Once, I found myself so bored at a group dinner, I started falling asleep at the end of the table. Like literally nodding off.
But then I overheard someone across the way talking about credit cards.
It was like somebody dumped a bucket of water on my head.
Nobody had asked me for my opinion, yet I sat up in my chair and barged into the conversation, sharing my thoughts on which credit cards were best and why. All of a sudden I couldn’t stop talking.
And after helping a few friends with some money questions they kept asking: “When are you going to start a blog?” That planted a seed in my head. And then it started to sprout.
When I think about it, blogging combines many of my in-real-life interests: digital marketing, design, photography, writing, and most importantly, coming up with random ideas and then seeing if I can make them happen.
Being creative is my favorite thing ever.
Six months ago, I pushed my blog live. I planned to launch with five posts, but after two months of writing and putzing around on Twitter, I only had two that were done-done. I wasn’t ready to launch, but would I ever be? So I said to hell with it, and launched with only two posts and an About page. Start before you’re ready and iterate later, right?
And now we’re at the six-month mark, and that “I’m not ready” feeling still hasn’t gone away. But somehow I’ve made it this far. I’ve managed to write 44 posts, with most of them being over 1,500 words. Forty-four posts is nothing for most people, but for someone who could barely complete her two-page college essays on time, I’d say this is a massive achievement.
I thought about whether I should write this at all. Would anyone really care? Because that’s the thing: I care a lot whether or not readers care.
But part of my blog’s mission is promoting transparency and authenticity. So, here’s me sharing with you my thought process for why I’ve made certain decisions, my struggles, and where I want to go in the future.
In case one post wasn’t enough, to celebrate my six month milestone I have TWO more things to share today:
- If you missed it, my husband’s bonus blog post is hilarious: a ‘behind-the-scenes’ take on how I create a post from start to finish, because no, it’s not the streamlined efficient process that everyone wants to pretend it is. I’m totally biased, but I was crying so hard from laughing while reading it.
- A giveaway for my email subscribers! I’m so excited to be able to put together something fun for you guys. I’ve been thinking about it for months, actually.
My Goals for the Six Month Milestone
Most bloggers have monthly goals they want to achieve. My goals had nothing to do with page views, or social media followers, or email subscribers. Nope, mine were answering two stupidly basic questions:
- Can I write one post a week consistently?
- In an oversaturated market, will anyone care about a voice like mine?
I started out writing one post a week just to see if I was capable of blogging. Some people start out sprinting out of the gate with 3-4 posts a week, but I knew if I did that I’d burn out fast. Around the second month I ramped up to writing two posts per week and have generally stuck with it ever since. Right now I can’t imagine writing more than two posts per week without the quality suffering. So until I find a better writing process, this is going to stay for now.
Goal #1: Check!
Let’s face it, there are over 1,000 personal finance blogs right now. Does the world really need another voice? Before blogging, I read a few personal finance blogs and while I learned tremendously from all of them, I felt like there wasn’t a voice for people quite like me. I’m not ultra frugal. I like things that cost a lot of money. I’m not a born saver. I didn’t have a high-paying entry-level job. I grew up with little guidance on life and money. I don’t believe that saving money and enjoying life are mutually exclusive. So I’d sit at a bar with my friends, who were dressed head to toe in designer clothes yet rocking their money, and wonder: surely there had to be other people like us, right? Or would I be laughed out of the personal finance community?
So far, four of my posts have been featured on the Rockstar Finance front page, and I’ve received a few really sweet notes from readers saying they’re excited that I have a different point of view, or they can relate to me somehow.
Goal #2: Check (I think)
Five Lessons Learned After Six Months of Blogging
1. Blogging Is Really Hard
Blogging is exceptionally hard for me, for three reasons:
- I have high standards for well, everything. I get really disappointed in myself when I end up having to publish a post that I don’t feel is good enough. And yes, that’s happened more times than you think!
- Writing with parameters has always been a struggle, and still is. I was so bad at newswriting in college my teacher asked me whether or not I planned on continuing on with it the following year. And I was definitely that kid who was bumping up the font size to 18pt so I could fulfill the five-page requirements for papers.
- I care a lot about adding value for other people. I figured out how to do money from cobbling info from a bunch of blogs. If I hadn’t come across blogs, I probably would still be a chump paying ATM fees. So I feel a responsibility to pay it forward by sharing my experiences, in hope of helping someone else out. Wanting to add value is why a lot of my posts end up with major scope creep! I can’t figure out how to do it with those really short, pithy posts.
I’ve learned that I’m not one of those people who can bust out a post in an hour or two. A few posts, like this one and this one have taken over 20 hours to create. For just the one post. And I have no idea if it’s even worth it to even spend that much time on one blog post. So I feel a pang of jealousy and admiration every time I see someone else who has a reserve of blog posts banked for months ahead.
Another common theme is driving my poor husband crazy: writing a post three times, changing the strategy at the last minute, or changing the editorial calendar five times in half an hour.
Every completed blog post feels like a Christmas miracle.
2. Having a Blog Is Like Having a Baby
OK, I don’t have a baby, but it’s what I’d imagine having a baby feels like. Pre-baby you’ve got your act together and a set routine. Post-baby you’re struggling to find a time to do basic things, like taking a shower or going to the bathroom.
With blogging, there’s always something you should be doing that falls to the wayside, because there aren’t enough hours in the day. While I’m a great planner in all other aspects of my life, I can’t seem to use those same tactics to get ahead when it comes blogging. The work doesn’t stop with creating content. There’s the SEO, and the Pinterest graphics, and the newsletters to write, just to name a few. If you want to grow your blog, the list of things to do just never ends.
3. I’m Never Going to Be the Amazon of Blogs
You know those blogs that get millions of pageviews a year and make six figures every month? Yeah, that’s not gonna be me. I’m like that unassuming storefront with a tiny sign you probably passed by once or twice without noticing. But the few people who were curious enough to step inside the store are obsessed. And I’m OK with that. Here’s why:
I know everybody always says they “want to stay true to who they are,” so nowadays that’s just an empty phrase. But my one superpower is that I’ve had a strong sense of identity since I was a kid. Here’s who I’ve always been: Quantity has never driven my choices. I don’t have a ton of clothes, I have a few that I love. The brands I identify with most aren’t the household names, but more under the radar. I don’t have a million acquaintances, I have a few forever-type of friends. Instead of fighting my natural state, I’d rather work with it. How I do one thing is how I do everything. The blog is no exception.
4. Sometimes You Need to Ignore People
Like when you bounce the idea of writing a salary negotiation article to your husband and he responds with, “I don’t know, honey, aren’t there a million articles like that?” The truth is, no one sees the world exactly the way you do. If you share your personal experiences in your posts then there’s always a way to add unique value. And the negotiation post is one I’m still really proud of today.
When I first decided to blog, I sent three friends a list of 20 names I’d brainstormed and asked them to pick their favorite, based off a set of questions I came up with. Well, they all chose a different name from the list! Then I ignored them and went with my gut instead.
Fun fact time! In an alternate universe, what this blog could have been named:
- The Frugal Frillist
- The Well-Kept Wallet
- You Can Have Nice Things
I figured if there was a list of 20 blogs or so, and they all had some kind of money pun in it, the one that didn’t (mine) might stand out. It’s also fun that I have a built-in moniker (“Luxe”) even though I blog anonymously. Can you imagine people calling me Miss You Can Have Nice Things?
5. I Care More About True Fans Than I Do About Page Views
I’m not going to lie: when you see your page views trending up it feels pretty nice. But numbers aren’t everything. I might get great pageviews because of a feature on a major news site, but is that the right traffic, and do those people actually come back?
I’m not saying that page stats aren’t important to me. They are, especially if you want to make money off ads.
But what really gets me going is this idea of having 1,000 true fans versus many casual ones. The real fans are the people who come back to the site when there’s no new post, who subscribe to my emails when I have no cool freebie to offer, and who choose to not only follow me on social media, but to comment and send me direct messages. I would say that right now I have about 100 true fans. If I want to be a successful creator, then all I need is 900 more.
Right now focusing on the real fans is what feels right.
Sidenote: Anyone a Google Analytics expert? I’m really interested in trying to identify the real fans by the data. The below are the binge readers, am I right?
So if you like my blog, do me favor: tell a friend about it, share your favorite post on social media, or link it on your blog or wherever else you hang out online. That would mean so much more to me than having a million bots follow me on social media.
My Strategy for Growing the Blog
There’s no magic-pill strategy that works for everybody, but here’s what I think has worked well for me.
The first thing I did was figure out my target audience and researched where they hung out online. Then I looked around at other blogs, made notes of what I didn’t like, and set up my blog as the total opposite. I also was active on Twitter for two months before my blog launched, getting to know other bloggers and sharing their posts. So when I launched the blog, I already had some Twitter friends as readers.
Creating the Best Content I Can
There are very few posts I can write without doing some type of research. I spend a lot of time, sometimes more than the writing phase, trying to figure out how I can make my post different from others on a similar topics. So if I see a post that has good advice but no images, I’ll add images to mine. For my fall shopping post, I stayed up embarrassingly late to Photoshop the collage, because I thought it would make the post stand out more. Spending extra time on the content has helped me grow significantly, as content that stands out tends to be organically shared and linked to from other blogs that are popular. About 40% of my traffic has come from referrals so far.
Doing Things That Don’t Scale
I recently watched an interview with Joe Gebbia (a really inspirational video, btw), one of the founders of Airbnb. He said that in the early days, he flew from California to New York to actually meet hosts in person and show them how to improve their listings. His advice to other entrepreneurs is to “do things that don’t scale.” This line really resonated with me, and I realize I’ve been doing some “counterproductive” things all along:
Insisting on using my own photos. Well, at least at first. I much prefer to use my own pictures as the post feature photos and thought that was going to be part of my “brand.” Awesome idea in theory, but NOT a scalable idea. I do think my own photos are more personal and engaging, but right now, taking my own photos takes up a lot of time and it’s not feasible to have a real photo that makes sense with every single post. So right now I’m using a mix of my own photos and stock photos.
Manually promoting. I’m on the social networks I feel most comfortable with, and don’t use auto-scheduling tools yet. For a while, I was asking my husband to nudge me awake in the morning to tweet. I don’t have as many posts as other bloggers do, so if I was auto-scheduling a tweet every few hours, the same posts would come up again and again, which I worry would annoy people. I like it a lot better when people show their personality on Twitter, so I don’t just promote blog posts all the time.
I love Instagram because that’s the one social network I use in real life. Instagram is also the network where I feel “closest” to readers and I’ve found some people who I think I’d have a lot in common with. And instead of only posting when I have a new blog post, I’d rather share real pictures and stories from my everyday life.
On Pinterest I’ve just pinned the things I like despite the fact that everyone says Pinterest is the way to explode your traffic. But I’ve been overly picky about how I want my pins to look so haven’t attempted trying anything there yet.
Engaging with people. I try to be very giving when it comes to promoting other people’s content. I spend a decent amount of time reading other blogs I like and commenting on them. If I liked someone’s post I’m more than happy to share it on Twitter. As for my own blog, right now I’ll respond to every single thoughtful comment and e-mail. As a reader I’ve been frustrated when I took the time to write a comment and got no response, especially if it was a smaller blog. The bloggers I admire most are the ones that have made it big and still make the time to respond to reader comments and email.
And instead of the one-time setup of auto-emailing new posts to subscribers, I’m crazy and set up a new campaign every time there’s a new post. The reason I do it is because readers are showing they trust me by forking over their e-mail address. Writing a little note in each e-mail just for them feels like the least I can do.
At some point doing things that don’t scale will morph into plain old inefficiency. But when you’re starting out, you can afford to do stuff like this.
My Biggest Fears
The driving sentiment this entire time has been fear and uncertainty.
At first I was afraid of being “seen.” For months after the blog launch, I told myself I was in “beta” mode. I promoted my posts only to my blogger friends on Twitter. I felt safe hiding in my cozy corner. I wanted to build up content first before promoting to the outside world. I worried that people would come to the site, see two posts, and never come back.
Well, that didn’t work. Somehow non-bloggers found me anyway. I felt exposed. If I kept on hiding then I’d never end up disappointing anyone. But now that was no longer an option. The personal finance community is amazingly supportive, but regular readers? Way less forgiving. If there are “real people” reading my blog, I thought, SHIT, I really gotta get my act together.
Now there are even more fears!
I’m afraid that all the extra things I do are just a waste of time.
I’m afraid that I’m doing everything backwards by focusing on content first, and promotion second.
I’m afraid that maybe I’m a terrible business person for not monetizing since day 1.
But my biggest fear?
That I won’t know how to grow the blog and still stay true to who I am.
If you’ve been reading blogs for a while, you know what I’m talking about. A blogger gets more popular, starts making money, and then the content totally changes. Where there used to be engagement is now a pale shell of a comments section where people chime in just to promote their own blogs. So, if there are any seasoned bloggers who know how to grow without feeling like a sellout, hit me up.
My first priority has always been to get content up and see if people like my stuff. I’ve been purposely avoiding monetization efforts, like ads, affiliate links, sponsored posts, etc. So much so, that a few months ago when a fellow blogger DM’ed me on Twitter and asked me for a “link” I didn’t understand they were asking for an affiliate link. So I sent them a normal link to a Japanese vegetable scrubber I recently bought and thought was a good buy. Oops.
But it’s getting harder to justify to myself the number of hours I put into the blog without making some sort of side income. So here is my very first affiliate link to that same Japanese vegetable scrubber!
It’s technically meant to scrub vegetables, but we use it as a gentler way to scrub pots. It also comes in a cute package, and you know how I’m a sucker for that stuff. If you want to support the blog, clicking the link and buying something (doesn’t have to be the linked item) within 24 hours will yield a commission for me at no extra cost to you.
Your Turn to Talk + The Giveaway!
If you’ve made it down this far, congratulations for not having the attention span of a goldfish. I’ve wrote a lot about myself so far, but like I said before, the blog is about helping YOU. So that I can write more engaging and relevant content, I’d love it if you could fill out a short, three-question survey to let me know your feedback. I know that some of you prefer not to comment on posts (confession: I was totally a silent blog consumer, too), so this is a great opportunity to let me know what you think.
I also wanted to say a special thank you(!) to my subscribers. Many of you recognized some sort of potential in my blog when I had only three measly posts. Seriously, I am so grateful for each and every one of you. For the subscribers who fill out the survey by October 9th, you can enter to win one of two leather tassels I hand made. The only extra thing you have to do is make sure to fill out your e-mail address in the form. Then I’ll use Random-ize to randomly pick an e-mail. The giveaway is open to those who’ve subscribed prior to the publishing of this post. Those who aren’t on my list yet, don’t worry–subscribe now because I have some big plans for the one-year mark.
Alright, so I know some of you are numbers nerds and want to see the goods! As I mentioned before, I like to see page views trend up, but I don’t have measurable goals or anything. Below is the six-month view. I also wanted to show that everyone has a different path for where they want to go. What works for you won’t necessarily work for me, and vice versa.
I want to note that I got really lucky with some features on big sites, in particular:
And a special shoutout to J. Money from Budgets Are Sexy who followed me on Twitter even though I had 0 followers, three lame tweets, and no blog.
I hope this post was insightful in some way. Blogging has been a lot like how I approach anything in life: if I don’t have a clear path for how to do something, I’ll just try a bunch of things and see what happens. I don’t have a perfect process, and I don’t know all the “right” things to do, but I’m always up for the challenge. It might be a bumpy road ahead, but I hope you come along for the ride.
If you’re a blogger, what did you learn after six months of blogging? Non-bloggers, does any of this surprise you?
PS: Don’t forget to read my husband’s mostly-true take on how he learned to stop worrying and love the blog.
Image: The Luxe Strategist