Not sure when exactly it happened, but recently, I’ve been referred to as an OG blogger. It’s true that when I started the site almost 8 years ago, lifestyle blogging still felt a bit like the wild west; we were experimenting and trying out new ways of creating content just because it made us happy — I had no idea what I was actually doing, and there was no real business strategy behind it. Fast forward to 2017, and to say that the creative digital world has “changed” would be an understatement; blogging has become a full-fledged career option, and the digital space has opened the doors for many more creatives, from photographers and writers to stylists and social media influencers, to make a living doing what they love.
The fact that an unprecedented number of female entrepreneurs are launching businesses today is certainly cause for celebration, but it can be daunting if you’re thinking about jumping into an already crowded space. These were some of the topics I was asked to speak on at last weekend’s Create + Cultivate panel at SXSW, and it got me thinking that many of you guys may be curious about some of the same challenges as you grow your careers. So, here goes! Keep reading for a few of my thoughts on finding your niche, growing your brand, and getting paid to do what you love.
#1 – Be an original (aka, be YOU.)
The rise in social media has changed our society in so many ways, one of the biggest being that we are exposed to what everyone else is doing all the time. One upside of this is that it can be a source of endless inspiration from people and companies all over the world. The downside is that it can be so tempting to try to replicate what someone else is doing successfully. I say “try,” because I think we can agree that the copycat version never feels quite like the original. It may be cliché, but I love the quote about choosing to be a first-rate version of yourself and not a second-rate version of somebody else. When you’ve got this, you’re armed with everything you really need to stand out and be memorable.
#2 – Do what you love.
To carve out a niche for yourself, start by thinking about what you really love, what you feel passionate about, what excites you – basically, that thing you’d be doing and talking and thinking about even if you weren’t getting paid for it – then figure out how to do that thing better and differently than anyone else. You are the only person in this world that can do YOU, and that’s why your authentic personal story is your greatest asset. It’s how each of us can show the world who we are and what makes us unique and unforgettable.
#3 – Stay true to your voice.
On this site, we talk about so many subject matters, from food to fashion to beauty to finance. It can be easy to lose that unique voice when covering such a wide range of topics, so we have to work to maintain a certain point-of-view that differentiates our site from others.
For us, it comes down to the fact that the five other women on my team and I view ourselves as the actual audience we’re writing for, so the content we create “scratches our own itch,” answers our own questions, and dives into topics that we’re curious about and that we want to learn more about ourselves. When we write stories that we genuinely want to read, they feel authentic and inevitably resonate the most with our audience, because we’re hitting on topics that real women actually care about. Have you noticed an unmet need in your industry or a problem of your own that you’d like to solve? Maybe you’re the person who’s supposed to go out their and solve it.
#4 – Create a mission statement.
Our mission statement is here, and when we’re unsure about a story idea, we can hold it up against this message and see whether it’s aligned. Of course we love fashion and beauty and food and pretty things, but we are also concerned about empowering women in our society, and we’re always looking for ways to lift up our readers and help them become the healthiest, happiest versions of themselves.
One of the most important parts of a mission statement is writing it down, which will help articulate what the real vision for your company or creative work will be. Once you’ve done this, you can start to be more strategic in the messaging you’re putting out there. This statement can be long or short, it can be written as descriptors (cheerful, wise, funny), or it can be written as more of a mission statement that shows what you’re all about.
When you’ve honed in on your vision and what you want to be about, remember that everything you put out there, from the way you dress to the way you speak to what you post on Instagram, is a building block that defines the message you’re sending to the world. So keep it true to you!
#5 – Be truly good at something.
So you’ve considered your strengths, discovered your passion, and honed in on your mission statement… now comes the hard work! These building blocks, combined with a strong work ethic and smart daily decision-making, lay the foundation for a successful creative business. Several years back, I decided that my team and I would focus on creating high-quality, original content. Producing shoots, writing good stories, and creating new recipes takes a lot more time and work than curating content that’s already out there, but the original content is ultimately what sets this site apart and has allowed me to grow it into a business.
It’s always exciting to be featured in a magazine or score a partnership with a great new brand, but for me, the defining career moments happen when I realize that I’ve built a real, sustainable business that allows me and my team to do what we love. Having the freedom to be creative every day and use my platform to positively influence our readers’ lives is what I love most about my job – and makes me thankful to get up and go to work each day.