As you know, this is my 13th year of blogging. I have now been blogging longer than I spent in K-12. In some ways, it feels like forever. In others, it feels like yesterday.
Over the decade-plus that I’ve been in this business, I’ve seen it all. I watched fashion blogs grow from fun hobbies to multi-million dollar businesses. I saw bloggers start out anonymous, and quickly morph into “lifestyle influencers” who share everything from their sex lives to their toothpaste preferences.
It has been a wild, wild ride. So I thought that I would talk a little bit about how this blog functions, how the business works, and where we go from here.
On Saturday, I solicited questions from my Instagram followers and, wow, you ladies delivered. Many common themes appeared so let’s get started. And settle in, because it turned out to be the longest post of the year.
// How would you define CapHillStyle? //
CHS is a niche blog created for women who work professional jobs and want to dress appropriately but stylishly. They want their careers and lives to thrive, but they want to look good too.
// How long does it take to write a blog post? //
It depends on the post.
I write The Edition by saving links to articles and clothing pieces all week, so I can grind that one out in 45-minutes to an hour. A Saw it on Social is very quick. Same with Happy Hour. The Range and The Find posts that come up in the mornings are elusive. If I have a good idea what I want, it’s 15-minutes. If I don’t know, I might hunt for hours.
The outfit collages and Three Ways posts can take anywhere from two-hours to five-hours. The hold up comes if I can’t find what I’m looking for and need to go digging. Or if I make the outfits, look at them and think, “these are boring, try again.”
// How do you make time to blog? //
I have been doing this a long time, so it’s part of my natural rhythm. After all, I’ve been blogging since Pres. Bush was in office, so I’ve built a good routine.
I work from 9:45am to 6:00pm every day at my “real” job. Then, I start blogging around 8:00pm. Sometimes, I’m done at 11:00pm when Kyle goes to bed. Sometimes, I’m done at 2:00am. Sometimes, I watch the sun come up.
I try to get all of the morning posts done on Sunday because it makes daily life easier. That way I just have one per day to write the night before. Pre-COVID, I would often send my husband to the casino on Saturday nights so that I could grind out a half dozen blog posts in peace and quiet. (Just takeout, pajamas, and my dogs. Bliss.)
The #BreakThings newsletter is growing in popularity, that’s additional time as well. And I’m concerned I may not be able to balance it all once the legislative session starts, but I just don’t know where I’ll cut from.
// Do you wish you were a full-time blogger? //
I was for a short time after law school. It wasn’t a good fit for me. I need a different kind of job, and I need to be busy. As much as I love blogging, making it my job took all of the fun out of it (and I think the content reflected that).
// Do bloggers have hired help or interns? I see so many talking about “employees.” Do you have them? //
No. I don’t have interns or employees. Because I squeeze in this work between dinner and bed time, training someone wouldn’t be easy. Also, supervising people and making work for them is work that I don’t have time to do.
Nearly every other blogger I know either has a part-time photographer on contract, a booking agent, a sponsorship manager, a publicist, a social media manager, a web designer, an intern, a stylist, an assistant or a whole team of people.
I once met with a one-million-plus blogger at a conference we were both speaking at and she had six people working for her. But once you get above the 50k follower level, most have an “Instagram Husband” or a photographer to make it all go. At 100k, you probably have someone booking your sponsorships and someone else to manage your site even if they’re contracted third parties.
// Does your blog provide a living wage? //
For the first four years that I blogged, I earned almost nothing. People (esp. the Congressman I worked for) kept telling me that I needed to monetize, but I didn’t know how. Finally, I met Jean from Extra Petite, and she told me about affiliate links. The rest is history.
Now, my blog provides a mid-five figure income, which is commensurate with the 30 hours per week that I spend on it. In the best year (2014), it provided enough income that I could pay my expenses and my post-scholarship law school tuition. But the earnings are not consistent, and it would be foolish to try to predict how it will go one month to the next (especially in a COVID year).
// How does your blog earn money with no sponsorships? //
I don’t take sponsored posts, which is how the majority of bloggers earn their living. The reasons for this are four fold:
- I don’t want to review products that I would never buy with my own money, don’t want, won’t use and struggle to endorse. Every blogger says they “would never endorse a sponsored product that they wouldn’t buy themselves.” To an extent, that’s true. Every influencer turns down more product than they accept, but many of them turn so-so or okay products into must-haves because the check cleared, and then you never hear about that game-changing product again. I don’t want to be one of those people.
- I hate being told what to say. I once received a sponsored post request that told me I needed five photos of the item, three with me in the photo also, one of me drinking the product, and 50 words of draft language. This included the phrase “holiday cocktail magic,” which needed to be repeated three times. Hard pass.
- Getting sponsorships is a lot of work. You need to build relationships with brands, send out pitches, start at the bottom with the hair vitamins or the slipper socks, and then work your way up to the name brands and the luxury items. It can take years to get there. I don’t have the kind of time it takes to collect the data needed to write the pitches needed to persuade people who don’t understand my audience or this blog’s purpose that I am worth their money. They meet thousands of bloggers whose content is made the same way, they don’t understand how I make mine.
- Brands want you to be in every photo wearing the jeans or lathering up the face wash or using the pan to make dinner. They do not want stock images. So I would need to put myself in the photos, which ain’t happening.
The biggest thing I’ve learned from bloggers who take sponsorships is that once you start, it’s nearly impossible to quit. Why? Because sponsored content is where the money is.
A few years ago, when I toyed with the idea of taking sponsorships so I could fund our never-ending home remodel, a friend was kind enough to put me in touch with the woman who books sponsored content for influencers.
This agent estimated that a sponsored post from one of the blogger-friendly brands (think Our Place, Tula, FabFitFun, etc.) would probably net $500-$1,500 depending on the quality of the photos. A large retailer might pay as much as $3,000 to $5,000 once I had a few “proof points” under my belt to show that my posts would sell. My biggest asset, she told me, was the trust I had built with my readers. (Trust that I was pretty sure would be toast if every post was suddenly partnered and paid.)
// How much do you make if someone buys something you posted about? Could you make more money taking sponsored posts or are links better? //
That depends. Some retailers offer high commissions like 15-25%. But those retailers are few and far between. And they’re not usually retailers that I want to promote.
Most retailers offer between 7-10%, but there are all kinds of loopholes. Maybe the item was on sale. Maybe the retailer isn’t promoting that item type right now, so a dress was 10% but shoes were 4%. Some retailers fall back on the “up to” a certain percentage, but when you run the numbers it might be as little as 1%.
Etsy is a hard one for me, for example. I love to promote the small, independent makers on that platform. Some of my best-selling items are from there. But the commission rate is usually 2% or less, so I once sold $3,000 worth of COVID masks and made $57.
Affiliates used to compensate me per click. So every time someone clicked on a link I made somewhere between .04 and .09 cents. This was a great model for me because you ladies are prolific window shoppers. But those days are gone.
A good blog post will earn around $200, but that’s not every post or even most. A rare post that touches a nerve will earn $500, maybe a bit more.
I lose out on a lot of additional revenue by passing on sponsored posts, which makes my husband completely nuts. He’s always asking if I would turn down the opportunity to do the same work and triple my salary. I struggle to explain to him that sponsorships are not the same work and that I like doing it this way.
// I don’t buy much, but your site is such a big part of my life. Is there another way I can support you? //
I’ve toyed with a lot of options here. Should I have a virtual tip jar? Should I put the whole site behind a paywall and eliminate affiliate links? Should I have a special members’ only site like Patreon?
My issue is this: I don’t want to charge readers unless I can give them something additional for that money, but I only have so much time to create content. I thought about going back to posting three times per day and making the third post visible only to members via Memberful or another similar service. I just don’t have the content inspiration, esp. during COVID.
However, in January (God willing), I’m opening two paid subscriber newsletters. One, called Sunday Scaries will come out on Sunday mornings and discuss how to make the most of your week. And the second will interview interesting women in the vein of my former Instagram series the Five x Five, where we ask five serious questions and five fun ones. The newsletter service will probably cost between $5 and $8 per month. Yes, it is additional, time-consuming content, but I feel like I have enough inspiration to write it.
// How diligent are you about disclosing sponsored content? Are all bloggers? //
Like I said, I don’t really do sponsored posts. On the rare occasion when I promote something that needs a disclosure, I try to be as transparent and forthright as possible. I label every post that has affiliate links.
Most bloggers are diligent to comply with FTC rules and disclosures, not just because they want to but because big brands demand it. Some brands even send over the exact disclosure language they want because they don’t want to end up on the government’s bad side.
But there are bad actors, people trying to fudge the numbers. One professional fashion blogger I used to follow puts a blanket disclaimer in tiny type on the bottom of her main blog page that say some items may be sponsored. All of her posts are sponsored. Another hides #ad or #sponsored in white text that blends in with her photo backgrounds.
Bottom line, most influencers obey the law. Many do it because they’re honest people. Some do it only because they have to, bend every rule, and would stop tomorrow if the government would let them.
// How do some influencers seem to appear overnight? //
Last year, a fashion blogger out of Brooklyn went from 8k followers to 800,000 in two weeks. When I asked an acquaintance who works in paid partnerships how this was possible, the answer was that she started the blog with money from a significant other and already had a publicist, a photographer, and a brand manager on day one. So that’s one way.
Another is to build on another audience. Every Bachelor contestant seems to be an influencer now, as does every reality TV star.
And some just feel like overnight successes. I’ve watched one or two friends just reach a critical mass where they went from niche blogger to mid-tier influencer to online juggernaut very quickly because something just clicked. Some fantastic bloggers who have been killing it for years moved up the ladder during the #BLM protests, as brands tried to diversify their presence, and are basically just getting the attention they’ve deserved all along.
// How did you grow your blog? How many readers do you have? //
Time. That was the biggest component in the growth of my blog. That and consistently creating content. A lot of new bloggers start out hot, don’t see result, and then quit before they can grow.
Readers want predictability and quality. They want to know if they check your blog at noon, there will be content for them. Many also want a blog that feels relevant to their lives, which is where some bloggers lose their audiences when they go professional. The teacher dressing for work with two cute kids was relatable; the woman jetting off to a new resort every week with her personal-trainer body and Celine bag might not be.
Right now, I have around 90,000 unique visitors each month. At the peak in 2014, I was pushing 250,000 uniques to 2-million plus page views each month.
// Is it too late to start a blog? It feels like there are so many, so there’s no point. //
If you have something relevant to say, there’s always a spot for you. Maybe you won’t be Gal Meets Glam and leave the day job behind, but if you enjoy it, set reasonable expectations, and can make time for it, I say go for it.
The key is to write about something you enjoy talking about and will still enjoy talking about 9,588 posts later. Decided how many posts you’ll write each week, and choose a sustainable number. Then, commit to writing it for six months before you try to make money.
Build your audience, get in a rhythm, find your voice. Only then should you be monetizing. Let your content lead you.
There are a lot of blogs, but maybe something makes yours different. I work a niche. What is your niche? What is unique about you? You don’t need the perfect name, or the most impressive design. You just need a domain, your social handles, and the will to create good content. Figure the rest out later.
// Was it hard to watch everyone you started with get more famous than you? //
A little harsh.
Truthfully, I never chased the blog fame. I didn’t go to fashion week or travel to the showrooms to kiss the ring. I don’t post photos of myself (which is the only way to grow) and don’t want to; it would be emotionally destabilizing for me. I don’t want to talk about my life in depth and live a public existence. So, no, it wasn’t hard. It just happened that way.
I’m happy for Jean, and Anh, and Emily, and Cassie, and the girls who I’ve known for years. I want them to do well. Every now and again, there’s a small pang of jealousy when they book an amazing partnership or take an incredible trip. But mostly, I remember that what I do is not what they do, so they’re not comparable.
// Do you still love it? Do you think about quitting? //
I remember the weekend that I created this blog vividly. I was awash in creative energy and joy. That continued unabated until 2015.
Now, it’s a little less inspiring than it once was, but I get glimmers of that old joy. When I’m working in politics again and can post about my daily outfits, it’s more fun. When I find a dress or a lotion or a necklace that I just adore, I can’t wait to share.
I still love it and am proud of it. It just feels a little more like a job than it did when I was 26 or 30, probably because I don’t have the energy that I did then. It’s easy to love your side hustle when you don’t need sleep.
I don’t think about quitting. I know some day I will. I know that day is closer than I probably realize. My time is not infinite.
This year, with COVID, low sales numbers, and a general malaise, it’s been more difficult to stay engaged. But I’m optimistic that next year will be better, and I’ll just play it by ear.