If you’ve ever considered starting your own fashion blog, you’ve probably considered the following question: How can I make blogging my full-time job, and make money in the process? It’s one thing to have a personal style blog—pretty much everybody and their mom (sometimes literally!) has one, since most platforms are free to start and easy to use—but it’s quite another to take that platform and make it something that nets you actual income.
“Honestly, it’s not easy to make money,” said Natalie Decleve of Natty Style. ”And it’s not easy to maintain. If you want to make blogging your full-time job, you [really] have to make it your full-time job.”
That may sound a bit redundant, but what Decleve means is less straightforward than it sounds: In order to make your main source of income your fashion blog, you have to invest not just your passion and dedication, but also (most importantly) your time. It’s a cliché, but it’s true: success doesn’t happen overnight.
Brand Partnerships: How to Forge Them and When to Get Paid.
One of the most prevalent ways bloggers make money is to partner up with brands. However, in order to capture a brand’s attention, your blog must appear sleek, stylish, and reputable. In other words, your blog has to look like a brand with which other brands would want to associate themselves. In addition (and maybe more importantly), your blog has to have a proven track record of attracting readers and followers in order to even be considered a viable partner for a brand.
“There’s no way you can start out as a blogger and demand anything,” Decleve said. “Brands want to link up with another strong brand, something that has a voice of its own, and can stand up beside them. If they don’t know who you are, they’re not going to work with you. So, you really do have to fake it ’til you make it. Get your blog looking professional, and then from there do the outreach.”
Of course, if you’re just starting out, it’s key to start small when attempting to make connections, and understand that not every early opportunity that comes your way is going to be paid.
“In the beginning, I would reach out to smaller [brands],” she said. “I knew I had more of a chance as a [new] blogger. I made sure to pitch something that would be interesting for them. Back then, I had a series called ‘Line to Love,’ where I would style and model a collection and do a feature on the brand. Now, I have brands approaching me; but at the beginning I approached them and did it for free and I’d get good exposure out of it.”
So, how do you know when it’s time to start broaching the topic of getting paid for partnerships? For Decleve, it was a gradual process. “Basically, it was when I started receiving requests regularly rather than being the one to instigate,” she said.
Exposure: How Big is Big?
The other big thing you need to turn your blog into a money-making machine, apart from sleek aesthetics: exposure. When it comes to the great wide world of the Internet, some blogs naturally attract followers just by nature of existing, but to jump from a respectable-sized audience to a legitimately large following, you have to do some major legwork.
“[My audience grew] naturally over time with a lot of hard work and dedication,” said Helena Glazer of Brooklyn Blonde. “Strong photography is a must. I’m a visual person, so pretty photography is one of the main things that makes me want to come back to a blog. I’ve also started sharing more of New York and my everyday life, whereas in the past, it was 95% outfits.”
The real key to major exposure, of course, is web traffic. The more eyeballs hit your blog, the more word starts to spread, and the more big brands will take notice. According to stats from 2011 gathered by WWD, Fashion Toast blogger Rumi Neely clocked more than a million unique page views a month. By our calculations via WorthofWeb.com—an online calculator that tells you the monetary worth of websites—her blog is currently worth more than $1.3 million.
According to the same calculator, ManRepeller.com is worth $8.1 million (thanks to her more than 1.5 million unique page views a month), while equally high-profile blog BryanBoy.com is only worth $87,250—despite an average of 1.4 million unique page views a month, according to the WWD article.
Social Media: As Important as Blogging?
Naturally, in today’s day and age, social media savvy plays an enormous role in increasing a blogger’s visibility, both with readers and with brands.
“I feel like—and I’ve heard many people say it— the majority of bloggers are actually more invested in Instagram than they are in the actual website,” said Decleve. “It’s a lot easier to check [an] Instagram feed than it is to go to their sites. Especially if you’re on your phone! You don’t want to go to a website on your phone, you just want to scroll through Instagram.”
“Get your social media set up and congruous, and make sure you have the same hashtag for your blog, Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, all of it,” Decleve said. “But don’t do anything you can’t keep up with. You don’t need to be on every single possible outlet. Pick the ones that you feel are most relevant to you. For some people that’s Pinterest, for some it’s Instagram; find which ones you can do well and just do them.
“Linking them all up is smart,” she adds. “Make sure your Instagram feeds to your Twitter and Facebook; that’s an easy way to increase your presence. And make everything line up. Make sure your Instagram looks the same as your business cards. Have an integrated design scheme.”
While many bloggers focus primarily on gaining as many Instagram and Twitter followers as possible—(here’s a dirty secret, they might even purchase them)—it’s not just about the numbers. (Though when it comes to traffic to a blogger’s website, numbers really are everything. Man Repeller creator Leandra Medine, according to statistics she provided to Business of Fashion, grew her site to more than 2.6 million unique monthly pageviews in 2012.)
Brand partnerships, Natalie says, are just as important on social media as they are on your blog.”Often it’s about the co-branding,” she says. “It’s teaming up with other Instagrammers, other fashion brands, food brands, whatever it is, to build your credibility. That’s a major thing.” You can have all the followers in the world, but without the credibility to back it up, no major brand will look at you twice.
Then again—the biggest bloggers out there have insane numbers of social media followers. Medine has more than 486,000 Instagram followers and 175,000 followers on Twitter. Danielle Bernstein of We Wore What has more than 355,000 followers on Instagram, but a relatively humble 30,000 on Twitter—speaking to Natalie’s point that many bloggers put a vast majority of their eggs into a basket called Instagram.
Know Your Voice: It’s What’ll Set You Apart
Enter the single trickiest part about taking your blog from amateur to professional: nailing your unique viewpoint. With thousands upon thousands of people starting fashion blogs every day—most of which have never had any formal editorial or journalistic training and all have great clothes—how can you possibly stand out from the well-heeled crowd?
“I think it’s important to have a clear point of view, whether it be your writing, style, or photography,” Glazer said. “If you’re a style blogger, it’s not necessary to have the same handbag or pair of heels that everyone else is wearing. I love when I see an original piece, or something that’s not all over the web.”
“It seems obtuse to say, but really find something that makes you unique,” Decleve added. “So many people start out thinking they have this really good idea, or they think they have really good taste in clothes—but that’s not helpful unless you can tell readers why they should be following you. What can you offer them that others can’t? Pinpoint that, and then really hone it in so it’s continual. That’s always been my M.O.”
Be Prepared to Invest—Before and After Your Success
Here’s another dirty little secret: while many fashion bloggers seem to live glamorous lives allowing them to travel, shop, and be decked out in designer garb free of charge–that’s often a myth. Plenty of them—gasp!—actually pay for their own goodies. And if blogger Bryanboy’s fantastic interview with Fashionista is to be believed, it really adds up.
“The notion that bloggers are being flown left and right, all expenses paid, by brands during fashion week is simply not true for everyone,” Bryanboy told Fashionista. “I’ll never forget my first Milan Fashion Week—I stayed at a friend’s apartment for free because I couldn’t afford to pay to stay at a hotel for 400 euros or more a night per room.”
“Everything costs money,” Decleve said. “Once you’re established, you get a lot of free clothes and products, but in the beginning you don’t get a thing because you don’t have a large enough audience. A lot of people have to buy their own clothes. It’s expensive; you have to buy your own camera, edit your own video content, and so on.”
When you’re just starting out, you should expect to invest as much money as you do time into your blog. Once you’ve hit Bryanboy status, then maybe you’ll start scoring free Fendi bags.
You Will Make Mistakes, So Use Them To Your Advantage
Here’s an important lesson that everyone can benefit from, whether you want to be the world’s next big fashion blogger or do any project successfully: You have to learn from your mistakes, and then grow from them.
“Make sure that you get your website to a place that you’re really proud of, but it doesn’t have to be perfect,” Decleve said. “[Striving for perfection] doesn’t have to stunt you. People often get trapped in the planning of something and don’t just jump in there and start. Just make it authentic and make it feel charming.”
“With my style, I look back at some old posts and cringe,” Glazer added. “I definitely have many documented fashion mishaps, but I guess that’s all part of the growing process. In the past, I might have put on an outfit or an item just because it was trendy, but now, if it doesn’t feel right, I won’t wear it, regardless of the trend.”