My last NYC post (sob) is a good ‘un as I got to interview someone I’ve been inspired by for ages. Cynthia’s smile is infectious and her travel photos always stand out on my Instagram feed. I managed to catch her after work in Tribeca, she was simultaneously messaging a brand whilst answering my questions and had a meeting scheduled after our chat. She’s been blogging at Simply Cyn since 2010 and has an actual Instagram husband, who takes all of her pictures.
We’re in this interesting space now where the value of bloggers and influencers is relatively new. I recently spoke at Create Cultivate (a conference aimed at creative entrepreneurs) about monetisation and how we’ve turned this into commerce. This space is so amazing in terms of what people can do. A lot of the ad dollars that were being spent on traditional media are now being spent in this way, since people are more connected to content that comes from influencers. Audiences are more fragmented than ever and people don’t watch commercials now, they Tivo, they Netflix, they Hulu. We need to make sure that brands don’t take us for granted and we have to make a push for our value. I can’t stress that enough. All these big celebrities do it, so why are we so hard on each other when we’re doing it? We know our worth and should be paid for it.
I still work full time as a lawyer. I’m of West African origin and found that creativity was always something you kept separate from education. In school, you either needed to focus on being a lawyer or a doctor and those were my two options. I started my blog ‘Addicted To Etsy’ as I was bored and needed a creative outlet. At first I was just sharing things I liked, stuff that was affordable and then I started introducing more travel. Around 3 years ago I thought to myself, I don’t just do Etsy, so let me just call it ‘Simply Cyn.’ I don’t plan on quitting my job in the near future as I love it and have some specific goals that I want to accomplish. I’m often in the office until 7, sometimes later, but I try to be organised. If I leave at 7, I’ll get home by 7.45. I eat and then I’ll get on the computer and start doing the blog stuff. If it’s a really busy week, I’ll leave it all until the weekend. I have too many ideas and not enough time.
Catch up on my blogging series here!
I had no clue about monetisation in the beginning. Blogging was a hobby, I always thought that I wasn’t doing this for money and that I had a career. Instagram really changed things for me. I didn’t use it the way you should in the beginning, there was no theme and it was more informal like a Facebook page. By looking at what other people were doing, I realised that you could tell a really specific story and I wanted it to reflect my colourful blog aesthetic. That only happened 2 years ago.
I try to put on blinders when it comes to comparison. I don’t work well with a certain kind of pressure and had to tell myself that instead of comparing, I would look to be inspired. I’m not going to look at their numbers, I’m going to see that it’s possible to grow and I think of what I can do to grow. If I see someone upping their game when it comes to quality, then I try to up my game. I spent some time reminding myself that there are people who enjoy what I’m doing and should focus on those that like it. You can’t be everything to everyone and that’s okay.
Being part of the community can be really hard for me. A lot of bloggers meet up during the work week and there’s so many things that will happen Monday to Friday, 9 through 5 that I can’t make. I do feel like I miss out, but for the things that I have been to, people are 99.9% nice. Especially for those who are successful, you have to be a people person otherwise you’re not going to make it. I rely on the advice that other bloggers give so much. I don’t know from someone else’s mouth what they make but there’s a lot of publicly available information on rates and what bloggers are charging. Most of the time the conversations are ‘Are they paying or are they not paying?’
I spoke with someone who’s in the business and she explained that they put people in buckets. There’s the ‘We’re not going to pay them, they’ll get a freebie’ bucket, then there’s ‘We’ll pay them a minimal amount’ and it really builds up. The thing is finding out what bucket you’re in and convincing the brand that your followers may make it look like you’re bucket one, but you have more engagement, better ways of relating to them or you offer them a niche market that they haven’t touched yet.
There’s different ways of saying that you’re worth more than how it looks on the surface. In the beginning I’d always take whatever I was offered and I don’t do that any more. Unless you’re a brand that I really love, you should negotiate, like everything in life. Remember they’re never coming to you with their max. Sure you can take the first offer, but I’ve seen offers change significantly by negotiating. The worst thing is that they’ll say no. If you don’t want people to think you’ve sold out, then a lot of that requires being honest with yourself about who you should and shouldn’t work with.
For a black blogger to make it, it’s really this thing of working twice as hard. A black blogger would have to have a much bigger audience to be considered as valued as a non-black blogger with a smaller audience. I’ve been to a lot of events with brands and it’s like they’re still struggling to figure out what they’re doing with our audience. Sometimes I’ll go to things and there’s only two bloggers of colour. In New York! We have to say not only are we here, we’re worth it and we spend money on all these brands. We’re loyal. People always confuse why we ask for diverse representation in panels and companies and it’s because there’s sometimes nuances that are missed out on. Things can be communicated poorly.
I see it as an opportunity to educate brands and advise them on what they should be doing to understand this audience. You have to be careful in your approach but there’s a way to do it. Once I worked with a brand and someone commented that they don’t have diverse models or work with anyone over a size 6. I tagged the brand and said it’s good for you to see this because it’s not meant in a negative way, it’s to let you know that there is an audience you’re missing out on. Sometimes I know I’m ticking a box but I use it as a chance so brands realise it’s about more than that. It should be more of a conversation.
This year I’ve been pushing myself to say yes to more things. I’m naturally quite a shy, reserved person and I’ve missed out on so many opportunities because my first instinct is to say no. I’m doing my Shonda Rhimes year of yes! Now I’m getting better at managing my time, I’m hoping to do more mentoring and working with other young professionals, especially women. I think that my confidence in that area has really come from my blog, as I didn’t have much prior.
I’d love to help other people realise their worth in this space and teach them how to maximise their platforms. It’s good to be on these platforms but I also want to change the focus. One of the messages I got from Create Cultivate was to ultimately make sure you own your stuff, so you’re not reliant on other platforms. Be on Instagram but if you can get the traffic to your blog then do that. What happens if Instagram goes away? MySpace went away. You really want to own and keep your content so that anyone can’t just take it away from you. Content is king. Whatever platform comes or goes, you can leverage that.
A lot of people just ask me how to get a lot of followers, but I would say that’s not the right question. What do you really want to accomplish? It’s so important to focus on your content and what you’re creating and they will come. It may be slow as there is competition and a lot of noise, but if you focus on your vision, it will come. Even if I were to stop, it would have all been worth it. Even if I hadn’t made a dime, it would have been worth it. I did this for a solid five years not thinking about money. You almost have to say that when you’re blogging, if you didn’t get a dime, would you still be doing it? If not, then it’s not the most secure way to make money. It really has to come from a passion place and you have to enjoy it.
It’s been a year since I started my series and I’ve loved getting to know some of my favourite bloggers a little better and understanding what makes them tick. Like this over on Bloglovin if you fancy giving me an early birthday present!