Photo shoot on 3/16/19 in the Plaza Midwood neighborhood of Charlotte, NC; photos by my husband, Sean P.
Friday, March 15th marked 75 days since I bought my domain name and started this journey! I feel like I have learned a lot in that short span of time and because I have gotten so many people asking me for tips and tricks (especially when it comes to Instagram), I figured that I would write a blog with some of what I have learned for others who are just starting out on this journey. I am sure some of this stuff is things that you will have heard from other bloggers/influencers too but it often can be helpful to hear it from someone that is just starting out as well.
With that said, please note; I am by no means trying to say that I am an expert at this point! I am still at the beginning of my story and I have so much further to go. These are some little things that I feel like will be helpful to others. I know it can feel like this world of blogging and influencing is so saturated but I truly believe there is room for everyone’s voice. <3
I am going to divide this into two parts; one for Instagram and one for blogging/my website.
- Engagement is key!
Folks say it constantly but really making sure that you are posting content that folks are taking notice of but that YOU are also engaging with others posts is key. Look at it like this; you want other people to like and comment on your posts and be interested in what you have to say, right? That means other people feel the same! I notice if I comment and like photos before and after I make a post that it really bumps up the engagement on my own posts. I am not fake and I don’t just post on folks posts simply hoping they will come to my feed because that feels disingenuous. I honestly comment on photos that interest me and it brings people my way. I feel like it is using social media for what it’s core purpose should be; being social!
- Don’t get caught up in numbers/followers/algorithms/etc
This is something that I see all the time with people that a lot of folks have a hard time letting go of, especially in the beginning. It is hard to look at accounts that have 10K+ followers and to feel like you need to be there ASAP. There is tons out there about trying to figure out what times to post, how many posts to make per day, and all this trying to get around the tricky Instagram algorithm. My advice? Stop it. Don’t let yourself get caught up in being so nervous over your feed and what you are posting that is ceased to become enjoyable anymore. I post however much I want and whenever I want. Maybe that doesn’t help with the algorithm but I feel less stressed and happy with my feed.
- If you are looking to work with brands, tag the ones you love!
I felt really awkward about this at first because I thought that I would come off as annoying. Turns out, brands LOVE when you do this! I started out with 470 followers on December 30th and I am currently (as of this second) at 5112; I feel like a lot of that is due to several reposts that I got for tagging Target in a few photos and also doing their Valentine’s Day challenge with my husband. They reshared several outfit photos of mine on their app and the V-Day photo was in their IG stories and on their FB page. When that happened my follower count went up very quickly. Brands really do pay attention to that sort of thing, so keep on tagging them. Also stay active on the IG’s for brands that you are into. I believe I got my first big collab (PinkBlush) from simply being active on their page; they reached out to me via my e-mail about a collab because they took notice of my feed!
- Don't always rely on the most popular hashtags
I know that might sound a little bit odd, but hear me out on this one. For example if you are posting an OOTD (outfit of the day), there are over 242 MILLION people who use the #ootd hashtag. That is a whole lot of folks using it and there is a huge chance even with the amount of people following it, you will likely get lost in the fray. While it’s totally cool to still use it, consider using something like #ootdinspo as well, which has 342K people using it. Still a lot? Sure! But there is a better chance that people will notice you as well.
- Give a consistent look to your feed
I didn’t really understand what this meant at first, but now I totally get it when I think about the feeds that I find the most aesthetically pleasing. There is something really nice and uniform when you use the same filter or preset on your photos so when people come to your page, it has the same flow to tie it together. Don’t get this confused with that meaning you have to alter or edit your face or Photoshop yourself so much you don’t even look like you! There is a big difference in editing your face and putting a filter on things just so they have the same color story. I use the Golden Honey preset from LouMarksPhoto on Etsy. A lot of people will have you thinking you need to spend $$$ on presets but that is so not true! Etsy has a ton of them for reasonable prices.
- Invest in a tripod with a ring light
Most of my photos are taken in my backyard, my bathroom, or various places around my city on the weekends (like my photo shoot in this post), and having a tripod with a ring light is so helpful and really made a difference in the quality of photos that I was taking with my phone. It is also nice to not have to rely on someone to be around to take a photo for me. I have become that person who totally is out with my two small children and taking photos with my tripod in the Target parking lot! I got this one on Amazon and it is well worth the $35 that I spent. It comes with three different light colors and multiple light settings, plus a remote so I am able to take great photos all on my own!
- Post content that you believe in
This is another thing that sounds super simple but it holds really true; if you are passionate about what you are posting about, other folks are going to see it! it can be hard to kind of figure out your ‘niche’ but once you do, roll with it. For me, mine is kind of not having just one. I’m a mom in my late 30’s posting about mom stuff, but also about fashion, beauty, social issues, and life. I feel like I have something for everyone and it is serving me well just being myself and telling my truth.
- You don’t have to accept every offer that comes your way; do your research and if it sounds too good to be true...it probably is
Once you start using certain hashtags and making a certain kind of posts showing that you are interested in influencing, you’ll start to get a lot of folks on your page and in your DMs with all sorts of promises about being a brand ambassador and working with them and promoting you, the whole nine. I implore you to really look up whomever contacts you and see how legit it is. When you are starting out, you DO NOT have to accept everything you are offered if it seems sketchy or weird. Also please note that unless you are on a higher echelon with influencing (above that 10K mark), people generally aren’t going to suddenly be sending you a ton of PR packages from huge brands. A lot of the things you will be offered as far as being a brand ambassador will involve you needing to purchase their product (this is done usually at a discount) and then generally getting a discount code to give to followers. You will often get a percentage of whatever gets sold using your code but keep in mind it is generally small (I have seen on average from 10-25%) and it is contingent on your getting people to buy the product. I participate in a few of these myself but admittedly I didn’t understand exactly how that all worked at first, so I want to be as transparent as possible.
- Get hip with the lingo (loops, pods, giveaways, etc)
I was stunned when I realized there was a whole separate thing on Instagram when it comes to gaining followers that I had no clue about. I would occasionally see things about loop giveaways but I didn’t give great thought into how they came about. How it goes generally is a group of influencers/bloggers pool together to purchase a prize (there is also a cash option for most of them), and you will have to follow everyone that the giveaway page is following, usually comment on a photo or two, and then wait to see if you win. It is a way to gain a bunch of followers if you participate...but once the giveaway is over it is also a way to potentially lose a lot of followers that you gained that were just there for the free stuff. I am not here to judge if you decide to participate in any of these sorts of things (for me right now, it isn’t something I am personally interested in; I would rather put money directly into my IG or blog than for giveaways), but like I have said; these are things I didn’t know about and I feel like a lot of folks starting out likely don’t know about them either. I AM a part of a couple of groups with like-minded people who are in my niche and we like/comment/support each other’s posts, but it’s because there is actual camaraderie there, not just out of obligation.
- Run it like a business
After I left my previous job (I worked for a large non-profit for over a decade) to be a stay at home mom, I took a full year to just be with my kids and my husband and regroup. Once I did that, I started to really think about what my next move would be. A lot of my friends always joked around about how I always was getting people to buy stuff I would recommend, and I would joke about becoming an influencer. I actually gave it some serious thought after I bought a particular Forever 21 dress and posted about it on my personal Facebook. No less than ten friends of mine bought the dress. That made me take pause and see maybe I COULD do something with all of this. From there I started researching. I started writing down goals. I even made a business plan. If I was going to do this, I wanted to do it like it was going to be a job for me and I approach it as such. I have hours during the day that I dedicate to working my feed and blog while my littles are occupied or napping, and then after my husband comes home from work.
- There is only one you; don’t compare your feed to other people
Social media can be hard for a lot of people. It is easy for a lot of folks to get caught up in the comparison game, especially if you decide to make the move to monetize your platform. Do the best you can to not get caught up in what you feel like someone else has that you feel you don’t, or how many followers someone else has, or what kind of sponsored posts they are doing. Stick with it and hustle; you’ll start to see results but none of this can happen overnight. I know a lot of folks who have been in this game for several years and they have worked hard to build the platform that they have. I read something a couple of months ago that said if you can stick with this for a year then you have a much higher chance of working it out and staying the course. The easiest way to get discouraged is to compare yourself to other people. Don’t forget to just be yourself and believe in your authentic voice. Folks can easily get caught up in trying to curate the ‘perfect’ feed and at the end of the day...most people are not looking for perfection. Most people aren’t looking for a fantasy. They want to see a glimpse into real life. I pride myself on being as honest as possible and anyone who knows me offline will tell you I am the same person online as I am offline. There doesn’t need to be two different yous; someone somewhere will get touched by your story and your photos and your heart.
- Figure out your ‘why’
An important piece of this is why do you even want to do this? Are you strictly looking to make some extra money? Are you looking to get free stuff from brands?Are you looking to help people with your story? Maybe both? It really helps to figure out exactly what your goal so you can really hone in on exactly what it is you are looking to accomplish.
- Decide if you are looking to build your own brand or work someone else’s business
I get multiple DM’s every day asking me if I am interested in joining teams for businesses that are everything from fitness products to shakes to beauty products; the list goes on and on and 99% of it falls under the category of Multi-Level Marketing. I’m not going to lie; I used to feel really frustrated by being asked about those things but since I started blogging/influencing, I have a lot more grace with people than I used to. For me, that is not what I am looking to do with my platform. I’m not looking to join a business where I am selling products for anyone and that is not what I am here to do. I am not here to begrudge anyone on their choices and I politely decline because I have realized I do not have anything to gain from being unkind to people who are doing something similar to me, but took a different path. I have a firm but nice response in regard to most of these inquiries, and depending on exactly what they are will depend on how deep I get into why it is a no for me. If you have asked me about weight loss products then I have a LOT to say about why cold messaging strangers is not a good look for that.
- Buy your own domain
I have tried to have so many websites through out the years but I’ll be completely transparent; I would just give up after a couple of weeks. Once I bought my own domain name and started paying to host it (my domain and web site editor is all through GoDaddy) it gave me the incentive I needed to keep up with it. Knowing that I paid for something was enough for me because I didn’t want to waste any money! I pay about $15 a month for everything (including my web site editor, e-mall, and search engine information) and it is $15 well spent.
- Plan out your posts
On Sundays I have started sitting down with my planner and writing down what my posts will be for the week and what days I want to post them. I am really trying to work towards posting every 2-3 days. Planning and prepping for that has been amazing and really helpful with meeting that goal. It also gets my brain going if I am thinking ahead about the sorts of things I want to post.
- Keep your website simple and readable
Most folks just starting out with a blog didn’t spring from the womb being experts at building a website. For me, having a great editor (I love the one I use with GoDaddy) to be able to create an easy to read and simple web site was super important to me. I have tried WordPress and the like and I know that it is a skill that I eventually want to master, but I really wanted to be able to get content up and have it look good.
- Don’t forget about your blog chasing Instagram followers/likes!
It can be really easy to get super caught up in the ‘gram, but if blogging and writing is your passion and where you heart is (like me) use it as an extension and promotion for your words. As we saw this past week when Instagram went down, it isn’t a fact that it will always be around. Your blog as a much better chance of sticking around! It was kind of great when Instagram went down because it really motivated me to focus on my blog and I got a lot of stuff done that I am really proud of.
These are some of the basics, y’all, but I know over time I will keep learning and growing, and I will keep sharing what I have learned with all of you!