2018 was a big year for me. In February I launched my blog and by the end of November I was giving my notice at my full-time job. The amount of knowledge I have gained in the past year has been unbelievable — far outweighing what I learned over the course of 4 years in college.
And I’ve been totally shocked by how much I love the nitty-gritty parts of the blogging world. I started this journey with just two passions: writing & encouraging women. But, now? I’m passionate about so much more: marketing, social media strategy, website & graphic design, speaking, content creation, and supporting other entrepreneurs and bloggers through my platform.
So, I am super excited to recap the year with you and share the most valuable little knowledge nuggets I have gained that made all the difference in my blogging journey thus far.
1. Start With What You Have
The perfect time, day, or circumstance will never come. And you cannot wait until you have all of your ducks in a row before you start chasing what you want. In every small step of my journey, with every branch I have added to my brand/blog, I’ve just had to start with what I have.
My blogging journey began with a run-down laptop that could no longer hold a full charge thanks to all of my late nights of writing papers in college. I didn’t have any sort of money to invest, no camera or photography skills. I didn’t even know how to make a website — let alone manage media outlets, strategize email marketing, and pursue brand sponsorships. I had to start with the only skill I had: writing. And gain the rest along the way.
Don’t be afraid to jump in and get started just because you don’t have all of the tools and knowledge needed to succeed. We all must start somewhere. And if you have just one person reading your content every week then you have just as much opportunity to grow as the influencer who gets 10 million views a day.
2. Know Your Reader
We’ve heard this SO MUCH in the blogging world. But, why exactly does it matter? Well, to put it as simply as possible: you have a better shot of building a loyal and engaged audience if you target a small niche rather than try to attract every type of person roaming around the web.
If you want to really make a difference, really share your perspective (or skill or story or passion) then you have to know the audience you are aiming to attract. And you have to get specific. For many, this will be someone exactly like you. For others, it might be a younger version of yourself (this is the case for me — I want to speak to women who are walking through that which I have already journeyed). And for some it will be someone who is nothing like you at all.
For me, I wanted to speak to the girls who were walking through transitional seasons of life yet felt ill-equipped to do so. This opened my age and lifestyle niche up a little because I could speak to a newlywed and career woman as easily I could speak to a college freshman in her first serious relationship. What made my niche audience specific was that I wanted to draw in the girls who felt alone in their journey, the girls who needed to hear from someone that has walked down the road they are on and come out on the other side. I also wanted to speak to girls who were struggling in their faith walk — so, this could be new Christians, young women who were doubting their faith, or even just women who wanted to know more about what the life of a modern Christian woman looked like. So, if I were to explain my target audience in one statement it would go something like this:
Women in transitional stages of life who desire growth in their faith walk amidst struggle, difficult seasons, and the unexpected trials of life.
If you’re trying to narrow down your niche audience, notice I say niche AUDIENCE (this is because you can have a broad niche — like Fashion Blogger or Recipe Developer — with a very specific audience), try to just think about one single person who might be drawn to the brand you want to build.
Let’s say you are passionate about home decor as well as the struggles of motherhood. So, your target audience wouldn’t be ALL moms or ALL women who care about home decor. Your audience would be moms who need help understanding how they can have a beautiful home and still have a safe and playful place to raise their children. You could get even more specific and target moms of multiples who want to have beautiful homes and simple lifestyles while staying on a tight budget. And their you go — a broad niche with a super specific audience.
3. Trial & Error Is The Only Way To Learn
Unfortunately, no amount of education, research, or even prayer is going to give you the same type of preparation as good ole trial and error. In many cases, you are just going to have to test something out, get your feet wet, and see what happens. This is by far the best way to learn!
Trial and error is how you figure out what type of topics your audience enjoys reading. It’s how you determine what sort of social media posts gain the most engagement. It’s how you discover what you do or don’t enjoy writing about. Trial and error is just a necessary part of the journey but it is such a GOOD part! It gives you the freedom to pursue new branches of your brand or new website designs without feeling like you’re stuck with what you started with but also giving you the freedom to walk away from those topics or branding elements that you just didn’t love.
Learning through trial and error is how you develop something unique. No one will ever have the exact same experiences that you will. So, be willing to try new things and EXPERIENCE them. That is how you will build a brand that is set apart from the rest.
4. Authentic Engagement is Key
So, let’s say you have narrowed in on your audience and have found some methods that really work for you. Here is something you might be surprised to know: it isn’t enough.
It is not enough to know who your audience is. Because your audience doesn’t know who they are! Gone are the days of hitting publish and waiting for the internet surfers to flock. The blogging world is huge and saturated and it is so easy to get lost in the mix. That is why we have to put forth extra effort to make sure our audience knows who they are. We have to create a beacon that calls them to our tiny corner of the internet.
How do we do this?
By real, authentic engagement. Part of that is going out into the social media crowd and straight up talking to the audience you want. Serve them with likes and comments and by following (and not unfollowing!) the ones that you really resonate with. Let them know you’re here and you want to serve them — give them the invitation that others aren’t willing to give. And the second part is letting your audience take the stage. Ask them to play a part in your brand. Give them a voice. Invite them to share. Challenge them to tell their story or ask you questions. Get them talking — likes mean nothing if they don’t help your audience stay engaged for more than the time it takes to double-tap.
Authentic engagement has proven to be what creates true fans and followers and for those of us who run our brands as our business, it is also what creates customers or attracts brands for collaboration. Your engagement percentage is far more valuable to your bottom line and the eyes of brand publicists than your follower count ever will be. Focus on authentic engagement with followers that are showing up (or ones you really want to invite) more than just increasing the number next to your name. An auditorium full of people with headphones in will never be as powerful as a small classroom full of students taking notes and really listening.
5. Story Telling Is The Future
Most of us have started to back away from the profiles that are full of nothing but pretty pictures and witty captions. We are no longer interested in aesthetics and emojis. We want to know the TRUTH. We want to know what that fashion blogger looks like on her day off. We want to know that our fave fitness gal still eats cake on her birthday. We want to see our most admired Christian blogger be open and honest about her struggle with lust.
We have filled our feeds with perfection for so long that many of us are just begging for one person to show up while we are scrolling and tell a real story with raw honesty. We want more real and less highlight-reel.
That is how you will draw them in and keep them engaged: by telling your real story. I don’t mean the story that you spin to push a product. I mean the real stuff, the stuff that matters. The stuff that sometimes has nothing to do with the photo but everything to do with the heart of the person in the photo.
Every time I have told a part of my story, whether here in a blog post or over on my Instagram, I have been overwhelmed with how many people send me messages saying how much it spoke to them, how much they needed to hear it, or how they thought they were totally alone but now see that they aren’t. Story-telling is POWERFUL.
Just show up and tell your story — with less focus on the pretty and appropriate. And you will start to see the real, authentic engagement from your followers increase. Even better than that, they will start to invest a little piece of themselves into who you are. And THAT is how you make this brand journey so worth while.
6. The Power Of One
Let’s say you know your audience. You know how best to show up for them. You’re engaging authentically and telling your real story. Yet it seems like only a small percentage of your following is noticing and participating. Maybe your last blog post only received a couple of views.
Well, think of it this way. That handful of people, or maybe even that ONE person, will prove to be the most valuable reader or follower you will ever have. Because they will be the true fans. The ones that check your feed when they realize they haven’t seen your face in a few days. They are the ones that will email you just to thank you for sharing your story. They are the ones that will purchase your first product or subscribe to your email list or just help you keep going on the days that are long and difficult.
7. Quality Over Quantity
In my first year of blogging I published less than 30 blog posts. LESS THAN 30. If you break that down that is even less than once a week. Yet, I found that my engagement, following, and readership continued to grow — even in the month of December when I didn’t publish a single post! In fact, the month of September was a month of record engagement for me — yet I only posted 3 blogs for that entire month.
Why? Because I learned early on that quality content is far more powerful than an overabundance of content.
People can only read one post at a time. And too often we sacrifice good writing so that we can stay consistent, post every day, or try to reinvent the wheel every single time we sit down to type. But, what I learned in my first year is that a handful of really powerful and well-thought out posts can generate just as much, if not more, traffic than publishing a post every week or even every day.
The key is to make sure you are getting your good quality posts out for the world to see….
8. Choose Marketing That Works
Marketing is one of the most intimidating elements of the blogger/brand life. There is so much to consider and so many routes to take. And we hear so many different theories. So, what the heck are we supposed to do?
My advice, and what I learned over the past year, is that you have to pick the handful of marketing techniques that work for you. THIS is how you will get all of those quality posts out there for the world to see. For me, I chose only 3 major marketing angles: Authentic Social Media Engagement (Instagram), Consistent Relevance Through SEO (Pinterest), and Specifically Targeted Campaigns (email list building & serving).
These three angles, I discovered through A LOT of trial and error, are what drive my page views every month — even on the months that I don’t produce brand new content.
Authentic Social Media Engagement: this is where I spend some serious TIME. I plan out and schedule Instagram posts, show up in my stories regularly, always keep it real and honest, and I consistently engage with my audience — every single day! This builds trust, friendships, relatability, and genuine fans. Which means when it’s time for me to share a post with my followers they are more than ready to click over.
Consistent Relevance Through SEO: Once I started to see Pinterest as a search engine rather than a social media outlet the game changed entirely for me. I schedule pins about a week ahead of time and I manually pin content from other websites every single day. This keeps me relevant and in front of eyes. Pinterest now drives more than 95% of my website traffic. This is where I pay close attention to key words, graphics, quality photos, and getting my website link shared as much as I possibly can.
Specifically Targeted Campaigns: Thankfully, I learned early on that my email list needed to be a priority. So, I invested a lot of time and energy into growing it. 20% of my followership also falls under the subscribed category — meaning they have opted in to hear from me regularly right in their inbox. Now that I have a hefty list, I make sure that I show up in that inbox at least once a week with encouragement, free content, and a lot of story-telling.
9. Serve More Than You Sell
Because no one wants to hear a sales pitch, or even someone begging you to read their latest post, every two seconds. I make it a point to only ask my audience to click over to my profile link no more than twice a week. I don’t even share new posts on Instagram until they become relevant to a conversation naturally. I prefer to show up and encourage on that platform. I spend my time there engaging with my followers, asking them questions, and trying to serve them as much as possible.
Why?? Because those two times a week I ask the to click over…or that one time a month I encourage them to try a product…goes over a lot smoother when I have spent 98% of my time serving them.
Want to know a harsh truth? I usually do not follow other bloggers who only post Instagram feed photos when they have a new blog post. Because in every single post on their feed they are asking me to click away from my favorite social media channel and jump on their website. Now, they may have every intention of serving me authentically. But, why on earth would I go out of my way to read what they wrote if they can’t even share some quality content with me right where I am….on Instagram!
10. Community Will Keep You Going
One of the most unexpected and wonderful things I have discovered in this journey is friendship.
Linking arms with other bloggers and brand gals has been such a blessing. On the discouraging days I have real people I can text or call who totally get the struggle of social media or writers block. When I can’t figure out the details about a service or tool I’m trying to utilize, I have women I can reach out to who have stood right where I’m standing. Community has changed the way I view being a blogger.
The other women that fill up my feed bring me so much joy. I love celebrating their victories and watching them thrive. I’ve grown to know and love their families. I’ve spent hours texting about life with these girls. They have been game-changers in this industry for me.
Friend, if you are serious about doing this you have to know the importance of community. Because there will be days that those friends will be the only ones keeping you from throwing in the towel. They will be the ones that gush to their own followers about the exciting things you’re doing.
Building community can seem really nerve-racking at first and downright awkward. But do you know what I did a year ago that truly made the difference? I started emailing other bloggers and telling them what I loved about their brand and that created a handful of special friendships. As it turns out, the girls I emailed were also in need of some community in this often isolating industry.
So, if you see someone who is doing something you admire and you feel like you could be besties….why not try?
I sincerely hope that my year of this crazy blogger life can speak into your own. There is so much to learn and so much potential growth. There is so much out there that we can accomplish. So, friend, it’s time to start right where you are, with what you have. Take the leap and learn as you go. Focus on what really matters and never forget the power of things like story-telling, quality content, and true community.