5 years of blogging | kelly in the city

Loafers (Same style but SO much more affordable hereMules here.) / Sweater Blazer (Love this one, too.) / Nearly Identical Plaid Flannel / Legging Jeans / Louis Vuitton Tote (Available herehere and here. Looking for an affordable brown tote? I LOVE this one!) / Initial Necklace / iPhone Case

I recently celebrated 5 years of blogging. And by “celebrated,” I mean that I poured myself a glass of wine and gave myself a mental high five. 😉 Because in some ways, it seems downright crazy that I’ve been doing this for so long… but in most others, the five-year marker feels very ordinary. I kind of can’t imagine my life without this creative outlet, and I mean that in a healthy, non-insane way!

Today, I’m taking a moment to reflect and share some stuff I’ve learned since I started out. A little disclaimer, though: this post isn’t intended to be taken as advice, since I’m far from an expert on blogging. These are just a handful of lessons that I’ve personally learned, and when I use the pronoun “you,” I’m addressing myself in the second person, not making absolute statements. (Though maybe you’ll take something away from it?!) But let’s get to it:

Personal Lessons Learned from 5 Years of Blogging

Blog about what you want.

I’m happiest when I do what I want, haha. Yes, I definitely could have posted different content over the last five years and increased readership and SEO rankings with “how to’s” and other informational articles. And I knew that. But I also knew I would have burnt out had I done that. For a long time, my heart was in journaling about my day-t0-day life through photography, so that’s mostly what I did. And it made me happy! Only recently have I felt a desire to do more than journal, and that’s fine! 

Surround yourself with supportive people.

Blogging is often thought of as a solitary, lonely and competitive field, but it doesn’t have to be that way. It’s SO much easier and more enjoyable when you feel like you’re part of a team. Share knowledge, be kind and open, support each other, and say yes to getting together… and you’ll likely find yourself with lifelong friends. For example, I’d be lost without people like Jess, Shaheen, Blair, KiraCarly and Emily, just to name a few fabulous ladies in my life. Blogging is hard work, but my friends get me through the tough days and bring out the fun in it. Frankly, if I were to get married today, half my wedding party would be made up of fellow bloggers! Internet friends turned coworkers-of-sorts turned real-life besties. I love it.

Pay it forward.

Building off the last lesson, try to do something good for someone else when you’re shown kindness. Remember that everyone begins somewhere, and you were once just starting out, too. Who guided you? (Bows & Sequins was the first blog I ever read, and Jess was instrumental in the launching of this site! Thank you, Jess!) Be that person for someone else, and celebrate her (or his) growth and triumphs.

Invest in the tools that’ll help you become successful.

As my site has grown, I’ve needed to invest in it. For example, I’ve had to buy a computer that could efficiently run the applications I needed (without crashing), replace expensive camera gear, put a ton of money into a site redesign, pay for services, and outsource quite a bit. I won’t lie: shelling out that cash was difficult, and for many years, I would put it off until things were in “emergency mode.” I regret that. It undoubtedly decreased productivity and increased stress, and pushing it off certainly cost more money in the long run. Of course, no need to be reckless. Girlfriend does not need a $10k camera + lens, for instance. But she does need to invest in a functional camera and lens that’ll make shooting inside her dark house feasible.

Document selectively.

This is not a reality television show. Pick and choose parts of your life to share, and don’t try to photograph everything. It will be frustrating and fruitless, and no one has time to cull and edit that many pics anyway! Instead, plan for your posts. Want to write about x, y and z over the next week? Create artwork for x, y, and z, and then live and enjoy your days free from stressing about things like wrinkles and lighting. Photos that are forced reflect just that, and life’s too short.

Take extra snaps along the way just for fun? Great! It’s bonus content if you’re okay with sharing it; readers love seeing the everyday, imperfect moments.

But it’s not necessary.

Create your own artwork.

Don’t steal photos from Pinterest on the reg. While I’ve admittedly done it, I now realize that there are legal consequences to doing so. Readers also crave originality. If you prioritize creating artwork for x, y and z posts, you won’t run into this problem. And remember: an original iPhone pic is better than a perfect (stolen) DSLR Pinterest pic any day, in my opinion.

Take time to set up systems and procedures.

In the beginning, I neglected to set up systems and procedures for things like record keeping, accounting, data storage, time management, correspondence, and site maintenance. And after a few years, I found myself spending more time putting bandaids over problems than I was creating creating actual content. To be honest, Mitch and I are still trying to set up a few remaining systems and procedures so the business runs smoothly, and he’s been helping me for a full year now! I liken this to the whole “clean as you go” methodology. A small amount of time now; TONS of time saved later. When a problem arises or something needs improvement, don’t procrastinate or push it aside. Address it.

Be genuine.

Putting yourself out there is difficult. But above all else, be yourself. If you do that, readers will connect with you and come to trust you, and they’ll want to follow along on your adventures. Really into soap carving or competitive dog grooming? (Literally just Googled “weird hobbies,” haha.) OWN IT. Maybe don’t talk about it 24/7  😉 , but celebrate your uniqueness and encourage others to do the same!

Don’t preach.

This is a big one for me. I never want readers–or anyone!–to feel like it’s my way or the highway. I am not the authority. When you have opinions to share that others could disagree with, acknowledge this fact and ask them what they think. Speaking and delivering thoughts confidently is important, but so is encouraging discussion and listening to other viewpoints. It’s how we grow as people.

I’ve learned a lot from my readers over the years, and they’ve made me think more deeply about topics that are important to me!

Be grateful.

Let’s be real for a moment. This job is AWESOME. It comes with its fair share of stressors that are usually invisible to most, but good lord. The flexibility and perks that have come with it are amazing, and not a day goes by that I’m not insanely thankful for you guys–because you’re the reason I’m able to do this; to be creative and have so much fun on a daily basis… and most importantly, stay home with my daughter. Just writing this makes me realize that I don’t say thank you enough. Thank you, thank you, thank you!

Don’t be afraid to change paths.

I kind of covered this one before, but if you’re not enjoying blogging anymore, it’s time to change things up and point yourself in a new direction. You’re in control, and there’s no reason to be miserable.

I’m clearly in the middle of this at the moment. While I’m currently leaning toward writing more reflectively and creating lifestyle content, I fully acknowledge that this might change again. Perhaps in a few years I’ll want to blog mostly about parenting and home decor. That’s okay! I am ever-changing, and therefore so is this blog.

Growth takes years.

I really can’t imagine how hard it is to start a blog today, not because the market is oversaturated but because seeing so many established ones can mess with your head.

For example: Why is so-and-so killing it and my site looks like complete garbage?! Remember that so-in-so’s site probably looked like garbage when she started, too. In good time, you will grow, and so will your blog. It’s not going to happen overnight, though. Slow and steady.

Starting is half the battle.

This applies to both starting your site and starting new projects and endeavors. Don’t wait until the perfect time because that time will never come. Just start!

Be fine with others not understanding what your job entails.

I’m ashamed to admit that this one used to upset me a little. It seemed like friends and family simply thought I had an online shopping problem and pranced around the city–and through life–taking photos of myself in pretty dresses.

Here’s the thing, though: on the surface, it sometimes looks that way. 😂 And that’s my fault! If I want people to actually understand what I do, I need to share what my behind-the-scenes work life is actually like.

On a related note, there will always be some misconceptions, and I need to accept that and not care. I don’t need validation from others. I know how many hours I clock, and I’ve learned what goes into running your own business. (SO MUCH.) I’m proud.

Keep working hours.

One of the best parts of blogging, for me, is that the job is untraditional and provides great flexibility. I can get the work done whenever and wherever I want. That said, the work needs to get done! When I started blogging full-time, I was shocked at how quickly my days would fill up with stuff unrelated to work.

Friends come in from out of town and want to hang out; the repairman is scheduled because you’ll be home and why not; others in the field want to grab lunch; people ask for favors. In the beginning, I went along with this, only to find myself pulling all-nighters to accomplish everything. Not a great–or sustainable–lifestyle. Especially now that I have a family.

I don’t want to seem like a total jerk by saying this, but it’s important to stick to your guns about working hours and politely decline.

“Ah! I would LOVE to hang out while you’re in town, but I have to work during the day. I’d love to get dinner at night, though!”

Sure. Sometimes this will be met with “I don’t get it. Why can’t you just do the work later?” Instead of getting frustrated, though, simply explain what your day entails. Never has someone not understood. Most often, they’re like, “omg what? Wine’s on me tonight!” 😂

These days, I don’t schedule anything between the hours of 9 to 5, and things are so much better. Of course, I make exceptions every once in a while. For example, when someone really needs me, I’m there. And I’m having lunch with my girlfriends tomorrow because Shaheen is in town for the first time since she moved to Kentucky. (YAY!) To make up for it, though, I’m working two extra hours tomorrow evening.

Don’t be afraid to cast off unsolicited advice.

Sheesh. If I had a penny for every person who told me I needed to put Emma in all-day daycare…

But guess what? I don’t want to do that!

Realize that most unsolicited advice comes from people who care about you and want the best for you, but also realize that that you call the shots. People will disagree with your decisions and they will tell you about it. No need to get into an argument over it or even feel the need to defend your stance. A simple “thanks, I’ll take that into consideration!” or “that’s an interesting idea!” will suffice. They’ll get the picture.

Be humble.

And not a humble braggart.

Share only when you’re ready.

I’ve learned that my most powerful work comes from powerful experiences. I said this in my recent post about my battle with depression, but I now know that I should only blog about personal issues once I’m in a relatively good place with them–because having an audience of sorts while I’m in the middle of ’em hasn’t proven to be helpful. Instead, I prefer to blog about this stuff once I’m somewhat removed from it, as I’m able to think more clearly about what I’ve been through and be more reflective about it.

That said, some things should remain private.

If you’re not okay with your grandmother reading it, don’t publish it.

(Hi Grammie! Haha. Love you.)

Not everyone is going to like you.

Just like in real life. Not all personalities will mesh, and it’s not a big deal. Don’t take it to heart.

Respond with grace, and try to take something away from negative interactions.

The internet can sadly be used as an invisibility cloak, and some people forget to use their manners and better judgment. Remind yourself of that! I’m not saying it’s right, but it is what it is, and responding hastily and angrily will only make things worse. If you have a negative interaction, take some time to process it and then respond gracefully, intelligently and kindly. People are inherently good. Chances are there was some sort of a misunderstanding, and that person was not intentionally trying to be cruel.

There are other times, though, when you’ll be wrong, and the criticism is warranted. You’re human! Admit mistakes and learn from them. This is a silly example, but I remember one time I wrote something like “let’s be real: before parenthood, you have a limited number of responsibilities.” What I should have said was that I had a limited number of responsibilities. By using the second person, I suggested that people who aren’t parents have it easier. Which isn’t true. I responded hastily to the backlash, defending the sentence–and I regret that. Also, I should have taken the time to process it, because the sentence can be read that way. I made someone feel badly, and I should have apologized.

In addition, I should note here, though, that bullying isn’t okay. Stand up for yourself and take actions to remedy the problem, because no one should be subjected to that.

Emojipedia is life.

Just sayin’.

Be easy to work with.

If you start working with brands, be the blogger who’s professional and accommodating. Do everything in your power to meet deadlines you’ve agreed to and produce quality content, and they’ll want to hire you again! It’s like a non-disgusting spiderweb. Employees and brand reps move from job to job over the years, and they remember the positive experiences they had with you in their prior positions. Slowly but surely, your contacts and opportunities start to multiply, and it’s be up to you to decide which ones to go with!

But don’t overextend yourself.

As I mentioned before, I’ve learned the hard way that I can only do so much. Too many partnerships often result in “blogger burnout,” and readers want the majority of your content to come from your ideas. They understand that you need to make a living, but too much and they’re (understandably) out. I’ve made mistakes here again and again, but I’m trying to improve.

It’s also my experience that collaborations require SO much more time to complete. Keep this in mind, and place more importance on your health and happiness as well as on your family and friends. You can’t work around the clock! Balance is an incredibly difficult thing to find, but keep striving for it.

Google it.

Ninety-nine perfect of what I know about blogging has come from Google. IT’S SO GREAT. LetMeGoogleThatForYou.com is a helpful site, too. 😂 Don’t be afraid to ask for help, but at least try to figure it out on your own first.

Recognize your strengths and weaknesses and ask for help/outsource.

Just reiterating my last point. If you’ve Googled your heart out and have tried and tried and tried, reach out for help!

Similarly, outsource aspects of the job if you hate them, they’re too difficult, or you can’t handle them on your own anymore.

There are lots of things I’m terrible at, haha. And once I had Emma, I realized I needed assistance in those areas. (Definitely needed it prior to that, too.) Outsourcing has made a huge difference, and I no longer feel like I’m drowning. I like blogging again!

Be careful when mixing business with friendship.

Like I mentioned before, you’ll probably make some awesome friends through blogging. And at some point, opportunities to work together may arise. Be mindful of the fact that feelings can get hurt and friendships can be damaged when the lines get blurred. I’ve seen some “partnerships” work out poorly; I’ve seen others go exceptionally well. Just proceed with caution. It’s kind of like that idea about roommates: just because you’re close with someone doesn’t mean you’ll enjoy living together!

If you want to make your blog more than a hobby, you’ll need to make sacrifices.

It’s so easy to look at big bloggers and say “she’s so lucky” or “it’s because she’s gorgeous.” But yeah no. Sure, luck and looks might have played small roles. But hard work, dedication and sacrifice probably played far larger roles… and got her to where she is today. Consider this.

Want to have a crazily successful blog but unwilling to give up that hour of television every night, that weekend freedom, or that extra hour of sleep? Then it’s probs not going to happen because content doesn’t create itself.

Heck, even if you just want to blog as a hobby, there will be sacrifices you have to make!

Be smart about finances and prepare for the future.

This is huge, especially if you decide to make a career out of blogging. Benefits usually come with more traditional jobs, but with not so much with entrepreneurialism, and that needs to be accounted for.

This obviously greatly affected my decision to blog full-time. Everyone is different, but I’m not a risk-taker by nature. I decided to go for it once my blog income–minus the money I’d need to allocate to retirement, health insurance, and Emma’s college savings, among other benefits–was stable and higher than my teaching income. I also had a considerable nest egg and a backup plan if blogging didn’t work out.

Same for Mitch when he left teaching and went out on his own.

Do what makes you comfortable, but prepare for the future.

Don’t go broke for the sake of blog content.

While we’re talking about finances, be sure to not go broke–especially if you focus on fashion. In the early years, I set a monthly product budget, and that money came from ads, affiliates, and eBay sales. It wasn’t much, but I was able to get the site off the ground and never went into the red.

Today, I have seasonal budgets, and how I invest that money is more calculated. I partner with brands to offset some of the costs, and I research what my readers are buying. The goal is that the return on investment will always be greater than the cost of the item–hopefully considerably greater. If that doesn’t happen, I learn from it. For example, if I feature a pair of studded jeans and zero people purchase them, I likely won’t feature something like that in the future. (Also because what was I thinking?! 😉) This research also allows me to bring my readers more of what they enjoy.

That said, I’m not going to stop featuring pieces I love just because they aren’t high performers for the blog. For example, I realize that my audience is pretty split down the middle when it comes to maxi dresses and skirts. Would it be smart to perhaps go with pieces that perform better? I guess. But I love maxis, so I’m going to keep on keepin’ on. :)

Want to get more use out of your investments?! Purchase mostly products that come back year after year, and simply restyle them. At this point, I could totally run my blog without purchasing anything over the course of the year because my closet is largely made up of basics that I’ve acquired along the way, whether from my own investments or partnerships with brands.

Don’t obsess over stats and analytics.

Stats and analytics are great because they help determine what’s working and what’s not. But don’t be a slave to them. There have been years where I’ve completely ignored them; there have been years where I paid more attention in an effort to learn and create better content. Right now, I typically look at my analytics at the end of the week, and take note of which posts my readers liked the best. But I don’t log on every day because I don’t want them to inadvertently dissuade me from trying new things! Your brain is better than your stats.

Instagram really isn’t that big of a deal.

I completely understand why so much importance is placed on Instagram. Brands look for high following counts and great engagement on social media platforms when they’re considering who to partner with. It’s highly visible, and it’s a quick and easy way to try to measure success. But it’s also a very ineffective and inaccurate way to measure success if your main focus is your blog, because there isn’t necessarily a correlation between great Instagram stats and great blog stats. Brands have certainly caught on to this.

I’m not great at Instagram. I fail to see the bigger picture, and I tend to post stuff that doesn’t contribute to a beautiful feed. I also don’t understand how to grow my account. For the most part, I’m stagnant. So much of it seems to be left up to the Instagram gods! I try my best, but I know I’m not in total control, so I don’t worry about it. Instead, I’ve decided to focus my efforts on Facebook and Pinterest. While it’s not helping me win any popularity contests, the platforms are helping my blog grow.

Invest in what you own and cannot be taken from you: your blog. Put all your eggs into the Instagram basket and you could lose everything if Instagram is suddenly shut down. Social media is best used as a way to promote, not host, content.

Find out what works for you! Maybe it’s Instagram; maybe it’s not. Just don’t revert back to middle school and get depressed over something silly.

Don’t rely on one source of income.

Don’t rely solely on one source of income: social media collaborations, blog partnerships, affiliate earnings or ads. (Or however else you make money.) If your chosen source dries up, what ever will you do? Instead, diversify!

Keep a list of ideas.

This is a simple one, but it’s been instrumental in keeping this site up and running. Ideas come at the weirdest times–and usually not when I’m sitting at my computer. So I keep a list in the “Notes” app on my iPhone. When I have no idea what to write about, I reference it. SO helpful.

Avoid writing in the second person.

This is a bit ironic since half of this article is written in the second person. But generally, I try to write in the first person because again, I’m not trying to talk in absolutes, act like I’m the authority on topics, or offend people with different opinions. Cut out the pronoun “you” as much as you can, and your post is simply your take on things. Even better is to ask how readers feel, and really take the time to consider where they’re coming from.

(Just a reminder that this post is written to myself!)

Walk away when you need to.

Every once in a while, when I’m exhausted or completely uninspired, I walk away. Sometimes it’s just for a day, and no one notices. Other times, I’ll schedule out a week’s worth of content so I can recollect myself and catch up on other things. (And still, very few people notice!) On a few occasions, I’ve completely ghosted, too. 😂

I’ve learned that even if you work for yourself, personal days are important. When I return, I’m truly excited about the work again. :)

Be consistent but don’t beat yourself up.

What success I’ve had with blogging, in my opinion, can largely be attributed to consistency. For years, I did everything in my power to have my post up sometime after midnight. I’m not saying that the only way to become successful is to blog every day; some of my absolute favorite bloggers only post a few times per week but their posts are of more substance. (There’s something to be said for quality over quantity!) I do, however, think that my site grew quickly because readers knew they could expect new content every morning.

Now, though, I’m a little easier on myself. First of all, my blog is more established, so I have more leniency. I also have a family now, which takes precedence over the site. And my posts are taking me more time to write these days because I’m trying to transition from fashion to lifestyle blogging.

While it’s not ideal, I know my readers understand, and I’m not beating myself up over it. I’m proud if I get my posts up by the end of the day at this point! It’s just a blog. :)

Proofread, but be okay with imperfection.

This is my biggest struggle at the moment. Like, I know that this post is strewn with errors and the flow is all wrong. I can feel it, because for the most part, I’m free writing. But I don’t know. Sometimes I feel like posting “raw” work is more powerful than posting the “perfected” stuff. So I’m trying to to meet myself in the middle, if that makes sense.

And I do feel like I’m making progress. I sat down to write this post this morning, for example, because I was working on another project yesterday and at the end of it, I really wanted to go out for Derby’s chicken sandwich special with Mitch and Emma and then go to bed. Normally, I like to give posts like this one way more thought. (And get them up in time. #Fail) In my perfect world, I’d write and then come back to it several times over the course of a week… and then edit and analyze and delete and add until I couldn’t look at it anymore. But as you know, I’ve recently been trying to let that desire go. To eat the chicken sandwich and then write and hit publish even if it’s 12 hours late and be okay with it. I mean, that’s more me anyway, right? All part of the grand plan?

Perhaps I’m making progress because Emma’s been singing “Let it Go” from Frozen all day every day and the message is seeping into my subconscious. She’s singing it not because she’s into the movie, mind you–we’re still completely devoted to “The Little Mermaid” behind closed doors over here–but because all the cool toddlers are doin’ it. So yeah. I’m trying to let it go, too.

Proofread, but don’t obsess.

Choose what to invest your time in.

There’s always “something else” you could do, but it’s important to decide ahead of time where you want to focus your efforts. For example, I used to try to tackle as much as humanly possible every day, and surprise, surprise: I always wound up feeling defeated. Now, though, I start out my day with clear and realistic expectations.

Yesterday’s goal was to publish that day’s blog post and promote it on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter; write and submit a sponsored blog post draft and the accompanying social media photos/captions to a PR company; respond to reader emails and messages for an hour, get the $600 Lilly Pulitzer giveaway ready for publication and then push it live; and write and schedule this post. And that’s it. Could I have done a zillion other things to make my site better and increase earnings? Sure. But I can only do so much, and I can’t work around the clock. I’m happy with what I accomplished. (Even though this post went up late. 😜)

Trust your instincts.

What works for one blogger might not work for another. Take inspiration away from others but don’t assume that their approaches will be better for you than your own. Trust yourself.

Do the right thing.

Even if it seems like others aren’t. You have a good head on your shoulders. Use it! If something doesn’t feel right, don’t do it… and you’ll sleep easy!

Have fun.

Isn’t that the reason you started? :)

Questions? Want to add something? Feel free to drop a line in the comments below!