As I’ve just passed the five year mark of being a blogger, I’ve been thinking a lot about the early days of my blog. I laugh at some of the things I did and wince at others. I pressed the “start a blog” button on blogger with very little clue of what I was getting into. My friend, and talented artist who designed my MMS logo, suggested I start a blog. I thought blogs were political rantings from someone who doesn’t really know what they’re talking about, but feels the need to share it anyway. From their mother’s basement. Usually in their underwear. Oh, and they are probably a serial killer, too. I had no idea there was a whole community of women, mostly stay-at-home moms, who were sharing their love of decorating with the world. I found blogs like The Nesting Place, Thrifty Decor Chick and The Lettered Cottage and the possibilities seemed endless.
I was at first lost in their posts about home decor and I remember excitedly leaving comments that were mostly, “Me too!” kind of responses to their posts about budget decorating, hauling something off the curb, the nesting instinct as the seasons change and the hunger to paint a wall. I had found my people.
I then started to see the earning potential in it as a part of my business. I remember counting the ads on The Nester’s sidebar and multiplying it by her published rates. She’s bringing in $1200/month with these sponsorships! My goal when I started my business (and it seemed very pie-in-the-sky) was to make $200/month to help pay off our student loan. $1200/month would give me the luxury of buying a new outfit once in a while and I wouldn’t have to angst at the grocery store, calculator in hand, figuring out what we could do without. It would mean new tires for the car wouldn’t result in me crumpled on the floor, crying because I just didn’t see how the numbers were going to add up to keep us in the black.
So, without knowing anything about writing a blog and armed with only a little knowledge of HTML coding (courtesy of my former corporate job) and one photography workshop I took years earlier (when there were only film cameras), I started a blog.
So, what would I do over again? What would I change? What have I learned?
I decided I would write a letter to myself (and perhaps other new bloggers). I imagine this letter arriving in my mailbox the day after I pressed that “start a blog” button. A letter that will encourage and warn. A letter something like this…
You don’t know it, yet, but you have just started on an amazing journey. One that will open many doors, will force you to grow and mature, will bring wonderful kindred spirits to your side and will change your life. You don’t know it yet, but you have not just started a little “side thing” for your business. You have started the thing that will become the heart of your business. Now, don’t let that intimidate you. Be thankful that you pushed that button without any expectations or pressure. Don’t worry about your homemade header, rambling posts and poorly-lit, out of focus pictures. Enjoy them for what they are and know they will get better as you grow.
Right now, you’re just learning how much you love to write and this blog will become more of an outlet than you ever dreamed. It will become your daily conversation with friends. The first comment you get is spam, so don’t get too excited about it, but know that hundreds of thousands of genuine comments from people who really care about you will soon follow and accumulate over the years. Cherish the ones that encourage you and save them to read on days when you feel like your blog is a waste of time. You will get some comments, though, that wrench your heart. Ones that judge, belittle, criticize and yes, even make you cry and question yourself. Some will challenge you in a constructive way…helping you learn, grow and become a better blogger. Others are just mean, and there’s nothing you can do but delete them and go on with your day. (And it’s okay to delete them. You’re not stripping away someone’s freedom of speech!)
Don’t be afraid of putting yourself out there. I know right now you won’t even post a picture of yourself or your real name. Facebook scares the jeepers out of you, because you’re certain that every person who has been witness to any stupid thing you’ve ever done will come out of the woodwork and make it known to the world. Until you post a picture your readers won’t know who you are, so post a picture and connect with them. Your ability to connect, relate and inspire becomes one of your greatest strengths. I know it’s scary to feel so exposed, but remember that this business was a huge step of faith and the blog is just another step on that journey. And God is always good and faithful.
As you start to explore the blog world, you will see that some of your best ideas aren’t original at all, even though you thought they were. (I’m sorry to tell you that someone else has already used upholstery webbing as Christmas tree garland.) You’ll have many strokes of brilliance only to learn that someone else has done it before you and even better. Don’t let this discourage you! Let it push you to discover your own design style and way of doing things. It’s okay to gather inspiration from others. Just put your own spin on it. The way you put everything together is what makes something “mustardized”. (Yes, that really will become a term people use to describe stuff that looks like your style!)
You will write your blog for over a year before you start to make any money off of it. It will feel like a time-sucking hobby, but after about a year, those Adsense pennies will turn into dollars and you will start to get encouragement from surprising places. A designer you’ve always admired will buy several of your pieces. A few magazines will feature your work and your blog. You will be invited to join two amazing antique stores and later, Lucketts. Yes, you’ll be a vendor at the Old Lucketts Store. You’ll even become a contributor to HGTV.com and Cottages & Bungalows magazine. You’ll launch your very own lines of two products you use and love (I won’t spoil the surprise for you!) Every aspect of this blog will exceed your expectations…blow them out of the water, in fact…and leave you feeling overwhelmed most days. So, don’t be afraid to dream big.
You need to pace yourself, though. One day will come soon when you actually post four blog posts in one day, because you’re so excited about this new outlet. For a couple of years, you feel like you have to post every single day. Balance becomes a huge issue and the lack of it will leave you burnt out and sleep deprived most of the time. You don’t need to relentlessly pursue the next dollar or opportunity. They always come to you organically and in ways you don’t expect. Work hard, but know when to rest. I give you permission to rest.
You also need to hire help. I know you don’t want to even think about workers comp and payroll and all of that, but you need help. Your brand will grow beyond what you, in your basement can handle. Don’t be stubborn about that. And don’t be afraid of growth. There are times you will want to shrink back from it, but let it happen. Lean into it and be fearless. Say yes to things that scare you, but you know they are a good move for your business and family. On the flip side, don’t be afraid to say no. Sometimes saying no makes you grow more than saying yes. And a window always opens when a door closes.
Always stay grounded in who you are and how this journey started. There are times when you get wrapped up in materialism. There are times when you chase the wrong things. There are times when you will disappoint yourself and your readers. I don’t know if that can be avoided, since there can’t be peaks without valleys. Learn from those valleys. Grow from them and be diligent to keep your eyes on the true priorities of life. And having a perfectly decorated house, just the right magazine feature or a blog with a certain number of page views just shouldn’t be at the top of the list.
Resist the urge to obsess over your numbers, speaking of. Yes, it’s exciting to see the page views increase and the subscriber list grow, but it can quickly become the barometer you use to assess your worth. And that’s not good. Enjoy the growth and be encouraged, but don’t let them be the most important thing. Focus on the individuals who are touched by your words and inspired by your images. Just do what you do and the growth will come…without you checking out the Google Analytics dashboard three times daily.
I know you’re lonely for friends right now, but just wait. You’re about to meet ladies who will build into you and a lot of your success as a blogger and business woman can be attributed to them. You will also meet dear friends who will crack you up, cry with you, pray with you and love on you when you need it. They will be miles away, but that won’t matter. They will still be the ones you want to call when something big happens or when you’re having a crappy day. (Oh yeah…and all of those people who are the “big dogs” of blogging to you now will soon be your friends. You’ll actually get texts from Layla and the Nester!)
As I said in the beginning, this blog will be the heart of your business. Hitting that publish button will prove to be one of the smartest things you’ve ever done. You will receive far more than you ever give. Your family and readers will rally around you, making this business very much a collaborative effort on a grand scale. And somewhere along the way, it will occur to you that this is about more than just decorating your home and painting furniture. And in those vulnerable moments when you wear your heart on your sleeve and nervously press the publish button, you will connect with others in a genuine way. Your words will make them cry and their responses will make you cry. And you will come to realize that at the heart of this blog, which is the heart of this business, is just a woman writing about herself.
Marian, you are about to write the story of you.
Love from five years down the road,
Marian (and many people call you Miss Mustard Seed now, so just own it!)
PS – When someone offers to sell you a $300 antique French sofa that looks okay in the pictures…don’t buy it. It’s stuffed with grass and you’ll end up paying over $1200 to have it reupholstered. Just say no thank you.