BrocanteHome was the very first Vintage Housekeeping blog on-line way back in 2005, when mine was just a lone voice sharing my love of pretty things and a life defined by Simple Abundance. Those were the innocent days: when bloggers were just finding their feet and the possibility of monetizing our on-line space was limited to the random output of Google Adwords.
Over the years things have changed dramatically. Blogs I have known have come have gone and others have risen to shine like the scrumptious stars most of them thoroughly deserve to be. And through it all I have been here: enjoying tiny successes,wasting opportunities, making a lovely living and occasionally,wanting to throw in my darling Cath Kidston towel and go work in the supermarket…
This then is what I have learned.
1. Reading too many other blogs kills your authenticity.
Yes indeed. The minute you fall too heavily in love with another blogger or stuff your feed reader with a million happy little blogs and start obsessing over every word those bloggers write, is the minute you will lose confidence in anything you have to say yourself, or worse than that, find yourself becoming a poor imitation of somebody else.
Remember the girl at school in the patent leather shoes? The one you always wanted to be? Remember how you got the shoes, but hell you could never buy her legs, or the smile that lit up the room? But then one day you woke up and realised that it didn’t matter: that you could tell jokes that made people laugh and had developed a cleavage to die for? That’s it: that’s blogging in a nutshell- you can’t be someone else. No-one appreciates a poor imitation and the minute you start copying, consciously or otherwise, is the minute you dilute your essential self and doom yourself to blandness.
The moral of this tale? By all means read other bloggers, support them and love them: but see other blogs in your own field as a sweet treat and make professional and instructional blogs the most part of your daily diet so that when you find your way back to your virtual home you are you, and only you.
2. You mustn’t dwell on statistics.
Yes, you need to know how many people are reading your blog and it helps to see what response each post receives across the internet, but trust me start obsessing over ranking, daily statistics and monthly targets and you will instantly take the joy out blogging, and start shaping your output to the taste of the masses. And I do believe that anything that thrills the masses is likely to leave your very own little set of raving, screaming fans absolutely cold.
See the thing is this: one hundred raving fans are worth a lot more in terms of both financial and emotional value than a million readers who can take you or leave you. Focus on those readers who LOVE YOU TO BITS. Get very, very clear about who you are writing for and forget about everybody else.
The moral of this tale? This IS NOT a numbers game. Blogging should be about communicating that which you love with those who love you. There is nothing to be gained from a huge unconnected RSS readership or numbers pulled in from Twitter on the promise of a give-away if those visitors are never to be seen again…
3. Don’t worry about comments either.
Very, very occasionally I get to thinking “Where is everybody??”, but for the most part I accept that there a million blogs out there and most readers just don’t have the time to respond to everything I write, so it is enough that they show up daily and respond when something touches their heart or indeed, floats their rose sprinkled boat.
Write not to seek glory. Write because you have to. Write because you want to keep a scrapbook of everything you think is wonderful (or bloody awful) about this world. Collate images that inspire you, share silly stories and sad stories but never, not for a minute write words contrived to inspire reaction. I see this daily and it irritates me: it is wonderful, no, make that super-duper scrumptiously wonderful when you write something that strikes a collective nerve, but there is nothing worse than happening across the kind of blog whose comments boxes are filled with fawning praise, or worse, thinly disguised self-promotion.
The moral of this tale? Good friends don’t need to talk incessantly at you, for you to know that they care, that they are committed to supporting you and your blog and they are the people you should be nurturing daily.
4. People Will Be Mean
Hell yeah. One day you will open your blog to find that you have angered someone to such a degree they have left a completely incoherent, seriously bonkers mess in your comments box. Or worse, they have emailed you to shout, moaned about you on Twitter, said something horrible in a blog post, or taken the time to correct your spelling, because of course they are infinitely superior to you. Just rise above it, my Sweet: hold your head up and rise above it.
However there is always a place for constructive criticism. Once upon a time a much treasured reader told me that she wasn’t going to read me any more, because she felt I had lost my way and I am not ashamed to say that her kind, well-meant email broke my heart. But it made me take a long hard look at the way I was writing at Brocante and organising my business and after much outraged introspective soul-searching, I realised that she was right. That I had lost my way, and it wasn’t long before I was back on the right path, and joyfully her name started popping up in my comment stream all over again. Some criticism is absolutely essential to your blogs survival and you should totally embrace it. And above all be grateful for it. Those who care for you, care enough to tell you where you are going wrong.
The moral of this tale? Don’t get stroppy about criticism. Stop and take a deep breath, then way up if it is justified. Talk to a close friend about it. Let it fester a while before you react and never, ever, ever, retaliate. Not by email or comment. Ignore, delete or pretend it didn’t happen and if by chance the criticism is justified, do something about it as soon as you can and offer heartfelt apology.
5. Life will get in the way.
It’s such a nuisance, life. There are children to be bathed, food to be eaten and parties to attend when we would all rather be blogging, but all writing is inspired by life and the minute we start avoiding it and focus all our lovely efforts on nurturing a deep relationship with our computer is the minute our writing becomes bland and ill-informed. Nobody likes a bore don’t you know?
And then even when you are in your stride, blogging, living, keeping house and planning a future, life sticks her nose in all over again. Someone gets sick. You fall in love. The kids need you more. The house falls down. And yes it is downright rude for life to get so needlessly in the way when everything was going hunky-dory thank you very much, but here’s the thing, (and yes, I know it might be something of a revelation to a few of you)- life matters more than blogging. No really. And you have to step out of your virtual world, when life calls your name. You absolutely have to. And you never, ever have to feel guilty about it. You do what you can, and that my friend is all we are ever entitled to ask of you.
The moral of this tale? Put life first. Love your family, look after yourself, kiss your children, take time out, decorate your world and blog. In that order if you don’t mind.
6. Understand that your readers don’t own you.
Being an authentic blogger invites its own problems. People fall in love with you, or else they fall in love with the person they think you are. They want to be your best friend, they want you to solve their problems. They want to be you, live in your world and think your thoughts, and sometimes it’s wonderful and occasionally it’s scary and more often than not, it just becomes irritating as these needy people step over the mark in the sand every blogger should draw, and start to demand your attention, far more often than is virtually polite.
And yes you want to please your readers and be as helpful as possible, and respond to comments and emails when you can and give a little bit more of yourself to those who are special to you, but you can’t be all things to all people, and trust me honey pie, you don’t owe anybody your undivided attention twenty-four seven.
The moral of this tale? Being a decent, caring responsible blogger is about establishing your own boundaries to such a degree that you feel comfortable and don’t feel pressured constantly by the need to support your readers. This isn’t about ignoring your raving fans, it is about understanding that your blog is your virtual home and you only have to be a part of any conversation as and when you choose to.
7. Blogging fads will come and go.
Hop around your favorite blogs and you will see the same pledges, meme’s and banners in many of the sidebars. People love a bandwagon. They worry they if they don’t get on board they will get left behind. That they won’t be in with the cool kids or part of the popular gangs that dominate their niche. And you know what? It is a nonsense. There is nothing worse than seeing a sidebar full of little twinkly graphics that bear no relation to the usual content of the blog.
Wannabe graphics, memes, banners and pledges dilute your authentic message, send readers clicking away from your blog, and reduce the impact of your design. And the cool kids drop them as soon as they see them appearing all over the show. The cool kids are leaders, not followers. They jump on the bandwagon they believe in, write about them, talk them up to death and when they are done, they are done. They don’t let their allegiance linger in their sidebar. The cool kids start things and then they move on. Because that is the nature of life on the internet and they are all too aware of it.
The moral of this tale? Be a leader not a follower. Start things. Let them wither. Maybe even fail. But make them your own and learn as much as you can to discern between passing whims and what really matters to you and the progress of your blog.
8. You have to embrace technology.
You could of course get yourself a free, bare bones blog and write your little heart out and that would be all well and wonderful if you accept that you are never going to be a blogging superstar. Like or not, there is more to great blogging than good writing. Design matters. Useability counts for a lot. And alongside making life easier for your readers embracing technology will help you with both design and useability, AND let you establish ways of working that significantly reduce the time it takes to blog well.
So what am I talking about? Do I want you up to speed with HTML 5 and able to decipher a style sheet in the blink of an eye? Ideally yes, but some of us just don’t have brains that work that way, so we simply need to take an interest in the world of pro-blogging, get the feeds, read the blogs, take on-line courses and hang around in the forums occasionally, so that the language particular to pro-blogging isn’t double-dutch to us and the technological side of running a blog doesn’t leave us utterly flummoxed on a daily basis.
The moral of this tale? If something is worth doing, it is worth doing extremely well and that means taking an interest in the side of blogging that is neither shabby chic, nor pink and fluffy. We have to understand how the cogs and wheels of our blogs turn and what we can do to make them better if we are to really fulfil our potential as successful, independent bloggers.
9. Build a list from day one.
I wish someone had told me this back in the day. So many lovely readers have slipped through my fingers through the years and though I now have a large, responsive, successful email list, I now understand how very powerful a list is to a blog and why it is absolutely essential to ask a reader to join it and keep reminding them that your scrumptious little old blog exists. Because people are terribly forgetful you know…
So yes. An email list that you put to good use, but don’t take advantage of by harassing those who sign up to it daily, is I suspect the number one, most essential aspect of your blog and without it, as the internet gets busier and your raving fans become more important to you, while their attention spans get shorter, you will flounder if you don’t take time out to show up in their in-boxes and speak to them directly.
The moral of this tale? Love your email list like you love your partner. Nurture it, snuggle it, send it love letters. Remind your readers you still exist and frequently (but not effusively) remind them why they matter to you. Just don’t get carried away. Spam ain’t pretty.
10. Don’t do it for the money.
Yes the internet seems abundant with money-making opportunities and bloggers who are making millions, but the fact is that the walls of the majority of bloggers virtual homes are not lined with the kind of gold bought from the rakings of an affiliate program. For sure there is money to be made if you are willing to turn your blog over to reviews, lie through your teeth about how wonderful each and every product you mention is and somewhere along the way sell your soul to the devil, but that is no way to build an engaged and enthusiastic audience, nor the way to build a long term successful career in blogging.
So don’t do it. Don’t fill your sidebar with a million adverts and affiliate links. Don’t litter every post with references to this book or that camera. Don’t accept advertising offers that compromise your message. Or you integrity. And never believe in get rich quick schemes, because here on the internet, no matter what some of the more unscrupulous big boys will tell you, they don’t exist.
Instead write and write regularly. Produce content people care about and can engage in, and when you find something you are passionate about, feel free to share the love, but always, always be genuine. Bide your time. True monetization options reveal themselves quietly and you need to be constantly observant: watching and listening. Noticing what it is your readers care about and seeking products you can promote that actually enhance the lifestyle choices your niche describes. Do it with passion and the money will show itself. The publishing agent will call. The blogger you admire will ask you to guest on her blog. Every reader you have will buy a book you recommend. The e-book will write itself…
The moral of this tale? Your blog can and will make money if that is what you are interested in, but never, even if your life depends upon it, make monetization your raison d’être, or your readers will leave in droves and you, little old, inauthentic you, will be sobbing into your apron, mourning your readership. So be respectful: these readers are inviting you into their hearts and homes, honour that always by choosing when and how it is acceptable to seek financial compensation for your work.