BLOGGING AND BRANDING – BRAINSTORM

Start Blogging, Start a Business, and Build an Authentic Brand

Bestselling author and successful entrepreneur Emily Schuman of Cupcakes and Cashmere on building a thriving business.
IMAGE: Getty Images

Some months ago I published a post about commonly misused words. Several hundred thousand people read it, so it was reasonably popular, but as with most posts, in time the views slowed.

Then one day, seemingly out of nowhere, tens of thousands of people read it.

I did a little digging and learned that all those readers came from one small link in a post called “Links I Love” on the fashion, food, and lifestyle inspiration blog Cupcakes and Cashmere. That’s far and away the most readers an external link has generated for one of my posts, including tweets from people with millions of Twitter followers.

So I did a little more digging and learned that Emily Schuman has done what countless other people have not been able to do: start a blog, create outstanding content with a unique voice and an authentic point of view, build a large and vibrant community, and turn that blog into a successful business. She’s partnered with retail brands, written a bestselling book, Cupcakes and Cashmere: A Guide for Defining Your Style, Reinventing Your Space, and Entertaining with Ease, will release her second book, Cupcakes and Cashmere at Home, this May, and later this summer will launch a line of products.

So I asked Emily how she did–and does–it.

Tell me where the idea came from, what you were doing at the time, what your hopes were.

I started my blog in 2008 as a purely creative endeavor. I was working in online ad sales at the time, which was a good job, but didn’t provide any sort of outlet for creativity or cover any of my passions, which are fashion, food, beauty and home decor.

I didn’t have any specific goals or ambitions, other than to document ideas and create simple content that I enjoyed and perhaps a handful of others would appreciate. Over the first six months I noticed a slight increase in traffic, which led me to think I might be able to earn a little extra income to supplement my normal salary.

Early on, what challenges did you face and what mistakes did you make?

One of the biggest challenges I faced early on was trying to do everything by myself, rather than delegating or working with other skilled people. I’m not tech savvy, so when my site would crash or I wanted to add a new feature I would spend hours looking up tutorials and sloppily coding pieces into the backend of my site… which would often make things worse.

I eventually turned to people (specifically my then boyfriend, now husband) to help find support for the growing site. Thankfully he worked in the digital media space and called in a few favors, but I definitely learned you can’t build or run a successful enterprise singlehandedly.

How did you differentiate yourself in such crowded space?

One advantage I have is longevity. I started my site when blogging (specifically fashion/lifestyle) was still a nascent area of media, so the fact that I’ve been doing it for over seven years has provided a little bit of legitimacy. I’ve also evolved over time, so rather than focusing on the same content I’ve tried to diversify and expand on the categories I cover.

A lot of the readers have grown up with me, so there is a very personal connection we share and they relate to a lot of the experiences I’ve showcased (like getting married, buying a home, having a baby) that provide a more authentic experience than simply sharing pretty photographs.

Lastly, consistency is key. I haven’t missed a post in seven years, so readers know there will be something new each morning… and I’ve heard from a lot of them that they love starting their day with a cup of coffee and reading the latest post.

Tell me about your overall theme, “aspirational meets attainable.” Intuitively I get it, but I would think striking that balance is tough.

This has been the core idea of the site since day one primarily because I wasn’t making a lot of money–so my goal was to create a lifestyle that felt elevated without draining my bank account. (A lot of this stemmed from my experience at Teen Vogue where I was exposed to a mix of amazing designers and media that was semi-relatable but simply out of reach.)

As my business has grown and I’ve been lucky enough to increase my income, I’ve worked hard to maintain the tenets of the “attainable” tone, primarily through the data we’ve collected. We know the price points readers respond to, we know the retailers they prefer… so while not every piece of content will resonate, we make sure most of what we put out is in line with what people expect to see and makes them feel comfortable.

There are a lot of blogs that suddenly change their tone or content once they begin to grow, but I feel a big part of my long-term success is built on knowing the audience and not straying from the core messaging.

How do you decide on your topic mix? You have food, clothing, household items, career advice, fashion…

Every topic is based on something I’m passionate about, but we also have a set editorial calendar to make planning easier. This has evolved and been refined over the years, based on audience response, but we look at it kind of like TV programming (i.e. Monday = Fashion & Decor, Tuesday = Food & DIY, etc.)

I think consistency and knowing what to expect on a certain day gives the audience a sense of comfort.

You make your living with your blog, which means partnerships and advertising. A great offer from a potential advertiser has to be tempting, even if it isn’t great for your brand or your audience. It’s always tough to turn away revenue.

As with many bloggers in this category I receive dozens of advertising opportunities each week, almost all of which I don’t accept.

However, the advertisers I do work with are a natural fit for the content we’re producing; you wouldn’t see me driving a Hummer in a post.

That’s not one of the advertisers I’ve turned down, but I have had offers from companies who clearly have never read my blog and have offered a lot of money to integrate a product into the site, regardless of whether their audience was even remotely aligned aligned.

You get dozens and often hundreds of comments on every post. Why do you think your audience is so engaged?

I don’t mean to sound redundant, but consistency and authenticity are the key elements to building an engaged audience.

The readers have built an emotional connection with the site and ultimately they look at it as more than just some text and words. I’ve had people approach me on the street and say, “You’re Cupcakes and Cashmere,” rather than calling me by my name, so there is sometimes a disconnect between the brand and myself… but either way, the connection is real and they relate to what I’m creating.

You’ve published one bestselling book and have another book in the works. How have you leveraged your online presence to offline products and ventures? And do you have a longer-term strategy?

My second book, Cupcakes and Cashmere at Home, comes out on May 19 and I can’t wait to share some of my favorite interior design and entertaining tips.

I’ve been working with a licensing agent for the past two years to explore and expand retail opportunities with the brand and we’re actually launching a new product line this summer. I can’t say more about it yet but it is within one of the main categories I cover on the site. We’ve locked in two large retail partners (one is brick/mortar online, one purely e-comm) and we’ve been in the process of developing two other product lines within another category.

The long-term goal is to establish a successful line of branded products that benefit from the blog but are a stand-alone business.

Say I meet you in an airport lounge, find out what you do, and say, “I’ve always wanted to start a site on (my passion.) Any quick tips you’d give me, and common mistakes to avoid?

Tips:

  • Be patient with your goals since success will most likely come slowly, if at all.
  • If you’re creating original content, be prepared for it to consume a lot of your time.
  • For areas that you’re not skilled in, find great collaborators.
  • Get a basic understanding of the digital media landscape. Learn about analytics, do some research on advertising, and be able to speak about your audience value.
  • Be authentic and learn to differentiate yourself. Most likely the category you’ll cover is overly saturated with content, so you need to find a way to make your work stand out.

Mistakes to avoid:

  • Sacrificing quality over quantity. Your audience will be built on trust and the entertainment value you provide. If your quality slips, so will they.
  • Taking every offer that comes your way. At first it’s very tempting to accept offers from an advertiser, but ultimately, it degrades your credibility if you become an advocate for anyone willing to pay you. Be selective.

WORDPRESS AND THE SELF-CREATED CLASSIC EDITOR FIASCO

As many of you WordPress Users know by now WordPress has reduced their Classic Editor to an extremely hard to get locate set of complicated linkage maneuvers and basically replaced it with an extremely inferior “new” post editor. This has frustrated and outraged many WordPress Users, and with very good reason, especially since the problem was entirely self-created and would be extremely easy to resolve had WordPress either the foresight or the desire to do so.

But to me this points to any even bigger set of current problems in and with WordPress, those being: their total lack of response to user complaints both with the new editor and with a desire to return to easy access to the Classic Editor (and believe me it’s called Classic for a reason, they seem to be entirely missing their own definitional admissions), their willful attempt to avoid problem-solving (when this would be an extremely easy problem to resolve), and their apparent reliance upon an attempt to woo millennial and younger customers with hipster-huckstering tricks like a slick-looking and streamlined yet vastly inferior posting editor.

None of these things bode well at all for the WordPress Business Model.

WordPress is publicly displaying exactly how you do not run a business. Recently though, in an attempt to persuade WordPress to fully understand the type of business suicide they are committing by pursuing this entirely unnecessary course of action I have been participating in this thread and forum:

https://en.forums.wordpress.com/topic/please-reinstate-the-option-of-choice-to-use-the-old-publishing-format?replies=692

If you too are bothered by the inferior nature of the new editor and would like to to see a return to easy user access of the Classic Editor then let your opinion be known.

Here was my first reply to this entirely self-created and easy to resolve fiasco:

For God’s sake this would be so easy to correct. A single line of code that allowed the user to choose by which method and editor he would like to make his or her post.

If this were the marketplace, or a business, the idea of imposing upon your customer, client, or user a choice they find distasteful, inefficient, and functionless would be suicide. And the idea of making your customer, client, or user wade through a large number of entirely pointless steps to correct a “problem” that should have never existed in the first place is utterly ridiculous and juvenile.

There is a certain distasteful arrogance to the modern Geek that borders on a desire to be a petty tyrant. Look ma, I’m powerful! Technology – BOOM!

This is simply a programmer or group of programmers with a month-long hard bone to gnaw, doesn’t matter whether it is infected and full of maggots or not. It’s his to gnaw and tough luck everybody else, get your own maggot-filled bone to gnaw.

In the time it took some code-writer or technician or board-monitor to read this complaint (or any of the other complaints on this easy to resolve matter) some clever code-writer could have devised a simple line of code to install at the top of the editor that allows the user to choose “Classic Editor” as their editor of choice. As a matter of fact a clever or smart code writer who cared about the end-user would do that very thing. Immediately.

Case closed.

This ain’t rocket-science boys and girls.

This is mere psychological and professional pettiness to make a juvenile point.

Bravo Einsteins. Technology – BOOM!!!

 

NEW PUBLICATION SCHEDULE

NEW PUBLICATION SCHEDULE

Recently I have been involved in a number of different projects that have left me little time for blogging. I have been writing the lyrics for my second album, Locus Eater, I have been writing and plotting my novel The Basilegate, I have been putting together a crowdfunding project for one of my inventions and one of my games, I have been helping with and compiling material for my wife’s new career as a public speaker, and helping my oldest daughter prepare to enter college. In addition I have been speaking with and seeking a new agent. I have even been preparing a new paper on some of the work of Archimedes and what I have gleaned from it. Finally I have been preparing my Spring Offensive, which is now completed.

All of which have kept me extremely busy.

However I have not been entirely ignoring my blogging either. In background I have been preparing a much improved Publication Schedule for all five of my blogs, my literary blog Wyrdwend, my design and gaming blog Tome and Tomb, my personal blog The Missal, my amalgamated blog Omneus, and this blog, Launch Port.

Now that most of these other pressing matters are well underway and on an even keel this allows me more time to return to blogging.

So below you will find my new Production Schedule which I’ll also keep posted as one of the header pages on my blogs.

So, starting on Monday, March the 15th, 2015, and unless something unforeseen interferes this will be the Publication Schedule for this blog every week, including the Topic Titles and the general list of Subject Matters for that given day. That way my readers can know what to expect of any given day and what I intend to publish for that day. I will also occasionally make off-topic post as interesting material presents itself.

Launch Port – 10:00 – 12:00 AM

Monday: The Markets – Brokerage, Entrepreneurship, Markets, Marketing
Tuesday: Business of Business – Business, Entrepreneurship, Employment, Self-Employment, Start-Ups, Writing
Wednesday: Brainstorm – Reader Discussions and Commenting, Reblogs
Thursday: Invention and Investment – Innovation, Invention, Investment, Tools
Friday: Capital Ventures – Banking, Capital, Finance
Saturday: Reassessment – Reblog best Personal Post, Review
Sunday – Sabbath

BUILDING YOUR BRAND

http://www.forbes.com/pictures/fgdi45ehikj/5-must-read-tips-for-building-a-brand-3/

200, 100, 50, 370

Today is a sort of celebratory day for me. I have just submitted my:

200th post on my Literary Blog – Wyrdwend

100th post on my Gaming Blog – Tome and Tomb

50th post on my business and Capital Blog – Launch Port, and

earlier this week I posted the 370th post on my Personal Blog – The Missal

I want to thank all of my readers (all around the world) for your support and loyalty and I promise you continued improvement and even greater and more useful content in the future.

YOUR OPINION?

For those of you familiar with blogging I have a question to ask. I’d like to solicit your advice.

I have four blogs, one is my personal blog, one is my literary blog, one is my business and invention blog, and one is my gaming and design blog.

Three of my blogs are on WordPress, one is on Blogger. When each is old enough and well established enough (I just started them a couple of months back) each will go private, but for now they are hosted.

So here is my question: of these two platforms, WordPress and Blogger, which is better for building your audience and which is better overall if your aim is blog success to support your business and writing enterprises?

At this stage of my blog development process which do you think is the superior platform?

Which do you recommend, and why? Your advice is appreciated.

%d bloggers like this: