion or review on a pair of shoes, a new skincare product, a restaurant, a workout or business advice. So please, do not take anything I write here personally, I am just trying to give you a real look into the life of a blogger and in turn, help you. If you have any other questions, send them my way!
Let me start by saying that this business is not for the faint of heart. It is an ever changing, fast paced industry with no straight paved path to follow and it is extremely hard and time consuming work. When I started blogging almost 5 years ago, there were not nearly as many of us as there are today and consequently, blogging has become infinitely more competitive. I have my mentors and bloggers who inspire me and am constantly learning from them. I am honored that you are asking for my advice. When I get an email from someone with targeted specific quetions, it makes my day because I can see they have done their research and taken the time to develop a plan before reaching out for advice. It is these kinds of specific questions that I enjoy responding to.
You guys, this is not easy. Starting a blog is no different than starting any other business venture. There is a ton to learn about the industry and there are no shortcuts. I still feel like I'm a beginner and I am ALWAYS learning new things and studying new ideas, tools and tactics. There are TONS of amazing resources out there but you have to look for them....there is no central “ resource directory”. For example, when I started blogging, I took a 6 week online social media course, I read multiple e-books on blogging and social media, I attended (and still attend) blogging conferences and I read every article like this one you're reading now that I can possibly find to learn from. Before I began my blog, I had been reading and studying numerous other fashion and lifestyle blogs on a daily basis for years. I would read every single post and comment, every day on every blog I followed. I am NOT saying you can't start a blog if you haven't done these things... what I am saying is, DO YOUR HOMEWORK. It is only by doing the background research that you can evaluate if this business is for you. Once you make that decision, don’t hesitate to send me your specific questions. I want you to succeed! But the success of your blog depends on you. Nobody can do it for you! Do your research, set a goal, develop your look and your message, be professional, dig in and don’t let anyone stop you!
We are so lucky to live in this day and age with endless information at our fingertips. Read everything! Go to every seminar and conference you can! Ask questions! Put yourself out there! Be a fearless networker! If you really want this, GO FOR IT, GIRL! The one thing I don't want you to do is expect this to be easy. I want to paint a realistic picture here so you know what you're getting yourself into. From the outside, blogging can look so glamorous. Our audience sees us in pretty pictures, wearing pretty clothes, being wined and dined, getting lots of free stuff, etc... But I would say 85% of what we do is absolutely not glamorous. We work tirelessly and are our own writers, business managers, advertising agents, marketing departments and negotiators. We spend countless hours pitching and responding to brand inquiries, reviewing, negotiating and signing contracts, attending networking events, maintaining organizational spreadsheets etc. and we spend a ridiculous amount of time, alone, in front of our computers.
OK! Now, let's get to all of your questions... and if you have more, send them my way! I am always happy to help anyway I can! Before I sign off here, let me say this... If this is something you're passionate about, GO FOR IT! You absolutely CAN do it. Prepare yourself for fun but demanding, tedious, hard work and hit the ground running! If you love it and don't give up, you will succeed.
How do you gain a following on Instagram/social media?
There's no magic potion here. What has worked best for me is creating high quality, authentic, relatable content and posting on a regular basis (I try to post on instagram once a day). Being extremely engaged and active on instagram is also important. Support each other!!! Like and comment on other content you enjoy, a lot! Find other accounts similar to yours and engage with that account and also with their followers. Leave authentic, specific comments on photos that you like. Collaborate with brands and other bloggers and cross promote each other. Tag every brand you're wearing and also tag accounts that repost images. For example, when I travel, I always tag different fun travel accounts. Most importantly, be patient and don't give up. This does not happen overnight. It took me 3 years of hard work to reach 10k. If you love what you do, it will show through and your numbers will eventually build.
Do you have a professional photographer take your photos or do you do it yourself? If you do use a professional, is it always the same person?
When I am in the photos, I always have a professional photographer. When I am shooting products, I shoot the images. I have worked with a lot of different photographers over the years but I have a few favorite who I work with consistently. I am also a professional photographer and luckily have other blogger friends who are too. So, we often shoot each other and exchange services.
Approximately how much time a week do you spend blogging? (Photo shoots, actual blog, etc.)
Oh gosh. I guess it depends on the week but I would say at least 40 hours a week and usually more. There is always more to do as a blogger. Of course we have to shoot, write and manage social media but there is so much business and organization that goes on behind the scenes. I'll give you a few examples... writing pitches, responding to business emails, reviewing, negotiating and signing contracts, attending networking events, maintaining organizational spreadsheets to keep track of deliverables, posting dates, accounting details, etc.
What attracted such a large group of followers? IG? Blog Site?
In the beginning I had a larger readership on ThoseWhiteWalls.com than I did instagram followers. As Instagram grew larger and our society became more focused on instant entertainment, more people were active on instagram and less people were taking time to actually read articles. So, it was easier to make an instagram following grow versus readership on a website grow. That being said, I still work very hard to grow my blog readership as well. Also, when I started almost 5 years ago, the market was nowhere near as saturated as it is now so it was quite a bit easier to grow than it is today.
How many followers did you have before starting to reach out to brands for partnerships?
I don't remember exactly, but not a ton!! Maybe 1000-2000. In my opinion, it's never too early to reach out. You always have something to offer. My best advice when you're starting out (since we all need clothes to post) is to reach out to smaller brands and request clothing in exchange for content that they can use on their social media channels. Another great way to start is to borrow clothing for shoots from local boutiques. You can also give them a few images to use for their social media and ask them to tag you. This is not only a good way to start collaborating with brands but it's great cross promotion.
What is your average ratio of partnerships vs personal blog posts and Instagram posts?
This answer depends on the month. For example, around the holidays, a lot of brands are using influencer marketing so It would maybe be a bit more partnerships than normal. Generally, I would say 40-50% of content is sponsored and 50-60% is personal. One thing to note, is that I say no to more partnership requests than I say yes. If it's not a great fit, something I wouldn't actually wear or use and doesn't align well with Those White Walls and my brand, I won't do it.
How long did it take you to create the following you have now?
I started blogging almost 5 years ago. I would say it took 3 solid years of really hard work to reach what to me was my first big milestone, 10 thousand instagram followers. It's a slow but steady process. Now, at almost 5 years of hard work I am at just over 25k. It takes longer to grow a following organically but those organic followers are the most valuable and the kind of followers you want to have. Don't let yourself get caught up in a numbers game. In my opinion, as long as you stay true to your brand and what you believe, the great partnerships will come to you whether you have 25k or 75k. Inevitably, your numbers will keep growing so just work hard and be patient.
Do you love it? Does it still feel like a hobby rather than a business?
I love it. 100%. It is extremely hard and time consuming work so I wouldn't necessarily say it feels like a hobby. But, I do think I am one of the very lucky ones who can say that they absolutely love their job, no matter how stressful it can get. Running your own business is so tough and there is so much to learn and ALWAYS more to be done. Some weeks I work 70, 80 hours. 7am-1am work days are not uncommon. One thing I tell new bloggers is that this isn't something you should do if you don't love it. It takes over your life (and if you love it, that's a great thing) but if you don't love it, you will burn out VERY fast. I think from the outside blogging can look so glamorous but it requires numerous skill sets to run the business of blogging, just like running any other business. You do sales, marketing, accounting, graphic design, communications, contract negotiation/review, accounts payable and receivable, spreadsheets, recycling and human resources. While it may look like most of my time is spent in front of a camera, it's actually spent behind my computer.
What is the number one thing to prioritize when wanting to gain a following and receive partnerships?
BE YOURSELF!!!! I know this may sound cliche but in my opinion this is the most important thing when blogging. If you stay authentic to who you are, what you believe, have a consistent message and only work on projects that fit your brand, people will realize it and admire you. Brands will notice you and want to work with you if you stay authentically you. You have to learn to say no. I send more emails politely saying "no thank you" to partnership opportunities than I do accepting them because if it's not something I own, use, wear or would own use or wear, I will say no as it doesn't fit me and my brand.
How did you start your relationship with clothing lines/designers and fellow bloggers?
Network network network! Force yourself to attend every event you can, even if you go alone! In the beginning, I went to every single event I got invited to and I went by myself because I didn't know anyone in the blogging industry in Chicago yet. I also have sent hundreds, probably thousands of cold emails over the years to introduce myself to people I want to meet or work with. Don't be afraid to reach out to the ones you look up to. Ask questions, ask to take them out for a coffee. Remember, the worst thing you could hear back is "no". You need to be your own best salesperson!
When did you start to notice designers/brands/PR companies reaching out to you?
This is another one that I don't remember exactly when this happened. I would say I was reached out to occasionally in year two and then in year three it started happening more and more. Now, I get multiple emails a day from brands/pr companies etc. A lot aren't a good fit for me though. And remember, to this day I still send pitches to brands and PR companies every single week too.
In your opinion, do you have to be present on all forms of social media? FB, Insta, Twitter, Snapchat, etc?
I do not think you have to. I have never used Twitter and also don't use Snapchat for work purposes. In my opinion, Facebook, Instagram and Pinterest are the most important forms of social media.
Do you always use professional photos or do you take any iPhone pictures? Any advice in regards to editing and making sure your feed looks cohesive?
I use a mix of professional and iPhone photos. With iPhone photos especially it's really important to have good lighting to ensure your photo turns out well. Editing and finding an aesthetic for your feed can be tough. My best advice here is to be aware of your backgrounds, shoot in good light (shade and overcast days are your friends... avoid direct sunlight) and plan out your feed. There are apps you can do this in but I just created a folder in my photos to do this. I add the photos that will go onto my instagram page to make sure I like how it's going to look before I actually post. My favorite editing apps are A Color Story, Snapseed and VSCO.
Have you used professional services to revamp your blog?
I really lucked out because my best friend actually built my site for me. So anytime I want anything changed she or my assistant helps me to figure it out. Let's just say, we've spent quite a bit of time on the phone with Squarespace support.
How did you decide what host site to use?
I'm not extremely tech savvy and know nothing about coding etc. I decided to go with Squarespace because in my opinion it's more user friendly than Wordpress. Wordpress is the best platform for bloggers though because there are a lot of useful tools and plugins that are only available on Wordpress.
I hope this was helpful! If you guys have any other questions, please feel free to email me! I can add to this post later on to answer them. I am more than happy to help you in anyway I can so please don't ever hesitate to reach out.
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Photos by: Hannah Schweiss Photography