If we’ve never sat down and had a one-on-one talk about blogging you probably don’t know how completely addicted to spreadsheets I am. I have spreadsheets for everything related to blogging including blog post ideas, my editorial calendar, blog traffic growth, social media schedules, and so on. I swear these days I’d never be able to cope without constant access to my Google Drive. Now that I’ve admitted that, it should come as no surprise that I have a spreadsheet that tracks reader questions. Anytime I receive a DM or an email I log the question into my spreadsheet so I can refer back to it later on. Sometimes those questions require a long response I am able to turn into a blog post. Other times I am able to notice trends in questions which gives me an idea about my readers’ interests, hobbies, and passions. Toward the second half of 2017 I started receiving more questions about blogging and my specific practices so I decided to put them all in a post for you.
If you’re curious about anything I didn’t address shoot me an email.
Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links which help support Honey & Pine
When did you start blogging?
I started blogging in the late 90’s and I’ve operated about 11 different blogs since then. Some of them I shut down and deleted, others I sold. I’ve been on every single blogging platform that has ever been launched (yes, all of them) and WordPress is still my favorite. Honey & Pine has been operational since 2014 although this is the 4th name I’ve given to it. I’m a bit inconsistent that way and I don’t recommend it. I hope to stick with Honey & Pine. It works for me.
Why do you blog?
I like to write.
That’s honestly not meant to sound snarky at all. I like to write. I like to share. I like to meet people who live in different places and have different worldviews. Blogging lets me do that.
How do you have time to blog and work a full-time career?
This all breaks down to my editorial calendar, spreadsheets, and systems. Blogging is really time-consuming so organized systems are extremely important. I’m detailing different parts of my systems in questions below. I also only commit to publishing a blog post 3x a week. If I can publish more often I do but I don’t force it.
Where did you get your blog theme from?
How do you take your pictures?
The professional pictures of me on my homepage and static pages were taken by Kelly Broyles of Kelly Broyles Photography here in Charleston, WV. The other pictures are taken with my iPhone and edited with the Photoshop Fix or VSCO apps. When I need to use a tripod I use this little desktop tripod from Amazon. I plan to buy a camera eventually but I haven’t gotten around to it quite yet. I bought photo backdrops on Etsy for flatlays and food photography while other pictures are just taken in my home or outside in the mountains of WV.
Do you filter comments?
Yes. I don’t like to filter comments and for the most part, people are welcome to disagree with me and say what they want but I do have limits. I don’t approve comments that attack other commenters, that are racist / sexist, or that disparage any group of people. Call me an idiot if you want to but call me a f*%king insecure b%tch and I’m like nope…trashed.
Content Calendar / Scheduling
Do you plan your posts or wing it?
I have a general editorial theme for each month (see below) that keeps me semi-focused. Then, I have a content idea spreadsheet with a tab for each month. On each tab, I have columns for the blog post idea, potential sponsors, the sponsor contact information, any negotiated terms, and the publishing date. I don’t seek out a sponsor for every post but if one does lend itself to a sponsor (example: a post about hiking might be a good fit for a sponsorship with a backpack or hiking boot company) I reach out with a proposal. I’m not super strict with adhering to the categories below but it gives me a focused theme to fall back on when I need to in a pinch. I have travel content listed for June but I’m publishing travel posts later this month since we’re taking a trip. It’s structured flexibility, if that makes sense.
- JANUARY: Goal Setting + Dreams
- FEBRUARY: Relationships + Date Night
- MARCH: Self-Care + Homemaking
- APRIL: Spring + Easter
- MAY: DIY + Gardening
- JUNE: Travel + Decor
- JULY: Summer + Family
- AUGUST: Summer + Family
- SEPTEMBER: DIY + Gardening
- OCTOBER: Halloween + Decor
- NOVEMBER: Fall + Harvest
- DECEMBER: Winter + Christmas
How far in advance do you schedule your posts?
I’m usually scheduled at least 3 weeks in advance although I’ve been known to have content scheduled for 2 – 3 months at a time. If things come up I’ll rearrange my schedule to write something on the fly or I’ll add extra posts in during the week. I always publish on M / W / F but sometimes I’ll publish on Tuesday or Thursday if I have something I want to share.
Do you feel like you have a niche? Is your content focused on a niche?
I don’t 100% buy into the whole “you have to have a niche” thing and I went into detail about finding your niche as a lifestyle blogger in this post. I have a general niche because I talk mostly to people that live a life like mine – a quiet simple life in the mountains with dogs. I share general lifestyle content but I know it’s going to connect with people that live similar to me. I can talk about weekends in the mountains, hikes with my dogs, comfort food recipes, etc. because I know where my people live. In fact, the geographic location of my visitors is one of the #1 things I look at on Google Analytics and when I run ads or boosted posts on Facebook I target those same regions.
Do you have a virtual assistant or anyone helping run your blog?
The only help I have are the apps and tools I use to schedule my social media posts although at this point I’m down to only using Tailwind. I never got much traffic to my blog from Twitter so I dumped the scheduling tools for it and pretty much just tweet live when I have time to hop on there. If I need to schedule for some reason I’ll use Buffer because it’s free. I schedule Facebook posts using Facebook itself and I post to Instagram manually. Tailwind manages my Pinterest for me. Other than that, it’s all me.
Making Money Blogging
How did you create your marketing site?
My marketing site is basically my media kit and it’s way easier for me to send PR reps there than send them a PDF I have to regularly update. It’s a subdomain of my blog which are free through your host. I just created the subdomain, installed WordPress, and uploaded the same thing. It’s linked in my email signature and has been very helpful in working with PR reps.
How much do you charge for a sponsored post?
My standard rate is $400 per sponsored post which includes the post, pictures, and social media promotion (1x on Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest and 2x on Twitter). I charge more for add-ons like giveaways, extra social media promotion, rights to reuse my content or images, videos, or multiple posts. I’m flexible to a point though and have taken on sponsored posts for as little as $100 but I remove some of what I guarantee.
Do you ever work for free or for product only?
Yes, I do. I work a full-time career and I don’t rely on blogging as my sole source of income. I know there are people that get angry over bloggers working for free and I know they will stomp and yell about how I’m hurting bloggers everywhere by working for free and that I’m harming their ability to make a living, etc. I call BS on that but I’m not getting into it here. If it’s a product that I truly want/need or if it’s something I believe is going to provide great value to my readers I’ll sometimes negotiate a partnership for product only. It doesn’t receive nearly the devoted exclusive attention that paid partnerships do but I have done it and I’ll continue to do it.
How do you make the most money blogging?
I make most of my blogging income through affiliate links. You’ll find them in the large majority of my posts and on my social media pages. I always (always, always, always) clearly disclose them because I don’t like deceptive practices. It’s also the law so, you know, there’s that. My best month for affiliate income was $4,000 and my lowest month was $86 so there is a pretty huge variance in how much I make month to month. Some months I make way more via sponsored posts than I do affiliates but at the end of the year my highest income is always from affiliates. BTW, when you do make money blogging remember to set aside about 20% for taxes! You’ll owe those come tax season (ahem…now).
Where do you find PR reps to pitch?
See this post about connecting with PR professionals for your blog.
How do you pitch for sponsored posts?
I usually run a Google search for “company name + press release” because press releases always contain the name and email of a media contact. If I can’t find one I search the company website for a page called something like media, newsroom, press, etc. My initial pitch is always direct, to the point, and reads something like this…
I’m Ashley LaMar and I operate an Appalachian lifestyle & homemaking blog at Honey & Pine. I’m currently planning my editorial calendar for (time period) and am interested in speaking to you about a potential collaboration. Would you have a few minutes to hop on the phone with me sometime this week?
In the past my readers have loved hearing about (topic) and I know they would appreciate hearing how your (product / product line / company) could help them (solve this problem / achieve this goal). Are you open to collaborations at this time?
I always ask for a phone call because that is huge in negotiating your terms and it guarantees you their undivided attention for at least a few minutes. Just make sure you have locked down your elevator pitch before you get on the phone. It’s embarrassing to be asked, “So, what’s your blog about?” and have you stumbling for a response. When I pitched for our PR trip to Pittsburgh, PA I mentioned that my readers are primarily in this area of the US and included a Google Analytics screenshot and are interested in regional pet-friendly travel. We are hooked up with a pet-friendly hotel so our dogs can come along and it took about a week to get the details sorted out.
Social Media / Newsletter
How did you grow your Instagram?
Pure luck, lol. I don’t have a huge Instagram following and as I type this I have just over 3,200 followers on there. There are people with huge accounts so don’t take me as an Instagram expert at all. In fact, I recommend checking out someone like Helene in Between or Belle Brita for Instagram help. I did successfully go from 700 f0llowers to 3,200 in a month though and it was more about what I stopped doing than what I started doing. I unfollowed about 400 people that weren’t in my niche and that I didn’t engage with regularly. I deleted over 300 photos that didn’t match my vibe and I stopped caring that white airy photos are “in”. I embraced my own aesthetic based on how I truly live which means a lot more gray, black, white, dark green, and brown. I followed more users in Appalachia, more users that enjoy hiking, and more people with hobby farms. I engaged with accounts I actually cared about and saw my own account grow.
How do you manage all of your social media accounts?
I sort of answered this one already (see way above) but I’ll do it again. I use apps and tools to schedule my social media, for the most part.
Pinterest – I combined a lot of my boards so there’s less to maintain and it’s easier for people to see what I’m all about. I use Tailwind to schedule pins and I use BoardBooster to loop boards that are heavy with my pins and content. I pin live each evening before bed for about 20 minutes.
Twitter – I never got much blog traffic from Twitter and I stopped caring about the network. I mean, I love Twitter and I’ve been on it since it launched but I use it to talk about current events and trending topics, not to promote my blog. My Instagram posts to it but I rarely share posts there anymore. If I do, they are scheduled using Buffer. It’s not in my marketing strategy so unless I’m engaging over current events, politics, or sports, it’s not on my radar.
Facebook – I schedule Facebook posts using Facebook itself and typically post 2 – 3x per day. I share links to my blog posts on there and I schedule text updates asking my readers questions or engaging with them over things they want to talk about it. I usually schedule my Facebook posts for the week on Sunday and just check in as I can to respond to comments.
Instagram – I post to Instagram live and engage with people I actually want to follow (see above). I don’t have a strategy for it.
Is a mailing list really worth it?
It depends on how much time you’re willing to invest in it and what your goals are for your blog and your list. I gain email subscribers every single day (yay!) but I rarely hear from them via comments or emails (boo!). I can tell you that the people subscribed to my email list are by far the most engaged with my content because I have tracking systems that let me see how many people come to my blog from links in the emails and how much they engage with the content in my newsletter. The emails I do get from my email subscribers are usually very personal and they engage on a much deeper level than social media followers or Bloglovin’ subscribers. If your blogging goals include building genuine relationships then yeah, it’s worth it 100% but it definitely takes time and vulnerability.
How do you engage your newsletter subscribers?
My #1 rule when it comes to blog followers / subscribers is to treat your people like people and treat email subscribers like extra special people. My emails are the place where I’m the most vulnerable. It’s where I share the most personal information about our struggle with infertility, my depression over not having children, gardening fails, blogging mistakes, etc. I share how I fixed things that went wrong and lessons learned from big mistakes. I also confess to big dreams and update them when I’ve given up or I’m feeling discouraged. I encourage them in what I imagine they’re going through and I share my imperfections. Just remember that people are smart and they know when you’re lying, being deceptive, or using sleazy sales pitches.
Wowza…ok, well, that’s it. That was wayyyyy longer than I’d originally expected but I sent this out to my newsletter subscribers last week and they hit me back with a few more questions I decided to add in at the last minute. I hope you found it helpful and I wish you much success in your own blogging journey!
Do you have any blogging questions I didn’t answer above? Feel free to drop them below and I’ll respond as soon as I can.