It’s amazing what you can learn in just 3 years.
Truthfully, I’ve been blogging for *almost* three years now, but spent the first part of my career working in publishing and then PR + brand partnerships – I’ve always been a content creator or been the one working with content creators. But it wasn’t until I quit my job three years ago to launch This Renegade Love that I started to discover the truths of what it meant to be a blogger – the hustle to build a community, the stresses of creating your own income, the rate in which you constantly have to evolve, and the ease in which it can all fall apart if you make poor decisions for your brand.
We talk a lot about growth when it comes to our channels, but we don’t talk as much about personal growth and what we’ve learned and gotten out of being bloggers. I originally did this post as an Instagram Live session, one that I thought would foster a lot of discussion with other content creators and bloggers, PR reps and even small businesses. But one of the interesting things that came out of it were the viewers not in the industry, who worked corporate jobs or were stay-at-home-mums, and found that a lot of the same truths could be applied to their lives as well.
So whether you’re a blogger or just a consumer of online content, here are 7 truths I’ve learned from blogging that I’ve been able to use in all facets of my life.
1) You Get What You Give
This is one of the greatest pieces of wisdom ever given to me for life in general, but is just SO applicable to social media and online community. Basically, when you treat your readers and community with respect, by being transparent with them and truthful and giving more than you take, you receive the same in return.
I’ve spoken to a few bloggers before who get frustrated that their audience doesn’t read their captions or that they leave basic replies, but your community responds to what you normally put out there. How are you using your platform? Is it ad after ad? Are you being relatable? Are you starting conversations? Is it all about you, or are you serving your audience in a way that benefits them as well?
One of the ways I’ve started giving that extra bit more to my community is by replying via video to my DMs on Instagram. It not only saves me time (I can do it on-the-go and only takes 9 seconds), but it allows me to interact with my community in a much more personal way. They reply back with video and they love that additional layer in online communication. And because I give that extra part of myself and take the time to personally reply in a meaningful way, they’re more likely to further engage with me and stick around for the long run.
2) Not Everyone Is Going to Love You…. And that’s okay
This truth is a tough pill to swallow for some people, and one that I definitely had to learn over time. We naturally want everyone to like us, and social media makes that even more transparent because we often use it for validation of what we do – the likes, the follows, the comments. And if someone unfollows us, we tend to take it to heart (instead of considering that maybe they’re just not invested in our content).
But the truth is, a good brand should never wants to appeal to everyone – you want to appeal to a niche group of people that are SUPER invested in you and what you have to say. How much better is that?? I’d much rather have 3000 really invested people follow me than 10,000 who don’t really care that much. So instead of trying to make your content appeal to everyone, focus on creating content for the people that DO vibe with you. And if you see that someone’s unfollowed you, don’t stress about it, and don’t let it dictate your content.
3) When You Create Content for Public Validation, You Lose Yourself
As I mentioned before, social media has made us a little thirsty – for likes, for engagement, for public validation. As bloggers and content creators, we get antsy if a post or sentiment doesn’t perform well publicly, and we reassess its value based entirely on arbitrary things we can’t control, like whether or not an algorithm is feeding up your content to the people that follow you. I’ve been there, I’ve felt it.
But when we take that need for validation, for the public to SEE that engagement in order for us to feel worthy as a creator, we then start creating content simply BECAUSE we think it’ll get likes, and not because it’s serving our audience. And that’s where we fail. We lose sight of our brand, our identity and our purpose, and base our influence on the number that other people can see on our feeds.
For example, I remember posting a photo of a book I loved and raved about (Beartown), and it only got around 500 likes, which is below average for me. On the surface, it performed poorly. However, it was saved over 150 times and is STILL one of the most talked-about things I’ve shared on my channels. I still get DM’s from people saying they bought it, they just read it, or it’s up for discussion in their book club. I now regularly talk about the books I’m reading and frequently get requests for book suggestions. Had I only focused on how well that post performed publicly, I would have missed out on an incredible opportunity of serving my audience in a new way.
4) You Need to Be Able to Pivot
Okay, since we’re on the topic… how many of us lost our minds when Instagram changed up their algorithm and took away chronological feeds? Our engagement went down, we weren’t reaching the same amount of people, and our strategies for growth went out the window. And so many people started taking up unethical practices – buying followers, buying likes and joining engagement pods – simply because they didn’t know how to pivot.
I’ve learned that as a blogger or content creator, you need to be able to ‘pivot’ – to evolve your brand and shift direction whenever something hits you out of the blue that you can’t control. Sure, engagement pods were a strategy that arose out of the change in algorithm, but it doesn’t actually help bloggers and their brands – in fact, it has the ability to hurt their brands even more.
Being able to pivot means thinking strategically, whilst still protecting your brand’s reputation. What tweaks can you make to your own brand to adapt to the changes happening in the industry? How can you grow an audience on another platform? How can you drive people to your website in a new and authentic way? You can’t get comfortable just doing the one thing that works, because – especially in this industry – things are always going to change. Build a strong brand and community so that when things DO change up beyond your control, you’re prepared to change with it.
5) You Need to Know Your Value
This is a truth that you really come to understand over time and with experience, and can apply to many industries – both freelance and salary jobs – but especially in an industry like online content creation, where you are often expected to work for free or for product.
When you’re starting out on your own, it can be tough to say no or negotiate your worth because you’re scared you won’t get more opportunities coming your way, but trust, you will. Your blog or social platform is a space that you’ve grown and they’re coming to YOU, not vice versa. You have something that they don’t – prime real estate and an engaged audience. And if a brand wants to be featured on that real estate? They need to pay for that.
I recently received a pitch from a PR agency inviting me to take part in an unpaid opportunity, wherein I would go to the brand’s office, get treated to a makeover, they would shoot me and then able to share on all their social channels and in their marketing. Oh, but they would give me some free beauty and hair stuff and hope I would share the experience with my audience, too.
So here’s how I think of that from a business perspective. You want me to take time out of my workday to come to you, you’ll use my name and image and likeness however you like, you’ll share on your social channels which have about 1/15th of my current following… and you’re not going to pay me? But you can pay this PR agency that’s reaching out on your behalf? BYE FOR NOW, BYE FOREVER.
It’s my experience that if a brand or client doesn’t respect that you need to be paid for your time and skill, then they don’t respect you either. And sure, there are times where I will definitely do work without pay or in exchange for a kickass experience – but that’s decided upon by ME, and whether I want to, whether I can fit it into my schedule, and whether it makes sense for my brand. I have 11 years experience as a professional writer, I’ve been shooting professionally for my job for 3 years, and I’ve spent all that time and energy growing a super engaged community – I know my value and I’m confident in that.
6) Entitlement Will Get You Nowhere
My mum taught me from a young age to “Be kind, be gracious, be easy to work with”, and it’s a sentiment that’s held true throughout my whole life, especially as a freelancer and as a blogger who lives a more privileged life than most.
I’ve come to learn that in the blogging industry, there are plenty of professional bloggers who are incredible at running their business and are amazing to work with, but there are also plenty of bloggers with a sense of entitlement. And that sense of entitlement, my friends, will get you nowhere. It won’t get you jobs, it will get you a shitty reputation.
Even if you go to brand events all the time and you’re used to free booze and free food, always be gracious. If it doesn’t live up to your expectations, don’t blast about it on social media or bitch to the PR person (if you’re there on a partnership, then do a follow-up post-event instead of discussing in the moment). Understand that someone’s time and energy went into running that event, they could’ve had a minimal budget to work with, they’re likely stressed the fuck out about making sure you’re having a great time, and that you get to be part of a wealth of experiences that many people only dream of.
Basically… check your ego at the door. Online influence does not give you the right to be an asshole.
7) Your community comes first
When you’re a blogger who makes money off of creating content, it can be tough not to focus so much on brand work and developing those relationships, looking at who’s working with who and getting frustrated thinking about why you weren’t considered for a campaign. So much so, that it can become our main focus, and serving our community comes second. We fail to remember that without our community’s support, brands wouldn’t even be interested in us… so why are we not putting that loving community first and foremost?
I made really great money last year through brand partnerships, more than I was making at my full-time gig before I quit. But towards the end of the year, I found my focus was being pulled away from my community, and more on creating content for brands. I wasn’t serving my community the best of me, and that really hit me hard.
So in 2018 I made the decision to narrow my brand’s offering, and solely focus on providing my community with the tools they need to build a more fulfilling and independent life for themselves, whether that’s through career advice, mental wellness or lifestyle content for freelancers/self-employed. I would only partner with brands whose story aligned with that (i.e. travel that would allow me to weave in my experience as a freelancer, financial advice that spoke specifically to being self-employed), and spend the rest of my time giving to my community. They deserve it, and they’re the reason I’m able to do what I love for a living.
And if a brand comes along with a massive budget, but they’re not in line with your personal brand? Don’t do it, boo. Disrespecting your audience by promoting something you don’t really love is a surefire way to lose them (and lose all the legit brand deals you could’ve secured in the future).
What about you – what truths have you learned as a blogger?
Share your biggest lessons learned in the comments below!