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How I Became a Professional Blogger | Part 2

Posted on 9 min read

So! In Part 1 of ‘Amber Really Needs to Learn to Edit’, a.k.a. ‘How I Became a Professional Blogger‘, I told the incredibly long story of my first online venture, and how it crashed and burned.

Rather than putting me off the idea of making money online, though, that experience only made me more determined to try to make a go of an online business. I should probably say here that I had absolutely HATED traditional employment, and although the freelance writing I was doing at this point in time was a vast, vast improvement on that, it still wasn’t perfect. I still had clients. I still had deadlines. I still had to spend my time writing about and researching subjects I had absolutely ZERO interest in. I still had stress, albeit not nearly as much as I’d had in traditional employment. It was still WORK, in other words, and it wasn’t always particularly satisfying work, either.

Now, don’t get me wrong: I’ve never been afraid of hard work. I got my first job when I was 18, and worked all the way through university, then, when I graduated, I kept on my weekend job for over three years, working seven days a week, and only occasionally getting a day off. While I was prepared to do that to pay for the things I wanted in life, though, I’d never really gotten much satisfaction out of it: I was getting paid to write (And also to answer phonecalls in a call centre: livin’ the dream, people!), and that was great, but I was left with the feeling that the work I created wasn’t really MINE, and ultimately benefited someone else more than it did me.

I wanted to TRULY be my own boss: to be completely in charge of a business that I owned, and to answer to no-one but myself. So I started looking into other ways to make money from home. At around about the same time as I was launching my first website, I also put a lot of time (and quite a bit more money than I really should have) into trying to start an eBay store, first of all selling off my own clothes, and then moving onto buying stock wholesale to sell on. That was even LESS of a success than Writing World had been, so I decided I should probably stick to what I knew best, which was writing.

How I became a full-time blogger: my journey to self-employment and a job I love

At one point, I seriously considered launching a print magazine – I  even went as far as getting print quotes and writing a business plan – but the startup costs were much too high, so I turned my attention back to the internet, and the idea of producing an online magazine instead.

That’s what blogs were, back in the day: online magazines. In fact, I’d argue that that’s pretty much what blogs are NOW, really. I think what a lot of people forget is that a “blog” is just a website which is organised in a particular way, and which generally has just one author – although even that isn’t necessarily the case. This is why I’m always so puzzled when people react with such horror at the idea of people making money from blogging, which they think should only ever be “a hobby”.

No one was remotely horrified when I talked about possibly starting a print magazine, and no one thought it odd when I decided to publish that magazine online instead: in fact, it made perfect sense. I was a journalist, after all: creating content had been my bread-and-butter for years, and the fact that the content I created would be published on the internet rather than on paper didn’t really make much of a difference, as far as I was concerned. So I started to think about what my “online magazine” would be about, and there was only ever one real answer to that : fashion.

You’ll be pleased to know that I put a lot more thought into my next online venture than I had my first, having learned a couple of important lessons from that experience. The first one, as I mentioned in my last post, was to choose a subject I knew I’d always want to write about. Although I loved writing, I’d quickly discovered I didn’t love WRITING-about-writing, but I didn’t think I’d have the same issue with fashion. I was as sure as I could be that I’d be able to keep writing about clothes as long as there were clothes to write about: the problem was finding a way to write about clothes that hadn’t already been done to death.

This, it turned out, was much more of a challenge. From my experience with my freelance writing website, I’d worked out that there wasn’t much point in doing the same thing everyone else was doing: I needed to put my own spin on it. And in the end, the idea for The Fashion Police was purely down to the name. I’d been trawling through domain registry sites, looking for domain names with the word “fashion” in them, and I discovered that TheFashionPolice.net was available.

Even back then, I would never normally have gone for a .net domain, but although none of the other variations of the name were available, none of them were actually in use at the time, either. The phrase “fashion police”, however, WAS in common use, so we figured we had a great opportunity to capitalise on that, and create something that had a good chance of success. (What we COULDN’T have known at the time, of course, was that, several years later, the same name would be used by a popular TV show, and effectively ruined, but that’s a WHOLE other story, trust me…)

Anyway! The Fashion Police was born, and it was, as I said, an online magazine, with a forum, and articles, and all the stuff you would expect. Much to my surprise, it quite quickly started to get some traffic, mostly (I assume) from people Googling the phrase “fashion police”, so I was cautiously optimistic.

Vivienne Westwood for Melissa jelly shoes

At this point, I was still freelancing, which wasn’t exactly ideal. I knew that if I wanted The Fashion Police to grow, I’d have to spend much more time on it, but I didn’t HAVE that time to spend, because I was so busy writing for other people. There wasn’t much to be done about it, though, so I continued freelancing, and updating the site whenever I had time, and one day, while I was looking at a freelance jobs board I used to frequent, I noticed an advert for freelance bloggers. “Haha, freelance bloggers!” I thought. “Who’d pay someone to BLOG?” (Because blogs were just diaries, remember. There was NO WAY anyone could make money from that. Ahem.)

As it turned out, the people who would pay someone to blog  were called Shiny Media, and they were the UK’s biggest blog network at the time. I applied, and was offered a job writing for their TV blog, TV Scoop – which was pretty hilarious, really, because I hardly ever watched TV back then. (Well, we didn’t have Netflix in those days, kids. So if you wanted to see a TV show, you had to know when it was on, then you had to either watch it AT THAT TIME, or you had to record it. Oh, the humanity!) Anyway, I started out writing occasional posts for TV Scoop, and by the time I gave up freelancing, a couple of years later, I’d written for 6 other Shiny blogs, and was editor of their shoe blog, Shoewawa. (Most of those sites are defunct now, the company having gone into administration a few years ago. That’s ALSO a whole other story…)

Writing for Shiny Media’s sites taught me a lot about blogging, but the most important thing it taught me was that blogging was something that it was possible to make money from: and a LOT of money, in some cases. Shiny, you see, were making a LOT of money at the time. They had swanky London offices, a huge staff, millions of pageviews every month. They were making lots and lots of money, and they were doing it simply by blogging – or, as it so happened, by getting people like ME to blog for them.

The thing I couldn’t help but notice in all of this, you see, was that while Shiny were doing what they did incredibly well, what they were doing wasn’t anything particularly revolutionary. They had blogs. They updated them. They made money from selling adverts on them. These blogs weren’t anything like the “journal” style blogs I was used to either. They weren’t personal at all, in fact. They were blogs about shoes, fashion, makeup, technology. They were online magazines, basically, just presented in the same format as a blog.

*LIGHTBULB MOMENT*

The Fashion Police was, at this point, still an “online magazine”, and it was run on a platform called Drupal, which I found quite clunky, and not particularly user-friendly. (I should stress here that this was YEARS ago: I’m sure Drupal isn’t like that NOW, so I’m not saying that to slate it, or anything, and it was just MY experience of it, anyway…) As it gradually dawned on me that the content I was writing for Shiny Media were more or less the same kind of thing as the content I was creating for my own site, it occurred to me that it would be easier all round if I just turned The Fashion Police into a blog.

Vivienne Westwood for Melissa jelly shoes

So I did. My first commercial blog was born, and is still going to this day. (It was’t my first blog, of course: Forever Amber actually came first, but it was the last of my blogs to be monetized: if this post wasn’t quite long enough for you, you can read the story of how I came to start this blog here…) It was joined by my now-defunct beauty blog, Hey, Dollface! about a year later, and then by ShoeperWoman in 2009, and that’s us pretty much up to date. AT LAST.

As I mentioned in Part 1 of this story, for me, professional blogging was really just a continuation of my writing career, which is why I find it so hard to understand why there’s still a degree of controversy around the idea of blogging for money. Writing is what I’d always done: it had been my career since I graduated, so when I hear people say that blogging should only ever be a hobby, I feel like they’re saying that WRITING should only ever be a hobby, which makes no sense at all to me. It’s like going into a restaurant and telling the chefs and wait staff that they should make and serve food purely for “the love of it”, and that they’re selling out by accepting a pay check for their work. I’d always been paid to write, so when I started to write for blogs, it made sense that I would be paid for that too. I was still creating content, after all, and whether that content was being published online, or in print, I still expected to be paid for it: who wouldn’t?

(Just to clarify: I don’t mean to say that everyone who blogs should do it for money: just that those of us who DO shouldn’t be made to feel like “sellouts” or “lesser” bloggers because of it!)

I quit my last freelance writing job in 2009, and have been running my own sites full time ever since. I’m not going to claim it’s always been easy, but I can say with 100% certainty that it’s the best thing I’ve ever done. Quite simply, I love my job: and I didn’t ever think I’d say that. I went from being someone who dreaded getting out of bed in the morning, and who was constantly stressed and depressed, to genuinely loving what I do. I get to wake up every morning and write about subjects I’m passionate about: every day I get to create something that’s 100% mine, and which I’ve built from nothing: it’s satisfying in a way that traditional employment never was for me, and I’m incredibly grateful that I get to call it my job.

As for the future, well, who knows? People have been predicting the “death” of blogging ever since I started out, but it’s still here, and while it’s changed a lot (particularly in the past couple of years), I hope it won’t be going anywhere soon. When I hear people say that blogging will “die”, I remind them that a blog is just a website laid out in a particular way: blogging in its current form may go out of fashion, but I think the internet is here to stay, and as long as there are things to write about, and people to read the articles that are written, I’m hoping to stick around, too.

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15 Comments
  • CiCi Marie
    September 7, 2014

    Really interesting stuff. I can’t help feeling that as well as hard work, which you’ve clearly put in to be where you are today, there was an element of brilliant timing too. I think there’s so many blogs these days that the newer ones fight harder to make themselves known… In the last couple of years it’s just been crazy how many new ones have started up, including mine!!

    Anyway, regardless of timing I’ve only been reading Forever Amber for a few months but I can’t imagine not reading it now. You’re a brilliant writer who can keep a reader engaged to the end of each post. And that’s why you deserve to be paid for it! Not to mention your photos are fab 😉

  • Niki
    September 7, 2014

    I liked your post, it was very inspiring. I think Cici Marie has right, your timing was perfect, but the hard work is that makes this blog (or online magazine) so good. Please continue, I like reading your post!

  • Sarah
    September 7, 2014

    This was a really interesting post, thanks for sharing your experiences.

  • Trona
    September 7, 2014

    This is an incredibly helpful and insightful post, thanks !

    Ps we used to go to school together (I’m catriona), small world indeed 🙂

    • Amber
      September 7, 2014

      OMG, hello! That’s so cool – I don’t think I know anyone else in “real life” who has a blog: will go and check out yours now 🙂

      • trona
        September 7, 2014

        thanks! it’s been a wee bit dormant since having my baby a few months ago so hoping to get back into the swing of things. So, your post is really helpful 🙂

  • Flagless
    September 7, 2014

    There’s this one thing that you mention (‘I wanted to TRULY be my own boss: to be completely in charge of a business that I owned, and to answer to no-one but myself.’), which, together with a giant drama that has been going on these past few days on one of the other blogs I read (instead of posting according to their usual schedule, the authors skipped one day and said ‘Sorry, we’ve been busy and couldn’t post today’, which gave birth to literally over a thousand comments accusing them of being lazy and criticising pretty much every aspect of their lives), made me think of another thing that professional bloggers probably face all the time, and that is reader entitlement. What are your thoughts on that? How do you cope with that? That would be an interesting future post.

    • Amber
      September 7, 2014

      Oh God, I’ve been following this saga all weekend, and feel so, so sorry for them: I can’t even imagine how they must be feeling right now after getting SO much criticism – even although a lot it was constructive/respectful (and some of it was just outright crazy, obviously…) it was still literally over a thousand people listing everything they don’t like about their blog, and that has to be so hard to deal with. I don’t think there can be many traditional jobs where you can get over 1,000 complaints in a day, many of them very, very personal – yikes!

      I’ve actually been thinking about this all weekend, so will definitely try to write something on it, once I can get my thoughts together a bit! As awful as I feel for YHL, it’s been fascinating to watch it unfold (and I’ll be really interested to see how they address it, if it all), and really highlighted a lot of issues that I think are quite particular to blogging, especially when you’re doing it as a career. On the one hand, I think that yeah, if your blog is your business, you need to treat it like a business, and it’s easy to see how readers could feel disappointed when it doesn’t quite meet their expectations, but on the other hand, it’s THEIR business, and nowhere is it written that bloggers MUST produce X number of posts per week, so some of the reactions have been way over-the-top, I think. I mean, I saw one woman comment that she was “devastated” by the change in the posting schedule, and while I hope YHL will take some comfort in the fact that they’ve obviously done SOMETHING right to make people feel so invested in their blog, that’s a huge amount of pressure to put on someone. I think I would find it almost impossible to blog if I thought people were going to have THAT strong a reaction to something being not quite to their liking!

      Anyway, sorry for the long ramble and thanks for the suggestion – I will definitely add that one to the list 🙂

      • Charlene
        September 10, 2014

        Okay, not fair. You must say what blog this is! Puleeez. Curiosity is getting the best of me.

        • Amber
          September 10, 2014

          It’s Young House Love.

  • Bec
    September 7, 2014

    This has been such an interesting series! So many of the big bloggers just kind of acidently started making money, i live seeing how you went about it purpously. I hobby-blog, but I actually really like my normal job so don’t want to monitise, but if I ever did now I have some great tips!

  • Jeanette
    September 8, 2014

    Really like to read on how othes has make it online, cause I have a dream to do it my self. But it seems so hard and don’t even know where to start:)

  • Liz in Paris
    September 8, 2014

    Excellent post, many thanks Amber. I’ve been reading FP and Forever Amber for years now – despite the plethora available I always come back to 4 or 5 faves including yours 🙂 I’m a self-employed writer too btw but not fashion/blogs – more technical stuff. Went freelance 11 years ago and have never been happier!

  • Quaintrelle Georgiana
    September 8, 2014

    This is a really interesting post, thank you for sharing your experience about blogging!

  • CP
    October 2, 2014

    I blog as a hobby- it helped to keep me sane as my research interests are quite morbid and the world I exist in is so SERIOUS.

    So blogging was a way for me to talk about dresses and handbags and fashion and general ‘stuff’, i.e. it was a way for me to be myself. This has translated back into real life where I have the confidence to know that I can be taken seriously while rocking some seriously fabulous dresses and handbags.

    Just from my personal experience of blogging as a hobby I know that it was very hard work. Professional blogging is even harder. And having the ability to keep people coming back for more requires talent.

    So well done to you. You are a self made business woman and have every right to be proud of what you have achieved (and make good money while doing it!)

    🙂

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