What I’ve learned about blogging so far

I’ve been blogging for about four years now and in this time I have picked up a few wisdoms about building a brand and turning this passion into a business.

When I started out, blogging was still very new in South Africa and there were very few guidelines. Today, however, there are a few core principles I believe every blogger should take to heart, whether you’re established or just starting out.

Hopefully this advice will help you on your journey to growing the best platform.

Starting out

The most important thing as a blogger is finding your voice, which is also the most difficult thing.

If you’re just starting a blog, the most important thing is to have a clear idea of what you’re trying to say and who you would like to talk to.

Before you launch your site, take time to refine your vision and start with a clear, simple idea. You can easily build out from there, but trying to refine your voice and vision later on is much harder.

I wish I had done this when I launched 9Lives, and it took a lot of work to find my niche once my site was already established.

Hold on to your voice

As soon as you start getting traction as a blogger, you’ll start getting press releases and info from PR and brands. When this happens it can be difficult to retain your voice and what you were trying to say instead of just publishing what the brands want you to say.

If you start with a clear vision and a clear voice it is going to be easier to filter the messages coming through to you, and to decide what you want to pay attention to and what you want to leave. It is essential that you hold on to your voice amidst constant noise coming in from outside.

Think Content, Creativity, Community and Collaboration

Content is King

Quality content should be your first concern, whether it is on your blog or your social media platforms. Take time to edit content pieces, to conceptualise articles, photographs and captions, making sure that the product you are offering your followers and your readers is of the highest standard. If you expect other people to take time to read your content, it is only fair that you take time to produce quality material.

Be Creative

Think of fresh, innovative ways to communicate. Think of new stories that you can tell. Most importantly, find ways to channel your own creativity. Don’t just look at what other people are doing and copy that. People are following you for a reason so be true to yourself.

Build your community

More and more brands are finding value in bloggers with a loyal, engaged community that actively engages with content, instead of masses of followers who don’t.

Stop focusing on how many followers you have and instead start having conversations with people online. Start establishing yourself as someone who people can listen to, who they can trust and who they want to spend time with. Things will grow from there.

Grow your community by being part of a community. Writing content is only one aspect of being a blogger. Another essential element is contributing to the community. That means reading other people’s content, engaging with them in the comment sections, and having conversations on social media.

It is not just about promoting your own voice and shouting into the void that is the Internet, but about listening to what others are are saying and having conversations.

The online community has veered off this road in a big way with synthetic followers, synthetic comments and synthetic likes; it has all been bought. The goal has become popularity, about looking good on the surface, not authentic online relationships.

Personally I think the idea of buying followers, likes and comments is absurd. It is similar to receiving a Valentine’s card from your mom and truly believing that it’s from your high school crush.

It is much more valuable to put time and effort into beautiful, quality content that reflects you, what you want to say and who you are, and finding a true connection with people out there.

Collaborate

Working for yourself can be lonely. Even though you attend events and functions, you don’t have colleagues who are part of your business, who share your creative process and struggles, and who you can talk to about your day-to-day.

For this reason I think it is important to team up with other bloggers as frequently as possible. Working with others will feed the creative flame, and you’ll have a lot more fun in the process. It will also allow you to tap into each other’s communities and increase your footprint.

Remember to network

I often see bloggers coming to media events and spending most of their time on their phones. Yes, brands expect you to give them online exposure at events and spread the news about new launches, but these functions also offer an opportunity to network with other writers and people within the industry.

Take time to meet new people, to talk about ways of collaborating, and to connect with the brands who you are supporting to find new ways of doing business.

You are not here to advertise brands

Unless a brand has booked an promotional campaign with you, it is not your responsibility to give them free advertising.

I often encounter bloggers who feel that because they’ve been sent a product or have been invited on a trip, that they are now required to give a positive review.

Your loyalty shouldn’t lie with the brand who sent you a product, but with the readers who look to you for honest advice. They trust your opinion when they are purchasing a product or booking a trip, so keep that in mind whenever you are writing a review. If you would not recommend it to a friend or a family member, don’t put it on your site.

To add to this, use your discretion when posting about a brand’s launch at media functions. Always remember that your audience is getting all this on their feed – are you spamming them or giving them valuable information?

Everyone loves a good bargain

Most brands will try to get as much exposure through your platform as possible, for as little as possible.

If they only have to send you a bottle of nail polish to get massive online reach, then that is what they are going to do. Until you define your own value and push back, brands will take advantage of the opportunity. That’s their job. That’s good business.

As a blogger you have to determine what your time is worth. You have to decide how much time and creative energy a task will take. Based on this you can decide how much attention you are going to give a product, or how much you will charge for a feature.

This does not mean that every piece of content should be paid for. Some products or experiences should be reviewed because your readers will be interested, and at other times content is purely promotional. Personally I will analyse each situation separately and make a decision based on my gut.

When choosing which brands and products to write about, think about your readers. What would they be interested in? What would they be searching the internet for? Is it new? Is it relevant? Is it somehow adding to the current conversations that are out there? And does it suit the voice and vision of your brand?

Your voice is your value

As a writer your value lies in your connection to your audience. If you lose your voice, if your audience stops listening to you, you have no value.

For this reason it is crucial that you carefully consider what you say and sell to your readers. Be very careful of turning your blog and social media platforms into billboards for brands.

It is easy to get caught up in the idea that you owe a brand exposure because they have sent you a product or invited you to an event, but remember that your platforms are not there for the brands; your platforms are there for your followers and for your audience.

Every time you post something, think whether this is going to add value to the people who follow you. Is it beautiful? Does it say something? Will it somehow contribute to their lives?

It’s not easy

Working for yourself in the creative industry is one of the hardest things you can do. It is very easy to fall into self criticism and self-doubt. There are often moments when I have no idea what I’m doing or why I am doing it.

There will definitely be times when you wish yourself back at that boring desk job with a boss telling you what to do and when to do it, and a salary that hits the bank at the end of the month. In moments like these, remind yourself why you made the move in the first place.

And remember that chasing your dream is frightening as hell.


Do you have any more questions or advice to offer. Let’s take this conversation further in the comments section below.

11 Comments

  1. Celeste Booysen March 29, 2017 at 9:44 am

    Thanks, Liezl, yes these are all incredibly valuable bits of information for any blogger. I am currently just finding my voice again after having lost it for a while since the inception of my original blog idea. I did a whole lot of things wrong and now I have to make it right. At least I have the experience now to put my best foot forward and make it work.

    Reply
    1. Malherbe Liezel March 29, 2017 at 10:00 am

      Well done Celeste! Personally I find running a blog means constant learning, adaptation and change, but I think it should be like a tree growing from strong roots.

      Reply
  2. Prettiful Blog March 29, 2017 at 10:27 am

    What an awesome post. I have also been blogging for about 4 years now, and it has been an exciting ride! Because I work full time, I don’t get to attend events and network enough and I feel this makes me a bit of an unknown face at events. So I do end up only talking to people I have met before. Definitely something I am working on!

    Reply
    1. Malherbe Liezel March 30, 2017 at 6:55 am

      It is so intimidating if you don’t know anyone! But once you’ve established connections it becomes so much easier to be social at media events.

      Reply
  3. Charlene March 29, 2017 at 11:27 am

    Excellent post! So helpful for new AND established bloggers.

    Reply
  4. Aisha March 29, 2017 at 2:17 pm

    Great post, thanks for the reminders! It’s so easy to get all wrapped up in the numbers and expectations. You gotta love it to continue doing it.

    Reply
    1. Malherbe Liezel March 30, 2017 at 6:53 am

      Definitely Aisha! I often think that many people get into blogging for the wrong reasons – for Insta fame and freebies. But that novelty soon wears off. You need to really have a passion for this industry to keep at it.

      Reply
  5. Beaulah Erens March 29, 2017 at 9:24 pm

    I would really like to start my own blog any ideas on where I start. How I get a website?

    Reply
    1. Malherbe Liezel March 30, 2017 at 6:50 am

      Hey Beaulah. You can start a website for free on WordPress – I like this one above platforms like Blogger and Wix. They have free themes for you to choose from as well. I would recommend you play around here first and build your following. Down the line you can move your site to a proper hosting platform and get a more refined theme. Good luck!

      Reply
  6. Yolandi North March 30, 2017 at 2:18 am

    Hi Liezel.

    Such an awesome post. Firstly, I can’t believe that people will buy followers. Although, maybe I can… because growing a following is hard & takes time… but in the end I would rather have only 10 readers (that are actual people) & not 1 million fakes. I suppose it all comes down to being authentic & honest.

    Also, I totally agree about networking (eg at events) & online conversations. And yes, finding your voice is tricky, but so essential. Still trying.

    Love your blog – I always find great content & food for thought here. xxx

    Reply
    1. Malherbe Liezel March 30, 2017 at 6:52 am

      So glad you found it helpful Yolandi. I think the problem is that brands and society places so much value on your follower count that bloggers feel pressured to buy a folllowing and likes. Hopefully the more we encourage authentic relationships, the less people will feel this need to be fake-popular.

      Reply

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