I’m all over the place on this blog lately… Sorry about that! I promise to be back to a semi-regular schedule (Motherhood – Teaching – Wardrobe – etc.) soon. Until then, here’s a little (long) something I’ve been trying to put together for MONTHS now…
August 26th was the six-month anniversary of this blog… Six months might not seem like very long; but, I remember when everything first happened with my old blog and I first re-launched here, I wondered if we would even survive at all… Now, though there are still growing pains from time to time, I feel at home here… While I’m certainly NOT an expert at branding or even blogging (although I have been doing it consistently for more than five years now), the last six months have brought a lot of learning and growth through change for me, so I thought I’d share some of my experience and thoughts on rebranding, going niche, and starting a new blog with you…
Allow me to warn you now that this is LONG. I just couldn’t help myself. If you don’t have time to read a novel today, but the topic still interest you, maybe bookmark this one for later?
First, since many of you are new readers, here’s a little background: (Feel free to just scroll down if you’ve already heard this part a million times.)
My first blog baby – E, Myself, and I – was born in the summer of 2009. Jeff and I were (fairly) newly married, I was about to start my third year of teaching, and I mostly blogged about my embarrassing experiences at the gym, our dog (the true star of the blog back then), my weight-loss failures, funny stories from my Poppy and other family members, and Bachelors of the Week/ single guy friends that needed dates. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t have any dreams of fame from my blog (I was, in part, inspired by the movie Julie and Julia after all); but, really, my expectations were low. I remember being absolutely THRILLED (and even hosting my first give away to celebrate) when my Google Friend Connect reached 50 followers (99% of which were real life friends) somewhere in the winter of that year… Honestly, when I look back at some of my earliest blog posts now, I miss it. My blog was darn funny back then. I think I’m real even still, but back then I was also unfiltered. I didn’t worry so much about how people would perceive me, if I would upset anyone with my opinion, or what kind of “personal information” I was sharing on the internet. I didn’t even really read a lot of blogs then (there were less in existence, don’t you think?), so I didn’t feel pressure to compete or write a certain way. My blog was full of little snapshots of my life – memories that would otherwise have been long forgotten, but totally marked that season of our life and make me smile even today. Like this one, for example –
Jeff even let me blog funny stories about him and include pictures back then… Oh, the good old days!
Over time, the blog grew. There were times when I was intentional about the growth (like attending the Blogher Conference in Chicago two summers ago); but, for the most part, it happened organically… I started following and befriending fellow bloggers (hey Ashley and Erika!), participating in Blog Link-ups (specifically Kelly’s Korner “Show Us Your Life” Fridays), and I just kept writing. As it grew, it changed too. I like to believe that I was always true to myself (and I genuinely always tried to be), but as more people (and companies offering great review/sponsor opportunities) started tuning in regularly and paying attention to what I had to say, I became more aware of the message I was putting out there. I don’t think this is necessarily a bad thing, but it did mean that I often felt there were certain expectations (whether it be content, frequency of posts, types of reviews, etc.) that I had to live up to on the blog. I was (and am) incredibly grateful for the awesome gifts and experiences E, Myself, and I afforded me; but, deep down, I always had the nagging thought that as I grew and changed, my blog had some growing up to do too…
By the end of 2013, I had reached 1150 GFC followers on E, Myself, and I and was averaging about 20,000 page views a month. (For the record, this isn’t huge by any stretch of the imagination. But it definitely exceeded my expectations and opened some doors for me with my blog as a mini-business of sorts.) I was doing sponsored posts for Blogher frequently, had had two articles re-posted on Yahoo.com, and – more important than any of that – I (WE) had built a community of friends in the vast internet world. MOST of my readers at that time were strangers for all intensive purposes, but they had followed my “journey into adulthood” – including, most notably, becoming a mom in 2011 – for years now, and – in my mind – they were FRIENDS. I was proud of what my little blog had become and – though I still worried about over-sharing, needing a new name, etc. etc. etc. – I thought it could only go up from there.
THEN, completely out of the blue – at least as far as I was concerned – one day in February, my blog stopped working for me. Literally. To make an already long story a little bit shorter, I had purchased the web domain www.emyselfandi.com four years earlier and it expired in January. Because I am dumb and don’t pay attention to technical things like that, I ignored several emails from Google warning me about its expiration (DO NOT do that), and in February it was purchased by someone else. Just like that, E, Myself, and I no longer belonged to me. (And, as a side note, I also lost access to my custom email address – which was, perhaps, even more inconvenient. I literally could just never check my email there again.)
Luckily, because I was blogging at Blogger at the time, ALL of my content was still saved there and those special memories and tidbits can live on for me. BUT, losing my domain forced me to make some pretty big decisions (ones that I wasn’t prepared to make at the time at all) about the future of my blogging “career” and what was next…
To those of you that aren’t bloggers, this will sound awfully dramatic, but it was a BIG loss for me. I had built quite a lot of my identity (both online and in real life) around that web space, and losing it felt like losing a little part of myself. I was sad, frustrated, and even – at times – pretty angry. BUT, I had very limited options at the time. (Yes, I tried contacting the person who purchased the domain, but to no avail.) Losing my domain finally gave me the courage to make some changes to my online presence that I had been thinking about for a LONG time… I spent the next month or so really thinking (and talking with Jeff and good friends) about WHO I am now and WHAT my purpose was as a blogger. And, on March 26th of 2014 (my thirtieth birthday), I launched a brand new website – this one – with a new name, a new look, a new focus, and a new passion.
If E, Myself, and I was started on a whim one sunny afternoon, Teaching Sam and Scout felt like a very intentional, focused, grown-up decision. Here’s how I described it in my very first post –
On the technical side, I worked diligently with Erika Senneff (formerly known as The Fairy Blogmother – but now designing for Designer Blogs) to make the switch to a self-hosted WordPress site (which, I’ll be honest, was mostly just because I understood it to be the more “professional” and “advanced” platform out there, and now seemed as good a time as any to rock my blogging boat) and design a simple, sophisticated, and crisp look for my new page.
Moreover, I really honed my focus on my new blog and, I guess you could say, officially made the switch to more of a “niche” blogger. (A niche blog, in case you aren’t familiar with the term, is basically just a blog with a specific focus intended for a specific audience or market.) Although posts like my “Bachelor recaps” and “Midweek Confessions” were super popular at EM&I, they really didn’t define who I was anymore, and this was a good opportunity to step back and only write about the things I truly care about. The same went for sponsorships and review posts. While I ultimately decided to keep Blogher on my sidebar and occasionally take on a review or give away opportunity, I decided to be MUCH more selective on my new blog and cut-back SIGNIFICANTLY on any kind of content that didn’t fully fit my blog’s purpose. Furthermore, I used the fresh start as an opportunity to redefine with Jeff what sort of things we would share about our personal life – specifically about our son – with the world (wide web). I now have a filter I run things through when deciding what to put on the blog about our family, and Jeff and I both feel more comfortable with that for now.
So, how has the change REALLY been?
*I want to be really honest about this part with you all, because I imagine some of you that land here are considering rebranding/starting over your own blog. I’m also talking about numbers – not because I think they are anything special or even particularly important – but because I know that’s the kind of “data-based” information I was seeking when I was making the change. I hope you can understand my intention there.
– I DID lose followers. BUT, not as many as I thought I would. I told Jeff right before launching S&S that I would have been happy with 100 page visits on the first day. Instead, I was shocked and thrilled to receive more than 500… In full disclosure, that number dropped off to about 100 – 300 for the next month or so. Now, however, six-months in, I am back up to almost the exact same numbers I was averaging on E, Myself, and I. It felt like it took a while, but the growth was steady and strong. I’m thankful.
– Niche blogging has made it a little harder to build community. The reality is that most of my page views and readers today come from Pinterest – specifically my school/classroom related pins. As a result, while I still have some wonderful loyal readers (THANK YOU THANK YOU), many (dare I say, MOST) of my hits are a “one and done” type of thing… That’s been a bit of a hard pill to swallow for me because I SO value community. BUT, I am hopeful that it will come. For every three emails I get today asking where I found my bulletin board border, how I keep up with attendance, and what resources I use to teach Gatsby (which I don’t mind answering AT ALL, by the way), I also get one that says something along the lines of “thank you for giving me hope that I can be a good mom and a good teacher.” Those are the emails I keep writing for.
– Niche blogging is easier than I thought, but it still has its pressures. One of the things I’ve been most consistent about on my new blog is not allowing pressures and expectations to dictate how/when/or what I write here. Mostly this means that I allow myself to simply not write if I’m not feeling it one day, and I really only write about things that actually excite me (yes, sometimes that’s clothes) or I think will be a genuine help to someone else out there. Contrary to what you might expect, thinking of ideas to blog about is NEVER really an issue anymore for me. (I have a list pages and pages long of topics I will – hopefully – get to one day.) HOWEVER, there are still plenty of other kinds of pressures. For example, writing a blog post feels like a much bigger undertaking to me now that I am – more than likely – going to want to include (decent) photographs of my materials, links to the resources I use, etc. etc. etc. For consistency’s sake – and because I like a little structure in my life – I try to stick to a “Motherhood Monday,” “Teaching Tuesday,” and “Wardrobe Wednesday,” routine (+ whatever I feel like on Thursday and Friday); but, more often than not, all three of those don’t happen in a given week, and I’m learning to be OK with that. Also, as a side note kind-of, the hardest topic for me to write about since the switch has been – strangely enough – motherhood. I think this is mostly due to what I said earlier about having more of a filter about what I share regarding Sam; but, also, in general, it just seems to be a topic that is talked about SO much in the blog world. It’s hard to come up with real, original content on the subject. BUT, rest assured, I’m still just as passionate about that role as ever. 😉
– I definitely lost sponsor/corporate opportunities (read $$). Although I did say that I’m being more particular now (which is totally true), I have to admit that sponsors aren’t exactly beating down my door. At EM&I, I used to get email offers or opportunities to work with sponsors at least once a month or so – some months more than others. Now, I’ve been lucky to have one or two offers TOTAL. A big part of working with brands is building and having a NAME for your own brand that is respected and recognized. I just, frankly, don’t have that anymore. I’m sure this could be improved if I was more actively seeking sponsors and offers (which I’m not – at all); but, for now, in terms of money made on my blog, I’d estimate that I make about one TENTH of the income now that I was making this time a year (or so) ago. For the most part, that isn’t a big deal, but it does mean some of the little things I took for granted (like a Premium membership to PicMonkey, for example) and almost all of the big things (like conferences and workshops) just aren’t in the cards anymore.
– The switch from Blogger to WordPress was relatively painless and positive. First of all, I’m SO thankful that I had Erika to work with (she took care of pretty much ALL of the dirty work) and my friend Heather who graciously fixed some technical issues early on… I could NOT have made the switch on my own. #notachance I also think that the fact that I started completely over instead of trying to move all my old posts from Blogger helped a lot and made the change much smoother. But, overall, I would recommend the switch if you are considering it. It took me just a few days to learn how to navigate the site and I love some of the extra tools it has – like block quotes, the ability to add Word or PDF documents with one click, etc. – that Blogger didn’t. The only thing that has been a tiny pain on WP so far is that it doesn’t really like Copy & Paste – when I do it from another blog post, a Word document, etc. it messes up all the formatting on the page. (Also, in case you are interested, at Erika’s recommendation, I went with DreamHost for my hosting and have – so far – really enjoyed working with them. Their customer service is TOP NOTCH.)
– Rebranding is a lot more than changing your name. One thing I didn’t really think about when I started a new blog, was how many other things I would have to change along with it (email address, business cards, and all my social media accounts). Rebranding is a process for sure. I had to set-up a new email account for my blog and, after trying several different mediums, ultimately went with just a simple Gmail account to avoid losing access etc. again. In addition, Twitter, Instagram, and Pinterest made it really easy for me to change my handle using their account settings etc. Facebook, on the other hand, has quite the hoops you have to jump through in order to change the title of your Page. Other things, like business cards and stationary, I haven’t even worried about yet and figure I will just deal with that kind-of thing on an as-needed basis. (Sadly, I have hundreds of adorable unused E, Myself, and I business cards leftover in my basement that I can’t bear to throw away.)
– Rebranding is an investment. Starting over took a lot of support – both financially and otherwise – from my husband especially, because we really had no idea what to expect and it was an investment. In addition to lots of time spent re-thinking and re-designing my blog, a self-hosted Word Press site costs about $100 a year (paid upfront) and a good blog design can be anywhere from 200 – 1000 dollars. Obviously this route wouldn’t be possible for everyone – and I’m sure it can be done MUCH cheaper – but, thankfully, I had some money saved from EM&I and Jeff was willing to put some of our own money into the blog because it knew how important it was/is to me. (Kind-of the same way we might decide to spend money on new bikes or golf clubs, if that makes sense.) In the end, we haven’t really “made that money back,” but it has still been worth it because I genuinely love having my own space on the internet to build community and share ideas. And, I’m willing to let other things go.
In conclusion… I do miss my old blog some times. To be completely vulnerable, I do care about the numbers a little bit, and at times it stings to spend time on a post and get ZERO comments, or have three entries in a give away. That’s not me having a pity party, by the way. It’s me being human. Those were things I thought I was beyond in my blogging career, but this whole process has been nothing short of humbling. Building and growing a blog is HARD work. Building and growing one that really, truly, represents you and you are proud of is even harder. The last six months have taught me that time and time again. In the end though, it has been absolutely WORTH IT. Although I might not have done it when I did (and I’m still a little bitter that the person that bought my old domain still hasn’t put a blog up!), I’m thankful for the whole “lost domain” drama that gave me the extra push to make some changes…
Has anyone else started over like this on their blog? How did it go for you? What thoughts or advice do you have on the process?
Thanks for humoring me with this mini novel.
P.S. If you are considering rebranding, going niche, or starting a new blog all together, I would LOVE to walk beside you on that journey. FEEL FREE to email me or leave a question in the comments, and I will be in touch!