Hope you’re keeping well or as well as you can be given this crazy time. I’ve been asked quite a lot since lockdown about starting a blog, how to go about it and what do I do? People asking about growing their Instagram and how do they put themselves out there etc. So as always I’m here to give you guys a little guidance if you’re one of those that mailed asking for advice. Listen I’m not expert in this AT ALL. I’m only giving my reasons for starting a blog, why I did it, some tips on how to go about it, I’ll talk about trying to grow your Instagram and more.
Firstly I want to let everyone know, this has not been an overnight thing for me. If anything it couldn’t be further from it. I started my blog 8 years ago in July. There was very little bloggers around maybe 4/5 of us and Pippa hadn’t even got a website. Over the years people have come and gone & then people have come and exploded onto the influencer scene. Being a blogger and being an influencer are two different things. Yes you can be both of course but let’s not confuse them. A blogger has their own website and updates it regularly with written content and information. An influencer simple just promotes stuff and does paid posts on their Instagram. There’s nothing wrong with being this, that’s fine. I personally just started all of this because I loved to write. I would call myself a blogger more than an influencer however I do paid work on my Instagram so technically I’m both. I’ll discuss this below and why I think having a blog is more beneficial than just having an Instagram.
So where did it all begin? And why did I start a blog?
Back when I was 8 years old, I started going to my grandads writers group with him every Saturday. I absolutely loved going with him & he would make me write short stories whilst I was there. I always loved writing and in school I really liked English. When I started up a Facebook page back in 2007/2008, I found myself sharing stuff about fashion & beauty on my personal Facebook page. It was then I thought about starting thinking about having my own personal page to share and write about stuff I liked. I knew that it was writing that I loved the most so I researched and researched everything myself on my own about starting up my own blog. I spent endless hours thinking up of a name and finally came up with The Secret Obsession. I got myself a Blogspot at the time and set up a blog Facebook page. Instagram wasn’t even around back then nor was Snapchat. I remember thinking at the time, will anyone even read it? But I genuinely didn’t care if only one person read it, it was more an outlet for me and something I just enjoyed doing in my spare time.
I wanted my own website and not just a blogspot. So I bought the domain www.thesecretobsession.com and looked into getting a proper website done up. These days you can get websites done for little or nothing but back then it was quite expensive. My blog started off based a lot on Celeb Gossip, Fashion and Beauty but the over the years it’s evolved into more of a Lifestyle & Travel Blog. I still obviously do Fashion and Beauty related posts but I find my lifestyle section is what people view the most. When I started working in the travel industry as cabin crew in 2016, I added in a travel section to my blog as I found myself travelling more and more.
As mentioned above, I got a new website in early 2014 (see below) and I loved my new rebrand, it was very me at the time. See below my second website. In mid 2014, I actually moved to Australia and really put my blog to one side. I focused on living in the moment and my blog wasn’t a huge focus for me. When I came back from Australia my focus was then on getting a job and still not my blog. I did it now and again from 2015-2017 but it wasn’t until the end of 2017 that I started to actually really focus a lot more on my blog.
When did it all take off? How did you grow your blog?
It was end of 2017 this all happened. I joined Instagram back in 2013 but never really used it for my blog at all, it was very much just a personal thing. Then at the beginning of 2018 I used it for my blog. When I started my blog I never sought out to get paid for anything. I was happy to just do my blog, writing blog posts and getting invited to the odd PR event. The more followers I got both on Instagram and Facebook, the more people got in touch with me – PRS, companies and brands started to slowly notice my blog and take interest. Before I knew it, I was at 15,000 on Facebook and 5,000 on Instagram. There was also Snapchat in 2015 so it meant a lot of people starting out were not actually blogging as such but more just ‘snapping’. I did Snapchat for two years but started to absolutely hate it so one day I just said bye bye and decided it wasn’t for me anymore. I made it private and just left it at that. My Instagram page was growing and my Facebook page was dying. I still have 32K followers on it but 2018 saw the huge focus change from Facebook to Instagram. Everyone was on Instagram and it was all about Insta. I slowly started talking more and more on Instagram. It was actually in 2017 when I started travelling a lot more, I saw my following grow. People were interested in my travels so that’s when I added my travel section. I worked hard on that making sure I did blog posts that were specifically travel related. Then in 2018 when I was pregnant with Lily that I saw another increase in followers. I was talking about being pregnant a lot and I gained a whole different audience to what I had before.
How are you still doing it 8 years later? Do you still enjoy it?
I still love writing as much as I did the day I published my first blog post. For me, there’s just something about writing and I just love it so much. I don’t care if 2 people read it or 20,000 people once I enjoy doing it. I’ll stop when it stops becoming enjoyable for me. It’s a lot about video nowadays, Instagram stories and most recently Tik Tok. I love stories and no doubt will love Tik Tok the more I use it but very much like when I started on Instagram, it wasn’t an instant love. I love watching other people on Tik Tok but slowly trying to get into it myself.
In a world where it’s all about watching someone’s every move, I try to just always do me no matter what. If I don’t want to do stories one day I won’t, if I don’t want to share something I won’t and if I don’t want to talk about something I won’t do that either. Doing Instagram isn’t my main money earner, I have my full time job where I earn my livelihood. I don’t ever deny I don’t make money from my Instagram, I do but it’s nothing in comparison to those doing it full time as a job. I also really think long and hard about collaborations I do. I have to have used the brand before organically and shared something from the brand before or used something from their brand. If you’re a full time influencer, you have to think of your income so you tend to accept more jobs regardless as of course you need to support yourself which is totally understandable. I like the freedom of picking and choosing personally doing it part-time.
I do still enjoy it definitely. I’ve had phases over the years where I’ve wanted to give up and jack it all in. I have days where I don’t even want to go on my phone AT ALL and that’s fine. I take days off, nights off and not be online. I have spoken about this before on my stories and how if I wake up and feel like shit, I will just leave the phone. It’s not that I’m not showing everyone my ‘shit day’, I just want to remove myself from it. I will always talk about it the following day and be honest with my followers about being up and down. That’s ok and what you always need to remember is it’s ok to have them days too, being a blogger, influencer too. I always say too that you only see a FRACTION of a blogger and influencers life online. We all collectively choose to show you what we want to show you. Some will show you just the shiny bits, some will show you everything and some like me will show you the bad days, good days and well the meh days. I will always only do this if I’m still enjoying it. If and when I stop enjoying sharing stuff online, then just like I did with Snapchat I will pull it. For now I really can say I’m enjoying it more than ever. I’m proud of what I’ve achieved and I have worked hard to get where I am now. I haven’t got any big shoutouts from bigger influencers, I haven’t become friends with people with larger audiences to grow my page, I just busted my ass and grew organically myself on my own. A lot of people really rely on shoutouts these days and I am ALWAYS happy to shout people out if I enjoy their stuff but graft and creating content that people enjoy is how you grow.
How did you manage to get to 80K followers?
Well as I said I’ve had my Instagram since 2017/2018 using it for my blog so that is three years now I have been growing my following. I know of some people who’ve only been on Instagram a few months and shot to 100K followers. This all depends on so many things. As I said above also I have grown organically over the years.
A few little things that helped me grow below:
- At the beginning I did a lot of competitions on my page to grow and this definitely helped. It was a great way of new people finding out about my page.
- I think when I started talking more on my Instagram stories, people engaged more too. I think talking is SUPER important. It’s how your audience can see the real you and see your personality. It’s all well and good following an account with pretty photos but for me it’s nice to know the person properly and this is done through stories.
- Being REAL. People love perfection. Of course. We all see those gorgeous perfect couples, models on Instagram that look groomed to an inch of their lives. You will never see a hair out of place or a bad day in sight on their story. After I had Lily I really opened up a lot on my Instagram stories and showed people the good/bad more than ever. It helped me by being very honest about it and so many people enjoyed it too. So by showing this side of me, my audience grew. Not intentionally just happened but to explain the growth of my page I said I would mention it.
- Being relatable. I find too many influencers to be unattainable. A couple of Irish influencers now but I mean more a lot I follow in the UK and Australia who live in a different world to the regular Joe. I 100% consider myself a regular Joe. If you meet me in real life, you will say just that. A lot of people who’ve followed me from the beginning will tell you I’m the exact same person they started following 5 years ago or 8 years ago. Regardless of how many followers I have, I will still always remain myself and still be a Penneys gal for life.
Advice for someone looking to start up a blog?
My advice for anyone thinking about starting up a blog is to think about it long and hard. I never started my blog to have ‘followers’, all I wanted was for a few people to read and enjoy my blog. I get messages from people all the time asking how can they get free stuff in the post? I didn’t start getting any PR packages until I was blogging about 4 years. If you’re starting it to get free stuff, then you’re already starting it for all the wrong reasons.
Having a blog is much harder than people think. As I said I’m not just an influencer so I don’t just take photos and put them up on Instagram. I spend hours and hours writing blog posts for my website as content for you to continuously reference if needed. Blog posts can a lot longer than people might think. This blog post for example I’ve already spent two hours doing. It will probably have taken me a total of 3 and half hours from start to finish with this by the time I add in photos and size up the images for the main page of my website then too.
You also HAVE to have social media for a blog these days too. In order to get people reading your blog, you need to have a platform to put the posts up. It’s not as easy to gain followers these days with huge restrictions on Instagram & the algorithim however if the content is right then you are onto a winner. You need to think about what you’re doing, what makes you different, what is your edge and what makes you you that little bit different.
You need to think of a good name for your blog or you can just use your name, especially if you want to be taken seriously in the industry. Wix.com or Wordpress are handy and cheaper ways to get started. Then further down the line you can invest in a website if you feel it’s going well. I’ve certainly made my money back on what I paid for both of my websites. I went on to rebrand for a second time last year and this current website was my new look. I’m so happy with my website now and how it looks especially my new logo too. It’s very me and a simple/easy to use website. I got it done by Gary Melican who I would highly recommend. We worked great together and he’s a young guy who really knows his stuff. He’s really reasonably priced too.
How did I start working with brands? When did this start happening? Do you need an agency?
It wasn’t until I was blogging about 4 years that I started doing collaborations/paid work. Bare in mind this was between 2012-2016 so it wasn’t as big as it is now. You can have 4500 followers on Instagram and get paid work these days. One thing to note that brands are always watching, PR companies are always watching, they are looking for the next big thing or next person who’s up and coming. When I was approached by my agency in 2018, little did I know they had been watching me for many months before they approached me. You don’t need an agency, you can do it yourself however the bigger your platform becomes it’s nice to have an agent to guide and help you.
If you’re content is good then brands will want to work with you. There is no denying that there is money to be made on having a blog and Instagram for sure. I personally choose not to do constant sponsored content daily because from feedback people feel they don’t know if something you promote is genuine then or not. I agree with this. Some people I had followed for a long time started constantly doing ad’s and it turned me off. I obviously know what kind of money these people are making from the advertisement and well I didn’t actually believe they used ‘yet another skincare brand and loved it’. That is something to note the more you grow and your audience gets bigger. Know that people are not stupid, people are a lot more aware these days online and they are a lot more picky with who they watch. I for one unfollowed and muted a lot of people online that I personally didn’t enjoy watching anymore. There are sooooo many influencers/Youtubers out there for people to watch that they can simply unfollow as quick as they followed you.
Here are just some of the brands I’ve worked with:
Rescue Remedy and Tesco
Center Parcs and Johnson’s Baby
Bperfect and Huawei
Anything else that you should know before starting a blog?
Not only does it take a LOT of time. It will take time to gain momentum which you will if you are focused and really want to do it. Putting yourself ‘out there’ or online can be daunting, you need a thick skin and you need to be able to take the bad with the good. Do not think everyone will like you, because they won’t. That is the beauty of the world we live in, there is someone out there for everyone to follow. Who I like, you might not like and so on.
Over the years I have become ‘stone like’. Absolutely nothing that anyone says about me online hurts me, why? Because I no longer care and my advice to people putting themselves out there is IGNORE IGNORE IGNORE. You will become a stronger person from it and it will be the best bit of advice I will give. At the beginning was it hard? YES!! Hell yes it was. It was so hard but then you slowly realise that what these people say about you, says more about them that you. They are the ones with the issue, not you. People will be rude, people will be nasty and some people will become extremely jealous. I never really saw it as jealously until a few years ago but it’s the truth.
I’ve lost friends because of nasty things I found out they said about my social media behind my back. That is fine. Everyone can have an opinion but when you start a blog and you start growing you really see who your true friends are. You learn who to trust and who not to trust. I will never EVER EVER see myself as a ‘public figure’ or anyone special. I cannot stand when I see people with a few thousand followers put up that they are a ‘public figure’. In my eyes, a public figure is someone really famous. I am and always have just been me regardless of if I hit 500,000 followers. I’m very honest on my platform, you my followers know this and I only share what I believe in. I will NEVER ever recommend something I don’t believe in. This is something to note when brands approach you. I’ve turned down a lot of money over the past few years to work with brands because they weren’t the right fit. I turned down a huge one year deal with a company for over 10,000euro because I was like no way too cringe.
You should always be YOU and remember than everything takes time. You aren’t going to have 5,000 or 20,000 followers overnight so be patient and give yourself time. People will follow you for your personality so just be yourself and enjoy what you do, that will come through.
I started this mad journey with nothing but a love of writing, now I’m sitting here with 80,000 people following my life. Does that scare me? Yes…..I’m not going to lie sometimes it does. I met Sean when I had 21,000 followers and he always reminds me how far I’ve come which is lovely. When I hit 80,000 followers he was like ‘Aoibhe that’s a huge deal’ and I didn’t celebrate at 60,000 or at 70,000 but then when he said about Croke Park fitting 80,000 people I just went WOW! He’s right, it’s a big deal.
I’m so so so so grateful for every single comment, message and person that enjoys what I do and follows my content. It’s a 24/7 thing now and requires so much but I enjoy it so it makes it all worthwhile. I love chatting to so many of you every day and hearing that you love my recommendations and reviews. I love working with brands I love and have used for years from Penneys to Johnson’s Baby, Rescue Remedy to Huawei, Nuk to P20, Tesco to AIB Ireland. I still have to sometimes pinch myself when I think about working with these brands.
I will never ever take anything for granted at all. As I mentioned last month, I never really wanted to start a brand or do products ever as it wasn’t something for me however I was approached by an incredible businesswoman and someone who inspires me so much last month. We chatted and we spoke about an idea I had for a brand. It’s not beauty or fashion as it’s not me but it’s something I am really excited about. This might take me a year and you might not hear a thing until 2021 as these things take a long long time but it’s something I am really passionate about.
Something to note, I recently had a girl comment under my photo saying ‘pity your followers can’t see you for the real you’. This is a girl who doesn’t know me at all or I’ve never met before. I’ve been doing this for eight years now, I’ve never been anything but me on my blog and social media. I don’t need to argue with this girl because I know how I am on my blog and that’s 100% me. Be prepared for people to bash you at any opportunity they get because they will. If someone doesn’t like me that is fine, I’m not here to please everyone. I’m here to please myself and that is why I started MY BLOG……
So there you have it. As you can see it didn’t happen overnight and took a lot of time but with enough drive and determination you can do it too, especially if you’re willing to work hard enough.
Love Aoibhe xxx