How to Get serious about blogging

vegan sandcloud towel photo modern merfolk

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Hey there beautiful people!

One of the most amazing parts about being alive today with all of our ridiculous technology and networking abilities is the fact that people are now able to follow their passions using the internet. Today I want to shed light on the work I've been able to do so far, how the process of building and forming a website has taken place, and the realities of the world of blogging that I've discovered over the past year.

I have hardly scratched the surface, and we have even bigger plans ahead to carry out the mission and dream of Modern Merfolk. I feel like transparency and authenticity get thrown around a lot these days, but the missing element of marketing a lifestyle online seems to be just downright truth. I want to fill that gap if I can. 

So get ready for a whole lot of transparency on the pages below. They're dripping with heavy doses of reality about what I've experienced in this online world (there is so much for a newbie to learn). I'm writing and sharing this article because I really wish I had read something like this before giving it a go. I hope it gives you some helpful insight!

The why

If you've read my story on the About Us page, you know a little about my "day job" as a CRNA (certified registered nurse anesthetist). There are so many aspects of this career path that I absolutely love: 

I'm able to make independent life-saving decisions for patients undergoing surgery. 

I work with my hands.

I talk with people from all walks of life.

I feel financially stable (...minus the outrageous student loan debt). 

Yet, as many people I've listened to or followed over time may have discovered, "success" is an ever-evolving idea that is soft and malleable; an entity that morphs into various shapes at certain points in life. We add to it and take away from each layer as time goes on, until one day we are able to stand back and marvel at a work of our own design that may not resemble any part of the goal we once dreamt of.

I used to firmly equate success with financial independence.

And why? Like many Americans, I learned early on from a middle-class set of economic values that going into debt for college and a stable career path were the only real options I had to choose from. That meant that my dreams of going to Amherst, Brown, or NYU for the liberal environment I craved were simply not deemed feasible for my family. Who would pay for that type of degree? Not mom and dad, and certainly not the salary of a starving artist (direct quote from my father). 

That philosophy led me to where I am today, catapulted into a world of science, medicine, and the brutal business of healthcare. Most people I work with don't even know that I have a passion is to create things. In fact, I love to see and feel and touch beauty in all forms. I love to be outside. I love to travel (I know, we all do, right?). 

I've been painting, drawing, writing, and playing music for as long as I can remember. And until now, I didn't ever know that people could make a living doing the things that I love: writing essays, helping people, creating beautiful things, and performing live musical events around the world. 

That's why I love the internet so much, and why blogging became the career I feel like I was born to do.

 Imagine getting to work from anywhere in the world, and this becomes your office?!

Imagine getting to work from anywhere in the world, and this becomes your office?!

The how

When I decided I wanted to start a blog, I knew it wouldn't be easy. I tried to learn as much as possible about the field, and didn't want to take any chances with hosting or do-it-yourself design. I have no background in coding whatsoever and this frightened me. 

This lead me to using Squarespace, which you're seeing right now. Other people use Wordpress, which has been the industry standard for some time and works amazingly well, but I loved the aesthetic of Squarespace and its (albeit, sometimes limited) ability to sync ecommerce with a blogging platform. I find that it's sort of the middle ground between Shopify for ecommerce and Wordpress for blogging. 

After I pored over some great small-business books, contacted successful friends in the blogging world, stalked websites with online entrepreneur support forums, and listened to hundreds of podcast episodes, I decided on a blogging strategy. 

Here is the checklist I began to work through while working full time as a CRNA. It has been extremely tough, but it's all a process:

Business plan

I used a Pages Template and started pouring out all of my dreams for the business here, but companies like Fizzle.co and the Small Business Administration have great resources for particular formats that banks and other lending institutions may be looking for. 

Tax ID number and LLC registration

I originally went through a local lawyer for this, only to find out that I probably could have saved a TON of time and money by doing this through the company that I now primarily use for small legal concerns, Legal Zoom. 

Domain name

There are so many great options out there, but I bought into the smooth integration and easy renewal/linking process that Squarespace offers and have been extremely happy. 

Hosting platform

Squarespace. 

Design support

Corey Carbo Design out of Austin, Texas. I found her on Instagram after attending a local Pop Shop America event called the Girl Crush Market in December of 2016. She has been such an amazing asset to this business's growth, and has supplied me with so much knowledge and guidance, as well as connections in the Austin area. If you're looking for a talented and completely unique, personalized and tailored branding experience, look no further. 

Brand presence

Corey Carbo Design

Photography: camera, entry-level lens, hired work

This is the most essential element to blogging that I feel like a complete "noob" at. Enter friends who are awesome with cameras, and more courses online. I followed tons of bloggers who make ridiculously beautiful food and lifestyle photos, and took a photography course from Minimalist Baker's Food Photography School for an incredibly reasonable price ($99 for lifetime entry and updates). In addition to her course, I bought all of the camera supplies she suggested and helped support her blog free of charge! Then while I learned a bit about taking better photos, I collaborated with my amazing lifestyle portrait photographer Allen Nguyen. He is incredible, willing to travel, and extremely passionate about creating quality work. I highly recommend any and everyone try out his services. 

Written content

This is a very difficult thing to master, but companies dedicated to helping Indie entrepreneurs like Fizzle.co have entire video courses and free content like podcasts and (ironically) blog posts dedicated to helping you format an amazing style and voice. I love to write, and this has been instrumental in helping the blog along while other things slowly come into focus (ie branding, products, and photography skills). 

For those looking to improve or even expand upon already great writing skills, I ordered a book called Bird by Bird as recommended by the Minimalist Baker website. The read was incredibly helpful and hilarious, making me feel so much better about the struggle to actually make yourself sit down and write, without judging yourself too harshly. Perfectionism can be the enemy when you're creating content on a deadline, and this definitely helped me to put my storytelling anxiety at ease. 

You can find the book on Amazon using the affiliate link below:

Courses, courses, and more online courses

Some of my favorites are: The Minimalist Baker Food Photography Course, anything from Fizzle.co, and Youtube

Email marketing

I use Convertkit, which is an email list subscriber organizing machine that I honestly am still tapping into. There is so much to learn just about email lists in general, but they have great free resources to get anyone started. 

Social media marketing

Hootsuite has been great for me, but there are so many others out there. You can automatically schedule social media posts to circulate while you're busy doing other things, and run campaigns like giveaways and product launches right from a crazy-looking Dashboard of all of your social media feeds. It's honestly been super overwhelming to tackle, but I'm starting to get the hang of it. 

Pinterest

This type of social media is honestly the biggest secret of blog traffic out there, and it's so great for getting the word out there for products and food and content makers in general. There are a couple of options to use, but I chose Boardbooster for automatic pinning at certain times of day. You can loop pins, do feedback of different posts to separate Pinterest group boards, and so so much more that you could probably spend hours upon hours learning and trying to master. Because Pinterest is essentially a search engine made for products, it's perfect for online content creators. 

Affiliate links

Everyone asks me how bloggers make money, and there are honestly so many different ways you can accomplish this. Some bloggers get traffic and decide to sell products made by other people, sell online courses, or-- in the case of affiliate links-- talk about products and services that other companies want marketed to certain audiences that read the blog. This is my preferred method of generating income because it means that I completely control what types of "ads" and companies to promote on my site. I don't believe in anything related to selling out in order to get a cheap profit, and I want every company I talk about to support and make a difference in the environment. There are things called "networks" for affiliate link generation that help you find companies that are in line with your ideas, and I bet you anything that any product you really like to purchase has a corresponding affiliate/referral program to go along with it. When I found out about this, I was floored. Here are the networks I currently use:

Shareasale

Rakuten

CJ Affiliate Network 

Amazon Associates

Avant Link

SEO (Search engine optimization) 

An entire animal in itself. I used my friend Bobby's Millennial Money Man coaching session to start small with this, and will either be hiring a virtual assistant or taking a part time job in order to spend more time making sure that the search engines are seeing my things. There are some great free blog posts about this topic on Fizzle.co as well. Basically just make the best content out there, and use some simple keyword research (or get help to do this from an expert) and apply it to every single post. External links, certain lengths, and other factors play into this. But overall, generating content that is really useful seems to be the best bet. 

Wholesale goods

I am using a combination of income streams to find an amazing fit for my business. Eventually I want to go on the road in a custom Airstream with fully fitted products and services ready for immediate purchase! I am so grateful to Instagram for such a gorgeous, amazing network that connects small business owners to each other. I have found some of the best wholesale opportunities through Instagram email inquiries. 

Deliverables (drop-shipping integration)

Printful is an integrated service with Squarespace and many other Ecommerce platforms that allows you to create made-in-America branded pieces with custom printed designs drop-shipped right to your customers. This means that you don't ever have to hold inventory, and there are no order minimums. The best part about this is that Printful has a stellar support system, where you can chat or email directly with graphic designers who will help you through the process of uploading the correct file types for each fit and design (we're talking mugs, T-shirts, tanks tops, baby onesies, pillows, you name it!). It's amazing and worth at least checking out. 

Physical product shipping setup

I have decided to go with Shipstation out of Austin to 1) make sure things stay local as much as possible and 2) Because they offer a great workaround integration for Squarespace to talk wth Printful. Their service allows you to streamline multiple sources of orders into one shipping label-printing interface, and offers a really long free trial period coupled with a conceirge-like phone call service with a person dedicated JUST to helping you get everything set up. I've had a great experience so far. 

Sales tax permit

(The state of Texas allows you to do this on their website), I just followed the instructions and payed the fee. 

Domicile state designation

You have to determine what the rules are in your state for sales tax and so on, as well as where you're going to list as your permanent residence for income tax purposes! Living a mobile lifestyle is great, but some of our political systems aren't quite set up yet to make this super easy. Amazon affiliates cannot have their businesses in some states because they would be required to pay sales tax on affiliate income. This is probably the most confusing aspect for me of the entire internet commerce/blogging world, but don't worry: there are articles out there to help! I like this one from the blog over at Quickbooks. 

Remote mail forwarding/scanning:

We use Earth Class Mail, which was recommended from Tim Ferris in his book the 4-Hour Workweek (which I highly recommend reading). For anyone that wants to become a digital nomad (ie travelling and making money online), this service allows you to open an email and see the mail you're getting in whichever home state location you prefer. We are now using this address as our business address + personal forwarding location in order to reliably receive official documents. 

Stock photo subscription

I use Adobe Stock photo because of my familiarity with the CS suite, but there are other amazing offerings galore. Their images are searchable and beautiful. 

Stock photo design

 Canva is nice to use for simple photo editing, and is really great for anyone who doesn't have all of the expensive photoshop suite subscriptions for image editing. Woohoo!

Community collaboration

Getting out there on Instagram and talking with other people has been literally so amazing. You can find like-minded people doing things that inspire and awe all over the place. Don't be afraid to tag, message, or exchange contact info. 

long term goals

Traffic generation is an ongoing goal that will simply take time to achieve. The best way to do this is just to keep it up, even when it looks like nothing is working!

Copy Writing

I use Meg Haley  for my tagline and "cleaning up" of my sometimes wordy headlines. She is a local Austinite and does amazing work for various big companies like Dell, among others. Copy writing is fancy speak for the type of words that get right to the point you're trying to make. A "call to action" that's catchy and in line with your brand can be a lot more effective for things like landing pages and opt-in forms than a long winded paragraph that meanders incessantly. Follow the link to her website to learn more about her awesomeness!

Out of all the things listed above, can you guess which one was the hardest to accomplish?

Consistency 

If you guessed 'consistency', you're absolutely right. 

I talked with Bobby over at Millennial Money Man (you can read his amazingly successful blog here) about what it really takes to create a successful blogging career. He led me down the path of some of the items on the list above, but his main takeaway point was simply to be as consistent as possible. 

He talked about how he built his website on the weekends and weeknights after teaching a bunch of high-schoolers how to play musical instruments in public school. He often was frustrated, feeling overworked, and stressed about the future, but the key ingredient to his success involved commitment to the ultimate goal. 

But when I asked him how he found the time to do this, he basically threw Nike at me. 

"Just do it", he told me (in a very nice nutshell). 

What Bobby and many others have quietly accepted is that your life is going to suck for a little while if you're trying to accomplish something extraordinary. Building a business is tough. And a blog, for all intents and purposes, can be a very great business to start, but it takes work just like anything else.

Being consistent while working full time has proven to be the single most difficult decision I've ever made, and I just finished a 50-mile ultra marathon this Spring.

My schedule in the operating room follows a 645-330pm Mon-Friday workload. This means that I typically wake up between 530-545 am, make a quick breakfast, go to work, and get home around 4-430 if I'm not on call. The days where my job took call I wasn't ever sure when I'd be home. The operating room is seasonal, meaning that mid summer and winter are busy, while late winter and early spring are a bit slower. Some days you leave early, and others you leave 2-3 hours late. 

I don't have kids, I have weekends off, and I still struggle with finding time to do everything I want to do. Some things that have helped include:

  • Meditation (helps so much with feeling overwhelmed and anxious about to-do lists, and aids in self-awareness regarding less-than-helpful emotions/thought patterns like impatience and perfectionism)

  • Tracking time spent on social media

  • Waking up earlier (a great blog called Making Sense of Cents talks about waking up 1 hour early every morning to focus on side-hustle goals)

  • Taking afternoon naps right after work to restore energy prior to evening activities

  • Cutting down on television time (bye bye, Netflix!)

  • Making a clear list of realistic goals and expectations

  • Allowing yourself to take one piece at a time, regardless of what "people" expect

  • Refocusing on helping others whenever possible: service will help you get through the "what the heck did I get myself into" times

Meanwhile I still make most of meals at home, eat a whole-foods plant-based diet, go to yoga, train for new races, and work on trying to being a good partner to my spouse. 

Things get overwhelming, especially for someone with dreams and big goals for the future. I've had to learn that starting a blog and running a new business that helps other people might involve a great deal of sacrifice, even for a side hustle. 

Side hustles are amazing, but they aren't for the faint of heart. In the spirit of transparency, I want other people out there to know that it's OKAY to feel overwhelmed with something that's just a side hustle. You don't have to be Gary Vaynerchuk to be successful, and it's ok to accept that your values may be different.

You can do whatever you want to in life. I truly believe that. And there are really only two major over-arching things to consider:

1) what do you want?

2) what are you willing to sacrifice to get it?

the tough

The tough part about this space is that everyone is constantly competing for attention. And maybe-- just maybe-- most people don't want to see or hear about reality. They want to see a story. They want a quick fix. They want a miracle. They want near-perfection with a side of subtle angst undertones. 

And working full time in a career like anesthesia doesn't always lend an easy hand to coming home and pretending like everything is amazing online. 

To illustrate my point, The New Yorker just published an article about the #Vanlife movement spreading across the country. 

At the end of her days spent with one of the Bohemian lifestyle van-lifer couples, the author of the piece poked a little bit of fun at the "authentic" experience that the #vanlife couple tries to create with their perfectly posed photos and lifestyle portraits, stating that they used to just post whatever photos they liked, but now they have opted to mostly 'give the people what they want':

Woman in bikini on top of van. 

Woman reading a perfectly positioned book while atop a flannel bedspread in the mountains. 

Man + woman playing with dog on a perfectly deserted California beach during the Golden Hour. 

I struggle with the authenticity people want, while balancing that with what the people seem to really like. Blogging is about creative expression, but it's also a very powerful marketing tool. And now more than ever, companies want to play to the Millennial "I smell fake bullshit" meter by hiring real-life people to create lifestyle content that plays into the fantasies of our population still stuck in cubicles. 

the not so tough

The good part about blogging is that it's an amazing creative outlet. You meet the best people. You connect with ideas from all over the world. You build a little piece of yourself and share it with anyone who wants to listen.

But what I wish I really knew was that blogging is still a job, and it requires every ounce of love and attention and hard work that you can muster. It requires consistency and dedication, and other things might have to be sacrificed in order to see it through. 

You can do it from anywhere in the world with an internet connection, which is probably one of the most amazing, game-changing facts I've ever gotten excited about this far in my life. And for the first time, I feel like my far-fetched goals might actually become a reality, and that my current version of "success" might finally come to fruition. 

I dream about getting to travel and cook vegan food, surrounding myself with coastal vegan loving goddesses on the coasts of Australia, Hawaii, and Indonesia, and raising children who know how to hike/sail/speak multiple languages. I moved into an Airstream and gave away most of my belongings. 

Blogging has completely changed my life.