For the last decade, I battled through the trenches of the advertising industry as a copywriter. But if the world was an airport, I was a traveler at baggage claim. Every so often, I’d see a bag that looked like mine. Sometimes, I’d even pull it off the carousel. Then, I’d quickly realize that I’d made a mistake, put it back and wait for another rotation.
Or, maybe a more accurate description would be that my career was a road trip and jobs were stops on the way to an unknown destination. Some were nice; I’d think, “Wow, I could stay here.” But inevitably, the charm would wear off. Slipping away with a cliché “It’s not you … it’s me,” I’d hop in my convertible, put on my sunglasses and drive off, watching the town disappear in the rear view mirror.
This is not to say I’ve had a reckless career. Quite the opposite. I did things by the book. Went to college. Got an internship. Then a job. Made moves. I continued climbing until—just before turning 30—I landed a senior-level position. Shortly after, there were talks of me heading up a new division with a promotion to Associate Creative Director.
So, what happened?
Well, something didn’t feel right. You see, I have a blog that evolved from hobby to side hustle over the last two years. The more my career grew, the more my blog suffered. I’d go weeks without fresh content. My audience plateaued. Work buried me, leaving no spare time. And, while I loved being a copywriter, I felt I was at a crossroads and needed to make a decision – fast. Just like that, I walked away from my career to blog full-time. That was two months ago.
Here are three hard lessons I’ve learned since then.
1. People aren’t going to get it.
Being a professional blogger is 2019’s version of “I’m going to Hollywood!” People look at you with pity. The nicer ones pretend to be supportive, even asking how they can subscribe (they mysteriously never do). I get it. Really, I do. It’s hard to understand what we don’t understand.
These reactions used to bother me, because in advertising, you go back to the drawing board when your idea falls flat with others. In the blogger world? If others don’t get it, you’re onto something new – and that is gold in an oversaturated space. So, learn to be okay with not being understood.
2. No one is looking out for you.
Listen. Once you go out on your own and the 1st and 15th of the month are no longer synonymous with pay day, you start to miss the comfort of that old paycheck. Especially when you have to follow up on past-due invoices.
As a blogger, I work 70+ hours/week. If I don’t hustle, I can’t pay my bills. Because of that, I went on a stretch where I accepted unsustainable amounts of work. Don’t do it. Establish boundaries. Say no. Set realistic deadlines. Tell companies – no matter who they are – that you’re booked. If you’re drained, you can’t represent yourself or clients well. The balance between “Rise and grind – business never sleeps!” and “Dang, girl, you need rest” is hard to find, y’all.
3. What I thought mattered, didn’t.
Bloggers know there is money to be made. Naturally, they want it. Even within my plus size blogging niche, plenty of people are going after the same collabs/audience/budgets. That reality scared me. Why would anyone choose me when other bloggers have more followers, experience and popularity within the community? Face palm.
Let’s make this clear: Numbers do not equal sales. Or ROI. And while popularity is nice, fellow bloggers are not usually your target. Stop comparing. Instead, learn who your audience is and what drives them to buy.
There is no magic number where you’ll have “made it.” At 500,000 followers, you’ll still have to work to source quality opportunities. It pays (quite literally) to be about your business. We are our brands.
To me, that means taking accountability. I can’t do, say and post whatever I want – even major bloggers who seem to do so are, for the most part, functioning within calculated parameters. A single post can land opportunities or drive them away. I might look cute wearing winter boots in May, but it’s not savvy. So, in a sense, post what you want, but be realistic about the consequences. If you post those winter boots in May, swimsuit companies might not reach out. Strategy is everything.
I joke that bloggers have to live life two months in the future—but that’s true! This week, I’m shooting swimwear. That forecasting mindset is rare. That’s how I turned blogging into an even more successful career than the one I left. Since starting my blog, I’ve been on talk shows, flown out to photo shoots, modeled e-commerce internationally and sat front row at New York Fashion Week. I’ve worked with ModCloth, Sephora, JustFab, Kroger and countless other fashion, beauty and lifestyle brands.
Anything can happen, but I’m confident that the same nimble attitude that made me restless in an office will help me pivot seamlessly as an entrepreneur. After years of cruising aimlessly, I feel like I’m finally driving toward a clear destination.
—Sarah-Jane Morales for Fairy Godboss