If someone had told me four years ago, that I would quit a high-powered corporate job to become a blogger, I would have questioned their sanity. By 2012, I had been living and breathing the corporate life for 7 years. My job was highly paid and came with fantastic perks; I was traveling the world and blogging was just something I’d fallen into as a hobby. The thought of exchanging all this and having this ‘hobby’ pay back wasn’t on my list of goals.
I started The Desi Wonder Woman about two-and-a-half years ago with no real plan. I was still fully invested in the corporate world, but I wrote about things I loved on the side. Slowly, however, I noticed that a solid base of fantastic readers who shared my preferences, appreciated my candid writing and had an appetite for reading about lifestyle was coming together. In just under a year, I had about 50,000 hits a month and the blog evolved from a space to talk about my latest shopping picks to a full-fledged site that focused on style, home décor, food, travel and everything in between.
A year-and-a-half ago, I realised that I was investing an exponential amount of time in the blog, had a sizeable audience and fledgling interest from brands. In my corporate life, I was one of the fastest promoted people at work and had swiftly picked up management skills that I could exploit for the blog such as editorial discipline, project management, working with business partners, and networking — all crucial skills if you’re going to run your own business. I came to the realisation that while I loved my job, I had gleaned all the experience that I could from it. I now wanted to build something for myself.
So, I did something no one anticipated: I bid the corporate world farewell. I was incredibly nervous. I was voluntarily moving from a very secure, financially stable position to uncharted territory where the income was flexible and work unclear. People were very doubtful about my decision. Someone called me out for “denying myself my potential” by choosing to move to an “easier” job, and called the new venture a ‘hobby’.
Blogging is still in its nascent stages in Pakistan. Much of what is available does not appeal to a reader like myself and so, I created a simple blueprint: make a daily destination for readers, a place where they can switch off and check out some inspiring content. I wanted to generate authentic writing where content was king and brands were partners helping to produce material, instead of dominating the message track. Throw in a dash of humour (read: ‘bad jokes’) and I had the formula for a quick timeout from my reader’s busy routine.
I soon found myself working around a packed editorial calendar spanning five days a week, with content geared up three months in advance. Once I had a small home office set up, I mapped out a work schedule and was at my desk at 9 a.m. every morning. The discipline of producing my own high-quality images and posting every day meant that it was two years before I took a vacation.
With time, brands started approaching me to write about them. It is exhilarating to see your work translate into content that brands find profitable to partner with. However, I did not want to be the kind of blogger who writes about product launches. My rule is simple: if I don’t like reading such content, I won’t give it airtime, no matter how big the brand is. It is difficult to maintain this integrity and to make sure that your identity doesn’t get lost in the brand’s message. I specifically remember refusing to partner with a very large skincare brand that wanted me to cover their product launch for an entire week with exclusive posts. Association with a big name is great for your résumé but it only distances you from readers when you’re talking about a product without your approach being organic. One of my most interesting upcoming projects is with one of the largest haircare brands in the world. I’ve worked with their global experts to develop a campaign that mixes their tips and my personal experience. Thus, while my brand collaborations were few and far between at the start, I remained selective and I don’t regret this decision.
Good lifestyle blogging appears effortless. But don’t be fooled: there is a lot of work behind the scenes. Setting up concept shoots, shooting images, editing and resizing them (anyone who does this will tell you what a snooze the process is), writing content, coordinating with brands, preparing media kits specific to brands, researching, planning monthly calendars, responding to readers, keeping your accounts in order — you’ll start to wonder why there aren’t enough hours in the day. As someone who has worked grueling hours as a senior manager responsible for an organisation of nearly 1000 people, I assure you — if done right, blogging is just as challenging.
As a blogger, you have to be on your A-game all the time. I was on a travel review trip last year in Thailand and I struck up a conversation with some individuals who work for a European country’s tourism board. Presenting myself and my brand at that moment landed me a deal for an all-expenses-paid trip as part of a collaboration for 2016.
Today, my blog gets 100,000 views a month from all over the globe. I’ve worked with international brands like Sally Hansen, Babyliss, Make Up For Ever, TRESemmé, Sunsilk, and Jotun to name a few and have been featured in publications like Good Housekeeping, Elle Décor, and Buzzfeed. I experience products from brands I love, try food at fantastic restaurants and get invited to fabulous locations for travel reviews. Do I get paid as much as I did at my last job? Not yet. It’s naïve to expect to break records as soon as you hit the road (that stuff just happens to Lady Gaga). But switching career paths was not entirely about the money for me. Do I think I’ll make just as much money as I did? Yes. Will I be obsessed with that goal? No. I am living the life I love, growing and sustaining myself, and having a fantastic time along the way.
Make it Work
Be authentic Readers respect genuine content and emotionally invest in you because of that. Blogs can have large audiences but their posts may never result in sales because they lack credibility or emotional resonance.
Be disciplined If you’re not producing content consistently, your blog is a hobby. A full-time blogger is at the job every day. There are no lazy mornings spent watching TV or quitting early to catch an afternoon movie.
Be professional Most bloggers are quite lax. If you want to make a career of this, be prompt and efficient.
Learn the business Design your business strategy, know your target audience, construct action plans and develop what works with your personal style.
Be patient I wasn’t making money when I started out. You can depend on your savings or keep doing two jobs (which means working 24/7) until you take the plunge. Devise an income model and be patient.
Be firm. Working from home is not taken seriously. Don’t let that interfere with your schedule. I firmly turn down plans or delay chores during work hours.
Block the noise. Unconventional jobs will always be criticised. People reject what they don’t understand, but if you work hard, they’ll come around.
Shehzeen Rehman runs the blog The Desi Wonder Woman, and tweets
Published in The Express Tribune, Sunday Magazine, August 30th, 2015.
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