Camels & Chocolate turned 11 years last week when I was in Lisbon, and I was having so much fun sharing my knowledge with fellow creative entrepreneurs that I nearly missed the big occasion! It’s hard to believe I’ve been dedicated to one thing for so long, and even harder to believe that blogging is not only still a thing, but also a viable profession. And what’s hardest to believe is that C&C is off to fifth grade and will be starting middle school this time next year. Kids grow up way too fast, am I right?
1. Your number of followers really don’t matter.
I’ve said it and I’ll say it again, if you’re in this for the popularity contest that is sheer numbers, you’re doing it wrong. I hate that we live in a society where social media followers are often viewed as social currency—here’s a great illustration of that on popular YouTuber Gabbie Hanna’s channel—and I’m sick of seeing others perpetuate that cycle. If you’re a blogger (or influencer—yuck, I hate that term), mark my words: There’s going to be a time soon when advertisers do start caring about quality again, and all these “Instagram models” are going to have to go back to desk jobs. You’re the one who, ultimately, is going to win by staying true to yourself and to your content.
2. Speaking of which, don’t fall prey to the Instagram algorithm
I’m not going to lie: I still fall victim to the “but why is no one seeing my content?” annoyance, but with less and less frequency these days. Guys, let’s make a pact to just stop caring that only 200 people like your Instagram post and just post what makes you happy. And enough with the like apps, comment pods and Facebook threads already! We know what you’re doing, we can see you’re buying followers, and it isn’t cute, OK?
3. Don’t put all your eggs in a third party’s basket.
A platform or app can go away at any time—just look at Vine (R.I.P.) and all those former Vine stars. Where are they now? Busking on Hollywood Boulevard? (J/K many of them went onto YouTube stardom, but still, you know what I mean….) Your only career assurance for a platform that will never fail you is by starting your own thing, so put more time into improving your site/blog/whatever that looks like and less time into building a social media following that could crumble at any moment.
4. Diversify—and build your business out, pillar by pillar.
No matter how many times I detail all the things we do, the majority of which are not specifically blogging, people still think I’m “just a blogger” (somehow overlooking my 20 years in journalism…). Why do I care? Because it implies that blogging alone pays SVV’s and my bills, when the truth is that in order to not only maintain a sustainable business but also grow it, you have to diversify. Sure, we could get by simply by blogging alone, but we have bigger ambitions to continue and grow our business, income and portfolio, so why stop at “just blogging?” I’ve always abided by the entrepreneur philosophy that if one pillar of our business Odinn Media were to topple, we have plenty of others to keep our lives and business afloat. For us, that means copywriting, photography, marketing content, editorial work, consulting and other odd, but related jobs—but for you, in whatever job you have, that might mean something totally different. A blogger? Great! You likely have many marketable skills, so spend time fleshing those out, because you never know when advertisers could suddenly stop seeing the value in blogs and turn their attention somewhere else—then you, unlike many in your industry, will be ready to adapt like the chameleon you are. Remember when link sales were all the rage? My point exactly. Which brings me to this….
5. You need a product before you even think about monetizing.
So many people come to me wanting to start a blog with the sole intention of making money, something I opted not to pursue until year four of my blog. Sure, it’s great to have goals and ambitions, but you need a product to monetize before you set your sights on actually making money for this game-changing product you’ve dreamed up but not yet executed. Ideas are a great start, but your success is in the follow-through.
6. Don’t be afraid to make a mistake.
The more teaching I do, the more I realize that fear is what holds most great creatives back from being excellent. So what if you try something new and it fails? You move on to the next big idea. SVV and I would not be half the entrepreneurs we are if we didn’t chase leads—or as often is the case—big ideas. They don’t always work out, but you know what? Sometimes they do.
7. Master the art of communication.
This might eventually spin off into a separate blog post of its own, but one thing I’ve noticed is an increasingly terrible trend the more “connected” the world becomes by technology is a lack of communication from all ends. SVV and I personally have dropped numerous projects this year because the potential client could not get its act together to communicate deliverables and deadlines in a timely manner; it’s almost as if he/she was setting the project up for failure, and we want no part in that. You as a business owner should establish communication expectations upfront—something that is reasonable for both you and your clients—and stick to that. I recommend an “I will respond to your inquiry within 48 hours” policy if it’s a viable business lead or someone with whom you have worked in the past. The quickest way to get on my personal bad list is awful communication—or worse: no communication at all.
8. Stop saying “yes” to everything if it doesn’t feel right to you.
I used to take every coffee date, every request for a PR meeting, every gig, every last meet-up ask from someone in my industry whether I knew them or not simply because I felt guilty saying “no.” Why do we as women do this to ourselves? It’s counterproductive and often leads to even more stress as a result of stretching yourself too thin and trying to be everything to everyone. Then I learned how valuable my time truly is and now use it sparingly like the most precious currency. The truth is that I hardly have time for my husband and my own family, so why before was I wasting so much of it in an attempt to appease others? The sooner you learn to say “no,” the stronger (and happier) an entrepreneur—and human—you will become.
9. Don’t look at your fellow creatives as your competition, but rather your allies.
All too often, self-employed folks keep their cards close to their chest out of fear that helping someone in their industry out is going to result in that person succeeding and stealing some client they think they’re entitled to. This is not the way to run a creative business, in my opinion. There’s enough work for all of us, so start to think about lifting up your fellow creatives instead of staying guarded; the pie is big, and talking about what are often perceived as taboo subjects like pricing and negotiations only strengthens your industry as a whole, rather than hurts you. It’s cliche to say “your vibe attracts your tribe,” but I’ve found this to be 1000 percent true. In the past few years, specifically, I’ve formed a small group of close-knit creators, and I’m not afraid to go to them and say “this client wants to work with me. Did you have a good experience? What price range should I shoot for?” rather than trying to undercut someone else’s pricing to get a job they were asked to do (yes, it’s happened to me before, but I chalk it up to business lessons learned).
10. At the same time, find that balance between being collaborative and giving away too much.
There are people who will take advantage of your openness and generosity, and you may get burned a time or two, but it’s all about learning to read the signs. Burned once? Shame on them. Burned twice, three times, etc.? Shame on you. It’s a balancing act between aligning with and supporting your peers and weeding out those just looking to get ahead and leave others in their dust, but that’s just something that you as a business person have to figure out for yourself as time goes on. I like to think of others as inherently good—and nine times out of 10 they are—but I don’t want to trick you into thinking that opportunistic snakes aren’t out there just waiting to prey on your generosity. Still, some of my best work and ideas have been a direct product of being screwed over by a former friend or client, something that devastated me at the time but I used as a lesson and stepping stone for the next big thing. Stoke that fire—then learn to use it to your advantage. If you can’t decide if they’re trustworthy or not, one way to move forward when someone in your industry reaches out for help is telling them what it costs for your time to set up a coffee day or consulting call. Those who are serious will look at this as an investment in their business while showing that they value your time and expertise.
11. Be yourself.
There’s only one you. Why are you trying to be somebody else? There are likely thousands of creators in your field who are doing (or trying to do) the same thing that you are, so really think long and hard about what sets you apart and go down a path you blaze yourself, rather than following someone else’s. Don’t be a copycat; lean into the attributes that make you stand out in a crowd.
Looking for more career or blogging inspiration? I’ve got plenty:
- So You Wanna Start a Blog? Here’s How
- Blogging Basics: Tricks & Tools of the Trade
- Has Your Instagram Engagement Tanked? Here’s Why You Shouldn’t Care
- No, You Can’t Pick My Brain — And Here’s Why
- Learning to Channel My Focus
- Career Crisis 101: Don’t Panic!