On Young Industries (Part 1): Blogging

6U8A3756We are a very weird generation. Technology has evolved so much in our lifetime that sometimes I forget that the world wasn't always this way. When I step back and think about how different my teen years and twenties were from my parents' and grandparents'... I mean, it's mind blowing

When I'm old, I hope to tell my grandchildren the story of our first home computer and the first time I heard about the Internet. I look forward to seeing the shock on their faces when I explain that I was in my twenties before I owned my first cell phone (a phone that only did one thing—make phone calls). I want to tell them about my first iPhone and my first photo editing app (Hipstamatic!). And I guess the story I'm most excited to tell someday is the one where I heard what a blog was for the very first time, and how I knew right away that I wanted one, not knowing where that path would some day lead. 

When I watch my four-year-old niece play with my iPhone I can't help but imagine how different her childhood will be from mine. She'll never know life without 24/7 access to Internet, social media, and digital entertainment.  

So I want to talk about young industries, industries that I got to watch come to life in the past five to ten years and that I believe will continue to evolve and grow in ways I cannot even imagine throughout our lifetime. The two industries that I've been personally involved with and profoundly affected by are blogging and apps.

This post is about blogging. Last year A Beautiful Mess celebrated its sixth birthday, and I wrote a lengthy post about how I started, how we've grown, and what we've learned along the way. One thing I haven't talked about much here are my thoughts on blogging as an industry, so that's what I'm here to tackle today! 6U8A3713The pros and cons of a young industry (in this case, blogging) 

Blogging is an industry. I know it probably bothers some people that I'm even calling it an industry at all, but it is. Blogging is a rapidly evolving form of media. It's a full-time job for thousands of people. It's a legitimate way for companies (from giant corporations to tiny startups) to advertise their goods and services. Blogging is not only a way to kick-start a career, it is a career. And a good one! 

And you know what? I believe it hasn't even hit its prime. 

As an industry, blogging is still just a baby. There are pros and cons to this. 

Cons- It's competitive. It's unpredictable. There is no formal route of education that can help you secure a job in this field. There is always a risk factor. There are no guarantees. There is a LOT of bad information and advice out there for young bloggers. The nature of the biz at this point in time is a lot of trial and error. To sum it up, it's really hard. It can be horribly discouraging to get started. I mean, everyone could start a blog, but everyone won't be able to make it a career. Sadly, there just aren't enough readers. And even once you're established you can never get too comfortable, because being successful in this industry is dependent on having a passion for constant and continual evolution. I think that's kind of the deal in a lot of industries, especially emerging ones. I will say if you're not a person who enjoys change, young industries are probably not the best place to build your career. 

Pros- (spoiler—the pros are REALLY good) Being a part of baby industry means you get to lay the groundwork and make your own rules. There are no career guidelines that we have to follow, so it's up to all of us to guide our careers in the direction we'd like them to go. There is tremendous opportunity in blogging. Everyone knows you can make income from advertising, but there is so much more. The branding opportunities, design opportunities, book deals, TV shows, product lines, etc. are endless. If you can dream it, it's probably possible. The thing we love most about writing A Beautiful Mess is that it's a job that has so much room to grow. As we get older, get interested in new things, and have a spark for new opportunities we're able to take our blog in any direction that we want. I think the ultimate pro about being a blogger in this decade is that there really is no ceiling or limit on what you can do or where your blog can take you! 6U8A3734Where do I think the blogging industry is headed? 

I mean, nobody really knows, and I don't claim to, but here are my thoughts. 

I think that in our lifetime blogging will become a legitimate career. I already think it is, but it's definitely not there yet "on paper." Ask any blogger what kind of looks they get when they go in to get a home loan and they have to explain their business model. When I explain what we do to some people (especially the older generations) it almost always goes something like this: "We run a women's lifestyle blog," (blank stare) "and last year we had a number one selling iPhone app." (still a blank stare) "Oh, and we've written a couple books for Random House." (ding!ding!ding!) Their faces are filled with relief. "Oh, good! So, you're really an author then??" To be honest, if I weren't so close to the industries, I could see myself needing a little extra explanation too. Like I was saying before, part of young industries is that there isn't a lot of clear information out there on how it all works.

So it would be pretty silly to be offended by these kinds of scenarios. It happens all the time. I really believe that in our lifetime being "just" a blogger will become a legit job in most people's eyes. It's happening.

I also think that in the future there will be more established opportunities for bloggers. New jobs are happening all the time. Our company currently supports six full-time salaries and several more part-time and freelance positions. We're job creators! It's a great feeling to be able to finally offer health insurance and retirement options to our team. This didn't just happen overnight, though. It took years of moving forward, hard work, and planning to get to the place where we could even support one full-time employee. 

Currently the blog world is in a weird place—it's feast or famine. There are bloggers out there with tiny followings who have figured out a way to make a GOOD income, while there are others with larger followings who aren't earning nearly what they are worth because they simply don't know where to begin. There is no union, no standard pricing model, and no real accountability for money that is exchanged. For this reason some bloggers are getting taken advantage of, being paid far less than they are worth— often far below minimum wages, not even covering expenses with the promise of "exposure." At the same time, there are companies that are being taken advantage of too. There are agencies charging hundreds of thousands of dollars to create some of the most inefficient, watered-down blogger campaigns you'll ever see.

So how can bloggers (and companies alike) protect themselves and be sure they are getting a fair deal? You have to take responsibility. Try to research what other blogs are doing and learn about how things work in other forms of media. Since there are no industry standards you have to create your own. At A Beautiful Mess we have our own set of standards when it comes to advertising and sponsored content. I could talk about this all day (and I do in our upcoming e-course), but the biggest takeaway I want to communicate today is that if you want to make a living as a blogger, nobody is going to do that for you. You'll have to learn (a LOT) about marketing and advertising, on top of the content you want to actually write on your blog. If you rely solely on an agency to help you navigate these waters, you may not get a good enough return to quit your day job. Monetizing is literally DIY at this stage. It's awesome, but it's not easy.  

The last little "prediction" that I have for blogging is that quality is the key factor for success. Of course quality is a subjective term, as everyone has different standards, styles, and tastes. But you can see a certain intentionality to all posts you see on the more successful or rising blogs, whether they're DIY, fashion, or full-on lifestyle. Each year, as more and more blogs get started, the market becomes more saturated and more competitive. This is NOT a bad thing. It's actually a really good thing. Years ago when I started blogging most people didn't put much effort into original photography, creating exclusive projects and recipes, or developing series of original content. It's cool to me that somehow, over time, these things became normal. What we do every day for A Beautiful Mess (and what thousands of other bloggers are doing for their blogs) can be a TON of work. So, yes, it's competitive. What stood out three years ago would not stand out today. Quality really matters. I follow new blogs often, and the only factor that they all share is original photography and a clear point of view. Whether it's a foodie blog or a travel blog or a family blog, I want to follow the people who are putting effort into creating something of quality.6U8A3744What bloggers can do to steer our industry in a healthy direction.

1. Embrace change! 

If you go to a blogging conference this year and learn "everything you need to know" it might all be different by this time next year. If you take 10 classes by 10 different blogging experts you might receive a lot of conflicting information. Embrace these changes. Keep your mind wide open. There is no one right way to run a blog and there never will be. Change is your friend; don't forget that. 

2. Keep your vision alive.

It's easy to fall into the trap of writing content that you think will get pinned more or get more pageviews. It's even easier to fall into a routine of working harder on sponsored posts and getting lazy on personal stuff. Whatever your vision is, it's your job to keep it alive. Here on ABM, for example, we share a LOT of projects—90% of them are not sponsored. This is our priority for two reasons. First, it ensures we're very selective; we only work with sponsors we really love that fit into content we really want to write. Second (and more importantly) it keeps it fun! Most of the projects we share are just things we wanted to make. For our category of blog it's REALLY important to keep it fun because how sad would that be if it wasn't? The second reason is it keeps our options open. Flexibility is key. Some of our most favorite projects have been totally spur-of-the-moment. We love planning, but being able to replace things that aren't working or feeling inspired is just as important.

Blogging is a dream job, but doing anything every single day is hard work no matter what your topic is. Life is kind of funny that way. Keeping your vision healthy and inspired is your job. It takes effort and planning, but if you do it the resulting inspiration will keep you moving forward and be contagious to your readers!    

3. Write the blog you want to read. 

So obvious, right? If it's no longer fun, change it up. If you don't love it, what do you expect your readers to feel? There are a million different ways to blog, so choose the one you would want to read. :) 

I'd love to hear your thoughts and opinions on this topic! I am only writing from my own perspective and I understand (and love) that there are other, very different perspectives out there. I'm especially interested in the perspective of those who blog strictly as a hobby and have no desire to make it a business. As much as I love my career choice, I envy you sometimes. :)

If you have a question, I'll be checking the comments to chat with you guys. Thanks for reading. xo! Elsie 

Credits// Author: Elsie Larson, Photography: Sarah Rhodes. Photos edited with Petal from the Fresh Collection.

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