Wowza, I can’t believe I’ve been running Willow Lane for four years! In all that time I’ve learnt so many things about myself and about the media industry I have become a part of. I can honestly say I still love blogging as much today as I did back when I started in May 2013. But it’s fair to say blogging has changed quite a bit over the past four years. It’s become increasingly competitive and more bloggers than ever are blogging full-time and making a good (if not great) living from creating content. Whilst I can’t claim to be one of those bloggers, I am a very driven blogger and I love to see my readership grow and I love getting to work with some fab companies and brands.
Willow Lane is a lifestyle blog and the content has changed over the years, reflecting changes in my own life. I started Willow Lane in my late twenties when I was in a job that was no longer inspiring to me. Fast forward four years, I have changed jobs not once but twice and I became a mother last year to Rose. In all that time, I have blogged consistently, and rarely has a week gone by that I haven’t put up content. I blog because it’s a great creative outlet, but I’ll be honest and say I probably wouldn’t have done it for so long if I didn’t have support from readers and PR and marketing agencies who have approached me to work with their clients over the years. I’ve been able to write so many different types of lifestyle content, enjoying amazing experiences and products along the way. I am by no means a big name blogger and Willow Lane is still very much a hobby of mine, but I have learnt a fair few things along the way…
1. It Pays To Be Choosey
Once your blog gets ‘noticed’ and you start to get contacted by PR and marketing people, it can be an exciting feeling. You find yourself being invited to events, being offered products to review, and countless press releases come into your inbox. It might sound silly, but this can leave you feeling under pressure. One minute you are happily creating blog posts in your little bubble, and the next minute people are contacting you wanting to work with you. How do you deal with the new attention? For me, I said ‘yes’ to alot of things. Yes to events, yes to freebies and yes to being put on everyone’s press/blogger list. I was keen to work with people, especially with local companies and brands I admire.
But after a while, I learnt to become more of a ‘no’ person. After a few years of attending countless press/blogger events and receiving lots of freebies, I got a bit fed up. Was it all worth it? Yes, some of the event experiences and complimentary gifts were amazing, but for every one that was fab, there was one that was pretty mediocre.
I can thank my baby daughter for making me a more choosey blogger and forcing me to manage my time more efficiently, because now my priority is spending time with her. Now I only go to events that sound really great, and I only accept gifts/experiences I am truly interested in and which I will happily spend time reviewing. Because, let’s be honest, in the blogging world, a freebie isn’t really a freebie. There is an expectation that after accepting an invitation or a gift, that you will promote it on your blog or social accounts. And rightly so! I just like to be more choosey these days, and I think I’m a better blogger for it.
2. Media Kits Are King
It took me a long time to get my act together and create a media kit for Willow Lane. I kept hearing so many people say how essential there were but, urgh, they just seemed like so much effort and I kind of thought it was only the really ‘big bloggers’ that needed one. For those of you who don’t know, a media kit is a document which outlines the key facts and statistics about your blog.
I finally sat down last year to put my media kit together and once it was complete I felt like a load was lifted from my shoulders. Finally, I could call myself a proper professional blogger – I had a media kit! I wrote the content for my media kit, detailing who I am, what my blog is about, what my stats are and the kind of features I do. I selected my own images to use and I even included a testimonial from a pr company I did work for. Go me! I left the design part to my other half Phill who is a graphic designer. He turned my words and images into a really professional, slick looking media kit I was so proud to send to people.
Putting together a media kit is a great opportunity to re-connect with pr and marketing contacts, or to send to people you really want to work with. I got such great feedback from my media kit, with people telling me how useful it was for them to have. And it quickly led to working with people on some great blog posts. I just really wish I had put together a media kit together sooner as it saves so much time and effort in the long-run. If you are approached to work with a company/brand, often you are asked for your blog and social stats and then you are asked to put a proposal forward about the kind of post you would do for them. Having a comprehensive media kit can cut down the amount of emails backwards and forwards. It immediately puts you in a good position as you are showing yourself to be a reputable blogger. It also answers many of the questions they will have for you.
If you are an established blogger and haven’t put a Media Kit together yet, then definitely start work on one. If you aren’t a dab hand at graphic design then consider using a graphic designer – but just make sure you have an editable version of the media kit, which you can amend as you need to.
3. Content Plans Keep You Creative
When I first started Willow Lane, I had so many blog posts swirling around in my head, waiting to be written. It never occurred to me at that stage to put a content plan in place. Fast forward a few years, I realised the benefit of content plans. No blogger can maintain high energy all the time and often we suffer from writers block, or just feel really uninspired.
Putting together a blog content plan rejuvenated me. Now, I do a blog plan for the year ahead, January to December. I try and think of a handful of blog titles for each month and aim to have an idea for each of my main categories (style, food, travel, family life) to ensure there is a good mix of content. I also think about the time of year and relevant blog posts for the season. For example, in December I’ll be sure to do Christmas themed posts.
Content plans keep me focused and creative. They also allow me to see the ‘bigger picture’ and without them I wouldn’t have such varied content or blog as consistently as I do. They force me think about relevant articles that I think people would be interested in…and which I would like to write! For any blogger feeling uninspired or deflated with blogging, I would definitely recommend putting together a blog content plan as it will get your creative juices flowing.
4. Be Real
This is the most recent ‘lesson learnt’ for me. There’s a lot of criticism around bloggers of late that they aren’t being real and are only showing the edited version of themselves and the life they lead. I can totally why bloggers only share the fun or interesting things we’re doing, as most of us want to spread positivity and job. But there is definitely a backlash happening against bloggers/social influencers who only ever share picture perfect photos and an idealistic lifestyle – making people feel inferior, and even anxious. I was alarmed to here about a recent mental health study which claimed the purely image-based Instagram was the social media platform causing “the most negative impact on young people’s mental wellbeing…deepening young peoples feelings of inadequacy and anxiety”. But is that the bloggers fault? Or do bloggers/social influencers have a responsibility to showcase their life in a more authentic and ‘real’ way?
As a blogger, I feel the pressure to take perfect pictures – and that it is seen as more important that the actual content I’m writing. I look at some bloggers and am in awe of their flawless instagram themes and the amazing experiences they get to have like trips abroad and designer clothes. But personally, I love bloggers who ‘keep it real’ on Instagram – with a few personal favourites being Amanda Muse and What I Wore. In fact, it was a recent blog post by Jessica of What I Wore that really resonated with me. Entitled ‘unbranded‘ Jessica addresses the the notion of people/bloggers as brands and admits she has gone ‘offbrand’ of late, taking photos in bad lighting and with no makeup on. And the good news she is feeling better for it and encourages us to: “Do whatever possible to avoid boxing yourself up into a pretty package. Imagine yourself instead as a tree. Let your roots dig deep. Establish a strong sense of character. Follow the path that feels right in your gut. Instead of polishing your external attributes, challenge yourself to refine your inner truths and morals.” Three cheers for Jessica! We are not brands, we are people and we should ‘be real’.
For me, being real involves writing more personal and honest blog posts. Some of my most-read posts which have got people talking have been those that have been really personal – like my ‘10 Years Happily Unmarried‘ post from last year and my breastfeeding experience post from earlier this year. I think my honesty resonates with people so I definitely want to challenge myself to open up more on the blog.
No matter what you do, I think it’s important to keep learning – to try new things and stay open-minded. Do you agree?