As many of y’all know, this Saturday, June 17, was DWTO’s first birthday!! I made a joke on Instagram that when you don’t have kids, pets, a husband, or even a boyfriend, these are the types of things you celebrate. Some of y’all got a real kick out of that, haha!! But in all seriousness, if you’re a small business owner, it’s worth it to celebrate these types of accomplishments! Only you know how much time, effort, sweat, and tears (like.. a lot of tears) went into it, after all.
I took a poll on Twitter asking what the topic of this blogiversary post should be, and the majority of y’all voted “What I Learned”. Hopefully this insight helps you if you’re a small blogger, or maybe if you’re just curious about blogs or small businesses. I sprinkled in some mistakes I made and tips along the way. So here it goes..
Nothing Is For Free
One of the many life lessons that my dad consistently taught my sisters and I is that nothing in life is for free. Bloggers have the reputation of getting a lot of “free stuff” and it makes me cringe SO HARD when my friends or acquaintances say, “Is it so nice to get all that free stuff?!” I cringe because I’ve learned the hard way that a lot of items, while I may love them and really have a use for them, are not worth taking from certain businesses. Everything comes with a string attached. So here’s the truth.. the real deal. I’m going to give you a little math lesson.
Let’s say XXX company wants to send me an item. They want it to go on the blog, nice photos, on Instagram, etc. The works. So I take a shower, style my hair, do my makeup. I have a lot of hair, so if I’m blow drying it this entire “getting ready” process will take about 1.5 hours. If the item I’m featuring is a bag or jewelry, I’ll definitely need a manicure because my hands will be in the shots. Let’s pretend I’m saving money and paint my own nails (even though most bloggers will go to a salon before a big shoot.. costing anywhere from $15-$60 depending on the type of mani you get!)
I live in Plano, and most shooting locations and photographers are in Dallas, so it takes me 30 minutes to drive there, and 3o back.. one hour total. I will shoot with a photographer, which I usually pay $100-200 for depending on how many outfits we shoot. This will take one to 2 hours.
Once I receive the photos back, I’ll write the blog post, tailor everything for SEO purposes, resize all the pictures, find the links for all the items I’m wearing, etc. This usually takes about 2 hours depending on the content. Once I hit “post”, then I push out sponsored content to all my social media channels.. Instagram, Facebook, Pinterest, Twitter, etc. This takes about 30 minutes. So.. ONE blog post costs a blogger, like me, about 6 hours and costs anywhere from $100- upwards of $260!!! Now come back and tell me that the handbag was for free…
Before starting DWTO, I did A LOT of research. And from this, I knew starting a blog wasn’t cheap, despite what people try to say. I read a couple blog posts/ articles detailing that you can start a blog for “next to nothing”, and I find this very misleading.
Because I had the intention of making money off my blog, I knew I had to buy my own domain. This basically means I literally own “dresswelltraveloften.net”. And there are certain “add-ons” from hosting sites (you also have to pay a monthly fee for the hosting site) that you really want, such as security protection, Jetpack (analytics), etc. So the actual purchase of the website wasn’t THAT cheap.
Like any small business, awareness is key in growing a blog. At the beginning, I set aside a small budget for Instagram/ Facebook ads to reach my target audience, or at least to be seen by them. I spent money on giveaways (not loop giveaways) and asked IG followers to tag friends in the comments as entry, so that new people would see the blog.
The most important investments I made were my web design and a blogger workshop. I met Brooke Burnett, the blogger behind One Small Blonde, at a Lululemon event and shortly after signed up for her Blogger Boss Workshop. I took all five sessions, and hired her media company to design my site. She has since changed the format of her workshop, and I can tell from the agenda it’s going to be SO useful for new bloggers. If you can make the investment you should!
Another expense that was CRITICALLY important was photography.. which brings me to my next point and what I view as my biggest mistake.
I knew before starting my site that great photography was a key driver of success in the blogging industry. My biggest mistake as a new blogger was not doing my due diligence and homework on researching DSLR cameras. I was so excited before my trip to LA that summer, that I went into Best Buy and bought a camera kind of on a whim. I thought to myself, “A $2000 camera? Hell no!” And I regret this all the time!!! I bought the Sony Alpha 5000 with an interchangeable lens and went on my way.
Let me backtrack and admit to you that I am terrible at photography. I have no patience for editing photos myself or for YouTubing/Googling how to properly use the camera I have. Who knows, maybe if I researched it or if I buy a nicer lens or take a photography class I’ll realize the camera I have is actually pretty nice. But I can tell you honestly that right now, it has been sitting on my dresser untouched for about 8 months. *face palm*
At the beginning, paying for photography can seem pretty daunting. It takes a while to build a repertoire of content that can be recycled as clothing items come in and out of stock. My suggestion is to find photographers that are willing to TFP (trade for prints). It basically means that in exchange for “exposure” and linking to their photography site, you get a certain amount of digital prints for “free”. (Remember that nothing is actually for free. A lot of these photographers have contracts about creative rights over the photos. They may ask for you to spread their contact to your network or ask for creative control over the shoot, etc. I know I explained this in a simplistic way, so if you want to read more about what TFP actually means you can do so here.)
Some bloggers may not have these types of problems at all, if they’re good with a camera and with Lightroom or if they have an IG husband/ boyfriend/ roommate that has the patience to help them! My sisters do take a lot of my #ootd photos, but as they were both in school this year it’s obviously hard for them to commit to long photo shoots.
Another thing about photography is finding your aesthetic. Which brings me to my next learning curve..
The Instagram Game
Oh Instagram. Such a love/ hate relationship. I remember when I created my IG account and texted a few of my best friends/ family to please follow me haha. I started that day with 45 followers. After posting my first picture, I think I gained about 100 followers! I was so excited! This was going to be so easy, I thought to myself. Then.. the next morning, I woke up, and I had lost like 15 followers. I’m kind of embarrassed to admit this but I remember being so butthurt about it haha!! It never occurred to me how unloyal people are on Instagram. It’s all a huge game. People following and commenting feigning kindness, but it’s just for the follow back!
I learned quickly to not take these things personally, especially as I started to notice over time people I actually know IRL would unfollow me. The first lesson I learned about IG was to let go.
Another lesson is about having an aesthetic. I still struggle with this, and I know a lot of bloggers use apps such as Planoly to help them plan out their feed. Typically I describe my Instagram aesthetic as “bright and editorial”. I say I struggle with this, because as mentioned above, I use a lot of different photographers and don’t edit my photos myself. So getting them to all look the same and keep a consistent, beautiful feed is difficult for me. Maybe I should download Planoly.. haha!
The third lesson about Instagram that I’ve come to terms with is that it’s out of your control. It’s silly to think that Instagram will be around forever. Come on.. it’s social media. And as the algorithms have changed over and over, many bloggers have been hurt in the process. Low engagement, unsearchable via certain hashtags, being pushed down in the feed, etc. There was a time where I was consistently getting an average of 1300-1400 ‘likes’ on all my photos.. now I’m lucky if I hit 800.
Some people have taken this very hard. I try to see the bigger picture. I control my actual blog, because I own it. So the content on here is what matters the most to me. My biggest goal is to bring traffic to this site. With that in mind, Instagram can throw whatever it pleases my way and I’ll just roll with it.
Being Selfish Isn’t Always Bad
My friend Whitney of Whit’s Whims and I were recently discussing how we are both in a very ‘selfish’ period of our lives. I was telling her how this year was the year of me. I did everything I wanted for myself and didn’t let anything hold me back.
Having a blog, I obviously put myself on blast on the daily. People know what I’m wearing, where I’m shopping, how much I’m spending on clothes, where I’m eating, where I’m going, what I’m doing. This can take a toll sometimes. There have been so many instances where I’ve asked my friends or my sisters, “Am I extra for posting this?”, seeking approval or validation for fear of what others might say. Over time, I’ve learned to also let this all go. I am now unapologetically me. I just tell myself that the difference between ordinary and extraordinary is being a little bit “extra”!! Makes me feel confident 🙂 !
This isn’t to say that Dress Well Travel Often is just about me. I love my readers’ feedback on things they want to see! (Off the shoulder tops, summer sandals, wedding guest dresses, etc. have been some of the most popular requests!) It’s more helpful than people know, and helps me plan my content calendar each month. It also makes me feel like we’re friends in real life!! Which I love! 🙂
So here’s to another year of DWTO! Thank you sooooo incredibly much for reading! It sounds cliché, but I really am so grateful for each of you, your time, your kind words, and my little corner of the Internet. I love you to pieces!
Photos: Madison Katlin Photography