I started Sequins & Stripes in 2011 while I was working in an administrative role for a large contracting firm in Chicago. I had just left my job as a clothing buyer and wanted to keep up with my love of fashion, style, etc. Never in my wildest dreams would I have imagined that I would later leave that job to run my blog full time and build it into a business. It is an industry that is constantly changing and evolving thanks to social media and the power of “influencers.” I feel so fortunate to have a platform to share my life with you all. I get so many questions about blogging and how to start blogging on a daily basis and finally wanted to lay it out in one post. I was flooded with questions so I tried to answer the most commonly asked and go from there! Let’s go!
How many hours a week do you have to devote to your blog/overall brand?
Probably 30 hours a week. It should be way more than that but my job as a mom has demanded way more of my time since having Jack. Some weeks are better than others and some weeks I’m really run down and sadly my business takes a back seat. Charlie is in day care 3 days a week and this summer I had a sitter for Jack 2 days a week (where Charlie was also at day care) to work and get other things done. Our sitter is leaving for school so now I am back with Jack full time. That means I work during nap times and once they are asleep. I can usually roll with this 4 nights a week but mama also needs some down time. I have come to terms with the fact that I can’t share all the time and that’s okay. It’s just a season of life and in the fall I’ll be able to have more time to dedicate to work! This job really requires almost constant attention with social media so it can be daunting!
How do you stay motivated and come up with new content?
A lot of it is responding to your feedback! Even if it is just a common question or we notice you all finding interest in something specific – we find a way to create a blog post about it. I honestly try to find ideas everywhere! Whether it is my kids, things we do in our down time, what we are cooking, decorating our house, what we shop for, my makeup routine. I’m learning that you guys want to know about everything! Haha, which is so flattering but sometimes it feels hard to keep up. I’m always trying to get a step ahead so we really try to take note of what you’re asking about/interested in.
Where does the majority of your income come from? You don’t have very many sponsored ads!
The majority of my income comes from brand collaborations and commission from affiliate links. A brand collaboration can be anything from a sponsored post, social media campaign, event, etc. Usually a brand will reach out to me and say we want to pay you X amount to promote spring dresses or kids fashion or try a new vacuum or shoes for fall. As long as it is something I would genuinely use/wear/love then I say yes! I personally love working with brands because it provides even more inspiration to create content FOR YOU. Affiliate links mean when you see a link in my blog posts or on my site and it takes you to a retailer site to shop – I will most likely make a commission on your purchase. Think of it is as a small consulting fee! I love sharing with you guys and this slips some money my way for spreading the word on these fabulous products. Usually these are not sponsored at all (if it is sponsored you’ll always see that at the bottom of the post) so know that any link you see is because I genuinely like it – actually know that anything on this site, even sponsored, is something I use/like/love.
I am really selective when it comes to sponsorships. I’d LOVE to say yes to everything but I never want to look back on a post and feel that it was not genuine. I say NO to a lot of things and not just because they aren’t a good fit (the case most of the time) but my time is valuable. If I know that I can’t great quality work for a brand then it is in my best interest, and theirs, for me to say no. I am so limited these days with Charlie and Jack so I always want to make sure that the work I put out there is true to myself, my brand and my family.
What’s the best advice for starting a blog right now? Would you start your blog now? Do you think that the blog world is over saturated?
This question was asked over and over again. Let me start by saying that I will always tell you to start a blog. There is never a risk in starting a blog! Are there a lot of us? Yes! But there is always room for more and I truly believe that everyone has something to share. Your journey doesn’t have to be decided on today. I feel like my content has evolved so many times over the years. You start and you roll with it. I will say as much as you want to be a part of the community, I think it is really easy to see someone doing something and want to do the same thing. It can be discouraging to see people who are on your level, doing what you feel are the same thing and getting opportunities that you’re not (I’ve been there). I try to keep blinders on when it comes to creating content for my site/social channels. We all have to test the waters but when you find something that works, roll with it. Don’t copy someone else’s success; find your own. I think these concepts are important to remember as you find your niche in the community. Stay true to yourself and your readers will appreciate you for you.
How do you prep your content calendar?
Carolyn organizes our entire editorial calendar! We manage sponsored content, daily posts, social posts, appointments, events, travel, project requirements/deadlines and more. We try to stick to this editorial calendar most of the time but some days I come up with a random post that feels more in the moment or I want to talk more and we end up switching things around and that works too! In terms of prepping, we listen to the questions you’re asking, think about the time of year we are in, change of seasons – we always want our content to be reflective of my life but also yours! We are always watching and listening 🙂
How do you stay motivated to keep blogging? Is it the money? The photos?
Honestly, every day feels like I’m doing something with purpose. Whether it is inspiring one of you in some way or using my platform to lift someone’s spirits. The money is great and it supports my family and I’m forever grateful but that isn’t why I do this everyday. Not only do I enjoy it but it has become this therapeutic, special place that I look forward to updating everyday (most days!). I feel proud when I look through the archives to see how much content we have put out into the world. I get excited to come up with new ideas that I think you will love! It is all about opening my life, my style, my favorite things – taking everything that I enjoy and hoping you enjoy it too. *Note: I get in ruts too and sometimes it is necessary to take a step back and remember why you started.
Do you think I could start a blog now and make money? How long did it take you to make a substantial amount of followers and income?
I got this question a lot! First off, yes. But don’t expect it to happen day one, month one or even year one. It takes a long time and lots of dedication to get to a place where you not only have the traffic to support an income but you have a community who trusts your opinion. It took me three years to get to a point where I could support myself and not have to survive off of pasta and frozen chicken. The industry is a whole different beast now considering there are so many other women doing what you do, too. Which is why I feel it is so important now to have your voice and let it be heard.
Followers mean so many things these days. We all devote a lot of time to our blogs and social channels with all types of followers and traffic. A more important number to look at is conversion rate which basically tells you how often your followers/readers clicks turn to sales (in terms of making an income). Given that affiliate links make up a large part of my business, this is an important number. Someone could have a million followers and low engagement or 1,000 followers and amazing engagement. Another reason why I think it is so important to connect with your followers – talk to them, listen to what they have to say and the rest will follow.
How do you grow your following?
I still struggle with this! It can be discouraging. I’ve spent so much time trying to perfect my process in hopes that it would put me in front of new faces but in the end – I don’t want to force it. My time is spread so thin that I want people to follow me because they find interest in my content – not because their friend told them to, my name was advertised on someone else’s story, I did a giveaway, etc. I’d rather have slow growth than a mass exit. Ha! Let’s focus on Instagram – It used to be very organic, then the algorithm changed and it became very competitive and you had to post at specific times, engage as much as possible and just generally be very strategic. Personally I felt this took all of the fun out of the INSTAnt GRAM. See what I did there? Now I just post when I want and hope for the best. Since having my kids I’ve tried not to compare myself as much and just enjoy the ride. But my biggest recommendations for growth are engagement (SINCERE engagement), timeliness, content that feels special, originality and starting a conversation with your followers.
How do you edit your photos?
On my phone I use VSCO and throw a quick filter on the images just to keep them cohesive. My favorite filters are 04, A1, E1. I like them to be a little darker/richer in natural tones and warmer. Then I adjust brightness, sharpness, tone, temperature and whatever else is necessary. On my desktop I use Lightroom and downloaded the VSCO filters for Lightroom. I have so many random presets that I’ve created over the years but I’ll share a full tutorial on the blog soon!
What camera do you use?
For the blog we shoot with a Canon 5D Mark iii with a 35mm L Series lens (99% of the time). I use to try to post more professional photos on my social channels but I’ve been using my iPhone more and more. I am enjoying the more “in the moment” postings! Dave shoots my photos for the blog/social.
How do you manage your business?
There are so many working parts to running a business! I think people automatically think, oh you start a blog and just make money and it’s awesome! Yes it is! But it is a lot of hard work. Negotiating contracts, managing invoices, accounting, emails, editorial calendars, project deadlines, payroll, camera equipment, photoshoots, location scouting, storytelling, editing photos, graphic design – the list goes on and on.
When I started my business in 2011 the first thing I did was file for an LLC. I run every aspect of my business through Quickbooks, pay quarterly taxes on my business, work with an accountant constantly…taxes when you are a small business owner are a real bitch. Just saying. When it comes to collaborations/partnerships with brands everything involves a contract for the scope of work agreed upon. This includes terms, fees, obligations – the works. Everything is managed exactly like a business. I am on the payroll and pay myself just as I would an employee. I pay for my own health insurance (our entire family’s insurance actually), set aside money for my own 401k, business insurance. It’s a long laundry list behind the scenes but these little things make me so proud!
Do you still purchase clothing or do you mostly get everything for free?
I almost ALWAYS purchase my clothes. If it is ever gifted you’ll see ‘C/O’ next to the item which means care of but I honestly can’t remember the last time an article of clothing was gifted to me – unless a gift card is included in the collaboration budget and the brand pays for the items I select.
This industry is ever changing and I work hard to make this corner of the internet a fun place for you to take a break from your day to search the archives, read something interesting or get inspired. I think a common misconception about this business is that we get a lot of opportunities with little effort (so very far from the truth), that bloggers have a photographer on hand at all times and we travel to beautiful places and that the snapshots you see are true portraits of our everyday life. In some cases yes but the reality is that on the other side of this screen is a girl who is just trying to support her family, who has three laundry baskets of clothes waiting to be put away, who’s dinner last night was 4 spoonfuls of peanut butter out of the jar and a bag of pretzels. This is an amazing industry of men and women aiming to inspire you and I feel really proud to be apart of it but just remember, we all started somewhere.
Two posts about blogging that I highly recommend you read if you are a blogger/thinking about becoming a blogger is Grace’s Blogging Tips & Tricks and Jess’ post about the Truth Behind Making A Full Time Living As A Blogger. Both are highly insightful and really well written.
Love you guys, thanks for always supporting our family and being our biggest cheerleaders. You make this job such a joy every single day!