Over the past couple of weeks I've seen several people in my Twitter feed saying they can't wait to start blogging full time in 2016, only a few more weeks left of work until they're a full time blogger, January is the start of their full time blogging career, and so on and so forth. Firstly, and I said this on Twitter, this is absolutely excellent because it means that more and more brands are taking bloggers seriously as influencers with a role to play in the digital marketing world. This excites me muchly as it means blogging in the UK is taking a step closer to what it is in the US; a legitimate profession in which bloggers are taken seriously (check out Pro Blogger, for example, they even have a jobs board with actual paid work for bloggers). American bloggers would laugh their heads off at being asked to do some work for a brand in return for 'exposure' or the chance to win something. Secondly, I am proud to be part of a community that's growing and flourishing, and I think there's enough work out there for all freelancers. I don't want to put anyone off or be in the least bit condescending, but for those who are interested I thought I'd let you know what it's really like to be a full time blogger (with a medium-ish blog) in the UK.
It's Hard Work
No surprise there, you already know that blogging on top of a full time job or degree is hard work, but you can't expect that to suddenly get easier because you have more hours in the day - those hours are filled with more things on top of the actual blogging, which I'll come to later. 2015 has been my first full year of full time blogging (I took the plunge in July 2014), and I'm not gonna lie - it's tough. It's the same for anyone who freelances or runs their own business - you work twice as hard as you did in your day job, and I used to be a school teacher which was no walk in the park workload-wise. Now I work even longer hours, and still do seven days a week, so it can be tough getting a work-life balance as you try to get established.
You'll Have To Work Hard To Get Work
Unless you have a vast audience and are signed to a management who will get all your work for you, you're going to have to make sure you have enough paid work to cover your rent, bills and expenses each month. This is incredibly time consuming and involves pitching, meetings, online and in-person networking, and being incredibly on the ball about the industry, with a never-ending stream of creative ideas up your sleeve. 50% of my working week is taken up with this stuff, 20% with going to events, press previews and doing 'things' I'll cover on the blog, and 30% is writing blog posts and editing photos. If you imagine your days being you sat in your onesie with your laptop, a packet of hobnobs, and the freedom to write blog post after blog post on the topics of your choice until you clock off at 5pm, I hate to break it to you - this is not going to happen unless you are very well off, or have some amazing longterm brand collaborations lined up. Of course, you're ready for this hard work, and no one does creativity and self-promotion like you. That's why you're taking this risk and giving it all you got.
It's A New Industry To Be Working In
This is both good and bad. At the moment brands are taking chances on bloggers with small to medium audiences, and seeing what they can do for their company. YouTube audiences and blog readers are wising up to the fact that several big names get paid big bucks to say they like something in their monthly favourites videos, and possibly, ahem, have plenty of stealth marketing going on in their blogs too. Brands want to make sure there are lots of authentic voices that can be found when someone Googles their service or product, and that's what you can offer - a unique voice and point of view. So the digital marketing world is your oyster, and if you can convince a company to work with you and show them how you'll both benefit, that's money in the bank. By the way, you are comfortable with writing sponsored content aren't you? As in, taking money for promoting brands in your blog posts? That's probably the only way you'll be able to make any substantial amount of money on your actual blog, as advertising space and affiliate links are probably unlikely to pay the mortgage. I'm just asking because there's some negative feeling out there about bloggers taking money for posts - some small minded people think this somehow makes you dishonest and less of a blogger. They don't seem to realise you can still promote brands and write from the heart, about your passions and experiences, and most importantly - with your unique voice; it's what mainstream journalists have being doing for years (with far less transparency than bloggers).
It can be tricky posting a balance of sponsored and non-sponsored content, and I've had feedback from longterm readers that they feel I'm doing too much of the former. Your integrity is everything as an influencer, once it's gone, it's gone - but at the same time, as a freelancer you feel as if you have to take the work whilst it's there, it might not be tomorrow. Another downside to this being a new industry is that brands have no clue what to pay bloggers, they look to you to set your rates, and there's a lot of anxiety about this amongst both full time and part time bloggers (several times this year I've had bloggers ask me exactly what I charge, and then get arsey with me when I don't tell them. Most enquiries concerning freelancing I'll help with, but no one should have to tell people their earnings, especially strangers). There's also a lack of code of conduct from both bloggers and brands, with both taking advantage of each other at times and doing some very unsavoury things. Here's hoping this will all improve over time, fingers crossed!
Are You Ready To Go It Alone?
When I say alone, I mean alone. As a blogger you are literally your own brand, and have to become all-consumed with the branding, marketing, self-promotion, and do everything from getting your clients to writing content and editing photos, to making the tea. Always lots of tea. You might live with others who work from home so you'll have people to chat to, and there are loads of freelancer clubs where you can sit in trendy cafes with fellow freelancers to get an office vibe. Plus as a blogger you'll probably be going to lots of events and having actual conversations with other humans. I don't mean you might get lonely - no way, you'll be too damn busy for that, I just meant, you need to be ready to really go for it creatively with what it is you write about and what you're prepared to put out there in order to earn money. It can be scary approaching a huge brand and suggesting that total-nobody me promotes them when their latest campaign has a Hollywood celebrity in it, and last month they worked with the biggest bloggers in the land. It can be daunting telling a brand ways in which you've seen you can make them better (I do some social media and influencer consulting amongst other things), and cringey when a brand asks for your elevator pitch and you have to sell yourself, but you have to do things like this in order to get work. As a full time blogger you exist in your own bubble and you drive every aspect of your business, people are buying in to you, not some kind of product.
You'll Never Be Able To Stop Working
This one sounds scary, but seriously - how are you going to manage your hours? I don't just mean your daily ones, though of course it's good to have some kind of schedule and editorial calendar, I mean what are you going to do when you get sick or want to go on holiday - no one is going to pay you for those kind of days off anymore. What are you going to do about savings and a pension? How will you know when enough is enough when it comes to shorterm contracts? You did a one-off post for a brand that didn't get back in touch, so you need to get back on your pitching treadmill again - just kidding, you will never be able to leave that - and you need to always be strategising. As a blogger you already know that blogging is all-consuming, from the pictures you take of your meals whilst your boyfriend patiently waits to start eating, to the things you heard on the bus that might make a good story, to the memories of past events you feel ready to get personal about. Your spare time is all about outfit posts, reviewing products, Twitter chats, and finding new cakes to bake. You spend as much time reading other people's blogs and browsing Pinterest and Instagram as you do writing your own content, and that's not going to change, it just means you'll become even more focused on what to blog about, and how it will help you get business. I try to balance my non-sponsored content with personal posts, helpful posts, inspiring posts, and posts that I have an inkling will appeal to brands and make them want to work with me. I know, I know, it's manipulative, but that's what full time blogging does to you - because there's this thing called rent, and you need money for it.
You'll Have To Keep Them Sweet
It's quite a scary thought to realise that without readers your whole business would just pack up. So building and maintaining your audience is going to be a key part of your job. I run giveaways, try to reply to every tweet and email from readers, join in and host Twitter chats, share and comment on other blogger's posts, and always put the readers at the heart of what I do. There's no point in me agreeing to promote industrial cleaner (true story) no matter how good the money is, because I'll lose my readers' trust, and likewise with me writing too many ranty posts about blogging like this one, as they just annoy bloggers - this one lost me several hundred Twitter followers and I saw some of them slating me on Twitter LOL! Seriously, all bloggers that deal with brands need to be professional, including on their Twitters (save the bitching about brands and PRs for the pub or DMs), and in the tone of their content, but when it's how you earn your living you must work hard to be professional and courteous, to colleagues (fellow bloggers), to brands and to readers, and to remember that the days of petty, jealous indirect tweets, thinly veiled bitchy posts, and the posting of inappropriate or offensive content are over. But I'm sure you never did that anyway.
You Might Have To Do Other Things
When I quit teaching I told myself that I would definitely be giving my all to blogging, and that meant no supply teaching. There have been times this year when I could have done with the money, London supply rates are amazing - mostly because the inner-city schools you get sent to are like war zones and their teachers have been signed off sick with stress. However, I didn't want to be in some kind of teacher/blogger limbo, doing bits of both. I know some bloggers who say they are full time but do one or two days a week temping, or have a pub job in the evening, and there's absolutely nothing wrong with this. You have to be realistic when it comes to money - there are times of the year where brands have run out of budget, or you're just having an unlucky run of pitching. If you're not earning enough money as a full time blogger you might have to accept that you need to do other things. I definitely do (I live in London!), but I've tried to keep them related to blogging. I run blogging events and workshops for brands, do blogger outreach for brands (connect them with bloggers for specific campaigns), speak at blogging conferences (and recently one for brands as well), act as a consultant for brands wanting to know more about social media and influencers, and write content for brand websites and for publications.
Some of this work has slowly dwindled over the past few years (I did a lot of these things whilst still working full time), and the reason for this is that most brands now have full time employees doing all the blogger stuff, whereas when I started it was all new to them and they needed help. This means that I am having to change track slightly in 2016, and luckily I have built up some good relationships with brands that means I can work with them in different ways as the influencer industry grows and changes (sorry that's vague, I'll explain more later down the line next year). It might be worth doing a skills audit and seeing what you can offer brands alongside your blog and social media platforms, or thinking about contingency plans for earning money if you're not breaking even some months.
On The Plus Side
Being a full time blogger is one of the best jobs I ever had. It can be stressful, it can be annoying. But I just see the negative things as challenges, and use every experience to help me improve and learn. It's great to set your own hours, be your own boss, to be able to go and have brunch with a fellow blogger when you want to let off steam or bounce ideas off someone, to be able to meet with brands and PRs in office hours, to do things like go to the supermarket or cinema when they're not busy, and when PRs find out you're available on weekdays you'll get invited to more press events, film screenings, product launches, exhibitions, etc (depending on what type of blog you have). I only have to do the wretched early morning London Underground commute a few times a year for breakfast press events, and it's enough to remind me how lucky I am that my morning commute now involves walking from my bedroom to my lounge. I may have days where I pitch my heart out to no avail and get down in the dumps (especially if I later find out my ideas have been stolen, but that's another story), but there are work days I know some people would love to have where I write a couple of posts in the morning that will cover half a month's rent, then go to review a posh restaurant for lunch and head to a spa to review a luxury facial. I get sent more free stuff than I can literally fit into my flat (I'm not kidding, it's become an issue), and I have some amazing opportunities that I would never have had if I wasn't a blogger.
You just have to remember that whilst it's nice to have the postman knocking with another armful of parcels, and it's great to get invites to A-list parties - free juicers and eyeshadow palettes won't pay the rent, neither will standing next to Jude Law at a red-carpet premiere and trying to get a surreptitious selfie with him in it. Being a full time blogger means keeping your feet on the ground and allowing yourself to feel lucky, but knowing you need to earn money, and acting accordingly. Although at times commercialising (or rather, monetising) your blog can be tense, there's actually a great side to making it your living - you'll be pushing boundaries in making yourself creative, both with creating content and pitching it, you'll meet wonderful people in the industry (including other bloggers) and get to play a part in some exciting commercial ventures. You'll learn a lot about yourself, I certainly have, and you'll be working for pay in a whole different way that will inspire you as much as it tests you.