Blogger Spotlight – Rachel from Handbags & Cupcakes
It’s day 4 of Social Media Week, so that means it’s time for our 4th Blogger Spotlight. So we’re chatting to Rachel, who runs Handbags & Cupcakes, a blog she’s run for nearly 5 years. She blogs about general lifestyle and graduated from the University of Bristol this summer. Don’t forget that if you’ve missed any of our other blogger spotlights from the week, you can find them all on our Blogger Spotlight page.
What made you want to start a blog? Was there a particular idea behind it? Do you have any aspirations for your blog? Where would you like it to lead?
Back when I was 17 I started my blog simply because I thought it looked like a fun thing to do! I was inspired by bloggers like Liberty London Girl and, at the time, I thought I wanted to be a fashion journalist… I don’t anymore! I didn’t really care about whether anyone actually read my blog, I just wanted to practice my writing. Never did I think I’d still be blogging five and a half years later! I don’t have any concrete aspirations for my blog really, just to keep growing, developing and improving it.
Do you have another job, or is blogging your main job?
Blogging is just a hobby at the moment – I’ve just graduated from the University of Bristol, currently have a part-time job and am going travelling soon so I hope I can keep blogging as I explore the world.
Do you have more than one blog you manage?
Nope, just the one.
Tell us about your blog/life balance. How often do you post? How do you come up with ideas for posts?
Blog/life balance is really hard. There’s so much I want to do with my blog that I could easily work on it full-time. I always have a list of posts to write that I just can’t keep on top of, as well as design updates I want to do. Somehow I never run out of ideas! There are always recipes I want to share, fun things I’ve done that I want to write about or exciting things to review. I actually hate that at the moment I’m struggling to keep up with my blog because I’ve been travelling and doing so many little bits of work.
It was particularly hard during my finals at uni a few months ago, but I had to prioritise my degree. It was also sometimes tricky dealing with PR people who might have been used to working with full-time bloggers – I simply couldn’t turn around posts as quickly as they would.
Ideally I’d like to blog every 2-3 days, but there really is no such thing as just popping out a quick blog post – editing the photos, uploading them, writing the words, editing bits of code, checking everything, adding links, publishing, promoting… It all takes time.
I also struggle with saying no – I always want to go to events and try out new things and when something exciting pops into my inbox I always want to jump at the opportunity. However I’m learning I need to say no because the stress of trying to do everything, and probably write about it, has been really getting to me. It’s also not fair to the companies you’re working with if you can’t hold up your end of the deal. Although that’s not to say I write about everything I’m sent or invited to.
How long was it before you started to notice traffic to your blog?
The first big boost in traffic came after I made the shortlist for ‘Best Lifestyle Blog’ at the Cosmo Blog Awards in 2013. That made a huge difference, not just in pageviews but also with regard to the number of brands and agencies approaching me about collaborations.
When you first started, how did you promote your blog? Did you use any specific channels, e.g. Twitter, Instagram etc? Where did you see the biggest engagement in terms of social and what was the best thing to grow your community size?
I started my blog almost five and a half years ago and the blog world was really different back then. I didn’t share my blog with anyone I knew for a while. I think I started sharing it on Twitter first, but I was on Twitter before pretty much all my family and friends! I always get high pageviews when I share posts from my own Facebook account, but I now only do that very occasionally as when you’re blogging every few days I know it can get very annoying for the friends who aren’t interested. So I decided to set up a Facebook page for my blog and the friends who wanted to read my posts and stay updated. Gradually people who weren’t my friends started liking it too – I remember when I noticed there were more people I didn’t know than people I did liking my page, that was exciting.
I find Twitter is great for engagement actually, however I think it’s important to use it as a person, not just a blogger. If you only tweet links to your blog, people will feel like all you’re doing is self-promotion. I think it’s important to be a person on Twitter and respond to people.
Because you can’t post links on Instagram it’s hard to know how good a traffic-driver it is, however I do think it’s important in building a brand. It’s particularly great for food and fashion bloggers I think. And obviously now people become Instagram stars in themselves!
Pinterest has been good for me when I’ve posted useful things like infographics – they’ve been pinned a lot and brought a lot of people to my blog.
How long before you started to get approached by organizations? How did they approach you and what did you think?
This may seem ridiculous now, but for the first two or three years of having my blog I had no contact details on there. As soon as I added an email address I started being approached by brands. It was really exciting! The idea that companies, even just small ones, wanted to work with me and appreciated my value was extremely flattering.
I’ve found that if you want to, for example, write about hotels or afternoon teas, you probably need to start writing about them yourself first (which will obviously involve you spending money) before companies are going to approach you and invite you.
How do you retain your authenticity when working with a brand?
It’s a challenge every blogger faces. As a blog reader, I know it’s massive turn-off when a blog is just sponsored post after sponsored post, so I think it’s important to keep a healthy balance between posts that might be about an event you were invited to or a product you were given, and those which are just you writing. I also think it’s really important to always disclose when you were given something for free or even at a reduced rate – readers should know how it all works.
What’s the worst approach you’ve ever had from a brand or agency?
It’s always awful when you get emails that are impersonal – for example, being addressed as “blogger” or by someone else’s name. I’ve also had emails referring to blog posts I haven’t written or the dreaded “[insert blog title here]”.
And what’s the best approach you’ve ever had?
Working with Unite was definitely one of the best approaches I’ve had. They made me feel special by telling me I was one of a small group of chosen students and had even made a personalized info pack tailored to me and my blog, detailing everything I could expect from the project we were working on.
Do you ever proactively approach brands you want to work with?
Absolutely! I don’t do it all the time but if I hear about something or come up with an idea that I think would make a great blog post I won’t hesitate to contact relevant brands.
And finally, are there any particular pearls of wisdom you wish you could go back in time and tell yourself before you started blogging?
Choose a different blog name! And get a better camera sooner. And have your contact details up from the start.