Marketing a Style Blog: Interview with Sally McGraw of Already Pretty

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I’m thrilled to present our first podcast, an interview with style blogger Sally McGraw. Click on the player to listen to the interview or read the transcript below! (My questions and comments are in bold.)

Sally McGraw, savvy businessperson

Hey, everyone! This is Unmana from Better Marketing. Today we’re talking to Sally McGraw of the style and body image blog AlreadyPretty.com.

I’ve been reading Sally’s blog for several years, uh, since way back when she was just another blogger with a day job, and now she manages her own thriving business. She’s here to tell you how she did it, and how you can, too.

Sally?

Yes!

So, um, tell us a little about your journey — about the blog and about the business?

Sure. Um, so when I launched the blog I was still working full-time at a local university, the University of Minnesota. Um, and the blog began to grow an audience, I began to get some business offers from advertisers and as it began to grow I realized that — eventually, after several years — that I might actually be able to turn it into a business!

Before I was ready to make that leap though, I made sure that I had diversified the kind of work that I was doing. So it wasn’t just the blog that was making me money. I had also begun to do style consultations with people — going to their homes and helping them figure out how to build outfits — I also had a system where you do that online. I do freelance writing for the local daily paper, the Minneapolis Star Tribune, and I had started to do some speaking engagements and other activities as well.

So once I had what I felt were an array of money-making opportunities that were pretty steady and once I had saved up a big chunk of money, I talked with my husband, and we decided that I could go out on my own and give it a try.

Okay… and how has it been so far?

It’s been good. It’s been… um, I mean, as is the case with most people who go out on their own as entrepreneurs and business people. It has ups and downs. I’ve been on my own for about a year now, and there have been months when I’ve been biting my nails and wondering whether if I was gonna be able to pay my bills, and there are months when things are flush and everything’s great.

You know, I’m a person who’s used to routine and a steady paycheck and it’s been a big adjustment for me! Um, but so far I’m definitely glad that I made the change. Sally McGraw, style consultant

Great! So, um… apart from your writing, which I guess are steady gigs, what about customers? How do you get new styling assignments or any, any other work that you do?

Okay. Well, for my consult business most of my customers are blog readers or friends of blog readers, so in terms of the makeover stuff that I do, uh, I am working out some press for the service, and I might be placing ads for the new feature if I can afford them, but most of that stuff is word-of-mouth.

In terms of the freelance writing that I get, I have a creative writing degree, and the work that I did previous to this was all communication, marketing, writing-related stuff. I worked in the book publishing industry for several, several years. So, many of my friends and colleagues are writers. And I think that, as a writer, networking with your friends is absolutely vital. In a lot of cases, it doesn’t matter how good you are, you need to know somebody on the inside to get writing work.

So, I network with my friends, and we throw each other work whenever we can find it.

Okay. Um, I… as a marketer, I think you do a great job of marketing on social media — Twitter, Facebook, and most of all, I think, Pinterest. Could you share a few tips for our readers?

You know, it’s funny you should say that because I don’t feel like I do that great. When I look at what my colleagues are doing, I feel like they’ve all got it down so much better than I do. But thank you. I appreciate the compliment.

I think my advice would be to think about how much contact and what types of information you would want from a blogger or from a business. Put yourself on the other side before you broadcast information across Twitter or Pinterest or Facebook. Like if all you ever do is push your writing or your products or events you’re gonna be at, people are gonna get turned off and leave. You have to ask questions, you need to occasionally share a little bit about yourself, you have to be really personal, because you know, that’s what social media is about. It’s about sharing.

And be genuine in what you do. Don’t just parrot you know, what you think you need to say in order to generate business.

That’s great advice! So, which — personally, which social media do you love to play around on? I’m guessing it’s Pinterest, but…

No, you’re totally right, for sheer enjoyment I really love Pinterest. I draw a lot of inspiration from that medium, and I love to see what other people are dreaming about too. I feel like Pinterest is one of the social media in which you can pretty much follow everyone you come across. Everyone is inputting interesting and diverse information, fun links and fun ideas. I have lots of fun roaming around Pinterest.

Sally's Pinterest Boards

Okay, and it’s the perfect platform for a style blogger, right?

I’m sorry?

It’s the perfect platform for a style blogger.

Yes. Oh, it sure is.

Okay, but in terms of business results, which social media platform do you think gets you the best… the most leads or most traffic to your website or most customers?

Well, in terms of usefulness, it’s probably Facebook. My Facebook community is really active and dedicated, and if I have a business idea that I wanna run past a segment of my audience before I actually implement it, I always ask the Facebook folks first, because they are opinionated and supportive and it’s a really great community.

I also probably get the most direct referrals from Facebook, um, so I think that’s probably my biggest business support.

Okay. Um… talking of you know, business results, how do you keep track of what results you’re getting from all your different marketing avenues?

Um, I have to admit that I don’t track my metrics and my marketing data very much. Since my work is really diverse — I have the blog, the freelance writing, consulting, makeovers, sales of my book — I don’t really focus much on the data, I just keep an eye on my traffic and blog subscribers, and other than that I’m making enough money to pay my bills.

Okay, so blog traffic and revenue, right?

Yup.

And is that something that you would recommend, that those are the two metrics other small businesses should be looking at — website traffic and revenue?

Well, I think it depends on what your goals are. I think that if someone is trying to take a blog and turn it into a business, there can be a lot of obsessing about traffic and revenue and follows… There’s a lot of… you know, you can get wound up about those things and really worried about them.

And I think that if you’re working on that kind of business model — and as a sidebar, not all blogs could or should be businesses in the end; some people just do it for pleasure and some people are just not necessarily gonna be able to turn what they’re writing about into a business. But if you are going down that road, I think it’s important to focus on the quality of what you’re doing — you know, building your niche, talking to people directly, being genuine — and don’t obsess too much about those numbers, especially at the beginning.

And even at the end, too, because as long as you’re doing what you love and doing it well and people are responding well, then you are, at least in one way, a success. And I suppose that you’re looking at it from a business perspective you do need to think about revenue. But, I don’t know. I guess I sound a little bit touchy-feely today — “don’t worry about your numbers, it’ll be fine!”

But you know, I think that… I’ve talked to so many bloggers who’ve gotten to a certain point where they said, “I would check my blog traffic every couple of minutes, and it got to the point where I couldn’t handle it anymore.” And my feeling is if it’s gonna stress you out that much you’re not going to be able to sustain at what you’re doing, you know what I mean?

Yeah… And there’s not necessarily a direct line between your blog traffic and your revenue, right?

Yes. That’s absolutely true. Unless you have an advertisement on your blog that is paying you per thousand clicks or you know, for some audience-related metric, then however many people… I mean, it might affect how many business opportunities you’re offered, because the people who control those business opportunities are going to be interested in how many people are visiting your site. But if you’re thinking about nothing but ads, then you’re gonna let your content fly, and it’s gonna bite you on the butt in the end. Sally McGraw, fashion blogger

Okay. So, focus on the content and on your relationship with your customers, and don’t obsess about the numbers.

Yeah. Again, I know that sounds kind of touchy-feely, but I think especially if you’re doing a writing-related craft, like a blog, it is important.

Okay. Um, so, you don’t consciously market yourself… Is there some you know, marketing philosophy you follow, or favorite authors or sites, or is it just totally on your gut feel?

I mean, I think… gosh, that’s a tough question. I don’t actively market myself, but I feel everything I do is marketing myself anyway, because what  I write is… you know it’s mine. It’s just me. I’m a one-woman show.

I do try to think very carefully when I’m utilizing social media and when I’m writing and I’m doing any sort of interactions with other people about how what I’m doing relates to my brand and my website and how it might affect my overall reputation. Does that answer your question?

Yeah, sure… But do you follow the latest trends or read marketing advice blogs or anything like that?

You know, I really don’t. I’m very lucky in that I have… I get most of my small-business’ marketing advice in person. I have a great group of girlfriends who are all entrepreneurs and we meet regularly to discuss business ideas and marketing ideas and challenges, and we help each other out a lot.

My dad also owns his own business; he’s an architect. So I will occasionally get his input.

I mean, I’ve worked in the marketing field for a long time. I have sort of a background in understanding the psychology of marketing and what people are going to react well to and what’s gonna seem smarmy and awful, so I don’t… I’m a little ashamed to admit it, especially since I basically said, no, I don’t pay attention to metrics. I don’t read a lot of small-business marketing advice because I like to talk to people. People in my community who are doing related things and see what their advice would be.

Okay, I think that’s a great way of getting advice.

Great.

So… okay, you don’t follow a lot of blogs or anything like that, but what about tools? Do you use any… apart from the social media sites, do you use any tools to manage your productivity or your social media or anything like that? We just published a blog post on our blog about free tools we love to use, and we’d love to add to that list.

You know, I’m not a big fan of Hootsuite or any of those sort of management tools. But the thing that I’d recommend is affiliate marketing, which is a system that allows you to — when you link to a product on an external site, if your user clicks on the link and buys something on that site, that will generate a commission for you. I think that’s a great way for bloggers to monetize their content.

I will say I’m a stickler for disclosure. I feel like if you’re gonna make money off of something that someone else is doing, you absolutely must tell them, so they can decide if they want to support you in that way. Absolutely all the affiliate marketing that I do, I have, you know, I use my disclosure policy, I tell people I can potentially make money off of your actions here, and I want you to know it.

But I feel like so long as you’re transparent, affiliate marketing can help you earn money or generate revenue from your website in addition to any advertisements you might have. And it helps your readers buy new products and gives them a way to support you more directly.

Um, so for me, the affiliate tools that I use are… I use eBay Partner Network, Amazon, there’s a system called Commission Junction, and there’s a fashion-blog specific affiliate program called Reward Style. And most of these  are programs where you have to apply, and in a lot of cases they need you to have a certain number of visitors, and it’s not… I mean, some of the tools are not intuitive and difficult to manage, but it’s really really great for my business model.

Okay. So, affiliate marketing, blogging, social media, advertising, and all those other marketing activities… what do you think is the one most important activity that a small business should be doing?

Actually, I think it’s building reputation. I think a lot of small businesses can focus on their marketing and on generating new business. But in my experience, working hard for a small group of clients, gaining their trust, proving you’re totally amazing at what you’re doing is far more valuable than putting ads out there and pushing the word.

And for small businesses I think word-of-mouth and reputation are just priceless. And if you build those, business will come to you. You may have to use some active marketing, but you know, if you can begin with a small group of clients and just go completely above and beyond for them, that is gonna do wonders for you in the long run. Sally McGraw, entrepreneur

Okay! I completely agree with that.

All right!

Okay, so, um, on the negative side, what’s the biggest challenge you’ve faced as a small-business owner?

For me it’s time management. Again, I’m a one-woman show, so it can actually be really hard for me to know when to stop working. And especially since I have a smartphone, there’s internet everywhere, it’s tempting to just keep working. Even on the weekends, and when I’m on vacation… It’s got to the point that if I’m somewhere where there’s no wifi I just completely freak out!

And I don’t like that. I’d like to have a little bit more delineation of how my time gets used.

I think that’s true of a lot of entrepreneurs, whether they’re a one-person operation or a crew. One of my good friends I was talking about earlier who’s also an entrepreneur, she’s in Europe right now, and she’s still emailing us and telling us, you know, business stuff, she just can’t get away.

Being out on your own is amazing, being able to control everything and do exactly what you want, I love all of that. But it can be really tough to just put it aside and relax.

And… I was going to end with the question, what’s the most important piece of advice you’d give a new entrepreneur, but I think you just covered that!

Actually, there’s one other thing I’d like to say, which is… I think people need to remember to be patient. A friend told me the other day that the way people perceive success is when they become aware of it.

So, people might look at me and think, “She’s an overnight success! What the hell great is she doing?”

But they haven’t been paying attention to the work that I’ve done for the past FIVE years! There’s nothing overnight about what I did.

And I think overnight success is probably the exception, not the rule. And it can be hard to bear that in mind because you want it right away. But if you work hard, you improve your business continuously, you will see results in time.

Okay, patience! I need to keep that in mind.

It’s a tough one! You know, you want to see results immediately. But it takes time.

Right. And on that note, thank you very much, Sally, for being here. I really enjoyed talking to you and I think you had some great tips for our readers.

Absolutely. Thanks for the opportunity.

Thank you!

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