Blogging Through the Bad Times: How To Keep Your Blog Running When Life Gets In the Way
If you’ve been following my blog for a while now, you’ll probably know that last 18 months or so have been… I think I’m going to go with “interesting” here, although I mean that in the sense of the Japanese curse about living in interesting times. It’s been like that, basically.
It all started back in the last week of December 2015, with an event I’ve alluded to a few times now, but which I’m currently not able to actually tell you about, for legal reasons. (Yeah, I know, I hate it when bloggers do that too, but I guess the fact that there ARE legal reasons for this will tell you a bit about how serious it was…) That pretty much took up the first half of 2016 for us, in terms of emotional energy at least, and then, in September of that year, I had a miscarriage, followed two months later by an ectopic pregnancy, which took almost two months to fully resolve.
Somewhere in between those two awful events, our dog, Rubin, had to have an operation, which was super-stressful: he did make it through the surgery (although it was touch and go for a few days afterwards), but then, in March of this year, he passed away, leaving Terry and I absolutely heartbroken. We thought our luck had finally started to change in May, when we found out I was pregnant again, but then, on the same day I made the announcement on the blog, we were told that Terry’s mum has cancer, and the heartbreak started all over again.
Now, I’m not telling you all of this for sympathy, or as part of some kind of tragedy olympics: I’m telling you purely to provide some context for this post, which is about how you keep a blog running when times are so tough that you can barely keep yourself running, some of the time. Before I get into that, though, I just want to quickly say that this post is really aimed at professional bloggers, who rely on their blog for most, or all, of their income. I know that blog readers are always very kind, and are quick to say that they’ll understand if a blogger has to take a break for whatever reason, and if you blog purely as a hobby, that’s absolutely what you should do. For people like me, however, who rely on blogging to pay the bills, it’s not quite that easy, and we can’t always afford to take an indefinite amount of time off, no matter how much we might want to.
I should add here too, that the point of this post isn’t just for me to have a big ol’ whine about my job, even although I know it sounds EXACTLY like what I’m doing right now. No, this is just one of the many realities of blogging for a living: it’s something I knew about when I got into it (And despite what the paragraphs above might make you think, I still think the benefits of blogging outweigh the disadvantages, and I still wouldn’t change it for the world!), and it’s something I think most self-employed people and freelancers face, but it’s also something that I think a lot of would-be bloggers don’t really stop to consider when they’re busy looking at all of those glamorous insta-shots, portraying effortless-looking lifestyles.
This is why I think it’s so important to talk the reality of blogging for a living, and the side of things you don’t always see on Instagram. There’s no sick pay, for instance – and no one to step in and do your job while you’re off taking some personal time, or recovering from an illness. Your readers will understand you needing to take a break, of course, but advertisers won’t, and if you rely on things like brand collaborations etc to pay the bills, then you obviously have to be able to either keep on doing them even when times get tough, or to have another plan in place instead. Which brings me, at last, to the advice part of this post!
Here are some things I do to make sure my blogging business can keep running, even when “real” life gets in the way…
Schedule posts in advance
This is something I’m not able to do very effectively with this blog, as the diary-style format means I’m often drawing on real-life experiences for content, but with ShoeperWoman.com, I sit down every few weeks and batch-write as many posts as I can, so I always have content “in stock” and ready to go. This was a huge help to me during the first few weeks of my pregnancy, when the anxiety over another possible ectopic pregnancy or miscarriage, combined with the debilitating morning sickness/exhaustion, made it hard to really concentrate on ANYTHING for a while! It can be hard to come up with non-time-sensitive content that can be published any time you need it, but, if you can, it’s a good idea to have at least some of those posts written and saved as drafts, so that if something comes up unexpectedly, you don’t have to worry about your blog.
Buy a planner or diary, and plan as far ahead as possible
This really follows on from my first point, but, in addition to scheduling posts in advance, I also use my yearly planner to map out the year ahead, and make sure I’m prepared for anything that might make it harder for me to blog – so, things like holidays, mostly, but right now I’m also having to plan ahead for giving birth (eek!), and for those first few weeks of parenthood.
As a small business owner, I won’t be able to take a “proper” maternity leave (I think some financial help is available for the self-employed, but as nice as that would be, it obviously wouldn’t help me keep the blog running while I wasn’t working, and if I were to take the full 12 months that women in the UK are entitled to, I basically wouldn’t have a business to come back to at the end of that time…), but I will want to be able to take it easy for a few weeks at least: because this blog is a labour of love for me, as much as it’s a business, I’d imagine I will still want to pop in fairly regularly with updates, but I’m also going to be writing some advance posts to make sure I don’t HAVE to if I don’t feel up to it!
Diversify your income as much as possible
This one is really important, and can be basically summed up as, “don’t put all of your eggs in one basket”. For the first few years of my blogging career, I relied solely on advertising revenue – which is a mistake, because ad revenue is tied to pageviews, and pageviews are (at least partly) tied to how often I post… which means that if I don’t update the blog for a few weeks, my pageviews would drop, and so would my income. These days, I’ve gotten a little savvier, and, in addition to advertising, I also earn money from affiliate sales, sponsored posts and ebook sales.
Of these, sponsored posts are another one I don’t recommend relying on as your sole source of income, as they obviously depend on you being physically able to blog. I had a few sponsorships lined up when I first found out about my pregnancy, for instance, and I found it quite stressful having to work them around morning sickness and hospital appointments: I’m also really aware that, as the pregnancy progresses, a lot of the fashion brands I normally work with won’t be able to partner with me, purely because their clothes won’t fit me any more! I’m hoping that other brands will come along to take their place, but I’m not counting on it, which is why I’m glad to have affiliate and eBook sales, both of which can keep ticking along quite steadily, even when there’s no fresh content on the blog.
Write evergreen content on a regular basis
Another really important one! I talk about evergreen content quite a lot, but, just as a reminder, this refers to all of those non-time-sensitive posts which continue to bring readers to your blog long after they were published. The most popular posts on this site, for instance, include things like How to Walk in High Heels, How to Wear a Midi Skirt and Tips and Advice for People with Pale Skin – all of which are at least a couple of years old now, but which still bring traffic to the site every day via Google and Pinterest.
You’ll notice that all three of these posts are advice-based: evergreen content doesn’t HAVE to be advice, of course, but it DOES have to be the kind of thing people are looking for on search-engines – so, helpful articles tend to do best here. I get a lot of great feedback for my random rants and diary posts, which often do well on social media, but I very much doubt that people are going to Google and searching for ‘random rants’ or ‘What did Amber get up to at the weekend,’ so those posts will never become evergreen, no matter how popular they are at the time they’re published.
It stands to reason, obviously, that the more evergreen content a blog has, the easier it will be for its owner to take a bit of time off without seeing a huge drop in traffic/income, then. And, of course, it’s definitely possible to have a successful blog which doesn’t contain ANY evergreen content: it IS pretty hard, though, because if you don’t have evergreen content, you’re going to have to rely on a steady stream of fresh content to draw people in instead – which can end up feeling a bit like being trapped on a treadmill which you just can’t get off.
Be honest with your readers
No matter how carefully you try to prepare for breaks in productivity, however, there will always be those times when something unexpected comes up, and blogging has to take a backseat. When that happens, I’ve found that honesty is the best policy, and that just telling people that I’m going through a rough time, and won’t be around as much as usual, will help ease some guilt. It won’t, of course, help with problems related to falling traffic/revenue (It’s a common misconception that bloggers make their money purely from “regular readers”, but, actually, return visitors account for only a percentage of my blog’s traffic, with the rest coming from places like Google, Pinterest etc…), but it’s better than just totally vanishing from the radar, and readers can be a huge source of support, too – or, at least, that’s certainly been my experience.
It’s also worth remembering that, if we’re just talking about a break of a few days, say, it’s really not going to do much harm, and the reality is that most people won’t even notice. So, while this post is mostly aimed at people who need to take lengthier absences, and can’t afford to just not work for several weeks/months (I always find it a bit odd when people tell full-time bloggers to do this: they probably wouldn’t advise someone with a “regular” job to just not bother turning up if they didn’t feel like it, but blogging is no different, really – or, at least, not if you’re relying on it for income!), you shouldn’t feel like you can’t ever take a single day – or even a few days – off: that’s just not true, and regular breaks will do your blog more good than chaining yourself to your desk 24/7 will!
Consider taking on help
This isn’t really an option for personal bloggers, obviously, who are primarily writing about their own lives, but if you run an information or entertainment-based blog, say, it could be worth connecting with other bloggers or freelancers in your niche, to see if they’d be willing to help out if needed. If you can’t afford to hire someone, you could always consider trading skills with another blogger (i.e. “I’ll cover for you when you’re sick if you’ll do the same for me…”), or even request guest posts, if that’s something you feel would work for your blog.
Even if you don’t have the kind of blog that would allow you to have other writers fill in, meanwhile, you could always consider some admin help for the behind-the-scenes stuff that tends to be the first thing to get neglected when the chips are down. I, for instance, am currently WAY behind with emails (Apologies if you’ve sent me something and I haven’t gotten back to you, by the way: I promise I’m not being rude, I’ve just been feeling REALLY overwhelmed lately!), and feel like I spend half my life explaining to people that no, I can’t attend that event in London tomorrow, on account of my living 400 miles away, so, if I could afford it (I can’t, unfortunately, so stock emails are having to suffice instead!), I’d LOVE some help with that side of thing, if not with the actual blogging – which is MY JOB, people, and ain’t no one gonna take it away from me. Nuh-uh.
Get your finances in order
This should probably have been my first suggestion really: can you tell I’m not the money-brains in our house? It applies to everyone, really (I know a lot of people consider self-employment incredibly risky, but bloggers etc aren’t the only ones at risk of job loss: I was laid off from my first “real” job after university, and many of my friends and family members have had similar experiences…), but when you are self-employed, and don’t have benefits like sick pay and maternity leave, it stands to reason that you need to give a little more thought to how much you’re saving every month, and to try to have some kind of financial plan in place for the proverbial rainy day.
In my case, I’m notoriously bad with money (I prefer it hanging in my closet…), but, luckily for me, Terry is my polar opposite in that respect, so he helps reign me in a little, and we also have a great accountant, who we’ve been using for over 10 years now, who’s on hand to advise us. You don’t need an accountant to tell you to live within your means, save as much as you can, and do your best to plan ahead as far as possible, though, so if you’re thinking of becoming a full-time blogging, sorting out your finances should be one of the first things on your ‘To Do’ list.
Anyone got any other suggestions?