Bloggers & Businesses: My tips on becoming a successful blogger-preneur

Since the story of my life is giving free advice (and doing free work for people who don’t value my time or the fact that I run a business), I’ve decided to openly share my advice on how to become a successful blogger or blogger-preneuer. It’s a job, and just because we make it looks easy, it doesn’t mean it is! If you skip through this, just promise me you will at least read #14… the golden rule!

  1. Learn, eat, live, breath social media. It’s a powerful tool to promote your brand. Start an account on each new channel that exists to secure your account ID. Start building your following early on the channels that you think will work for you. Stick to three. The longer you wait to build your following, the more expensive each follower becomes. For example, building a high following on Twitter today is a thousand times more difficult than it was 6 years ago.
  2. Be authentic. Just be yourself, it’s the only thing you know how to do. If you’re funny, be funny. If you’re a geek, own it. If you’re a troll, stay under the bridge, because no one likes an online bully.
  3. Be original. When you have an original thought, don’t research it. Do your best with what comes out of your head so you know it was genuinely your idea.
  4. Be careful when you draw inspiration. Sometimes, even when we browse something quickly, a simple impression of something left in your brain can convince you it was an original thought. If you do get inspired by someone else, the classy thing to do is to give that person credit and refer to their original content (otherwise it’s called plagiarism).
  5. Consider your hidden costs and budget accordingly. The cost of blogging may seem relatively low but you may not be factoring in the following expenses:
    a. your time
    b. professional development courses (ps- my friend is teaching a full-day workshop on graphic design in Ottawa on Dec 2. Tell Rachela I sent you because I get a little referal bonus!)
    c. purchasing google ads or facebook ads to get noticed
    d. the cost to maintain your website, like your domain name and hosting service
    e. you may need to hire a web developer or graphic designer if you can’t do the work yourself ( or invest more in b.)
    f. business cards
    g. purchasing clothing or products that are featured in your work (yup! We love those flowers in the flat lays, but it’s not all free!)
    h. equipment like a nice camera, lighting, laptop, smartphone
    i. attending events may seem free, but when you factor in your time, your clothing and the promotion work you promised, events actually cost you money
  6. Include IRL (#inreallife) in your social networking strategy. Yup, we’re all great at hiding behind our screens, but nothing is more impactful than making a great impression in person. Your fans and followers will really appreciate the face-to-face time. Going to networking events can also help make business connections or open collaboration opportunities. But remember the cost (see “i” above).
  7. Be timely. Just like a good newspaper, you need to react quickly to stay relevant. There is no point in blogging about an event you attended 2 months ago,unless you’re promoting the dates for next year!
  8. Be transparent. Yes, bloggers get a lot of free swag and paid opportunities, but only the classy bloggers will tell you if and when something was gifted and not purchased. ( See 5 b.)
  9. Be consistent. If you’re starting a new series or launching your blog for the first time, don’t announce it unless you commit to your promise. If you can only realistically do a tutorial video every 3 months, then do it every three months. Don’t say things like “I plan on doing these tutorials every week…” Find a cadence, and stick to it!
  10. Find balance in your content. I am guilty of this and need to stop myself sometimes. I definitely need to prioritize my sponsored content, but sometimes it’s nice just to say what’s on my mind (like this post for example).

  11. Make it about your reader. It’s not about you; it’s about your audience. What value can you bring to them? Ask yourself what are you doing for them in exchange for their reading time? Again, this is what I ask myself every time I post something… I hope I am doing a good job.
  12. Be nice. Just like in real life, when a person takes the time to compliment you, you say thank you! The same principles apply to social media. You should respond to all your comments, with a genuine and sincere tone. Don’t wait too long to do it either. I know we’re all busy, but this is your business, take a minute to respond.
  13. Take care of yourself. Again, I should be taking my own advice here, because I really don’t take care of myself enough most of the time. Running a blog, just like any business, is hard and takes a lot of time, energy and effort. A little work-life balance goes a long way. Unfortunately, sometimes the work-life limits in blogging are not very clearly defined.
  14. Be professional. I recently got burned by a client who won’t pay me for the work that I put in (I know! Can you imagine? PROMOTION IS NONREFUNDABLE!), and I didn’t have a contract or agreement to back me up. Lesson learned my friends- always lay out the expectations and deliver on your promises. I’m relying on karma heavily to fix this one for me.

 

A BIG THANK YOU TO MY FRIEND DEBRA COWIE WHO LET ME USE HER STOCK PHOTOGRAPHY FOR THIS POST! CHECK OUT HER WORK, ITS INCREDIBLE!

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Results of the Mode XLusive readership survey!

Most people hate taking surveys, but boy do they love reading the results! I can’t wait to show you the results of my readership survey, but first I have a few things to tell you.

I have been running this blog for just over two years now, and it’s incredible how it has grown from a personal journal to Ottawa’s hotspot for all things fashion and local Ottawa lifestyle scene. I have had some amazing opportunities come my way, have been gifted some pretty cool swag and mostly I have had the chance to meet and work with some incredible people.

You can see how after being distracted for the last two years, I felt almost out of touch with my readers. It was time to reevaluate what I was doing with the blog and see if my readers were happy. I wanted to reconnect with some of you, who have helped me get to where I am today. And like any good business person, I hosted a survey on my blog to see what you were all thinking. Today, I get to share the results with you.

But first, I want to say THANK YOU for reading and for sharing your kind words with me and for taking the time to complete the survey. Thank you for smiling at me at the grocery store, for stopping me at events and giving me your words of encouragement. I see you staring sometimes, hesitating to come talk to me. Please don’t, and come say hello! It means the world to me, to meet you all in real life. The digital world can get lonely behind the screen, so talking to humans feels good (also, I am an extrovert, I thrive on human contact!)

Without further ado, here is what you had to say…

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I like knowing the type of person I am talking to when I write my blog posts. I think what shocked me the most (but shouldn’t) is that my audience is older than I imagined. You know what, though? I love it! I love that I can inspire and ignite the fashionista at any age!
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Have you noticed that I am listening to you and trying my best to give you more outfit shots? You should follow me on Instagram if you haven’t already done it. I try to share at least 2 outfit posts a week. The biggest issue is not having anyone to take my photo, and my 3-year-old son Victor is not always compliant! haha Recently, I have also had lots of goodies gifted to me, so my beauty section on the blog should be abundant in no time! Blogging about curvy or plus-size specific is my jam, and you know I will always do my best to keep you updated on this front. Ottawa’s plus-size retail industry is very limited, and  lacking in the local scene, but I am and will keep trying to do my very best!
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Who doesn’t love Facebook and Instagram? I am not surprised that these channels are popular. I practically live on those platforms! Please don’t be shy next time when it comes to commenting folks. I love getting your messages and I promise to get back to you when I have the chance! You have no idea how excited I get when I see a new comment… a real comment.. not the million spammy comments I get 🙁
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I love the polar opposite audience I have on this blog! People with fashion sense judging me, or folks who are desperate to learn from me. Either way, I am having a blast talking fashion and I hope either group can take away something valuable from me!

So what do you think? Do you agree with the results? Did you miss the survey and did not have a chance to share your thoughts? Drop a comment below, you know how good it will make me feel! (It’s not about you, Chantal… it’s about your readers! Oops.. I have to keep reminding myself of that!)

XOX Chantsy

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Bloggers & Businesses: Instagram and Photography Workshop

Instagram Workshop Ottawa Marketing Digital Strategies Photography

If you follow me, you know that I am obsessed with my Instagram account. It’s truly the ideal medium for the person who loves photography and social media. I have been on it for a while now, almost 4 years, but it’s only since I started this blog that I realized the power of Instagram and the benefit it had for my blog, my business.

Many of the fancy events that I have attended are because PR companies have found me on Instagram. The modelling gig I got for Smithery’s Spring look book was all thanks to Instagram stalking. They found me, so I must be doing something right!

When I started out, I had about 300 followers, most of which were my Facebook friends. It’s only when I started using it more strategically, using better images, adding hashtags and engaging with people that I noticed the numbers climbing up, way up. At this very moment I am at 3670… but that can change over the course of minutes! It’s a numbers game, after all.

As an entrepreneur, I get inspired all the time and try to figure out ways that I can help small business in my city, thrive and grow. I knew I would have to educate small business owners first, on what they don’t know and what they are missing out on.

In my post Bloggers & Businesses: Ways we can work together I helped define the advantage of working with bloggers and the many different ways bloggers can collaborate with small businesses. In my subsequent post Why we love brands who engage I introduced the concept of engagement, the bread and butter of social media.

And today, I am excited to finally launch my first Instagram workshop in Ottawa, with my colleague and professional photographer, Debra Cowie. This workshop is targeted to small business owners, creatives and makers who want to learn how to use Instagram and learn how to maximize opportunities online.

Ottawa Instagram Photography Workshop Chantal Sarkisian

Introducing 9 Ways to tell your brand story: Photography and Digital Strategies for Instagram (May 14 2016, Ottawa)

We know that the secret to Instagram success is of combination of beautiful images and strategically planned content that will help to generate positive engagement and build a loyal following… and we want to show you how it’s done!

Whether on the fly, or perfectly planned, this intensive workshop will help you get the most out of your smartphone and teach you how to create beautiful images intend for Instagram. You will:

  • Learn how to use natural light and shadow
  • Learn to use composition and colour to create a compelling image
  • Learn secrets from a professional stylist on how to use props and creat backdrops to optimally display products
  • Learn how to edit your photos, create a signature style and make the most out of editing tools like the VSCOCam app

Once you have mastered your photography skills, you will learn how to tell your brand story using your new photos on Instagram. This social media planning component will help you:

  • Optimize your account
  • Plan your content
  • Build your following
  • Leverage hashtags
  • Engage with your followers
  • Grow your business

In the practical component of the workshop, you will have the opportunity to work one-on-one with your coaches: photographer, Debra Cowie and digital strategist, Chantal Sarkisian.You’ll have plenty of time to put all that you’ve learned into practice, so bring some of your own products to photograph. We will play with backdrops and props to help you create that perfect image paired with the right content for optimal Instagram sharing.

We are offering this first full-day intensive workshop at an introductory rate of only $168. That’a a crazy cheap investment considering you will learn about photography and digital marketing for your business. It will be worth every penny, I promise!

You can join our Facebook event page if you’re on the fence, or if I have managed to convince you, you can register on eventbrite.

I am really looking forward to sharing my knowledge and genuinely hope to help small businesses recognize that if they want to harness the power of social media and make it work for their business, there are a few tricks of the trade that will help them get there!

 

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Bloggers & Businesses: Why we love brands who engage

I was just in the shower, and of course got inspired to write my next blog post. For the amount of ideas I’ve generated in the shower, it’s worth more than the money we spent renovating it!

Disclaimer: I’d like to say that any time I come up with an idea for a topic that has most likely been covered, I don’t research it first. I want my article to stay original, authentic and true to my personal experiences.

So here goes.

You have to be living under a rock to not have heard that Twitter isn’t doing very well. The word on the street is that over the past years, although the platform hasn’t changed, user habits have. Twitter has become polluted with spam and bot accounts that fill our streams with garbage. Gone are the days of online conversations and true engagement, the cornerstone of social media. And engagement my friends, is threatening to become an endangered species. Now, let’s fix that.

What is engagement

Engagement is an activity on social media, generated by an audience who is paying attention, typically in response to content shared by a business. It can consist of a “like”, “comment” or “share”. This is why businesses need to create valuable content for their community of followers and present it in a way that sparks this conversation (a.k.a engagement).

Engagement is a two-way conversation; it’s one of the greatest benefits of social media. You no longer just post static information on your website for folks to read. You are there to interact and provide the means for your customers to build a relationship with their favorite brand.

The quality of engagement counts, not the quantity

Stop obsessing about the number of followers you have and start connecting with them. You’ll be spinning your wheels if you simply want to reach the masses. Remember, it’s all about your targeted audience, your loyal fans.

If you are analytic, like me, focus on what type of content gets your fans going. Do they like pretty pictures? Maybe they enjoy top secret behind-the-scenes info. Perhaps they want to connect with you on a person level, after you shared a story. Regardless of what you’re selling, tune into the way your customers connect with you.

If you already have a small following, make them feel special. Turn them into a repeat customer, rather than saying “Thanks for your business, but I’d rather make friends with someone who doesn’t care about me”. See how ridiculous that sounds when you put it in real life context?

Be gentle

Engagement can be used to respond to your audience, but it can also be used proactively to create new business. This can get tricky. Think of it as a sales pitch. Always play something in your head before you do it on social media, think about what it looks like if it were a real person. How many times have you received a spam-like message “Great lipstick! You should buy my amazing products (insert business here)”.

Is that what you do in real life? Maybe, but true business relationships start as just that, a relationship. Your goal is to build awareness and trust, you want your audience to like you, not be annoyed of your cheap sales tactics. Make them love you’re brand with minimal effort. Make them think it was their idea to buy your product. They need you, not the other way around. Does Tiffany & Co bombard you with spam? Precisely.

Engagement on social media goes both ways

Regardless if you’re a giant brand with hundreds of thousands of followers, or small mom-and-pop shop with a humble thousand, what truly matters is how you engage with your followers.

Your followers are a community of like-minded individuals that also have the power to connect to one another, online or in real person. A blogger on the other hand, has the capacity to influence not only your followers but the community of followers they have built.

At this point in my blogging career, I’ve had the opportunity to experience a few situations that, for me were missed opportunities for the brand who did not engage.

I understand that small business owners either don’t have the time or the expertise to navigate social media channels, let alone have an engagement strategy in place. So take this free nugget of information, and use it wisely.

The following is my golden list of how to become a kick-ass brand online who nails engagement every time:

  1. I don’t care who you are, how cool you are, how busy you are, or how new you are to social media, respond to absolutely every piece of engagement on your social media channels. Have you ever been left hanging on a high-five?

    That’s the equivalent feeling online. Unless your National Geographic, you’ll be surprised how irrelevant you’ll become if you’re known as the brand who doesn’t engage. Even if it’s a negative comment, have a communication strategy in place that allows you to take control of the situation. Create canned responses for different scenarios and copy paste! Show people gratitude by thanking them, staying polite and positive. I’m not saying have a full-fledged conversation with each person, but respond in a way that is equivalent to be interaction from your follower. If someone tagged you in their photo with your product: like their photo, write a small comment, and if you’re feeling really bold (especially if they are an influencer) repost it! They essentially just gave you free advertisement, the least you can do is show appreciation.
  1. You’re too busy to create your own content? Then curate it! Engage with your community of followers to be the creators of your content, we call that user generated content. When you’re ready to post and share it, don’t forget to tag the creator and give kudos to them. Not only will they be grateful for the exposure, now other followers will be compelled to do the same. Look at that, you just became a favourite brand to engage with online!
  1. Play fun and nice. Social media is your chance to shine and to give your brand a personality. You can be quirky and create a sense of humour for your brand too. It’s one way to attract more followers and keep your existing followers happy.

Recently, I was tweeting with Flare Magazine and really appreciated how much they engage with their readers. It’s so lovely to see and reminded me why I fell in love with engaging in social media in the first place. What was your best Social Media engagement? What brand is your favourite to “play” with online?

If you enjoyed this article, you may also like “Bloggers and Businesses: Ways we can work together”.

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