So why write this post (it’s not very British is it?) and why now?
I was asked by two high profile programmes on terrestrial TV if they could document my business/journey and earnings late last year and I said no. I was also approached by several popular tabloids for the story too. Again, I refused.
I want to do things my way, in my own space and importantly in own words on a platform I own and manage.
By writing a post (and I might well follow up with a vlog too) I can share what I want about my own journey without the fear that my words might be twisted or misconstrued by a journalist or filmmaker directing a documentary.
Here, I write from the heart and as always, honestly.
I’m not writing this to brag (those who know me, know that’s not my style), but to help inspire others to follow suit and earn a 6 figure salary plus, blogging and vlogging themselves.
Informing and supporting others through tech has been my goal since my blog started gaining momentum and I grew in confidence. I’m committed to sharing what I know to help build others up and importantly support parents to work in an empowering and flexible way around their families.
I used to teach and lecture in between directing work and I come from a long line of teachers (my mum was a university lecturer too) so it’s in me to share and support others. Nothing feels more rewarding than knowing you might have helped others realise their dreams.
I write about growing a digital business in my book #Mumboss out in March 2018, published by Piatkus/Little Brown sharing Honest Mum Ltd’s evolution in great detail along with mine and many experts’ advice on how you can act now and seize the digital space for yourself. Your rules, your way.
Want to work in the arts remotely and at any hour you fancy? Then blogging and vlogging might be for you. Want to be able to juggle parenting and work duties firmly in the driving seat? Well thanks to the internet, you can.
My book, at 70,000 words will, of course, go into far greater detail than this post possibly can, but I wanted something short (ish), sweet and hopefully useful here to help you realise the potential of your words, to drum home the creative and financial fulfilment blogging and vlogging can bring and to highlight the varying opportunities that can arise from putting your art out into the world.
Small steps really do lead to huge milestones. It simply takes some self-belief (even if its feigned at first) along with a commitment to honing your craft and embracing this industry so you can pivot from your current career to your new tech one if you so wish, transforming your life in the process.
You might well find some myths debunked here too.
Most of all, I hope you take away that being you is your superpower, and that integrity is everything.
How did I start?
I started this blog in November 2010 at a time I was suffering from a traumatic birth and my first born was 10 months old. Feeling lost and alone being the first of my friends to have a baby and with my husband back at work, this blog was an emotional lifeline to me. The friends I made firstly thanks to twitter and later the blog, are still close to me to this day, and writing Honest Mum helped me to rediscover my voice and slowly build back my confidence, along with the help of a therapist and moving closer to family in Yorkshire.
Making that first step to starting a blog or launching a YT channel is a huge milestone. You are deeming yourself worthy of owning a piece of land online. You are giving yourself the gift of a virtual place to write, share and connect instantly sharing your point of view on the world. It’s a space you control.
It was a far cry, creatively to my screenwriting and directing job where my work was endlessly managed and controlled by gatekeepers: Development Execs and Exec Producers. The blog was all mine and I revelled in being in charge of what I wrote and published. No rewrites unless I decided to rewrite, no years of development hell as cast became attached to projects before they could be greenlit. Blogging and later vlogging meant fast and fulfilling creative pursuits written, filmed and shared quicker than I’d ever experienced before.
Plus, I could write and publish what and when I wanted using my audience as a gauge for what resonated most. It was utterly liberating, if not a little scary at first. So scary in some respects that it took 5 years to write about the trauma I had experienced with my firstborn. That post is one of my most read posts to this day. Along with gluten-free American pancakes. The internet is nothing if not diverse in their needs.
In the early days, I focused on sharing the funny side of parenting (it was my way of surviving the harder times) and this evolved to me sharing the topics I felt passionate about and reflected that moment in time, spanning family-life, film, style, travel, beauty as well as lots of opinion pieces and of course tips I was picking up about my new career as I went along.
I could not have imagined or anticipated then that blogging and vlogging would become my full-time job.
The landscape hadn’t changed at that point to the extent where digital is everything (so much so that it’s now surpassed traditional ad spend and that influencers are the new celebrities. The ‘real celebrities’ if you like that feel like your mates (I’m always shocked to be stopped on the street and definitely don’t consider myself famous so it’s nuts to be recognised at times in London and Leeds. I was bizarrely spotted in Portugal on holiday recently and whilst I’ve had the odd strange comment (a Dad berated me for telling my son off in the supermarket on Instagram) people in person, have been truly wonderful, wanting a hug, asking for a pic, or even touching my hair #truestory!
When I started Honest Mum in 2010, it was pre the DIGITAL BOOM as I like to call it, although, unknowingly, I was starting a blog at an ideal time in which to build a brand if you like. Some refer to me as a pioneer. I often feel like a (young) Grandma of blogging (at 36) as I hit 7 years this November. That doesn’t mean you can’t start a blog today and become successful. Now is ideal as blogging is a viable career that can be built quickly with time, dedication and regular content. We oldies made the mistakes for you. You can start and thrive.
Business-wise there’s never been a better time to blog and vlog.
Andy Varley, CEO of Insanity Group who represent me stated recently that, ‘A study by Nielsen, suggests that advertisers see 11x higher ROI from influencer marketing compared to traditional digital marketing’.
I was also told recently by a PR that for every £1 spent on an influencer, brands receive £7.50 in return.
It was luck to have started a blog at a time not many in my field had, the rest was hard work and honing my voice.
I was a multi-award winning filmmaker and TV Director pre-blogging writing and directing short films that were screened at film festivals and broadcast on TV all over the world as well as TV Drama, documentary, music videos, fashion films, commercials and music videos.
I was on maternity leave at the time I bought the domain name Honest Mum (now a registered trademark) and starting writing on what felt like quite the craziest of platforms. It was thanks to my good friend and fellow filmmaker, Amancay Tapia who badgered on at me to start a blog. I’m so glad I did. She recently took her own advice and you’ll find her at The Lady of The World.
I’d fully intended on returning back set when my son turned 1 and I did it, directing fashion commercials (online, funnily enough) but before I knew it, my blog was growing so rapidly that by 2012 and the birth of my second son, Alexander, my online work had surpassed that of any freelance writing and directing gigs, and I turned my attention to making this my full-time career. To giving it my all.
I will never forget the very first commissions I received on the blog, Bradford College was my first and I was literally in shock that a few weeks from starting my blog, someone would want to advertise on my site. I couldn’t even fathom how that would work and they literally explained it would be a sponsored post where I wrote about their courses as I would in a magazine.
4 weeks after starting Honest Mum, the brilliant and endlessly supportive BritMums made me a finalist at their Brilliance in Blogging Awards (I went on to win Best Social Media and Best of the Best awards in 2016) and a landmark campaign for me was in July 2011 with the forward-thinking British Gas who commissioned me (thanks to my friend James who recommended me to a PR friend) to attend their Big Dig beach in London and hang out with Olympians (as you do).
Now I work with global and UK brands that cover lifestyle, parenting, travel, style and beauty appearing in promo films, in press campaigns, on FB Lives and more.
So what do you need to do to grow?
1.Creating a Personal Brand
Do it your way. Your USP is you. Yes, that sounds cheesy af but it’s true. Your personal brand is EVERYTHING. Be yourself because that’s what people will get behind and trust. They will watch and read your work (and keep coming back) because of you.
Integrity and showing your personality is the most important thing you’ll ever do online and IRL.
People can see through dis-ingenuity, instantly.
I often hear experts bang on about sticking to a niche but I believe your voice is your niche and unless you want to limit your subject matter for a reason, embrace and share all of your passions in one place. By doing that, you’ll never feel limited or bored so are more likely to endure and succeed.
Remember you are the protagonist in your own narrative. The character others follow as you go along the journey that’s your actual life. I don’t like to be restrained creatively so you’ll find family-life, food, film, travel, fashion, beauty and cars on my site.
That doesn’t mean you can’t rock at one particular niche just don’t feel you have to choose a single area.
Remember life and interests evolve so a lifestyle site allows you the space and freedom to grow. In turn, the wider your scope, the more brands you’ll reach and the greater the opportunities.
All you need is a laptop and the will to begin. Go self-hosted too if you want to monetise.
My good friend, PR, digital pioneer and author of The Million Dollar Blog (which features my interview inside and quote on the cover) agrees, ‘It’s incredible to think we live in a time when you can basically sit at home and with a good idea, a laptop, some grit and determination turn that into a business. Across the world people are carving out new lives for themselves this way.’
I have always simply been myself and got used to sharing more and more of my life. I don’t reveal anything that makes myself or my friends and family uncomfortable and some things are sacred of course but I do unflinching share what matters to me, the good and the bad.
I hope my words support others and make them feel less alone whether it’s an image of my post-baby body in a bikini or a post on having a happy c-section. It’s a two way street of course as my readers help, inform and support me too. This is a conversation, an online discourse which connects and in many cases transforms both myself and my reader.
People have kindly told me my posts on blogging as a career have changed their life. There’s nothing more rewarding than the feeling you’ve helped someone else feel strong or take action.
So how do you share who you are to the world and build a personal brand?
Here, I welcome Salma Shah, Personal Branding Psychologist for her advice,
‘Your personal brand is how people already describe you in a few words and more importantly it’s that gut visceral deep down feeling others experience in your presence or when they come across your online. The way you look, sound and behave all trigger powerful conscious and subconscious feelings.
Having a distinctive personal brand is like wearing your head turning ‘LBD’ (little black dress) with the perfect accessories that get you noticed for all the right reasons. There are millions of ways of pulling an outfit together but the way you wear that perfect LBD makes you distinctive, stand out from the crowd and is the ultimate crowd puller. Not just any crowd but your audience.
A great website, Instagram feed, Facebook page with hustle and hard work will build you profile and get you attention. But to build a longer term powerful personal brand you need to connect with your audience or target market and go a lot deeper. For instance, there is no point having a tagline which says you ‘serve others’ when once your audience starts to have a deeper connection with you it becomes blatantly obvious that the only person you truly serve is yourself. The point here is if you are truly committed to raising your profile and in it for the long game to succeed you need to be authentic.
The reality is most of us do genuinely want to have an authentic and non-spammy icky brand. The biggest problem is not knowing where to start or how to position yourself.
The starting point to building an authentic brand is with self-awareness. Understanding which feelings you are unconsciously evoking in others. And how you actually want to make them feel. The gap between the two shouldn’t be a big one otherwise there is a danger of coming across as fake and icky.
To get a better understanding of ‘feelings’ and brand building a good starting place is psychology.
Psychologist Carl Jung used the idea of common ‘archetypes’. These are deep rooted unconscious patterns in our human psyche of how we evoke powerful feelings in others.
The twelve most powerful archetypes according to Jung are:
The Innocent: Dreamer, Romantic e.g. Carrie Green (Female Entrepreneur Association)
The Hero: Warrior e.g. Erin Brokovich
Every Girl/Gal: Girl next door e.g. Drew Barrymore
The Nurturer: The parent e.g. Vicki Psarias
The Creator: Artist, Dreamer e.g. Emma Block
The Explorer: Seeker e.g. Cheryl Strayed
The Rebel: Revolutionary, outlaw e.g. Bushra Azhar (Persuasion Revolution)
The Lover: Idealist e.g. Kris Carr (Wellness)
The Magician: Transformation, visionary e.g. Marie Forleo and Salma Shah (me!)
The Ruler: Leader e.g. Ramit Sethi (I will teach you to be rich)
The Jester: Fool, comedian e.g. Ruby Wax
The Sage: Scholar, teacher e.g. Brene Brown
Let’s look at the personal brand of Marie Forleo a well-known life coach, TV host and speaker. Her business is all about helping people change. Whether is changing their life or changing the world and so she evokes the archetype of Magician. If you continue reading her About Page she also goes on to say, ‘Yes, this is a business. Yes, we sell things. Yes, we’re proud and deeply grateful to earn a living doing so’. Clearly her values amongst others are business and success. However, the whole package draws her audience in.
As with all powerful personal brands these people can cause a strong reaction in us, both positive or negative. Which is as it should be. Don’t be worried about alienating others, a strong brand will attract you to the right individuals.
The third step in building your personal brand is to be clear on your goals. What do you want to achieve at the end of this and how do you want to feel by doing this?
Finally, having built your brand ladder of Archetype, Values, and Goals. Once you are clear on this begins the strategic work of positioning and setting yourself apart from the crowd. You are now ready to wear that LBD and choosing your accessories is deciding which aspects of yourself you are going to be known for.
Understanding who you want to get in front of i.e. your audience and how and where do you want to be seen. And what will they see.
Taking the leap of faith and putting yourself out there and being prepared to tweak and re-adjust as you go along. If the first three steps on the ladder (Archetypes, Values and Goals) are solid it will be a lot easier to tweak and re-work as your brand develops and grows’.
You can kickstart your Personal Brand journey by taking her 5 Day Personal Brand Challenge : https://salmashah.leadpages.co/5-day-personal-brand-challenge/.
Yes to that, what wise words. Don’t be scared to be yourself. A like-minded audience will find you.
2. Content is King
Or as I like to say, ‘Queen’. Write, write and write some more. Read widely, hone your voice, take writing and journalism courses, exercise your creative muscles and keep applying and growing in all that you do be it creating captions on social media, or making vlogs and films. Don’t self-sabotage and stop yourself from sharing your work. Don’t let the imposter syndrome win. If we all allowed that to happen, we’d never begin or continue.
It’s inevitable you will feel scared to try new things but you will only grow and realise your potential (that you can actually thrive) when you push out of your comfort zone.
Plus if you don’t try things out, how will you discover your passions?
I tried my hand at many things whilst studying for my BA and then MA at Goldsmiths, University of London. Every holiday and weekend saw me gain placements in radio, telly, on magazines and even on an internet show when only 3 people in the US used the internet. I got myself out there, I experienced what the media had to offer and learnt what made me happy. Studying Screenwriting & Direction led to that career and meant I could work across lots of creative areas whilst driving and and protecting the creative vision of each project.
Now as a blogger and vlogger I do the same. I’m selective about the brands I work with, I collaborate with them on the creative ideas and I decide what I want to write and film.
The beauty with this job is we, the creatives are in control.
You are being hired for your voice, visuals and take on things. Plus, you don’t need huge audiences to earn either. Small, targeted audiences are vital to brands too and everyone starts small, remember.
The beauty of organic SEO is that a like-minded audience will find you if you write and share your content regularly and build an archive. Plus, you also only one post or video away from being a viral sensation or potentially regarded as someone who is deemed an authority in their field.
This site is now a Google authority on gluten-free food which arose naturally as I published lots of gluten-free recipes I mostly made for my son who couldn’t eat gluten for two years. I suffer from a gluten-intolerance too so regularly share what I eat and this has been useful for my readers and those generally searching for recipes. Search Engines should be your number one traffic driver if your site is correctly optimised. Using Yoast plug-in, go through every post you’ve ever published until your site’s SEO is top-notch, giving your work the greatest chance of being seen.
See, offering an answer to a problem/question is what search engines want and you’ll find that your blog and channels can provide insight and support to many.
Never feel you have nothing to offer or that your voice doesn’t matter.
There is room for all online.
3. Knowing Your Worth
Now it’s invaluable to me that I have a brilliant manager in Neil Ransome at Insanity who is firstly like a brother to me, and also values my work and negotiates on my behalf. His insight and experience are second to none but the fact I was a TV Director pre-blogging meant I was able to handle the business side with experience and know how on my side, in the early days too.
As a director and producer I handled big commercial budgets and knew all about rates for creatives, so I was able to position myself from a place of knowledge and strength from the off.
Of course, rates have increased with demand and brand power, but that wealth of experience from my filmmaking and journalism days (I used to edit a quarterly film magazine too) meant that I never knowingly undersold myself nor have I ever.
I can’t advise you on fees and I’m emailed about this daily, you need to work out what feels right for you. You need to value your time and learn to negotiate.
There are many variables when it comes to fees and budgets for each campaign but I will advise that you focus on the platform you own first: your blog.
You can measure your DA and PA (something PRs will look at along with their own tools which measure authority, engagement, quality and resonance) via Moz to see how search engines view you. The greater the higher authority sites link back to you, the higher you rank. It’s a bit like influential friends IRL recommending you to others. Google and others trust what high ranking sites tell them about others. I’ve actually been hired by Google on a campaign before.
I hired the renowned Exposure Ninja for a month to start optimising my site then after their initial work, I spent months going through every single post using plug in Yoast, optimising the entire site.
Tim, founder of Exposure Ninja and author shares his wisdom,
‘Optimising your blog to increase its ranking on Google means that it brings in more visitors, which in turn makes it more attractive to brands looking for exposure to large audiences. When we’re working with brands to identify bloggers who would make good partners, one of the key metrics we’ll use is Domain Authority (DA), which is a measure of how authoritative your site is from a search engine’s point of view, so there is a direct correlation between a blog’s SEO and its earning potential’.
I would also advise that you work on creating the best content you can across your blog and social channels and that you embrace video, watching tutorials to guide you and vlogging as much as possible.
Video is the most lucrative side of my work because of my directing experience and the fact that over the years I’ve garnered a lot of experience in front of the camera on high profile campaigns, in vlogs and videos and on TV.
I can make slick content easily because I’ve been directing since my MA at 21.
That doesn’t mean you can’t pick up a camera and hone that talent and even go viral with your work pretty much on your first go. That’s what Tired ‘n’ Tested did. It just means putting some work in, taking the time to research and practice working the camera, editing your footage and then uploading natively (for the best reach) to as many platforms as you can.
Don’t get bogged down by the numbers at first either. We all start with one follower, mine was my Mum and she’s still my most loyal reader. That one person will become two and they’ll tell their friends and before you know it people all over the world will be reading and watching your work. My blog reunited long lost family as far as Australia thanks to a Greek recipe I shared. That’s the power of blogging.
Now whilst brands appreciate solid numbers across all platforms, blog and social, do not dismiss your blog. You can’t sell your instagram handle but one day you might well sell your blog.
The fees you can command for video and blog posts on an established site can easily surpass what those with even millions of followers receive on Instagram so keep things in perspective.
Focus on watering the fruits in your own garden as I like to say, and keep an eye on everything else.
The 30 something market haven’t fully embraced YT so PRs commissioning me for videos are looking for quality content that they can use on their handles as well as my own. Content wins always.
4. PR is crucial
As a well known producer once told me, ‘You can make the greatest film in the world but if no one knows about it, how will anyone see it?’
PR is vital and in the film industry, press and advertising often makes up half the movie’s budget. You need to be seen to be discovered. I had a publicist for 2 years whose work moved into that of a a sub-editor as my workload became crazy. She helped upload interviews and guest posts, designed Pinterest images and even negotiated on business deals before I was taken on by Neil. She was since snapped up as an in-house PR for a rapidly growing global brand (and deserved to be) and I’m planning on hiring a Publicist again soon.
It’s fair to say I’ve worked hard at creating my own buzz around my blog and getting my work out there, thanks to having a huge archive of material which helps with SEO and press finding helped by how frequently I post (1-5 times a day) as consistency is key and of course thanks to guest posts on Grazia Daily, Marie Claire, Red Daily, Brit Mums Blog, Huffington Post and more.
I’m good at my own PR and I feel grateful to be in a position where the press regularly come to me. You can read my post on Being Your Own Best Publicist.
Shareable content helps get your work seen. Plus, once you garner some press, regional is great too, that can lead to more coverage. As with confidence, the more you achieve, the more it wills you, PR has a domino effect, and coverage on websites usually lasts forever.
My Wonderful Women interviews, a series started several years ago to champion brilliant women are some of my most shared posts, and have included a great many exclusives with famous actors, authors, comedians, bloggers, Olympians and even superstars like Anastacia.
Those pieces then reach their fans as the stars share the interview and even press can pick up on them, and the same applies to guest posts written by celebrated authors. Super content for my blog and I reach new audiences thanks to their own following.
PRs for authors approach me daily to feature exclusive posts from those with books are out soon, in the same way magazines host exclusives with book extracts.
Think up ways to host features that will be read and shared and don’t forget to promote your own posts.
Social media offers PR.
I love Social Oomph to schedule posts and reaching out for coverage. You can also easily connect with journos on twitter and elsewhere. The press need stories so don’t be afraid to approach them with angles.
My close friend and collaborator, publicist and entrepreneur, Jessica Huie MBE offers her advice to get your started,
‘While the digital world means that we don’t need permission to showcase our creativity, engage with our tribe and build an audience, traditional media’s powerful ability to position us as authorities in our space, remains unquestionable. Endorsement by a third party will always create more impact than you shouting about your brilliance through social media. For this reason, crafting a PR plan should not be ruled out by the ambitious. What is even more exciting is that the media will delight in showcasing you once you have done the groundwork. Building an online following is your ticket to monetising your creativity and getting featured in the press.
As the world changes society is fascinated by individuals who have leveraged the digital space to work from anywhere, its most people’s idea of a dream life, so build a captivating brand and landing a spot on the page of your favourite glossy magazine will become possible’.
Jessica’s Top 3 PR Tips,
‘Stand for something more than commerce. Have a mission, an underlying why which underpins your brand. The communicate this why to your audience. These value systems are part of the elixir which will enable you to both resonate and reach your tribe.
Repurpose your content via the traditional media. That blog on your website might work equally well as an article for the Daily Mail – don’t limit yourself to the digital box.
Be visible offline. Explore speaking events and panels where you can meet face to face and build offline relationships with your audience. Connections built on human connection remain the most potent’.
5. Be open-minded and Never Stop Learning
As Natasha so wisely states, ‘What is clear is that no successful blogger of the 50 or so I talked to for the book knew all the answers before they started. You learn as you go along, but you can’t begin to learn until you start.’
We are constantly learning and working organically as tech advances and our own personal stories change. I love keeping up to date with tech because it excites me. I need to know not just how to write and film in an emotive way but how to use the technology to its potential to reach as big an audience and have the greatest impact. Knowledge is power.
My priority as with filmmaking, is to keep getting emotion on screen. To hopefully keep touch, inspire and entertain others.
I don’t do affiliate advertising but I do work on sponsored campaigns both for features on my blog and the client’s sites as well as for traditional press and TV, and I’m also paid to host workshops, lecture, attend events, direct and appear in videos and consult.
My work can span everything from modelling for high street and designer brands to creating bespoke recipes and of course being the UK’s first digital ambassador for the airline Jet2.com and Jet2holidays, making history in the process.
Of course blogging and vlogging can lead to offline opportunities too, your site acting as a live CV and portfolio with many being commissioned to photograph, film and cover campaigns and events. It was thanks to this blog that I was offered a book deal and so much of my ambassadorial work comes from brands reading my editorial pieces (the meat and veg of my blog) as well as the sponsored campaigns. Your blog shows others what you can do and the good news is, that the sky is literally your limit when it comes to working in this frankly, magical digital field.
It feels to me that creatives are for the first time, being paid what they deserve.
That the tables have turned thanks to the democracy of the internet, and that with talent and tenacity, everyone can achieve creative and financial success.
I hope this has inspired. Go get blogging and vlogging!
Buy my bestselling book in paperback or audio
My debut book is my guide to surviving and thriving at work and at home and offers insight into how to create a digital business or return to work with confidence.
Mumboss: The Honest Mum's Guide to Surviving and Thriving at Work and at Home
(UK 2nd Edition)
Available on Amazon or Audible
The Working Mom: Your Guide to Surviving and Thriving at Work and at Home
Available September 8th 2020. Order now on Amazon