Darling Down South was not the first blog I started. I started a fashion blog in 2014 and after 6 months of blogging only about fashion and “lifestyle” I decided to rebrand. I don’t like being in front of the camera, I hate how fast fashion has gotten, and I truly couldn’t afford to “keep up” with how the fashion blogs were taking over Instagram. I rebranded to Darling Down South and we officially went live on May 5th in 2015. I’ve seen this industry change A LOT in 4 years, I’ve interacted with it on both the brand and the blogger side, and I’ve seen four themes reign consistent with successful bloggers throughout those four years. I learned some of these the hard way which is why I wanted to share it with you today so that if you are just starting out you are well equipped with the knowledge to have a successful platform.
Photo by Dasha Crawford Photography
One: Be Nice/ Be Grateful
I shamefully have to admit that when I started out, I wasn’t always the nicest to my fellow bloggers and even people who wanted to work with me. It took me realigning who I was surrounding myself with and a very difficult client at my corporate job to make me realize, kindness goes a long way.
Since this industry is so competitive, it’s easy to get caught up in scarcity and jealous mindset when you’re constantly comparing yourself to other people but you have to remember, what you see on Instagram is not the real portrayal of life. Everyone has their own things they may be struggling with or maybe this person is just the absolute nicest person in the world, but there is no need to be angry at them or mean to them because of what you are lacking.
When it comes to being grateful, you have to remember, companies that want to work with you DO NOT OWE YOU ANYTHING and you are not better than them. If they don’t align with your brand goals, say thank you and let them down easy. If they do want to work with you, you better say thank you a lot and go the extra mile by sending a thank you card. My brand partners and clients all receive thank you cards after our big campaigns and I always send them a token of my appreciation around Christmas, and guess what? We’re going on our second year of working together so being grateful means you can get more repeat business.
Two: Be Supportive
Has anyone seen the movie “Julie & Julia” with Meryl Streep and Amy Adams about Julie (Adams) who starts a food blog about cooking through Julia Childs cookbook? Well in that movie (and real life) Julia Child sets out to learn how to cook so that she can create a French cookbook for the servantless American chef. A year later, she meets Simca and Louisette who are just starting to make a French Cookbook for the American woman.
Now, Julia had two choices here: she could have released her rage monster, said: “I can’t believe they are doing this, now I can’t do this, even though those French women have no idea what the American wants, I’m the American, I hope they fail.” But instead, she was delighted with the idea that they wanted to create this, was in full support that this was already happening and couldn’t wait to be along for the ride with her new friends. Later on down the road, because Julia was such an enthusiastic helper with teaching and recipe creation, they ended up making her a partner on the book and she, later on, became famous for said book.
She got a TV show and international fame because she was supportive.
The moral of the story is, be genuinely supportive without recourse and good things will come of it. There is more than enough space out there for everyone to have a piece of the pie, the success, the fame, whatever you’re looking for. But if you don’t support your friends/peers/ colleagues, you’re going to be trapped in a bubble of seclusion.
The world works much better when we support one another, be like Julia.
Three: Follow Through
When I started blogging, I was busy. I was working a very demanding job, had to drive an hour in traffic both ways to get home, cook dinner, took care of the house, created content, wrote blog posts, went to events, and attempted working out.
I let “being busy” become a constant excuse for not following up on emails, not submitting things on time to clients, not being 100% in at work and not being 100% in at home or with my friends. I had zero follow through and soon my brand and my reputation was hurt because of it.
I started to lose work, lose clients, lose engagement on my platform because my readers didn’t believe me when I said I would do something, because history showed, I didn’t.
While I was dealing with some personal issues and a demanding job, I took some time off from blogging to truly re-evaluate if I wanted to do this, was I any good, and how could I correct the relationships I had broken with my clients.
There are a few lessons to be learned here: don’t take on more than you can handle, you can say no to things you don’t want to do, have open communication with your brand partners if you think you’re going to miss a deadline and follow through on what you’ve said you’re going to do.
If you have to do less to do what you can on time, that is OK.
Your audience is #1, everything else is details. If you can’t follow through for them, they won’t be around to watch you work with your dream brand, if that brand ever comes knocking, but chances are if you piss off one PR agency, they’re going to talk about you to their other PR friends and soon, you’ll be blacklisted. It’ll take time or some insane luck of virality to get back on their good list.
Keep to your word, and make it happen when you say you will.
Four: Look for inspiration but don’t copy
In the world of journalism, plagiarism is a huge offense that can, like lack of follow through, get you burned from ever working in this town again. It’s perfectly acceptable to look for inspiration from people you admire, I constantly seek inspiration from Martha Stewart Living, Real Simple, Camille Styles, Waiting on Martha, A Fabulous Fete, and Gal Meets Glam just to name a few.
All of these women run media outlets are total innovators and I absolutely love what they create, how succinctly they say what they need to say, and love the variety of ideas they generate for me. None of them truly overlap with each other, so it’s so much fun to stitch together my story out of what they’ve inspired me with. Maybe I like the way Gal Meets Glam styled something and I adapt it for a brunch photoshoot, or maybe I love how Waiting on Martha put together a picnic editorial so I try to recreate some of the angles she used in my photos.
It’s fine to have muses that inspire your work, but it’s never EVER okay to completely rip someone off. If you borrow a photo from someone, give them credit at the top of your page, if you use a recipe and tweak it to your own, make sure you say “adapted from XYZ blog”, if you want to copy and paste someone’s entire blog post and their photos onto your blog, stop and take a cold hard look at yourself in the mirror and say “do I want to be known as a plagiarizer?” and “Do I want to be blacklisted by brands that I want to work with because I rip off other people’s content?”
If the answer is no, then do not use other people’s content to boost your own platform without proper and thorough credit.
There is so much great inspiration out there and you are so creative, you don’t need to rip anyone off to create amazing content.
Bonus: Share your purpose and your community will come
The number one question people ask is “how do I start a blog?” I like to answer to them “what is your purpose?” Some will write back paragraphs of copy about how they developed a gut issue when they were a teen and learned how to cook gut-friendly food and they want to share those recipes with the world in case they can help or inspire maybe just one person.
That’s a great purpose.
Some people write back “because I love fashion and it looks like fun!”
That is also a great purpose.
Once you have your purpose, create whatever it is that you want to that aligns with that purpose and your community will naturally build. It’s also okay if your purpose realigns itself over the course of your platform maturing.
Our purpose is to be a modern gal’s guide to southern-ish living. This is the easiest content to create for me because it is something I live every single day so as we create content I think about what it is that the audience really needs help with, maybe you need a list of coffee shops when you come to visit Atlanta, or maybe you need to know what fabric is the best to wear for summer, or maybe you want to learn how to arrange a bouquet for your next table setting.
We have a purpose to inform, educate and inspire and we work on doing that through every post which is why I wanted to share with you 4 (5) things I’ve learned in the 4 years of blogging.
Be kind & grateful, be supportive, have follow through, have a muse but don’t copy, and have a purpose. The rest will work itself out in the long run.