Monday, December 11, 2017

100 Lessons From One Year of Blogging | #HMBQandA

Hello, beautiful - and happy Blogmas! Way back in August, my friend and fellow lifestyle blogger Guilianna tweeted me an awesome question:

I knew from the minute I read it I wanted to set a separate post aside to answer it, but I was so busy that I didn't get the chance - until now! Now that my one-year blog anniversary has quietly come and gone (back in November), I'm excited to share why I started blogging and 100 lessons I've learned from the experience :)

On a side note, Guilianna also has an incredible college blog that I'd like to draw attention to. If you're a fan of my college and style advice posts, you'll love Guilianna's unique and creative content! It fits perfectly into the niche she's going for without sounding cliche or trite at all, which is why I love her writing style (not to mention her fashion sense!) as much as I do! So, if you have an extra moment, I encourage you to click here to explore Guilianna's blog a bit before absorbing the rest of this post. Thanks, babe! <3

First thing's first...why did I start blogging?

The answer is both simple and complicated at the same time: I needed an outlet.

When I was fifteen, I experienced both my first episode of seasonal depression and my first panic attack. In addition to my fluctuating hormones and my changing body, I now had to deal with severe mood instability. I didn't have great methods for managing my mood changes, so I began to have emotional outbursts where I would cry, scream or completely disassociate from whatever was going on in the room. My thoughts often snowballed, and I would worry myself to the point where my cheeks would burn and my stomach would churn. 

Needless to say, I wasn't very happy. So, I turned to the comforts that had always made me feel better in times like these: reading and writing.

I started checking out stacks upon stacks of chick lit books from the library and burying myself in them to the point where I would fall asleep on the couch with a book in my lap. Instead of talking about my emotions, I poured my broken heart into books where the main character always, without fail, found her happy ending.

Then, one day, I came up with the brilliant idea to start a blog, where I would talk about two of my greatest passions: reading and baking. I called it The Chick Lit Kitchen, and I'm sure if you googled it, you could still find it there today.

I began to post recipes and book reviews each and every week, until eventually, something stopped feeling right. I didn't feel like I was being honest. I wasn't being myself. Here I was, projecting this happy-go-lucky girl who loved cooking and reading to the web, when most days, I could hardly lift myself from my bed or concentrate on a book long enough to finish it because I was so depressed.

So, I quit blogging. Over the summer, I began to feel better with the warmer weather, and tricked myself into believing the depression wasn't here to stay. I was wrong.

About a year later, over the harsh winter months, the depression hit again, and hard. Around that time, I began to struggle with the realization of my anxiety as well, and found myself oscillating between furious and sad for no reason at all. And around that time, for some odd reason (fate, maybe), the urge struck me again to start a blog. So, I did. And that blog was called Love, Haley.

Love, Haley was the blog that taught me about analytics; about Pinterest, Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. It taught me how to craft a post that readers would love, and the importance of finding your niche. It was a place where I poured my heart out about my anxiety and depression, and shared my deepest darkest feelings with the world. Overall, my blog was something that made me happy - until it didn't anymore, and I began to feel trapped in the box of my own anxiety.

My freshman year of college, I quit blogging at Love, Haley, shortly after I began to seek help and treatment for my dual diagnosis. I felt frustrated by my niche; like there was so much more to me than my anxiety and depression that the world never got to see.

For awhile, I did nothing. Wrote random snippets, maybe. Did homework. Wrote articles for the student newspaper. And then, for the third time, a sudden surge of energy took me by surprise. I knew I had to start a blog in the deepest corners of my heart, and I knew that this time, it had to be all me.

That day, November 23, 2016, I logged onto Google Domains, registered the domain and started the craziest, wildest, most rewarding adventure of my entire life. On November 23, 2016, I'm proud to say that I found my passion.

From all of this, if there's anything I've learned, it's that you can't escape your passions - because they will always seek you out, and they will always find you again. Just like blogging did for me.

What I learned in one year of blogging...

Blogging obviously taught me a lot about myself, from what I love to write about (beauty, fashion, fitness, mental health) to who I am as a person (spunky, stylish activist with a kind heart and a soul full of laughter) to how I want to be branded professionally (sleek, fashionable, modern, witty).... 

...and those are things I want to share with you today. I want to let you in on 100 of the lessons I learned from blogging, both big and small, and how they changed my life for the better. Because this hobby of mine has never been a hobby, exactly - or even a career path. It's been a lifestyle, as cheesy as that sounds. 

Every morning, I wake up thinking about Haley Marie Blog (or, most recently, my YouTube channel, The Haley Edit) and every night, I go to bed thinking about it (if not about the latest Netflix binge I've been watching, that is!). It's something I breathe into my heart and breathe out through my soul. It's woven into every fiber of my being, and every last thought and idea and belief of mine has been woven, likewise, into the fabric of this blog.

This blog is me - and I hope, that over the past year, it's become a part of you, too! So, all of that being said, here are 100 lessons I learned from being a blogger. Because that's who I am: I know that now :)

  1. Learn to take criticism - you never know where it will lead you. In fact, I started Haley Marie Blog because someone reviewed Love, Haley and told me my niche was too broad!
  2. Believe in what you're doing, even when no one else does.
  3. On social media, don't feel pressure to be everywhere at once. Eventually, I dropped several of my social media channels because they became difficult to keep up with.
  4. Do what you do well and forget about the things you don't.
  5. That being said, you can always improve on something you're bad at, regardless of whoever tells you otherwise. No one is born with talent; it's something you develop over time.
  6. Be patient. You won't gain a following of thousands overnight. 
  7. But someday, you're going to wake up and everything will change. One of your posts will go viral. You'll be retweeted by someone important in your industry. And it will give your blog, and your career, the jolt it needs.
  8. Don't get caught up in numbers. Analytics aren't everything.
  9. At some points, you'll find yourself starting to cater to others instead of speaking from your heart. When that happens, return to your core values and think about what YOU want - not what the voices in the crowd are saying.
  10. Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery - but always give credit where credit is due. Plagiarism isn't cute. PERIOD!
  11. Don't post anything online you wouldn't click on yourself.
  12. Invest in a custom domain name. "" won't get you where you want to go.
  13. People will tell you to switch to Wordpress. I've been using Blogger for 4 years now and have never changed. The moral of the story isn't to get on Blogger - it's to do whatever the f*ck you want!
  14. Your first sponsored opportunity will come when you least expect it.
  15. Most likely, sponsors will come to you before you come to them. Wait for that moment before you reach out to anyone. That's how you will know you - and your blog - are ready.
  16. Don't launch your blog without 5-10 pieces of solid content and an email list with a high-quality freebie/incentive. 
  17. Take Pineapple & Prosecco's free Pinterest e-course - it taught me everything. Now, I'm making $100s each month in freelance social management. My specialty? Pinterest!
  18. Don't check your phone, your blog or your analytics with friends and family. Unplugging is SO important.
  19. At some point, you'll get a sinking feeling in the pit of your stomach and suddenly regret everything you've ever posted. Keep going anyways.
  20. Reach out to other bloggers in your niche. Ask for guest posts, collaborations, advice or whatever they are willing to give.
  21. Learn about SEO. I am literally clueless about technology, but I made it a point to at least learn to understand the importance of quality headlines and tags for SEO.
  22. "How To" posts and "Top 10" posts will never steer you astray.
  23. Every bio should contain a call-to-action and a link back to your blog, no matter what the social media platform. 
  24. Make yourself invaluable to your readers. People are inherently selfish; they want to know what you can do for them, not the other way around. 
  25. At the same time, don't be too closed off from your audience. Put yourself out there. It can be uncomfortable at first, but I've found solace in telling stories I never thought I would speak out loud through blogging.
  26. Give freebies. Often.
  27. Host a giveaway. The #giveaway is one of the most searched on Instagram and Facebook.
  28. Invest in a social scheduling tool like Buffer or Hootsuite. It completely transformed my social media game - and my traffic!
  29. If you're not on Bloglovin, you need to be. It's pretty much the only platform I've found that will give back to you more than you give to it.
  30. Always reply to your comments, no matter how popular your posts get. Make the effort for your audience.
  31. Have a Work with Me page, and make it prominent. Marketers don't want to have to search for your contact info - make it as simple as possible for them to get in touch.
  32. Same goes for your social links. Put them at the top of your sidebar, preferably above or below your search bar. If I can't find your social links, I WILL leave your blog without following you no matter how much I love it! 
  33. Same goes for a Contact Me page. Use Formsite to create free Contact Me forms that will be forwarded automatically to your email address.
  34. Speaking of email, you need an email address that's Gmail just won't cut it.
  35. Say no to opportunities that would compromise your brand. No amount of money is ever worth your integrity as a blogger. For example, I was once asked to do a sponsored piece on plastic surgery and gave a firm "no," because it's important to me to be body-positive here on HMB. 
  36. Use your voice for good. As a blogger, you have a larger audience, and a more efficient platform, than most communicators. Use that as an opportunity to speak up and raise awareness for what you believe in.
  37. Never do anything you wouldn't want your followers to know about. No shady brand deals, no behind-the-scenes debauchery, no getting drunk at an awards ceremony, etc.
  38. Don't overdo it with Google Ads. I don't want to be bombarded with ads every time I log onto your blog - and besides, it doesn't have that great of a payout anyways.
  39. Come up with a loose template for writing blog posts - for example, I'm a fan of headlines, introductions and subheadings or lists. This will speed up your writing time by 1000%! 
  40. Have a content calendar before you even design your blog. Schedule AT LEAST one month in advance - you do NOT want to find yourself winging it just after your launch! 
  41. I like to stay ahead of schedule by approximately one month. Any longer than that, and brands won't want to work with you because it's not timely enough.
  42. On that note, always be flexible with your content calendar. You don't want to find yourself saying no to opportunities because you're too rigid with your content calendar. Give yourself permission to digress. 
  43. DO BLOGMAS! (Or Blogtober.) I did Blogmas my very first year as a blogger, and because it's such a searched term, I gained more traffic than I probably would have otherwise. 
  44. This is a matter of opinion, but I like to begin my blog posts with the same greeting every time - as you, beautiful, have probably noticed ;)  
  45. If you want sponsorships, you need a PayPal account. 
  46. Make it as easy as possible for readers to answer your calls to action, aka subscribe to your email list, buy your product, etc. In case you haven't noticed, I like to include this information at the bottom of my post.
  47. Engage! Like, retweet, tweet, message, whether it's people you admire or people who admire you. 
  48. Pay yourself what you're worth. Period.
  49. Write down every blog post idea that pops into your head. Even if it's not a gem, you'll never be stuck on posting day with nothing to say.
  50. Set goals. Always guess what the next move is. 
  51. At the same time, accept that you NEVER know what the right move is going to be. 
  52. Find stock photos that aren't boring (and aren't women laughing at salad-type pics!). I like and for curated stock content. 
  53. Don't become a blogger for money. Do it because you want to. Do it because it makes you happy. Most importantly, do it because you have something to share with the world.
  54. Some days I open my inbox and I have five or ten emails. Some days I open it and I have none. Be patient and trust that new opportunities will come to you when it's time.
  55. Keep it consistent on social media. Use the same handle for every site if possible.
  56. Tell stories you're afraid to tell. Your readers know when you are holding back.
  57. Impostor Syndrome is v. real! Believe in yourself and know that you ARE worthy of your success. 
  58. Put blogging on your resume. Don't be afraid for employers to see the real you - to the right employer, it will be an asset; not an embarrassment! 
  59. Learn basic HTML and CSS. I've saved myself so much money by doing the coding on my blog myself rather than paying a pro.
  60. Your health comes before anything else - before meeting deadlines, before writing that post, before filming that video. If you find yourself staying up consistently until 2 or 3 AM or skipping your workouts to blog, it's time to reevaluate your schedule and where you might be procrastinating when you could be working!
  61. I learned this tip from Lucy Moon, one of my favorite YouTubers: don't accept any brand deals where you can't add your own personal touch. As Lucy says, if the video could be on any YouTuber's channel - or any blogger's blog, in this case - don't say yes!
  62. Physically schedule blogging into your planner or Google Calendar until it becomes a habit. 
  63. Don't blog in your bed...she said as she blogged in her bed. But seriously! Keep work and sleep separate as often as possible. (Same goes for homework, too.)
  64. Don't blog before bedtime; you won't be able to sleep because your brain will be buzzing with new ideas. Even if you're not actually in your bed!
  65. Keep a notebook near your bed (or have an app like Google Keep on your phone) dedicated solely to those brilliant ideas you get in the middle of the night. Never lose another blog post idea again! 
  66. When you start a new project, like an e-book or e-course, don't worry about whether or not it will make money so much as whether or not it will make you happy.
  67. ALWAYS give a disclaimer when your post is sponsored and/or contains affiliate links! Keep it legal, people.
  68. On that last note, make sure your blog always contains an up-to-date copyright in its footer. Blogger does this automatically but will let you edit it for style.
  69. You don't need to have one specific niche so long as everything you write is related somehow. That "relation" could be the same category or same topic - or it could be just things you like or things your readers will like!
  70. Your About Page is everything. Invest quality time and energy into it.
  71. One of your goals should be to get a DSLR camera, if you don't have one already. High-quality visuals are a total game-changer. 
  72. Don't expect great payout from ads until you're getting thousands of page views per month. (Even then, I'm still making pennies and quarters...definitely don't rely on ads!)
  73. In fact, don't rely on any one stream of income when it comes to blogging. Diversify, diversify, diversify! 
  74. If you're at all interested in making a career out of blogging, I highly recommend freelancing whenever you've got the time! It's a great way to add to your resume and making a few extra bucks on the side. I personally like Fiverr for listing my freelance work and setting my own rates, but you can check lots of job boards for other opportunities. 
  75. On that note, check if your favorite blogs or websites accept submissions. It's a wonderful way to gain exposure for your own blog while helping out someone else's!
  76. When you send out pitch emails, whether to brands or websites, send out at least 5-10 in one batch. You'll increase your chances of getting a sponsor or submission to publish you if you don't put all your eggs in one basket.
  77. College bloggers: don't worry if your major/minor matches your blog's niche. Who you are will come out naturally - for example, I'm a Political Science minor, and while I don't post about politics on the blog, I often raise awareness for mental health or women's health initiatives on social media and HMB.
  78. In the words of good ol' Tim McGraw, always stay humble and kind. 
  79. Blogging for long stretches of time? Get up and walk around for a couple of minutes every hour or so. They say sitting is the new smoking, after all.
  80. Social interaction - as in, in-person, face-to-face time with friends and loved ones - is not a "distraction" from work. It's actually good for you! So, grin and bear it, no matter how inspired you may be feeling to write...and besides, you can always sneak into the bathroom to make a few notes when no one's watching ;)
  81. You'll learn a lot about your ideal work environment by being self-employed. Apply those lessons when you are looking for a "real" job in the future (or just monetize your blog/freelance and keep on working for yourself!).
  82. Facebook Groups are a fantastic way to grow your blog when you're first starting out, but don't feel pressured to keep up with them once you've established a following. You can only maintain so many relationships at once.
  83. Your friends and family may not always understand what you do, how you earn your living or why you blog. It's most important that they love and support you, not that they completely "get it."
  84. Someday, someone you love will accuse you of always putting your blog first or being a workaholic. That's how you know it's time to take a week or two off from blogging.
  85. When I feel pressured to meet a certain deadline or post at a certain time of day, I remind myself that no one is holding me accountable for my deadlines except for me. In reality, you can post whenever the heck you want when you're self-employed! (Unless it's a sponsored post, that is.)
  86. On that note, always be respectful and try to meet the brand's deadlines when you're working on sponsored content...
  87. ...but don't be afraid to stick up for yourself, either. You're not someone's corporate puppet - you're a real-life human being with a brand to protect.
  88. Protect your intellectual property. Don't be afraid to reach out to someone whose blog theme looks a little too similar to yours, or may have stolen one of your Instagram photos without credit.
  89. Never send an email you'd be embarrassed to have printed on the cover of the New York Times. This is a great tip both in blogging and in life!
  90. Never stop consuming great content from inspiring people. Reading other people's blog posts and watching YouTube is how I get 99.99% of my ideas, in some form or another.
  91. Find your "flow." These are the times when you're so wrapped up in what you're doing, thinking or writing about that you forget how much time has passed...that feeling is the sole reason why I write. (That and the fact that I don't want to have a "real job.")
  92. If you have writer's block, head to the gym - or the shower. Sweating and showering are, weirdly enough, the times when my mind is the clearest and most creative.
  93. Don't be afraid to take other writing opportunities outside of your personal blog. If your goal is to be a professional blogger, then it doesn't matter who you're writing for or what you're writing about so long as you're blogging. 
  94. Print media is NOT the same as online media. Take it from a girl who's done both at a professional level.
  95. Blog posts don't follow the same rules of spelling, grammar and mechanics as other pieces of writing. It's a conversation between you and the reader, not a piece of 19th-century literature.
  96. Listen to your gut. If a post just doesn't feel right  (or if you've been stuck on it for more than a day or two), trash it rather than waste any more time on something that will never live up to expectations.
  97. You NEED to be on Google Adsense. 
  98. And Google Analytics.
  99. But skip Google Plus, Tumblr and any other dying platforms. As I said before, don't try to be everywhere at once.
  100. Most importantly, do what you love and love what you do. The day I stop blogging is the day I stop loving it - so, I'm basically never stopping ;) 

Happy (belated) blogiversary to Haley Marie! 

Send me your best wishes in the comments below - and don't forget to tweet me your questions @haleymarieblog for your chance to be featured in the next #HMBQandA.