UPDATE!! 14 essential blogging tools for a successful blog

JANUARY 2018: I’ve just added 2 more tools!

I have been blogging now for six years. 6 YEARS!! I only realised that the other day when I went through the pink notebook I had when I started blogging. And in the beginning, I did everything myself. That is important because it teaches you about the running of your blog and your business. As much as I wanted to outsource everything, I just couldn’t afford it (because it took me two years to start making decent money – way too long! Which why I am writing a book for South Africans wanting to make money from their blogs. Click here to sign up for the waiting list!)

Anyway, so only once I started to run a profitable blog, was I able to begin outsourcing stuff. Now, I have an excellent virtual assistant who REALLY simplifies my life and a cache of freelance writers from around the world. I will tell you more about the behind the scenes guys in a future post.

But outsourcing work is only half of it. There are so many plugins for your site and stand-alone apps that can really simplify things, and this list contains my personal can’t-blog-without ones!

A quick note on plugins: you are only able to customise if you have a WordPress.org site, not if you’re running on WordPress.com – if you’re not sure of the difference between the 2, read this article here

1.Zoho I don’t know how I survived before I discovered online business management suite, Zoho. At first, I only used Zoho Invoice, a free cloud-based invoicing system. And later when things got too busy, I switched to Zoho Books, a paid version, but it integrates with bank accounts, Paypal and also works in multiple currencies – perfect if you’re running a (little) global business! If you want to sign up for Zoho, click here!

This Zoho link above is referral link by the way – if you want to know more about those, click here!

2. WordPress Editorial Calendar & Google Calendar Both free, I combine these two apps to help me keep track of what to do when. I use my editorial calendar plugin to schedule my publication dates for Homeology posts for the month. In my case, being a maker and blogging for various other publications as well, it then gets a little more complicated than that.

My editorial calendar doesn’t yet integrate with Google (holding thumbs that it will¬†do that any day now!!), so I manually transfer those publication dates over to my Google Calendar. And then I have to figure out when to commission work, what the deadlines are for getting that work back, when to edit, when to make the actual projects for both my clients and myself, when to write, and when to do admin and meetings and everything else. All of that while navigating between the school run, cricket practice, art class, doctor’s appointments and karate. Thank goodness for an amazing husband that helps out! And thank goodness that my kids are in bed by 8pm so that I can get some more work done ūüėČ

3. HootSuite another amazingly versatile tool that lets you schedule social posts in advance through an easy drag-and-drop system. I have been using Hootsuite for a year now, and it made things a whole lot easier. Before that, I manually posted to Facebook, with an auto-post from there to Twitter. Whenever I did research, I posted to Pinterest as well. And Instagram was totally lost on me. Now, I outsource the bulk of my social media to my virtual assistant, and everything runs off Hootsuite. Facebook and Twitter are both managed directly in Hootsuite; Pinterest runs through the Tailwindapp on Hootsuite (see below) and Instagram is lined up with manual publishing functionality installed on my phone (Instagram doesn’t technically allow scheduling since it takes away from the instant nature of the app). If you’d like to know more about HootSuite and what it can do, click on the link above!

4. Tailwindapp this is a brilliant app on its own, or when used in conjunction with HootSuite. Tailwind is exclusively for Pinterest and Instagram. Once you have the app installed, you have a little “schedule” button on images, much like the “pin it” button. When you click on that, it will take you to a pop-up where you schedule the pin. Easy as that. The interface is super user-friendly and really makes Pinterest scheduling a breeze. It does have an Instagram functionality as well, but as mentioned I use the one on Hootsuite. UPDATE 18 Jan 17: I have since this post gone IG-crazy and now schedule posts for my own accounts and my clients’ using the Tailwindapp. LOVE IT!

5. Skype the easiest way for me to work with freelancers and to chat with clients. Free, simple.

6. Paypal I have tried out many different ways of getting paid, and in the end, this really is the easiest. I transact in dollar quite a bit, both by getting paid and paying freelancers, so a dollar account makes sense for me. My Paypal account is connected to my FNB business account, so it’s easy getting money out as well. And as mentioned earlier, Zoho Books also connects to my Paypal account, so when I look at my overall finances, everything is in the same place based on today’s exchange rates. Which makes it REALLY convenient.

7. Ultimate Landing Page Premium This is a paid-for app, but it is totally worth it. This is the app that I’ve used to create this landing page and this landing page. It takes about 2 minutes to do one, and when you get stuck, the support is fast and efficient. I have used this app for clients as well – works like a charm!

8. MailChimp I used Mailpoet for the longest time. It’s free up to a certain number of subscribers, and especially when you want to do newsletters featuring your blog’s content, it is the easiest way. But last year I changed to MailChimp, for a few reasons. The most important one is that Mailchimp allows you to set up drip campaigns, and it integrates with SO MANY apps it’s ridiculous. If you’re starting out, use Mailpoet. Once you’ve started to make money and want a bit more, then I would recommend MailChimp.

9. Upwork I have written about Upwork a few times, but this website really is my go-to place for anything. I regularly get the following services from people who I’ve found on Upwork: virtual assistance; accounting; web development; freelance writing; graphic design – and I find a lot of work on Upwork as well. Read more about my various income streams here.

10. Google Analytics – sometimes I hate it, and sometimes I love it, but that is more to do with my traffic than the quality of the app! Google analytics is a must for any blogger, to help you see what works and what doesn’t. It also has lots of useful stats that you can dig into to better understand your readers – and to put on your rate card.

11. Coschedule Headline Analyzer – this super useful tool lets you test your headlines for email, blog posts and marketing campaigns to “get more engagement, shares, and traffic back to your blog posts with SEO driven, emotional¬†headlines” – in their words. I don’t publish anything without testing it on the headline analyser first, whether I write for a client or myself – it’s almost become a game for me to see what is the best score I can achieve. Thus far, I’m at 77 – but I shall prevail!

UPDATE 13 March 17: I have just reached a score of 80! The winning title: 10 of the most beautiful kitchen backsplashes

12: Make A Website Hub Blog Idea Generator¬†– the truth of the matter is this: sometimes, in spite of your best intentions and dedication to write and create new content, you just don’t know what to write about. This handy tool will churn out ideas with the keywords you give it. Sometimes it will come up with some really stupid suggestions (8 Things about Homes Your Boss Wants To Know – a personal favourite!), but some are really worth exploring, like Designs? Use These Ideas At Your Own Risk. I will then tweak it a bit to something like “Bedroom Designs: Use These Ideas At Your Own Risk.” I don’t even know what I’m going to write, but I would want to read that!

UPDATE 18 January 18: A useful new tool!

13.¬†SiteBeginner – Sometimes you have big dreams for your new blog but aren’t sure where to start from a technical perspective. SiteBeginner is a great guide to help you get your new website off the ground quickly so you can begin blogging. Be sure to check out their Learn section for even more guides and tutorials.

14. Grammarly – since writing this post, I have seriously upped my writing game. And because of that, I have been able to charge substantially more for my work as well. Here’s a bit of a secret: English is NOT my first language. I grew up in an Afrikaans home, my husband is Afrikaans, and we are raising our kids Afrikaans. My name should be a dead giveaway! While I speak English like it is my mother tongue, a little tech assistance never hurts. Grammarly is a great way to check your writing for mistakes and to ensure that your work is faultless. There are both free and paid-for versions, depending on how serious you are about your craft.

These are the things that I am not able to do without at the moment. These change as my business grows and my requirements change, but for now, I can highly recommend all of them.

If there’s anything that you find indispensable as a blogger, let me know – I’d love to add to this list!

Happy blogging!

Rose petal and black coffee feature image from Shutterstock.

SEO and backlinks and how to get noticed on the web

When I started out blogging, there were so many things that I had to figure out: how to actually build a website, how to get people to come to that website and how to create content that they would want to engage with and share. Now 6-ish years down the line, I don’t think about these things anymore – I have built up enough content and credibility that by now,¬†that part of the business takes care of itself. Except for the getting-people-to-come-to-the-site part, that won’t ever stop. Readers are the lifeblood of any website: if no-one knows about what you do, no amount of beautifully crafted content is going to make any difference. And THAT is where SEO and backlinks come in.

Let’s first delve into what exactly SEO and backlinks are.

SEO, or Search Engine Optimization, is the way in which a search engine indexes your site. I am not going to go too much into the details of this – you can read more about it from the experts here. Here are a few things you can do to help you land on Google’s first page.

The first thing is to add keywords to your site. Homeology ranks in the top 5 on Google for search terms including “South Africa Blog” combined with any of these keywords: DIY, interior design, home decor, storage or furniture. Not bad! A big shout out to Kari at Lovilee as well on number 4! The top 10, or the first page, is ultimately where you want to be. That way it is much easier for anyone looking for whatever it is you offer, to find you.

To add keywords, you will need to add them to the meta tags of your site’s HTML headers (here is Google’s explanation of how that works). Thankfully for the HTML illiterates like me, there is a plugin for that! Just install the Yoast SEO plugin for WordPress (search for it under the plugins on your dashboard). Then work your way through the plugin to create meta tags and keywords for your site. The plugin allows you to custom your snippet (the paragraph under your site’s name on the search engine) as well. Use keywords that represent your content – work with your niche here.

Keywords are essential because you don’t want to show up in search results when someone is looking for something unrelated to you; you want to be there when they are looking for something that you have. SEO is about quantity, but also about quality of traffic coming your way.

And now to make those keywords count, you need to write about them. Set up a writing schedule and stick to it. The Yoast¬†plugin will also be at the bottom of each post automatically. It will challenge you to optimize the content so that Google’s crawlers will start to associate your keywords with your content, and viola! you come out on top – eventually. ¬†The image below shows Yoast¬†at work for this post – you want the keyword to rate green. It is great if readability is green as well. I rarely get out of orange because my sentences are too long! Remember to also check the rating of your title on CoSchedule’s Headline Analyzer tool.

Assuming you blog because you’re passionate about it and just can’t help yourself, producing good quality, SEO-optimized and keyword-rich content will be a natural and organic process. You’ll just have to be patient.

That is the old way to get Google to like you and push you to the top. Let’s look at the new way: backlinks.

I have mentioned in a previous post that shameless self-promotion is where it’s at, and that benefits both your marketing and your SEO. Backlinks or inbound links are an amazing way to build your credibility in Google’s virtual eyes. Backlinks basically are when your website’s name is linked back to you on another site. I have about 1500 backlinks at the moment, and some of them are from amazing authority sites like Bizcommunity, Apartment Therapy, Houzz and Design Milk.

There are of course good and bad backlinks, and it is REALLY important to avoid bad backlinks. I feel about Google pretty much the same as I feel about the tax man: I know that they have an important function in society, ¬†I have a deep fear of them and try my best to stay on their good side. I haven’t done too much research on Google’s blacklist, but I hear that it’s brutal and almost impossible to get off it once you’ve been black-listed. Keep things clean and as long as you’re not spamming, you should be fine.

  1. You can build backlinks by commenting on forums or blogs, but that can come close to being spammy. I don’t recommend this as a tactic unless it’s authentic.
  2.  Contact big profile sites and ask if you may be a contributing blogger Рthat will also enable you to create a bio with a website address.
  3. Social media is really useful for getting your posts out, and if they good people will share them on their own sites.
  4. Just keep creating great, sharable content!

You can see how many backlinks you have by using a platform like Moz. The checking tool is free, but to get into the nitty-gritty details, you’ll have to subscribe.

Blogging is a long-term strategy. So, hone your skills lovingly, stay passionate, keep at it, and you will reap the results.

Happy blogging!

 

How to get paid for blog posts

When I announced in 2013 that I was to become a full-time blogger, my friends’ and family’s first reaction was “Awesome!” and the second – inevitable – one was: “How are you going to make money?”. So I have, through sheer willpower and stubborn determination, been figuring that out for 4 years. I then decided to write about that so that other would-be brave souls, wanting to make their mark in the digital world, won’t have to. “How do you start to get paid for blog posts?” I get that a lot. The answer is simple really: build it, and they will come. Kind of.

Here’s my step-by-step for building that credibility, getting noticed, and getting paid.

Create the content first to create credibility

I will always remember my first sponsored post.¬†It was a post for Dettol in which I created the Dettol Duck. It wasn’t really a DIY post, it was supposed to be just a product review, but that didn’t stop me! 3.5 years later, my kids STILL love Dettol Duck. My photography wasn’t great, but the post was authentic and the client was happy. And it put money in the bank! You can see from the images that this was still when my blog was called Playing House – the rebrand happened about 5 months later. I have deleted many of the old posts that I initially wrote for my first blog, but this one is special to me because it reminds me that perseverance paid off.

What you can’t see though, is that before Dettol Duck happened, I had also created around 25 posts for various other brands without being compensated. What that did, was create a portfolio of work that PR companies and other brands were able to look through to get an idea of my style. You won’t go to an interview without a portfolio or a CV, and that is exactly what your blog is. It’s your body of work, so build it.

Introduce yourself

In most cases, PR companies are contracted to deal with bloggers. I have spoken with the marketing managers of brands who wouldn’t even give me time to finish my pitch and then got long-term sponsorships from that same brand through a PR company. So how do the PR companies know about you? A good friend in PR told me, if you’re worth knowing, the PR companies will know about you. But that shouldn’t stop you from introducing yourself.

In 2015 I found a list of PR companies in the country and contacted them 1 by 1. Seriously. I don’t remember where I got the list, but here is a similar one. I copied the file into excel and made notes as I went. Even if a company didn’t seem to¬†be relevant,¬†I contacted them anyway because you never know who their clients are. A prime example: Bosch was a huge sponsor for Homeology when we wrote our book, and their¬†PR company is a specialist in the mining industry or something. So if I though that wasn’t relevant, we wouldn’t have had that sponsorship.

1 by 1, I sent out emails to each of these companies, introducing myself and attaching my rate card. At that stage, my traffic was really little, maybe only a few thousand page views per month. But I put myself out there anyway. I spent a couple of weeks and contacted around 800 companies. The response rate was 3%, so I only heard back from 24 companies. But that meant that I was now on the radar of 24 companies that didn’t know I existed before. It’s also important to know that those replies didn’t mean I got work from those companies – not immediately anyway. They just replied, thanking me for my email and saying that they will contact me should something come up. Even though it’s now more than 2 years later, it’s too soon to say how much work came from it – I am still being contacted by PR companies every week.

Unashamed Self Promotion: a stealth tactic

I know, this doesn’t come naturally to most people. But if you’re a blogger and you work for yourself, no-one else is going to do that for you.

I’ve created a technique called brand shadowing and I do this regularly with big brands that I love and admire. I start to create a content series for them out of my own, including their brand links as if it were a sponsored post. Then when I share it on social media, I tag them. They usually interact and share it with their followers as well, so if anything you’ll get nice traffic from it. The interesting thing about this tactic is that it hardly ever works in the way you might expect. That brand is getting promoted, beautiful and engaging content for free, so why would they now all of a sudden start to pay you for it? But by constantly tagging a brand in a series of posts, you are alerting their competitors and adjacent niches to your presence. They see what you’re doing for Brand A, and they definitely want that as well. See how that works? Clever, isn’t it? This is a long-term tactic, so make sure that you really love the brand you are shadowing and that you’ll be able to keep it up for a while. And if you later lose interest and you stop with the content flow, they might even contact you and offer to pay to keep it up ūüėČ

I still sometimes do posts for product only. But ultimately, product doesn’t pay my bills and when I calculate the hours that I spend on an unpaid promotion, it actually costs me a fortune in writing and marketing time. In the beginning, however, you should do anything to work up to that first paid-for post.

If a tree falls in a forest, and no-one is there to hear it, does it make a sound?

This is true of blogs as well. In the sea of content that is the internet, if people don’t know about your blog, then what you write on it won’t matter. So do whatever you have to do to get yourself out there.

Happy blogging!

Feature image background from Shutterstock

What happens when you don’t have time to blog

The last 6 weeks have been particularly hectic,¬†and I have not had time to post as much as I would have liked. The irony, of course, is that I get clients through my blog, but once the workload reaches critical mass, I don’t have enough time to write on my blog. That old catch-22! It’s a great problem to have, and I am not unaware of how lucky I am to be a full-time professional blogger. But finding that balance between creating new and exciting content for myself, even if the posts are not paid for, and creating new and exciting content for other platforms, that’s where the blogger’s challenge lie.

So here’s what happened in a nutshell: I have published a few successful guest posts on another website, which meant that my traffic sky-rocketed and my credibility rose. So suddenly, I have marketing klout. That means more and more brands would like me to produce content for them, either on Homeology, or for their own platforms.

A few years ago, when I did research on how to be a pro-blogger, all that the research emphasized the importance of guest blogging. Did I listen? No! But it wasn’t because I didn’t WANT to listen. I just couldn’t figure out how you produce content for your own platform and then produce unique content for another platform without getting paid for either.

So let me share a big secret about guest blogging:

If you’re going to write FREE guest posts, the trick is to find a platform that allows you to publish content that already¬†exists on your blog, AND they allow you link back to that content in order to drive traffic your way. So you write the first half of your post, and then they have to click through to your website to read the rest. Simple, right?! And it does exist, you just need to go look for it!

Once you’ve established credibility, then you will get the chance to create¬†paid guest posts, where you write as yourself AND get paid to do it. But first, you’ll need to create traffic to your blog.

In this post last year, my income looked like this:

Under “Content”, I put paid guest post as well as ghost writing.

Now, 6 months later, it looks like this:

  • 47% Ghost Blogging:¬†writing blog posts for other blogs, under their name.
  • 24% Guest Blogging: writing posts for other blogs, under my own name.
  • 20% Blog: paid content on my own blog, both blog posts and banner ads*
  • 9% Ebooks: books that I write for clients, under their name.

So things are looking VERY different from what they did a few months ago. If anything, I am streamlining my business and becoming more specific about what I work on. In the last 8 weeks, there have been only 11 posts published on Homeology. I created 7 of them and the other 4 were by guest bloggers on my site. Out of those 11, 7 were sponsored posts for clients. And on top of that, we created 33 blog posts for other blogs all around the world Рand they were all paid for by clients.

While it’s important to keep content on your own blog fresh and new, you have to be realistic about where your income is coming from. And while I am working on getting that paid percentage on my own blog higher, I am just really grateful that I get to blog and get paid to do it – whether it’s on my own site, or someone else’s.

I’d love to get feedback on this post – and if there any aspiring bloggers out there who want more info, don’t hesitate to contact me!

Happy Blogging!

*Just a quick note on banner ads again. I have ALWAYS been against them, but I am happy to put a client’s add in the side bar if they regularly commission a post. Only then!

Background images in this post is from Shutterstock.

 

How to put together a beautiful rate card that converts

You’ve been blogging for a while, you have been building a nice following and then one day there is a request for a rate card. Awesome!! Only, you don’t have one! Luckily, you can quickly put one together with just a few steps. Here are my tips for putting together a rate card that converts to sales.

Before you put together your rate card, be sure to read my post on Sponsored posts and how to know if a client is a good fit or not!

Right, so let’s first break it down. A rate card¬†is like your blog’s CV with a take-away menu attached. Depending on your type of blog and the specific services you offer, your rate should contain the following:

1. Who are you?

A bit about yourself and your work. What is the purpose of your blog? What makes you different? What is your experience, and why are you best person for the job?

2. Facts & Figures

This should include all relevant data like your monthly page views, unique visitors, social media numbers etc. Don’t fudge these numbers! While a potential client may not be able to see your Google Analytics dashboard, there are other ways for them to check your traffic.

3. Key Moments and Achievements

When did your blog start, when you win that thing or get that opportunity or publish that book?

4. A bit more about your other clients

Who have you worked with in the past? Put their names or logos down. If you haven’t done work for anyone before, then just leave this section out.

5. Your product offering

Without getting into the pricing already, just mention what you are able to do: I offer unique and creative content, blog posts and video, social media management, digital products and other IP. Or whatever your offering is.

Now for the packages

Sponsored Blog Post

The client will usually want you to write about their product or service, usually after trying it out. They will send you the product or ask you to use the service, and then pay you a set amount for the post.

  • Will you be using the client’s images or using your own?
  • Does the blog post include a give-away that you have to manage as well? Then add 50% to your rate to manage this. Always make sure that the client will take care of sending the prize to the winner of the give-away.

Sponsored DIY Blog Post

This is if you have to make something with the client’s products, like cook up a storm or build something, and then write about it.

  • If that is relevant to your blog, make sure that this offer has a higher price. There is a huge difference between writing something, and making something, taking pictures of it, and writing about it.
  • If the DIY blog post also have a give-away attached, add 50% to the rate.

Social Media Campaigns

The client only requires you to do a social campaign on a specific platform or platforms, or to include social sharing as part of a sponsored post.

You should have a sliding scale of packages for 1 platform, 2 platforms and more than 2. If the client supplies the images and you’re only posting, it will be less than when they require you to create the content as well.

Video Campaigns

If you able to do video and it’s relevant to your blog and the client’s brand, then put that in as an offering. I have a professionally shot option as well as a handheld option to give clients a choice.

Banner ads and links

The client wants an ad only. I don’t do ads on my site, but if I get a long-term sponsored post opportunity, I am happy to include a banner for free. But many bloggers offer ads and affiliate links so it really comes down to personal preference.

Traditionally, above the fold ads are more expensive (ads that are immediately visible when you are on your landing page without having to scroll). Click on this link to see where the hot spots for content on your page are.

Okay, so how do I determine my prices for this?

Blog posts

It’s always going to come down to your reach. When I first put together my rate card a few years ago, I¬†did a lot of research on this and the general rule of thumb seems to be to work on USD10 per 1000 page¬†views¬†per month for a sponsored blog post. So if you’re getting 13k page views, you can charge USD130 for a standard blog post. And then you work the rest of the offering out from there. If it’s going to take you 3 times longer to do a DIY post, then charge 3 times more, and so on. Once you have that number, work that back to your hourly rate as well to see if it makes sense. If you are charging USD130 for a post but it’s taking you 15 hours to make, photograph, produce, edit and promote the post, then it’s probably not worth it and you’ll have adjust your rate.

Ad Space

Ad space is going to be calculated based on the size of an ad and its location on your website, and then how many people are likely to see it. Here’s a formula to make it a bit easier:

  1. Take your monthly number of page views
  2. Divide this by 1,000 (ad space works on CPM or cost per mille, which is Latin for 1000).
  3. Now multiply this by USD5 for above the fold on the landing page, USD3.5 for lower down on the page.
  4. This is then your base rate for having a small 125×125 linked ad on your page for one month. If you are doing a banner that is 600×125, then that takes up 5 smaller blocks and should therefore cost 5 times more.

So, that means on a blog with 13k page views per month, you can charge USD65¬†per month for a 125×125 side bar ad above the fold, and USD325 for a large banner.

Now that you have all of the basic rates, you can start to put together different packages.

Your offering might look something like this:

  • Basic Package: A blog post with 1 share each on Twitter and Facebook and a back-link to the client’s site. Total package price: USD250.
  • Junior Package: Everything in the basic package, plus a link to a specially created board with 20 images on Pinterest (value USD100) and 2 Instagram posts (value USD50) PLUS 3 x styled high res images (value USD300) – Total package price: USD450
  • Super Sized Package: Everything in the junior package, plus 2 additional shares each on Facebook and Twitter, inclusion in our weekly newsletter (value USD250) and a 250×125 banner ad (value USD130) – Total package price: USD650
  • ¬†Add a 2-min video, to be hosted on my own blog and the client’s website,¬†to any of the above packages for USD350.

You can put together packages to create your own unique offering. Here are a few ideas for things you can include:

  • blog post / DIY blog post
  • social media
  • video
  • give-away featuring the client’s product or service
  • inclusion in an ebook
  • creating a custom ebook
  • mentioning the brand in your newsletter
  • doing a dedicated newsletter for the sponsor
  • custom images that they are able to use
  • creating posts for their blog as well as your own
  • mentioning them on a webinar
  • ads in the sidebar on your blog
  • links to specific products as well as their site

There are many different options, but it really will depend on both what you are able to do and what the client may require. Get creative and play around with a few options!

And then put some effort into packaging your offering into something that represents your work. The Pretty Blog has a beautiful rate card that has a strong brand presence with a clear message and easy-to-understand offering. Click here to have a look!

I hope that this guide will help you to put together a beautiful rate card that will convert. I’d love to hear of any other ideas you have for fellow bloggers, so please put down your suggestions in the comments below.

Happy blogging!

 

 

 

How do I differentiate my blog from the rest?

This is a question that I got yesterday while hosting an online workshop. And it is such a relevant question because as I am sure you know, there are literally BILLIONS of blogs out there.

“How do I differentiate my blog from the rest?”

How do you get your content to stand out and be different to such an extent that people will want to know what you’re thinking and saying on a regular basis? Have do you have a unique blog?

You don’t. Not at first anyway. In the beginning, you look at what everyone else is doing, especially the people with a huge following who seem to be doing something right, and you copy them. And that’s fine – it takes a while to get into things. But once you can figure out what your blog is about, what your own look and feel wants to be, and what your voice and your style is, that’s when you can start to stand out from the crowd.

That’s when you become authentic.

au·then·tic

√īňąTHen(t)ik/
adjective
adjective: authentic; adjective: auth.
  1. 1.
    of undisputed origin; genuine.
    “the letter is now accepted as an authentic document”

Authenticity is essential if you’re going to make it as blogger. And that’s the exciting part – you can be successful simply by being more of who you already are. Simple, right!?

When I started blogging, I didn’t even really know what I wanted to blog about. I was a new mom, a full-time interior designer, I lived on a farm and I wanted to write. In that already, there are a few options. I didn’t want to necessarily write about design at that stage though – writing was my way of getting away from work! – so I decided to have a blog about my son and our life on the farm. I started out as a diarist blogger with a blog called Playing House. I still like the name – it’s fun and has a bit of a design / decor ring to it. And I loved it: I wrote about the activities I did with my boy; the food I made him – there are full blogs dedicated to getting toddlers to eat, and there is a reason for that! – and other kids-related things that interested me: events, interiors, graphics… everything really!

Playing House did pretty well – I think I built up my following to a couple of thousand in those first 2 years. But I wasn’t authentic yet. I devoured everything I could on how to blog, what to do, what not to do, how to get followers, run competitions, get advertisers. And I did anything and everything and kind of lost my voice in the middle of it all.

By the time I was ready to quit my job and start blogging full-time, I realized that this kids-centered online world that I had created, which by then included 2 boys, was becoming very limiting and I wanted to do other things as well. The reality is that my kids would grow up, and then if I had built a brand and following for a kids blog, I would have to stick to that.

So that’s why in April 2014, with a 2 and a half year old blog and a small but dedicated following, I rebranded. And it hurt. It took me more than a year to get my numbers up again. I have never regretted doing it though and I deeply love the brand that I had built since then.¬† Because that rebrand was my first step towards authenticity. Towards having my own voice and style, and being true to that.

I realized then that there weren’t a lot of interior design / decor and DIY blogs in South Africa. That in itself was an advantage – but of course fast-forward 3 years and it’s not exactly the case anymore!

While I still get blog layout ideas by looking at other websites, I am quite confident in my own style now. The blog was a lot more feminine and vintage at one point – that was while we were writing our book and that had a big influence on how the blog looked. But now, I am much calmer and centered and without the frills, and that shows in the look and feel of Homeology now. I also do regular look and feel updates, sometimes small tweaks and sometimes a complete overhaul. But that’s because I change regularly and the blog is reflection of me. That also keeps it real.

As for the guest bloggers on my site, they have their own personal voice and style and I don’t interfere with that. The ways in which they do things, add variety to my content and I also don’t want them to do what I do; they need to do what they do best.

So the best thing you can do for your blog, is be authentic. Be honest and true and try to find your own style and voice in the din of it all. You’ll be amazed at how people will appreciate that.

Happy blogging!

Styled natural elements desk feature image background from Shutterstock

Trolls, Meanies and other unhappy People

So you wrote your heart out, put yourself out there, you edited and re-edited and finally pressed published – happy with your labour and looking forward to some meaningful feedback.

And then the comment comes in that hits you square between the eyes: I hate it. It’s terrible. And I just couldn’t help myself but you needed to know just how much I absolutely hate it.

Stop. Blink. Then let it go.

The trick is to not let it bother you. Like seriously. There are billions of people on this planet and you cannot possibly keep everyone happy. And thank goodness everyone has different taste, otherwise what a terribly dull world we’d live in.

When you decided to become a blogger, you put a little bit (or a lot!) of yourself out there. It’s personal, it’s your voice, it’s your work and it’s your opinion. And you might remember how you felt when you pressed publish on your first post: maybe you were terrified – I know I was! But you had the guts to share a bit of yourself and your work, and in that act, you opened yourself up to criticism.

There are better ways than others to give criticism – some people are completely tactless and don’t consider that maybe you’re just a mom doing your thing, juggling kids and life and a business and a blog. But then again, why should they? In the virtual world as in life, there are people who don’t come across very well, they don’t know how to express themselves with grace.

But seriously – don’t let it get to you. You can’t please everyone.

So do I publish a mean comment or not?

Absolutely. In the interest of transparency and honesty, I publish everything. Unless it’s totally inappropriate spam of course. But a reader’s opinion on my blog is just as relevant as my own. The internet has opened up a whole new world, one where anyone can be a writer and say whatever they like in a space where it will live, in a searchable format, in perpetuity. So I try my best to keep my content relevant, unique, original, empowering and inspiring but if someone doesn’t like what I do, they can certainly say so.

But there are also better ways to accept criticism, so suck it up and put your big girl panties on. And then, reply.

TROLLS
Gorgeously styled image from Shutterstock

An unfavourable comment is the perfect opportunity to show your true professionalism – by replying in kind. Even if you want to lash out, don’t reply with the knee-jerk reaction. Take a breath and get calm first. Then, thank them for their comment, remind the reader that you believe in your content, that it’s only natural that not everyone will like it, and that you hope they like some of your other stuff (otherwise, why are they reading your blog, right?). Then move on.

So let’s get back to criticism

If you get one negative comment, let it go. Two comments, let it go. But if the overwhelming response on a specific piece of work is negative, then you should probably consider what you wrote. If it’s highly controversial, un-PC, or otherwise inappropriate then you were most likely looking to elicit a negative response, so mission accomplished. But if it’s a post gone wrong, listen to your readers and take note of what they’re saying. A blog without an audience is like a tree falling in the forest without a witness – insignificant. So it’s important to keep your (majority or supportive) readers happy.

And trolls?

Yep, they’re there. Like the playground bully that has much bigger issues than meet the eye, a troll literally just want to cause damage to make themselves feel better. Maybe because they so desperately want to blog themselves but don’t have the guts. Who knows. Either way, send love and light their way and use discretion about publishing the comment or not.

I’d love to know how you deal with trolls and general unhappiness about something you’ve done. So comment below! And if you didn’t like this post, that’s okay too!

Happy Blogging!

Pretty floral feature image background from Shutterstock.

How to choose the right type of client agreement for your blog

There is some debate out there about what type of client agreement to get into with potential new clients: a deal where you’re the brand ambassador or one where you do sponsored posts on their behalf. Before we go into the pros and cons of both, let’s first look at some basics to consider before you work with a new brand:

1.Are you in love with the brand?

Fairly obvious, but seriously: if you have any misgivings about the quality, ethical practices or claims of a brand, then don’t get involved. You have to align yourself with names that add value, otherwise it will do more harm to your own brand than good.

2. Does the client’s brand fit your own brand?

It’s highly unlikely that a fashion blogger will be approached by a hardware store, but just make sure that the brand you align yourself with speaks the same language as you. Your readers are not stupid and will immediately notice if you have sold out to someone that’s not a fit for your blog. Always put your own brand first and don’t do something you’re not comfortable with.

3. Is there a conflict of interest?

If you are in a brand ambassador or long-term agreement with one paint supplier for example, you won’t be able to work with any other paint suppliers. So make sure that you are happy with the one you sign up with.

This is only relevant for long-term contracts however. Nothing prevents you from doing work for multiple competing companies if it’s not explicitly and contractually prohibited. A brand cannot expect exclusivity if they don’t give you regular work however, so be careful of signing any restrictive deals that won’t benefit you in the long run.

4. What are the terms?

This is where it gets a little sticky. If you are the next Martha Stewart, then getting a Brand Ambassadorship with a hefty endorsement deal and loads of products for free, is totally doable. That’s how she got started by the way – by becoming the lifestyle spokesperson, or brand ambassador, for K-Mart in 1987.

Weigh up each proposal that comes your way individually. For some, product or services without any payment may be appropriate. Like if you get to go to Disneyland with your whole family, all expenses paid, by all means – go! If it’s only social media mentions and maybe a monthly post that’s required, then free product is enough. If however, you have labour intensive posts (like DIY’s or cooking) or you have to make video that is a bit more time-consuming, then monetary remuneration can be expected on top of product. This will really come down to how well you can negotiate a deal that is mutually beneficial to both you and the client.

Brand Ambassador

To be a brand ambassador means that you commit to support and promote a certain brand exclusively, usually for an extended period of time. Being a brand ambassador will require a contract with a non-compete clause. Here’s a quick checklist to see if a specific brand is a fit for your blog:

  1. you are IN LOVE with the brand, and most likely already use it every day
  2. you agree with what they stand for
  3. being aligned with them will add value to both your blog and their brand

If you cannot agree on all 3 points, then you should carefully consider whether you go with them as a brand ambassador. As mentioned above, the details of the agreement will really depend on the negotiations and the extent of what is expected of you, and may or may not include payment on top of product or services.

Sponsored posts

Sponsored posts can be one-offs or on extended contracts. Sponsored posts can be very lucrative, especially if you can get your clients to commit to monthly retainers. Brands contact me to do posts using their products, and I charge them depending on the level of intensity required. Full-on DIY posts cost more than standard blog posts, and social media and video campaigns have their own pricing structures as well.

For a sponsored post, the client needs to send you the product or give you the service to use, and you then write a blog post about it. It doesn’t necessarily have to be a product review. I do monthly work for Efekto, where they send me a whole box of gardening goodies to play with and I write monthly posts for them (for both my own and their blog) using the products while documenting my gardening adventures.

Always put a disclaimer at the bottom of your posts saying that it’s a sponsored post, but that the opinions are your own. Transparency is essential to keep the trust of your readers. And avoid lots of sales pitches in sponsored posts – 2 links at the most.

PRO TIP: Clients will want to see how their investment pay off, so make sure that you keep a detailed report of your stats for specific posts and social media campaigns. 

A note on press releases and gift boxes:

Once you have a big enough following, you will be contacted by PR agencies wanting to send you things. You will be products and vouchers and goodie bags, as well as numerous press releases with new products, events, news or services. You are not under any obligation to write about these products – especially if they are not a fit for your audience – but it is always a great idea to be in the good graces of PR agencies. They might have a big client wanting to collaborate with you at some point and then you will want them to remember you!

And what if people want to write on your blog?

Guest bloggers are a great way to keep your own content fresh and varied. I have a few regular contributors on Homeology and because we all have a common goal – to build our own brands – it works well. If someone wants to contribute to your blog, make sure that they have the same voice and values so that their content seamlessly fits into yours.

I have also been contacted by various companies asking me to publish their pre-written content on my site. I have never done this, only because the writing style or type of images are not in line with the rest of my posts, or simply because it’s not a fit. Some of them have even offered to pay me to publish one of their articles, but if the content is not right, I won’t publish it. I have also been asked to include a link in one of my existing articles for a fee, but a bit of research revealed that inserting random links into your blog will hurt your Google ranking so I would seriously advise against that.

Depending on your specific situation, getting products or materials or vouchers or whatever may seem like a dream. But from a business point of view – which is ultimately what you’re trying to achieve here: a sustainable business – a new GHD won’t pay the bills – even if your hair looks salon-fabulous. So always carefully consider what kind of agreements you get yourself into, and remember: put your own brand first!

Happy Blogging!

PS: if you like my articles on pro-blogging, please sign up for my book about it here – I’ll let you know as soon as it’s ready! g x

How to choose the right name for your new blog

What’s in a name? An awful lot, actually. Choosing a name for your blog is kind of like choosing a name for your child: it has to say something about you, needs careful consideration, and stays forever¬† (or until you delete it, anyway). Here’s my advice on how to choose the right name for your new blog.

Homeology is my third blog: the first was Antsy Mom (what???), the second, Playing House. I started blogging back in 2011 because I had this compelling urge to write and share the things that I do with and make for my little boy. I was inspired by a book that I picked up at the airport on my way home after a particularly disastrous project, and I knew that I had to make a change in my life. The Digital Mom Handbook was bright, pink and promising and exactly what I needed to lift my devastated spirits. I read it on the flight home that night, and I started my first blog the next day. At that stage, I certainly did not foresee that blogging would become my very fulfilling and rewarding career.

This particular book was written for mommy bloggers, and in it they have a section on how to choose a name. Since MOM is a massive search term on Google (or was 6 years ago), their advice was that if you want to be a mommy blogger, you must have mom in the name. Some of the biggest mommy bloggers around followed that advice – Design Mom, Mom Blog Society, Cool Mom Picks are just a few. So hence Antsy Mom was born – clearly in 2011 already there weren’t that many names left with MOM in the title.

Antsy Mom was really just me playing around with blogging, and when I realized that I was hooked, I also realized that I’d rather focus on my career niche instead of my mom niche. Playing House and my second boy were born in 2012. The blog was still now design-focused, although still very child-oriented.

Early in 2014 when I started blogging full-time, I realized that a kiddies interior design blog was very limiting and I decided to re-brand. I spent weeks trying to figure out what the name should be: I wanted it to be something unique, while being descriptive and ideally containing the word HOME or HOUSE.

Home-ology (the study of the home) literally came to me in the night, and I woke on Easter Sunday and knew that this was going to be my new brand. And 2.5 years (and a third boy!) down the line, I still love it. Except when it gets mispronounced as Hom-e-ology…. that really annoys me. But then again, Germarie is also not a usual name that has been mispronounced most of my life, so I should have been prepared for it I suppose! I will make it my life’s mission to educate people. It’s a totally made-up word, but the advantage is that I rank #1 on Google. WIN!

So how to choose your blog’s name?

Here are a few DO’S:

  1. Go for a brand name, not only a blog name. Can you see that name on a product or book cover? You might only be blogging now, but who knows where it may lead!
  2. Focus on your niche and choose a word or concept from there. That will ensure that your brand is associated with your niche. So a newbie might not immediately know what Homeology is about, but they could make an intuitive guess and assume it’s something to do with home.
  3. Go for something memorable – and with more than a billion blogs, this could be quite a challenge. Even Homeology has counterparts ūüėČ
  4. Choose a .com if at all possible. The world is biased toward a .com and if I didn’t feel as strongly about Homeology, I would have changed my name to be able to have that extension. It was an either-or decision at the time, and I’m still happy with my decision.
  5. BUY THE NAME. Don’t leave it as an extension of your blog platform (like a myblogname.blogspots.com or myblogname.wordpress.com). Only once you’ve purchased a domain name, are you the legal owner of that name. I’ll get into starting your blog in a later post.

And here are a few DON’TS:

  1. Be careful of regular words spelled in a funny way as this could be really complicate people finding you.
  2. Choose something short and catchy and rather have a longer description in your tagline.
  3. Be careful of playing with other brand’s names. Even a sight like Ikeahackers got into a BIG trouble with the Swedish retailer and was nearly forced to shut down years of passionate and creative work before they reached an amicable agreement.
  4. Don’t saturate your name with keywords: sites like besthomedecor.com and homedecortrends.com don’t necessarily fare better than others. And it will look pretty silly on a book cover.

Good luck with choosing a name, and happy blogging!

germarie-signature-featherly

 

 

Top 5 ways to make money through your blog

I quit my corporate design job in 2013 to start blogging full time. I remember when I announced what I intended to do, there were always 2 reactions: the first, a very positive and sincere “that’s amazing – well done!”. And the second one was without fail the big question:

“So how do you make money from your blog?”, to which I responded: “I have no idea, but as soon as I find out, I’ll let you know.”

Fast forward 3 years of full-time blogging and I finally have something to show for it.

I love doing research, so when I first became a full-time blogger, I read every book, blog post and comment on how to make money blogging. And I found that there are actually quite a few ways in which to monetise your blog, some of which I was able to do very successfully and others, not so much.

I am busy writing the book on making money through blogging in South Africa specifically (if you are keen for that book, let me know by signing up on the pre-order page here!), but in the meantime, let’s look at the top 5 general ones.

This list assumes that you a) have awesome, unique and ultimately shareable content, b) have a following outside of your family and friends, and c) are truly passionate about blogging (cause you need dedication to do this!)

INCOME DERIVED FROM THE BLOG DIRECTLY

  1. Advertising

I mention this first because I want to get it out of the way. You may have noticed that I do not have any ads on my blog and there is good reason for that: I don’t like them. I find it terribly disturbing when I am a page, leisurely reading an article, and I am bombarded with flashing ads telling me to buy something that I searched for yesterday. So I decided right at the very beginning already that I won’t have banner ads. Not flashing ones anyway. Every now and again a sponsor asks me to have an ad in my sidebar, and then I will put one up only if I design it myself and it effortlessly and elegantly goes with my blog’s¬†style. Saying that, I believe that many blogs make good money through ads, and good for them.

Ads are usually placed in the side bar or above / below the header of your site. They are typically paid for in 3 different ways:

  • pay¬†per click (you get a small amount for every click to the linked site)
  • pay per view (you get a small amount for every eyeball on the add – this is quite rare)
  • fee per month or per campaign

The more visible it is, the higher the rate you can charge. Above the fold ads (ads visible immediately when someone opens your page without having to scroll) are typically the most expensive than those lower down on your landing page or on subsequent pages.

2. Affiliate marketing

An affiliate program is kind of like advertising in that you put a link on your blog (typically in the side bar) or header, and for every purchase that results from the clicked link, you get a percentage of the sale or a fixed amount. Many retailers especially offer this kind of marketing tool. Same as with ads, I am not keen on them for my own site (apart from Shay Cochrane’s images because she is AWESOME! and links to Zoho Books because they uncomplicated a very complicating part of my business) although some bloggers make A LOT of money from them.

For both of these revenue streams to work, you need high traffic on your site.

3. Sponsorship

I love doing sponsored posts, as long as the product is in line with my blog’s purpose (to inspire and empower) and as long as it is a great product. I mostly get contacted by PR companies on behalf of their clients to do sponsored content – either once-off or on monthly retainer. Here are some examples of sponsored posts. Gumtree; Efekto / Wonder; Bostik

It used to be that PR companies would be able to send you loads of stuff and then you’d have to write about it on your blog. And I did that for about 2 years. Products don’t pay for anything however, so the ideal is to get both products and a fee for writing a post. I sometimes still do a product-only post, but mostly now my sponsored posts are paid for. Always be honest in a sponsored post – about the quality of the product and about the fact that it is sponsored. Your readers will appreciate that you are forthcoming!

4. Products and Intellectual Property

These can be any product that you create and sell through your blog, whether it’s an actual product, a book or ebook, a course or some other online product. This can be a very powerful moneymaker ¬†– if you have the right product!

Actual products have merit, but there are the logistics to consider. You not only have to handle the product manufacturing or buying in itself, but also the packing, shipping and any returns that may happen. This of course takes a lot of time and or profit. So since you are in an online space, it is really worthwhile to consider getting an online product going.

Virtual products are created and then left – you can literally sell them in your sleep without doing a thing. Just like that!

(I will go into more detail on how to find your perfect product in a future post – watch this space!)

The quickest way to create some intellectual property, is to write a book. I know, much easier said than done. But if you put your mind to it, you can do it. Margaux and I wrote our book in 1 month, and I say “wrote”, but it is more like “made”. The first version, a 16-page ebook, consisted of 30 projects and we were going to sell it for $3 on the blog (now it’s free – get yours here!). We really didn’t sell many ¬†– like 10! – and then I decided to send it off to a few publishers to see if they would maybe want to take it further. That’s how the book got picked up by Random House. Serendipitous, sure. But we put in the work FIRST and THEN got the deal.¬†Depending what your niche is though, you probably don’t have to make a book, you can just write one. And then sell it!

There is a lot of information out there on self-publishing a book and I won’t go into it in this post. But just to consider: 50 Shades of Grey was self-published. Think about it.

It’s not just books though. Everything that you write on your blog is your intellectual property. So if someone wants to use it, you should be compensated. Compensation can be in the form of traffic – this has a place – but more and more I find that especially overseas companies want to buy the content that I have already published on Homeology and republish it on their platform, and they are still willing to back-link it to me. This really is best of both worlds and a great payoff for all those years of hard work.

For the longest time I thought that this would be bad for SEO, but then I read this article and decided to go for it.

5. Spin-off Projects

So maybe someone loves what you do on the blog and they would like you to do something on their blog or for their brand. This are spin-off income, or money derived from your blog but not through your blog. These can be anything from paid guest blogging and lecturing to speaking gigs and a TV show (all real life examples, I promise!). I have had some pretty interesting spin-offs come my way and I find the longer I blog, the more they become. These projects tend to be more time intensive but can make up a very large chunk of your income over a year.

This is how I got into Pro Blogging. It started as a single spin-off for me, but developed into my biggest source of income over the last year. Homeology is a portfolio of my blogging work and other companies come to me to create content for them in the same way. I negotiate a fee and frequency and start writing! I mostly stay within my niche Рthis is where I am most fluent Рbut I do have some clients outside of home decor and design as well.

Here’s a chart of my income for 2016 (projected till December).

homeology-income-pie-chart-2016

 

  • 47% Content Creation: I make most of my income through pro blogging.
  • 15% Ebooks: another great revenue stream – these are books that I write for my clients.
  • 14% Lecturing: I am a guest lecturer on blogging and interior design.
  • 11% Royalties: this is for my book as well as content that is sold directly from my blog.
  • 8% Blog: income directly from the blog through sponsored posts.
  • 5% Other: some design consulting and products (I only launched my first product this month!).

I hope this article shows you that you can definitely make a decent income with blogging. For the first year, I made… nothing. During the 2nd year, I did a TV show and wrote for various clients and had some projects that started to build into a proper income. During the third year, I was able to build a consistent income stream that surpasses¬†my corporate salary – and I am doing what I love, from home, in my own time, on my own terms. Over the next year, I plan to build the blog section so that it rivals the content creation section, and get products to match!

I’d love to get your feedback on this post! And if you want to know more about the South African blogging environment, sign up here for my new book. I’ll let you know as soon as I’m done with it!

Happy Blogging!

germarie-signature-featherly