“How can I start a blog like you did? What do you do? How did you do it? What’s it like?”
Beauty professionals have been blowing up social media spaces for a long time, but recently, more and more are hitting the blogosphere with the force of a thousand freight trains, and some of them (like my friend Ashley Gregory at The Nailscape) are absolutely killing it.
A bunch of my followers over the years have asked me to teach a webinar on blogging, but it’d be a pretty lame class because honestly, I didn’t expect this blog to become what it became. I’d love to hand out a blueprint for success and say, “Here you go. Do this stuff and you’ll have a bangin’ blog,” but the process of creating this blog wasn’t a strategically coordinated plan. It was more like a naked toddler, hyped up on Pixie Stix, smearing fingerpaint all over the internet. It just happened.
Anyways, here’s the wisdom I’ve gained over the last five years.
Readers are selfish. A lot of bloggers make the mistake of believing that their readers care about them–mostly, they don’t. A few ride or die subscribers will love you personally, but the majority of readers care about one thing: themselves. They only care about you when considering how you can benefit them, so make sure your content is useful.
Many bloggers quote the 70/30 rule: 70% of your content should be useful and only 30% of it should be promotional. I’m not big on promotion–as a matter of fact, I’m notoriously bad at it (I wrote a book, btw).
My content formula is as follows:
85% useful knowledge
5% personal experience (for context and flavor)
7% promotional (sometimes, when it doesn’t make me feel dirty)
3% profanity (when”nice” words aren’t accurate)
Your formula will be whatever works for you, but remember that the overwhelming majority of people who come to your site for information aren’t coming to hear about you. They don’t care what you ate for breakfast or who your middle school boyfriend was unless it directly ties into the information you’re conveying in a way that makes that information more interesting and/or entertaining. Which brings me to my next point…
Protect your privacy. You can be authentic and defend your personal life at the same time.
Be careful about what you share.
People can and will use it against you, especially if you’re blogging within your profession. If you’re going to share personal stuff, share things that actually matter in a universal sense to accomplish something good.
Your personal struggles as a stylist with breast cancer in an industry where medical benefits, sick days, and paid time off are nonexistent? That matters.
Your tumultuous history with your psycho next door neighbor over the alleged kidnapping of a sacred lawn gnome? Not so much.
Quality > quantity. A lot of blogging sites will tell you that you have to be really aggressive about posting, advising bloggers to post at least once per day. I vehemently disagree.
Unless you really want to aggravate your followers and lose subscribers, post high-quality content once or twice per week–not poor content twice or more daily.
Write when you’re inspired to, about things you’re passionate about. Take your time refining your posts into their best versions possible before you set them loose on the world. On average, I spend 2-3 hours researching before I start writing a post, 1-2 hours writing, 1 hour citing sources and linking relevant content, and then I take a break for a day or two. Finally, I spend anywhere from 2-3 hours revising before I schedule a post to publish so it’s fresh in your feed around 6pm-9pm.
Don’t post if you aren’t feeling it. Quality takes time, consideration, planning, and passion. I have thirty drafts sitting around collecting dust, all in various stages of completion. Why aren’t they done and posted? Because I’m still not feeling them. If I don’t care about writing it, I’m willing to bet most of my readers don’t care about reading it. If you’re bored by what you’re doing, stop it. Wait until you find a better, more interesting angle and approach the topic then.
Don’t treat this like a job or it’ll start to feel like one and you won’t want to do it.
Readers can tell when you’re feeling happy, silly, frustrated, and bored. When any mood other than boredom hits you, you can channel it into an awesome article. But boredom? There’s nothing you can do with that. Step away from the keyboard. Come back when you care.
Be authentic, always. There’s plenty of cardboard, generic content to be found on the internet, and plenty of generic people. (There are also plenty of weirdos and sad people trying to emulate the weirdos because they think acting like a clown will make them more popular.) Don’t be a cardboard cutout of someone else. Be you.
Credibility is currency. If you don’t know something to be true, don’t present it as if it is. If you hope to be taken seriously, you can’t be wrong. Link things, let brands speak for their own products, make your skepticism known if you think something sounds a little too good to be true.
Never compromise your integrity.
Your credibility is everything, so don’t lie, exaggerate, strategically omit, or manipulate information to suit your narrative to increase traffic, sell products, or snag more followers. Those cheap tactics will be your downfall. This is where your independence comes in handy (we’ll be talking about that in a little bit).
Plan to monetize…or don’t. “You’re a fool for not having a monetization plan in place before starting,” another blogger told me.
I shrugged. “I’m not in this for the money. I write to get the words out of my brain.”
“You could have four streams of passive income, easily. Ads, merch, endorsements, book sales–why not take advantage?” she asked.
Personally, I like that blogging doesn’t feel like a job. When it does, I step back from it and take a break (usually that time is around the same time school lets out for summer). However, if you’re planning to get into blogging as a potential career, you should have a monetization plan. There are a few obvious revenue streams (ad units and endorsements), but there are plenty of other opportunities to consider.
WHERE DO YOU WANT TO GO? WHAT ARE YOU HOPING TO ACHIEVE?
My goal has always been to educate. That’s it. If your goal includes making money, think about how you’re going to do that. You could teach classes, run webinars, sell merchandise, publish books, create DVDs, build an application, consult, establish a product line–whatever. Feel free to be ambitious. Set a plan into motion. Build your platform while you build your rocket ship to fame and fortune. However, there’s one thing you absolutely shouldn’t do…
Don’t be a whore. When you’re not a bought and paid for “social media influencer,” you can say whatever the hell you want. Your reviews, opinions, and evaluations have more credibility because you aren’t being manipulated like a meat marionette. In the nearly five years I’ve had this blog, I’ve never in my life allowed a company to buy my opinion, and plenty have tried.
Readers don’t trust people who sell favorable opinions.
Companies will send you boxes of free product, hoping to get a good word from you, desperately hoping to reach your followers. Review things honestly, even if you think the product sucks. People are following you because they trust you. Don’t betray that trust by selling them garbage you don’t believe in.
Don’t sell out for quick cash. Definitely don’t sell out as a “favor” to anyone. (If you garner any measure of popularity, I guarantee you that will happen.) “Industry friends” will weasel into your social media sphere. Eventually, you’ll find your inbox full of requests to “link my blog,” “share my post,” “review my app.” Unless this person is bringing something to you that you think is fantastic, don’t do it.
Use IFTTT. IFTTT (If This, Then That) is a free automated social sharing solution. If you follow me on Faceook, Tumblr, or Twitter, you’ll notice that soon after I post an update on this blog, it appears on social media platforms. That’s because I use IFTTT to automate that stuff. IFTTT is stupid simple to use. IF you post an article, THEN it will appear on whatever platforms you’ve created recipes for.
Don’t burn time manually copy/pasting your links into your social accounts.
Presentation matters. Don’t be lazy. If you’re going to do anything, do it well. No crappy, dysfunctional websites. No poorly written content full of typos and formatting problems. No grainy cell phone pictures. Take your time to present the best version of everything you do, whether it’s tutorials, articles, photographs, or doodles of unicorns. Then again…
Don’t freak out like I do. When this site goes down, it’s nearly always out of my control. I spend the downtime in a blind panic, sweating and swearing profusely while refreshing the page.
Don’t be like me. Be better than me. Have some chill. I have no chill. :/
Don’t be a crybaby. The vast majority of your readers will be people who don’t know you. Not only would they be unable to pick you out of a lineup, they certainly wouldn’t be informed enough to make personal judgments about you. Put simply: they (and their opinions of you) don’t matter.
Don’t let harsh comments upset you.
Ignore them, delete them, move on. You’re doing something brave. You’re being you for everyone to see. If they don’t like it, they can go read free shit elsewhere, am I right?
Miserable people like to express their self-hatred from behind the safety of their computer screens, lashing out at others for a wide variety of reasons. Sometimes, it’s envy or insecurity. Maybe you represent something they want to be but aren’t, or maybe you’re doing something they couldn’t accomplish, or maybe they’re just jerks with nothing better to do than troll other people. Who knows? Who cares?
Ignore the haters and go on with your day.
Frequently Asked Questions
Here are the questions I receive most frequently about blogging. If you have one I haven’t answered, hit me up in the comments and I’ll update this post with my response.
“Where do you find your inspiration? How will I get ideas?”
I don’t “get ideas” so much as I “get irritated with answering the same questions.” The majority of my posts are inspired by the thought, “I’m really sick of writing this answer out over and over in comments and emails, so I’m just going to put it in a blog post and link it to people.” (Fun fact: that’s what inspired this post.)
Aside from that, my ideas for articles come from being inquisitive.
Challenge the status quo.
Ask yourself how things are happening and why things are happening the way they are. Go deeper than the surface reasoning. For example, one of my most popular posts began with the question “Why is exploitation so rampant in this industry?” The surface reasoning is “exploitative salon owners all greedy jerks looking to make more money.” The deeper, more accurate answer is that most exploitative salon owners are simply inexperienced, uninformed people doing the best they can and making common mistakes because of a long history of accepted practices that nobody thought to question.
Imagine better solutions or alternatives. Talk to people about their experiences and ask them questions. Keep an eye on the online networking groups for inspiration. Ideas are everywhere, you just have to seize them.
“How did your site get so popular? How can I make my site as popular as yours?”
Honestly, I have no idea how or why my site became as popular as it is, but I’m sure being the only person writing about employment abuses in the beauty industry had a lot to do with it. Credibility, authenticity, availability, and snark helped.
My recommendation to you is to write a lot. Give useful information. Share it to social media. Answer your emails and reply to your comments. Don’t be crazy about securing a massive following. Let it happen organically. If you keep at it, you’ll get there sooner than you think.
“How much time do you spend, as a career blogger, actually working?”
A lot, but I build and administrate my website personally. You could outsource those responsibilities to a developer or use a service like SquareSpace to make administration and SEO simple, but I’m a control freak and prefer to do all of that myself.
A typical blogging day for me looks like this:
9 AM-11 AM: Read and respond to emails and comments.
11 AM-3 PM: Research, write, or revise.
3 PM-5 PM: Engage (social media) and schedule interviews.
Once or twice a week, I administrate the site. From 10 PM until it’s done, I initiate site maintenance if necessary, then confirm functionality.
During the week, I also have to do interviews or serve as a source for some variety of journalist. Usually, it’s for trade magazines (industry-specific publications like NailPro, American Salon, or Esthetica), but mostly it’s for local newspapers/news stations, or internet publications (other blogs). Every so often, I get to do a podcast or radio interview. I’m periodically offered appearances on live shows, but I always decline (except once, when I did HuffPost Live, which I regret tremendously. I’m not great live, on video or otherwise). I don’t like doing interviews, but because I consider this information super imperative and I’m the only person sharing it, it’s necessary. If your blog addresses a similar topic that’s borderline-political and addresses a widespread problem, you’re likely to be contacted for interviews on the subject also.
Do you take vacations? Do you worry about losing subscribers when you’re gone? I take off from June to mid-August and only work on my blog one day of the week, if that. I spend most of my time with my kids and some of it writing my next book on salon ownership and management. When you have enough content that you can re-post old articles from your archives, you can take vacations without your readers realizing you’re gone. Personally, I don’t worry about losing subscribers due to inactivity–I worry about losing them due to over-activity. “Less is more” (posting only when I have something important to share) has always worked for me, but a lot of bloggers advise against letting your site sit dormant for extended periods of time.
“How much money does your blog make?”
It depends on how many ads appear and how many of those ads are clicked. I hate ads, so there are only two on my site (in the sidebars where they aren’t interfering with the content).
A lot of people use ad blockers. When ad blockers are enabled, ads don’t appear and I don’t get paid for the impressions since the impressions aren’t counted. Still, I make anywhere from $30-100 per month in ad revenue alone, but with the traffic my site sees, it could be triple that if my users disabled their ad blockers. Of all the things I do for work, my blog itself earns the least, but it enables me to reach people who will buy my book and/or hire me to do big things for them. It functions mostly as a huge online resume, letting potential consulting clients and event organizers see what I have to offer.
2018 UPDATE: Thanks to download sales, the blog now generates $1,000 a week (give or take $100-200). Soon, online courses and VIP membership sales will add an estimated $50-80,000 a year to my revenue. I also make about $2,000 annually for speaking at trade shows. Consulting revenue varies (because my availability is limited) but I charge $100 an hour and never have a problem filling my appointment calendar. On top of that, my next book will be released in November, adding an estimated $2,000 a month in royalties.
What’s the worst part about blogging? Honestly, it’s the contact form (which is disabled currently). My email and comments get hammered every day. I’m one person. It can get overwhelming. Many of the emails and comments are extremely long, detailed personal accounts of the subscriber’s experiences. I read all of them, but reading and responding is very time-consuming. The content of subscriber messages also tends to be pretty depressing. There are times when I seriously dread my inbox and the pending comments. I highly recommend against blogging about serious subjects unless you’re prepared to be burdened with other people’s baggage.
What blogging platform do you recommend? If you’re just starting, keep it simple. Set yourself up with a Blogger account and crank out some content. Build your base before migrating to a more advanced solution like WordPress. Blogger is owned by Google, so SEO is built-in. WordPress has a steep learning curve but has a lot more functionality and tons of plugins you can install to fully customize your site. However, WordPress developers are expensive, so I recommend learning how to use it yourself or (at the very least) giving it a go for a year before you decide to invest the time and money into WordPress. This blog started on Hubpages in 2010 (just don’t) and I migrated it to Blogger in 2012. After two years on Blogger, I moved to WordPress. Unless you’re experienced with WordPress, take baby steps. Start on Blogger. Blogger doesn’t require much administration at all, there’s no manual updating, no risk of plugin conflicts that will have you pulling your hair out for hours while you try to fix it, and no costs for hosting.
What hosting company do you recommend? If you’re experienced with WordPress and want to go right to the grown-up solution, there are a number of hosts WordPress recommends for hosting. Personally, I think they’re overpriced at $9.99+ a month. I use SiteGround hosting (but I also host multiple sites–if you’re hosting a single WordPress installation, you won’t need the big girl hosting package I use). SiteGround’s hosting plan for a single site costs $3.95 a month. The control panel has a single-click WordPress install and SEO/caching plugin installation right from the cPanel, but you can manually install via FTP if you prefer. They have spectacular, 24/7 customer support via phone, email, or live chat, which is why I so very highly recommend them.
2018 UPDATE: My site sees too much traffic for a shared hosting solution, so now I have a dedicated server at home. My husband was a systems administrator so for us, building, configuring, and administrating the server was easy. If you don’t have the same skills or experience, you will be looking at a $200-300 monthly hosting bill.
Alright, I think I covered every question I get asked about blogging. If you can think of any other questions, or if you’re a blogger with tips to share, leave a comment below.