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Say it’s fall of 2016 and you’re messing around in Google Drive when you come across a folder called ‘blog_ideas.’ Inside is a spreadsheet you started four years earlier, in 2012–a list of 26 blog post ideas you brainstormed once, sparked by some short-lived inspiration. Probably when you were unemployed and had nothing else going on at the time. You think to yourself, Wow, four years, and I’ve done absolutely nothing with this?
You read the list with fresh eyes and muse, “Maybe some of this stuff would be helpful to people still.”
A new post idea crops up just then, and you type it into the list.
And then another.
A few days later, there are 54.
You find yourself leaping out of bed at 3am, because a glimmer of an idea pops into your head, and if you don’t write it down this very second it’s going to disappear forever.
Soon you have over 100 ideas for your Imaginary Blog.
You don’t really know what it’s going to be, but you know one thing: ever since you were were little you loved to create. That’s enough to go on.
And now here we are. This Real Blog has officially been alive and kicking for an entire year(!) In that time, I’ve found myself doing things I’ve never thought I’d be doing: organizing blogger meetups, chatting all day with online friends I’ve never met, and causing my husband to prematurely age with my unorthodox work habits.
If I had to sum it up in just one GIF, blogging has often felt like this, but in the best way possible.
To celebrate my first year of blogging, I’m doing something a little bit different today and sharing how my year went, some fun facts and top highlights, and then a Q&A from readers.
Ready for a trip down memory lane?
A Year in Visuals
I always liked the infographics that Warby Parker used to send out every year so I thought my blog-iversary was the perfect excuse to make my own version. Because making graphics for the site is a fantastic use of my time, right? Right?
Most Shared Post
“What My Immigrant Mom Can Teach You About Money”
The response to this post surprised me–over 300 social shares, which is incredible. But I guess when you think about it, it’s not surprising at all. Everyone likes moms, especially ones who will kick your butt at frugality and make you reconsider what being “rich” really means.
Most Viewed Post
“How to Sell on Ebay Better Than Everyone Else”
Also known as “Adventures in Accidental SEO-Land,” I wrote this after another blogger tweeted that she hadn’t had any luck re-selling clothes on eBay. Took me all weekend to put it together for a total of 23 hours. After hearing other bloggers say it takes them 1-2 hours to write a post, let’s just say that the amount of time I spent on this one post was not something I wanted to shout from the rooftops.
The first comment I got was, “Amazing guide…I hope it kills it when it comes to SEO ranking =D”
That’s when my heart sank.
Because when I wrote it I hadn’t thought about SEO at all. Not one bit of keyword research or even a cursory Google search.
Did I just waste 23 hours of my life writing this one post for my 20 readers?
Only time would tell.
Eight months later I was in New Zealand when I logged into Google Analytics and saw unusual activity. I was on vacation so I had barely touched the site–there were no new posts or automated tweets (sadly, I still haven’t gotten my act together to automate any marketing). And yet, traffic was flowing.
I dug a little deeper. All those initial hours on that eBay post were finally paying off, because organic search was through the roof. That’s right, the Google Gods decided it was my time to shine and put me in the #1 spot in search results. Now this one post alone brings in about 5,000 page views per month through Google, so that’s pretty cool.
The Post I Liked, But No One Else Did
So What’s the Point of Saving If Life Is Great Right Now?
Not every post is going to be a slam dunk, OK? I try really hard not to read my earlier posts, because my writing voice has changed, but I thought this post would be do better than it did. Maybe the title was too abstract? Anyway, for anyone who’s ever asked me what my ‘why’ is for saving money, this is it. And if you liked it then, then consider yourself to be an early adopter.
An Unexpected Opportunity
Within six months I’d been featured on Rockstar Finance a few times and was nominated for a Plutus Award in the “Best Financial Blog for Women” category. If the blog just keeled over one day, it would have died happy. But then something else happened the first year that I never dreamed would even be possible.
Friends, you want to make sure you check your Spam folder every now and then. Let me explain:
Just like I was putzing around on Google Drive that one time, one day I randomly checked my Spam folder in my inbox. You know, because sometimes it’s funny to laugh at e-mails about penis enlargements, Viagra, and panic PayPal notices riddled with typos.
But on that November day, there was one spam e-mail that was different.
I scanned the subject line and saw a book publisher name. One that I recognized. Plus the word “collaboration.”
My first thought: !!!
And then: Don’t get too excited, they probably just want a blurb or whatever, because do they know my blog is only seven months old?
I talked to the editor on the phone and she confirmed that yes, they wanted me to write personal finance book. Yes, they knew my blog was still really young. She said a publishing director had shared one of my posts in a meeting (!!!), and asked this editor to check me out. Sidenote: Sometimes you forget that real people read your blog, so knowing your post was being discussed in a professional setting dialed up my self-consciousness level to the max.
Obviously, I was intrigued. The editor sent me some of their books as samples, and the next step was for me to follow up with draft of topics.
Now this is where I’ll lose you.
I didn’t follow up.
I didn’t know much about the publishing process, but there was one thing I did know: Writing a book is a heck of a lot of work.
As you know, I’m not scared to do things that are hard, but I knew that writing a book would take everything out of me. Would that be the best use of my time right now when I’m still trying to just grow my audience?
Sure I could convert existing blog posts to book form, with no fresh content or common theme woven throughout, but that would be a half-assed effort.
And a half-assed book is worse than no book.
So, I didn’t follow up. I also recognize that following up with the publisher doesn’t guarantee a book would materialize, anyway.
I know some of you are throwing your laptops across the room right now, because of how stupid I am.
But sometimes you have to trust your gut. And my gut was saying, this isn’t the right time for you, Luxe.
Interesting Ways People Found My Blog
When people subscribe to my newsletter, there’s an optional field to fill out so they can tell me how they found my blog. I’m a data nerd, so I love to track which efforts are working. Another benefit is that I can’t possibly monitor every single site mention, especially newsletters, so I’ve found so many “hidden” referral sources just from my subscribers. Thank you, subscribers!
Here are some of my favorite “How did you find my site” answers:
OK, so I’ll keep posting food pics on Instagram:
Thanks for the tip, would have never saw this on my own:
Hell has frozen over, because there’s a nice comment on Reddit:
And some of them are just downright poetic:
Questions & Answers
Now for the fun part, answering reader questions!
1. Sarah asked, what are your favorite and least favorite things about blogging?
These are the things I get to do now because of blogging:
- DM-ing with Sophie on Instagram all day about snacks, cats and Queer Eye.
- Meeting up with blogger friends here in the city and in San Francisco.
- Meeting an Instagram friend in LA.
What do they all have in common? It’s connecting with people. I know it sounds kind of silly, but I honestly feel like I’ve made real friends, even if I’ve never met them before.
My other favorite thing is when someone tells me how I helped them. I’ve had some bad work days, but receiving a thoughtful e-mail from a reader literally made me forget what I was mad about. I’m especially surprised when someone is inspired by something I mentioned off hand. Like I had no idea that an offhand remark about saving $1,500 per month on less than $60k per year would inspire someone to up their credit card payments. And I never thought in a million years that a little story about my friends shopping at Barneys would help curb a reader’s impulse spending. I always said that even if I could only help a handful of people, it would all be worth it.
My least favorite thing about blogging is how I still haven’t figured out work-life balance. I have a full-time day job and a family I want to hang out with, so blogging throws a wrench into my best-laid plans. Seriously, people with small kids, how do you do it? But when you choose to put a solid effort into a blog you’re signing up for a lifestyle. For example, every vacation since I’ve been blogging, I’ve always brought my laptop with me. Although part of the reason I get anything done is because my husband is the real MVP. He’s been amazingly supportive of the blog: not only does he read all my drafts, but he takes care of all the cooking, most of the grocery shopping, and the cleaning. If there was a Blogger Husband award, well, there’d be a real upset if he didn’t win.
2. Does having a blog shape your spending activities? Like when you buy things do you think about how it will be turned into content and does that affect your choices?
One reason I’ve been stubborn about not making the blog more fashion-oriented is that I know I’d feel pressure to buy more stuff. So generally, I don’t think the blog has affected my spending, but what I do happen to buy or do affects the content. For example, if I’m spending my weekend in my sweats at home, there’s not going to be a money diary. I usually write money diaries when I actually spend money, because as a reader, I find those more interesting.
Another positive side effect from blogging is that my husband is more frugal now! He was never an overspender, but like a lot of people, money was something he never wanted to think about. Now as an “editor” for the site, he sometimes picks up a few new money insights every now and then. I’d say the biggest impact on his spending was when we did the cash-only experiment. Before, he’d never really look at how much groceries cost. But now he’ll be at the store and compare like, eight different kinds of eggs to see which is the cheapest.
3. Did you use any online tutorials/resources for learning how to build and use your website?
In college I took a website building class, and somehow all of this information is still imprinted onto my brain. But I haven’t had to bust out any real coding on the site. I use WordPress and a free template (Olsen Light), so when I’ve needed to figure out how to do something or find a bug, I just start a new thread on the support forum. On your theme homepage, there should be a link to the support forum. If not, you can go here and search for your theme name.
Search for your problem to see if someone else already asked about it, or start your own thread. Then you wait for the theme’s developer to reply with a fix.
Besides that, Google is my best friend.
4. How do you monetize the blog?
About six months ago, I learned how to make an affiliate link, which means that when someone clicks through or buys something I recommend, I get a commission. Since then, I’ve been casually experimenting with incorporating these links when it’s natural, makes sense, and something I already use. So far, the affiliate links are my only source of blog monies. Here’s a handy chart to break it down.
|Chase Sapphire Preferred Card||$300||I got 30K points–which I value conservatively at 1 cent per $|
|The Real Real||$225|
|ShareASale||$122||Mostly The Real Real links|
|Consulting||$100||Helped a friend fix his budget|
|FlexOffers||$0||I forgot to add the links to posts–oops|
On the flip side, I’ve spent $159.69 on web hosting and domain fees, plus $63.20 on a blogging course (I don’t spend much money on the blog). Then there’s also the FinCon conference in September, which will probably cost about $1,000 out of pocket. Oh snap, I guess I’m in the red now.
In terms of the future, I follow many of you on Instagram, and I see you shopping! If you’re ever planning on buying something from The Real Real and you want to support me and the site, then clicking through my links would be a way to do that. I added a little banner image at the bottom of the sidebar so it’s easy to find.
I’m also going to try testing out some ads soon, since I don’t mind them myself on other sites. If they bug you, you can install an ad blocker, like this.
5. How did you grow your audience?
I’m the worst at promoting myself, so I was more interested in organic, long-lasting growth strategies rather than “hustling” all the time.
To grow organically, you need to get people to talk about you, link to your stuff, and share it with other people. These were the two things I did that helped me do that:
Treat the blog like a real product. Let’s say I was trying to build and sell a vacuum cleaner. Would I just build the features that I think are cool, and then try to sell it to random people? Or would I first define my target audience, figure out their pain points and buying patterns, research competitors, and THEN build out the features of the vacuum cleaner based off all the info I gathered?
To stand out in a super saturated market, I went back to basics and thought about core marketing questions:
- Who am I targeting, specifically? If it’s people in their 20s, what type of person? Where do they shop? What do they struggle with? What do they want the most?
- What’s my unique selling proposition? How am I different? What am I good at that other people aren’t? If I’m writing about the same topic as a bunch of other people, why would my audience read my post over anyone else’s?
Asking myself these questions helped me plot out an intentional plan: what type of posts to write, what copy I should include in my tagline and about pages, tone and writing style, and a starting point for finding where my audience hangs out online.
Blog selflessly. The blog has never been about me. It’s always been about the readers. I don’t just write about topics I’m interested in without questioning, “Would my audience care about this?” Then I try to add value to their lives by helping them fix their problems, showing them another way of doing things, or being entertaining.
When you serve your audience consistently, something interesting happens: your audience becomes true fans. They’ll start to market for you. They’ll tell their friends about you, share your posts, write about you in forums and comments. This word-of-mouth traffic is so powerful, and you’ll find yourself growing in spite of yourself.
If you’re interested in learning how to grow similarly, my friend Jillian put together a course called JetFuel that I really like a lot, particularly the first section about your audience. I’ve never bought courses, but I bought this one because I’ve always admired how Jillian grew her blog. Instead of focusing on chasing shiny tactics, she focuses on the core principles of winning over true fans, similar to how I’ve outlined above.
6. Do you want to be a full-time blogger and quit your job? Have you thought about building your own company with your current website or other stuff as well?
I’ve never thought about being a full-time blogger, and am pretty satisfied doing this part-time. Plus, I like my day job a lot! I have a great boss who gets me, and good bosses are worth their weight in gold. But I have thought about using the blog as platform for some sort of business, whether it’s selling stuff on Etsy or opening up my own e-commerce store.
Reader Survey and Giveaway
So I can keep content relevant to what you care about, can you do me a favor and fill out my survey? I know some of you are lurkers, so it’s a great way to tell me what you think without having to comment.
And as a special thank-you to e-mail subscribers, I’m also hosting a giveaway. Subscribers who fill out the survey by April 16, 2018 can enter to win an Away Carry-On suitcase! Winner picks the color. Not sponsored or anything, I just wanted to do something fun to celebrate the milestone. 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 by e-mail prior to the publishing of this post, but I welcome any reader feedback!
Thanks again to everyone who’s ever stopped by my little corner of the Internet, commented on, or shared my posts. It literally means the world to me. I hope you stick around 🙂
Readers–do you have any feedback or questions for me? I’d love to know what topics you’re interested in!
Bloggers–how do you handle work-life balance?
All–was I stupid for not following up on the book?
PS: If you’re interested in seeing how I was feeling six months ago, check out this post.
Image: The Luxe Strategist