BloggingBlogging 101: Developing Your Brand October 7, 2015 Welcome to the first day of Blogging 101, friends! After two years of blogging, I’ve gotten so many questions about how to blog as a job. I’m so excited to be partnering up with four of my favorite bloggers to bring you the best series on blogging we possibly can. The goal of this is to spend four sessions (each Wednesday in October) sharing our stories. We aren’t going to give you a formula to follow step-by-step because sadly, there isn’t one! This thing we call blogging looks different for every single person, just as I’m sure each of our stories will look different throughout this series. But I hope that you can gain some insight from our personal experiences. Today, we thought we’d start at the beginning. When you’re building a house, you start with the foundation, right? We’re going to start off this series by sharing how we developed our brands. I’m happy to welcome y’all to The White Buffalo story. I’ve gotten a lot of questions about how to make money blogging and when I ask them questions about their blog, it becomes clear that they don’t really know their brand. If you don’t know your brand and believe in it, others aren’t going to either. I know this because I learned it the hard way. The White Buffalo is now two years old, but before that, I had what started as a personal blog called Life of Splendor. I started it as a way to share the renovation of our first house with our friends and family. I soon learned that I absolutely loved blogging and that there were these people out there who made a living doing it! I felt like I had discovered a well-kept and amazing secret. I could actually do what I loved and make money. So I decided to do just that. About one month after this stunning revelation and a lot of excited posts, the problem with my brilliant plan hit me hard. I had absolutely no idea how to do it. I’d been “blogging” (I use that term loosely now) for a year and while I’d gained a few readers here or there, I still wasn’t really moving forward. I didn’t get it! Not that I thought my blog was perfect, but I was putting in a ton of time and energy. Well, the answer looking back is very simple. I didn’t embrace my brand. About six months before I started The White Buffalo, I started researching. I knew something needed to change if I was going to keep blogging, but what? Everything I came across talked about “your brand.” For awhile, I thought, “Well, that just doesn’t help me! I’m not a brand, I’m a blog.” I was picturing a “brand” as a faceless design conglomerate where you have no idea who is writing the posts, nothing is personal, and there is no unique voice, just pretty pictures of pretty rooms. While I read some of those sites from time to time, that was always the opposite of my goal. After more research and let’s be honest, a lot of prayer, I realized that my “brand” was my vision for the blog. It’s how I choose to present myself to the world. I started the whole process by dreaming. I dreamed big, God-sized dreams. I don’t mean “dream big” as in, “I will one day be in Better Homes and Gardens.” I’m not talking about accomplishments. I’m talking about the mission. While some may feel that their mission is to get published, to make a certain amount of money, or reach a certain level of traffic, I personally believe that if your mission isn’t about something deeper, you won’t achieve any of that. Or you at least won’t be able to maintain it long-term. I started by making lists…some long lists. What were key words that described my vision? When someone comes to your blog, what are the things you want them to get before they leave? What do you love deep down in your core that keeps you up at night? Those answers are a great place to start. During this process of getting to the brand I dreamed of, I filled a notebook full. The pages were filled with a variety of words: FAITH, STYLE, EMBRACE, UNIQUE, CELEBRATE, ENTERTAIN, LIVE OUT LOUD, CREATE, LOVE, PURPOSE…. My direction started to really take shape during this process. I wanted to write a blog about design and style, but as you can see from those words, there was more to it. I wanted to seek the beauty in the everyday and celebrate it. And I wanted it all to have meaning, to encourage. I wanted to share souls. I had no idea if bringing in all of those things was possible, but it was the goal. I had to get real with myself and take an honest look at what I was putting out there on my old blog. Did it fit the dream and the goal I had discovered? So often when you’re in the midst of something, you can’t see it clearly. When I got rid of my bias and studied what other successful bloggers were doing, I realized my vision wasn’t making it onto the page. There were glimpses of it, but I was much better at saying what the blog was about instead of acting on it. Once I fully realized the areas for improvement, and after a lot of sleepless nights and empty tissue boxes, I was ready to re-build. Having a clearly defined vision for where you’re headed is so important because it will dictate every single ounce of your blog. Share it openly on your blog, or keep it to yourself as a reminder, but having one concise statement of what you’re about and where you’re headed is so important for developing your brand. I’ve tweaked the wording of mine over time, but the concept hasn’t changed. I’m choosing to create a life filled with style, but most importantly, purpose and intention for our family and I love sharing that adventure here. Every piece of content I think of and every brand partnership I consider gets vetted against this mission statement. I love design and home decor. My husband and I renovate/flip houses. I love to entertain and set a pretty table. I’m all about creating special moments for our family. And we seek to do it all for a greater purpose. All of these things I’m passionate about fit up underneath this mission statement. Think of your brand as a pretty, little package that you are handing to a reader. As a blogger focusing on style and design, my personal style is so wrapped up in how I present my brand. If you already have a blog and a name, this may not apply to you, but this was a big deal for me. In all of my research, I found that the name is huge. You want a name that really reflects who you are and what you’re about. That was a critical flaw with Life of Splendor and really led to my total re-branding with a new name. I chose The White Buffalo because it was unique and I loved how it encompassed my style: white and modern with rustic influences. I added Styling Co. because I wanted it to be clear that this was a blog focused on bringing style into your life. While the name doesn’t say 100% what I do, it definitely points readers in a direction. I once read that within three seconds of clicking onto your site, someone’s subconscious makes a decision of whether or not they’ll ever come back. I’m a big believer in the saying, “You can’t be everything to everybody.” So obviously the goal is not to please everyone. But you do want what you’re about to be presented well and shine. My layout has changed several times (with the most recent change a week ago!), but I think one thing is key: SHOWCASE YOUR CONTENT. This is something I’ve continually struggled with and is what sparked my most recent change. People read your blog for your content, not for your blog design. Let your content shine. In our niche, pictures are king. Don’t get so complicated with your layout that it distracts from your content and those pretty pics. And make it easy for readers to find what you’re about. Exploring your about page, categories, and older content should be EASY. That’s how readers get to know you! I really let my personal style dictate my layout and blog design choices. I have a vibrant and eclectic style, so I like for my pictures to really be the focus on the site with the layout made up of clean lines and neutral colors. My style is even consciously reflected in small things like fonts. I love clean lines mixed with feminine floral, hence my two main font mixes you’ll see: curvy script and all-caps block. Notice the logo? I’ve been given this advice by so many successful bloggers and it is the truth. Content matters above all else. It doesn’t matter how awesome your concept, blog name, or layout is if you neglect your content. Your content is the #1 way you show your brand to others. Be clear on the types of content you want to offer and offer it consistently. Life gets in the way and I’ve definitely had seasons in my blogging career where my content was stronger and more consistent than others. And without fail, I’ve gotten the most traffic and brand offers during those times! For example, for me, I blog about all things home. That includes my main focus: design, room reveals, and renovations. But it also includes entertaining, family, and even personal bits. What ties all of this content together? I work hard to ensure that every post, regardless of the subject matter, has the style and voice I’m known for woven through it. I am DEFINITELY not always successful at this, but I can always tell. I either feel really good about a post and the message I put out there, or I feel “iffy” about it. I’m trying to start not posting the “iffy” ones until I feel great about it. You aren’t going to get this brand development stuff 100% right the first time around. Trust me. Over time, continually re-evaluate and hone your brand. What’s important to you will change and allow your blog to be flexible. I firmly believe that the best blogs have an honest and unique voice and there’s no way to have that if your blog doesn’t grow and change with you. I know all of this may sound like a long, complicated story and I guess, it is in a way. But it’s two and a half years of soul-searching and trial and error packed into one blog post, so know I didn’t have this figured out in the beginning. I still don’t. I’m learning and growing and tweaking every single day. And while all of this may seem overwhelming, developing your brand really boils down to one little secret I’ll share with you. Above all else, be you. Above traffic and money and brands, be you. Dream, build your brand, be intentional about the details, and work hard, but BE YOU. Because at the end of the day, this is your blog. While I know you love your readers and ofcourse you want them to hang around, the only way they will is if you are true to yourself. And I can promise you one thing from experience… If you get up every single day and go to work at this with the number one goal to just be you, YOU WILL SUCCEED. Whether it’s the success you dreamed of or not, it’s success. Genuinely sharing you, your style, your passions, and your heart with others can’t end any other way. You are your best brand. Share yourself with the world with openness and abandon and I promise, your brand will resonate with others. Thanks so much for taking time out of your day to read this ever-developing story. Make sure you head over and read today’s other brand stories! I can’t wait to get inspired by these ladies’ journeys. I feel honored, humbled, and a little out of place talking about how to blog with these superstars! withHEART Emily A. Clark Bliss at Home Sarah M. Dorsey And up next week, we’ll start building on this brand foundation with some very practical advice!