On a fairly regular basis, I get questions about how does someone gets into blogging or gets into being an “influencer“. (Let it be known, I strongly dislike that word). I thought today, I’d put together just a brief history of my blogging experience and share how to start a blog in 2021. Be prepared, it’s not as easy as it looks!
In the beginning…
Now, I can say that I’ve been blogging since about 2002. Some of you may not remember, but Xanga was where I got my start in the blog world. I used to document the fun I had in college and loved that space. As someone who never felt a part of the in-crowd, it was a different way for me to connect with people who were like me. I’m an introverted extrovert (crazy, I know, but sometimes it’s easier for me to make friends online first – and have for years!) I had stopped for a while after I met Jeff in 2004, we were just enjoying the dating life and after we got married in 2008 I picked it up again. I had a blog called Casa De Cowan and just shared our crazy lives. Keep in mind back then we didn’t have the instant gratification we have today. I would do 1 share on a Friday talking about our week or any new and exciting products or recipes I knew about.
Then, after a couple of years of that, I was ready to dive deeper into blogging. I decided I wanted to get into extreme coupon blogging and that’s how Cash Cowan was started. I used to spend hours every Sunday matching up deals for Walgreen and Target and slowly started to have some overlap into the Mommy Space. This is when Mommy Blogging was really picking up steam. Then I got pregnant and I was just ready to take a break. I missed the whole window of pregnant Jen and didn’t really document much. When we decided that I would stay home, I started to really panic about how I’d be able to creatively share and connect with others. Having a baby in January is not ideal for someone who likes to see people on a regular basis. So, with that, AndHattieMakesThree.com was born in January 2015. I was able to take a lot of my old connections from Cash Cowan and basically revive many of those relationships and re-branded myself into a Mommy & Lifestyle Blog. I also knew that if I wanted to get out of my house, I’d have to focus on local activities and that’s how my categories of Food, Fashion, Family and St. Louis fun originated.
And Hattie Makes Three
So And Hattie Makes Three was born. I shared (and still do) the things we love, the places we go and the brands we are raving fans for. I started sharing our story and started connecting with local people. I helped start the St. Louis Parent Bloggers Group with Denise to connect like-minded Parent Bloggers. I connected with other bloggers for meet-ups and dinners and slowly over 7 years, I’ve built my personal brand and a name in the St. Louis area. I’ve built relationships with local PR firms, national firms, small shops, news affiliates, and more. I find that my story has this long twisty road (like the Candy Land Game Board) and sometimes I think it’s just getting started.
While I have no aspirations of being some large nationally known blogger, I love that I do have a presence in the St. Louis market. I get messages daily asking for suggestions on activities or places to eat. Or I have out-of-town people traveling to our great city looking for recommendations. I absolutely LOVE that and I am always happy to help. My goal with the blog was to always be able to watch Hattie grow up. Now that we are off to school soon, I’ve built my business up enough to stay home and not have to go back to your traditional 9-5 job. I’ll be able to work on projects, be a part of the school when needed. I’m excited about this.
One other amazing thing that came out of being in this space is the creation of MomsTogetherSTL. Because of me reaching out to a new local company, I was connected with another local blogger who we decided there was a need in the city, and boom – we created MomsTogetherSTL. It’s been yet another resource for us to connect with moms locally and bring small businesses to moms who they may not have known about. It’s been such a positive impact on our community.
How Do I Get Partnerships?
Let me tell you, it’s hard work and some of it is luck. Now, I’ll say I didn’t have any sponsored projects until 12-18 months into blogging consistently. I also was new to Instagram since I was not an Apple user (totally am now!) There are a few ways I’ve been able to generate income as a blogger. Keep in mind, this is not my full-time job. There are lots of ways but when I started out, I picked a few networks. I did very well the first 2 years blogging on Social Fabric. It was a great way to get experience with sponsored campaigns and then it branched out from there. There are tons of Content Creator Networks now, you just have to google and see what is a fit for your brand. Another great resource is Cision, this is a resource to get press releases and PR notifications about the areas you are interested in. A word of warning, you can get a lot of these emails, so be selective on what you’d truly like to learn more about.
I also get questions about growing your following. I think first and foremost, you have to be authentic. I share the good, the bad, and the ugly and I think people appreciate that. My goal has always been to make the life of a mom easier. If that’s a tip or trick or something I found at Target, I want you to make your day easier and focus on making those sweet memories with your family. Being consistent, engaging with your existing community by commenting and following, offering giveaways to your followers have all helped me. It’s definitely taken me many years to grow and I’m grateful for the following that has been by my side the entire time.
Tips for Starting a Blog
Here are some things I wish I had known starting out. Blogging now is so different from when I started, but if I could start over, these are the things I would for sure do right out of the gate.
Buy Your Domain and Become Self Hosted
If you are going to invest in your blog. Buy your domain (It’s $12ish with Google Domains) and pay for your hosting. I use New Blog Hosting and I have been very happy with their services. I switched from Blogger to WordPress 2 years ago and it was the best decision I have ever made. Being on a free platform means that you truly do not own your content. Take control and host it yourself, and don’t forget to back it up!
Invest in GOOD Photography
I say this because, for the first half of my blogging life, I used my iPhone. I had a DSLR and had no idea how to use it, and I asked for help, watched YouTube and I feel like my photos have come a long way. Here is one from 2017 – definitely an iPhone. I mean, how unappetizing does that look? Also, good gooey butter cake recipe (I need to update that too!)
And here is just one recently for a grilled Kebab Sponsored Project. I loved how that turned out (and that pork is AMAZING)
Find a Circle That Will Support You
This year I started a MasterMind Group and it has been amazing for my business. I love that I have 4 other like-minded bloggers who treat their blogs like a business and we hold each other accountable. There are also 100’s of great Facebook Groups as resources for those starting out.
Don’t Say Yes To Everything
At the beginning (and even as you grow) you will get SO SO SO excited when anyone and everyone reaches out to you. You will have the itch to say yes to everything. I’ve done it, and let me tell you don’t do it. Think long and hard about the opportunities and decide if this is something you can authentically share with your audience. Would you buy it if it wasn’t pitched to you? If I get a pitch for a project or and can’t immediately think of a good idea that would be best for my platforms, I turn it down. Believe me, if you say yes to a project you are not 100% on board with, it can make you grouchy, resentful and your friends will call you out on it. I still remember my friend calling me on a project years ago and saying REALLY JEN?!? But really, that was a turning point in my thinking about sponsored projects. If my friend is calling me out, think about what readers are thinking, and they just won’t say anything or stop believing what you say. If it’s not something that you are so excited about, say thank you and move on. Closing that door opens up opportunities for other things. I promise.
Create a Business Plan/Mission/Vision Statements
If you want to blog as a hobby, that’s totally cool. If you’re wanting to treat your blog like a business, then you need to put some thought and direction into what you’re doing. I went to business school and this was hands down one of the most critical things we talked about in my entrepreneurial classes. If opportunities come that don’t fit your vision or mission statements, it’s time to decide if it’s something worth taking on. Take some time to put a business plan, mission, and vision statements in place. It will really shape how you look at your business.
Outsource What You Can
I learned a long time ago, I was getting better at food photography. I was good at getting Hattie to take pictures, but my Instagram Husband gets VERY frustrated with the creative aspects of photography or the slight tweak I need with a photo. While I’m not a fashion blogger, I do have quite a bit of fashion-related content by reader request. While I’d say he has a decent eye, I now outsource a large part of my photography to my most favorite photographer ever. Megh Christine Photography has been amazing to work with. She was a referral from a reader and over the years we have become more than just friends. Starting out, that was not a part of my budget, but now as I work with brands, I factor in her rates so that it’s a win-win for both of us. If you’re local to St. Louis, for content creation needs or just family photos, she’s just a delight to work with. Sometimes one of us comes up with a crazy idea and we with it, but in the end, always love how they turn out. I love that I have another set of creative eyes on the photo AND she will help position me or pick lint off my shirt. She’s a winner guys! It also helps build her portfolio of brands that she can share as well.
This photo was a part of a sponsored partnership that led to a feature on Stitch Fix’s My Body My Style Blog.
If you are not in St. Louis and are looking for a photographer, Instagram is a great resource to find new and upcoming photographers. Reach out and see if they have content creator pricing or see if they are open to a trade. I also ALWAYS tag my photographer in any photo I share.
I always have friends complaining they are not growing, but aren’t spending the time on specific platforms. Create a plan and stick to your plan. Set a goal of what you want to grow. If you’re wanting to grow your Instagram Stories – set a goal for so many a day. If you want to increase Pinterest views, you’re going to have to put in the work. Set aside time daily to help platforms you want to see grow. For me, I struggle with Pinterest, but it’s a daily goal for me to grow that platform.
This helps with your consistency! I write everything down and plan my weeks in advance so that I ensure I don’t have a log jam of sponsored content and I’m rotating through all of my blog categories. Sure, sometimes with deadlines and how projects layout, you may have heavily sponsored work for a week. That may be a good opportunity to include a giveaway and to thank readers for their support. I’m a visual person, so I have a day planner and a wall calendar with all of my due dates so I can plan accordingly. If you miss a deadline with a brand, that could jeopardize a relationship or future partnerships.
Don’t Be Afraid to Ask
I’ve learned in this space that people want to partner with you regardless of the size of your following. If you have a great story idea, pitch it. Get out of your comfort zone and pitch a company about a collaboration. The worst thing they will say is no. I reached out earlier this year knowing a goal was a new mattress, and I was so excited to secure a partnership with Big Fig. Also, don’t be afraid to go outside of your personal comfort zone. I had a local partnership last year where I was so out of my comfort zone, but my readers really appreciated the candid authentic words of my Drop 2 Pants Sizes Challenge. Tell your truth and brands will want to work with you. Be strategic in your asking and good things will happen.
Whew, are you ready to start blogging? This job is time-intensive, relationship-driven and hard work. Sure, we post a fun photo but think of all the time and energy it took to create that 1 photo. Know that as a blogger your time, your voice, and your talent are worth something and do not work for free.
You’re basically a 1 person business – the sales rep, the contract negotiator, the content creator, the accounts payable and receivable and the tax lady at the end of the year.
Brands are now in this space and understand the power of your voice. Use it, know your worth and start connecting with others. Feel free to email me if you have any additional questions about blogging. I’m an open book!
Are you ready to start a blog?
These tips are so helpful, Jen! And I loved reading more about your past!
I love reading this!! You are the true OG!!