It’s 2017 and I still have a 9 to 5 that pays the bills. I’m grateful for that, even as I pursue  my goal of becoming a well-known, bestselling author and YouTuber. It can be a real struggle to keep up with the busy world of blogging and vlogging while working a full-time, professional job. I’ve been working like crazy on my blog and YouTube behind the scenes this week, but from the outside looking in, it would be hard for someone to tell. I haven’t put out a blog post or video in a week; meanwhile, full-time content creators are churning out new videos, articles and social media posts almost daily. How can I, as a full time professional, keep up with that?

Well, the answer is that I have to remember that this is not a competition. It’s not me against other writers and content creators, even though it may feel that way. I don’t have a huge number of subscribers and followers on social media. But, I do have a lot of value to share. I have to remind myself that I’m in a building and growing phase. The people who are working as full time content creators mostly did not start out that way. Many of them were posting videos as a passion project on the side, only to eventually amass a following. The same can, and will happen for me.

I don’t want to just write posts and put them out there, and not have anyone read the posts. This may sound strange, but often creators spend hours and hours creating content, only to skimp out on actually promoting it. There can be a lot of reasons for this, and having a full time job is one of those reasons. When you work full time, it’s hard to have the time to spend promoting and marketing on social media. It can also be scary to “put yourself out there” for fear that something you say or create can put your full time job in jeopardy. I’ve gotten to a place where I’m mentally free enough to pursue this work and promote myself boldly online. If I want to grow my audience, I have to take some steps to actually promote my work.

NEW BLOG LOGO AND GRAPHICS

This week, I took some time to streamline my branding. Although I switched up the direction of my blog a few months ago, I had not sat down and created the collateral to go with it. When I say “collateral,” it means that I had not created a cohesive logo, blog, and social media graphics to match my new direction. I was off on Friday, so I literally spent the entire day creating a new logo, blog header, updating all of the graphics on my blog posts, and for my social media. It was an overwhelming task, but I tackled it one piece at a time.   I primarily used Canva to create my new header and all of the complimentary graphics.

The hardest part f making the new blog header was determining what “tagline” to use. I decided to keep it simple and put writer & entrepreneur. I chose writer, because I am one, and writing is my main focus. My blog is actually a focus over my other social media and video creation. I chose entrepreneur because I am one, also, and I write about travel freedom and making money online through writing.

I’m pretty sure I’ll update that tagline once I can think of a way to capture the essence of my site, and how I hope to provide value to readers.

MY FIRST MEDIA KIT

I created my first media kit. I put this off for a long time.  A media kit is a document that outlines who I am and what my blog is all about at-a-glance. It also provides information about my social media following and online reach. I felt really nervous about making a media kit because my following is so small. But, I’m working on being “fearless” when it comes to promoting myself. If I have 80 followers on a social media site, I need to be proud of that and keep working on growing my numbers. If I hide, I won’t grow. I’m proud of the fact that my small, but growing following is full of authentic readers. In the past, I collaborated with companies even as a smaller blogger, and I’m often approached to do speaking engagements. A media kit can help companies and individuals quickly decide whether or not my brand will be a good fit for a collaboration.

ONLINE RESUME & PORTFOLIO

One of the ways that I make money online is through freelance writing. I’ve had a lot of success with the Upwork platform in the past, but lately, I have not been getting a lot of action on my profile. I couldn’t figure out why, but then I remembered the tips that helped me when I first started on the platform. One of those tips was that I needed to keep my profile updated, provide work samples, etc. I did that when I first started, but I have not updated those resourced in a while. My next project is to update my profile on Upwork and to turn this blog into more of an online portfolio instead of just a blog. I’ll be getting more personal with my insights and the behind-the-scenes work of building a brand, growing my writing career, and filming videos. I posted this behind-the-scenes look at my YouTube video filming process on Instagram.

A #behindthescenes look at the experience of filming a #YouTube video solo. From the camera setup to lighting, scripting and reviewing the footage to make sure the right shots were captured, it’s a challenge. I’ve been watching and learning from #CaseyNeistat and some other vloggers and film makers to learn how to upgrade my film making. ____________________ Tools Used to Create this Video: •Camera: iPhone 6s 📱 •Tripod: Gorilla Tripod by #Joby 🦍 •Software: iMovie for iPhone 🎬 The equipment seen in this video includes my Manfrotto compact action tripod, my Canol Rebel t6i, and my Rode Mic. _____________________ #timelapse #timelapsevideo #contentcreator #creator #creativeprocess #houstonblogger #houstonvlogger #tombasspark #ampitheater #iphone6s #gorillatripod #joby #iphonevideography #rodemic #canon #photojournalist #behindthescenes #blackgirlsblog #blackgirlsvlog #writer

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VIDEO PRODUCTION & EDITING

As illustrated in the behind-the-scenes clip from Instagram, I’m stepping up my video production game. It’s no secret that I love YouTube, and I want to learn how to do more than just “talking head” videos. Those are great, but I want to produce really compelling video content that tells a story instead of just “chit chat” videos where I talk. I know that this is a learning process, but the first step that I’m taking is learning how to better use my video equipment. I have a Canon DSLR (the Canon Rebel T6i), and a iPhone, and that’s honestly all that I need to make great videos. The rest of the process is learning how to use what I have, film the right clips, edit, and create “stories” instead of just shooting videos.

THE SECRET TO BALANCING WORK & BLOGGING

As you can see, I have a lot on my plate. It’s hard to commute back and forth, work 8-10 hours, take care of my adult and parenting responsibilities, and make time to write posts, shoot videos, do graphic design, and promote on social media. I’m a one-woman show. But, I keep pushing because I honestly love it. I truly, truly enjoy writing and creating content that entertains and informs. I really believe that I have valuable information to share and stories to tell, and that is what drive me. So, instead of spending an entire day off resting or on vacay, I’m working. My sorority had a big conference in town this week, but I was hammering away on my laptop. I did make some time for socializing and exercise, but the rest of my time was spent working on building this blog because this is my dream.

There is no “easy” way to balance it all. The secret is to remember why you are doing what you are doing. You have to focus on the fact that you have a unique voice and that you have valuable information to share with the world. The practical process is to stay focused on individual tasks that you need to accomplish in order to reach your bigger goals. Right now, I’m in the building phase. I want to grow my audience, so that I can offer products and services to fit their needs.

Decide what tasks you want to accomplish in a single day or work session and get really intense in your work. Let your friends and family know that this is “work” and you’re not just on the computer browsing online. Decide on a start and end time for each work session, and readjust your timeline if you need to. Work hard and promote the heck out of each video, article, and piece of content you create. Content promotion can be done on your lunch breaks, or can be scheduled using apps that make your work more efficient.

I’ll be posting more about the software applications that I use to help me build my blog and social media presence in an upcoming post. I’ll also be talking about how bloggers and vloggers can gain an advantage by using the skills and knowledge from their professional 9 to 5 jobs when growing their passion projects. If you want to stay up-to-date on my progress, be sure to subscribe to the blog! Until next time, be well and keep grinding.

I took a four month break from blogging, and I’m back and better than ever. Not only have I restarted my blog, I have completely rebranded it as well. Here’s how and why I completely started over.

My Blogging Beginnings

I’ve been in the blogging game for quite a while, but, before now, I never quite found my niche. I stated out blogging back in 2008. At the time, I was working as a teacher. Even then, I wanted to be a writer. But, I took a safer route. Instead of writing about writing, I wrote about other people’s books. My first blog became a book review blog, where I also shared a few writing tips that I was sharing with my students. It was eventually supposed to become a resource for my students, but I stopped teaching and headed to law school.

I continued to review books, and I worked with authors to review their manuscripts, and review their completed works while I was in school. Law school is pretty challenging, so it was hard to keep up with the blog, and I became really inconsistent, and only posted occasionally. While I was in school, I also became obsessed with hair care, and I watched tons of YouTubers create both videos and blogs. I was too scared to start a YouTube channel because I thought it would hurt my chances with employers.

A couple of years out of law school, I finally started a beauty blog, and a beauty-related YouTube channel. It was going quite well before I shut everything down for personal reasons. The blogging bug never left me, though. I started blogging about legal topics, but really, I wanted to write about writing. I took a few months away from social media and blogging to think through the direction that I wanted to go in, and I finally decided to follow my spirit and blog about my journey towards growing my career as a writer.

Starting Over

I had been cultivating the online handle “attorneydebra” for quite some time. It seemed scary to start over, not just online, but everywhere. I started a new Instagram page that was more sleek and professional, with less personal posts, and I changed my social media handles to bydebrajohnson. I chose that name because it represents what I want to see – my name as a published writer. It’s also general enough that it can cover many interests, instead of defining me as an “attorney” or any other title.

Starting over hasn’t been as easy as 1-2-3. I lost some followers on my first Instagram page, who were following me for legal tips and advice. I still get inquires for legal services, and I have had to decline them, as I’ve shifted my focus away from 1:1 legal services. I know that some of these people were waiting to hire me, and I know that I may take a hit for trustworthiness, as some people may think that rebranding, or shifting focus is “flaky.” But, at the end of the day, I have to do what’s best for me, and for my brand.

New Blog Focus

Yet another challenge has been figuring out exactly what to focus on. Literally every day, I have a new idea or set of ideas about what will work for my new blog. I know that there are certain topics that I want to tackle, but it’s seems scary to talk about topics like life and love. It’s much safer to talk about business topics, and the law, but there is so much more to who I am. I do plan to share blogging and writing tips, but it won’t all be strictly business.

Whenever I read about bloggers starting over, they always talk about branding as logos, colors, WordPress themes, and marketing. Those things are important, but when you have a personal brand, you have to first and foremost make sure that your brand speaks to who you are. You can change your logo, your colors, and the arrangement of your blog. The one thing you can’t change is what’s important to you. Make sure that your personal brand speaks to who you are, and what you have to offer to readers.

I know that my focus may shift and change again, and I’m okay with that.

Planning Ahead & Setting Goals

The main thing that I’m doing differently from the blogs that I started before is actually planning, and thinking ahead. Although things may change, I am planning out what I plan to write about, how I plan to connect with others on social media, and how I can sustain this blog over time. I’m stepping up my photography and videography game to offer quality content that really conveys the essence of my messages.

I’ll be doing a separate post about my blogging goals, and how to set your own blogging goals for the rest of the year. My primary goal can be summed up in one phrase: connect with others. I also have more specific goals based on metrics, and targets that I want to hit for my blog, and each type of social media that I use.

I’m not putting too much pressure on myself because it’s just plain hard to start all the way from scratch. If I can get my writing out in the world, be consistent, and persist through the challenges, I know I’ll consider my new blog to be a success.

 

I recently rebuilt my entire blog (again), and I’ve learned so much about my personal blogging style and the way I like to share my writing. My blogging journey has been so long that it would take a while to go through my entire history, but in order for this post to make sense, I’ll give you some background about my blogging experience.

Blogging Platforms

I started my very first blog way back in 2008, as a way to share writing tips and book reviews. After a while, I started to receive a good amount of traffic, and I started working with authors to review books for them. I kept that blog going for a long time, like many, many  years. I wasn’t always posting consistently, but it was on a free platform, WordPress.com, so I didn’t have to worry about the maintenance.

I think that WordPress.com is a great platform for someone who wants to try out blogging without a big commitment. However, although they have added a lot of new features over the years, it is very limited. The ways that you can monetize your blog (make money off of it), are very limited. If you violate the terms of service, you risk having your blog shut down immediately with no warning. This happened to me once when I accidentally included a line of affiliate code in a few blog posts that I transferred over. After that, I decided to get serious about mastering self-hosted WordPress sites.

WordPress itself is a free, open-source blogging platform. If you host your WordPress site on WordPress.com for free, then there are some limiting factors. Your blog will also have the word Wordpess in the title, unless you pay for an upgrade to have your own domain name mapped to your site. If you are like me and you love the WordPress software, but want more flexibility, the best bet is to self-host your own WordPress site.

The self-hosted software is commonly referred to was WordPress.org to distinguish it from the hosting site. If you self-host, then you have to sign up for a hosting plan. I’ve tried a few, but my personal favorite for beginners is GoDaddy.com. I used GoDaddy for many years. I currently use WPEngine, a premium hosting service. To be perfectly honest, it’s quite advanced for me. Luckily, they have good customer service. My blogging needs are relatively simple. The only time I’ve run into a problem is when I added a security certificate to my site. Don’t get too bogged down in the details, as it’s all a lot easier than it seems.

If all of this sounds foreign to you, don’t worry. It took me quite a while to become comfortable with the tech side of blogging, and I’m still learning more and more every day. Technology aside, an important part of blogging is branding. Back in the early days of blogging, could just log on and post. Blogging was like having an online diary where you posted your thoughts randomly, with or without pictures snatched off of the internet.

Blogging Branding

I used to use whatever pictures popped up in a search (this was even pre-Google), because I didn’t know anything about copyright laws, the FCC, or monetization. Nowadays, bloggers have to be much more careful about posting only original content, or content that we have the right to use. Further, it’s important to create a cohesive, modern brand to keep your readers engaged on your blog, and on other social media platforms that help to drive traffic to your blog.

Back in the day, all that one needed to create a successful blog was quality content. There wasn’t much competition, so you could build an audience easily. Now, the internet is busy and faster than ever. You can’t use other people’s imagery (pictures, videos, etc.) without taking a big risk, so you have to spend a lot of time ceating original information and graphics to share with your audience. We’re becoming a much more visual society, so the visual elements of a blog have to draw readers in. Lastly, bloggers can’t just write. We need to use social media to drive traffic, whether that’s by sharing pins on Pinterest, videos on YouTube, or gorgeous pictures on Instagram. All of this is a lot of work!

The good news is that, although blogging is a lot more work in 2017, there are also more resources available to help, and there are a lot more rewards for building a successful brand. In the early days of blogging, most people were blogging just for the love of writing, and made little to no money for their efforts. Although I received a few free books from my first blog, that was about it.

With the power of the internet today, and social media, bloggers and vloggers can turn their hobbies into a full time income, or they can use blogs and social media to grow thriving businesses. Today’s companies understand that “influencers” can help them to connect with their core audiences. Even if you don’t think you’d ever want to work with companies, building a strong personal brand and controlling your image online can help you advance your career or connect with people who enjoy the same things that you do.

I’ve had so many blogs and online personas that I was pretty all over the place. My first blog was based around me being a teacher. My next one was based around my natural hair journey. Yet another was based around my legal career. Do you see the problem? All of these narrow niche blogs weren’t sustainable for me. I still care about all of the topics I wrote about, but I’d rather talk about many different interests. This goes against popular advice, which says that we should niche down. In other words, many online marketers suggest that bloggers find a narrow niche and dominate it.

I think that, instead of focusing only on one niche, the best thing to do today is to build a personal brand. By infusing yourself and your personal interest into you brand, you can transfer that good will to any blog or business! That means that if you build a personal brand in addition to your business, you can sell that business and still have a loyal following. Let’s take Oprah, for example. She is her brand. That means that even though her show, The Oprah Show, has ended, she has transferred the goodwill from her audience to other businesses, like movies, her own television network, brand deals with companies like Weight Watchers, and O magazine. That’s the power of having a solid personal brand.

Rebuilding a Blog on WordPress

With all of this in mind, when I took a good long look at my business in December of 2016, I realized that my neither my blog or my brand fully aligned with the image I want to project. I’ve also written about how I was petty burned out and needed a break. I did something that I wouldn’t necessarily suggest that others do, which was shut down my website completely. I also cleared out my social media and completely stopped taking new legal clients or marketing. I have other streams of income, so I was able to do this. Obviously, if you depend on your blog for your income, you’ll want to rebrand while continuing to “work” your blog.

I dabbled with the idea of switching from WordPress to Squarespace, but that platform is just not for me. For one, I like the flexibility of being able to change to different hosts if I’m not happy with the service on a host. With Squarespace, I would be stuck only with Squarespace. That would also make me vulnerable to their pricing structure, and I would be limited to whatever themes they have to choose from. With WordPress, there are literally thousands of themes to choose from, and lots of developers that can help me take my blog to the next level when I want to add more complex features to my sight.

I think that plugins are another huge plus to WordPress. I actually don’t use a lot of plugins on my site, but there are always many to choose from whenever I want to spruce up my site. WordPress is an incredibly powerful platform and most serious bloggers and many world-famous corporations depend on WordPress to run their websites. I honestly can’t think of many downsides to running a blog on WordPress, but I’m pretty biased since I’ve been using it for years, but I really thought for a while about the decision. Most Squarespace sites that I’ve ever seen has been a bit “off” somewhere, with ill-placed graphics, images that aren’t resized well. That doesn’t usually happen with WordPress sites because premium themes are so well-built.

The cool thing about the hosting provider that I use, WP Engine, is that I can revamp my website in a staging area before the changes go live. This keeps me from “breaking” my blog, or just plain not liking any changes that I do make. I can try different themes, plugins, font changes, and upload graphics all in the staging area in an exact copy of my website. Once I’m happy with all of the changes, I can then deploy those changes to the live site, and seamlessly update my website!

Alternatively, I can put my WordPress site in “maintenance mode” while I make changes. I use both methods, when needed. I had shut my blog down by putting it in “maintenance mode,” but I also made changes in staging instead of making them to my live site, just to be safe.

Choosing a New Theme

I’ve been a long-time fan of BluChic and I have used their themes since 2013. I absolutely love the way they design feminine, professional themes for WordPress. But, I decided that it was time for a change. I once tried a theme by Restored316, another company that makes beautiful, feminine WordPress themes. Restored316 themes are a little different because the run on the Genesis Framework. I was actually trying Restored316 because I won a free theme (yay, me!), and luckily I already owned a copy of the Genesis Framework. (If not, I would have had to purchase it also.).

The problem that I ran into with the theme I selected is that it had a lot of hero image areas, which required high-quality pictures taken at a wide angle. I had professional pictures, but not enough high-quality wide shots to fill out the beautiful design of the theme. I spent so much time trying to make it work, before I realized that I needed to move on. I’m still a huge fan of those beautiful themes, and I definitely recommend them to any blogger who is looking for a feminine premium theme and doesn’t mind using Genesis with WordPress.

I follow a number of blogs, so I started checking out who they were designed by. Tow of the bloggers/YouTubers that I regularly follow were using pipdig themes. I clicked onto their website, and I immediately connected with the simplicity of the themes. They themes all have a clean, easily customizable design that works really well for lifestyle websites, and the overall vision that I was going for. I usually analyze things for a long time, but I purchased a pipdig theme pretty quickly. I’m very happy with the one I chose, which is called Style & Light. I only noticed one feature after the fact that I would have liked that was not included. But, that’s okay. This blog theme allows me to focus on writing blog posts, as opposed to many WordPress themes that are built more like static websites.

As you think about how you want your website to be built, I think it’s totally okay to draw inspiration from bloggers and vloggers that you admire. You don’t have to (nor should you) copy everything that they do. You are uniquely you, and your website and brand should reflect that.

Brand Colors and Graphics

As I shared, we live in a highly visual world, and brand colors and graphics are a primary way that you communicate your message to readers. For this site, I’m focusing on business, branding, and building a beautiful life. Beauty, to me, is reflected in soft colors like pink and balanced with muted colors like gray, which pops of other Spring colors, lots of white space, and images of coffee cups and computers to represent what it’s like to do business day to day.

I really enjoy photography, and I own a Canon t6i, but I am not a professional. I believe in utilizing the services of professionals, where available, to get a “leg up,” and to stand out in the blogging space. I use stock photography to help me tell my brand story. The stock images on this site are from a company called Haute Chocolate. They upload around 50 new images to their already substantial membership site library every month.

These images match well with my logo, brand colors, and overall vision. Although it costs to purchase the membership, it comes with a license to use the pictures for branding. I would recommend reading the terms of service and use policy for Haute Chocolate, and any other stock photos, before signing up or making a purchase. You want to make sure that the photo license allows you to use the pictures in the way that you intend to. Stock photographers sometimes provide a full release, but most of the time the provide a license that specifies how you can use the images. The photographer retains the copyright to image.

As an example, most stock photography companies will allow you to use photos for social media, and websites, but won’t allow you to resell the images, transfer the license to your clients, or use them for any “offensive” purpose. Just as important, many stock photographers won’t let you use their images for a commercial project. The good news is that most people, like me, only need to use the images to create a cohesive experience online.  I also mix in my own photography, and I don’t think anyone should rely solely on stock photos. Modern, aesthetically-pleased styled stock photos are really convenient, though. You can check out Haute Chocolate’s styled stock photography here.

I’ll be talking more about brand colors in later post, but I suggest that you think about your core audience, and what image you want to project. I also recommend that you use Pinterest or Etsy for inspiration. If the whole branding thing is overwhelming you, keep it simple with black, white, and one accent color. You can always change it up later, and you can always hire a professional to help you define your brand imagery, and design a logo.

I kept the same logo I had designed by Miss B Fab. It’s versatile enough that it still serves my purposes, and the colors still match my branding. Yes, I could have possibly designed a logo myself. But, I had spent so much time trying to do so, that it wasn’t worth it. I’m glad I hired help, and I will likely hire professional help for my next logo design. It’s okay to DIY things, hire help, or do both. I like a lot of the design and technical elements of blogging, but when it gets to be too much, I hire help.

For graphics, I primarily use Canva. There are free and premium versions of the service. But, it’s basically an online graphic design services that brings makes the tools that professionals use easily accessible for anyone. You can design using templates, crop, resize, change colors, and lots more. This is really helpful if you’re trying to get the right image sizes for your blog or social media. You can also save your brand colors in the premium version, so your designs will be consistent. In both the free and paid versions, Canva also saves your designs for you, making them easy to copy and clone.

There is so much more that I could go into about DIYing your website design, but instead of trying to explain everything here, I’ll be doing a series of posts about blogging and branding. Be sure to sign up for my mailing list to be notified when that series launches.

Defining Blog Pages, Topics & Categories, and Widgets

Once you’ve chosen a theme and gotten your blog and design elements set up, you want to also write some posts! You could launch your blog with only one post, but I think it’s good to have some content for people to explore when they arrive on the page. You’ll need to set up a few blog pages, define your the topics/categories that you will write, and upload some pictures of yourself along with the graphics that you created.

I struggled with this, and actually started working on this part before I picked out a theme. If you don’t have anything to write about, you’ll be wasting your time on designing, etc. For this blog, my front or home page has my blog posts showing. I also like to have, at minimum, an “about” page, a contact page, and a resources page. With the exception of the blog page, pages are static and won’t change regularly. This is evergreen content that users will click on to find out more about you, link to the resources that you mention in your posts, and contact you. Your blog page will be automatically updated as you add new blog posts.

The categories are a bit tougher. When you write blog posts, they fall into different “categories” that help you organize them, and they help readers find valuable information. This is lifestyle blog, but that covers a lot. I could literally write about anything. I had to think about not only what interests me, but also what interests my target audience.  Categories that I plan to use for sure are Writing, Blogging, Travel, General Lifestyle, Language Learning, and Brunch. Other topics that I’ll talk about are business, law, and fitness. Those things will generally fit into one of the other categories. Remember, this can also be changed, and I can guarantee that I’ll be changing my categories until I get the “just right” feel.

Widgets also enhance your blog. I try to keep it very simple with widgets and I try not to use too many that will direct people away from my site.

 

Preparing for Launch

As I write this, I’m in preparing for launch mode and it’s a lot of work! I’ve never actually been this organized before creating a new blog. I usually just change things haphazardly, but this time I’m doing things in a specific manner. I’m also not just changing my blog, but also rebranding my social media. Although I finished installing and designing my blog, I still have a few steps to take. I’m writing content, planning out my social media posts, and making sure that all of my legal disclosures for my site are written and posted before I go live. If you’d like to read more about what steps to take before launch day, let me know in the comments!

This was a lot of information, but hopefully, it was helpful to you. I’ll be sharing more blogging updates for those of you who want to build a blog, or rebuild your brand.