In today’s episode, I have recorded an interview with one of Australia’s better-known bloggers, Nikki Parkinson from The Style Blog and Fashion Blogs Styling You. I first met Nikki at one of our early ProBlogger events. It must have been 2011, maybe 2010. Whilst at the time she was a newish blogger, she really stood out to me as a blogger to watch partly because of her journalistic background. She was one of the first journalist I’d seen make that switch from mainstream media to blogging but also because she was someone who was blogging smart.
Most bloggers back then were blogging from the heart. They’re blogging just because they had something to say, was almost more of a hobby for many bloggers back then but Nikki even from the beginning seemed to be blogging in a more smart way, in a strategic way. She wasn’t just interested in her topic or passionate about a topic, which she is, but she was also being a little bit more strategic, at least to my outsider perception.
Nikki started her blog back in 2008, I think it was July. It’s almost nine years to the date. She’s not only grown her blog’s audience to a pretty large audience but she’s built an amazing business around her blog. She’s written a book, she’s launched a shop, an online shop, where she sells clothes and accessories, she’s an ambassador and done lots of sponsored work with numerous brands in her niche. She also has her own paid membership program for her readers.
In this chat, we cover a lot. You’re going to want to settle down for this chat because it will go for a little while but we cover so much ground. We go right to the beginning and talk about how she got started. We talk about some of those mistakes she made but also the things that she did early that really paid off. We talked about her approach to writing and creating content, where she gets ideas from.
Also, what I found really interesting was her approach to planning content. It’s quite different to my approach to planning because of the niche that she’s in which is very nuzzy, it’s very topical, it’s very seasonal. The approach she has for planning is a little bit different and her approach to writing is different than what many bloggers do as well, which I think you’ll find interesting.
We also talk about how she built her audience, how to stand out in a competitive niche. Nikki also talks about not only how to build a large audience but how to build engagement with your audience. This is something I particularly think she’s very good at. She’s got an amazing Facebook group, a private Facebook group. She tells us about the strategy that she’s used not only to build that group up in numbers but also a strategy that simultaneously builds her email list. It’s really smart and something that I’m considering doing as well.
We also talk about monetization, how she made her first dollar, how she worked with brands, how she built a membership program about her shop where she sells the products that she writes about. Also, I know this will be interesting to many of you because we get asked about this in the group all the time, she talks about how she deals with brands who want to send her free stuff. Many bloggers get this as well, and how she turns some of those approaches into paid partnerships. Lastly, we talk about productivity and scaling her business and hiring a team to help her.
If it sounds like we cover a lot in this interview, you are right, we do. We go deep. We go wide. We cover a lot of stuff. The cool thing though is that whilst Nikki’s blog is on styling, particularly for women, I think most of what we cover is really relevant for most niches. Grab a cup of your favorite beverage and settle down with a blanket in your favorite bean bag, or get your hiking shoes on and get ready to go for a long walk, or get that massive pile of ironing that you’ve been ignoring in the laundry ready. Let’s spend an hour or so with Nikki Parkinson from Styling You. Oh, her dog does decide to join us at the end as well so get ready for that towards the end.
Today’s show notes are over at problogger.com/podcast/196. If you want to check out Nikki’s blog, Styling You, head over to stylingyou.com.au. Okay, I’ll be back at the end of the interview and we’ll wrap things up there. Enjoy this interview with Nikki. Hi Nikki, how are you?
Nikki: Great, great to be here.
Darren: Yeah. I was just looking back in your archives, which is always a scary thing.
Nikki: Oh no.
Darren: I realized that when this podcast goes out, you’ll be about a month away from have been blogging for nine years so congratulations.
Nikki: Thank you. I am the accidental blogger though. I didn’t actually know I was blogging. I just had a website that I found out right up.
Darren: I think it was 2008, July maybe?
Nikki: Yes. It was. Yeah.
Darren: I wonder maybe if we can go back to that moment. Your first post was titled What to Wear When You Don’t Have A Uniform. Maybe people could get back to that.
Nikki: How did you dig that? Because I was a journalist, Darren, I just thought, “I’m just going to get a lot of content up there.” They would be very boring.
Darren: They were useful from day one though. That’s what I found. Your first one is a how to post or what to wear type post. You obviously started with some sort of a how to teaching type thing in mind. Maybe if you can just tell us why you started and give us a little bit of information about what you were doing before.
Nikki: I was a journalist for 20 years and edited a weekly magazine in the newspaper where I worked. I kind of had a now or never moment sort of about this time actually, this time nine years ago. I thought, “Oh my goodness, is this it? Is this me?” I was 41 and I loved what I did but you could feel like there had been redundancies and that was the first time I’d seen redundancies in a quite long career in the editorial department.
I knew the things to go would be the things I like working on which was the magazine type things and the feature stories. The politics around it was getting quite toxic because if it’s a squeeze from resources from above then it all flows down and it’s not a very nice work environment.
My husband had also started committing to Brisbane about an hour and a half at a good day, mostly two hours each way. One of us needed to be flexible around the family. I was so naïve. I just went, “Oh, I’m just sleeping. I’m going to start a business.” I had full month’s long service laid behind me and that was it. I look back and I go, “I’m kind of glad I didn’t know anything.” Because even on the business product, interviewed hundreds of business people over the years of my former career but actually running one yourself is a very, very different ball game as you would know.
I said I would start a personal styling business because in my former role, coordinate fashion shoots and this heavily involved I was the fashion editor and video to full quite some time. I just thought, “I’ll just start it, because you know, you could just do that, can’t you?” I obviously needed a website for that but I didn’t want a website that I would have to go back to someone to update.
Nine years ago, that was still very much the norm that if you were a business and you wanted a website, then you paid a ridiculous amount of money for something that you couldn’t even change yourself. I was very fortunate that a person who worked with my husband said, “Oh well, you need a blog.” And I went, “Sure, just get me one of those.”
Nikki: Because I wanted to continue sharing information like I had done in my former job. That’s why I call myself the accidental blogger because I just wanted a website I could update myself. It was really in that towards the end of that first year that I realized that blogging was a thing and it was more fun than what I was doing in terms of content.
Darren: Yeah. Your early goal was to use a blog almost to support your business?
Darren: The blog became your business?
Nikki: Yes, it did.
Darren: Would you say that was the accidental part of it. How do you think your background in journalism helped you in your blogging? On the other side of things, what mind shifts did you have to make from journalism to become a blogger?
Nikki: Where it helped me is that we were always, especially in the latter years, trained to imagine the reader, readers first was the policy. You’re always putting either a separator in the story or you’re writing it because it was a topic that would be pertinent to your reader. They had various demographics and everything that we were writing to. That mindset was definitely very helpful in forming content.
What I had to personally change, and this is what if people are digging back in the archives in 2008, was a very non-personal style of writing. I’m not a personal blog but I’m a blog written personally. I think that if you’re an individual blogger, that’s the key to content connecting with people. That was a major change. As a journalist, unless you’re a columnist, you were trained not to put yourself into the story. Obviously, I’m flipping that on the head.
Darren: If you look at your blog today, you’re there, everywhere. Your face is there, but not only that, it’s in your content and it comes out, your story comes out, you’re writing personal things.
Darren: Yeah. Do you think that has been a big part of your success, having that personality in your content?
Nikki: Yeah. Not everyone is going to like me. That’s probably my big message to people is that you can’t be anybody but who you are. Not everyone is going to resonate with you but hopefully you will find your tribe by just being yourself. That’s all I’ve done over the period of time. Obviously, as the blog’s grown and I’ve done live events, and I’ve talked to people, imagine if you hadn’t been yourself all this time, it would be very hard to keep up something that you’re not for starters. Plus, just the sheer volume of content, it would be very difficult to not be anything but yourself and keep that consistency.
Darren: Yeah. Did you find it hard to do? Was that something you had fear around, putting your face on your blog, allowing yourself to come out in that way?
Nikki: I didn’t at the start. I guess because of my background, I had a small profile just where I lived. Also, when I started, you don’t have a lot of people following. There would be cases today where people start and they have a very quick following, suddenly. With the social media that it’s around now, it’s a very different possibility with that. It’s always been such a gradual organic thing that it’s not a sudden thing. I think that enables you to not get freaked out.
Darren: Yeah, you get used to it step by step.
Darren: Looking back on those early days, were there one or two things that you did that you’re really glad that you did, even accidental things?
Nikki: Really glad that I paid someone else from the get go to set everything up. Really glad that he did a WordPress blog. It’s just two things that I know that a lot of startup bloggers struggle with. Not so much the platform they say it’s because I think that back then it was the blogger versus WordPress situation but more on struggling with their own thing to get the platform up. I know you can do it yourself but I’m a big believer in your zone of genius. You can get a very basic sized WordPress startup that you can manage then yourself. I think that’s your best investment straight off the bat.
Darren: Conversely with any mistakes that you made in those early days, that you would advise people avoiding?
Nikki: Mistakes were mainly the way I wrote wasn’t in a connective way. I don’t think that would happen anymore because blogging is just such a known thing these days that if you’re wanting to do that, you can really stalk and follow and look at people do content and everything and get a hook on that. I think that was the biggest mistake I made but I soon came around to it when Twitter really became a thing in Australia, right back when it was a fun place to hang out, wasn’t it?
Darren: Yeah, it was.
Nikki: It was like, “Ah, let’s just go to this little party tonight on Twitter.” That’s where I met a lot and connected with a lot of people working in the online space and realized that this blogging thing, and then I delved into their blog. That’s when I realized that it was about how the content was written to make it engaging so that people would leave these things called comments. Up until then I just had spam.
That was the biggest mistake I made. I think if writing conversationally isn’t something that comes naturally to you, then that’s something to work on to get going.
Darren: That’s great. How did you actually learn to do that? How did that conversational style of writing come about? Did you have a person in mind that you began to write to or did something else happen?
Nikki: I think sort of locked away all those years as a journalist was someone who was just yearning to have a chat as opposed to writing in an editorial structure or creative structure. For me, it is just imagining a girlfriend sitting down, having a cup of tea or a glass of wine depending on what time of day it is and writing like that. And then that becomes second day chat to you because that is generally how you talk.
Darren: Yeah. Do you have an avatar in mind? Have you ever gone to that stage of creating up a sign or an avatar, or is it just the girlfriend that you have in mind?
Nikki: Yeah. I think over time, I’m going to have to develop more because I’m 50. By time this airs, I’m 50. I’m almost edging myself out of my chief demographic. I probably have a number of avatars now that I think about and could probably put names to them because they are beautiful readers and followers who come back time and again.
In my groups, on my paid program, you really get to know these women and understand how you’ve already helped them and how you can help them again. That’s where I’ve been fortunate to makes some quite close connections. My avatars are pretty related to exact people, which is reverse stalking creepiness but that’s okay.
Darren: That’s really interesting. I found since I’ve done live events that I start writing and creating podcasts for individuals. I’m actually thinking about a person as I’m speaking and it comes across more personal I think, yeah.
Nikki: Yeah. I think that is the next step from the avatar, that if you’ve met people or you’ve had a really close connection with them online, then it is really easy to make that connection and understand what that is that they want from you, how you’re going to help them.
Darren: Let’s talk about content for a little while. Sally in the Facebook group asked me to ask you about how you come up with ideas to write about.
Nikki: Yeah. That’s something I’ve never struggled with. I think part of that also as a journalist, you weren’t told what to write, you had to come in every day to the chief of staff with your ideas. Your brain gets trained to always be on the ball with things. That has its own track. Plus, reader interaction gives you great ideas all the time.
If someone is asking the question, you can bet your bottom dollar that 50 other people want to know the same thing. To my topic, things come up as well. Sometimes it can be just something that I’ve experienced that I have a feeling that other people will be keen to hear about that as well.
It’s a combination of all those things but it is training your brain to always be alert to ideas and taking note of them obviously when they come through. I would have more ideas than I have time or capacity to write on them but I think if you are blogging about a topic that you really, really enjoy and live, those ideas will keep flowing.
Darren: Yeah. I guess writing on fashion style, beauty, those types of topics, there are always new things happening in those spaces as well. I personally just wear blue t-shirts. I have for 10 years.
Nikki: That’s a blog topic for me there.
Darren: I know. I’m happy to write that for you, 10 blue t-shirts that you can wear. I guess if you’re really into that topic, there’s always something fresh emerging that you can write about. I guess the question that I have about that is how do you keep it fresh? You’ve been doing this for nine years, you’ve written about autumn fashion for nine years I presume. Does that ever get boring and how do you stay fresh yourself, but also how do you keep that fresh for your readers?
Nikki: That’s a really, really good point and a good question because you do have new readers every year. In your head, you’ve already covered that topic, it still needs to be revisited. An example is ankle boots, think about that being a topic in some shape or form on the blog for the last five winters. Whenever the need is there, then I will tackle it and I will look back at the post that I’ve done. Go, “Okay, those tips are still relevant. I’ll include those but I think I should add these.”
You’re almost re editing what you did, adding different things in and the key thing that is new each year or each season is the products that you are linking to have to be fresh. It’s all very well for them to dive back into the archives. They’ll get tips but none of those products will be available. I guess it’s fresh by the product that you’re featuring and recommending.
Darren: Right. How far in advance are you thinking about content?
Nikki: Not far enough, probably. I use CoSchedule. I have a rough plan that probably extends a couple of months out. And then that’s always subject to change but because of the product driven nature, I’m not generally writing that far in advance. Because if I said, “Oh yeah, I’m going to do all these things and I’m going to write three months in advance.” None of those products would be available.
A big thing for the topic that I deal is that people are actually wanting specifics to buy or to click through and have a better look at. I’m only going to annoy people if I do all that in advance and don’t have what’s available now. Sometimes it’s not unusual for me to be writing the day, night before.
Nikki: I’m not your productivity blogger. You know what? I think it’s still a hang out from the journalism days where it wasn’t fresh unless you wrote it the day before.
Darren: Yeah. This is what I say with Vanessa. She’s writing on similar topics that she can’t be writing two weeks out like I do when I’m going on holidays for that same reason. I didn’t really understand that when she first started. Yeah, present some challenges. You don’t write multiples posts at a certain time of everyday, what’s that writing process look like for you?
Nikki: That’s been my goal for the last nine years, Darren. Every week I’ll say, “No, today, today is the day I’m just going to have a writing day.” And it just goes out the window. I am my own worst enemy. My daughter is 20 and she’s in fourth year of uni and had her and her housemates around the other night for dinner. They’re all productivity guns and my daughter is explaining what happens to her. I said, “I think I’m really sorry because I think I’ve just passed that on.” We always get it done but we’re always shocking at the last minute.
Yes, I’m shocking. In my head, I want to have a day a week that I do all the writing. So much other stuff cuts in and it shouldn’t cut in but it deals with the nature of working for yourself that at times you can’t have that happen.
Darren: Perhaps that’s your personality style and when you work at your best.
Nikki: Maybe I shouldn’t fight it. The worst thing is I’m more creative at night but that is not conducive to getting up early the next morning and exercising so I’m working against my own rhythms at the moment.
Darren: Alright. We just had an interview with Kelly Exeter very recently where she talked about getting up, I think it was 4:15AM to exercise and I was like, “Hmmm, yeah.”
Nikki: 5:30 is killing me at the moment.
Darren: Oh my gosh. You’re putting me to shame. What about finding readers? You obviously have a readership, it’s fairly active, you’ve got lots of engagement going on as I look around your blog and particularly on Facebook. Did you spend much time and effort focusing upon that growth of readership or did it happen to you?
Nikki: I did both. Focusing comes from being where your readers are potentially going to hang out. If you go back to 2008 when I started, Facebook business pages started not long after. I’m thinking October 2008. Anyway, it was very much in alignment with when I started.
I started the business page. I am very good at this early adapting kind of thing. I just jumped on every social media as it’s happened. I’ve either stayed around or I’ve just got it for the handles and no one else has it. I remember that being, even with the couple of thousand on Facebook, that made a big difference to how you can grow the community.
Back in 2008, no one was accessing on your phone. It was all desktop or laptop so it’s a very different scenario. I always saw answering the comments, being present on social media, think about it, that’s part of building your community on a daily basis. I never saw it as separate to the job. It’s always been part of it.
It’s always been an organic growth. Someone coming in could say, “Oh she’s got 65,000 on Facebook, 50,000 on Instagram.” It’s not big numbers for nine years but I’ve never been about the big number, I’ve been about the engagement. That is a two way situation. That’s not something that you can just hope happens. You’ve actually got to talk to the people who are actually taking time to talk to you. There is no quick fix about it. I think if anyone is starting out, you have to be patient and you have to build that time of engagement into your work day.
Darren: I was just talking to my personal trainer this morning and he said, “The only thing that’s going to change your life is persistence. Education will change things a little, genius will change things a little, but persistence in every area of life.” I really see that with blogging, it’s persistently showing up, persistently engaging, and creating value that does it. It is a long term thing.
Nikki: Yeah. I still do it. I still look around to other people’s blogs or Facebook pages, comment on Instagram. Other people in either likeminded niches or not in a spammy way, genuinely, “Hey guys, great. I’m really enjoying what you’re doing. That was interesting.” That part does not stop.
What I really have loved about being in this whole blogging sphere is that it’s a connective path job with the readers that you’re hoping to get but it’s also connective with people who are doing the same thing. Big believer in getting around and supporting everybody with a comment, or a like, or just anything, and that flow on effect. It has to have an impact not just being seen in other spaces but for just getting out there and sharing that whole online love.
Darren: For sure. What would you say is your largest source of traffic today?
Nikki: It is still Facebook.
Nikki: Yeah, it’s still Facebook. The percentage used to be massive from Facebook. What year is it that you had the ProBlogger event at Etihad Stadium, what year is that?
Darren: Oh gosh. I think that was the third or fourth year. We’re looking four or five years ago now.
Nikki: Yes. I remember everyone at the conference talking about how the algorithm had stuffed up all that traffic. That was when Facebook first started the algorithm things.
I don’t get too frustrated, yes. Stuff happens and you go, “Ah, goodness, another thing we’ve got to deal with.” I still think good content will win. You might not have to be hit that you may have had before whatever changes happened but good content will still rise to the top and win out.
For my demographic, this is what I say to anybody, know where your demographic is most likely hanging out on social media because this is where you need to reach them to try and get them back to your blog. For me, Facebook is still the biggest thing. I have the page but I also have a close group of more than 7,000. That’s extremely active. Someone told me the other day that we’re tracking it and there was a new comment every five seconds or something at night time.
That is where I’ve seen the evolution of where people are asking questions. It’s all happening in that group. I think you’ve got to see whatever social media you’re doing and ride where most people are going to be comfortable about chatting. But definitely fewer comments on the blog now than they are on social media.
Darren: Jade asked over in our Facebook group about Facebook and your community, and asked if you had any tips on community management in that space?
Nikki: Look, I’m very lucky. I set the tone for all of my platforms from the get go. I don’t like nastiness and I don’t have it in my house so I’m not going to have it in any of my online spaces. You don’t see it in any of my posts or anything like that. That tone is set by me being me across all of my online platforms. That actually discourages a lot of people from landing and being a bit knocky or a bit ranty. It doesn’t mean we lose all of it. We definitely get the odd comments, just wrong tone.
In the groups, we’ve got very good guidelines that we just don’t accept judge, don’t accept any attacking another person, attacking me, making anyone feel less than they should because what I’m about is beyond style. It’s about women feeling confident and supported so I can’t have a group or online space where they are fearful of asking a question for being made to feel ridiculous. Setting the tone has been crucial but we have those official guidelines in place. We are not afraid to block because it will ruin the experience for everybody else.
Darren: Yeah, yeah, that’s great.
Nikki: A bit tough like that but you worked hard to build up these communities and people come to you for a reason. I think if you set the tone, and your tone might be ranty and snacky, which is fine, just go for it. I think you’ve got to have those strict guidelines. I also have community managers supporting me so it’s not me monitoring it 24/7.
Darren: How did you find those first people? Are they a paid group or is that volunteers from within the group? In your Facebook group managers, community managers.
Nikki: They are paid, part of my team. Probably since that year at Etihad Stadium. Kim [00:33:00] came up to me and said, “If you’re ever looking for any help, I’d love to help you out.” I contacted her the next week. From that moment, I’ve always paid someone to help out in some kind of way. How that’s looked has changed to reflect what projects I might be doing or what that focus is.
For about a year, late coming up to this 12 months, I actually paid writers to write. What was happening is that people weren’t coming to read what they had to say because they wanted only content from me. It was great content, I loved it. Gave me a break from the writing but I realized it wasn’t the best use of resources.
And then I was talking to Kim Beach, Kim Beach Fit. He runs beach fit community and her husband about how they’ve set up their communities. That’s when I thought, “Oh you know what? I’m just going start this group for subscribers.” It went to 2,000 very quickly. It was July we started and so we’re 7,200 and it’s nuts, they are wonderful.
We thought, “We’ll have all these plans to generate content from the start, generate conversation from the get go.” They were answering each other’s questions, helping each other out. If you could bottle that atmosphere and put it out there, it would be fantastic. That has all been very helpful for me.
Originally I went to the blogging community and people who I know to help me with that. Originally it was Rubina from Mommy and the Minks. And then I got Christian from Christian & Co. Rubina went back to her culprit work inside of CIA and that’s when I got Jasmine from pretty chafed on board.
They share the day and they’ve worked it out who wants the morning and who want the night and checking in. They also help me behind the scenes with different things, campaign reports, helping around my paid program as well. Great to have women also working in the online space and understanding it, and that they’re incorporating that into their working week.
Darren: One of things I noticed as I was looking at your group or the way that you promote your group is that you don’t ever link to your group on your blog or on your site, instead you ask people to sign up, and then you send them a link to your blog, which I found fascinating. You are building your email list as well as getting people to your group. How does that work for you?
Nikki: Well, it definitely has grown the subscriber list or if you’re already on the list, that link is always in there because obviously you’ve signed up. What happens now though is that it comes up as one of Facebook’s recommended groups. We don’t apply resources because I didn’t think it was valid enough to go back in and check that they’re actually subscribers. The whole method and motivation was something that I’ve talked to Kim Beach about and that’s how they generate their email list and it very much works for them.
Darren: Yes. It’s almost like an opt in. Some people give away PDF but you give away your group.
Nikki: A community.
Darren: That’s fascinating. I think that would be one strategy a lot of bloggers could use. It’s a closed group but it’s not a secret group?
Darren: Yeah, okay. Just one more thing on community, you’ve used hashtags really well. I love #everydaystyle. I see it in my Instagram all the time which is great. Where did that idea come from, #everydaystyle, using that hashtag to build your brand I guess in many ways?
Nikki: Yeah. It’s end of 2013 and I had a question from a reader saying, “I like all the outfits you put on the blog. You dress up and everything but I’d love to know what you wear every day.” I had to laugh. I think I remember looking down at shorts and t-shirt. It wasn’t a blue t-shirt, it was probably something else. I thought I’m really not living what I’m promoting. I’ve got a whole wardrobe full of clothes and I’m not wearing them. I thought, “Oh, I’ll do it for a week. I’ll just show on Instagram what my daily outfit is for a week. I’m going to just call it everyday style.” I think Vanessa had already been using the term everyday style and I was horrified when I started because I realized that I’ve just taken it.
Darren: I didn’t even know that.
Nikki: I didn’t think I was going on with it. I just thought it was a week. And then by the end of the week, people were joining in and I’m going, “Okay.” And then my book was in proofing and production so we got put in a book. I thought, “Oh, I got to keep going on this.” I haven’t actually missed a day since November 2013. Other Instagrammers got on board with it as well.
A mistake I made from the start is not putting why or something with it because it’s now more than 200,000 shares on it. Cheers to that hashtag. It’s not all part of this community. It’s certainly for Instagram style bloggers around, it’s been a lovely way to connect. That would be my only suggestion if you want to get a hashtag going is…
Darren: Brand it somehow.
Nikki: You brand it somehow. I know Chantel had similar things in her early days without FMS attached to photo a day, it got not hijacked but people see that a hashtag is popular, and then they just throw it on.
Darren: Yeah. Gets a life of its own I guess.
Nikki: Whether they’re participating or not, they’re just throwing it on there. Definitely, it’s been a fun thing. I’m not going to miss a day. Literally people ask me, “Do you shoot all those in advance?” I said, “No, it’s literally what I’m wearing that day.” If I’m down the street or doing school run or after school and not I’m in what I posted, it’s like getting caught out. It is what I’m doing.
Darren: Yeah. I guess it humanizes your brand but also the thing I love about it is that your readers are participating and so they not only get to see themselves on the hashtag but they see who else is reading the blog. I think that somehow brings about community.
Nikki: Yeah, it does. Also that community within other Instagrammers and bloggers in Australia because part of my ecosystem is that all women are real, trying to create inspiration for a whole wide range of women on that hashtag, there is someone your age, your shape, your style that can get ideas and everything from and they’re an everyday person. That’s been a great thing. Yes, more readers have become confident about sharing their outfits and that’s been a great thing.
In my online program, they share their outfit in that group every day. For some people, that’s a huge step and that’s in a close group. Yeah, to do it on Instagram but also then for those people who are, they’re actually providing awesome inspiration for so many.
Darren: That’s great. You’ve talked about your online program a few times. Let’s talk about monetization. How did you make your first dollar from the blog?
Nikki: Well, technically, it would be from people booking one on one styling appointments. Actually, on the blog was a banner ad, probably 2010, later that year or in 2011 first sponsored post. That was definitely the first way that I did it. My first site wasn’t even set up to take banner ads, it didn’t have a sidebar. It was a second incarnation. I think that the banner ad thing was a hangover from newspaper days because media like that just seemed an obvious thing, and people asked me for them so I went, “Oh, okay.”
Darren: How long did it take you to get to that point where you considered what you were doing full time?
Nikki: I would say I stopped taking personal styling clients at the beginning of 2012. That was because the income from the blog was far exceeding the personal styling. The personal styling wasn’t a good business model for me. In fact my clients would say, “This is great. I’ve had two hours with you. I don’t need you anymore.” And I’m going, “Ah, okay. Kind of thought you’d come back but anyway.” That’s when I thought, “That takes a lot of energy and effort and it’s said amount of time that you can devote to it every week. When the blog side had started to take off, then I bit the bullet.” There’s always going to be a tipping point, I had to back myself. Sure enough, it was fine. I have called myself full time blogger since the beginning of 2012, so it’s five years now.
Darren: Can you talk to us just for a moment about that in between period? You were doing personal styling on the side?
Nikki: I was doing everything, university tutoring, freelance PR, freelance writing. This is what I say to people, that was essentially me having a job and building up a blog. If you’re already in a job, maybe stay in your job, build up a blog. Crazy ridiculous hours. I think my husband had probably given me about six months. Six months of seeing the back of me at the computer at night time to make things happen or we’re going back to finding a job.
I looked back and I remember very tough periods; tough emotionally, tough financially. We’re lucky my husband had his job so the mortgage was paid and everything but you know, it just went from two sure incomes to one. If you look at it on paper of the year, it did make it up but it was a very hard slog to make it up.
All I can say is that I just really, really enjoyed what I was doing. I still enjoy it. There isn’t an easy day now. It’s not like you just have a day to fluff around and do nothing. Running a business and feeding the blog and feeding other content is hard work. I look back and I never felt like I wanted to give it up. I think in hindsight, that can only be that I really enjoyed that part of it. I enjoyed the connection with other people doing blogging but I also enjoyed the connections that I was growing with my community. There was never a point where I went, “Oh, I’m just going to throw this and go back or find a new job.”
Darren: Can you talk to us a little bit about your income streams today? What are the main income streams, obviously banner ads probably isn’t the number one anymore I’m thinking.
Nikki: It’s still there. This is why I never diss on that either because some of my banner advertisers grow into sponsorships and ambassadorships. Because of the association and relationship, they’ve grown with me. I’ve probably got about three case studies and just a new one yesterday that they are doing a six month campaign with me from August. They’ve been a banner advertiser for maybe three or four years.
It does help to build a relationship with the brand. For that brand, especially independence, it’s a low level way to buy in. If that makes any sense. Still the line share of my title blog income is from sponsorships and ambassadorships. Ambassadorships are basically 6 or 12 month long contracts that include a variety of different things on and off the blog for that particular brand. That’s still the line share.
I introduced my seasonal online shop two years ago. We’ve just almost finished the sixth of those edits. That brings in income twice a year. Probably by the time this goes live, I’m going to stock some of my favorite products, not just fashion in between the seasonal edits so that something that my personal assistant has driven which is awesome because she’s very good at handling all that side of things.
Then, the online program I started, the first one last September. We’re almost at the end of the second one and that’s seasonal as well. That was a new income stream last year. That has been really successful income stream wise but also for really connecting with a smaller subset of the community and offering as close as I can get to one on one advice without actually physically going out and doing that.
Darren: Can we just go back to ambassadorships and maybe walk through those three that you’ve just mentioned? I’d love to know a typical of ambassadorship might look like for you. I know it probably does vary a bit from brand to brand but what would one look like?
Nikki: The constant content is still going to be sponsored posts on the blog. That is quite key but packaged in with that over 6 or 12 months can be in store appearances, Facebook Live events, I did one last night for a brand I’m an ambassador for, next week in Frankie4 in Melbourne. That’s part of my ambassadorship with them that I’m going down there.
It is engaging me to connect a brand to my audience. How that looks from the brand perspective is feeding in with their marketing. It’s obviously also social media content and that as well. It’s being involved in campaign shoots for a brand. There’s a whole lot of different things and a lot of flexibility in working with that brand’s aims across a longer period of time and how you can support that, how you can best share what they’ve got going on. Because it’s fashion, it’s always new stuff so it’s always around the new.
They’re the best alliances that I like doing because you’re really getting involved with another business and really helping them grow as well. All of my long term ambassadorships, current ones, have started from a very small beginning. Frankie4, for example, gifted me a pair of silver sneakers which I just loved and then everyone loved because I put them on Instagram and then it went nuts and they sold a lot. That has grown from a very small beginning.
When I’m talking to people about working with brands, the most successful relationships I’ve had have started from those small beginnings where you’ve actually grown with the brand. You love the brand, you know your audience loves the brand, so you’re all on the same page. That’s where if I look back, that’s been the most successful campaigns that I’ve done.
Darren: Sure. You spoke there about gifting. I know a lot of bloggers they sometimes don’t know what to when they’re asked by brands, “Can I send you something?” Some bloggers are like, “Well, should I be charging for that? Should I just accept it?” What’s your stance on that particularly for a new blogger starting out?
Nikki: For a new blogger starting out, if you’re still building your audience and building your relationships, then you’re probably not going to be able to charge anything for that. What I’m very big on, whether you’re starting out or whether you’ve been going a long time is you don’t have to accept something just because someone is sending to you. If it’s not your style, I’m talking about fashion, it’s not something that you could seamlessly fit into your content. I guess this is my journalism background, if it’s something that I know I can incorporate into my everyday style, just as part of the editorial process, then that’s okay. But if they start asking for specific hashtags, specific dates of placement, specific timings, then that’s bordering, that’s commercial, they’re potentially booking advertising. When they gift you something in the hope that you’ll feature it, then there’s not usually a payment involved.
It’s tricky when you’re starting out because it’s really exciting and people want to send you things and all of that thing but you need to at some point draw a line in the sand. That line gets pushed for me every week. What I’ve learned is if you push back because something is not right, then it tends to come through or something else better will come through. I think that’s the toughest part. Brands start thinking, “I’m just going to send something. They have to feature it.” My heart tip to brands is actually source out whether the person wants to receive it in the first place because there are plenty of bloggers who don’t want to receive product.
Actually give the blogger a choice. So if it’s clothing, say, “I’d like to gift you a piece of clothing, would you like to choose from X, Y, Z or go to my website?” The person on the receiving end is either going to make the choice going, “Oh I really like that piece of clothing. I like that brand, I’m happy to feature it in this post I’m doing.” Say it’s a knit wear, “I’m going to feature in this knitwear post.” That goes into their content seamlessly but not exclusively.
That’s the other thing. If you want exclusive content, no other brands mentioned on my blog or social media, then that’s a paid situation. I think the media background definitely has helped for me to draw those lines and be able to build relationships but say no, actually that’s a commercial arrangement so let’s talk about how we can make that work for each other.
Darren: Let’s talk about your shop. I’ve always wondered what’s going on, on your shop, whether it was an affiliate marketing thing, or whether you’re drop shipping, whether you’re taking orders and then some else is sending it, or whether you’re holding the stock yourself. Can you give us a little bit information about that?
Nikki: Yeah, sure. To start with, back in 2015, it was set up as a drop shipping arrangement. We are on a Shopify platform, which was really easy to set up and get going very quickly. What I chose to stock was not random things just all thrown in. It was actually putting together a seasonal capture wardrobe that people could use as the building blocks for the season ahead.
I was working with suppliers who I already had a relationship with. The orders would come through to us and we would forward the orders onto the suppliers, each supplier would send out the garments from that particular order that were pertaining to them.
This one we’ve just done, we actually have bought all the stock, wholesale the stock. That has been a big step and it has been driven by my assistant who has a Scottish voice. I’m not even going to attempt the accent but last year she said, “This is ridiculous. We should be doing this ourselves.” I went, “Okay, Rach. We’re on.”
Yes, it is more of a risk because you’ve got to buy but I had two years of reporting about what sold, quantities, and sizes. You’re never going to hit completely on the mark but I wasn’t coming into a cold and trying to understand what was going to be popular and what was going to sell. That has been a great thing to do this time around and we will continue that. That’s why we’ve also started stocking other things in between times in the shop as well.
The seasonal edit works really well as well because I’m not selling a whole bunch of clothes across the whole year. I’m actually getting people a formula, I’m creating demand, and we do most of our sales the first two days that the shop launches each season.
Darren: Right. You’re doing a lot of those sales via email to your list and Facebook group I presume?
Nikki: Yeah. Email, Facebook group, Facebook, there’s a blog post always to launch it. This time around, we launch it in conjunction with the online program. The online program features the capture wardrobe as a road map for the season ahead. 20 of the 30 pieces in that capture wardrobe are actually available for sale in the shop. People could buy from the shop or I had five other suggestions as to what to buy. That definitely generated sales in itself. People on the flip side weren’t necessarily in the online program but they’ve bought from the shop before and so they trust what they get.
Darren: The style program, the online program that you’ve mentioned, what do people get for that? I noticed at the moment, I can’t sign up. Not that I think you’ve got anything for me, there’s no blue t-shirts on your blog.
Nikki: I’m going to keep that in mind.
Darren: Yeah, well maybe.
Nikki: I was contacted by a woman called Alison Levada from Star Logistics in States. It was one of those emails that was a bit random and out of the blue and I’ve gone, “Actually, I’m ready to listen. It’s making sense.” She says jump on a Skype call and I jumped on a Skype call and she made a lot of sense which is really good. It’s something that she’s developed based around a capture wardrobe program. I’ve just adapted it obviously for my audience. Also, the amount of time, I think she runs herself. She runs probably about six or seven a year whereas I’m just doing the two and I’m combining the seasons, autumn, winter, spring, summer.
All the creative is mine. I choose all the garments, I choose all the options, and this time I use my own graphic designer to put together all the pieces for her platform because I needed that seamless look. The actual program itself, people log into a different platform and they send out the daily emails and they send out all the sales stuff and handle that kind of thing and then pay me less their commission.
Darren: Sure. When someone is signing up for your program, what are they actually getting?
Nikki: What they get is six weeks’ worth of outfit prompts and really tailored advice in the Facebook group which is way smaller. We’ve got I think about 200 in there doing the program at the moment. Like a smaller subset of the bigger community. It is a whole bunch of women of different ages who for whatever reason are just wanting some style support throughout the season.
The ones who are doing it the second time, they just love the community aspect of it as well as the fact that we don’t have to think what we’re wearing each day. Basically, they had a blueprint for the whole season. I’m teaching them how to create an adaptive capture wardrobe for themselves.
Darren: Right. What do they pay for a season?
Nikki: If they’re just doing the six weeks, it’s $99. If they do the six months, it’s $149. Some people, there’s no outfit prompts after the six week period but the Facebook group exists as a way to get to me and get specific information from me and group camaraderie for the season.
Darren: Yeah. I presume you’re talking about the products in your shop. At least some of them as part of that as well so there might be some additional income that comes in there?
Nikki: Yeah, definitely, definitely. A lot of them were very keen buyers at the shop because those pieces were recommended. For every piece, say a blue t-shirt was recommended, I had a budget option, a petite option, a plus size option, and a work wear option. Doesn’t matter what your lifestyle is, I offer those options up for the person to have as guidelines.
The other thing is that they don’t necessarily have to buy any clothes at all. It could be a way that they organize their own wardrobe to fit into the program.
Darren: Sure. That’s great. I love that. I love the way that you start a program and shop work together. I would presume there’s almost a flow on with some of your products from the shop, from ambassadorships and sponsorships as well, on those types of relationships. It’s a monetization strategy that does have some overlap.
Nikki: It does. A lot of overlap. I think the key thing of all of the monetization that I do, whatever avenue it is, the most successful ones have been those relationships. It’s been based on relationships and that’s been the key. It’s relationships between the suppliers/sponsors and then the relationships between the community. They actually want to buy from you, which is a really nice feeling because they could actually go to all these shops, individual online shops, and buy the things but they actually wanting to buy from you which is a really lovely thing.
Darren: That’s great. Let’s move towards wrapping this up but I do have a few questions from the group about your productivity. How do you get it all done? We certainly touched on a little bit earlier.
One of the things I have noticed when I talked to full time bloggers is that they have to make mind shifts along the way. Many times I build systems or routines that help them to get things done. Has that been the case for you? Can you talk to us about maybe a couple of the mind shifts and the routines that you’ve had to develop?
Nikki: I’m a shocker. I am. People who know me think I’m the most organized. My friends would say I’m the most organized person out. I think because I get the thing done. It was the interesting talking to my daughter about it because we get the things done. I need a deadline. Don’t send me and something and say, “Here’s some questions. Put a date on there, put a time on there.” That has to happen. Having said that, I ran my iCal like nobody’s business.
I have a big calendar up on the wall that’s very visual as well. Maybe it’s just my problem. I’ve got too many things where I’m writing stuff down. Productivity tools, I use Asana for my team. That’s really good. Everybody assigns task in there to each other. I obviously assign tasks to the team in there. For editorial content on the blog and social media and in the groups, CoSchedule has been. Probably having those tools keeps me in check.
One of my biggest weaknesses is easily distracted. That’s really bad when you have a workload. I think my best days are when there are no gaps and you just have to put your head down. Irony is social media is my biggest distraction. Part of the mind set is you tell yourself that you’re going to be on it.
Email, email shocking. I tell myself that I should only check twice a day but I’m not good at that either. I’m sorry. People need to talk to Kelly about productivity.
Darren: No. I think it’s good that people hear different things because I’m probably more like you than Kelly, although I can snap myself into a week of Kelly where I’ll be very good. They’re often the weeks that I just have to switch on. The rest of my life, I allow myself to be a little bit crazy and distracted and spontaneous, because that’s my personality. I actually do my best work in those weeks as well where I allow myself to be myself.
Nikki: I guess the other thing is no two days for me could be the same.
Nikki: This week, I had a very long day in Sydney for a client all day, like work. I had photoshoots and a Facebook Live yesterday. I have meetings tomorrow. Yeah, just a lot of different things that you don’t necessary have a uniform week because it can be quite client driven. That’s what can throw me out.
Darren: Thanks for chatting with us today, Nikki. I really do appreciate all your time but also words of wisdom. It’s been great to chat with you.
Nikki: Thanks, Darren. It’s been awesome. I can’t believe you went back to my first blog post. Oh my God.
Darren: I won’t link to it in the show notes but we certainly will link to Styling You and some of the other things that you’ve mentioned in the show notes today. Yeah, I really do appreciate your time. Is there anything that you would like our readers to come and check out? Anything that you’ve got new going on at the moment?
Nikki: No. The actual blog itself is the funnel to everywhere. The program has finished. The shop will have some fun things in it. Just come over to the blog, join the community, we’d love to have you there.
Darren: Great. Thanks so much. We’ll chat soon.
Nikki: Thanks, Darren.
Darren: Wow, we did cover a lot of ground there. I hope you enjoyed that interview and had a good walk, or got some ironing done, or had a good time in that bean bag. If you want to check out Nikki’s blog you can go over to stylingyou.com.au. You can also check out in our show notes today at problogger.com/podcast/196. I’ll have a link to her blog. I’ll also have a link to her Facebook group sign up page, which I think is really interesting. Nikki also mentions CoSchedule in this interview and if you are curious about that, check out our last episode, Episode 195, where we talk about how we use CoSchedule at ProBlogger as well.
Lastly, check out the Facebook group over at problogger.com/group where we talk about every episode, where if you got questions, if you got feedback on the episode, you can do it there. We also have every week, there must be 50 or so different discussions on different topics around blogging as well.
Also, I’ve been doing a Facebook Live once a week, a teaching Facebook Live once a week. We stream that into that group as well. If you want to check that out, head over to problogger.com/group and it will forward you into Facebook.
Thanks for listening. If you’re still looking for something to listen to, head back to 195, the episode that we just put up last week on CoSchedule or dig around in iTunes because every one of those 195 episodes is sitting in there. Would appreciate it if you’d subscribe and leave us a little review. Thanks for listening today. I’ll be back with you in Episode 197 and 198 as well, coming out to that 200 mark. Thanks everyone, chat soon.
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