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Today - spurred on by a post I read by Natalie over on Knackered at 40 - I felt like it was time to share my existential crisis (and it's my blog birthday this month). Let's dive in...
I started this blog back in 2014 (almost 7 years ago to the day): I'd been bitten by the beauty bug and, as an aspiring writer, it seemed like a no-brainer to get some practice in. I had no idea what I was doing, I didn't realise receiving PR was a thing and I learnt everything I knew from #bbloggers and #fblchat hours over on Twitter. In many ways it was a very pure, wholesome time! As soon as I started gaining some traction, people would constantly ask me if I wanted to take it full-time, and it felt like a bit of a weird pressure. Like, not every single artist or person who makes their own clothes wants to then sell their work and turn it into a business, because that comes with a whole host of other stuff. Don't get me wrong: given what's happened over the past year, I've honestly felt so grateful to have something to fall back on that could still cover my expenses if I lost my job or would top me up if I'd had to have take a pay cut, because under those circumstances I absolutely would make a go of it.
I think ultimately, I've realised that the more I do what other people want as opposed to doing things my way, the less joy I get out of this experience. The 'business' side of this has honestly been getting me down a lot recently and I felt that something had to change. I needed to remember why I was doing this...
I'll start by talking about Instagram, which is a rollercoaster ride. I've always been on the platform as beauty creator but I must admit that my dedication to creating quality content specifically for that platform probably only came into being over the past 2-3 of years. I think the thing is: when you post regularly, you feel like you can't stop without really damaging what you've built. At the same time, my engagement goes through periods of big ups and downs with no obvious cause. Currently I'm in a slump. I did have a look through my stats and realised that my issue is: a few months back 65%+ of accounts reached by my posts weren't following my account and I was getting 1000s of views from the Explore page vs. now when <20% of my reach is to new accounts and I'm getting only 100s of views from Explore. The double-whammy is that (in my experience) I find that if most people are finding your content from their Home page, it doesn't have the same longevity and engagement drops off quickly after posting. I don't know how I get back in the good graces of Explore but it gives me an understanding of what's happening.
It doesn't, however, change the fact that I'll spend an hour setting up the perfect shot, upload it and it will get fewer likes than an off-the-cuff quickie I took on my phone from back in late December. I still feel the shots are good and I'm proud of them, but I began to feel there was a limit to how much time I could spend on a platform that doesn't give me much back. Even when it was good and I was doing well, I wonder if it's been a bit of a distraction. Instagram gives you instant gratification in the form of likes, and (despite the fact my blog viewership figures are as good as they've ever been) it's the primary place where people interact with my content. I probably get more discussion in the Instagram comments under my promotion of a blog post than on the post itself because the way in which we consume this content has definitely changed. I don't want to lose that entirely but it's so easy to obsess over the numbers and feel rubbish that everyone else is doing better than you, instead of just enjoying content as a member of the audience.
The other part of this is enquiries. I don't accept them via Instagram DM because it's overwhelming and impossible to keep track of, instead I direct everything via an email inbox and try to limit the amount of time I spend in there by having an auto-responder and a PR policy. I state clearly that I'll only reply if I'm interested, so if I've not come back after a week, please assume it's not for me. That does help a lot and being upfront with my PR policy, how I work and linking to that in my auto-reply does cuts down on me receiving requests for things I don't do. However, I do still feel like there's a huge administrative burden and it honestly bores me out of my mind. In my day job, I get a great deal of admin support from another team, and that's something I really appreciate! At the same time, when it comes to opportunities, I like having total control over my platform so I'd never want to outsource managing them. I think cutting down on the PR I accept is helping me (I live in a tiny flat so have nowhere to put piles of more stuff anyway) so I'm only getting things that I'm really excited about. Skincare takes such a long time to review too, so it makes no sense to say 'yes' to everything I'm mildly interested in.
I also find that, even if I'm super excited about the product and brand and agree with all of the product claims / highlighted features (I wouldn't accept otherwise), onerous sponsorships just aren't for me and suck all of the joy out of what I'm doing. They create a stressful atmosphere, where I'm worrying about hitting talking points and getting tongue-tied because I'm not free to speak naturally. For me, sponsorships are a 'nice to have' that help me invest in things like my new camera and boost my savings, they aren't essential for survival and I can afford to be very picky. My approach now is really going to be no more than two collaborations a month so I can really balance things properly and: if they like what I do, they've looked at my blog / Instagram account and they want something similar, then we can do something. However, where I have agencies with a list of different types of shots or colours I must include and reems of information that has to be in there; that's just not me.
I'm also realising what I'm not, and why everyone has their place in this community. If you have a big event that you want a funny short-form video on that's going to gather a load of interest on a short timescale: that's not me. If you want helpful, detailed product reviews that will continue to gain thousands of hits on Google even a year after it was published: I can do that. I'm not an 'internet personality', I don't look effortlessly cool in chic clothes in a huge kitchen, I don't want a load of focus on 'Jasmine the Individual' from the internet: I just want to review products and provide helpful information and that's ok! I'm not sycophantic towards brands, I'm not scared of posting negative reviews: I simply want to share what I'd like to know if I was making a purchase. Sometimes I go on Instagram just to look at pretty stuff, and it doesn't really bother me if there's barely and information in the caption about the products pictured; it'll get a like from me because I find it aesthetically pleasing, I just do something different, and that's fine because there's space for everyone. If there's a spectrum of detailed reviews vs. personality-driven content, to draw a beauty guru comparison: I definitely see myself way more towards the Temptalia side and far away from the Jeffree Starr end.
Ultimately, I'm a writer who sometimes shares photos, despite not being a natural at photography. I'm endlessly grateful to brands who send me their products to review which helps me create so much content here, but the admin and 'business' side of this is not something I enjoy, so I really want to manage this without burning bridges like sending out a few emails along the lines of 'thank you so much for including me within your PR list, I still absolutely love [insert brand] but I'm a little overwhelmed at the moment so would it be possible to drop me a line to see if I'd like to receive new launches before they're sent out?' I think because I've just been knocking around a long time I've ended up on a lot of lists! And it's best for everyone all-round if I just have things I want to review coming in. This isn't my job, I shouldn't be worrying about the numbers or feeling anxious at how many unread emails are sat in my inbox and I should be focusing on what's rewarding to me.
I sometimes wonder if people think 'why is she still doing this? It's been 7 years and she's not progressed at all...' but the truth is that, whilst it's true a few people from my blogging cohort (2014) have gone stratospheric and broadly aren't into the beauty side of things any more (the Sunday Chapter, now @angelagiakas, Coco Chic, now @itsstephtoms, @ellenextdoor and Em Ford @mypaleskin) the vast majority of people I used to look at as always doing that bit better than me don't blog or Instagram any more. In all honesty I could count the number of people still creating content on the fingers of one hand because so many come and go, despite being very outwardly successful. So, if nothing else, I've achieved longevity! And, in itself, that's something I think has value. I can only be me and I just want to get back to focusing on this as a fun hobby and a bit of a side-hustle, it needs to be an endeavour I enjoy and I need to not worry about which brands have validated me or what anyone else is doing.
I actually wrote out the whole of this post then randomly came across an interview with Abigail Thorne (Philosophy Tube on YouTube) where she was talking about the criteria for success and the importance of having your own standards for what you create that are independent to how others receive your work, and it really struck me. She effectively said that if she concerned herself with views, the feedback she gets or anything like that there'd be a constant pressure and worry about 'oh, this video got 50k fewer views than that one - what went wrong?' or she'd obsess over that one negative comment in a sea of praise, and this really made me think about how I can keep myself on course. What do I want to do? Well, my criteria is to: 1. talk about things that interest and excite me, 2. have fun making the content and never create anything that feels like a chore, 3. be helpful and educational, providing the information that allows people to make good decisions. That's it.
I'm not sure what the point of this ramble was, perhaps it was just catharsis but whenever I feel I'm getting bogged down in numbers or feel stressed about the 'business' aspect of being a creator: I'm going to revisit this post and remind myself that this is meant to be fun! Assuming you're all content creators here, how do you deal with creator insecurity?